Monday, April 11, 2005

Where's the Dinghy? Day 5

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

Day 5 (Wednesday, May 5, 2004)

The next morning, around 8:00, one of our neighboring boats motored past us while blaring a Sousa march at top volume. They made two loops around the slumbering party catamarans then headed out of the bay. We couldn't resist big smiles and thumbs-ups on their return pass. Payback’s a bitch.

Leaving sheltered Cane Garden Bay for Marina Cay, we discovered that conditions were pretty much the same as the day before: brisk wind and swells directly out of the east, our direction of travel. If we ever get a chance to sail around Tortola again, I think we'll go counter-clockwise just to avoid this situation. Like the day before, I opted not to beat into the wind and motored serenely along instead. Unfortunately, most of the beaches along the north shore of Tortola are fairly exposed and do not feature safe anchorages, otherwise they would be little bits of paradise. Across from Lambert Bay, a secluded paradise all its own, we passed Monkey Point, which looks to be a great day anchorage, with its interesting rock formations and giant cacti. But we wanted to get a mooring at Marina Cay and we had heard that they filled up quickly. As we rounded out of the passage between Little Camanoe and Great Camanoe, we were struck by the beauty of the perfect little island sitting in the sapphire blue water. Small wonder that a young married couple, Robb and Rodie White, had made it their own private utopia back in the 1930s.

We moored successfully about fifty yards from the fuel dock, then dinghied over to the island to explore. We walked from one end to the other in about fifteen minutes, stopping to admire the gardens, the view across to Virgin Gorda, and the little house the couple had built at the highest point on the island, which has since been converted to a visitors' library and bar. We had soft drinks at the separate Pusser's bar and restaurant down by the beach, then went to talk to the fuel dock guys to see what the procedure was. Just bring it on over, “mon,” was about all they had to say. We went back to the boat and tied the dinghy up to the mooring ball to reserve our place, then put out the fenders and dock lines so we'd be ready. A big trawler took almost a half-hour to fuel up, but then it was our turn. We motored over to the fuel dock and swung in sweet as can be. While the boat was being fueled, I took the hose to fill the water tank. Thirty-odd gallons later, it was topped off. I guess we did manage to go through all that water somehow. Surprisingly, with all the motoring we had been doing, we had only used up about eight gallons of fuel, when I had worried we might not reach Marina Cay with what we had. I guess putting along at low knots really does help conserve.

Feeling pretty confident after the easy docking, I motored back to our mooring ball. Maybe because the dinghy's painter was black and hard to see or maybe because I was going a little too fast, Nan missed the mooring pick-up and we went right over the painter. The engine stalled almost immediately. Not good. I didn't want to believe that we had just tangled up our propeller, so I tried to restart the engine. No go. I felt sick to my stomach as I looked over the side at our dinghy nosed tightly against the side of the boat while we slowly turned to face downwind, tethered to the mooring ball by our propeller. "Now what?" Nan asked. I have to go into the water to fix a big problem for the second time in three days, I thought. I was about to change into my swim trunks and grab my snorkel gear when a local gentleman in a dinghy came by and asked if we needed some help. Jimmy, as he later introduced himself, was a captain on a chartered boat nearby and had witnessed our predicament. I nodded and pointed at the bent boat hook floating near his dinghy. Smiling, he fished it out of the water, straightened it out and handed it back to Nan, then asked me for a dock line. We tightly secured the stern of the boat to the mooring ball to take the stress off the painter, then I changed and went under the boat with my snorkel gear and a steak knife. It was worse than I imagined. In addition to the painter, the mooring line and its milk jug float and line were all wrapped tightly around the propeller's driveshaft. I cut the float's line and untangled it from the rest. Doing this involved diving under the boat and holding my breath while bouncing off the sharp barnacles attached to the boat's underside. When I handed the jug, line and knife to Nan, she said, "You're bleeding!" I grimaced and went back under. It took several more trips under the boat to loosen and untangle the painter and mooring line during which I managed to cut a finger pretty badly on a barnacle. When they were free, I let the mooring line dangle since we were still attached to the mooring ball by the dock line, and swam around to the stern to hand Nan the dinghy's painter. I told her to tie it to the boat, then climbed aboard and headed to the bow. Jimmy and I worked a new dock line from the bow to the mooring ball so we could release the stern line. The boat swung back around to face the wind, and things were back to normal. I thanked Jimmy profusely and promised to buy him a drink at the bar later. He smiled, waved and headed back to his own boat. I returned to the stern and was stowing the extra dock line when Nan uttered the most memorable line of the trip, "Where's the dinghy?" Sure enough, it wasn't attached to the boat. In fact, it was already about a hundred yards away, floating free. I uttered something unprintable and shook my head in disbelief. I was already exhausted, and there was no way I was going to be able to dive in and swim fast enough to catch up to the dinghy as it drifted away on the wind. Another nearby neighbor noticed what was happening, got in their dinghy and chased ours down. When they returned it, to our immense gratitude, they mentioned that one of their crew was having trouble with seasickness. As a thank-you, Nan gave them some Anavert, an anti-vertigo drug that she apparently had been taking since we stepped onto the boat. "It really works!" she said. I gave her a quizzical look.

When we finally returned to the island, it was starting to get dark. We wandered up the path to the library/bar, following the sound of amplified guitar music and singing. There was a huge crowd enjoying the onstage musical antics of Captain Mike Bean, including a conch shell horn-blowing contest. We found Captain Jimmy, thanked him profusely again, and bought him his drink of choice, a cranberry and soda. As a hired boat captain, he was still working, after all. Then we spotted some friends from back home whom we had also run into at the Bomba Shack. With Nan's nodding agreement, I mentioned how difficult it had been sailing the boat essentially singlehandedly on the days we had actually had the sails up. Shannon piped up that since we were all sailing to the Baths at Virgin Gorda the next morning, she would be happy to join us and help with the sailing. Good deal!

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