Friday, February 4, 2011

French Clash

“I wonder whether that boat sees us” Mark remarked when we were sailing along St. Barth’s west coast nearing the capital Gustavia. A small boat under full sails was heading our way. As a matter of fact, he was on a collision course pointing straight at us and coming closer by the second. Irie was (also) under sail and on a starboard tack, which meant we had right of way. But, he was flying a French flag. And as far as stereotypes go, some of them are pretty close to the truth when it comes to the French. They don’t like to speak English, they anchor right on top of you when there is plenty of space in the bay and they don’t seem to follow (or know) “the rules”…

“I can’t believe this. He is not making any moves to avoid us!” Mark started considering the options. We had been fine and peacefully on course with nicely trimmed sails for 11 hours! Frantically, I reeled the fishing line in. Even if the boat cut behind us, he would snatch our line and our last lure would be forever lost. Mark fell off and got out of the way. The Frenchman must have seen us, because he sat on the high side of his boat. When he came within a few yards, just missing our stern and waving with a big smile on his face, Mark yelled at him, in English. He basically explained how we had to change course for him, that we were on a starboard tack and he was on a port tack, that this was inconsiderate of him as a sailor. The guy did not quite understand what was going on, didn’t feel any guilt and did not speak any English. Until… he caught the word “idiot” coming out of Mark’s mouth. Now, that he did understand (the French word is pretty much the same) and he yelled: “I’m coming back for you!”

The next instant, he turned his boat 180° and came after us. Gulp! Luckily his boat was a bit smaller and a monohull. And, the wind picked up which sent us (and him) flying in the right direction, at least for us. He kept up pretty well and actually shortened the distance between us in his pursuit. Now what? Mark was getting nervous and demanded the jib to be perfectly attended to while he took care of the main sail. While it normally doesn’t matter too much that our sails are trimmed to perfection, all of a sudden we were part of an important race. With the least change in wind, I adjusted the jib and Mark did the same with the main. Back and forth, in and out, slightly so.

A big vessel that looked like a cruise ship was entering the harbor to Gustavia, while all around us mega yachts were peacefully lying at anchor. We couldn’t afford going behind the giant and we had right of way, so we stuck to our course, passing in front of him, just in time, thanks to the consistent wind. Nobody seems to like giving way to others and our day was all of a sudden coming to a more exciting end than anticipated…

By this time, Irie had gained quite a bit of distance and our pursuer shrunk in size. He was still following and we contemplated sailing to our planned anchorage in Anse de Columbier, or making the already very long and tiring trip three miles longer by shooting for Ile Forchue. When we saw how busy Columbier Bay was, we chose for the rough, inhospitable but quiet island further away. We made it safely there, having shaken off our chaser, but we were kept awake all night by incredibly strong and loud wind gusts. Take note: you do pay a price for calling somebody and idiot, even when he is just that!

1 comment:

Janine said...

Oh my! I guess we were lucky that none of the idiots ever chased us, because I know Graeme told a few of them off with hand gestures along with the words! All you can do is keep on truckin'