Sunday, December 6, 2015

Spanked for being stupid

We are now sitting at anchor in Marsh Harbor Abacos drying out after a 33.5 hour adventure at sea. The forecast was SE winds around 10-15 knots and “benign” conditions. Pretty sure “benign” means nothing to worry about. So we didn’t. Now, don’t go thinking that we just blindly sail off into the Gulf Stream without checking the weather for ourselves. We are smarter than that. We knew that our window to cross was getting smaller but the grib files, Parker and other sources pretty much indicated it would be a relatively easy ride. We also knew there could be some squalls to deal with. So if we make tracks and get there in the proper amount of time we’ll be OK. Well, here starts the stupid section of the story.

Calm after the storm

Looking at the wind we were going to have I realized we would be close hauled if we left from Fort Pierce. My brain at the time was debating the merits of trying to fight the Gulf Stream and the wind to make the Little Bahama Banks. The wave heights predicted were 3-4 ft and typically we run the engine until we get through the stream. No sense screwing around in the stream. We were also expecting a bigger wind shift to the south which would get us more speed and more comfort.

For some reason I thought this would be a good scenario. Dumb. Don’t ever plan on going somewhere close hauled, especially crossing the Gulf Stream. The current, the waves and an unfavorable wind shift can leave you clawing against it all to make your waypoint.

So while we clawed against it all, this shit happened:

Under a full main and a reefed headsail we were scooting along at about 7 knots. Sometimes we would take a gust and pop up to almost 8 knots. We were flying. So was the sea. Right over our bow. “Why are the waves so huge?!” The wind got stronger. We went faster. The waves went higher. At one point I heard the anchor clang hard after a wave broke over the bow. Oh shit! The Mantus anchor came loose and was just held by the chain. I had to scramble up on the pitching deck to secure it. Of course as soon as I got up there I received the saltwater enema. Damn it! I was clipped in so I basically had to crab along the deck to get back while more water slapped me in the ass. I flopped into the cockpit and took a little rest while I drip dried.

While under way I check on boat systems every hour just to make sure things are hunky dory. It was time to go below. Before I could hop down we heard a crash after a particularly bad ass wave rolled us. I looked in the companionway and didn’t see anything. It sounded like silverware or pots and pans but then there was some tinkling sound to it. I told Deb I had better check it out.

I get below and I see the floor is soaked with water. What the hell?! I look around for the source and I notice a port was left open. Damn it all! I scramble to close it and we pitch into another wave and I get a face full of ocean. Now I’ve taken it at both ends. I’m now soaked and looking around and slipping in the water. Saltwater is slippery in case you didn’t know. I’m standing in the salon assessing the tossed about cabin and water pours down my neck and back as another wave comes down the deck. Our normally leak free hatches are raining ocean on my head and everything else we have! Aarrgh! Are you kidding me! They never leak! Not much I can do about that all now so I look into the aft cabin to see what’s going on back there.


One of the aft cabin lockers was used to store a few cases of bottled beer (my idea). Stupid me decided to fill it up as much as I could never thinking that the locker that doesn't have a lock might open up at some point.

When a big wave rolled us the bottles burst out of that cabinet like black Friday shoppers pressing the doors at Walmart and spilled out onto the cabin floor. Some bottles broke while others just spun around and fizzed out of their twist off caps. When I got to the scene it was just an orgy of bottles rolling around in their own fluids. Carrie Nation couldn’t have done a better job. I should have taken a picture but I had feet and hands braced to prevent me from joining the brew fest. I stared in wonder. Unbelievable. Deb is going to shoot me.

I retrieved a bucket and started to remove the broken glass and bag the bottles while keeping myself upright. Eventually I felt I would need the bucket to hurl into. The worst thing you can do to me in rough seas is to send me down below and the worst thing that can happen right now would be for me to puke all over this mess. I finally got it all cleaned up and mopped up the floor as best as I could. I poured some vinegar over the floor and mopped that up too in hopes of reducing the smell of stale beer later. When I went below later the aft cabin smelled like a dive bar and a side salad. All the best beers were in that cabinet too with the exception of the Shiner Bock. Those assholes at Shiner better learn how to cap bottles. Every one of them leaked. That was Deb’s beer :)

I broke the bad news to Debra whose shoulders sunk and then she told me the kayak on the bow broke loose. Son of a bitch! I clipped in again and went forward to re-tie the kayak. I get back to the cockpit and I notice after the next big wave on the bow that the snubber I laid on the bow was now washing down the deck. Son of a bitch! I clipped in and secured that as well. Two minutes later the other kayak broke loose. Balls! Can’t anyone on this ship tie a friggin knot! I really should have worn a bathing suit.

