Wrap up for Summer 2018
As we wrap up this summer’s cruise, Im reminded of an adage commonly told to new and inexperienced student pilots: “All new pilots begin flying with an empty bag of experience and a full bag of luck, the object of this game is to fill up your bag of experience prior to emptying your bag of luck”. The similarities in the two fields of knowledge: Aviation and boating – are remarkable. The long hours spent gazing at the horizon in the quiet solitude (when everything is going well), the amazing feeling of being the tiniest of specks relative to the vastness of the space surrounding you – above, below and as far as the eye can see in every direction – vast open space. Its as blissful and peaceful in a boat with hundreds of feet below and absolutely nothing on the horizon in all directions as it is in an airplane in exactly the same conditions. The absolute humbling reliance one must have in his skill, his craft (or boat), and the multiple factors that are beyond ones ability to control, the weather chief among them.
But back to our bag of experience and luck… Without question, we have used a bit of “luck” on this trip – largely “luck” we have created by preparing ourselves and our boat (thank you Alec) to the extent that we were able. We have researched multiple sites to compare weather reports and we have even hired a weather router to check and re-check our understanding of the weather and the causes for what we are experiencing. Additional “luck” we created was by deciding to “shake down” our new boat with a long 5 month coastal cruise where we could get help, should we need it, reasonably reliably. (Again, thank you Alec). We attempted to avail ourselves as a crew of every opportunity to learn and to stretch and to grow in our knowledge of ourselves, our boat, and each other. And so here we are, way off shore, enjoying the single most beautiful day of cruising we have had in 5 months but knowing that all of it can and will change. Again, we are attempting to tempt the fates and improve our odds of a successful 4 night passage – knowing that circumstances change, minds change, the cards in our hands at any one time will change, and we will make the next decision based on that new information. Again, just as in aviation, when we depart, we know what the forecast is but even in the space of a few hours, all of that could and frequently did change. Weather that we thought would be good turned bad and the opposite was true also. We make a new plan, we choose a new option. Just as in aviation, the crew of the Gratitude is facing that as I type. It is nearly 1900 on Tuesday having departed Monday morning. At the time of our departure the weather was forecast to be good Monday and Tuesday becoming less so Wednesday and possibly downright lousy on Thursday. Sorry – these are not technical terms but when I refer to weather as lousy or not good, mostly Im talking about the ride and the sea state. Any reader can put to rest any concerns that we would EVER continue into known unsafe weather. That we will NOT do. But to push our limits a bit in terms of comfort was something we have yet to cross off of our list of goals for this summer. So here we are.
At our last update, the router encouraged us to get as far South as possible while the weather is good because the area of concern was on the Florida/ GA border on Thursday. Alec and I discussed this the day before we left and we both decided then that trying to push the speed a bit more might be a way to improve our weather odds. We did push it up to between 8 and 8.5 kts. At the higher RPM We burned nearly twice as much fuel per hour but we also increased our milage per hour so ultimately, the cost was closer to 25% greater. If we didn’t have weather to be concerned with – we wouldn’t have done it but in order to improve the odds of making it past weather moving in, a price we were willing to pay. A decision to be made. Further down the road off the coast of North Carolina we again decided to bump up the power to 1500 RPM for a greater advantage of speed and now we were at 9.3. Given the pristine calm conditions that we were in, this was the time to do it. In terms of filling up our bag of experience, we have both learned a valuable lesson. First, anytime we are considering a long off shore passage, ensure that we have the bottom (or at the minimum) the prop cleaned. Also, ensure that we have the fuel to make the decisions that we want to make. But also never leave the dock with a known problem if it is within our power to fix it. More on that below…
