"Light Blue"

View of flora and fauna on the Intracoastal Waterway

View of flora and fauna on the Intracoastal Waterway

Living the Dream

Six moons in the USA

Month 6
1 November to 14 December 2007

How swiftly these six months have passed since we arrived in Rhode Island in May this year. It must be because we have been enjoying ourselves, so time passes much faster. What a wonderful adventure to be able to spend six months travelling through a country, meeting new people, visiting strange locations, experiencing the diverse cultures of this super country. We feel privileged to have been given this chance to explore charted waters, meet the natives face to face, and sense the changes of accent and dialect as we have sailed south towards the sun.

Having rested up for two days in Herb River just off the ICW, we voyaged on for at least four miles until we came to a quiet backwater along the waterway called Isle of Hope Marina, another excellent bolt hole, with many facilities including a courtesy car. This enabled us to drive into Savannah and collect mail, which had been sent to the Post Office from Ireland and New Jersey. The next day, we borrowed it again for two hours and drove around the beautiful southern city of Savannah and its leafy shaded squares surrounded by colonial style houses, meticulously maintained, as seems to be the order in these historic cities. One could almost imagine living two hundred years ago and trotting around these same streets in a horse-drawn carriage.


We met a lovely couple called David and Sandra with their little pooch on “Sabbatical” while they were refuelling and later had a great sociable evening with them on board “Light Blue” while we were in St Augustine.

Eager to move on, we cast off from the marina and traversed many a mile before anchoring in Redbird Creek, where we anchored to await the next high tide. This was something we had not had to do regularly, but we had researched the ICW ahead and had been informed that with our deep draft we should only attempt the next stage of the ICW at high tide and then to maintain passage down the centre of the channel when passing along the dreadfully named “Hellgate”. The next day we passed along this stretch of water without a problem, although the depth under our keel reduced to 0.5 metre (19.5 inches) at one point, even at high tide.

As we passed through the Georgia Sounds proper and were crossing tracts of water where one could only just see the banks on the horizon, the channel was not deep and we had to concentrate 100% with no time for relaxation. We decided that we had had enough of the ICW and would sail outside in the Atlantic, provided the weather was suitable.

The final straw was Florida passage, where the average depth was 0.4 metres. On that day we saw dolphins cruising in Salpello Sound, then we were overtaken by a Beneteau with a California Republic flag flying and finally we saw cows for the first time since arriving in the USA. Apparently they are all raised in the west of America and some even get to eat grass. We actually saw a hoarding advertising milk from cows “fed on grass”!

We spent our last nights before venturing outside in Mackay River and then Lanier Island outside the exotically named Golden Isles Marina, behind St Simon’s Island near New Brunswick. The temperature had dropped to 48º, but was much colder due to the northerly force 5 wind chill factor and we had to actually get out the duvet for the first time in months. While at anchor we saw flocks of seagulls, cormorants, pelicans and wood storks flying over us in various formations. Glorious! We had never seen wood storks before, and they are truly magnificent: white with heavy tapering black flight and tail feathers. Unfortunately, the batteries in the camera were in need of charge and so we couldn’t photograph them.

On 8 November, we raised the anchor at 1540 to catch the high tide and sailed out from behind St Simons Island and out into the Atlantic Ocean to freedom, depth, relaxation and fair winds, or so we hoped. We started well with ideal NE force 5 winds, which reduced to force 4, then 2-4, then 2, then 1-2. We enjoyed a gentle night sail initially but finally we turned on the engine and motor sailed into St Augustine inlet, which we had read was not for the faint hearted (it is not too bad if one keeps to the centre of the channel). At 0800, we anchored in 3 metres just off the very formidable battlements of Castillo San Marcos in St Augustine.

St Augustine is the longest continuously settled town in the United States, originally established in 1565 by the Spanish, decades before the Pilgrim Fathers reached Plymouth, Massachusetts and the settlement in Yorktown.

