Wednesday, April 26, 2006

High And Dry

Sailing small boats back and forth between the northeast U.S. and the Caribbean is a two-shot-a-year proposition. Going south, there’s a window of about four weeks in November/December when you might, if you’re lucky, miss both the tail end of hurricane season and the front end of winter gale season. In the spring, there’s a similar window in May.

You may recall that last fall, the day after Thanksgiving, I flew to Philadelphia to help sail a boat heading to St. Maarten. But I don't think you heard the rest of that story. I was picked up at PHL by the boat’s owner and another stranger, Limey. We drove to Maryland, suffered out a cold snap on board Arabesque, then spent several days hopping down the Chesapeake to Norfolk. There our fourth crew mate, another stranger, joined us. Then, in the midst of endless U.S. Navy operations, we sat at the dock and waited for a weather forecast conducive to crossing the gulf stream. We read books. We told tall tales. We told them again. We drank whiskey and finished bags of jelly beans. We started putting a dent in all the frozen homemade meals the owner’s wife had stashed away for our voyage. One of the heads exploded, and I had the decidedly horrifying job of cleaning the fallout. We replaced both heads. We waited. And the weather never improved. We discussed options. Motor down the intracoastal waterway to North Carolina, and wait there? Head offshore despite the warnings? Fly home and reconvene in a week? Ultimately, over our objections, the owner just gave up. He and the fourth crew cast off and headed the boat back to Maryland. Limey and I rented a car and started a 12 hour drive home. The depression was palpable. Instead of sailing to palm trees and turquoise waters, we were returning to December in New England.

But, we became good friends. I dropped him in Mystic and we swore we’d find a boat coming north in the spring. We’ve stayed in touch over the winter, and kept our ears to the wind for boats in need of crew. Late in winter, I was contacted by a fellow in New York who had just bought a 42-foot boat in Tortola, and needed it up north by Memorial Day. Could I help? You bet. Limey signed on at once. We recruited Stay of Execution without much persuasion. And we found a fourth to round out the crew. Things looked good. The owner agreed to pay our transportation and other expenses. He said the boat would be ready to sail April 20. We nailed down a departure date of May 13. I wrangled two weeks away from Green Acres. I checked with the owner about passage-making gear: liferaft, emergency beacon, sat phone, rigging cutters, storm sails, autopilot… We started daydreaming about sailing in past the Statue of Liberty on a warm May breeze after 1500 miles at sea.

Before long, though, we realized the owner wasn’t very responsive. He’d disappear from communication for a week at a time, then get back in touch and say everything was on track. He said he’d been down to the boat, had her surveyed, and was working on flight arrangements. Then he disappeared again. With less than three weeks to departure, we emailed him today and said we needed some answers. Finally, I got a brief message from him: Trouble with the broker. Boat won’t be ready. Have to put off moving her. Sorry for the trouble.

So here Limey and I are again, sitting on the dock. We’d turned down several other offers in the interim, and now they don’t need us. We’re scrambling around for any last-minute opportunities. But it looks like it'll be more shrinking, less fading...

1 Comments:

Anonymous hilllady said...

Maybe it's time to stop window shopping...

4/27/06, 9:00 AM  

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