As soon as he did, we all worked furiously to plug the leaks and pump the boat dry. A crowd of about 40 people had gathered, and gave us a round of applause when we were done. The Bahamian government also rewarded us with some Kalik Gold, the local beer. It was a spring break none of us is likely to forget.
This past March, seven friends from the College of Charleston and I went sailing for a week in the Bahamas aboard the 44-foot Ted Brew-designed sloop Tardis for our spring break. Our captain, Conor Smith, now in his junior year, was far and away the most experienced sailor. Also aboard were Gabriel Turner, Mike Illig, Bo Crouch, Diane Sobiescyzck, Kyle Barnell and Wesley Fairey.
The cruise was uneventful until the last day when Conor, Bo, Mike and I were out surveying the narrow channel leading to Alice Town on Bimini Island in preparation for our upcoming midnight departure to cross the Gulf Stream back to Florida.
As we were plotting waypoints, we saw a 50-foot sloop run aground. The skipper, who had his parents, wife and a little dog aboard, had followed the wrong passage and was carried onto a sandbar by the breaking waves. A few minutes later, he sent out a Mayday. He then inflated his liferaft and everyone, including the dog, abandoned ship.
After standing by to make sure everybody made it safely ashore, we docked Tardis and set out in our dinghy to see what we could do to save the stranded sloop. Speed was of the essence because of the breaking waves. It was only a matter of time before the boat would be battered to pieces.
As soon as we got there, Conor swam to the boat, attached a line to the bow, and then swam the other end to a nearby tow vessel. Unfortunately, the towboat’s engine wasn’t powerful enough to pull the boat free. Gabriel then jumped in the water to attach another line, which he swam out to a twin-engine powerboat that was standing by. When that line broke, he swam over another one, while we stood by in Tardis’s dinghy with a first-aid kit and Tardis’s safety gear in case anyone was injured.
Finally, on our fifth attempt, we were able to tow the sloop to deeper water by running a line from the bow to one boat and a halyard from the masthead to the other. By now the boat was filling with water and in danger of sinking, but the Bahamian in charge of the twin-engine towboat did a masterful job of bringing the sloop in and laying it up alongside the dock.