My Sea Dart/Tristan Jones Page

A Reflection on My Years Sailing Sea Dart

Preface

This page explains how I came to own Sea Dart, and goes on to tell the story of Dart's first near disaster while she was in my possession. Links from this page will take you to other narratives about Sea Dart, including information about my relationship with Tristan Jones in Bequia, W.I. I do have many pictures of Dart digitized, and they were at one time available on this site, but due to space limitations I have removed the "Images" page. If you wish to view some images of Sea Dart and Tristan Jones, a few are available at the Sea Dart Page hosted by the State of Idaho.



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Background

How I came to Own Sea Dart

I was stationed at "Naval Facility Barbados" from 1968-1970. During that time I was very active in sailing, SCUBA diving, and cave exploring. I owned half interest in a very fast 21 foot sloop named "Vega", and when Sea Dart sailed in to Barbados, and was put up for sale, I bought her too.

One afternoon a friend came to me and asked if I would go with him to look at a boat that was for sale. It had just sailed in from England, and he was interested in buying her. He did not feel qualified to evaluate the boat for himself, so asked me, since I was very much involved with sailing. I was in the 5th year of preparation for a round the world cruise, so he felt that I should know something about boats.

The next day we drove down to Bridgetown and went to the Barbados Yacht Club where Mr. William Osborne, the owner, had agreed to meet us to show us Sea Dart. When we arrived Mr. Osborne was not present, so we decided to swim out to look over Sea Dart without him. We swam out to the boat, and as we came up under Dart's bow sprit I was instantly captivated by the two hand carved dolphins that graced the bow just under the bow sprit.

We climbed up into the cock pit, and a few minutes later Capt. Osborne arrived in Dart's dingy and opened Dart up for us to enter. I was instantly in love with the little boat, but could not say much since my friend was the one who was there to possibly buy her. We looked over every square inch of Dart, said good bye to Capt. Osborne, and headed back up the island toward Speightstown. On the way my friend told me that Dart was far too much boat for what he was looking for, and had decided to look elsewhere for a boat. That left Dart open to me, and the next day I purchased her.

The purchase was interesting because of the currency problem. I was an American, and paid in American currency. The boat had to be purchased in the local currency, and at the current exchange ratio. It finally worked out that the easiest way to do the transaction was in cash! At that time Barbados had only very small denominations available, $1, $5, $10, and $20, it may still be the same. When I went to the bank and asked for over $6000 in cash they were rather shocked. They had to furnish the cash in mostly $1, $5, and $10 denominations. That meant that the final pile of cash easily would have filled a bushel basket!

With the entire back seat of my car filled with stacks of money I drove the 15 miles to Bridgetown and closed the deal on Dart. I was now the proud owner of a fine, solid wood, "Debutante" hull, sloop. I left Dart anchored behind the yacht club, and when the following Saturday arrived, sailed her the 20 miles up the coast to Gibbs Bay, her new home for the next two and a half years.

Some months later I was horrified to learn that I was being transferred to Norfolk, Virginia for the remaining year of my enlistment in the Navy. I spoke with the fellow who had initially brought me in contact with Dart because of his interest in the boat. I asked him if he wanted to have Dart for the year I would be in the US. He could sail her in exchange for taking care of her for the year. He jumped at the opportunity, and I departed paradise, for something far less.

Norfolk and San Diego are both far down on my list of desirable places to live, however, like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon to spread its wings to the sun, both have metamorphosed into lovely cities in the ensuing years. That was not the case when I arrived in Norfolk for my year of purgatory.

The next 12 months were agony as I watched the development and course of various hurricanes that passed near Barbados. None of them hit that year, and finally I found my time in the Navy and come to an end, and my discharge took place. At long last I was a free man after six years of military servitude.

I flew home to Oregon for two weeks, and then back down into the tropics to reunite with Dart. On the way I stopped in Key West, Florida to pick up my long time friend, Brooks FitzPatrick, who would be my "First Mate" and cook for the upcoming adventure. We arrived on the Island late in the evening and walked out of the Barbados air terminal into the fragrant humid tropical air that was so familiar to me. I felt that I had arrived home again.

The next day I was in for a shock. When we climbed aboard Dart I was instantly struck by Dart's poor condition. It was apparent that she had not been well cared for. When I opened the companion way hatch and entered the cabin I sat down and almost cried. There in front of me was a huge pile of wet moldy sails. That was not the worst of it. In the tropical heat the moisture had badly damaged the beautiful hardwood interior of the boat. The decking was warped up into big folds that were as much as two inches high. It was fortunate that my "friend" was not present because I was angry, almost beyond control.

It was apparent that it would require several months to get Dart ready for sea, and that no amount of complaining or crying was going to change that. I finally accepted the situation and started making the necessary plans to put everything shipshape and Bristol fashion. The work was about to begin.


