A Tribute to Bruno
When the four crew members (Bruno Sellmer from Brazil, Leigh Rooney and Nigel Gallaher from the United States and Alison Porteous from Uganda) of Antiki arrived in St. Maarten at the end of March to join Anthony Smith and help him fulfill the second stage of his transatlantic voyage from the Canary Islands to Eleuthera, none of us had experience of sailing in the Atlantic, let alone sailing a raft. Many people were concerned for our safety.
It wasn’t long before Bruno, whom Anthony had met twenty years ago on a journey down an Amazon tributary, began to show his true colours. Bruno has a photographic school in Sao Paulo, Brazil and had been asked to photograph the trip; which he has been doing with great success, which Antiki’s blog clearly shows. As leader of several Antarctic expeditions and cave explorations in the Amazon jungle, Bruno was soon to reveal that he had a lot more to offer than his photographic skills.
He was eager to ensure that Antiki would be connected to the outside world for email and weather information (GRIB Files). With the assistance of many people in St. Maarten on both the Dutch and French sides (and Robin Batchelor from the first voyage) he solved everything the night before departure. He came equipped with his own hand held GPS (which he uses day and night to record Antiki’s speed and compass heading) as well as his hand held VHF radio (which has been used to communicate with ships during the night watches and for David Hildred’s ‘fly over’ on Easter Sunday).
Bruno oversaw the support system that was required for the 40 HP outboard motor that was generously donated by Budget Marine in St. Maarten. After consulting with Anthony, Bruno ensured that his design was correctly carried out by communicating in Spanish with Picco, the welder from the St. Maarten Shipyard, which had already generously completed Antiki’s refurbishment. The outboard motor has received further attention by Bruno after he discovered the faulty choke was preventing the engine from starting which could have been disastrous had we needed to start the motor in an emergency.
Bruno’s biggest challenge has been to figure out how the raft performs under varying conditions. Antiki has a square sail and a small triangular storm sail. The yardarm on the mast can be rotated to take advantage of winds from the rear and sides. The four guaras (dagger boards) located at the corners of the raft are adjustable vertically to prevent Antiki from drifting sideways. A 25 foot oar protruding from the rear is used as a rudder. With the help of the notes made in the Log Book by David Hildred on the first voyage and by trial and error, Bruno has not only nailed Antiki’s steering capability but has improved upon it. He succeeded in extending the sail’s efficiency on a broad reach by tying a leading edge of the sail directly onto the port or starboard nose cones to help Antiki progress as far north as possible to avoid some islands to the south.
The most dramatic test to have faced us on this voyage was when Antiki encountered violent weather and heavy seas off the coast of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. We were compelled to use the sea anchor (similar in size, shape and material to a parachute) which we attached to the stern of the raft. During that memorable night, Antiki and her crew took a severe pounding and three of the guaras that were designed to be critical for the raft’s steerage. It was at this point that our trip was in severe jeopardy and several faithful followers who observed our predicament on Yellowbrick advised us to abandon our mission and head for the nearest island and prepare for a precarious landing on the windward side. At the time we were dangerously close to the Mona Passage which is renowned for its dangerous currents. It was Bruno who nursed Antiki out of this situation with the storm sail raised and by sailing as close to the wind as the raft could handle at the time to keep heading north of the islands. This incident showed that Bruno is clearly at his best when there is a challenge and there have been many which will be recounted when we get home!
Three weeks is a long time for five people to be together in confined conditions on the high seas. Sometimes it is difficult to keep one’s spirits up when the progress of the raft appears to be agonizingly slow (average speed 2 knots when there is a favourable wind) and the final destination appears not to be getting any closer. Bruno’s eternal optimism has never dulled from the day we left St. Maarten and his sense of humour with its Brazilian overtones has done us all a huge favour. When tempers have occasionally reached boiling point, Bruno has demonstrated his expertise in damage control. He claims that our occasional outbursts on the raft pale in comparison to what he had experienced on his Antarctic trips!
So we all wish to thank Bruno for his constant vigilance to keep us safe. How he manages to do all that and still have time to take brilliant photographs (which we will treasure long after the trip is over), is truly remarkable.
With respect and great admiration,
PS Bruno has slept every night (except that of the storm) outside the cabin in his hammock, rain or shine, with his GPS firmly clasped in his left hand and has insisted that he be awakened at the beginning and end of everyone’s two and a half hour night shifts to check on our course!