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Across the pond on a rock star’s boat

This post is dedicated to the memory of Richard Wright, keyboard player of Pink Floyd. Gone to that great gig in the sky

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All pics Leica Digilux 2. Green Island on Antigua. Our first taste of the Caribbean.

In September 2006 I received an excited phone call from Tino, a German guy I met in Cornwall last century. He had just become the skipper of a 65 foot Swan ketch belonging to a rock star. Would I like to come and help him prepare the boat for a crossing and then sail with them to the Caribbean. I would be paid. Well, as it happens I didn’t have much going on that couldn’t be put off for a couple of months so readily agreed. It sounded interesting if nothing else. I’d crossed the pond from west to east the previous year in my own boat and had thoroughly enjoyed it. It would be interesting to do a crossing going the other way.

The boat was in Palma, Mallorca and I was in St Tropez. As the crow flies it’s only about 250 miles but the flight from Nice was a staggering 800€. There was a cheaper option but it meant changing planes in the UK. Tino said it was no problem. He needed me there to help him and if it cost 800€ then so be it. Wherever possible I will take the ‘greener’ option if there is one. The beauty of sailing is that the wind propels you without pollution and it seemed a bit crap to start the trip by flying. Fortunately the last classic regatta of the Med season had just finished in St Tropez and many of the competitors would be sailing to Mallorca, either for the winter, or on route to the Caribbean. I was sure I could cadge a lift with someone.

It didn’t take long until I found a place on Tomahawk, a beautiful Sparkman Stephens yawl but then they broke a mast racing and were forced into the boatyard and would be out of commission for some time. I needed to find another boat. I zoomed into St Tropez on Percy, our trusty and indestructible Peugeot scooter and began asking. It seemed hopeless, either everyone was full or were not going my way. I sat on the quay in the beautiful late summer evening light, rolled a cigarette and pondered. As I sat there, a small boat appeared. It had the name Sumurun on the side. Maybe they could help. The crew were mainly Cornish and I knew them in a round about sort of way. I asked the 1st Mate who said that they had the space but it was up to the Skipper. He would ask. An hour later my phone rang. Be aboard by 18-00 that evening. Result.

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Sunset aboard Sumurun on route to the Balearic islands.

Sumurun is a Fife, the Rolls Royce of classic yachts. She was 90 feet long and lovingly maintained by a core crew of four. They even had a full time chef. I was given one of the very smart guest cabins which was considerably better than sharing with the rest of the crew in the poky forecastle. There was no wind so we motored all of the way. It was a fairly uneventful trip but I was well looked after and soon enough we were in Palma. Here I jumped ship and went to find Tino.

When I first saw him again he hadn’t changed one bit though he was taller than I remembered. He said that I hadn’t changed either but I seemed shorter! At this point I still had no idea who owned Evrika. I knew it was a ‘rock star’ but it could have been anyone. It turns out that the boat belonged to Richard Wright from Pink Floyd. Wow, one of the biggest bands of all time. I had grown up listening to Pink Floyd and I was delighted. It might have been Elton John or Kenny G!

It’s not the most beautiful boat with a weird sloping deck but the hull shape is lovely and she has a ten foot draft so can sail well. There are three cabins, two for the crew and one for the owner. There’s plenty of room for 6 but getting about on board when it’s rough is hard work with big spaces between handholds. Evrika is a Ketch with a special extra long mast. The original owner who dropped dead the day he collected the boat, wanted to race her so he also took out some lead from the keel and had coffee grinder winches fitted in the cockpit.

Richard bought Evrika when she was 4 years old in 1986. He has always had a skipper and he’s got through a few over the last 20 years. Some were good but most were bad. Luckily Swan build a good boat and she has stood up well to the abuse over the years. I was surprised and not a little disturbed to learn that the entire rig was original. Rod rigging should be changed every 7 years and here was a rig still standing after two and a half decades, many long voyages and a bevy of poor skippers.

