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#1 Jul 21, 2019 5:20 pm

New Historian

Seventh Son of a Seventh Son

My brother Gerry and myself were sailing my 26-foot wooden engine-less sailboat back "Jump-Up" from Saint Lucia back to Barbados.  Never mind all the other sailing we had done on this month long sailing adventure, this was going to be the real test.  Barbados lies due east and directly upwind of St Lucia, and sailing through the heavy Atlantic waves can be a daunting task in a little boat.  Before leaving Barbados we had recruited Eddie to help out on this leg, and sent him a one-way plane ticket to join us in St Lucia.  It would be nice to have a friend along and we welcomed the experienced hand for the voyage.  On leaving St Lucia we would sail northeast until we were level with Diamond Rock at the southern tip of Martinique, then tack southeast for a close haul down to Barbados.  The exact point at which to tack would be determined by the direction of the wind and the set of the current, those areas where experience was the only guide.

    Eddie flew in on Friday evening and we immediately descended on the A-Frame Pub and enthusiastically filled him in on the trip so far.  We were in high spirits and looking forward to the final leg.  But before then there was the matter of Gros Islet.  Located next to Rodney Bay, the little village of Gros Islet (Grozy-Lay) holds a street carnival every Friday night which has become a firm fixture in the St Lucian social scene.  Everyone comes to hang out, locals and foreigners, strolling from one corner to another, from reggae to soca to zouk, lubricated by cold Carib beers, nourished by hot jerk chicken.  We had promised ourselves we would not stay out too late, but when Eddie met a girl called Annie, sparks flew, and we figured the early night was shot.  Gerry, me and the Wives headed back to the bungalow at about 0200 hours while Eddie and Annie went off ‘to go catching crabs’.  I don’t know what time he got back but the next morning he looked beat.  I don’t think he caught any crabs.

    The next morning Gerry and I hauled ourselves out of bed at about 8:30 and started collecting up things for the boat.  Eddie was dead to the world and manfully resisted all attempts to wake him, even when we dumped him on the floor.  He finally grumpled into wakefulness and gave us a sheepish grin.  Finally we stuffed ourselves plus assorted bags and boat gear into the Starlet and headed for Rodney Bay.  The dinghy was untouched where we had left it locked to a tree, conveniently next to security guard's hut.  We expressed our gratitude to the guard in a small but tangible manner and loaded up.  We’d invited the Wives to sail with us back to Barbados, promising them an experience they wouldn't forget, but they declined.  LIAT would do fine, thank you very much.  We waved our goodbyes and headed out to Jump-Up.  Hello baby, I'm back.

We finally loaded ourselves on board and upped anchor at 1030 hours.  Poor Eddie looked in a state but like a trooper he perked when we started getting ready for departure.  We had not been on board Jump-Up in four days and had to re-stow our gear and get used to her all over again.  We hauled up the dinghy and checked the rigging and moving parts to make sure everything was okay.  As we were hoisting sails Eddie cranked hard on the jib halyard.

    ‘Careful, Eddie,’ I warned, ‘you'll break the halyard.’

    He continued to grind.  ‘Nah, it strong man.’

    Crack!  The halyard snapped and the jib gracefully furled onto the foredeck in a heap of crumpled dacron.  Eddie grinned sheepishly.  ‘Oops, sorry!’  We used the spinnaker halyard as a stand-in for the next few weeks until I hauled him up the mast to undo his damage.

    The wind was fresh and increased in strength as we rounded the north of St Lucia, blowing at about 15 knots.  We figured we were in for a lively trip back.  Out in the Atlantic unshielded by any land mass the waves were much bigger than we had become used to in the sheltered waters of the Caribbean, and Jump-Up reared her head as she ploughed through the heavy seas.  By midafternoon we were level with Diamond Rock and started to think about tacking.  Eddie studied the waves, sniffed the wind and generally felt out the lay of the ocean.  ‘Not yet,’ he said, ‘current’s too high.’  An hour later he pronounced the time right, and we headed southeast for Barbados.

