Saturday, April 9, 2005

Where's the Dinghy? Day 3

or, How We Learned Most of Cruising's Lessons in Just One Week

Day 3 (Monday, May 3, 2004)

Early the next morning we received a call over the boat's cell phone, which was our direct lifeline to Conch Charters. Emma said my bag had finally shown up, where were we? When I told her we were at Sopers Hole, she said she would have someone run it right down to us. Three hours and several phone calls later, David arrived at the marina with my bag, sweating and out of breath, almost as if he had literally run the bag down to us. We were familiar with the concept of "island time" but this was bordering on the ridiculous, even for a Monday. We did appreciate the great customer service, but we were now getting a pretty late start for Jost Van Dyke, our final destination for the day.

We rounded Steele Point at the western-most point of Tortola and headed almost due north for Sandy Cay, where we hoped to snorkel and eat a late lunch. As on the two previous days, we were again flying just our jib. Good thing, too, because the wind and seas on the north side of the island were even stronger than on the south. At one point, I clocked us at 5.3 knots, which is pretty honking fast for a thirty-foot sailboat under jib alone. Nan was nervous. The boat was rolling severely each time a swell passed under us, and there was an ominous-looking black cloud out to the east. A little while later, as we approached Sandy Cay, the storm associated with that cloud hit us hard. The wind picked up to close to 40 knots and the rain started to come down in sideways sheets under our bimini. There weren't any day moorings and Nan didn't want me to try to anchor, so we decided to head for a safer mooring in the shelter of one of Jost Van Dyke's southern bays. This would require a jibe, and it was entirely too dangerous to attempt at this moment, so I did a 270-degree "chicken jibe" instead, slipping and sliding around the cockpit to get the jib over while Nan held the wheel through the turn. We were now running down, or more accurately, surfing down huge swells with the wind directly at our backs. Rain was pouring into the open cabin, so I asked Nan to get out the storm boards and put them in place. She pulled out the three trapezoid-shaped pieces of fiberglass but couldn't figure out how they went into their slots--sideways, upside down, largest one first? It would have been almost comical to watch her struggle if we and everything we owned weren't getting soaked. I think it was at this point that she said, "I hate this! I am never doing this again!" Not for the first time. And not for the last.

We whizzed past Little Harbour, Great Harbour and White Bay in quick succession, but every available mooring was taken. The prudent sailors were all waiting out the storm. Still not wanting to trust the anchor, we said the hell with it and headed back to Sopers Hole. We arrived in the late afternoon to find that every mooring was taken there as well. No way around it, we would have to anchor. I had Nan steer as I untied the anchor's securing line and made sure the bitter end was cleated. I had her aim at where we hoped to end up, then put the engine in neutral. I ran forward and, lacking a windlass, dropped the anchor quickly hand over hand. When I felt it hit bottom, I let out what I thought would be sufficient rode and then tied off the line. There wasn't much room and the wind was still blowing, so I thought our backward motion would set the anchor for us. It seemed to work. At least, it didn't appear that we were moving backwards relative to the boats around us.

As luck would have it, about a half-hour after we anchored, a boat near us left its mooring. Nan still didn't trust the anchor because of the weather and wanted us to move, so it was up anchor. I fired up the engine and put it in gear, then ran forward to pull up the anchor while Nan steered. If you've ever tried to pull up a thirty-pound anchor by hand, you know it's not easy. I couldn't pull it up fast enough and the boat was veering to starboard toward an old private mooring. Sure enough, the anchor line wrapped around the mooring and we were left dangling. I went back to the helm and motored counter-clockwise to free us. No go. OK, then twice around clockwise should do the trick. All it did was shorten the line. "Now what?" Nan asked. "I guess I have to go in the water and figure it out," I said. Good thing my snorkel gear had finally arrived that morning. When I swam out to the mooring ball, I couldn't believe the collection of junk that was just below the surface--old fenders, milk jugs and a random collection of algae-covered rope holding it all together. Wrapped tightly in a figure-eight pattern in and out of the mess was our anchor line. With the weight of the boat in the wind, there was no way to untangle the line without taking the tension off it first. I went back to the boat for one of our fenders and a dock line. I tied an end of the dock line to the ring on top of the mooring ball, then went back to the boat to secure the other end to one of the bow cleats after pulling the boat up as close as possible to the mooring ball. I untied the bitter end of the anchor line and threw it overboard. With the tangle, there was no danger of losing the anchor. After going back in the water to untangle the line, I tied the bitter end to the fender so it wouldn't get away, then went back on board to retrieve the anchor. Of course, while all this fun activity was going on, someone else came in and took the available mooring. By this time, it was starting to get dark, so we said the hell with it, private mooring or not, we're staying here for the night. I adjusted the dock line and opened a beer.

It had been a day when only stupid people, or people who thought they could stick to an agenda regardless of the weather, were out. I think we were guilty of both. We found out later that small craft advisories had been in effect on this day--and we definitely qualified as a small craft--but we didn't know it at the time. There isn't a full-time weather channel on the VHF in the BVI, just a couple of local radio stations that announce forecasts between reggae songs. Maybe we should have been listening. That evening at the Jolly Roger, where we treated ourselves to the special, we ran into an old friend who runs a day charter that we had done during both of our previous visits. I asked him if he had been out with paying customers that day. He shrugged and said that it hadn't been so bad. Later I overheard him at the bar animatedly telling someone that he had gotten his catamaran going over ten knots under jib alone. I had to close my eyes and shake my head.

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