Wednesday, July 27, 2016
'BAM !!!! CRUUUNCH... A HUGE WOOSH AS THE MAINSAIL JIBES OVER. THE HOGFISH SMASHES ONTO THE REEF AS THE SWELL DROPS OUT FROM UNDER HER WITH A SICKENING CRUNCH, WITH THE ENGINE GUNNED TO FULL THROTTEL AND THE SAILS NOW DRAWING THE NEXT SWELL RELEASES THE HOGFISH FROM THE GRIP OF THE REEF.
We are free. Within seconds life is back to normal with her reaching along in the 15-18 knot wind as we scute away from certain death to her with our hearts pumping away.
We come about and heave to. Check for water in the boat and collect our shelves. What just happened?
7 days earlier in a nice Lee anchorage in Jolly Harbor in Antigua I and my two crew, Sara from England and Kelsey from Canada sail out from under the mountains of Antigua on our way non stop to Mayaguna in the Bahamas 800 miles away.
Rachel my wife was flying back to Florida to see our daughter Lillian at the end of collage for the year and collect our dog Bequia to meet up with me and the Hogfish at our home base back in the Bahamas.
Bequia is old now and does not like sailing in rough water anymore.
Sara and Kelsey we had met while on our sailing adventures over the past year. Kelsey and I had been crewing on Taz together the past year. Sara had lots of sea time but no real hands on sailing as her trips across the Atlantic on a large wooden Luggar were mainly as a new crew that just took small turns at the wheel. She wanted to learn what it was like to sail on a small boat not using a motor with all the nuances of small boat sailing, navigation, and such with some one who would take the time to explain it all and not just do it. Sara suffers from sea sickness but was game. She has traveled all over the world and wanted to learn how to spearfish with a Hawiian sling. The Bahamas was the place to learn this.
Kelsey at 30 years old had been all over the world on her own too. She is an accomplished Sky diver, Dive Master, skier, and adrenaline junkie for fast sailboats. She to wanted to experience the same things. Racing together for the past year with many people she impressed me with her get it done attitude racing and afterwards when you have to put the boat away. She was always there helping and asking what was next.
The trip was to be a down wind sail teaching them how to rig the whisker pole, preventers, topping lifts, fore guys and so on. Lots of jibing ahead as the trip would be almost strait down wind for days. HFM and I had just hit the 27,000 mile mark in our travels together.
This would be HFMs third trip back this way and my fifth.
The first day out with Sara at the helm as the schooner replica Columbia reaches past us. Sara pays for her world travels by working the summers back in England as a lighting technician at all the festivals like Glastonbury. She's says its brutal work moving all the equipment in the rain and mud.
We stood 3 hour watches and elected to hand steer the whole way to get to know the feel of Hoggy as she's called after a few days aboard. It's fun as we were going along hitting up to 7-8 knots at times. Rachel holds the top speed seen on the GPS at 10.9
A nice Wahoo on day two. Ceviche first for lunch, fillets in Italian dressing then fried for dinner.
The rest for breakfast.
Waiting for the green flash. So many perfect sunsets but no green flash. I have seen it only three times.
Lighter winds the asymmetric goes up. We are on the banks in this picture because the dinghy is astern. Our whisker pole is 19' long.
Kelsey loves to cook. We all took turns but she came up with some really new things with just the basics. We have no refirigeration. Kelsey said no way she could go like that on her boat. By the end of the trip she became a believer and was all about how simple it was if you lived your life around not storing food that needs the cold.
Sara cooked things very slowly and took her time. Oatmeal to me is porridge to her and she took an hour at least to brew up a pot. Delicious but different.
My way of cooking when I'am alone is if it takes longer to cook it than eat it's taking too long.
I did all the cooking of the fish caught as I know how to do that very well and I do " eggs underway"quite well.
The trip towards the Bahamas was a very nice easy downwind leg for the first five days till we approached the Turks and Cacios Islands. A front was converging with the trades and in order to stay out of the worst of the squally weather I sailed a course a bit low. We ended up getting headed with a NW wind so I decided to put into South Cacios Island to let the front pass along with all the rain.
To me it was better to be at anchor then beating to weather.
On the final approach to the entrance between the islands into the anchorage of South Cacios I noticed that on my Garmin C-Map GPS the trail we were leaving as we sailed along was about a 1/4 mile off and was putting us on land. I had sailed in here years before so knew what was up and the rain had cleared so I could just read the waters. I put the GPS readings as being off because the map chip that I got with the GPS was only for the Bahamas and the US. BIG MISTAKE!
We did not clear in there as they wanted over $150.00 to do so. We sailed on towards the Bahamas the next morning.
