After our successful roundtrip journey to Norfolk and back, we were finally released from restrictions by our insurance company; so we decided how better to celebrate than to go for a sail… our first solo sail on Exit. Well… nothing ever goes quite as planned.
Though Exit was riding on the water, we were riding on the clouds… one of those key moments when you realize everything you had been dreaming of and struggling for was finally coming to fruition. We were aboard our own sailboat proudly navigating through the marina. One of those small world moments occurred when a sailboat with six or eight people on deck overtook us.
As it passed us, one of the guys on deck pointed at our transom and called over, “Go Cougs!” He went on to say, “ I was actually a UofI Vandal but I thought that was close enough!”…go figure.
Narrowly avoiding the faux pas of flying the flag on the wrong side
Cougar Colors flying under the port spreader
We got out of the marina without any drama and motored clear of most of the boat traffic. Kris stayed at the helm in the cockpit, keeping Exit pointed into the wind, while I went out on deck to raise the mainsail. Everything seemed to be going according to plan.
Without warning, just as the mainsail reached the top of the mast… BAM! Something gave way and the sail came crashing back down onto the boom.
In and of itself, the mainsail coming down like that certainly was not ideal, but at least it posed little threat of equipment damage or bodily injury. Nonetheless, it caused one hell of a clatter as all sixty feet of sail plummeted down in about two seconds and landed on the boom below. After the initial startle subsided, I looked back into the cockpit at Kris and read the very words on her lips I was speaking simultaneously… “WTF just happened?!?!”
As it turns out, a sewn nylon strap attaching the top car (which runs up and down a track on the front of the mast) to the mainsail and halyard had separated. For some reason, the previous owners had (we were later told) improperly attached the sail in a way that, when that webbing separated, the mainsail halyard separated from the sail and slid up into the opening in which the halyard tracks back down the inside of the mast to the deck instead of remaining attached to the sail.
Fortunately, a shackle on the end of the halyard prevented the entire line from disappearing into the mast which would have required us to feed the halyard all the way back up inside the mast… not an easy task, I am told. Unfortunately, the nylon strap was the only thing connecting the sail to the halyard so, when it failed, the entire sail dropped sixty feet into a heap. We joked that it was the best flake (folding the sail back and forth in a zigzag pattern as it descends to keep it tidy on the boom) that we had experienced so far!
We were not gonna be able to solve this without going up the mast, so our sailing day was over before it had begun. We decided to make the best of the situation. Since we were already out and about, we figured we could practice some close quarters navigating by putting out a couple of fenders in the water about 5 meters apart that would be used to simulate a dock we could pull up against. I tied one fender to our dinghy anchor and chain; the other fender to a spare fixed propellor we had and threw them in the water.
Before starting our exercises, I went below for a quick trip to the head. But while I was walking past the galley we were hit with our second mishap of the day. Suddenly, I heard the unmistakable sound of a substantial amount of water pouring out from somewhere under the sink! I opened the cabinet door only to be met by a cascade of steam emerging. It was the result of water from a burst hose, coming in contact with the hot refrigerator compressor. It turned out to be the hot water hose leading to the sink which had come disconnected at the faucet… water heated by the engine while it is running which was about 195 degrees! I was able to turn off the water pump quickly which, at least, stopped the flow of scalding water. I told Kris what was going on and proceeded to start re-securing the hose to the faucet with the hose clamp. As I was tightening the clamp, Kris called down to me, “I don’t mean to add to everything, but it appears that one of the fenders is floating away!”
I climbed the stairs back into the cockpit to look in the direction she was pointing. Sure enough, the fender was barely visible almost 100 yards away… much farther from the other fender than it had been five minutes ago! Initially, I thought the fender had dragged a bit until it was in water too deep for the prop to rest on the bottom and was now floating in the current with the prop below it… Kris thought differently.
Of course, Kris was right. As we approached the fender, which had begun to drift into a maze of cab pot floats, I was perplexed to see, or rather NOT see, the line I had tied to the fender which I planned to snag with the boat hook. Slowly, the sickening realization set in that the line was not there… which meant the prop was not attached… Damn! Strike three! We finally recovered the fender but had lost the deck line and spare propeller!
Now… to me, the situation seemed rather straightforward. I had fucked up the knots and I had lost the prop… D-minus in knot tying! But our saving grace lie in the other fender, a tiny white dot barely visible a few hundred yards away still bobbing on the surface. It was essentially a marker indicating within a five meter radius where I figured the prop should be.
The only logical solution I saw was to grab the full scuba tank (left aboard by Exit’s previous owner), gear up, and hop in the water – either I drop straight down where I thought the prop sat or I run out five or six meters of line from the anchor and do a quick search pattern… and voila! Prop recovered…
Kris however, didn’t see this as the brilliant recovery plan I had envisioned… I believe the words dumb and dangerous were how she described it.
She then went on to point out that although we could anchor the boat, it would swing and drift in the wind. Combine this with near zero visibility in the muddy Chesapeake waters and a ridiculous amount of Labor Day Weekend boating traffic all around us – all this converged into what she foresaw as a potential disaster.
