“Be careful what you wish”
I advised my Daughter-in-law’s Sister Elise to consider that old saying before joining the crew for this trip aboard BETTY ANN. But she was game to do it, so on Sunday 10 May we gather at the Southwest gate for the flight to Charleston, South Carolina. But, surprise, we learn the BETTY ANN had put in at Savannah due to tropical storm Ana so a new plan is put in play.
Larry had flown to Charleston the previous day so he rented a car, met us at the airport and we drove to the Isle of Hope Marina located on the Skidaway River portion of the Intracoastal Waterway. We picked up Archie, and with Elise navigating on her phone, headed into the Savannah Riverside Market section for lunch. We ate at Joe’s Crab shack (actually a large full service restaurant- and very good) then return to the marina. Archie and Larry take the car to go provisioning and Elise and I spend time familiarizing her with Betty Ann, stowing our gear and doing final preparations for getting underway in the morning.
The provisioning crew return with three overflowing dock carts. While they begin stowing that Elise and I take the rental car and the marina’s loaner van to National rental at the airport. We fear the worst since neither of us are listed as drivers on the agreement but the agent smiles and says, “You’re returning this for a friend, right” NICE! The two of us then head back to the marina in the van – a true beater – with labels all over the interior indicating what doesn’t work. lol most everything! On the way back we make a quick stop at The Pirate House Bar and Restaurant to check it out, have a beer and then return to pick up Archie and Larry for dinner. Unfortunately, the little place Archie had picked out had just closed their kitchen (9:00) , as had the second choice Japanese restaurant. The third try is open, Jalapenos Mexican food, pretty good, perhaps because we were starving by then.
MONDAY 11 MAY
Up early for showers etc. and a quick trip to Walmart for some forgotten items. We’re underway heading down the river for open ocean and have plenty of excitement as a large outbound RORO (roll-on, roll-off) ship and and incoming container ship meet with us at a narrow bend in the channel. Things get back to normal quickly and soon we’re in the Atlantic. We make our turn onto course 060 M; unfurl the main, jib and stays’l, cut the engine and bask in the glory of an 8+ knot broad reach. For Elise the thrill is short lived as she begins to succumb to seasickness. She applies a Scopolimine patch, and through the bright sunny day appears to be making a recovery. The watch bill is set with a four on: four off schedule so at 1600 I go below for a quick snooze before my watch at 2000. My eyes open at 1800, still no diesel engine noise so I lay back, smile, and enjoy the sounds of the Betty Ann working in the seas.
One of the great things about offshore sailing is dealing with adapting to the watch schedule. You go to sleep with one set of circumstances on the boat, then awaken several hours later and your mind has to catch up to what is now going on. I spot Elise, she is upright, a bit pale but smiling. What I had missed was her “mal-de-mer” moment of truth that occurred when Larry had handed up a big bag of garbage to stow in the dingy on the aft deck. She relates her husband Rick’s line to sea sick boaters, “How would you like a Whoopie Pie dipped in an ashtray”? With that she lies back in her rack for some more sleep. We’ll have to wait for 2200 to see how she’s doing.
Tuesday 12 May
Over my many trips aboard the BETTY ANN I’ve come to believe she will always present the crew with a problem to test their worthiness. Our test this trip arrived at around 2 AM. I’m awakened by the sounds of a sail change. Archie and Elise are on watch and I go up to assist. When Archie pulls the throttle back to idle we hear a beeping alarm. Thinking it’s the autopilot he taps the “Auto” button, but at the same time I see the red ignition warning light – the engine has died. Attempts to restart it prove futile, it cranks but won’t fire. I check the Raycor filter bowl and it’s clear, no water. There’s a light breeze so we decide to sail through the night and figure things out in the morning. Some things you just can’t do in a powerboat! Archie and Elise go below and Larry and I take over.
