Mark Theron looked for the familiar silhouette of his Seawolf 30’s mast against a near full moon as he arrived home via water taxi to Oualie Bay, Nevis, after an eight-day trip off-island. No mast in sight. Maybe it had fallen down, Theron optimistically thought to himself. As he drew closer he noticed that not only the mast but the entire sailboat was missing from its mooring. Theron, who is commodore of the Nevis Yacht Club, experienced an awful sinking feeling. Hoping for the best, he calculated winds and currents, determined his vessel might drift to the south of the Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico and sent an Email alert to yacht clubs in the area. It was lucky he did.
Fast forward five days. Chris Schreiber, an avid sailor, member of the St. Croix Yacht Club and senior marine engineer at Hovensa, was watching a tug bring a ship in when he noticed an unoccupied sailboat floating about a quarter-mile offshore. Schreiber took out his iPhone, looked at the photo of the missing boat in his Email, and realized immediately that the vessel in front of him was a match.
“It was so ironic that the yacht showed up at midday, on a day when everyone was outside for a beach clean-up, and at the only populated place on the south shore,” says Schreiber. “One mile to the east or west and it would have gone right up on the reefs.”
Meanwhile, back in Nevis, Theron received a phone call from Lt. Roger Bogert of the U.S. Coast Guard.
“My heart sunk,” Theron relates. “I thought they had found my boat on the rocks or sinking. When the lieutenant instead asked me for permission to step aboard, I was so happy I said ‘go for it man!’”
Schreiber’s supervisor at Hovensa broke with long-standing procedures and gave permission for the yacht to be conveniently brought into the former oil refinery’s tug dock. There it was officially cleared. Since security at Hovensa is high, which would make it difficult for Theron to retrieve his boat, Schreiber sailed her a short distance to the bay in back of his house.
Miraculously, after drifting over 120 nautical miles, the boat was in great shape. There was a mooring buoy hanging off the bow, a few lines amiss, and a broken spinnaker whisker pole – that’s it!
Mike Foster of Coastal Air ferried Theron and Theron’s friend, Harry Hallstrom, to St. Croix. There, the two spent the night with the Schreiber’s and the next morning Chris’ wife, Debbie, took the sailors to clear out at Customs & Immigration and to stores to buy provisions for the return voyage. The sail back took nearly four days due to engine failure, malfunctioning navigational electronics, six to eight foot seas, and a strong current. Winds completely died less than a mile from the Oualie Bay anchorage. Theron and Hallstrom waited a few hours until sunrise to call for a friend to tow them in. In spite of the long passage, Theron was ecstatic to have his boat, named Mowgli, back and intact.
“I have nothing but praise for everyone who assisted me in St. Croix,” says Theron. “The experience restored by faith in humanity and in the sailing fraternity.”
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.