If you want to give God a really good laugh – tell Him what your cruising plans are!

Jolly Harbour Boatyard, Antigua – 17°04.0442N 61°53.0244W

The Plan

At the end of our short cruise in 2016 we put Mina2 to bed in Antigua to over-summer there during the hurricane season. Tim comes out in mid-February 2017 to re-commission Mina2, joined by old friend Richard Gaunt (one of the infamous Three Drunks) and together they would wend their way through the islands on a 10-day cruise to the Virgin Islands. At the beginning of March, the Downstairs Skipper would fly out to the US Virgin Islands to join Mina2. Richard would fly home whilst Tim & Maria would explore the little-visited Spanish Virgin Islands before returning to the US Virgin Islands to welcome on board Gena & Kirk Snelling, the Texan parents of our delightful daughter-in-law Maggie. This would be the first sailing experience for the Snellings as we cruised round the lovely protected anchorages of the British Virgin Islands.

The Reality

Right at the end of last season, our electricity generator breaks down. We receive the very expensive news that the problem is terminal. The company that made the generator went bust some years ago, and the parts necessary to fix it are no longer available. It will mean ripping the generator out of the boat and importing and installing a new, conventional, generator.

In addition the bowthruster was very sluggish and needed investigation. The bowthruster is an electric propeller in the bow of the boat that helps turn the boat when manoeuvring in harbour. It isn’t something that we use much but we would need it a lot more when Mina2 returned to the Mediterranean. Ivan who looks after all the repairs etc for us in Antigua took the electric motor out, had it taken apart and found that the motor had completely burnt out. It was irreparable. Unfortunately, the company that made the bowthruster had also gone bust some time ago and it wasn’t possible to source a replacement motor. So, again very expensively, it would be necessary to import and have fitted an entire new bowthruster system.

The week before I was due to fly out to re-join Mina2, Ivan had the boat launched and was taking it round to the marina, just 50 metres away, to wait for us. En route the engine stopped. Ivan was irritated. The engine had just been serviced, and the assumption was that the mechanics hadn’t bled the engine properly. Air had got into the fuel lines hence the problem, but one that would be very easy to fix in a few minutes. But it was worse than that. A lot worse. It transpired that the engine had completely seized up. Having brought Mina2 back alongside the quay in the boatyard, they investigated every possible cause and potential solution that they could, but could find nothing. Having got in touch with me to brief me whilst I was packing my bags ready to fly out to Antigua, the next stage involved taking the cylinder head off and investigating the inside of the engine from the top. A big job. But again, it yielded nothing. This was now seriously bad news, because the trouble was clearly at the bottom end of the engine and, to investigate that, it would be necessary to strip the engine down to its last nuts and bolts, have all 20 tons of Mina2 lifted back out of the water again and put into a cradle, then crane the engine out of the boat. The costs of this exercise were now beginning to spiral out of control, but we had no option. Mina2 can go nowhere without a main engine.

Whilst the mechanics started their work to get the engine out of the boat which would take over a week, I had arrived and started investigating the options. Rather than spend a great deal of money importing very expensive spare parts, including a complete camshaft for a very large engine, rebuilding a now 20-year old engine and putting it back in the boat, might it not be better to spend an even larger amount of money on a new engine and put that in instead. One of the problems is that to pop a very large engine onto a plane and fly it to Antigua would be prohibitively expensive. So it would need to be shipped. By ship. And that would take weeks. By the time we got the engine to Antigua and installed on Mina2, the Caribbean sailing season would be over and we would be in the hurricane season. Not to mention that Maggie is scheduled to deliver our second grandchild at the beginning of June and not being around for that was not an option.

So with Mina2 already out of the water again, we made the decision simply to abandon the cruise for this year entirely and start again afresh next year with new generator, engine and bowthruster and without the distractions of the birth of a grandchild. So Richard took his return flight home without even having stepped on board Mina2 (luckily he had just enjoyed a week’s holiday in Antigua with Libby his wife, so their time had not been entirely wasted), Maria’s airline tickets were torn up (luckily I had suggested to the Snellings that they defer buying their tickets just in case something cropped up). I would hang around in Jolly Harbour in Antigua for a week or so, then change my ticket to fly back home, lick my wounds and have a serious chat with the bank manager.

With an entire sailing season abandoned and faced with the astronomical costs of replacing some of the most expensive components parts on the boat, my time in Antigua sorting out the details, all alone, was going to be pretty depressing. But there were plenty of things to be thankful for:

The engine happened to seize when it was just a few meters from the crane that could take Mina2 out of the water again and put her on the hard of probably the best boatyard in a hundred miles that could sort the problem out. Had the engine hung on for a few more hours before seizing, it might have happened when Maria and I were alone on the boat in a tight anchorage, a day’s upwind sail away from a boatyard. Yes, it will be horribly expensive, but at the end of the day we will have a 20-year old boat with a brand new engine, generator and bow-thruster. And picking up next year, we will have a little more time for our last exploration of the islands of the Caribbean before bringing Mina2 back to the Mediterranean for her retirement from adventuring.

And then some friends arrived to cheer me up. I was on Mina2 against the boatyard quay, tidying a few things up when a dinghy came alongside with Graham and Chrissie, old friends and, as circumnavigators, fellow adventurers. Apart from giving me convivial company in the evenings (in fact on one of the evenings we were out celebrating Graham’s 70th birthday), they also very kindly offered me a berth on their boat Éowyn when Mina2 came out of the water. And a couple of days before I returned to the UK, dear friends Phil and Norma arrived in their boat having recently completed their circumnavigation. The last time I had seen them was at our post-cruise party after the Atlantic Crossing that we had done with them in 2009. So hanging around, rather than being a depressing exercise, turned out to be very sociable and many rum punches were enjoyed.

So I am now back in London, reunited with Pet Officer Snoopy, trying to manage this major refit from 4,000 miles away and not scheduled to see Mina2 again until perhaps January next year.


Tim Barker is a sailor and occasional adventurer. Since 2004, Mina2, his Oyster 485 yacht, and he (with the Downstairs Skipper and a wonderful bunch of friends) have sailed from the Arctic to the Antarctic and many places in between. Come join their adventures and read Tim's award winning blogs and journals from the comfort of your own computer screen.

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