There's something to be said for the stability of a catamaran. It's almost effortless to sail a well put together cat. One fine day in the Caribbean, our "effortless" catamaran reminded us she was still a boat. And most likely laughing at us!
Ok, so the boat was not literally laughing at us, but it sure seemed like she was having a lot of fun at our expense!
Picture this, a 46-foot catamaran sailing out of Jost Van Dyke with a bright yellow dinghy hoisted up on the davit and a standard grey one in tow. The double dinghies no doubt gave away our larger than usual crew. Half Mayday Crew and half never-been-before "sailors." And we were in full on cruiser mode!
One of our favorite lunch stops is Monkey Point. It's a perfect midway point between Jost Van Dyke and just about anywhere in the BVI's. "Lunch and and Snorkel" is mandatory. The protected mooring field, coral heads, rock walls, quaint beach, and cave never get old. As soon as the lunch plates were put up, we all abandoned ship for the gin clear waters teeming with colorful tropical fish of all kind. After lunch, we motored away from Monkey Point, through the Camino Island pass, past Marina Cay. As we closed in on the Sir Francis Drake Chanel, we were ready to set sail once again.
The Mayday Crew got the sails up, then laid back and let the "Land Snorkelers" take their first turns on the jib winches. Muted laughter ensued from the deck as the Mayday Crew Captain and the newbies exchanged commands as they prepared for their first tack. After a few mis-starts, they got their first tack under their belts. Their newfound pride showed in their on-deck swagger.
Sails pulling, the 46-foot Catamaran dug in her shoulder and we were off on a spirited ride. Approaching the Dog Islands the Captain passed word around that we'd be tacking in a few minutes. Right away our eager beavers took their stations on the starboard and port winches, ready to man the jib-sheet like before. We sure had one "glad to be sailing" crew! As soon as the call came out to prepare to jibe, our greenhorns let the jib fly and started cranking! (Maybe a bit too eager). We had a winch override on our hands. Correction, we had both winches override. Huh? Exactly. The sliver-lining in all this was that our "fresh off the beach" crew were about to get a lesson in fixing a winch override!
For the uninitiated: A winch override is when a line becomes tangled over itself on the winch. Rather than winding up smoothly on the winch, the line rides over itself, preventing it from running free. It's basically a knot held tight by pressure from sail or line.
The Mayday Crew stepped in at this point, secured the lines, and started working out the tangled jib winches. Winch overrides can be a simple thing or they can be a royal pain in the you-know-what. Ours fell into the latter category.
Both winches were tangled tight. With the engines running, we maneuvered the boat into the wind to get the pressure off the starboard jib-line. This as far as we got before the real fun started!
Less than a minute after the winch foul up, we heard a loud "BANG!" After we all stood back up (yes, we ducked!) we realized we weren't being shot at, the stern line holding our bright yellow dinghy up on the davit had snapped! Dropping the stern into the water, spinning it upside down, coming to a rest with it's bow caught on the port davit arm. The dinghy had come to rest upside down, hanging there, while dragging the outboard and a good part of the stern in the water!
Time for a quick inventory:
Winches jammed up with tangled jib-lines
Sails still up
Jib stuck for the moment
Dinghy hanging on the davit by its nose, upside down, dragging in the water
We headed wind again and dropped the engine speed to the minimum. We would have liked to stop completely, but that wasn't in the cards just yet. With the sails still up, we had to keep the nose into the wind until they were down. Half of the Mayday Crew checked on the hanging dinghy and the other half got the main down. The dinghy's small bow davit line was still attached as was the painter. But nether were actually holding the dinghy in place. The bow was hanging on the davit like a coat on a hook. A gust of wind came up all of a sudden, filling the still stuck jib, propelling us forward. Our dangling dinghy swung, the inflatable bow section pulled and twisted on the davit then a loud, "POP!" More duck and covering ensued. Our bright yellow dinghy had just popped its bow.
Our yellow "dangler" of a dinghy dropped lower into the water as the bow deflated. It was mostly all in the water, upside down, and now it was dragging its outboard fuel tank behind it (just out of reach of course!). We had ourselves a dinghy sea anchor. One that pulled us just enough to one side that it help steer the boat and fill the stuck jib again! And not the direction we wanted to go.
