Having read comments posted on the Seven Seas Cruising Association (SSCA) Facebook page and, being a journalist/ writer blessed with human frailty, I felt the need to put a few things straight. One comment hinted that people on boats in St. Martin got what they deserve because they were in the hurricane belt and should have been in Trinidad instead.
To those posting these comments, please take a moment to think before passing judgment. And please remember that three people who loved the sea gave their lives to it during the storm.
As the editorial director of the Caribbean wide sailing/lifestyle magazine All At Sea, I have preached long and often about leaving the hurricane belt during storm season. And I have written thousands of words about securing your boat in a seaman like fashion ahead of a storm or hauling it ashore. Going against all my own advice, I found myself in the middle of hurricane alley with a smashed boat following hurricane Gonzalo. As you know from seeing the pictures and your social media comments, I’m not the only one.
For the record, we live in St. Martin, it’s not just somewhere we happened to be when the hurricane came through. My wife and I spent thousands of hours working on our boat, which we loved very much. We missed last year’s sailing season because of all the work we needed to do, so this year decided to keep the boat in the water. You know how time seems to pass more quickly as you get older? Well, that was one reason for sailing the boat in the ‘forbidden’ season. Another reason was the appearance of El Niño and the prediction of a quiet hurricane season. We keep the boat on a mooring in the Simpson Bay Lagoon just 200 yards from our apartment. The attraction of keeping her afloat and my love of sailing proved too tempting and my gut feeling was that this year all would be well. I now know I was wrong.
I’ll come back to our boat a little later.
People on boats lost in the storm were stung by your comments. Boats lost or damaged included commercial vessels and fishing boats that must make a living in these waters all year round. I hope the Seven Seas Sailing Association will cut them a little slack and do the same for operators of local day charter boats who lost their vessels and livelihood and put many people out of work. A couple of boats were left in the lagoon because of family emergencies and the need for the crew to fly home. I hope the seven Seas Cruising Association will also cut them some slack.
I hope the good captains of the Association will also spare a thought for the people who did all they could to hold on to their boat in a tropical storm that turned into a killer hurricane. Perhaps certain members would like the phone number of the couple on the boat that was wrecked where ours finally fetched up, so that they can tell them in person of their folly. But the problem is, they no longer have a phone, it’s under water inside the wreck of their home—a 47-foot boat that was smashed beyond recognition until it sank leaving a broken man who could only cry and a wife who thought they were both going to die. They fought the storm with all they had … and lost. Do they deserve some slack or are they guilty of negligence too?
Perhaps the association would also like to email one of my friends, a man who worked and saved to rebuild an already damaged boat so that he could continue to live and work on a Caribbean island, as was his dream. He was working to put an engine in his boat and he had no money to pay for a haul out. And Trinidad is a long way for an engineless motorboat to go; even a member of the Seven Seas Sailing Association couldn’t do that. I’m sure he would love an email, once he’s worked to repair the hole and get the boat off the rocks and put a little money aside to replace his laptop computer. He is unable to reply to your comments right now and I feel I shouldn’t add to his pain, so excuse me if I don’t pass them on. Does he deserve a little slack? Yes? No?
I knew the old man who died. He lived aboard in St. Martin for countless years. His boat’s seagoing days were long gone, as were his. But his friends were here, people who loved and cared about him. I’m sure they would like to chat with you about how he brought it on himself? He shouldn’t have been here, should he? Mind you, cutting him some slack won’t do much good because he’s now in Fiddlers Green.
Now back to our little drama and the loss of the boat we loved. I don’t need the Seven Seas Cruising Association to cut me any slack. No, you gallant captains, no slack at all. Beat up on me all you want. I broke the rules and Mother Nature extracted her price. I am sad, nay, heartbroken at the loss of our boat and will carry with me forever the knowledge that I got it wrong, that my seamanship wasn’t good enough. And should I forget then I’m sure some member of the SSCA will be happy to remind me.
We are not asking for help, money or even sympathy, but what we do ask for is a little understanding from fellow mariners, not headshaking and certainly not sanctimonious comments. The majority of people who lost their boats prepared as best they could, or knew how. They fought like lions, and I hope those cruisers making hurtful comments are strong enough in body and mind to do the same next time they venture on the ocean and the sky darkens, the wind builds, and lighting strikes the water close by. But of course you will never be in the wrong place at the wrong time, will you? But if you are, then I for one will cut you some slack, because like me you’re a sailor, and I’m sure that along with your esteemed knowledge of seamanship and nicely framed captain’s license, members of the SSCA are human too.
Dedicated to the memory of Chris and all those lost in storms at sea.