Sailing my life away, part 20



I visited Cambridge and Ely at the start of my summer break.  Here are a couple of pics taken there.

King’s College Chapel in Cambridge.      ©.       AM
Octagon and Lantern, Ely Cathedral.      ©.      AM

I drafted parts 18,19 and 20 of these tales before leaving home to get the internet-intensive work done whilst I still had a good connection.    That was a good idea as I have been bedevilled by a poor service for the last few weeks and may therefore have missed some readers comments on part 18.          Please forgive me if I have.

I did pick up remarks made by DJM and Endeavour though and loved the “Guess the Lighthouse” competition and the enthusiastic entries at the time.        Mark you, the photo was on a scale that made me think the correct answer was deduced from DJM’s obvious familiarity with the  Irish south coast rather than by recognition of the structure!           Endeavour’s response to my speculation about his role during the Chandler’s capture shows the danger of making guesses based on insufficient information.     Clearly, he is more familiar than aged amateur sailors with the world of Len Deighton and John le Carré – sssh! – ’nuff said.        Neither did I get close enough to Middle-Eastern Royalty to go boozing with the staff of their floating Palace.     I did once spend a few weeks in Teheran though in the mid-eighties and recognise people from that part of the world can knock back the hooch in private however strictly they observe the no-alcohol rules in public – smoke Camels too.

Just before leaving home I was skipping through the “Comments that no one reads” and had an idea I could contribute indirectly to the discussion about how to connect a power supply to an electric motor.    My contribution could of course be made in a sentence or two but there were some interesting and unfortunate aspects of my own experience that I hope will inform and entertain readers.

So, breaking my own intent that you should accompany me throughout my early days without distraction please step into my time-machine and move forward from July 1997 to January 2001.


We are now in the Caribbean, have already been to Venezuela and the Dutch Antilles in the east, heard the tale of piracy along the shore of the Paria peninsula, sailed north to the Dominican Republic, rounded Isla Beata near the southernmost cape of Hispaniola, and, slowing the machine down now, are leaving Haiti to starboard without stopping and approaching Port Antonio near the North Eastern tip of Jamaica.

Here’s a map to help orient you and, as the Michelin Green Guides used to say, that’s “worth a detour” in itself.

Alchemi’s Passages in early 2000   © OpenStreetMap contributors”

The Open Street Map Foundation (OSMF) conceived in London (UK) in 2004 developed slowly for the first few years until growth took off around 2012/2013 and has continued ever since.     Their work is free to adapt and use under the conditions described in the title link and the history of the foundation is summarised in this one.


In this detour we must first enter the opaque world of whether human ideas and knowledge can be owned in a similar way to Physical Property.       The concept of Intellectual Property and arguments about it is a lawyer’s paradise that has expanded with ever-increasing complexity since early in the 17th and 18th centuries.        There are now many laws in many countries for many types of Intellectual Property and some International agreements between countries to recognise and enforce rights granted by one another.     This field is often discussed at length during negotiation of Trade Agreements.       The types of ideas & laws most readers are likely to have come across are: – Literary & Copyright; Mechanical & Patent; Trade & Trademarks.

The Literary type has been going through what some observers call a paradigm shift in recent years that is still accelerating as we proceed with the Digital Revolution.      Reform of the laws has failed to keep pace with the explosive rate at which ideas and ways of conveying them to others has expanded,

Originally, laws were drafted to establish rights expressed in tangible form such as manuscript or printed words, musical scores, paintings and so on.     Now, they are applied to an ever-widening range of topics, many of which didn’t exist until the last few decades.   Some overlap with other branches of Intellectual Property – eg: should the idea and specification for a new gene, or gene-changing process be copyright protected, or does it have to wait until enough micro-biological engineering has been performed for patent protection to be sought?

The issue that affects us here on Going Postal is primarily one created by the Computer Software Industry.     BigTech Global Corporations such as MicroSoft, Apple, Google, Facebook, Flickr and so on have been at the forefront of developing new and sophisticated computer software and data.  They have also asserted Copyright Ownership of their “information” and published terms and conditions under which they will allow others to use and reproduce it.

This has resulted in an explosion over the last 15-20 years of complex conditions  under which licences are granted for use of BigTech’s intellectual property.      That development triggered a sort of counter-revolution from people whose objective was to make generic information freely available to the public under simple and preferably few conditions whilst still observing the requirements of existing copyright law.