Talk about a comedy of errors!
The boat was pulled to port, putting us on a beam reach now with a back-winded jammed up jib, aiming us directly at the Dog Islands less than a mile away. Things just kept getting better and better! As "Murphy's" Law dictates, only moments passed from when the winches fouled to this point.
Time for another inventory:
Winches jammed with tangled jib sheets
Jib still stuck up
Upside down "dinghy sea anchor"
Jib now back-winded and wrapped around the mast
Everytime we started to work on a solution for one thing, something else seemed to spring up. In all, we went from happily sailing along to upside down "dinghy sea anchor" in about 2-minutes (at most). When things happen, they happen! It was definitely time for multiple solutions. With the Dog Islands getting closer and closer, it was time for quick action. That's when the Captain's sailing knife came out, blade open...
We're not real sure what happened, but the knife went back into his pocket almost as quickly as it came out. But here's what happened next.
The dinghy is a dinghy. We agreed, worst case scenario, if needs be, we'll cut the thing away, deal with our sails, and come back and get it. We kept the painter tied tight should the bow davit line fail, which it very well could have under the strain. We knew if we lost that line the dinghy wouldn't get far with the painter "leash" in play.
We had to rev the engines a bit more to get into the wind, but we had to be careful. Too much power and the remaining davit line would snap and we'd have a dinghy completely in the water doing a turtle impression. Not desirable, but better than letting that dinghy sea anchor drive for us!
With a soft touch, the boat nudged its way into the irons, fluttering the jib. Time to get that thing dealt with once and for all.
Using a tried and tested method, we affixed a spare bowline to one of the jammed up jib-lines and ran it to another winch. Taking up the slack, the bowline line took the pressure off the jib-line giving the crew the slack they needed to untangle the overridden line on the winch. Once the starboard line was off, the sail flogged loosely, making it just as easy to detangle the port winch and wind up the jib. Whew! Now all that was left was to deal with that dangler of a dinghy!
Now on motor alone and running at a knot or two (at best!) we carefully made our way to preserve our last davit line. At least with one davit line still attached we had a good chance of getting it right side up again. We aimed for the nearest anchorage. In our case, Spanish Town on Virgin Gorda beckoned. After an hour of slow going, we arrived, pulling in carefully. And boy did we attract some spectators when we pulled in! We looked a mess!
We stopped dead center on one of two remaining mooring balls, perfectly. Only one problem (new one), there was no pennant on the mooring ball! There was a collective curiosity about how all this could happen on the same day. In reality though, "same day" was really the same couple of hours!
Our "Land-Snorkelers" earned their first grains of salt while the mooring was underway. They managed to grab the dinghy gas tank that had been playing caboose behind the upturned dinghy. Having one less thing to get dragged into the props is always a good thing, unless you're the Captain of the Mayday Crew. He was none too pleased that our newbies were messing about on the stern platforms while he was trying to moor up the whole sloppy mess. With his attention forward on the bowman, he could have missed someone falling in near the props as they tried to recover a gas tank. In the end, he too admitted he appreciated having the prop hazard out of the water, but in the same breath he said with a simile, "thanks for the help, just don't do it again."
Even though the Mayday Crew thought that was a bit harsh, the newbies wanted to help and they did get the tank out of the way. But then again, they also understood, the Captain was right. No sense risking a person overboard right next to the props for a gas tank that ain't going anywhere.
With all hands accounted for, we moved away from the damaged mooring to the only remaining ball carefully and with no further drama. Tied tight in calm water we turned out attention to the yellow "Dangler." It was a poor sight. A sun faded well worn charter boat dinghy with a scarred up blue and white bottom. There was as much white bottom paint showing though as the blue hull-coat. There she was, upside down, prop in the air with her bow section completely deflated. She hung there by the bow davit line with the painter tied tight as back up. This was one of those lessons in why the painter should always be tied off, even when the dinghy is hoisted out of the water!
The general question on everyone's mind? How are we going to get this thing turned right side up and out of the water? The Mayday Crew subscribes to a particular school of thought when issues arise. "There is always a simple solution." And there was. All it was going to take was a fresh line run though the davit, connected to the bow of the dinghy. Easy enough. Reeling in a half sunk, upside down dinghy is another story. It might sound like we're skipping a step here, like flipping it right side up before we reel it in, but remember, "simple" solutions!
