The next morning we awoke to find ourselves on a hotel mooring buoy. We were super close to shore, and with an official mooring buoy just behind us we decided to move before we were thrown off. A simple exercise, that set off a chain of events that nearly resulted in HC foundering on the rocks.
Trina slipped our lines, but a knot in the line got caught on the mooring buoy. Luckily for us, one of the hotel guests who’d been snorkeling and chatting to us earlier saw our predicament, got off his sunbed and swam over and freed us.
Great, we were off. I knew the other mooring buoy wasn’t far behind us, so just kept the revs low and went to spin around. Bam! Engine cuts out, warning beep sounds. We’ve fouled our prop on the mooring buoy.
Trina jumps in, the guy swims over and they work at freeing the prop. Good times, they free the prop and Trina climbs back onboard.
I try starting the engine, but nothing happens. I figured we’d get blown out into the main channel, where I’d have some time and space to get the engine working or get the genoa out. But it all turned to shit: time appeared to speed up rather than slow down, and instead of drifting out into the channel we were drifting into a wall of rocks.
With Excalibur I’d have whipped out the genoa and we would have sailed off, but I wasn’t ready and we were approaching the rocks fast. I shouted to Trina to drop the anchor, which we hadn’t yet tried out and neither of us had prepared for. She wrapped the chain around the Samson post as I hadn’t figured out how to release the clutch on the windlass (or rather it was jammed). A guy on the shore shouted at us that we were not allowed to anchor there, not realising our situation.
I shouted to a motorboat for a tow, he reversed up to us but couldn’t get close enough as the water was getting seriously shallow. I expected HC to touch bottom and begin to lean over at any moment. They couldn’t help us, but radioed up the marina for help as we dragged our anchor along the soft sandy bottom, continuing our course towards the rocks.
At this point there was nothing else we could do but hold our arms up in the air and grasp our hair in shock and frustration. We were about to lose our dream boat on the rocks, after a mere 40 mile maiden voyage.
Speeding out of the marina on a rib comes Craig (one of the chaps that works there). He whips round the boat like the holy savior he’s now come to be to us, golden locks of hair dancing in the breeze. Trina said he looked like Patrick Swayze in Point Break.
We had a pretty nerve wracking 25 minute rescue. As Craig was towing us from the rocks we had to dump the anchor. We couldn’t raise it with the windlass so started running up and down the boat trying to find the two rescue knives we always keep to hand, but all we could muster up was a hacksaw to cut away the rope. Good lesson Oliver’s dad told me once, always make sure the bitter end of your anchor chain isn’t attached directly to the boat, always attach it to rope first, so you can cut it free in an emergency.
We cut the rope and then realised the tow line was caught around the anchor chain. The only way to free the rope was for Craig to stop towing us and untangle or cut it. He had to make a few attempts, and with each attempt we drifted closer, and closer and closer to the rocks, to the point where we were perhaps 10ft away. He finally managed to free the rope, we dumped our anchor and chain, and he pulled us clear and ferried us to the first marina pontoon.
In the light of day I could see 300ft of pontoon in the entrance we could have moored up to the night before. Agggh!!
We will be forever grateful for Craig (Bodhi) at Harbour Village Marina for saving our dream boat from a rocky ending.
Reflecting on the balls up: it was a terrible bit of seamanship on our part. With the pressure of getting HC on the container ship on time, we had no time to familiarise ourselves with HC. Unfamiliarity nearly cost us our boat.
We were pretty shaken up by that incident to be honest. We’d missed our weather window, had a anchor and 30m of chain at the bottom of the seabed, an engine that wouldn’t start, a jammed sail, and two plebs in need of a very strong drink.
There wasn’t much time for a very strong drink though. I think I necked a few beers, we jumped into a taxi and headed straight to customs and immigration not knowing if we’d get a frosty reception for checking in 12 hours late and at the wrong destination. Customs didn’t care, and we were told to come back at 4pm as immigration were out. Once again, buying a foreign boat in a foreign country posed no issues with customs and immigration.
Once we got back to the boat we were overwhelmed by the help and generosity of fellow cruisers, to the point I think we both had a bit of a lip wobble going on. The task of getting HC back on track and on the container ship on time seemed like a gigantic challenge which I honestly wasn’t confident could be achieved.
So imagine this, we’re sitting on the boat reevaluating our options and contemplating where the hell to begin. The forecast we need to sail to St Thomas (USVI’s) is unlikely to appear anytime soon, and we’re debating whether it’s better to minimise the damage and leave HC in Bonaire while we fly to Martinique and sail Excalibur to St Thomas first… at least then we’d get one boat safely on the container ship. Then maybe we’d have to stay in Bonaire until the winds changed again in October, maybe pick up work at a beach bar to make ends meet till then… Then there’s a knock on the boat. A couple we’ve never met before have seen our anchor and chain on the seabed and want to see if we’d like them to pull it up and bring it to us, 30m of chain and a 25kg CQR anchor. Embarrassed and uneasy we say that would be lovely and thank them a hundred times, really not knowing how anyone could move something that heavy without diving equipment and air bags.
Then we get another knock at the boat, it’s our friends John and Annalies from Curacao on Frantzeska. They saw us drifting towards the rocks and were kicking themselves for not having their dinghy pumped up to save our butts. They kindly took us by dinghy back to Immigration, and then on to a mechanic who they’d briefed about our problem. He had already been to our boat, dived below and checked our prop could turn whilst we were at immigration (suspecting the stalled engine was due to hidden rope still fouling the prop, or possibly the boat being still stuck in gear). We lost count of the number of times we said thank you that day.