0600 and Archie arrives on deck. We start the generator, make coffee and charge the batteries. The engine still doesn’t start so we ponder the possibilities. There aren’t many on a diesel – fuel, air compression. It ran perfectly immediately prior to stalling and hadn’t overheated or smoked excessively so air and compression aren’t likely issues. We check the filters again and they look fine. We change them anyway and assure there is fuel pressure leaving the secondary filter. While Archie cranks the engine I crack the forward injector nut and very little fuel comes out. Perhaps the fuel shutoff solenoid is faulty. Larry reads the engine schematic and identifies the solenoid wire color coding. I find the white/brown wire and test it with a meter while Larry works the ignition and stop switches. There is some voltage to the solenoid but not the full 12 volts. Larry disassembles the control panel in the cockpit, there is some minor corrosion but no major issues. Not much else we can do so we set sail for Southport, NC . With a fresh breeze pushing us at 7 knots we plan on making the Cape Fear River entrance channel by late afternoon. I go below to get Elise out of her cabin and into the fresh air and sunshine. The news we are heading into Southport does wonders for her.
The wind holds and we have a great sail into the channel and up to buoy #15 where a Tow Boat US Captain meets us to take us into the Marina. He’s alone on the boat and hands me a ratty length of 3/4″ line to put on a bow cleat. I’m thinking “this isn’t the way the USCG has us do it” There is a strong current against us and he tells me “I’m going to tow you up to that daymark in front of the marina dock. When we get there drop the line and I’ll drift back to put you in a side tow. Besides being very skilled at what he does he also has a sense of humor. When we get to the daymark and I drop the line Betty Ann is still making about 5 knots. He drifts down the starboard side and calls up to Archie at the helm ” Slow it down Captain, you’re going way too fast”. It takes Archie a few seconds to realize the joke. He takes us right to the dock which involved making a 180 degree turn against the current which he did by using a spring line from his boat, to the dock and back to our boat. Later, while completing paperwork he asks Archie for his name. “” Archibald Kenyon says Archie. “Now that’s a real name says the captain. “Yeah” replies Archie, “You learn to fight early growing up with it”.
While walking to the marina office a guy passing by asks us if we’re going to his weather briefing. We asked when and where it was and agreed to go later that evening. Being perhaps a bit to casual, Archie and I show up at the marina conference room with cold Yuenglings in hand. “where’s my beer”? asks Hank, the presenter. It turns out Hank Pomeranz is a retired US Navy meteorologist, who not only provided an excellent briefing on the upcoming weather (pretty much guaranteed perfect 10-15 kt SW sailing winds for the next few days. He also convinced us to take the inland route to Masonboro Inlet rather than going back down the river and around Cape fear as we planned. He gave us detailed charts of the route with up-to-date comments from other boaters and explained the shoaled spots had been dredged and we would have no problem. That tip alone would save us 50 miles, or about 7 hours, and we’re anxious to put it to use.
Wednesday 13 May
At 0815 Dave, the mechanic, arrives. He is a classic “Tar Heel” and could have been Tom Hank’s voice coach in Forrest Gump. He talks constantly as he completes the exact same troubleshooting steps Larry and I had, explaining the technical steps he’s following, providing advise to us and relating personal stories as he goes. I only had time to jot down a few notes as I realized he had “good material” Excerpts from Dave’s monologue:
- “When I was on a commercial fishing boat I had to go below and change fuel filters if I wanted to get home. All those other boys would just stand around watching, saying we don’t know nothing about that stuff”.
- “If you ever have to go to Dosher Hospital (the local hospital), what you need to do is ask for a ride to Wilmington.”
- “Look now boys, you came close to solving your one problem but getting yourselves into bigger one.” (he explained how cranking the engine for long time could build up water in the exhaust and back flood the engine. He showed us the drain plug in the exhaust muffler, and said to close the engine seacock to prevent that.
