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Deliverance

Newcomers to the sailing community, those who have completed a couple of courses and taken a bareboat charter or two, often get weak at the knees when they hear the word “delivery.” “Ah,” they sometimes say, “if ever you've got a delivery coming up, think of me. I'd love to get some time offshore.” And we smile at them a little indulgently because we, too, in our green youth, had a similar reaction. Visions of the poetry of a small ship sighing her way through the offshore swell as the canvas cracked a little and the vessel heeled slightly to the modest breeze under a cloudless, star-speckled sky flickered in our mind's eye. We could already smell the morning bacon sizzling while the coffee burbled atop the stove.

And then there's the reality. Stuck for weeks in a ratty marina, you sweat away the time while the mechanic or the owner's cousin or the marina manager stews and swears over a new cutless bearing or a replacement alternator. The boat's owner hasn't sent the cheques as promised and the weather window slowly creaks shut. There's nothing to do but slap mosquitoes.

Finally, the guy who was supposed to do the work just stops showing up so you have to finish it. You stand at the pay phone at midnight or 4 AM so you can reach the owner who is in Paris on business or home in Kansas. The cheques finally come but they total about half of what you expected. Just when you're getting ideas about the waitress at the only restaurant in town and you're talking with her ex-husband about taking over his chandlery business, you come to your senses and rustle up your crew who have taken up professional drinking and are in a little bit of a debt situation vis a vis the local inn.

You try to get online but the connection takes forever, so you make a quick sketch off The Weather Channel so you have some idea of what's up, and away you go. The wind that was to come from the favourable quarter doesn't come at all, or when it does it blows right at you, no matter which way you're headed. It's going to be 10 days of pounding upwind with the engine racketing beneath your ear, unless the fuel pumps quit or the fuel turns out bad or that old Universal just ups and dies. Your crew prove to be susceptible to seasickness and they don't know how to cook.

Life on the ocean grey.
But then, of course, it can happen the other way, as it did to me just a few weeks ago. A chance encounter led to a quick flight to St. Lucia, a taxi ride to the charter base at Marigot Bay and a pleasant night's sleep aboard an air-conditioned catamaran, a Leopard 42. There weren't even any mosquitoes. In the morning, breakfast was just a short walk away. J.P., whose delivery this was, got us organised and prepared and cleared to go in no time flat. Our third crew, Andrew, a sailing coach from Canada, newly resident in St. Lucia, showed up early and was eager and friendly. We fired up the diesels and motored out of Marigot, setting our course for the BVI. We motored, and we motored some more. Eventually we hoisted our mainsail to get a little lift, but there was really no breeze, nor was there any swell. The engines chuckled along at 2,000 RPM, pushing us at six knots, aided by the equatorial current.

We motored all day across a glassy sea and then we motored at night. There was no moon, so the darkness was inky and deep. Occasionally a light would catch the eye and it would be a glimmer from a nearby island glistening off the mirrored sea. J.P. and I were concerned because, after motoring for 24 hours, we could see no discernible movement in the fuel gauge needles, both stuck on Full. Perhaps there was a problem with the senders in the fuel tanks and they were both really empty. We watched the fuel gauges for another 12 hours until gradually we could see some movement in the port one. Great relief—we were actually burning diesel!

J.P rigged some fishing gear and on our second night out we had Mahi-Mahi for dinner, with rice and a tomato coulis. When we had hauled the fish aboard and divided it into steaks, we stopped engines and dove into the Caribbean. Some soap, a rinse, a dive and a spritz and on we went. Once we even saw a rain shower, off in the distance. Andrew was amused on his early morning watch when a pod of dolphins came by to visit. Quietly, we motored on. Six knots at 2,000 RPM.

The dorado we caught made a fine meal too. We had pasta with that and more tomatoes. When we stopped the boat to deal with the dorado, the port engine overheated and the alarm started to shriek. We shut down the engine, checked fluids, started up again and motored peacefully on. Everything was good.

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As alluded to in the opening paragraphs, my prior experiences on many deliveries had been on the order of Murphy Rules. I've been towed into harbours with failed engines, spent days pounding through unexpected storms, almost crashed into the Chesapeake Light once when its bulbs went out, but I'd never previously had the experience of peace, quiet and good food. Here, our biggest problem was that the engines didn't seem to be consuming as much fuel as we expected. After 72 hours of continuous motoring, the needles weren't even at the halfway mark.

We got some wind in the early afternoon of our third day and were able to shut down engines. Wind was decent, about 16 knots at 70 degrees relative, a perfect angle for the boat. Onward, we sailed. About midnight we were within 10 miles of Ginger Island and decided to drop sail and just drift until daylight.

We motored into Road Town mid-morning on our fourth day. Having taken a mooring, J.P. and Andrew then dinghied off to clear in. Now our problem was the lack of a Q flag, but I was wearing my yellow swim trunks which were soon flying from the flag halyard.

Andrew had come along on this trip because he wanted to visit a buddy, Chris Watters, the sailing coach at the Royal BVI Yacht Club. Andrew couldn't find Chris's phone number and was concerned that they wouldn't meet up in time for his return flight to St. Lucia. But, just as I was hoisting my ratty yellow swim trunks up the flag halyard, a dinghy buzzed over towards the boat. The guy in the dinghy said he was Chris and was wondering if this was Andrew's delivery.

Last I saw of them, they were headed off to the RBVIYC in the dinghy, smiles all round. J.P. and I took the catamaran to the charter company dock to complete the delivery, jumped in my car which was waiting in the car park and drove off home.

I am one of those who, when things are going well, tend to look over my shoulder for approaching Doom, a good approach when at sea. My experience with this recent delivery left me shaken and confused. How could everything go right? It's not natural. So, please, if anyone should ask you about delivering yachts across bodies of water, whatever you do, don't let them read this story. It'll ruin them forever.

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