You are hereProject Retirement, ep 13

Project Retirement, ep 13

By Q-Bert - Posted on 14 December 2021

The one where we take a vacation.

For the past year, I have been planning on getting my International Yacht Training certificate. We knew that we needed that knowledge before we even started piloting our own boat this summer. That meant a fall or winter period. To the South, baby!

Because of hurricane Irma and Covid, Saint-Martin had very low prices on hotels and boat rentals. We decided to go big and charter a Lagoon 52 catamaran and get a Saint-Martin IYT trainer. One of those decisions would come to bite us later. Also, since we now had a huge boat and figured we needed to endanger friends and family, we invited Revek and TheFinn, and a few more couples, as well as my daughters. This boat has 8 cabins, and I intended to fill all of them. It was time to have an adventure.

Did we ever.

We all arrived at the boat on that Saturday morning, all wide-eyed and bushy-tailed. We were all impressed by the size of this behemoth. Cabins were roomy, and there was plenty of room on the boat to find a little private spot to read a book or gaze at the stars. My wife and I decided to provision the boat ourselves, and we had rented a Jeep for the occasion. That meant planning meals and food for 12 people for a week, as well as going to the shops and grocery stores. If there is one nugget of wisdom I can impart to anyone is this: don't do this. Get a service to do it for you and get it shipped to the boat just as you arrive. Yes, food is expensive on the island and using a provisioning service sounds like a waste of money; but your marriage will thank you. Get a cook if you can, even if that costs you a cabin. As it was, my wife and I were completely spent on Saturday night, and we hadn't even started the training... Oh, and one cabin had so much mold in it that everyone refused to stay in it. Another cabin had no bed, just a huge hole where the bed should be. No problem, we were short on guests anyways and my girls can bunk together. Phew. We slept on the boat at the marina that night.

On Sunday before leaving the marina, we inspected all of the systems. Hmmmm, the water-maker doesn't work. No problem! A tech ran up and removed one of the cabin beds, and started fixing the water-maker. Two hours go by, and it finally worked. The tech called the maid to get the cabin put back together and the bed remade. That's one more hour of wait. During this time, our inspection showed that the chart plotter is not functional, and the anchor chain counter doesn't work, and the starboard cleat is about to rip out of the boat, and one of the toilets doesn't work, and the batteries drain way too fast... That's OK, we dealt with all of those problems by basically ignoring them. All of the other boats have left the marina with music blaring and pimply youths awash in rum. Meanwhile, we have been stuck in repairs in the marina, and basically cooking in the sun. Screw it, out we went. We sailed to Marigot and anchored there for the night. During the night, Revek was awoken by an alarm sounding from the nav station, and pressed the "mute alarm" button and went back to bed.

The sun came up on Monday, and off I went with the dinghy to pick up our ITY trainer. During this commute, I noticed that our dinghy motor was totally underpowered. I think they gave us an outboard motor powered by asthmatic hamsters. I felt I could go faster by using the oars. It's not a small dinghy as it can seat 8 people easily, and I thought it was rather undignified to put a 4HP 2-stroke motor on this thing. No matter, I picked up our trainer, and proposed the large, yet moldy, cabin to him. As he's probably slept beside diesel engines spewing fumes in his cabin in his past, he probably saw this as a president's suite as it has its own toilet. After negotiating our itinerary with the trainer, and discussing how the training week would go, I headed over to my bathroom to "drain the bilge" as it were... The toilet, or "head" as sailors call it, is high-tech and flushes at the push of a button. Well, this head decided that it was now time to sink the boat. The solenoid that controls the water entry into the head just seized and emptied about 200 litres of water into our cabin. It only stopped once I ran into the machine room and disconnected the potable water pump for the whole boat. The trainer watched all of this with a smirk on his face. I bet he's been on at least 5 sinking boats in his career... We radioed this to the charter company and they ordered us back to home base for repairs. Off we went. We anchored at the marina; the tech crew came in and we spent another 3 hours in repairs. I asked for a bigger dinghy motor, and apparently that's extra and will take 2 days to acquire. Great, hamsters it was. With only two hours of sunlight left for the day, we sailed to Tintamarre island and anchored for the night.

