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An Adventurer’s Tale -Words & Images: Craig Barnett

In July 1998 the Cable & Wireless Adventurer, a stabilised mono-hull designed by Nigel Irens, circumnavigated the world in 74 days, 20 hours and 58 minutes. The craft smashed the previous record held by the nuclear submarine USS Triton by nearly nine days - an achievement that remains unbeaten. With wave piercing characteristics the extremely slender hull decreases ‘drag’, achieving a significant reduction in fuel consumption through improved hydrodynamic efficiency.

The last decade however has brought mixed fortunes for this British marine masterpiece. After spells as a North Sea survey vessel, camera boat and race support craft, it lay unused and unloved in a Hampshire river for four years until recently coming to the attention of South African David De Villiers. Recognising the craft’s potential as a charter vessel for Cape Town’s turbulent waters, he put together a successful purchase bid with business partner Jerome Smith.

Migrating South

On 13th October the renamed Adventurer slipped her mooring and glided into Southampton Water. Through lowering monochrome skies that hung the horizon just a few hundred metres above the bow she passed the mist wreathed Needles and, with a somewhat anxious marine journalist onboard, headed toward Cape Town.

Once into the English Channel Skipper De Villiers mustered the crew to talk through safety procedures and the watch roster. The varying degree of experience amongst the nine onboard became obvious when discussing the ‘Man Overboard’ drill. The question, “Why should the throttles be immediately placed in the neutral position rather than reverse?” earned the patient reply, “Because running over the poor bugger in the water with the business end of the props is unlikely to improve their day.”

When David and I took the helm for my first watch at 8pm the shipping lanes off Brest looked like the North Circular on a Friday evening. Ships from around the globe converged in the Traffic Separation Zone before entering the English Channel. The radar was lit up like a pinball machine as fishing boats, large merchantmen and Adventure all endeavoured to thread a course between each other.

Fortunately as we cruised through a surprisingly benign Bay of Biscay the traffic died away and the radar showed clean sweep after clean sweep, allowing us to settle into the routine of life aboard. The social hub of the boat soon moved from the crew quarters in the bow to the aft saloon as watch shifts disrupted normal sleep patterns and there we’d talk animatedly of the expected opportunities for watersports lying ahead in Fuerteventura.

The Island of Strong Winds

Racing the sun to Corralejo on 17th October we cruised down the west coast of Lanzarote, passing the beacon on its’ southernmost tip as first light fell on the uninhabited island of Los Lobos. The sighting of decent surf generated an eagerness to skip ship, so with all haste we dropped anchor in Corralejo harbour, ensuring we allowed plenty of space from the harbour wall for the inter-island ferries to turn. Launching our tender, a fun little 5.5m inflatable that began service with a minesweeper in World War II, the skipper went ashore to check-in with the port authority and customs - leaving us kicking our heels impatiently aboard. Deciding that fishing was an worthy way to kill time Phil Young and I manfully set to the task of losing half the boat’s tackle on the mass of discarded ropes that lie on the harbour’s bed.

After a day spent kitesurfing, surfing, eating and drinking we weighed anchor at 2am on Thursday morning as a 9am refuelling stop in Gran Canaria dictated an early start. In contrast to the small tourist retreat of Corralejo, La Palma is a dynamic thriving port with a modern city attached. The large marina within the main harbour suggests that La Palma would be a worthy stopover on any cruise of the Canary Islands. However, no sooner had we pumped the 11,000 litres of fuel aboard (which allowed for two hour’s exploring ashore) we headed for the open ocean and the Cape Verde Island group.

Brown is the New Green

Everything I’d read before arriving at Ilha De Sal, Cape Verdes described it as being “the least attractive of the Cape Verdes” and I saw nothing on our passing visit to convince me otherwise. ‘Verde’ in most languages implies green or verdant, but a bigger misnomer you couldn’t hope to find. On the bare and barren moonscape of the North Shore the only sign of life was a few factory buildings and a wind generator. We’d come in search of surf, but not even that materialised.

Heading to the south of Ilha De Sal we did however chance upon a nice bay with pastel buildings and the original prototype of Adventurer, a smaller and earlier stabilised mono-hull also designed by Nigel Irens. Now used as a ferry between the Cape Verde islands Morabeza may have been dwarfed her younger sister, but there was no mistaking the elegant family resemblance. After a dip in the gin clear waters there was little dissent from the crew when the proposed stop on the island was cancelled and instead we headed straight to Ascension Island.