One of the first of these was the Creative Commons organisation started in 2001.       They introduced six standard types of conditions ranging from “Information now in public domain”  to “Free to use but not commercially or if adapted in any way”.      That is why I have had to delve into this detour as SB wouldn’t allow use of the photos I first chose for this article.

But there is another reason for having done so.    I started to develop my own customised “My Maps”, using “Google Maps” base information, during the first decade of the century as a way of freely conveying my own cruising information to others.       They contain much more detailed information than that needed for illustrative purposes and I planned to include a screenshot from one for this article where I have now used the alternative shown above.      That might be an unnecessary precaution but it seems impossible for a non-lawyer to confirm in advance that they do comply with Google’s claimed legal rights if the creator’s work is used in a commercial publication – as explained in this short article from Oxford University’s Bodleian Library.

If a GP reader, known to SB, would like to see “My Maps” for many places around the world when planning their own adventures I’d be willing to exchange personal emails using a special address containing the Ancient Mariner name.           If any are members of the Ocean Cruising Club they can already do so by referring to my contributions to the OCC’s general digital library for which I was presented with their “Water Music Trophy” one year.    I later posted them on the Cruising Association’s website as well but don’t know if they are still there.      They did not include experiences in the first 4-5 years of my sailing life and that’s why I’m now using maps digitised from my paper journals or new ones like the illustration above.



Port Antonio is a “Port of Entry” for Jamaica with all the associated regulatory infrastructure – Immigration, Customs, Health, Fiscal Control etc, and has its own Marina at which new entrants can berth.

I’d like you now to imagine you are a late-middle-aged gentleman standing on Alchemi’s foredeck holding the free end of a rope, the other end of which has been passed through the starboard hawsehole and tied off around a deck cleat. You are ready to step easily off the yacht onto a pontoon as the helmsman deftly manoeuvres it alongside at a slight angle and brings it to a smooth stop with its hull an inch or so from the pontoon (I didn’t always manage quite as elegantly as that description suggests, but didn’t do too badly if it was relatively calm with a current that wasn’t too strong – cross-winds and currents are the most difficult, especially if there are waves as well.)

But, you don’t need to step off, because eagerly standing there is a very dark-complexioned powerful looking man who says “‘Trow me da rop mista”. You watch as he very swiftly and expertly ties off the bow-line around a pontoon cleat and steps smartly back along the pontoon to provide the same service to your fellow crewman, slightly older than you, standing ready at the stern. “Now da springs from de centre-cleat” says the dark-complexioned man.

Alchemi was quickly moored in this way with the help of a man who’d clearly done the same job many times before.

That lulled me into a sense of false security so I had no hesitation in passing him the power cable to hook us up to shore-power and recharge the batteries. They hadn’t had a treat like that for about a month since leaving Bonaire the first time.   Nor did I pay enough attention when he said – “You got de wrong sorta plug mista – no matta, I fix it.”

My two companions and I then started putting on the sail covers and the hundred and one other jobs needing attention after a few days at sea.


Suddenly there was a flash of light, a loud bang, the smell of burning plastic, and a wisp of smoke curling up near a winch on the coach-house roof.

The plug on our shore-power cable was the of the type called “International” in Europe, and widely used in the Eastern Caribbean, but it was incompatible with the US sockets used by the Marina. Our helper had taken off our plug and poked the wires from our cable directly into the socket.

In Europe the convention was Live – RED, Neutral – BLACK, Earth – GREEN. Unfortunately, in the US convention the “Green” wire was the Live one, so our helper had connected Jamaica’s Live Power supply to Alchemi’s earthing system, and Jamaica’s power supply had won.                 Although the cable was well-insulated the close proximity of the winch and the cable as it made its way ashore had created a short-circuit from one to the other that had no difficulty in burning a hole through the insulation around both the wire and the cable in which it was run and jumping across an air gap of a few inches.       It must also have blown a fuse or tripped a switch somewhere but that didn’t concern me at the time.

(If he hasn’t already reached a conclusion the guy seeking advice on connecting a power supply to an electric motor would therefore be well-advised to check whether the motor was made to European or American standards before connecting wires of any colour).


