Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Drifters' Blues...Tales from S/V Triton.
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Well, it's happened. Our fun filled journey is beginning to turn into what it was supposed to be all along - a "boat delivery". If those two words don't strike terror into your heart, it's because you've never been on one.
Basically, a boat delivery usually happens when certain propricious events occur in tandem. The first, and most important event, is that the reluctant sailing wife of some boat owner, having landed in paradise, and in the process being subjected to her first and (you can bet) last real storm, where inevitably the engine died, a thousand dollar part broke, her poodle got sea sick on the brand new comforter she just bought and an expensive shoe was lost overboard, and the interior of their newly decorated boat looks much like the Middle East after a cease fire, declares that she would rather have her genitals dipped in a blender than sail that piece of crap anywhere beyond the bay entrance and he can file for divorce if he thinks she'll let him go off alone in that sinking bucket of rust.
Much like watching a storm building over the Atlantic, several components must all align to make our catastrophe happen. The next step requires that the owner then ask a bunch of his drinking/sailing buddies if they want to help him bring the boat from Point A, which is usually some great vacation destination, to Point B, which is almost always up wind, through short chop and a nasty current, and less scenic than Rutherford, New Jersey. The buddies, being smart enough to know that it is better to have a friend with a boat, than to buy one yourself, inevitably decline. The owner then begins to panic, asking just about anyone he knows, and eventually offering his buddies cash incentives to help. Smelling desperation, they all invent plausible excuses why they'd rather spend a boring weekend playing golf than die at sea.
At about this time, a delivery captain's wife will have just discovered his deep passion for the local waitress (usually by unexpectedly entering their home) and will have thrown him out on his ass. His boss, who owned the restaurant he was "working at until another sailing job came along", will have discovered that his employee was screwing his daughter, who happened to be working at the family restaurant during college break, and will then summarily fire him, refusing to even pay any severance or even the money he'd lost during their last poker night.
The delivery skipper will then, as fate would have it, check his email to discover that someone desperately needs his services. Needing cash, and having no place to live, he'll call back the owner, but explain that he is currently booked but could be persuaded to cancel his prior obligations, but only if the owner can offer a significant advance, and that the skipper can convince his "team" to also come along. This will be expensive, especially since the last "team" this skipper had sworn they would never leave land again and would file charges if he ever contacted them again.
Which means the skipper will then drive down to some nearby pubs (but ones he doesn't frequent enough to be known) and scrounge up two or three of the most derelict sailors, (and, inevitably, one innocent teenager looking for adventure) and promise them a short, easy, downhill ride for a lot of cash. His pitch will almost always include some statement like "The owner's got big bucks, always asking me to deliver his boat for him, he just flies in to sail around a bit, then leaves it for me to enjoy. I'm telling you mate, this is a slick deal".
The experienced crew, one of which is looking for an opportunity to smuggle drugs and the other, running from the law, go along because they have both just experienced similar setbacks in their lives and also need a place to live. The innocent, who knows nothing of sailing, substance abuse or the criminal mind (I'm referring to the skipper) will know nothing of this and suspect nothing is wrong until they need to enter the life raft.
The trip is, of course, awful. They usually have foul weather, get slammed with numerous storms, never stop for any reason (unless the booze runs out) and bash along to their destination, breaking numerous boat part along the way. It is a trip of a life time, and one that only mad dogs and Englishman would voluntarily go on.
So, there you have it. The kind of boat, skipper and crew you normally get on a delivery. Now in our case, none of that applies, except maybe the criminal mind of the skipper, and the fact that we are bashing along, in foul weather, and getting banged around by the waves. Nothing is fun or interesting about this, and we are all basically staying in our bunks unless we need to be on shift, or pee. No one wants to cook, or clean, or read. Mostly you feel a little sea sick, and want to sleep.
We've left the main land behind us and are heading for a small island of Isla De Coiba, where there is supposedly good snorkeling. I'll believe it when I see it. Right now its dark, and a storm has just rolled in. Because we're in between several land masses that converge at a point, the waves are square and are bashing up against the bottom. We reduced power (naturally the wind is in our face so we can't sail) and are creeping towards our destination, but at least we aren't banging as much. Much as I complain, the boat is a comfortable one, and the engines thrum along without complaint. There are many things about this vessel I will someday improve, but even as she is, its the best boat I've ever sailed and I'm proud to be the captain of her.
