My crew of motley castaways pulled in the stern-lines, and thanks to a faulty hydraulic pump, hauled up the anchor by hand. The sails went up in the harbour, and we left Nelson’s historic dockyard behind, bearing away into the tight channel that leads out of English harbour, sails full, sun rising, voices hushed, eyes on the horizon.
We were on board Sincerity, an 88′ (97′ OA) Baglietto Ketch, built in Italy in 1928. She has been honeymooned on by royalty, photographed by playboy, and now, by some strange twist of fate and chance, has found herself under the care of a young and foolish carpenter from Somerset.
Although I was acting as skipper in some capacity, we had the owner of the boat on board too, to come with us to Bermuda and teach me the nuances of his boat before leaving us to our own devices. Our vessel carried a few gallons of the finest Caribbean rum, an undisclosed number of cigarettes, 1500L of diesel, one guitar, one frisbee, and a crew of ragamuffins and miscreants, including;
Jake – my old friend from home, stranger to all things nautical, but an expert headbanger, frisbee-thrower, and rough-sleeper;
Jonas – the flute-playing German who I met boat-hitching in the Canaries, occasionally spotted wielding an oar or helping a brother out with a bit of varnish;
Gino – Antiguan prodigy of the infamous Ken Wilkinson, a demon with a mallet and chisel, who when once asked if he believed in monogamy, replied “monoga-whoo!?” ;
and Sander – The curious Dutchman with the incomprehensible job in finance – voice of reason, bankroller of cigarettes, and all round good egg.
Our strange ship rounded Antigua on its leeward side, skimming along quite merrily on a beam reach with a bone in her teeth and the sun sparkling in her wake. I fumbled my way through some kind of safety briefing, which mostly went along the lines of “please, please, please don’t fall overboard”. Everybody seemed satisfied with that, so we got on with the more important matters of cooking and watch-keeping rotas. It quickly became apparent that the zenith of Sanders cooking prowess was a very sad looking peanut-butter sandwich, but he excelled at the eating part of the operation, and was happy to do more of his fair share of washing up too, so he was forgiven. Jake and Gino knocked up a few good meals, but Jonas was soon voted head-chef by the un-discerning crew, for his creative and unusual choice of ingredients and techniques. Trygve, the owner, tended to avoid our strange concoctions altogether, and just yelled for us to fetch his caviar whenever he was hungry, though he did put together a few hearty breakfasts for us all.
Days and nights rolled by, and hundreds of miles were ticked off in the all-important log-book. There was still a lot of jobs that hadn’t been finished before we left, and the admirable crew worked long and hard, complaining only mildly and politely. The weather was fair, and things progressed smoothly. We swam in water several miles deep in the Bermuda triangle, diving off the bowsprit and catching line left trailing off the stern, as our ship ghosted along in very light airs.
Days later, we arrived in Bermuda. The owner left, and we replaced him with an Dave, a real-life Aussie – complete with surfboard, baseball cap, and singlet. We left after one day on the dock, with some fresh food, beers, and laundered laundry. As we putted out of the harbour, I felt the terror of leadership – the owner was gone, and I had been left responsible for his enormous classic yacht, on passage to Canada. I was disbelieving but elated.
We started breaking things almost immediately, of course, but we managed to avoid any major catastrophes or deaths. Dave proved to be very valuable when we realised he could cook, fix stuff, and take photos, all at the same time, thanks to some hardcore military training in Australia. We progressed North through various weather conditions, until one night we found ourselves heading through a particularly fierce lightning storm. We had seen the fronts approaching for miles, and had dodged a couple of them, but the biggest one hit us square on the nose, with a short but very vicious gale force wind and the most spectacular light show that any of us had ever seen. Enormous forks crashed around the whole circumference of the sky, hitting the water in several places at once. We were all afraid and impressed.
A few days later, we arrived in Nova Scotia, where we were subjected to a very thorough questioning and search by customs and immigration. I suppose coming straight from the Caribbean with a crew of 25 – 35 year old males is quite suspicious if you are on the lookout for drug smugglers, but even so, I was surprised at the depth of the personal questions that I was asked – they could have written my biography, had they wanted. Jake nearly got us all locked away when he asked them if they could remember the second line of the Canadian national anthem – and none of them could..
Eventually they let us in, and we motored out way through the B’ras D’or lakes – Canada’s largest inland sea, so the brochure told us. Scenic it was indeed, complete with fluttering birds, log cabins, and endless pine forest. We passed through several opening bridges and only just squeezed under a hanging power cable before mooring for the night in the not very exciting town of Baddeck (hometown of Alexander Bell – and no wonder he had so much time to spend on the telephone). We hit the town and demolished a heroic amount of pizza and beer, staggered around like true sailors, tested the golf buggies, and collapsed into our bunks, only to be unexpectedly woken in the morning by the owner arriving by car with the new chef…. We tried to contort ourselves into some kind of presentable shape and bluffed our way through the day, setting off North again, to the Straight of Belle Isle.
In the Straight of Belle Isle we had our first taste of icebergs – they only showed themselves as blurry blobs on the radar through the thick fog, but that made them all the more terrifying. After quite a long time spent with orifices clenched, the fog cleared, and we met those chilly behemoths in person, menacing and beautiful, attempting to block the way to our next port – Mary’s Harbour, Labrador. Here, in this tiny pocket of civilization, we attempted to buy fuel, but the man with the Diesel only accepted cash. When the locals had helped us find our way to the bank (which they were very proud of), we found that they didn’t accept Visa… “What DO you accept?!” we cried in exasperation, but were met with only blank stares.
And so we cast off again in front of an audience of friendly old men in dungarees, who between them shared a dozen or so teeth and a decidedly fishy pong.
Onwards, upwards, through the Labrador sea, dodging an increasing number of icebergs and trying to stay warm. Jake and I, who were on the dog watch together (Midnight – 4am), took some speakers onto the aft deck, and spent the nights dancing to cheesy 90s R&B, which kept us nice and toasty inside several layers on thermals and foul weather gear, not to mention so many woolly jumpers that our arms sat at 90degrees from our bodies. We had an incident with a halyard shackle that snapped, but once we had convinced Dave that a terrorist cell was responsible, he came to the rescue and shimmied to the top of the mast with a pair of pliers between his teeth to solved the problem.
Otherwise, things went relatively smoothly, apart from broken bilge pumps, blocked toilets, chafed sheets, ripped sails, a vindictive gas oven, constant fear of sinking, and a crew of lunatics.
As we gained more miles north, the nights got shorter and lighter. The sun surprised us all by rising in the North-East, and strangely situated illuminated clouds were mistaken for giant icebergs.
Later that day (it’s all day from here on), we saw the dramatic coastline of Greenland, beautiful in the evening light, with an obscenely swollen moon rising behind it. As we got closer, we marvelled at the spectacular scenery, the snow splattered mountains, the very occasional growth of a few dwellings perched next to the shore. And as we entered the inshore route to Nuuk, the capital city, whales appeared in the psychedelic oily sea, adding their strange presence to the magical scene we found ourselves in.
And so we arrived, moored against an arctic trawler in the capital of the largest island in the world, stepped ashore, and went looking for things to shag or fight. All we found was a very overpriced cafe and a desolate shopping centre. In fact, everything was horribly expensive, including the wifi, which they presumably have to ship in from Europe like everything else. Later on, at a more reasonable hour (which is hard to judge when it never gets dark), we made it to one of the three pubs in the capital, and made friends with some Inuits. Then we visited the other two, and danced like fools. Then we visited the first one again.