Fear and Loathing in the Virgin Islands

Upon his arrival in St. Thomas, my Uncle Larry was eager to start fishing. On Friday morning, we moved over to Christmas Cove, St. Thomas and found spear fishing paradise. Even a horrible shot like myself could catch a few fish. While Uncle Larry caught a few fish worthy of eating, my fish tended to be more of the catch and release variety. I made the unhappy discovery that fish look bigger in the water than out of the water. The largest fish I managed to impale was a foot-long puffer fish. After the unprovoked attack, the fish grew large and round, resembling a white porcupine. Despite weighing several pounds and being considered a delicacy in Japan, largely because of the mastery needed to fillet the fish without popping the poisonous inner organs, I chose not to eat my catch out concern for my fragile health.

After clearing into the BVI’s in Jost Van Dyke, where my seventh visit should qualify me for a free bowl of soup, we made our way over to Cane Garden Bay, Tortola. On the way, the realization set in that my fix for the jib roller furling was not effective. In fact, instead of only being able to partially unfurl the jib (the foremost sail), I was not able to open the sail at all. Upon our arrival, I went up the mast and it soon became apparent that the upper portion of the furling system was damaged, with important parts missing. As a result, our sailing plans were adjusted to include a visit to Road Town, Tortola, where I would be able to find several riggers.

Unfortunately, after conferring with a couple of riggers, I was told that the model of my furling system is ancient and spare parts are no longer available. Instead, I was informed that I will need to purchase an entire new furling system, which will set me back about $3,000. Needless to say, I was cursing the name of Budget Rigging in Trinidad, who I paid $400 just over a month ago to fix the exact same roller furling. I am planning to limp over to St. Martin’s under the power of the staysail (a smaller version of the jib, set slightly back from the bow of the boat) and will likely have the furling system replaced there.

On Thursday morning, we had our first medical emergency aboard Audentes, excluding the frequent seasickness experienced by guest crew. While fishing in Virgin Gorda, my Uncle Larry accidentally stepped on a fishing hook. I was down below and he asked for a knife to try to extract the hook. A few minutes later, he asked for forecepts. While I was searching through the first aid kit, my Aunt Nancy yelled that he had fainted. I ran up to the cockpit and we were able to lay him out, in an attempt to get his head even with his heart. After a frightening minute, he came to and was surprisingly lucid. A medical clinic was obviously in order and he and Aunt Nancy took a taxi to Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda. At the clinic, he was treated immediately and the cost of the taxi ($40) exceeded the cost of the treatment and medicine ($30). He was back fishing before lunch.

Following the scare, we weighed anchor and set sail in light winds for Jost Van Dyke. Arriving at 5:00 PM after a long day, we were greeted by a rally of Swan owners. These sleek ships are the Mercedes of sailboats and we slowly entered a harbor filled with million dollar boats. According to maritime law, the boat that anchors first is privileged and all boats entering afterward must anchor in a way that does not interfere with the boats already at anchor. To put it more directly, if I hit one of those million dollar boats, the rest of my life would be spent trying to pay off one of those rich pricks. Fortunately, our anchor held and my life of servitude will have to wait.

This morning, we cleared out of the BVI’s and headed back for St. Thomas, where my aunt and uncle will depart on Friday. Before departing, they kindly insisted on filling up my boat with diesel and water. As we headed into the gas dock at Red Hook, St. Thomas, our depth slowly dropped. Surely, a crowded mooring field of boats larger than my own must have water at least 6 feet deep. The boat stopped with a jolt.

In an ill-advised attempt to extricate ourselves from the situation, I tried to plow forward. Our depth dropped to 5 feet, 5 inches. After limiting my profanity for the past two weeks out of respect for my visitors, my aunt and uncle had the chance to see me swear like a sailor. I considered my options. I could take an anchor out in the dinghy and attempt to pull ourselves out of the mud. This would require lugging the anchor in the dinghy and would be difficult to set in the crowded harbor. We could simply wait until the tide rose and float off the bottom. However, sitting for four hours in the middle of a busy harbor while the overlooking bar slowly filled did not seem advisable.

I generally try to avoid being the butt of an entire town’s joke and I wasn’t about to endure the deserved ridicule of a bunch of drunks. I could also raise the mainsail and tip the boat enough to sail off of the bottom. The danger here is that getting a bit of speed in a crowded harbor could result in me ramming a moored boat. I decided on a variation of this strategy and unfurled the staysail. We quickly healed over in the 20 knots of wind and I averted disaster as I narrowly avoided a nearby yacht. We slowly worked our way to the gas dock as my string of profanity continued unabated.

In the evening, we had a nice reunion with John and Louis of Topaz, a couple that Brian and I met in Trinidad. They recounted details of their 7-year circumnavigation to my aunt and uncle. Once again, we marveled at their ability to endure the inevitable setbacks of sailing. It is inspirational to meet people who have experienced so much and it is always nice to come across a familiar face.

Finally, I am in the process of updating the book review section of the website. Several of the more vocal representatives of the readership voiced their displeasure with the lack of regular book reviews. I am nothing if not compliant, so I have attempted to provide reviews for a number of the books that I have read since departing Cape Cod last October. As always, I welcome feedback about my reviews and am especially receptive to those who disagree with my assessments. I am open to any differing opinions, although I will most likely mock your flawed opinions and attempt to subject your obviously misguided ideas to public ridicule. Please submit your comments.

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