Sunday, March 09, 2008

What do you do with a Drunken Sailor?

Friday night I did my first shift helping drive dinghies between shore and the racing fleet. This one was a little tricky as the fleet was in Phillipsburg which is about a half hour bus ride from Simpson Bay. That’s no big deal for getting started at 1730 but my shift went to 1 AM and no bus service. No matter. . . something will work out.

In the picture some of the racers asked about some of the finer points of flying a spinnaker...I told them not to forget to attach the halyard!

The dinghy I was assigned to was about a 12 foot RIB partially inflated but with a nice new Tohatsu outboard. I was actually the assistant on board working with my driver, Riemer, a giant Dutch guy who works road construction here. By the look of him I’d guess he was in charge of carrying in new sections of road and laying them in place . . . by hand. First order of business was to go out to the ‘mother ship’, a 50 foot Beneteau anchored out on which they keep the t-shirts, food and extra equipment for the dinghy fleet. I had brought a small bag with me because at the meeting they mentioned that one solution to being stranded in Phillipsburg at 1 in the morning would be to rack out on the mother ship and then get a bus in the morning. That works for me so I asked if that would be alright. No of course not. No space left. Oh well. . .something will work out.

I had a sandwich and hooked up with Riemer and off we went to begin our dinghy duties. It’s all simple in theory. Each night of the regatta there is a large party at the place where the race ended for that day. On this day the fleet raced all the way around the island (about 50 miles of racing in heavy seas) and ended in Phillipsburg. Saturday they start from just outside Phillipsburg and race half way around the island to Marigot on the north shore and that’s where the party is Saturday night and so on. Early on you are mostly taking people from their boats to shore so they can eat and enjoy the music and party atmosphere (drink like an Irishman on St. Paddy’s Day). To signal that they need a ride each boat was given a yellow pendant and some glow sticks on a tether. The flag is for daytime and the glow sticks for at night. When they swing these is a circle it makes a very good signal.

So, from 1730 to about 2000 that’s mostly what we did. As assistant my job was to get the bow line attached to the boat and help people in and then help them out at shore side. In the whole evening I only dropped one guy into the water to which I’m rather proud of. He was a big, tall angular guy and he just tried to take giant steps off of the partially inflated dinghy and, well, he lost it and went straight down doing a very nice pencil. With his backpack on. We hauled him out and offered to take him straight back to his boat but he decided to just marshall on and hit the bars. . . soaking wet. Hope he wasn’t giving hugs.

As much fun as this was it was way MORE fun to start taking the happy sailors back to their boats. These guys raced their butts off all day (25 knot winds and 11 foot seas on the east side of the island), anchored their boats in a place where they’ve never been before in the daytime, got a snootfull and then we ask them, “Do you know where your boat is”? Well of course they all do! VERY definitely: “It’s right out there. It’s the white one with the blue sailcover”. “It’s a 38 foot Beneteau” (95% of the fleet is Beneteaus). I felt bad for some of the guys who we drove around the harbor for maybe 20 minutes looking for their boat. Once you are disoriented it all starts to look the same and any landmarks you had in the daytime are gone or washed out by all the bright spot lights on shore for the party.

Around midnight we returned to the dinghy dock and saw one sad sack sitting on the brick wall. The dock master said to us, “just take him...TAKE HIM”. I guess he was rambling and really in that beyond drunk place but needed to get back to his boat. So we poured him into the dinghy and off we went in search of bow number 245 (all the race boats have large numbers on the bow to identify them to the race committee). Well, he thought it was right by this big blue power yacht and we searched up and down and around that boat checking bow numbers. Of course we’re looking for a white Beneteau with blue sail cover! After about 20 minutes we were being hailed via glow stick. Someone wants to go in? Yeah, a woman who lives ashore and just needed to get back. So we picked her up, kept the drunken sailor in the dinghy and took her to shore. We then picked up a couple more guys and headed back to the fleet to deliver them and then resume our search for bow number 245. We kept asking him if he was close to shore or farther out, what other boats were near, any flags up and finally he says, “I have no F------- idea where the boat is” which we had already figured out! So we just check every bow number. Understand there about 200 boats in the anchorage! For all we know this guy is on a wooden, gaff rigged, ketch. At about 5 to 1 we finally spotted it (no where near the big blue power yacht). I really thought he was going to go into the water trying to get aboard his sailboat but I managed to pour him into the cockpit and warned him to stay away from the rail. . . just use a bucket!

From there to the mother ship where I hooked a ride from another dinghy driver with a car who was heading back to Simpson Bay. Yea! That’s the good news the small bit of bad news (it is now about 2 am) is that the car is parked about 2 miles from where we are. Nice. But I made it back to Simpson Bay in short order and hailed Sue on the VHF (I had taken our hand held for just this eventuality). What a trooper. She gets ENEE MARIE, ENEE MARIE, ENEE MARIE -ed out of bed at 2:30 and has to get dressed, unlock dinghy and come into town in the dark. Yea Sue! I’m tired but it was kind of fun. A bunch of sailors on vacation is a pretty happy bunch to hang with. Tomorrow is the same except longer! I work from 2 in the afternoon to 1 in the morning but will be able to take my own dinghy to work and back to Enee as the anchorage is just up in Marigot. More fun will then be Sunday when I report at 0645 after finishing up at 1 the night before! Good thing I’m raking in that big $5/hour!

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And now it's Sunday where the race starts in Marigot. Water taxi shift started at 6:45 so Sue decided to ride along and take some photos. This picture is of the warm up before the race taken from Fort St. Louis in Marigot. Great place to watch from.

Can you find the water taxi dinghy in this photo? It's the small blurr amongst the fleet. And by the way: who knew there was an h in the word dingHy. So disregard all those dingy spellings from the past 2 1/2 years!


Kit Walker said...

Happy Dinghy Driving Scott! (and yes I've known for years there's an 'h' in 'inflatahble'...) Someday I hope we meet up to compare stories of searching for 'the white boat with the blue stripe' during the big St. Maarten beer blast, uh, boat racing event, incidentally for the same wage as in '96!
Love the book, by the way. We're all just waiting for the cruising sequel of 'mismo sails enie marie'!

Rich P said...

One of the funniest blog entries yet. Very entertaining, but I got sick reading about the guy whose boat you couldn't find! Urp!

Anonymous said...

Great entry! Been there (not sure as who, driver or passenger) love the regatta environment. Thanks fo ra good laugh.

Bill form burnham.