On June 14 this year, I headed off for my first solo cruise
. The plan was to take a month sailing from Haverstraw on the Hudson
River out to Cape Cod
and the islands and then back. I set aside a month.
Though I could have wished for more wind
, my first 11 destinations were a delight. I stopped at NYC
, two places on Long Island
, Block Island, Newport
, two places on Martha's Vineyard
, Hyannis, Woods Hole and Provincetown, MA. I have to mention that my sail from Nantucket
to Hyannis was one of the best I've ever experienced. A beam reach of 10-14 kts most of the way, and then sailing from buoy to buoy by simply adjusting the sails
. That sail alone was worth the whole trip!
My wife drove out to meet me in Provincetown, and we enjoyed the Fourth of July weekend there together. On the morning of July 6th, my wife headed back home, and I charted a course to Mattapoisset, MA, timing the current
down through the Cape Cod
Canal. The forecast
was for a sunny day with south winds 10 to 15 kts, which would mean no sailing, just motoring.
By the time I approached the northeast end of the canal, the headwinds were at 24 kts, and a light fog
seemed to be settling in. I checked the NOAA weather
, and there were now alerts for "unexpected dense fog" and rough seas at the inlets. I pressed on, figuring that Mattapoisset was only 10 miles from the southern end of the canal, so I should be able to make it.
By the time I got to the south end of the canal, the wind was 24-28 kts on the bow, and the fog
was so dense that I couldn't see more than 100 yards ahead. I was navigating mostly with my chartplotter
, and that's when I ran into the rough seas at the entrance to Buzzard's Bay. As the seas and the fog increased to the point where I began to feel uncomfortable as a solo sailor, I decided to turn around. This, of course, headed me against the current
, so I could only make about 1 - 2 kts.
After about an hour of motoring against the current, my fuel supply began to run out, and the engine
quit. I managed to get the engine restarted once, just in time to avoid crashing into a cement sea wall, but I was in a narrow canal, in a strong current, with dense fog. Sailing single-handed under those conditions, there was no way I could add fuel to my tank using my extra fuel containers. So when the engine died again, the current ran me aground on a shoal on the western bank of the canal, near Onset, MA.
Fortunately, when the engine started to sputter, I got on the phone
to BoatUS. After being passed along twice and placed on hold for a longer time than I wanted to wait, I was finally put in touch with Bill, the local towboat operator. I was on the phone
with him when my boat ran aground, so I asked for assistance.
Despite the thick fog, he was there within 20 minutes. Before he arrived, the Canal Patrol had attempted to pull me off the shoal, but they couldn't get in close enough due to the shallow water
. Bill, however, tossed me a line, and despite a strong current and almost zero visibility, he managed to pull me off the shoal. But it wasn't easy. He couldn't pull me out into the canal, because we couldn't see out there. He also had to contend with his boat taking on water
as he tried to unground me. But he never gave up. It took more than two hours, but he finally managed to get me off the shoal. I am very grateful for his skill, effort and perseverance.
In the process, though, my rudder
post was bent and the bottom of the rudder
got chewed up. I am currently awaiting repairs
, and I look forward to continuing my cruise homeward with some serious lessons learned. Here are the miscalculations I made that contributed to my grounding:
1. Lack of full understanding of, and experience with, the limitations of solo cruising such as the inability to add fuel from containers single-handed under difficult conditions
2. Trusting in the indications of a fuel gauge
3. Not topping off the fuel tank
before a cruise leg, when the opportunity presented itself
4. Expecting weather
conditions to either improve or not worsen, because the original forecast
was for better than the actual weather
5. Not thoroughly researching alternate harbors or anchoring
spots for refuge.
6. Pressing on into worsening conditions
7. Not taking full heed of NOAA alerts on the radio
and changing plans accordingly
I offer this tale in the hope that it will help others avoid the problems I encountered. That rudder is gonna cost me (and my insurance
company) a pretty penny.