In the office the marina manager said “Nothing to do with us mate”. “He’s just a guy who’s often here because he does jobs for visitors in the hope they’ll give him a tip. You’re on your own with this one.” “Now, here’s our schedule of rates for marina services – sign here please and initial the disclaimer there – that just says you accept you have no claim on us if anything goes wrong and accept full liability if you or your boat damages our equipment or any other visitor”.  (Those terms are fairly typical for marinas everywhere which is one of the reasons I preferred to anchor as often as possible once I’d got the hang of how things work. I used to go into marinas briefly to fill fuel and water tanks but usually only stayed at them when the batteries needed a good shore-power soak or if there was no suitable anchorage nearby.)


Alchemi’s lights still worked. So did the galley and bilge pumps, the GPS and Navigation instruments, depth, speed etc. But the Radar didn’t, nor the Chart Plotter. nor the Microwave. Oh well I thought – pity about the radar, I’d really have liked that, the chart plotter is a bit primitive but I have the paper charts for Jamaica and Cuba I had delivered from Bluewater Bookshop in Fort Lauderdale so I can do without that, and the microwave is more of a luxury than a necessity so that can wait too.

At this stage I was relieved the damage hadn’t been worse.

To close those parts of the story:-   The Radar and chart plotter had been made by the Marine Division of Raytheon, the American Defence Contractor and about three months later I sent both items back to the factory when Alchemi was staying in Deltaville, Virginia for a few weeks. Raytheon promptly repaired and sent them back. They provided an excellent service, especially when compared with that from the UK firm RayMarine which emerged as a continuation British company when Raytheon sold-off their Marine Division.

I had problems with the radar again five years later when in Singapore. Raymarine’s agent there said he couldn’t repair it but if I took it out of the boat, boxed it up, and paid the cost, he could arrange for it to be shipped to England where they’d be capable of doing what was necessary. I went through the hassle and cost of doing that but when it reached the UK the message came through – “We can’t repair anything as old as that – would you like to buy this newer and better model?” I was furious – the model and serial numbers hadn’t changed during the journey from Singapore to UK. I bought a new radar made by Furuno from a different dealer.

When I was back in Trinidad twelve months after the Jamaican incident, repair of the Japanese microwave was organised by one of the marine businesses in Chaguaramus who knew a local firm that could do the job. I often found people in so-called “third world” countries were remarkably skilled and ingenious. They could often repair things firms in so-called “developed” countries wouldn’t even attempt and do so remarkably quickly and cheaply too.


We didn’t want to stay long at San Antonio because the next planned crew change was due to happen shortly at Montego Bay at the other end of Jamaica.

So, it was only a day or two later that the three of us prepared to leave. With the engine running, one crewman amidships, one at the stern, and me at the wheel and engine control – consisting of a single handle operating both engine throttle and gear change cables I called out –

“Standby amidships – cast off astern” and the crewman next to me promptly let go one end of his mooring line and pulled the other to draw the free end around the cleat on the pontoon and back onto the boat.

My plan was to keep the midships line attached to the pontoon for a few moments, engage forward gear and apply throttle very gently thus causing the stern to move slowly away from the pontoon before casting off amidships, changing gear and reversing out into open water, but – THE CONTROL HANDLE WAS FROZEN SOLID.

I couldn’t engage either forward or backward gear or change the throttle setting from the tickover position it had been left in.

We scrambled back alongside and secured Alchemi once again in the normal way.

Time to take stock.

My companions were great. They both had return flights to UK booked from Montego Bay at the other end of the Island in a few days time and obviously weren’t going to get there in time by sea. But they found connecting flights to Montego from Port Antonio that gave them a couple of days leeway so they both agreed to stay that long and help me try to sort things out.


We soon worked out the problem was due to both cables having been connected solidly to the sheaths in which they ran by the heat generated during the electrical shock.

In that respect, its effects had been like those arising from a lightening strike. Its almost impossible to predict what will be damaged where. Wires of angel-hair diameter and delicate electronics in the GPS and Nav instruments had survived but very substantial cables in equally substantial sheaths had fused together solid.

Reflecting on things I was thankful Bill Crealock had insisted on the copper strip visible in the photograph in Part 4 of this series and that Pacific Seacraft had installed it so carefully.        If the excellent path to earth had not been available, perhaps the short circuit wouldn’t have been created in the first place.     But if it had happened anyway there would have been a much higher risk of more heat generation leading to a fire.      And fires on yachts made from combustible resins and carrying gas tanks for cooking are notorious for destroying themselves, others nearby, and people.

