Double-O Responds to a 911 Call at Sea


Nine One One at Sea


I didn’t really think we would pick up the anchor and head to Venezuela when we woke, after all Double-O had never done more than fifteen hours at sea. The trip to Margarita from Virgin Gorda would take a lot longer than that and I know first hand how hard the first few days offshore are on the human body, even with an autopilot. It’s not that Double-O isn’t in shape, he is, but he’s never done two hours on and two off for a week or so. Yes, he tells me, he’d spent days alternating between sleep and not sleep in Vietnam, but that was a lifetime ago, besides I wasn’t so eager for such a long crossing myself, so we settled on going back to St. Martin and taking the leisurely way south for hurricane season.

We got David’s weather in the morning. There was a cold front coming down from the north, due in a day or so, and we were already getting wind from it. This was going to be a close reach with winds from twenty to twenty-five. Not the gentle crossing we had coming up from St. Martin, but Double-O, macho guy that he is, said he was ready for some weather.

“You’re sure?” I said. “We could always wait awhile, we have lots of time.” I said that because it’s been my experience that when they say twenty to twenty-five they really mean thirty to thirty-five.

“No, let’s go.” He’d made his mind up the night before that he was tired of the BVI and when his mind’s made up, it’s made up.

We don’t have the fastest boat in the Caribbean, far from it. I figured we’d average something like four knots, maybe get up to five, if we fired up the iron jenny, so we decided to leave at sunset.

Though I’ve been around boats all my life, I can never sleep before a crossing and it really irritated me that Double-O snored the day away. He didn’t get up till I woke him to pull up the anchor. He can do that he says, because he had to work all kinds of strange hours when he was a policeman, so he’s learned to grab sleep whenever he can. I, however, experienced sailor that I am, have never learned to sleep when the sun is out. Plus, because I know boats, I suppose, I’m always worried about what can go wrong, even though I’ve checked and double checked everything. So I was jittery as all heck as we sailed with the setting sun. Double-O, on the other hand, refreshed and blissful in his ignorance, was smiling and raring to go.

About eight hours later the weather turned nasty, thirty knot winds, like I knew we’d get, and big seas, however the skies were clear, the moon was bright, the stars were gorgeous. We were sailing slow, reefed up and safe, but we were rocking around and occasionally taking spray over the sides. Double-O seemed to be enjoying himself despite the turn of the whether, then all of a sudden he ran to the rail and upchucked, making horrible grunting noises, sort of like a pig in labor, and it seemed to go on forever.

“Are you going to be all right?” I said when he was finished.

“No.” He wiped his mouth off, turned back to the rail, was about to have another go, when he said, “There’s someone out there.”

“Where?”

“A flashing light.” He pointed. “It’s an SOS. We gotta go.”

I looked and saw the light in the distance as we crested on a wave, then I lost it. Up on the next wave and I couldn’t see it.

“There!” He was talking loudly to be heard over the wind, but not yelling. “See it?”

I didn’t, not anymore, but I didn’t doubt him. I’d never question his policeman’s eyes. I took off the autopilot and turned to starboard, following his pointed finger. We turned, made good time with the wind at our backs and fifteen minutes later we closed on a pirogue with an older West Indian man and a boy in it. I rolled in the headsail as Dub shouted over.

“What’s wrong?”

“Engine quit,”the man shouted. I heard the strain in his voice, relief too. It was a miracle Dub had seen them.

“Hang on, I’ll get a line,” Dub shouted, then went below. He was quickly back and in seconds he had the line tied to a fender. He tossed the float overboard. But the pirogue pitched up as a wave both picked it up and splashed over it, making Dub’s throw fall short.

I pulled the wheel to starboard, away from the little boat, to keep us from smashing into them and as it was, we barely missed them as Dub frantically pulled the fender back in. I tried to ease closer to the pirogue again as Dub again tossed the float toward the little boat and the man caught it.

