Free Delivery of Your Sailboat...

Johan Sandstrom, Manhattan Beach, CA

Larry Saunders, San Diego, CA


From the July, 2002 issue of Sail Magazine:


Free delivery of your sailboat from the Caribbean Windward Islands to the USA.



Good ideas are grounded in experience and incubate with time. Inspiration springs full born from nothing. In September, 2000 we (the authors) chartered a bareboat 34’ Ticon cat-ketch sailboat in Key West, Florida and sailed it about 500 nm down to Staniel Cay in the Bahamas. And, of course, we had to sail it back to Key West again. While the adventures, challenges, mistakes and lessons of that trip will remain unpublished, and the unpleasant parts forgotten, one of the more notable conclusions we reached was that sailing in what was essentially a circle detracted from the sense of adventure. Being required to bring the boat back where you got it from wasn’t, we thought, nearly so much fun as being able to chart a new course to a new destination every day. Also notable, sailing to windward on the trip down detracted from the sailing experience and was not something that we “gentlemen” wanted to make a habit of.


But how to construct a sailing adventure that doesn’t end where it begins and is all downwind to boot? An ideal starting point is not hard to choose; just pick a favorite place to windward. Getting the boat back to where it started though is an expensive proposition, assuming you are not participating in the trip. From such thoughts sprang the Sail Magazine classified ad. Credit the inspiration to Johan; it was his idea.  And what an idea! Forget about bareboat charters; find somebody who needs a boat delivered from our favorite starting place to our favorite destination! We get free use of a sailboat. The owner gets free delivery. What a deal!


There was however one small, little nagging problem. Why should anyone trust us? What track record did we have? None! Why would anyone allow us to sail their boat across the harbor, let alone across the Caribbean, through the Bahamas and all the way to the USA? Not to worry! What’s the worst possible scenario? Nobody calls.

But somebody does call

Johan gets the call in the last week of June, the same day the Sail Magazine issue arrives in his mailbox. Carl, from Boca Raton, FL., is buying a 1991 38' Moorings (Beneteau monohull sloop) called the 'Roseau' located in the British Virgin Islands. The boat will soon be retired from charter service and Carl wants the boat delivered to Fort Lauderdale.


Negotiations start immediately. Johan wants the free use of a sailboat to leisurely sail downwind in warm, clear waters, exploring beautiful islands with cold beers - essentially a 1200 nm pub crawl. Carl wants his boat. Flurries of e-mails and phone calls ensue. Is the boat ready for the voyage? Is Johan a competent sailor? How is the boat equipped? What sort of crew can Johan muster? Is Carl the legal owner? Can Johan and his crew be in the BVI when the deal is closed? How long will the delivery take? Will all parties release all other parties of liability? Eventually the beginnings of a deal began to materialize.


Johan and Carl agree the voyage should take 3 weeks. Both parties utterly fail to comprehend that absolutely nothing about the proposed voyage will be amenable to scheduling. The boat doesn’t have an autohelm. Johan, having been on two long distance ocean voyages, knows that trying to keep a boat on course hour after hour, day after day by manually steering it is really hard work, not to mention BORING! Carl offers to buy an autohelm and Johan picks it up in Costa Mesa, CA and lugs it to the BVI in his baggage. Unfortunately, not enough time is spent thinking about exactly what is being bought – and how it could go wrong.


Johan’s sailing resume turns out to be adequate for Carl’s need and discussions about a crew ensue. Carl wants 2 crew members in addition to the captain. After a reasonably extensive search Johan can only round up one person who is willing to commit to crewing a 1200 nm 3 week long sail: Larry. Everybody else seems to think it’s a keen idea but they just can’t seem to find the time. Or at least that’s their story. Johan’s wife puts another face on the issue when she asks Johan why on earth Larry would be willing to put up with Johan for 3 weeks in such tight confines. After all, hadn’t they been sailing together in the Bahamas only 2 years before? Almost simultaneously, but independently, Larry’s wife asks a similar question only with the names reversed. Ouch! Carl, oblivious to our stinging rejection by all of humanity, agrees that one crew member is enough. 


When Johan starts asking questions about the boat’s seaworthiness, Carl confides that he’s buying the boat sight-unseen but that he’s been assured the boat is in fine shape – and oh by the way he’s getting a terrific deal. Wait a minute! 12 years in charter service, it’s a terrific deal, and it’s still in “fine shape?” We immediately resolve that we aren’t leaving the dock until we go over the boat with a fine tooth comb. After all, this is not going to be a local charter with chase boats at the ready to come bail us out if things go bad.


