"There’s water over the floorboards." That’s not what you want to hear at 7 p.m. on a dark night at sea.
But that’s the news that Marion Dallond of St. Barth had for her boyfriend, Tom Perry, captain of the CNB 77 Four Devils, and crew Edmund Murray, also of St. Barth.
Tom and Marion couldn’t have been more stunned. They’d been on the 10-year-old luxury yacht — $25,000 a week — for three years, had done the summer in Croatia, and had most recently sailed her 4,000 miles across the Atlantic to St. Barth. When the bad news came on the evening of March 2, they were 25 miles NNE of St. Martin on their way to Martinique to pick up the French owner for a month-long cruise.
The situation could have been worse — it was calm and there was only a four-foot swell. "It would have been pretty bad two weeks ago when it was blowing 30 knots and there was a big swell," agrees Tom. "But safety first, so Eddie and I got the liferaft ready and put the tender over the side. We quickly checked all the obvious places for the source of the ingress of water, but couldn’t find anything. We would later strap tarps over the side to see if that would help, but there was no noticeable effect."
Tom then got on the satellite communication system and emailed the owner that they had water coming in, were in distress, and needed help. He also put out a mayday on VHF, which was picked up in Fort de France, Martinique, 200 miles away. Either it was a good radio bounce or the French have some sort of relay system. Fortunately, the mayday was also picked up by the Dutch navy ship Rotterdam, which sent a helicopter in advance, and immediately began steaming toward Four Devils.
By 7:45 p.m., Four Devil‘s engine died, and with it her bilge pumps. Tom got his crew off the boat and into the tender, with the liferaft streaming behind. He’d also paid out all the chain to keep the hull from being destroyed in the off chance she drifted up close to an island.
The Rotterdam arrived at about 9:30 p.m., and their smaller rescue boat reached the Four Devils crew about 10 minutes later. The Four Devils crew was taken to the Rotterdam for a medical and general assessment. Hey, it’s the Caribbean, so for all the Rotterdam crew knew, the boat could have been filled with drugs, illegal immigrants or who knows what.
After Tom had a discussion with the Rotterdam engineers, they returned to Four Devils with some pumps to try to keep her afloat. But it soon became clear there was nothing they could do. A salvage tug appeared on the scene, decided there was nothing they could do either, and left. The captain of the Rotterdam was nice enough to stand by, so the Four Devils crew got to see the Four Devils‘ hull go under at about midnight, and the top of the mast disappear about two hours later. Four Devils is now 600 meters down, having joined countless other sailing vessels on the floor of the Caribbean Sea.
A former oysterman on Long Island sound before becoming a professional skipper 25 years ago, Tom Perry knows his stuff. He’d run J Class Yachts and skippered a number of mega sailing yachts to a string of important victories in Caribbean sailing regattas. We asked him how many times he’s heard of large boats suddenly sinking.
"Oh, maybe five or six. But big motoryachts sink more frequently than big sailboats. Big Eagle sank in the Med, Miss Turnberry sank off St. Martin, and there was another big motoryacht that went down off Puerto Rico. And aluminum boats tend to fail catastrophically. But we have absolutely no idea what happened to Four Devils, as we’ve been actively sailing her for a long time and had just sailed her across the Atlantic. We can only speculate that she must have hit something that caused major damage to the hull."
Having had a great gig with a great owner for three years, Tom and Marion’s futures are unclear. "We’ll have to see if the owner wants to get another boat or not," says Tom. But the couple, who are good friends of Latitude‘s, have a backup plan, having purchased a great house in a small French village in the mountains an hour north of Nice. "Located in a beautiful little village, the house has three floors and six bedrooms, and it will be a great place for us to have a Chambre d’hote — bed & breakfast — and to raise a family."
Of course, you can’t take sailing out of Tom’s body any more than you can take the blood out. "We’re also planning to get a classic 10 Meter — a sistership to Cotton Blossom that Dennis Conner restored — for chartering in the Med. In fact, there’s one such 10 Meter, Hope, on San Francisco Bay. So we’ll just have to see."
