Old Tricks, New Dogs
Before Roman could reply, Fournier, an urbane ex-submariner, proposed a traditional solution. He suggested heaving to, something that in all our collective decades of sailing none of us aboard had ever done.
With the staysail backed, the reefed main sheeted flat, and the helm lashed down, Wanaka took a breather in the brisk easterly. Bruno went below to fix a shepherd's pie with leftovers of earlier steak and venison dinners. Herve popped the cork on a bottle of vin rouge to let it breathe, and Baptiste fired up the sound system with an eclectic iPod mix of Cat Stevens, Wolfgang Mozart, Ray Charles, and some French cats whispering oily je ne sais quois.
At dusk, well fed and watered, we freed sheets again, and Wanaka took off like a racehorse. Bruno missed in his calculations, but not by much. The lights of Man O' War Cay, Bahamas, popped up on the horizon at about 0430, so we hove to again until the light was strong enough to make our approach.
We threaded through narrow Man O' War Cut under full sail, noting the treacherous breaking reefs on either side with respect and gazing keenly at changing water colors below. We dropped the hook behind the island in eight feet above a sandy bottom. Everyone slid over the side to bathe and have a look at the naked prop shaft in the warm, clear water.
Our journey was over, having taken just one extra day. One challenge remained. Lacking power, just how were we to land at the Jib Room dock, four miles away at the Marsh Harbour Marina?
"No problem," said Bruno, a gleam in his eye. He sailed across the shallow embayment with keel up, making a little more leeway than usual, then dropped sails at the harbor entrance and sent Herve ahead in the inflatable to tow us in. It was slow going with just a 15-horse outboard, but we never lost steerage.
With just 100 yards to go and folks ashore pointing us urgently to the right slip, Bruno cast off the towline and bore for the barn, leaving just one question: How do you stop 18 tons of surging sloop without an engine? With two knots of boat speed, we were coming in hot, and I could almost hear the two-by-eights splintering. I shut my eyes.
And then, as pretty as kiss my hand, the great boat came to a shuddering stop inches from disaster. I turned to Bruno in amazement. "Whaa???"
"I found zee brake!" he crowed with a wicked grin. "I dropped zee keel!"
And so ended our grand voyage, enriched by the loss of the prop, which made it all the more challenging. Of course, one expects a three-time America's Cup skipper to be a good boathandler, but Troublé proved better than that. He was masterful at prodding Wanaka ahead in no breeze at all, and our gearshifts as the breeze rose and fell were all but effortless. The skipper also cooked, cleaned, cheered folks up if they got cranky, and rarely slept, all admirable qualities offshore.
You live and learn. And so, I've amended my vows. From now on, I'll try never to go to sea without a Frenchman. Perhaps even several.
Having mastered crew dynamics with the French, CW editor at large Angus Phillips next turned his sights toward Belize in the company of sailors intent on improving his bone-fishing and diving skills. Look for his account in an upcoming issue.