Explosion Ends Circumnavigation
My dream of sailing around the world first sprouted when I helped my dad restore a small cruising sailboat in my early twenties. He was killed in a tragic accident shortly after, but the dream that he planted in me has remained alive.
My name is Timothy, and that was more than twenty years ago.
The other day, my dream almost died with me when the 33 foot sailboat I have spent the past 7 months restoring exploded in a propane accident.
I was working my way down the east coast to Florida where my son lives. He is now in his early twenties and was going to help me finish the restoration, then we were to set sail together.
Everything I own was on my boat. Much of it destroyed by the explosion and fire that followed. Although I obtained second and third degree burns and other injuries from being violently thrown around, I am very fortunate that my injuries are minor compaired with the intesity of the damage to the boat. I know how lucky I am to be alive!
After escaping the cabin and turning off the propane tank, I held my breath and ran back inside for my fire extinguisher. I was able to put out the fires and save the boat from being completely destroyed.
All the wonderful people anchored near me in the harbor came to my assistance in their dinghys within minutes of the explosion, getting me to shore where the ambulance rushed me to the emergency room.
These amazing neighbors, who had only met me days before, have banded together like a family taking care of me aboard each of their boats in turn.
The name of my boat is Islita (little island). She was custom built by a couple 40 years ago so that they could fulfill their own dream of sailing around the world. They did, and wrote a book about their adventures! This couple has sinse become my good friends from afar while I went through the concentrated process of bringing their baby back to life so that I too could realize the same dream.
Athough Islita is in pretty bad shape, she is not completely destroyed. The thought of repairing her is almost too overwhelming after seeing the extent of the damage. I will need to recover from my injuries and recover financially before I can even think about this.
Today, the original builder called me and offered to fly out to help me stabalize Islita and to help me evaluate and plan her repairs. His love of Islita and his offer of kindness to me had rejuvinated my confidence, and I know that I must try to continue on with her until she has made it again around the world.
My mind was racing. I had just poured four of my last five gallons into the tank not three hours ago. It can't be out already. Well, I was in no position to mess with it. Because of the open-waterness of my situation, the waves had built up to the point where anchoring was a bad idea. I would be out of light soon, so I was better off sailing the rest of the way. I sailed right through the break water and into a strange harbor as the sun was setting. As soon as I was far enough in to give other boats room to get around me, I sailed up into the wind and began the drill. Please remember as I recite the drill, that with The First Lady's fin spindle keel design, she does amazing pirouettes while the following routine is being carried out.
I wish that there was an Olympic sport that involves sprinting forward from the helm, dropping the anchor, dropping the sails and tying them down, untying the fuel can, dumping the fuel through a funnel on a heaving deck, sprinting below, getting out all the tools, removing the companionway ladder, removing the engine doghouse, bleeding the entire fuel system, restarting the engine, sprinting forward to weigh anchor (yep, they call it weigh for a reason), then sprinting back to the helm. I wouldn't need to use the Gofundme site. I could just sell all my gold medals.
In the dying post-sunset light, I motored over to the marina breathing hard from my performance.
"I'm sorry, could you repeat that," I yelled across the water to the lady at the marina who came out to meet me.
"We don't sell any diesel"
"Are you serious?"
I only yelled that last phrase because it was still too windy for her to hear me say, "what the fuck? That's like sailing to China and them telling me they have no rice!"
I bypassed the marina with their $2 a foot (I'm 34 feet. Do the math) per night charge and motored down to the free town docks that were located in Belhaven's living replica of Detroit's East side.
I left my pistol loaded by my berth all night only to learn in the morning that the low-end locals were like the non-posh locals everywhere. They promptly lent me a hand truck so I could haul the five trips of fuel and water the mile back to the boat. They also hung out to smoke a cigarette and shoot the shit with me in mid stroke of each trip. I'm glad it was diesel and not gasoline or uhhhh... propane!
I'm getting as tired of writing this episode as you are of reading it, but we've got one last adventure before we can get on with life, so hang in there.
It took me until after noon to get all those trips accomplished and all those cigarettes smoked, but I finally got under way.
I had a full fuel tank and my extra can all filled and tied up. I was feeling good. Nice wind, sunny day, flat seas, arousal, it was the same old story with the same old ending!
I had just tacked over to a starboard tack while motorsailing and there it was, the unmistakable sound of a peanut butter addicted snail choking on air. Shit! My tanks are full! How?
Now, it couldn't have done this 15 minutes earlier when I was in open water that was actually deeper than my keel, no sir, it waited until I was right between the entrance buoys going into a narrow river where the barges had all been waiting for me and the wind was blowing me toward the shoals. Always toward the shoals!
I swear to God, people, I don't make this shit up. The Illuminati is watching me and I am just a video game character for them.
