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!



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