    As the evening wore on, the wind picked up to about 20 knots, gusting higher.  We could see whitecaps blowing off the waves.  Gerry’s stomach began to act up but he hung on.  I prayed that my own stomach (and the boat!) would hold out. With each passing wave water came through the forward hatch and side windows and things belowdecks soon became completely wet.  On the two previous occasions we had sailed through the night the weather had been kind to us, but this time we were close-hauled in rough seas, an entirely different sensation altogether.  At the steep angle at which we were sailing, only the “captain's coffin” was usable for sleeping as the starboard bunk was under six inches of water.  So even when off-watch we tended to stay in the cockpit, wedged into a corner trying in vain to stay reasonably dry and warm.

    Gerry began to feel worse as the night wore on and crashed out below decks.  I really appreciated the presence of Eddie on board and the luxury of a three-man rotation at the helm.  In such a wet and windy night the conditions were cold and uncomfortable.  The waves were steep and came crashing over the foredeck, sending heavy spray into the cockpit.  Every now and then a ‘seventh son of a seventh son’ would break over the whole boat, filling the cockpit and soaking the helmsman.  I stared up at the mast and rigging, overawed by the strength of my little boat as she withstood the constant pounding of tons of ocean.  Just hold on, baby.....

    ‘Incoming!’ yelled Eddie, I looked up and saw the top of the wave slightly higher than the top of the mast. Uh-oh.  I barely had time to hunker down before a ton of foaming, angry water came crashing onto the deck.  I gripped the tiller with my right hand and hung onto the stanchion with my left as I felt myself being pushed back through the transom.  We had no safety harnesses and if I were washed overboard in this stormy night that would be the end of me.  After the wave passed Eddie looked at me and burst out in amazement ‘Jesus, where’s your gear?’  I looked down and all that was left of my anorak were the two sleeves - the wave had ripped the body of it clean off my body!  I cut three holes in the bottom of a garbage bag to make an improvised but effective wet weather protector. 

    At 0400 hours Gerry re-emerged looking much better and took over the helm, giving Eddie and me a well-earned rest.  We took turns trying to sleep, wedged tightly into the bunk listening to the crashing of the boat and the sound of water sloshing around inside the cabin.  As dawn approached the wind abated and swung around to the east, allowing us to ease sheets and sail on a more comfortable bearing.  During the night we took frequent RDF readings and were reasonably confident that we were on the right course, but still anxiously scanned the horizon.  At 0700 we thought we saw land but it proved to be only low-lying clouds.  An hour later the real thing appeared faintly on the horizon, gradually emerging from the haze to reveal the outline of the Arawak Cement plant at the northern tip of Barbados.  Bang on target!  High fives all round.  Two hours later we passed Mullins Beach, just a stone's throw from my house.  I was tempted to anchor and stop in for breakfast, but continued down the coast to Bridgetown and our mooring.

    We called Customs on the VHF and proudly announced our arrival.  As we had no working engine we asked for permission to go straight to our mooring and come to the Harbour by taxi to clear in.  No, they said, we had to come into port first.  If we needed assistance they would send a tug to tow us in (at our expense, of course).  We couldn't stand the embarrassment of being towed into port in plain view of every Sunday sailor on the island.  By that time we were pretty adept at getting into tight spaces, so we declined the offer of the tug and entered the harbour under full sail.  I guess I should have felt a bit of stress but didn’t.  We just coolly went about the task without even talking about it. 

    The harbour is made for oceangoing ships, not little engineless yachts, so we had to be careful about picking a suitable space.  We saw a gap between the bow and stern of two big freighters and headed for it.  A handful of oil-stained sailors were leaning on the rail casually watching us.  With me at the tiller, Gerry on foredeck and Eddie by the main we approached our alloted berth, dropped sails, rounded up and glided to a perfect halt alongside the harbour wall.  Didn't even get tyre marks on the hull.  The sailors clapped.

More smiles and high fives, special ones this time.  We had made the journey from St Lucia to Barbados in exactly 26 hours at an average speed of a shade under 6 knots.  Not bad for a 26-foot yacht with no engine. 

    ‘Nip and tuck,’ said Gerry, for the last time.


Last edited by New Historian (Jul 21, 2019 5:22 pm)


#2 Jul 23, 2019 4:42 pm


Re: Seventh Son of a Seventh Son

Thanks Historian, great story.
I know a seventh daughter of a seventh daughter. She is also left handed...believe me, she ain't easy.


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