Misadventure and Trial By Sea by Kurt Russell
PROLOGUE - The old 5/8" 3-strand, a little green and moldy, had set into the shape of the Flemish Coil it had been in for the last two years on the dock. Having to shake out the coil after so long in one place, I thought it felt weird to be untying the rope from the dock, instead of simply lifting the bowline tied in the other end off of Epiphanys cleats, but this was the last thing to do as we left Coquina Harbor for a new marina 50 miles down the coast.
I used the old docklines to guide Epiphany out of the slip stern first, taking care as always to avoid catching the port shrouds on the bulkhead as I had done once early in our stay here, and then stepped aboard as the bow moved past the end of the finger pier. We were underway. Waving a somewhat bittersweet goodbye to a few liveaboard friends from the marina who watched us while they waved back, we putted on out to the ICW, taking a long last look around at the scenery which had become so familiar as to be called "home". Goodbyes are like this, I know, a reluctant experience, but one which is always preparatory to some type of new experience and adventure.
Soon enough the lighthouse which marks the entrance to the marina disappeared around a bend in the waterway, and I turned my eyes towards the bow, and towards the trip which would be taking us to our new home tomorrow.
It was the last hour of the day, the tide was falling with us towards the ocean, and boat traffic on the waterway was, thankfully, light. Cold beer in hand and Eric Stone singing to us from the speakers, Epiphany and I got down to the business of making the trip to Georgetown, SC. The air had just enough of a memory of winter in it to be a bit chilly on this last April night, and the high pressure which had moved offshore early in the day had left the atmosphere clear of any haze from the usual humidity of our coastal environment.
Water oaks and tupelos set a dark green backdrop for the fresh, lighter green of marsh grass waking up to spring, and the golden glow of a lowering sun brought a mellow orange fire of light to the evening. It was a beautiful time to be on the water in the South Carolina Lowcountry. As we neared the Town of Little River, both large casino boats which dock there pulled out ahead of us for their nightime junket, and, passing the waterfront of the town while making the turn which is there, we had the next long straightaway to ourselves.
It was nice to be mostly alone on the water this last trip out. So many times we have made this 5 mile transit bobbing madly on the wakes of powerboats large and small, driven by the whole range of people from Captains to weekend warriors who sometimes passed within just a few feet of my little sailboats hull. Tonight was a week night early in the year, not that many people were out, and the water was blissfully smooth. I took it as a gift, a parting wish for good luck in the new home, and smiled at the thought. As soon as I did, a powerboat appeared in the distance, coming around the bend from the ocean.
Well, I thought, you can't have it all, and that's when I first noticed the Osprey. Nope, not the sea eagle. We have plenty of those, and while I turn and watch them almost every time I see them for as long as they are in view, they are a fairly common sight in these parts. This Osprey I first noticed as a throbbing noise, barely audible over Eric Stone singing "Humuhumunukunukuapua`a".
As I always do when I hear a different noise when motoring, my first thought was of Epiphany’s diesel, but it was running nicely. Turning to look over the stern, I saw an aircraft in the distance that, even though I had never seen it in flight before, was so distinctive looking that I immediately recognized it for what it was.
The V-22 Osprey is a new type of aircraft that is a hybrid between a helicopter and an airplane. It has two engines mounted on the end of rather stubby wings, and the engines turn propellers that are so large that they would strike the ground if the Osprey were to attempt landing like a normal plane. On the Osprey, the engines rotate to the vertical, though, so that it lands like a helicopter. As far as I know, they are still being tested for military use, and have had some bad accidents during testing.
I excitedly called up my brother, a pilot so avid about flying that he is even building his own airplane, and left a message claiming First Sighting of a new aircraft, because I knew he had not seen this "bird" in flight. It flew towards me from behind, passed almost straight overhead on the starboard side of the boat, and then made a long, slow circle out to port. It's engines and propellers were nearly vertical the whole time, so it flew like a slow helicopter. This Osprey, like its feathered namesake, I watched until it went out of sight.