The Girth of the Earth

Heading south Adventurer beat clouds of flying fish from our path like a snorting gun dog, but as the equator crept closer three much larger fins appeared off our bow. Edging slowly closer to ensure we did not to disturb or harass the pod of whales, it became obvious from the black and white markings they were Orca. For over an hour we charted the family’s progress as they fed on a shoal of squid. Witnessing Killer Whales in the wild leaves a memory that lasts far longer than the time spent with them and it was with regret we watched them head off into the golden waters of the sunset.

Far from engendering any melancholy amongst the crew the arrival of The Doldrums was enthusiastically welcomed. The reflection of tempestuous thunderhead clouds on the inky depths forecasted an impending squall, but no one could have predicted the astonishing example of nature at work that we stumbled upon next. An irregularity on the oily surface drew our attention to a spiral of wind which was gathering energy from the warm water, creating a self perpetuating weather system right in front of our eyes. According to the Chaos Theory a small waterspout in such latitudes, gathering energy from the warm Atlantic, can produce a hurricane in the Caribbean. To observe a potentially powerful force being created right in front of our eyes was awe inspiring.

The Romanche Gap is a mountain range with yawning gulleys (nearly 8km deep!) and soaring mountains like the Pillsbury Sea Mount that rises to a towering 881m below sea level. It was here on Wednesday 24th October at 4:29pm we crossed the equator.

Crossing the line that divides northern and southern hemispheres for the first time is traditionally celebrated by the induction into the ‘International Brotherhood of Sailors’. This involves the skipper of the vessel performing the roll of Neptune’s representative to execute ceremonial duties. After anointing the ‘rookies’ with the contents of the slop bucket, a bottle of champagne was expertly knifed open by Higgo (our onboard sommelier) and after donating a draught over the side for Neptune we all drank to each others health.

The next morning, just when I was starting to run out of superlatives for describing the trip, I awoke to the sound of Bruno shouting “Dolphin! Bloody hundreds of them!” Grabbing my cameras and popping my head through the hatch I was met with a sight that rocked me back on my heels. For a mile radius around the boat twenty or thirty squadrons (with 30-40 dolphin in each) were homing in on a shoal of sardines that were being shepherded by Adventurer.

With the sun glowing from it’s exertions of hauling itself above the horizon, literally a thousand or more dolphin were creating golden tracer trails as they smashed their way through the spray. Nothing can prepare you for such a spectacle and no photography or verbal dexterity could ever approach describing the scene accurately. For two hours we watched the multitude feed on the fishes and the ocean boiling with the feeding frenzy.

Everybody dreams of swimming with dolphin and this was an opportunity not to be missed. Whilst curious of our presence the dolphin kept their distance, making the experience more emotionally touching than physical. Under the water the level of communication was incredible, like listening to particularly heavy morse traffic. Whilst no sound was audible above the water, below you were met with a barrage of squeaks and clicks by simply ducking your head below the surface.

Hooked on Ascension

Karl and I were on had the pleasure of first sighting Ascension Island at around 4:30am on Friday 26th October. For anyone intending to arrive at Ascension by sea from the north, it is worth noting that the red light first spotted is in fact the top of an antennae mast, not another boat’s port light! The island bristles with antennae, radar domes, bunkers and gun emplacements; testimony to its importance to the British Military as a listening post and the USA for space exploration. So secretive are many of the projects undertaken at Ascension Island that yachts are not encouraged to stop here and authorities occasionally implement a curfew to keep the streets clear.

Requiring a top-up on our fuel however, David had made arrangements for Adventurer to take on supplies and whilst waiting for the Harbour Control office to open at 8:30am, we decided to drop a lure over the side and indulge in some fishing. Within minutes the reel started screaming in protest. Fighting a large fish on light tackle takes patience and after 30 minutes of hard reeling David brought the fish to the surface; a flash of bright blue and yellow confirmed that this was a yellow fin tuna and we were determined not to lose it.

Heaving the 45kg beast aboard took three of us and as David filleted the catch he offered us a ‘red expresso’ - a tradition amongst tuna fishermen which provides a quick ‘hit’ similar to that of a strong coffee. The fish generates a huge amount of adrenaline as it struggles against the line and by sucking on the still pulsing organ, held between thumb and fore finger, you extract some of the adrenaline rich blood. As the organ pulsed in my mouth I recognised a familiar flavour, it was the same metallic taste you get before experiencing pain; strange but not unpleasant. Still buzzing from the adrenaline of our last catch, I was determined to get some underwater footage of the next fish being reeled in.

