Andrew Bray's yacht 'Firefly' is headed back to the UK after two years in the Caribbean. Here Duncan Kent reports from on board

After crossing to the Caribbean in ARC 2001, YW Editor’s yacht Firefly has been based in the Caribbean, cruising (and some racing) the islands between Trinidad and the BVI. She is now in Antigua, poised to return back across the Atlantic to the UK via the Azores.

Andrew is not on board this time (someone has to run the shop!) but Duncan Kent, one of the ARC crew is and will be reporting back to on a regular basis. Here is his first report.

Date: 22/05/03

Position: Falmouth Harbour, Antigua

Weather: Hot, still and extremely muggy

Crew: Beard one: Stewart Whiting (Skipper) – Bosun for Firefly’s ARC 2001 and man of many talents, including first class honours in watermaker stripping.

Beard two: Duncan Kent – Also crew for outward ARC 2001. Specialises in persuading electrical bits that really should be consigned to the deep, to keep on going well beyond their natural boat life.

Beard Three: Ross Farncombe – Newcomer to Firefly. Ross has taken a shine to seeking out the most uncomfortable spot on board in which to sleep.

After a 23-hour travelling/acclimatision day, ending with the customary tot or three, we set about the task of reducing Firefly to a maze of nuts, bolts, batteries, pumps and discarded panels. Starting at 0530 so as to beat the heat of the day, the first task was to solve the lifeless battery problem. Now Firefly seems to have an amazing ability to consume all things electrical. She holds the record for pump de-stabilising – sending no less than four freshwater pumps to the graveyard in just three years. Mind you, she has also done the sort of mileage the average cruiser covers in ten years.

Task one was to disconnect, demount and test her three batteries – starter, windlass and house. The first rule of boat building sprang to mind within two minutes of my writhing and contorting in the ‘Hell Hole’ – Firefly’s machinery/power room aft, so named because the lack of working space, air, light and floor combine with the searing heat emanating from her huge, throbbing inverter, to make it the most unloved area of the boat. So loathed is this tiny den that Stewart has threatened to fly home rather than go anywhere near the door.

Anyway – back to Rule One of boat building – if you make a piece of kit virtually impossible to reach, it won’t get looked at until it stops working. This applied resolutely to Firefly’s batteries. Lately, starting the engine has required throwing all the switches together to summon up all remaining volts from her now meagre energy reserves. But giving attention to the cranking battery necessitated a prolonged visit to the Hole, a job for Beard Two – the smallest of the three stout crew, at a mere 6ft and 15 stone. No problem I say – just whip those leads off and out she’ll come! Three hours later, with the pile of temporarily discarded bits now including a regulator, inverter, bus bar and just about every wooden panel in the Hole, I get to glimpse the starter battery. Meanwhile, in another part of the boat Beard Three is wading through a mountain of dubiously dated tins of lentil soup to reach the windlass battery – thought to reside somewhere behind the bulkhead. Out she comes, after a few of the customary comments muttered into the depths of the bilges, to join the others in the will she/won’t she line up. To summarise – a certain lack of moistness means that at least one of them will remain on the quay when Firefly finally leaves the islands.

Further tasks, which strangely all involved prolonged spells in the Hole, kept us going till it was time to replace some of the lost human fluids and Beard Three was sent off to procure some of the coldest Carib beer he could find. Amazingly, with just a few hours of sleep, and both temperature and humidity nudging relentlessly toward the high nineties, the tasks were laid low. The batteries were watered, a new engine loom fed through tiny, over-populated conduits, the inverter encouraged to perform minor miracles and the whole shooting match re-assembled and fully functioning before the sun was anywhere near approaching the yard arm. Four hours running the uprated alternator at near maximum performance had bulbs and displays veritably glowing with new found energy.

Time, still, to take a dip in the 81 deg sea to sort of cool off, then the remainder of non-happy hour was dedicated to all things interfaced. Take one laptop with so much spurious software loaded that it runs at the speed of an octogenarian sloth, plug lead A into socket C, whilst re-booting and holding lead B in the highly modified plug D – and voila! – we have lift-off. Repeating only half of the usual set up errors regularly encountered whilst trying to encourage the laptop to not only acknowledge the presence of the Iridium phone, but to actually communicate with it, meant we were only one hour late for the evening’s EC $5 iced beer marathon in this rapidly closing town. Just a few days after the pulsating throng of Antigua’s 24-hour Race Week has disappeared, Falmouth Harbour retreats into a deserted backwater. Watching the best part of the 200-strong racing fleet, and a similar number of spectator craft, disappear over the eastern horizon, gives you the feeling that they must know something you don’t, and encourages you to complete the outstanding jobs with renewed vigour and get on the long trail homeward. After our stunning efforts on this first day, we should make our planned departure date this Saturday, 24th May.