We Broke Our Charter Boat

Because I spend so many days teaching sailing, I don’t get to charter as often as I would like. In the summer of 2018, my wife and I decided to take a charter someplace exotic for our anniversary. We have chartered in the BVI and USVI before and wanted to go somewhere different.

We settled on St. Vincent and the Grenadines. One problem with chartering is that most of the boats are large and expensive. We wanted a small boat that the two of us could handle by ourselves. It is considered wise to charter with a first or second tier charter company to have a chance of getting a boat in good condition. The only boat we could find that was small enough and inexpensive enough was from Barefoot Charters.

The boat had some charging problems, we had a hard time keeping the refrigerator cold, but other than that it seemed to be OK. I’m very used to sailing and dealing with older sailboats.

After a couple of days of sailing, we ended up on the island of Mayreau in Salt Whistle Bay. Up to that point, the trip was uneventful. We were not looking to push ourselves too hard, so we stayed two nights in Mayreau.


The day we were to leave we got up early. I started the engine and went up forward to release the mooring while Diane drove. The mooring field was mostly full. There were boats moored all around us and coral shoals all around. The wind was about fifteen knots.

Within a few minutes, after I released the mooring, it seemed like the boat had no power. I asked Diane to disengage the transmission and reengage to see if we could pick up some speed—nothing. We were drifting past some boats towards the coral reef. One thing I teach my sailing students is always to be prepared for something to stop working at the worst possible time.

I had paid close attention at the boat briefing and knew that there was no disconnect switch for the anchor windless, but that you had to open the forward hatch and retrieve a button box controller on a long cord that was stored on top of the forward cabin hanging locker.

I asked Diane to try to miss the other boats as we were barely making way with just the wind. I went below, opened the hatch and deployed the controller box. Then I sprinted above deck to the bow to cut away the lines securing the anchor and dropped the anchor in shallow water in almost the perfect place between a moored boat and the reef-lined beach.

Now the problem was what was wrong with the boat. The engine ran fine, but there was no propulsion. I thought that maybe the transmission linkage was disconnected, but that was fine too. A neighboring sailor came by on his kayak and dove on the prop to see if it had disappeared. No, the propeller was still on the boat, but the shaft seemed to move in and out more than it should. Whatever it was, it wasn’t something a charter captain was expected to fix.

I called Barefoot, and they sent a mechanic who determined that the shaft had broken. A very unusual failure for sure. Barefoot sent a boat to pick us up. I learned that even if you lose a couple of days due to a broken boat, some charter companies only give you credit for another trip.

In short, it was a learning experience, and we got stuck on a paradise island drinking piña coladas for a few days. Not all bad.

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