We had a starter on our No 1 generator fail to cutout on our leg from Oxford – Deltaville. While underway and on my watch, Alec and Jack smelled a strong electrical odor. Alec quickly shut off all power to the electrical panel and notified me of the condition. I rapidly scanned the cameras in the engine room and notified Alec that there was no apparent fire that he was clear to enter the engine room. While trouble shooting this issue, we both remembered that we did maintenance on the no 1 generator and one of us – not sure who decided to shut it down. The smell began to dissipate and Alec checked all temperatures with his heat gun. Very quickly he diagnosed the problem with the extreme heat on the starter of the generator. I believe we both on our own decided that this was simply not a problem that needed to be fixed in Deltaville. We were going to be tied to the dock until we left for Palm Beach and then we could use the No 2 generator. Further, should something happen to it, we have hydraulic alternators which we have used under way but have recently opted away from them do to “strange” readings on our inverters and batteries and also their inability to take very much of a load. Anyway, long story short, we never fully discussed this as we were both on our own comfortable with waiting to get to Palm Beach where Gratitude is going in for a major trip to the spa. We both felt we had adequate redundancy with the remaining electrical options. Unfortunately, the first time we really talked about it was while underway and dissecting our weather issues in the next couple of days. Unfortunately, this was nagging Alec in the back of his head that he wished he had 2 generators. Simply a comfort thing. Another lesson learned and dropped into our bag of experience. When a crew has stuff playing around in the back of their head – better to have dealt with it rather than have it nagging there when other factors begin piling on. So, how does the story end????? We all have to wait and see, as I said, it is only Tuesday at 1900 🙂
Filling up our bag of experience part II
So, several hours after the above was written and in the middle of my 0200-0600 watch (2am-6am) I noticed flickering red lights on the overhead panel Flickering red lights in an airplane cockpit just as on a boat – not good. I discovered with some light on the subject that they were high water bilge lights – but no accompanying alarm – I figured OK – thats good. And they were flickering – not consistent. Again, I figured – thats good. The sea state had picked up considerably and we were now in quartering seas of 3-5’ with about a 6 sec period. I thought at the time that this new condition of water in the bilge was likely the result of the quartering seas. I really wanted Alec to get his rest so I waited a bit to see if the lights came back on. They did. Time to wake the Captain. Alec turned on the high water bilge pump and reminded me (I totally forgot this conversation that we had while tied to the dock in Deltaville after he cleaned the AC sea strainers) that he discovered that the low water bilge pump wasn’t working. Again, planning the big Spa trip for Gratitude, it was simply added to the list. Still, a bilge pump, I would rather have had that fixed at the dock. Plop – another item added to the bag of experience. That said, we still have the far more effective high water pump. Alec investigated the bilge after turning on the pump for about 30 seconds. All well in the engine room. Back to sleep for Alec. Seas continued to build.
We got another weather brief from the weather router and learned that the seas today would be building continuing overnight with winds to 30-35 kits. 10-12’ seas overnight. New cards – new decision. Lets duck in and formulate a new plan. Options include Savannah and Hilton Head. A little bit of research and Hilton Head is the winner. ETA 1515 Wednesday (3:15pm).
At 0600 Alec relieved me on watch and I went down to sleep. After about 2 hours I felt some unusual motions with the building quartering seas (now 6-8) as if we were being lifted from behind and being pushed up and over to a 40 degree turn. Which, of course, we were/are. I checked on Jack – Alec had given him a 1/2 dramamine and though he had vomited after awaking – he felt “great” now. I checked with Alec how things were and did he need anything? I rechecked that everything was stowed and went back to bed for 2 more hours. It is now 10 and Im back on watch. Alec and I have talked about the new plan for the divert and the all important lunch plan. As with turbulence on an airplane, the most dangerous thing about wave action is what happens when the occupants are not in seat belts or in our case, holding onto the boat. I suggested that since we were diverting to Hilton Head, why not get by with energy bars and grapes keeping everyone seated as much as practicable. That decided, Alec went down to nap in the salon with Jack. It is now 1110 Wednesday afternoon. Hilton Head is a mere 4 hours away.
So clearly this isn’t finished. The newly revised plan now is to stay here until the weather lifts on Saturday (we hope). But stay posted 🙂