My first international sailing adventure ended as pictured above. I was crewing. That was in 2003. Well before this unhappy ending I had a bad feeling. As our sail progressed from St Lucia deep in the Caribbean to Panama I felt there were too many factors starting to work against our success. And after two weeks of mishaps, I got off the boat in the San Blas Islands two days prior to this picture (and flew back from Por Venir Island (Youtube video of “airport” not mine). Learned a lot.
As additional background — the boat was a 42 foot Ketch-rigged “cement” boat. There were three of us including the Captain for the roughly 1400 miles from St Lucia to Panama. The watch system is key and was rotating with one on, no overlap, every 6 hours and with three of us we would not have the same watch every day. The “crew” Michael and I had limited experience then, Michael really none but a lot of enthusiasm and experienced world traveler, and me some sailing and a little less enthusiastic as I started to question the occasional odd decision.
What broke on the boat before the sailboat itself: the Spinnaker, the electricity generator, most importantly the propeller shaft (thus the Colon stop as opposed to the Canal), the wire running up the mast to the VHF antenna was severed in towing attempt; towing also produced a very audible cracking sound but no damage found on visual inspection (tow in the middle of nowhere is another story — see PDF at bottom if interested). Fresh water was limited to the sulfur-laced water from volcanic St Lucia as the tanks were filled from the boat-wash hose at the Marina, becalmed for several days so food choices were limited; fruit gone, etc. Just to reiterate, without the propeller shaft we were purely sailing, no margin there.
I came up one night after hearing the curious sound of breakers to see that we were desperately sailing away from what would have been somewhere/nowhere in Columbia — where we could see the Palm Trees on the beach with the moonlight. We were sailing away from the beach at more or less 0.5 knots. Long night. Other than that we were fine.
My important take-aways:
1. Hard sometimes as crew, but try and do a boat inspection before getting on a sail boat for the trip. If you have ANY issues you may want to not go.
2. I always rent a Satellite phone when sailing, now. We were late in getting access to communication and folks were worried. It’s not that expensive and could be life saving.
3. You’re on your own. Be prepared to save your own existence whatever that means to you because it may come to that and don’t expect that someone you just met is going to be as concerned as say…you are about your own life.
4. Food is key. Bring something you like. Water very key, but unlikely you’d be in my situation — you should check though and maybe bring a couple bottles (not glass) of something that will get you through a tough spot.
5. Your life is in Captain’s hands – be comfortable with that. You can have input or opinion on weather-routing, sail plans etc, but usually that’s all — you’re kind of along for the ride, so knowledge and experience at the helm is pretty much key.
These are just a few big issues. In retrospect, I loved the experience of this trip, though there were times that I hated it. I wrote the whole story as a PDF here. The Captain got a replacement and continued his around-the-world journey and is in Asia, my crew-mate, Michael now has 2 kids, no plans to sail and lives in the Pacific NorthWest.