Why is it that the worst squalls seem to come at night when you’re on charter? Maybe you’re in a crowded anchorage where it’s so noisy and you can’t see hardly anything.
First, you will hear on your own boat the loud thumps of hatches pulled down and thudding of portholes being secured. The rigging sounds like an orchestra tuning up, and the clashing of the chain against the bobstay or on the anchor roller is loud and frantic.
Then there are the screams from other boats, much closer to you than when they had first anchored. “Aiyeee! You’re dragging! Put out your fenders! Pull in your dinghy! It’s caught around my anchor chain!” Or, “No, I’m not dragging. You’re dragging. See, you used to be right in front of me! Now, you’re not! Can’t you tell that, you ______?” (Impolite words.)
It’s utterly chaotic and often scary if the rocky shore is only a few feet away. What’s even scarier is the boat dragging so close to you that both their crew and you are fending off each other and you are separated by only a short distance. You can’t help but see every detail of their anatomies, even in the dark. They’re completely nude! Then you realize that you are too! Yikes!
“Hi, Joe. Hi, Rhonda,” you manage to stutter, trying to appear calm and not stare at certain parts of their bodies. “Nice night, eh,” or some other drivel as you try to avert your eyes from their very white bodies a mere foot away!
With charter guests around you, wringing their hands, eager to help but mostly getting in your way, it’s much more complicated. It’s wise to have some sort of clothes on just in case you hear a crash on the hull and have to come up running.
One dark and stormy night, anchored in the small harbor of Union Island in the Grenadines, a nasty squall hit around two a.m. There were a lot of boats in the harbor and there was instant action with crews on deck checking their anchors. We had some new charterers on board and they came on deck too. This time we were the boat dragging and were very concerned about the reef to leeward of us. Sure enough, we hit it hard and turned sideways to the wind.
Mike in his skivvies leaped into the dinghy and tried to push us off, while I, in a long black nylon nightie plastered to my wet body, gunned the engine. No good. Mike went under the bow and with help from the guests, got another anchor and chain into the dinghy and threw them overboard far to windward. Then he pushed the bow toward the wind with the dinghy.
All this time the women were wringing their hands, scared to death. One had put her bra on over her nightgown. The men were at the anchor winch bringing in the chain while I gunned the engine. Slowly the bow turned into the wind and we came off the reef so that Mike could get aboard again, bring in both anchors, and re-anchor.
The next morning, dry and happy with a big breakfast in our bellies, one of the men recited a short poem he had composed after the excitement. The last line reminded me not to wear such a sheer nightgown while on charter. It said: “Oh my goodness, god o’mighty! There goes Jeannie in her nightie!”
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.