‘Imaginary voices haunted the boat for two weeks’
James Muggoch learns the hard way that solo ocean cruising is all about practice, more practice, and yet more practice
Ifirst crossed the Atlantic over 49 years ago, aged 18, as one of 16 crew onboard the 180ft motoryacht Camargo V. I felt awe and fear at the vastness and relentless power of the ocean and vowed never to go near it again. So when, in 2014, my wife Louise asked: ‘What do you want to do for your 65th birthday?’ I have no idea why I replied ‘I’m going to cross the Atlantic single-handed.’
I planned to buy a small yacht, sail the Atlantic, run her up a Caribbean beach and give the keys to the first local I met, provided they drove me to the nearest airport. My friend Ian Joseph, who comes from Grenada, suggested that I give her to the Grande Anse Sea Scouts in St George’s, Grenada, instead.
Several months later, with the support of the Grenadian High Commissioner in London, His Excellency Joslyn Whiteman, and the Deputy Commissioner of Scouts, Tim Kidd, Louise and I started looking for a yacht that was up to the passage and would suit the Sea Scouts.
Finally we found a David Sadlerdesigned Frigate 27 in East Cowes. The owner of Annie of Orford knocked £2,000 off the price as it was for a good cause and threw in every spare part he could find. I’ve been afloat all my life but I’m very short on ocean sailing experience, and I only managed a few weekends sailing Annie in the Solent before leaving.
The broker, Boatshed’s Corrine Willard, proved an expert in her field and a good friend – indeed her husband Simon Judge delivered Annie single-handed to Marina Rubicon in Lanzarote and had to be restrained from doing the whole trip.
When I arrived in Lanzarote, friends of friends Mike and Jean met me at the airport, took me to Mike’s radio station (The Mix) for a two-hour local radio chat show, then down to the Marina to find Annie. With the victualling done, I had to wait for two days while a gale blew itself out – not a luxury I was to be afforded for the next 42 days. Finally I spent my last euros on ten lemons and a Mars Bar.
I set off at 0800 on 2 February 2016, or tried to. The 7hp Volvo engine refused to start despite an expensive service in Cowes. The spares would take 2-3 weeks to arrive so I asked the marina to tow me out of the harbour. The engine only had a range of 200nm anyway, and I would be able to sail her all the way. I had a solar panel and a wind generator to charge up the batteries to power the nav lights, GPS, AIS and VHF.
Once outside, I raised main and genoa and sailed slowly South down the coast of Fuerteventura. I’d been told that the northeast winds funnel between the islands but I left the sails up too late and, as darkness fell, I was going too fast. I had stupidly secured the preventer to the boom, so I had to cut it and, having opted for hanked-on foresails, had to go forward to change sails. An earlier accident, while breaking a stick to throw for my dog, left me night-blind in my left eye, and a motorbike accident four years earlier hurt my right shoulder so I was in considerable discomfort. While lowering the sails, I caught my right hand in the mainsheet track, fell into the cockpit, landing on my head, and had my first, but not last, totally sleepless night of the next 41.
In the first few days of the crossing James always wore a harness. It didn’t last long
Forty-two days after setting out, Annie of nears Port Louis Marina, Grenada