The Basil Plant Incident….

Well, I have been aboard my new home for five days now. It has been a huge change, from sleeping on sofa beds and even floors over the last few months I am now aboard an 80m supeyacht where I hope to remain working for the foreseeable future. As usual with the yachting fraternity it seems to be a work hard – play hard atmosphere but the vibe is good and hopefully this summer travels will take us far far afield throughout the mediterranean.
As I lay in my bunk last night, the gentle roll of the ship rocking me into slumber I remembered another an incident that started in my bunk a few years ago……NO!! it’s not what you are thinking!!
We were pretty much slap bang in the middle of the Atlantic, en-route from Las Palmas in Gran Canaria to Rodney Bay on the Caribbean island of St. lucia. So far the journey had been fine, pretty un-eventful in fact apart from the general wear and tear of gear and watch-keeping duties. I was sailing as mate aboard the Lagoon 440 ‘Tucanon’ which eventually crossed in just over 17 days.
The trade winds were blowing at a steady 15 knots but in the frequent squalls that sped by, cartwheeling off past us, brought gusty conditions up to 30-35 knots. During the day they lined the horizon from time to time, a dark smear on an otherwise impossibly blue palette. At night however they were harder to spot, showing as green smudges on our radar screen. It was one such squall that occurred on the night in question. Our watch system was on a rotational basis and at that particular moment the Skipper’s wife was on watch, the rest of the four crew, including myself, rested in our bunks. I don’t remember the time exactly but it was well after midnight when we where awakened by cries from Irene and the horn sounding. The motion of the boat was awkward and lurching, Tucanon was not a happy ship. I stumbled in the darkness, fumbling with my life jacket and harness whilst running up toward the deck with Chris on my heels. Lightening fell around us, its brilliant flashes illuminating a wild sea, the white wave crests reflecting the flashes as they tumbled toward their troughs. The sound was deafening as the wind howled through the rigging, the waves crashed on our stern and the sail flapped in anguish. We were flying a ‘Parasailor’ a downwind sail similar to a spinnaker but with a wing inserted 2/3 of the way to the sail head. I glanced at the instrument repeater in the navigation station as I rushed forward, it was reading a steady 43 knots, far too much wind for a Parasailor.


Dick, the owner and skipper, took Irene below for safety whilst Chris and I fought with the guys and sheets of the sail, finally managing to snuff it, thus easing the motion of the boat. We unfurled a small, tiny even, piece of genoa on the bow to keep the boat headed down wind. Even with this scrap of cloth we raced along at 8 knots.
Rain lashed down from the heavens, the wind continued to scream like a banshee through the rigging and the lightening lit the chaotic scene in a eerie spark of light. It also lit something else, something that made me start to laugh….. Chris and I were both huddled behind the wheel in nothing but harness and boxer shorts, neither of us having bothered to put anything else on in our hurry. It was probably more nerves than anything but we both laughed out loud.
The tension eased but not for long. The squall peaked at 52 knots, making it hard to stand let alone do anything else. It was then that we noticed the main sail…. It had been dropped into a stackpack on the boom but this stackpack had no closure system…… The wind, now dead aft, was filling the sail and starting to lift it up the mast track. It was already a metre up. If the sail raised and filled more we would be in serious danger of losing the mast, if not worse. There was nothing else for it, we had to lash the sail down. I grabbed a spare line from the locker, clipped into the jackstay (safety tether) on the saloon roof and inched out to the mast. Lightening continued to fall, making the job even more dangerous… As you can imagine our mast was the highest thing for hundreds of miles….and made of aluminum alloy. Chris pointed this out to me but what choice did we have? The sail was continuing to lift, the danger was real. Dropping the mast steps I inched up to the boom, one arm clinging to the mast as the ship swayed. Bit by bit I managed to lash the sail down along the boom from end to end. Putting on a downhaul attached to the head of the sail for good measure.
We both collapsed onto the helm station seat, taking in the apocalyptic scene around us. It really is breathtaking of the sea can change from one moment to the next, and eve with this show of force it was incredible. Slowly the wind eased over the next two hours or so as we told jokes and stories to ease our nerves. By morning the sea was a gentle rolling swell from the North East, pushed along by the ever-present trade winds.
We all talked about the incident over breakfast, making light of the incident whilst learning from our mistakes. Irene thought we should commemorate the moment with a photo. Initially it was supposed to be just boxer shorts but somehow, over much laughter, we ended up naked apart from our harness and covering our modesty with our ships Basil Plants…. You know what they say…What happens at sea…..goes on the blog!!

The basil plant incident in full swing... L-R: Dick, Chris and me.


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