Monday, December 28, 2009

Young Island to Canouan

The new sailors turned out to be students from Columbia, Paul and Greg. we had heard from Norman that they were a couple, and apparently had told Greg the night before when he picked them up at the jetty, "I thought you were a woman!" The rest of us found it amusing, but I don't know if any of the principals involved also thought that way. (Paul later said that his e-mail exchanged mentioned that they were school friends, and somehow that got lost in the translation)

It turned out that Norman and Allison couldn't provision the boat yesterday, because it was a Sunday, so they had to provision the boat this morning. I was left to assign duties and explain tasks to people while they went ashore to provision the Illusion. I showed Mary and Greg how to get water for the dishes, and then went over the ship with everyone: winches, genoa, staysail, main sail, and what to do with the skiff, fenders, etc.

We then prepped all the lines for sailing, but I forgot about the furlers for the genoa and the staysails. I then asked for volunteers for each station. I then asked Ron if I'd forgotten anything, and he said, "No, I think you've pretty much covered it." Soon enough, Norman and Allison returned, and once they stowed away, Norman was on fire wanting to move the boat in a hurry.

Unfortunately, while I had briefed everyone, what we had was effectively an entirely new crew. Unless you have a crew that's been drilled multiple times in what's expected of them, asking your crew to move fast is likely to lead to confusion and chaos. This was, unfortunately, what ensued. The main got unfurled, but the boom topping lift got dropped at the same time. And of course, my forgetting the genoa and staysail furlers enraged Norman even more. It didn't take him 10 minutes to start chewing me out, and by 20 minutes he had fired me as first mate. In fact, he fired everyone on the boat who had ever sailed before from their stations.

Ron and I were actually pretty happy about this. "Well, I didn't pay for a full-on charter where I got to sit around to do nothing," he said, "but I'm getting a vacation like that anyway!" It took about an hour and a half to sail back to Bequia, where we would stop for lunch and some sailing snacks for the long haul to Mayreau. Union Island was deemed to far for the sail given how late we had started.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

The stop in Bequia was uneventful, and again on the sail out of Bequia Norman directed every aspect of it. It was quite clear that he could show people what to do if he wanted to do so, but only 2-3 people at a time. Even though there was decent wind, the Illusion is definitely not a great sailing vessel, and after an hour or so, Norman turned on the engine to get us an extra 2 knots. Despite all that, it was deemed unlikely that we could make Mayreau by dinner time, and a last minute decision was made to change the destination to Canouan, where Norman owned some land.
From St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Canouan bay looked deserted compared to Young Island, though when we got closer we could see that there was other yatchs also moored or anchored out in the bay. We dropped anchor around 7pm, and since there was at least an hour before dinner, Norman said he would run folks over to shore for showers and/or a drink. Ron decided at this point that he didn't trust Norman's judgement, and decided to stay aboard, as did Mary. I didn't feel like I needed a shower, but I knew that Lisa felt otherwise. I did make the lucky decision to ask Lisa to put everything for shore into a dry bag, rather than bring the backpack.

We all loaded onto the skiff, and Norman brought us ashore. As we approached the jetty, we saw that there was a dinghy that had been lifted out of the water and placed right onto the jetty. That wasn't usual, but I thought it might have been out of the water for repairs. As Norman brought the skiff around to the ladder, Lisa stood up and tried to get onto the ladder, Norman said, "No! Lisa's the least suitable person. Can one of the guys do this?" Lisa sat back down and Josh jumped out of the boat and onto the ladder, but it took him a couple of tries. Then we felt a surge come. The boat felt like it went up 3 feet at once during the surge. I had stood up at this point to get ready to get onto the jetty.

At this point, another surge came and this time I lost footing and was thrown off the skiff into the water. I flew through the air for a half second or so and then hit the water head first. When I stood up, I felt the gritty taste of sand in my mouth, which meant that the water was pretty churned up. I was almost immediately knocked down by another surge. When I got up again, I saw that the skiff had turned turtle, and there was screaming coming from it. I moved towards the skiff, but when I got there, realized that I was the wrong side from Noah, Norman, and Josh, who were trying to right the skiff from the other side. By the time I got to the correct side of the rescue operation, the skiff had been righted, though it was full of water.

