Friday, June 10, 2022

The Big Bang!

May 31, 2022

We had just entered St. Joes Bay from the ICW/Gulf Canal on our way from Apalachicola to Panama City.....or that was the plan.

We had just filled up with diesel expecting light wind on the last legs of our trip.  When we were in the bay, it was relatively blue skies and a light wind, so we raised the sails.  No sooner had we done this when a small black cloud started to grow very quickly.  Then lightning about 2 -3 miles away.  Hearing that, I decided to start the engines and motor sail to try to put some distance between us. 


Suddenly Boom! and a very bright flash.  Both engines shut down, the instruments seemed to be rebooting, but came back with no data.  Yes, we had been hit.  The anemometer hit the deck like a helicopter together with a molten piece of plastic and circuit board that I think was the masthead light.

Masthead light??
Nobody was hurt.  A quick inspection of the bilges showed that we were not sinking - often lightning can blow a hole in the hull where it exits......but there was nothing evident thankfully.

After a few minutes to collect ourselves, I decided to sail across the bay to Cape San Blas where I knew we could safely anchor in shallow water, so that we could assess things further and come up with a plan.

After anchoring we did a more thorough inspection.  No visible damage - that was good!  No instruments working, and some electrical systems malfunctioning.  But at least we could sail.

We started to put a plan in place.  Basically there was no viable repair facility before Pensacola.  Panama City had a place that might be able to work on engines, but there was a powerline height issue getting there.  Pensacola seemed like the obvious spot as this is close to home.  Then the logistics kicked in….  The wind looked like it would be light at best, but with a 2-day window when it would at least be in a favorable direction.  

No Data on the instruments

As you can imagine, there was lots of texting an calls to friends and family to let them know what had happened.  Salty, our dog was with us and will not go potty on the boat - that's one of the reasons we try to limit long legs.  We were looking at 24 to maybe 30+hours to get to Pensacola in light wind, so we talked to friends in Port. St. Joe that agreed to take Salty for the night and our son would pick him up the following day.

It was a long dinghy ride to deliver Salty - all went well until the return.....of course our very reliable (until now) outboard quit about 2 miles from the boat.  Start rowing.......fortunately a fellow boater anchored near us cane to our rescue with a tow - Thank you "Wonderer".  I think your name was Glen.

Engine ECUs, probably fried

One more thing, our crew member Jeff got some bad news.  His wife was in hospital.  Like the trooper he is, he wanted to stay with us, but we knew we had to get him ashore before we left. 

The plan then came together – best friends Larry and Tracy were staying at our house, and they set off towards us in their truck………with another dinghy and outboard. We got a little sleep to get ready for an early start the following morning.  At first light, Larry and Tracy dinghied across to us.  We sailed back to close to shore, got Jeff to their truck, and set off to Pensacola. 

The winds were light but at least favorable in direction.  At first, we were very slow (2-3 kts), but the wind built a little and we were up in the 6kts +.  We were navigating using apps on phones and iPad.

By this time, I had done the following:

  •  Notified the USCG and put out a Pan Pan message, indicating we were underway with minimal lights, but in no immediate danger.  This was a precaution, but at least the coast guard would monitor us, 
  • Informed our insurance and made sure we could get a tow when needed.  I got their 24-hour contact no., as I just knew we would need it in the middle of the night.

·         Life jackets were on deck and ready.

Amazingly, our VHF radio was still working.  I have no idea why, as the antenna is located at the top of the mast – but amazingly, it worked.  The wind died at about 2am – of course!  We were about 32 miles from Pensacola Pass – but no problem, we had a pre-authorized tow set up.  I made the call.  The dispatcher had our claim info – no problem.  He called Captain Mack of BoatUS Pensacola.  Captain Mack refused to come out….said it was “too far” and in Destin’s area.  Destin would be no good for us – nowhere to go, no repair facility.  After a few choice words, we waited.  After an hour or two of drifting, the wind picked up slightly, we were making way again.  Soon after sunrise, no wind again.  Now we were 12 miles from Pensacola, but no phone service.  I called the USCG on VHF and asked that they call BoatUS, Captain Mack on our behalf.  I also told the Coast Guard of Mack’s previous refusal – but this time told a little white lie that we were in danger of drifting towards shore.  

Now Mack agreed to come get us.

Under Tow, Pensacola Pass

Could we have made it all the way back sailing?  Yes, but it would have taken a long time.  The wind came back a little while we were waiting Mack and we made a couple more miles.  The wind was coming from the North, and it would soon be an outgoing tide – so getting into Pensacola Pass would have been a very slow and lengthy process that would have taken many hours.  The bottom line – we have insurance and a Boat US membership for these eventualities.  Anyway, Mack showed up about 3 hours later and towed us in to the Pensacola Shipyard.  Meanwhile, Jeff made it home and things are now good with his wife’s health.   

Within 20 minutes of our arrival at the shipyard, we were hauled out.  Hats off and a big thanks to
Brandon of Perdido Sailor (our Contractor) and to the Pensacola Shipyard who all did a great job of getting the boat out of the water for further assessment – Thank you!

AND of course, to our best friends and A-team crew, Larry and Tracy for their help.  Without you guys, this would have been an ordeal!



Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Our Return to the US .....and the Big Bang!

 Return Trip

I will keep the story of our return trip brief as we have visited many of the spots we hit previously either on our way to the Bahamas or on previous trips.

