In April, Don Barnett, Blanco’s Municipal Court Judge and Commercial Real Estate Broker, and his son, Chris, 14, upcoming Blanco High School freshman, took advantage of a real adventure. They had an opportunity to help sail a 54-foot Passport sailboat, the “Q,” from St. Maarten’s, the Netherlands, Antilles, to Beaufort, South Carolina.
Barnett’s brother-in-law, Bob Lee, asked the pair to help crew his boat to South Carolina, after wife, Laura, injured her knee and had to return home. Lee and his wife, Barnett’s sister, had taken their new sailboat to St. Maarten’s in October 2008. Since the Barnetts had sailed once previously with Lee, taking his older boat from Port Aransas to Galveston, they were a natural choice for help. They rounded out the crew with another experienced sailor, Bob Ross.
On April 11, Barnett and son flew from San Antonio to St. Maarten’s. The four-man crew began preparations for the 12-day, 1500-mile voyage.
They spent three fun days sailing from St. Maarten’s to Virgin Gourda to Tortula, British Virgin Islands, or BVI, making sure they were familiar with the boat before they set off to sea. They went island-hopping, docking at Monkey Point, Soper’s Hole, Sandy Cay, and various other beaches to swim, dive, and snorkel. After getting their sea legs and enjoying the islands‘ mountainous views and turquoise water, they set sail to Beaufort, South Carolina, near Hilton Head.
Off they went to the open Atlantic, spending eight long days manning the vessel about 250 miles off the East Coast, just off the continental shelf, where land was not visible for eleven days. They each had four-hour guard duty, two at a time manning the deck, while the other two slept. Don Barnett made sure his son was paired with the other men to maximize the experience.
The boat had about a 30-degree angle, Barnett said, so they all had to hold steady at all times. Even their beds had a rail designed to help keep sleepers in. No one was allowed out of the cockpit at night without a lifeline and a vest.
“We had to be very conscious of everything,” he said. “The first time you let go of something, you could’ve hit your head against something.”
Although meals were catered, pre-prepared, they had to heat them, eat them, and clean up after them. Also, the men put in lots of fishing hours, so Chris’s fresh catches, a five-foot dolphin fish and blue tuna, were fried up for dinner. His dad spent lots of time reading, completing three very thick books. They noticed things they don’t ordinarily notice.
“The stars are gorgeous over the ocean,” Barnett said, “although we had fog one night.”
They all also kept a log book, which is crucial when sailing to help maintain a sense of location. They also called daily for weather updates and received good advice about avoiding eddies. Eddies are swells of water that occur in the ocean.
They had one big scare while sailing: a near collision with a freighter in the middle of the night. Also, they operated two days with a motor because there wasn’t wind to drive the sails. They traveled at an average speed of 6 knots, peaking at 9 knots, traveling approximately 150 miles per day.
“The sailing was good but pretty trying,” Barnett said. “It was hard to sleep because of the rough, choppy seas. There were two people always on watch during the night; then everyone was up in the day. We had the latest luxuries, salt water filtration, air conditioning, satellite GPS, and electric winches for the sails. We also had beautiful accommodations.”
The boat also had sonar, GPS, radar, and autopilot. Chris said the trip was fun, especially the fishing, and that he’d love to go again. Although his father enjoyed the trip, because of the lack of sleep, he said he’s not sure he’d like to do it again.
“It was a lot of fun, and I’m glad I did it. It was a once in a lifetime experience,” Barnett said.