Preparations

Fitz and I set to work with a passion, tearing things apart, cleaning, painting, and repairing, as required. We pulled Dart out of the water, using the government crain at the "carenage," and set her on the dock for a week while we worked over the hull. I was astounded to discover that the brass fittings that secured the rudder assembly were so badly corroded that they could be broken with my bare hands. After much searching through the local stores I was able to secure the necessary replacements in bronze, and Dart started to come together once again. With a final coat of $60 a quart anti-fouling hull paint, Dart was finally ready to be lowered back into the sea.

The hundred year old government crane was a well rusted monument to times long gone by. It had a huge retrofitted electric motor to drive the winch drum, but the movement of the boom was strictly manual. I had to hire locals off the dock to man the big hand cranks to raise the boom, and then to swing the boom out over the water after dart had been lifted off the dock. Everything was very casual, and I was sweating blood while Dart hung 25 feet above the water next to the dock. The big motor wined and Dart started her long descent to the water. Every foot of descent lessened my tension until Dart finally touched the water and settled gently onto it, as a duck might alight on the glassy surface of a lake. Dart was back in her element.

Dart was once again safely at anchor in Gibb's Bay when the Captain of the Naval Facility asked me if I would sail his yacht down to the carenage to lift her out onto the dock and do a repeat operation of what we had just done to Dart. Since he was offering $250 to do the weeks work, it was too much to refuse. The problem was that his boat was very poorly equipped. It had no engine, and its anchors were strictly for light duty. I decided that I would do the job, but would strip Dart of her engine and various other important equipment for the trip down and the return voyage. I was concerned that a sudden storm could cause me to be caught unprepared with the boat, so risked removing the equipment from Dart. I left Dart riding to her substantial CQR plow anchor, and sailed south for Bridgetown with Fitz to overhaul the little yacht.

We had an easy trip down and spent the night in Carlyle Bay before our appointment with the ancient crane. Fitz and I decided to live on the boat for the full week in order to prevent it from being stripped by local thieves at night. All went well until the third day. It was a very hot and sultry day. We had spent most of it under the hull scraping and getting everything ready for anti-fouling paint. The day was finally over and Fitz and I were just starting to relax after dinner when there was a knocking on the hull.

Earlier that day several strange events had occurred. About 2:00 pm the big inter island freight transporting sloops along the dock had suddenly been pushed backward at the dock quite violently. The shove was strong enough to shatter several of the huge telephone pole sized bow sprits when they were rammed by the stern of the ship in front. The force necessary to shatter a two to three foot thick spar would have to be considerable. A couple hours later another similar push occurred, but without the damage that happened earlier. The boats were now all securely tied up. I walked out to the opening of the carenage and looked at the sea for sometime, but no visible action was apparent. The sea looked flat and calm. Something told me that all was not well however.

Fitz and I were just settling in for an evening of relaxed drinking and talking when the knocking on the hull occurred. I climbed out of the cabin to look over the side, and there stood an old friend, Macky, who owned a beautiful 36 foot yacht named "Silver Sprinter." I saw that the Sprinter was tied up along side the dock below. Macky quickly told me that Sea Dart was in a very desperate situation. He thought it might already be too late to save her, but he was willing to try to help me.

He had been anchored in Gibb's Bay earlier in the day when a very large ground swell started rolling in from the west. In a very short time it had grown in size until it was bigger than anything he had ever seen in his 30 years on the island. He said that Dart was almost in the giant surf, and would completely vanish behind the huge waves as they crested to break.

I suggested that it would be quickest for me to get a taxi up the island and swim out through the surf to Dart. He assured me that if I did I would almost certainly be killed in the huge surf. He said that the only way was to go after Dart from the sea. He was willing to sail back up the 20 miles to Gibb's Bay with me to attempt a rescue right then. After a few moments discussion with Fitz, we locked up the Captain's boat, and all three of us climbed aboard Sprinter to head out into the darkness of the tropical night for a very strange trip up the coast to save Dart. Thus began one of the most remarkable nights I have ever experienced.

As we sailed up the coast the moon rose full in the east, lighting up the sea almost like day. I was appalled at what I saw. The waves that we were riding over were so huge, and the period was so great, that it seemed that the entire sea would tilt as the enormous mass of water rose beneath us. The period of the swell had to be half a mile or more. I had lived next to the sea almost all my life and had never seen anything like it. As the swells approached shore they mounted in height until they were towering mountains before crashing down on the suffering shoreline.

There were several other things that caught my attention too. The sea was full of bubbles coming up from far down in the depths. It was actually hissing, much as if it were carbonated, due to the constant popping of hundreds of thousands of tiny bubbles. Also, there was a very low pitched, but very powerful, thundering from the surf a mile or so shoreward. My heart dropped as I observed the conditions around me. Everything was charged with energy, and it was frightening to be upon it, even if we were completely safe for the moment.