We were coming up on Calabash Crossroads now, the junction of the ICW and Little River where we would turn to starboard on the way to the ocean. Just as we approached the turn, and not without a bit of irony, a 25+ foot long sportfishing boat came roaring up Little River, passed within 20 yards to starboard, and gave me one last mindless, a-hole powerboater to curse at before we moved from this part of the Lowcountry. I shook my head in wonderment as the 3-4 foot wake rocked Epiphany on her beam ends, and laughed a knowing laugh that I would never have to deal with him or his friends on this stretch of water again.
That was the last boat we saw until we reached East River, the large tidal creek behind Bird Island where we commonly anchored. I killed the engine a couple hundred yards in, and just as the tide stopped our forward progress, eased the Bulwagga anchor over the roller and into the creek. A Brown pelican sat on shore 75 feet away, the only noises in the air were those of nature, and the sun was just kissing the horizon of trees over at Tilghman's Point on Little River Neck. As Epiphany came to a stop on the end of her anchor rode, I opened a beer, let out a deep breath, and enjoyed the twilight.
The reason I had picked these days to make the 50 mile trek down the coast was due to the simultaneous arrival of both favorable weather patterns and to the end of the month. Earlier this spring, upon finding out that I was having to leave my residence of four years at the end of April '04 due to it's being sold (and me being unwilling to buy at the terms required), I'd decided to move onboard my small vessel for the warm months of the year. It had been a long time dream to live on a boat, and even though Epiphany is about the smallest boat I'd like to live on, I felt I could make do in the non-winter months of the year just fine.
In the following months, when I began to really think about living on board, I decided that I shouldn't just stay in Little River if I might be able to find a different or better place. This led to checking out Georgetown Landing Marina, in Georgetown, SC. My two largest considerations in picking a new spot were location and location. Georgetown sits on Winyah Bay, a central place in regards to the various geographic locations of my large extended family, and, though it is farther from the actual ocean than the marina in Little River, the area between it and the sea is largely undeveloped, wildlife preserve areas.
The more I thought about this, the more I liked the idea. I wouldn't have to motor 5 miles to get to a sailable area, I could almost sail out of my slip. Depending on the tides, I could go upriver on the Waccamaw, Great Pee Dee, or Black rivers, or downstream to the sea and/or the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge - some 63,000 acres of undeveloped nature that includes over 30,000 acres of prime aquatic exploring for a shoal draft sailboat and an adventuresome skipper. Finding that it would cost no more to berth at Georgetown than it did in Little River, I began to give it serious consideration, and in a couple of weeks, had made up my mind that that was indeed where we would spend our time.
That led to the end of this month, and the high pressure system that had worked it's way off of the Carolina coast Wednesday night and Thursday morning. On the backside of this high would be southeasterly winds, perfect for a beam reach down the coast in the direction of our otherwise prevailing southwesterlies. Indeed, as I anchored behind Bird Island on East River creek, the southeasterly was blowing nice and steady at about 10-12 knots.
I've done enough sailing in this part of the world to know not to look a gift horse in the mouth, as they say, and began to seriously contemplate leaving tonight on this fresh breeze. However, 4 beers and a lack of supper made me a bit reluctant to leave just yet. I had planned to wake up in the pre-dawn hours and leave then. I knew also that it is not uncommon for winds to die here after dusk, so I decided to fix dinner, prep the boat, and put off my decision making until later. This would give the wind a chance to die down and confirm my suspicion that if I left right now, it would have left me floundering a mile offshore, with 49 more to go.
For the next couple of hours, I did chores and boat prep, including setting up my freshly repaired mainsail, and hanking on the 150 genoa. After fielding a phone call from my brother (confirming that I did have a First Sighting to my credit) and then my girlfriend (checking in, a bit worried that I might leave at night), at about 10 I took stock in the conditions, my boat, and myself. We were ready to go, the wind was still blowing nicely, and I had a bit of tide still ready to help pull me out to sea. I had to choose between getting some sleep or putting miles under the keel. I needed the sleep, but I wanted the miles.
