Living aboard a boat is completely and absolutely about location and one’s potential ability to change it. To step aboard your vessel, untie your mooring lines, depart at a time of your own choosing and arrive in another country as and when the weather dictates, generates perhaps the greatest sense of freedom and independence still left to be found in the modern world. This is the dream of living aboard a sailing yacht and if you are ambitious enough to cross an ocean, then the primary way in which it will change your worldview is to discover that the middle of ‘nowhere’ is too a location, not an abstract blue void upon a map between continents but a place in its own right; the place where the wind comes from an engine room of the Earth, that directly influences the lives of every living creature upon our planet.
Having said all that, living on a boat is also about getting stuck! Things break down, the weather prevents your departure or you can end up in a place where you had no intention of going. ‘Lost Odyssey’ although it contains parts which reference the above is also very much about dealing with this other phenomenon. I knew I would be spending a good while in Grenada when I bought Odyssey but as the months went past, locked in the struggle to make her seaworthy , I realized that in order to get the best out of the experience, what I had to grasp was that I was not so much fixing up a boat whilst living in the Caribbean but living in the Caribbean whilst fixing up a boat. There is a subtle but very important distinction. I did not realise though, how much Grenada, its culture and its people would get under my skin and into my blood or the extent to which I would come to feel at home there. Much of the book is about my attempts to integrate as a 50 yr old, white, English immigrant into the local community. After a year or so had passed, when I came back to the UK for a much-needed break, I realised I had for the first time in my life bought a return ticket from somewhere which was not my country of birth. This gave me cause for much rumination on what it is that we mean by the word ‘home.’ For long periods I was out on a beautiful, semi-deserted anchorage. I worked on the boat by day, swam whenever the fancy took me, and sometimes did not go ashore for days at a time. I had no internet and only a book or the radio for company. Solitude of this intensity is an opportunity to explore one’s original ‘location’. We, all of us within our own psyches have uncharted realms or areas we maybe wish to avoid, and it was the enforced exploration of my own internal landscape during these times which resulted in some of the most important discoveries I made out there.
The maritime community contained many of the most self-reliant and versatile people I have ever met, some of whom, without exaggeration, were among the most experienced sailors on Earth! Many had lived aboard for decades and circumnavigated several times. To do this successfully, long term, on a budget, you have to not only know sailing and navigation but to understand and be able to mend every system on your vessel. But the words of the tired old axiom ‘to travel is better than to arrive’ contain a warning; if you travel for long enough then you can become just as trapped in it as the proverbial man stuck behind a desk in a 9 to 5. You will in fact have ‘arrived’ even though you have not stopped travelling. There were many examples of lone males (and they are pretty much exclusively males) out on anchorages in their immaculately kept vessels the world over, but though they have the ability and expertise to go anywhere they want, the truth is, they are shipwrecked inside their own boats.
The final fifth of the book is about the voyage North, perhaps a more classical Caribbean sailing tale. Having mustered a crew from England we sailed up the island chain, stopping at Dominica, The British Virgin Islands, the Dominican Republic and Cuba before arriving in Fort Lauderdale. Each of these islands are both beautiful and fascinating in their own right and each are described at length; but once again it is the ocean itself which steals the show as the ultimate location. There is much to be said of sailing at night, you alone at the helm with the rest of the crew asleep below, the warm wind at your back and the starlit sky above; such experiences can truly change your life. But it was 30 miles off the coast of Cuba in broad daylight where we reached the true high point of the voyage… We had been motoring for hours, the sails furled on a windless day, the sun was beating down like a cudgel, my crew were hot and bored (whisper it but sailing can too be boring). I decided to stop the boat, leave one man aboard, lower the boarding ladder and get everyone out for a swim. Most of the islands of the Caribbean are the tips of huge volcanic mountains that rise from oceanic depths. To swim in such a location, far above the abyssal plain, in waters four miles deep, calm and viscous cobalt blue, where your body floats as high above the ocean floor as an airliner does above the earth when up in the jet stream is something unforgettable. You will never feel as exhilarated, frail and inconsequential as you do, floating naked on the surface of that infinite void.
(c) Richard Fryer
About Lost Odyssey:
The West Indies, a world famous tropical archipelago, is a great place for a holiday but if you have a go at living out there and try to get stuff done, it can be a very hostile environment. This bundle of wonderfully intimate letters tells of a man who, having bought the derelict sailing yacht Odyssey, finds himself semi marooned and locked in an epic struggle to drag her back from the brink of extinction. His journey to the edges of sanity and reason set amongst the ‘disappeared’ of the maritime community is bound up in a love affair with the Windward islands, but especially Grenada its culture and people. This fascinating tale contains elements of Zen and the Art, Robinson Crusoe and a little Don’t Stop the Carnival for good measure.
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