Escape to The Carribean

Sail Tuning on Practice Day

This week has been a busy one and fortunately guest blogger Bucko has been continuing his adventures on the high seas and beaming them back to Secret Water, for those of us stuck on land and dreaming of the white stuff. Whilst I can understand it entirely,  I’m not sure that I have total sympathy with his predicament of an overdose of power sail trimming and the need to get back to basics…as they say a bad day on the water is better than a good day in the office! Anyway, in this latest guest blog, Bucko brings us an enviable snapshot of the Antigua Classics Race Week 2010. Over to you Bucko…

Well there are some perks to this job! being in the right place at the right time has not only left just me exhausted and sore but has rekindled my love of all things simple in the world of sailing. After joining the crew on a classic Caribbean Carriacou for Antigua Classic Race Week I have had to relearn the art of hauling in a sail and hoisting a spar.

Our Captain and owner Alexis built Genesis with a local boat builder the traditional way on the beach with a minimum of modern tools and no epoxy or electronic gizmos. Alexis works as a professional photographer here in Antigua and is the driving force when it comes to keeping these traditional fishing craft alive. With 10 entrants in our class ranging from 34ft to about 50ft we left the dock on a clear afternoon for our first practice sail and within 20 minuets we were punching into a fine Caribbean breeze and a healthy seaway to wet our decks and bodies. It’s amazing how little you need to get the best out of a boat! A couple of bits of spare string, some borrowed blocks and the top section of a destroyed spinnaker (that we made into our secret weapon).

crew member “Shredda” free climbs the rig to repair spinnaker halyard

Alexia our captain inspects the rig

 The fleet was divided into two distinct groups; firstly locals who use their craft all year round for commercial fishing and then the owners who bought, or have had boats built by locals, and race and cruise them for enjoyment. So you are left with newish boats with new sails and old fishing boats with sails fuller than a fat girl’s sock. The strange thing is that when you sail one every day for work and have no engine or electronics you get pretty damn good at knowing your vessel!

Race one started in about 17 knots of wind and by half way around the 20ish mile course we had the later starting big division thundering at us with plumes of spray coming off the bows of Ranger, Velsheda and the other huge division one classics. This timed in with a 28 knot rain squall hitting the fleet, Genesis had every piece of washing hoisted, spinnaker, staysail (half the genoa left up),the home made “water catcher”(a sail hoisted under the boom of about windsurfer size) and our huge gaff rigged mainsail, with its boom hanging some 5ft over our stern! We were off like a shot dog!

the water sail in action; knicknamed “the underwhomper”

8kts…9kts…10kts…. You have this strong feeling in your stomach that this boat should not be going this fast and why did I volunteer to trim the winchless mainsail? After surviving the first race we then had a carbon copy for day two! This included rain squall and a worse seaway. Race day three was a reach out, reach back and same again, so it was a day for the waterline boats and we saw the larger heavy schooners get through us. It has all come down to day four with even points for us and our rival Summer Cloud for first place overall .Lucky for us there was some good heavy upwind work and managed to keep the enemy at bay… but we still finished with equal points and all held our breath until the prize giving to hear if we’d won on count-back or whether the race committee were going to do it on elapsed time averages…and the results were;

  • First in division
  • First in class
  • Second in concourse de-elegance


The simple things in life....crew member Kristiansen enjoys the rain squall


Racing Results

Alexis Andrews Photography

Vanessa Hall Photography

Photo Action: Marine Photography by Tim Wright

Nautical Flag Knowledge: Are you Dragging Your Anchor?

Nautical Flags

A must for everyone who puts to sea in boats is some kind of guide to nautical flags. Most people who are regularly on the water, whether it be to race or cruise, know some of the most commonly used flags such as the Alpha signal for  “I have a diver down; keep well clear at slow speed”.  In yacht racing the code has its own specific set of applications, for example the Y flag on the committee boat indicates that lifejackets must be worn, the Sierra flag for a shortened course etc.

But when challenged I don’t think there are many of us who could identify every single flag and its various applications without making a mistake. The exception (you’d hope) ought to be those operating on the water commercially. Having a handbook on board is all well and good but not if you’ve run over the diver in your tinny or over shot the shortened course mark in your yacht by the time you get the book out, in which case you could find yourself in a lot of trouble.

The Nato Phonetic Alphabet (not to be confused with the International Phonetic Alphabet ) corresponds with the names of the International Code Flags and  is the international radiotelephony code for transmitting messages over radio. Again, having to translate as you go from a handbook, when you are exchanging information over radio in an emergency situation at sea/on the water, is far from ideal.

As a side, I have found that knowing this alphabet has come in very handy when discussing the antics of naughty (small) children in their presence or mentioning topics that are taboo such as; “its time for “Bravo, Echo, Delta”, or “so and so is being a thorough pain in the Alpha, Romeo, Sierra, Echo”. This type of regular use is also a good way of learning the code during day to day so it comes to mind when you really need it.