Deciding that since the wind was still blowing, it would blow all night (and NOAA radio seemingly confirming the fact - while simultaneously forecasting a different version of the conditions to come), I opted for the sleep. I made the stove ready for quick coffee in a few hours, and set both my boat alarm clock and my cell phone alarm for 3:00 AM. Scrunched into the quarterberth, I snacked on a toaster pastry, sipped a bit of water while I read, and eventually turned off the bulkhead light and dropped into a deep, dreamless sleep.
I woke at 2:20 AM, popping awake suddenly, subconsciously eager, I think, to get to sea. Firing up the Forespar Mini-galley for coffee, and shrugging out from under the sleeping bag, I wondered if we still had good wind. Sticking my head out of the companionway, a nice wind blew from out at sea in and across the foredeck, and I could see the water surface chopped lightly in the white of the beam from a half moon. A smile crossed my face, and after a couple minutes of watching for lulls and seeing none, I sat back down and checked my coffee water. Things were looking good, it didn't seem the wind had died any more than a knot or two, and I thought that just maybe we would be able to sail out into the dawn and the next day, making Georgetown several hours earlier than I had planned, and on a full flood tide.
I took my time waking up with the coffee, relaxing and reading leisurely through the first cup, and then stowing away loose gear, sleeping bag and pillow while brewing water for a second, heading-offshore-cup. Soon enough, it was ready, and so was I.
Stepping out into the cockpit, I realized that something had changed. The wind was gone! Just an hour before, a nice steady breeze, and now, just as I had thought it would do when I was ready to get underway, the creek had gone glassy, and the bare wisp of moving air stirred so listlessly that a no-see-um visited me in the middle of the creek. Shaking my head at it all, but knowing that such is the vagary of the sea, I fired up Epiphanys diesel inboard, let it warm for a few minutes, and moved up onto the foredeck and weighed anchor.
We pulled out into the inlet proper under running lights only, with me paying close attention in the dark to avoid the rockpile that lurks on the southern tip of Bird Island. Beyond that 1/8th of a mile lay the only other hazard to navigation we needed to worry about, a shoal mid-channel just inside the jetty bases. Leaving it well to starboard, I steered over to the south jetty and began to notice the swells rolling straight into the jetties from the southeast. I get a vicarious thrill from moving my boat through the darkness with none other than the running lights.
On a really dark night, it's kind of fun, the anticipation that you might just hit that marker you can't see but you know is right there, somewhere. I use it as an opportunity to train my spatial awareness, and I haven't hit one yet, and the effect also provides some fun to what would be otherwise some pretty boring motoring.
As we approached the end of the jetties, though, I wasn't worried about markers, I was more concerned with the sea state. I couldn't see the swells until they were abeam and in the slight glare of leftover streetlight from North Myrtle Beach, a couple of miles away to the south. As a result, each swell lifted the boat suddenly and without warning, and even though I knew better from two years of transiting this inlet in light and dark, I tried to bore holes into the night out ahead of the bow, looking for the pale white line that would indicate the feathering tip of a breaking wave. Despite my best paranoid attempts, I never saw one, and soon we broached the end of the jetties, and were out to sea.
We motored out for a half mile or so, far enough beyond the jetties that there would be no danger of drifting back into them quickly when I turned off the motor. Soon I did just that, deciding that I'd see if we could make any way in the light air. After first hoisting the genny, and then the main, I sat back in the cockpit, and fired up the GPS.
Once it had woken up and listened to its satellite friends chatting away up in the sky somewhere for a bit, it showed me that I was exactly where I knew I was. I then told it, with a couple of button presses, that I wanted to set a Go To point slightly off the jetties of Winyah Bay. It informed me that they were 49.2 nautical miles off in “that” direction, and, once I pointed the boat that way and trimmed the sails, that we were making 1.3 to 1.9 knots in that direction. Great! At that rate, I would get there in about 24 hours, or, at night (late night!), in the dark, to come in through a narrow channel bordered by nasty shoal areas, in waters I had only been on once, during the day, in a powerboat. Hmm.