There is a commonly adhered to practice we have heard of in tech diving (possibly a superstition or possibly the wisdom of people who haven’t died) called the Three Strikes Rule. While I am sure this not a scuba-exclusive perspective, in tech diving the idea is when three things go wrong you abort the dive. Whether the concern is in a scenario of cascading problems (it is rarely a single event that leads to catastrophe, but rather small problems compounding into larger ones) or the more visceral mindset that three problems is simply really shitty luck so why push it further, the end idea is the same… get out while the gettin’s still good!
So… after a heated debate, I opted to defer to Kris’ wisdom (ultimately this generally proves the smart thing to do), pulled up the anchor line on the float still in the water, and we said farewell to our spare prop.
Ya, ya… someone suggested a few days later that we could have marked the GPS coordinates on our Furuno and come back another time to look but that didn’t occur to us at the time… live and learn… but hey… I’m still alive, and I think Kris generally is good with that.
The training we had been receiving under the guidance of long-time sailor, delivery captain, tech guru, and sailing community personality Dave Skolnick was both incredibly insightful and incredibly overwhelming at the same time. The culmination of this training, which would effectively tick all the required boxes put forth by our insurance company and let us off the proverbial leash, was a nearly 300 mile round trip on Exit from Annapolis, MD to Norfolk, VA. While Dave would be aboard to offer advice, insight, and assistance as necessary, it was our job to plan all the logistics of the passage (including provisioning, planning meals, course plotting, boat preparations, etc) and actually get the boat there and back. The schedule, as set forth by Dave, was to be a 48 hour nonstop voyage.
An early start to the day. Lots of prep work going through our pre-departure checklist which included shopping for food, checking engine fluids, and verifying proper operation, pumping out the holding tank, topping off the battery and refrigerator charge with the generator, getting everything on and belowdecks properly stowed and secured, double checking the weather forecast, discussing our intended course and any hazards or points of note along the way, securing the dinghy to the stern davit… generally confirming everything we would need to have, know, or do during the passage.
Dave arrives and we go through everything with him, confirming we have considered anything he deems necessary, as well as embellishing on anything he feels may be incomplete or overlooked.
We fire up the trusty Perkins 80hp diesel engine, release our lines from the mooring ball… and Exit is underway on her first real maiden voyage with us as owners (not including the day trip from Deale to Annapolis).
Late afternoon and evening:
While underway it is imperative that either Kris or I be in the cockpit at all times. This is not simply to steer the boat (which is under autopilot control much of the time) but to provide a watch for any potential hazards on the water (marker buoys, other boat traffic, land… all of which we want to avoid contact with). On a 24 hour sailing schedule, this can become quite taxing as there are constantly things needing to be done by someone, not to mention making sure we get enough rest to maintain vigilance, awareness, and clear thinking. We decided that during the day we would each take three hour watch shifts from 10am to 10pm, then I would do a six hour shift from 10pm-4am and Kris would cover the 4am-10am watch (this seemed perfect as I am the night owl and Kris is much more of a morning person).
The wind was almost non-existent throughout the day and evening which, unfortunately, meant we were motoring for the entire fist day. Speed by motor averages about 6 knots, as does a good sailing pace; so it was not so much of an effect on how long it would take us. It was simply a desire to be sailing as much as possible rather than motoring (plus the wind is free, whereas the diesel gets swallowed at a rate of about one gallon every hour with the engine running).
As the sun set, we embarked on a new first – we had never driven a boat at night! Dave checked on us regularly, asking questions and giving advice. It seemed he had a story relevant to every topic (as well as a lot of stories that were told simply for their entertainment value). The entire time we were expected to sort things out as best we could, but it was very reassuring having Dave aboard to offer additional insight as well as the more than occasional bit of assistance.
With the nightfall, things became much more challenging from a navigational perspective. Though the lights on markers, navigational landmarks, other vessels, and even passing towns often provided an easier target to spot than during the day, it was an exasperating and exhausting experience trying to sort out exactly what we were seeing. Boat traffic undoubtably created the most difficult challenge – distance, speed, direction of travel, and identifying the type of vessel all became very hard to interpret in the dark. On more than a few occasions massive cargo ships, cruise ships and tug boats towing huge barges behind them provided surprises when we misinterpreted their distance or direction. The cargo ships, traveling at speeds which closed the gap between us at an alarming rate, often seemed like the most menacing things to deal with. Finally, at 11pm, after a particularly confusing bout of sorting out the lights of a handful of vessels that were approaching us from different angles, Kris went to bed leaving me alone in the cockpit as Dave had retired to his berth to catch a rest.
The arm for the throttle control protrudes a bit forward of the helm pedestal when the engine is engaged; both Kris and I had already bumped it accidentally a couple of times with our butts when standing in front of it in the cockpit causing the engine rpms to drop. So, when the engine started to slow as I was standing in front of the pedestal trying to look up at the wind indicator on top of the mast, I thought it was my butt that was to blame. I reached back and brought the throttle up a bit whereby the engine returned to its previous speed of about 2000rpms. Just as Dave’s head poked up through the companionway and I started explaining to him that I had inadvertently bumped the throttle, the engine started dropping off again… only this time I knew for a fact that I had made no contact! Again, I brought up the throttle but the engine speed continued to slow, and finally the Perkins stalled. A persistent and noisy buzzer immediately triggered at the engine’s control panel on the companionway steps and, as we tried to restart the diesel, it simply turned over and over without firing up. Not an immediate emergency but also certainly not ideal!
