Drama in Deshaies - death of a boat

Mystic of Holyhead (successor to Lynn Rival)
Rachel and Paul Chandler
Thu 12 Mar 2020 16:34
Yesterday morning was sunny and clear.  Rachel was sitting in the cockpit finishing a cup of tea and saw smoke coming out of the boat on a mooring immediately astern of us.  Another yachtie was passing in a dinghy and stopped to investigate.  A young couple from a nearby boat rushed over in their canoe carrying a fire extinguisher.  All three went aboard but soon realised they were putting themselves in danger and retreated, shouting to us to call the authorities (which we did on Ch 16).

Within minutes the boat - a monohull about 45 feet long - was engulfed in flames and spewing black smoke.  The owners were not on board but had left the engine running so surely were not far away?  Luckily for us we were upwind of the fire but for how long?  The winds in Deshaies are notoriously fickle.  And how great is the risk of explosion from cans of petrol and gas (propane) tanks?  We decided to prioritise our personal safety by dinghying ashore rather than moving Mystic (which would have taken some time).

Our closest neighbour - a little too close for comfort, so we abandoned ship

By the time we'd got ashore and joined the crowds watching the spectacle, the fire brigade had arrived.  The boat was still on it's mooring and blazing away.  Seemingly the fire had started down below - perhaps in the engine room - but had now spread.  The canvas and sails were burning brightly on deck.  Then the mast came down and soon after some men in a dinghy untied the boat's mooring lines and tied a towing line to the anchor.  They then proceeded to tow the boat towards the beach, near where the fire engine was parked.  It was a difficult process because although the burning boat was afloat, the mast and rigging were still attached and dragging alongside.  As they passed Mystic we held our breath and hoped the towing line would hold.  The dinghy only had a small motor and in gusts of stronger wind it looked as if they were stopping.

If their line were to come adrift, or they run out of fuel . . .  now Mystic is almost directly to leeward of the burning boat

Eventually they towed the burning boat close enough to the shore for the fire hoses to reach but it's not easy operating a fire hose from a dinghy so the fire continued to burn for some time.  Finally they managed to get a fireman - fully kitted out with oxygen - onto what was left of the stern.  He was then able to get water to the base of the fire and put it out.  By this time the whole boat was gutted from stern to bow.  A terrible sight.

Preparing to take the hoses out

That's one brave fireman - does he know where the propane tanks are?

Fire almost out - she turned over and sank a few hours later

What happened to the owners?  They had only arrived here a couple of days before.  We had waved to them when passing in their dinghy but didn't know them.  The horror of returning from a day's excursion to find one's boat turned into a sunken, blackened wreck is not something any cruiser wants to contemplate.  It was shocking enough to witness it and we're so thankful that Mystic wasn't harmed in the process.