The Death of Carlotta
Copyright by Cap'n Fatty Goodlander
"Carlotta" is no more. I still can't believe it, though I know the above sentence is true. It doesn't seem possible. I continue to jerk awake each morning, puzzled why I'm not in my familiar bunk aboard my beloved Carlotta.
Then it hits me like a body-blow to the stomach. Carlotta is dead.
At 0623 hours on Monday September 18th, 1989, during the height of Hurricane HUGO, a 70 foot schooner named Fly Away dragged down on her. We were anchored in Culebra in one of the safest harbors in the Caribbean. Winds were a steady 180 knots, with gusts hitting 210 at the nearby University of Puerto Rico's meteorological station.
Fly Away literally started eating Carlotta. I've never experienced anything quite like it. She smashed off the port rail and whisker stays, sprung the bowsprit, and folded all the stantions. She poked holes right through the deck and bit off chunks of the cabin.
It was horrible-- like demented rhinos careening towards death.
For ten minutes Fly Away and Carlotta beat each other into extinction. Our exterior chainplates ripped entire planks clean out of Fly Away. Her bowsprit clubbed through our cockpit combings, mizzen boom, stern rail. There was nothing, absolutely nothing I could do but watch.
From midnight 'til dawn we'd told our 8 year old, life-jacketed daughter, Roma Orion, not to worry. "Don't worry, honey," my wife Carolyn would shout soothingly over the shriek of the storm. "Everything's okay. We've got four anchors down with heavy chains and long nylon rodes. Carlotta is strong. Look-- our bunks are dry!!! We're okay. Gonna be fine. Gonna make it. Don't worry... don't worry... don't worry..."
The sounds inside Carlotta were more than just scary-- it was enough to drive a person insane. It made you want to hold your hands over your ears... and scream too. The renting of wood. The crumbling of the concrete of our hull. The "twang" as a stay or shroud parted. The shattering of glass...
Fly Away center-punched a stantion (complete with base and life-lines) clean through our deck. It wiggled sadistically over Roma's bunk. Water poured in the boat, along with the shriek and moan of the wind.
"Can I worry now..?" asked Roma, the amazement clear in her soft little-girl voice.
By this point, Fly Away had dragged, inch by slow inch, astern of Carlotta. Her bowsprit, now splintered in half, was still clubbing our battered transom.
I reached out my companionway, and grabbed Fly Away's only remaining anchor rode in my right hand. "Cut it! Cut it! Cut it!" my wife Carolyn screamed.
My hand went for my knife, but I stopped with it still sheathed. It didn't matter. Both our boats were doomed now. Fly Away had only a small anchor rode left, and she had taken out our primary 60 pound Danforth anchor, which had held us so well from midnight to dawn. It wasn't so much a matter of if we'd end up ashore-- but when and how.
Just as these thoughts flew across my numbed mind-- Fly Away snapped her only remaining anchor rode. It sounded like a cannon shot. She was gone to leeward-- instant history. (I later wearily walked the shores of Culebra in a grim search and came across a floating lump of shattered lumber with the masts and rig of an old schooner piled atop. It was the broken bones and jagged flesh of the once-proud Fly Away.)
Amazingly, Carlotta, 36 feet and built solidly of ferro-cement, still held. Trees were being snatched off the mountain ahead of us, and were hitting the rig. First they'd hang up on the mainmast, then quickly work their way through the maze of stainless steel rigging wire, and then give the mizzenmast a final "whack, whack, whack" in goodbye.
I sat in the cockpit, running my 50 hp Westerbeke diesel to ease the strain on my anchors. I wore a diving mask so that I could see, and a snorkel so that I could breath. The 200 knot gusts reminded me of some old hokey black & white movie with a fire-breathing dragon. The wind gusts were too exaggerated, too stupidly scary to be real.
A large 50 foot trawler named Polaris was anchored beside me. She looked so stately and safe. I glanced down at my rpm meter, and then back at Polaris. I blinked my eyes in disbelief. She was upside down. It seemed impossible-- like a magic trick with mirrors. She was floating perfectly level; just completely upside down. (She never righted herself, just gradually sank with her keel and props pointed skyward...)
Carlotta kept getting knocked down by the gusts of wind. Her cockpit would fill. Once we took green water through the top of the companionway hatch. In 25,000 ocean miles, she never did anything like that.
None of this seemed possible. How could this be happening? Why were my wife and child cowering below, passports duct-taped to their soft bodies to aid some faceless Puerto Rican coroner who might later be given the sad task of ID-ing their water-logged bodies. Grim thoughts.
My life didn't flash before my eyes, but I decided that I wasn't as good a person as I should be, as moral, as kind and considerate, as caring a person as I wanted to be.
What does a man have beside his family, his friends, and his own heart?
The anchor we were now riding to (45 pound CQR with 125 feet of three-eights chain) started dragging. I literally crawled up to the bow, and veered out more scope. Nothing worked. Carlotta's bow fell off more, and we picked up speed. A 100 foot aluminum motorboat appeared out of the gloom. We hit it so hard on the port quarter that it rang like a bell.
A white smear-- a face-- appeared through a port of the motor yacht we'd struck. The face's mouth was twisted open, whether in terror or prayer or greeting or anger I could not tell.
I started laughing like a maniac through my snorkel. (I realize, now, that I was laughing in pure terror, but at the time it was almost-- fun!)
I was steering my boat in 200 knots of wind to her death. We had built the boat from 12 sheets of paper 18 years ago. She had taken more than five long years and all our money to construct. Carlotta was more than just our boat or just our home-- she was our sea-shell. She protected us in every way. Always. She was a part of us-- built from our sweat, our tears, held together by our hopes and dreams and desires. She was part of the Goodlander Family.
And this, finally, was The End. Fini. Start over. Back to zero. Complete financial and emotional shipwreck.
The water all around me was frothing white. Getting into the water was death. "The water is death, the water is death, the water is death..." my brain chanted to me.
The roof of a house appeared, then a tree. The tree was in a small clearing. I steered for the clearing. We were moving fast, despite trailing three large anchors and a total of over 700 feet of anchor line and chain rode.
I felt the first sickening thud as Carlotta dropped her 26,000 pounds onto rock and mud and mangroves. Everything not bolted down-- and a few things which were-- started winging around the cabin.
We tied ourselves together with the hacked-off bitter end of a Dacron genoa sheet. We were still a family. We slid into the water, and the surf quickly swept us ashore. We were gently deposited on the manicured front lawn of a waterfront condo.
The world-- at least this small portion of it-- seemed totally nuts. The hurricane still screamed like the tormented souls of a million drowned sailors. The air was filled with roots, parts of boats, dinghies with 40 horse outboards, trees, sheets of tin.
We shivered and huddled together. We were dazed. Our teeth chattered in fear and excitement and maybe from the cold.
I turned and looked at Carlotta. She looked so lonely in her death throes. Salt water was stealing into her from holes in her hull. Fresh water was
leaking in from above. Since I'd been 19 years old my life had been devoted to keeping her dry. Now I had finally failed. She was getting wet, and I was doing nothing to help her. I felt like a traitor-- less than a real man.
I stood up and lurched away from Carlotta down a telephone pole/tree-barricaded road: I went in search of shelter. My wife of nearly 20 years and my 8 year old child followed.
The Carlotta, Carolyn at 20, and the Guru midway through lettering the transom
A very painful picture, a very sad end.
Isabello, friend of Machette Jack!
This entire web page (except where noted) is copyrighted by Cap'n Fatty Goodlande