Paul was screaming, but Lisa had stayed calm throughout the whole thing, and hung on to the dry bags. We ran up the beach to a place where we could get onto the jetty and climbed onto it. Norman at this point had moved the skiff forward and asked me and Alena to tie it down. I tied down the boat, at which point Norman asked me about the fuel tank for the skiff. I turned to look for it, but Lisa had already found it and was bringing it forward. Noah, Josh, Susie, and Greg were on the beach looking for lost items that were washing up ashore. Lisa's flip flops were found, Paul's wallet with his citizenship papers were found. Susie's cell phone was lost. Paul's envelope with $2000 in it was lost. Susie thought she had lost her camera as well. My wallet had fortunately lodged in my pocket and stayed there through the entire event.

Most importantly, Paul looked like he was in shock. When asked if he was OK, he would say "No." He would occasionally scream when he realized what he had lost. Norman asked if everyone was all right, and then said he had to leave since folks from the resort said he could stay tied up there. "Tell everyone to meet me at the ferry dock at 9:15!"

Paul, however, looked like he was in no condition to walk any distance, and a walk in the dark to the ferry dock didn't sound appealing to any of us. So Susie and Alena went to report their losses, while Josh, Greg and Noah went to try to calm down. Lisa need to use the rest room to clean up afterwards, and we ordered some tea for Paul. It took quite a while to get all the reports filed, and by the time we were done it was about 8:45pm. Nobody felt like walking over to the ferry dock. Paul was particularly furious, since he felt that Norman did not stick around to check up on him while he was in shock.

Fortunately, one of the moorings charter skipper saw our plight and offered us a ride back to the Illusion if we needed it. We spoke with him and he generously walked up from his dinner table and led us to the jetty where his rubberized dinghy was sitting right at the end. "I put it here because of the surge." Then dropped the dinghy into the water, hopped into it gracefully, and then said, I will bring it around. You sit on the jetty, and when I am below you, just push off and into the boat. If a surge comes don't jump in. We wait it out, nice and easy."

Sure enough, it was surprisingly easily done. It took him 2 trips to ferry all of us, but it all went uneventfully. Turned out the he was a skipper for hire for Moorings, which had a base here in Canouan. He said that these surges happened because of a North Atlantic storm, which translated into huge waves.

When we got back to the Illusion, Allison looked quite concerned. We all got cleaned off, though I still felt quite sandy all over, and ate the dinner she prepared. Paul was still unhappy about his experience and monetary loss, and was unhappy that Norman wasn't around to talk about it. But when Norman showed up, the entire event turned into a confrontation instead of a post-mortem, with Norman being very defensive about his actions, and saying that the capsize happened because we were too slow in getting off the skiff. I felt that the proper thing to do would have been to recognize that once there was a surge, abandoning the evening's drinks and shower activities would have been the appropriate thing to do. Nevertheless, if it was rare, it would have been difficult to realize the degree of danger we were all in. That's why post-mortems have to be conducted as dispassionately as possible. Unfortunately, that takes a leader quite capable of self-criticism, which Norman was not that night. Harsh words were exchange in elevated voices, and within half an hour everyone was quite sick of conversation. Josh tried to calm everyone down, "It's just an accident, it's nobody's fault," he said. Norman declared that he had taken care of every one by arranging for a pick up at the Ferry dock, and that it was my fault for not getting everyone there. Arguing with Norman at this point was a lost cause, so I just shrugged and accepted blame. He needed a scape-goat at this point, and prolonging the agony when everyone needed sleep would have done no one any favors.

Paul, having had a bad experience and lost all his cash, declared that he wanted off the Illusion as quickly as possible. He was still trying to arrange a flight or ferry from Union Island for tomorrow as I went to bed to sleep off this near-disaster.
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