It's boat insurance renewal time again. Each year at this time, we provide the insurance company with our sailing and cruising plans for the upcoming 12 months, and they tell us how much we will need to pay to keep Nine of Cups insured. The last two years have been spent coastal cruising in Australia, and our insurance has been relatively cheap. The word 'relative' is an important adjective in the last sentence. Boat insurance is always very expensive – much more than homeowners or auto insurance. This coming year, since we will be crossing an ocean, the rates will go up significantly – roughly the same as the down payment on our first house, and then only if we have a rigging inspection. It's quite painful.
In 2003, we were in Puerto la Cruz, Venezuela when it was time to renew our insurance. At the time, we thought we would be going to some of the islands in the southern Caribbean, then to Cartagena, Colombia, through the Panama Canal and on across the Pacific. (Ha – did those plans ever change!). Based on our cruising plans, the insurance company gave us a quote for the year , and “by the way, you can't stop in Colombia”. Hmmm – does that mean they wouldn't cover the boat while it was in Colombian waters if we choose to go to Cartagena? Surely there was a way to get coverage for going to Cartagena – maybe a special rider? After a few emails back and forth, it became quite clear that if we went to Colombia, not only would they not cover us, but our insurance would be canceled.
We decided we WERE going to Cartagena and if that was the attitude our insurance company was taking, we would let our policy lapse. We'd show them! We would spend the money that was budgeted for insurance on bombproof ground tackle and in making sure Cups was secure and seaworthy.
As it turned out, the very day our insurance ran out was the day we were leaving Puerto la Cruz. Our marina was a few miles up a series of canals that wound through an area where the very rich Venezuelans kept their yachts berthed. There was a 15-20 knot breeze, and just as we came into a short stretch that put the wind on our beam, the engine sputtered and died.
Since we couldn't stop the boat and would soon lose steerage, we had maybe a minute before we either hit or drifted into one of the mega-yachts that were med-moored all around us. Two thoughts came to mind. One was that perhaps I was a bit hasty in deciding to let our insurance lapse. The second thought was something I recalled reading in one of Tom Cunliffe's books. In a situation like this - “Aim for something cheap”.
I saw a gap between two of the yachts that might be just wide enough for Cups. Thinking it would be preferable to hit the jetty than put a major gash in someone's topsides, I aimed for it while Marcie grabbed a fender to try and fend us off from the yachts on either side. As it turned out, the two yachts had spring lines crisscrossed across the opening. As Cups ran into them, they slowed us down, and we only nudged up against the dock. No damage except to our pride.
The crew was on one of the yachts and kindly allowed us to raft up until we got the engine problem sorted out. It turned out to be an air bubble in the fuel line – a problem that has been an issue with Cups since the day we bought her. That's a topic of another blog sometime. It only took a few minutes to bleed the fuel lines and get the engine running again, and we were soon on our way.
We went several years without insurance on the boat. Most marinas and boatyards in New Zealand and Australia require insurance, however, so we have reinstated our insurance (with another company BTW), and intend to keep the policy in force. That said, during all the years since Venezuela, we have had numerous close calls, and several boats have bumped or run into us, but nothing that would have resulted in an insurance claim had we been insured. And except for that one incident in Venezuela, knock on wood and thanking Neptune for all the wonderful lessons in humility and seamanship he has provided us, we have also never had to decide which was the cheapest boat to aim for.