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Velocir has an Off-Day…twice

After Charleston last weekend, we sure have been struggling in the cold weather the past few days!!

Cruising Velocir

While Amelia was on watch a bunch of dolphins were playing in the channel.  They don’t usually get that curious about Velocir, but came over to check us out.  Amelia got really excited and took a picture.  Seconds later, Velocir was aground.  It didn’t even seem like we were really outside of the channel, and we weren’t very close to shore either.  It took about 5 minutes of maneuvering and we were off!  (Beware of tricky dolphins!!) And we didn’t even get a very good picture…  :(

Cruising Velocir

Grant was on watch the next day.  It was raining and he saw a small group of men standing on the side of the waterway under a tree. He assumed they were trying to get out of the rain.  Then, Grant witnessed them take a body and throw it off the cliff.  He was pretty freaked out!!

As we got closer, Grant saw a fire truck, ambulance and more trucks.  The men were wearing yellow safety gear. We realized the body was a “dummy” and they were doing a safety drill.  (In the photo the “body” it the little curved lump on the beach towards the left).

Cruising Velocir

After that shock was over, we continued a little farther.  Amelia was down below cooking some scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese.  All of the sudden the boat jolted to a stop, like a car crash, and threw both of us forward.  Grant did a face plant into the cockpit, bruising his face.  Amelia fell into the table in the main cabin, testing it’s strength.  Amelia just remembers falling, seeing the flame on the oven with no food, and then immediately turning the propane off.  Breakfast, pan and all, had fallen behind the stove.  Just some bruises…but if we had been injured the safety team rescuing the dummy was still close-by!

We assume that we hit a submerged log.  The waterway is covered with fallen trees, it is not uncommon (picture above).  But this was different than running aground.  When you run aground, it is a somewhat gentle weird lurching feeling, like you are bumping and sliding along the bottom.  This was a crash, an immediate jolt to a stop.  We had never experienced this before.

Velocir got off the submerged object with a little rocking.  No contact was made to the rudder or propeller luckily.  Hopefully all is well with our keel.  We wanted to dive on it but there is no visibility in the water!  (Needless to say, Amelia had bad dreams that night.  They involved running aground in a marshy area and a battered keel on Velocir).

Cruising Velocir

We improved our week by staying at a marina we like in Barefoot Landing, SC.  They have really nice showers and a hot tub.  It was so cold out but we were relaxing! 

It has begun to warm up as we head for North Carolina.  We are even getting birds on Velocir, trying to scoop up some bugs on our deck!

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Beautiful Charleston & Towboat Velocir

Charleston by Velocir

After spending time with family friends in Beaufort, SC, we are back to our trek northward.  Every day we are trying to get 40-60 miles (8-12 hour days).  We travel at about 5 mph.  This is a lot faster than the way down, where we did 15-25 mile days, mostly under sail which made us usually slower.

We spent a rainy but beautiful weekend walking around Charleston.  Some great food, a fun Farmer’s Market and sailboats racing in the harbour.  The town is just restaurants, clothing stores and houses so we took advantage of the fine cuisine with a night out for sushi!

Charleston by Velocir

We enjoyed walking through the city last fall, but we especially enjoyed it in the spring with all the flowers out.  We even stumbled upon the carriage houses of Charleston.  There were 4-5 of these large buildings full of horses and carriages.  One carriage looked like a Princess carriage and was all dressed up.

Charleston by Velocir

After two rainy days walking around town, we pulled up anchor on an equally rainy morning.  We had two anchors down, a bahamian moor, because of the current (to keep us from swinging a lot).  So, we pulled up our primary anchor first, fell back (down current) onto our secondary anchor and pulled it up.  Charleston harbor is pretty mucky!

towboat velocir

As we were heading out of the harbor we noticed a 40 foot Beneteau tacking back and forth under genoa sail alone.  They were trying to head up current with less than 5 knots of breeze.  Really, they were drifting backwards in the channel towards a bridge.

We realized their engine may not be working and they probably needed help.  Sure enough, they were in need of assistance so we offered them a tow.  They accepted so we readied our 120 foot long yellow 1” polypro line we tow our dinghy Raptor on.  We have never cut it short in case of a situation like this where we received or gave a tow.  Amelia led it to the winch for a strong hold, then threaded it back to the chock for a good lead.

Velocir  was much smaller than them and we hadn’t towed anyone before, but we went slow and it went smoothly.  Amelia tossed the line solidly, and they used the big looped end to secure it to their boat.

