Thursday 23 March - Day 18
Last night was a fun night of sailing. The wind started off light and by 2am there was a steady 20 - 25kts. We had the main at full hoist and the big Jib as the head sail. With a rolly swell, this was a fair stress on the new main mast, a good test. ‘Will it hold up across the Atlantic?’ ‘Did we use the right dimensions of timber?’ and most commonly ‘Will the glue joints hold under stress?’ These were the main questions I constantly thought about when I saw the wind picking up and the sails belly out. After all, the 13m main mast was home made… by us. I ran an eye up the mast a few times that night just to check the flex. It was fine. Looks like we did, in fact, do a good job on the mast construction.
Come first light, the idea was to cheat a bit, and get the engine running to head for Bridgetown, Barbados. We wanted to see if we could find a berth before the end of the day. But Starlights’ sea water pump had other ideas. After Mick opened up the pump, replaced the cup washers and gave the pump a bit of TLC, still the cooling water for Starlights’ engine wouldn't flow. Mildly frustrated and a little dumbfounded, Mick was now resigned to the fact that we’d have to fit the spare electric sea water pump. But where was it? Rummaging through bilges and deeply stowed storage lockers like rats in the grain sack, we managed to locate the spare pump in the Generator spares box. Once located, Mick had an easy task fitting the temporary electric pump. Starlight was now running cooler than a kilted Scotsman on a breezy winters day, but still puffing white smoke like a Rasta on a weekend.
Realising that we weren’t on track to make landfall this afternoon, we reefed the main sail and kept the Jib out. This would be enough sail flying to get us home, after all, we’d been at sea for 18 days, what’s another night, right?
Just after we’d set the sails, the fishing rod went berserk again. This time Toothy manned the rod and Brio the gaff hook. To the crew, landing these fish was starting too seem normal. With ease and efficiency, Toothy and Brio landed an 8kg Mahi Mahi. It was a catch 22, Toothy was stoked to catch the fish, however, not too keen on the gutting and filleting part. Toothy is a qualified chef, so he did most of the filleting. However, at this stage of the trip, he was over it. Looking over at him sitting on a wet aft deck, covered in blood and guts and stinking like fish, I asked “All good Toothy?” “I’m too tired for this right now mate” he said. I noticed another pair of his nice Billabong board shorts were plastered in fish gizzards. He didn't look too happy.
The long awaited sailors cry of “Land Ahoy” seemed just on the horizon. We were 40NM out and each of the crew were keeping a keen seaman’s gaze on the horizon. We all wanted to be the one to make that call… “Land Ahoy”. However, Barbados was teasing us. The island of Barbados was covered in a tropical haze and even at 30NM out, the sailors could see nothing. “You reckon we’re in the right spot?” “Imagine if the computer chart was slightly out”, the watch keepers murmuredas they checked their paper chart plots. “Nah, we’re definitely in the right spot” they nodded and agreed.
Finally, at less than 20NM from landfall, and just before sunset, land was sighted. And who better to call it than Mike, the sailor who wears contact lenses. The sailor who, as previously mentioned, was unknowingly chatting to another fellow sailor whilst he was going about his morning business due to his impaired vision. Either way, he was right, land had been sighted, we were stoked! To us, at this stage of the trip, this meant we had made it… Almost. We hoisted the Barbados courtesy flag along with the Q flag, the Maltese flag, the Burgee flag, and of course, the Boxing Kangaroo flag…
The unkept, hairy, haggard crew upon arrival. From left to right. Brio, Toothy, Mike, Mick and Dylan.
Friday 24 March - Arrival.
At just after midnight, the men cleaned out the anchor locker, removed the packing from the spurling pipes and prepped the anchor. Starlight finally came to a standstill, and bobbing calmly in 10m of water, we dropped the hook. There was a clang and a rattle as 40m’s of chain poured out of Starlight’s bow into the Caribbean Sea. Finally, we were set. We had made it.
We found half a bottle of Jamison’s whisky in the bilge, had a seat on the bow in the warm Caribbean air, and poured up a round for a toast.
It was a weird feeling, there wasn't any cheering or celebrating (no man hugging or embracing either), we were all too buggered for that. We said cheers, nodded, and sat quietly enjoying the sound of the civilisation in the background. Then we went to sleep.
We were woken early to the sound of men on the decks. ‘Who is on the boat?’ I wondered. ‘Customs maybe?’ I poked my head out the hatch and saw Brio holding a dirty dunny pipe. “I’m trying to fix the toilet” he said. ‘Wow, he’s keen’ I thought to myself. The toilet was still blocked from day 12 of the trip.
We cooked up a big breakfast feed of bacon, eggs, beans and snags but not before having a swim off the boat in the crystal clear water.
