This delivery is of a 45 ton 65 foot ketch built in 1981 named Lady Magdaline. Lady “M” for short. We will soon discover “M” stands for “Malfunction”. Or maybe “Meltdown”. You decide. Anyway, it is a custom one-off. The construction is stainless steel mesh re-enforced fiberglass. Say that five times too fast only if you have your health insurance card firmly in hand. The boat is in Fort Pierce, Fl and the destination is New Rochelle, NY.
I’m Pat, the first mate for this delivery. I met Captain Bill at BWI early in the morning. Our flight is on time and we are in West Palm Beach by 1100 hours but, the owner is late. The owner arrives at 1140 hours and we depart the airport.
We’re at the Pelican Yacht Club Marina at 1300 hours and start boat inspection. The boat is an older boat, and like I said, “45 TONS.” It has a massive bow sprit and is somewhat reminiscent of a Formosa or a Vagabond with the exception that it has a broad reverse stern. It is looking rough on deck. I’m used to boats that look a little rough; they may look a little rough but, are generally serviceable. On this boat the standing rigging is new, so that’s cool. There is old and new running rigging the owner has two 500’ spools of nylon braid to make up new rigging as required. That’s also cool. It’s encouraging that the owner has supplies on board and is actively working to upgrade.
The mizzen mast has a thimble sized halyard winch. Oh my. The wire halyard is ultra corroded. The rust blows off the wire when the wind gusts. I suggest to Captain Bill that we cut this wire and replace it with some of the new nylon. He agrees but points out that the fix my actually be more problematic than the rusty wire so, we leave it. The head sails hank on. Oh my. Captain Bill and the owner of Lady “M” go below to discuss the engines. It has 2 Perkins 50 hp diesels. Two engines, that’s redundant. The fact that the engines share the raw water strainer and intake through hull, well, that is not so redundant.
The boat has two rudders; a main rudder and small so-called trim rudder. I ask the owner if there is an emergency tiller for the main rudder. No you can use the trim rudder in an emergency. Oh okay.
Mike and Kyle arrive. Mike’s training is in mechanical engineering and he likes to tie knots. Mike particularly likes to tie the “Truck’s Hitch.” Kyle , a recent college grad, has just sold his fishing business and is working on accruing sea time so that he can get his Ticket. Kyle arrives with the “original deckhand”; a deckhand who at the last minute couldn’t do the trip. Kyle is rooming at the same “crew house” in Lauderdale with the original Kyle.
The owner and Captain Bill show me the engine shutoffs. The engine room is located directly below the cockpit. To get to the engine room you descend the companion way stairs and make a left past the galley sink and stove. Walk down a short passageway then make a left into the engine room. At the far end of the engine room door is a sturdy wood workbench piled with, well; I don’t what is piled on it, just stuff. To get to the engine level you squeeze through an opening between some loose pipes and drop down 20 inches to the engine bed floor. This is a difficult thing in port much less in seas. The owner had to help me get down the first time.
“Oh don’t touch that”, he said and then “Noooo, don’t touch that either.” Finally, he says, “Just jump.”
The weather forecast is so favorable that I’m discounting the negatives about the condition of the boat and the jungle gym engine room. We move back to the salon and review some of the SOLAS gear. EPIRB, first-aid kit (lacking some real basics), flares and signals, and then the master shows us the small red square vinyl life-raft pack. Captain Bill looked at me and I puckered my lips and mouthed, “No.”
Somehow I came to my senses when I saw the life-raft pack. Literally this pack was 3 inches deep by 12 inches by 12 inches and might weigh 15 pounds. I was shocked to see this and thought repeatedly, “What the heck is that thing?” Perhaps it opens into a miniature swimming pool for toddlers?? I couldn’t believe that a life raft could fit in a package that small. For a moment I tried to suspend my disbelief and marvel at the compact size. But no, it looks nasty as if the master found it at an army surplus store. The word “Survival” is printed on the flat face of the small case and each time I look at the word I think, “Not!”
The color and appearance of the vinyl case have “OLD THING” written in neon block letters. I imagine that once inflated it takes the shape of a rudder ducky and quacks when you move around in it. And that the flare gun is located in a pouch in the back of the ducky head and you must shoot the flares out of the ducky mouth. Oh my.
It is surplus life raft intended for personal aircraft. The owner says that it has been recently certified. “And you have the EPIRB,” he says. “This raft is rated for four people and you’ll not be that far offshore.” Well, “Not very far offshore” is kind of relative. If you can swim a mile and you are 5 nm offshore then you might as well be half way to the moon. Captain Bill is finished taking notes and leaves the boat to sit in a picnic area and call his partner. The owner has agreed to rent a modern fully equipped offshore 4 person lift raft. He also agrees to purchase some rigging items that Captain Bill thinks we should have. After Captain Bill’s conversation with his partner it is decided that the trip is on.