Our trip would take us across the banks for a days sailing in shallow waters. Then in the evening we would sail the rest of the night across the passage between the Cacios to the south western end of Mayaguna to anchor in its Lee. I wanted to beach comb here before sailing the final 6 miles to Abrahams Bay to clear in. I had done so 6 years before and it was just fantastic.
As we left the Lee of the banks with Hogfish entering the deep water we carried on under reefed mainsail and jib being close hauled and doing between 5-6 knots to weather. I was looking at getting there at daybreak.For the entire trip I had been nursing a cold with it coming and going. The past few days I had a terrible sore throat making it uncomfortable to swallow with an accompanying fever and basic just wanting to lay my head down.
The watches stood that at the speed we were sailing we would arrive on the SE coast of Mayaguna in the early morning during my 3:00- 6:00 watch. I had set a way point on the Garmin GPS at 1/4 of a mile off of the south coast in an area that had a sandy beach and bottom. My plan was to get in the Lee and heave to or if it was calm enough anchor till daylight and then move in closer to find a spot to go beach combing for a couple hours. The last time I had anchored here was 6 years prior and we had found 38 sea heart sea beans in less than a 1/4 mile of beach combing.
We sailed on with the girls taking their turns at the wheel with me popping my head up and checking on things every 15-20 minutes or so as I had been doing for the entire trip.
At 2:00 in the morning it was Kelsey's watch. She called me to say she could see the red radio tower light at Abrams bay town site. By the GPS a we were 8 miles away and on course on our waypoint rumb line. It was dark out with no moon. The Stars were shining with the wind at 12-18 knots and the seas about 3-6' on the starboard bow. It was beautifull conditions with the Hogfish just moving along.
I told Kelsey I would just put my head down a bit more as we still had lots of miles to go to get in the Lee. As we approached she was told to get me up if I wasn't up on my own. I just felt like crap. I just wanted my head to lay low.
Very soon my life would change forever. I had broken several of my rules and let my guard down. I was just about to do what many other great sailors will always look back on with regret. With less than 8 miles to go I had said to myself " just a few more minutes of rest".... Classic bad move.
Kelsey woke me at just before my 3:00 watch saying to me that she could see the land and was getting near the way point. I jumped up from my slumber at the Nav Station and stepped the two steps into the doghouse and turned around and looked at the GPS map on my way out into the cockpit. This I have done at least a thousand times in a nice fluid motion. I could see we were about 1/4 of a mile from my waypoint and offshore of the Lee of Mayaguana. On deck I could see the red light of the radio tower at the town of Abrams bay to the Lee of us and the shore line looming ahead. To me we were right on spot so I said lets fall off and reach down the shoreline a bit to find a good Lee. The seas were about 2-3'. As I went to step into the doghouse below to look at the GPS map closer the rudder tip hit the reef.
I twisted and told Kelsey to put her about ASAP as I jumped to the stern to let the rudder kick up line loose. We were dragging the rudder along over the reef for a few more seconds before the safety line snapped. All of this happening in very slow but in reality tortured seconds as we came up into the wind with a swell raising us up and then dropping out from under Hogfish with her slamming to a total stop on top of the now exposed coral reef. Our momentum was brought to a standstill. The sea filled back in just as fast as it had deposited us on the reef. We fell off on our original tack. Because I had been reaching along the daggerboard was all the way up. If it had been down to its full 8' depth we would have been stopped by it instead of the reef. We would not have sailed over the reef with our keel less boat.
I tell Kelsey to go forward to help back the jib by holding and making sure the jib sheets would clear as I let the mainsail sheet fly. CRUNCH SHE GOES DOWN AGAIN. Oh it's so sickening. Stay calm.
She's going round a bit in every lift she gets from the swells. Sarah comes on deck. I get Sarah to hold the helm hard over to leeward as I jump to start the engine.
Sarah travels around England with ten other guys in a bus that they use as home during the summer festivals that they do all the rigging of lights for. She is allotted a small bunk on the bus and has learned to sleep under very trying circumstances.She has proved that she can sleep through almost anything.
Everyone does their jobs calmly with no yelling. The two girls even in the dark know the Hogfish from the past weeks sailing and my continual instructions that they had asked for.
The engine starts as always and as we lift off the coral I give it full throttle. Kelsey is back in the cockpit hauling in the mainsails 20' boom to help it jibe over. The winters racing on Taz with hundreds of jibes has paid off for Kelsey and us as she now knows what to do without thinking. WOOSH over it goes. As we get dropped down again I let off on the throttle and hope we will not hit the coral with the prop. But it's offset to port and is now hopefully up off and away from the reaching corals arms. Upppp we go as the mainsail is being sheeted in with Sarah steering and me on engine throttle we scrape our way along and then swoosh we are spit out into the sea again and all is back to normal. Or so we hope.
