The Good and the BadThe good was the people of Bequia. The bad was Hurricane Lenny's swells, which almost sank our sailboat, Spaceship Earth.
by Edwin and Wendy Cutler
We felt the first swells on Wednesday, the 17th of November, 1999, at 0430. We were anchored off Schooner's dock and thought at first that the swells were from the Admiral 1 ferry, but then we remembered that even Bequians don't get up to go across to Kingstown on St. Vincent at four-thirty in the morning.
We were tossed out of our rolling, pitching bed at dawn's first light and crawled out into the cockpit to look around. Our depth sounder, which had read a steady 15 feet the day before, was now vacillating between 10 feet in the troughs and 20 on the crests of the waves. Big waves coming around the headland at the northwestern edge of Admiralty Bay were beginning to break right there in the anchorage.
Something had to be done. But what? Our engine was partly dismantled, waiting for parts, and the swells were tossing us like a ball on a trampoline.
Rudolph of Salanger came by in his dinghy and carried our port anchor out to the end of its rode to help keep us from being washed ashore. We were then farther out, but our regular anchor was now between us and shore lots of good it was doing!
Bob Law's trimaran, Pistachio, was even closer to the incoming waves, and when not disappearing in the troughs she was airborne as the frothing green wave crests lifted her skyward.
One of Daffodil Harris's sons paddled out to Pistachio on a surfboard to help Bob get Pistachio free of his numerous anchors. They slipped several lines, leaving anchors to be found later, and finally began motoring out. The young man started paddling back to the dock, but got rolled by a swell and lost the board. He free-swam to the end of the dock and climbed up. We were surprised when he ran to shore, apparently not even winded. We were even more surprised when the dock broke up behind him. He just made it.
I contemplated losing Spaceship on the stone and cement seawall when a foaming graybeard rolled over us filling our cockpit and tearing our little dinghy Space Shuttle loose.
But here came the people of Bequia! McCarthy Phillips of the watertaxi I Don't Fraid That came close by and said "You have to get out of here!" His mate Glen jumped on board Spaceship and he and Ed got the CQR anchor up. McCarthy tried to tow Spaceship out even farther than Rudolph had managed. We let out all 250 feet of chain on the regular anchor but we were still not far enough out and finally had to cut the rope at the bitter end and slip it.
Free now, McCarthy towed us into 60 feet of water where it was too deep for the swells to break. Here we rode up and down like an elevator, but were relieved not to be taking green water on board. Looking back, we saw Elvis Seales, the pan musician, jump into the surf and hand our dinghy up to the good people on the roadway, and were relieved when they carried it to safety inside Schooner's garden wall.
We watched swells break on the point and come around into the anchorage with curling graybeard tops. As they raced to the shallow water off Schooner's, they broke and dashed themselves to death on the stone wall of the roadway. Swells were also breaking on the shore on the opposite side of Admiralty Bay. Sailboats anchored along Princess Margaret Beach and Lower Bay were struggling to move into deeper water at least one was knocked down with the mast in the water and half filled with seawater by a breaking wave.
Little did we know at the time that these rings of riotous waves, blown outward by Hurricane Lenny, then just south of Puerto Rico, were pounding all the Windward Islands on their vulnerable west coasts, destroying docks and tossing the sands of beaches into the yards of houses and hotels that line these beautiful shores.
The next morning, when a new day was born, we looked around and saw the stone seawall had given itself to save Schooner's restaurant, Daffodil's laundry and several houses close by; the seawall lay in humbled, tumbled heaps of rock and cement. We realized, with grateful hearts, that but for the good people of Bequia, Spaceship would have been carried ashore, holed, sunk, and be lying dismasted, a tragedy, in that row of rubble.
A week later, we are back together. Tyrone Caesar has adjusted the valves, our diesel engine is running better than ever, and the mutilated dinghy is patched and holding air.
Thank you, good people of Bequia!
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