We "sailed" for a while, and I prayed to whoever would listen for the 10 knot breeze to come back up as I sipped my going-to-sea-very-slowly coffee. Apparently, I was the only being, human- or god-wise, awake at that time. Perhaps this is why 4:00 AM is frequently referred to as "an ungodly hour", I don't know, but I do know that I got no answer to the prayers. In the distinctive lack of wind, the 3-4 foot swell was making Epiphany roll through 60 or more degrees every time a large swell ran under her, which they did with a consistent regularity. This, in turn, caused the sails to slat unmercifully, and the coffee cup to skitter across the cockpit seats, threatening to spill with the same regularity. It was not the best sailing, to say the least.
Soon I'd had enough of that, and decided to resort to the iron genny. Pushing the throttle forward and then the Glow Plug and Start buttons, she was soon rattling away belowdecks, and Epiphany and I were making 4.5 knots towards Georgetown. We were still rolling in the swells, but it wasn't so bad because at least we were making decent progress towards our destination. We were back on track for a nice, early afternoon arrival. I decided that the wind probably wouldn't come up until just before dawn, so I slacked the throttle to idle, dropped the genny onto the foredeck, attached a bungee to its snap shackle and another around it to hold it against the lifeline netting, sheeted the main full in, and powered up again. Merrily on our way, I was sipping going-to-sea coffee again, and steering a course my GPS said would take me to Winyah Bay. It was a bit noisier world than I would have liked, but it was a good world just the same. Watch out, Georgetown, here we come!
We motored away under the still-dark morning sky, steering by the stars, once again listening to Eric Stone as he warbled out our dreams of sailing times in warmer, more tropical climes. We proceeded steadily until I noticed a very slight lightening of the sky off to the east, a promise of the dawn soon coming. I noticed at the same time that the water surface had changed appearance, not just lightening, but also breaking up into smaller little wavelets that seemed to indicate a wind blowing besides the apparent wind we had created for ourselves under motor power. When the apparent wind began coming across the deck at an angle to the bow instead of straight on, I decided that we'd try sailing again.
Sure enough, when I backed off of the throttle and we slowed, the wind speed remained fairly constant, and while not up to the strength it had had the evening before, enough I thought for at least 3 knots of boat-speed. I moved onto the foredeck, detached the bungee holding the sail down by its quick-release snapshackle, and stepped back to the mast to raise the sail. It would be nice to be under quiet sail power again, as I watched dawn break out over the horizon. Do you sense the foreshadowing?
I hauled on the jib halyard, the genny went up about 3 feet, and stopped. Puzzled, I gave a little tug, and when it still didn't move, I realized that I had forgotten to release the bungee holding the sail to the lifeline netting. Laughing at myself, I undid it, and then hoisted away. The genny went up, luffing in the light breeze, promising to pull the boat with its movement. I took a couple of turns on the mast winch, grabbed the halyard above the winch, and started the pull I use to sweat the genny the rest of the way up. A quick pull, little and then no resistance, and, with my peripheral vision, I saw the genny slide down the forestay and drop into the ocean off of the side of the boat. Now, “that's” not supposed to happen!
I jumped down to the foredeck, and quickly pulled the wet sail from the sea. To my horror, once I got it on deck, I turned to the forestay, and saw there a perfectly fine, undamaged and otherwise OK, headboard. The only thing missing from this picture was - you guessed it - a jib halyard! With a groan, I looked up at the masthead, and, sure enough, there was the halyard!
After a brief episode of cursing, I began to curse more as I figured out just what had happened. I think that in the dark of the pre-dawn, when I had dropped the genny and fastened it with the bungee, I must have hooked the bungee onto the ring-pull of the quick-release snap shackle. A thick, vitriolic blue fog of curse words could be heard for miles around my boat in the morning calm at that moment, and then for several more. I used every word I knew, several of them twice in different combinations, but nothing would make the halyard miraculously drop back down to deck level.
