The Broadcast / Caribbean Cruisin’

Caribbean Cruisin’

Fortune favours the brave; or so they say. For over two years we’ve followed Dr Lou Luddington and husband Tom on their epic adventure. Now, having navigated the Atlantic, we pick up the story as they adapt to life in the Caribbean. Promised land reached. Dream just about alive.

If you missed it, you can catch up on their story here.


4 min read

Words & Images by Dr Lou Luddington

“Turn that frown upside down!” Tom saves me from my dark thoughts with this mantra on another day of feeling overwhelmed. I can't seem to stop the tears as my emotions spill over for the second time that day; the trauma and exhaustion of an intense few weeks at sea is catching up with me.

Caribbean Cruisin'
Caribbean Cruisin'

“Exploring the deep clear waters was like arriving in wonderland; the bay is one half of an ancient volcanic caldera creating spectacular underwater scenery of vertical walls and drop-offs that fade to the gloom, hundreds of metres deep.”

After the initial bliss and utter relief of having made it across the Atlantic, Tom, Sergio and I go into recovery mode. Each of us needs time alone to process the emotions of what we’ve just been through – not easy when quarantined on a small sailing boat while acclimating to a new and wildly exotic country. I cry a lot and feel deeply anxious and on edge, quickly spiralling at the slightest stress. Our remedy is to get in the water; ocean as therapist and comforter. Diving over the side sets me free. As I float, the tension drains from me, as though washed from my skin. Taking a deep breath I hinge at the hips into a duck dive and pull myself to deeper water into a calm I've not felt in weeks. The weightless quiet soothes my mind and I take joy in cruising over meadows of seagrass and greeting fishes and spiny lobsters at home down there.

For a week or so we swam and freedived around the boat, enjoyed stretching our legs ashore, hired a car to explore the island’s lush rainforests and waterfalls then decided to sail south to another anchorage at Roseau. From there we could take a short bus ride to Soufriere and Scotts Head Marine Park, a marine reserve and spectacular freediving area we had dreamed of visiting since the early days of planning our voyage. Exploring its deep clear waters was like arriving in wonderland; the bay is one half of an ancient volcanic caldera creating spectacular underwater scenery of vertical walls and drop-offs that fade to the gloom, hundreds of metres deep. Rich with marine life the reefs and cliffs are a draw for divers of all disciplines and the reason we chose Dominica as our first landfall after crossing the Atlantic. The dive centre is a homely hub for divers, a few steps from the ocean and the gateway to a dazzling selection of dive sites and a world-class freediving platform run by Blue Element; it's a pretty idyllic setup for both scuba and freediving.

The island of Guadeloupe to the north soon called to us; it was time to haul the boat out to repair damage sustained on our Atlantic crossing and deliver Sergio to the airport and flight for onward adventures. Setting off on the eight hour passage we hoped to get a glimpse of the resident sperm whale families that cruise these waters. Keeping a close watch for blows and dark shapes at the surface, I suddenly catch sight of a tall column of spray and a broad, shiny back as a whale rises to breathe. We rush to the bow as the whole pod crosses our path. I’d read about these Dominican whales in James Nestor’s book Deep, and marvelled at their culture, sentience and deep connection to one another. And here they were paying us a visit, curious of our presence in their world.

Caribbean Cruisin'
Caribbean Cruisin'

In the year that followed our arrival in Dominica we explored the chain of eastern Caribbean islands called the Lesser Antilles, from Antigua in the north to Carriacou in the south, spending most of our time on Guadeloupe and Martinique. Freediving, sailing, occasionally surfing, making friends then parting ways, having extraordinary experiences with wildlife, and spending a large chunk of our time fixing the boat and lamenting a string of breakages. My camera died then my laptop ground to a halt, our inflatable kayak and tender needed constant repairs, the engine water pump sprang a leak, a blocked toilet leading to a pressurised release that had a muck spreader effect over the bathroom – and Tom, who was trying to fix it at the time. Being sprayed head-to-toe with your own faeces is not an experience to be relished; we came to understand why some of our liveaboard friends forgo the perceived luxury of a toilet and shit in a bucket. Keep it simple, right?

Between repairs we roamed south, north, then south again in a sweeping oscillation of the lesser Antilles. Sweet spots were Dominica, west coast of Guadeloupe, west coast of Martinique, and the marine reserves of Îles de la Petite Terre and the Tobago Cays. All were gangbusters for freediving, snorkelling and underwater wildlife and generally splendid for liveaboard life at anchor. Our most poignant moments were had freediving the coral gardens of the Cousteau marine reserve to a soundtrack of humpback whales singing in the distance; night swimming with fishing bats swooping around our heads as they plucked tiny fish from our torch light; and running from squalls under full sail on a wild crossing to St Lucia.

Through all the glory we had a growing feeling that for us boatlife was becoming unsustainable financially and spiritually. Every sailor we met agreed the sailing life is hard, relentless, expensive boat maintenance, and an emotional strain on the heart from being nomadic; a life in constant motion and a continual cycle of hello and goodbye. We were all privileged to be able to choose it, and what a life! The decision to sell the boat and return to land life was not one we took lightly and took several months to settle in us. In September we put Noctiluca up for sale then sat back and waited. Meanwhile, the hurricane season was still in full swing, brewing up some impressive storms that we weathered tucked into sheltered anchorages and harbours. Questions began to swirl through our minds and focus thoughts on future plans. How long would Noctiluca take to sell, and how would we get a boat-full of possessions home? Our hearts were homing but the reality was hazy and distant...

Caribbean Cruisin'
Caribbean Cruisin'

Homeward bound: keep an eye out for the final chapter in Lou & Tom’s tale as they return to Pembrokeshire landlife and the solace of coldwater surf. Landing soon.


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