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The Most Challenging…

Two circumnavigations later and still Lagoonies at heart
Two circumnavigations later and still Lagoonies at heart

The Gods did not want us to go to Sint Maarten. They sent gales and headwinds and adverse currents—and did everything possible to force us into Barbados with all our other transatlantic friends. But I’m both stubborn and stupid in equal measure. I wanted to return to the Caribbean and end our 26 day passage from the Canaries in the Simpson Bay Lagoon.

Why? In retrospect I’m not sure. But the simplest explanation I can offer: I’m a Lagoonie. The derelict vessels, rhum-crazed sailors, and regatta-intoxicated racers of the Sint Maarten Yacht Club are, for better or worse, my watery tribe. I’m not a Euro yachtsmen—I’m a glorified boat bum.

Frankly, I’d rather puke in a bucket than go to St. Barts and sail in one.

… call me old-fashioned, but there’s something about watching a penniless-but-hopeful boater in a deflatable slowly row out to his dismasted boat with a tree-limb for a paddle … that makes me feel at home.

Actually, we got off to a great start by watching the American-owned mega yacht that had rudely forced us out of the channel—seemingly by Divine Right of Massive Wealth—smash into the Simpson Bay Bridge and rip its port bow to shreds.

Karma is quick in Sint Maarten.

“I can only hope the federal government pays for the damages—as surely his vessel is ‘too big to fail’ and thus needs taxpayer support,” I said to my wife Carolyn.

She, too, had a tear in her eye. “Do you think the local Awlgrip boys can make the repair-paint match the helicopter?”

“I can only pray it is possible,” I said. “The thought of having that mega-billionaire have to endure mismatched paint samples over the Christmas holidays is too sad to contemplate.”

As I motored passed the St. Maarten Yacht Club gauntlet, I was recognized immediately.

“Hey, Fatty,” slurred one vaguely familiar face, “buy me a beer?”

… another old racing pal shouted out in shock, “… hey, where’s my five bucks, Fat Mon?”

Actually, when I finally did enter the SMYC, Aussie Mark of Sea Life actually bought us a round—something that no sailor in the Indian Ocean or Med will ever believe.

Jackson, the former Hinckley skipper who now skippers a BendyToe in the Lagoon was at the club too. “Do you remember that wild night at Sapphire Beach with that Canadian chick named …”

“… my WIFE,” I shouted at him hastily, “I’d like to introduce my WIFE Carolyn to you, Jackson!”

One of the main reasons I was in Sint Maarten was to look up my old buddy Robbie Ferron—who I first met in the 70s while he was desperately flogging outboard motor head gaskets to finance his Heinnie habit. They say he’s enjoyed some success in SXM but, hey, dockside rumors are almost always wrong.

Alas, he wasn’t there—reportedly he was mooching off his father-in-law in Antigua.

The following day was Christmas. South African Renee and Kiwi Lynette of Bubbles invited us to dinner—at Shadow’s, the Haitian restaurant. Naturally, we couldn’t afford to partake … so we just tagged along to watch them drink and eat for 12 hours or so … while telling them we “couldn’t violate our diet!”

Actually, this was the truth. The ‘poverty diet’ my wife has been on since she married me is highly effective.

“… did you enjoy your visual meal?” I asked my wife as we headed home with empty bellies and same dollar bill I arrived with. “Did you enjoy drinking-it-all-in with your eyes?”

“… please, Fatty,” she said, and burst into tears.

Woman are so strange, eh? I mean, there’s no telling what is in their minds, eh? One minute, they want to go out with friends; the next moment, they don’t!

The following day, the impellor on our battered two horsepower outboard gave up and it overheated. Yes, it is a long, hot row from Island Water World to Mount Fortune, aka The Witch’s Tit, especially with all the huge inflatables giving you giant wakes and yelling, “Out of the way, slow-pokes!”

I decided to call in some markers, and dialed up Gary Brown at the All at Sea office in SXM.

“I need some help,” I said.

“… well,” he said vaguely, “I pretty busy getting the next issue out … but if you call me back next month …”

“… wait!” I said, and racked my brain. Finally, it came to me in a flash. “I really like your novel Caribbean High!

“… actually,” he said brightly as he perked up, “I can buzz over right now in my dinghy!”

