HOW TO SURVIVE A WATER SPOUT…DESPERATELY

Several years ago we sold our  ketch sailboat and bought Cruzan our salvaged Marine Trader trawler.

I must confess that I still miss sailing and find that putting along at 6 knots is a tad boring.  And so this explains why I responded as I did when the phone recently rang.

SellvantageHull.jpg

That day began uneventfully with a phone call from my young friend John who  lives on a 44’ Gulfstar sailboat which I had helped him acquire from salvage years ago. Finally after several years of rehabilitation, it was ready to sail.

This was to be my first journey off shore on “Early Out”.  I eagerly looked forward to it.  She is as they say a stout and seaworthy craft of about 20 tons.

The NOA weather report warned of heavy weather coming across St Augustine Florida that afternoon. While motoring out the channel into the ocean from the St Augustine harbor in the late morning we frequently looked behind at the looming black front that showed up clearly on the GPS unit and that now lurked ominously all across the horizon behind us. We could see it.  Angry looking thing that it was.

The storm was predicted to quickly cross the city and then rush out to sea and so our plan was to go south as fast as the sails would enable us and try to outrun the storm so that it would pass to our stern and provide an exciting ride in the process. Not an unusual decision.

My wife and I owned our large ketch when we lived near  the Chesapeake Bay and the sounding of the  local “small craft advisory” warning there was  our signal to go sailing.

It was now early afternoon and cloudy and we were romping right along about 2 miles off shore on a southern course with a fine wind in the sails and prepared for an exciting bit of sailing not knowing that we were momentarily about to experience the full fury of nature at its fiercest…..Then suddenly, I can only surmise what was a water spout, exploded right on top of us and that’s where stupidity and carelessness hit home big time.

That angry black weather front must have suddenly accelerated.

All of a sudden total chaos overtook us and we were in a world of trouble.

It was as though we had been seized by a giant hand and roughly thrown about. This almost 40,000 lb. boat was like a child’s toy in the bathtub. We spun around in more than one complete circle and the water deluged down on us in the cockpit as though someone was aiming a fire hose directly into our faces.

John was no more than 18” away from me during this madness yet I could not make him out as we both held on for dear life and the boat did what it did completely without any restraint, spinning and the rails buried in the water. Suddenly there was an explosion as the fully set almost new mainsail shattered into a thousand pieces and a loose dock line fell overboard and wrapped around the propeller thus stopping the engine dead.

Not a good thing! No engine and no sail. Not good at all!

How long did this bedlam actually last?

I truly do not know. It seemed like forever but probably was only minutes long, but in that brief period of time, lots of lessons were learned, and consequences of unwise decisions reaped.

Strangely I felt no fear through this experience, only a sense of sudden desperation and the instinctive urge to hold on to whatever was available to grab that was anchored firmly to the boat.

I had confidence that this strong boat would see us through and knew that most people who are lost at sea die because they are separated from the boat which usually survives its occupants.

I quickly learned that the stainless steel structure of the bimini that I had instinctively grabbed was not one of those things firmly anchored to the boat. Though apparently secure at first glance, it was actually lacking a few bolts and so it too came crashing down on our heads in the midst of the chaos.

The fury of the storm passed as quickly as it arrived and we began to pick up the pieces and recover.

Down below the contents of every drawer and shelf was strewn on the floor in a sopping mess. Food, books, bedding, clothing, tools, all strewn together in a foul soup of bedlam and then there was the hypothermia that set in.

And the fouled prop? Took John about 8 dives without a tank and with a not so sharp knife to free the 1” line from the prop so we could restart and use the engine.

Lots of lessons learned such as:

Flotation devices are of absolutely no use when safely stored in a locker.

Foul weather gear is worthless if it is not zipped shut in front.

Loose dock lines are almost guaranteed to find their way to a propeller.

Good idea to have a sharp knife available.

Lock up any beer if anyone on board is inclined to imbibe.

Sails are meant for use in sailing weather not for exposure to gales…in this case I am told 70 mph wind.

And finally, it is a good idea to close all of the hatches before the storm hits.    Duh!!

And so we began limping back to harbor wet and cold and with John, I discovered, more than a little shall we say sheets to the wind from visiting his beer supply, and the confusing navigation was now up to me….me.

Getting darker and Oooops, no navigation lights!

Seems the batteries were depleted and the lights would not work and so with darkness closing in on us we finally made it back to the dock and safety and some welcome warm food.

Bottom line: “Early Out” has a few things to correct and a new mainsail to acquire but she is a fine vessel and one that I would not hesitate to go off shore on anytime John calls me. If she can bring us through a brutal water spout safely then she can take us anywhere.

And one final thought. I am really glad that I was not on board our old trawler when this occurred as I am not at all sure she would have made it through this challenge. But then I would not have been so stupid as to take that risk.

Sailboats are sailboats and trawlers are trawlers and you better know the difference.

By Dr. Robert Grant aka The Holy Land Guru

Now on   Facebook.com/HolyLandGuru   and    www.holylandguru.com

July 28, 2013.

 

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