Having got that far the next problem of course was one of how to remove the damaged cables. Disconnecting them at the engine end was relatively straightforward and could be accomplished by lying flat on the cabin sole, stretching an arm deep within a cavity between the engine and a side wall, feeling around with ones fingers, withdrawing again to find a spanner that one hoped would be the right size, rinse and repeat and so on.

Getting the cover-plate off the control handle was more difficult. It was easier to see because it was out in the open, but the plate and pedestal were made from aluminium and the screws holding it in position from stainless steel. Now these two materials love one another so much when they’re in hot, humid, salt-laden air they want to unite and become one. Furthermore these screws were small and had only shallow slots for a thin-bladed screwdriver to use for leverage. !*&$*&!$.

Eventually we got them out, and destroyed them in the process but now we were able to withdraw the handle from the steering wheel pedestal bringing the two cables with it.   I’m now far too old to go to sea again but after this experience would advise anyone to choose separate levers and cables for throttle and gear-change because getting the cables out of the mechanism, and especially putting new ones back was a real b****r.

Now we had a yacht that had lost its radar and chart plotter, an engine that worked well enough but no means of putting it into gear or changing its speed – what-to-do?

There was no hope of getting new cables in Port Antonio but it was believed there was a guy in Kingston who operated a chandlery of sorts – he might be able to help.


We had some reservations about going to Kingston. At this time, Yardie Gangs in London were creating a bit of havoc but that was just a training ground for when they went back home and Kingston was the mecca for any tough guy who wanted to be boss. Port Antonio itself was reckoned to be the most peaceful town in the whole of Jamaica so we weren’t bothered there.

But, how did we get to Kingston and back?

We went to the square that was the centre of transport operations in San Antonio. This excerpt from my journal will give you the flavour of what happened there.

As soon as we appeared we were besieged by taxi and mini-bus drivers “Where you wanna go Mon?, “Ocho Rio this way”, “Anotto Bay here”, and they all swore there was no direct way of getting to Kingston. Then we saw behind a long line of mini-buses a full-sized bus clearly marked “Port Antonio to Kingston”. Furthermore it was on the point of leaving and did so as soon as we three got on.

“Dubdem Sound System :: Jamaican Tour 2006” by Dubdem • Música • Design • Sound System is licensed with CC BY 2.0.

Please note this image has been licensed for commercial use as explained earlier and was produced to advertise the sound system used in this luxury coach.       The public bus we took had no sound-system, was equipped with hard bench seats and was more crowded.

That was a bus ride and a half. The countryside is mountainous with deep, steep-sided valleys and many offshoot ridges to be worked around.   It took three noisy hours with many stops to pick up or let off passengers and once in Kingston itself the traffic was thick, especially in the downtown area where pedestrians and stalls blocked all the space unoccupied by other vehicles.    We also passed through some areas which were the local equivalent of many Council estates in the UK.

“Duhaney Park, Kingston” by James Willamor is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0.

After some haggling with a taxi-driver at the bus station a fare was agreed to take us to an address I’d been given over the ‘phone. The only problem seemed to be the taxi-driver didn’t know where it was but we set off anyway after a conference with his competitors! After many stops to ask directions from passers-by we pulled up at a bungalow in a residential district for the prosperous.

Despite appearances this was the right place – a business started as a side-line in M Ducasse’s front room had grown until the entire bungalow was filled with boating bits and pieces, mostly for motor-boats, and here in a dark corner were some cables that were a bit too long, but had threaded ends providing what I hoped would be enough adjustment to fit and it looked as though they had the thread I needed.

“I’ll take them. Can I pay by credit card?” – “No, but there’s a cash machine at the end of the road”. Amazingly it was there and it worked so it was back in the taxi and return to the bus station double-quick.

It was just before 4:00 pm by the time we arrived – just as well because this downtown area of Kingston is extremely dangerous for visitors after dark – and a bus was on the point of departure. A was quick enough to get a good seat, B got one at the very back but I was afraid I would get travel sick if I sat with him because that position would be like a fair-ground ride as the bus bounced over ruts and swung round corners.
I perched on the edge of the gearbox cover thinking I’d soon get a proper seat as people got off. Wrong again! I ended up on that noisy knife edge seat for nearly all the 3 1/2 hours it took to get back to San Antonio.