After several hours we started to approach Gibbs Bay. I had lived on the shore of the small bay for two years, but the conditions were so strange that I hardly recognized the place. In the bright moonlight, Dart could be seen hanging on to life just yards from where the huge waves broke in a thunderous roar. Dart would rise until she was sitting sky high in the air and then would drop like a rock out of sight in the trough of the wave, only to rise again as the next mountain approached. My heart was beating like a trip hammer as I watched the drama unfold inshore.


The Rescue

Macky slowed the Sprinter down as we watched developments in the bay. Macky had poured on all the speed that Sprinter was capable of during our trip up the coast. He had us set all the sails, and we fired up Sprinter's big diesel engine as well. He throttled the engine down to a murmur, and we shortened sail, but did not take it all in, just in case the engine failed so close to the huge surf. The real drama was about to begin.

We all watched, spell bound, as Dart did her dance on the brink of oblivion. Finally I couldn't stand the stress any longer. I asked Macky if I could borrow his little "dingy" to row in to try to save Dart. He had no problem with the loan, but pleaded with me not to get killed in it. I asked Fitz if he would be willing go in with me, and to his credit, he jumped in next to me with out any hesitation. Fitz's ultra strong belief in God didn't hurt in this situation.

Fitz took the back seat, and I took the oars and started rowing into the chaos ahead. Since I was rowing, my back was toward the shore, and I was facing the incoming swells. They were beyond anything I had ever seen. Between the horizon and us I could see no more than three of the huge waves building as they approached the bay. By the time they reached the opening of the bay they were "feeling the bottom," and were rapidly growing in height and steepness. As a wave would come up behind us I had to stop rowing into the bay and back paddle to prevent the little boat from taking off and surfing down the face of the moving black mountain of water.

Each time one of the black glistening giants mounted behind us I held my breath as we rose skyward, as if on a giant elevator. Each time, the huge wave would pass harmlessly beneath us and go on its way to try to claim Dart. As we approached the "death zone" I could hardly believe my eyes. The sea went completely flat! There was not a single wave to be seen coming in. I didn't have to be invited, I bent to the oars and quickly pulled up next to a dripping wet Sea Dart. Water was dripping off of everything, including the top of the mast. She was so close to the breakers that she was taking the explosive spray from the huge compression tubes.

I handed Fitz the key to the supply locker on Dart and told him to quickly get aboard and break out one of the 600 foot nylon lines we had stored in the lazarette, just for such emergencies. I actually had 1800 feet of 3/4 inch line for deep anchorage, or riding to two or three anchors in storm situations. I guess this was about as much an emergency I could ever expect to see.

Fitz got out the line and attempted to pay it out as I held the end between my knees and rowed out toward Sprinter. He was only able to pay out about 50 feet when the coil became hopelessly tangled. He started to try to untangle it but I decided we didn't have the time to worry about it. The sea was still flat, but that couldn't be expected to last much longer. I told Fitz to cleat off the line and quickly get the plow anchor up, if he could break it lose. I expected it to be very deeply buried, but Fitz was pretty well charged with the energy of the situation. He managed to break it free and get it tied down on deck in what seemed only a few moments.

My heart was beating so hard I thought it would explode. I kept looking out to sea expecting the worst. Finally, I could see the first signs of the next train of super waves approaching. I told Fitz to grab the tiller and to just steer Dart after me while I rowed us out toward the opening of the bay. It seemed impossibly far to be able to tow Dart in the short time remaining to us. I held the rope by tightly squeezing it between my knees, while I rowed like a steam engine. I was amazed that the oars and oar locks didn't break under the strain.

It was now a deadly race. Would Dart or the waves reach the opening to the bay first. Every second took us closer, but the progress of the first of the waves was faster. If the wave caught us it would either shatter Darts steering gear when it drove Dart backward down the face of the wave, or if Fitz got her turned around, Dart would surf down the giant slope to Dart's and Fitz's destruction. My back and arms were screaming for rest but that was impossible. I couldn't let up for a second.

I could see that we were losing the race, and my heart was beginning to drop as I realized that I had to have Fitz abandon Dart so that he wouldn't take the wild ride that Dart would soon embark upon. I kept the line tightly clamped between my knees while I kept up my rapid stroke of the oars. I turned to look once more toward the sea, and to the left I saw Sprinter coming toward us with every bit of speed she was capable of. She once again had all sails set, and the engine was screaming at full throttle. Macky was headed right into the bay, almost certain suicide for Sprinter! As I watched, spell bound, I suddenly realized what Macky was doing. He was risking Sprinter, and his life, to try to save Dart!

