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Sweet Pea, our tough and hard working 9’ Fatty Knees dinghy.

Until recently, while anchored in Elephant Bay, I had been rowing in and out of Crown Bay Marina in St. Thomas, USVI. I purchase water there and sometimes ice. I load up to 35 gallons of water at a time, in seven 5 gallon collapsible jugs, to haul to the Far Reach. I also use the dinghy dock to get a beer or occasional meal at Tickles Pub or grocery shop around the corner.

After about two weeks of rowing in and out, the marina office sent a security guard to tell me I couldn’t row into the marina. “It’s not allowed….”.  I responded with something along the lines of “I don’t even understand that comment.”  So, I went and talked to the management. They were adamant. No rowing. “Why,” I asked. “Well because you might not be able to maneuver out of the way with other boats coming and going.” I said “It’s a no wake zone. No one is going any faster than me and I am far more maneuverable than any power boat.”

I asked if they would make an exception as I don’t have an engine for Sweet Pea and it’s one of the worlds great rowing dinghies. “Will you send my request up to the owner and see what he says?” They said they did and the answer came back the next day: “NO rowing.”

I’ve been to a lot of marinas in my life, but I’ve never heard of not being able to row into one. And, at the high-end “Yacht Haven Marina” in Charlotte Amalie, there is no restriction on rowing to the dinghy dock. ‘Course no one rows anymore anyway, so there’s that.

To be fair, we have been planning to get a 3hp for Sweet Pea in Sint Maarten when we sail there a little later. They have two stroke engines and they run about $800–the least expensive in the Caribbean. But, our intent is to use it when we need to extend our dinghy range and not for short everyday trips.  But, this new development caught me by surprise and I had not yet had “the conversation” with Sweet Pea about the practicality of her learning to use a small two stoke engine when she obviously takes great pride in her rowing prowess.

A friend I have made here (who has been making fantastic bread on his boat for years and sells locally and is about to be featured in Cruising World) found me a 2 hp air cooled Honda outboard. The owner said it was broke but “if you can get it to run, you can use it for as long as you’re here.”

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The borrowed engine, a Honda 2hp air-cooled four stroke. 

I picked it up, took the carb apart and cleaned it, flushed the tank and fuel line, put in new fuel.  Starts first pull.

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I took the carburetor apart and cleaned it.  I also flushed the internal fuel tank and fuel line with denatured alcohol. 

So, now when I need to go to the Crown Bay Marina, I put an engine on Sweet Pea. It’s a sad sight, under the circumstances, no doubt about it. The worst part is I can tell she is trying to be brave about the whole thing.

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“Sweet Pea” with her Honda outboard. She makes friends where ever she goes.  I’m pretty sure I heard this tough Tortola working skiff chuckling, no doubt from her quick wit, as I walked up to the seawall.  

So now, I row to the entrance of Crown Bay Marina, tilt the engine down, start it up, and motor about 50 yards to the dinghy dock. It’s air cooled, so it’s loud and I can’t hear anything else around me. It has no neutral, so I can’t stop. It only has reverse by swiveling the engine 180°.  So, I can’t hear and I can’t stop, but hey, I’m legal. It’s the dumbest thing. I never cease to be amazed by the lack of common sense by people who ought to know better. Forrest Gump had a simple expression for it—“Stupid is as stupid does.”

I use Sweet Pea as a boarding ladder when I am swimming. And she is actually a pretty good snorkeling platform too. Basically, from the water, I push up over the stern and twist around to sit on the aft seat with my legs dangling over the stern in the water. There is a lot of buoyancy so she ships no water. Then, I climb from the dinghy onto the Far Reach. I have a SS boarding ladder though I don’t use it much. But, to use Sweet Pea as a ladder, I have to remove the outboard. It’s a PITA.

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“Sweet Pea” as she is meant to be used.  Although, I have to admit, she wears her sailing rig with great pride.  

Nearly every morning and early evening I row through the anchorage. It’s a great way to chat with other sailors. There is no engine to drown out conversation. Often, people call out and so rowing actually opens the opportunity for conversation. It’s a quiet, unhurried, non-threatening, and timeless way to move around an anchorage…from ship to shore and vice-versa.

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I lubricate the oar leathers and oar locks with tallow made by Swanson’s Boat Works.  I use the tallow on our 14’ sculling oar too. Tallow is to an oar like ball bearings are to a P-51 Mustang. 

In the meantime. We row when we can and motor when we must. Be brave Sweet Pea. This silliness will eventually be behind us.

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