A Cruise In The Harbor – An American Retiree in Jamaica

With the impending Hurricane Dean nearly a day away, my friend Richard called to ask if I would like to take a 45 minute cruise in Montego Bay harbor. I thought the timing was a little odd until he said he had to move his friend Isaac’s 45 foot yacht, Murphy’s Law, from the Montego Bay Yacht Club to a calmer lagoon nearby. Richard and his wife Katie, who lived on the boat for a year or two, have been boat sitting ever since Isaac lost his job several years ago. I had been on Murphy’s Law several times in the past but it never left the confines of its assigned slip. The idea of being on the open water in this seaworthy craft sounded exciting. My hurricane preparations had been completed. I was well stocked with food, water, and ice for at least a better part of a week, so why not. Richard said to meet him at the Yacht Club between 2:30 and 3:00 that afternoon. Now Richard is Canadian but has lived in Jamaica for seven years. With that in mind, I had to decide what time he really was going to arrive. Time to Jamaicans doesn’t mean as much as it does to a Canadian. My being a very prompt person, I compromised and arrived at 2:45. No Richard.

With my wife, Ann, by my side, we waited. Shortly after 3:00 Ann tried to call Katie to see if they were on their way. Katie was out with one of their staff finishing up a job before the hurricane, and she told my wife to call Richard who was on his way with Omar, another member of their staff. When she called Richard there was no answer, so we continued to wait. It was after 3:15 when Richard and Omar finally arrived. I decided that Richard was definitely more Jamaican than Canadian. The four of us made our way to the boat to start battening down the hatches while we waited for Katie. The electrical power line was disconnected, the anchor was weighed, even all the loose articles around the boat were stowed, but still no Katie. At this point Richard decided to get the feel of the boat before heading for the lagoon. You see, Richard was not your most experienced ship’s captain. The only other time I remember him moving the boat was prior to a tropical storm in 2005. “Captain” Richard is more comfortable flying an Airbus 320 than he is piloting a 45 foot yacht. We spent considerable time going forward, reversing, circling left and then right. I felt sure he could handle all the twists and turns to get us to the lagoon. But where was Katie? After several phone calls, we found out her crew had more of a problem than they anticipated. Katie finally arrived about 4:30. The five of us were on our way at last.

It was a pleasant ride past the cruise ship piers and the Montego Bay waterfront before we headed out of the harbor. I should say at this point that the Yacht Club is located at the end of a long peninsula called Freeport. The lagoon is on the other side of this peninsula. Our little “cruise” turned left out of the harbor and left again past Sunset Beach Resort & Spa. I had seen this resort many times from the road and on the approach to Sangster International Airport but never from this vantage point. I was always impressed by the two high rise towers that can be seen from land and air. Their beach and waterfront looked very inviting as did the children’s castle nestled in one corner but we would have to wait for another time to relax on the beach. After all, there was work to be done. From there we turned left again into the lagoon. On the left are very expensive townhouses where some of Jamaica’s elite, business, and political leaders live. On the right the coastline stretches west towards the far end of the island. You can also see traffic traveling on Highway 2000 that connects Mobay to Negril. Ahead of us we could see boats of all shapes and sizes already positioned to safely ride out the storm. There were 2 booze cruise catamarans, a parasailing boat, a dive boat, and several little dinghies. Perhaps 30 or 40 boats were scattered around the shoreline. Spaces were in short supply but Richard spotted one that seemed to suit his needs. It was now well after 5:00 PM and the sun was slowly sinking into the western sky. The plan of action was to drop the anchor from the stern, beach the bow into the thick cement type muck along the shoreline, and tie off the boat on each side.

The anchor was dropped without a problem. We slowly headed towards the muck with Omar and Katie carefully letting out the rope and chain attached to the anchor. But something went wrong. Either the boat went too slow or the line went out too fast. In either case the rope got tangled around one of the propellers. I don’t have to tell you that this wasn’t a good thing to have happen. No matter what Richard and Omar did, the rope was securely wrapped around the propeller. I had already mentioned that Richard was not the most experienced man on the ocean but neither was Omar. Years ago, Omar was a “fisher” (fisherman) on a boat with a little outboard motor. His knowledge of something this size was nearly nonexistent. Richard was in a predicament. Unfortunately for Richard, Omar was his only choice for help as his regular helper hurt his back and was unavailable. What was going on in Richards head?

So here is the situation. The sun will soon be giving us one of those beautiful romantic sunsets that sees lovers walking arm in arm along a white sand beach. There is a seemingly endless stream of beautiful white birds heading west as if to keep ahead of the ferocious winds of the imminent hurricane. And here we are sitting several hundred feet from shore with a rope wrapped around a propeller and the anchor firmly affixed to the bottom of the lagoon. By this time of day, most every boat that was still in the water was safely nestled in the lagoon. The lifeboat on board holds four or maybe five people, according to Richard. It was the maybe five that bothered me. Did I mention that I can’t swim? What did Richard have in mind? What masterful plan was he going to use to get us and the boat safely to land? The first step was for Omar to shed his clothes and dive under the boat to assess the situation, perhaps even untangle the line. This proved to be futile as he couldn’t see his hand six inches in front of him in the murky water. It was at this point that two men in a sea kayak came by. At last a ray of hope as one of the men said he was a diver. All we had to do was wait while he took the other man back to land and then for him to change into his bathing suit and get his mask. Do you have any idea how fast the sun was setting? It seemed to be racing as fast as it could to leave us in darkness.

By the time the diver got back it was already dusk. After several dives, he reported that the rope wasn’t around just one propeller, but both propellers and the rudder. The only solution was to cut the line and try not to lose the end tied to the anchor. I don’t want you to think I was scared to death at this point but it wasn’t one of the more serene moments of my life. Before I completely panicked, Richard came up with an idea. He would take Ann and I to shore in the lifeboat. Whew, I relaxed for a moment, but only for a moment. Richard was taking forever to get us in the boat and back to dry land. That’s when he said he couldn’t get the eggbeater of a motor on the lifeboat to start. It was also too far to paddle at that hour of the day. My nerves were wearing thin! Luck, or should I say, the Good Lord, was with us. Just as my life was starting to flash before my eyes, another boat came by. Richard asked if they would take us ashore. My prayers were answered! This boat, while not being much bigger than Richard’s lifeboat, had a real motor that was churning up the water as we headed toward land. But the only place for us to go ashore was through The Houseboat Restaurant. This restaurant is not tied to the land but floats about 20 feet or so offshore. From there, a small canopied raft takes you back and forth by pulling ropes fastened between the boat and the pier. I felt so relieved to be on good old terra firma again. But that’s not the end of the story. By this time it was pitch black and we were still 2 miles from the Yacht Club. With no taxis in site, we started walking along this unlit roadway where cars drive at what seems to be the speed of light even though there are sleeping policemen (speed bumps) every 2000 feet or so. To our surprise a tour bus stopped and offered us a ride. By the time we got to the Yacht Club, we had told him all about our little “cruise” in the harbor. When we tried to pay him he said we paid enough already today. Very seldom do any Jamaicans do something for nothing especially tour and taxi drivers but this man was very gracious. The next time Richard offers to take me on a “cruise” anywhere, I think I’ll say no thanks! I will feel much more relaxed and safer drinking a rum and coke sitting on my own veranda.