I quit rowing and worked as much slack as I could out of the tangled line I quickly coiled it in my hands to attempt to throw it to Macky as he passed close by. He came in at what seemed lightning speed, headed right for me. Just as I thought he was going to run me down, he threw the helm hard over, let go the steering, and jumped toward the stern to receive the line as I threw it to him. I prayed that it would fly true and free, without any tangles. My prayer was answered, it was just long enough, and Macky grabbed it out of the air. In a flash he had it cleated down to Sprinters starboard stern cleat and jumped back to the helm. Whatever would happen now was out of my hands. Dart and Sprinter were locked together in a contest with the sea that could easily end in disaster to both of them.

I watched, slumped over the oars, as Sprinter started her breakneck climb up the towering face of the incoming sea. I was so fascinated, and horrified, at the spectacle that I almost forgot to row the dingy to keep her from starting to surf the steep wave face. About a hundred feet away, Sprinter, under full power, raced up the steepening wall of the sea and broke through the top of the giant wave, continued skyward until fully 3/4 of her length stood out above the top of the crest of the sea. It was incredibly exciting to watch in the opalescent moonlight. It looked as though Sprinter was going to launch right out of the sea! Suddenly gravity took over and Sprinter toppled over the top into the void on the other side and vanished from sight, including the very top of the mast!

I could hardly believe that a 36 foot boat could vanish only 100 feet away from me. And then I saw something that turned my heart to stone. The 3/4 inch line connecting Dart to sprinter was rapidly cutting down into the sea. The line was no longer parallel with the water but angled sharply down into it. Dart was going to be dragged under by Sprinter's much more powerful pull from the other side of the huge wave. For what seemed an eternity everything went into slow motion as Dart accelerated up the face of the sea, with the line singing to its enormous strain. The line stretched until it was a fraction of its normal 3/4 inch diameter. If it parted Dart was lost, and if it held the result could be the same. Time stood still.

I should have had more confidence in Dart's fantastic buoyancy. Dart's hull was very wide, and she had hard chines, adding to her buoyancy. She never even dipped her bow, but rushed up the face of the wave and tried to simulate her bigger sister in attempting to launch herself skyward from the top of the wave. And then it was over. The giant sea passed on by and expended itself in a thunderous roar ashore while Sprinter and Dart made their escape safely to sea. I bent to the oars and slowly followed to meet them in very deep, safe, water. My legs were shaking so much that it was fortunate that I had the time to recover.

We rafted Dart and Sprinter together for a while until I sorted out the ropes, and then Macky extended the loan of his little boat a little longer while I carried three anchors out in separate directions and anchored Dart in the center of a three spoked wheel in 500 feet of water. I had all 1800 feet of emergency line out, plus almost a thousand feet of other working line that Dart had. Virtually every foot of line on board Dart was out that night. I made quiet thanks for having the foresight to have shipped all that line down from Norfolk. It seemed a ridiculous amount of line at the time for such a small boat. I was very thankful for it now.

We thanked Macky for everything he had done, and risked, that night for us. It was difficult, since there are no words that can express the powerful feelings that are within us after such events. Finally, at around 3:00 AM, Macky took the dingy in tow and headed south toward Carlyle Bay, where he would see amazing destruction the next day from the giant surf.

Although Dart was dripping wet, below decks all was dry and provided a welcome sanctuary. It was 3:30 am when Fitz and I sat down together in silence after all that had happened. The booming of the giant seas was very loud in the darkness shoreward, and Dart still rose steeply to the huge seas, but all was safe for the night. I went out and hoisted a kerosene anchor light in the rigging so that we didn't get run down by a passing boat, being anchored so far offshore that night.

The next day would bring horrors of destruction to our eyes that made the rescue of Dart even more special and wonderful. The following morning the sea was full of pieces of buildings and boats of all descriptions. Some of the big ships down in Carlyle Bay were pushed ashore by the sea and required weeks of work to extract from the sands of the beach. We were very lucky as we didn't suffer any loss other than sleep. What was interesting too, was that where Dart had been anchored in Gibbs Bay was the accepted anchorage in the bay. The surf was so huge that the entire bay became a death zone for boats.

I learned one very big lesson in the event. Because I had removed Dart's little, well mounted, outboard engine, I didn't have it available to run Dart out of the Bay when I desperately needed it. I returned to the dock, finished up the Captain's boat, sailed it back up to Gibbs Bay and returned it to him. I was very glad to return all the borrowed gear to Dart, and never again risked her in that way. I didn't know it at the time, but that was just the beginning of many experiences that involved great risk to Dart, and to us, during our future voyages through the islands.

The End


Other Sea Dart/Tristan Jones Writings of Mine

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7 Feb 02