Now it's starting to get dark and I take another look forward because I don’t want to be up there in the dark if I can avoid it. Don’t I notice the bow line we had tied to the pulpit has come loose and is dragging alongside the boat. Shoot me! Please!*
I clip in for another salty shower. I’m so water wrinkled now that I could ask for the senior discount at Dunkin Donuts and get it without question.

I’m now secure in the cockpit and we are moving along despite the waves. The wind has steadily increased to 15-20 and the sea is confused. We would take one on the bow, then get rolled by another. Crazy. I eventually roll up the headsail to level the boat. Still a full main. Darkness falls. I turn on the nav lights. No nav lights. Son of a whore! I clip in and go to the bow to give the lights a good whack. Sometimes the bulb is loose. By the way all the lights were checked the night before we left. I pocketed the dinghy nav light to duct tape it to the bow should I not get the lights to come on. It’s my backup. I got to the bow, whacked the lights. Nothing. I get out the tape, the towel to dry off the pulpit with, and as I was about to peel off a strip of duct tape a wave rolls over me. That’s it! I’ve had it! I march back to the cockpit. Actually I crab along on my wet ass. Screw the lights!

We were still making fantastic time and then a squall hit. Bam! Full mainsail and we heeled over pretty good. Rail was still off the water so not too bad. I looked at Deb and her eyes said she was not amused. I eased the sheet. The squall passed and it's relatively calmer at this point. I look at the radar for more rain. Aww shit. Big squall coming. Deb looks at me and says, “The mainsail! It should be down!” Well it won’t be as fun but sure, I’ll clip in and go forward again. By now I’m so soaked it doesn’t matter. I just hope I don’t get diaper rash.

Deb now tells me she has a freighter on a collision course. How far away? A mile and a half. Ah what a pain in the ass. What’s next? Coast Guard boarding? Submarine pop up under us? We needed nav lights. I clipped in, grabbed a bungee cord and strapped the stupid light to the mast. There you go. Screw you MacGyver! We now have nav lights.

The wind shifted to the south because we were almost done sailing and mother nature thinks she’s hilarious. We are now pointing at the cut into the Little Bahamas Bank where we have previous tracks. When traveling in the dark over shallow water it’s always nice to be able to go where you’ve been. To follow our bread crumb trail. We decided to do just that. You can’t just flop into the Little Bahamas Bank. It has shoals and coral heads so you pick your spots on the chart that look good and pray that some asswipe didn’t sink his ship somewhere along that route for you to slam into.

Oh yeah, Deb wanted the mainsail down.  I take down the main. No I don’t because it’s stuck. It will not budge. At this point I consider inflating my life vest, unclipping and jumping overboard. I can drift in the warm water of the gulf stream all the way to England where I will find a pub and tell them of my adventures by the fireplace wearing my lifejacket while enjoying  beer at slightly below room temperature.

I mounted the first three steps on the mast to reach the mainsail (I’m short) and gave it a good yank. It budged. I then hung all 145 pounds of me off the main and it broke free. Thank you Neptune! I pull the main down and stuffed it in the bag. That’s when I noticed that the top slug that rides the track is not in the track. Hahahaha (maniacal laughter). All the time it was stuck I was plotting the destruction Mack Snails for not replacing the frozen sheave.

We were now motoring and I was calling the freighter on the radio. No response. We have AIS and so does he so they must know we are out here. We ended up almost coming to a dead stop to let the beast lumber by. That's when the big squall hit. Holy shit that was a kick in the face! The wind pushed 40 knots and the rain streamed down while we watched the freighter on AIS. Deb and I just looked at each other wide eyed and probably thinking how lucky we are to have that mainsail down. After the squall we entered the banks and followed our tracks. The seas calmed and the wind slowed the further onto the banks we travelled.

By being chicken and following our previous track we delayed our arrival by almost an hour but we seemed to have avoided the biggest portion of the squall. When I looked at radar I saw we just caught the southern tip of the squall. Finally we catch some luck. It almost looked like we intentionally moved to evade the storm.

