JEFF & MOLLY’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE: An Engineless Cruise Through the W’Indies

Chanticleer sailing

Editor’s note: Attention WaveTrain riders! I have just received a most excellent missive from my erstwhile skipper/crew (it’s a symbiotic relationship) Jeff Bolster, featured here previously, regarding his long-planned much-looked-forward-to entire winter of cruising with his bride Molly through the length and breadth of the Caribbean islands aboard their Valiant 40 Chanticleer. Long story short: they broke their prop strut three days out of Bermuda and are just now getting around to fixing it. I’ll let Jeff fill you in on all the gory details (this from an e-mail dated March 10).

Good thing we like Martinique: we might need to get French citizenship and live here forever. The boat has already been on the hard for 10 days and the “A-Team” has barely begun to work. It’s the Caribbean, mon.

As some of you know, we broke the propeller shaft strut on the third day of the voyage and essentially have had no use of the engine since then. It’s that Old Timey Sailing Ship stuff that I live for. As Joni Mitchell once wailed, “It’s suffering, makes me feel that I am alive…”

Valiant Yachts sent us a new strut cast just for us at the foundry. But the French technicians initially assumed it would just be a “pop it out and pop in a new one” kind of job. Nope. Valiant Yachts had told me it would require some finagling, with fiberglass cut away or glass added. Installation will now require drilling new holes and filling the old ones. Lots of glass work. More time. More money.

Broken strut

The broken strut in delicato. The original break was up near the base. Then Jeff did some diving and cut away the central section with a hacksaw so the engine could be run for non-propulsive purposes without the busted strut having any disadvantageous adventures

New strut

The new strut in a preliminary dry fit. Lots of work necessary to make it fit tight. As Jeff informed me in a separate e-mail, all these Valiant 40 struts were cast from the same mold, but ended up subtly unique after being machined and polished prior to installation

We feel special. Valiant’s Operations Manager says that he knows of no other Valiant 40 that just broke its strut like this. There are only 292 of these boats! To fill in those of you I have not e-mailed before, Molly and I were sailing from Bermuda to Barbados (ultimately 8½ days) and were three days out of Bermuda, motoring through a 12-hour spell of no wind and glassy sea, when: BAM!!! Lots of noise and clatter. Shut ‘er down. What the fuck???

Later, after we reached the islands, I dove and–carrumba, the strut was broken! Couldn’t believe it. The strut holds the propeller shaft in place and is one of those things that never need attention. We had replaced the rigging. We had replaced the engine. We had replaced the chainplates. We had replaced rope and mended the sails before setting out. I had thought myself around every corner and possibility to do everything that should be done to ensure a good voyage this winter. Hah! Boats will always out-fox even the wiliest of captains.

Anyway, we sailed from Barbados to Grenada and then through the Grenadines and then to St. Vincent and St. Lucia and ultimately Martinique with no engine. Along the way we had our Danish friends, Lars and Anne Marie, who for months had been planning to join us for a 10-day sailing trip. They got their “sailing” trip.

Nothing like “no engine” to sharpen your sailing skills. Our final day, sailing into Le Marin from Grande Anse D’Arlet on Martinique, took us 6 hours and 30 tacks. It was blowing hard. And we were navigating through a reef-strewn outer harbor that neither of us had ever seen before. Molly steered. I navigated and ran the deck. By the end of it, when we anchored on the fly, I was bushed. Single-reefed main went to double-reefed main, and then single-reefed genoa was rolled up to “double-reefed” genoa, just because the distance between the coral reefs on each tack was so short I did not have the time (or strength) to crank in the genoa and get it set and drawing before it was time to tack again. Tight quarters these.

Plotter track

Plotter track showing a portion of Jeff & Molly’s short-tacking approach into Le Marin. The plotter is stationed belowdecks at the nav station and was never consulted during this procedure. All navigation was done by eyeball on deck

But the challenge of sailing into this place through the reefs in a big breeze of wind was nothing compared to the challenge of navigating the French system of boatyards and technicians.