Obviously, this was a problem that needed solving but there was a much more immediate issue… without forward speed there was no ability to steer the boat. And, though conditions on the water were not that rough, uncontrolled drifting and bobbing about at night with other boat traffic in the area and land not far off was far from a desirable situation. By this time, Kris had sleepily emerged from belowdecks wondering what in the Hell was going on. Dave immediately took charge of the situation and declared that getting the engine running was of secondary concern. The priority now was getting the mainsail up so we could regain control of the steering. While he remained in the cockpit trying to keep Exit into the waves as much as possible, Kris and I went out on the deck to start sorting out the mainsail… something we had never attempted at night.
The combination of the boat pitching around in the waves, the darkness, difficulty hearing each other between the deck and the cockpit in the wind, and technical difficulties we were having – like getting the sail battens (hard plastic pieces sewn into the sail to help it maintain its shape under sail) clear of the lazy jacks (a rope system set up on both sides of the boom and mast to help contain the mainsail when it is being lowered), not to mention the overall stress we were feeling knowing the engine had conked out, all led to a rather formidable struggle.
When things finally settled down and we were sitting in the cockpit, comfortably moving again under the power of the mainsail and Genoa, we were shocked to learn two hours had actually passed!
By 5am, I was exhausted. Both Dave and I went to bed, leaving Kris alone in the cockpit to continue her watch and complete the first night of our passage under sail.
When I emerged later that morning, we were only a few hours away from Norfolk. The plan was to sail the rest of the way until we reached Little Creek (just beyond Norfolk) and try arrange a tow boat to get us into Cobb’s Marina, where we could sort out what had happened with the engine. Earlier, we had been averaging around 6 knots under engine power but now, under sail, we were traveling at 8 knots (even reaching 10 knots at times). Dave joked that we should have put up the sails earlier as he tried to make contact with the tow boat and sort out the logistics for our rendezvous. We got to work trying to sort out the engine issue while we were under sail with the hope that, if we could figure it out before arriving at Little Creek, we could call off the tow boat.
While Dave and I were below, my head buried in the engine room with Dave asking questions and advising, Kris called down to us, “I don’t want to depress you, but I’m sitting up here with dolphins!”
I groaned and said, “Thanks for that.”
Dave quickly told me to get up on the deck and enjoy the moment. Dolphins are one of a handful of things that have the ability to put an ear to ear grin on your face despite a bad situation. So, for about fifteen minutes, we forgot about our engine woes and took in the magic of having a small pod of ten or so dolphins swimming around us. Gracefully darting back and forth, occasionally breaking the surface momentarily or even leaping a bit out of the water, they seemed to be playing with us, toying with Exit as if to say “We’ll show you what hydrodynamic really is!”
After a brief but invigorating break watching them, I returned belowdeck to continue trying to troubleshoot the source of our engine failure. But, it was to no avail. My skills as a diesel mechanic quickly proved to be lacking. By about 1pm, we were tacking back and forth a couple of miles outside the marina entrance, trying to keep some distance between us and the land until the tow boat called us to say he was ready.
With the tow boat providing our forward power secured to the side of Exit, we humbly made our less than triumphant Norfolk entrance into Cobb Marina sails down. As Kris steered for both vessels, the tow boat captain Berry happily chatted away with us. He knew Dave from an previous delivery we had been told about earlier.
After safely arriving and tying to the dock of the marina, we once again set about trying to diagnose the source of our Perkins’ ills. All indications seemed to point towards a fuel system issue and it appeared that we definitely had air in the system, but bleeding it at the fuel filters, fuel pump, and injectors only resulted in the engine turning over without firing up.
Frustrated with our lack of success, and pending the hopeful response we awaited from Dave’s inquiry on Facebook trying to garnish ideas and suggestions from colleagues and friends, we decided to call it a day and headed to a restaurant/bar with the memorable name of Captain Groovy. Dinner and multiple drinks took the edge off a less than perfect afternoon. By the time we returned to Exit a few hours later, Dave had dozens of responses to his Facebook post, most of them confirming what we had already concluded… tomorrow was going to be an educational foray into changing both the external Racor fuel filter/water separators, the internal secondary fuel filter, and more bleeding of the fuel system.
August 28 – 9:00am:
We had spare Racor primary filters aboard but, despite all the spare parts aboard Exit, a spare secondary filter was nowhere to be found. So, while Dave arranged for one to be delivered from the nearby Napa parts store, I commenced with changing out the Racors. It involved not only the physical changing of the filters, but also a lengthy process of tracing of all the lines in the fuel system and sorting exactly how everything was laid out and routed. We learned very quickly just how important it is to not only learn the specifics of how the boat is configured, but also to label everything clearly (something which was not already done) which makes the diagnostics and repair job much easier and timely. We would take this lesson to heart and, soon after, start the time-consuming (but also insightful) process of attempting to label every water hose, seacock, fuel line, and electrical switch we could identify.
Our hope was to complete the repairs, confirm that the engine was functioning smoothly again, and get out of Little Creek by late afternoon or early evening to start the return journey from Virginia back to Maryland. The biggest concern was a pretty serious storm that was developing and moving our way. Dave sat, working at his computer, occasionally answering questions I posed while I wrestled in the tight confines of the engine compartment. Another lesson learned was that, while a given repair may not be that complicated, performing it successfully in the tight quarters allowed by the constraints of very limited boat space created it’s own challenges.
