Author: Gil

The Wild Goose Search For Dagny.

The night Dagny drifted off I dreamed of a young women from Sarasota. There was nice blue water everywhere, even in the streets. We swam around endlessly. Then someone died in a freak circus accident. She said she had to go. Something had broken. I said “we’ll talk,” but I knew she was gone forever.

Flying fishes are incredible creatures. You’d think they just extend their jumps a little to escape predators but no, they are amazing fliers, well, as far as fishes go. They fly a few inches from the water’s surface, going up and down with the waves, making turns, thus for incredible distances. I wonder if they hold their breath in their own way, getting a glimpse of our world like we get a glimpse of theirs. Some day they will be birds and look down on us. One of them flew over the bow of Keith Cooper’s boat and two feet from my face today as I peeked at the horizon looking for Dagny.

I met Keith Cooper this morning. He knocked on my room door at nine. In a daze, I went in my hotel robe to greet him. He explained to me that he is the BASRA representative for West End. I had heard of BASRA, thinking that it was part of the Bahamian Government, but actually it is a volunteer association for search and rescue in the Bahamas. How he found out about me, I forgot to ask, or maybe he told me in my half-asleep state… I don’t think the police notified him. As I sat there rubbing my eyes he started making phone calls, to a U.S. Embassy contact, the USCG and some other people. This was the first time someone took a real interest in finding my boat. I showed him the position report I received from the Coast Guards in Miami. Dagny was spotted by a USCG aircraft assisting in an emergency (one with people aboard). I still need to put all the pieces together but it seems the Seven Seas Cruising Association is helping as well. Glenn Tuttle from the SSCA sent a drift estimate by Chris Parker, the well known meteorologist. If this is the kind of stuff the SSCA does, I want to be part of it too, and not just on the receiving end.

Finally emerging from my much needed sleep, I heard Keith offering to take me on his boat to the calculated intercept point. I was introvertly ecstatic at the offer! Then he mentioned his boat, a 20ft. Mako… Crossing an ocean in Dagny is one thing, going sixty miles off to sea in a twenty foot single-engine pleasure boat is another. I don’t think I would feel comfortable doing so, but Keith Cooper is not an ordinary man, he is on a mission to help people, and does so with very little resources, in my case the cost of gas. Who in this world will still gives his whole day to a stranger? I have to admit, the support has been overwhelming, from people giving good advice, taking time to make calls, even loaning me a bit of money on Paypal, some I do not even know. There will be a long thank-you page to write after this ordeal is over.

Keith runs an eco-tourism tour business in West-End, check him out!

We left West End at 11:30. Keith drove his boat hard all the way to the coordinates. It was a bumpy ride for such a small boat. I was handed a turkey sandwich, ah yes, breakfast wasn’t something on my mind but it hit the spot, especially that I had only eaten a can of Spam the night before. At this rate I will see my abs again pretty soon, but I’m not complaining. We finally reached Dagny’s estimated location and four eyes scanned the horizon again, nothing. Keith drove us a further seven miles in that direction, but being so far was getting a bit hairy. It was time to turn back, and my heart sank again, though I am glad we did not. The ride back was a much longer ordeal. We saw a cruise ship seemingly stopped, and a cargo ship from pretty close. If they saw us they must have thought we were totally nuts. It was 9:30 when we entered West End, ten hours at sea on a little plastic open shell.

Merry Christmas everyone! I just realized as I am writing this that it is 12:25AM on December 25th!

I am renting a house I really can’t afford right now, just for two days. There is nothing in West End at any reasonable price. I do absolutely need to find something for cheap, maybe in Freeport, or buy a ticket back to France, which would put me out of reach of Dagny, wherever she is now. There might be some interesting developments soon, but I can’t say now just based on an email I received from a fellow sailor. The only thing to do now is to wait for a sighting. I am of course open to any suggestion.

Thank you again to all who helped and are still looking for Dagny and sharing the information.

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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.

DagnySP1

DagnySP1

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 (gil@keskydee.com). 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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