As we crossed Currituck Sound’s calm peaceful water yesterday, it was hard to imagine how the same body of water could have been mean enough six months ago to break our spirits. We admitted defeat. Mother Nature was the victor and she sent us packing to Put-In-Bay via rental car, leaving Tessa behind, secured at Atlantic Yacht Basin just south of Norfolk on the Intracoastal Waterway.
The dreaded Albemarle Sound, which beat us and Tessa up for several horrible hours, was equally as cooperative yesterday, only dishing out light winds and chop. We made it to Alligator River Marina just before dark, and glided right to the dock instead of the three hair raising attempts last spring while 30 knot winds drove Tessa every which way but in the slip. The dockhand remembered that struggle, when it took five guys playing tug of war with Tessa to get a dock line secured. He proclaimed Gary a trained professional this visit.
How, we wondered, could it have been that bad to make us surrender? And then we began recalling the voyage of last spring……
From the very start this trip was a challenge. Strong south winds kicked us in the teeth when we departed Fort Myers the first of April, prompting Gary to turn back to our dock without even a discussion. Five days later, the winds diminished slightly and we made a run for Marathon. The wind became favorable for sailing, but when Gary tried to unfurl the headsail, it was totally locked up. No sailing in our immediate future was a big disappointment, but not a deal breaker to make Marathon.
Ahhh, the beautiful turquoise water of the Keys, this trip churned up with frothy white caps on top of choppy waves. Strong winds blew straight out of the north, our heading. Nothing dangerous, but uncomfortable enough for us to duck into Marathon instead of fighting an overnighter. In addition to the roller furler, the Autopilot had also now decided to freeze up, so a stop in Marathon would enable us to address both issues at a dock near a West Marine.
Five days, $500 bucks in dock fees, and a couple grand dropped at West Marine later, the winds subsided and we continued north, now ten days behind in our six week schedule. The day was glorious. Beautiful water, great wind direction for sailing, picture perfect. We should have taken a picture, because it was the last day of good weather for the remainder of the trip.
We sailed through the night comfortably, but when the sun came up, so did the north wind and waves. For the second spring in a row, we had to use the Fort Lauderdale Port Everglades inlet and continue the journey on the Florida Intracoastal to avoid adverse weather on the Atlantic. Our plan to stay outside (on the ocean) all the way to St. Augustine was blown away, literally!
While entering the inlet, when a GPS is critical, the Garmin decided to blink off. At the same time as sheets of rain decreased visibility to “right in front of your face”. Things were not going well for Team Tessa.
Captain Gary kept his cool as we began the Florida Intracoastal Bridge Hell. A little cruising trivia...there are 69 bridges on the Florida Intracoastal from Fort Lauderdale to Georgia. 39 of which have to open for boats to pass through. Many of which, Gary suspects, are run by bridge tenders who have a running competition for who can do the meanest things to delay boaters progress.
I am the VHF operator on Tessa. Gary is convinced that a female voice has its advantages. Somewhere in Florida, I decided that our VHF wasn’t transmitting properly. I also noted that we weren’t hearing VHF chatter, except for the stronger Coast Guard transmissions. Something was definitely wrong with the VHF. We switched to the handheld radio, which seemed to be working fine.
When living on board, life is much easier when there is a place for everything and everything is in its place. MY place for the handheld was on the seat cushion next to wherever I was sitting. GARY’s place for the handheld, once, was on top of the Garmin enclosure at the helm. The enclosure that we often grab onto when moving about the cockpit area. Which I grabbed onto, and knocked the only properly working VHF radio on board onto the sole, where the impact caused it to QUIT WORKING.
Another point about living on board. When things go wrong, it gets very, very quiet. So after long moments of silence, Gary suggested I put it on the charger to perhaps restart it. Which did indeed work!
Just south of Daytona Beach, heading for our marina reservation for the evening, I happened to look aft and noticed excessive exhaust steam or smoke. “Take the wheel” Captain commanded as he rushed down below to the engine room. I heard loud noises and saw frantic movement from below. Not good. Suddenly, he threw what resembled a fire hose out of the cockpit over the side of the boat, and water began rushing out of it. Definitely not good.
“Call TowBoat US and tell them we are taking on water!” Captain shouted from below. I did, several times, but did not get a response. I then hailed a passing trawler and asked them to begin relaying my transmissions, as our handheld signal may have been too weak. They also hailed TowBoat US with no response. But our knights of the water, the Coast Guard did. Then we began the inane litany of questions unrelated to the emergency. Do we have our life vests on, blah blah blah, until their final request for our TowBoat US membership number put me over the edge. “TELL THEM THE CAPTAIN IS IN THE ENGINE ROOM PUMPING OUT WATER AND CAN’T GET TO HIS WALLET RIGHT NOW!” Really, Coast Guard????????
Gary determined he had control of the situation and next instructed me to call off the Coast Guard and hail the marina to see if they could haul us immediately. They could not, but directed us to another marina that could. Gary navigated us right into the haul out slip and within less than ten minutes, we were high and dry in their boatyard. In less than five minutes after that, we were sharing a much deserved cocktail with the yard workers. Shortly after that, Gary addressed the packing gland around the propeller shaft, which he suspected was the problem.
