by Andrew Foote
I had passed comment on more than one occasion, about how lucky we'd been in not suffering any serious mechanical failures; perhaps I should learn to keep my big mouth shut because just as we left Guyana International waters, all hell broke loose. The engine room smoke alarm went off and the Starboard generator's fifty-five Amp trip blew.
I got Cathy on the radio, told her we had problems and would be cutting right back on our speed before chasing below decks to the engine room, rousing Aruno from his slumber as I passed through the accommodation deck.
The engine room was thick with black, acrid smoke which made my eyes sting, so I did no more than switch on the extractor vents before beating a hasty retreat.
I waited long enough for the racket of the smoke alarm to silence itself before going back in to inspect the damage.
Best guess was, the bearings in the alternator had collapsed and totalled the commutator as it was red hot to the touch, with smoke still wafting out of its casing, the engine that drove it had stalled and I hoped against hope that it wasn't damaged; a cooked alternator would be expensive enough to replace, but a six-cylinder Volvo Penta diesel would set me back bundles.
Nothing I could do until such time that this alternator had cooled down sufficiently to allow me to remove it, so I started the port genny, switched over all systems to it and made my way up top.
Aruno looked concerned. "Much damage Mimi-cu?"
"We've lost an alternator but I'm hoping the motor's okay, and all assuming it is, we can look for a replacement once we reach Suriname.
We might as well get underway – I'll call Cathy then get some iced tea for us."
We had joked about stopping off in Suriname, well not joked about the Country, it sounded delightful.
It was, up until 1977, a Dutch Colony and its inhabitants, all half a million of them enjoyed a relatively good life style barring a few spats with neighbouring Guyana over rights to the rich off-shore oil reserves.
We had planned calling in at the Capital City of Paramaribo but changed our minds once we saw the other alternatives.
Being once a Dutch Colony, there were towns with names that bore witness to this, such as Nieuw Amsterdam and Gronenburg, but the one that caught our attention was a coastal town named Totnes. This would make for an interesting twinning with the town of the same name in South Devon although, Our Totnes back in England wasn't on the coast, but was on the River Dart which if you were to navigate it, would take you to Dartmouth, which is.
The similarities didn't end with the names. Totnes Suriname was on the coast but the forest came right down to the Ocean, so to make it possible to get boats up to the town, we would have to negotiate a wide canal.
What little information I could glean off the internet, indicated that there were floating pontoon moorings a-plenty and turning boats of our length was possible at high tide.
The town supported some light industry which made me hopeful that we would find somewhere to buy a new alternator, but if not, it would be hey-ho and onwards to Paramaribo.
Having our feet firmly in tropical waters means that the daylight was short and we were running under lights by the time we found the canal entrance, so keeping a watchful eye on the depth indicator, we put out drag anchors and waited it out 'til the morning.
We had just finished clearing up the breakfast things when Aruno heard the sound of an outboard engine and went up top to investigate.
Ten minutes later we had a visitor who Aruno introduced.
"This is Mr Raul Caenos. He's like the harbour master here and he asks if we are intending coming up to the town."
"Tell him, Yes we are, and also that we have problems with one of our generators."
This led to more yapping in Portuguese.
"He says that if you give him coffee, once Cathy and Rob are ready, he will guide us up the canal and show us where we can moor. He also knows where we might get what we need to fix the generator."
"Brilliant tell him. Is he hungry? Rob and Cath will take some shaking, so if he'd like breakfast English style, then not a problem!"
Our friend smelt the air, then accepted my offer of food.
"He says we're the first people from England he's ever met, but our breakfasts are famous throughout the world!"
"Tell him I'll try not to disappoint him then."
Two sausages from a local butcher in Cambourne – the sort that don't grill down to one third of their original size, three slices of smoked bacon, two fried eggs, grilled mushrooms, grilled tomatoes and fried bread rounded off with toast, butter and Marmalade together with lashings of hot coffee saw Raul struggling to finish it all, but the thing was, he looked after us for our entire stay, introduced us to so many people, sent help to remove and reinstall a very heavy alternator, had two of his sons drive us to shops and markets so we could restock, and never charging us so much as a penny-piece.
My all-abiding memory of Totnes would be just how clean it was. No litter anywhere, brightly painted houses and the colourful clothing worn by the people…… absolutely beautiful.
His sons showed Rob a liquor store which would do us a deal on a pallet of six-pack beers – American Budweiser – six hundred 400 ml cans for $100 SD (around £40) – probably contraband, but who gives a toss at that price?
We had invitations to parties and barbeques and to be perfectly honest; for the first time since leaving Tresgillith, this was somewhere I could live out my life. But we were on route to Fernando de Noronha and Aruno's village, and it was time for us to leave on the penultimate part of our voyage, get passed French Guyana to the Brazilian coast, across the equator and the three hundred or so miles south to Cayenne, the Capitol of French Guyana.
We had to suffer a stop-over here; not that we had any problems or difficulties, but we'd been blessed in Suriname, and all of us – Aruno included, had been touched by the friendship and openness of all the people we'd had the privilege to meet, and memories of that all-too-short stop will be something I'll take with me to the grave.
Onwards then to Parnaiba, Atalaia, and finally, the last stop on our journey around the east coast of mainland South America - Natal.
Naturally, and having got this far, Aruno was straining at the leash to press on and get back to his village, but we were played out and needed to get some rest.
These last three weeks had been gruelling, what with heavy seas, continuous rain, and then there were the distances we'd covered.
Cayenne to Parnaiba, 500 miles east. Parnaiba to Atalaia, 500 miles east and Atalaia to Natal, 450 miles south-east.
I knew he wanted to get back, and despite it being a relatively short hop of 230 miles to Fernando de Noronha, compass bearing 60.50° east-north-east, Latitude 003° 51' 27.47" S Longitude 32° 25' 47.05" W (Aruno had worked this out and proceeded to hammer it home in my brain), it was still monsoon season and like as not it would be kicking it down when we arrived, so definitely not the way I had envisaged his homecoming.
This season lasted from March through to the end of August which was three weeks away, and interestingly, a little over six months since leaving Tresgillith.
We could wait it out.
Thinking about this, I remembered how scared I was when we hit heavy seas off the Kent coast, but now that seemed like a joyride. What we had encountered since was terrifying by comparison.
Two lonely little fishing trawlers doing battle against the might of an angry Caribbean, not to mention an unforgiving and sometimes violent North Atlantic Ocean, would be most people's perception of recklessness and stupidity, but the thing was, we'd met the challenges head-on, and aside from some damage to standing rigging and our bolloxed generator, we had survived. Our boats had proved their worth and our seamanship had been tested to the limit.
There was one added bonus.
On checking Aruno's and my joint bank account, Nick had paid in the sum of $75.000 US – our share of the TV rights and doubtless Cathy and Rob's would have been credited with the same amount.
That was a side benefit so far as I was concerned, the real buzz came from what we'd achieved.
We hadn't researched it anywhere near as well as we should, but that said, knowing back then what I know now, I don't believe we would even have contemplated such madness; we would still be leading boring and unproductive lives, untraveled and inexperienced in all things, on the South coast of Cornwall.
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