My name is Sam, I’m 14 and I live on a sailing boat called Fat Susan. I’ve lived on Fat Susan for over a year now and it seems time to recap everything my family and I have done in 2019.
We set off from Portsmouth, UK on 12 August 2018 and hopped across the Bay of Biscay towards Spain with mad Uncle Adam on board as crew. We spent a few months working our way down the Atlantic coast of Spain and Portugal. In Portugal we bumped into SV Banyu Aman, a liveaboard family who we had first met at home on the UK before we left. Our two families had lots of adventures exploring Morocco before coming to a stop in Fuertaventura in the Canary Islands. The Banyu Aman crew headed off across the Atlantic and we flew back to the UK for six weeks to rent out our house.
Christmas was spent back in Gran Canaria with visits from Nanna and Granny. It was here that we first met the crew of SV Sealion. The Sealion crew are a family of mental Cornish lunatics who had set off from the UK a month after us. They were great fun and they stayed with us (more or less) all the way to Antigua in the Caribbean.
January was a great start to the year. We had SV Sealion with us and it was the month of the first leg of the great Atlantic crossing.
We started off the year with lots of boat maintenance. Then the propeller started to make strange noises, and we had to haul out to check it wasn’t going to fall off. We discovered that it actually was going to fall off and the boat went back in the water while we waited for our Atlantic crew (the lovely Andy and Eleanor) to bring out a replacement prop from the UK. Luckily we had a few weeks until they arrived so a new one was ordered. Andy nearly got arrested trying to get it on the plane. We hauled Fat Susan out again to replace it.
Then after too much provisioning (we were still finding beer from these trips in Antigua) we set off into the great Atlantic ocean. Our first stop was Cape Verde which is not actually on the way to the Caribbean at all so our first eight days of crossing was spent going south instead of west. I’m glad we did though because it was in Cape Verde that we meet the crew of SV Avenger and our friend Gerard.
We scuba dived for Evan’s 12th birthday, explored the island and we even saw humpback whales breaching in the channel on the way in.
February began with the second and longest leg of the Atlantic crossing. We were rolling around at sea for fifteen days and we only lost a little bit of our sanity, which I think is a great achievement. Andy managed to catch two fish and vegetable-fearing Evan was very, very pleased with the immense amount of vegetables Eleanor managed to hide on board. 🙂
After fifteen days on a constantly rolling boat, waking up to see Barbados in the morning light was one of the most amazing sights I’ve ever seen. We hadn’t even set the anchor when Andy jumped off the side and swam towards shore. It was a surreal experience, sitting on a white sand beach in the Caribbean, looking at your boat which you had just sailed 3000 miles and hadn’t left for over two weeks. I’d thoroughly recommend it. SV Avenger had set off before us but arrived the day after and Sealion were over the moon when they heard my dad’s voice on the radio when they got in the day after.
Barbados was not my favourite island, I might go as far as to say my least favourite. It was very touristy but it was also our first island in the Caribbean so we were amazed. The water was warm for the first time ever and relatively clear. We spent a while exploring Barbados and Andy and Eleanor left for home. After a seeing all we wanted to see there and some amazing beach barbecues later we set off for our next Caribbean island, Bequia, part of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
In March, we covered quite a bit of ground. We started off in Bequia (pronounced Beckway) and explored the island with the crazy Sealion crew. Then we hopped down the islands to Mayreau and then onto the stunning Tobago Keys. I have never seen a place with so many turtles and so many chartered catamarans. It’s amazing to find so much life in a place that’s so commercialised.
After a quick stop in union island, we ended up in Carriacou and Sandy Island which were both amazing. We celebrated Tor from Sealion’s birthday on the uninhabited Sandy Island which is such a stereotypical desert island that it’s basically from the movie ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’. We organised a pirate treasure map for her, directing her to a buried bottle of rum. X marks the spot!
The best month of the year (my birthday month!) was an eventful one. When we were in Bequia the prop seal, which hadn’t been replaced for a few years, failed. If we hadn’t noticed it when we did the boat could well have sunk while we weren’t on board. Grenada was the closest island with a haul out facility so that’s where we headed. The Sealion crew were going up north so we left them and headed south for a bit.
Grenada was a change from where we had been. It was built up but not to the over-touristy extent of Barbados and I liked it. The people were nice, it had some amazing jungles and a very chilled atmosphere in places. We had the boat hauled out of the water by the biggest boat lift ever. The prop seal and some other bits were replaced and the hull antifouled yet again.
I had my birthday in Grenada and got a voucher for a windsurfing lesson. We met up briefly with the Avenger crew and went snorkelling on some underwater statues with Gerard. We also saw a nesting leather back turtle which was unbelievable and larger than Evan.
We set off for St Lucia with hope in our hearts to have a nice chilled passage before meeting up with the Sealions. However, reality is often disappointing and I ended up helming in 39.7 knots of wind that night. We did survive though and we made it to St Lucia unscathed to meet up with our friends on SV Sealion.
We entered Soufriere bay and discovered that it’s the bay used in Port Royal from ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’. In the films you can see some sheer unclimbable mountains in the background, they are called Petit Piton and Gros Piton. Apparently you could hike Petit Piton in a few hours so we thought we’d give it a go.