This has all taken but a few terrifying minutes. We sail off shore and heave to. Look inside for water coming in. None. Sarah starts to make some tea. I sit on deck in semi shock. I have let the Hogfish down after sailing 27,000 miles together with her never making a fuss. What went wrong? What did I do wrong?
The night sky is dark with just the stars out and the red radio tower light of Abrahams bay 6 miles to leeward down the coast. Hogfish heaves to perfectly. She has Been a loyal friend. I know she has survived a real beating and her bottom must have some major bruises. It's too dark and not safe to dive on her with the seas. Daylight will be in 3 hours. All this took took only a few minutes.
15 minutes goes by while I go over what I did wrong. I know we all did things right as we worked to get her off the reef. Calm headed maneuvers and good karma sure helped.
First off I should never have put the waypoint in so close with me being sick. I let my guard down by letting my fever and sore throat take over my in stinks. I should have been on deck for the final approach. I got to trust the GPS to much. Big mistake.
In hind sight if I had the daggerboard keel in the down postion at 8' we would have run up onto the reef like any other normal sailboat with the reef stopping us dead in our tracks. Well hopefully not dead.
With the keel down I could just let the mainsail fly and back the jib as the daggerboard was raised. We would have fallen off the windward reef and sailed away with way less damage and embarrassment.
But with the keel up we sailed over onto the reef with the rudder catching the reef at 5' of maximum depth. If it had been calm we would most likely have sailed right over the reef to the beach.
With this in my mind I thought of the many famous sailors I know and have read about when they too ran afoul of the land. We had been lucky with the strength of the Hogfish, her shallow draft and lifting keel and rudder. I used up a bunch of my good karma in just a couple of minutes. I will have to make up for this in the coming years.
With these thoughts in my mind Sarah interrupts and says we have water coming in by the mast compression post. Shit.
Sure enough the boat is sinking. But not fast.
I direct Kelsey to let the jib go and fall off and sail towards the reef opening of Abrahams bay 5-1/2 miles away to leeward. I get out our Edson 1 gallon a stroke bilge pump and its hoses. I start to pump. Nothing's happening. It won't prime itself. Meanwhile Sarah is bailing the water above the floor boards in the Lavac head and pumping it overboard. This has taken up 5 minutes. The water is rising.
When designing and building the Hogfish and my other past boats I have built all the lockers and bulkheads to be compartmentalized and as waterproof as possible for exactly this type of scenario. It's working. The leak is by the mast area. Or maybe in the chine area under the sink. Water is rising in both places. I know from past experience in sinking boats and helping others save their sinking boats that it's very hard to jump over the side in pitch black conditions and try to find let alone plug a hole in the ocean. You have to be an expert swimmer and diver with no fear. I'am a very good swimmer and have dove and spear fished all my life. I'am very comfortable in the water. But it's near impossible and very dangerous to try anything at night in a sea way.
We were a half mile from a five mile long beach on its leeward side. No one was going to die. The Hogfish I could run up on the beach at the worst. What I wanted to do was slow down the flow of water till we could sail through the reef entrance at daylight and I could then in flat water try and stop the leak.
A scared man with a bucket is a good line but you have to look at all that water and say there's got to be a better way.
There are. Turn your engine on and use its salt water intake hose to pump the sea water overboard.
If there are enough crew aboard by all means use buckets, bilge pumps anything that you can do for hours on end.
I opted to take the intake hose off my Levac head and pass it forward to the mast area and pump like hell. Meantime Sarah was bailing into the galley sink. YES the water was not rising. It was not a sinking right now hole- fracture. I got ahead of it and now we could take turns pumping while I went on deck to check on our course and get things sorted. The girls looked up at me a said that if need be they could go on for days at this pace. Good shipmates here.
With the water level under control Sarah moved a bunch of the things out of the lockers up forward onto the vee bunk.
We sailed on.
I got out my 19 year old Z-Spar 2 part underwater epoxys rusted cans. I love this stuff. I used it on my 18' sloop when I was 19 and had caught a huge shark that twisted around while I was tying its tail off to the bow cleat and it bit a nice hole in the chine. I've saved many other people's boats with this stuff.
Because the water could only go into two areas the rest of the boats interior was dry as usual.
We sailed on.