Grant maneuvered us across the channel over to Charleston City Marina, where two staff members were standing on a dock waiting for us.  As we got closer, a trawler started to motor out of the narrow channel between the piers. The two young dock staff told us a boat was coming out of the marina and to get out of its way. We were up current and under tow, so we stopped, radioed them and asked that they give us the right of way.  Actually, we kind of demanded it.

In the confusion of this, the boat we were towing decided they were close enough and let go.  We didn’t really make a judgment call on this decision and just went with it.  It was too early to let go.  They drifted in the current to the left dock instead of the right dock (picture above).  After making light contact with the sailboat on the left dock (people were onboard) another boat got it’s dinghy going and passed lines over to the right dock.  Within 10 minutes they were all tied up and secure.

However, Amelia would like to point out that she saw a Charleston City Marina runabout boat on several occasions during our time anchored nearby.  At no point did they attempt to assist in any way beyond having line handlers on the dock.  Maybe there is some liability reason, but it seemed odd, because they were in radio contact with the sailboat and aware of the situation but did nothing to help.

Matt Rutherford Returns to Annapolis!

Congrats!  Matt Rutherford has returned to Annapolis after sailing around North and South America in support of CRAB (Chesapeake Regional Accesible Boating). He sailed solo, non-stop through the infamous Northwest Passage and the even more infamous Cape Horn!

matt rutherford albin vega homecoming by velocir

His blog:  www.solotheamericas.org

Matt sailed the journey in an Albin Vega (our type of boat).  Before he left last year, Grant met him and they discussed Albin Vega weaknesses.

My parents attended his homecoming, telling us:

We saw Matt’s homecoming at the town dock.  He did a sail-by and then took down sails and was tug-boated in by an inflatable.  Greeting him were the governor and his wife, the mayor, other politicians, Gary Jobson, the CRAB folks, the head of the Vega association, and the head of the OCC.

matt rutherford albin vega homecoming by velocir

Albin Vega, St. Brendan, coming into Annapolis, MD

matt rutherford albin vega homecoming by velocir

Matt Rutherford

Surfs UP! Oh, Georgia..when will you end

Happy Easter!  We decorated some eggs and ate a bunch of candy.

Easter Eggs by Velocir

After our busy social scene in St. Augustine, we headed to an anchorage we like on the Ft. George River in Georgia.  It is by one of America’s oldest plantation homes.  The windy weather ended, making for some good surf (we hoped!)

Surfing by Velocir

We took the dinghy Raptor and surf board to an inlet south of Little Talbot State Park, where to our surprise the beach was easily accessible.  The surf was wrapping around the point perfectly.  Grant used his bisecting longboard we keep in the v-berth.  It has two sections that clip together with a rod in the middle for support.

Surfing by Velocir

Grant got a few good rides in.  Amelia took a few tries for fun, but still can’t seem to stand up yet!

Grant also had a close call with the authorities this week.  After his surf session, we were back at our anchorage.  We were the only boat in a remote river, so Grant commenced showering in the cockpit.  Minutes later, a Sheriff’s police boat zoomed up.  They started shouting about how Velocir was dragging at anchor.  Then, they realized Grant’s precarious position and yelled, “Hey man, you got pants on?”  Grant replied, “no, you guys have perfect timing”  (Note: extremely effective tactic to keep law enforcement at a distance…also true in this case).

Amelia came up from below and saved Grant.  “You were way over there this morning,” the police boat insisted, pointing up current from Velocir.  “Yes, but we have out some good scope and as the current moves our boat will too,” explained Amelia.  (Just to clarify, we were not dragging). Then, they asked where our boat was registered, where we were going and where we came from.  All simple questions, and soon they were on their way.  Grant finished his shower with no more interruptions.

We headed the next day to Fernandina Beach, a cute beach town.  On the radio we heard someone calling Sandpiper.  It could have been anyone, but sure enough it was our friends from Georgetown!  We walked around town and had dinner with them.  It was fun to catch up on where we had both gone since Georgetown.  They have been ambitious, sailing offshore quite a lot.

Cumberland Island by Velocir

The next day we visited Cumberland Island, one of our favorite stops last Fall.  This time the beach had even more shells!

Cumberland Island by Velocir

Cumberland Island by Velocir

We saw two groups of wild horses for the first time on Cumberland Island!!

Now we are trudging through Georgia.  Six days of motoring, with a little genoa every now and then helping us keep our speed up in the current.  It’s a lot of marshland and curvy rivers.  Every inlet we see at least one US Border Protection boat is zooming around, but they never seem to bother anyone.

We Feel the Love, Thank you!!!