I shook it, I cursed it, I shook and cursed it, I cursed other things while I shook it, and, in the end, I just cursed at it again. It stubbornly stayed at the masthead. Later, I would wonder why the shackle hadn't released when the lifeline netting caught it up short when I first tried to raise the sail. I still wonder, and I still curse at it that it didn't. Such is the way of the sea, I guess. At the time, all I could think was (edited for content) "46 more miles to go, and I only have a main."
Well, there was nothing for it, I was going to have to go aloft at sea, alone, for the first time. Hey, they do it in the Whitbread, right?
Taking my full compliment of curse words below decks, while using them liberally the whole time, I dug into the lockers under the V-berth for the climbing gear that I use to go aloft. Back at the nice, placid dock, I had previously rigged a rope ascender to a climbing waist harness, and another to a rudimentary 2"x6" board that a friend used to use as his bosuns chair. I used it as a step, alternating raising its ascender and the one attached to my waist harness, to "inchworm" my way up the halyards. Not the easiest method, I knew from a few experiences, and I thought that it was probably an especially poor arrangement for at-sea use, as it would restrict me from being able to use my feet as fending-off tools, and I was sure I would need them in that capacity in this swell. So I sat in the cockpit and changed the rig as a beautiful dawn broke around me, unseen by me in my blue mist of broken expectations, bad luck, and curse words.
I removed the board seat entirely, and used parts of an old halyard to make two separate foot loops, each tied to an ascender. The waist harness was tied by two separate lines, also, one to each ascender. This way, at least I figured, if for one reason or another an ascender slipped, the other could continue to support me by foot and waist. It was the only redundancy I could build into the system, and I had no choice but to hope it would work. I thought it might be a quicker way to go aloft and come back down as well. Once I had it rigged up, I went forward to the mast, and clipped on to the main halyard.
Now, before I go any further, I'm going to answer some of ya'll’s questions. No, I'm not an idiot (mostly). Yes, I could have just proceeded under mainsail, or motor, or both (but I wanted to SAIL to Georgetown). I could even have turned around, gone back to the inlet a couple of hours away, and tried this there. Yes, I did contemplate my injury, or death, or, best case in a worst case scenario, a swim after a fall from great height. BUT - other people have done it, many times, in much worse conditions, and I am one of those folks who does believe in the “You Never Know Until You Try” school of thought, as well as ascribing to the “Experience Is The Best Teacher” maxim. It's not like I had to punch a shark with my bare fist.
So, there I was, at the mast, and ready to go, even when I knew I had other options. I started up the halyard, and found I needed to readjust the length of a foot loop. Up one foot, then both, and my full weight was on the halyard. I start to swing wildly, banging around the mast and in between the shrouds. I couldn't walk that fast around the mast on the deck. I grabbed onto the mast and a shroud, waited a moment for a swell to pass, and in a flat spot, shoved an ascender up. In no time flat, I was banging around uncontrollably again, but I was a few inches higher.
Alternate swings and shoves, and soon I was a couple feet further up the halyard. The swinging was already worse, the oscillations stronger and wilder, and I began to collect what I felt were soon-to-be-bruises on various places of my body. Besides all that, it was tiring, but I had no choice if I wanted to sail. After a very hard maybe ten minutes, my feet were a foot or two above the mast winch, and I knew that probably by the time I got to the spreaders, and likely before, I would be exhausted, and I hadn't even tried going back down yet.
So I tried that, and it was just as wild and as hard as going up, if not harder. I knew then that I was licked, that there was no way I was going to get up to the masthead, get the halyard, and get back down again. I probably couldn't have done it if my life depended on it. It sucked! So, I started back down, and, still cursing mightily, eventually stood on the deck again, contemplating what other options I had.
Besides the ones mentioned above, I had my topping lift. Like I mentioned before also, I'm not an idiot, mostly, and when I had installed the topping lift I had designed it so that it could function as an emergency halyard. Well, if ever there was a time for using it in that manner, this time qualified, and in spades.
When I put the topping lift on during a mast refit last year, I had installed it as a broken loop through a block I installed at the masthead, securing it to the boom at one end, and to the stern pulpit at the other. I used a high-strength, small diameter climbing line that, technically, was strong enough to support my weight, if I was ever so truly desperate or drunk enough to try swinging on it.