The man was a seaman and brave man. He untied the fender from the line, looped it around the boy’s waist, kissed him on the cheek, then gave Dub a thumbs up as the boy jumped into the sea. The boy was brave too.

Dub pulled for all he was worth and I was worried, because he didn’t have a his harness on and wasn’t secured to the boat. Part of our plan was to always be connected to the boat when we were at sea, and for reasons I don’t know why, we were not, despite the rough seas. That was never going to happen again.

And just as I made that last mental note, Dub slipped and fell on his ass. But he held onto the line, even as he slid, legs firs,t toward the edge and if it wouldn’t have been for the lifelines, he’ve been in the sea too and all three would have been lost.

However, it didn’t happen and Dub, still on his ass, scooted back toward the center of the boat with his feet as he continued to pull the boy toward Tara. At the mast, he looped the line around it and with a skill I didn’t know he had, he lashed the line to it, so now no matter what happened, the boy was going to stay connected to Tara.

And in seconds, which seemed like eternity, Dub was on his feet and back at the edge, pulling like he was in a tug of war with an elephant. Then he stopped tugging and dropped to his knees with a thud I didn’t hear, because of the wind and the waves, but I felt it in my heart as he grabbed onto the boy and pulled him aboard.

The boy’s father, stood in the pirogue, riding the little boat like a world class surfer riding a giant wave. He had both hand in hands in the air, two thumbs up, a smile on his face you could see a world away.

Dub got the line off the boy and ran him back to the cockpit.

The kid was shivering as he shouted. “Get my dad!”

“I will, kid.” And Dub went back to the bow.

“I’ll come to you.” Again the man waved, then he dove into the sea and swam the short distance to the boat, seemingly unaware of the fact that if he didn’t time it just right, Tara could come smashing down on him. But he trusted Dub and he did time it just right and he caught the line Dub tossed him. then he let the sea pull him away from Tara as he tied it around his waist.

And he swam toward the stern and when he was behind the boat, he pulled himself toward us and all of a sudden Dub was there too, throwing down our rope ladder. The man grabbed onto it with powerful arms and pulled himself up and then it was all over. They were both aboard, both safe.

“Take them below and get ‘em dry,” I said, “I’ll handle the boat.

Thirty minutes later we were sailing toward a beautiful sunrise with St. Martin in sight. The man we rescued was named Mohammad Gopasingh. He was a Trinidadian, who’d married a French girl from Marigot, so now he lived in St. Martin. He was a policeman as turns out, so he had a lot in common with Dub. He’d been day fishing with his son Andy, when his engine went out and the storm had come up and had taken them out to sea. They’d been adrift all night. It was just a miracle that we’d come along and Dub had seen his light.

So instead of sailing onto Simpson Bay on the Dutch side of the island, we set sail for Marigot. Besides, I like French food very much.

Mo insisted we have dinner with him that night and we did. We met his wife Anne, who had been worried to beat the band that her husband and son had been lost at sea. We also met his beautiful twin daughters, Mona and Marie.

We also met Anne’s sister Ruth and her new husband Ben. She’d only been married for a week and all she could talk about was her wonderful wedding, her gorgous wedding dress and how bright her future was going to be. She could hardly wait to get her photographs back from the wedding photographer.

And we had one of the best meals I’ve ever had. I’m a very good chef, if I do say so myself. Anne is better.

And so, we decided to stay in St. Martin for a month or so, where we can relax and enjoy the idyllic French Caribbean life here.

In closing I’d like to say that I’ve always wanted to write about food, to share my recipes with the world, and wouldn’t you know it, Anne writes for a magazine, which has a sister publication that’s a sailing magazine and they’ve decided to publish my articles about eating well at sea, so I couldn’t be happier.


Vesta Irene on Great White Wonder 003


Here is Vesta at sea, somewhere between Trinidad and Grenada.


Vesta Irene on Great White Wonder 002



Ken and Vesta Wedding and Portrait Photography, 1250 Ralston Street, Reno, NV 89503
Phone: 775 393-9529