Just as the sunlight came over the top of Mayagunas island mass at maybe 50' elevation I steered the Hogfish through the narrow reef entrance into Abrahams bay. Within minutes we were anchore at the head of the bay a hundred yards fro the protected beach in 4' of perfectly clear water. 5 other yachts were anchored 2 miles farther down in the bay due to their drafts.
Over the side I went with my epoxy for a look at what I had done.
Oh poor Hoggy, sorry girl. I will make it right.
I could see that the water was coming in from a 3' long fracture right under the mast. This one might have come when we first crashed down on the reef at speed. I had shown the girls how to mix the epoxy and with my first batch I had it in a bucket hanging over the side on an old plate with it rolled into cigar shapes. These I could just grab one at a time and swim under the boat and with my fingers roll into the cracks. With the boat being level now within minutes the water coming in came to a steady small leak. I spent an hour putting a layer on all the small punctures. Doing this at night at sea would be very challenging to any good diver. Hundreds of miles from land and the boat going down fast then if you can spare the time while others get the life boat ready... Maybe.
We then had breakfast and went over our status. We were no longer sinking.... Well very slowly now.
Kelsey had been up since midnight and wanted a rest. She would pump the cracked area while Sarah and I went ashore to clear in.
Mayaguna is a very special place. What it lacks in supplies are some of the nicest people ever. No we could not clear in because the immigration officer had no clue as to how to clear in her own country's registered vessel. She said just go on your way and clear in some where else. Have a nice day though.
We spent the night there and left the next day.
Because of the limited holding power of the epoxy I decided we would take as shallow a passage trip back home to My island home base where I knew I could haul out and fix my mess.
The thing I have learned is that in a sailboat that goes maybe 10 knots at a burst but mostly goes along at 4-6 knots the water pressure to pull peeling paint off or slightly adhering epoxy off is not a high risk. But I did not want to be in deep water for long.
We ended up sailing via Crooked and Aklins and then on to the south coast of Long Island on up through the Exumas to home. By adding more epoxy over the outside and inside the leak came down to a cup full every 24 hours.
Two days after leaving Mayaguana we were rounding the point off of Acklins island with us sailing a1/4 mile to seaward of a sea mount. On the GPS our track showed us going right over the sea mount.
On my return home I have told and talked to many of my sailing friends and Bahamian fishermen of what we went through. What I have learned is that a GPS is very accurate if you put in the waypoints from a previous postion. But they can be way off at times if you just use the curser to scroll in a postion like I did.Lots of experienced people have told me that they have seen anomalies in the area of Mayaguna and the lower Bahamas. Was my GPS map off or the signals? It sure was at the sea mount and earlier in the Cacios. The picture of us going around on the reef shows the scale at 500'. We only bounced around in boat lengths. We would not have survived the over 1000 feet that it's showing. This is all moot now for me. I will not let my guard down again.
This is the mast compression post and its aluminum landing brace that spans the hull bottom between the two bulkheads. The cracks are from the hull being pushed upwards. The mast step helped keep this from going up much farther. This picture was taken at 9:00 in the morning after we stopped the water from coming in 6 hours after hitting the reef. I applied under water epoxy to all the cracks here to help stop the water leaking in. At this point it was a barely seen weep. If it was more the water would just push the epoxy away. At this point you need a pad to put over the epoxy with weights or a brace.
Underwater epoxy on the chewed up chine runners. I put this on not to stop any water getting in as it was not any where near the hull insides but to just clean up my mess.
The gouged and cracked bottom with some epoxy still on. Underwater two part epoxy kinda sticks but not really. What you have to do is get it in the hole or fracture and then smooth out the edges to stop the motion of the boat with the sea water interaction trying to peel it back off. Boats don't sit still.
When applying two part underwater epoxy I find it best to roll into small cigar worm shapes and then roll these into the cracks pushing in as much as you can in a breath and then quickly smoothing off.
The water pressure wanting to flow into the boat holds this in place. But the boat is moving all over the place and the ocean is trying to push the epoxy off and away. Always fill the cracks and punctures first then deal with smoothing out. You cannot build this stuff up too thick or it will sluff off in the constant movement of the boat. I stopped the major inflow of water and then let the first go round of epoxy cure before adding more layers. By the third go round the leak was down to a cup of water every 24 hours.
Here I had the sense to photograph our collision with Mayaguna. The chart shows us going in over 500' but in reality we went in three boat lengths before we jibed over. The Hogfish was leap frogging on top of the reef every swell with a resounding smash every time the water ran out from under her dropping almost her entire weight down 2' at a drop.
Wing and wing days later with our new Genoa pulling us along. We were hitting up to 9-10 knots in these windy but flat seas sailing over the banks.
