A little Sail from New York
by Gene Gruender
My friend Rusty Tarver had searched high and low for a 30’ Tartan Sailboat. He finally found the boat of his dreams, an ‘82 Tartan 3000, in Mamaroneck, New York about 8 months ago. He asked me if I’d help him bring it part of the way to Texas if he managed to buy it. I told him I probably would, we’d talk about it more when the time came. The deal drug on for over 6 months, and by the time he finally closed on the deal I had other things I thought were more pressing.
I hadn’t really said no yet, but the evening he was bringing charts over to talk about the trip I really had every intention of finding a way out of it. I had a lot of other things I should have been doing, including getting my own boat, Rainbow Chaser, back in shape
Rusty spread out the survey and pictures of his new boat, Escapade, and the charts on my table. As I studied the charts I realized I'd be sailing right through the middle of New York City - down the East River past Rikers Island, through Hell's Gate, past the Empire State Building, the UN, on out into the Hudson River and New York Harbor. We would pass the World Trade Center, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. After a few minutes of looking at that it was a done deal. I was going. How often would a sailor from Central Texas get a chance at that? We picked our day to fly up there. I said I’d help as far as Florida.
Nellie, my wife, didn't plan to go. A few days later, after hearing me describe the route through New York she couldn’t resist either. We bought another ticket. Saturday morning, the 25th of Aug, I checked the Weather Channel's website for east coast winds. For the entire week they forecast wind out of the north from 8 to 10 knots. Exactly what we needed! That afternoon we all got on the plane for New York.
We got to Escapade on Sunday morning. It was on blocks out of the water, just as it had been for at least 2 years. There was a lot to check and fix before leaving on a blue water passage. A quick check found that one through hull just above the water line was cracked - which would not start taking on water and possibly sink the boat until we were underway. There was no water strainer for the engine cooling water. Once we got to Florida with all the plants in the water that would be a big problem. Worst of all, the fuel tank was very gunked up. Just like the through hull, the fuel problem would not have shown up until we were under way. There were other smaller things, like the bilge pumps not working, but we made a list and got started.
We had another friend in the area, Danny Blankenship. We'd met Danny in Key West a few years ago, then again in Nassau, and a third time in George Town on Great Exuma, The last time we'd seen him was at Conception Island when he joined us in a supper of Mahi-Mahi. We'd kept in Email contact and had talked to him on a cell phone several times over the last few days. He was about 30 miles north of us Saturday evening and headed for Maine. I was surprised when my cell phone rang Sunday and he told me to look up - he was in the harbor waving! He turned around and came back to help for a day or two.
We made a trip to the marine store and got the first round of parts we needed. Danny and I started fixing while Nellie and Rusty went after provisions. The through hull was a pretty straight forward fix, just replace it and the hose, but the fuel tank was a bit more of a problem. It became obvious that to get the fuel tank out would require removing the engine. Even then, there was no telling where or how long it would take to get it cleaned. We had little time, so we came up with a new plan. We bought a 9 gallon outboard fuel tank and a lot of fuel hose. We plumbed the plastic tank in, drilled hole in the top, stuck the return fuel line in and caulked it up. We strapped it in the cockpit floor and called it done. We strapped 4 more 5 gallon jerry cans on the deck for more storage. Rusty could tackle the original tank when he got to Texas.
Monday, while Nellie, Rusty and Danny were running down the next list of parts I came up with, the marina splashed Escapade into Long Island Sound. The original batteries were shot, but the marina had 2 new ones waiting for us. I stuck those in and the diesel fired up on the new plastic fuel tank. We had a new problem, though: no oil pressure light. A quick investigation showed that the sending unit was shot. It took a trip to an auto parts store to find a special socket to get the old one out. Rusty set off on another trip to find a new sending unit.
Now, nothing is easy on a boat. The new sending unit had the same thread, but both the old unit and the engine were made by Japanese. Both were slightly smaller than the new unit, even though all three were 1/8" NPT. Tuesday morning we went in search of a new unit that would fit the motor but were unsuccessful. The next plan was to tap out the hole in the motor to fit the new sending unit, but that required finding a tap. In the unfamiliar territory, it took another 2 hours to locate the tap. Once we found the tap, though, that problem was behind us.
I started the engine, then ran it most of the day to make sure everything was going to be ok. The only problem that turned up was several oil leaks. The drip pan would catch them, but we’d have to make sure to check the oil often. I asked Rusty to buy another case of oil.
For some reason, the alternator wasn't charging. We weren't sure if the alternator was at fault or not, but we wanted to make sure it worked correctly before leaving. We took it to an auto parts store to check it. The nearest auto parts store in Mamaroneck did not have a way to test an alternator. He said we'd have to take it to an alternator shop, and there weren't any close. The closest one "was a long way from here, it’s way over in White Neck." When asked, he said it was probably 5 miles! 5 miles - in Texas, nothing is within 5 miles. That is close! I went back to the boat, Nellie and Rusty went to try to follow the directions to the alternator shop in White Neck. An hour later they were back. The alternator was fine. I tracked down all the bad wiring that was the real cause of the problems, then it all worked fine.
Tuesday found us getting groceries, diesel, ice and all
the things we could think of. By night we were pretty well ready
Wednesday morning we had everything in order to take off. We had to plan our departure around Hell's Gate, since arriving at the wrong time could find us spending half a day fighting current and not moving. Someone who'd been through it recently pulled out his at his tide book and told us that about 1 pm was slack tide and would work fine for us.
Hell’s Gate is a notorious place. It’s narrow, and with two rivers coming together, it creates not only fast current, but also nasty whirlpools. Meeting big commercial boats there at the wrong time can be very dangerous. With only an 11 horse engine and a very small 2 bladed prop, we were concerned about this spot. The idea is to hit Hell’s gate at slack tide, then shortly we would have a following current of up to 3 or 4 knots which would just shoot us down the river.
Later I looked at Rusty’s copy of the tide book and it looked to me that we’d hit Hell’s Gate at slack tide, but then have the current rushing towards us. The way I read it I thought the 1 pm time was backwards. As a test we asked the local broker, who sailed and delivered boats here all the time, “What time should we be at Hell’s Gate?’ Having no idea what advice we’d already been given, he looked at the book and told us about 1 pm. Ok, so I couldn’t read a tide book. We timed our departure to be at Hell's Gate at 1 pm and off we went. Danny followed us out of the harbor and turned left toward Maine, we turned right towards Texas.
We entered the East River and began passing under the many bridges that cross between the different parts of New York City. We motor sailed past Riker's Island, New York City's prison. We went on down and approached Hell's gate with just a bit of nervousness.
It was dead calm! we must have done something right! There were no whirlpools, there was no current at all. Continuing on down river, we went under the Queensburo Bridge, and began to fight a current. Soon it was clear - I'd read the tide book right!
Rusty's boat, capable of motoring about 5 knots, was making about 2 knots instead of the 8 knots we‘d make with the current in our favor! It was going to be a long trip the rest of the way through new York City. Yes, we went through Manhattan slower than the average pedestrian!
From there, very slowly, we passed between Manhattan and
Queens, then Manhattan and Brooklyn, all the while dodging ferries and
commercial traffic. We motored right past the United Nations buildings,
and in the distance was the Empire State Building.
Soon we made a
bend to the right and under the Brooklyn Bridge
we could see the Statue
of Liberty. What a sight!
As we left the East River and entered New York Harbor
we could see Ellis Island where some of our ancestors had arrived.
Off to our right were the twin towers of the World Trade Center.
we had no thought of the impending disaster to come there.
past the Statue of Liberty, snapping pictures in every direction.
We pointed Escapade towards the Varazano Narrows Bridge
and the Atlantic. The next stop would be Norfolk, Va.
We pulled on the
sheet to roll out the jib. No luck, it wouldn't go out! After
a bit of studying, we realized that we needed to find a place out of the
waves and wind to work on it. We made a quick trip to the east bank
about a mile from the bridge and we found an old unused slip for ships
with enough room to anchor and we tackled it. After about half an
hour we had it figured out, solved the problem and off we went. Now,
we really were headed to the Atlantic! But where was the wind coming
from? Certainly not any direction that contained the word "north".
So much for forecasts.
We finally left New York harbor about 7 pm, passing out into the Atlantic Ocean as it got dark. Now we wanted to go south. The wind was coming right out of the south. Sailboats can't go straight into the wind., so we pointed towards - oh, about Gibraltar.
We just sailed hard on the wind. We pounded into each of the waves, instead of just passing over them like the predicted north wild would have allowed, but we were still lucky. Although we had enough wind to go at a good clip, it wasn't enough wind to be real unpleasant. We sailed out into the Atlantic about 20 or 30 miles, then tacked back towards shore. By the time we got anywhere near shore it was well into Thursday and daylight. We were still hard on the wind, it was just on the other side of the boat.
We continued on, tacking out 20 or 30 miles, then back in, eventually getting to a spot just off the coast of Atlantic City, NJ with a nice distant view of all the casinos. Just before dark, we tacked back out towards the middle of the ocean. It would have so much quicker if we could have sailed straight to our destination, but it wasn't going to happen. As it got dark, the wind started to pick up.
Later in the night as we sailed back out into the Atlantic the wind was up to nearly 20 knots. We had half the jib rolled up and a reef - the only one it had - in the main. We were at the limit of one reef, and really should have taken another but didn't have that option. It began to get rough. Then, the wind changed direction a little to the southwest and we could alter course just a bit more south, closer to the direction we wanted to go. The problem was, the waves didn't change direction that fast. Now we were sailing almost directly into the waves, instead of cutting across at a 45 degree angle. The 45 degree angle had been rough, but straight into them left us just slamming. We'd come off of a wave, then the bottom of the boat would just slam into the next one. Some were so hard that I was getting concerned that the rig might just collapse. I hadn’t been able to inspect all the fittings or any chainplates. If there were cracks or corrosion, the whole mess could crash down around our ears.
Nellie wasn't having fun, either. The ride was just rough. She kept asking "Can't we go inside instead?" I kept telling her, "There is no inside here." I'm not sure she was convinced, because she asked several times. Most of the US Eastern and Gulf Coast has the ICW, but it doesn't start until you get to Norfolk. Besides worrying about the rig and the comfort factor there was another problem. We were getting farther and farther out in the Atlantic. The shoreline goes at an angle to the southwest, but we were going close to southeast. We were already 25 miles or more out in the Atlantic, and getting farther all the time. If bad weather hit us, it would be at least 4 hours now before we could get back to a safe port. Each hour we sailed on this tack, it would become another hour or hour and a half added to those 4. Eventually I got concerned enough to go on the other tack, turning towards shore. With the wind shift we'd had, although the ride became much more comfortable and safer for the boat, we were not making any forward progress at all, but actually losing a bit on our west northwest heading.
We had to watch the oil level in the engine, since there was a lot leaking out. Sometime in the night we checked the oil and found, to our surprise, we had more than when we left! Since there wasn’t any sign of water in the crankcase it had to be diesel getting there, either from the injector pump or the fuel pump. We’d have to change the oil often or stand a good chance of losing the engine. I sure was glad we got the extra case of oil.
By daylight, we'd gotten back near the shore and tacked out again. The wind had died down some and with the wind going across the waves, due to the wind shift, it calmed somewhat. When we tacked this time we still weren't heading straight to Norfolk, but it was a little closer and the seas were calm enough that it wasn't a bad ride.
I was the lucky one on the boat. With my cooking, the choices are, are the eggs burned or not? Can I get the hot dog the right temperature? Nellie and Rusty are both excellent cooks, and both can cook at sea very well. If I'd cooked, we'd all been sick of eating by the time we got to Norfolk. With Nellie cooking on this leg, the food was great. Each mealtime she'd hand up a plate of some hot meal just as good as if you'd pulled into a fine restaurant.
You might wonder about hygiene. We had very little water and no big shower to use, but we still wanted to clean up. Answer? Dixie cups! You can actually take a shower with a Dixie cup. Even washing your hair, you can get by with under half a gallon if you're careful. You do what you have to!
Nellie couldn’t get enough time off to go all the way to Jacksonville. Monday was Labor Day and she had to be back to work on Tuesday. We left Long Island on Wednesday, so we expected to get to Norfolk before Monday and she'd have to find a way home. We'd checked on flights and fares before leaving and found that Norfolk to Austin was at least $500. Flying out of Baltimore, Jacksonville or Raleigh-Durham was considerably cheaper, due to Southwest flying there. We weren't sure how to pull it off, but once we got to Norfolk, top priority was to get Nellie off to Austin some way.
We sailed on through Friday and Friday night, hoping for the wind shift to the east that had been predicted. Once it came, we'd be able to go directly to Norfolk, not on the zig-zag path the wind on our nose required. Sometime early Saturday morning it finally shifted to the east. Unfortunately, it became very light as well.
We had to start motor sailing, but the good news was, we were heading directly for Norfolk. The seas were calm, the wind, what little there was, was favorable. By Saturday evening we passed the Chesapeake Bridge. We had to take the same route the big guys do, going over the tunnel. The mast was too high to go under the bridge.
It was dark before we reached the entrance to Hampton Roads, a Navy ship area. There is a lot of traffic, many lights on shore and it was difficult to pick out the correct route, plus avoid the other boats. Eventually we motor sailed right down in front of miles of Navy ships. There were more aircraft carriers alone there than I would have thought were in the entire Navy. After passing several miles of them we exited the Navy’s area and entered the Intracoastal Waterway.
In the middle of Norfolk we found a marina to stop in. We needed water, a shower, food and a place for Nellie to bail out. We might have made a better pick - the one we stopped at had a Hooters, Joe's Crab Shack, and about 6 other noisy places, all going strong, just a couple hundred feet from the slip. But, after a shower with unlimited water, as soon as my head hit the pillow, it was over.
The next morning we came up with a plan. An Avis car would take Nellie to the Baltimore International Airport, she'd drop the car, and fly to Austin on Southwest. On her way out she dropped Rusty and me at a grocery store that had a courtesy van to take us and our groceries to the boat.
There are at least 6 bridges going out of Norfolk, and most have restricted openings on the weekdays. We figured that, even if we didn't make many miles Sunday afternoon, we'd save a lot of time if we got past that area while we could just show up and have the bridges open for us. Once Nellie was on her way to Baltimore and we had our supplies stowed, we took off.
Right to our plan, each bridge opened with no wait. Most just timed it so that we could keep moving. Once we were out of Norfolk itself, we had a bit of clear running until the lock at The Great Bridge, which is a community in the city of Chesapeake. It only opens once an hour to conserve water, and we wanted to make it through that one, and the bridge called “The Great Bridge” right after the lock, since it also only opened once an hour. As we approached the lock, we called the lockmaster on the radio. He informed us that they were just ready to lock through, we should come in, tie up, and they'd lock us through. What timing! I thought it was pretty interesting, too, that about 8 boats who had gone past us over the last 7 or 8 miles, leaving us rocking in their wake in their haste, were also sitting there waiting. Justice, I'd say.
We locked through, went on to the "The Great Bridge". The bridge made it's hourly opening, we went through, and looked for a place to tie up. We had elected to go on to the other side of the bridge so that we wouldn't have to contend with "The Great Bridge" in the morning. Even though it was still early, there was no place farther along we could make it during daylight to anchor or tie up, so we would stay there.
There were supposed to be free docks after the bridge, so we tied up on the side, got changed and headed out to "The Great Bridge", the town version, to find a hot meal. After walking about a quarter mile, a fellow asked if we'd registered yet. "We have to register for the free docks?", I asked. "These aren't free, they are a dollar a foot per night. The free ones are over there." He pointed to some slightly dilapidated docks across the ditch. We told him that we'd just move over there rather than pay $30 for the same thing here. After all, we didn't have air conditioning or any of the things we'd benefit from on the pay dock.
He told us that we wouldn't like it over there. We'd have to walk through a bit of woods to get to town, and we'd have trouble sleeping because there would be a lot of noise from the crabbing over there. It would be noisy until "almost dark" he told us. Since it would be dark by 8 or so and neither of us expected to be asleep by then, it hardly seemed to matter. We moved.
Just before Nellie left us in Norfolk we'd had lunch at Joe's Crab Shack. Nellie had ordered crab balls and Rusty joked that "I'll bet it takes a lot of crabs to make a meal - their balls must be tiny". Now, we figured that the noise from the crabbing was because the people were collecting crab balls, and the crabs weren't happy about it. We joked about it all the way to town. As we went across The Great Bridge, Rusty also noted that it wasn't such a great bridge after all. Heck, it couldn't even open but once an hour!
After eating we made our way back to the boat. The crabs had apparently calmed down, so we crashed. Soon the mosquitoes found us. Rusty had bought some Deep Wood's Off, which I hate the smell of. After an hour or two I gave up, dowsed myself from head to toe and was finally able to sleep.
Two years earlier Nellie and I did the ICW from Rockport, Texas to Mobile Alabama. We didn't find it to be fun, partly because you can't go far in a day and partly because it's a lot of work. I think our best day in Rainbow Chaser was about 65 miles and we can go about 7 knots. Rusty's boat did about 5 knots, so if we were to make much time we'd have to leave early and travel late, and not waste much time in the middle.
We both woke up early and by the time it got light we'd changed the oil, checked everything and had the motor running. It was barely getting light enough to see where we were going when we took off. We had two bridges ahead, each only opened on a schedule from 7 am until 8 pm. During that time they opened on the hour and half hour, and no other time. We expected we'd get caught and have to spend some time waiting at one or maybe even both.
We got to the first bridge at 10 minutes to 7, not knowing if we'd have to wait until 7 or not. I called the bridge tender on the radio and asked when I could get an opening. He said he didn't go on restriction until 7, so just keep coming. He'd have it open before we got there. We cruised on through, never going below our 5 knots. We now had one more bridge to contend with. We were sure we'd have to wait for the 8 am opening for that one since we were still over 4 miles from it.
We were just going down the waterway, looking at the scenery, when someone called "the slow sailboat" on the radio. It had to be us, so I answered. He said he was the bridge tender and it was almost time to open. We looked down the at the bend and could just see the end of the bridge around the next turn. He said he couldn't delay his opening, but if we hurried, we could make it! We were hurrying as fast as we could already but we told him we'd speed up. Just as we got to the bridge, he was opening, and again, all the boats that had passed us that morning were there bunched up waiting. We motored on through, not slowing down at all. Our luck was becoming very good.
Through the day we just kept moving. In the early afternoon, we started trying to predict how far we'd make it and where we could spend the night. It's not practical to travel at night on most of the ICW in as sailboat. You need radar and very powerful lights, and we had neither. We would have to stop around dark and it would have to be a place we could either tie up out of the way of other boats, or a place we could anchor totally out of the way. We realized we couldn't travel in the narrow sections of the ICW at night, but it looked like we'd make it to an open bay just before it got dark. That was important, because we could actually travel after dark for a while. The area was open enough and deep enough on the sides that if we wandered out of the channel we wouldn’t hit things. In addition, when we finally had to stop at the end of the open water, we could just pull out of the channel about a quarter mile, then anchor in the open bay with safety as long as the weather wasn't too bad.
I was at the helm motoring along a section where the water is wide, but shallow except in the channel. My normal method is to stay to the upwind side, watching the depth sounder closely and hovering along the side so that if I should run aground, we could use the wind and sails to get us off. If we hit bottom on the upwind side, there are a lot of options. Even if we only used the motor, the wind would help. If we hit the bottom on the downwind side of the channel, we would have a real problem and would have a lot of difficulty getting off.
We came to a 45 degree bend and I followed around just where it looked like the channel should be. All of a sudden the nose of the boat took a dive and we came to a sudden stop, that lurch that you just hate to feel. I was astounded because I still thought I was right in the middle of the channel.
Rusty and I started trying to figure out where we really were in relation to the channel. Even after we were stopped and studied it closely, we couldn't tell where the channel was. By all appearances we were in it, but since we were hard aground, that was obviously wrong. There was a chance we could use the motor to work our way through the mud, but which way should we go? I only knew one way to be sure, so I got my wetsuit and the swim ladder.
I jumped off the port side and started walking away from the boat, fully expecting to walk into deepening water. 20 feet away it was the same - flat 4 1/2 foot deep mud bottom. I walked around the back of the boat, stepping into the 6" deep ditch we'd plowed and back out of it, on another 10 feet and stepped into deepening water. Now that we found the channel we had to get there.
I expected we could use the motor and rudder to slowly turn the boat towards deeper water, but might take a long time. There was a quicker way. I told Rusty to tie a line to a cleat at the stern, then throw the other end to me. Walking out about 50', I could pull and pivot Escapade on the keel. Once he put it in gear and revved it up, it didn't take long to get it moving through the mud. Soon he took off and I was sailing through the water, hanging on the end of the rope. He slowed just a bit, I pulled myself in, and we were off again!
We identified a place at about mile 97, 85 miles from The Great Bridge, where we could stop. Making 85 miles in a day in the ICW in a small sailboat was a pretty good feat, so we felt we were making good time. Once we got to mile 97, long after dark, we pulled over to the east, dropped the hook, and had supper.
The next morning we were already moving again when daylight came. Early in the morning we identified a place another 85 miles away at the end of a big open bay in the Alligator River right across from the entrance to Oriental, NC. We could travel long after dark again and then spend the night on the anchor. We had our goal.
We hadn’t gone but a couple miles when I happened to look in the engine compartment. I do that every time I pass, just to check. This time there was water spewing everywhere! We quickly turned out of the channel and dropped the hook, then shut off the motor. The water was coming from the heat exchanger, which is back behind the motor. The only way to get there was to remove all the sails, anchor line and bumpers from the locker there, then climb in. With Rusty fetching tools, I got all the junk out, and removed the heat exchanger, just to find that a bolt that held the end on had loosened. Once we knew what it was, it was a simple chore to tighten that. It was a bit more work to hook up all the 5 hoses and the mounts, but soon we were on our way again.
Later in the afternoon, Rusty pointed out a small tear in the jib that was worrying him. Since it was calm and there wasn't a great deal of wind anyway, I offered to sew it up. With his help we dropped it to the deck, and I got my sail fixing kit. I sewed a patch on the rip, then found another, much larger place where it was very weak. Another 2 hours and it was - well, at least usable. I'm sure that when John Bartlett, our sail maker, sees it, he's going to wonder what the heck I was thinking about, and why I'd put such an awful looking patch on that sail, but it would get us home.
We kept going and going, until it was after 10 pm. We finally found our spot near the 198 mile marker and dropped the hook right behind it out of the channel. We could see the lights of Oriental just across the water. It was another 85 mile day.
When we woke up the next morning all we could see was fog. It was so foggy we couldn't see 100 yards. We used the time to change the oil again and check things over. When we ran out of things to do we looked at the chart, which showed the next marker to be about 1/4 mile away. We figured we could navigate to it, and surely by then the fog would lift a bit. We headed very slowly towards the marker. About the time we expected to find it, it appeared. The problem was, it appeared about 200 feet in front of the boat - that was still as far as we could see. From that marker on it was a winding path and there was no way we could continue in the fog. We went behind that marker where no other boats would be traveling and re-anchored.
We cooked breakfast, waited about an hour, and suddenly we could see the next marker. We were off!
We were only about 20 miles from Morehead City, NC where we planned to go back into the Atlantic. About 2 or 3 miles after the fog lifted, Rusty was at the helm when we felt that awful lurch again. The nose took a dive and we were stuck. There was some satisfaction that I wasn't the only one who'd run us into the mud now, but we still had to get off the mud bank. Rusty figured it was his turn to get wet and was already heading for the side, but I suggested we try using the motor and rudder first. It was soft mud and I thought there was a good chance we could motor out without too much effort. Rusty turned the wheel hard over, revved up the motor and we slowly pivoted nearly 180 degrees, then started moving forward. In minutes, we were back in the channel and on our way.
Originally we'd planned to leave the ICW and go back into the Atlantic just south of Cape Fear, but the weather was pretty settled and the wind was out of the northeast, which was ideal, so we elected to go out at Morehead City. The whole goal of taking the ICW was to get past Cape Hatteras, and we'd done that. With any reasonable weather, we'd stay offshore to Jacksonville. The weather forecast sounded good, so we decided to cautiously rely on it and go.
We pulled into Morehead City for fuel, ice, and, hopefully a meal and to send email. The marina had fuel and ice, but wouldn't let me use the phone line for email. He started with a long line of excuses - computers are on it, credit card machine,, etc. and I knew it was hopeless there. I've learned over time that if they start with excuses, me explaining ways to do it that will not impact his operation are fruitless. All I have to do is plug into his fax machine and he can't get faxes for those 2 or 3 minutes. But, I just say, "OK, thanks" and ask the next place I go.
We moved Escapade a couple doors down to a restaurant with a dock. Since we were buying meals and with them being right there among travelers, I really expected that using the phone for a couple minutes would be no big deal. Wrong. The manager came out and started the same story - computers, faxes, disruption, all that, and what could I say, except "OK, thanks".
Rusty wanted some more oil and had seen an Ace Hardware store a couple blocks away from the restaurant. I was carrying my pelican case with the computer as we headed over to see what they had. While he was asking about oil, I was asking about using the phone. I was getting the computer, fax, many-things-tied-together story, and said, "OK, thanks", but the guy said, "No, no. You might be able to, but you'll have to ask the people next door in the office". Ok, it was worth a shot. I went next door to what turned out to be the office for a major warehouse for Ace, and - surprise, they went searching for a place I could connect and not be in their way! In a few minutes I had all my messages from home.
Soon we were back on the boat and cleared the pass. Next stop: Jacksonville, Fl.
As we cleared the pass we had wind out of the east. We could sail with the wind on our port quarter, making a fast trip and even if the wind got higher, it wouldn't be very uncomfortable. Going with the waves is not bad sailing.
As we left Morehead City behind, it occurred to me that I might make it to Jacksonville just to find that there were no seats on the few flights to Austin. A quick call to Southwest found me a seat on Sunday evening. Surely we could make it by then.
We could even make our course almost directly towards Jacksonville. Almost, but not exactly, because Cape Fear and Frying Pan Shoals was sticking out in our way. Frying Pan Shoals sticks out about 30 miles farther than Cape Fear. Close in there are shallow enough waters to cause us worry, but we planned to go across 4 miles or so from the outer end of the shoals. The waters there were about 30 feet, and that would be fine for us.
It would be fine unless, of course, the winds got up a bit. Then those 30 foot waters would turn into a churning mess and be very uncomfortable. Our other choice was to go completely around the end, but besides being a longer trip, the Gulf Stream was only a few miles off the end. The Gulf Stream is a very strong current that runs north, not the way we wanted to go. In addition, when the wind is out of the north like it was and hits the current, it makes very high, nasty waves that can wreck boats even without a storm. It was precisely this current that caused us to take the inside route and not go around Cape Hatteras. We would avoid it here, too, if at all possible.
We sailed on, keeping our location plotted on the chart every hour. We didn't want to get in too close and find out the hard way we'd strayed. However, watching both the GPS, the depth sounder and some lights on towers marking dangers, we were confident we were on course.
When Nellie was with us, we took 4 hour watches. That way, each of us could have 8 uninterrupted hours of sleep if we needed it. With only two of us, 8 hours on would be just too much. When Nellie and I cruised, we only had two of us to keep watch and we used 6 hour watches unless it got ugly out. You couldn't get 8 hours sleep at once, but you could get enough that you rested. With a nap some other time of day you stayed rested. I suggested to Rusty that we use this schedule and he agreed. I'd have 8 pm to 2 am, he'd take over until 8 am.
My watch was over at 2 am and we were about 2 hours from passing over the shoals. It wasn't very many minutes until I was sound asleep. About 4 am I woke to a terrible crash and a lot of banging noise. Instantly, I was clambering out of the rack, heading for the companionway to get on deck. I wasn't really completely awake that fast, but my first thought was the rig had come down. As I took my second step, I realized Rusty was at the companionway, yelling "It's ok, everything is ok!".
As I calmed down and got to the cockpit, I saw that the boom and main was loose and had blown forward into the rigging. The mainsheet and all the blocks that normally were rigged to hold the boom in place were in a pile in the cockpit floor. It was a few more minutes before I realized the big Bomar cast aluminum hatch was laying on the deck right next to the toerail. It didn't look very good. Just as we passed over Frying pan Shoals all hell had broken loose. But it had nothing to do with the shoals.
Putting it together later, here's what happened. The wind was almost directly behind us, coming just a bit from the port side of the stern. The main was on the starboard side of the boat. We needed to change course just a bit, but enough that the wind would be from the other quarter, which meant the main and jib needed to go to the opposite sides of the boat. Rusty had changed course, brought the jib across, and was bringing the main across. Now, if you let the main go from way over on one side and slam to the other, you can expect trouble. Rusty fully realized this, so he tightened up the mainsheet, bringing the boom in, leaving it where it would have as little movement as possible. Then he took the top block in his hand and brought it across by hand, making it as gentle as possible. Just as it was over to the left, a gust slammed it back to the right, then to the left, breaking the small fitting that holds the top block to the big u-shaped piece of stainless mounted on the boom. That little piece broke, letting the boom free to slam into the shrouds. The big upper block hit the deck, clambering around making a lot of racket but doing no damage.
In slow motion, here's what else happened. As the boom went forward, the boom vang also followed. It was loose, and one of the lines caught the corner of the big main cast aluminum hatch in the center of the main cabin. It pulled the opening part of the hatch up, ripping the dogs off of the clamps, bending the 3/8" stainless bolts the clamps screw on into u-shaped pieces of scrap. The line continued to pull it up, ripping the cast base from the cabin top, bending it up pretty badly. The whole assembly flew up into the air 3 or 4 feet, then fell to the deck, bouncing, clanging and rattling around, finally coming to a rest next to the toerail. Fortunately, it stayed on the boat.
The whole deal left us with a boom and main loose and in the shrouds, and a big gaping hole in the top of the cabin. What was even more disturbing, we had 20 knot winds and high seas forecast to start in a couple hours. It was not good.
We started fixing the mess. First, we got the main down. We had to head into the wind so that the main could be drug down out of the shrouds, then we tied it to the boom. Next, we searched through the box of rigging parts I'd brought and found a replacement for the part that broke. We were rolling a bit since the main was not up to steady us, but it didn't take too long to replace the part and re-set the main.
The hatch was a different story. There was no way we could straighten the base. It was a heavy casting and would require a press or large hammer and something to beat it on. We had neither. Even if we did get it straight, there was no way to dog it down. They were gone. We figured if we could get the movable part of the hatch loose from the base, we could lay it on over the hole, tape it up quite a bit to help seal it and then run lines over it to make sure it stayed in place. It wouldn't be pretty, it would probably still leak, but we wouldn't get buckets of water into the boat.
Getting the hatch disassembled was a bit more work than we first expected. The hinges are actually rolled pins, pressed into the base, with a bigger hole in the hatch so it can pivot. We couldn't get the rolled pins out. We had no press and no punch to fit it. The best we had was a phillips screwdriver, and since it was tapered, when we hammered it into the pin it just tried to spread the end of the pin out and made it tighter.
Rusty had a small tool that held a piece of a hacksaw blade. The only way we'd get it apart was to saw the pins in half. Rusty can tell you that it's quite a chore to saw a pin down in a slot, on a rocking boat when you are able to make only about a half inch or less stroke with the saw. About an hour later, we were taping the hatch to the opening. By about 7 we had recovered. My night's sleep was shot, but we were back in pretty good shape.
We had changed the oil Wednesday morning, and we had enough oil for one more change. Since we were motor sailing much of the time, we needed to change it just for safety's sake. Thursday afternoon it was time. We were in about 4 foot seas that were coming on our quarter, rocking us quite a bit, but we shut down the engine for the maintenance. Our speed dropped from the 6.5 knots or so to about 4.5 knots. Rusty took the helm while I tackled the messy job.
It hadn't been quite so difficult when anchored. Now, with the boat motion and the fact that the engine and oil were at operating temperature, it was a pretty nasty chore. Using a cut off milk jug to catch the oil, I drained it, then tried to pour it through a funnel into a gallon jug. If it sounds simple, imagine trying to do it in the back of an off road vehicle while someone else is driving across a plowed field! It was not fun.
Then, checking the fuel filter, it was such a mess that I couldn't see the filter through the clear housing. I tried draining a bit of fuel out the bottom and got really nasty stuff. It was time to take it apart and change it. Once I opened it up, it was amazing that the engine would still run. Escapade has the same filter that Rainbow Chaser does, an old Raycor 200, and Rainbow Chaser's engine had stopped with much cleaner filters than I was looking at here. I think it still ran only because that little 11 horse motor used such a small amount of fuel that it could still get a trickle through. Soon I realized I had another problem. Our fuel tank was now in the cockpit, a couple feet higher than the filter. We were siphoning fuel while I was changing the filter! If I didn't hurry we'd have fuel everywhere. The good news was, with that much fuel flowing, the filter housing filled while I was putting it back together and we didn't even have to bleed anything, we just fired up the motor.
Thursday night we could see lightning off in the distance in several directions. Thunderstorms would pop up out in the Atlantic and drift towards shore. We hadn't seen any very close, but we still needed to watch for storms. I know what to do about many things; high winds, heavy seas and broken stuff, but I don't think there's a thing I can do abut lightning. It worries me. I want to stay away from it.
We had nearly a full moon and it was pretty bright out. I was watching some low clouds in front of us, wondering if we'd catch them and speculating that we wouldn't, because the same wind that was pushing us was also pushing them. They'd move about the same speed as the wind and we were slower. All of a sudden it got dark!
I looked behind and there was a big black thunderhead catching up with us. There hadn't been any lightning in it or I would have noticed it sooner. Once it blacked out the moon it got my attention real quick.
I tried to figure out whether it was going to catch up to us. We were traveling at an angle to the wind but the thunderhead was going the same direction as the wind. It was going to be a close race regardless. I kept studying this for an hour or so. Near the end of that hour, lightning started flashing in that cloud. Now it had my attention full time.
Off to the left there was another thunderhead just booming away. I finally made the decision to turn towards that one, hoping it would blow out of our path before we got there. Even though we were not getting farther from the one behind us, I hoped we would sail out past the side of it before it overtook us, and the one on the side would be out of our path. It was a risky route, but to go straight seemed like one was surely going to go over the top of us. I fine tuned the sails, added a few rpm to the motor and watched.
It was about 2 am and Rusty's time to take over. He woke up earlier when I changed direction and was watching the clouds as well. He listened to my logic of trying to miss the storms, agreed it was the thing to do and took the helm. Since I had only 2 hours sleep the night before and was exhausted, I left it to him and crashed.
The next morning I woke up to clear skies and only a couple thunderstorms way off in the distance. Rusty said that he'd been changing course all night to miss the storms and had only gotten into a little rain but nothing bad. We got lucky. I still hate thunderstorms and lightning!
It's strange what a little piece of paper means to you. A chart is just a little piece of paper. We were still out in the ocean, it was still deep, there was still nothing around, but without that little piece of paper you feel lost. That is why it was a bit scary to get to the edge of one chart, and realize that the next chart doesn't cover where you are! That is just what happened when we turned the page of our chart kit.
The chart kit has charts condensed into a book about 20" by 30" or so. They show the coast and a fair distance out. The ones that show the offshore waters sort of make a stair step down the coast. We'd sailed off of one step and wouldn't arrive on the next step for about 20 miles or more! Now, we weren't lost, there were no dangers out there, but it was just sort of spooky not having a chart of exactly where we were.
We also had another spot coming with no charts. The Jacksonville entrance. Our chart kit went to the Florida border, but Jacksonville is not on the border, it's some 20 miles down. We did have a chart of sorts to get in. In one ICW booklet there was a notebook sized chart that covered only the actual entrance, or at least some of it. Since it started with buoys 3 and 4, I had to wonder if there was a 1 and 2 out there farther. Maybe even a revolving light or a blinking light that spells out a letter like some other entrances. When we were in Jamaica, we made it into Ocho Rios with a 1 1/2" square drawing of the harbor we found in a cruising guide, so this really shouldn't be too tough. We'd have to see.Friday afternoon we saw a strange looking vessel about 2 miles away. It didn't take too long to realize it was a huge nuclear submarine running on the surface. We wondered if they'd go under while they were in sight, but a look at the depth gauge gave us the answer - 85 feet. They'd hit the bottom and still not be all the way under, so we realized they'd be on top for some time.
It was my watch Friday night as we approached Jacksonville. It was a bit spooky not having a chart, but it was supposed to be an easy entrance. Night entrances are always spooky, though, especially if it's somewhere you've never been. I also had hopes of flying out Saturday morning, so I was happy to see my cell phone go into range. A quick call to Southwest got my Sunday night flight changed to Saturday morning. Now all I had to do was get to the dock, get things organized and make it to the airport - where ever it was - by 9 am.
I was trying to figure out what was what as the shore lights just started to appear. There was a revolving light that I thought was at the right place to mark the entrance. About then, a huge cargo ship passed out in the general area, so I knew we were close. I spent an hour trying to get to the revolving light. I should have covered 6 or 7 miles, but still didn't get to it. I could faintly see some reds and greens, but having no other charts, I couldn't be sure I wasn't getting confused over another, smaller channel in the area. We had plenty of water. It was nowhere near as shallow as near shore, so I kept going.
About then Rusty woke up, and with his rested eyes, he easily figured out that the revolving light was much farther away than I'd first thought and was actually the light at the naval air strip on shore. Then we were able to pick out the reds and greens - actually, the greens, because they are always easier to see at a distance. The reds are harder to see, and are easier to confuse with all the red lights ashore. Once we got to the buoys, sure enough, the first two were numbers 3 and 4. I wonder what happened to 1 and 2?
We worked our way on in. It was just our luck that there was a very fast outgoing tidal current, so our progress was a bit slower than I had expected. We finally made it to the area with some marinas and Rusty selected one that the guide book claimed had both diesel and a pumpout for the sewage. I was at the helm when we tried to get to the dock. The current was not only in the river, it was streaming right through the docks, making them act like a strainer for sailboats.. My maneuvering skills were at their worst as I tried to make a nice landing against the dock. The current was pushing me all around. I was having a very difficult time getting the boat next to the dock in all the cross currents, until I realized this was a much lighter boat than I was used to. Then I just jumped onto the dock with a line! It was 4 am.
Our friend Donna had flown in the morning before to trade places with me. I had hopes she would be able to take me to the airport, but wasn't sure there would be time. First we had to get hold of her, she had to find us, and then we'd have to load up and make the trip. To my surprise, she answered her cell phone right way and was at the marina in 15 minutes. The problem was, the marina was locked up and she couldn't get in, and I couldn't get out! The watchman said that someone should be there at 5 to open. 5 came and went and nobody showed up.
We looked around and figured out that the tide was low
enough that the end of the security fence was out of the water. I
could jump down onto the sand, but couldn't get back up. After making
sure I had everything, I jumped down, Rusty handed my bags to
me and we were off to the airport.
On the way to the airport, I realized I’d had a first.
This was the first delivery I’d been on where the autopilot still worked
when we arrived!