Tag: boat

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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Boat Stove Choice, Optimus Kerosene Burner.

I’m not much of a chef, a shame for a Frenchman, but I will need to cook for myself aboard. The obvious choice seemed to be a propane system… On a small boat however, that means securing a tank on deck. I did not want to break the lines of my nice classic looking sailboat! Propane is also heavier than air, so if you have a leak, the gas collects at the bottom of the boat and if there is a source of ignition, kaboum! No thanks. Alcohol was another option, with new stoves made by Origo. Alcohol is more expensive than kerosene and sometimes harder to find. It also doesn’t pack as much energy as kerosene. If you spill some and it catches on fire, you can’t see the flame very well. So kerosene seemed to be my best bet.

Optimus Kerose Pressure Stove

Optimus Kerose Pressure Stove

The only company that still makes pressure kerosene stoves that I know of is Taylor’s in Germany I believe, but at almost $1000 shipped, not something I could afford. Ebay to the rescue! I found a guy in Sweden selling an Optimus single-burner stove and asked him if he had a two-burner one… Score! $420 for a used model in good shape. Now, as you will learn, kerosene stoves do have their quirks, especially when it comes to lighting them!

I almost set my kitchen on fire! What I should have done is wait for the alcohol used to preheat the burners to burn to the end, bringing the burners to a sufficient temperature to vaporize the kerosene properly. That is why I was getting a big dirty flame and fuel leaking from the burner to the underside of the stove. With Dagny’s roof/deck being so low, I might have set the boat on fire had I tried it first inside. It was stupid to test the stove in the house…

Kerosene is used for heating in many parts of the world and available at most airports as Jet-A1 fuel. It also can be used in lamps, which is another reason I chose it. Its only issues are a slight smell and a bit of soot. It does not easily catch on fire unless hot. At 18,500 Btu/lb it really packs a punch.

Many of my choices are dictated by simplicity. With a pressure kerosene stove, there are no lines to run, big tanks to carry for a refill, and few moving parts to break. They can be temperamental, but the advantages outweigh the bit of maintenance required, in my opinion; we’ll see. They are safer than propane and alcohol, though not when you start them the way I did in the video!

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Opinion on Blue Water Boats.

There is much controversy over what makes a blue-water boat, capable of crossing oceans in the worst weather. Some will argue that the latest production sailboats including catamarans can safely circumnavigate. Maybe, but I have my own standards as to what constitutes a blue-water boat. Here is a list of the features I think are desirable for such a vessel. I am no expert mind you, but common sense dictates my choices.

Full Keel: Soon or later all sailors will touch ground or hit something right beneath the surface. A full keel will resist the shock much better. It also protects the rudder behind it. Then there is heaving-to, a storm tactic full keel boats presumably perform much better. There has been instances of fin keels falling off, mostly on racing boats, but also due to poor maintenance, but why take a chance? Sure, a full keel boat will be slower, so what? I do not indend on ever racing, so safety takes precedence over speed. The argument that a faster boat can avoid weather might have some merit; until you get caught in a bad storm.

Material: Materials used in boat production are pretty good. Dagny is made of fiberglass and I have no problem with that. Maintenance is minimal. The hull is thick and solid. I would however prefer a steel hull. My previous boat, which I unfortunately didn’t get to sail much was plated with 3/16″ mild steel. The keel was made of half-inch plate. You could have hit a plastic boat with it and said “oops, sorry!” and not worry about any damage to your own boat. Same goes for dragging on rocks or hitting floating debris at sea. A steel boat can take a beating. Another major advantage is lightning safety. The hull is essentially a Faraday cage through which lightning will find its way to the water without burning a number of holes on its way. Not to mention keeping the crew safe inside. My next boat will most likely be made of steel.

Double-ender: That is open to debate. I like the way double-enders look. Norwegian rescue boats have a canoe stern. They went to sea to rescue other boats caught in storms. That alone is a good enough reason for me. It seems logical that a stern able to part the seas should be safer when breaking waves crash from behind. It may be argued that the lack of buoyancy negates that advantage. I would feel better with a canoe stern when using a drogue to slow the boat down. I may be wrong, but like I said, they sure look good!

Small cockpit: Big cockpits might be comfortable at the dock for cocktails, but they fill with tons of water in rough seas. Small ones drain quickly. I always evaluate cockpit size when looking for a boat.

Small ports: Huge breaking waves can break through large windows and leave you with a flooded cabin. No thanks. I’ll take a darker interior any day instead of vulnerable windows. Unfortunately bright interiors sell better, so current manufacturers seem to prefer large panes of acrylic or glass. I have seen new boats with windows and hatches looking so flimsy, I wouldn’t take them anywhere.