We also had developed a slow water drip coming from the ceiling in the starboard berth which had to be traced. Removal of some interior trim and a couple of panels revealed the source of the leak to apparently be one of the cockpit speakers. Tied up to the dock, our position was fixed (unlike at anchor, when the boat always swings to face into the wind); the pounding wind and rain were driving straight into the cockpit from astern, and the resulting bath apparently exceeded the speaker’s “marine” capabilities. After a quick tape job sealed off the speaker from the elements, the focus returned to getting the engine back on line.
By mid-afternoon, all filters had been changed out and the fuel system bled. We crossed our fingers, turned on the key, and pressed the start button. The engine fired up straight away but still ran rough, indicating that a couple of the injectors still required some additional bleeding. Moments later, the Perkins engine sprang to life, running smoothly like nothing had ever happened. We cheered, and high fives were enthusiastically exchanged. It looked like we were back in business!
Lesson in Diesel Mechanics: Fuel Filters 101
Crap even beyond the lift pump strainer
The weather, however, had different plans for us. Multiple checks with different weather sources confirmed what we feared. Small craft advisories were already in effect all up the coastline and a serious storm was bearing down on us quickly. The forecast called for 6-8 foot waves and winds gusting as high as 50-60mph! It was certainly no hurricane, yet wind and waves of that caliber hitting us straight on the bow would mean motoring the whole time, and it would be a miserable slog for at least twelve hours, certain to beat the crap out of us the whole time.
We wanted to get moving but prudence and common sense told us to hunker down, prepare Exit for high winds by securing everything aboard, and hope for a quick break in the storm. Once again, we found ourselves in unchartered territory as we now had the learning experience of getting ready to face a storm on our boat that, at least, we’d experience from the relative safety of a marina.
With everything on deck safely stowed away or secured, we watched as the storm descended upon us. The wind began to howl and the rain pounded down. At one point, a gust blew through that picked our ten foot aluminum hulled dinghy up from the arched davit it was secured to at the stern of Exit about four feet above the transom, inverted it at a ninety degree angle so we could actually see the inside of the dinghy floor from the companionway, and slammed it back down with a sickening thud. The lines and davit held but we heeded the warning and immediately clamored up on deck in the maelstrom before the storm had the opportunity to rip our dinghy clean off the davit or, even worse, break the davit itself. Dave calmly advised us to drop the dinghy into the water, pull the drain plug at its’ stern, and partially sink the dinghy to protect both it and the boat… which we did quickly.
With nothing to do but wait, we headed back to Captain Groovy for dinner and plenty of drinks. It didn’t look like anything was going to change in the weather for the foreseeable immediate future so we reserved ourselves to a evening of food someone else could prepare and plenty of drinks.
It was now mid-afternoon but the wind and rain still had not let up. The forecast indicated that the storm would still deliver 5+ foot waves and relentless wind for quite some time. Though we were starting to get a bit of cabin fever, we could do nothing but continue waiting.
By dinner, we had decided it was time to mix things up, so Captain Groovy’s was sidelined in favor of a longer (and wetter) walk to Sushi King for sushi and saki. After dinner, we noticed on the walk back to Exit that conditions definitely seemed to be improving. We agreed to head to bed with Dave getting up to check the weather status and realtime forecasts and updates every couple of hours. If the wind and rain continued to settle down, we would make a run for it as soon as possible.
August 30 – 4:00am
With two hours still to go before sunrise, we awoke to Dave smiling and asking us “Do you want to go home?”
We climbed out of bed and quickly completed our preparations to depart from Cobbs Marina. At around 6:00am, we released our lines from the dock and slowly began making our way out into Chesapeake Bay. The wind and waves had not completely subsided, but had quieted down substantially. As we crept forward at only about three knots, we were grateful for waiting out the storm.
By 7:00am, we approached the shipping lane which ran just offshore. With nearby Norfolk being one of the busiest Navy hubs in the world, shipping traffic through the area was constant.
As we were creeping along, our VHF radio crackled to life, announcing that boats in the area should be aware of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier that was just entering the shipping lane. We saw the Navy vessel headed towards us, basically on a near intercept course with us. Dave joked that, “At least this was not a ship from the Navy’s 7th Fleet, which had been responsible for three collisions and a ship’s grounding over the past six months resulting in multiple fatalities!”
When we hailed them on the radio, we were told to maintain our current heading, as they already had seen us and would pass safely off our bow. It at this point I realized that our training captain Dave was not only a very experienced sailor (and apparently ex-CIA operative who, when active, was only four steps removed from the President!), but also was obviously a powerful sorcerer with powers far beyond our comprehension! During our training run, he had not settled for providing merely simulated scenarios for us to learn from; rather, he had managed to conjure up actual engine breakdowns, heavy storms, and now had even summoned the U.S. Navy for us to deal with!!!
Finally, the wind began to shift off our bow enough that we could hoist the sails, shut down the engine (which had run like a champ since departing Little Creek), and sail in relative silence without the relentless sound of the diesel chugging away below. It was most satisfying to finally sail having chosen to do so, rather than out of necessity due to a mechanical failure.
