Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Why do these things always happen at night...?

This is something I wrote after a couple of days of getting hammered by bad weather at an anchorage in the Bahamas.  This is a journal entry that I didn't intend to publish but this blog is primarily for us to keep a record for ourselves so here it is.  We are safe and sound and so is Wings, with her new family!  More on that later...

Governor's Harbor, Eleuthera, Bahamas
May 22-24, 2016
by Greg

I'm sitting in the cockpit as I write this, Angie dozing beside me, Kipper in her lap.  He's panting slightly, anxiously, and giving me his best "what the hell are we doing here" look.  He's had plenty of opportunity to perfect that look recently.  At home we would have never let Kipper lay anywhere but the floor or his own bed.  On the boat that's all gone out the window and at the moment he deserves a little tlc.

We're weathering another storm.  My writing looks shaky and drunk.  I wish.  The only thing I'm drunk on is sleep deprivation.  I'm illuminating the page with a small flashlight, a full moon that just appeared from the clouds, and the occasional flash of lightning.  Wings is pitching and rocking in anger and frustration, probably in pain as well.  It's been a trying couple of days.  No one has had more than a few hours sleep, we're all exhausted, even Wings.

I've just come back from bucket bailing the aft cabin where she's slowly taking on water.  I've unclogged and enlarged the drain holes that lead down to the main bilge where the pump should take care of it.  Ang' and I are taking shifts to monitor the leak, bail if needed, and watch our mooring lines.  We're riding out this storm on a mooring ball, thank God.  The anchor hasn't been anchoring the last couple of days so a mooring is a welcome relief.  We caught this one in pitch black darkness just before the storm, lightning flashing on the horizon.  We don't make a habit of grabbing mooring balls, anchoring, sailing, or even moving the boat after sunset.  We don't even like to be in the dinghy after dark.  The last couple of days have been exceptions.

We ran aground today and were struck by lightning the night before.
If Wings had emotions I'm sure she'd be shrieking in pain.  Our poor boat.  There's not an apt way to describe the feeling as you watch your boat listing on a sandbar, standing helplessly by in driving rain.  Nor the sheer terror and fear as lightning strikes all around you and finally your mast.

This is the fourth storm at this anchorage, in 2 days, and they're taking a toll on all of us.  The boat is a mess; tools everywhere, flashlights, wet clothing, towels, bucket and sponge for bailing, floor pulled up, flip flops, a gas can, and Kipper's tennis ball swirl in the rain filled dinghy.

It's predawn now and I can finally get a glimpse of the boats around us.  Three other sailboats and a little trawler, although it's probably bigger than Wings.  A little while ago they were just apparitions with a few twinkling lights getting tossed around along with us.  On my left is a large catamaran called "Tribe".  Tribe is a serious ocean capable big cruising cat, 60 feet long, and beautiful in a shiny sleek modern way.  We met her professional Captain, his fiance, and some of his crew and companions yesterday.  They came by to check on us having seen the lightning strike.  We weren't the only boat hit either.  Our buddy boat "One Love", anchored about a hundred feet from us was also struck, probably by the same bolt of lightning.  They're worse off than us.  They took a direct hit and the lightning exited thru their hull.  They took on water almost waist deep.  Fortunately, being a trimaran, the extra hulls kept them afloat.  Unfortunately the boat was a total loss.

Spike, Tribe's Captain, is in Governor's Harbor to be married.  He's already loaned us a handheld VHF radio and portable running lights so we can limp back to Florida or perhaps Spanish Wells for repairs.  Terrific guy, we owe him for sure.  All our navigation, auto pilot, VHF, running lights, inverter, and even the damn fridge are fried.  If we can just get a few days of clear weather we'll make a dash to a boat yard.  At the moment we might be stuck on this mooring ball.

Better than the sandbar we found ourselves on yesterday.

