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Sailing in the BVIs – Day 3: Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, We Have Rookies in Charge!


It was just a matter of time before the silly rookie mistakes began to accumulate. The first one was as scary as it was embarrassing. We woke up before sunset to get an early start to the long upwind passage from Norman Island to the North Sound. We began tacking back and forth on the Sir Francis Channel feeling quite confident as we worked perfectly as a team. Then, suddenly, we lost steering!

By losing steering we mean the steering wheel was spinning in circles with no resistance what so ever. It had no impact at all on the boat. This was a worst case scenario! We had no control of the boat with the wheel and we were rapidly approaching Peter Island’s shore. This is the stuff that rookie nightmares are made of.

Nestor immediately assumed that the problem could be a lost rudder, which is a major emergency. Nestor has done silly amounts of reading about sailing emergencies and remembered clearly that a spinning wheel with no resistance usually means that the rudder became detached from the steering system. In the worst case scenario, this could mean that rudder fell off the boat, which in turn means that water can begin to enter the boat through the open hole where the rudder was attached to the hull!

So Nestor entered crisis mode and began directing the crew with the efficiency that would have made his RYA instructors proud: turn the engines on, drop the sails, check both engine compartment and all bilges for water ingress (all dry!), get ready to call a mayday if needed, and start attempting to steer the boat with both engines. This final maneuver did not work, which scared Nestor even more. Catamarans are usually easily controlled with both engines and the fact that this was not working was very concerning (although we now realize this was a hint that the rudder was not lost!).  He then continued the emergency protocol by calling TMM’s operations manager over the phone.

Nestor: “Hi, this is the skipper of Ohana. We lost steering. We are ½ mile west of Peter island. Right after a tack, the steering wheel began spinning and I can’t control the boat with the engines. There is no water ingress anywhere. But we need help.”

TMM: Make sure the autopilot is not engaged. If it is, turn it off.

Nestor checked the autopilot and somehow it had gotten turned on! As soon as he turned it off, the steering was back to normal.

Nestor: Oops. Everything works now.

TMM: Have a nice sail.

So that was Lesson #4 of the trip: Understand the type of steering and autopilot of your boat. The only type of steering that Nestor had experienced involved a fully mechanical link between the autopilot and the steering wheel. That is, when the autopilot is engaged, it turns the rudders by turning the wheel. So you will actually see the wheel turning as directed by the autopilot. But on this more modern boat, the autopilot is not connected to the steering wheel at all and instead controls the rudder directly (bypassing the wheel). In fact, when the autopilot is on, the steering wheel on this boat was completely disengaged and simply spins, which led to our freak out.  In our defense however, we had not yet used the autopilot, so we didn’t even think that it could be the autopilot, since there was no reason for it to be engaged.


By the time that the autopilot drama was over, the current had taken us back the equivalent of two hours of tacking, so the idea of continuing to the North South was scrapped and we decided to pick up a mooring ½ way there at the magnificent Marina Cay.

This place is what postcards are made of. Turquoise waters, a gorgeous little beach, and cute resort and some very over priced menu items (pricey even for BVI standards).

So we had a few drinks at the bar and then came back to the boat to have dinner and enjoy the magnificent sunset.


Above: Yolanda taking us on the dinghy to Marina Cay


Above: Yolanda and Nestor finally on land after their first major rookie scare. 

The last rookie play of the day happened in the middle of the night during a squall. Nestor was using an anchor alarm that beeps if the boat moves away from a certain margin of error while at anchor (called Anchor Watch). The idea is that if the mooring breaks (or if you anchor drags) the system will beep telling you of the danger (For the non-sailors: every night the boat was attached to a buoy in the middle of the anchorage called a mooring. If the buoy breaks, the the boat can drift into the rocky shore. Anchor Watch tells us if the boat is drifting away).

So in the middle of the night Yolanda and Nestor woke up simultaneously because something did not feel right. The boat felt as if it was moving – like seriously drifting. There were also strange noises coming from the mooring. Nestor looked out of the window, none of the boats he had been using as a visual reference to check our position were there, suggesting that we had moved from our original spot.

And then the Anchor Alarm went off!

We both panicked and ran upstairs onto the deck in our underwear. We were convinced that the mooring had failed and that we were drifting towards the shore. Nestor ran towards the bow in the pouring rain just to realize that everything was fine. We were in our original spot. The mooring was intact. Nothing was wrong. And everyone around us was sleeping soundly. Except for us.

What happened was that the wind had shifted directions significantly, which tripped the alarm, and moved the boat in such a way that from our window we could not see the boats that we had been next to.

So after realizing that everything was fine Nestor ran back to the cockpit to escape the rain. And suddenly, he goes flying up in the air and lands on his butt! So sad we don’t have it on video!  Lesson #5: Never, never, never run on the deck.

Coming up on day 4: Nestor feels naked at Leverick “sand fleas” Bay.

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