It was April 2003. I had convinced Jane that we should drive down to Florida to attend a Westsail rendezvous. I had pretty much decided that I wanted to buy a Westsail 32 even though I had never actually been aboard one. And this would give me an opportunity to talk with some owners and get some insights into these boats. During the meeting we found a few boats that were for sale. After looking at about six boats we settled on one named Vinegaroon. Within a month we owned her. Now we had to get her from Ft Lauderdale, FL to our marina at Kent Narrows, MD. This seemed like an easy problem to solve: just sail her!
One problem with that: I could only take off work for a couple of weeks at most. That means motoring up the ICW would not be an option since that would take at least a month. To get home in two weeks we would have to go offshore for the majority of the trip. That is, we’d have to sail directly from Florida to the Chesapeake Bay. That’s about 800 miles.
We had planned on sailing around Cape Hatteras and into Chesapeake Bay. But that was contingent on good weather around the Cape. If there was any doubt, we would dive in at Beaufort, NC and run the ICW the rest of the way. While I had read a ton of books on cruising, I had never actually sailed on the ocean before. In fact Jane had never really sailed at all and I'd only done a little day-sailing. We were woefully unprepared for a maiden voyage that would take four to five days on the ocean followed by five or six days on the ICW/Chesapeake Bay.
My friend, Greg Moyers, came to the rescue. He was an old Navy man and had his own sailboat and said he'd love to join us for the two-week trip. OK. We were set. I figured between Greg, Jane, and I we could figure out how to sail a boat, right
Here was the plan:
That was a pretty good plan, I thought.
Our Westsail 32, waiting for us in Florida
Jane went along with it, which says a great deal about her trust in me. We tried to provision the boat as we thought we should. We tried to check out the systems and repair that which wasn’t working. We reviewed the charts. We tried to be ready for this trip yet we had no real clue as to what to expect. Reading about other peoples’ experiences only gets you so far. And we were on a schedule, for Christ sake! In hindsight (I’m writing this a couple of years after the event) that was the most grievous mistake we made. We were lucky we made it. We certainly were not well prepared.
The drive to Florida was uneventful. We rented a big car and filled it with all the stuff we'd bought for the trip. When we unloaded the car on the dock next to Vinegaroon, it looked like this:
Jane with all the stuff we brought with us
On schedule, Greg arrived Friday night (about midnight). We put him in a hotel and early the next day we all headed down to the boat. Jane spent a lot of time doing the final provisioning. Greg spent the day exploring the boat. I spent the day helping Jane shop and then turning in the rental car. Finally, about 3PM we were ready to leave the dock.
I fired up the engine and we cast off the lines. We were port-side-to on a very small canal off the New River. No wind and no current. Should have been a piece of cake. But no. I put her in reverse, she moved 3 feet, and I hit the boat behind us. Just a little.
For you sailors out there, the problem was that I had not even heard of prop walk or how it pushes the stern to port. I also didn’t understand prop wash or how to use it, with prop walk, to maneuver the boat. I simply tried to back out and figured the stern would go the way the rudder was pointing. Man was I dumb. As we moved astern the stern just walked to port and right into the boat moored behind us. I fended off and we eventually got going down the canal.
Then we came to the first drawbridge I’d ever driven under. I called the bridge tender as I’d heard others do. And like magic the bridge went up. We were really on our way.
A few more bridges and we were heading toward the ocean inlet. One more stop to make. I knew of a fuel dock on the starboard side of the river just before we were to head out into the ocean. As I approached the dock I realized that this was one more thing I’d never done: dock the boat. But it was just a bulkhead and we were able to get a couple of lines set and she came to a stop without much drama.
Bill and Jane heading out the New River
While I fueled the boat Jane called our daughter, Michelle, to let her know we were actually on our way out to sea. I think she was also sort of saying ‘goodbye’ just in case. Greg also called home. Now we were really off. It was about 5 PM.
As we headed out of the inlet I wanted to get the sails up and the engine off as soon as possible. Fortunately the wind was fair and we got everything up with no mishaps. The wind was blowing southwest at about 8-kts and the seas were only running about 2-ft. We tried to set the Aries wind vane but found the servo rudder was jammed in the ‘up’ position. That was another thing I should have checked before we left. Finally Greg went over the side and literally jumped on it while I hammered on the coupling with a boat hook while Jane steered the boat. Finally we got the servo-rudder down and eventually figured out how to get the Aries wind vane to steer the boat.
Greg hanging off the boomkin fixing the jammed wind stearing vane; Jane's first few moments at the helm.
