Month: December 2015

Dagny Spotted.

Dagny was spotted tonight December 23rd at 5:30pm, reported by the USCG, at 27-03.7N 79-16.1W. 24hrs after drifting off.



This is incredibly far North, and she will be on her way to Spain tomorrow. Her/my only chance would be if she drifted to the shallows on the Northern Bank, but there is little chance of that now.

I may have to somehow find my way to the airlines in Nassau…

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Hell on Little Bahama Bank.

Even though Dagny is gone, maybe to me forever, I feel like I should recount my last steps after arriving on the North West Bank.

As soon as I anchored the motion turned out to be awful. The swells were coming from the Gulf Stream, winds shifting to the North. I immediately felt sick. Exhausted after driving the boat nineteen hours and not having slept before leaving, I needed sleep badly. I had not been able to keep any water down since leaving, not to mention any food. Dehydration was no doubt affecting me. I felt very weak. My electrical system seemed to be down, at least everything going through the control panel. Fortunately I mounted the solar panels and bilge pump directly. The VHF was left on with AIS receiver in case I saw anyone. Big ships kept heading South, five miles away. They never came closer but I had an eye on them. I spent the night being tossed around, practically off my bunk a couple times. I have the bruises to prove it, a couple I can just cover with my hand. Morning did not come soon enough, but the conditions were worsening. Moving inside the cabin became practically impossible. I was too weak to do anything but lay on my bunk.

Your brain plays funny tricks on you when you’re alone. I started hearing voices outside the boat… More like talk radio or furtive words being spoken. Of course I very well knew nobody was out there, and it soon became quite annoying. Had I understood more than a few sporadic words it might have been more interesting. This did tell me that I had better improve my situation by trying to rest, eat and drink. The seasickness I knew had to disappear after a while.

I was lucky to have my inReach satellite communicator, which gave me great comfort and contact with family and friends.

My anchor was a Mantus 35lbs with 40ft of chain and 250ft of 5/8 nylon rode, all out in 40ft of water. This anchor saved my ass (excuse my French) during those three days.

The next day was pretty much the same. I did manage to get a can of oranges and first drink the juice. It was like pouring life into my veins. I knew the sugar would perk me up. Since I felt better I finished the can. Still in a semi-daze, I rested all day and the following night, finally drinking water as well. The morning of the third day I woke up feeling better; not overly so, but enough to have a look outside and eat a can of grapefruits. The swells were smaller and the wind was shifting to the North East. Maybe I could make it to Great Sale Cay. Problem was, I could not start my engine with the electric system down, meaning no starter. As to using the emergency hand crank, forget it, I was still way too weak for that. Still, I had to get off the Bank, or things would have gotten worse again, and the anchor rode would chafe through soon or later. I wanted to be in control. How do you raise a 35lbs anchor by hand with a length of chain when you can barely stand for a few minutes? You don’t. Any other time I could have accomplished this with no trouble. I crawled slowly to the bow, wearing foul weather gear and safety harness. It took me a while, as I needed to rest a few minutes every few feet of Dagny’s 26ft. What was I thinking? I tried, of course unsuccessfully, to pull the anchor line out. All I got for my efforts was a nasty rope burn on my arm which took a little skin off. Here is a new $280 Mantus with $200 of rode and $40 of chain, used for the first time, and I need to cut it loose. Had I known I would not have been able to start the engine, I would have searched for much shallower water, but I was so exhausted, it was madness to continue that first night. Hey Mantus, how about a discount coupon on my next one? If I ever get Dagny back or another boat…

Making way has a totally different motion. My sea sickness disappeared almost instantly, though I was still quite weak, but now sailing South East at a good clip on main sail only. Hours passed, the weather getting sunnier and better. Now I was enjoying myself. These days, sunset comes quickly and Great Sale Cay was still quite far. I didn’t want to end up in the middle of nowhere at night creating a hazard to others with no lights. West End didn’t look so far now, and I was making best speed sailing South. I decided to keep going in that direction until I found very shallow water to anchor in with my 20lbs CQR, somewhere nobody could follow with my 3’10” draft and accidentally hit me. I slept well that night, my spirits up.