Castillo San Marcos

This was our home base for the next 10 days, during which time we cleaned the boat inside and out, we went ashore by dinghy everyday and showered, walked around the very picturesque city, shopped, and visited the Flagler Museum of Art. We found this particularly interesting because we found out about Henry Morrison Flagler, who was a true example of the American rags to riches story. He did not have an auspicious start to his career with a failed salt mine, but he became a real estate promoter, railroad developer and Rockefeller partner in Standard Oil. He is also the person most responsible for the development of the Florida coast as we know it today.

We also visited the Castillo San Marcos, which had fought off many nations over the centuries. It had also been the prison for various Indians tribes and their chiefs, including one of the most famous, Geronimo, the chief of the Apaches, who was cruelly separated from his wives and children and placed in an alternative prison. As we were about to go into the castle, I sat on a wall to take the camera out of my shoulder bag. Luckily for me Siobhán saw the red fire ants swarming over the bag and up my arms and shirt and dragged me away and started dusting me off. I had only been bitten in about four places, but those bites were painful for days. When we came out of the castle, we went back to the same wall and there was not a sign of an ant, but I tapped the top of the wall and out they came again in droves.

That evening we had a pleasant soirée with David and Sandra from “Sabbatical” and their small poodle Chessy, which was so well behaved on board, falling asleep like a cat.

On 18 November, we had about a week of our US visa left and we had to arrange for a short extension. The visa ran out on 26 November, but we could not voyage south of 26º north until 1 December 2007, because of insurance underwriters’ hurricane seasonal restrictions. We contacted the US immigration department and we were informed that if we completed an extension form and submitted it, it would cost us US$ 300 each and might take up to two months to process. It was suggested that an easier way would be to leave the country and come back in and get a further six-month visa.

So we planned to sail down the coast to West Palm Beach and catch a plane to the Bahamas for the weekend and return and apply for an extension at the airport, as the cost couldn’t be that much higher than US$600, not that we could really afford that amount but we had to do it to satisfy the US immigration and the insurance underwriters. With that done, we were then planning to sail to Cuba and spend two months there.

On 18 November at 1130 we set sail from the St Augustine anchorage in a north-easterly force 4, which was ideal for cruising down the coast. As we were leaving, we had a problem with the Maptech in that we kept losing GPS, but we changed over to the spare and it worked perfectly. The wind veered to an easterly force 4, which was still ideal. At about 1600 we saw three pods of dolphins with young and managed to get some exciting photographs of them around the bows. At 1715, I started the engine to charge the batteries and about an hour later we heard two sharp noises from under the hull, which I think was probably our propeller cutter chewing through a rope, which had caught around the propeller shaft.

During the hours of darkness the wind backed, veered, dropped to variable force 1 and finally early in the morning steadied at easterly force 4. I changed the lightweight genoa to the working jib as the wind gusted to 16 knots Throughout the day the easterly wind remained between force 4 and 5, with gusts up to 20 knots and on one occasion touched 24 knots for a matter of a second or two, before dropping back to 17-18 knots We were sailing along very comfortably on a beam reach, with the sails filled but not under stress, without the sheets being tightly hauled in. The boom was controlled by a preventer as the boom was released to starboard so that it spilled wind over the starboard guard rail and this enabled us to sail upright.

A hard rain's gonna fall

We had eaten dinner and Siobhán had gone below to sleep as part of the night watch system of three hours on and three off. I was sitting immediately behind the wheel on the pilot’s seat, enjoying the exhilarating sail at 6.5 knots and comparing this with the restrictions of ICW motoring. There was about 3 to 4 feet of swell coming from the easterly direction and so the motion was very comfortable. A perfect night’s sailing was ahead of us...

... but into every life a little rain must fall, or rather, in our case a 57-foot mast, rigging, sails etc. … without warning and little noise, the whole lot went over the starboard side of the boat.

