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A Gentle Cruise Through Hell

On Monday the 21st July 2009 we decided to have a gentle sail from Rodney Bay to Castries to watch Carnival from the bay.

The morning was good when we set off, then came a little rain which did not dampen our spirits. The rain soon stopped and the journey south was great fun.

On board of Lucia, the Impulse 21 was Captain, Mike Cooperthwaite. Danielle, Social Secretary from St. Lucia Yacht Club and myself, Ian Gordon, a complete novice in the sailing world. In fact it was only the second time I had been on a yacht.

The cruise to Castries was very good; the water was a little choppy but caused us no problems apart from the slidy thing for the mainsail was jarred from its track, which we never noticed until we had tied up next to our friends on their boat Kaiso. A 40 foot yacht belonging to Sean Fuller. Another yacht, Loose Cannon, a J24 belonging to Edgar Roe also tied up to our Starboard side. Edgar lashed the slidy thing to the rail to stop it from causing further damage. (Apparently it is called a cleat and it broke free from the main sail traveler)

We had a great time watching Carnival, dancing and having the odd Piton. The weather at this point was poor with a lot of rain but little wind.

Captain Mike decided not to stay too long as the trip back to Rodney Bay was going to be a little rougher than the trip to Castries. At that point Mike decided that it may be a good idea if Danielle returned on Kaiso. So we left the party and headed home.

As soon as we left Castries Harbour it was obvious the weather had deteriorated considerably. We headed north against a side wind of about 30 knot’s. Captain Mike held her on course against failing light and driving rain.

Our first taste of sea water was when we where passing Windjammer resort. A strong gust of wind pulled the cart for the mainsail off the track. The next big gust snapped the front slidy thing and our jib was flapping in the wind with no chance of lowering it. The boat capsized in the gust. We scrambled up the hull to right her and carry on sailing. And I thought this was going to be a pleasure cruise. The closer we got to Rodney Bay the stronger the wind blew. By this time Edgar and Jacob De Camps had caught us up in their J24. Edgar, a very experienced sailor noticed we were in difficulty and he was trying to shout us instructions to get to port.

As we passed the headland into the harbor the wind was a lot stronger, gusting at 45 knots with driving rain coming horizontal over the water. We capsized again, this time loosing the outboard motor as she broke free from the transom, with no outboard and a jib that was useless we were in great peril. Edgar on the J24 was shouting at us, telling us to follow him to safety but we had no way to steer the vessel and lost sight of him. He maneuvered his boat like it was on rails and came back numerous times to try and help. He knew at this time we were not going to make it back and was expecting us to beach her by Landings.  

Jonathan Hall and Les Hewitt joined in the hunt for us on ‘Hytime” a 46 foot yacht. They were searching the bay along with Edgar and Jacob.

Les decided to search for us by coming with the wind as the rain was so fierce he could not see more than a few feet.

We capsized yet again. This was number 5. How Captain Mike managed to right her time after time was remarkable. But I must admit we were a great team. However, this time when we righted her, Les who was at the helm of Hytime was a matter of yards away from ramming us as she could not see us being on our side. Les with the wind behind him must have been travelling at 20 knots at that point. All we could see was an anchor coming at us amidships. Les must have spotted us at the last second and threw Hytime into reverse. I could have hung my cap on the anchor as she just missed us. The weather at this point was zero visibility with the darkness and very heavy rain.

In the meantime Edgar on the J24 knew we were heading for the rocks off Pigeon Point. His boat was too small to throw us a line so he shouted to the crew of “Endless Summer” a catamaran belonging to Mike Green. The crew had just dropped its passengers off at the Landings. They also started their search for us. The Skipper Andy and his crew, Jason and Totone found us very close to the rocks and very bravely came down our port side and threw us a “life line” Luckily the throw was good and I caught the rope first time. I can tell you if we had not caught the rope that first time, there would have been no time for her to come about and throw again as we were dangerously close to the rocks. Capt. Mike lashed the rope to the mast and Endless Summer became our saviors. They towed us into the harbor with much relief from me and Mike.

It was at this point we know we had cheated death.

The funny thing was that when Endless Summer eventually tied us to the jetty my life vest finally decided to inflate. After 5 times in the water and all that rain it then did what it was designed to do and inflate. Mike and I could not stop laughing. Both with relief and the fact that I could not move in the straight jacket I was now wearing.

From the bottom of my heart I would like to thank Captain Mike Cooperthwaite for saving my life along with Edgar and Jacob on the J24. Not forgetting the crew on Endless Summer who, after they had tied us safely to the jetty, vanished as quickly as they arrived as though they did the life saving bit every day. Also a big thank you to Jonathan and Les for helping in the search.

You are ALL a great bunch of guys with tremendous sailing skills. I will never forget any of you till my dying day.

You have my admiration and thanks.

I can’t say anything more than THANK YOU.

Ian Gordon
Novice sailor now with a little experience!

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