To call it a hike would be a stretch. I think a near vertical scramble over loose rocks interrupted occasionally by vertical rock climbs which had to be abseiled up on horrifically worn ropes and tree roots would be more accurate. It was one of the hardest mountains we have ever climbed. (Sam, I’d like to remind you of climbing Mount Kinabalu in Borneo… – mum).
Once our legs had finished aching (several days later) we began hopping up the chain of Caribbean islands until we reached Dominica.
Dominica was lovely and our time there was filled with sulphurous hot springs, lush jungles and friendly people. Our last stop in Dominica was the amusingly named Portsmouth (we come from Portsmouth, UK) where we again left the Sealion crew, this time to sail to Guadeloupe.
At the beginning of May we set off from Portsmouth for Terre de haut, one of the grand Anse islands in Guadeloupe. Here we discovered something that we had never used before, electric bikes. They were amazing. We spent many, many hours buzzing around the little island, eating cake and hiding from buckets of rain and free range chickens, all the while with baguettes in our bags and a sense of adventure in our hearts.
A few days and an unhealthy amount of cake later we set off for the main island of Guadeloupe itself. This butterfly shaped island is volcanic and what do you do if there is a volcano on your island? You climb to the top.
Unfortunately on the day we chose to climb the volcano there was a great big cloud sitting on top of it and we could barely even see the crater from the viewpoint that we just spent hours hiking to and on top of all that the wind was ridiculous. But we thoroughly enjoyed it so it was worth it in the end.
Our next stop was supposed to be in Deshies, an anchorage at the top of the island, but it appeared that every boat on Guadeloupe had decided that now was the best time to go here and therefore there wasn’t any room left. We decided to sail straight to Antigua instead.
It was dark and blowing a hoolie on the crossing between the two islands, so when we got into Jolly Harbour in Antigua in the early hours of the morning we were not so jolly, we were tired. We parked on a bird poop covered pontoon and collapsed into bed.
The next day we were greeted by the Sealion crew (again) who had family over to see them and had been in Antigua for a while. Many, many days of not much happened with some amazing beach barbecues thrown in every now and again for variety.
Then the saddest day so far happened. The Sealoin crew were finishing their Caribbean adventure and leaving us forever. They were heading back home to England and we were continuing on to the Pacific.
After the most drunken night so far for the adults, we said a tearful goodbye to the Sealions and continued to English Harbour in the south of Antigua.
In English Harbour, our friends from home, the McAndersons, were visiting. One of them was sunburned by the time she got out of the taxi from the airport (not naming names but it was Cat) and the time they were with us was one of the most surreal of the entire trip. It was like a small bite of home had come out to see us. We spent most of the time turtle spotting, swimming with rays, barbecuing on Fat Susan and exploring the island. It was an entertaining two weeks and it felt kind of like a break from our regular life. We were a bit lost when they left.
June was one of the best months because we went to Bonaire. Bonaire is one of my favourite places on earth so far. It is completely chilled, there is a ruggedly beautiful National Park, every one speaks English and there are a lot of cruisers, but by far the best part is the diving.
I have never seen such clear water with so much life and I’m sure it’s some of the best diving in the world. We saw hundreds of species of fish of every colour, shape and size, I doubled my number of dives (at least) and we ended up staying for almost two months (instead of two weeks). It almost became a second home. I woke up each morning and didn’t have to spend 30 seconds figuring out where I am. Apparently this happens to a lot of people and we had many friends here, mad Susie, the Avenger crew, the Askari crew, Think Good Thoughts, Yippe Yea, Ventus, we met more people here than anywhere else. It was like being part of a community and it was very, very strange.
In Bonaire they also have massive salt flats that take up most of the south of the island. The south was completely unique in every way. Most islands have parrots, Bonaire has flamingos. Most islands have a few national parks, most of Bonaire IS a national park. Most islands have forests, Bonaire has salt flats. Most islands have some fish, Bonaire has all of them.><> It was a cruisers heaven.
July was also mostly spent in Bonaire. This month we did night dives too. One of them was just off the back of Susan and it was unforgettable. Boats look wrong from underneath in the daytime but at night they are eerie (especially the weirdos with lights on the bottom of their boat). Diving is also eerie at night. Massive tarpon, approximately the size of one Evan, soar into your torchlight and attempt to snap up fish right in front of your face. It feels like being jumpscared by a freight train. But tarpon were not the only life we found that night. About halfway through the dive I spotted a turtle, this turtle had obviously been sleeping and didn’t look very pleased about being awake. It is the only grumpy turtle I have ever seen and hopefully the last, it’s not a pretty sight.
The other night dive we did while there was a special occasion. Every month, four days after the full moon an intriguing natural phenomenon occurs, throughout the sea around Bonaire there are minuscule creatures called Ostracods. These tiny plankton are bioluminescent. We were familiar with bioluminescence, having seen it in Fat Susan’s wake on most moon-free night crossings, but never on this scale. The whole sea lit up around us like a fantastic array of Christmas lights. Swimming above them was like being an astronaut, looking down at the lights of earth below. Whenever we moved more lights sparkled in our wakes like tiny fireworks, That was the best way to find anyone due to the pitch darkness. Diving with Ostracods was absolutely magical, one of my best dives.
