Gut-wrenching Sphincter-tightening Fear

We escape our captivity.

23rd May 2022

Simpson Bay Lagoon, Sint Maarten – Kralendijk, Bonaire

When cruising offshore there seem to be 2 modes of operation. In the first there is no stress, miles effortlessly slip by under the keel, everything is on a level and the boat simply looks after itself. The other mode of sailing involves gut-wrenching sphincter-tightening fear, where everything you touch breaks turning a dire situation deadly and where you simply long for an end to the nightmare you’ve found yourself in. Sailing to Bonaire we’ve had both.

Feeling like a trapped animal in the lagoon of Sint Maarten we finally escaped into the big blue ocean that surrounded the island. While everyone around us were sailing in busy waters and making the short hops between islands we took to a different heading. We sailed directly away from any nearby land readied ourselves for days offshore partaking in our favourite activity; Sailing.

Sails were hoisted, sails rolled out and the miles started slipping by. All we now had to do was sit watching the waves roll under us, the wheel turn left and then right, and be inspired by the blue water around us and the blue sky above. Life was easy, life was stress free.

Ruffian really was looking after herself and we became addicted to ‘Battery Monitor TV’. While in Sint Maarten we had revamped our charging systems and now, glued to the screens of our phones, we watched the power flow in from the solar panels and towed generator, and out as all the systems consumed it. Everything was in balance as the autopilot steered, the AIS and radar kept an electronic lookout, the fridge kept everything cool and the instruments confirmed that all was in well. All without using any fossil fuels or human intervention.

Now being far away from land and well off the beaten track we were alone on the ocean but we didn’t feel lonely. Not a single ship pinged up on AIS and not once were we hit by radar by an unseen, far away vessel. Even the weather added to this feeling of isolation as the wind blew steadily, no clouds threatened rain and no waves knocked us off course.

With all this lovely sailing and easy miles there was still a little stress while we sat in the cockpit reading books and watching ‘TV’. The cushions that protected our soft derrieres from the hard unforgiving teak were becoming overused. Slowly the foam had been compressed, blood circulation to our bottoms had slowed and numbness set in. The stress of having to stand, restore feeling felt like a real chore as everything else was just so easy.

Nearing land and readying ourselves for a night entry into Bonaire the ocean had one final gift for us. Suddenly, from nowhere, water splashed into the cockpit and the water turned white with froth. A pod of spinning dolphins had found us and were showing why they were called spinning dolphins.

All around us they jumped and slapped the water and when they became bored of that game they moved their attention to the bow, playing chicken with the keel and giving us the occasional glace. All this commotion drew more and more of them from all around and soon there were so many they had to jockey for pole position, taking turns to show us their tricks and show off their spinning abilities.

As night drew in and the low lights of Bonaire started to come into view all this low stress sailing would soon be a distant memory replaced instead by gut-wrenching sphincter-tightening fear.

Just as the first of the lighthouses was sighted the GPS alarm sounded on the instruments. Without knowing where we were a night entry into and unknown port could prove to be our undoing. Dashing below Iain found the boat computer worryingly unresponsive and even using all his technical knowledge it wouldn’t come back to life.

Still not too worried Iain fired up a spare computer we had in place just for this scenario. It booted with no problem, joined the network and loaded the charts, but instead of showing a glowing green position the boat icon remained resolutely grey with no fix established. This was now turning dire. There was now nothing for it but to fire up our phones and tablet and navigate in on technology that is designed for comfy land-based life and not the nautical one.

No sooner had the stress of not knowing where we were gone away, than we sighted a single red light heading in what we thought was our direction. We were now nearing dangerous land in the pitch black and nearing a target that threatened to run us down. Reverting to old school navigation we took bearings on the light to try and work out what was happening and it slowly dawned on us that this light wasn’t threating to run us down, it was something on land and something huge on land, but not on our charts.

Now thinking we were in the clear we started our approach to land and heard an unusual noise from below. Stepping down off the bottom of the companionway steps, instead of gaining grip of soft voluptuous carpet we heard nothing but a damp splash. Ruffian was filling up with water.

In all the commotion the galley tap had opened, the sink had blocked and all the water that had been in the port tank was now all over the floor and slowing dripping into the bilge where the bilge pumps were doing their jobs by pumping it outside. We now couldn’t wait for this journey to end.

Nearing the mooring field, the VHF sparked into life and in an instant our gut-wrenching sphincter-tightening fear dissolved. Wichard from “True North”, after raising himself from slumber, had been watching us slowly sail in and had made preparations for our arrival. He’d located the last spare mooring ball* in Bonaire for us, turned on his AIS and directed us to safety, security and most importantly sanctuary.

After 500 miles at sea, we tied up just meters from shore with just inches below the keel in the knowledge that as the sun rose, we’d be surrounded by water that glowed aquamarine in front of us and was a deep unfathomable blue behind.

Those first miles had been stress free in the extreme and the final ones extreme in their stress, but once again Ruffian has crossed an ocean, and with a little help from her friends arrived in a brave new world.

* To protect the fragile marine environment in Bonaire there is no anchoring, just a single marina and if there are no mooring balls and no marina space then the only place to go is 50 miles away in Curacao.

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Author: Iain & Fiona Lewis

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