Thank you readers and commenters, we are overwhelmed by all the supportive and positive comments we have received recently.  It is a special experience to have this blog and share it with others.  We wish you all the best on your adventures and would love to follow your blogs as well.  We could go on and get really mushy, but know we are just really really really thankful and grateful at all the wonderful people reading our blog and watching our videos!  We feel the love, thank you!

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Just this Friday we had a delicious dinner in St. Augustine with Carlos and Steph who love sailing and had found our blog.  The next day we took them out on Velocir for a morning sail.  They have a Flying Scot and are interested in cruising one day.  It was so amazing to talk with them about cruising—there is so much to talk about!  They said they felt like they already knew us from our videos, but that we were much taller in person!!

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We also met Richard and Charlotte who are sailing their Albin Vega Alpha Lira to the Bahamas from Charleston.  They were so excited to begin their trip and had already done a few successful voyages offshore on the Vega.  “Alpha” means brightest star, and the star “Vega” is the brightest star in the constellation “Lira”. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vega)  Such a cool name! 

Really it is somewhat difficult to say “Velocir” and have someone understand what you are saying (bridge tenders, other boats).  Basically, Amelia and her cousin thought it was a cool boat name when they were younger, and it stuck!  The only person who has really gotten it without explanation was a 10 year-old French boy we met in Little Farmer’s Cay. He had lived cruising on the boat his entire life.  When we said Velocir he went to the front of the boat for a minute and came back with a book of papers.  He took one and carefully unfolded it, revealing a poster of dinosaurs.  He found the Velociraptor and pointed at it with a cute grin on his face.

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Now we are motor sailing our days away on the ICW, taking in all the wildlife and sunsets.  Above is a Osprey eating a huge fish!

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Beautiful sunsets.

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Downtown St. Augustine.

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The kitchen of the “Oldest House” in St. Augustine.

Video #22:  We enjoy some sunny and rainy weather, and at one point get offended by another cruiser who is very vocal about not waiting at a bridge for the "small and slow" Velocir.

Back to the USA: Good & Then Really Bad

To get a sense of the first two days of our voyage please watch this video:

It was our “watch activity” to record a little something about how everything was going.  To summarize the video: everything was going GREAT.  Beautiful weather, a fresh caught Snapper for dinner, doing a little sailing (only used 6 gallons fuel the whole way), boosted speed by the Gulf Stream.  It was so great, and the weather predictions continued to be so good (wind 10 knots, calm seas) that we decided to be ambitious and continue for St. Augustine.

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Then it all went downhill and ended very badly for us.  The boat is healthy and we are healthy.  But the whole ordeal was so traumatic we couldn’t bring ourselves to take any video or photos so we will just describe what happened.

At about 6 pm Amelia was preparing dinner and we changed watches.  Everything was great.  The weather was calling for calm wind and seas, with a slight chance of thunderstorms inland and south of our location, near Lake Okeechobee.  We were sailing along at 7 knots in the Gulf Stream 30 miles NE of Fort Pierce, FL, and we were going to push another day for St. Augustine.

After about 15 minutes on watch Grant spotted thunderstorms forming on the horizon.  Dinner was finished.  We immediately took down the main and reefing leaving a little genoa out for stability, got out our hatch boards to protect the main cabin, putting on our safety gear.  Boat check, cockpit check.

The first storm was south of us, and was going to miss us, but we turned the motor on to get closer to shore and closer to Fort Pierce.  Given the drastic change in weather our destination was now Fort Pierce.  We were north of the inlet, and the Gulf Stream and swell was continuing to push us north, but we motored through the swell.  It tossed Velocir every which way being so close to the wind and swell.  The wind picked up to 30-35 knots and the swell increased.  Amelia wedged herself in the v-berth while Grant steered.

Amelia closed her eyes to try and relax and let the time pass, knowing it was only hours before Velocir would be safely inland.  She looked up too see how Grant was doing and noticed smoke coming from the engine.  She immediately leapt up and started screaming to turn it off.  We turned the engine off.

The thunderstorms were all around us now, and one was approaching.  The weather reports had changed– now thunderstorms/squalls with winds reaching 55 mph were being predicted, with squalls continuing throughout the night and into the next day. Velocir calmed down immediately as we turned north again with the swell astern (behind us).  Waves, peaking at about 10 feet, still crashed over Velocir, soaking the cockpit, but the movement was not as violent.

