My 60th Birthday, January 18, 2024

“It’s not how you get into trouble”

My wife and I and two other married couple friends (first time charterers) were aboard a Lagoon 45 (catamaran) in the BVI.  On January 17, we anchored in Great Harbor, Jost Van Dyke, after being unsuccessful on “Boaty Ball”, a relatively new web based way to reserve and pay for mooring balls.  In this harbor 80 percent of the moorings were the orange boaty ball mooring buoys and 20 percent were either white (first come first serve, like the good old days) or white with orange (reserved).

Great Harbor, Jost Van Dyke

We arrived to Jost early in the afternoon, plenty of light and not a mooring ball to be had, all the white balls were used and all the orange balls were reserved per the Boaty Ball website.  No problem, several other boats were anchored, we picked a spot between two boats, anchored and drifted back to a good spot.  Sometimes I dive to check the anchor, especially when I back up hard to try to set it and I don’t feel the obvious sudden (whiplash inducing) shock of the anchor refusing to move one more inch.  This time it was not quite set as deep as I prefer and Hunter (my wife, and by far the most experienced crew aboard) hit the engine controls hard in reverse for a couple seconds and the anchor was stuck!

There was a power boat, an older Ocean sportfisherman to the right, and another charter catamaran to the left, both on mooring balls and both plenty far enough away, the moorings were generously spaced and seemed to provide plenty of room to anchor (foreshadowing).

We ate dinner aboard and then tendered ashore to check things out, had a drink at Corsairs,

Drinks at Corsairs

and all went as planned on my last night as a 50 something.  It was about 80 degrees and we all had sun exposure, so the crew decided to sleep with air conditioning, which unfortunately includes a generator (and its noise).

0330 January 18, 2024, one of the crew,  Vicki, awakens Hunter and I with news that it sounded like the boat hit something and there is another boat, very close to our stern.  I get up and flounder for some cover for my now 60 year old parts and come up to the bridge deck to find a mono hull sailboat within a few feet of our port transom, “not ideal”, I thought through the wake up fog“, “that wasn’t even one of the boats that was close to us”.

I quickly came to a point where I could assess the situation and made a decision.  I made the very good (easy) one of “let’s just pull in some anchor rode” and see what that does. 

The wind had been steady southeast trades blowing 30 km/h (we were in the British Virgin Islands) since we boarded three days earlier.  We had bashed naked (no sails) from Hodges Creek Marina in Tortola to The Baths on Virgin Gorda, and moored, then sailed to Norman Island, picking up another mooring.  The wind was howling on the ball and the boats were all moving together as expected, not at 3:30 am on 1/18.

Early on my birthday morn It was dead calm, the boats were just lollygagging around, as if they were boatyard workers on a break.  Nothing was moving with any intention or energy.  So I started the engines and by now Vicki’s husband Dave, Hunter and another crew member John, were up and ready to help.  I asked Hunter to lead the foredeck crew, turned on the foredeck light and navigation lights, and hoped the minimal effort would work.  The anchor was where?  It was unclear but in the few minutes we attempted to shorten the scope, it became clear that was not the right decision.  I don’t think we drug it, I believe our scope was too long for this mooring field and I was in no position to try to assess a shortened scope.  By the time Hunter told me she had pulled the rode in to the bridle, my brain fog cleared and I decided to find a mooring, “we got to get out of here” I told the crew, as we remained 30 feet from the sleeping neighbor.

“Please pull the anchor”, said I.  “It’s in that direction”, says she.  “Please pull the anchor”, says I, slightly louder.  “ “, (crickets), says she and I hear no windlass noise (also not quiet).  “Please pull the anchor”, yells I.  “We are all in this together, as a team”, says she calmly.  I instantly think, privately, well pull the f**kin anchor and I won’t yell, but says I something slightly less rude but still stupid, I am sure.  The anchor comes up and I have distributed two small flashlights to Dave and Hunter and we are on a quest for a mooring buoy.