I hoped it would hold the genny and be strong enough to sail with, as I untied it from the boom, and brought both ends forward. Leading one end around the port shroud, I shackled it to the genny's headboard, and then hoisted the sail aloft. A turn on the mast winch, a sweat on the halyard to tighten things up, and it looked like we were in business as a sailing craft again! It was full morning now, and even though I hadn't gotten to enjoy sunrise like I had hoped to, I was just glad that my little vessel was making way under canvas, and not fuel oil.
I still wasn't in a great mood as I tossed the climbing gear up into the V-berth area, but I was a bit relieved, as the "halyard" seemed to be able to take the strains I had imposed on it. I was tired, and I grabbed the bag of materials I had brought to rig sheet-to-tiller self-steering as I made my way back to the cockpit. Sitting there, alternately steering with my knee and by hand, I made up the kit described in Lechter’s "Self-Steering Made Easy" book that my brother had gotten me for Christmas last year.
I hoped, like you wouldn't know, that it would work - this day was turning out quite differently than I had anticipated, and I just wanted to be able to rest a bit. I decided to let the genoa sheets pull the tiller to windward, and tying things off to various supports here and there on the boat, I soon had the rig set up and ready for tuning, and, most hopefully, a few hours of use.
Wonder of all wonders, it worked! With just a little bit of tweaking, Epiphany took a bone in her teeth, and we were sailing as steady a course as I would have been able to hand steer. I was so glad at this that I stopped cursing. Well, I only cursed occasionally when I looked up towards the guilty snap shackle, at least.
After watching how she handled herself for about 30 minutes, I grabbed a pillow from belowdecks, dropped my hat over my face, and shut my eyes for a spell. I woke up about 45 minutes later, checking position and traffic with a look around (looked alright, and not a boat in sight), and saw that the GPS recorded very little movement off of our layline for the time I had napped. I was so happy I went back to sleep. This turned into a repetitive sequence of events until shortly after 11:00 AM, when I woke to the cell phone ringing.
It was my brother, checking in to see how things were going (he got a very abbreviated version of events, and I got to use a few more curse words). After hanging up from the call, and feeling quite refreshed from the nap, I made a turkey and cheddar English muffin, and sat sailing on my boat in the bright sunshine as I ate my lunch.
It was a very mellow next few hours until the wind lightened somewhat. The self-steering had continued to work, but, as the day wore on, following seas began to make the boat steer much more of a wandering course. I experimented with different setups of the sheet-to-tiller rig, but between the wind lightening and the seas building, it soon became an exercise in futility. I couldn't seem to get enough pull strength from the sheets to combat the push of the waves on Epiphanys stern, and eventually wound up reverting to using the tiller extension wedged against the cockpit coaming to hold the tiller still.
It's not self-steering, but it does allow one to not handsteer constantly, just frequently. We sailed through the middle afternoon hours like this, one eye on the course, the other on the ETA as predicted by the GPS. Besides wanting to get there at a reasonable time for my ride home from the marina, I had hoped to catch a flooding tide on Winyah Bay, because even a slight ebb cuts drastically into boat speed, and therefore time, and the marina is 10 miles upstream in the bay.
The wind lightened enough that even the best estimate for arrival at Winyah Bay was starting to be after 5 PM, and that, as far as I could remember, was around the time the tide switched. I hoped that, even though it didn't look like I'd get a rising tide, I could at least have a slack tide, and maintain boat speed if not get a boost.
As much as I hated to do it, by 3:00 PM I knew I was going to have to motorsail in order to make the bay mouth at a decent time. Defeat, in the form of having a schedule override the vagaries of nature, was short lived, and once the iron genny was running, our ETA fell back to 5:00 PM again, and we putted through the sea for the last 10 miles, surfing the following seas for bursts of boat speed up over 6 knots.