Mike is inspecting the boat and recommends some items that should be replaced before we leave. Captain Bill and the owner are at the helm and Captain Bill starts the engines. They start up really well and the engines run great. Hey, great! Captain Bill has a problem working the engine controls and tries several times to engage the transmission on each engine. It is entirely possible that the starboard transmission engages about half the time during the whole trip. The owner shows Captain Bill how to shift the transmissions. The engine controls are abysmal. The engine shutoffs are de-installed in the helm station so you must go below to shutoff the engines at the engine, in other words; in the engine room.
On the port engine there is the remnant of the old engine cable shutoff control. You must push this cable and pull it to leave it in a position such that the engine will start later. The starboard engine doesn’t even have this level of sophistication and the method for shutting this engine down is to remove the silencer over the air intake and cover it with your hand until you have choked the engine to death.
I suggest that the owner purchase three or four medium to large plastic storage containers so we can stow all the junk in the engine room. The work bench in the engine room is piled high with tools and random parts like, pipe fittings, hose clamps, a couple gallons of the diesel motor oil. I tell Captain Bill that the boat has a 50/50 chance of making it to NY. I get the impression from his chuckle that he thinks I’m joking. The master insists that the diesels just sip fuel. We have 200 gallons.
The crew pulls the sails out of the huge stern lazarette. Mike is taking the lead on this project. We take the sails to the shore and flake them to stow them back in the lazarette. Mike dives into to this project. Once the sail is stretched out we decide what it is and then we mark the tack with a sharpie pen. I can only say that the condition of the rags is such that you just hope you don’t have to go to windward.
The owner says that the 8D marine battery for the house 12v system is dead and he has another battery in the car. So we go to the car and load the battery into a cart and then onto the boat and then into the engine room. This new battery is a lead acid battery so it may have about 225 amp hours. This will be enough for this little trip but I know that the owner and his wife are going to need considerably more battery power for real cruising. Of course the stern lazarette is so huge he could install a Fisher Panda diesel generator in there and that would solve most of his energy needs.
He currently has a Honda 2000 gas generator. The owner and I go down onto the engine bed floor through the maze of pipes and hoses with no real hand hold and we muscle the battery onto the crude looking but strong plywood shelf. This shelf holds the house battery and a starter battery. 8D batteries weigh about 160 pounds. I don’t know where the other start battery is.
The crew loads personal gear onto the boat and we sort out the sleeping arrangements and then start walking in search of a seafood restaurant that the owner’s wife, Magdeline of the boat recommended. It is closed and the market deli closes as we have finally backtracked to it and all that remains is the pizza joint. Oh my.
Tuesday 7/28 “Rock on Brotherhood”
That’s my mantra. Ms. Magdeline shows up in the morning. The owner is working on some business stuff at the motel. Kyle and I go to the marine chandlery and grocery store for parts and provisions. Ms. Magdeline will take us to shop. At the chandlery we are picking the parts we need and Ms. Magdeline informs me that we should buy the cheaper parts. I think, “There are no cheaper parts,” but ok we’ll get the cheapest parts.
Captain Bill has estimated the cost of parts to be $100 but the total is $300. There is plenty of discussion about this. A cell-phone rings and Captain Bill is calling. Another cell-phone rings and the owner is calling. I have a cell-phone for each ear. We buy $300 worth of stuff in the end.
Ms. Magdeline will leave Kyle and I to grocery shop. She says to call when we are in the checkout line. This is the long shopping experience. After 2 hours we’re in the checkout line I call Ms Magdeline. She says that she is not at the boat and will go the boat to get Captain Bill. I call Captain Bill. “Captain, I’m through the checkout line. I’m standing guard over 4 shopping carts and the checkout person is waiting for the money. Yeah, the checkout person is tapping her foot and the store manager is giving us the eye, and the frozen chicken is gone to thaw and walkin’ away.”
“Aye Pat, I’ll be right there.”
The weather has been fantastic. This is the most pleasant summer weather I can remember in a long time and when we return to Lady “M” there is very nice Southie breeze and it doesn’t exactly feel like summer in Florida. We load grocery bags from three of the shopping carts into the car and I offer to stay behind and wait for the second trip. After the second trip we cart the groceries to Lady “M” and then provisions are loaded onto the boat. The owner arrives and sets up a flat hose to fresh water fill. There is more discussion in the salon so I go below. After some time I remark to the owner that I see water in the acrylic inspection plate of the water tank and ask if it is full. He says, “looks full.” Then goes to dock to shut off the water and stow the hose.
