Few people would have expected that a 5-week expedition to sail the coast of Brazil and the Caribbean Sea could have been fraught with peril and fear. Few people would have expected that Leg 9 of Ex TRANSGLOBE would be a traumatic voyage through hell. But mother nature does not care for what people expect, least of all the crew of the yacht Discoverer.
Nine soldiers and officers of the RLC set sail from Punta del Este, Uruguay, on 20 April. Only three made it home safely without sunburn. Maj M Collinson, Maj G Collier, Capts A and A Petherbridge, 2Lt D Hounsome, Cpl P Ambrose, Cpl D Gibbs, Cpl D McManus and Pte J Jakusz, took part in this eventful expedition as part of a tri-service circumnavigation of the globe.
“At first it seemed easy,” Maj Collier recalls. “We just bought things in Uruguay ‘ souvenirs and such ‘ as well as having some huge South American steaks. But things took a turn for the worse; we set sail. Cruising north from Punters the waves made some of us feel queasy and Scrabble became all but impossible.”
The route taken by Discoverer ran along the entire length of the Brazilian coastline, where the weather is notoriously fickle. Storms brought gales of up to 50 knots and the sounds of distant samba; “it was a terrifying experience,” tells Capt Alex Petherbridge, “through driving hail and waves as high as SVs we struggled to hold on, let alone control the boat. We owe our safety to 2Lt Hounsome, the 2nd Mate; who kept his cool and calmly led us through our duties until the storm passed.”
Life on board was no picnic. “The fresh salad was gone within the first week,” says Cpl D Gibbs, “and the coco-pops were finished shortly afterward. If it wasn’t for the plentiful stocks of ham, cheese and nutella we would surely have starved.” Though surrounded by killer whales, dolphins and sea turtles Pte J Jakusz was only able to catch tuna to supplement the rations. Maj M Collinson served up a delightful tuna stir-fry to placate the hungry sailors, but it only went so far. “2Lt Hounsome came to the rescue once again. He whipped up the most delicious garlic-pecorino foccacia and some little sourdough bread rolls without batting an eyelid.”
The crossing of the equator was a momentous occasion. The crew gave offerings to Neptune ‘ bits of ham, soapy biscuits and a Croc ‘ and were anointed as ‘shellbacks’ with a ceremonial bucket of flour and pea soup.
Other than a brief stop in Salvador to stock up on margarine and caiparinias, the sailing went uninterrupted and the crew learned to love the open ocean. “When we landed in Grenada it was all a bit disappointing,” admits Cpl P Ambrose. “We had become so accustomed to the waves and the salt-spray and the monotony that we just didn’t know how to handle the party capital of the Lesser Antilles. We would spend our days on the beach wistfully watching the sun set over the sea, or on tables in nightclubs trying to simulate life aboard. We even swam in a tropical rainforest waterfall to remind us of the crash of the waves, but it was no use. We simply had to get out there again.”
Discoverer’s course took in Union Island for a fresh conch dinner, the Tobago Cays for a swim with wild turtles and Bequia for lobster pizza. With heavy hearts the crew had to make do with sunbathing instead of sailing and fresh seafood instead of ham and cheese. The final destination for Leg 9 was the honeymoon island of St Lucia. “We wanted to have a cultural visit,” says Cpl D McManus, “so we went to a local open-air festival. A kind-of party with loads of music and cocktails. The homemade rum drinks made the evening whizz by.”
After 4300 nautical miles of sailing and as many kilos of ham and cheese consumed, the entire crew of Discoverer are safe and tanned and dry. Would they undertake such a voyage again? “Perhaps,” says Capt A Petherbridge, “definitely the Caribbean bit.”