Hold fast

Hurricane season is here. Having ridden out several hurricanes, and having had a boat smashed by one, I feel qualified to offer a few suggestions on storm readiness.

In times past yachtsmen would be gone from the hurricane belt before the start of the hurricane season and this is still the only way to guarantee you won’t be caught in a Caribbean hurricane. However, for many of today’s cruisers, leaving the hurricane belt is not an option. I live in the Caribbean year round and therefore must deal with hurricane season. When my boat was smashed by hurricane Gonzalo, I fell into the trap of not preparing early enough. I also relied on the weather forecasters who later admitted that Gonzalo didn’t behave as planned. Although I can lambaste the met office for a dodgy forecast, the buck stops with me. My seamanship and judgment were at fault and I paid a high price.

If you can’t haul out, and plan to stay afloat for the season, then here are a few things to consider.



Choose your spot early and get as much ground tackle down as you can. Remember, other boats will be seeking shelter and will anchor close to you … this is a given. When I rode out Hurricane Luis in 1995, I was holding to a concrete mooring block and five anchors. I kept one anchor in reserve but didn’t use it even though I lost one anchor thanks to chafe. Lashing your boat to mangroves with anchors deployed from stern or bow is a proven way of surviving a storm. However, environmentalists in places like St. Maarten are trying to limit such actions. If you are in a so-called ‘Hurricane Hole’, then seek the advice of people who have sheltered there in the past. Coral Bay, St. John would be an example.

Chafe is your enemy

If you are lying to chain then you will need long nylon snubbers to prevent snatching. It is vital to protect nylon snubbers or anchor rode from chafe. Leading snubbers and rode through bilge hose works well but modern bow rollers are notoriously inadequate and there probably won’t be room for more than one hose and line. Where to lead everything is something you must work out for yourselves. During Hurricane Louis, I took extra snubbing lines back to the primary winches, and I had the bitter end of one anchor chain through a pipe and shackled around the base of the mast. ‘Belt and braces’ is your motto.


Try carrying a 4×4 sheet of plywood in ten knots of wind and you’ll quickly learn about windage. Strip your boat of everything that increases windage: Sails, awnings, spray curtains, BBQ, take off as much as you can; including external halyards (leave a couple so you can go up the mast after the storm). Stow the dinghy and never, ever leave the headsail on the roller furler, it’s a boat smasher.

Staying aboard in the blow

I have heard it said that there is nothing to be gained by staying aboard. This isn’t strictly true. There are lots you can do. For instance you can shake in fear, you can also tend the lines and keep chafe at bay. Before the wind really picks up, you might also be able to fend off should a small boat drag down on you, but if it’s an inter-island freighter, then good luck. At some point during a ‘monster’ storm you will find there is little you can do but hang on. And don’t expect anyone to come and get you, they won’t. Running the engine to maneuver is marginally possible and some skippers have reduced the load on dragging anchors and in this way saved themselves from going ashore. Be aware that the sea floor will be in motion and sand and debris might find its way into the water intake and the engine overheat. It happened to me. Dirt in the fuel tank will also be stirred up.

Moving ashore for the blow

I’ve ridden out several hurricanes both afloat and ashore. Ashore, I did nothing but fret about leaving the boat, afloat I did nothing but cuss for not staying ashore. If you do head for shore then take your valuables, electronics, money, papers and documents with you. Sadly, if your boat does break free and go ashore, you might not be the first person to arrive on the scene.

Fight or flight

Leaving an anchorage to outrun or out maneuver a named storm is fraught with danger. Lack of wind ahead of the storm, boat speed, crew endurance and unreliable weather forecasts are just a few of the factors to consider.


If there’s a weak link in your preparations, the probing storm will find it. Skill, local knowledge, experience and good equipment all help. Common sense is vital.



While my wife was away visiting her family in England, I bought her an automatic washing machine. “So what?” you say, but our path to becoming modern dobey-wallahs has been a long and wet one.

For a start, for 25 years we lived on a series of small sailboats, living four of those years on a 6.7m sloop with sitting headroom only. Laundry was done in various ways. At sea, we towed bedding behind the boat on a rope, which got the sheets super clean. The night we forgot they were there and a shark shredded them put a stop to that. In port, we washed them in a bucket (we couldn’t afford the launderette).  Our boat had no toilet and so we had two buckets, one in which we did the laundry, and one in which we did … everything else. Once, when we lost a bucket overboard, the remaining bucket became multipurpose. Something we never discussed with our guests when spreading a clean tablecloth before sitting them down to dinner.

In the West Indies, we washed our clothes in rivers and streams and beat them on rocks to get them clean. So-much-fresh-water!

Eventually I found work and rediscovered the joys of the launderette, which always seemed to have a bar nearby, or in some cases a bar attached to them.