A hard downpour and winds came with the storm, but it was only the edge of it and lasted about ten minutes.  Amelia sat in the cockpit steering and having a mild panic attack, while Grant tried to fix the engine.  A water intake hose was kinked, so he quickly replaced it.  Amelia never wanted to sail Velocir offshore again, wanted to stop cruising.  What was so bad about living in a house and turning up the volume on your TV when the thunder got loud? Closing a window when it rained?  What was wrong with us?  Grant fully agreed but told Amelia to get it together.

Amelia quickly composed herself and the rain stopped.  She started pumping the manual bilge pump.  There was A LOT of water in Velocir.  The engine cooled down and we started it up again, went a little ways and it overheated again.  Amelia pumped out Velocir again—more water.  We tried again to let the engine cool, thinking maybe the oil pressure was just having a hard time recovering.  More water came into Velocir.

Every time we turned the engine on not only was it overheating, but more water was coming into Velocir.  Was it pumping raw water or exhaust water into Velocir?  How could that be related to the overheating, if at all?  The only way to know for sure was to unscrew and remove the cockpit floor (a fair weather option only).  The water could be coming in from other places too:  the cockpit drains, a thru hull, the water tanks etc.  More storms were coming and it was now dark.

The moon was half-full, but we could see lightening nearby.  And without an engine we did not have enough speed to get 30 miles to Fort Pierce because the Gulf Stream continued to push us north.  We called the Coast Guard to keep them advised of our location and situation in case things deteriorated.  We asked for an updated detailed weather report.  She replied it was, and we quote: “nasty.”  A few minutes later Grant started to feel physically ill, exhausted and had to lay down.  Thirty hours of 3-hour watch rotations were catching up to him.

After another storm passed the wind shifted from SW to N.  It was freaky.  Now we could not sail.  We tried to sail West, closer to shore.  But with the swell and Gulf Stream we couldn’t make any progress.  The wind pushed against the prevailing swell, causing steeper chop.

It was time to call it quits, our safety is priority one.  We hailed a tow boat to come get us.  It was now 1930 and it would take them 2.5 hours to reach us—okay.  It felt like forever before they arrived.  The Captain kept hailing us, asking if we could see his blue flashing light.  He was ten miles out, could we see it?  No.  Six miles?  No.  Four? No.  Amelia tried to explain Velocir is only a few feet off the water and that we would probably not spot him for a while in this swell.

Finally he got near Velocir and threw us a tow line.  Grant went up on deck and wrapped it around our bollard that has a ridiculously reinforced backing plate.  Thank goodness for that!! ..because he was towing us almost directly into the swell.  Velocir was bucking and hammering, literally being pulled through the waves.  The tow boat slowed down a little in some parts because it was just too rough.

28 miles before we were inside the cut.  Amelia had been steering, still in warm weather clothes.  She was freezing in the night, so she went down to change while Grant took the helm.  He steered Velocir behind the Tow Boat for a long time while Amelia huddled under a blanket.

Then, Grant started not feeling well again, and Amelia came up to relieve him.  We sat in the cockpit together for a few moments while Grant realized the NAVIK did not look right.  The lower paddle that helps steer the boat (when in use) was horizontal in the water, not vertical as it should be.  Grant was able to grab it before it completely detached from the upper unit.  (The cast aluminum frame it is pinned into had shattered).  Due to the force of the waves and speed?  Not sure, we were not going faster than usual but we were getting thrown a bit.

Grant headed down below.  Amelia sat down on the starboard side of the cockpit and saw a jerry can full of diesel fuel perched, all alone, on the deck.  What?!?  She calmly yelled down below, “take the tiller for a minute,” then grabbed the can before it went overboard.  With a harness and life jacket on, she quickly went forward to put extra lashings on the other three jerry cans still on deck.  The amount of water pouring over Velocir was immense.

8.5 hours later, at 4 AM Velocir was at a marina in Fort Pierce.  It cost us $1400 to be towed in.  Quite a bit to swallow, but we would do it again.  In the long run, I think we got off easy.  He told us he didn’t charge us the full rate and we believe him.

We are now members of Tow Boat US, which we hadn’t joined before because we didn’t think we were coming back to the States so soon and then forgot. For us:  If Velocir runs aground we can get her off, and if Velocir has an engine problem inland we can anchor for a few hours and fix it.  But unfortunately this one unlikely situation where we would need a tow happened to us.

As soon as the Tow Boat left we called family, started the customs clearing-in process, and checked email .  Amelia read this blog comment aloud as Grant changed our water soaked sheets so that we could collapse in bed:

WOW!! So, my Hubby and I sat down last Sunday evening…. found your blog and enjoyed EVERY picture, video and comment. We’re just learning to sail and you have sparked a dream in us!!! You make it look like so much fun! I know we have MUCH to learn, but you have taken the fear out of it for me!! Thank you for sharing all that you have! It’s a lot of work!! We have a Flying Scot which we’re removing old paint and repainting ourselves!! It’s a blast!