Samson post: Where did the Samson posts go? Few boats have them now, relying instead on cleats, which are clearly not as strong. I know I will be worried about anchoring with Dagny in a storm. The bow cleats do not look quite strong enough. Getting towed would be nerve-wrecking as well.

Low freeboard: Anything sticking out above the water line will be affected by wind and waves. I like pilot houses but it’s like having an extra sail you can’t take down. Huge waves can take a cabin out, as scary as that sounds. Dagny has a flush deck, which while a real pain when moving about inside is a safer design in rough weather, aside from the possibility of knocking your head on the ceiling. I will probably get a helmet to avoid getting hurt that way. Anything on deck is a liability. That is why I decided to glue my solar panels on the deck. I want nothing to stick out if I can avoid it.

Tiller: A tiller is the simplest way to move your rudder. Wheels imply gears, chains or ropes, which can break or get stuck. Losing steerage at the wrong time can be catastrophic.

Wind vane: Not mandatory I guess, but owning a blue-water boat usually means that you at least hope to cross oceans. Steering all the time is simply impossible for a single-hander. Electronic auto pilots always seem to break. I have watched documentaries on circumnavigations aborted because the auto pilot(s) failed. A wind vane is a mechanical device with few moving parts, making it much more reliable. Dagny came with a Fleming wind vane, which I am very happy about.

Heavy displacement: Is not always synonym with strength but usually means that more material has been used, resulting in heavier scantlings and thicker hulls. A heavy boat feels more stable. My Tahitiana at 32ft and 18,000lbs felt very solid, even sluggish, but that was a good thing for a cruising boat. Dagny is only 6800lbs but it isn’t especially light for a 26 footer and 51% of that weight is in the keel.

Self righting: That seems a given with monohulls, but not always the case. I want to know that my boat, if it ends up upside down, will right itself quickly. Catamarans and trimarans when upside down will stay that way, the mast becoming the keel. They may float, but you can’t self-rescue.

Dagny has all of the aforementioned features, except for the steel hull and a Samson post. I feel pretty confident that she could take most of what the ocean can dish out, probably more than what I could take in any case. My first efforts will be to catch up with her and become as seaworthy, or salty, building experience until I feel comfortable undertaking long passages.

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Achilles LEX-77 Inflatable Dinghy.

Since I plan on anchoring out rather than spending a fortune in marina fees, I needed some sort of tender. Space is at a premium on Dagny, so an inflatable was the only possibility. Even a foldable dinghy would have been too large. I do not want anything on deck under way. My first thought was about Zodiac. Who doesn’t know the name? The Zoom 230 looked very good at about $600. I never buy anything without a lot of research. So I started browsing the web looking for dinghies… Some models seemed to cost twice as much for the same size boat. Maybe because they were made in China, but no, they were pretty much all made in China. Then I learned about PVC VS. Hypalon.

Most inflatables are made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride). It isn’t the same PVC as your garden variety pool implements, but a strong multi-layer material which can be thermally bonded by machines. Zodiac has their own version called Strongan™. It has the advantage of being cheap and convenient for manufacturing. The major issue with PVC however is the sun. UV radiation destroys PVC fairly quickly. For a dinghy used sporadically and mostly stored inside, no problem. If you plan on leaving it on deck or towing it, forget it.

Professionals and the military all use Hypalon (chlorosulfonated polyethylene synthetic rubber). It is not affected by the sun or most chemicals and lasts much longer in more extreme environments. Twenty years is a normal lifespan for a Hypalon boat, even longer. The only downside… Cost.

I thought long and hard about the dilemma. After reading a couple horror stories of PVC boats coming apart after a couple years spent outside, I decided to splurge on a Hypalon dink. Achilles makes all their boats with this material and gets good reviews. I opted for the LEX-77, a 7’7″ boat weighing 62lbs. The LS2-RU was a bit cheaper but did not have an inflatable keel. The LEX also has a plywood floor.

I do not have an outboard engine for it yet, but am pretty much set on the Yamaha 2.5HP. It probably wouldn’t plane with a 4HP anyway (3.5HP Tohatsu), so I might as well save on gas with a 2.5HP. The competition (Suzuki, Honda) is about 7lbs lighter than the Yamaha, and while it might be an advantage for carrying, I can’t help but wonder where the weight savings are…

The only problem with an expensive dinghy is worrying about it being stolen… Not sure how I’ll deal with the possibility… Suggestions are welcome…

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