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Tales from the Charter Cockpit: A Sinking in Francis Bay

We were anchored on Avenir II in Francis Bay on St. John in the U. S. Virgin Islands on a sleepy Sunday morning. Aboard were second-time charterers and we were loafing in the cockpit when a frantic voice on channel 16 broke into our conversations.

“Coast Guard! Coast Guard!” A slight pause and then again: “U. S. Coast Guard!  This is Intrepid. Please come back right away.”

Our ears perked up. The voice came back again, louder and more desperate. After the second call, Mike responded, telling them that the U.S. Coast Guard was usually not on the air on Sunday. (After all, those guys work hard and they need a day of rest too, right!) He asked them if they needed help.

“Yes, we’re sinking.” Those two words are probably the most dreaded in a sailor’s vocabulary. After determining that they were the sloop in Francis Bay just to windward of us, Mike and George, one of our guests, grabbed a portable pump and jumped into the dinghy.

We recognized the boat. A brand new Nicholson 38, it was owned by an old sailing friend who had proudly told us that he had selected this really excellent bareboat company to handle it. It was a beautiful boat, much too fine for bareboat service and we told him so. The man standing near him jumped all over us. He was the manager of the bareboat company and emphatically insisted that his company took meticulous care of all their boats. Etc. Now it was sinking in Francis Bay.

When Mike and George arrived at Intrepid, there were two very scared women sitting on the cabin top watching their men trying to bail the boat with one bucket and a sauce pan. Mike got the floor boards up by the engine and saw that the bilge pump was useless because the hose connecting it had lain across the shaft. The shaft had worn a nice big hole in it.

After a duct tape repair, the pump was turned on and it immediately clogged. George set to work pumping manually while the bareboat crew continued to bail. The boat’s bilges were deep and Mike had to lie on the sole and reach down with his arm to feel around and find the problem.

The bilges were full of garbage! Not only had the boat never been inspected by the bareboat company after charters, but for some idiotic reason, a charterer or two had thrown garbage into it. It was mostly paper towels and such and was a sodden mess to retrieve. The bilge pump was fouled numerous times but finally the water receded and the bilge was cleared out.

Afterwards the bareboat folks thanked Mike and George profusely for all their hard work. Our heroes returned to Avenir II for a much needed swim and a good feed.

Sadly the bareboat guests up-anchored and returned to St. Thomas, canceling their charter. The women had been too traumatized and wanted a hotel instead. Could you blame them?

Well, so much for the “fine maintenance” and “meticulous care” claimed. We told our friend who owned the boat and he promptly removed it from the bareboat company.

Jeannie Kuich, once a long-time charter chef in the Virgin Islands, has been writing monthly columns for the Daily News since 1985 and periodic columns for Caribbean Boating, Nautical Scene, St. Thomas This Week and Cruising World magazines. Jeannie is the author of “Soap Operas of the Sky”, the only stargazing sky guide for the Caribbean.

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