Richard took up the battle of the deep next and I dived in, but felt increasingly uncomfortable in the water as time passed. Clambering back onboard two sinister sets of fins began circling the boat – hammerhead sharks! The blood and frenzied activity in the water had attracted them and having no idea how long I’d been sharing their space left me feeling it was a rather closer encounter than I felt comfortable with.

With no mooring facilities available at Georgetown, only anchorage in the bay and a small jetty, getting almost a tonne of fuel aboard using jerry cans and the tender proved to be something of a mission. Georgetown closes down at lunchtime so Andrew to cycled off and rouse the local garage owner from his siesta, persuading him to run our jerry cans from dockside to his filling station and back again in his truck – several times.

Ascension’s capital is a small town with little aspiration to grow. Despite golden beaches, aquamarine seas, an interesting interior and abundant sea life (including humpback whales and huge turtles) the military presence prevents a rich tourism trade developing. The facilities for those arriving by boat are therefore somewhat limited. There’s no fresh water, fuel or moorings to be had, and even alighting your tender requires some athleticism, using swinging ropes and expert timing to haul yourself onto the jetty.

Georgetown does however sport a hotel (the Obsidian), a supermarket (where you can pay up to £4 for a cucumber!), a reasonable café, police station (complete with traditional panda car) and a bank. Hungry for internet access we descended on the Cable & Wireless office and were amazed to find hanging inside a picture of Adventurer, back in her Cable & Wireless livery.

Hell and High Water

Fuelled and provisioned we set off for St. Helena and for the first time on the journey we experienced some rough weather – but that didn’t stop us dining like kings. There is no better dish than the one you have caught yourself, and David being the ship’s hunter gatherer, put together a fine feast comprising of Tuna Sashimi sushi starter, followed by the crayfish we’d dived for that morning.

Outside though things continued to get rougher and most of us had difficulty sleeping. For my part I was troubled by three points of water ingress around my bunk and only by sleeping in a contorted ‘Z’ shape did I manage to sleep in the shallow end. A rough night aboard Adventurer feels like a cross between being strapped into a runaway express train and a midnight bombing run over Dresden. The reedy whine of the turbo and throaty vibration of the diesel engines mimic an aircraft, the constant pitch and roll eclipses the worst turbulence you’ve experienced and the rushing of the wind and water impart the sensation of travelling at a speed far faster than you are. Amongst all that, all you have to do is relax enough to fall asleep!

Thankfully, at first light on Monday 29th St. Helena broke through the gloom and after lurching around the boat like newborn foals for 48hrs, we were overjoyed at the thought of placing our feet on terra firma once more.

St. Helena

Located 1,200 statute miles from the nearest landfall of Angola to the east, it is St. Helena’s remoteness that saves the island from the tourist industry it deserves. Currently less than a 1,000 non-residents land each year yet whilst the list of those who have visited may not be long, it is nonetheless distinguished. Wellington, Napoleon, Captains Cook and Bligh, Arthur Halley and Charles Darwin all put in at St. Helena as we did; anchoring in Jamestown Bay. Their visits have contributed to the islands heritage and the names are still commemorated in various forms today.

With visitors few and far between, a craft as unusual as Adventurer was bound to stir public interest. Within an hour of landing cameras lined the quay; the skipper was bustled into the studio and placed in front of the microphone for a live radio interview and the local newspaper was crying out for information. Although the likelihood of our names appearing alongside Napoleon Street and the Wellington Hotel is as remote as the island itself, we will however be remembered at Anne’s Place.

Anne’s Place is the traditional base camp for sailors exploring Jamestown. As a family run restaurant it opens for breakfast, acts as a bar-cum-meeting point during the day and produces hearty evening meals - though prior booking is requested. Whilst there it is customary to sign the visitors book and the staff are happy to show you copies that date back for many years. David quickly found his passed drunken inscriptions and Karl sketched an image of the boat for the 2007 Adventurer crew to sign; so our names are now also recorded on the island for posterity.