Mick and I headed into customs in the tender to check the boat in and that’s where the froth began. We were met with smiling Rasta faces, cool accents and welcoming customs officials. We also found out that Sunday was a big cricket match, the West Indies V Pakistan at the famous Kingston oval. We were going to this for sure!
Check in complete, now we had to find a berth. With Brio’s 40th coming up, we had to get tied up somewhere otherwise someone would have to stay on board for an anchor watch. Im imagine being that guy, staying on watch after 19 days at sea… We didn't want that. Mick and I headed ashore to find the port office and they showed us the berthing arrangement. To enter the port, they had to raise a drawbridge which stops the traffic. Sounds cool we thought, then we saw the bridge. It was tiny. With barely enough room for Starlight to pass through, we thought we’d give it go. After all, this was the only port in town. So they gave us a time slot to open the bridge and we were there waiting. The bridge opened and hordes people looked on as Mick shot the gap. Without rubbing a fender, we were in. The bridge closed behind us symboling the end of a long chapter. The Atlantic crossing. Starlight was tied up for the first time in 20 days. Time for a cold frothy one.
To sum it all up…
The trip was nothing short of immense. When we look back on it, there were a few heavy moments, but also a lot of funny ones too. ‘Heavy comedy’ you could say.
We taught ourselves how to sail. But more importantly, how to sail Starlight. It wasn’t until the last few days that we truly figured out how to configure the sails effectively. I think if Kew had made the trip with us, we probably would’ve arrived a few days earlier having his sailing skills on board. However, we figured it out in entertaining fashion, and I don't think there are many people who can say that they taught themselves how to sail whilst crossing the second biggest ocean in the world in an 85yr old boat. A little crazy maybe, but ambitions nonetheless.
We had our patience tested by the constant rocking of Starlight. The rocking became bearable for the most part. We learnt how to sleep with it, get around the decks with it and even use the bathroom with it. However, none of us got used to cooking with it. A constant source of frustration and the root of all wig outs.
We’re now accomplished fisherman. Well, Brio is anyway. A photo of a 48kg Wahoo is one for the pool room I’d have to say. Hopefully a couple of his fishing skills have rubbed off on us as he is off in a few days, back to the real world of work which, I suspect, involves a lot less fishing.
As a group, the 3 lads who shared the journey with us, Brio, Toothy and Mike along with Mick and myself, worked perfectly together in getting us to our destination. Everyone got on really well, with not a single derogatory comment directed at a fellow sailor the whole trip. Pretty remarkable I reckon. Not only that, everyone bought their own character to contribute to the daily entertainment. For me, that was the best part.
Then there was Starlight herself. Could you imagine getting your 85 yr old Grandma off the couch, giving her a hip replacement and a couple of new knees, along with a pacemaker, and saying “Right, off you go. You’ve got to run a marathon”… “You can take as long as you want, but you have people’s lives in your hands, so you’d better bloody make it across the line”. I guess thats the only way I could liken what Starlight has done for us. She has run a marathon, and although she’s a little tired now, we’ll give those knees and hips a little love and a bit of lube, and she’ll no doubt be ready to do it all again. Not only a piece of history restored, but a piece of history still telling stories.
A big thank you to Charles Kirkby who was our person ashore, weather man and ships advisory mechanic. I bet you felt like you were on board, we called you from the sat phone that many times.
Also, a big thanks to the, parents (my mum especially), family and friends, (and of course, Gab-hun), who pretended not to worry too much about us while we were out there. I know the “spot o” location finders’ were a bit sporadic, but hey, it makes it more exciting when we send them.
To Mon, Chaz and Arabella for the ridiculous amount of frozen cooked meals you made us. We ate them for the back half of the trip once our fresh food ran dry.
Then there was the help of the following companies who either sponsored us, or hooked us up with free gear. They definitely contributed to making it a much more enjoyable experience.
Rapala. I think you’ll be pretty happy with the fishing report once Brio sends it your way. Some interesting fish and some amazing eating. I reckon some of the footage will be all time as well.
Lampoon Group. A big cheers for hooking us up with the GoPro’s. The footage is nothing short of immense. Im sure you’ll find the cameras were put to good use.
Magma BBQ’s. Some of the fish we cooked up along the way was incredible. We’ll send you some pics and hopefully you’ll be able to use some for your advertising.
Max Sea. What more can I say, you got us here. The computer charts were spot on for the whole trip.
Billabong. Thanks for the shirts and shorts!
MIB insurance brokers. We made it across. Does that alter our no claim bonus at all?
Medcomms Malta. Thanks for the “Spot O”. Our loved ones loved seeing the location updates.
An last but not least, MYS Supplies, France. Cheers Stephan for the life raft and the other countless safety items that you kindly supplied free of charge. We didn't need to use the life raft, so that means I’ll be able to catch you for coffee next time I’m in the South of France.
And to everyone for reading… We hope you found the voyage mildly entertaining… Cause we sure did.