When things go good, it all happens very slowly. When things go bad, it happens very quickly.
We set sail from Solomons to Deltaville. We knew weather would be an issue this leg of our trip as a front moved across the Chesapeake Bay. Winds were forecasted at 20 knots from the northeast. This is not a problem for a boat our size, in fact Cream Puff sails like a champ with a twenty knot tail wind. We were loving the winds and cool air. Cream Puff sailed upright at about 8 knots (that’s pretty fast for us) all day.
We have a jinx aboard. Every time we mention we are having a great day or that we are caught up on our list of things to fix either something bad happens or something breaks. We tend to take things breaking as part of the daily stride. It is, after all, a boat. Salt, sun and stress will cause any manmade object to disintegrate slowly. Our job is to manage the process. Anything mechanical or electrical has a life span. With preventive maintenance we try to prolong the inevitable. Apparently our engine starter heard us talking about the great sail we were having and decided to change things up a little bit.
We abandoned our original plan of landfall at a marina where some friends were staying for a safer deeper water marina. The winds had picked up a little more than expected during the day and at gusts of 25-30 knots I did not want to attempt to motor up a narrow shallow channel with crosswinds and have the possibility of going aground. This proved to be an excellent decision. Instead, we decided to go around the other side of the peninsular and make landfall on the leeward side where the entrance to a marina would be calmer. Once near the inlet channel, I turned the key to start the engine: nothing, zip, nada!
My recent diesel mechanics class taught me failure to crank actions should be to test in order: battery, key panel, then the starter. We had power to the starter but the starter did not want to play. Ironically, not two days ago, I told Cindy we should order a spare starter for the engine before setting of the the Caribbean. Like I said, a jinx on board. It’s eerie how it knows what we’re saying.
We decided we had two options. First, we could sail into an area near the marina and drop the anchor. They was plenty of room and a safe anchorage. From there we would be safe and could figure out Part B of the plan. Or second, we could call BoatUS for a tow to a marina. BoatUS is like AAA for boaters. We pay an annual membership and hope we never have to use it. We opted for the later as it would put us at a dock where we could get parts to make the repair. We reefed our sails, began to sail in a holding pattern staying in the calmer waters behind the peninsular. Our holding pattern meant sailing slowly in circles with one small sail up. We tried repeatedly to hail BoatUS using our VHF radio on channel 16, the emergency hailing channel. No Answer!
After multiple failed attempts over a half hour to raise BoatUS, a local mariner radioed us and gave us the cell phone number of the BoatUS tow boat operator. We had exactly one bar on the cell phone. Cindy called the number: No answer and voice mail was full. We moved a little closer to shore and called the national BoatUS dispatch number on our membership card. Eureka, a real person! We gave them all our details and explained our situation. They told us to hold tight and we would be contacted shortly. BoatUS is part of West Marine. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you already know how I feel about West Marine. I will spare you the rant. Once again, West Marine failed me.
Our cell phone rang. We thought it was BoatUS. It wasn’t. It was the United States Coast Guard (USCG). No doubt they could tell we were a little surprised by their call. They told us they had been contacted by the BoatUS boat captain. He had decided to not help us since he determined the conditions for a tow using the BoatUS boat were too rough at our location. The USCG asked about our situation and we relayed all the pertinent details. We also told the USCG the BoatUS captain never called us. If he had, we could have explained how were able to sail to the marina area where the BoatUS boat and captain could have easily given us assistance getting to the end of our reserved dock. This would have all taken place in calm waters. The USCG told us to hang tight; they would evaluate our situation and call us back. It never was a consideration of ours to call the USCG. We never felt we were in serious danger. We view calling the USCG as a last resort and only when lives are at risk. Our situation was nothing near this. We had other options. So, it was a surprise to us when they called us back to say they were dispatching a rescue boat to tow us to a safe harbor. We were surprised and relieved. Help was on the way. Not just any help, but the best kind of help.
“Professional” is about the best word I know to describe the crew of the rescue boat. In no time they had a bridle rope connected to the bow of Cream Puff. I got really wet on the bow securing lines as they yelled instructions. Once we were all set and I was safely back in our cockpit they slowly towed us to their choice of safe harbor. Carefully planted at the dock we had a chance to talk with the USCG crew. It became clear to us a couple of flukes had worked in our favor. They told us they would normally have monitored our situation by radio and only dispatched a rescue boat if the situation turned perilous. However, they had some crew members who needed training on vessel towing. Guess who the guinea pigs were. We kidded with them we were more than happy to oblige and provide the “vessel in need of towing”. They were located only 3 miles away when the call came from BoatUS and we were very near their base. Also, the USCG doesn’t tow vessels to the owner’s choice of location. They tow boats to the closest safest harbor. It just happened to be the exact location to where we were going. Not just the same marina, but the exact slip we had reserved earlier that day located at the end of the dock.
Thanks guys! Seriously….Thank you.