Making land fall off the Planna Cays. The girls were amazed at the clairity of the water and the fact that no one was around. Well at least till the evening when a small cruising catamaran anchored next to us.
Sailing down the Lee of Long Island with Sara getting pictures of Hogfish and enjoying the dinghy ride down the waves.
In Acklins island I wanted to see if the locals had glass sea floats to trade for. They did. These floats are from many different country's. Along the life lines are PVC pipes I found on the beach, some good drift wood to make eels out of. There's nothing like beach combing to me.
The blue of the water is real. No polarizing here. Exumas.
Leaving early in the morning from Stanial Cay Exuma. No mountainous islands here like the past year and half of cruising in the Caribbean Sea. The Bahamas are not part of the Caribbean as they are north of this sea.
We had to wait two weeks to get hauled out as the lift was booked. In the mean time we took everything out of Hogfish. Everything. We wanted to clean her out real good and get rid of stuff we just never use. It's amazing how much stuff you can carry in a Hull design like this.
Not jewels to some but to us our sea glass will be keeping us busy for quite some time making Jewerly and using at our place.
After everything was off the Hogfish she had risen 7" out of the water. That's all tools, water, food, clothes, dishware... Everything. She lost about 12,000 lbs . Half of this was our treasures of beach finds and boat hardware.
I also wanted to sail her completely empty to video her under sail to show everyone how stable these hulls are with only just the ballast inside. This will be in an upcoming blog. Truth is she is faster and lighter on the helm but just as stiff under sail.
Once we hauled her out I took the following pictures to show the damage and to help understand what this plywood hull withstood.
A gouge that's scrapped away the fairing but has just gone along the fiberglass skin.
These chine runners took a huge brunt of the banging about the reef. This is the port side which was the leeward side so the hogfish was leaning over this way under sail. We pivoted around on these as we jibed about. They helped save the boat as if Hogfish had a regular chine she might have been holed here. Lots of strength here and wood to grind through to get to the inner skin.
After grinding off the bottom paint you can see what the damage is really like.
What made me happy was how nice everything wood wise looked after 17 years. Like new.
Chine paint removed
These small punctures are from the 33,000 lbs of Hogfish landing on top of the coral heads when the swells lifted her up and the suddenly dropped her onto them with not much water under her in the 2-3' swells.
Starting at the front of the daggerboard case. I'am not sure when this one was caused but I believe it was as we were jibing around as we really came down hard at least five times with many scraps and crunches as we jibed around in succession using the motor to push us forward faster when she was floating in the swells. Ugh, it was terrible.
Last bit. I have sanded the paint off. From the inside I removed the fractured plywood. Some of the cracks I cut with the sawsawl to make them go back into place again. This part of the boat right under the mast took the full weight of Hogfish as she was dropped onto the coral. It was like being lifted up 2' and then being dropped onto a big rocks point. Yuck.
This one is on the bottom. It's about 4" long. The puncture is through the skin but has barely touched the plywood. Not a big deal because the hull is almost 1-7/8" thick beyond this.
I cut out the damaged cracked and fractured plywood with a sawsawl. This picture is 4 weeks after the grounding. I expected the wood to be wet all over the place but it was dry 3" in from my cut and dried out by the next day.
After cleaning up with a five inch grinder. Kinda looks like Mordor.
Mordor be gone! I glued in this slot three 1/2" layers of solid clear fir planks one on top of each other.
Fairing over the glass work.
Bottom paint. It's so expensive today I use only what I need. In the Bahamas we don't get growth like elsewhere. They didn't have red either.
This boat lift is on my home island and cost me $10.00 a ft. I could stay there for seven days for that. I've never been that long for a Haulout ever so we grinded her out and let her sit till the last day and then did the work.
Total to fix my fuck up in time was 14 hrs and costs were $890.00.
Now for all the would be builders and arm chair designers.
My thoughts now that I have a real idea of what it's like to bounce around on a real reef.
First off stay offshore.
I feel that if the HFM was built in aluminum she would have split her bottom and that a split in metal would have let in tons more water through this gap.
In steel she might not split but I hope to never know on someone else's behalf.
In fiberglass or core then the only thing you could hope for would be they named the reef after your wreck.
In traditional wood... Well the reefs are covered in these boats.
Hogfish is tied in her berth now waiting for the next adventure. Rachel and I plan on taking off for the Pacfic North west via the Marquesas and Hawiian island leaving in Decmeber of 2017 from here.
This winter after the hurricane season I will change our cockpit and add insulation to all the bolt ends in the deck to stop condensation when we get to the cold waters.
A lesson learned is hopefully a lesson not soon forgotten.