Next morning we launched, pulled up to a dock, and went to West Marine, Gary’s normal M.O. Upon our return Gary was disturbed to find water in the engine room again. Where was it coming from??? By process of elimination he discovered the plug came out of the heat exchanger and water was coming from it, not from outside of the boat. Problem solved, after sustaining severe damage to the cruising kitty, off we went toward Georgia.
Georgia delivered its own set of issues. Very skinny water with dramatic tidal variations, a couple of groundings, followed by big sounds to cross with much bigger winds than predicted, as always. We both dreaded crossing St. Andrew Sound, as we had a bad experience the last time we crossed. It is wide open to the Atlantic and with the wrong wind conditions it is treacherous. And we were experiencing the most perfectly wrong conditions. Upon our approach, Gary calmly suggested that we do a practice run with our safety harnesses and jack lines by hooking securely on INSIDE THE COCKPIT. OMG I was scared because I suspected this was something more than a safety drill. The Captain was exercising extreme caution. But we made it with Tessa kicking and screaming amidst the wind and waves. I think even she was starting to lose her patience with this day. And then it got worse.
I had made reservations the day before at the Brunswick Landing Marina, where Chas and Kerry were to meet us the following day to do a leg of the journey north. The dock master was confident we would have no problem getting into our assigned slip, even though they would be closed and not available to grab our dock lines. Now, after getting spanked all day, my confidence level was shaken. I called again, reminding them that it was REALLY WINDY and was there ANYONE around to assist. “Just point your bow right between the pilings and you’ll glide right in” she assured me in a nice southern drawl.
Well, we did not glide into the slip. Driven off course by the wind gusts, from the perfectly wrong direction, we were driven into the slip sideways! Gary manhandled the helm, I ran fore and aft fending off pilings, nearby dockers came running to help, and eventually the chaos ended.
The next day the Calvary arrived to save the day. When Chas is on board, Tessa is charmed. Usually. Except on this trip. We have turned that Perkins key and pressed start without fail for 22 years, but on that day we got nutthin! The starter had nutthin left to give. Gary and Chas put their heads together and explored all options, finally our only one being to rent a car and drive to Macon Georgia to buy a rebuilt one. The four of us packed into a compact rental car and off we went on a Georgia road trip. After our return to Tessa that evening, the two of them worked for hours installing the replacement so that we could depart early the next morning. Another delay and another severe dent in the battered cruising kitty sent us moving on.
We experienced two uneventful fun days and one calm peaceful night at sea toward Southport North Carolina. I am not a fan of overnighters but proclaimed that if they were all like that one, I could go around the world. Soon after that the wind and seas kicked up for a rough time getting through a skinny break wall into the marina. Mother Nature had me fooled for a minute there.
Southport was a whirlwind of fun after Nick and Lynne James drove all the way from Port Clinton to celebrate Lynne’s birthday with us on Tessa. We all went to Sanford to see Chas and Kerry’s new home, then it was back to Tessa alone again. I was dreading what was looming on the horizon. Days and nights on the North Atlantic with just the two of us for moral support. We have done it before but it absolutely does not get any easier, because the conditions are unpredictable and usually less than desirable. Not to mention the fact it seemed that everything that could go wrong had gone wrong so far.
At this point in the journey, the pressure increased steadily every day because we had lost so much time dealing with weather and mechanical issues that we were way behind schedule. We committed to being back to work at Topsy Turvey Island Grill by mid-May latest, and the probability of that happening was very doubtful.
We progressed ever so slowly northward expecting each new day would be better than the last. Conditions had to be due to improve, and sooner or later the strong north east winds had to diminish. David sent a text from work. “When will you be back? We are very busy!” We were stressed out and were so anxious for cruising to become comfortable again. But comfort was not in our future.
However, Albemarle Sound was. We stood on the break wall the morning of our intended crossing, clothes whipping in the stiff Northerly breeze, and watched the whitecaps pounding southward. “Screw it!” Gary snapped. “Let’s go have breakfast! We’re not going today!” I knew it was my comfort that he was concerned about, and I knew if it wasn’t for me he would go. So I sucked it up and convinced him we needed to go. “It’s not going to be any better tomorrow or who knows when. Let’s just get it over with!”
The wind howled and the waves crashed over our cockpit enclosure for nearly seven hours. We were tired and beat up but we put it behind us. Neither of us remembered Currituck Sound from previous trips but this crossing made a big impression. The relentless wind and waves tried hard to push us out of the narrow channel, the depth alarm beeped and beeped, but Captain Gary persevered. We tied up at Atlantic Yacht Basin and listened to the weather forecast. The Meteorologists predicted five more straight days of 35 knot northeast winds, waves 7 to 10 feet on the Atlantic.
My strong, confident, optimistic Captain, has loved nothing more than being on the water with Tessa for 22 years. “I’m done” he said in a soft, sad, defeated voice. I put my arms around him and cried.