Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Jenny Arrives

Jenny's plane from Washington D.C. via San Juan landed early the next morning.  She met us for breakfast and then, needing nothing more in Charlotte Amalie, the five of us loaded into our dinghy and headed out to Strolla.  We'd cleaned for her arrival.  Jenny said she was impressed.

It was Saturday night and we'd been advised that most of the bars were on the eastern end of the island in Red Hook Bay.  Up anchor, all hands to set sail, and off we went.  Though the wind was even stronger than the day before, we were sheltered from the waves somewhat by the island and conditions felt calmer.  We settled in for a pleasant half day cruise to Red Hook.  Jenny as the newest member of the crew, took up station at the leeward quarter rail so she could safely give her breakfast to the fishes without getting any on us.  She wasn't happy but she didn't complain and we all agreed is was impressive how much she was able to bring back up.

The big excitement of the day came a few hours later, announced by a loud bang.  We were close hauled, reaching hard into oncoming seas under reefed mainsail and jib.  I was at the helm.  Jenny was still staring bleakly at the water racing by beneath her chin.  Everyone else was down in the cabin.  At the sound of the report, my eyes flicked to the rigging to see if anything was amiss.  The forestay to which the jib was attached swung loose and limp from the mast.  Not good.

I yanked Jenny onto the tiller and dashed forward for a closer look.  The forestay had parted at the masthead.  The jib and stay hung limply from the jib halyard.  Definitely not good.  Easily the most serious equipment failure of the trip.  By now, everyone else was on deck and we had the jib furled in short order.  Strolla came equipped with a backup forestay for just such near disasters.  

I quickly attached it now, pulling the rather alarming sag out of the backstay as I did.  Then, with a sigh of relief, I scooted back along the swaying deck to the cockpit where Jenny was glaring at me.  She didn't know how to steer with a tiller and would have been in no condition to, even if she had.  I returned to the tiller just in time for  her to stick her head back over the side, another disaster averted.

We pulled in to Red Hook Bay with no further mishaps.  The color returned to Jenny's face.  We ate an early dinner and just after dark, Mark, Jenny, and I loaded into the dinghy for an evening ashore.  The wind was still howling, kicking up waves in the bay.  We were anchored out towards the edge of the bay.  The farther we took our dinghy down the bay, the farther we'd have to come back at the end of the night, against the wind.  It would be a rough, wet ride.  If we ran out of gas, we wouldn't get  back at all.  

We opted to head for the closest point of land, only about fifty yards away, a dark, deserted stretch of sand and trees.  When we reached shore, in our hurry to be out and ashore before the surf could knock us, we all stood up at once.  Mark, in front, stepped out first and, as his weight lifted, the back end of the dinghy where Jenny and I were went down.  Jenny began to fall back, arm flung out to catch herself on the only thing in reach, me.  I began to fall back, trying to catch myself similarly.  Holding each other tightly, we toppled backward into the dark water.   

I still can't quite believe it happened.  There was no way mitigate the disaster, no way to lessen the impact.  We landed flat on our backs, submerged to our chins.  Mark watched spellbound from shore as we struggled to our feet, then pulled the dinghy above the tide line and led the charge into the underbrush, looking for the nearest road.  

I'll admit a moment's hesitation here.  The idea of heading off for a night out on the town covered in sand and dripping salt water gave me reason to pause.  If I'd been able to do so gracefully, I would have headed straight back to the boat to change and to stay but, not missing a beat, Jenny followed after Mark and I had no choice but to bring up the rear.  

After a few seconds of bushwacking, we stumbled upon a dirt trail that took us through a marshy area and then to a dirt road that took us to a ramshackle marina bar and restaurant called "Latitude 18".  There was live music, a band singing a cross between Bluegrass and Jimmy Buffet.  The place was packed.  People were dancing.  No one seemed to notice the puddle we left on the floor.  I slapped a few soggy dollars down on the bar and bought the first round.

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