Sailing by moonlight
The moving horizon of a nearby ship
As the sun set and the night settled in, we continued sailing north making good time. That night,traffic seemed to be much lighter. The constant and unnerving sense of menace, trying to discern the intentions and movements of boats around us, slowly began to give way to a peaceful sense of comfort. Though there was always an awareness of who and what was in our proximity, there slowly grew a feeling of becoming one with Exit. Watching the wind subtly shift and responding with a slight change of the sail trim, we found ourselves gaining more and more understanding; patiently trying to coax another half a knot of speed became more of the focus than the uncertainty of navigating in the moonlight. The stars blanketing the sky above provided a backdrop for the comfort of solitude, not the foreboding sense of hidden dangers. When Kris climbed up into the cockpit to take the watch just before 5:00am, I was exhausted, but also exhilarated at the level of comfort that had settled in. The learning curve is steep at first… so much still to learn, but we also had learned an amazing amount already.
August 31 – 9:00am
The pace we had set since leaving Little Creek had been respectable, building from the creeping two knots under power in churning waves as we entered the Chesapeake Bay just outside Cobb Marina to over eight knots in steady breezes overnight. By mid-morning we were making a around six knots, as the wind dropped off slightly. The journey back had taken right around 27 hours.
Toads In A Hole
Through the eyes of a sorcerer…
As Annapolis became visible in the distance, Kris came down and woke me up. I don’t recall exactly what Dave had suggested, but for some reason I recall being on deck starting to make an adjustment at the mast when the boom vang (a four foot long pole angled between the mast and underside of the boom, placed to help support the boom) simply dropped to the deck with a clang! A closer inspection revealed that all four rivets securing the pole to a fitting under the boom had corroded and failed, sheering off simultaneously… the sorcerer once again conjuring his spells.
Though befuddling, this was certainly nothing like the engine stopping. We were able to tie off the pole and rely on the topping lift (a rope running from the back of the boom to the top of the mast) to keep the boom from dropping down into the cockpit when we lowered the mainsail. It seemed to be less of a disabling problem and more a reminder that anything can happen at any time.
We slowly entered the familiar surroundings of Back Creek and dropped the anchor slightly further up the creek in much nicer surroundings than right off Jabin Marina’s launching docks where we had been before. At our previous location, there was much more boat traffic passing by and constant activity at the dock. With what looked like a parking garage for boats, power boats were stacked in cradles four stories high; a fork lift with extended forks on the front moved about all day long lifting boats into and extracting boats from the storage shelves. Kris and I had joked that it looked like a power boat vending machine… drop your quarters in the slot, hit the B-14 button, and watch your boat get dropped from the shelf into the water!
The location we were now anchored in was only a few minutes away but seemed much more secluded; plush and well groomed back yards of waterfront houses looked out at us for 180 degrees of our view.
After rowing Dave back to the dock, we settled in the cockpit for several well deserved beers and reflected on our experience. Our 300 mile voyage had spanned not 48 hours, but rather 5 days. Not a harrowing offshore passage covering weeks and thousands of miles, but still an incredible adventure that turned out to be an unbelievable learning opportunity filled with a multitude of firsts for us and certainly a worthy source of many, many entertaining and memorable stories for future reference. We had not conquered… but we had survived and undoubtably learned! What more can you hope for?
We had been told that the outboard engine for our dinghy had started making a bit of noise the last time that the previous owners had used it. Either that was a bit of an understatement, or the year out of the water had not been kind to the little Yamaha 8hp motor.
While we were on the hard, the dinghy was on a storage rack about 500 yards away. Trying to get the outboard running out of the water seemed like a major pain in the ass so we decided to wait until we got it the water to deal with the engine. With the short time we had before leaving Herringon Harbor North, at Deale, this first opportunity came once we reached Back Creek.
The first time trying to load the engine from the stern lazarette to the dinghy proved to be a rather intimidating prospect on the water. I’m sure in a few months time we’ll get pretty nonchalant about what will undoubtably become a rather mundane task; but first time attempts at a tricksy task often are a daunting experience. Up from inside the stern lazarette onto the deck, down onto the transom locker, down onto the transom platform, and across the gap into a very unstable dinghy where it then had to be lowered and secured on the dinghy’s transom provided a nightmare scenario for mishaps. Visions of dropping the engine onto the boat (or ourselves) or falling somewhere along the way, or possibly even worse, watching the engine splash into the water, all flashed before our eyes. This resulted in a rather slow and conservative approach in which we decided to use the dinghy davit to lower the engine to the dinghy with it attached to a rope the entire time until the outboard was secured to the dinghy transom. Experienced yachties would obviously say one of two things: “Paranoid newbies…” or “…how else would you do it?” We weren’t sure, but the safe approach turned out successful and uneventful.
Of course, the outboard didn’t start up. Not only that, the pull cord wouldn’t budge.
As I sat in the dinghy, contemplating the possibilities while Kris searched for an answer on Google, our neighbor on the mooring ball next to us (he had passed by yesterday with his wife in their dinghy singing some unintelligible song) came motoring up to us and said hello. Sounding obviously French, he introduced himself as Christian and asked if we needed any help. We were told that he and his wife Mary had been sailing since 1992 and he swore he’d seen Exit before on the East coast. He also indicated in a very French accent, “I was singing you a French song yesterday… you have a French boat so I thought we had French neighbors but no one joined in!” We had thought he was just a happy guy and always sang when he motored about in his dinghy.