When I first went aboard Evrika I was struck by two things, not the layout or the space below but the smell and the darkness. The whole boat stank of piss from the three leaky Blakes toilets. These wonderfully designed bogs show how you can take a really simple object such as a toilet and make it as complicated and as useless as possible while being impossible to clean while also being extremely heavy and expensive. On the plus side they probably looked pretty good before the piss removed the chrome. Mind you 25 years of being shat on is bound to take it’s toll and it’s here where British engineering really shows it’s metal. They might leak from every crack and orifice but you can take a dump in one and flush it away which is after all the main function of any crapper.

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I made it my mission to sort out the bogs so that the boat wouldn’t smell, it would be a pleasure to take a dump and because I knew that the girls on board would appreciate it. I took them all apart and removed the play so instead of feeling like you’re jacking up a truck it feels like a well oiled water pump. I changed the seals and made numerous adjustments. The pipes and valves were changed and all in all it was a big improvement. I stopped all the leaks and gave everything a good clean with plenty of hot water and soap. With all the ports and hatches open and the bogs clean the boat took on a better more loved feel.

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One of the coolest things on the boat was the framed platinum disc from the album ‘Wish you were here’ fixed to a bulkhead in Richard’s cabin. There was also a keyboard and some very sweet Genelec monitors aboard that Richard sometimes used. Not surprisingly we had a good stereo and plenty of music to listen to.

We would be six for the crossing to the Caribbean but for now it was just me and Tino. Two French girls, friends of Tino, would be arriving soon and the four of us would sail sans owner to Gibraltar to pick him, his daughter Gala and a friend of Richard’s.

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Your host welcomes you aboard…

When Severine turned up she was instantly delighted in the clean bogs and determined from that point onwards that I was someone to take care of. A mutually happy situation. She was petite, French and quite quite mad. She was the hostess on Evrika. She had worked on a few boats before but this was her first decent job where you didn’t have to brown nose the owner all day with a sycophantic grin on your face. She was delighted to have the job.

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Then Lili turned up and the boat was never the same again. I don’t know why but when the two of them got together they both went mad and giggled non stop and each time when they thought they were getting too much Lili would hold one hand up right and put the other flat on top signifying ‘Time Out’. Then they would instantly calm down, for a few minutes at least. After a while this Time out signal became commonly used aboard to suggest inappropriate behaviour.

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You can always tell when there are girls aboard!

They shared the stb fwd cabin and I had the owners cabin, at least for a while then later I moved in with Tino. The plan was that Severine would do the provisioning with help from Lili, Tino and I would sort the boat out so it was safe. Or rather as safe as possible. Then the 4 of us would sail to Gibraltar from Palma. We were in Palma two weeks and sorted the boat out pretty well thanks to the ship’s own credit card. New batteries, fridge and freezer service, new engine mounts and coupling, life boat, the one that was there was the 25 year old original one that came with the boat, and numerous other small but important tasks. It’s not helped by the fact that the boat has been badly maintained and many systems have come and gone over the years but traces always remain. I’m sure you could clear half a ton of old wiring off the boat alone. Evrika is quite well equipped with auto pilot, plenty of sails, generator, powerful charging systems, a water maker that makes 200 litres and hour and even a sat phone, radar obviously and a weather fax. 1500 litres of water and 1200 of diesel makes this one independent boat until something breaks.

Just before we left, Miles turned up to do the trip to Gib with us. Miles is a mellow hippy type who I also knew from Cornwall. It was a great treat to see him again. He was an excellent crew member and no one wanted him to leave afterwards. Since there were only two sailors on board, me and Tino, we shared our watches 3 hours on and 3 off. This was ok but after three days of boring motoring the auto pilot started making some very nasty noises so I decided to switch it off. Just as well that I did. Tino crawled into the hole he was going to get very used to in the following days. He found that three of the nuts that hold the back of the motor on had gone and the one that was there was finger tight. Good job we didn’t keep using it. Then we noticed other dodgy items so rebuilt the whole steering assembly and fitted new cables.

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Miles looks aft at the rough following sea on route to Gib.