SEVEN (and Home)
As we neared the Winyah Bay entrance, I became extra vigilant of our position in relation to the approaching land, shoals, and markers. I was bending the rules a bit (see a pattern here?), and was going to sneak through an unmarked, but indicated, small channel that was about 1 mile further in from the end of the shipping channel, resulting in about 3 miles of travel saved. It is narrow, and cuts through extremely shoal water (and jetty rocks on one side), but, on my one previous trip here in a powerboat, we had come out through it, and I thought that as long as I got to the proper point, I could get through with no problem, and have the extra time saved of slack water in which to make my way upriver.
For those of you who have not approached an entrance from at sea, a quick word of explanation, and denial. Those big old channel markers are pretty easy to figure out when you are in the channel, but, approaching them from the perpendicular at sea, it's quite a bit harder to make out just which particular marker it is that you are looking at. Added to that, it's been my experience that markers can and do change position from what is indicated on charts. So approaching from other than “The Proscribed Way” can also cause a bit of confusion until such time as one is close enough to read those little numbers which identify that particular marker.
So that's what I was doing as I came down from the north at over 5 knots, looking for this little cut through otherwise shoal water. My GPS was indicating a nice straight line to where I thought the marker I needed was, and, if I was indeed "an idiot (mostly)", I would have motorsailed straight to it. And right now I'd be telling the story of How I Sank My Boat Yesterday, instead of this story.
Discretion being the better part of valor, I sincerely doubted that my arbitrarily selected GPS spot lined up so nicely with this marker I was seeking. As such, I was not only looking at that spot, but also others, as I approached, in order to have a firm fix on where exactly I was, not where exactly I thought I was.
When I was perhaps 1/2 mile from that marker, I took a good look at this red nun that was not indicated on my chart, and wondered why it had appeared there in the time between when the chart was made, and now. If I was Where I Thought I Was, it was outside of the seaward shoal, and well out of the main channel, in a spot that was not a spot that would normally have a marker of any sort, much less an official USCG Red nun. If it was, in fact, the marker that I was seeking, then I was perilously closer to a leeward shore than I would like to be, and bearing down on a part of the chart marked in blue at a faster speed than I like to be doing when doing that.
As I consulted my chart again, I noticed an extra letter next to "my" marker on the chart, the marker I sought for verification of the position of the little channel. It was an "N". It took all of a few seconds for my tired mind to make the connection between the letter "N" by this red marker on the chart, and the big red Nun perched out there on that seaward shoal.
That was when the keel struck sand, and the rudder was torn off. OK, OK, it wasn't, instead, I turned Epiphany towards the nun because, even if it was a new marker and I was not wrong, I would still have a little sea room to make back to what I had been thinking was my marker. As I drew closer, I put binoculars on the nun, and soon saw that number that tells one which marker it is, and found out that I had been making way towards something that was most definitely *not* the marker I needed.
I motorsailed right up to the nun, marking its exact location with a definitely non-arbitrary waypoint on my GPS before turning into what I calculated was the narrow channel. Pretty soon we found ourselves inside the officially marked entrance channel, and with a sense of relief, I saw that we were making over 7 knots! Mission Accomplished! And still with a bit of ingoing tide!
Occasions like this call for beer, and beer answered. A short distance up the entrance channel, I saw that what I thought from a distance outside maybe was the nun was instead a range marker, and, had I continued on course without the second-guessing, chart consultation, and resultant course change, I would have shortly sailed right onto a jetty which barely submerges at high tide.
Well, after all that, we made our way up the Bay with the tide pushing us with an extra knot or so, relaxing as the sun set somewhere behind the clouds overhead. It was relatively uneventful after the day we had had, but that was not at all any kind of disappointment. Usual to the point of almost boring was just fine, I think, for both me and Epiphany.
We made the marina right at dusk, with just enough light to see the 114' LOA sailboat tied up there, and to meet some of our new dock neighbors. We have 3 other liveaboards on our finger pier, and a Rhodes 22 whose owners were absent. I'm sure Epiphany can whisper to her our tale of the journey south while she waits for me to come back down with the CrewDogs.
Me? I'm trying to figure out how to get that #*&@'ed halyard down from the masthead...
Kurt Russell, s/v Epiphany