Unfortunately, his ability to translate our French owner’s manual for the Yamaha outboard (it was the original manual from the original French owner) shed no light on the problem. Fortunately, he did have a Yamaha shop manual for all Yamaha outboard engines and that was written in English which he offered to lend us.
After a very animated conversation and some kindly offered advice, Christian headed back to his boat. Eventually, a massive lightning storm that blew in quickly forced us to give up on the Yamaha for the rest of the day. We battened down the hatches and watched wide-eyed as another storm released a torrent of rain matching a solid tropical Borneo downpour, commenting how glad we were to be tucked security on a mooring ball in a very protected area.
When we woke up this morning, the sun was back and, after about a five hour meeting on our boat with John Albertine (a retired Coast Guard captain who agreed to help us check off the insurance company requirements needed to lift our sailing restrictions), we decided to have another go at the Yamaha.
Heeding earlier advice given by Christian to prevent the inevitable misery of a part falling in the water, we had returned the outboard to the safety of Exit’s cockpit before taking any components off the engine. This sounded remarkably similar to our philosophy of moving the engine; however, Christian had also laughed, saying “Ah, but advice is meant for other people, no? I would probably not take my own advice if I were doing it!”
As we worked on the outboard in the relative safety of our cockpit repair shop, we heard another voice coming from over the side of the deck… this voice obviously American.
“Are you guys really from Pullman, Washington?”
Kris responded, “Yes we are. Do you really know where Pullman, Washington is?”
In another small world moment, we were introduced to James and Dena. James laughed in disbelief and proceeded to tell us that he and Dena were from Washington. He had lived in the Seattle area playing music in the 90’s and had a blast playing with his band in Pullman in 1992. “It was great! We were treated like rock stars there! What was the name of that bar that was underground?”
We reminded him it was called the Cavern and told him it had subsequently changed its name to Valhalla. Again, he starting laughing when I explained that I was also playing in my own band Matrix in Pullman during that exact same time frame and, we too, had played at the Cavern on numerous occasions!
We went on to learn that, at that time, Dena was in high school not far away from us in Moses Lake.
They have been cruising together for years on the West Coast, Hawaii, and the East Coast. Living aboard their 1961 Chesapeake 32 sloop S/V Nomad, they are currently based in Annapolis working (James at the famous Bacon Sails and Dena ran the marina right next to us) but plan on heading south in November as their season of work ends here.
On their boat, they live essentially completely off the grid, utilizing almost only solar and wind generated power and had been “living the life” sailing for around two decades.
When I explained the dilemma we were having with our outboard, again James laughed, held up his oars, and proudly stated, “The one thing on a boat that doesn’t break!”
He found it even funnier when we replied, “Actually, we have oars but one of them is broken as well!!!”
We found their story both intriguing and inspiring, as it seemed they likewise found our story just as entertaining. Mutual invitations were exchanged to come aboard anytime, James and Dena said goodbye and rowed away, and we found ourselves once again alone with our broken Yamaha. A bit more troubleshooting lead to the conclusion that the Yamaha’s pistons must be seized up, leaving us at the end of another day with a non-functional outboard. Yet another day’s project.
The silver lining came in two realizations… number one: it appears the name on our transom may lead to many memorable exchanges; and number two: the people you meet while tied to a mooring ball seem to be quite a different lot than most of those you meet at the marina! We definitely like the mooring ball population. We can only imagine that this will be just as true once we start meeting people at anchor!
Reaching this point is the product of what has seemed like a never ending range of emotions and decisions. At times, the clock has felt like it stopped completely… progress ceasing; hope waning; frustrations growing. Other times it has seemed like we can’t slow down enough to catch our breath… passengers on an out of control freight train; time racing past in blur; no chance to pause and contemplate or reflect. Rarely have things taken the middle ground. Either we are carried by a proverbial raging current in which we simply try to stay afloat or we are struggling to make any headway.
The moments of split second decisions in which we have to rely on instinct and preparation to guide us have arrived. The moments we feel like we have hit an insurmountable wall forcing us to press on even harder, sometimes moving sideways simply to keep from stopping completely, have also arrived.
Today represents another culmination of all of that expended energy, effort, money, and emotion – both a small milestone and a great leap. After years of dreaming, months of searching, weeks of sealing the deal, and finally six weeks on the hard sorting out parts issues, we have finally launched and today sailed for Back Creek, just outside Annapolis, MD. Dave Skolnick, who was in the works to help sign us off for our insurance requirements, has been indefinitely sidelined with medical issues. So we arranged for another skipper named Rick to assist us in getting Exit to the mooring ball.
Our maiden voyage was met with good weather and we were able to sail for more time than we motored on the 5 hour journey. We had a few issues with electronics en route but nothing that forced us to abort the passage. Though Rick had agreed to fill the role primarily as a delivery skipper, he passed on a great deal of insight along the way, for which we were very grateful.
Finally being on the water sailing was a huge rush and it’s hard to describe exactly how satisfying it felt getting to this long awaited moment. The fact that we were only traveling a distance that could be covered by car in about 45 minutes ultimately made this a fairly small milestone; however, sitting in the cockpit of our own sailboat with the wind carrying us along constituted a great leap forward for us!
For the most part, our day was trouble free. We were able to do some sailing exercises along the way that helped to reinforce the knowledge we gained during our training in Thailand; that we were doing it our own yacht made it even more poignant, satisfying, and relevant.