We eventually left Bonaire and sailed to Curacao. Here we hauled Fat Susan out of the water for some much needed maintenance and so that she would be safe while we took a hurricane season trip to America.
August was the first ‘Merica month. These months had so much in them that they warrant a separate post so I’m going to skip past America in this one.
You can find my America post here – USA Road Trip – 7 National Parks, 1 Capital City and New York, New York.
When we got back to the boat from our amazing trip to America, Fat Susan was out of the water. When boats are out of the water they look stupid and you don’t get any cooling through the hull so boats generally turn into oddly shaped furnaces when out of the water. We fixed this problem by completing our long list of boat jobs and painting her hull as quickly as possible, before putting the boat back into the water where it belonged. We were stuck in Curacao for a while longer as the steering broke, but before long we were sailing back to Bonaire to pick up a new-to-us outboard engine for the dinghy.
Our dinghy had an astounding 3.5 horsepower outboard and was the slowest and least reliable thing on the boat. So we upgraded to a 15 horsepower engine from some friends who wanted a newer one. It wasn’t perfect though, it was heavier than Evan and older than me. We had to build a crane on the back of Susan and winch it up with a pulley system. It’s a pain but well worth it as now our dinghy can move faster than crawling speed.
The next thing we had to do was a two day passage to Colombia. This was a milestone for me and Evan as we had now visited six out of seven continents.
South America seems to be like the Caribbean but in the Caribbean everyone speaks English, here no-one does. Everything was in Spanish which was a little bit problematic as our Spanish wasn’t exactly brilliant (and mine was nonexistent). It’s a beautiful place though and Colombia is an amazing country. We left the boat in Santa Marta and took a slightly terrifying bus journey to Cartagena. This walled city is a strange place. The modern part sits outside the old wall and is just like any normal holiday hotel destination. But the old walled part is beautiful and full of history. We found all sorts of shops here from pancake restaurants to gift shops.
We didn’t only visit Cartagena though. When we got back we had a few days of school work and provisioning (boooooring) before we set off for our last country this year, Ecuador.
We were staying with our friends, Emma, Emília and Andrés, in the (insert Welsh accent here) vaaalleeys of Quito for Christmas and New Year. We stayed in their house near Quito, had a lovely Christmas day and travelled around the country visiting a large portion of it, including Cotopaxi National Park (which translated from Spanish is HUUUUGGE volcano), the old city of Quito, Otavalo traditional market and the beautiful Santa Lucía cloud forest.
The cloud forests were amazing. We stayed in a small hut near Santa Lucía cloud forest reserve. There was no electricity so we used candles for light. There weren’t enough beds in the house so someone (mostly me) had to sleep in a hammock. We saw all sorts of birds and animals, like Choco Toucans, the famous Cock of the Rock, massive lizards and endless swarms of sparkling fireflies. We hiked up to Santa Lucia Eco Lodge. Evan, Emília and I found it easy. It was flatish and we had breaks whenever we got tired so that the adults could catch up, sweating and out of breath, just in time for us to set off again up the mountain. There was a small trench we had to walk through and as we did hornet like creatures rose from their nests in the floor and we sprinted through that trench at the speed of light.
On top of the hill was a wooden lodge that my mum and dad had hiked to with Emma 16 years ago. It had a fantastic view over the could forest reserve, and hummingbirds, lemonade and a crazy swing that went out over a leg breaking drop. It’s one of the most vibrant places I’ve ever been and everything was full of life.
The wildlife in Cotopaxi National Park wasn’t as numerous as in the cloud forest but what was there was majestic. We saw a small hoard of semi-wild llamas striding majestically across the Ecuadorian plains and some “giant hummingbirds” (they could easily fit in my palm). The strangest thing was the fact that up there, among the clouds, it looked a lot like Scotland. We weren’t at the top of the volcano, we were on a massive plain about halfway up, and the rugged terrain, scrub-like plants and the cold damp climate reminded me of Scotland.
Somehow after spending almost two days there we didn’t manage to actually see the top thanks to some ridiculously stubborn clouds. It was one of the quieter New Years Eves we’ve had as there weren’t many people in this little hostel on the side of a volcano at a time of year where everyone is with their families. But we had lots of fun with Emma, Emília, Carmen and Luca while we waited for midnight. Evan kinda missed the celebration because he was feeling poorly (possibly a bit of altitude sickness) but he didn’t miss much except a round of “Happy New Years” and “This year is going to be amazing” (hehehe). Then Evan joined us outside and because this is Ecuador, someone put some fireworks in a hollow stick thereby creating a hand held firework cannon and then proceeded to set it off while jumping over a bonfire. Ecuadorians are strange.
That concluded one of the best years of my life so far. We had travelled from the Canaries to Ecuador and seen almost everything along the way and quite a bit that wasn’t.
I’m finishing this in Shelter Bay, just outside the Panama Canal where we are waiting for 2020 to get its act together.