We have set our departure time for 1700 hrs. We all gather in the cockpit for pictures and then the owner wants to say a prayer.
It reminds me of the welder-minister in Charleston whom I hired to do some repairs to the rigging on my boat. One day he came to the boat to show me some drawings and a couple of prototype pieces of plate aluminum. After discussing the work I lit a cigarette. The welder-minister told me that he had anointing oil and a prayer to cure my addiction to nicotine. “Sounds great! Rock on Brotherhood.” So he put some oil on my head prayed to Jesus to rid my body of the desire to smoke and cleanse me of this evil. The owner of Lady M says a prayer is very thoughtful and I’m hoping much more effective than the stop-smoking-prayer.
Captain Bill starts the engines. The owner and his wife walk to the parking lot. The crew struggles to free the lines off the pilings. The lines are old running rigging that is straining and creaking as Captain Bill tries to position the boat so that the crew can loosen the line. We struggle with this for about 20 minutes. These lines are wrapped, knotted, and folded over each other and it seems as if they have been in place for years. I’m thinking, “Geeezuz please give me the strength to loosen this knot and free this good ship from the life it knows at this here Pelican Yacht Club. Thank you Geeezuz, thank you lawd.”
The owner returns and says, “Just cut the lines and leave them behind.” Captain Bill isn’t sure he has shifted the boats starboard engine into gear and struggles with it until it seems to be thrusting. The crew in a pirate-like fashion takes rigging knives to the dock lines and Lady “M” is free.
As we make way out of Fort Pierce inlet we know that there is ebb tide running and can thus see that our six knots is really about four knots. This is very discouraging. Once out of the inlet sure enough we’re doing about 4.5 kts over land. We start putting on some sail and things pick-up a bit but we are still looking at less than 7 knots on a 10-15 knot day.
We start our first watch rotation and declare dinner a free-for-all. Captain Bill lays out the shift rotation:
0400-0600 First Mate (Pat)
0800-1000 Captain Bill
1600-1800 Captain Bill
0000-0200 Captain Bill
The steering is stiff! Right away you know this delivery is going to be work. To keep the boat on course everyone except Kyle is struggling. Ha! Hats off to the newbie!
Aye captain. Rock on Brotherhood.
We have food freezing in a Styrofoam container which has about 10 pounds of dry ice in it. The food prep plan is that breakfast and lunch you are to prepare your own meal but for dinner preparation each evening it is performed by a different person.
Wednesday night (tonight) Captain Bill made spaghetti with sauce and jazzed it up sausage and veggies. By 2100 we were well offshore on latitude with Jacksonville, FL. We determined that we made 150 nm the first 24 hours. I was impressed I didn’t think the boat would make 100 nm a day.
The crew is in the groove and the watch rotation is very good with 2 hours on and 6 hours off, man, everyone is relaxed and taking it all in stride.
Sometime during the day I went down to use the head and noticed that water was running into the bowl. There was water on the floor of head and I couldn’t get it to stop running. I activated the foot peddle and eventually the water stopped.
The toilet requires fresh water to operate. I’ve never used a VacuFlush toilet. What? The toilet used fresh water to flush? What? On a cruising boat? On a boat that is expected to travel to remote regions. What? On a boat that doesn’t have a water maker? On a boat that has a 100 gallon fresh water tank. Captain says, “there is another water tank somewhere on the boat.”
“Who says so?” I ask.
“The owner of the yacht.” Captain replies.
We discover that there isn’t any pressure in the fresh water system. Not sure why this is until I lift the cabin sole and look into the fresh water inspection glass. It appears that we are out of fresh water. I can see the curvature of the hull where it meets or becomes the keel.
The crew is now using sea water for baths by taking the bucket to foredeck and dipping the bucket to about 3 gallons (24 pounds of water) hoisting it over the lifelines. Here is how you take a seawater bath on the foredeck. Get your bucket. This bucket should have strong handle and it should not leak and should have a 15 to 20 foot line attached to it so you can retrieve it from the sea. Throw the bucket overboard in such a way that the bucket lands on its side and starts to fill with seawater. Do not allow the bucket to fill completely with seawater as this would be about 50 pounds and the handle may break and you will lose your bucket.
Our bucket, that is say our only bucket, has a split in the side. Mike is wondering what to use to repair the bucket. I suggest sail repair tape. Kyle gets the tape and Mike uses the tape to repair the bucket. We tape inside the crack, outside the crack, and then run a length of tape around the entire bucket. This is good.
