Thursday, January 2, 2014

One, two, three, you are out!

Season 7,  Day 2,
Light winds and calm seas yesterday, November 6, made the passage enjoyable.  Tonight the stars are bright, three and sometimes four fellow Salty Dawgs are visibly nearby, and the seas make the ride a rocking chair experience.  All is good and in about 3 hours the sun will be shining upon us.  The boat is doing great, everything is working, and we be Jammin'…
Season 7, Day 3...

Thursday, November 7th arrived and was one of the foulest days we have ever encounter. As the sun was setting we came out of the Gulf Stream, things were calm enough to think about cooking. Dave was having trouble with the auto pilot–it kept beeping off so he had to reset it–that lasted about 20 minutes. Then we heard two noises, one off the stern and one above our head. The latter was the traveler and boom swinging to port, and the former was the buzzer for the auto pilot. Dave went first to the wheel and found it unresponsive, next he inspected the connection between the wheel and auto pilot and it was not the problem. Which meant…that's when the boom took off and the connection between the traveler and the main sheet pulley system broke. He went forward and with rope was able to connect the two parts. Now back to figuring out why we have no steerage, it seemed obvious that we were rudderless. To confirm that would mean putting Dave in the water and night had fallen as well. We called into the DoDah net and let them know we had some damage. That's when we heard other boats were in trouble and in worse shape than us. So we waited.

We were never in danger of sinking but we lacked the ability to set a course and get anywhere. We also lacked the conditions to build a rudder out of cabin doors and get the whisker pole due to the state of the seas. The seas were 2 to 6 feet for an hour or less, and as much as 10 to 20 feet the rest of the time. The winds were an issue as well. But it was the confused waves breaking over all sides of the boat, tossing us back and forth, pitching us forward and backwards, and swaying us on a diagonal every now and then. Water, water, everywhere. I counted how often they were occurring and occasionally I reached 55 seconds but most of the time it was every 5 to 12 seconds.
Friday morning we tried the bucket and anchor method but the confused seas would send the bucket airborne and it would entangle itself to the anchor rode. That is when we contacted Dick and together decided a call to the towing company should be made. They declined to come out that far even though we had bought their "unlimited" 200 mile plan. That left the Coast Guard. We were told we were third or fourth in line for assistance.
For two days my husband and I drifted further south and east out to sea. Help was coming but we had to wait our turn, many boats were caught by the weather stalling and developing into something nasty. On November 9th the Coast Guard cutter USCGC Forward arrived mid afternoon. They first established that we were not injured and not taking on water, then they wanted to know if our engine was in good working condition and it was, next they had to check if we had two points to tow from and that they were reinforced metal plates with strong bolts. After assessing us and our equipment, they were able to install a tow line. That began a 44 hour tow job with quite a few more exciting moments. Jib unfurled and Dave retrieved it, tow line chaffed, inverter stopped working, boarding a zodiac rescue boat and climbing up the side of a 200+ cutter…but we made it back bruised but not broken to Cobb's Marina, Little Creek, Virginia.
About 2 hours after the marina hauled us, Zulu was pulled out at Cobb's Marina. We talked to him the next day and guess what? He had the same auto pilot experience as us before his rudder broke off (in a similar place--clear break straight across).

We are now making up for lost sleep and working with our insurance company on repairing Jammin', our home away from home of 7 years. We are the fortunate ones, but the USCG crews are the true heroes. They managed to get all sailors to shore and out of the danger that unpredictable weather can create. They are truly our Coast Guardian Angels.
The crew of USCGC Forward were amazing. Their story is much more interesting than ours. Here is a link to the article and photos of the rescue they performed.