By the way, that was the first time Jane had ever taken the helm. I just assumed she would be able to steer the boat. As it turned out, she did good. But she didn’t have a clue about what she was doing. She was more than a little pissed at me for putting her in that position. Especially since I just said, “point her into the wind and hold her there.” I thought she would know what that meant and how to do it. Even though I had never taken the time to explain it to her. Yeah, she was a little frustrated with me. And that was not the last time that would happen on this boat.
Greg was impressed with the Aries wind vane. He'd never seen a manual self-steering device before (neither had I). Once we had it in un-jammed and in operation it worked just fine. Jane named it Harvey the Helmsman.Jane started to get the galley in order. She made coffee and dinner for us. And then she got the bunks made up so we could get to sleep.
Jane checks the speed on the KnotStick
We tried out the KnotStick. It’s essentially a spring scale with a disk at the end of a long string where the weight usually is. Then you read the scale indicating how hard the water is pulling on the little disk. The scale is marked in knots. Simple, cheap, and fool proof. Well, until you catch some sea week on the little disk, or a fish bites it off.
As the sun set we found ourselves on an idyllic sail north. Greg and Jane went below to get some rest if not sleep. I walked about on deck just relishing the wonder of actually and finally being at sea. The coastline of Florida was slipping away off our port quarter. The sun was going down. The moon was coming up. The boat was making over 9-kts (with a healthy assist from the Gulf Steam). The wind was gentle and all the sails were up. It was a wondrous moment.
About midnight Jane came on deck for her first shift. I hadn’t had to adjust any of the sails and we still had everything up. By that I mean we had the jib, the staysail, and a full, un-reefed main. The ride was gentle and the sea was fairly calm. I explained that all she had to do was let Harvey steer and watch the compass to ensure we stayed on course. I went below to get some sleep.Greg and I were awakened by yells from Jane and the rather rolly motion of the boat. Once on deck we saw that the wind had shifted to the west. We were now running almost due east and across the waves. The wind had also picked up a bit. We had way too much sail up and Jane didn’t know what to do about it. So we dropped the jib and eased the sheets on the staysail and the main. We adjusted Harvey to the new course (relative to the new direction of the wind) and Greg took the helm for his first watch.
A sleepy crew wakes up on the morning of day 2
At dawn Jane and I got up and were greeted by an overcast sky and a slate-gray ocean. Waves were about 5-6 feet and the wind was about 15-kts from the WNW. Jane made breakfast and I took over the watch. Greg went below for some rest. All day the wind blew almost on the nose and the waves eventually were on the nose also.
By evening the wind had died down a bit and the waves with it. We had a fairly nice evening. But as soon as Jane took over the helm at about midnight, the lightning and wind started and we were suddenly in a very strong squall. Again Greg and I were awakened by yells from Jane yelling, "Get up here. . . now!" We found the boat way overpowered with the starboard rail deep in the water. Jane was literally standing on the side of the cockpit combing fighting against the radical weather-helm on the tiller with all her strength. Again we were heading due east as the wind had clocked around to the north and Harvey, steering the boat relative to the wind, obediently turned us as the wind clocked around.
Putting a reef in the main after waiting just a little too long
Greg took the helm and I took a reef in the main. Now, this was the very first time I’d ever reefed a sail. And in the dark, in a squall is not the best way to learn something like that. But we got it done although it took about 30-minutes.The third day was not too bad. As we moved further and further north the weather got colder and colder. But we were still in the Gulf Stream and that kept the air temperature at least reasonable. Again, that night, Jane took the helm and, again, the weather went to hell in a hand basket. She woke us up and Greg and I made some adjustments to the sails and our little boat calmed down and soldiered on. Greg took the helm in the predawn hours and by morning, when I came on-watch, the wind had just about died.
A gray day at sea
By late morning on the fourth day out of Ft Lauderdale we were becalmed. The ocean was glassy-calm and there was no wind. We were still about 60 miles south of Beaufort, NC. And we had a lot of fuel on board. So we fired up the engine and motored toward Beaufort.
A little company on a calm ocean
I took advantage of the calm day and played with my new sextant. I noted the time and position as reported by the GPS and took a sun sight. I then plotted our position. I got to within about 8 miles of our GPS-reported position. Not too bad for a first time.
About midnight I the GPS was reporting that we would get into Beaufort before dawn. I wanted to arrive in daylight (I’d read that was the right way to enter an unfamiliar port). So we slowed down a bit. And we slowed down even more at 4AM when the lights of shore came into view. We were motoring along on a very calm sea. So I decided to just cut circles a mile off-shore and wait for dawn. And that’s what we did.
I had no idea how much fuel we had been using during the trip. While I was not afraid of running out of fuel, I was afraid of running one of our two tanks dry. If we did allow the tank to run dry we would have to bleed the fuel lines (another thing I’d read about but never done) before we could restart the engine. So I switched from the starboard, which we had been using, to the port tank which was full.
