Saint Helena to the Caribbean

15th January to 15th February 2021

St Helena, over the equator once more and on to the island of Martinique. World circuit completed.

What do you really look forward to when you reach your destination after a long passage? What have you missed during those solitary rolly days on the big empty ocean?

For me, approaching Saint Helena, it was a chance to walk and stretch my legs, meet people and chat, emails and WhatsApp with family and friends, a meal out perhaps. And then there’s always the excitement of new local interest with history, architecture, novel foods, wildlife, ways of speech, strange customs. So much to explore and enjoy.

Dream on!

Moored off St Helena

All of that was denied in St Helena. Since leaving Cape Town the rules for St Helena had changed. In fact I left South Africa on 30th December, rules were I believe changed at a St Helena Council meeting on 31st December. As I have no internet at sea, I had no way of knowing.

On arrival a VHF call from the port tells me I can’t land. I’m not allowed to leave the boat. I’m not to approach any of the other cruisers (there seem to be four or five occupied boats that must have been here for a very long time – what on earth are they doing?) I have to leave the mooring within 24 hours. I must go away. 

Talk about feeling unloved and unwanted.

Covid paranoia on this tiny remote and isolated island has reached new heights of absurdity and two weeks’ quarantine in total isolation many hundreds of miles from all human life forms, plus a negative test on arrival is not enough. Now, quite simply, one is not allowed in. (I smile at the silly thought that Napoleon would never have been allowed in. When he was exiled here, just think of the dreadful bugs that were around in his country, France, and Britain, horrid diseases like smallpox, typhus, yellow fever, polio, cholera, typhoid, scarlet fever, plague plus all those viruses like measles, mumps etc. He of course was sent here and died here.)

Plenty of other countries have applied the same draconian emphatic ‘NO, GO AWAY’ to sailing boats, but they’re not British territory; it’s not for me to comment, none of my business. But Saint Helena is a British millstone; UK taxpayers keep it afloat. I feel I can comment.

To say I was very disappointed and quietly seething understates my sentiments. Presumably a caucus of local politicians made this decision. I’m checking which decisions, if any, have to be rubber stamped by Foreign Office in London. Research to be done. Questions to ask. I’m awaiting replies to my first round of emails. 

This little outpost of 4,500 people is almost entirely sustained by aid from the British Government.  Around half its GDP, nearly £20 million is for Government Services alone. That doesn’t include the $374 million spent on what was dubbed ‘The World’s Most Useless Airport’ which was completed four years ago. 

To be fair, I add that the local Harbour Master, Steve, and his staff seemed bemused by (but respectful of) the new ruling, and were of course obliged to follow their government directives. I needed a new bolt for self steering, that had sheared off in the boisterous Cape Town conditions, and they found this for me, plus a box of food to help me on my way.

Johnny and Steve deliver a box of food

I enjoyed some swimming in the clear blue sea off Henrietta’s stern as well. A bit chilly but I feel clean and fresh. It cooled my frustrations too.

One of the ugliest looking settlements I have ever seen anywhere on earth scars the cliff top and ridge above the anchorage of St Helena. This eyesore is the capital of this isolated outpost in the South Atlantic, a jumble of chaotic ugliness called Jamestown. You could not devise a more unsightly set of dwellings were you to try. That’s what it looks like from offshore. Folk on land may tell me otherwise.

The crumbling grey brown cliffs that loom over the anchorage are home to sea birds, mainly masked boobies and white terns I think, but the high cliffs look dirty and threatening rather than majestic, not a pretty sight. 

It is wonderful though for me to imagine the history of long-ago sailing ships calling in on their passages to and from the Far East – days before the Suez Canal when St Helena was a welcome port-of-call for provioning (as it is for me right now! ).

The Northumberland brought Napoleon to St Helena

I left.

It’s a long way from St Helena to the Caribbean, nearly 4,000 miles.

To break the journey and add interest, I toyed with the idea of stopping at the Brazilian island of Fernando de Noronha, but it charges extortionate fees even for brief stops, and I wasn’t clear about quarantine rules. I thought too about Surinam, but learnt that I’d be faced with a week of quarantine on a mosquito infested river, and that restaurants were take-away only and, the killer for me, no tourism to the interior. So, just kept going to the Caribbean….

It is essentially an easy journey across the South and North Atlantic Ocean, even if quite a long way. More or less reliable Trade Winds north and south of the equator, a patch of Doldrums somewhere in the middle. Hot sunshine and grand empty blue ocean all the way.

I was about to say not much happened. But then I remembered that on day 17, I started a new tube of toothpaste….

