Authors: Jake von Alpen
The TRIANGLE and the
Jake von Alpen
Table of Contents
Day one. He was up in the rigging when the crew arrived -
two hours late. He had exhausted the last bit of his cell time and he knew it was
futile to load up somewhere and call again. People in these parts could be
very relaxed at times and you just had to adapt to it. Admittedly he found it
enjoyable at times. But not at the moment. He wanted to leave this island and
he wanted to leave now.
What aggravated his mood was that he went to extra trouble
and expense to ensure an early departure. He left the lagoon yesterday at noon
and took a berth in Marigot harbour around sunset, thereby avoiding the queue
that formed up every morning at the exits of Simpson’s Bay. He advised the immigration
and customs people that he wanted to get cleared out first thing in the
morning. An official came down to the yacht to enquire and was surprised that
he was alone.
“It’s a big ocean between here and Bermuda,” he said. “It’s
not a good idea to do it solo in a boat like this.”
“I’m not worried,” he answered. “My crew will be here in
just a few minutes.”
“It’s not quite the end of the hurricane season yet, you
know that, don’t you?”
“I know but I check the Mid-Atlantic all the time. Last
night I sat up late looking for any sign of trouble and I re-checked this
morning with three different weather stations. If there is any sign of a major
gale we will change course. If there is anything really vile on its way by
tomorrow, we’ll simply head for the British Virgin Islands. It will be a good
excuse to visit Nanny Cay.”
“Just make sure you know where you are when you get to the
BVI, especially when you are running before a storm. There are some nasty reefs
“I’ll be careful,” he said. “But you know, this yacht was
built for the conditions we have off Cape Town, which is the Cape of Storms. You
know that, right? She can take a bit of the rough stuff.”
That discussion took place shortly before sunrise. An early
November coolness had caused him to wear a sweater then but he had since
discarded it. He could now feel the sun grilling all his exposed parts where he
hung in his climber’s harness on the main mast.
Every preparation was taken care of for the trip, to the
best of his knowledge. He engaged a mechanic who specialised in marine motors
to service the big Volvo diesel. In addition he replaced the fresh water in the
tanks and built up his stock of provisions. Yesterday morning he set up the
sails for the first time in months. Handling the big mainsail taxed every
muscle in his rather unfit body and he made progress slowly, especially since
he had forgotten what goes where. Obviously the mind was not in good shape
either. But it was beginning to come back and in the end he managed. All of
this he had achieved without the assistance of a crew – until now.
An hour ago he wondered for the first time what it would be
like to do the trip alone. Fine, he would not sleep a lot and he would lose
some potential business but if it was too much he could still deviate to one of
the other islands nearby and look for crew. He nevertheless thought that he
could do it. He managed for a whole night on his own, didn’t he? Surely he
could do six or seven more.
The reason he was hoisting himself up and down the mizzen and
now the main mast had partly to do with sheer frustration and partly with the customs
guy’s warnings. It made him ask himself if there was anything that he might
have missed. He decided to climb up in the rigging since that was the only
thing he could think of that he had not done. He was sure that there was nothing
seriously amiss. With complete diligence, however, he looked for loose shackle
pins, chafe on the halyards and loose strands of wire on the stays. As he
progressed, he sprayed blocks and channels from a can of Q20.
He had just about finished the job when he saw her coming –
his entire new crew complement. The reason he stayed hanging on the mast was that
something was not right. The first thing he noticed was the luggage. The girl
was pulling a truly massive piece that dwarfed her. He remembered that she was
small but she seemed even tinier now. An Asian-looking man with a moon face that
glistened with perspiration pulled two equally large pieces on their wheels behind
him as he dogged her footsteps down the pier. He guessed that the Asian was a
She did not notice her new skipper but carefully checked
yacht after yacht and referred to a piece of paper in her free hand as she
progressed. It looked suspiciously like the napkin on which he wrote the name
of his yacht for her, together with the time, which was now long gone. Finally,
she stopped and after conferring with the napkin again, came on board.
“Hello!” she called.
It was the driver who responded. “Ma’am,” he said, and
pointed upwards. Only then did she see him.
“Welcome on board,” he said. “You will find three empty cabins
below on the left. Choose anyone. And please no heels.”
To his complete amazement his new crew and the driver went
back up the pier and hauled another two pieces onto his boat. One was as big as
the rest and only the last one was smaller. The French- speaking immigrations
and customs guy appeared as if from nowhere and walked her down the quay. He
wondered why the customs guy did not check inside those suitcases. Most probably
she knew just how to lay on the charms.
So she meant what she had said to him two nights ago. They
met in the Casino Royale and over a few drinks discussed their problems. He
confessed that he had a hard time finding a crew and she confessed that she had
bought so much in the duty free shops of St Martin that she could not possibly
transport everything by plane – to Bermuda. Yes, she actually lived on Bermuda.
After the fourth or fifth round they realised that they were made for each
other. He wanted to sail to Bermuda and she was the perfect crew. She was a
galley expert since she worked as a chef on a local yacht for six months. The
rest he could easily teach her. Now he was not so sure. A woman who tried to
get onto his boat in high heels! Unbelievable. It was a story for the boys for
sure. Nobody could beat the combination of a girl getting onto his expensive
ocean cruiser in high heels and then the five massive suitcases to boot. He
wondered what else he would be able to regale at the conclusion of this trip.
He realised that he had never really asked the right
questions. For instance, he could not remember her name. Not that it mattered
before. He could not remember the names of many of the women that he had met
over the last five months. He had met a few in the night clubs and a lot more
in the casinos. They literally flocked to him the moment they noticed him
winning. He was sure he would not have been able to get away from them if he
tried. Not that he tried. It also happened that he always won and he sometimes won
big. He was in demand.