The boat has two fuel tanks; one positioned on each side of the engine. There is actually two separate fuel systems on board. They each have their own tank, filter, and lines. The engine can run off either side’s fuel. And there’s an electric fuel transfer pump that allows me to move fuel from one side to the other or to scrub a tank’s fuel through the filter and back into the same tank. The mechanics of changing the tank in use by the engine is not straightforward. There is a tangle of hoses and six (yes, six) valves that have to be set just so to make the changeover. It’s one of the things on my list to rebuild.
At dawn, just as we changed from cutting circles in the outer harbor to heading into the port of Beaufort, I smelled diesel fuel. Looking behind us I saw first a circle of fuel on the water, then another. I looked over the stern and at the fuel vent, starboard side and saw a drop come out, then another. Soon there was a trickle of diesel coming out of the tank vent.
I had set the valves wrong. We had been drawing from the port tank as I intended, but we were sending the fuel on the return side to the starboard tank. Eventually that return flow had filled the starboard tank to overflowing. In just a minute I had readjusted the fuel valves and we were no longer dripping fuel into the ocean. We were planning on buying fuel in Beaufort and now at least I knew that the starboard tank was completely full.
At 7:30 AM we were heading into the fuel dock of a marina just inside the harbor entrance on the Moorhead City side of the port. Here I was to once again be befuddled by the unusual characteristics of this boat’s handling when maneuvering slowly and in close quarters. There was a current that I didn’t notice on approach and there was wind blowing us away from the dock. I wound up doing a 180-degree turn while trying to just head directly to the dock. The fuel guy was giving advise but I wasn’t listening. Eventually we were able to toss our lines to the guy on the dock and he pulled us in.
As Jane stepped off the boat onto the dock she lost her balance and did a little pirouette. On land her sea legs were a detriment. We all had a hard time walking a straight line on land. We fueled up and had a cup of coffee. We congratulated ourselves on completing 600 miles of ocean voyaging with little more than luck on our side. And I thanked the boat for forgiving our mistakes.
After only an hour or so we headed off on the 200-mile stretch of Intracoastal Waterway that would take us from Beaufort, NC to Norfolk, VA. After the ocean, the ICW was strangely quiet. No waves, no wind, just driving down the channel and following our progress on the chart.This would be a good time for the story of the head. The boat was an old one. Old enough that the head installation did not have a holding tank. The commode was connected directly to a through-hull. And that, as you probably know, is no longer legal in the United States. The installed setup was fine for ocean travel but would not do for a run up the ICW or the Chesapeake Bay. In the short time we had available before we left Florida we settled on a simple solution: a port-a-potty. One of those little plastic things you find in campers. It worked OK but emptying it was a pain.
For the next few days we took turns sitting in the cockpit with the tiller in one hand, a chart book in the other, and binoculars around our neck wondering where the hell that next channel marker was.
Sometime around 5PM on that first day on the ICW (5 th day out of Ft Lauderdale) I realized that we needed to select a place to stop for the night. I didn’t want to go to a marina. I was both cheap and a little afraid of trying to put the boat into a slip. Greg selected a wide spot in Goose Creek at about ICW milepost 150. We just pulled off to the side behind Red “8” and dropped the hook.Another first! We had never anchored before. Since Greg was knowledgeable about that he explained it to me. When we put it into practice we did a fairly good job. There was no wind. There was no noticeable current. We had the first quiet, almost motionless, night aboard since we had left Ft Lauderdale five days earlier. It was a great night. We all slept well.
In the morning (day six out of Florida) there was quite a bit of fog on the water. From our anchorage we could see out across the Pemlico River and see that there was fog out there. We could see that the fog was burning off so we pulled up the anchor and motored out. By the time we got out into the Pemlico River the fog lifted and we had a nice trip for most of the morning.
Jane took the helm just after noon. I was down in the galley and looked up to see Jane looking at the map, looking around, looking at the map, looking around. I asked if anything was wrong. She said, "I can’t find the next channel mark.” I went up on deck and looked around. I saw that we were motoring through a field of crab pots. She and I both said at exactly the same time, "We shouldn’t be here.” That was just about 2 seconds before we came to a halt stuck on the muddy bottom.
Hard reverse did nothing but wake up Greg. He, having done most of his boating on the Chesapeake Bay said, "Guess we’ll just have to wait for the tide to come in.” I reminded him that we were in a channel and there was no tide.
