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Stoppa the Regatta Combing the Caribbean Departing St. Thomas


Stoppa the Regatta

Combing the Caribbean

Departing St. Thomas.

We arrived on St. Thomas in confusion and left under death threats. Barb and I discovered quickly that there was little demand for a couple with little, actually Barb had no sailing background or experience. One older ‘Salt’ called us “Landlubbers.” We were willing to learn the ropes, no one was willing to teach us how to tie the knots. [Tuckerism #123b only a few of the "ropes" on a boat are called ropes, most are called lines. Ropes or wires that hold up masts are collectively known as standing rigging and are called shrouds.] From the Landlubbers Dictionary of who gives a damn.

On May 14th we found a note on our note requesting passage. It was from Don W. the captain of the Don Quixote. He’d motor- sailed his 65 foot ketch, with various crews three-quaters of the way around the planet.

Captain Don was currently in the harbor of St. Thomas to make a few ‘minor’ repairs to his vessel. If we would help him with these ‘minor’ repairs, we could sail off into the sunset shortly.

A deal was struck. We’d split the cost of food and share the labor.

We moved on board the Don Quixote on May 16th.

After rebuilding a Leman-Ford diesel engine, changing most of the block and tackle, (which we thought were football terms) repairing the boom connection, re-seating cleats, scuba diving for Danforth Anchor, and spending two days bobbing and weaving at the top of our mast to fix the headstay, [a piece of metal connecting the top of the mast to the bow.] The bow is the pointy part of the boat. Not to be confused with the bow taken by a diva after a particularly terrific rendition of an aria.

Barb, now christened ‘barnacle’ Barb and I did most of the ‘minor’ repairs. Immediately after our arrival Captain Don developed acute arthritis, chronic wrist syndrome, bone spurs in his foot, a bad back, a worse front and could no longer provide any muscle with the ‘minor’ repairs. All whining aside, Barnacle Barb and I learned a lot. We were definitely out of our element and we surprised ourselves how quickly we out grew our ‘landlubber’ moniker.

Six weeks later, on June 14th we raised anchor and started to steam out of Charlotte Amalie, St.Thomas. Two things happened quickly in succession. As we were steaming along, steam from the Leman-Ford Diesel we’d repaired, began to pour out of the engine hatch. In our behalf, Barb and I are not licensed mechanics. And definitely not Marine Engine Mechanics. Though I did suspect that those two little ring ‘things,’ left over after we reassembled the Leman-Ford-Marine-Diesel engine were probably more important than I thought.

I must digress here. Sailing Rules of the Road 21b. Any boat that is under power MUST give way to boats under sail. Of course if you’re sailing along in a 30 foot sail boat and end up in the path of typical cruise ship, 25 stories high, 1,181 ft in length and a hundred and 154 ft across, a smart skipper would consider an immediate course change. They’re not called floating cities for, but I Digress.. .

The aft end of the Don Quixote was draped in steam. Out of nowhere we were surrounded by what seemed like a miniature version of the Spanish Armada. Apparently every sail boat in the harbor and boats from all of the surrounding island had decided to go sailing in Charlotte Amalie harbor. Because we were under steam,[ i.e. using our motor to exit the harbor] under Rule 21b we obliged to give way. We couldn’t. Too many vessels. All of them under multicolored sails. All of them skippered by half naked men and women in various stages of intoxication. The Party was on. We’d motored into and were trying to motor out of the infamous St. Thomas Regatta. But our motor wouldn’t motor.

It sputtered a bit. Belched. But would not give us any go, when we needed some get up and go.

To para phrase the Beatles Classic we had:

Clowns to the left of us, Jokers to the right, here we were, Stuck in the middle with you

Yes we were stuck in the middle with you, And didn’t have a clue what to do,

There were boats to our port side. Boat to our starboard, nudging our stern and whipping across our bow. All the Don Quixote needed was giant lance and a giant that could wield it, to keep the other boats at bay.

Barb and I were more than disappointed in the response of Captain Don. Here was seasoned seaman who sailed three-quarters of the way around the world. He did nothing. Okay, that’s not quite true. He grabbed these little colored flags, raced to the bow and began waving them like a crazy man. ‘Semaphores,’ he yelled proudly. ‘Fastest way to communicate.’ I felt a bullhorn or a cannon would have been appropriate.

Captain Don’s antics seemed to infuriate the sailors on the other crafts. Picture a lumbering 65 foot ketch, steam pouring from somewhere inside, trying to maneuver through a fleet of racing boats with inebriated crews and passengers and reggae and rock music blaring from everywhere. We were a boeing 747 try to out maneuver a squadron of Lockheed Martin F22 Fighter jets. In the air, the jets make way for the Boeing 747.

Most of the sail boats whipped past us toward the finish line. At some point, as William Prescott said, we got close enough to see the whites of their eyes. Though most of their eyes were watery with little rivulets of red. Cat calls flew at us from all directions. Some of the clever comments gave new meaning to “ swears like a sailor.” One young damsel, not in distress, credited our birth to an illicit relationship between two canines and the male result of that union.

Some of the partiers who weren’t all that into partying begin chucking objects at our vessel. Empty beer cans never made it they flew off in the breeze - – but the full cans landed on our deck and exploded like cannon balls of foam. I feared some of these folks were mad enough to toss grappling hooks onto our rails and form a boarding party. Maybe scuttle our boat, or worse have their way with us.

Thankfully, the wind changed and the majority of boats tacked off in a new direction.

At the same moment, the Leman Ford diesel engine we’d worked on for two weeks blew something. And blew it big. Steam and smoke poured out of the engine compartment. Our engine festered with pings and grunts. We were adrift. No motor. No sails.

Captain Don moved along the deck collecting unexploded cans of beer, two paper back novels, an undergarment, some sort of cheese sandwich and ladies handbag. Barb and I found Captain Don to be miserly to put it gently. My mind raced backward. I remembered it was our skipper who’d refused to purchase a new oil cable. It was our skipper who’d ‘repaired’ the old, leaky cable with duct tape. Maybe it wasn’t the two little ring ‘things’ but the diesel cable that was causing the engine to mal… and then it blew up. The deck hatch flew ten feet, putting a serious crack in the main boom. Steam and metal parts followed in rapid succession. What passed as the St. Thomas Coast Guard towed us back to our buoy in Charlotte Amalie.


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