The last leg to West End was also a great day of sailing, though it didn’t seem I would make it before dark. I had crossed the Bank edge to the West to avoid the very shallow water North of the island, but in doing so went a bit too far West. Upon arriving I anchored out about a mile South of the channel entrance along the beach. That was another good night, and I ate a couple cans again, even made some hot oatmeal.

In the morning was time to check-in. I tried three times to enter the channel on sail only, but with those rocks on both sides, it was a futile attempt, as the wind would die approaching land. On my last try my bow swung a few feet from the rocks. Let’s forget about the idea… If you want to know if a dinghy with a 2.5hp engine can pull a 7000lbs boat up wind into an entrance channel, don’t try, take my word on it. It’s not the boat that’s going to get pulled. I had better anchor out again and go check-in by dinghy.

Not to recount my last post on the loss of Dagny, around 6:00pm, maybe 6:30, Dagny wasn’t where I left her. I had checked on her from time to time, no problem. The 1/2″ anchor rode was new, I had enough scope and lots of chain. I may never know what happened.

The hatches were closed, sails down. The bilge pump is fed directly by the battery, which is fed by the solar panels. I do not expect her to sink. Maybe she’s half way to Florida right now, or aground on the Bank somewhere, who knows.

I am stranded in West End with less than $20. Everything I owned was on the boat. I needed only little money with me to pay for the entry fee and lunch. A few friends have offered to send me a few dollars via Paypal ( I put my address here, but would like to emphasize that I am not taking donations. I’ll take a loan, pay it back to the last penny, yes, but that’s as far as my pride will let me do, and even that is painful to me. I have never relied on anyone for my subsistence since I was a teenager, and will not start now.

I would like to thank all my friends for their support and well wishes. I am so disappointed to not being able to share more of this adventure with you guys, as the feedback has been overwhelming. I feel like I have let everyone down, which is also very painful, considering all the practical and moral support they have given me, hoping to read all about it maybe for years.

My priorities are to get a beta blocker as soon as possible, my stock being of course on the boat. It is a medication I take every day for heart rhythm. Then comes accommodations, needed for a week waiting for news. I have no clothes but those on my back.

In a week I hope to find passage to Nassau, and maybe take a commercial flight back to France. Maybe Dagny will turn up somewhere, but I have little hope.

I will now head to the harbor master’s office and make sure the local police has notified the U.S. Coast Guard, which they should have done last night, I mentioned to them, but I am sure they know their job. My only means of communications is via email, having left my phone on the boat as well in a can of rice, since it had developed an aversion to salt water.

I still have my dinghy here with its outboard engine, but it is of little use to me now if Dagny isn’t found and somehow brought back here, but I doubt things like that happen, do they? So if anyone wants a brand new 7’9″ hypalon Achilles with used two-stroke outboard for $1000, let me know, pick up only.

I am in a state of numbness, my new life cut short by this stupid incident. Had I sunk, set my boat on fire or gotten lost, it would somehow be psychologically easier. I can’t think of anything I might have done wrong, and that is the hardest part.

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Tragedy Strikes.

I checked in this afternoon at West-End. Since I could not start my engine I anchored off the beach a mile South of the channel. Everything was seemingly fine, forty feet of chain and maybe fifteen of nylon rode, shallow water. Out of the customs office I checked on the boat, I could see the mast over the jetty. I had a late lunch, checked again, no problem. At six or six thirty after using my computer to get on the Internet it was time to head out to the boat on my dinghy. Dagny wasn’t there! I found a guy on his boat with a radar. He could see nothing, not a blimp. Hard to spot a sailboat. Three guys on a motorboat offered to go look with me. We spent three hours looking around in the direction of the drift, nothing. I am stranded in West-End with nothing but the clothes on my back and my computer bag. They’re letting me sleep in the gym tonight, no idea about tomorrow. Needless to say I am devastated, numb, incredulous.

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Crossing The Gulf Stream.