….Then it all came flooding back. A lot happened. In fact I’ve never yet sailed a long ocean passage without some drama to disturb life. It’s just that I’m extremely proficient at forgetting horrid stuff. You have to be or you’d give up.

Early on and tired of slow progress in light winds I fished out the cruising chute, which had lain unused for three years. I seldom use it as it’s big and hard to handle alone if the wind gets up, and it doesn’t add much to speed except in these very light downwind conditions. Plus I don’t much like its colour or pattern; letter-box red and silly flat white chevrons near the edges. It is gaudy and loud, and looks out of place and clashes with the beautiful natural blues of ocean and sky.

Sailing peacefully northwards, slowly

Once hoisted, all went well and speed picked up. The great big red nylon balloon swung and rolled with the swell. Even if I still didn’t care for the colour we were moving faster.

…and a bit faster..

But then, after three days and nights and in rising wind, the tack line (short bit of rope at bottom corner of chute) had chafed itself to extinction and broke free. I’d not spotted it weakening. 

As they say, with wind growing stronger by the minute, all hell broke loose. The giant red nylon blob was wildly angrily flapping itself forward of Henrietta, the shackle a demented murderous lump of metal flying everywhere. The noise was awful. Time to do something.

I’ll spare you the details, but if you’ve ever had the excitement of regaining control of a spinnaker or gennaker that’s gone berserk, you will know how hard life can be – and how many muscles are needed. It took me over an hour to recover the sail, fit a new tack, trim the sail and get going once more. I was bruised, grazed, burned, sore and blooded. Hands and knees, whole body, needed a holiday. I was shakey and pretty much knackered – but at least, I thought, letter-box red hides the blood stains. That’s more than enough drama for an Englishman in retirement.

A bit bruised

Two more days of red blob sailing and then it had to come down. Surfing down the waves at over eight knots is no fun for Henrietta and makes me very nervous. Wind was much too strong and my armpits smelt of garlic (sure sign that anxiety levels were way through the roof). We were not in a race. It took nearly an hour lowering the beast and stowing and tidying up before life was back to something more sensible. I had a good wash too, and soon smelled sweetly of Johnson’s Baby Shampoo (it makes bubbles with seawater).

The Doldrums are not necessarily all calm. They weren’t for me. Instead they gave four days of wildly variable winds, intense rainfall, some calm and frequent squalls. Better equipped sailors have access to weather forecasts and can find the best longitude to cross the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (the proper phrase to describe this unsettled, and often calm, equatorial band across the ocean). I just went the way that experience had found most favourable in the centuries of sail trading vessels. 

After that it was a fast sail for the next 2,000 miles on to Martinique, just one small semi-open Brazilian fishing boat, over 400 miles from its home. They offer me a fish, a big tuna I think, but it’s too tricky to slow or go close enough. But such kind gestures make me want to sail to Brazil – another day. A few other fishing boats, I guess from French Guiana or Trinidad were around too so it’s not an area for much sleep.

Then, one full month after leaving Saint Helena and nearly seven weeks out of Cape Town, Henrietta took me into Martinique. The bay at St Anne is a mass of masts bright in the early morning sunshine. There are hundreds of yachts here, more boats than I’ve seen in the past two years. Clearance at the port of Le Marin takes five minutes.

A mass of masts, anchored off St Anne, Martinique
Quickly cleared in, Q flag can come down

Martinique marks the end of Henrietta’s trip around the world. We were last here four years ago.

I should perhaps have a glass of champagne. But there’s no crested flute on board; no champagne either. A tin of beer is fine. Perfectly amazing in fact..

Then, the icing on the cake, a long peaceful night of calm undisturbed sleep. 

I suppose I ought to feel happy, elated even, to have sailed around this unique and wonderful planet. It is true that I’m pleased, especially as four years ago I was very unsure what to do, feeling a bit creaky, weary, and lost. Thought I’d just have a look at more islands in the Caribbean then sail home and complete a second Atlantic Circuit. But I didn’t; instead I carried on westwards.

For me it was never a dream; and I’ve never had a ‘bucket list’. I just went. Henrietta looked after me.

Perhaps it really is best to try something rather than regret never having had a go. I do not know. Don’t ask me.

14 thoughts on “Saint Helena to the Caribbean”

  1. Congratulations on your circumnavigation Michael. Well done done to you.
    I always enjoy reading your posts. They are well written, humorous and down to earth.

    Enjoy the Caribbean.

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  2. Mike Congratulations on completing your round the world voyage full of interesting experiences many of which you have shared so well with us. Thank you. This latest ocean crossing seems to have more than its share of less good experiences: storms after leaving Cape Town and the unwelcome welcome from St Helena. Our minds are amazing at filtering out bad experiences and expunging them from our memories. Although 50kts winds will take quite some expunging I am sure.

