So, the day started out pretty well. Woke up around 5:30 in Ocracoke, and I decided to let my crew sleep. Had breakfast and sat around restlessly. By 7:00, I was ready to go, and the marina people were around, so they cut me loose, and a wobbly, tired Tony hobbled out of his cabin to collect the lines and fenders. The channel is narrow, and there was a lot of wind and current, so I was glad to have a high speed auto ferry in front of me to guide me out to the Sound.
We had a decision to make in Beaufort - go out in the ocean for a 63 mile direct run, or hit the ICW for a slightly longer route, with hazards such as shoaling, logs, bad channel markings as well as bridges that open once an hour, slow boats and stupid boaters. We decided that our ocean run was pretty sweet the day before, and the forecast app I was using indicated that if we hugged the shoreline, the waves would only be 3 feet with a 5 second period. That seemed manageable on Sababa. So, we took the fork in the river to the left and headed out to sea.
Right away, I could tell that it was rougher than I thought it would be, and pretty uncomfortable. Still, we drove around a large reef and back towards shore. I pulled parallel to the shore about 1/3 of a mile out and tried to run the boat South. It did not take long (like 1 minute) for me to realize that this was a huge mistake. I couldn't run more than 8 knots, and we were getting thrown around pretty badly. I would say probably 5-6 foot waves, maybe a little more. We turned around with our tail between our legs and made for the ICW. Who knows what would have happened had we kept going. We might have been better off, but I can tell you that we would have arrived pretty ragged, and my crew would have probably mutinied.
I was apprehensive as I followed the magenta line of the ICW on my chart. On past trips, I had always carefully plotted my routes. I noted areas where we could fuel, potential emergency spots, and basically spent hours familiarizing myself with the navigation and charting every step of the way. Now I was heading towards what I assume was the ICW, despite several forks in the road. I had purchased an ICW guide, which I studied for the legs we planned on taking in the canal, but this was not one of them. My bad. In hindsight, my contingency plan should have been covered more thoroughly. Next time I plan a trip with a backup plan, I'll study the backup plan as carefully as the main one.
As we continued on the ICW, I started feeling a lot better. While the channel was narrow, we were able to run at full cruising speed, and although we had to slow down for other boats quite a bit, it was not as bad as I thought it would be. We even got very lucky with our first swing bridge. It opens once an hour, and we approached it just as it was opening. We could not believe our good fortune. Probably should have saved some of that mojo for later...
|We approached the swing bridge just as it was about to open|
So, this is where our luck really ran out. I was approaching a complicated intersection of channels, at New River Inlet, which goes out to sea. Our path on the ICW was perpendicular to the path that led out to the inlet. In the middle of our channel, there was a red marker. Instead of moving to the left of it, I assumed it belonged to the crossing channel (stupid mistake in hindsight), and I took it on my port bow (went to the right of it). My depth sounder read 3 feet, which is too shallow for Sababa, and I cut the throttle. We gently hit bottom, and were unable to move. I tried using the bow thruster to twist ourselves off, but to no avail. We were stuck on a sand bar. A very strong wind was coming from the sea and pushing us harder onto the sand bar, and the tide was going out. It was around 1:30, and low tide was at 5pm, so I had visions of the sunken boats we had passed earlier in the day. We were already about 9 inches out of the water, and in some places you get 2-3 feet of tide, which would have left us in a very awkward position. This was actually our second grounding of the day. We got out of the first one pretty easily, but not before sucking up sand in the generator intake, which resulted in the gen set shutting down, leaving us with no air conditioning.
So, we're in the middle of nowhere, completely grounded, being pushed up against the sandbar, with the tide going out, no generator, 95 degrees without air conditioning (requires generator), and somewhat unhappy.
As we are sitting there, trying to figure out what to do (Tony jumped in the water with a paddle to try to dig us out, despite my protest - try moving a house with a toy tractor.), we see three guys coming over towards us, presumably to help. As a security person, and generally someone who is paranoid, I couldn't help but feel that we were somewhat vulnerable here in gun country, with nowhere to go, and a boat that all but advertises that we probably have lots of money on board. As they approached, my fears were amplified, as one guy had tattoos over his entire body including his shaved head, and the other two looked like they were from some prison movie. They were carrying beers. I was glad we had Tony who is 6'5" and a half (he always points out the half because his brother Joe is 6'5" - personally I think if you're over 6', you should drop the half. It trivializes it for people my size who really need it.)
The three stooges come up to us with their North Carolina twang and say that it looks like we've found ourselves in a mess of trouble. They ask to come aboard. Tony, who is in the water brushes them off and says no. Then the one who seemed the least stupid of them starts giving us advice. Run the thruster this way or that. Just wait because the tide will be high at 5:00 (actually 5:00 was low tide), and he tells us he has a 70' and a 60' boat so he knows what he's doing. At this point, I think he's just trying to get his friends to laugh. Tattoo comes over and tries to get under my bow as I'm running the thruster. (the bearded one actually referred to him as Tattoo) His buddy yelled at him to back off, and I cut the thruster and waited until he moved away. They told us they would be back and headed back towards their boats. Can't say I was sorry to see them go. Tony later told me that he was already thinking about where we stored our sharp knives and what we might do to defend Elana and Tamara who were on board and did not seem to impressed with our new friends.