According to our best estimates, the dinghy would self-right once it started lifting back up on the davit. We also figured we could gradually drain the water out as it lifted. Every other method and suggestion we talked about could have put more water into the dinghy during the "righting." Raising a dinghy weighed down with water was not something we recommend trying!
Once the improvised davit line (a spare length of bowline we take with on every trip) was attached and run though the davit tackle to the winch, we took up the slack and got ready for the lift. Not knowing if the remaining davit line or if the new hoisting bowline would give, only the Captain remained on deck incase one of the lines snapped. No macho stuff here, just practical. The odds of being hit by a snapped line drop with fewer crew on-deck!
With the winch turning, the dinghy moved closer and closer to the stern of the big catamaran. First the bow came closer as the bow line was pulled tighter, then, lines switched and the stern of the dingy came sliding in. When the dinghy was directly below the davits the real winch grinding began. The only remaining original davit line was being put to the test, for sure. Our backup line (our bowline) on the bow of the dinghy was double the size of a normal davit line. It held strong! As the lines pulled tight the dinghy rolled up on it's side slowly, then rested right side up, draining out any remaining water along the way. With the upside down part taken care of, the dinghy raised the rest of the way up on the davits without any further problems.
While the Captain tied an extra security line to take some weight off the original bow davit line, the crew got on the phone with the Charter Company. Now that we had a moment to breathe it was time to report the problem and get a mechanic to come pick up our deflated dinghy. Quickly.
That's the thing about salt-water, once you've immersed an engine in the stuff (like our outboard), and bring it back up into the fresh air, it's got to get it cleaned out and lubed up quickly before the whole thing seizes up. Apparently the Charter Company knew this too. We had a mechanic pulling up to our boat within 35 minutes! Of course, that was just about the time the final turn was put in that dinghy "safety line."
The mechanic pulled up and asked only two questions. Can you get it down into the water? And, who's going to drive it over to the dock?
Some self ass kicking ensued. Mainly by our "problem solving" Captain. He assumed we were pretty much on our own until we made it closer to the Charter Company (We were at Spanish Town on Virgin Gorda, the Charter Company was on Tortola), so he made the dinghy tight. Wrong assumption. All that lifting and tying for nothing. Lesson learned. You're never all on your own in a Chartered Yacht in the British Virgin Islands!
Being that the dinghy was tied tight so to NEVER fall off again, it wasn't gong to come down without a fight. By the pace the mechanic was working at, it was clear, he had somewhere else he had to be. If the dinghy wanted to fight, it would have to be an unfair one! Sensing this, our Mayday Crew Captain did what the Mayday Crew does. "Simple Solutions!" He pulled out his sailing knife again, hovered over the ratty old davit lines, and looked at our mechanic, who in-turn, cracked a smile, and gave a nod. Swipe, swipe! Down she dropped with a splash. Question number one answered. Dinghy in the water. As for question two: who was going to drive it to the dock? Our mechanic apparently didn't get the part of the message that contained "upside down." We filled him in on the dunking, and his pace quickened. The corrosion clock on the outboard was ticking. He rapidly gathered his tools, said goodbye, untied his skiff and took off with our floppy semi-rigid yellow dinghy in tow behind his skiff.
We renamed our remaining dinghy "Rescue 2". About which we were asked more than once; "What happened to Rescue 1?" Our point exactly!
The rest of the our adventure went without any problems. We made it to our destination for the day with time to spare because of the quick response of the Charter Company. Rather than rattle our "new crew," this experience bolstered their confidence and showed them quite a bit, including how a good Charter Company responds to the needs of their charterers.
Most sailing and charter trips go smooth as glass. In the rare instance there may be a minor bump in the road along the way, it can be crazy new adventure. Should that day come for you try channeling the Mayday Crew. There is always a "SIMPLE Solution" (mantra, repeat over and over). In case that fails, keep a sailing knife handy! It just might be the most-simple solution! Most importantly, keep the right mindset... Just about anything crazy onboard sure beats the hell out of a good day at the office!
Charter Often! - The Mayday Crew
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