One classic moment occurred while we were doing some exercises and we suddenly received a call on the VHF radio identifying Exit by name. It was from a gigantic barge that we could see clearly on our port side; it had to be about a half mile away. The person on the radio asked us sternly “to identify our intentions…” Apparently, the watch-person on the bridge of the barge, looking through high powered binoculars, had assessed that we were potentially on a collision course with them and wanted to confirm what in the hell we were doing. We responded that we would “maneuver as needed to avoid them,” for which we received a friendly “thank you Captain!” The fact that there was an equally large cargo ship at anchor just ahead of us and a much smaller – though still very large and 50 times bigger than us – multiple sailed Coast Guard schooner (which resembled an 1800’s whaling ship more than a Coast Guard vessel) bearing down on our stern meant that we had to do a bit of slaloming for a short time but all was good!
As we approached Annapolis, a huge deluge of rain not unlike a proper Borneo tropical storm unleashed upon us drenching us to the bone in minutes. It seemed as though it would not materialize but quickly did with a vengeance, reminding us how quickly the weather can turn on you when you are on the water. Nonetheless, all was good… very wet, but good. We were sailing on Exit… safe and ecstatic!!!
The long anticipated day finally arrived today… after all this time Exit has returned home to the water where she belongs! Even the overcast sky and constant drizzle of rain could not dampen our spirits for this milestone event. The night before we had arranged with the yard to raise her up another five feet in the air so we could drop the centerboard and put on a final coat of anti-fouling paint. They put Exit in the gigantic two story tall diesel powered sling and hoisted her up as the last boat of the day, leaving her there in the sling overnight so we could make the final preparations.
We had planned on staying in a hotel for the night, as the deck was now about twelve feet off the ground and we were sure the office would frown on us sleeping in a boat while it was in the sling. However, the only hotels available within a one hour drive were going to cost us $200… so we decided to not ask the office if it was okay to sleep aboard and opted for the backup defense that we had not been informed this was not allowed. Sometimes it’s better to just stay ignorant!
Let’s get this show on the road
The excitement is palpable
Now, as Exit swayed gently in her dual slings, suspended inside a massive rolling hoist that made our 46 foot boat look tiny, we eagerly walked alongside, slowly making our way the 300 or so yards to the launch slip. As the crew carefully lowered her into the water Kris and I had ear to ear grins on our faces, regretting only the fact that we didn’t have a bottle of champagne to celebrate the big launch! They towed us to the outside of one of the docks via a small dinghy and tied us up there, where we would be allowed to stay free of charge through he rest of the week if we chose to – a perk included in our haul-out terms.
42,000 lbs suspended
All systems go…
WE’RE IN THE WATER!
She’s a beauty
The rest of the day was spent trying to sort out some of the systems we had to be in the water for before we could operate. We constantly found ourselves grinning and announcing to each other, “We’re on the water!” Everything went smoothly and, to our relief, the refrigeration/freezer system worked fine (though it took about five hours to confirm with the extended time it took to get the temperature down).
The only real drama occurred at one point while we were checking the fridge motor and compressor while it was running. We noticed a small but continuous drip of water coming from a hose. Upon closer inspection, I discovered that the hose clamp that was in place had actually rusted all the way through and was there but not doing anything. No problem… we had a giant zip lock bag full of hose clamps. But, just as I was getting ready to slip the replacement clamp on, the hose burst off and, with the pump still running, a massive volume of water began gushing from the end of the hose. Already our first on-the-water-oh-shit-moment!!! Fortunately, I reacted with the decisive precision of an experienced sailor… or a little Dutch boy… I yelled “HOLY SHIT!!!” and stuck my finger in the hole while Kris ran to the switchboard and turned off the pump.
The crisis was quickly resolved but it drove home just how easily a small problem could become a disaster on a boat – in the open ocean with both of us on deck not realizing what was happening, a major influx of water like that could quickly threaten both the vessel as well as us. Water outside the boat good… water inside the boat very bad!!!
Despite all the hurdles, challenges, trials and tribulations, Exit is finally back in the water, we’re aboard her, and she’s all ours! Now we all we have to do is get her out past the marina breakwater, hoist up the mainsail, and do some sailing.
Our anniversary celebration excursion to North Beach ended up being quite an adventure. We had been told that North Beach on a Friday night was a quite lively place and well worth a visit… especially for two people who basically had not been out of the marina for six weeks! The plan was to bum a free ride from the Harrington Harbor office staff (who offered this service if they weren’t too busy), have a nice dinner, and wander around the boardwalk at the beach, people watching and enjoying the Friday evening entertainment.
The free ride went off without a hitch and we were dropped off right in the central area of North Beach just outside a Mexican restaurant… perfect. Not a fancy place, but eight years in Malaysia had given us a revitalized passion for Mexican food; not in small part due to the fact that Mexican cuisine was rarely pulled off successfully by Malay restaurants – even those that advertised themselves as Mexican restaurants! The food was great, including fresh guacamole prepared right at our table. However, Kris was not at all impressed with the happy hour house margaritas and, after one, changed to the “premium margarita” (which also came with a premium price). I opted to take one for the team and stuck with the cheap version, allowing us to consume more while maintaining a semi-reasonable price averaged between the two.
