Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A little bump and grind with a single captain

As we sat on the warm sand, squinting against the setting sun, a perfect day coming to a peaceful close, the last catamaran before sunset was arriving in the reef protected Tobago Cays.
View from the beach in the channel - Tobago Cays
 We watched with amusement and a few sharp gasps, as the captain pulled the charter boat in quite close to the beach and rocky underwater reefs, and glided by the few anchored boats.
The Dutch speedo clad elderly guy on a small old monohull was not amused by the cowboy moves, and his gestures didn’t leave any doubt. Well, this catamaran, by now identified by it’s French flag, was not about to anchor right there. So, he pulled forward, and edged closer and closer to Shiloh.
My amusement dissolved into anger and worry pretty quickly and I turned to my captain to complain.
“He can’t stay there?! Is he dropping anchor?! No way! He’s like RIGHT beside us!”
We both remember our earlier experience in this very anchorage a few months back, where we awoke in the night to find our boat caught in a strange current pool, spinning in unnerving circles. I reminded JW of this, and how it would be more than slightly unnerving, should it happen with another 15 ton catamaran within arm’s reach of us.
As usual, my captain calmed my ragged nerves. Meanwhile, our perfect guest sat grinning, mounding a belly out of sand and patting the Buddha shaped hill. She by now, knows all about our banter.
Moments later, the passengers of the offending cat, pile into an ill-equipt little dinghy in their matching ‘60th Birthday’ t-shirts, and the tiny, wiry little captain hops aboard, only to discover the dinghy motor dead. Luckily they were anchored a few feet from the beach, as they eventually had to row across, all manual style.
They beached, and lumbered out, one by one. The little captain heaved his dinghy onto the sand and headed directly for us.
In the glaring sun,we made out his small features, a match for his little frame, as he spoke; in broken English he told us he was a paid charter captain, he had come from Martinique, he lived like a monk in his little cabin and might be looking for a little action. In the night. We could only laugh.
JW asked him what the Dutch guy had said to him as he slid past and he only shrugged,
“I don’t know, he was somehow angry”.
Then he excused himself to meet Romeo, a local on the beach to organise supper for the guests, who were gathered by now, downing champagne from the bottle.
We got back to the boat, my anger waning after meeting the strange little captain, but went to sleep with one eye open. From our cabin porthole, his boat loomed too close, the hull blocking our view of the beach. And we slept.
The last photo at dusk, of our too close neighbor
 At 12 JW leaned over me to look out and within seconds he had leapt over me and was up the stairs. In that instant I knew this was going to be ‘one of those nights’.
Up on deck we stood in that alternate universe, moonlit, bright grey light, boats swirling, sailing back and forth across the channel on their anchor chains.
Our neighbor was up, all lights on, engines revving up. He’d realised he was practically on the beach and still moving in unpredictable directions.
He was so close to us, not fully in control, and the proximity of these two huge fiberglass beasts had me hopping.
“Hols, bring the torch” (flashlight for us North Americans) I hopped, dashed, adrenaline pulsing.
“What now? What is he going to do? What is he doing? Is he on the reef? Is he lifting anchor?!” These came out of my mouth in frantic stream. No answers came and that was fine. I just needed to express my concern and mounting panic.
We could only watch and stand ready. Ready for what?
Seconds later, with full engines, he plowed through the water directly toward Shiloh. My eyes, like saucers, trying to will him away by their very size. OMG!
“What is he doing?!!!!”
“Holdsworth, calm down. Get the fenders.”
I knew that command was not a good sign.
The French cat swung just past us into the channel, but his anchor chain was still in the water. JW headed to the front of the boat to watch him closely, while I scratched around in the front hatch for the fenders.
I looked up once, only to see his lights and that ominous white hull, moving not away but toward us. JW called out to him to reverse. Nothing. Something was wrong or he hadn’t heard.
As I struggled on my knees with the pile of junk that held our fenders captive below, my butt high in the air, I felt the crack thud.
Oh my God! He hit us!!!!!!!
My mind swam with visions of Shiloh’s front cabin filling with gushing seawater, as the ugly crack groaned against the force.
I finally got a fender free and threw it at JW who was trying to push away the other boat and wedge the fender between us. I was simply incredulous. Full of fear and rage. How could he have anchored right there?! Why didn’t we stop him earlier?
Finally, with captain and a couple of the male passengers on deck, they managed to maneuver away. Still, the boat hovered, and Shiloh moved around as well, with these strange currents.
JW peered over our side with the flashlight. No damage!
But then the captain called over, so calmly, politely:
“Excuse me, my friend, I’m sorry, but can you lift your anchor? It seems ours is caught in your chain”.
WHAT?! He cannot be serious. This sent my mind into another tyrade of hideous possible outcomes. Tangled chains means boats getting even closer and bumping inevitable. Disaster.
I ran down into the perfect guest’s cabin where our anchor windlass trip is, and found her awake, peering out at the action of the night. Not the type of action our captain had expected.
I quickly explained our dilemma and she followed me up to witness the fun and games.
For an eternity thereafter (or most likely 15 minutes), we stood with fenders in hand, engines on and ready, pacing back and forth on deck, watching this boat move in snaking circles around us, trying to get his tangled anchor chain up. I held my breath for more than half of those adrenaline soaked minutes.
And as the chain grinded and jerked, the noise finally came, followed by his visible anchor. He was free, and he had not been caught on Shiloh. For that instant I was filled with joy. I actually jumped up and pumped my hands in the air, giving him a victory symbol across the water. He nodded, pleased with himself, and headed out of the channel, to safer waters – where he should have anchored in the first place.
I looked around as we were propelled back and forth in the channel, now free to move, and noticed the lights were on in all our neighbors’ boats. No one slept as they watched powerless how mother nature toyed and played with them. By morning the channel was calm, we floated in a regular wind pattern, anchor in tact. Ready for another day in paradise.
A few days later, over one of Black Boy’s famous rum punches at Salt Water Bay’s gorgeous beach, a local captain explained that the tides do this for three days before and after every full moon. Over the years he had seen many boats smash and tangle in that very channel during those few days.
It had been a coincidence that we’d been there once before, and it had been sheer luck that we didn’t have more than a harmless bump with our neighboring clueless captain.

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