I stood up and looked forward, thinking immediately, “This should not have happened, our rigging is over strength and it has only just been changed, the wind isn’t high, we haven’t got too much sail up.” Then my brain (trained to deal with emergencies and like a coiled spring) switched on as Siobhán came up the companionway and asked, “What’s happened?”

Using the mobile searchlight, I examined the foredeck area and assessed the situation. The mast was lying with its lower 10 feet uppermost at an angle over the starboard guard rail, it was still attached by the two fore stays/furling foils, port shrouds and back stays. The boom, still attached to the mast by the gooseneck and kicker had the mainsail attached by its foot and was lying along the starboard deck with the sail over the guard rails. The mainsail was still attached to the RCD cars on the track at the aft of the mast.

As the swell passed underneath the boat, it lifted the mast and therefore everything else and ground the shrouds into the corners of the coach roof, while the mast banged constantly against the hull. The combined noise of grinding, banging, scratching and tearing was very distracting, while on deck, but below decks was amplified three-fold.

My first thought was to cut the rig away using the large bolt cutters and hacksaw, so that the mast didn’t hole the hull. I was also aware that we were only three miles offshore in a busy marine seaway and was anxious not to cause danger to other shipping. I therefore called the US Coastguard and informed them of our position, the dismasting and that I wanted to cut the rig free, to lessen the damage to the hull, but I indicated my anxiety about the possible danger to other shipping.

After the mast had fallen

A view of Light Blue after its dismasting

To cut a long story short, they visited us in US Coastguard boat 123 and made sure that we were safe and that the anchor, which I had laid with 40 metres of chain, was holding us steadily in the swell. They would not give us permission to cut the rig away. They called Tow Boat US, with whom we were members for our stay in the USA, and they came out. Neither boat could assist us and we informed them that we were happy to remain with the boat till daylight.

The night was the most dreadful that we have ever experienced on board, with the mast and rigging making all those noises. We kept an anchor watch, taking in turns to try to sleep, but it was virtually impossible. The motion at anchor and with the swell was very sick-making and it took us several days to recover and get some settled sleep. It was a traumatic time for both of us.

The following day, Tow Boat US came out again, with electric saws and bolt cutters and assisted us to sever the rig and sails, which sank to the bottom. We had first obtained permission from the coastguard, provided we checked that the rig and sails definitely sank.

We then motored unassisted the 12 miles to Harbortown Marina, Fort Pierce, Florida, and that is where we have been since 19 November 2007. Since then I have been contacting various contractors for sails, rigging, painting and stainless steel work. I have been liaising with the US surveyor acting on behalf of the underwriters and our insurance agent in London and yesterday, 13 December 2007, I sent the final quotation to them for consideration, so that they can decide which contractors to choose and so that the work can commence.

No harm done

The mast and boom will probably take eight weeks to be delivered and in the meantime, we can get the painting, stainless steel work completed and the sails made. Thank goodness for good insurance. Our insurance company has been fantastic, from the time we called them when we were at anchor off shore until now and I have no reason to doubt that they will support us until we are back on the water.

And Siobhán and myself; philosophical as usual. Thank goodness we were unharmed, and that we were only 3 miles offshore and not in the middle of the Atlantic. Thank goodness that we are in a location where there are excellent facilities. Thank goodness we have a steel boat and that there are just scratches to the coach roof, toe rail and hull. Thank goodness we were not in Cuba when this happened. This week, sub tropical storm Olga has just swept across Hispaniola and Cuba causing severe flooding, with 45-knot winds. If this incident had happened in Cuba in the sub-tropical storm, we would not have been covered by insurance. Somebody must be praying for us. Thank you, whoever you are.

Oh! And what caused the mast to fall over. I can’t say at present, but the US surveyor has taken away some parts for a metallurgist to examine.

More news next month, but in the meantime y'all have a great Christmas and a Happy New Year, yea’hear. This southern fried chicken accent is catchin’.

Lots of love and season’s greetings

Lawry and Siobhán

14 December 2007

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... or see the photos from this report Lawry on the mend
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