The legal issues sort themselves out fairly quickly. The boat’s transfer of ownership is confirmed. We provide Carl with a document stating that we will put our best effort into delivering the boat to Florida consistent with maintaining the safety of the boat and the crew. And we all quickly agree that the best way to handle the liability issue is for everyone to provide a signed document releasing the others from blame in the event of accidents and acts of nature. Did we mention that August is hurricane season in the Caribbean?

Reality intrudes

We arrive in Road Town, Tortola, BVI on Tuesday afternoon, July 23rd. After a taxi ride from the airport, we board the Roseau. It doesn’t take long to find a show-stopper. Surprise! The mounting bracket that comes with the autohelm is much too small to fit around the binnacle. What’s the point of having an autohelm if we don’t have a way to install it! Are we going to end up hand-steering the boat after all? No! We’re going to make it fit!


Of course, it isn’t going to happen at anywhere near the pace that we fast-track Californians would wish. We are now in the tropics and everything runs on island time. In short order we are running on island time too. Minutes worth of work take hours to do. A little work, a rest break, a little work, a drink break, a little work, a lunch break; time slows down but work drags out. What should take a day takes three. So much for schedules!


Both of us being electronic engineers, we immediately create a requirements document. And we do have an idea about requirements because on our previous Bahamas cruise we’d had trouble with the autohelm. In particular, the mounting bracket clamps kept coming loose and we had to retighten them at least once a day. We knew this time we needed a structure that wouldn’t come loose. After discarding several ideas, we finally settle on a T-shaped bracket. We will bolt the autohelm to the bracket and clamp the bracket to the binnacle with hose clamps.


Someone suggests we talk to Tony at T & W Machine Shop. We make a sketch and ask Tony to drop by and take a look at our idea. Tony basically likes the idea and agrees to fabricate it using 1/4" aluminum plate. He goes away and we try to remove the wheel because the autohelm must be installed between the binnacle and the wheel. Unfortunately the bolts holding the wheel on are frozen. We wind up removing the entire wheel assembly from the binnacle. What a pain!


Then we wait for Tony to deliver the completed bracket. Of course there are things to do while we wait - numerous patches and repairs, laying in supplies, taking care of customs paper work, familiarizing ourselves with the details of the boat and it’s systems. During this time we live on the boat - without air conditioning - and boy is it hot!


Tony finally arrives with the bracket. It’s perfect. We thank him for a fine job and get to work. We mount the autohelm to the bracket, hold the autohelm and bracket in place while we replace the wheel assembly in the binnacle and somehow get all the steering stuff back together correctly. Finally we clamp the bracket to the binnacle - with 5 SS hose clamps. Johan thinks 5 are extreme overkill. Larry puts them on anyway and then buys 2 extra for insurance. We wire the autohelm to the instrumentation panel in the cockpit. In total it takes 3 days to get the autohelm installed. Luckily "The Pub" is only a 100 feet away and serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinks all day.



The shakedown

On Friday afternoon we’re finally able to get underway for our shakedown sail around the BVI. Twenty minutes after we leave the harbor we unfurl the jib and discover a large tear where the sun shield attaches to the leech. Another show-stopper! The good news is that the mainsail seems to be fine. Fortunately the jib holds together and causes no problems during the shakedown. But it will need to be fixed before we depart for Fort Lauderdale.


We set sail for Cooper Island across the Sir Francis Drake Channel and notice that the autohelm keeps dropping into standby while in use. The user’s manual provides the answer: low voltage at the unit. But what could be causing that? We’ll deal with it later. For now we hand-steer and enjoy the 20 knot winds and the wonderful vistas on the way to Cooper Island.


We arrive to find that all the moorings are occupied and we have to anchor. We set 2 anchors, a Bruce and a plough because we’ve been warned of an oncoming tropical wave. When the tropical wave hits about 0300, 50 knot winds cause the plough to drag and we start to pivot around the Bruce. If we don’t do something quick we’ll be bumping into other boats. We end up motoring in place until the worse of the blow is over. After about 30 minutes the front passes by and we re-set the plough. Dumb luck decides to favor us because we never encounter another storm during our cruise. 


On Saturday we move to a Cooper Island mooring so we can sort out the autohelm issue and take a closer look at the jib. The voltage at the autohelm is 3 volts less than at the battery. We jury-rig a wire directly from the battery to the autohelm after we notice that all the house wiring seems to be untinned and subject to severe voltage drops. The jib is more of a problem. On closer examination it’s obvious that the sail cloth along the seam where the sun shield meets the leech is rotted. It’s not something we can repair ourselves.


