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 Accidental Cruiser in the West Indies

Fleet Expansion: Part One
This journal is a log of all the messages from Susie & Lance. For pictures, please see the Gallery.

Admiralty Bay, Bequia, SVG 4.29.09

Disgraceful dink

Disgraceful dink

less disgraceful dink

Slightly less disgraceful dink

Even this pair of Berkeley types was getting a little embarrassed by the dinghy. It had just become completely disreputable. Three years ago we applied "liquid rubber" in an attempt to cover the worn and fraying hypalon skin. On this year's return, we discovered that the liquid aspect of that description had become dominant. The dinghy coating had melted into a sticky white goo. The goo achieved a viscosity which varied between chewing gum and hot tar but, like tar, easily transferred to everything it touched. We lay rags to protect our clothes but the goo just kept soaking through. Finally we sailed down to Castries to buy a couple of bits of outdoor carpeting to make a quick and dirty dinghy cover. It looked slightly better than the collection of old T shirts we had been sitting on but worked much better. It still leaked air and still weighed way too much. It had also become the butt of jokes. On the plus side, it was certainly in no danger of getting stolen. Our plan was to sail down to Grenada and buy a new outboard and dinghy and enjoy them for the season. It is a lifestyle issue.
Withfield Salils makes a new dinghy cover

Withfield Sails makes a new dinghy cover

They had the new outboard in Grenada and we passed the old one on to a cruiser who was delighted to have an engine that starts reliably. Never mind that it weighs half again as much as our new one and uses four times the fuel. He has a younger back and a shorter time horizon. Grenada did not have the dinghy in the right size so we arranged to get one at Budget Marine in St. Maarten. Those of you whose geographic chops are somewhat less practiced should know that Grenada is at the south end of the island chain and St. Maarten at the north end. Perhaps that is why dinghies are cheaper there.

Susie Sarah as jib poles

Susie & Sarah as jib poles

Ranger blows through Oyster Regatta

Ranger blows through Oyster Regatta

All this season, and part of last, we have been asking skippers about their boats when ever we see one we like. Very effective ice breaker. Nothing lights up a skipper like hearing the words "nice boat. What is she?" This is usually followed by tours and long discussions of what is good and bad about the design. We also search on and read boat reviews. We have been looking for a boat based on two criteria. 1) I would like to be able to stand up straight from time to time. 2) we would like a heavier, more comfortable boat. Less like camping out and more a portable home. The likely candidates were Hylas, Hallberg Rasy and Catalina 470 and we have been aboard and examined a couple of examples of each. Passing through Bequia, we saw advertized in the Caribbean Compass a less common boat: an Oyster 45. This is a beautiful boat, well found and well laid out. It has sailed around the world and appears to be in excellent condition and met all our requirements but one: it was completely unaffordable.

Eleanora at Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta
Eleanora at Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta
Ealanora Bowman
Eleanora Bowman

Our routine of background boat searching continued unchanged. We pressed on for St. Maarten and our new dinghy which, in itself, represents a considerable lifestyle upgrade. By the beginning of April we are still noodling north on a casual mission to pick up the dinghy and to be in Antigua for the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta. A typical cruiser plan: vague outline combined with a willingness to abandon said plans ("I've got no plans and I'm sticking to them!") A moment's internet connection brought an email from the owner of the boat we saw back in Bequia 4 months earlier. The gist: "It is the end of the season and I have no solid sale. I am going to have to ship the boat back to England as it is British and Oyster assures me it will sell there. The pound has declined against the dollar and that plus the brokerage commission and the costs of delivery are hereby deducted from the asking price. Make me an offer" The new price was within shouting distance of our top-of-the-budget figure. Email negotiations ensued. We made an offer. Accepted. Gulp.


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Susie cleans Mahi Mahi
Susie cleans Mahi Mahi

No more casual cruising. We need to get to St. Maarten, get the dinghy, get to Antigua (where we will pick up our long suffering boat partners) and beat it back down to Bequia in time to finish the deal and put both boats up for hurricane season. After check-in with customs and immigration in Antigua, we walked around Nelson's dockyard to further admire boats and stumbled onto a boat that looked just like the one we were buying. Lying stern to the old stone quay right next to that one, was another Oyster. A little bigger. Next to that one, a third. And so on arrayed by size around the quay. Oyster was holding a "Regatta" for Oyster owners complete with the company engineers, technical representatives from the other vendors, several days of racing plus major classy partying. The company's director climbed down from a mast and was introduced. I admitted we were in the process of buying an older (1996) Oyster and bingo, we were in. Part of the Oyster family. Meet Barry. Meet Liz. Come to the party tonight. The Royal Navy Tot Club of Antigua and Barbuda will be holding a "tot". We remember that boat and the lovely young family that sailed around the world on her. That was hull #1 of the Oyster 45 series. We will find someone who needs crew so you can join us in the racing. You are part of the Oyster family now. Pip. Pip. Raather!

We were introduced to Tom and Christian who had just come across the Atlantic on a brand new Oyster 56 named Astahaya. There were eight identical Oyster 56's at the regatta and we were issued crew shirts and were back at the dock early the next morning to race against them. The official regatta plan was: race then party. Repeat as necessary. In one race, we had the builder helming the boat. In another race they took along Quincy and Sarah as crew after their arrival. They even got their own crew shirts! As they were appraised of the high quality guest accommodations on an Oyster, they enthusiastically agreed to abandoned the planned leisurely enjoyment of the renowned Antigua and Barbuda festival of Classic Yachts in favor of a mad dash down the island chain to see the new boat before their vacation ended. Between April 4th and our 28th arrival in Bequia, we had only 4 days in which we didn't sail. We may have moved the boat for fuel, etc but we undertook no trips. 22 sailing days out of 26.

Oyster 45
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A good time was had by all however. Quincy deftly avoided running into a couple of whales sunning themselves in our path. A large pod of porpoises danced and jumped around us and played with the bow wake. A large Mahi-Mahi was caught and consumed. Snorkeling fit in post arrival/pre-sunset interludes. At least one gourmet French meal was enjoyed. A yellow fin tuna was caught and fiery cerviche was eaten. A lot of miles were added to all our sailing resumes. We all got to see the new (to us) boat. She is agreed by the assembled company to be suitable in all respects and pronounced fit for further adventures. Next up: boat survey, emptying of bank account, transfer from British Registry to US Coast Guard, insurance and preparation for hurricane season storage. Plus the logistics of transferring personal items, moving each boat to its storage island (we don't want all our boats in one basket or all our eggs in one boatyard).

Then we can come home for a real vacation.

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