That night, I was awoken by an alarm sounding from the nav station of the boat. Once I figured that it was coming from the bilge system, I dumbly pressed a button labelled "port side bilge pump" and the alarm went away. You could hear the pump purring along, and it stopped 45 minutes later. Once again, we had been sinking. Back to bed I went.

Tuesday! We put out the sails, and headed upwind to Gustavia, St-Barth's. I got to helm this portion, and it was great and physically demanding. We cleared customs at St-Barth's and then motored to Anse Colombier for the night. Little did we know this would become our new home. That night, a new alarms sounded. This time it was the house batteries complaining being too low. We stopped the fridge, hoped for the best and headed back to bed.

Wednesday: time to do drills. We upped anchor, and brought the boat to the entrance of the bay, and practiced motored maneuvers with this behemoth, with my wife at the helm. After 4 minutes of this, the trainer instructed my wife to give way more throttle on the port side as we are veering in the opposite direction he wants us to go... As she did this, she "calmly" screamed to the instructor that she was doing so. The instructor looked at her hand, then at the boat's wake, then calmly declared "We've lost the prop on the port side". Oh. We headed back to the inside of the bay, and we anchored a second time. We phoned the charter company and they tell us they will get right back to us. After 3 hours, no signs of the charter company. We ferried the guests to the beach and the trainer, TheFinn and I then headed out to find the missing prop. I must admit that being towed behind a dinghy with a snorkel was actually great fun. 30 minutes later we located the prop at a depth of 35 feet. That was too deep for us to do without equipment. We found a helpful diver (Thanks, Stephen!!) in the bay, and he retrieved the prop for us. With this prop in hand, we knew that the charter company would simply have to send a person with a few nuts and bolts and we would be done. After another 5 hours waiting and texting, it became clear we had been abandoned. We spent a second night at Anse Colombier. Stuck in paradise.

During the night, the bilge alarm rang again. We were sinking. Slowly.

Thursday morning, we got a text from the charter company: they were trying to locate a prop for us and wouldn't be able to help us until late afternoon. Wait, did they not get our texts and the pictures of the retrieved prop we sent them ?? Hello!!! Sure enough, late that afternoon we saw a dinghy speeding towards us, and we got a fresh prop, nuts, and bolts, and a diver to repair the prop. If the charter company had actually read their texts, we would not have wasted those 28 hours. That afternoon, the water-maker died. We raised the anchor, motored to Gustavia to clear out and and motored to Ile Fourchue for the night.

That night, the house batteries finally died. From here on, we would have to run the generator all the time while we were awake if we wanted to keep our food cold, and use the toilets. Also, the engine batteries were drained and the generator would have to be used to boost them to be able to start the engines.

Friday, we decided to actually enjoy ourselves by snorkelling the shores of Ile Fourchue to see the reef sharks and spotted stingrays. Then we packed up and headed downwind back to Saint-Martin. That's when the generator died. At the end of our sail, we anchored at Ile Pinel and had a wonderful lunch. We loved Ile Pinel a lot, which is a good thing because that's when both of our engine batteries finally died. Stuck in another paradise. We radioed our situation to the charter company and they sent a boat with new batteries for the engines. With what was left of the day, we sailed to Grande Casse to anchor for the night.

That night, the bilge alarm went off again to remind us that we were still slowly sinking. The bilges are on emergency batteries, so we didn't get up to inches of water around our ankles.

We limped back to the marina that Saturday morning, to give the boat back to the charter company so that they could change the sheets and let another family have their "adventure". We heard through the grapevine that the same prop fell off during the following week...

We did, in fact, pass our certification. Turns out that dealing with boat problems actually counts as real boating experience; I had successfully prevented the boat from sinking multiple times during the week. The trainer tells me that he now sleeps with a life preserver, even when at home. New habits are hard to break... Revek had a great time in Saint-Martin, as he stayed at a resort. TheFinn still talks to me, but I think he also sleeps with a life preserver.

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