So the crew does the drill. And of course that drill is toss bucket over the side get the water, place bucket on deck, tip the bucket over onto your head, get thoroughly wet, soap up, and then rinse off. Works great! And the crew bathes.
Sometime later and on my 1200 to 1400 watch the unmistakable odor of engine coolant comes steaming out the hatch in the cockpit. Captain says, “Shut the engines down, Pat.”
“I can’t shut the engines down captain the shutoffs are below.”
“Oh shit.” And then “Mike, get your foulies on you are I are going below.” Ok now think about this. The engines are spewing steam. Not just some water but stream. Like stream in the manner of the quintessential submarine movie where steam is jetting from the some obscure pipe. So Captain Bill and Mike must enter the engine room jump down on to the engine bed floor and gingerly shut the engines. The port engine is the engine with the partial cable and a wooden handle on the end and the starboard must be choked to death.
This reminds me of a deer-hunter story. The father of one of my neighborhood friends enjoyed telling his story of how he wounded a white tail deer and then tracked the blood trail in the snow. Soon he found the deer lying in the snow exhausted from the hunt. Most people would shoot the animal to put it out of its misery. Not this guy. No way, not for him and the hunter drew his knife and finished the deer by hand. Oh my.
I idle the engines but a geyser amount of steam is coming out of the hatch. Captain Bill and Mike return to cockpit and take off the foulies and let the engines cool down. After a while they go below and then reappear with the raw water strainer. It is plugged. So much for redundancy. They clean it in the taped bucket then place the strainer into service and call up for me to start the engines. We monitor the engine temp gauges. Soon we are back on track.
We tried to run the Honda generator to cool down the AC refrigerator. Captain thinks there is something wrong with the AC refrigerator and he thinks we should cook the eggs. Mike and I cooked egg omelet dinner to use the eggs.
Captain Bill wants to talk about diverting to Southport. Southport is the smallish fishing town off the Cape Fear River. We discuss it and decide that navigating the Cape Fear River may be tricky so we opt for Beaufort. The plan is to stay in Beaufort only long enough to take on water and fuel.
Captain Bill asks to each of us crew in turn the following question. “what is the most dangerous part of this boat?
Kyle says, “Leaving the inlet in Ft. Pierce.” This proclaimation qualifies him as the smartest guy on the boat.
I say, “The steering.”
Friday 7/31. An Oasis named Beaufort.
It appears that the refrigerator is not working for some reason. We have been running the Honda generator twice a day but the refrigerator is getting very warm and is smelling bad.
Captain Bill decides that we should head to Beaufort to get water and allow him to spend some time chatting with the owner about diverting the delivery to Sandy Hook NJ. I don’t think Lady “M” will make it up the east river but, I don’t say this.
We discuss the approach options for Beaufort and Captain Bill decides we will heave-to until morning. In daylight we will enter the harbor to get fresh water and fuel and start back out to round Cape Hatteras before dark.
Lady “M” likes to heave-to and no one is surprised by this.
Captain Bill is satisfied with the heave-to practice. He then turns the wheel to unlock us from the heave-to and the helm starts to free spin. Captain Bill is unable to control the boat. I look at Captain Bill and tell him that I don’t think I’ll able to go to Sandy Hook with him. He gives me a side glance. “Just saying”, I say.
Kyle is on watch and my watch is coming up so I go to salon for a nap. I wake to find that Captain Bill and Mike have torn the granite top off the base that separates the two double beds. The granite is now stowed on end in the aft cabin head. Of course, the aft head is not working. The VacuFlush toilet in the aft head is being re-built.
I look at the flat bar at the top of the rudder shaft and speculate out loud that there must be an emergency tiller that fits that flat bar. Kyle and I thrash around in the stern lazarette but find nothing. We find a dinghy paddle with an aluminum shaft and pass that down to Captain Bill and Mike in the aft stateroom. We attach the shaft of the paddle to the flat bar with hose clamps and it seems pretty good.
Captain Bill, Mike, and I go up on deck and leave Kyle to steer with the paddle tiller but it breaks almost immediately. On the second fix Captain Bill finds a piece of rusted angle steel and we install that in place of the paddle handle. This contorts out of shape immediately and is not useable.
Mike finds a hefty 2×4 and attaches that, it snaps in two pieces. Mike wants to try to perform a line lashing method and Captain Bill removes the cable guide pulleys on either side of the rudder shaft quadrant and reinserts the pulley pin. This creates an attachment point for a line on either side of the quadrant to limit the movement of rudder. This shows promise and Mike continues to tweak the lines until he is able to restrict the movement of the rudder. He then attaches one end of a block and tackle to the flat bar at the top of the rudder shaft. Now we are able to fly the staysail and make sonething like a course.