    I am sure all your experiences will have changed you. I hadn’t noticed it before but now I do. For example, in Cambridge you never seemed to be concerned about the state of your sweaters and now you seem self conscious about the colour of your cruising chute to the extent you will only wear it 1,000s of miles out of sight. From the pictures it does not look so bad at all. But then seeing sails, blue seas and blue skies….it could be any colour and it would still look good.

    Mike, I am pleased to hear of your safe arrival in Martinique where you should be able to enjoy some of the things you had hoped from St Helena: “*a chance to walk and stretch my legs, meet people and chat, emails and WhatsApp with family and friends, a meal out perhaps. And then there’s always the excitement of new local interest with history, architecture, novel foods, wildlife, ways of speech, strange customs. So much to explore and enjoy.” *Even though this is not your first time in Martinique, I am sure they are all there to discover or even re-discover.

    Jill and I have had our first Covid jabs and so are tending towards being invincible. But we are not letting it change our lives…or is it that the government is not letting it change our lives. I have tried hard to think of what our news might be but it has all been expunged which probably means it was at best neutral or in the expunging category. That sounds dismal, I shouldn’t.

    Mike, thank you again for your newsletters which I always find to be fascinating. Do enjoy the Caribbean, which I know from your previous visits was not necessarily your favorite place. Having just come from St Helena you might be able to see it in a different light?

    Best regards Richard

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  3. So Michael you’re now in St Anne’s? That’s amazing, it seems only 5 minutes ago that you were in Cape Town. Well done!
    I am currently sailing with Chris Doyle in the Grenadines. We are aiming to come back up to St Lucia where I live within the next two weeks and possibly on to Martinique if we can, no longer being Europeans thanks to f****** Brexit. Would love to meet up if you’re still around.

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  4. Great writing again, Michael Sweet! Also enjoyed, and appreciate, your section on Singlehanded Sailing (wanted to “like” it but could not sign in, don’t think you’ll mind). Especially as I have just done my first 2 nights, three days, solo sailing crossing the busy Malacca Strait back to Langkawi. Happy to note my experiences, and especially anxieties, are the same. Even though I concluded not to do more than one overnight single-handed anymore, your description of the ocean crossings provide some consolement. Who knows… but need to make some clear improvements on the boat though. Wish you well.

    One thought on your experience in St. Helena: the letter you show of the port authorities clearly says you only need 14 days quarantine *after the date leaving your previous/last port…* – so that means you’d be free to enter St Helena when arrived there? Surely I missed something.

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  5. MIGHTY CONGRATULATIONS Michael! Well done- a truly amazing achievement! Full of admiration for your tenacity, your will, ability … & sheer joy you have conveyed to all us landlubbers presently locked down here in the UK.
    We have been enthralled, entertained, educated & …. frightened silly by your escapades over the last 4 years … a long time since leaving you & Henrietta behind in La Gomera.
    I recall your glee at making landfall in French Caribbean last time round & revelling in your rediscovery of European civilisation (… & good wine!)

    I just love that you’ve ably avoided blogging ‘politics’ while circumnavigating the world … until arriving in UK’s St Helena🙄!
    Hearty congratulations Michael. Enjoy your well-deserved Carribean sojourn!
    Stephanie Connor & Martin

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  6. P.S. – I won’t ever be able to open a new tube of toothpaste without thoughts of you & Henrietta sailing the ocean blue!!

    Stephanie & Martin
    Yacht Sandpiper

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  7. Congratulations! What an amazing adventure and I’ve enjoyed your stories along your Incredible route so much and will miss them! I’ve learned a lot too and enjoyed your beautiful photographs. Wishing you rest and relaxation for a while the lovely, well named port of Martinique. Anne x

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  8. Congratulations Michael on your incredible feat at sailing round the world on Yacht Henrietta. So brave and courageous, Simon and I are full of admiration of your achievements. . Margie has been kind enough to send me some of your blogs which have been so entertaining and well written.I need to read more….they make fascinating reading. A book documenting your adventures must surely be the next project. Looking forward to catching up with you on your return with Margie. Sail safe …..Bridget (Margie’s old school friend)

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  9. Michael, congratulations on completing your RtW voyage. A tremendous achievement. Your blogs have got better and better as time went by, and the last couple since leaving Capetown were particularly enjoyable and absorbing. I look forward to catching up in person.

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  10. Congratulations Michael. Catch up with you in Scotland when you get back across the pond. Fair winds my friend and slight seas.

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