Jamestown patently displays its trade roots and it is said that some of the island’s population trace their ancestry to the crew of the mutinous Bounty. From the town’s moat and castle, cliff-top gun emplacements and cannon festooned official buildings, the island’s strategic importance to both the British and Dutch superpowers of colonial times is obvious.

The architecture of St. Helena however is a far cry from the colonial splendour reserved for the more prosperous postings of the British Empire; instead it preserves a more accurate record of how an important staging post operated. Jamestown is pretty and practical rather than grandiose and gauche – more ‘Master and Commander’ than a Merchant Ivory Production. The pastel buildings exude quiet charm however and even the island’s jail, built in 1827 and still in use today, sports an inoffensive trim of ‘baby blue’ paint. The geography of St. Helena is equally beautiful and unrefined. The steep volcanic cliffs may present a barren barrier to the ocean, but this belies the lush hills and valleys of the islands interior, given more time exploration of the inner reaches of the island would be high on my list of priorities.

You can only spend so long aimlessly wandering around the streets and alleyways of Jamestown before being drawn to the challenge of Jacobs Ladder. Built in 1829 as an inclined plane to serve Ladder Fort at the top, 699 steps ascend 600ft at a menacingly steep angle. The record for quickest ascent was never under threat by our own laborious progress, but the effort proved worthwhile for both the view and the descent. The second half of the challenge presented by Jacobs Ladder is a neck-breaking (both literal and figurative) slide down the handrails. Gravity is merciless to the foolish and before any attempt is made to ‘ride the rails’ take advice from a local on the technique!

Being able to spend time on St. Helena was a privilege, but my sworn intention to return sounded hollow when taking into consideration the difficulties in getting there. Whilst the opening of a proposed airport in 2012 will enhance the island’s communications, it will also bring the inevitable influx of tourism and commerce. I agree with many of the locals who quietly oppose the airport’s construction; far better to preserve the island for the tourists it deserves by ensuring everyone arrives using the same method of transport used in its 500 year old history – by boat.

The Home Stretch

After once again taking on 10,000 litres of fuel from a truck by special arrangement, we weighed anchor for final leg of our trip to Cape Town. Once again however the weather closed in and a heavy beam sea also made the going uncomfortable aboard and galley shifts the stuff of nightmares. Before we arrived however there was one unfulfilled ambition to address. Breaking out the surfing longboard and a wakeboard, David was the first to get a tow behind Adventurer, using the large wake for some offshore wakesurfing. Robert, Bruno, Higgo and Richard all followed with varying degrees of success. Grabbing the wakeboard I jumped in next and was very surprised at how quickly it was to pop out of the water behind such a large boat. Wakeboarding behind a 115ft superyacht, 720 miles off the shore of Namibia – what a way to round of an incredible adventure!

We arrived in Cape Town on a blustery Sunday morning on 4th November and passing Robben Island, ‘home’ to Nelson Mandela during his incarceration, I enjoyed my first sight of the city and Table Mountain. On approach helicopter borne news crews circled above, smiling and waving well wishers came to greet us in flotilla and a champagne reception courtesy of the V&A Harbour Master waited dockside.

The whole city is currently waiting impatiently for their opportunity to book their ride on Adventurer and if you are ever in Cape Town then I highly recommend you take the opportunity to do so too. The boat will be offering short three hour cruises to Cape Point from the V&A Waterfront during the summer and is available for charter in the winter months. It appears this very special craft will now enjoy the future she rightly deserves and you should go and enjoy your own adventure aboard her.

Corallejo Fact File

Prices:

Bottled Beer – 1E
Cigarettes: 2.70E
Bread:
Evening Meal:

Mooring: There is a small marina in Corrallejo with limited facilities and information on visitors berths was hard to come by. Free anchorage is available just outside the marina, but be sure to drop at least 100m from the sea wall to allow the ferries clear way. A snorkel and stout knife is also recommended as the harbour bed is a mass of discarded ropes.

Fuel: Corallejo marina has no fuel facilities, though a petrol station 400m away serves both diesel and petrol. Take a jerry can.

Provisioning: There is a large HiperDino supermarket approx. 500m from the marina.

Currency: Euros. The tourist exchange rate for sterling/euro (£1 = 1.3E or less) is very poor in Corallejo so purchase before travelling if possible. ATMs are plentiful.

Immigration/Customs: No entry visas are required for European passport holders and for foreigner passport holders Spanish immigration/visa rules apply.

