Last Tuesday, we left Grenada to make a two-day sail to Rodney Bay, St. Lucia. We decided to make an overnight stop in Bequia because it is conveniently located half-way. Tahina made decent time on the 74 mile trip on Tuesday. We had to stay very tight to the wind because the course was east-north-east, and the winds were from the east. Despite our efforts, we had to make a choice when we got near Bequia of either sailing in after dark, or motoring the final 6 miles directly upwind. We opted for the latter course, and made it 15 minutes before sunset thanks to the help of both of Tahina’s engines.
Admiralty Bay is a very crowded anchorage. At least two other boats stopped for the night like us. We were going to try and anchor near a WIFI hotspot, but in the end we just chose a spot at Princess Margaret beach near the back of the pack of many boats at anchor, and dropped our anchor and set it with both engines. A classic sailing sloop with three masts was anchoring and silhoutted by the sunset as we watched and took pictures.
We made some dinner and went to bed early after our long day’s sail. It was nice not having to do a night-watch for a change. During the night, I heard some noise that woke me up, but never figured it out and went back to sleep. Nothing unusual really, as boats often have strange noises.
The next morning, April Fool’s Day, we were up at the crack of dawn preparing to leave. Everything seemed normal as we raised the anchor. We had both motors on in case we needed to manuever, but winds were light and we easily raised the hook and I only needed the port engine to turn us easily out to move out of the bay. We soon raised the sails, turned off the engine and began sailing towards St. Vincent. We had a nice boisterous sail across to St. Vincent, but went close to shore and ended up motoring in the lee of the island so we could get as far east as possible when we came out the north end. This would give us the best wind angle across to St. Lucia.
Everything went mostly fine and we made good speeds across to St. Lucia, although the 20 knot winds stirred up some chop which made it a bit bouncy. We don’t get seasick, but Karen has some back and neck issues and the motion causes her some pain. I was enjoying the sail, and there were lots of other boats to “race”. We passed every sailboat we saw heading north during the day. Unfortunately, I was wearing my new St. Helena hat, and once popped my head out to check on another boat and the wind snagged it off my head and into the rough water! I was really bummed, and briefly considered stopping the boat to try and get it, but the conditions were too rough.
We had just passed a chartered catamaran that was headed for the St. Lucia coast as we headed further north. They were only a few boat lengths away when suddenly the wind dropped as we were in the lee of St. Lucia. We slowed to 2 knots. I expected him to slow down as well, but it turns out he was motor-sailing, and he was headed right for us! I decided I should start an engine and get out of his way. I started the engine and gave it a few RPMs to make us move forward. But, nothing happened. I tried revving up some and again nothing happened! Thank God the charter skipper ran to his helm and changed course to avoid colliding with us. I then started the other engine to move and started diagnosing the starboard engine. It wasn’t long before I started concluding it was acting like we had no propeller. What?! We considered the possibility some sargasso seaweed had wrapped itself around the prop in its feathered state (the blades collapse on our props to reduce drag under sail). But, it was highly unlikely that would happen, and that rotating it at 2000+ RPMs in both directions would prevent them from opening. I checked the gear cable and confirmed it was actuating the saildrive gear.
We opted to wait until we arrived at Rodney Bay to dive under the boat and look. As soon as we anchored I dove under, and my worst fears were realized. The propeller was gone! The locking nut, and the retaining bolt were not there, and the threads were still in place. It was as if someone had removed the prop under water. We couldn’t believe it. There have been VERY rare reports of boats having their props stolen while at anchor. But, this usually happens while the boat was left with no one on board. Admiralty Bay is a really busy anchorage, and a lot of boats stop for a night like us. A catamaran might leave without realizing one engine wasn’t working (we did). And, I had heard a strange noise during the night. OMG!
I consulted the propeller manufacturer, and they said the props won’t come off unless they were installed improperly (no retaining bolt on the locking nut, and the locking nut loose), or due to major damage from a collision or damage to the sail drive. We had none of these situations. They agreed it must have been theft. Wow. This was no April Fool’s Day joke – these props are expensive.
Fortunately, I ordered a replacement prop the next morning in the UK and they had it shipped to our friends who were coming by plane to visit us on Sunday. But, the shipper – DHL – misinformed them that it could be delivered on Saturday. When it got into the tracking system it came out with a Monday delivery date. I called DHL and they said with it being Easter weekend, there was no way it could be delivered on a Saturday. So, another few days delay while our friends get back home and we figure out where to send it duty-free.
One a plus note, we just got a tax refund we weren’t expecting. So, the cost of the propeller and shipping will all go away.