Captain’s log. An unexpected visitor at Christmas on the M/Y Tremenda

We all waited holding our breath. Time passed without us realising. A minute seemed an eternity. We couldn’t wait any longer...

It was Christmas Eve 2018. The owner of the M/Y Tremenda, a 40 metre Admiral which I have been captaining since 2016, had disembarked on the morning of the 24th, and so, with the 7 other crew members, we decided to spend Christmas Eve in Havana, to relax a bit. It was about 8 in the morning on the 25th December when we arrived in the port. We had sailed non-stop, day and night, having left the night before from the roads known as Maria La Gorda.

Once we had docked the boat, we began customs procedures. Everything seemed to be going normally when, at 12, a Cuban soldier decided to come on board the M/Y Tremenda, ordering us to leave Cuban waters immediately, without giving us any explanation for that command, right on Christmas! Forced to rearrange all of the boat planning without being allowed to refuel, or to give the crew their necessary rest, and with a storm on the way, we were still obligated to leave.


I have to say, that as a good Sicilian who believes in tradition, as well as to improve the crew’s morale, I decided to still celebrate Christmas Eve in some way, cooking for everyone a Sicilian pasta bake known as  la pasta cu furnu.  A quintessential Christmas dish! Rigatoni, ragu, eggs, ham, salami, caciocavallo cheese and white sauce, as you can imagine, delicious, but not the lightest meal…

At 14:00 on 25 December, not even 6 hours after we arrived in Cuba, we were back at sea, sailing to Miami. 250 miles separated us from our destination. According to the forecast, we were expecting northern-easterly winds of 20/25 knots, which certainly did not combine well with the Gulf Stream and waves from the north about 2 metres high. As soon as we had left, we ate our delicious meal. The first hours were rocky but we were able to handle them…


The clash between the Gulf Stream and north-eastern winds began to have its effects. The waves increased suddenly, becoming choppy and irregular. Sailing through the Gulf Stream is a real nightmare, and only those who have done it at least once will understand. At a certain point, right in the middle of this insanity, an alarm went off.  It was the bilge on the bow, above the bulkheads, the only manual bilge on the entire M/Y Tremenda.

We had to absolutely visually verify what was happening and the only way to do that was to send a man to the bow, but in these conditions, with waves crashing over the entire vessel and strong winds, it was nearly impossible. There was only one solution: turn the stern to the sea and change our course. So we immediately prepared a life line, torch, and radio. We had a man for back up and at the signal, I turned and changed course. Conditions were severe. The wind had reached 35 real knots, which became 50 with the wind factor. Waves had reached 3 metre high breakers.


The first mate, fully equipped, went outside to see what had happened to the bilge, and in order to do so, he went out to the catwalk on the bow, closing himself inside, to stop the terrible waves from entering the M/Y Tremenda, but with a vessel which seemed to be on a roller coaster ride, it was no easy feat.

We breathed a sigh of relief when the first mate, Ascanio, told us that the bilge was clean. The sensor had given a false alarm because of the movement and residual water. We then organised the officer’s return to the bridge. At the signal, I turned again, turning the stern to the sea, and waited to see the catwalk open and the first mate come through.


So I decided to radio him. No answer. We all waited holding our breath. Time passed without us realising.  A minute seemed an eternity. We couldn’t wait any longer. I sent the backup man, the boatswain, to the bow to figure out what had happened and at the same time, I checked the safety equipment for the other members of the crew. The boatswain reached the catwalk, he opened it, and also disappeared inside.

After 15 very long seconds, the boatswain radioed me to say that while the first mate was trying to unblock the bilge sensor, he had found, hidden inside, a frightened tropical bird, similar to a robin, that, struggling with the weather, had settled on the boat and, taking advantage of the open catwalk, had gone inside for shelter. The first mate didn’t have the heart to open the catwalk and risk scaring the little passenger into flying away to a certain death, and was trying to “catch” it so as to bring it safely to the bridge.


With the help of the boatswain the mission was accomplished and the two returned together with our little passenger. As strange as it may seem, that bird had understood everything and had relaxed while eating some breadcrumbs given to it by some of the crew. The little bird then accepted the ride to Miami, on the bridge, without making a peep. We reached our destination at 5 in the morning on the 26 December. After 15 long hours of sailing. The crew was exhausted, but we had done a good deed for Christmas, the unexpected visitor was safe.


Claudio Potenza

Captain of the M/Y Tremenda


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