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Smoke on the Water — Fire in the Sky

Bay Area sailor Dave Russell was enjoying a cruise in the BVI when he was witness to a nearby boat fire. Dave has chartered close to 100 boats all over the world. He has sailed the BVI at least 25 times since 1993. He holds a USCG 100-ton Master’s ticket, and is a senior instructor at Spinnaker Sailing School in Redwood City. This is his story of what happened last December …

Six of us were sailing the British Virgin Islands with the annual flotilla of boats organized by Spinnaker Sailing Club of Redwood City, California. As the skipper who’d sailed the BVI more than 25 times, I was a happy tour guide and eager to help the five crew aboard the Sunsail Lagoon 424 Wanderer polish their sailing skills in the Caribbean Sea.

On Wednesday night, December 8, we were moored in the west side of Great Harbour, Jost Van Dyke. Yes, that bay, home of the infamous Foxy’s restaurant and bar. It was the first time any of the other crew had visited the BVI, and as with all first-timers, there are two ‘ya just gotta do’ items: the Baths on Virgin Gorda and Foxy’s on Jost Van Dyke. They ate and danced at the hot spot while I had a quiet dinner with my local friends down the road, then went to bed early while a few stayed ashore for more of what Foxy’s is known for.

11:45 p.m. — Knock, knock, knock! “Dave! The boat behind us is burning!”

Sound asleep since 9 p.m. in the port forward cabin of Wanderer with my hatches closed, I had been oblivious to the screams and firelight emanating from Starstruck (not its real name), a 48-ft power cat moored two balls astern and downwind of us — maybe 200 feet away. Out of bed and up on our aft deck, it was immediately obvious that something had gone horribly wrong. Starstruck‘s upper deck and cockpit were engulfed in flames that spread rapidly, burning through the coachroof to the salon and cabins below. We could see several people on the foredeck, and many people from nearby boats yelling for them to jump. Loud shouts of “mayday!” seemed to come from all around.

Smoke on the Water
The survivors of Starstruck and crew of Wanderer watch the power cat burn in Great Harbour, Jost Van Dyke.
© 2022 SV Wanderer

Inflatable dinghies whizzed by in every direction, adding to the confusion and danger, while the vacation boats moored around Starstruck wisely slipped their moorings and moved away. In my mind, I objectified the situation and focused. Time slowed down for me. To save our boat or to save the survivors wasn’t really a dilemma; Wanderer was going to be the recovery boat.

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1 Comment

  1. Someone Annonomys 2 years ago

    Ok. The contents of this article isn’t true nor false, but Dave ( the author of this article ) sort of made it seem like he was a hero in the story.

    First off, somebody took that picture ( of the people watching the boat burn ), and didn’t even ask their permission to use that photo.

    Second, Dave only let those people be on the boat for no more than an hour. Does that make him seem like he hero he “claims” to make himself?

    So that’s why the information in this article was nor true nor false.

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