Earlier today the wind died, and what little we did get after that was directly at us. Holly T. had the helm, Thorny and Jeff were dead men in their bunks, and I turned restlessly in mine as we bumped along. I realized that I couldn't sleep so I stumbled on deck and looked for some way to cause trouble. I decided it might look like rain again, and rigged up a tarp such that its run off was directed down to a cooler, so that we could collect some rain water and replenish our supply on board. It immediately got sunny, and stayed that way long after sunset.
In disgust I returned to my bunk. Eventually Holly woke me, and I took the helm. I was still half asleep when I crawled up onto the chair. Holly came out and mentioned that she'd accidentally hit the VHF radio breaker, but switched it back on again. "No harm, no foul" I said, shrugging off such an innocuous mistake. She disappeared into her bunk and crashed like the others. After a few minutes, I noticed that the wind had freshened and was about three points off our starboard, which meant we could raise the head sail (what you'd call the jib) and decided to butch it out by doing this myself.
In a few minutes I had the jib unfurled and full, and we were picking up speed. I went below to check the chart plotter and was confused when it showed that the little catamaran icon had spun 180 degrees and were now sailing backwards. "But that's impossible" I thought, "Or maybe its a bug in the firmware, more likely". I went back up on deck, and was shocked to see that a very large island had appeared out of the horizon. "What the hell is going on?" I said to no one in particular. Then I noticed that the jib had back winded. Still groggy from an inadequate nap, I couldn't get my brain to make all the pieces fit. Finally, I looked down at the auto pilot. It was off. When Holly had mentioned about shutting off the breaker, she meant the electronics, not the radio, but I'd misunderstood her. The island that appeared out of nowhere was actually the mainland we'd turned around back at, and the wind hadn't changed direction at all, only the boat did.
I managed to get everything back on course, pull back in the jib, and set the autopilot for the correct course as Jeff woke up, probably from all the noise. He came on deck and was wide awake, so I gave him the helm and started writing this email. Not ten seconds into it, there was a loud bang and some scratching sounds along the salon roof. We went up on deck to figure out what it was. The radar reflector had managed to saw through its metal halyard loop and came crashing down. We tied it back up as best we could, and crawled back down behind the coamings.
"Okay, I'm gonna go back and write some more" I said. "Okay, but I can't see well around that water catcher you put up" Jeff replied, "Would it be okay if I take it down?" "Yeah, sure, we haven't had any rain anyway" I admitted. It wasn't ten minutes after he brought it down that it began to drizzle, turning into a full rain shortly after that. I told Jeff it was going to be his fault if we ran out of water. He replaced the tarp, and the rain stopped. Its been one of those days.
To pass the time, we started a list we call the "Don't" list. It is a compendium of various admonitions that have turned out to be very useful. I include the list we've recorded to date, no doubt there will be more as we continue our sail.
1) Don't let the Jew cook the bacon. (We love you Jeff, but let us get that next time)
2) Don't let the Mormon make the coffee. (We love you Thorny, really, it's okay, we'll make the next pot.)
3) Don't use your teeth. (An inside joke.)
4) Don't let the crew sing show tunes.
5) Don't encourage Jeff to sing, even if he's the only one who knows the words.
6) Don't allow items 5 & 6 to occur simultaneously. (Okay, its not funny. Stop singing. Really.)
7) Don't give Mota sugar.
8) Don't let Mota drive.
9) Don't give Mota coffee.
10) Don't allow items 7, 8 & 9 to occur simultaneously. (We love you Mota. Please slow down!)
11) Don't go up the river at hide tide, then attempt to return during low tide.
12) Don't start the engines unless you know exactly where everyone is. (Emotional learning.)
13) Don't let Robb turn off the frig. (But I only need to use the radio for a few minutes...)
14) Don't go up the mast ( i.e. The Eggarator) for at least one hour after you've eaten.
15) Don't insult the cook by throwing up.
Well, that's all for now. Our current schedule doesn't allow for much frolicking, we're hoping to be in Punta Arena by the 20th, but, as they say, if you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans. Hope all is well, and everyone is less wet than we are.
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