Building a Better Boat Day 6–The Rock after the Storm

Building a Better Boat Day 6–The Rock after the Storm
29 Sep 2018

Good evening from Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands.

As you can see I’ve escaped the boat for the weekend so that I can complete the other major goal of this trip: finding my mast.

Just before Dad and I left VG in March I made a deal on the intact mast off a storm-wrecked Jeanneau that ended up stern sunk and bow nearly vertical on the dock during Irma. If you look on the Contreband Facebook page, the banner photo with the half sunk boat is that unfortunate vessel. During our time on-island, the Jeanneau, named Flying Viking, was plucked out of the harbor and declared a total loss.

As she was being broken up, Dad and I were on our way to Happy Hour at the FUYC. Low and behold, sitting in the yard, was the nearly perfect stick off of Flying Viking. And some quick inspection we’d determined that it was indeed comparable to the Leopard 44 mast (same manufacturer, one size larger). The only problem with it was a dent where the top spreaders used to be–and it was 5 feet too tall.

No worries, that’s nothing a sawz-all, a grinder, and some rivets couldn’t fix. So, after a week of tracking down the insurance company that owned the mast in the UK, we were able to wire funds and get a bill of sale for the spar. The only problem was that we needed to get the hell out of dodge for the various reasons well documented in the series of postings about our time in VG.

What to do?

We ended up making a deal with the yard manager who promised to store the mast until we were able to come back and get it. We signed a deal with a rigger in the yard who would do the work. No worries. Everything went swimmingly. I emailed the rigger back and forth, talked about the type of material I wanted, so on and so forth. Then, in true Island Style, he went dark on me. Emails went answered, phone calls ignored–for almost 2 months.

Now, if you’ve lived on-island you know this isn’t particularly strange. People ignore, smoke out, or otherwise forget about you the further out of sight you are. Eventually I heard back from him with the news that he’d been kicked out of the yard by new management. And he didn’t know where my mast was.

More emails, more phone calls. This time the yard manager assured me that the “new guy” who was working here knew about my mast and that it was safe and sound. Oh, and he’s got a guy coming out to quote new standing rigging “soon.”

That was in July. August rolled by. No word apart from “we’re working on it Mon! It’s Vuuugun Gawda Ya Know!”

Yes, I know…

Then just after Labor Day I got an email from the yard manger with a photo of the mast. “Here you go Mr. Contre! All safe and sound!”

Except it wasn’t my mast. This mast was off an older, and much smaller sailboat.

I emailed back: “That’s not da stick, Mon!”

“Whacha mean bro? Its the only intact mast I got here!”

“My mast is 69 feet long–this is maybe 35!”

“Ohh! That mast! I think I saw it the yard. No worries!”

Another week rolls by…..

“Did you find my mast?”

“Sorry, mister, I dunno where it is. You sure you own it?”

“Yes I’m sure I own it. I’m also sure you have a copy of the bill of sale somewhere in your office….”

“Oh. Really?”


“I call ya back!”


So when I decided to come to the island, I knew that a trip to VG would be required to get “eyes on” and verify that it didn’t walk away. Although, walking off with a 69 foot aluminum rod is probably really hard–even in the British Virgin Islands.

Today was that day. I packed up the boat this morning and drove to the airport. As is always the case at SJU-10 minutes felt like an entire day but my flight on the Saab puddle jumper to Tortola was on time and scenic.

As I flew over, I was taken back that a year since IrMaria so much is still in disrepair. Boat are still swamped in Paraquita Bay and washed up on Trellis Bay. Owners of businesses are still trying to patch together their lives. Local islanders are still walking around in a state of shellshocked disinterest as construction and storm detritus lingers in every yard.

Boats in the swamp–a year later.

To add insult to injury, this year’s invasive Sargassum bloom this year  has swamped the eastern facing bays and beaches leaving a brown, decaying mass in the water that smells of rotten eggs and low tide. Of course, this is driving tourists off the beaches and out of the seaside businesses who are already struggling to survive.

I stopped for lunch at one of these beach bars near the airport and next to the ferry dock. The owner, a middle aged Canadian/Thai immigrant who’s been on island 15 years started to break down as we were talking. She said every night she calls her friends on island and they try to support each other though each day it’s harder.

The sargassum ruining the beaches….

Her house, a rental, was literally blown off the mountain. When she returned after the storm, all that was left in the lot was the brown patch where the house stood. All her personal possessions were, literally, lost in the wind. And her business, on Trellis Bay, was blocked by beached boats that took months to remove–at her own expense.

In case you’re wondering, she had business insurance. It did pay out–last month…..

I talked a little about Penasco and she took a bunch of notes…maybe I’ll see her at Wrecked when she escapes the hell she’s in now.

When I got to VG, I took a walk around the yard. And, I am very pleased to say, I found my mast! Someone moved it between two boats and it’s now overgrown with weeds. But it’s definitely ours! And it seems no worse for wear. In fact, we seemed to have gained a boom along with it. Weird…..

But that’s how things go when you live Life on a Rock.

More tomorrow….

Found it!



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