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Sailing With Charlie: Metamorphosis

Graphics by hannah welch
Graphics by Hannah Welch

Charlie often contemplates his first offshore passage on his own boat, a 28ft engineless cutter, restored from dereliction and sailed to Bermuda from the Virgin Islands in the mid seventies. The boat was beyond basic but Charlie had learned the rudiments of celestial navigation and wanted to put his skills to practical use. The boat was fitted with a camping gas stove, a car battery for power, a radio direction finder and a small compass. Charlie’s self-steering device involved the staysail and a piece of shock cord. His only safety equipment was a piece of line that he would tie around himself, the other end to the backstay. He installed his young girlfriend who had promised to keep him warm on cold evenings – it was the era of ‘if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with’.

Charlie’s first voyage was successful. They picked up the powerful Gibbs Hill light after seven days at sea. Charlie hove to until morning and almost got run down by a cruise ship. In the morning they tacked through the narrow entrance to St George’s Harbour.

Charlie was recently asked to bring a boat south from near Annapolis to the Caribbean Islands via Bermuda. The yacht was a 51ft Island Packet; a heavy, full keeled cutter, rigged for ease of handling. She was equipped with a turbo-charged 100hp engine and 300 gallons of diesel. All sails were furling and the staysail was self tacking. A strong hydraulic autopilot did the steering. There were also electric winches for sheets and the nav. station was state-of-the-art. There was radar overlaid on the GPS – in color, AIS, two satellite phones (one portable) and full internet capability and TV provided by the two huge boiled eggs mounted on the antenna arch aft. Each crew member was supplied with the very latest self-inflating PFDs with flashing lights and there were two EPIRBs aboard as well as a six-man life raft. Clearly she was a boat fitted out for geriatrics and for that Charlie was not disappointed as the crew were all friends of the owner and sixtyish, one nearer seventy.

Charlie was a week late in his intended departure scheduled for the first week in November: cause, Hurricane Sandy. Then a front followed Sandy up the coast. Finally they got away on the back of a Norther and the weather was freezing. Out in the Atlantic, three days of reaching took them to within a hundred miles of Bermuda. Then the wind veered east and increased to gale force with seas building to 10ft. If you weren’t on watch you were horizontal. Charlie’s mind wandered back 38-years. Cruising was as different as chalk from cheese. Back then he had a pretty little companion to cuddle up with. Now the snoring old geezers did not meet that requirement. But now he was a paid captain and back then he was a footloose and fancy-free sea gypsy.

Metamorphosis is a questionable thing, except for caterpillars!

Julian Putley is the author of ‘The Drinking Man’s Guide to the BVI’, ‘Sunfun Calypso’, and ‘Sunfun Gospel’.

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