When we got back to the boat we had an anchor and chain delivery. The couple had retrieved it and delivered it back to the boat. Talk about being a bag of emotions.
We then got the engine working again (though we had no idea why), and the mechanic came round and gave our engine a once-over and offered up some advice for free.
The next day Frantzeska came over again first thing in the morning and helped us free our main. Once again we were overwhelmed with the kindness we received.
We then fired off an email to a well seasoned sailor friend we’d met in Falmouth as we needed to form a new action plan. Our hearts jumped when we got a reply saying he’d look into it and get back to us. We’ve met so many people on this trip, and the people to trust are the ones that have similar sailing styles to your own. The people we trust favour comfort and safety over speed and victory. When we got Nigel’s email back we digested his advice and agreed it was the right plan.
Leaks will dampen spirits as well as the cabins. Seal all the hatches shut with silicone (the non-permanant kind) before departure and then run gaffer tape around them. If there are any other deck leaks do the same. Gunk silicone and tape round chainplates and fittings if they leak.
Stuff and seal the chain pipe forward and close all dorade vents and make sure they are sealed as well.
What’s relevant is the seaworthiness of the boat and the strength of the crew.
4 knots in comfort is way better than 6 in misery. Pointing at 60 degrees or more with a gentle motion is much better than pointing higher and beating yourselves to death.
More hands make lighter work, and though we were used to double handed sailing we might want crew for this one, especially with no autopilot.
And most importantly Nigel proposed a new route for us: sailing to the Dominican Republic first, and then motoring across the Mona passage along the south coast of Puerto Rico, using the nighttime katabatic winds which help stall the trade winds against us, before heading north to the BVI’s.
All sound advice.
Nigel was a star. Our spirits lifted. Trina checked his new proposed route, and worked out that we should get both boats on the cargo ship by the skin of our teeth with no days to spare.
Word was put out on the Bonaire grapevine that we were looking for a delivery skipper or crew. We were in two minds whether to have a third crew member, as we’re not used to having a third person on board. But when help came in the form of a chap called Alejandro, we decided to go for it. Alejandro lived on a boat he’d bought and was in the process of restoring. He wanted to build up his sea miles and this would be his biggest crossing. We trusted our gut feeling and gave him the thumbs up. From then on we just kept meeting people on the island who knew Alejandro and had heard he was crewing for an idiot couple who’d fouled their prop a few days earlier.
After the weekend we had to move the boat. We were racking up a large bill staying at the marina. Frantzeska joined us for a shakedown sail and a confidence builder. They knew every little wind characteristic in the bay. We rolled out the main, got the genoa out and let HC crack on. The motion was really amazing. We’ve never been in a boat that slides through the water the way HC did that day. The motion was completely stable, perhaps helped by the geography of the island and the sheltered bay. When the wind picked up to 25 knots HC barely flinched. It was on this sail that I realised we had a really special boat. We couldn’t thank John and Annalise enough for helping us regain our confidence.
I often joked we were in some low budget Jason Bourne movie at times. Mostly when we were careering around an island in a tin pot car, revving and screeching with little time to spare to complete some domestic boat related mission.
We rented a noddy car off a boat owner for a very reasonable price just before our departure. A typical day would go as follows:
“Launderette, left, right, down that road, there it is. GO GO GO”
Dump 3 weeks of clothes in a washing machine. 30 minutes to spare. Right where’s a Home Depot?
“It’s 10 minutes thataway. GO GO GO”
Jump into the tiny noddy mobile, brakes made of marshmallows.
“OK find 5 tubes of reasonably priced silicon, and grab that tiny cactus, cactus memories! Back to the Laundrette. GO GO GO!”
Tim now knows the way, so we hurtle down the side streets with the local radio cranked up.
“Dump it in the dryer, now we need a supermarket”
…and a photocopy shop, and we need to get back to custom and immigration to meet Alejandro to check out of the country.
Thinking back these were pretty fun times, and by this time we’d picked up a lot of the customs that sometimes made life just that bit more difficult to the uninitiated. For example when we were in Curacao, we’d pick a trolley and whizz round a supermarket, get to the counter, unload, and then go to push the trolley through to the other side, but the gap tapers in making it impossible to get the trolley through. Confused and bemused, we learn that you then have to get a different trolley to load your shopping into to take to the car, but the trolley consists of two small baskets on top of each other which is completely impractical to push along and top heavy. Who thinks of these things?!
There were many other peculiarities we came across like paying for fuel before loading up with diesel. Before we left Curacao we did 3 or 4 runs to the petrol station with borrowed diesel cans to fill HC up. That was a fun, exhausting day!
…back to the peculiarities list, crossroads where nobody seems to know who has the right of way, lovers juice?? security guards checking receipts and purchases before letting you out of the store. Guess this is what makes travelling fun?
After our Anneka Rice day challenge in the noddy car, we delivered multiple cases of beer and wine to everyone that had helped us.
Returning to the boat, I went to do some last minute checks. I turned the key: nothing. Our hearts sank, and we spent a frustrating time pulling our hair out wondering what the bloody problem was. Once again John came to our rescue, and figured out it was a dodgy cable going to the starter motor, which didn’t come as a surprise. Give it a wiggle and the engine would start.
We had an early night, ready for a 6am start bound for the Dominican Republic.
On another note. Before we left Curacao the previous owner asked us if we could post his belongings to him instead of meeting him in the BVI’s. This mean’t we could take down his art and and pack them away safely, ready to post from the BVI’s. As time goes by HC feels just a little bit more like our boat.
Here’s some photos old photos of HC, one of them is from the boatyard in Taiwan which is quite cool: