A Line, A Gun and A Prayer

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 10.49.03 AMBy Patrick Estebe

The Micromegas was a 45’ steel ketch. After many adventures together including crossing the Atlantic, the symbiotic bond between the boat and the sailor was complete. The fact that I had built it only added depth to that connection. I knew everything that was happening onboard the moment it was happening; every noise, every squeak, even the sound of the waves on the hull were the way my ketch was talking to me. In this symbiotic relationship I had always been the less trustworthy element; this was about to be confirmed in a dramatic way.

In order to pick up a charter in St Marten I had left the anchorage in the South of Martinique early, in spite of having missed sleep many nights in a row, due to the many charms of the Caribbean.

The day was uneventful; it looked like it would be fair weather all the way to St Marten. By the late afternoon I was offshore St Pierre in the North of Martinique, by now it was clear that I would need to sleep at some point so I opted for a route way downwind of Dominica, the next island on the way north, and set my trusted Aries wind vane on that very safe bearing. This would also avoid being windless as the mountains of Dominica shelter its west coast. The wind vane and the sails were set on this safe bearing. The trusted ketch was doing what it did best; cruising effortlessly at about 7 knots. Too few people experience the contentment coming from the simplicity of this mode of transportation.  I stood watch until about 2300 and with nothing out of place onboard and nothing on the horizon I went for a short nap in my cabin. I would wake up in about an hour as I usually did, all would be OK.

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This is when things went really bad. It must have been about 04:00 and the early birds had realized a boat had crashed on their turf; everything that was stored on deck and had washed on the beach, still there a moment ago, windsurf board, jerry cans, fenders, had disappeared. That was OK with me as I had bigger problems. I repelled the first group by telling them that I did not need any help, even though they never offered any, and that the French Navy was on its way, as I had been assured by the only VHF transmission I had managed with a passing ship. Now a second group, four muscular guys approached the bow and were taking a strong grip on the bow pulpit to climb onboard, I went to them to repeat what I told the others, but this time they did not even look at me and proceeded to climb onboard. Having been in many a confrontation before that I recognized instantly that it was an assault, each of them had 20 pounds on me; I did not stand a chance empty handed. Luckily I could progress on my much inclined and much cluttered deck faster than anyone else in the world, once back in the cockpit I retrieved my .357 ( Stainless S&W 65-4”) from its handy storage. By now the first of them was a mere six meters away; I aimed straight at his face and, making sure I would “miss” him by pulling the trigger finger up I fired. The deflagration of the full charge .357 Norma shattered the stillness of the night, and the muzzle flash meant business. The first guy literally stopped on his heels, I fired a second time that sent everyone in the opposite direction and when I fired the third time the deck was cleared. Superior fire power had given me room to keep maneuvering on my boat and the wisdom to avoid loss of life prevented the crisis to spin out of control all the way to hell. To make sure there would be no further misunderstandings I picked up some ammo and proceeded to reload in plain view of all my new friends. In truth I had no bad feelings for them; I knew their dire poverty and I was the idiot who crashed his boat on their door step. That did not mean I would let them plunder my boat. By now there were about 30 of them in a half circle, at a safe 50m radius from the boat.

After this episode I resumed winching the line to tow the boat off that rocky beach. The winches were not self tailing and I put myself to this task with the strength we find in survival mode as the fate of the boat depended on that effort. The recent confrontation helped firing up adrenaline production.

Time passed. I could feel the boat was moving if ever so slowly, I did not look to remain focused, not able to divert an ounce of energy to anything else than winching this line. While I knew I the boat moved in the right direction, the situation was dire, I was still on the 100m spool and beyond the fact that it was disconcerting I was very much alarmed by the fact that the line was about half its normal diameter under the strain. My knuckles were white and I could not open my hands anymore; all I could do was holding the line and the winch handle and forcing all my body to keep pulling. I could feel my strength weakening as I had been hyperactive on adrenaline for several hours now. Survival mode is not meant for long term use. Fear was showing its ugly head in my mind when I noticed the plunderers had reinforcements on boats and there was now a half-circle of small embarkations, on a 100m radius from the boat; I was totally surrounded on land and on the water, and very concerned that one would find the line under water and cut it.

“Do you believe in God?” said a voice.

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