We had an uneventful crossing - which is always a good thing.  Very calm but not a lot of wind.  We arrived in the Miami area and secured a mooring ball at the Coconut Grove Sailing Center.

Midnight Sun III at CGSC

Moorings are "tight" but they seem to work, and once again the staff at CGSC were great!  We spent several nights here and managed to catch up with old friends Tom and Michelle who were able to spend a night with us.

We are not "big city" people, but Coconut Grove has a small town feel within an obviously large city and many friendly bars and restaurants - most of which are pet friendly.

Night views from CGSC.

We continued the journey south headed towards Marathon.  We found a nice little anchorage for the night at Dod Island located on the west side of Card Sound (Biscayne Bay)..  After that we spent a night at an anchorage we discovered on the outward journey at Ocean View Inn, located near Snake Creek; and then moved on to Boot Cay in Marathon.  Boot Cay is almost and obligatory stop......well you either love the place or hate it in my opinion.  For a City run facility it is great, with good location for provisioning etc.  There is also a seemingly good community spirit from those that seem to have got stuck there.  Personally - I see no reason to stay more than a couple of nights.  After that, it kind of has the feeling of a "trailer park" for boats.  Now that's just my opinion, and I may get shot down for voicing it.  But take a close look at our Boot Cay neighbor's boat and make your own decision.

Anyway - enough of that.  We moved on and spent a night at Cape Sable, once again anchoring off the beach in very calm conditions.  We were able to excercize Salty on the beach with no crocodiles! (yes, we have seen them in the past- -see some early blog posts)

Now we were trecking North and getting onto the "Yacht Club" run.  As I know I have mentioned before, being a member of a FCYC or GYA club has a fantastic perk of reciprocity, and each member club provides a free night of dockage.  This in itself makes our Pensacola YC membership worthwhile.  Now moving north up the FL West coast, our journey took us to Marco Island (anchoring in Factory Bay for the night); Naples YC,  then a night on a mooring at Ft. Myers, a night at St. Charles YC.

Then we spent a night in a new-to-us anchorage at Cayo Costa known as Pelican Bay.  It was a nice anchorage - except for the Bugs!  OMG, the boat was bug graveyard the following morning!

Onwards again for a night at Venice YC, then anchorage at Desoto State Park, and a night at Bradenton YC.

Once again, great staff and a wonderful welcome from all the FCYC yacht clubs.  At Bradenton, we took advantage of the local Publix store and their "insta-cart" delivery service.  It worked well, we grocery shopped online and our goods arrived at the boat within a couple of hours.  Wow!  I'm not an Uber fan but use it, but now my Uber usage will decline when on future sailing trips!  This is the way to grocery shop on a boat!

From Bradenton another short hop and nice sail up Tampa Bay to- - yes, you guessed it St. Pete's YC.  Usually one of the nicer and more affluent FCYC yacht clubs......but they had a problem  - seemingly a big problem as the health Department closed down the club as we arrived.  Hmmmm.....maybe we didn't want dinner there afterall!  Anyway, other than, another great stay.

A good friend Jeff joined us in St. Pete's.  This was Jeff's first sailing experience and little did he know that we were about to give him the full experience!  We enjoyed two great evenings in St. Pete's before heading out to start our longest individual leg of our return journey.

The following day we sailed across Tampa Bay and out of the pass at Pass-a-grille and north up to Anclotte Key ready to stage for our Gulf Crossing.  We had a great sail with about 18 kts and a nice broad reach.

After a quiet night at Anclotte Key, we made a run for the Gulf crossing, headed for Dog Island and ultimately Apalachicola.  

Sunrise over the Big Bend
We were blessed with good weather, but very light wind making for a motor-sail across.  Still, although purists may disagree, I will take a fast motor-sail in preference to a hard beat-into-it crossing for the Big Bend.  Based on my experience, this can be a tough piece of water with weather often changing fast and unpredictably.  We made the crossing in about 21 hours although I don't think I made a note of our finishing time.

After a brief potty stop for Salty at the end of St. George Island, we continued on for a couple of hours to get into Apalachicola.  Another successful crossing - we were tired and ready for a couple of 

If you have read our blog from previous trips, you will no doubt have seen that Apalachicola and the surrounding area has consistently been one of our favorite areas.  In fact, after some time in the Bahamas and not really wanting to head home, I probably look forward to visiting the Forgotten Coast area more than anywhere else on the trip.  Hmmm......funny how one of your favorite spots can be right in your backyard!

We spent 2 nights in Apalachicola - but lesson learned, it was Sunday and Monday.  Many places, including restaurants close on Sunday and Monday - even though it was Memorial Day weekend.  Nonetheless, we had a great stay.

There are some great restaurants in Apalachicola and some unusual spts to visit such as the Tin Shed where you can find no end of nautical and land-lubber junk!

After 2 nights we took the ICW route towards port. St. Joe and St. Joe's Bay.  We took the ICW route as there is always plenty of wildlife and spectacular scenery along the way.  The ICW uses the Apalachicola River  and Jackson River for most of the way to Port St. Joe. followed by a short stretch of man-made canal.

The Tin Shed has a new location!

Well, if you are reading this in near real time, I am going to keep you in suspense for a day or two until I can write the next chapter.  I titled this ......the Big Bang, and yes there was one on our return, but I need to take a break before I can bring myself to writing about it.

As the Coast Guard Says, "......break, more to follow"