Every boat usually has one, a horror story of their own, one that curls your toes and send shivers down your back. Thankfully for me, and you, our bodies have a magical way of forgetting pain. You remember that it was bad, scary, and every other emotion on the negative spectrum, but you no longer actually “feel” it, it’s just a memory stuck in your brain and after a little time, or a couple of years, it even becomes a little foggy. Our nightmare trip was my maiden voyage.
Three years ago we were in Georgetown , Bahamas living on Labiris, our 33ft Karate. We figured if we wanted to commit to sailing we needed more space or our growing family would have to make due with no walking space. That’s when and where we found Necesse-to-be. At that point she had nothing in her, no lighting, no working bilges, no functioning engine, and definitely none of those fancy gadgets like a GPS or autopilot. Being stuck with two boats was not ideal, financially or for our stress levels (try keeping two anchored boats under wrap) so we decided to high tail it to Florida with both boats, sell one and fix up the “new to us” other.
Our first mistake, SCHEDULES. Never ever ever ever sail if you have a schedule that isn’t flexible. It’s bad news waiting to happen.
With two boats we obviously needed some other hands, and finding people that could and wanted to come sail an engineless Necesse was not easy, but our friend Joaquin was up for the challenge, and he semi-tricked his non-sailing brother into helping as well (I think his brother envisioned motoring a mega yatch in luxurious style). They had 10 days before they needed to be back to work, so once they flew in we sailed off. Because our new boat was a problem waiting to happen we decided to stay within handheld VHF range of eachother as much as possible.
This is where details get foggy for me, what bad things happened on what days all gets a little blurred together but it went something close to this order: end of first day we reached Galiott cut at the wrong time when tide was coming out, impossible to sail Necesse through so Eben jumped in our dinghy, leaving me to bob around the ocean while he went and helped our buddies hip-tow her through. First attempt was a fail and almost sucked our dinghy right under the boat, second attempt after a quick sailing encyclopedia read of proper hip-tow placement, succeeded, but that made us sweat.
The next day we had some confused seas that seemed to slap our boat from every direction possible and even though Eben did his best to man the boat as much as possible, when 3am rolled around and his body was exhausted from lack of sleep and incessant sea sickness he had to call me to the helm to sail my first time ever. I can say that sailing in a storm, at night, for your first time ever is no type of fun. I even had this newbie conversation with our buddy boat:
-them “it’ll be ok, just keep an eye out for our red light turning green”
-me “ok, I can handle that”. A few minutes later, “wait, what does that even mean?”
Like I said, it was my first time sailing. No knowledge of what was really going on. I was so ecstatic to see the sunrise though, finally being able to see what was tossing us around and sending our boom thrashing in every which direction. The seas did not give in even as we reached Nassau. We radioed our buddies and told them we needed to stop and sleep, it took what seemed like forever to work our way around to a possible anchorage but it was full of coral heads. As we tried to navigate through them our friends who were engineless opted to drift at sea until we were up Better rested. Without wanting to go too far in to the coral area we just gave up and dropped anchor excited to get some sleep, only to step into the boat and discover that our bilge, that we had used to store all our pop, bad idea yes, was now completely full of liquid as all the cans had exploded with the ocean motion. Eben was elbow deep in sticky pop when all he wanted to do was sleep. After the dreaded job of cleaning that we crawled into bed, but then, of course, Arias was in no mood to sleep, she had slept all night, why sleep now. We felt defeated. Discouraged we picked up the anchor and pushed on.
We crossed the North West channel and anchored in there around nightfall, got beat around all night but at least we got five hours of sleep, even if half of that was spent being catapulted within the vberth.
The following day was the hardest and the one that still irks me. That afternoon, as we were all making good headway, we were about 1 mile off of Necesse when we get a broken up VhF call, “guys the mainsail tore and is wrapped around the mast”. We told them where the spare sails were stashed but as they pulled them all out found that there were three spare jibs but no secondary mainsail. We decided to head back towards them, but with all the commotion we had an accidental tack, a truly scary one, toe rail in the water starring straight down at the ocean with my baby in my arms, scared to death that “this is it, this is what I have seen in all those movies, we’re going to die on this thing, I hate this, I hate the ocean, why am I doing this?”. We turned deeper into it to have the boat pop back up and then sat in silence for a bit, stunned by it all, that was too close. By the time we made it back to Necesse they had got the torn sail down and decided they would just sail on with the jib. Back on course. Not even a few hours later though, we’re all in the cockpit when SNAP, the traveler breaks and Eben was quick enough to catch the line before it flew out and we lost the boom. Another too close for comfort moment. What the heck.
