Spike the Dinghy

Never buy a dinghy just because it’s named after your dead iguana.

Someone should have told us this before we forked over the $100 for Spike. But the price was right, and when we heard the name it was a done deal. Besides, who is their right mind would steal a battered old aluminum rowboat?

In his prime, Spike must have been a fine beast. He was strong, tough and almost bulletproof. Unfortunately, he was beyond his prime. I don’t think it helped when we backed over him, sucked him under and sank him. (Lesson learnt: always shorten your dinghy rode before reversing).

After that little incident, Spike started to pop his rivets. The rivets are what holds an aluminum dinghy together.

“Spike’s down,” were usually the first words of the day. The foam under the seats kept him from sinking completely. Since I weigh less than Colin, it was easier for me to bail him out. So before I even had my morning cup of tea, I was over the side sitting in a salty aluminum bathtub bailing as if my life depended on it. It’s a refreshing way of waking up. It also provided much amusement for others in the anchorage, sitting in their large million dollar yachts.

For all his faults, Spike was a faithful dinghy. He rowed well, much better than our previous inflatable (oops, that’s another story!). Unlike an inflatable, we could beach him on any rocky scrap of coral beach. Bouncing through the constant chop to ferry us ashore was never a problem, Spike plowed through waves like a hot knife through butter. He was a dinghy with “character”.

Our affection for Spike was justified at an anchorage in the Berry Islands, Bahamas. Tom Neale (who writes for Cruising World magazine) was also on the island for a fishing derby. Over beers in the bar, Tom was discussing the cruising life in the Bahamas. He went on to say that he’d noticed a small Canadian sailboat in the anchorage and that it had the best kind of dinghy for the Bahamas, a hard rough-around-the edges aluminum boat that no one would steal. In fact, it was almost identical to his own dinghy. Our chests swelled with pride.

We decided that Spike had to go on the day he tried to kill us.

I don’t think it was intentional on his part, but enough is enough. We left Nassau on a blustery day when we really shouldn’t have left port. If we weren’t trying to keep to a schedule, we would have spent another day puttering about the markets. (Lesson learnt: sailing and schedules don’t mix).

The weather forecast was for 20 – 25 knots of wind, seas 6 – 8 feet. We’ve done this before, but it’s at the top end of what I would call comfortable. Unfortunately the forecast was wrong. The entrance to Nassau Harbour is always a bit rough, the bottom rises quickly from 2000 feet to 30 so there’s a lot of water rushing about with nowhere to go. It’s choppy at the best of times, and this day was certainly not the best of times.

We were heading back to Chub Cay, a distance of 35 miles over very deep water. With the right wind it should have been about 6 or 7 hours. It was invigorating for the first couple of hours. Invigorating became challenging, then terrifying. The winds started to climb, the seas got bigger. These were no eight foot waves , these suckers were building to fifteen feet.

Forbidden Planet would climb up and up, and then surf to the bottom of a trough. When we were at the bottom, Spike was at the top. Spike would turtle, fill with water and act like an anchor. He wouldn’t get too far down before the motion would pull him up enough to tip some of the water out. Then he’d hit the crest, look down at us and charge at us like an arrow going for the bulls eye. It was better not to look.

After he smacked the stern the first time, Colin grabbed a sharp knife to cut him loose. We decided not to ditch him, not because of any great love at that point in time, but because we knew he wouldn’t sink completely. We didn’t want another boat to club a submerged aluminum pot and hole their boat. It was a miserable, scary roller coaster ride for 14 hours and Spike just made it worse. The question was, what if the upcoming Gulf Stream crossing was bad and the waves were even bigger?

Early the next morning, we emerged on deck to find Spike sunk down to his gunwales. That was the last straw, Spike was staying. For the last time I bailed him out before rowing over to a Bahamian conch fishing boat in the anchorage. The fishermen were more than happy to give him a good home, offering me several conch in exchange. I explained that Spike had some minor problems, but they eyed him appreciatively and said, “no worry mon, we be fixin’ him up fine.” I knew Spike was in good hands.

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