Thanks again and have a safe and fun trip back to the US!!!

Amelia, exhausted, could not help but laugh.  We are still laughing at the comedic timing, it was so perfect.  This is one of the first comments we’ve ever gotten from someone that’s not close family or friends.  Thank you, we hope this experience does not dissuade you.  Despite this event, every bit of preparation we did has paid off and we have had almost zero problems overall.  It’s been extremely rewarding, all the time we’ve spent together and all the amazing experiences we’ve shared.  With the ups must come the downs.

24 hours of retrospect: everything is okay, we made the right decision, these things happen, thankfully it happened within the USA, cruising is fun, this is the only bad thing that has happened in one year of being on the boat and it turned out fine, we still like cruising and will continue for a while, a house one day will be nice.

The engine is now fine….we think.  It was a series of little mishaps that resulted in the overheating.  The hose kinked starving the engine of water.  This caused the coolant to overflow.  Without the coolant it wasn’t cooling down.  The exhaust hose had come loose and was gushing most of the exhaust water into the bilge.  After repair and test runs we think we are good now.

There was a Publix grocery store near the marina we were towed to.  Being around so many people and a large developed area, we just stared at everything.  Inside the grocery store we grinned like idiots at all the nice and inexpensive food.  Grant bought beer and ice and now he is happy.  Amelia bought strawberries and now she is happy.

UPDATE: THE GULF STREAM DILEMMA

We have had several people ask us about the squalls we ran into off the coast of Florida and why we made the decision we did; so we decided we would take a moment and review the situation, our potential options and the factors leading to our decision. These are excellent questions to ask and lessons can always be learned.

So, lets recap: “Nasty” squalls predicted for the next 36 hours, large (peaking 10ft) steep confused swell, shifty heavy breeze, no engine, taking on water from an unknown source.  Our position: 30 miles offshore in heavy shipping traffic unable to make ground, Gulf Stream pushing us NE 3+ knots

Options:

1. Heave-to:

We heard this a lot from people, the classic salty thing to do. Heave-to, lash down the tiller and strap in, go below and take a nap, let mother nature rage, the boat can handle it. When the weather lightens up try to fix the engine or sail on in to St. Augustine.

Why we didn’t: Well we did, for a little while. Vegas do heave to well; however, from that point on North, the Gulf Stream begins to head NE and the coast of Florida goes West a bit, so if problems worsened we would be a lot farther than 30 miles off the coast. (If you are 30+ miles offshore it is extremely unlikely a towboat will come to get you, the Coast Guard will come and rescue your person, not your boat).  Also, we could not in good conscience have no one on watch; many freighters use the Gulf Stream to save on fuel and bright lights or no, like the race boat heading down to Mexico last month, freighters do from time to time run things down.

Let’s not forget a big one, exhaustion. It is near impossible to sleep on Velocir when she is pitching every which way. We had been underway for over 36 hours and 3 on 3 off was beginning to wear on us physically and mentally. We would not have slept that night and if conditions had worsened we would have an even harder time with it.

2. Get Towed

While we were in touch with the Coast Guard we also got in touch with TowBoat US to find out if they would even come out to get us and what that might cost. There is a $150 insurance you can buy, but this is about the only scenario we could think of we wouldn’t just want to handle ourselves. So, to add on to all the reasons listed above not to continue on is the idea that the tow services are not as likely to come any farther than 30 miles out to get us, especially if conditions worsened. That assumed we would be even near a navigable inlet. We had our EPIRB and a life raft, but if had more problems we could lose the boat and that would cost us a LOT more than a tow.

So, all of these reasons and a few more combined to paint a pretty clear picture of the most reasonable thing to do. When reviewing all these options the #1 motivation was to keep us safe, while the tow was certainly expensive and not at all glamorous, it was the safest thing to do.

In the end it was one of the most miserable experiences of my life. We broke our wind vane, got numerous cuts a bruises, and were really glad we put a huge backing plate on the bollard on our foredeck we were towed through that mess on. The engine problems and water coming in were what we suspected but could not confirm, a series of minor problems that took about 20 minutes to repair. The predicted 36 of squally Hell that was predicted never materialized.

Hindsight, we should have hove-to and continued for another pleasant day of sailing. However, with water coming in from an unknown source and an easy exit  quickly slipping from our grasp I would make the same decision a hundred times over.

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