The advantage of looking for a mooring buoy at 3:30, after almost hitting the neighbor boat, is that it doesn’t matter what color or if it was reserved, they can kick me off in a few hours, but I’m taking it.  We spot one dead astern, maybe 50 yards, crisis averted.  I engage in reverse, still dead calm, don’t need much throttle and will be on a ball shortly.  I hear a quick, repetitive, “soft knocking” sound to port aft.  “Hey Dave, is there a line over the back that is tight?”.  “No, I mean yes”, says he.  “We wrapped a line in the port prop”, says I, and instantly realize I had put the tender to bed, it was my fault there was a line to wrap.  Teaching moment, always secure the lines that can reach the propeller(s), you never know. 

The buoy is now directly to port, still about 50 yards away, still calm and we have the starboard engine, no big deal, slowly we make the port side turn and with a bit of luck, stay calm and approach the mooring  ball with one engine, much easier in these conditions.  Hunter reaches down to grab the ball with the boat hook and with a slightly comical cuss word, raises the top section of the extending, two piece boat hook, the hook end has disengaged, of course. 

Fortunately, during the mooring procedure, I had Dave grab the taught port side dinghy lift line and reversed the engine, the line broke and we had port engine function, or at least some of it.  Teaching moment two: when you wrap a line, try to reverse direction of the propeller and see if it will free itself. My brain worked slowly that morning.  We decide to pick up the ball from the starboard transom, ‘cause we could reach it from there.  Hunter had already been scoping the SUP paddle and its hand hold hook as the back up boat hook, she’s brilliant, but she didn’t tell me about that until later in the day.  We began maneuvering to pick up the ball when the wind woke up, felt like the game maker from Hunger Games decided to up the ante, “They have it figured out, let’s make this more interesting.”

We get our starboard swim step to the ball and pick it up, Dave and I now have a bridle line, through the mooring loop and in our hands.  “We won!”, I think, and the game master sends a gust while we are walking the mooring line forward.  Cuss word!  There is a SUP on the lifelines at my feet, “where is a cleat, I can’t hold this line much longer.”  “Dave, let’s go back to the transom and secure this line”, says I and Dave is on it.  Hunter takes the helm and pivots the boat expertly, and the crisis is averted as we attach the makeshift bridle to the bow cleats. 

I notice the other half of the boat hook in the water, next to the boat we almost hit.  I half jokingly say, “Hunter, there’s the boat hook, go get it.”  She hesitates, says she is scared to jump into the dark water.  She recalls that I was insistent, I recall thinking about jumping in myself, as it seems too easy and close to launch the tender or one of the toys, and the water is warm enough.  Next thing I know, she is in the water and the boat hook is retrieved.  She is the true hero of event.    

We were never in any danger, which reduces the stress significantly.  Most of us were able to go back to sleep and Sarah, the sixth member of the crew, didn’t have to, as she slept peacefully throughout the minor ordeal. 

The next morning, after cutting the small amount of line out of the saildrive’s propeller, I took the tender and played salesman, going transom to transom of five boats on white mooring balls, “Hey, it’s my 60th birthday and I would like to spend it here, are you leaving today?”  All were kind and we traded phone numbers.  I approached the fifth boat, it was the Ocean sportfisherman, named “Super Foxy” with hailing port Jost Van Dyke.  I approached the stern and said “You must have local knowledge”, and gave my sales pitch.  Turns out the guy I was talking to was Foxy, not only was he a handsome and distinguished (meaning gray) gentleman, but he was the owner of the like named restaurant where we would be celebrating my birthday that night.  His friend or captain asked, “where you celebrating tonight?”. “Foxy’s”, says I.  “Have you asked him permission?”, says he. “No”, says I.  “Well this is him”, says he, pointing to the man sitting on the gunnel eating some fruit. 

“Can I celebrate at your place?” says I.  “Ah, yeah mon and you can use my buoy tonight, we goin fishin.” Foxy says in the local dialect.  “Let the party begin”, thinks I.

Fortuitous Jenga block on my birthday

More flattering photo of crew