Whilst back in the UK, a good friend tipped me off about a job going for a bosun on the three-masted Schooner “Adix”. I drove down to Falmouth to meet the Captain, and used the time to catch up with some of the lovely Cornish folks down there. After some discussion, it was decided that I would fly out and meet the boat in Antigua after their Atlantic crossing.
First of all, I flew back to Italy to pick up the rest of my stuff from Sincerity. I loaded a ton of tools into a big black holdall with some sturdy looking wheels, which all fell off after about a hundred yards. After a lot of cursing and dragging and kicking, I managed to manhandle my bags into a hostel in Florence. I wandered around that beautiful city, equally stunned by the sheer number of young female art students as I was by the amazing architecture and culture. I took a bus south into the country and met an unknown and distant cousin who turned out to live in a wonderful old monastery were she carved beautiful things out of stone. Just a day in that rejuvenating place seemed to recharge my batteries, and I returned to Florence and then London with a spring in my step. Over that week I managed to miss four pre-booked coaches and very nearly missed two flights, which led me to the conclusion that I have lost the ability to land-travel, and must make an effort to avoid doing it if possible.
Christmas and New Years Eve passed merrily with family and friends, and I shortly found myself on yet another plane, bound for Antigua once again. It’s ironic that I started sailing in order to avoid this kind of travel.
Adix is a behemoth of a classic sailing Yacht. She is a three-masted gaff schooner – 65 metres long, weighing 270 tonnes, built in steel with a brand new carbon fibre rig. The pictures say it all really.
I arrived in English Harbour and spotted her enormous and distinctive masts immediately. The crew welcomed me on board, I unpacked my bags, and I nervously started my new life on board.
The size and scale of everything shocked me at first. The amount and the complexity of the systems on board were like nothing I had ever seen before. Confusing mazes of hydraulic lines and valves, dozens of different compressors, a huge watermaker, fridges, freezers, washing and drying machines, air conditioning, generators, communication systems, radar, GPS, AIS, VHF, UHF, SSB, navtex, in-house telephones, TV and internet, enough plumbing and wiring to look after a medium-sized English village, and all of it carefully hidden behind the beautiful teak paneling that lines the interior of the boat.
The rig and the deck also blew me away. To walk from one end of the boat to the other seems to take forever. The bowsprit is almost longer than my whole boat. The steel whisker-stays look like they were constructed for a suspension bridge rather than a yacht, and the carbon-fibre standing rigging hums with the vibration of wind and tension. Each mast towers aloft, and each enormous spar looks like it was felled in the amazon, judging by the size. In fact, though, these seemingly wooden spars have a carbon-fibre inner core, too, which gives much needed strength to the ridiculously powerful rig.
As you climb the ratlines (steps between the shrouds that lead up to the spreaders), you ascend amongst a plethora of lines and halyards, braided and three-strand, Spectra and Dacron. They are all the same shade of beige, so that it’s near impossible to work out or remember what line does what, until you have studied the rig properly and sailed the boat a few times. When you get to the spreaders and stand on them (no harness, mind, but this is the first initiation for new crew), you can look down on the deck and see various specks moving around, and you realise that those are people down there. You can see the elegant shape of Adix’s hull, and have a bird’s eye view of every boat for miles around. And when you look up, there is still more mast and more rigging stretching above.
As I settled into the routine of work, watches, meals and duties on board, I also got to know each individual character in the crew. As with many boats, there is an eclectic and dynamic mix of personalities, which makes being on board as interesting socially as it is professionally – but of course, in this sort of job, your social life is part of your professional life, and to succeed you must be capable of managing and balancing all different aspects of it. Generally, this means going to the pub more often than is healthy.
We were preparing Adix for the RORC Caribbean 600, a six-hundred mile race around the North-Eastern islands of the Caribbean, starting and ending in Antigua. As Bosun I was supposed to be responsible for the rig and the deck, as well as a navigational watch whilst sailing, but for the first few weeks I was simply getting to know the boat and helping out where needed.
In the meantime, I was enjoying being back in Antigua. I caught up with old friends from last year, visited my old workshop, and of course went to see my boat “Lorema”, which had been berthed inside a shed on the North side of Antigua for nearly a year. She was fine, but had suffered a little from the heat, and so I decided to strip her back to bare wood below the waterline, and reapply primer and antifoul properly. This was a good idea, but was bloody horrible work, and involved getting covered in poisonous blue dust and boiling hot flakes of paint (I was using a heatgun and a scraper) for hours and days on end. Every weekend evening I would come back to Adix looking like a Smurf, and spend hours in the shower scrubbing it all off before going to bed – or out to the pub.
Finally she was sanded back, and having done a few bits of necessary filling, the painting started. This went well, and I even convinced some of the Adix crew to come and get involved, although they had to be heavily bribed with cold beer and promises of sailing on my boat, of course.
Other Antigua distractions included the annual ‘Wobbly boat race’ – where boat crews have a few hours to build a boat out of a couple of bits of plywood and whatever materials they can find lying around, and then of course have to race them around a course. Cheating and dressing-up is encouraged, and we managed to do a bit of both. However, our hastily constructed catamaran didn’t actually make it very far around the course, as it shipped a couple of waves (of suspicious origin), and one of the hulls cracked as we flipped it over to empty it. However, we took part of our boat (with our race number on it), and swum it around the course to finish in some position that wasn’t quite last, at least. Needless to say, quite a lot of beer was consumed and everybody got very wet. At least plenty of money was raised for ABSAR, the local emergency response charity, which was the point of the whole thing.
In the meantime, the slightly more serious RORC 600 was approaching fast, and we had to get Adix ready to race. Sails were prepped, rigs checked, race crew flown in, rules perused, and finally we lined up on the starting line on a beautiful sunny morning with a light but steady trade-wind blowing. We hoisted nine or so sails, and crossed the line with the boom of the starting cannon.
We pushed the boat as hard as we could for three days and three nights. We had two watches of eight people, taking four hours rest each, but every time we had to do a major sail change we needed to get the whole crew on deck. We did 57 sail changes over the course of the race, so nobody got much sleep at all.
We also had guests on board for the race, and so not only were we working the boat, we were also making sure that they were happy and looked after (although this was mainly taken care of by a separate part of the crew). It was bizarre to be struggling down the side deck with miles of cloth whilst bashing along in the middle of the night, trying to re-pack the spinnaker in howling wind and rain, and to glance into the deck salon and see a peaceful candle-lit dinner taking place on the gimbaled table! ….However, we were all well fed and looked after, and I think the race was very enjoyable (if tiring) for all… After a time spent in first place, we finally finished (out of 70) 11th overall and 2nd in Class. For me, it had been amazing and awe-inspiring, challenging and tiring, but ultimately very exciting to finally sail Adix. I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time at the helm, and it was quite a feeling to have 270 tonnes of sailing ship at your fingertips. The contrast between the aft deck, which usually seems quite peaceful and dry even when going to weather, and the foredeck, which was very wet and loud indeed, was remarkable.
After the race we sailed back into Falmouth harbour and anchored amongst the many little boats scattered around. Our time in Antigua was not over yet – we still had Antigua Classics to prepare for, and I still had to get my own tiny boat back into the water, and decide what on earth to do with her. But first, we were to go on a cruise with our guests down to Greneda and Barbados, and I was along for the ride. For better or worse, I was slowly getting to know Adix, and to understand and appreciate the work and the history behind this unique and wonderful vessel.