Tino lost some sleep as a consequence of messing with the auto pilot so I took some of his watch but then I got tired and by the time we arrived we were both knackered. The last 48 hours was good sailing and we had 35 knots for much of the time. On the last morning after the seas and wind had been building all night, there was much moaning from the girls about how they couldn’t sleep for the noise and movement. ‘Just go and take a look outside’ I suggested. Once they saw the turmoil outside they went bonkers, Severine was sliding about in her knickers and t shirt impersonating Brice the Nice a character in some bizarre French film where this guy wants to be cool so he pretends to be a real cool surfer. Then they put on some cheesy techno house music and danced in the cockpit surrounded by huge waves. Miles filmed the whole thing on his video. That I would like to see.

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Dancing to techno in the cockpit. French girls are completely bonkers!

Gibraltar is the only place I know that sucks and blows. Miles left us and we were all sad to see him go. He was an excellent crew member. Richard and Gala finally turned up by bus after their plane was diverted. Lili jumped ship for reasons that I still don’t understand and this would leave us one short when Gala left us in Tenerife. Tino asked if I thought Celia would be up for the trip. She was and would meet us at Tenerife. Sorted. As soon as our last crew member arrived we set off. Andrea was a stocky Italian guy with a very cool and laid back manner. He was no stranger to Evrika and had sailed with Richard for years.

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Richard and Andrea in the straits of Gibraltar.

When you choose to do a trip on a big yacht you never know who you will be with. It doesn’t always work but as far as I could tell we had an excellent up beat crew with different and useful talents. By now I was very familiar with the boat having been crawling around it for weeks. We had all we needed, we were well stocked with food and ready for the off. While we were in Gibraltar, Pete Townshend’s boat arrived and moored on the same pontoon. Pink Floyd and the Who. It doesn’t get much more rock and roll that that!

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Evrika in Gibraltar. Pete Townshend’s boat is a few boats along the quay.

So we were off on the final leg of our journey to the Caribbean about 2500 miles away. The weather from Tenerife was calm with 10 to 15 knots from the NE. The trade winds don’t normally kick in until mid December so we were a bit early. Luckily the boat carries over a ton of diesel or enough to motor nearly half the way. When the wind died off we motored and the pattern seemed to be, motor for a day, sail for a day and a half.

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Graffiti we left on the quayside in Tenerife.

It was hot and sunny every day. There was little to do so I read and continued to write up my transat story from last year (40,000 words ) and still expanding. Andrea put out a lure and every few days caught a fish which we cooked up for dinner. At first I was a bit conflicted about the slaughter on the aft deck but I came to see it in a different light. Fish are prey animals anyway, destined to be eaten by something so why not humans? Also there is no packaging and they have not flown halfway around the world to get on my plate. One man, one rod, one fish seems fair enough to me. Still the fish we caught were stunningly beautiful and it was a shame to see their vibrant colours fade as they died. Andrea poured alcohol into their gills to calm them. It certainly worked as the meat was more tender and it seemed the very least we could do.

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We caught a Dorado and a king fish both were fantastic to eat. In all we caught about 5 fish and what we didn’t eat went into the freezer so there was no waste. The biggest Dorado was well over a metre long. Andrea said it was a male and soon one of the females would take his place in their school and become a male. Well odd.

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700 miles from the Caribbean we saw a dragonfly fly past which was odd. Until then we had only seen a few tropic birds and the odd pilot whale. Even the dolphins were thin on the ground but the ones we did see were huge. When I got back to the UK I wrote to David Attenborough thanking him for all the amazing work he has done over the decades raising awareness of the wonderful diversity of life on our planet. I told him about the dragonfly. He replied by hand written letter and suggested that it was probably a male looking for a mate. Quite how he was going to find one so far from land I do not know but I’m not going to disagree with Sir David Attenborough!

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Shadow play in Tenerife. Richard grinds the cockpit winches.

On one mellow evening I discovered that Richard was a Talk Talk fan. It had been difficult to click with him as he was a private kind of man who was hard to reach so to find something in common was great. He loved the Hammond organ sound of talk talk. Since I am a big fan I had much of their music on my laptop and we sat under the stars listening to Talk Talk and sharing the moment.