- “Don’t Armstrong that plug when you put it back in” (plastic plug, steel pipe = be gentle)
- He also had an offshore fishing boat distress flare story. Hopefully one of the crew can remember that and edit it in because I did not take note of it.
Dave gets the engine running but re-starting it is still a problem. He noticed the same low voltage we did and replaced the starting battery which was bad. (“If they’s big ole batteries I’ll need to get a couple of those yard boys to tote them down here”) He thinks the alternator may be the problem but acknowledges ” I’m a good mechanic but electrical systems are way over my head”. So Larry , Elise and I walk along the river into town for lunch while Archie waits for the electrician. Larry returns to the boat and Elise and I explore further having beer and wine and Rum Runner punches at the Flying Fish and Provisioning Co. bars. Archie texts us that the electrician found a bad fuse in the main electrical panel. If course it is not a stocked item so we’ll have to wait another day. We all go to dinner at Frying Pan Restaurant even though Hank had given it an “interesting” rating. The food is good and the view over the marsh and inlet is spectacular from the 2nd floor dining room.
Thursday 14 May
The waiting to get underway is killing us. The winds are holding as predicted by Hank and we could be making a lot of progress. Elise has to be back to work Monday and we’re starting to run out of time . The fuse arrives via UPS and is installed by Jay, the electrician. The engine fires immediately. Larry drops the spring lines but when I pull the throttle into idle the engine stalls. OOPS! I restart it and go below and find air bubbles in the filter. “Long story short” I install new O rings, and follow all of Dave’s advice about closing the seacock, draining the muffler etc. crank the engine and it starts. So off we go, North up the ICW to Masonboro Inlet following Hank’s guide sheets. At 1800 we depart the inlet at slack high tide, all of us packed with Larry’s secret recipe Philadelphia Lasagna. Our course of 090M will take us clear of Cape Lookout and ESE winds at 10 Kts, 2-3′ seas and clear evening sky will make for good motor sailing. We’ll round Cape Hatteras tonight or early tomorrow morning and then decide if we can make Cape May, NJ in time for Elise to make connections home. If not, we’ll head into Norfolk, VA.
Friday 15 May
Under power and stays’l we pass Cape Lookout during the night and Cape Hatteras in the morning, a distance of 150 NM. Thank you Gulf Stream for the push! The day slips by with only one porpoise and a few flying fish for distractions. Given our progress we now think we can make it to Liberty Island Marina inside New York harbor, a good transportation hub for Elise.
Saturday 16 May
By mid morning it is apparent we can make it to Point Judith if the forecast Southwest winds proves to be true (always a crap shoot as we’ve found out on prior trips). So we alter course to starboard, set the main with a jibe preventer and motor sail wing-on-wing making just over 8 Kts. Archie announces our decision to go for it to Larry ” Because of your wonderful cooking the crew has approved an award for you, we are sailing directly to Point Judith”.
The conditions hold all day with only one sail adjustment needed. It is warm and sunny, a perfect day for an on board shower. Minutes later I emerge obviously refreshed and Elise decides to go for it too. She comes out with a big smile and destroys a large bowl of Larry’s chili. As we pronounce her totally cured of seasickness, as if on cue a large pod of porpoise come to the bow to welcome her to Neptune’s kingdom. She heads forward on deck with her camera and a big grin.
If we can continue at this rate we should make P.J. between 8 and 10 PM tomorrow.
Sunday 17 May
Night watches pass without incident and the morning breaks cloudy with the South wind easing to the point the sails aren’t drawing as we motor along. The GPS shows nine hours to the waypoint off Montauk so our ETA still looks good. Smoke and fumes from below indicate the galley master is active and soon a wonderful breakfast of cheese omelettes and grilled English muffins appears. We develop our final Plan-Of-The-Day: motor sail until we are within cellphone range and call Andrew, who is in R.I. for a wedding, hoping he can pick us up at Point Judith Marina, take us to the airport to pick up Larry’s and Elise’s cars, drop off his rental and head home.