Then the sad day arrived when we moved ashore and my wife refused outright to do the laundry in the sink or a bucket. All my protestations about how our mums used to do it – in a galvanized tub with a posser – fell on deaf ears and so I found myself in the local appliance store looking for the shortest way out.

I managed to convince my wife that the rudimentary plumbing in our rented apartment made no provisions for an expensive automatic washing machine but look, I said, there’s a lovely (cheap) twin tub. If I really struggled, I bet I could plumb that in.

She looked at me, well, actually, she looked right through me, but I had sort of committed to buying her a machine and while her fingers loving caressed the nobs and dials of a top-of-the-line Samsung automatic (almost breaking my heart), I paid the deposit on the twin tub and fled.

The machine was delivered and followed us from apartment to apartment for 20 years. I even bought a transformer in order to use it when we moved from a country that used 110 volts to one that used 220.

The only trouble we ever had with that machine was when it swallowed a pair of my underpants and I had to take it apart and rescue them from beneath the spinner drum, and the day clothes became tangled in the lid tearing it off and hurling it at my wife like a killer Frisbee.

But, oh boy, was that machine labor intensive. Fill the washer, wash. Empty the washer, refill and rinse. Put clothes in to spin and run like hell as it bounced around the room trying to kill you because the spinner was out of balance.

While my wife was in England, I sort of let the washing build up until I had no clean clothes, no clean bedding, no clean towels, in fact I was down to sleeping on the floor and wandering around naked, covering my bits with my hands when I walked past the window or someone came to the door. I could not go out, I had become prisoner to a huge pile of festering washing that I swear pulsated and moved around at night.

Eventually, shoveling it to one side and digging down, I uncovered the twin tub and began the mammoth task of fill, wash, repeat, spin, wash, rinse, repeat … ad nauseam.

The next day, dressed in clean clothes smelling of poorly rinsed laundry detergent, I purchased an automatic washing machine as a surprise for my wife.

I waited until she was home so that we could christen it together.

We loaded it up,  brought chairs and beers, pressed the button and and sat watching it go round.


I scored so many points, I’m now thinking of buying her a television.

Rocking the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta with Island 92, 91.9 FM …

The joys of the radio commentary boat

I say joys because for four glorious days, from February 28 to March 3, joy is what it was. The 39th St. Maarten Heineken Regatta rolled over the island with spectacular sailing, wonderful trade wind conditions, and superb parties that reverberated to music of all kinds from some seriously talented acts including The Jacksons.

I began broadcasting from the Island 92 radio boat back when all we had was cheap cell phones and a signal that at best was hit and miss. There was no feedback from the studio, you were on air or not, and you never knew which. A ten minute call reporting all the drama of a thrilling start might have been dropped after 20 seconds leaving you talking to yourself, a few photographers on the boat and a clutch of bedraggled pelicans.

This year I rejoined the sea-going team of Island 92 reporters; station owner Jeffery Sochrin (aka Doctor Soc), and the Caribbean’s leading sailing pundit, Cary Byerley, whose knowledge of sailing, Caribbean sailing in particular, is as deep as the Marianas trench.

To say ‘regatta radio’ has changed over the years is an understatement.

For one, Island 92 now has its own ‘dedicated’ media boat. No more sharing with a motley collection of sweaty photographers and videographers (it’s okay, we’re all mates). Better yet, upgrades to the station’s mobile communications equipment have placed Island 92 at the forefront of Caribbean sailing commentary and links via the internet allow what’s happening on the water to be streamed to the world in real time.

A team covering the regatta from various locations along the shore added to the listeners’ fun. All this was held together in the studio by Erb, Island 92’s techno genius and presenter whose catchy radio voice and penchant for Grey Goose is legendary.

Boisterous conditions make for sparkling sailing conditions for the racing yachts but are gut-wrenching on a small press boat. To calm my stomach I always eat at sea, but after four days of Island 92 sandwiches I (and my creaking bowels) never want to see a cheese sandwich again.

I’ve reported on many St. Maarten Heineken Regattas for radio, print media and video and done it in all sorts of conditions: flat calm with races abandoned, and storm-force winds with the media boat falling apart, cameras ruined, and press hammered black and blue and seeking medical assistance. The 39th was magic. Blue skies, 18 knot trade winds and just enough sea running to make it, er, interesting.

A good press boat puts you at the very heart of the racing. When a forty-footer was over the start line early and sailed around the committee boat to restart, it found its course blocked by spectator boats that forced it to sail so close to the start boat that its mainsail hit it with a loud thwack. We were there among the shouting and obscene gestures. Epic stuff. Disaster averted, but only just.

It’s fair to say sailing is not much of a spectator sport, but a knowledgeable, entertaining, live radio broadcast from the water can bring sailing excitement into the lives of people who know nothing about the sport and wouldn’t get on a boat if you paid them.