Recently, however, I found a much more practical tool for learning everything in the international code. The Nautical Flags Application on Iphone lists them all with clear pictures and descriptions, includes the racing flags meanings, coastal warnings,  as well as flash cards and a quiz which you can test yourself with on a spare minute on the train.

Nautical Flag App Functions

Test Yourself


It also has a really cool “spell it with flags” tool where you can type in a message such as “Happy Birthday” and it will display the flag sequence, useful if you want to use your nautical bunting to say something meaningful in a “best dressed boat” competition! It also includes the Morse Code and the coastal warnings flags.

There are a number of Iphone apps that offer this type of function but the one I’m describing is called “Nautical Flags”, costs $1.19 and was created by Pub 9 Nautical

If you don’t have an iphone, here’s a really useful link instead. You can also purchase stickers at any good chandlery (boat shop) that display the code and its meaning that you can place in a sensible location in your cockpit or nav station etc.

Can you decode this without checking your handbook?

First person to correctly decode the sequence in the picture above gets a picnic trip in the tinny.

Super Yacht Skipper…A Day in The Life…

From The Fore Deck

If, like me, you are constantly tugged at by the call of the running tide, some kind of sabbatical or sea change is probably never far from your mind. My next guest blogger, Peter Buckley or “Bucko” as he’s known to his friends actually turned the dream into reality a few years back and headed to the super yachting mecca that is the south of France to try his luck on the dock. Reading this post is a must if you are thinking of escaping on the high seas or know someone who is. But parents beware….if you suggest this to slow moving gen Y offspring as an eviction strategy…it might be some time before you see them again…

Over to you Bucko….

About two years ago I made a plan to escape Sydney, work, traffic and the tax man! Sounded easy… fly to Antibes, France the super yacht crewing capital of the Mediterranean, and put your CV around and wah-lah…job, bulk cash, amazing yacht and a lifestyle we all dream about.

Pre departure I went and did my STCW95 course (AUD $1500) at Newport up on the northern beaches of Sydney (this is a must for those thinking of escaping) it’s similar to the course you need before you can pull a schooner in a bar except a bit more on fire fighting and first aid. After a week putting out fires with bloody big hoses and applying band aids I was qualified!

On arriving in Antibes I realised there were a lot of people with this same cunning plan… and they were younger and better looking than old sea dog Bucko…

What followed was endless queuing at crew agencies and copious amounts of “dock walking”. They even have a magazine called “dock walk” so when you’re not dock walking you can read about dock walking! If you have no luck getting a job you do “day working” which is doing all the cleaning and varnishing the already employed crew are too lazy/hung over to do! This gives you enough money to eat baguettes but not enough to get drunk or have any sort of fun (unless you find paying 55euro’s for a hotel room that is so tiny when you stick the key in the door you break the window fun).

AnchoredNo Wind

 By chance I was day working on a 170ft gin palace, giving the teak deck chairs an unneeded coat of deck oil…when an old friend walked on to the vessel along side… and asked why I was day working and why my baguette only had butter on it? After some chit chat he offered me the chance to meet his boss and try out for a job as a captain on a 62ft Oyster sailing yacht…. Within six months the boss decided this sailing lark was quite a hoot and we trotted off to the Genoa boat show to spend the life savings of everyone you have ever met, on a 100ft carbon fibre Southern Wind Yacht to advance his learning to sail programme.

Myself with girlfriend in tow headed off to Cape Town for six months to oversee the build of this monster and bring it swiftly and safely to the owner who would be waiting at a nice restaurant near Capri to see his new summer toy for the first time.

At Sea

The yacht has just had her 1st birthday, has covered over 15,000nm and is now in Antigua waiting for further instructions. For those with the inkling to follow this sea change I will take you into a normal day with guests onboard…

  • 6am wake up
  • 6am-2am work like your hair is on fire.
  • Do this for approx 10 days then have 347 rums and collapse…repeat 6 times per season or until you go bonkers.

 We are a floating hotel with restaurant and chef, a water sports park attached, all requests are met with enthusiasm and the word NO is banned. If you like the sea, magic locations and hard work and when the boss is not around enjoying the spoils of someone else’s hard earned …then get your bum to France it all starts with YOU!

Useful links:

Useful hints:

  • Have your CV well sorted and register with all the agencies you can before leaving home
  •  No visible tattoos or weird piercings
  •  Have as many tickets/courses as you can e.g. dive ticket, yacht master, power boat level 1 etc…
  •  Get your B1-B2 American visa sorted (as many vessels go across the Atlantic) you will need it and it takes time
  •  Get an ENG1 medical done they will often ask for one
  •  Smile till it hurts

View From The Crow's Nest

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