A STIFF BEAT
Classic Boat|November 2020
A STIFF BEAT
There are some occasions when going to a birthday party can be a real drag – quite literally
TOM CUNLIFFE

Not every owner celebrates a boat’s birthday with a party, but some do – and one of special note was the event thrown by the late Les Windley for his pilot cutter Marguerite T in the winter of 1984/5. For technical reasons involving memory loss, I’m not able to recall the age of the vessel, although 90 rings a distant bell, but I’ll never forget the passage I made to join the festivities.

Marguerite was lying off the strand in Road Bay Anguilla, a 50-yard row from Jonno’s beach bar. Shelter from the swell was perfect, the white sand bottom reflected the sunshine, the occasional palm tree swayed along the shoreline and the reggae drifting to leeward from Jonno’s completed a perfect scene. The only other Bristol Channel cutter in the Eastern Caribbean was mine. Hirta and Marguerite simply had to raft up for the big bash and all hands were hot to trot. The trouble was we were 85 miles away in Tortola.

If you haven’t cruised these waters, that won’t sound a serious obstacle for a boat with a 45ft (13.7m) waterline built to sail, but it is. Tortola lies dead to leeward of Anguilla at the downhill end of the dreaded Anegada Passage. Currents can rip through here at two knots and more. They run straight downwind and, unlike the friendly tides of home waters, they never reverse. Winds blow hard around the turning of the year, with Force 6 or 7 by no means unusual, and they’d be smack in our teeth. Our trip to the fun event of the decade was not going to resemble a Sunday afternoon jaunt down the Solent. It promised to be more like trying to sail through a brick wall, but the rum was calling with a loud voice, and for once in his sweet life Les was paying for it. We spat on our hands, catted the hundredweight fisherman, tied in a reef and bit the bullet.

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November 2020