I was shattered that night and wondered whether I had selected the right sort of lifestyle for my retirement.

A left the next day as I struggled with B’s help to fit the new cables. We managed to get them installed and although they didn’t feel quite right they did permit gear changing and throttle operation so Alchemi was mobile again. B left the day after.


I needed to get to Montego Bay by Tuesday 6 February to meet the plane on which my next companion would arrive and now I had to single-hand the passage for the first time since my Scottish experience in 1997 (not yet got that far in my chronologically correct articles)

That gave me time to make the journey in three easy day-sails , anchoring overnight in Oracabessa and Discovery Bays.

I would have liked to show you a photo of Oracabessa Bay that was a very pleasant anchorage in beautiful surroundings but couldn’t find one licensed for commercial use.     Instead, here’s one of a resort in Discovery Bay to contrast with the local living conditions in Kingston shown earlier.

“Discovery Bay, Saint Ann, Jamaica” by Jules Antonio is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0.

There are many such resorts in Jamaica with high quality service in beautiful surroundings with excellent security.       Visitors don’t really need to leave them at all but are sometimes let out to buy souvenirs in local markets.

Sailing along the coast turned out to be easy with calm sunny days, pleasant winds and quiet anchorages.    I did once nearly get into trouble by going closer than I should have done to Umbrella Point before reaching Montego Bay. The bottom shelved a lot more rapidly than I expected (I didn’t have really detailed charts and should have stayed farther offshore) and there was a great deal of long tenacious seaweed about. So much in fact that some became entangled around the rudder and Alchemi became very sluggish on the helm.        I returned to deeper water as soon as I could, and, after making my way around the final reefs arrived at the anchorage outside the yacht club to see another sailor had gone through a tougher time than me as the two masts of this ketch, sunk in the anchorage will testify.

An unconventional anchoring technique © AM

Montego Bay is a large city with a commercial seaport that’s also used regularly by Cruise Liners.    The city has a major International Airport and is effectively the tourist capital of the country with many sky-scraper resorts lining the beaches.   I could go on a good bit longer describing other matters such as my argument with a Rosa-Klebb-like Customs Officer about incoming spares that should have been duty free but weren’t.

I’ve no space left in which to do that but there is one other experience I would like to tell you about. That only happened because my companion for the next leg of the 2001 cruise had a friend in London who had a Jamaican cousin who lived here.         I found several times during my sailing life that having a contact who lived in a country being visited created a much better insight into the people and their way of life than could be obtained from photos or documents alone.  So it was here –

L was a middle-aged Lady who was a Missionary for a Church of “Born Again Christians” so my companion and I attended a service one Sunday.

My goodness, talk about Passion in a Preacher and Fire&Brimstone in his sermon. He would have put Lawrence Olivier to shame with the former and John Knox with the latter.

He started off slowly and quietly, varying the speed and tone of his delivery but playing all the time on the thoughts and emotions of the congregation. Gradually he became louder, more emphatic, and more rhythmic. Once he had his audience in a semi-trance he really went to town interspersing his words with a cry of “Praise the Lord”, followed by a pause, giving the worshippers enough time to repeat in the same musical way with the same emphasis “Praise the Lord”. Occasionally he would vary his cry and call out “Hallelujah” and the congregation would dutifully respond “Hallelujah”.

At one stage a young couple who had been living in sin went forward to confess and seek forgiveness from the preacher and The Lord. They were surrounded by a group of missionaries who started singing a hymn of thanksgiving in which the entire congregation joined.

I found it exhausting to see and listen to all this but was convinced these people were sincere. Montego Bay was Jamaica’s main tourist city with many luxurious hotels and resorts. The city was rife with crime – at least one murder a week – and drug-dealing every day. I wondered how an ordinary, poor Jamaican could survive in the midst of all this wealthy materialism for foreigners and violence amongst their neighbours.      I think faith and worship is the way they have chosen to escape the environment within which they live.

Mind, not everyone was so affected either by their surroundings or the preacher – I just loved the smile on the face of this little chap who seemed more interested in the strangers than he was in the priest.

Boy in Church © AM

To be continued …………….

© Ancient Mariner 2021

The Goodnight Vienna Audio file