I left on Thursday December the 17th. Friday was going to be bad weather with the winds switching to the North, which for crossing the Stream is a no-no. I left early at at 5:30, motor-sailing. I can’t describe the anticipations and worries leaving at night on my first ocean crossing. This was going to be the shake-down cruise for Dagny and I. She undoubtedly has more experience than myself. Truth be told, I have practically none. I fear that admitting this will get me the wrath of experienced sailors, and they would be mostly right. This is just the way I do things, from cave diving to flying ultralights. Inexperienced doesn’t mean ill prepared or lacking knowledge. I have envisioned this trip for years and learned everything I could about sailing. This was my first time alone on a boat. My total sailing experience amounted that morning to a few hours aboard a friend’s boat as a guest. Now you’re going to think I am crazy. I certainly do not suggest anyone try this. You might not come back.

Leaving the Saint Lucie inlet was fairly straight forward. The channel is well marked. As soon as I was out the swells were pretty big I though, but I had no idea. Sea sickness reared its ugly head. I vomited three times, nothing but water. I had not slept the night before. Fortunately I felt much better after that, but could not keep water down from then on. My intent was to shut off the engine but my jib got entangled so I decided to take it down and motor through with the main sail. I had to lay on deck and crawl to the bow to bring it down, all the while clipped to my safety harness. This harrowing experience was a taste of things to come. Matters improved a bit as I hit deep waters. The Gulf Stream started pushing me North. My intent was to aim for Great Sale Cay or Little Grand Cay. What I thought was going to be a twelve hour trip was quickly turning into something else. To get a heading East I had to point the bow to 160 degrees magnetic! The boat was moving North faster than it was moving East. That was a big problem because If I missed the tip of the Bahama Bank I was on my way to Bermuda! I wince now thinking of the engine quitting in the Stream. My backup plan was to get out of it as soon as possible and then tack back South to the Bahamas, probably taking days to do so with impending dubious weather.

The Atlantic water is such a deep blue, something to behold. I had never seen such a sea color. It really wakes you up when you get sprayed in the face once in a while too.. The sun started to come down. I thought of my friends at Indian Beach watching it. The fishing boats disappeared. I was alone out there, with no land in sight, in pitch darkness. Gigantic dark shapes started looming on the horizon; immense floating cities carrying cargo and people. You can make cruise ships very easily, having more lights than a Christmas tree. The commercial ships are very eery, massive, I can’t over emphasize it. A sailboat does have priority, but this would be the same as giving priority to mosquitoes over car windshields.. Stay out of the way! Nobody seems to answer radio calls either. Are they asleep? Is anyone on board?

Fatigue was taking its toll. I started dozing off. Trimming the sail correctly I found I could let go of the boat’s tiller and it would keep its course. I waited half an hour, same heading. Sleep came in bouts of twenty minutes or so. I would wake up getting spray in the face, or simply because my mind somehow knew I had to keep watch.

Dagny feels like a tank. What an awesome boat. I am learning her quirks as I learn mine. Morris sure knows how to build a boat and Chuck Paine knows how to design them. Part of the credit I give to her for keeping me safe.

Nineteen hours after departure I had reached the very tip of the Little Bahama Bank, way too far North. I couldn’t see anything and decided to drop anchor in forty feet of water. The swells were bad and the wind was increasing. I was safe tethered to the ground below, everything was going to be fine, I had made it. I couldn’t have been more wrong…

PS: I will add a video to this post tomorrow or the following day.

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Living Aboard a Small Sailboat is Actually Pretty Nice.

It has been only six days mind you, but I am settling into a nice routine. Not that living aboard is something I particularly want to do on a boat that small. I missed a nice weather window today and tomorrow because of a stuck valve on my diesel inboard. Yep, I have identified the problem, but that doesn’t necessarily help me. WD-40 and a bout of slight violence with a screwdriver handle didn’t do any good. Better have a profe$$ional check it out. Bottom line is, it is about traveling, discovering new lands and cultures… I am still at the dock, stuck for lack of finances and mechanical knowledge. One thing I have learned is that anything related to boats moves slowly. You just can’t be in a hurry. I haven’t been contemplating my navel all week though, today was very productive…

Yesterday a guy a couple slips down had a cooler stolen from his boat. I wouldn’t have left a $400 cooler in an open boat (they make $400 coolers?!), but I understand why he might have felt it was safe. My boat has been floating here for a year and a half, the last month with thousands of dollars in equipment, unlocked. The area is (was) supposedly extremely safe. This prompted me to install a lock I had purchased to secure the companionway hatch. Yes, the famous bubble hatch. The forward hatch was another problem. I solved this one with a simple bolt through and a cross bar on the inside; primitive but effective. Now I can lock the boat when away or lock myself inside if need be. It’s not crowbar-proof but it would give someone so equipped a run for their money.