So, I returned to the radio boat and had a wonderful time. Back behind a microphone doing something I love. I’m a lucky guy.

None of this could happened without some very special people. A big thank you goes to the team at Island 92, stars every one of them. Afloat, commentators Doctor Soc, Cary Byerley and Omari Timmermans. The shore team; Charles ‘Mr S’ Southworth, Rebecca Low and Heather Court, and, of course, audio wiz and studio anchorman Eric ‘Erb’ Boyer. Erb broadcast our reports and kept the music pumping between the sailing action.

Thanks also go to Billy Bones Charters who provided us with a splendid press boat, and gallant Captain Al for keeping us safe if not always dry.


Island 92 regatta team (standing, from left): Captain Al, Omari Timmermans, Jeffery ‘Dr Soc’ Sochrin. (Front row): Gary Brown, Charles ‘Mr S’ Southworth, and Cary Byerley.  Missing from the photo, Erb Boyer, Heather Court and Rebecca Low

Join the Island 92 radio team for the 40th St. Maarten Heineken Regatta March 5 – 8 2020.

See you on the water





Refugees – Sinking to a new low

This is my first blog of 2019, in fact, I haven’t written a blog for months and what follows started out as a Twitter thread, the first one of those I have ever written.

What brought this on was the awful comments on Twitter about the refugees crossing the English Channel with some people calling for their boats to be sunk along with their cargo of men, women and children. It’s also in response to the British government’s posturing and the reaction by Home Secretary Sajid Javid who everyone knows is using a few dozen unfortunates to boost his career and shore up Theresa May’s corrupt government ahead of the crucial Brexit vote in Parliament. British politics and politicians have never been mired in such filth as they are now. The two largest political parties grapple in an ideological race to the bottom, while stripping the people of a once great country of their rights and freedoms. All of this is, of course, is grist to the mill for the Tory press: Sun, Mail and Telegraph, whose incendiary, divisive reporting of a few desperate people risking their lives to cross one of the most dangerous waterways in the world, keeps that all-important xenophobia bubbling nicely.

And so back to the reason I wrote this blog.

I was there when they brought an empty refugee boat to a dock in the Caribbean during the days when boats were crossing from West Africa to the Canaries. The occupants of this boat never made it. When it was recovered, the boat was knee-deep in water. The engine cover was off and the engine broken. Rudimentary tools were scattered around the bilge: hammers, chisels, screwdrivers, and the carburetor had been stripped down. It was obvious that a desperate attempt to repair the motor had failed.

Children’s shoes and baby clothes, adult clothes, men’s and women’s, sloshed about in the filthy water. Two 45 gallon fuel drums, one empty, were lashed to a thwart. Containers that once held fresh water now held nothing.

It was one of the saddest and most heartbreaking sights I have ever seen.

Perhaps they were driven mad with thirst, or starved to death. Who knows what horrors the boat’s occupants endured towards the end as they drifted west across the wild North Atlantic Ocean.

An inquiry of sorts was held but it was assumed the inhabitants of the boat had been taken by the sea and after a few inches in a local newspaper they were quickly forgotten.

When I read about people saying they should sink the refuge boats in the Channel, or shoot the people as they come ashore, I wish I could make them look down into that empty boat alongside that Caribbean dock.

Perhaps they would pick up a pink baby shoe and laugh, or perhaps the reality of what those people suffered would sink in and, like me, they would weep.

I’m saddened that British politicians are using the plight of refugees for political gain and I’m ashamed that so many of my own countrymen are willing to turn their backs on those seeking sanctuary.

My hope for 2019 is that the world will be a kinder place.

… And then I look at leaders like May and Trump, and thank my lucky stars that at least for now, I’m not a refugee.


Have you ever told a friend that you love them?

I grew up in a working class Yorkshire family where hugging and saying how much you love each other was more or less frowned upon. My wife’s family are worse, try to hug them and they freeze, it’s like hugging a hat stand. It’s not that they don’t love you, it’s just that telling you they do or giving you a hug is for daft buggers.

I have come to realize the power of the words ‘I love you’.

A while back, I underwent a medical procedure that required full anesthetic. Before I drifted off, my wife held my hand and told me she loved me, which isn’t out of the ordinary as we often say it to each other.

Then a friend leaned over and said, ‘I love you, Gary.’

I was startled and muttered clumsily ‘I love you too.’

Why startled? Because my friend is a woman.

Being told I was loved by someone other than my wife brought down a wall behind which I have hidden since childhood. By telling me she loved me, based on a deep and caring friendship and not sex or illicit romance, she set me free.

Why do we find it easier to tell our pets that we love them than our friends?  And heaven forbid that one of those friends is of the same sex.