Mike and I are sitting in the cockpit. I look back at the mizzen boom and notice that the boom has separated from the goose neck on the mast. I lack any understanding for what occurred to the pin which holds the boom to the goose neck. Then I assume that Mike or Bill needed a pin and just bastardized it.
I glance over to Mike and he says, “How about that?”
I ask, “You needed a part?”
“No.” he says with a grin, “it fell apart.”
“No way! Oh and what about the traveler stop?” The mainsheet traveler stop on the port was gone.
“Captain Bill set the traveler stop and re-sheeted the main and a gust came up then it was gone, right over the side.” Mike is shaking his head and smiling.
We’re sailing 1.5 to 2kts in the general direction of Beaufort. We’re 50 nm offshore so this will take a couple of days.
The boat doesn’t have good motion at all. We’re taking seas on our starboard quarter. I decide to get a change of clothes so I go below. Down the companionway, left past the galley sink and stove, past the wretched stink of the AC refrigerator, thru the burning inferno of the diesel exhaust, and finally into the chaos of the aft cabin. The boat is lurching and in the process of changing I end up on the aft cabin sole left thumb first. One second I’m grasping the bed post and the next second I’m flying face first into the cabin sole. My thumb is jammed into the support structure of the port double bed. All my weight is on the thumb and it starts to throb. I shine the flashlight on it and see that a large patch of skin is detached and flapping. The blue light of my LED flashlight shows the hurt. The thumb feels somewhat dislocated. I wash it with hydrogen peroxide and apply a bandage.
Captain Bill issues a “PON PON” and the US coast guard responds immediately. They ask the standard list of questions and establish a communication schedule.
The only thing that hasn’t happened is that the boat hasn’t sprung a leak. So we prepare a ditch-bag. Just in case. Captain Bill has a nice yellow waterproof bag. This is a small zippered duffle bag and we fill it with the things that we think we will need if we have to abandon ship. Passports, wallets, energy bars, a couple of flashlights, handheld VHF, and the EPIRB.
Saturday 8/1. TowBoatUS
Sometime during the day while Captain Bill is on the radio with the Coast Guard we establish communication with TowBoatUS. At this point the coast guard hands us off the TowBoatUS and we start a communication schedule with them each two hours.
Mike and I are in the cockpit. We’re chatting, just talking junk and passing the time about 25 nm offshore on our approach to Beaufort. From somewhere further offshore two boat shaking booms silence us and I let out a “What the…” Cloud cover has been moving in for the last several hours since daylight and visibility isn’t great, and Mike says, “Sonic booms.” I’m always forgetting that the east and west coasts of the country are the playground of the military.
Steering the boat consists of Mike going below to tweak the lines such that we can jibe. On one tack we make a more easterly progress and on the other tack we make a more westerly progress.
We’re not eating much in the way of real meals. We snack when we feel hungry.
In order to use the head we must get a bucket of seawater and fill the bowl then activate the electric pressure switch and then flush.
Captain Bill is passed out tired, and around mid-night I hear the call from TowBoatUS. I take the call and give them our position, heading and speed, and the current health of the crew. They think that we are making a little slower progress then we were previously and suggest that we should skip the 0230 communication. I agree to tell Captain Bill we will talk again at 0430 hours.
Sunday 8/2. Ghost Boat in Tow
At the top of my 0400 shift we make the determination that it is time for our last jibe westerly. This tack should put us approximately at the Sea buoy off of Beaufort. Sea buoy “BM” is the rendezvous point with TowBoatUS. We hear the call from TowBoatUS at 0430 hours and they are planning to put a crew together and be off the dock by 0730.
Mike tries to center the rudder and the towing begins.
We’re nearly completely abeam of the tow boat as we enter the channel to the Beaufort inlet.
TowBoatUS thinks that possibly we won’t make the inlet and discusses with us via VHF the possibility of leaving us on the north side of the inlet channel so that we can anchor there.
Captain Bill tells them that the boat won’t survive anchoring off the shore of the inlet and TowBoatUS continues to try to guide us in as we pass between the buoy markers of the inlet. TowBoatUS calls for assistance from the Coast Guard and they send out a crew on one of their rescue boats. I repeat, TowBoatUS calls for assistance from the Coast Guard.
TowBoatUS has us at dock in Morehead City at Dockside Marina at approximately 1130 hours. I guarantee you that I’ll be double checking my maintenance to-do list of my boat and for all other things I won’t sweat the small stuff.
Oh after dropping off Mike, Captain Bill and I head off toward Maryland. We had a pet frog stowaway. Yes, we pulled over and let him safely jump free.