Alas, the gods were still messing with us. Gary went down to his trusty Boston Whaler and immediately broke its starter chord. (“I told you so,” said his wife Jan as he hissed back, “… don’t even say it, okay?”)

Finally, they managed to get it started and brought me out a new impeller. Alas, I lost the little (highly acrobatic) C-clip at the end of the drive shaft overboard during reassembly—and doubted anybody had an exact replacement part.

“… quick,” I screamed to Jan, “drive me to Budget Marine!”

Budget Marine, I knew, had pretty much everything mechanical under the sun, and, sure enough, I managed to find what I needed in one of those heavy, large grey steel sliding cabinets just to port of the register.

Forty cents. With my 5% discount for living in the Lesser Antilles for more than 30 years, it actually only came to 38 cents. Yippee!

It was a frantic, mad rush, but exactly 40 minutes before the Simpson Bay Bridge was scheduled to open, Carolyn catted our anchor. I was just going to power directly to the bridge as I’d done a hundred times before, but there was a new spiffy channel which went the long way around—and I decided to do the correct thing and follow it. It ended at bunch of anchored boats—which seemed odd, but, hey, it is SXM, right? So I powered through the boats—and ran hard aground at hull speed on a ‘clump of dredging’ as they say.

I couldn’t believe it. The only reason I hadn’t been looking at the chart was because I knew this area so damn well. Or, did. Had. Whatever! But there I was. Hard aground. And I had to make this bridge opening … had to … HAD TO in order to rendezvous with the giant raft-up and mega parties which were awaiting us in the Virgin Islands.

There was only one vessel within shouting distance of us—and it contained the slowest talking, slowest-moving human being in this universe, I kid you not! I mean, I’ve seen more animated dummies at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum.

… very slowly he leaned over his stern rail and said … with an amazingly droll firmness … “you really should stay in the channel!”

Now, normally, people who say stuff like that after I’ve done something extremely stupid (the last time I’d run aground was almost three years and 14,000 miles ago in the Philippines, for gosh stakes!) … well, they live to regret it. But this guy was the only ‘Good Samaritan’ around, so I gritted what was left of my teeth into something resembling a smile, and said. “I agree! I should stay in the channel. Ha ha! And it’s kind of you to point that out. So here’s what I’ll do if you hop in your dinghy and push my bow off … as soon as I’m afloat again … I’ll invite you aboard and we can take turns hitting me in the head with a hammer … a 20 ounce ball peen hammer … how’s that sound?”

“… you’re free,” he said, and started to disappear down into his double-ender again.

“I am NOT free,” I yelled as my engine screamed at full RPM and my boat stood stock-still. “Just a tiny push … Please. A teensy-weensy one. What’s a three minute bow-push to foster  universal brotherhood and respect among international yachties for all eternity?”

He came. Reluctantly. And moved slower than … a glacier!

“… on the port bow,” I begged.

He then abruptly put his outboard in neutral and folded his hands as if on strike. “There are ropes in the way,” he said, and frowned in disapproval.

“… ropes on a sailboat?” I said. “Oh, dear. No wonder you’re upset! ‘Carolyn,’ I shouted. ‘Machete all the sheets off Wild Card. Burn all the running rigging, if you must … just clear a spot for the Good Samaritan, okay?’”

We only had minutes to make the bridge. It was already stopping traffic.

… finally all the lines were cleared away. He gave us a little tap with his inflatable and revved it up about four RPM above idle. Wow! Wild Card’s bow paid off. I redlined my Perkins M30 to the max, and said calmly and sincerely to him as we slid passed, “Thanks. I greatly appreciate it. I owe you one!”

Then we were flying out through the bridge like a scalded cat. (They must have been having a party behind us because a lot of loud horns blared.) “Thank gosh we left early and you were able to get rid of Gary Brown quickly,” my wife said.

“… yeah,” I agreed. “I made him leave by accepting his article assignment—to write a story about the Most Challenging Destination of our second circumnavigation.”

“… at least the research is over,” my wife said, her voice still quivering from the stress.

Editor’s note: Fatty and Carolyn are back on St. John, and can often be found panhandling on the dinghy dock of Cruz Bay. And despite what Fatty wrote about me, I do like him… well sort of.

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