Telling someone you love them is totally liberating, and I no longer shy away from saying the words. When I drop my friend at the airport to catch a flight, I tell her I love her. If she is having problems in her life, we tell her we love her.

Three simple words ‘I-love-you’ dripped like water into a meandering stream that gathers strength to become a river on its way to the sea.

The power is only in the words if you mean what you say. Betrayal is in the words if you don’t.



My wife and I were walking over the Pont d’léna, which is the pedestrian bridge that crosses the Seine opposite the Eiffel Tower. We were holding hands, as we often do, when a young woman walking towards us stopped about a yard away, bent down and picked up a gold ring. “Oh my god,” she said, gazing at the ring in the palm of her hand.

She was now right in front of us and we had to stop.

“Someone must have dropped it,” she said franticly looking around. She pointed to a tiny hallmark. “It’s gold! How sad that someone has lost their wedding ring. Look.”

She offered me the ring and, like a fool, I took it. Sure enough, there was a hallmark stamped on the inside. I made to give it back but she refused to accept it.

By now, alarm bells were ringing, but I own up, the girl was incredibly attractive and a wonderful actor, her timing was impeccable and her concern for whoever had lost the ring was OSCAR quality. Then there was her beautiful smile.

Again I tried to give back the ring, and again she refused. “I don’t need a ring,” she whispered. “I have no one, I’m alone and a ring like this must go to someone who is in love. And I can tell that you two are very much in love.

She looked and my wife’s hand and noticed her wedding ring. Then she raised my left hand in hers, “You don’t have a ring, you must have it,” she said. “Please, you must take it, it will make me happy and will bring you so much good luck.

I smiled and again said no, I can’t accept it. “Take it to the police and if you don’t want to do that, sell it,” I said.

“No, no, I cannot. I am a Croatian refugee and I am illegal in the country. I have no papers, no passport. They will arrest me. Please, please say you will keep the ring, it will make me so happy. Keep it and it will bring blessings on us both.” A gentle and now oh-so-sad smile played on her lips and she walked away.

She had gone six paces when she stopped and turned. “Do you have a little money to give me for food?” she said.

“Take the gold ring and sell it,” I said again.”

“That will never be possible. The ring now belongs to you both.”

And I knew she was right.

I dug into my pocket and pulled out six euros and put them into her hand.

“I see you have two more euros there,” she said. “Please, a little more.”

She pocketed the money and with a warm smile brought both hands together in front of her face in the Buddhist Anjali Mudra. She gave a little bow and waited.

I returned the gesture and she turned and melted into the crowd.

As I write, the ring twinkles on a shelf above my desk.

IMG_8345 - Copy

Brass or gold?

Scam or something with a deeper meaning?


I found myself in this situation yesterday and it started quite a commotion.

First, a little background. I live on an island devastated by a 200mph hurricane. Hundreds, if not thousands of families are still without roofs on their homes. The tourist-based economy is in serious trouble and won’t recover for a couple of years, unemployment is high, crime on the increase and we are going into what we call the low season when traditionally there are fewer jobs and less money around. On the Dutch side of the island, there is no benefit system.

The following happened when I walked out of a car parts store and into a man of indeterminate age dressed in rags.  He was filthy, he stank, he was shoeless, his feet were calloused and most of his toenails gone. He hit me with a lie and then asked for 75 cents.

Our lives couldn’t be more different. I’m employed, happily married, keep myself clean, sleep in a bed at night under a solid if somewhat shaken roof, occasionally eat in restaurants and enjoy a drink. We have electricity, running water, Internet.

The man never came close, he wasn’t threatening, he asked for 75 cents. I gave him a dollar.

That’s when the sales clerk stormed out of the parts store. She started haranguing the beggar and then turned her ire on me.

I pushed the dollar bill into the beggar’s hand and told him he best leave. He shuffled off as the sales lady shouted at him never to return.

“You shouldn’t do that, you shouldn’t encourage them. We don’t want his sort here,” she told me angrily. “You know what he’ll spend that dollar on, don’t you?”

“Probably,” I said, “but now it’s his money to do with as he likes. Why would I take that freedom from him, he’s lost everything else. Look at him, look at the state he’s in.”

“He made the choice to live like that and you aren’t helping him at all.”

I pointed to myself and then pointed at her. “Look at us,” I said. I just spent money in your store on something I probably don’t need and you are angry because I gave a beggar a dollar.

Her voice softened. “You could have bought him some bread,” she said.

“Mm …”

She smiled for the first time and looked down at the ground.

The door opened and another member of the sales staff stepped out, this one a big guy.

“She’s right, you know. You really shouldn’t do it, it doesn’t help them.”

“Come on, I said, don’t gang up on me, I’m just trying to be charitable here.”

The woman put her arm around my shoulder. “I know, love, I know.”

So, how do you deal with beggars? Was I right in doing what I did?

Answers below, please.