Remembering another thing I’d read about I suggested we kedge off. Greg expressed his doubts that that would work. But I was excited about the opportunity to try something new. We untied the dinghy from the cabin top. Hauled it over the side using the main halyard (another thing we had never done). I went over the side and into the dinghy and promptly flipped the dinghy over. We righted the dinghy, collected the oars, and I got back in the dinghy (this time without turning it over). We then lowered the stern anchor and rode into the dinghy. I rowed out about 150-feet behind the boat in line with our course into this shallow place. I dropped the anchor over the side and Greg pulled the line snug. Then I rowed back to the boat to supervise the rest of the operation.Jane manned the throttle and the tiller. Greg manned the main winch. Once Greg got the anchor rode really tight, Jane put the engine in reverse and gave it full throttle. Greg kept cranking in the anchor rode with the main winch. Suddenly the boat move back about six inches. Then it moved a foot; then it shot sternwards. I suddenly realized that I was now in the dinghy and the sailboat was rapidly leaving me. A little disconcerting. But they stopped and recovered the dinghy and me. And after hoisting the dinghy back to it place on deck we were off again.
The further north we went, the colder it got
That night we stopped at the Alligator River Marina. Entering the little marina was not hard, nor was finding our assigned slip. But as I started to turn into the slip I realized that there were people on all the other boats watching us. The pressure to do well went way up. This was going to be the second time I was going to have to maneuver in close proximity to other boats. And the last time I tried it I contacted another boat. But I put her in the slip without incident although not without a lot of anxiety. We went over the restaurant, had a beer and a burger and called it a day. Jane decided to do some laundry. Later we had a shower for the first time in a week and had another nice quiet night.
The morning (day 7) brought high winds and gray skies. The Albemarle Sound turned nasty. Some people decided to stay at the marina one more day and wait for better weather. That was out of the question for me. I was in a hurry; we had a schedule to keep!We left the marina and headed north toward Coinjock. Another sailboat headed out behind us. The Albemarle was throwing a 6-ft chop at us right on the nose. We were hitting all of about 2-kts when we were moving at all. There was a sailboat behind that had followed us out of the marina. We watched as their bow launched up and out of the water with each wave. After a half hour of that punishment they (wisely) turned back. I was too stubborn and too dumb to turn back. We motored on. We had to tack into the waves. Since we were tacking anyway, we put up the staysail and increased our speed to about 4-kts. Finally we limped into Coinjock late in the day. We were wet, tired, and more than just a little cranky. But a good hot meal and a hot shower made the crew happy enough to forgive me for putting them through the rough ride.
When we got to Norfolk it was late in the day of day seven. I was really anxious to get home. Looking at the map I could see that we were at most 36 hrs from home. I reasoned that we could stop every night and take three more days to get home, or we could just keep going all night and the next day and then we’d be home.
That decision almost caused a mutiny. Greg being the good sailor that he is saluted and said "aye-aye.” Jane was more expressive. She was not at all happy. Especially when we made it out of the James River and into the Bay. We were once again fighting a 5-ft chop with wind just off the nose. We were once again making about 2-kts. We were once again getting very wet. And the ride was once again too rough to sleep. Jane was uncomfortable with sorting out all the lights on the Bay and refused to take a turn at the helm. While Greg and I took turns at the helm Jane stayed up most of the night and kept us company.By dawn (day 8 out of Florida) the ride was at least reasonable. Later in the morning the wind abated and the Bay settled down. With the wind dying we motored north into a gentle breeze. The sun finally came out. Our last full day onboard was not too bad.
Greg on the Chesapeake Bay on the 8 th morning
As night fell we could see the lights of the Bay Bridge at Annapolis. Greg took the helm and took us around Love Point and into the Chester River. He woke me up at about 4AM and we decided to anchor where we were rather than try to enter the Narrows and marina at night. We set the anchor and spent the night near the entrance to Kent Narrows.At 7 AM on day nine we were up and looking for the Narrows channel. We set a course and soon the boat was turning into the entrance of Mears Point Marina, her new home. We motored around to our slip and I parked us without incident. As soon as we had a couple of lines tied off we all stood on the dock hugging each other, congratulating each other on a success voyage.
Entering Kent Narrows
We put the boat to bed: covered the sails, cleared the deck, closed the seacocks. We gathered up our belongings and loaded them into Jane’s car (which we had positioned at the marina before we left). We took Greg home and went home ourselves. We had a lot to think about and to talk about. We had plans to make and work to do.
One of the first things we did was change the name of our boat. Vinegaroon was ok, but we needed something else. After a lot of thought, we chose to name her Galena. Galena is the name of the mineral lead sulfide. It is also from ancient Greek and means "antidote." The only famous ship in history to be named Galena was the sister ship of the USS Monitor (built in 1862). So that would be her name from now on.Now we’ll spend a year or so really learning to sail her and learning all about her eccentricities. Then we’ll travel back to the south and learn how to really relax. ž