We all ate together around the big saloon table every evening but because of the watches this was the only meal where we got together, all others taken individually when needed. We had a good crew with a variety of skills and talents. Richard didn’t do much in the way of sailing and would often quietly disappear during his watch to have a nap but that was fine, he was paying for everything after all. Severine was a willing chef and did her best to lay on a good spread every night. It’s no small feat to keep 6 hungry crew well fed for three weeks on a constantly moving platform.

There were no surprises on the trip, no real dramas except when Tino nearly lost a finger in a block when Richard misunderstood the instructions for a gybe and once when we were running dead down wind in 25 knots of wind and Richard inadvertently switched off the auto pilot while he was playing with the instruments. I saw him do it and rushed into the cockpit past 4 amazed faces and grabbed the wheel only just in time to stop what would have been a nasty gybe.

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Our first glimpse of the Caribbean after 17 days at sea.

It took 17 days to get to Antigua. We were supposed to go to English Harbour to check in but Richard wanted to go to Green Island first for a swim and then a meal at Harmony Hall. Nice. We anchored by the sandy beach and watched the Frigate birds and Pelicans soaring overhead. We also saw some Ospreys perched on a hill.

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Lovely soft sand. This photo has not been manipulated in any way. It came out of the camera exactly like this. It’s a very strange optical illusion!

Harmony hall was great with so many birds that were a treat to our eyes. All we had seen for the last few weeks was blue so the abundant green was a real treat. The food was fantastic and so it should have been for the price! It used to be a sugar plantation and is in a spectacular setting. On the next table was Tom Perkins the owner of the extraordinary three masted sailing ship, the Maltese Falcon which was moored in Falmouth harbour.

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The next day we sailed to English harbour and the end of our trip and caught a tuna and a mackerel. The tuna we gave to the geezer at Immigration and he was delighted. English Harbour is a nice place steeped in history. The locals were friendly and Bob Marley played all over the place. The local bar, just feet from the boat had only three CDs and two of them were Bob Marley! After 24 hours of that I asked the barman if he would like some decent reggae. Yeah man. He said. So I burned him a Toots and the Maytals and Burning Spear cd which he loved. Then later we went to Abracadabra a local resto run by an Italian and a brit. They were pleased to see Richard since once when there was a power cut, he played their piano and entertained everyone.

Their speciality was roast suckling pig which was bloody marvellous, their hot chocolate pudding was the dogs bollocks too! And so ended our short stay in the Caribbean. Tino and Severine drove us to the airport and we said our farewells. The flight was terrible. There was no space at all and the girl next to us got claustrophobic and freaked out. I wrote to BA when I got back and pointed out that slaves 200 years ago had more space than we did! I haven’t had a reply yet!

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Cliché maybe but here is English harbour, Antigua in all her beauty.

So another 4000 miles sailing under my belt. I have almost sailed once around the world in distance now. Having had a taste of the Caribbean, would I like to sail there in my boat? Maybe. The biggest issue with the Caribbean are the hurricanes but the locals seem to cope OK. I even got offered a job running a boatyard there! It was a nice place but very small and there is a crack problem amongst the locals but luckily Eric Clapton has a rehab centre and it’s free to locals.

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Devon our very friendly bar man has a refreshing glass of milk but it might have been something stronger!

My memories of the Caribbean are smiling black faces. ‘You take care of the island and the island will take care of you’ I was told by Devon the big black barman. And Bob Marley. Everywhere you went Bob’s tunes were being played. In Abracadabra they had a piano and the bloke treated us to redemption song. When we got back to the boat we could hear Bob from a bar along the way. We couldn’t get away from it. It became a bit of a joke with me and Andrea and we would try to guess which Bob Marley tune would be played next. When we got back to the UK we popped into see my brother and what was playing on his stereo but Bob Marley!

So there you have it, a condensed version of the last two months of my life. Obviously much more has happened but that is the heart of it. I hope you enjoyed it. I certainly did.

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Our first sight of the famous Frigate bird.

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