Anyway, I had already called Boat US tow services, and they said they were going to be about an hour and a half, and that it would cost a minimum of $1,500 for them to just come pull us off the sand bar and send us on our way, assuming everything was in working order. I did not feel like I had any choice, and he took my credit card number over the phone. If we required a long tow, it would cost a lot more. I have a BoatUS membership, and it includes up to $50 in towing, which I don't think gets you very far, especially considering the $1,500 charge for the guy to even show up.
I have to say that although we were in a predicament to say the least, the girls later observed that they were surprised that I stayed composed and pretty much dealt with it in a logical fashion. Although I was stressed and unhappy, I did not feel any panic, which I guess is surprising. I can get scared to death in an elevator (claustrophobia) where there is no danger, but sitting on a sand bar with a gang of hooligans nearby and an outgoing tide, I seemed relatively calm.
Tony and I were on the phone with my mechanic, Justin, from my boat dealer, and he had some suggestions as to how to fix the generator. Since we were stuck there anyway, and Tony had not made much progress digging us out with the paddle, instead, we turned our attention to the generator intake. We had sucked in sand, and Tony went under the boat with a long knife and started cleaning out the intake. He said he got a lot of sand out. The generator system is water cooled. Water comes in from the outside, runs through some hoses and into the generator. If the gen set detects that there is no good water flow, it shuts down. Since we had a blockage on the intake we were unable to use the system. However, once the system loses its prime, you have to get water in. That involved a pretty simple series of steps which we tried and which failed. Justin suggested that we need to clear the pump of sand, and we decided that this was a task for later, when we are docked. Anyway, we weren't going to be able to run the generator sitting on a sand bar because it would just suck up sand. Note for the future if I'm every stuck again, turn off the generator immediately.
After about 90 minutes from when I called, a tow boat showed up. Captain was named Tom, and he was extremely helpful and nice. His idea was to tie up alongside us, facing away, and to run his props hard to push the sand out from under us. Sounds crazy, but it was working. We could see sand being pushed out on the other side of the boat. After about 20 minutes, he said we had dropped 9 inches.
So, I had no way to move the boat. I spoke with Tom over the radio, and he made some calls. There was no option but to tow us to a marina where we could figure out what to do the next day. Tom convinced me that the best place was Harbor Village marina in Hampstead. Both Tony and I thought he said it was an hour and a half away. Perhaps by chopper, but it took us just under 4 hours to get there, since we were going by tow boat.
I think we got into the marina around 8:00, although everything is kind of a blur. It might have even been quite a bit later. It was getting dark, I remember that. I spoke with Ann, who was already in Charleston with Benny, and we started going over options. There are basically three scenarios. First is that a diver goes under the boat today and discovers that everything is fixable, and somehow miraculously gets everything working, and we're golden. We head to Charleston today on the boat. Second scenario is that the props can be tuned, and that would take 2 days. In that case, Tony will rent a car and drive the girls to Charleston, where Ann will get hotel rooms, since she had planned on being on the boat tonight. I would stay behind and when the boat is fixed, hire a local crew person to come with me to Charleston and pay for them to go back home.
The third scenario is that the diver will discover that the props and/or pods are just gone. Worst case scenario. So, in that case, the boat could be in North Carolina at a repair facility for a month. I guess we would all drive to Charleston and have our planned vacation at some hotel there and then fly home. I'll deal with bringing the boat back later, perhaps will hire my friend Captain Bob to bring her back.
Our problems were not over yet. The electricity from the dock cut out, and so we did not have air conditioning. It was so hot on the boat. We opened up windows, but there were all kinds of huge bugs flying around. We were miserable. Without a generator working, and without shore power, we not only had no AC, but I wanted to conserve power and was reluctant to let the girls use the microwave. However, given the circumstances, I turned on the inverter to run AC off the house batteries and let the girls heat up their dinners. We've been having power problems all trip. We hook up to power, and it works for 20 minutes, and then it cuts out.
Everybody had some food after we arrived, except me. I did not seem to have an appetite, and was feeling overwhelmed and a little depressed. So, we decided to get to work on the generator. Tony got on his hands and knees upside down in the engine room and managed to remove the pump that feeds water to the generator. I took the dock hose and forced high pressure water through both ends. A bunch of sand came out, which gave us hope. We primed the water system. The generator fired up, and it worked. We had air conditioning. At this point, it was past 11 pm. I had been up a long time and was completely wiped out. But, I did not want to sleep with the generator on. Even though diesel engines don't produce much carbon monoxide, and although I have CO detectors in every cabin, I'm still paranoid about it. I figured we would run the AC until all the rooms were cold, and then go to sleep and hopefully fall asleep and wake up sweaty in the morning. However, when I was ready to turn off the generator after midnight, I tried the regular 220 power, and miraculously, it was working. I turned off the generator and also turned off the battery chargers, hot water heater and everything else on the 220 circuit except the air conditioning, hoping that the reduced load would keep the power from going out.
I'm up now on Day 4 (woke up at 5:45), and the power is till on, and the air is running, and I even turned on the battery charger and all is still good. I've been in touch with the dock master. He'll be here at 9:30, and we can get our much needed pump out. Also, a local diver has canceled his morning appointments and is headed here and will be here by 9:00 a.m. Then we'll find out which scenario we're dealing with, or perhaps another. My current theory is that we got a lot of sand baked into the props, and perhaps the diver can clear it out, and we can be off and running to Charleston. Either that, or I won't have a boat for the rest of the summer. I guess I'll know soon.
Here we are, docked at Hampstead for an unscheduled stop. At the moment, electricity is working, generator is working, air conditioning is working, and the only question is whether the boat has any propellors or pods.