It Happened One Sail

Category : Uncategorized

Leaving Anguilla we bashed up the north coast before threading ourselves through the eye of the needle, a small divide between the eastern tip and tiny Scrub Island. Not only is it a tight spot to sail through, it’s tricky as all get out with a growling lee shore and reef strewn water. The other hazard is the distraction from the colors of the crystal clear sea that run through every shade of blue imaginable until the underwater reefs turn dangerously brown. Fish often accompany us through the cut and last year we were guided by a pod of playful dolphins.

Once through, size XL seas piled up, caused by the long shallow sea shelf. It took a bit of effort to get the boat going against them but once in deep, open water we were off and reaching to Antigua.

Not long into the sail we heard a scratchy VHF Mayday call and huddled near the radio listening for details. Bit by bit more info came through; a French sailing vessel sank between St. Barts and Saba; two people floating in a life raft. Our position was east of St. Marten, some sixty miles away but had we been close we’d have put our ol’ lifeboat in gear and headed to the rescue. We monitored the radio until all hands were rescued.

So on we sailed. When morning dawned, the western side of Antigua stood tall before us. Two nearby cruise ships chatted on the radio with the port captain choreographing their arrival, a few West Indian fishermen broke in with fish chatter and then we heard Martinique Coast Guard announce the distress call, pan-pan.

Again, huddling close to the radio, we waited for details. “Pleeze be on zee lookout for zee selling vessel Rainbow, wis red sails, a grin hull. Zee man on board iz 70 years old, fatigued, and may need assistance. Zee vessel left St. Lucia 7 days ago and izz reportedly between Montserrat and Antigua. Eef you see ziz vessel pleeze contact zee Martinique Coast Guard.”

Directly in front of us, a mile or two away, we could see that little green boat cutting through the water, red sails powering her toward Falmouth Harbor. Another pan-pan was announced so Bruce answered, giving our position, the approximate position of Rainbow and explained that we’d go have a look. I started the engine while he sheeted in the sails.

Anyone who’s run toward an emergency knows that the interval of time before you get there is filled with a surplus of “what if’s?” Our heads were full of them and a few fell out: “What if he’s hurt? What if he can’t sail the boat in alone?” and the worst cast scenario, “What if it’s a ghost ship?”

The gap between us closed until we were close enough to see a smiling, waving fellow in Rainbow’s cockpit. We brought Woodwind within yelling distance and ascertained that he was o.k., his batteries were down but he didn’t need our help. We reported his position and status to Martinique Coast Guard and sailed on toward Antigua’s Falmouth Harbor.

A large motor yacht contacted us and said they were heading out to tow the boat in. We watched as they steamed out of the harbor, running to the rescue, but we were perplexed when they returned “empty handed.” On their way to the harbor, they thanked us for our help saying they had only dropped food aboard to their tired and hungry friend.

Days later we discovered that there never was a pan-pan situation but Rainbow’s owner had placed it, “just in case,” causing undue alarm and worry to officials, family and friends. Thankfully our part in the event had been small and we chalked it up as another adventure on another day at sea.

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