At dusk a squall blew us into shallows, as the tide went out, and there was a full moon just the day before making it an especially low tide.  I take responsibility.  We should have relocated to deeper water.  I was in a fog all day.  Making calls and trying to repair whatever I could after the lightning strike.  The night of the lightning strike we dragged anchor but were able to react quickly and keep the boat in relative safety by using the engine to take pressure off the anchor until the storm subsided enough to re-anchor.  All in the dead of night, of course.  Without the chart plotter we used Google Earth on our phones to maintain our location...

We had no time to react the second time.  Suddenly we were just sideways on the sand taking waves on our starboard beam.  No time to do anything but get safely off the boat.  Once ashore, Angie got a ride up to where the Tribe crew were staying and moments later Spike and another professional Captain, John, both Aussies, were headed towards Wings in their powerful tender to help me. By now, Wings had turned into the waves and was perched on her keel, rocking side to side.

Pulling her off was unsuccessful with the tide still out.  They suggested a second anchor which they hauled out and dropped for me in their tender.  By now it was dusk and they had to get back to their plans.  There was nothing else to do until the tide turned anyway.  Poor Wings' exposed rudder was taking a beating as she rocked backwards with the incoming swells but soon she began to lift.  That additional anchor was the solution.  Within about 30 minutes I was able to pull her off by hand, alternating between the two anchors.

Fortunately, no damage to the prop.  Unfortunately, the rudder hammered a small crack in the hull, hence the bilge water...

With Wings afloat and Angie back on board I dinghied towards the mooring area and marked the last available ball with a lantern so we could find it, and here we sit.

I just noticed the trawler moored nearby is named, "Dream On".
Pretty appropriate, comical really, since we're supposedly
"living the dream"...

I wonder if they know that's an Aerosmith song?

(Kipper, with Wings in the background, back in the States)

When the lightning struck, I (Angie) was relatively calm.  It was scary of course, but I kept my cool and was able to help navigate the storm. It's silly, but my biggest concern was "how much is all this going to cost?"  The next night though, when we ran aground, I lost it.  It wasn't the running aground that did it. It was the sudden deafening noise and intensity of the storm. The wind was blowing so hard we couldn't hear each other speak. Being outside in that kind of weather....well, you just don't do that.  It's cliche, but it really does sound like a train. And it hurts. You're being pelted with sand and twigs and water and there's a roar in your ears and you just can't think. And of course we're all sleep deprived, making it harder to deal with things and put things in perspective. I saw Greg in shock, which is a shock in itself as he's so cool and in charge most of the time. 

The other thing that made me lose it was the heartfelt kindness we experienced from complete strangers. Greg has already mentioned Spike and his now-wife Anna. They went above and beyond to help us. Which is even more impressive when you remember that they were there for their wedding! And they had wedding guests to take care of! They've got a lot of good karma coming their way.  

Another woman helped us that night. Her name is Monique and she was driving home with her 3 kids in a tiny hatchback car when she saw us running from the beach to a semi shelter behind a building. She drove over to us and asked us if we were ok. When she heard our tale of woe, she offered us a ride. She put me (soaked to the skin), Kipper (soaked to the skin) and our three backpacks in her tiny car with all her kids and drove us up the hill to where Spike and Anna were staying.  And then she stood in the rain and hugged me while I cried (some more).  It doesn't seem like that big of a deal now that I'm typing the words, but it meant the world to me then and I will always remember her kindness. 

So, that's the story of our time in Governor's Harbor. We got the heck out of there first thing in the morning. Maybe someone with more experience could've looked at the weather patterns and known what was coming. For sure someone with more experience would've known that our anchor was not the right one to hold in the grassy bottom of that anchorage. Maybe they would've forced themselves to sleep the day after the lightning strike so sleep deprivation wouldn't have been a factor in future squalls. Or they would've moved anchorages. Or gotten a mooring ball.  It's easy to think about would've, could've, should've, but you can't change what happened, you can just learn from it.

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