Corallejo Top Tip: If you are hoping to freshen up whilst ashore, then make it to one of the three Lavanderias (laundrettes) available before 3pm. We didn’t!

St. Helena Factfile

Potted History

Discovered by the Portuguese in 1502, but kept secret until 1588 when the it came to the attention of the English and Dutch.

Annexed by the English East India Company in 1659

Captured by the Dutch in 1672

Recaptured by the English in 1673 and remained relatively peaceful ever since…

…apart from a German U-boat sinking the RFA Darkdale in Jamestown Bay in 1941.

Language: English

Currency: £ Sterling

Medical Facilities: General Hospital with 54 beds and four Doctors. Dental Surgery is also available.

Prices:

Bottled lager - £1
Bread - £1.18
Diesel – 85p per Litre
Evening Meal: £6 - £10

Immigration/Customs: As a British protectorate no entry visas are required for British passport holders and for foreigner passport holders British immigration/visa rules apply. Call on the Jamestown Port Control on Channel 14 prior to make arrangements for arrival. A fee of £12 is charged for each visitor permit.

Provisions: Whilst there are several grocery stores (including Spar) and a butcher in Jamestown, visitors should be aware that some vegetables and items can be difficult to purchase. During our visit potatoes and onions were not available.

Fresh water: Available to boats on the quay at Jamestown. Dropping a lead anchor and mooring in ‘stern to’ is recommended.

Fuel: Unless required in large quantities (Adventurer took on 11 tonne by prior arrangement from a truck delivery), petrol and diesel can be purchased using jerry cans at Solomon’s Fuel Station, Backway, Jamestown.

Mooring: There are no marinas or docks at St. Helena, so all mooring is on anchorage and is free. A water taxi, (contact on Channel 16) can be hailed for an approximate price of £1 per return trip.

Communication: Phonecards can be bought from the Cable & Wireless offices on Main Street. A £5 card provides approx four and a half minutes talk time to the UK.

St. Helena Top Tip:There are no ATMs on ST. Helena, though banks will change money. Most businesses take a lunch hour and close by 4pm so expect to encounter an ‘island lifestyle’ approach to business.

Ascension Island Fact File

Language: English

Currency: £ Sterling

Prices:

Pint of lager - £1 on American base.
Bread - £1.35
Evening Meal: £8 - £12

(Making friends with local military personnel pays off in finding cheaper stores and alcohol on the military bases!)

Immigration/Customs: As a British Overseas Territory no visas are required for British passport holders per say (and for foreigner passport holders British immigration/visa rules apply) – however an ‘Ascension Island Entry Permit’ should be obtained before arrival or landing can be refused (contact This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ). A fee of £12 is charged for each visitor permit.

Radio Channels: Call on the Georgetown Port Control on Channel 14 to make arrangements for arrival. A fee of £12 is charged for each visitor permit.

Provisions: Solomon’s supermarket in Georgetown is the sole supermarket and prices are similar to the UK for most products. Fresh vegetables and fruit can be expensive however, e.g. £4 for half a cucumber!

Fresh water: No fresh water facilities are available on the jetty - I’d recommend finding a friendly local and using portable containers if a top-up is necessary.

Fuel: No fuel is available dockside so petrol and diesel must be purchased using jerry cans from Solomon’s Fuel Station – the owner is accommodating however and may run you about in his pick-up if asked nicely.

Mooring: There are no marinas or docks on Ascension Island but anchorage in Georgetown Bay is free. Alighting from your tender requires the use of a hanging rope and timing with the swells – this appears to be designed so that visitors can provide entertainment for the locals.

Communication: The Cable & Wireless offices close during lunch hour. You can either use the telephone and internet facilities here or purchase daily wifi access for use on the veranda of the Obsidian Hotel.

Useful Websites

Ascension Island Government – www.ascension-island.gov.ac

The Obsidian Hotel – www.obsidian.co.ac

Ascension Conservation – www.ascensionconservation.org.ac

Ascension Heritage – www.heritage.org.ac

Local Newspaper – www.the-islander.org.ac

The Author

Craig Barnett edited the Jet Skier & Personal Watercraft Magazine for four years and has contributed to many marine titles both in the UK and internationally. Now a freelance marine photo-journalist, Craig is selflessly dedicated to living a champagne lifestyle on a ‘Special Brew’ budget for the benefit of magazine readers around the world.