I bought my boat (Block Island 40) last year up in Rhode Island
and set out single-handing to Galveston, TX. I had practically NO sailing experience to speak of so, needless to say, there were some less than ideal situations encountered along the way. There were many close calls, miserable legs, oh-sh*t moments and times when I questioned my own sanity for being out there, alone, on a new boat, that I don't know how to sail, in the North Atlantic, in the winter. Bad decisions were made, and lessons were learned.
One very special leg of that trip stands out in my mind. I can't say that the leg from Wrightsville Beach, NC to Charleston, SC was the worst but it was special.
had crapped out on me and I was looking for someplace that could repair it. Everyone told me that the closest place i could find someone that worked on them was in Charleston. So, next stop: Charleston.
I left the anchorage in Wrightsville at about 1000 a.m. I had a nice NNE breeze about 15kts. Everything was good except the fact that I had no autopilot
and I was going to be at the helm for the next 160+ nautical miles.
As soon as I got south of Frying Pan Shoals and west of Cape Fear I figured the worst was behined me. That's actually when things went to hell. The wind started kicking up and was now blowing over 25 knts and climbing. I needed to reef. I put the helm break on, ran down into the cabin
and got my Sailing book. I read the part about reefing one more time. I tried to put her "in irons" so i could do what I needed to do and keep her pointed in the wind and waves. only problem was wind and waves weren't coming from the same direction. I went to the mast
, dropped the mainsail
, got slammed into everything on the deck
. Broke the lines on the duthcman system fell down off the cabin
top several times, etc. By the time I got the reefs
in I was bruised and bleeding, cold and wet, and severely pissed off (at myself).
Back underway now I'm having hell trying to figure out how to balancce those damn sails
. To much genoa, to little genoa, fair-leads in the wrong position, etc. Everytime i try to make an adjustment I have to leave the helm and the boat rounds up. I play this game for about four or five hours until I get it halfassed figured out. Dawn finally arrives and the sun comes out, the sky clears up and the winds die down. The winds dropped below 10 knots but I was hesitant to shake out the reefs
I worked so hard to put in. I didn't want to have to do it again if the winds picked back up. I figured I would roll like that the rest of the way to Charleston. Yeah, right...I got tired of cruising at 3 knots after about 3 or 4 hours. I was tired, cold, wet, hungry, etc. I wanted to get there so, out come the reefs.
Now I'm zipping along at a screaming 4 knots. Wind dies down to nothin'. Zero. Seas are flat. I'm thinking WTF? I was in the friggin' storm of the century 12 hours ago and now I got nothin...
Start motoring, sails
start flapping....down come the sails. By the time I get to within 20 miles of Charleston the wind starts picking up right of my stern. I leave the sails down and just motor the rest of the way because I'm too tired to jack with it and i'll just have to drop them in a few hours when I get to the channel since I'm obviously not going to make it before it gets dark and I would rather be motoring since It will give me greater control.
By the time I reach the channel the wind is now howling again. I'm thinking: "this is just bullsh*t".
It's dark, I have the wind screaming up my ass, The channel entrance is what seems like 12 to 15 miles long before I even reached the jetties. Now a pod of Spinner Dolphins
are around the boat and every few minutes one will jump up and put on a show. I'm sure that would be real cute in the day time but it scares the hell out of you at night when you're your trying to focus on channel markers, trying to figure out which lights are which, etc.
The tide is hauling ass out. Wind is hauling ass in. Waves are steep. I have the engine running at 2300 rpms and I'm doing over 7 knots trough the water but only 2 knots over ground. It takes me over 4 or 5 hours just to get from the channel entrance to the jetties. By the time I get to the jetties. I'm using a flashlight to look at the paper charts
I have with me at the helm. I have the radar
over-layed on the chartplotter
and I still cant figure out what the hell I'm looking at because of all the damn lights everywhere.
I see the jetties on my chart plotter but I can't see them when I look out. I try to shine my spot light but it just reflects in my rigging
and blinds me. I see the radar
return from the jetties over layed on the chart plotter and just aim for the middle. There is some sort of boat coming up on my stern but he's been back there for about two hours and is slowly gaining on me. I try to raise him on the radio several times but no answer. Now it's raining, the wind is still blowing the tide is starting to slow a bit but I'm still only making 3 knots. Just as I'm approaching the jetty entrance and the "pucker-factor" reaches its zenith, the boat that's been behined me this whole time decides to shine a spot-light on me. It lights up my cockpit
like Yankee Stadium. Screws my night vision and scares the crap out of me. Now I don't know If he's trying to warn me of some impending doom or just being a jerk. I try several more times to hail him on VHF
16. - No answer. I throttle back, go slow, now about 1.5 knots. He shines his light again. I shine mine back and see it's a sailboat. He passes me up going through the jetties. As he clears the jetties he starts calling a marina on the radio. Now I'm pissed. His name was either "Nemo" or "Finding Nemo".
There was no way I was going to find an anchorage. Charleston harbor has all kinds of twist, turns, channels, lights, traffic, etc. My best bet was to find a marina. I decided to try to hail the same one Mr. Spot light was hailing. I might even get to have a chat with him about his light. - No answer. Again I'm thinking: WTF?.
So, I hear a fella at another marina hailing an incoming vessel. I try to get him to answer me. No answer. I'm wondering if my radio has a problem transmitting. I keep tryng to raise the kid at the marina that hailed the incoming vessel. He finally answers and tells me to stand by. As I'm standing by, I hear a call on the radio to the inbound sailboat. It's from the outbound container ship approaching. I look around and see no ship so I figure he's not talking to me. All I see are lights from a bridge or something up ahead. He calls again and this time mentions a marker that the sailboat is passing. It's the marker that I'm passing. I answer him. He says we're about to pass so let's pass port-to-port. I say "sure thing captain" and I just hug the right side of the channel but I still don't see him. Then, all of the sudden I look up. Those lights weren't a bridge in the distance. It's a container ship about 100 yards away. HOLYSHIIIIT!!! Hard to starboard. After I passed him and my heart rate settled back down to a cumfortable 200 beats per minute, I tried the marina kid on the radio again. I finally get him to answer me and he tells me he's helping someone else right now and for me to just go tie up at the fuel dock
and he'll be there in bit. I find the marina and I have to bust a u-turn in the marina, avoid hitting some expensive looking boats, get to the fuel dock
and jump off with a bow-line in one hand and a stern-line in the other. It was everything I could do to tie it off before the current (coming from the stern) pulle the boat away. I wait about a half hour before this teenager shows up in a golf cart and tells me in need to tie up to the dock on the other side of the fairway. (the one I passed up before making a u-turn to come to the fuel dock. I untie, move off, make another u-turn, jump off onto the dock and tie her off. As I'm puting the spring line on he rolls up on his golf cart and tells me to move further down the dock. He forgot to tell me to go all the way to the end and he may have another "longer" boat come in and may need this spot. I just looked him in the eye and said "fu*K you kid, you want to move it? Go ahead. I'm going to eat and go to sleep". I gues the kid decided I was ok where I was. He just jumped in his buggy and left without another word. I then went below drank a few beers, fixed some soup, and passed out.