Being that our friends were motorless and lacking a mainsail we weren’t making the fastest speeds and when the winds dropped just 8 miles of Cat Cay we were forced to give in and stop for the night. The next morning was supposed to be a break for the constant problems, a simple 8 mile cruise to the island, but first thing Necesse could not get the anchor up, they tried sailing into it, they tried pulling by hand, they even tried tying it to a winch, but it was stuck and the pressure of the winch caused the rope to snap and injure one of our buddies as it flew back and whipped him across the thigh leaving him black and blue. In frustration and despair we watched from afar as our friends cut loose the anchor, the one that, anchor and chain put together was worth about 10% of what we paid for that boat. We were choked, flabbergasted. Eben got their last GPS coordinates and as they headed towards the island we tried to find and recover the anchor. Eben dove in and after about 30minutes of searching with a buoy tied around his waist, he spotted it. We anchored next to it, pulled up the line, attached it to our boat and tried to lift it, but it was stuck. The waves were picking up, enough that as we were trying to lift it and the waves tossed us up the chain mangled our tow rail and eben’s thumb got crushed between the two. We had to give up on it, we couldn’t lift it and were breaking this boat trying. We sailed on.
Finally reaching Cat all we wanted to do was get to land. Both boats dropped anchor and we went to shore for showers and supper. After a delicious meal, Eben noticed that there was a new boat anchored next to us, where Necesse had been. Where was our boat? The secondary anchor was obviously not heavy enough and she dragged into a nearby sandbar. They got in the dinghy and retrieved her by hip-towing again, and reanchored. But nope, she was not sticking. Eben and Joaquin spent the rest of the night trying to get her to stay put, using every spare shackle and piece of chain we had to weight down the anchor chain more. (Eben still uses this as proof that keeping every little thing on the boat, rather than tossing it, is useful.) This was eben’s breaking point. We were so close to relaxing, like when you have to pee and finally reach the bathroom, only to find all the stalls are full, his nightmare wasn’t done. The frustrations, the emotions, the tears, and the lack of sleep all hit him, hard. Our friends brother wouldn’t even return to the boat, now that he had touched land there was no way he was going back to Necesse, we had ruined him.
The next morning our friends booked a flight back to Miami from there and we were so sick of this trip and knew my mom was flying in to visit us in Miami that same day (another SCHEDULE), that we almost flew back too. But at the last minute the winds seemed in our favor and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to bring at least one boat back across the Gulf stream, save ourselves a lot of money in docking fees, so it was the smaller boat first.
Things finally looked good, we were doing 6 knots for a couple of hours when the wind just died. Down to nothing. The Gulf Stream with no wind, our luck. Had to turn our engine on, the engine that we did not trust at all, the same one that would over heat and die at any point in time. She took us the entire way to Dinner Key Marina but the whole time we were waiting for the bomb to drop and to be stranded.
Miami, a sigh of relief. We spent a week with my mom having fun and trying to not think about the cost of the docking for Necesse at Cat cay (it came to $800 U.S. for 6 nights). After a short flight on a private jet, accompanied by a free bottle of champaign, we were back on Bahamian soil prepping to cross the gulf on Necesse, with a new sail, some extra food, and our anchor that Eben salvaged.
*a captain in Cat cay that we befriended took Eben out in his power boat to the GPS location of the anchor and they drove back and forth around the area with Eben hanging off the back, his face in the water, to spot it. When he found it he dove down to find that the anchor, still there, was actually stuck under a coral shelf. With some muscles he freed it and brought it back, a great relief to know that that money was not lost and that Necesse once again had a proper anchor.
Although we thought we would spend a few days there prepping, the next morning had “perfect” wind again. We set off, again, doing wonderful speeds, and two hours later, no wind. Again. None. But now we had no wind and no engine. We drifted a while hoping for a change in wind, but soon realized it wasn’t happening. We started to worry, there was no plan B. We attempted to make calls to coast guard and Boat Tow US, but our battery bank was so low that we couldn’t reach any sort of distance on our VHF. Thankfully someone heard us out there and relayed for us to coast guard who called Boat Tow to arrange a pick up. Yes they were willing to drive all the way out to us and tow us to Miami, but we maxed out our membership, they want nothing to do with us now unless we have proof we have a properly functioning boat. The coastguard, worried about us, came over for a visit, unofficially boarded our boat and tried to help. “Do you guys have enough food and water?” We looked like complete fools, this was my breaking point. All the this trip’s stresses caught up to me in that moment and the tears started streaming down my face. I couldn’t take anymore. The coast guard floated around with us for the 5 hours it took the tow boat to arrive, making sure we were good. During our wait we mindlessly watched shows on the iPad to escape from the ridiculousness of our situation. When the tow boat arrived we had drifted to only 8 miles off of Bimini. Then we were dragged back to Miami at speeds that are unfit for our boat.
Reaching Miami we had had enough. We were ready to sell both boats and never sail again. But before making any rash decisions we decided to take 3 days of not talking about the boats or that dreaded trip and regroup. You know that we continued on, but it was not before we made an extensive pros and cons list, as well as laid some serious ground rules for ALL future trips, which we follow.
I am glad that my body and brain have lost that feeling of fear that we endured during that trip, but I don’t think there will ever be a day where I will be able to recount it without getting knots in my stomach. It was too much. It was our horror story.
|Labiris, our former 33ft boat|
|the state of the inside of Necesse when we got her|
|our friend Joaquin who came to help us|
|the non functioning engine|
|all the extra sail bags, with no mainsail|
|but at least we prepped with plenty of snacks and books (baby Arias)|