We were totally relaxed at this point

The banks were easy peasy and we traveled all night in peace. We were only about an hour from the rest of the folks who left Fort Pierce way before us. We were kicking ass there for a while. By 2PM we passed through the Whale cut, also famous for ass kickings but the wind had blown itself out at that point. We motored our way to Marsh Harbor and dropped the hook. Beers were had.

This whole mess could have been avoided had we been better prepared and used our sailing experience that we have stored in our aging heads. Sailing close hauled is better left for the race course, not trying to cross a raging Gulf Stream. We should have departed from Lake Worth like we planned but we got lazy and didn’t want to bother with the bridges on the way. We would have been on a reach and taking the waves properly. We would have been there much quicker and in splendid fashion. I might have sported a blue blazer and a pipe had we entered the banks that way. Bravo I'd say.

Reef or strike the mainsail in squalls you fool! Imagine the horror had that mainsail not come down.

Securing the deck was going to happen on our lazy down the ICW run towards Fort Pierce. Again, lazy. We know better.

Beer. What can I say? I paid for that stupid move didn’t I? I am now working on getting those cabinet doors to lock closed. I could store less beer? Hahahahaha you funny.

We should know to go with our gut but I for one didn’t listen. The weather was deteriorating and we needed to move fast to get across else we could be waiting weeks or months from getting another shot. The fact we were on a mooring didn't help as we were eager to shed that expense but if I had to do it over again I would not unless we were further south.

Hatch seals. Who knew they leaked! Rain doesn't come in but a foot of water will put enough pressure on it to open the poor seal. Not sure what to do about this other than order new seals. Getting new seals in the Bahamas is like getting Canadian maple syrup. Sure they can get it but its going to cost you. Canadian Syrup is about $45 for a small jar.

Why all the water on the deck? Our boats bow usually rises up quickly with the waves and we maybe get some water down the toe rail is all. When we were in Vero I noticed the bow was so low in the water because of all the stores we have up there. She needs to be balanced. I think this is why we got so soaked. Were the waves really that big or was it because we were so bow heavy that they seemed larger?

After dropping the hook Debra noticed the V-berth was soaked as well. All the bedding had seawater soaked in and a lot of goods got hosed. Thought she was going to cry. Debra was kind of out of it for a few days while we tried to clean it all up. The kicker was the iron skillet she plopped onto the settee cushion so she could get at the oven. This quickly left a rusty ring on the seat. I thought she was going to just toss everything over and go back to the kids. I managed to remove the rust with barkeepers friend mixed into a paste and brushing it over the stain. I’m such a Suzy Homemaker.

Right now we are dried out and smelling wonderful. Like most kids we learned our lesson after getting spanked. I almost turned in my sailing card after this one. Sheesh.

While we were out there having things go wrong we always maintained a good attitude. After a while it was just funny. Pretty much chuckled every time I had to clip in to go get douched by the sea. The only really scary part was the mainsail as that could have been real trouble. We have been in worse seas in Lake Ontario. This was uncomfortable and somewhat unpredictable with the squalls so it had its own level of anxiety but nothing where we felt we were in danger. My knees were never knocking on this ride like they were that day in the Great lakes.

We got a little rusty after sitting on our asses all summer. The cabin and deck are better organized and the systems are all back in order minus the lights and mainsail slug which will be handled soon. Deb is her smiling quiet self and I’m still walking around with that stupid smirk on my face. Next time we get ready to go out there we will shift from happy go lucky cruisers to steely eyed professionals. At least until it becomes second nature again.

Cheers from paradise!

Not sure of all the things that hapened and when because we were so tired after all that. It's actually hard to put it all together. We are not people who can just pop below and go to sleep when in the wash cycle. One of us should have slept while on the calm banks but it was such a relief at that point that we were both a bit giddy.

That's all folks!

*Don't really shoot me you crazy assholes


I forgive Iridium for not having a user friendly app and poor customer service because we were able to phone our daughter on her birthday and then receive photos of our grandson through email. I think we surprised Kelly. She probably thought something was wrong if her cheap parents were using the sat phone. It was nice to wish her happy birthday by voice instead of a text. Chris Parker weather reports and Grib files also come to us via email.

So Iridium, you have a long way to go before your GO! is suitable for the average sailor but we forgive you for your clumsiness because it works and if we can get cute pictures of our grandsons every week without an internet connection then we are happy campers.

We are sitting in Marsh Harbor riding out the big winds at anchor. Holding is excellent and the waves are nothing to speak of. Doing well. I'm working on a post about the horrible crossing. I would have had it out by now but we were too busy drying the boat out.


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