Always the trooper, I stowed my gold medals, hit the stop watch, and got on with my routine. I even threw in a couple of flourishes in sync with Lady's pirouettes to impress the Illuminati judges.
I think I was back under way with my ham sandwich already made in less than 20 minutes and washing it down with a pint of diesel. Adrenaline is seriously a wonder drug.
I put my medals back on and strutted back and forth at the helm. I was the biggest badass at running my snail out of diesel, and I was proud of it!
The rest of the story that explains how and why the shape and poor placement of the fuel tank does not allow my snail to motorsail on a starboard tack even with a full tank, is so boring that even the Illuminati doesn't want to hear about it, so I'll skip it.
Ok. You can laugh at me now and feel good about it.
Stay tuned for the last episode of this trip where I lose my brakes and have to keep sailing for 24 hours straight.
The Albamarle crossing was smooth and easy. Nice wind from abeam, sunny weather, fairly flat seas; all the things that make sailors get aroused dreaming about at night. Well, almost everything.
This was the only day of my trip that didn't come furnished with adrenalin dispensers mounted all down the sidedecks. So let's take a moment to enjoy it.
Ok. I'm bored, which is probably why my life is so infested with adventures (read: mishaps).
The next morning, I pulled my newish anchor and got an early start. So far so good. I hadn't refueled since I left Hampton where I put in 20 gallons, which is all the little tank would handle. I had been doing my best to track my fuel consumption with a thin branch I found at low tide and could stick through a hole in the top of the tank after removing the fuel return hose and fitting. The dipstick took about 20 minutes to operate sober, and didn't work unless the boat was sitting level and still. Oh, and the engine couldn't be running because the return fuel would vomit all over the place longing for its fitting. I want each and every one of you to stop reading, go out to your car or backhoe and spend a moment appreciating your fuel gauge. These little guys are really the foundation of our happiness.
Halfway through the day, I was cruising along down a tedious stretch of canal thinking that life was about as happy as it could possibly get without a fuel gauge. My technical calculations, according to the precision stick, told me that I had five gallons left in my tank. No problem. It wasn't more than five hours to Belhaven where I hoped to be before sundown, and my calculations said I was only burning a half gallon an hour.
I don't know why boat engines don't die near marinas, or in larger bodies of water where there is room to anchor or sail. Hell, I would settle for it simply happening when the wind wasn't so strong, and the barges weren't jockeying for a turn at me.
My happy thoughts slid from my mind with the sound of a needle scampering from a record when the engine ran out of fuel.
"Sorry, Mr. Tugboatman. My anchor is more important than chit-chatting with you on the radio right now. No offense. Over."
There is something you need to know about diesel engines. You can't just run them out of fuel, pour in new fuel, then start the engine in between bites of your ham sandwich. That would be too easy, and sailors don't like that. Instead, one must get out all the tools and take apart half the boat in order to bleed the air from the fuel system, lines, and pumps. The engine is usually encased in as much structure as possible in order to protect it from being bled too easily by sailors. The whole experience is very similar to disassembling a fair ride while riding it and huffing diesel fuel, which is why the ham sandwich is never a part of the procedure.
I finally got under way again hoping that I would still make Belhaven before dark. The whole anchoring-fueling-bleeding process took up about 30 to 40 minutes at best and I was already pushing my daylight.
When I got back out into open water after the canal, I utilized the high winds to hopefully pick up some miles. When I say "open water" I mean it in an ICW sort of way, which means that I was surrounded by miles of water that was a foot shallower than my keel, and although it looked like I was in the middle of a vast ocean, I could only sail in a winding channel marked out by buoys. Because of this, I kept my engine running. Plus, The First Lady moves like a cold snail with its mouth full of peanut butter, and it was getting late. Motor sailing was much faster.
Everything was peachy again. The needle was back on the record, we were making great time, and the setting sun was gorgeous!
The channel turned 90 degrees, I came about onto a starboard tack following the buoys, the snail swallowed and gulped some air...
Screeeeeech! There goes the damned needle again!
If luck were a coin, mine would be a very large one that lands on either side with the same thud of probability.
There is a Zen story that goes like this:
An old Chinese farmer had a mare that broke through the fence and ran away. When his neighbors learned of it, they came to the farmer and said, "What bad luck this is. You don't have a horse during planting season." The farmer listened and then replied, "Bad luck, good luck. Who knows?"
A few days later, the mare returned with two stallions. When the neighbors learned of it, they visited the farmer. "You are now a rich man. What good fortune this is," they said. The farmer listened and again replied, "Good fortune, bad fortune. Who knows?"
Later that day, the farmer's only son was thrown from one of the stallions and broke his leg. When the neighbors heard about it, they came to the farmer. "It is planting season and now there is no one to help you," they said. "This is truly bad luck." The farmer listened, and once more he said, "Bad luck, good luck. Who knows?"