So much for the crew. How is the owner taking the loss of his yacht, particularly on the eve of a much anticipated month-long cruise? "Not very well," admits Perry.
Even if you own your own boat or sail regularly with friends, there are special occasions when you might want to use the services of one of the Greater Bay Area’s many professionally run charter boats.
Whether for a family reunion, an on-the-water office party, a nautical wedding or any other special function, there’s a vessel within the Bay’s fleet to fill the bill. Passenger capacities of crewed boats here range from 6 to 80, and all of them are run by U.S. Coast Guard-licensed captains.
In addition to the Bay’s large fleet of crewed vessels, there are roughly 200 sailboats that can be rented on a ‘bareboat’ basis for both daysails and overnights. You’ll find a complete listing on our site, and in the upcoming edition of Latitude 38, which will be on the streets April 1.
Speaking of which, if you have recently started up a charter operation that we might not know about, email us the details of your operation before the end of next week, and we’ll be happy to include you in our upcoming overview. See you out there.
"We’re currently in Roatan, Honduras, and plan on heading to the East Coast of the U.S. for the summer and then the Eastern Caribbean next winter," write Jim and Debbie Gregory of the Pt. Richmond based Schumacher 52 Morpheus. The couple took delivery of their boat from Dave Norris in Auckland in ’02, and spent the next 18 months cruising her back home to Pt. Richmond. After lots of local racing and races to Hawaii and Mexico, they took off on their most recent cruise at 10:13 a.m. on 10/13/10. Anyway, their email continues, "We’ve read all about the Wanderer’s New Year’s Eve adventures in St. Barth, and that seems like a good thing to put on our calendar. Can you give us some details about docking — we presume we’ll have to anchor out — and whether we need to reserve anything."
Up until about two years ago, we indeed spent about 18 of the previous 20 New Year’s in St. Barth. It was fantastic — and it still is great. But in recent years the island has been absolutely overrun during the holidays with Russian and other billionaires, who think nothing of spending $20,000 U.S. on a double magnum of Cristal at Nikki Beach, and the likes of Gaddafi offspring, who rent villas for $150,000 a week and pay the likes of Beyonce and Mariah Carey $1 mil to perform for an hour. The result is many of the riff-raffy sailors, who gave the island so much of its character and charm, either aren’t around or lay low until everybody leaves at 9 a.m. on the 1st. Like we say, the island still has an electric buzz during the holidays that just won’t quit, but it’s no longer our kind of buzz.
For anybody coming to St. Barth for the holidays, yes, you will have to anchor out. Boats wanting prized spots on the quay have to arrive by the first week in December, and have to be back every night before 5 p.m. or they lose their cherished spot for Christmas and New Years. These big guys pay $10,000 to $30,000 USD a month to be tied to the quay, and it can cost more than $500 in help just getting your anchors untangled from those of your neighbors. And in both of the last two years, all the boats had to clear the harbor on or just before New Year’s because a big north swell made the harbor untenable.
Our favorite time to visit St. Barth has become the period between mid-February and the end of May. The trades are a little lighter, the seas are smaller, and the later in the season the smaller the percentage of having to deal with billionaires and their even more irksome entourages. In our mind — and we suspect yours, since you like to race so much — the best of all worlds for St. Barth is this time of year, when Carnival was yesterday, and both the St. Barth Bucket, for sailing yachts over 100 feet, and the Voiles de St. Barth, the French version of Antigua Sailing Week, are just around the corner. Next year Carnival will be on February 21-22, the Bucket the last weekend in March, and the Voiles about a week after that. There’s no way somebody like you should miss any of these three weeks, and better still, you should get there in early February to become accustomed to the island ways. St. Barth is a hard place to understand and appreciate if you’re only there for three days or even a week. Until you get into the rhythm, it’s just another very beautiful island with beautiful water and great sailing breezes.
As for where to spend Christmas and New Year’s in the Caribbean, we’re asking our readers for suggestions. Send them to Richard.
Just to prove to Uncle Sam that we’re working while we’re in St. Barth, check out our gallery of Carnival photos.