Companionway Hatch Lock

Companionway Hatch Lock

Forward Hatch Crossbar

Forward Hatch Crossbar

Next, I looked at my Optimus two-burner kerosene stove and decided that it was time… Two holes, nuts and bolts later it was hanging in its new home, but leaning backwards… Weird… The stove is supposed to swing the way the boat is leaning so you can cook while sailing. No way a pot is going to stay on at that angle, yet the gimball axes are aligned with the burners. Then I noticed notches at the bottom on each sides. I immediately thought “counter weights!” You can adjust them as the tank empties… Not great, but it will work. A couple fishing weights should do fine. One burner seems to be clogged, one more thing to fix. I think I will buy new burners some time in the future. The Optimus is for serious cooking, not for a cup of tea or hot chocolate. I use a tiny alcohol stove for that. It barely burns more alcohol than required to preheat the kerosene burners, so why bother. Kerosene does smell a bit too. I also haven’t yet gotten a thin sheet of stainless steel to protect the ceiling. See my stove test video, you’ll understand…

Optimus Kerosene Pressure Stove

Optimus Kerosene Pressure Stove

While I had the drill out, boy do I enjoy my solar panels and inverter, I decided to install the fire extinguishers on the bow bulkhead and one near the engine. I am more concerned about the Optimus throwing a tantrum than anything else…

Fire Extinguisher

Fire Extinguisher

I usually get up early, around eight. There is a nice mom-and-pop breakfast place within walking distance. Actually, everything here is within walking distance, including bars, restaurants, post office, boat gear store and supermarket. Wifi is available most places. I use a USB powered special antenna (2W), which seems to work fine, but I prefer to connect at the breakfast place or the restaurant. I have learned to recharge my devices while the sun shines on the solar panels. Doing so at night drains the battery too fast.

I skip lunch, even dinner sometimes, though the restaurant across the water has sushi rolls for $8, and the one behind it has crab cakes, my favorite! Daytime is for boat work, while I can see. Not having a shower on board isn’t so bad since I noticed the hotel nearby has a pool and the showers door is often unlocked. So yes, I sneaked in! I have rented a room there a couple times so I don’t feel too guilty about it. There is another option at $30 per month, but hopefully I won’t be here that long.

The only thing missing are of course are my friends. It has been different since the coffee shop closed, but that didn’t prevent seeing my closest friends and there was also the daily sunset gathering, until now. I don’t know anyone here. So far it hasn’t hit me fully yet, but I know once I leave the Florida coast behind, it will…

Tomorrow I am installing a radio antenna on the stern and running a couple antenna cables back to the cabin. I also need to scrub the deck, but better do that when the sun starts going down. I still have a bit more cleaning to do and put a few things away, where, I don’t know. The boat is really full. By the way I did take a video of my setup, sort of a tour of Dagny, deck and cabin. There has been progress since then, but you’ll get an idea of the size of my living space, what’s left of it. I just edited the file and uploaded it on Youtube. I tried Kdenlive on Linux but it crashes all the time and really isn’t user friendly. Power Director 14 on Windows works great for me, even though I hate Windows. I could only output 480p with the trial version.

The wind vane, this mysterious device that steers the boat using wind power needs to be set-up. Fortunately I have the manual. I know, guys aren’t supposed to do that, but It’s my ass out there, excuse my French…

The next weather window I think probably won’t happen until the 22nd or later. I really wanted to leave much earlier. My engine absolutely needs to be fixed by then, and I want to leave with at least $300 in my pocket, $150 for the Bahamas entry fee. I’ll be working online throughout my trip, so no need to have a big cruising kitty before departure. I have Search & Rescue insurance through Delorme, but will add medical evacuation insurance to that as soon as I can. My forward storage lockers have food and water for forty five days. It’s time to go, I am growing a bit frustrated…

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