It’s February and the Caribbean is full of boats from around the world. We welcome all the newcomers and returning old-hands to our corner of paradise. I still remember the excitement of reaching the islands for the first time and the thrill of waking up in a tropical anchorage. And that thrill is still there even when I visit a favorite anchorage for the umpteenth time. The Caribbean has gone through many changes but it is still as welcoming as ever. If this is your first visit, then slow down, embrace the dream that brought you here, stow your watch and live on island time. Go local, try the food, shop in the street markets and, of course, taste the rum. If history fills your jib then you will love exploring the islands. If you simply want to swing from a hammock strung between the masts then that’s okay too. The cruising guides are packed with information and in them you will find the best that each island has to offer. Ride the trade winds, the islands are yours to explore.
This month’s article from Cap’n Fatty Goodlander, about old wooden boats and big pumps, shook loose a few memories of sore backs and blistered hands and the unmistakable sound of a double-throw bilge pump. So much so that I dug out an old logbook chronicling my single-handed east to west crossing of the Atlantic on Driac II, a wooden cutter built in 1932. Rereading the log made me shudder and was a stark reminder that risks are for young men and fools, which are often the same thing.
I took my departure from Anguilla heading north into a spanking twenty-five knot northeast trade wind and I was about two hours out when I heard the electric bilge pump kick in. I wasn’t too concerned as I was fairly hard on the wind and a bit of water in the bilge was only to be expected. When the bilge pump started running fifteen minutes later, tiny alarm bells rang in the back of my head. Once the pump finished clearing the water, I shut it down and lifted the floorboards. After about an hour I had several inches of Atlantic in the bilge. Power onboard was an issue so running the electric pump wasn’t the answer. The solution was in the aft cockpit locker, a massive manual pump that could shift a lot of stuff. I swung the handle and after a few minutes, cleared the bilge.
My next thought was to turn downwind, ease the pressure on the leak, and head for the safety of the Virgin Islands. But then I decided to time the leak instead just to see if it was getting any worse. It wasn’t. By morning I was 80-miles north and be damned if I was turning back.
I pumped every hour, on the hour until the bilge was dry. After two days I extended the time between pumps to two hours and simply pumped out double the amount of water. By day four, I was letting the bilge take on water for hours at a time before pumping it out. Every time I pumped, I wrote down the time and the number of strokes of the handle it took to clear the bilge. The leak never got any worse; it never got any better, either. At the end of the voyage in Falmouth, England, I counted the number of strokes of the bilge pump handle as carefully noted in the log—22,000.
Ha, those were the days.
ARE YOU THE NEXT HEMINGWAY?
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