He spent a full two hours cleaning up the signs of his party
life – bottles, cans, ash trays and even diverse clothing items. He had done so
dutifully and uncomplainingly, knowing that he was the one responsible. As far
as he knew he was the only one who brought girls to the yacht. His old crew either
deferred to him in this regard or they did not have the kind of money required
to attract the beauties that roamed the upmarket establishments of the island
with predatory intent. All they could afford were the beers and meat for the
barbeques that was a weekly thing on the lagoon where they sheltered with a lot
of other yachts for the duration of the hurricane season. A surprising number
of yachts were South African, whose crews chatted about rugby and mostly about
cricket, since some of the lads were lifting their bats with the locals.
And there, in the Simpson’s Bay lagoon, his entire crew complement
deserted him. He hoped that the new girl would not ask for the reasons why.
As they had done with the first three pieces, the unlikely
pair blew hard and fast as they struggled to get each item across the narrow
gangplank. His new crew gave him a look of reproach but he stayed on his high perch
until they had it all below. The suitcases intrigued him. It did not matter
that the customs guy did not bother to open them up.
“I don’t know what you have in those suitcases,” he said, once
he had rappelled down to the deck, “but I cannot have anything that will get us
into trouble with customs in Bermuda.”
“It’s no problem,” she said. “It’s just clothes.”
He left it there and called the taxi driver, who must have been
driving one of those minibus taxis they have on the island. There is no way
they could have gotten all that stuff into a normal sedan.
“Could you give us a hand and cast off those ropes please,”
he asked. The taxi driver fumbled with the mooring lines like a true landlubber
but he nevertheless gave it his full cooperation. He figured that she had
probably given him a good tip.
The Volvo could be relied on as well and started instantly.
They exited the berth and headed out of Marigot harbour. Goodbye St Martin.
Next stop Bermuda
He motored until they were well clear of the harbour area. There
he pushed back the throttle, aimed the bow just off the wind and called down
“Helo- o! Crew member!” he crooned as sweetly as he could.
“I’m unpacking,” his crew answered from the inside.
“There’s work to be done. All hands on deck!”
She came through the companionway with a frown on her face.
“Why does it stink so much inside here?”
“I don’t smell much wrong,” he said, “but six guys have used
this boat for several months. I thought I’ve cleaned up most of it up though.”
“You’ll get used to it. Right now we need to start sailing
“Is that why you stopped the engine?”
“I throttled back, yes, and I am going to switch it off just
“Can’t you just use the engine all the way?” (Was she
serious? If she was then this was another one for the tale.)
“No, we don’t have enough fuel. Also, it is actually a
sailing boat, so we will be sailing.”
“I suppose so,” she said, looking up at the rigging as if
she saw it for the first time. “What do you want me to do?”
“Well, always safety first. Take this harness and put it on
you. Do you see this clip? You always clip yourself to the boat whenever you
are on deck. That is what these safety lines on the sides are for. It does not
matter if the weather looks fine or if the sea looks calm to you. They rule is
‘one hand for the boat and one hand for you’ at all times.”
“Is it really necessary? I’ve not seen people do this
“It is necessary. This is the Atlantic. I’ve sailed across
it and I know. There is always a surprise. Besides, we are two-handed on this
trip. It’s a general rule that two-handed crews do it like this. It will be
very embarrassing if I get to Bermuda by myself and I have to explain why I, as
a man alone, have five large suitcases of female clothing on board.”
She was partially right, of course. If he was sailing with
one of his previous crew he probably would not have bothered, except in case of
really foul weather. He was now so unimpressed by the woman’s sea readiness,
however, that he was not going to take any chances.
“Second thing. Always watch out for the boom, this one and
that one. I’ve seen people get knocked out because they were not aware that the
boom was swinging. Now, let’s get started. First, let’s set the mainsail, which
is the big job. I want you to grab that halyard over there and haul down on it.
Yes, that rope over there, and ah, yes, you actually have to jump up a little
bit and pull it down with your whole weight.”
Despite his growing doubts it was amazing how much an extra
pair of hands could achieve even if he had to direct them. He noticed that his
crew had exchanged the miniskirt for a T-shirt and shorts and that she was now
wearing sensible canvas shoes. So the message got through.
“Watch out for the boom!” he repeated as the main sail swung
around to port, barely missing her head.
There was a steady breeze from the south-east. The trade
winds. He set the boat for a course north-north-east, sailing on a broad reach,
which allowed for maximum propulsion. It reminded him of their ride out of the
South Atlantic, which was smooth all the way. Conditions could not be better
for the perfect start to the journey, he thought, as they started cutting
through sluggish east-west swells. He wanted to go below to have another look
at the charts when he saw that there was trouble. His co-traveller was retching
over the side.
“I thought you’ve been on a yacht before,” he chided. He
knew that he had caught her out already on her so-called yachting experience.
This was driving in the nail.
“Not like this. It didn’t move like this.”
“How did it move then?”
“It was all smooth.”
“How big was this yacht?”
“Much bigger than this one.”
“And it had no sails,” he guessed.
“No, I never saw any sails.”
“OK, so it was a mega yacht, staying mostly in the lee of
the islands and a lot of time at anchor, from what I’ve seen. How many people
were you in the galley?”
“Six, huh? It was a small cruise liner by the sound of it. It
takes a hurricane to make a boat like that move with the sea. This is
“Tell me about it,” she said. “When you said you owned a
yacht, I did not realise that it was, well, tiny.”
“Let me just say something for your information. For its
kind, this is actually quite a big yacht. Didn’t you see how it compared with
the others in the harbour?”
“Not really. I only looked for the names. My God, it feels
awful. Can’t you stop it from moving?”