Great Inagua, 90 miles north of Haiti is a natural rest stop when sailing to the Caribbean or back. There isn’t a whole lot there, but the anchorage is fair, unless the west wind blows, the diesel is passable in quality, and supplies, though scant, are adequate. Great Inagua survives thanks to our thirst for salt. Humongous salt flats on the north west corner of the island plus practically unhindered sunlight, provides Morton with an endless supply of their raw material. The people are friendly, the pace is island slow, and shade is hard to find.

We pulled into Great Inagua for the first time on April 11, 1977, after a hull-speed traverse from La Guaira, Venezuela via Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, timed to coincide with the arrival of Neill Martin, “the white hunter”, from Calgary two days later. By the time his plane was due, we were fully loaded. We had fresh bread baked by Mary, a cooler full of ice thanks to four pails that we had put into Johanns freezer overnight, and the pick of the veggie inventory all of which would have ended up in the trash bin back home. An hour before arrival of the bi-weekly flight from Nassau we dispatched Bill, Jr. to the airport with order to fetch the Hunter.

We were ready to sail as soon as the Hunter appeared. I had his bullshot served and waiting when Billy appeared, with no Hunter. The plane had been cancelled in Nassau because of weather. Impossible. We had nothing but bright clear blue skies in every direction. The word was that the plane would fly in during the next morning. Stuck in the small boat harbor for two days, I had to get out and breathe some fresh air so I announced, “Let’s go for a swim.” Within seconds lines were released and off we motored north towards the salt plant.

As we approached an inviting sandy beach in super clear water we touched bottom. I quickly put her in reverse but she stayed stuck. Small rollers pushed us higher on the smooth hard bottom. I ordered the crew to the bow. One son hung over at the end of the boom. The motor thundered, all to no avail. As the tide ebbed, Siboney, my 39 foot Robert Clark cutter heeled further over to port. I walked an anchor out and set it into a small crevice in the polished rock bottom. Cranking in the anchor line with the genoa winches, we were able to turn the bow of the boat out to sea. We weren’t going anywhere until the tide change.

It was just then that I noticed that the wind had shifted to the west. When I scanned the horizon, I was met by tremendous black thunderheads that extended from south to northwest. The pilot was clear. Should the weather shift to the west, stand clear of the east coast of Great Inagua. And here we are hard aground. My crew, Dick McEwen volunteered to walk into town and search for help. I let him go, totally convinced it was project impossible.

A bit over an hour later, Dick arrived aboard a large fishing boat. We sent the dinghy out. It returned with a large Bahamian called Woosh and Dick. They dragged a 1-inch line paid out by the fishing boat. When wrapped once around the bow post and then around the mast, Woosh screamed out “POWAH” and the fishing boat began to throttle up. Ideally, we should have waited another three hours until we had more water, but then it would be dark, at it might storm, and these guys might have better things to do. This was the moment. The line strained. Woosh yelled for “MOWA POWAH”. RPM’s increased. Siboney remained immobile. Woosh, on the bow pulpit, kept yelling. The one-inch line was about half its original size. More RPM’s dug the fishing boat’s stern deep into the water. I kept asking Woosh to get away from the rope in the event it broke but was ignored. The line strained until Siboney, as if on the end of a slingshot leaped out of the water and flew into deep water.

I yelled for the crew to stop. Our anchor was now way behind us. Dick in the dinghy picked it up as the fishing boat towed us into the anchorage off the town. I couldn’t thank Woosh and his buddies enough. Both crews developed a close friendship.

Siboney returned to Great Inagua on Saturday May 6, 1989 on its way from Miami to the Panama Canal. First thing on our agenda was to look up Woosh for we wanted to hug him one more time. Woosh was dead. He had drowned a year earlier when he fell off a fishing boat at night. We spent the night in shock.

© William A. Butler 2004