Day 24. Dolphins at dawn…. Land Ho

My day starts at 0200, I come on deck to find the wind has dropped, we turn the motor on.  It had been raining so it was too wet to sit out on deck and enjoy what is hopefully the last night of stars.  

Skipper is still flapping that we haven’t enough fuel to get there.  I am sure that we have.   There is still more than ¼ of a tank in each (around 250 miles at best estimate) there are only 70 miles to go now.  Ok, so the gauges are up and down because fuel is low and sloshing around, but there is plenty of sloshing and therefore fuel.  All being well we’ll be in later today.  Once we’re a bit closer he should hopefully have the confidence to go with two engines and put the hammers down, my enthusiasm for spending a whole night bobbing around looking at Antigua tomorrow night is nil!

The clock changed again in the night as we passed 060W, which is handy because firstly I got an extra hour in bed and more importantly it buys us another hour to get into Antigua in the daylight.

  There is a lot of low cloud around and on the horizon I can see the unmistakable loom of lights indicating land. Similar to the haze you see over Liverpool and Belfast way some evenings, no one else had spotted it, I guess it must be an island thing.  

On my starboard bow is one hazy light patch and to port another hazy light patch.  My instinct says I’m looking at Antigua to starboard and Guadeloupe to port.  I get the hand bearing compass out and take, what I know is a very very rough fix.  Sure enough 285 mag to Antigua and 240 mag to Guadeloupe, a quick plot of this fix on the chart makes perfect sense and is within 9 miles of GPS.  For a rough rough fix 70 miles out using just the indicators of land it gives an acceptable confirmation of our position for now.

  The dawn creeps in beautifully and I get a star fix with all seven stars the Book gives me, plus Polaris too, so after 24 hours with no sun, I have a good fix for our approach.  I estimate around 50 miles to run, having chosen the furthest west position of the cocked hat, giving me worst case scenario from my fix.  Sure enough the line between my two star fixes runs exactly through my hazy land lights fix too – mighty!  

Then the day (which hadn’t really started yet) got even better. Just before the sun rose we were greeted by a welcome party of dolphins!! There must have been about 20 odd of them, common dolphins I think, small and very playful.  They spend about 5 minutes playing around our bow, leaping out of the water and doing tricks.   I told the lads they were there, but by the time they left the “wheelhouse” the dolphins were gone, to so those guys were just for me – wonderful.

  Burger and chips for tea tonight I hope!!!!!!   Well the morning was rather tense, to tense for sleeping.  The skipper was fretting about fuel, thinking we weren’t going to make it in daylight.  At this speed (one engine at 1600rpm and full sail in 8 knots of breeze giving us the usual 4 knots) we are still pushing it to arrive in daylight.  I am running round shaking reefs out, trimming sails and eeking every fraction of a knot I can get out of her (which is not a lot!).   

At 1015 I get to shout “Land Ho!!” as I see Antigua on the horizon, 30 miles off the starboard bow.  I’m just hoping now that we pick up a bit of sea breeze as we get closer, I’d really like to arrive before the customs office closes at 1700.  Finally, now it is in sight we can start to burn the black smoke a bit, 7 knots and we’re going to make it.  I await phone signal next….

Thoughts of land are making me nervous.  I’ve got butterflies in my stomach and I feel uneasy.  Is it the final pilotage or is it the land itself?  I haven’t really missed it.  People yes, but life on land, no.  That shape on the horizon marks the end to this ship board routine that I have become very much accustomed to.  My celestial companions, my clock, our position will all soon cease to matter.

I go into “harbour mode” and start cleaning out the galley, cupboards, storage spaces.  Partly to burn off this nervous energy and partly thinking the more I do now, the more time I can spend on the beach.

We close on Antigua over the next few hours.  Phone signal is my first contact with the outside world for 24 days and apparently “all is well” out there.  

The approach to English Harbour is fairly straightforward and we are anchored by 1530.  Shirts and shoes on, ship’s papers in hand, we drop the James Bond tender platform and head ashore to clear customs, drink rum and eat burgers.

Staring at me on the wall of the Galley Bar at Nelson’s Dockyard was the Three Legs of Man and the names of shipmates from home written next to it.   I drank rum… quite a lot of rum.  Back at the boat and although it is dark all of those stars are gone, just the brightest making themselves known above the lights of the land.  I wonder when I will see them all again.  I shall miss them.  

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