I expect that we will be on the hard here for a month for a job that should have taken a week.

In the meantime we are eating croissants, going to the spectacular Beach of the Salines at dawn, and hiking in the rainforest and on Mount Pelee at other times. They have us by the balls: our boat is hauled out in a ratty French West Indian boatyard, and the technicians are taking a good long time to get their heads wrapped around the job. Meanwhile, we are living ashore in a studio apartment in the “Residence des Isles.” Not exactly the lovely sailing trip through the Grenadines, etc., that we had originally imagined.

But that is the reality of boats. Long Distance Cruising = Fixing Your Boat in Exotic Locations. This time “en francais.”

As for Mount Pelee, that infamous volcano that killed 30,000 people in the blink of an eye in 1902 and is now an alluring hiking trail. I have been on the mountain four times–once in 1985, once last year, and twice this year. I still have not reached the summit. In ’85, as skipper of Te Vega, I ascended solo from the W, began the circuit around the caldeira, and then, in thick fog and no viz, fell into a hole and broke a rib. It hurt for four months. I somehow got myself back to the road and was shaken, but I was also bitten by the bug of this mountain.

Last year, Molly and I ascended from the W again, but as we hiked above tree level, and the clouds came in, and the trail got more vertical, she was not so keen on continuing. Four days ago she and I ascended from the E (the Ailleron trail) with three young French folks about the age of our children. We got to the deuxieme refuge, but it was late in the day, and we did not feel able to press on. The next day she and I tried the same ascent from the E, but in the ravine of the cordeilla, on the way towards the summit, Molly said, “Enough.” I continued on solo to the “Cone of 1902,” the height of the volcano before it blew in 1902. But to try to reach the summit–Le Chinois–would have required at least 45 minutes each way, and I had already left my honey by herself on a rugged mountain trail. Time to retreat. It was blowing like hell, disturbing my balance, and I couldn’t see more than 25 feet in any direction on account of the clouds.

So that is what we jiggy MoFos is doing these days–whiling away our days with worrying, walking, and rum. What could go wrong?

St. Lucia vendor

Checking out a floating produce vendor at St. Lucia


Molly enjoys a beverage on deck after another long day of cruising sans combustion internal

Hauled out

Hauled out in Martinique


Ascending Pelee (again)

We understand that some of you have been enduring a Winter From Hell, and we are happy to be avoiding it. I have the lifetime Snow Shoveling Merit Badge and do not need another. But if I am ever going to fix our boat in Martinique in the future, I will certainly need to polish up my rusty French.

Another Editor’s Note: Jeff failed to send any pix of himself. So here’s one I took after we succeeded in delivering Chanticleer down to Virginia during a Previous Assault on the W’Indies.

Jeff w/beer

And here’s an index of previous WaveTrain posts concerning him:

From Prison Cell to the Sea

Delivery to Virginia

Delivery After Purchase

Crewing on Lunacy

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2 Responses
  1. Spencer

    You just never know. I had a very good experience refitting Scarlet in Le Marin: sails, rigging, electrical, pumps, solar panel, outboard motor and lots of fiddly little bits. I hired at very little expense (plus a used solar panel) a local boatey couple to run interference for me and make up for my nearly complete lack of French. Many of the boat workers were used to fixing the charter catamaran fleet and there, time is money. They worked on the hop! They replaced the entire standing rigging my complicated 46’ sloop/cutter in two visits. And anyway, if I had to wait somewhere, it would be Martinique: great food and atmosphere, excellent beaches and less of that grinding poverty that takes the bloom off the Caribbean rose. In my experience, you could substitute “Tortola” for Jeff Bolster’s “Martinique” and I’d be totally down with that!

  2. Neil McCubbin

    Good to see a couple that did not let propulsion failure kill the cruise. All too many would have sailed back to Bermuda, or even called for a tow.

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