After dinner we went for a wander through North Beach. The Friday night Farmers Market was certainly worth the visit. Though we didn’t find any crafty items that jumped off the tables at us, we picked up some fresh veggies which included an absolutely mahoosive sized tomato, some delicious corn on the cob, fresh bread and cookies at a booth run by an Amish family, and plenty of beverages at the take away beer trailer! A live band was playing classic rock on the boardwalk and ten or twenty classic cars were parked on display which made for good times. The boardwalk stretched for a few hundred yards along the beach and was lined with benches that had been donated by various individuals, families, and groups; all of these had plaques with rather touching quotes meant for the loved ones the benches had been dedicated to.
People watching is almost always a fascinating endeavor, and North Beach was no exception. Kids, teenagers, middle age folks and older couples all seemed to flock to the area for the Friday night happenings. While we sat having a beer and listening to the band, one man quickly walked past us with his dog, all the while explaining to the dog that they needed to get going before the big rain hit; he turned to us as he shuffled by and warned us as well. Apparently Chesapeake residents know their weather; less than five minutes later the heavens opened up and a downpour commenced!
Our intention was to get an Uber taxi back to the marina so we hightailed it back to the Mexican restaurant for more margaritas while we waited for the Uber to arrive… an hour later with an absolute deluge coming down outside we still had no Uber driver! The margaritas kept going down but no taxi was to be had. A guy waiting for his girlfriend at the bar struck up a conversation and eventually, after telling him our story, we were being invited to come back and stay at his place for the night – “You guys are living the life! I have to party with you!!!”
Fortunately, one of the restaurant employees kindly offered to provide a taxi service back to the marina for us through the onslaught of rain and we were spared what would have certainly been an “interesting” night partying at Crazy Tim’s house.
Unfortunately, we didn’t know when to stop the margaritas. We finally arrived back at the marina after midnight in a pretty sorry state! The next morning hit like a freight train when we woke up at about 11 a.m.; we were distinctly reminded of two things: 1) anniversary celebrations great… 2) tequila dangerous!!!
Our 26th wedding anniversary!!! Day 37 living aboard our still land-stranded girl Exit. The cutlass bearing we have been waiting on for so long finally arrived and was installed yesterday along with our shiny new MaxProp propellor by Jeff, the mechanic we have been working with! I’m sure Danny, of Digital Prop, will be thrilled to finally be able to close the books on our account and get us out the door! We won’t be able to launch until next week which will put us over the “40 days and 40 nights” marker here on the hard…not quite as biblical as the Noah’s Ark saga but, hey…at least Noah was on the water!
It’s amazing to think that we have been celebrating our wedding anniversaries for more than half of my life! A stunning realization that makes me smile…I wouldn’t change a thing! The journey Kris and I have been on is something so unique and special that it simply boggles the mind when I think about it. Kris is my grounding force, my security net, my inspiration, and truly the reason each morning is worth waking up to. Sure, there have been hard times, but those have been easily outweighed by the incredible highs we had had the opportunity to experience. It’s all part of the adventure that life allows us to savor. As I’ve said before, I find myself more often regretting the things I didn’t do than the things I did. And, to be honest, outside of tragedy and true loss, the shittiest things that happen tend to make the best stories down the road!
August 10, 1992
August 10, 2016
Though the actual day of our anniversary has been pretty damn uneventful as far as celebration goes, tomorrow we will finally leave the marina for the first time since arriving (outside of supply runs) to get away for the day and simply enjoy our first day off at a nearby town for a well deserved Friday escape.
We have had the chance to go through the entire boat repeatedly, making an extensive 15+ page inventory of gear and spare parts that came with the purchase of Exit; had the chance to familiarize ourselves with systems on the boat as best as possible without being on the water; we’ve had the chance to learn and do far more maintenance than we ever previously considered including, but not limited to, cleaning just about every square foot of Exit, rebuilding toilet pumps for both heads, servicing and verifying all the bilge pumps are working properly; we’ve had time to study manuals, charts and boating reference books for the East Coast; we’ve sanded minor corrosion points on the hull and put on a brand new coat of anti-fouling paint below the water line; and now we finally have the cutlass bearing sorted and prop replaced!!!!! Numerous people have told us repeatedly that the jobs aboard a sailboat never end (“a boat is a hole into which you endlessly poor money” or “cruising is doing continual repairs in exotic locations” are two of the memorable quotes). But we have also been cautioned that it is easy to just keep doing work on the boat and never actually sail it (Paula and Tim, who loaned us their fridge, have been working on their boat on the hard for six years!!!).
Queen of the undercoat
Rebuilding a pump with the help of Nigel Caulder
Final coat on the daggerboard
New prop shiny!
Break time… 25 cents
So, as soon as we can make arrangements with Dave, it is time to get Exit back in the water and finally get sailing…the whole point of all this lunacy we have endured! The most visual aspect advertising our possession of Exit to all who see her – the words ‘Pullman, WA’ on the transom as our hailing port – should go on sometime tomorrow before we head for our day’s excursion. I’m sure this will be a particularly poignant moment for us.
Once again, the excitement (temporarily somewhat beaten down into submission following the trials and tribulations of the last six weeks) is starting to build… The moment Exit hits the water, the prologue of our new adventure ends and the new chapter of what is certain to be another epic story begins. Time to turn the page and dig in!