On Sunday we sail to the Baths on Virgin Gorda for a wonderful snorkel, and then to a mooring at the Bitter End Yacht Club. No new problems crop up. The autohelm works like a champ. We decide to name it "Otto." Otto operates perfectly for the rest of the voyage.


On Monday it’s back to Road Town to have the jib repaired. We begin to believe that, if we can get the jib repaired, we might actually be able to set sail for Fort Lauderdale. Doyle Sailmakers agrees to expedite a patch to the jib. Four hours later it’s done and, even better, done well.


The last order of business is to make sure we aren’t the unknowing carriers of contraband. Since we don’t know if anyone has taken the opportunity to store interesting things on our boat, we ask the BVI Marine Police to inspect the boat for drugs and other contraband. Larry thought this would be our first and last chance to be ‘innocent’ if something is later found on the boat. Three police officers arrive to search the boat. Unfortunately, they don’t have any sophisticated drug detection equipment or drug dogs and further, they point out that they can’t very well tear the headliners out of the boat or look inside the tanks, hull or keel. They search as well as they can but don’t find anything. At least we tried.

And we’re off

On Monday afternoon we set sail. We quickly settle into our underway routine. Otto does all the steering, day and night, except in close quarters. Whoever is on-watch in the cockpit sets a kitchen timer to ring in 15 minutes. When the timer rings, re-set the timer to 15 minutes, scan the horizon, 'feel' the boat, then go back to whatever you are doing. The timer is important. During the day, the heat saps your concentration; it’s an effort of will to pay attention. At night the timer keeps you awake as you wait for it to go off. Or its ring brings you back if you start to nod off.


Night watches last two hours. While underway, when nothing is happening, standing watch at night is hugely monotonous and sleep-inducing. But standing watch at night can also heighten the senses. What is that light off in the distance? Is it moving? Constant bearing, closing range, it’s a bummer. There is nothing quite like trying to dodge a big freighter in the middle of the night. Is that light on the chart? Are we really where we think we are? Are we off course? Of course not! But we check the GPS one more time and stare at the chart anyway. You’d think it would be burned in memory by this time. It doesn’t take long to recall a suppressed memory from our previous voyage. It’s more likely that the light on the chart is not there when you sail by looking for it and, if it is, it’s the wrong color. And always the stars arcing through the sky, the moon going through its phases, diesel fumes in the cockpit while motorsailing downwind and the realization that you’re hungry.


At night we use LED headlamps when we need light. They free up a hand and eliminate the need to turn cabin lights on and off - thus disturbing the off-watch person. They also help preserve night vision because the light is always directed away from your eyes.


We independently work out navigation waypoints and routes, and then compare notes. Larry has a fancy GPS with built-in charts and tide tables. Johan has a bare-bones GPS and ChartKits. It’s a great system for uncovering errors on charts, mis-entered waypoints, and routes through sand bores and coral heads. Larry's tide tables turn out to be useful in at least one respect:  we discover we have an unerring ability to arrive at cuts, channels, harbors and other shallow spots at exactly dead low tide.


We are both very conservative when it comes to plotting a course. Neither of us wants to get remotely close to anything we might bump into! We always stay at least 2 nm from the closest shore or reef and we sail well away from shipping lanes if at all possible. Nonetheless, Johan finds Larry’s navigation technique abominable. Johan uses a parallel ruler and dividers to measure distances on the chart. He quotes lat/lon positions to the nearest 10th of a minute. Larry, on the other hand, uses fingers and thumbs, and rounds lat/lon positions to the nearest minute – the one farthest away from land. Johan rants but it doesn’t do any good. Interestingly, Larry is right just as often as Johan.



Not all who wander are lost

After all the hoop-la, the actual voyage is somewhat anti-climatic. Although our general course is predictable, the details need to be rehashed every day. Well, actually they don’t. We could make up our mind and stick with it. But why? Do we sail this way or that? Do we stop here or do we stop there? It’s fun to wake up every morning and decide anew what destination we want to sail for today. Schedule? What schedule?


Our first port-of-call is Old San Juan, PR. The marina has those damn non-floating, four piling slips. We California sailors struggle with these arrangements, but in San Juan and elsewhere we can generally find a dockhand to help us tie-up to the pilings without banging into them. We bunk into a fancy hotel in Old San Juan. What a lovely old city! We explore the streets, take our dirty clothes to a local laundry, visit the dual fortresses of El Morro and Cristobal, and we eat.


We depart San Juan for the Turks and Caicos. It’s 430 nm. It’s a long haul even with prevailing winds - which we don’t get. The prevailing wind and current for the northern Caribbean and southern Bahamas in August is from the SE. What little wind we get is from the SW. Mostly though we don’t get any wind - and it’s hot! Larry relentlessly reminds Johan that Johan promised Larry a 1200 nm pub crawl. So where are the pubs?


