Dec. 12, 2013:
Sailors have Christmas stories and they don’t include sweet, tee-totaling Aunt Louise getting hammered on the egg-nog and telling everyone in the family really how she really felt about them, with words no one knew she even knew.
We have several memorable Christmas stories but Ed agrees, this is the most unforgettable one. It happened many Christmases ago, perhaps 2001 or 2002. It was on our first and only trip to the Caribbean Islands (not the Bahamas) on our Camper and Nicholson 40, Moriarty.
By about December 22 we had reached Bitter End on Virgin Gorda. This was a great stop, beautiful beaches, safe harbor with lots of mooring balls and a few dock spaces at the small marina. We had enjoyed our time there, but our goal was to reach the French Islands, namely St. Barts and we were eager to move on. From Bitter End, it is a long run to St. Maarten. This is an unusual island, governed by two countries, The Netherlands and France. The two sides are very different. We were headed to the Dutch side where there is a well-protected marina which you must enter through a tightly scheduled drawn-bridge. To make the morning bridge, we need to make this an overnight passage. Not our favorite thing.
By Christmas eve we were ready to leave. The weather forecast was iffy, but we were eager. Ed assured me that we would turn back if it was worse than forecasted. As we set out, I noted the channel out the north end of the harbor was well-marked with lit red and green markers like these, and was pretty straight forward around the north end of the island. This was important since IF we returned we would be doing so in the dark. It seemed easy enough (foreshadowing here).
Now, it was totally dark and these were before the days of chartplotters. For you landlubbers, a chartplotter is much like your GPS with a visual display of both current and previous tracks. Very helpful in retracing your route. As we picked the first set of markers it appeared we would head to a mooring without incident (second foreshadowing). I was calling out the markers as I saw them. I can’t remember how many sets there were but I did know at the time and after we passed the last set we’d be safely in the protected water. The only thing left would be to use our floodlight to find an empty mooring.
Then, the markers started to move! I knew I was tired, but not that tired. Ed throttled back so we could get our bearings. Things do look different at night. We both watched as the red and green markers moved around the harbor. We had accidentally entered the annual Christmas boat parade!!! Boats, decked out with red and green lights were following a circular course around the basin. I’ve decided red and green lights should be banned from boats. Our challenge was to find the ones NOT moving.
I don’t remember the details of how we made it through without running into anyone but I do remember lying on the foredeck, boat hook in one hand, flashlight in the other, crying in frustration and fatigue, as I repeatedly attempted to snag the line from a mooring ball. Ed’s patience was limitless. Finally some kind Christmas elf showed up in a dinghy and handed me the mooring line and wished us a Merry Christmas.
P.S. Christmas day we left again for St. Maarten with the same forecast but it was wrong again, this time in the other direction. The seas and winds were calm and we made the crossing in daylight easily. We dropped anchor outside the harbor in St.Maarten and waited for the morning drawbridge opening.