One lucky gringo
Mechanical troubles lead a delivery crew to a little-visited Caribbean island and a hotly contested local boat race
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Skipper with a plan
There were arguments from those of us along the rail, but it soon became apparent that our skipper had a plan. There was no outrunning our foe. But we could outthink them. The races that had filled the harbor in prior weeks had entailed close maneuvering, a lot of friendly shouting back and forth, and the dodging of the handful of us anchored in the middle of the course. As the one boat tacked toward the finish line and the other sailed across the mouth of the harbor, it looked less like a race and more like two boats parting ways. Our skipper, it turned out, was hoping to do in two tacks what normally took dozens. Less time spent turning meant more time moving. The distance covered through the water was the same, and we had more wind outside the harbor.
Howey sailed on this locally built boat during the island’s race series.
Howey with Bing, the local skipper who invited “the lucky gringo” aboard.
After a long run toward the sea, we finally tacked to starboard and made for the wharf, and it became a race again. The time spent luffing and trimming sail had cost our adversary. We had gained on them, and we gained more every time they turned across the wind. The cheers from the shore came to us on the stiff breeze, and as the other boat straightened out on its final tack, it was hard to tell who would win. We had a boat length on them, but they were still the swifter hull. They had not lost in years. Our boat was not yet named. The finish happened so fast — and the boats arrived almost on top of one another — so that I could only know who had won by the sagging faces in the other craft and the eruption of joy in ours.
Fully clothed people jumped from the wharf and swam out to join us. The boom was eased and the great pile of canvas lowered, and even those we had beaten were swept up by the occasion. Doug motored around us in Billy’s dinghy and filmed the celebration, smiling as widely as any of us. The result was unforeseen, the upset full and complete, those island gamblers dizzy from the consequences. Someone said the boat would be named Lucky Gringo, though I knew I had nothing to do with this. I was just lucky baggage perched on a rail, watching a magical island slide by, studying the tactics of a master skipper and boatbuilder, and marveling at the fortuitous turn of events, the spectacular breakdown, that marooned me in paradise at the turn of the millennium.
Eventually the parts arrived and we left Providencia. We took the boat back to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., stopping in Honduras, Belize, and Mexico along the way. The trip to Hong Kong eluded us. But life is a series of lucky accidents and pleasant detours. It’s what we do when everything breaks that defines us.
Hugh Howey has worked as a delivery skipper and is the New York Times bestselling author of the novel Wool.