Every day in Les Saintes is like taking a breath of new life; incomparable beauty, friendly people, a laid back life style like you’ve never seen before. Cars are not allowed downtown; most stores are closed on Sundays; streets are deserted after 9 PM.
But, sometimes even paradise has its flaws. On April 19th, a Sunday morning, we were enjoying coffee and pan au chocolat in the cockpit when I noticed the boat on the mooring slightly ahead and upwind of us raise her mainsail and sheeting the sail tight. This vessel, a Bavaria named “PANUA” and French registered in Pointe a Pitre, was captained by a much older man, a grandfather with his three grandsons on board; the oldest grandson went forward, tried to pull the bow of the boat through the wind to head off away from us, but unable to do so, threw his arms in the air, gave up his efforts, and cast off the mooring line. PANUA started drifting down on us, beam to the wind; I saw the engine running, water pulsing out the exhaust, but clearly, the transmission was not engaged. Running to our bow I waved the owner forward, then shouted at him to put the boat in gear – no response other than a blank stare.
When the boat was about 10 feet away and collision imminent, I yelled and waved him forward one more time; rather than putting the boat in gear, he ran to the side deck and yelled at his grandsons to help fend off. Crash!! Right into our bow pulpit and anchor platform. He bounced off and Crashed again into the anchor. At this point I was screaming at him to put the boat in gear. “Be cool, everything is fine”, he said. Two more times, slamming into our hull as his boat slid towards our stern. At the last impact I looked up and saw his boom sliding between our upper and intermediate stays; I pointed to the stays and violently motioned for him to put the transmission in gear. Finally, the light dawned, he put his transmission in forward and powered away from us, leaving the anchorage without returning to see if everything was OK.
Unbeknownst to me, one of the impacts knocked Joy off her feet, fortunately not hurting her. Two adjacent boaters, both French, witnessed this fiasco, and soon came over to tell us they had Panua’s name and were prepared to be witnesses. One of them, from Martinique, told me it was a crime in the French islands for him to leave the scene of a boating accident. Many people came to our aid, and I cannot thank them enough. The second Frenchman came with me to the Gendamerie to translate for me because he knew the police would not speak English. A third helped me translate the entire incident to submit to the French Interior Ministry. Thus far, all to no avail.
Repairs are ongoing with the rigging repair being the last to take place; that repair will be completed in St. Martin by FKG Rigging. Needless to say, I am now a bit more wary of French boaters, and I know why they sail around with fenders adorning their hull sides.