It was the summer of ‘69. The Diamond TWR-1 was steaming at sea in the Caribbean very close to the British Virgin Islands. The weather had started to deteriorate around noon that day with both the wind increasing and sea getting steadily rougher. The Skipper, QMC Daniels, was in the charthouse studying the charts of the area.
The Skipper was contemplating finding a protected harbor to pull into and anchor until the weather cleared.
For those of you that have not been to sea on a small boat you will have a hard time understanding how uncomfortable it can be in high seas. So I will try to give you something to relate to. For this exercise put your hand out flat in front of you with all of the fingers together and the palm facing the floor. Now tilt your hand in one direction between 15 to 20 degrees, (accuracy does not count). Now tilt it in the other direction until the other side of your hand is down just the opposite of the first move. Now continue to rock your hand back and forth at different rates of speed plus rock your fingers down and then palm down at the same 15 to 20 degrees while still rocking side to side. Now that you are watching your hand do these gyrations imagine working and eating in this environment.
On a vessel the size of the Diamond (101’ length, 25’ wide) this is what it is like in relatively calm sea. Now if you add storm conditions you will understand why the Skipper was looking for a protected harbor.
The Skipper noticed that we were close to Peter Island which had a harbor we were familiar with. It was a part of the British Virgin Islands. The island was relatively small at only 1,779 acres but had a harbor that would protect us from winds and seas coming from the current direction.
The Skipper gave orders to the helm to come to a new course that would take us to Peter Island. He sent the messenger of the watch to get the Boatswain to come the chart house. Shortly the Boatswain reported to the chart house and asked, “What’s up Chief?”
The response from the Chief was, “I have decided to pull into the harbor at Peter Island for the night. We should be there about an hour after sunset. Prepare to anchor.” Keeping it short, the Boatswain and deck gang prepared to drop anchor.
When the Diamond arrived at Peter Island the night was pitch black. You could not see your hand in front of your face. We dropped anchor roughly 50 yards from the beach. From our location we could see and hear a celebration on the beach.
Since Peter Island was British territory and we had not received permission to land, we should not go ashore. Now let’s be real; sailors hearing the sounds of a celebration. You can guess what was about to happen.
The Boatswain told the deck crew to breakout the 15 man inflatable life raft. As the deck gang prepared the life raft the Chief had the Cook get a case of hamburgers, case of hot dogs, buns and condiments to put in the boat. Everyone except the three sailors in the duty section climbed in the life raft and rowed ashore.
Beaching next to the celebration, the Chief approached and asked if we could come ashore and join the party. They said that they were short of food so they could not feed us but we were welcome to have some drinks. The Chief immediately spoke up “We got enough chow in the raft for everybody!”
Now if you have never been out of the US you may not know how important hamburgers and hot dogs are to international diplomacy. The islanders set up cooking fires for us with wire grills across the top and handed over some cooking utensils.
The word got out to all of the residents of the island that hamburgers and hot dogs were available –and free. We developed a crowd as we started cooking about 2130 (9:30 PM). We kept grilling for about two hours. While we cooked, and the for the rest of the night, the locals kept supplying us with all of the drinks we could handle until about 0300.
We had not made any real dent in the case of hamburgers or hot dogs and the islanders kept eyeing them. The Chief was talking with several of the locals and said we would be willing to trade for the remainder if they would like. The locals went off for about a half hour and then came back with a proposal. They offered us a gallon of rum, 2 quarts of gin, and 1 quart of scotch whiskey… Deal graciously accepted by all parties.
The men helped us load the raft while their ladies divided up the food. We wished everyone well and departed having never cleared customs. We then rowed back out to the Diamond which still could not be seen from shore except for the required anchor lights.
Once aboard we pulled anchor and got underway just prior to sunrise since the weather had cleared. We were able to slip away under cover of darkness. They did not see what vessel we were. We raised our glasses filled with bartered alcohol, and toasted a successful invasion of the British!
Other “Sea Stories” by Craig Johnson: