This was first published in "Telltales" magazine in the December 1996 issue. Read it, print it and share with your friends. Please don't publish it without written permission.
Austin.sailor at yahoo.com
I'd spent the last 2 years or so getting my boat ready for cruising. At first it was part time and for the last 6 month it's been nearly a full time job. I'd been doing so much work and so little sailing that I'd nearly forgotten what the point of it all was when I got a call about a delivery A couple I knew wanted to head over to Florida to gunkhole a little but had never been offshore. My friend Gary Gasser, who is a boat broker at Clear lake, Texas, had planned to do it but just had too much to do. Gary asked if I'd be interested in being their captain to get them across the Gulf of Mexico from Galveston to their starting point in Mississippi? Sure thing. Get my enthusiasm up and get a little time offshore. I needed the break. Will sail for food, that's my new motto. Plus a little cash and a ticket home, of course.
The boat was "Money Vac" and the owners were Randy and Carolyn Adams. I'd known Carolyn since childhood. We grew up together back in Missouri, and I'd met her husband Randy, a contractor, a year or so before. Nice people, I'd enjoy the company as well as the sailing. They had bought the boat about four years before, their first, and had spent a lot of time on it, but it had been mostly in Galveston Bay. As it turned out Carolyn had no desire to go offshore. The gunkholing was what she looked forward to. Another long time friend from school days, Van Ewing, now living in Dallas (and no relation to J.R.) would complete the crew. Van also had no offshore experience, but had been a serious racer for years so was pretty familiar with making the boat go.
"Money Vac" is an '83 C&C 35 Landfall. A nice looking boat, clean and well kept. I'd been on it once before and saw the pride they to ok in the craft, but, like all boats that spend a lot of time sitting at the dock, it needed a lot of checking out to make sure it was fit for an offshore passage. I went down a couple days early to see how much it needed. I planned to have it ready, if possible, for them to just load food and go when they arrived.
I talked to Carolyn a number of times getting things sorted out and the
rest of the plans made. Carolyn had some concerns that I could not get
on the boat checked out and fixed in two days. I had to explain that my
goal was not to have the boat ready to go cruising. My goal was to have
the boatin shape to make it to Mississippi in one piece and get us there
afloat and safely. If the fresh water pumps were on their last leg, the
stove not working - that was a different job. But I'd do my best to get
the boat there in one piece.
I started to explain to Carolyn how to use the marine operator to place a shipto shore phone call if she got concerned while we were on the way. But, since both Van and Randy would carry cell phones, they planned to keep in touch that way. She expected to get a call every evening to let her know what progress we made and that we were safe. The phone company assured her that there was continuous cell phone coverage everywhere we would be. If her phone didn't ring, the Coast Guard's would!
By the time Randy and Van got there I'd found a fuel leak, replaced a couple of worn out belts, unstopped the vents to the fuel tank and one water tank and had the inoperable alternator rebuilt. It was a real chore, too, as the motor had a v-drive. This is where the motor is installed backwards with the belts and all the accessories pointing towards the back of the boat. I could see one of the belts a little, but the other was done totally by feel. I never saw where it went, I just could feel that the belt was coming apart. One of the electric bilge pumps wouldn't work, but the other seemed fine. Since most boats don't have but one in the first place, that wasn't much of a concern. The manual one worked just fine as well. And we had some buckets!
I had a large cache of parts and tools for emergencies stowed, my life raft loaded and a bunch of jerry cans on the deck for extra fuel. The fridge was cold and full of ice. I needed a new hand held VHF so I bought a new one at West Marine and some extra batteries for my GPS.
I picked up Randy and Van at Houston Hobby on Thursday afternoon. We made the rounds, picking up fuel filters, food, soda, scotch - all the necessities. We got the EPIRB Boat US had set aside for us and stowed all the stuff aboard.
We made a trip to the grocery store for food. Randy and Van were both a little concerned about what the food stock should be. We were going to be gone from 4 to 5 days, so most things would keep for the duration of the trip - anything we wanted to take would be OK. They asked what would taste good out there. I explained that after a couple days out, anything was good. When I brought my boat across from Florida a few years before we had ham and green pea fahitas the third day out. The best damn fahitas I ever ate! The next night we had deep fried hot dogs. I never knew hot dog could be so good! So, the concern wasn't what we had, just that we'd have enough. If they didn't put enough in the cart, I'd complain, but, otherwise, anything was fair game.
Randy asked what the best part of a trip like this was. Well, the night sky is unbelievable, especially on a clear moonless night. There are more stars up there than anyone would ever believe unless they've been out there. And the space! Having nothing but the horizon all around is awesome. It sinks in just how small we are and how big the Earth is. But the best thing about a trip like this one is the hot shower at the other end! It makes the whole trip worthwhile.
Randy and I went over the boat, looking for things that could be a problem and readying everything else. The impeller for the speed log needed to be put in place instead of the plug that was there now. Randy tried for some time to get the plug out, but it wouldn't seem to budge. I gave it a try but had no better luck. We tried to figure out why it wouldn't come out, as they had taken it out and put it back many times before. The only explanation we could come up with was that some barnacles had grown on it and they were keeping it frozen. The only way it would come out was for someone to dive under the boat and scrape them off, and maybe drive it out with a hammer. I looked at the water in the marina, Randy looked at the water and we looked at each other. We shook our heads and said we didn't need a speed log that bad anyway. We'd estimate our speed.
Friday morning we gathered a few forgotten items and spent a little time re-arranging things. The Carry On air conditioner was still blowing cold airand as each of us passed under it we'd stop and soak up the cool air for a few minutes. It got to the point that I wondered if any of us would want to unplug the thing. I figured when Randy pulled the plug he'd be ready. About noon the plug got yanked, Captain Ron got quoted, "If it's going to happen, it's going to happen out there!" and we headed for the fuel dock. We filled the tank, along with 20 gallons of diesel in cans on the deck. We were as ready as we were going to get.
We went out the channel into Galveston Bay. Randy was at the helm andplanned to go a lot farther north than I expected to get in the ship channel. I mentioned that we could cut a little time off the trip to the jetties by going a little closer to where Redfish Island used to be. Van and I had both sailed through there a number of times and we convinced Randy it was a good idea. We turned a few degrees to starboard and set a new course. P>
A mile or so from the ship channel a crab fisherman was checking his traps ahead of us. When he looked up and saw where we were heading he started making motions in sign language that seemed to indicated a mountain was ahead of us. We figured out we didn't want to keep going on that course, but were trying to figure out just how much we needed to change course. We made an immediate ninety degree turn to port and continued to work the sign language. We figured out where he thought we'd be OK and added a lot ofdistance just for good measure.
About a quarter mile after turning we abruptly plowed a deep furrow in the bottom, coming to a quick stop. Van told us later that the instant we hit, Randy and I each had our jaw drop and turned and looked at each other in total amazement. I'll have to admit, it was the last thing I expected. Not even out of the bay and the delivery captain ran us aground. We'd come from deep enough water, so it would seem simple enough to get us turned around, using the motor and rudder to pivot us, then wallow back out the five or ten yards we'd plowed in. We did get pretty well turned around, but didn't get free. By then the crab fisherman had come over and was talking to us. He'd seen a lot of boats run aground where he'd been, but didn't think we would have hit the bottom where we were now. He offered to help pull us off and we gladly accepted.
I tied a line to the cleat on the front of Money Vac and tossed it to him. He tied it to an old poly line on the back of his boat that had seen many better days. That goes for the boat and the line, as a matter of fact. But with his light boat and 225 horsepower engine, we thought it would be a simple matter to drag us off. He pulled and drug us a little but we didn't come free. He pulled from side to side and it still didn't free us. I got the boom out to one side and Randy and I swung out on it as far as we could. The fisherman pulled us a lot farther than we'd gone after hitting the bottom and still we were hard aground. And then his old line broke with a loud bang. He re-tied our line, this time to the cleat on the back of his boat and took off again. We dug deep furrows, but we still didn't come free. Then the cleat came out of the back of his boat.
He turned around and tied the line again, this time to the last cleat on his boat. It was in the middle of the deck in front. So, now he'd pull us while going in reverse. This wouldn't pull nearly as hard, but we should have been nearly off by now, so it should do fine. I got the jib up to catch what wind there was. It would help heel us and give a little more drive. But we still didn't float. It didn't make sense and it was time to find out just what the heck was going on. I jumped in and waded around in shoulder deep water looking for the deeper path. It seemed to be ahead of us. We were going the right way, but it didn't really make sense, since we'd seemed to a hundred yards farther back than when we'd run aground. Behind us was a furrow nearly a foot deep where we'd been drug across the bottom.
I got back aboard and helped Randy heel the boat some more. Van was trying to use the motor to help, but it kept over heating from the strain and the mud it was sucking in. Soon there was a ship going down the ship channel and his wake was about to reach us. Our first clue was the breakers coming across the shallow area behind us. Our second clue was when the water level dropped about two feet. And what made it even worse was that we were heeled towards the oncoming waves.
When the first one hit us we were laying over so far that not only was the keel on the bottom, but the hull was probably on it too. The wave rolled right over the side of Money Vac, filling the cockpit, dumping a lot of water below and flinging us about 20 yards across the bay. We hit with the keel pointed towards the way we were going and stabbed it into the bottom It was a really abrupt stop. Randy and I were just hanging onto shrouds, trying to stay aboard. It no more than quit shuddering and the next one hit us, doing about the same. Then the third. After about six times, it seemed to settle down, but we were still not floating. By this time, we were probably 200 yards from where we'd run aground and were still stuck. I had to wonder if the keel was still attached as well as it used to be.
The crab fisherman was still there. He got the lines up and started pulling again - still backwards. We were assessing the damages and, aside from the entire contents of the boat being wet and shook up, it seemed OK.
Randy and I went back to trying to heel the boat again. Van was running the motor from time to time, but it kept over heating. And then we heard the breakers coming again. There is no way we wanted to do that the same way again.
We managed to have the boat leaning away from this set when they hit us. The first one picked us up, flung us quite a ways, but when it went down, it scooted a good distance because the keel was dragging behind us, rather than stabbing into the ground. The next one did the same. When we stopped, we still were not floating. That keel was still rubbing the bottom. And it did it again. Still not floating. About the fourth or fifth, as we settled, we bobbled. We were bumping when we went down, but we were floating! Maybe by only an inch or so, but we were floating.
I just screamed at Van to get it started, get going, over heated or not. Just go. He got the message, and we started moving. We'd go a few feet and scrape, go few feet and scrape. It was the damnedest thing I've seen. We were going back just about over the path we'd taken in and kept bumping the bottom. But we didn't get stuck again.
Back when we'd first floated I'd thrown our line and it was now with the crab fisherman who was holding it up and pointing to it. There was no way I was going back where he was, and he figured out he'd have to come to us. As he got near us, I traded a twenty dollar bill for the line. He'd earned that for sure, and probably spent more than that in gas trying to pull us.
We finally made it to the ship channel, entering it just about where Randy had planned to go in the first place. So much for short cuts.
We started trying to get all the water out of places it didn't belong. Van's high power cell phone was also a casualty. It left us with Randy's low power pocket version. But it was supposed to work all over the north end of the Gulf of Mexico, so we were OK.
We motored on down the ship channel, making sure we stayed in the
Randy said, Money Vac was made to sail with lots of water under it's keel
not in these ponds.
Shortly after starting down the ship channel we got out the autopilot and hooked it up. But it wouldn't keep it on course. I took the wheel for the first time and found it was very stiff. I imagined that we had damaged the rudder in the pounding we had taken, but Randy and Van, who'd done the steering so far, both assured me that it was that stiff when we left the dock. It was not any worse after the grounding. Van said that it had gotten stiff other times and probably needed grease in the rudder shaft bearing. No on e felt like digging everything out of the lazerette and hanging upside down to get to it after what we'd just been through, so we voted to just steer for a time. That problem could be attacked later.
There was a little ship traffic and a few barges, but it was pretty peaceful on down the channel as we turned to go out to the Galveston jetties. As we approached the jetties the wind was starting to pick up a little, and was nearly on the beam, so we killed the motor and hoisted the sails. Van started marinating a steak for the grill and we settled in. But the wind kept on picking up. By the time we got half the length of the jetties, it was a real gale. At the end of the jetties, we had the jib rolled half wa y in and a reef in the main. The wind gauge was bumping 40 knots and it was getting pretty rough. We rode that for about a half hour until it started to lighten up a little. When it got down to about 25 knots we took stock of how we were doing and thought about supper again. I looked back at the rail where the grill was - or used to be. It had just blown away in that wind. There wouldn't be anything grilled on this trip. We settled in with sandwiches instead.
I didn't want to go too close to the shore with a crew I hadn't sailed
with before. My original plan was to tack south when we cleared the jetti
and then go east to give us a lot of clearance from Louisiana and
But with the wind coming a little more south than I expected, we just wen
a little south of east. If the direction stayed the same, we'd do fine an
have plenty of distance from the shore. If it didn't we could always tack
Later we selected our watch times, which would be Randy from 8 PM to midnight, me from midnight to 4 am, and Van from 4 am to 8 am. During the day we'd be pretty informal about it. I took a little time relating some of the rules I would insist on. One rule was, you never ever go to the side of the boa t to use the bathroom at night. It is a sure way to fall over board. From what I've read, a good percentage of men who are lost at sea fall overboa rd when doing just that.. Always go below. It may not be real macho, but you'll get to do it again another day. Randy looked at me a minute and said he was glad I told him that - he was just about to head for the side of the boat. We also had a rule that no one goes topsides at night, even in the cockpit, without wearing a harness and being clipped on. If you fall overboard at night you're gone. Period. Your chances of being recovered are too sli m to count.
Once all these things were taken care of, it was time to check in with the wives. Randy started trying to call out on the remaining cell phone, but, contrary to what the phone company insisted, there was no service. After a while we came to the conclusion that Randy's lower power phone wa s just too far from a rig to make contact. We'd wait until we sailed close to a rig and try again.
It was a beautiful clear night. As I said, if you haven't been in the gulf at night when it's clear, you have no idea of what is up in the sky. None of us felt like sleeping, between the view and the excitement of getting out there. We visited and sailed late into the night until a large rig ca me into view. Van grabbed the phone and tried it. It showed service! He dial ed the operator and got a recording we would hear often - "Petrocell, If you'd like to make a call, please hold for an attendant." We listened to that as we approached the rig, and continued to listen to it as we sailed away from the rig. About a mile from the rig we lost our signal, as the recording quit. This wasn't working quite the way it was supposed to.
We put the phone on the charger to make sure it would be ready at the next rig and planned to sail very close to get as good a signal as possible. A couple hours later a large rig came into sight. The phone came out, in a little while the signal locked on and Van dialed the operator again. An d once again we listened to Pertocells recording. We listened to it until we sailed away on the other side and the signal died again. I could just see their wives having a fit and thinking we all drowned. We passed one more rig that night and had the same result. The phone company must have never tried this before they gave out their advice. It just wasn't working.
Saturday morning, unknown to us, the phone lines were humming. Carolyn was convinced we'd met our doom. She called Gary, asking what he thought happened. "Did they have a major problem, like losing the motor? Do you think something broke?" Gary told her "You hired Gene to ta ke the boat to Mississippi, and losing the motor wouldn't matter - he'd just sail it. It might take a little longer, but there wouldn't be any pulling into a port if it still sailed. After all, they have an EPIRB and if it was really bad, they'd use that."
Carolyn, unconvinced, called the Coast Guard to see if they'd had any EPIRB's going off during the night. No, none, but they did call for us on the radio a number of times. But we didn't hear them. Even if we were in range, we had the weather on most of the time and wouldn't have heard them.
We had a loran and 2 GPS units on board. But, being a pessimist, I sti
wanted to make sure we had a good DR position all the time. We never did
get the loran to work, so we started out with one third of our navigation
gear out of commission. My plan was to go about a day and calculate our
DR from speed and direction. We'd compare that with the GPS to see that
we were fairly accurate. If we were pretty close, I'd feel a lot better.
Saturday about noon I sat down to see how we were doing. After marking th e spot on the chart where I thought we were, I fired up the GPS to compare. We were within 6 miles of our DR position! Not exact, but not too bad wit h no speed log. It wouldn't be accurate enough to get us all the way to Biloxi if the electronics went out, but we could make a port along the way safely.
Later Saturday afternoon we were motoring, charging batteries, while
Van was below taking a nap. We heard him stirring and his head popped up
with a grin. "Would anyone be concerned that the floorboards are
"You're joking, aren't you?" I asked . "Nope!"
OH, NO! I had visions of the keel, after all the pounding it took, just hanging on by the ends of the keel bolts, swinging back and forth, just about ready to drop to the bottom of the gulf. We'd turn turtle and all be in the drink. I dove below to find that, yes, the floorboards really were awash. Water was sloshing all over them. But the boat hadn't seemed to handle any differently, like it should if it was half full of water. I pulled up the floorboards to find the bilge fairly empty. This meant th e water was coming in above the floorboards. It was hot water, and salty water. This had to mean the water was coming from the motor. I looked inside the motor compartment to find the drip pan under the motor was full with wate r running out of it. I couldn't see where it was coming from, but it was ba ck a ways out of sight. There was a plug in a hole in the bottom of the drip pan and we removed the stopper. This let the water go straight to the bil ge without washing the floorboards first. The problem was far from solved, but at least it wasn't so irritating. We kept trying to locate the source , but had no luck. We thought about removing everything from the lazeratte and hanging upside down to try to find it, but it still would requireremoving the water heater.
We timed how long it took to fill the bilge and it turned out to be an hour. Money Vac has a huge bilge, probably a hundred gallons, so it gave us som e buffer. We finally decided that pumping the bilge once an hour was preferable to diving into the lazarette. I thought maybe a fan belt had worn a hole in a hose or something, but it would be really hard to find in the heavin g seas. And, besides, it only happened if the motor was running.
Neither Van nor Randy felt like eating much. I think they were both a little afraid of seasickness and were nervous of eating much. We didn't cook, we just had sandwiches again. But that would change when everybody got comfortable with the trip.
Saturday evening the wind started building again. Slowly at first, the n it really got strong. We got some of the jib rolled in and one reef in th e main. When it got to about 50 knots we really wanted another reef in the main but there were no lines rigged up to use it. We just headed up prett y close to the wind to try not to get too much power out of it. Then, suddenly, BAM! Terrible flogging! something had gone wrong with the first reef. It was still reefed at the front, but out at the end of the boom it was loos e. We had half a reef with the outer end just flapping to beat the dickens. It was blowing and flapping too hard to do much with it. To try to grab the end that was loose would be an invitation to a good injury, like bein g knocked out with one of the hunks of metal that are in a sail, or some of the hardware that should have held it in place. We could have gone up and dropped the sail completely, but that didn't sound like a load of fun either. Rain was coming down in bucket loads, too. We watched the sail for any signs of damage starting and as long as we didn't see something chafing, we planned to ride it out, then repair whatever caused it to come loose.
The rain and wind kept up for about a half hour and then lightened up. The wind got down under 30 knots and the rain all but stopped. Van and I were able to go up and figure out what was wrong. All that was wrong was a set screw had loosened on a block that the reefing line went through. Without the high winds, it was a 2 minute job to fix.
Not long after fixing the reefing, my new radio started to squeal. I'd turn it off and back on. Nothing but a squeal. Maybe it just needed charging. I got the charger out and connected, but still, nothing but a squeal woul d come out of it. Brand new and already it bit the dust. We were down to 2 radios. The equipment failure list was growing.
Finally, about midnight, we came into range of another rig with a cell phone transmitter. Van had given a lot of thought to the problem and was going to try some codes he'd used at various times to get through with other phone companies.
When he got the dial tone, instead of "0" for operator, he started trying sequences of numbers and pound signs. Finally, a human cam e on the line! Off the coast of Louisiana, he got an operator in Washington , DC. After going through several credit cards, the operator finally got approval on one, and Van got his wife in Dallas to answer. And we were still in range of the rig!
We learned that the Coast Guard had been called. We learned that Carol yn had left for Mississippi - whether it was to meet us or join in the searc h, we weren't sure, but word was spread that we were OK, the only casualty the was phone.
Sunday morning I was awakened by Van, the bringer of bad news, who was holding the EPIRB in my face. He asked what the flashing light on it mean t. "Oh, no, it's on! Turn it off now! How long has it been on?" I asked? He didn't know, but remarked, "It was just rolling on the floor. Maybe that's why the Coast Guard helicopter was hovering over us." WHAT!?
Now I knew I was going to jail. Straight to jail. As I had a sinking feeling in my stomach, I rolled over and grabbed the mike and called on the VHF radio to the Coast Guard helicopter above. Maybe they'd take pity on us and not haul me off for the false alarm.
But, no one answered. I tried again. Still no answer. I drug myself ou t of the rack and went on deck, but didn't see the chopper. "Where'd it go?" I asked Van. He said it flew over the horizon to the west. Maybe I'd get to stay on the boat after all. Maybe it wasn't a Coast Guar d helicopter at all. Maybe the EPIRB had only been on a couple minutes. I didn't know, but was more thankful by the minute as I thought we may not be in too much trouble. In the end, we never heard any more about it. But we made darn sure that it wassecurely stowed and couldn't' roll around again.
Later I noticed Randy deep in thought and he was not in a good mood. When I asked him what was wrong, he said that the EPIRB had been going of f, but nobody came to rescue us. What the heck good was it, and what would have happened if it really had been an emergency? I, being very glad no one showed up, explained that the class b EPIRB we had has about a 95% false alarm rate. They usually give it a little time to see if it gets shut off before sending out a search plane. Maybe the people with the EPIRB will discover it's on, falsely, and turn it off just like we just did. I told him that if he wants one that will call out the troops for sure, and righ t now, he'd have to spend a lot more money for a 406 MHz unit. They take those seriously. But I, for one, was glad no one showed up.
While taking a reading with my GPS Sunday morning, I noticed it was acting a little flaky. I had to turn it off and restart it to get it to act normal. It had a lot of moisture inside, too. Since it was a sealed, nitrogen filled unit, this was not a good sign. With the loran out, and my GPS acting flaky, we only had one unit that was dependable.
Sunday about noon I got a good king mackerel on. We got him in, cleane d and in the frig. Supper was looking up! Surely everybody would be hungry by now.
Van said he felt like taking a dive into the bilge to try to solve the stiff steering problem. I wasn't even sure I would fit, so I didn't argue with him. We pulled an unbelievable amount of stuff out of that lazerette and Van crawled in. he figured all it would take would be to put some grease in the grease cup on the rudder shaft and it would free up soon. I filled the cup and passed it down to him. He'd tighten it until it bottomed. Ran dy would turn the wheel back and forth to work it in. Van would hand it up, I'd fill it, Van would tighten it, Randy would rock the wheel. Over and over. After 2 hours and a lot of grease, it didn't seem any better. We re-stowed all the gear and hoped it would slowly get looser. It never did.
We were still on a path that would not clear the Mississippi. We neede d to make some progress south to clear the Mississippi. We needed to go abo ut 15 miles more south by the time we got there. There were some thunderstor ms developing all around behind us and the wind started to pick up. Fairly quickly the wind started to swing around from southeast to south. We followed it around, believing the weather service broadcasts that there were only isolated thunderstorms in the area. When it was coming from the west and we were heading due south, a closer look showed us a very clear front moving over us. From horizon to horizon, the line was clear.
This was the forth time I'd been in the gulf and had a very clear fron t go over, and in none of those times had the weather service mentioned it. Once we figured out it was a front, we changed our strategy. No more clos e hauled pounding, we turned east and went wing on wing. The speed was grea t. I'd guess, as that was all we could do, that we were making about 7 knots The problem was, in these confused seas, we couldn't keep the jib flying. After numerous attempts to trim it and steering different courses, we wen t to the main alone. We still made about 6 knots and it was exactly the direction we wanted to go.
This kept up for about 2 hours and then the wind started to go the res t of the way around. It passed north and finally made it to northeast. Now we were close hauled on the other tack! Eventually it came on around to where we started, going a full 360 degrees in about 4 hours. But, we were still about 10 miles north of where we needed to be to clear the Mississippi delta. We were having another problem as well. The depth gauge would "stick". It would get a reading and just stay with it. Then it would start to trac k like it was working OK again. A little later, it would be "stuck&quo t; on a reading again. We lost most of our confidence in it.
When the wind had gotten down to a comfortable level, the mackerel hit the skillet. He was joined by about 3 side dishes and everybody ate their fill. Appetites were back and there is nothing much better than fresh fis h in the middle of the gulf.
We sailed through the night making good time, but never did get anymor e distance south. By 10 Monday morning the wind was getting pretty light . The motor came on and we headed directly for the delta. We also kept watching the bilge very closely. We found our pumping times had increased to about every 30 minutes. Whatever was leaking was getting worse. Hopefully it would not get uncontrollable before we got there.
In the middle of the afternoon we were approaching the delta. We could see a steady stream of ships going both ways and we could see the lighthouse about a mile from the end of the delta. The seas were nearly flat and it seemed like an excellent time to refill the fuel tank.
The fuel fill opening on Money Vac is right up by the anchor locker. Van went forward with me to help untie a couple fuel cans and pour the diesel in. The first can went fine, butby the time we got to the second we comin g up on the Mississippi water. It was turning very brown and muddy. It was also a mass of standing waves sort of like a whitewater river. The waves were probably 4 to 5 feet high and very close together. The second can wa s very difficult to get in the tank and we forgot about the rest.
In addition to the waves, we also had large ships to contend with. We were slow and small, they were very big and fast. We sure didn't want to tangle with them. We all concentrated on watching ships and sighting acro ss the boat to figure out relative speeds and headings.
No problems came up and it really was pretty uneventful, even though
we were pretty nervous in the midst of all those ships. We rounded the
and had a new heading of nearly north. Another interesting thing was
We were picking up speed. With a combination of current and tide, we were
making about 10 knots over the ground according to the GPS. When we passe
near a rig we could tell we were flying! Even with no wind, the boats
near the rigs were straining the mooring lines. Our ETA had been Tuesday
afternoon. At this speed, it looked like an early Tuesday morning
The depth sounder seemed to be working again. It was varying as we went and seemed to match the depth shown on the chart. It would be much nicer to have it when we went into Biloxi's unfamiliar entrance. I plotted out our course the rest of the way in. We'd go on a course of about 30 degree s to a point I thought would be safe, then turn directly to Biluxi's entrance. This course would keep us far from any land and in deep water, about 60 to 70 feet until we approached the entrance. The last thing we wanted was shallow water.
We just motored through the night, pumping the bilge more and more. About midnight, the motor started sputtering. After a little experimentation, we realized it was because there was too much steam in the engine compartment. The motor wasn't getting enough oxygen to run. We opened a lazerette to let some more steam out and it ran fine. We were now pumping the bilge every 15 minutes.
I wanted to stay up until we made our turn to Biloxi. It would come about 4:45 in the morning, about 45 minutes after my watch ended. By 4:15 Van was steering and I was really tired. He assured me he understood what to do when reached our turning point. He'd wake me if anything seemed wrong. I went below and crashed.
About 15 minutes after my head hit the pillow I was awakened when the engine went to an idle and the boat made a hard turn. I hit the cockpit with wide open eyes. When I asked what was going on Van explained he was having a problem with shallow water.
We shouldn't have anything under 60 feet and the depth gauge was readi ng around 5 or 6 feet. He also explained that he'd made the turn a couple hundred yards early because itwas getting shallow. Shallow? It supposed to be 60 or more feet in the whole area. Something was terribly wrong.
I got out the charts and studied. We'd have to have been 15 miles from where we were supposed to be in water that shallow. I got my GPS and trie d to sort it out with that, but it had taken too much water and I didn't trust it anymore. I asked Randy to get his GPS out of the box and find out wher e it thought we were. If it matched mine I'd feel safe that the only thing wrong was the depth reading. His batteries were dead. When he went to tea r the boat apart to find his spare batteries I realized we needed to go bac k to the basics and figure out what the heck was what.
We had no lead line, but I got a line from the locker and found a magn et they used to find things that fell in the water. After tying it on, I thr ew it and about 40 feet of line over. It went straight down. "Turn off that damn depth sounder - I don't want to see it again. All it is doing is confusing us!", I ordered. We were where we thought we were, the only thing wrong was a broken depth sounder was giving false readings.
We set off on our original heading for the Biloxi entrance. A few minutes later Randy found his batteries and his GPS matched mine. I left instructions to wakeme when they sighted the buoys. I crashed again.
About 3 hours later we went right into the channel at the entrance to Biloxi. It took about 2 more hours to get to the docks. We tried to call the harbormaster on the ships VHF but found that, even though it received fine, it wouldn't transmit anymore. My new handheld didn't work, and all we had left was Randy's. We had to get pretty close before they could receive us on that one, but we finally got into a slip.
After tying Money Vac up, Randy was going to seek out the local Boat Butlers to get the boat cleaned up. Wasn't I going with them, he asked? Heck no. I was heading for the shower. After all, that's the best reason to take a trip like this and I was going to it stand in it for about an hour!
Later we learned that the tight steering was only some small barnacles which had grown on top of the rudder. One quick powerwashing took care of the problem. And the pesky water leak was a rusted out muffler. It was buried so deep in the bilge that we probably couldn't have gotten to it, even if we could have fixed it at sea.
And the keel? It was fine. No damage at all!