The very next day, the emperor's army rode into the town and conscripted the eldest son in every family. Only the farmer's son with his broken leg remained behind. Soon the neighbors arrived. Tearfully, they said, "Yours is the only son who was not taken from his family and sent to war. What good fortune this is..."
This Fortune thing is like the waves on the beach. There are no tall crests without low troughs. My beach has large waves for some reason, and if I were a surfer, I would be looking for such a beach.
I was motoring around trying to keep my barn walls pointed into the wind so I could dash forward, drop the hook, and feel like a master seaman. The problem was, there was no room to drift backwards, even a little, for the few moment it took to do that, and my sailing companion, Schizo, is no good at teamwork. So I left the engine running and the prop engaged to hold me into the wind whilst I sprang to action. This would have worked fine on Islita, but if you remember from the last episode, The First Lady has a fin spindle, I mean keel, and moves about like a carousel horse on ice.
I run forward, drop the anchor, pay out line, the wind gusts, and...
First Lady flawlessly performs her triple Axel at that very moment! 9.9 - 10 - 10
I've never yet met a nylon rope and a boat prop that got along very well. I was fortunate that the prop won the altercation, because had the rope won, I would have had neither an anchor nor an engine. Call me lucky.
As my good fortune would have it, I merely lost my only anchor, the wind wasn't blowing a full gale, the sun wasn't all the way down, it was only a few hours motor back to Coinjock. I still had a working engine, I still had a prop not fouled and tangled by the anchor rode, I still had a spot light and two granola bars. I was lucky.
"Hey guys, good luck on your journey" I called across to the Ho boys who were still stirring the pudding, "I just lost my anchor. I've got to head back to Coinjock."
I was hoping that the version of luck I was wishing them was a little different than the version I was experiencing.
'What? They replied. "That's crazy. Its a few hours back, and it's almost dark!"
I couldn't continue on in the ICW because the next step was crossing the Albamarle sound and the next civilization for me in that direction was a day's sail. And without an anchor, that would be crazy. I had to go back.
The ICW was meant to be run at night only by professional tug operators and idiots. At least idiots with radar or chart plotters. I navigated by spot light, depth sounder, and hand held gps. Its interesting how they only put lights on the markers that are "important", as if by being invisible, the unimportant ones will not be there to bash into. I eventually found them all, some as I was frantically whipping the boat one way or another to avoid driving a pile through my bow. By the time I tied up to the marina dock in Coinjock, my adrenalin had all been spent, and my nerves were like the torn edges of a blister. I was safe, though, and celebrated by eating a real meal at the marina restaurant that stayed open for me.
The next morning, I learned that there is no such thing as a marine store or anyplace that sells anchors within 40 miles. The marina guy used a technical term to define my situation, "Buddy, you're basically fucked."
He could have ordered me one that would arrive in two or three days for $400, but that would have been a bare minimum anchor and not much better than what I had lost. Plus it would also cost $60 a day to stay tied up at the marina. Ugh!
I started calling everyone in the area that had anything to do with boats. "No sir, sorry. You're basically fucked." This technical term was very popular with the locals.
"Do you know someone else I can call that might be able to help?" This is the key phrase to be used to keep from hitting a dead end or to trick yourself into thinking that there is actually hope while you are going down a dead end.
Eventually, it paid off. I was given the number to some local guy who used to work for one of the boatyards. His name was Tim, and he sent his wife down to the marina to pick me up while he was at work so she could take me to their house to show me my one and only option.
Buried in the tall weeds along the back fence in what was most assuredly the television set used to film Sanford and Son, was a perfectly good plow anchor that would work much better than the Danforth I so creatively disposed of. I poked around in the junk just out of curiosity and also found a nice pile of anchor chain with shackles. Well, Ain't that convenient!
Over the phone, I struck a deal with Tim for $150 for the whole shebang, paid Tim's wife, got redeposited at the marina, and was under way just after noon. The marina didn't even charge me for my short stay. Something that easily could have cost many days and many hundreds of dollars, turned into a minor hiccup and provided me with an anchor that I was going to have to buy once I got to Wrightsville Beach anyway.
This thing called luck. Very interesting.
Russell and Kiki love your updates as we have been cheering you on from the beginning. We love your stories, we love your adventure, and we love you! One of the greatest things in Kiki's life is seeing you sailing into your adventure aboard our beloved Islita. We are still here for you every step of the way! Kiki and Russell
Captain Marvel, Welcome back to Islita. You did a marvelous job on an arduous passage of 400 miles. And so, the next chapter begins. Boy, you sure are adding chapters to the Islita saga, and we love your writing. Kiki and Russell Wheelock