Webster defines 'prevailing' as: 1) having superior force or influence; 2a) most frequent; 2b) generally current. In general the “prevailing” winds don’t prevail during our voyage. Between our inability to predict our rate of progress and the distances involved, we seldom manage to achieve our goal of landfall at noon. In this case, what we predicted as 72 hours turns into 86 hours and we arrive on the west side of Providenciales, Turks & Caicos at 0200. Rather than attempt landfall, we decide not to risk it and pick up a dive site mooring until morning.


The directions on the Wavey Line Publishing TC002 chart for approaching Turtle Cove Marina, Providenciales are quite explicit:


"From the Sellars Cut waypoint at N21-48.50/W072-12.50 run in towards cut on about 175m, using the large white house as a range. Once through turn onto 240m and follow the well buoyed route."


At 0900 we motor to the exact GPS waypoint and sight along 175m all the way to shore. We can’t see a single buoy! On the other hand, there are lots of houses – none of them white. We call the marina and ask them to pilot us in. When the pilot arrives he tells us to follow 'right behind' him because of our 5 foot draft. Boy, do we ever. Two more days in a hotel, cold beers and hot meals, and we are ready to continue.


Our planned next stop is George Town in the Exumas but we decide to take a side trip. What’s a day or so more or less anyway? Schedule? What schedule? We set sail for the "Columbus islands." We pass Plana Cays and Samana Cay on our way to San Salvador. The Great Navigator didn't/couldn't record the exact location of his first landfall in the New World as latitudes and longitudes were pretty iffy 510 years ago; he thought he was somewhat east of India. CC wrote in his log that there was lots of water inland and only San Salvador fits that part of the his description. Anyway, San Salvador has Kalik beer, hot meals, and a monument that says Columbus first set foot here. After an extended discussion fueled by Kalik, we decide we don’t believe it. 


Next up is George Town in Great Exuma. More laundry, more hotel rooms, more cold beer and hot meals at the Peace and Plenty hotel. And a fine day on Stocking Island doing absolutely nothing. What a great place!




It’s a 70 nm run to Staniel Cay. We visited Staniel Cay Yacht Club on our previous voyage and it’s still our favorite:  there are wonderful cottages right on the water and the bar is the central meeting place for the whole cay. Boston Whalers are for rent to visit the snorkel spots and Thunderball Grotto is just 5 minutes away. Did we mention the delicious food?


The high point of our visit is the swimming pigs! Pigs swim? Of course they do! There’s a cay a couple miles from the Yacht Club who’s only inhabitants are a family of pigs. Armed with about 50 pounds of kitchen garbage and a camera, we set off in a Boston Whaler in search of swimming pigs. When we’re 20 yards off the beach we see mother and baby trotting down the beach to meet us. The baby pig is content to stay on the beach and eat the scraps we toss its way. But mommy is impatient. She swims, yes swims, out toward our boat and makes an effort to get in the boat with us. We scramble out of the way, motor down the beach a 100 yards, beach the boat and dump the rest of the scraps. We just barely get the boat back in the water before the pigs arrive for the feast.




Since Staniel Cay is such a high point we decide to make it our last Bahamas port. We are already a week behind the original schedule anyway. We set sail for Fort Lauderdale.

As the sun rises off Fort Lauderdale we see a military-looking boat on the horizon behind us. After an hour it’s close enough to make out as an USCG cutter. We patiently wait for their hail; about 8 nm off the coast we get it. We hadn’t realized it, but the USCG tells us we are in need of a thorough inspection. Six USCG personnel leave the cutter in a zodiac and 3 of them board the Roseau. The other 3 watch us intently from close astern. They ask lots of questions; they search the boat; they wipe down the interior surfaces with cloth pads that they then test for drug residue. After verifying all our safety equipment, they depart. Clean living and pure thoughts serve us well again!


Home at last

A few hours later we sail into the Bahia Mar Marina in Fort Lauderdale. It’s August 18th. It’s exactly 4 weeks since we left California; 21 days since we sailed out of Road Town harbor. After cleaning up the boat we call Carl. Although we had kept Carl apprised of our progress, he is clearly relieved to see us. Carl has apparently taken a lot of flack from his sailing buddies for letting two west coast yahoos of questionable abilities and ethics assume command of his new toy. As we show Carl around his boat he still can’t believe his good fortune.


He really did get “Free delivery of ‘his’ sailboat!”



Johan Sandstrom and Larry Saunders are fulltime computer design engineers, but looking forward to our next delivery.

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