The Bareboat Charter from Hell

by on February 26th, 2015
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My husband, Don, and I had taken several bareboat sailing charters before being asked to accompany friends and their friends on another sail in the British Virgin Islands. Bareboat means that you and your companions are the Captain and the crew. We had a vacation planning meeting during which we met the couple who were our friends’ friends and, under their direction, planned out each of the ten days menus in advance. This could have been the first clue to the misadventure that lay ahead. Both Don and his long time friend were airline captains. Our new sailing companion was not but he was the self appointed Captain of the ship. As the captain he chose a mid cockpit style charter from St Johns. It provided, for he and his wife, a kingly stateroom while we and our friends were to soon discover that we would be sleeping in the very narrow forward bow berths, like sardines in a can. This uncomfortable arrangement was completely avoidable had he chosen an aft cockpit sailboat that equalized the sleeping space a little more. We were soon to learn that the word equal had no place on this Captains’ ship.

The first several days of the trip were uneventful until the weather began to change and our Captains’ judgement was put to question. With six to eight foot swells underway, most sailboats less than 50 feet stayed in safe harbor or stayed in the Sir Francis Drake channel where they could easily anchor at a nearby island. Our Captain headed straight out into the Atlantic Ocean and for five hours, with the craft heeled over at a 35 degree angle or better, the swells hit the bow and ricocheted into our faces. I sat on deck clinging to an aluminum canopy pole while the other two women aboard huddled in the bottom of the shallow open cockpit, continuously being drenched with water. I can still hear the Captains’ voice shouting as each swell hit “Here comes another one girls”. My husband fared no better as the Captain had not maintenance checked the charter and, therefore, did not know that the bilge was clogged with debris. As the boat began to take on water Don and his friend tossed and tumbled in the bowels of the boat to unclog the bilge. Emerging from below, where the lower decks were now awash with water, Don shouted “turn this (expletive) boat around and head for shore”. It was just about that time I lost my lunch along with the antibiotic I had just taken for a severe sinus infection.

We reached land at Leverick Bay on Gorda Sound. People we met in the shops were amazed that we had been out on the waters with the craft warnings in effect. Don and I decided to stay several days on land and asked the other four to pick us up on their way back from Anegada – a sail we had been cautioned not to undertake in the current weather conditions. When our Captain returned it was evident he thought nothing of his own stupidity and referred to our three day hiatus from his control as vacationing in the “North Dallas” of Gorda Sound. In no time we were back in sailing hell, for, shortly after we cast off from the dock at Leverick Bay, the engine died and our Captain would not turn back. Several miles out the winds died as well and we were caught dead in the straights with a storm approaching. Don and his friend had to lash the dinghy to the front of the sailboat and tow it into harbor where we waited for a mechanic to arrive from St John’s. Then the rains came, but nothing could stop the menu as planned – it was lasagna night – and the oven further warmed the steamy area below deck where all the portholes were closed to stop the incoming rain. We had previously survived a grilled luncheon on deck, with hamburgers sizzling as high velocity crosswinds whipped and blew the flames in a straight angle toward the cabin. The mechanic eventually arrived at 2 am.

Our companions expressed a distaste for Caribbean music and would not go ashore at night. They stayed and drank and fed the fish and I couldn’t help thinking that they could have just rented a Winnebago. We slept in the main parlor area that evening with the rain falling in our faces through the portholes rather than suffocating in the sardine like berths. The next morning we again set sail and wished for the best. A trip to the baths was fun and we did a little snorkeling while the fearless scuba dived. That night Don and I escaped and took shore leave to enjoy a native band and dancing. What I hadn’t mentioned here-to-fore was that, if anyone tried to start an intelligent conversation on board, our Captains wife would start reading aloud from the Virgin Island Travel Guide. One night we rowed around the harbor in the dinghy just to be alone but a police boat came to rescue us thinking we had a problem.

No vacation trip is complete without a grand finale but ours ended with an abrupt “sayonara” . The final morning, as we prepared for sail, the Captain directed ” the crew” to pull up anchor. A third of the way through the process he turned off the automatic winch and proceeded to yell “start pulling men”. Don had reached his breaking point and he simply walked away muttering unmentionables to himself. Always the salesman, I tried to smooth things over and, in retrospect, was thankful that I could not get him to attend the farewell lunch. Our Captain continued to bluster about getting all of his? money back or his next trip free from the charter company. Caution! Vacationing aboard a sailboat is akin to living in extremely close quarters with a group of housemates, so beware of your friends’ friends when you have a choice of companions.


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