Audrey Anne on St. Croix

They were predicting high winds and stiff, choppy seas in the shallow waters off the coast of St. Croix. It was a coast we had to hug as we brought our sturdy Mull-designed 29 ft. Ranger sloop into Christiansted’s marina for repairs that 1989 day. Towing our heavy 8 ft. fiberglass dinghy wasn’t going to be easy in the washing machine action of the tumultuous waves, but off we set with my wife, my 9 yr. old son, my 7 yr. old daughter, and a brother-in-law who had never sailed the seas in his entire land-lubberly life.

Within minutes of leaving our protected bay, it was clear we were going to have challenges. And as we rounded one point the steep seas grew wilder. I looked back in some alarm as our dinghy, towed about 15 feet off the stern of our boat, was being pushed each which-way by the angry green sea. Suddenly, with just one mountain of a cresting wave it was GONE! … buried just below the surface as we clipped along at c. 6 knots. The power of the ocean, demonstrating in a short moment just a fraction of its awesome force.

Now we were in trouble as, zipping by the crashing waves on the rocky shore–a lee shore–our steering became sluggish. We had to do something to keep from edging toward disaster on that shore. But what? The dinghy was far too heavy to reel in by hand. And there was no way I was going to lose my money and cut her free! Plus my land-lubberly, 6’4″ strapping brother-in-law was absolutely useless, sea-sick as he was! Are we having a nice outing yet? Isn’t the sunny Caribbean fun?

In a flash my wife had an inspiration: tie the dinghy line, only part of which was cleated off on the stern, up to the winch on the mast, and use its power to haul in the dinghy close to our vessel. If we could simply cleat off the dinghy tightly to our port side, we could save it and keep our steering… we hoped! Straining and puffing in the howling wind, my wife and I–and a haggard brother-in-law, as much as he could manage–winched in, inch by inch, our resisting dinghy.

But now a new danger appeared. Our underwater dinghy had become a hostile torpedo which, the closer we pulled it in, the more wildly and sharply it swung from side to side. It became clear that if we pulled it close at the wrong moment its trajectory would bring it sharply up against our rudder, disable our steering, and rocks ahoy! here we come. So we inched it closer, waited (and prayed) for what seemed to be the right angle of its swing, and yelling, “Now, now!” winched and “tailed” (someone pulling on the tail end of the line for extra support as it is being winched in) with all our might.

Breathing a sigh of relief, we look down to see that we had done it; we had managed to pull the sodden dinghy past the vulnerable stern and onto our side. We were safe… and I didn’t have to put out more cash for a new dinghy!

And so we limped happily into the marina for repairs and sailed happily for the rest of the year, the Audrey Anne and dinghy intact. Well, at least intact for a while. Some months after we left St. Croix, Hurricane Hugo hit (1989), and neither the Audrey Anne nor our faithful dinghy survived. I attach a picture of the dear boat, piled up on the sands with its other disaster victims.

But we move on, and 27 years later we are still sailing the Caribbean with its steady winds, sun and beautiful seas. Here I attach a video of a recent sailing jaunt in the BVI’s Sir Francis Drake Channel; you can momentarily share it with us. Aha!