Voyage to Nowhere — Forced Change
Voyage to Nowhere — Forced Change

Bill Peterson

CATEGORIES: Captain's Journal

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Log Entry : 3 May, 2020
Sailing ketch Colony II in the Bahamas

Day 45 ~ Forced Change

Things that force you to change.  You wouldn’t do it otherwise, even though you might think “yeah I’m gonna do that,” but well you just don’t right now because you don’t have to.  So yep, there can be an upside to bad things, and seeing that doesn’t necessarily make you a starry-eyed optimist.  Good things can be pragmatic on par with bad stuff.  So can this metaphorical Corona virus voyage the Country is on have an upside? 

If I take experience into account, I could lean hard that way.  Like how?  Well, once upon a trip to the Bahamas a bad thing happened.  We anchored overnight at Sail Cay after clearing customs that morning at West End, en route from Fort Lauderdale. An easy sailing day from there brings us to the brink of our bad thing. 

According to my official Cruising Guide to Abaco, the small bay picked out as a good spot to overnight shows plenty of water.  It’s up to windward and around a jutting finger of coral reef and we’re in, under power, but instead of the ten feet of water promised on the chart, it’s rapidly shoaling into a shallow white!  Time to change the plan, back her down hard and get hell out of what’s now more like a trap for a big boat in a suddenly small space. 

It was a simple maneuver

….. until a loose line carelessly on deck changed the game for weeks to come.  It slid or was accidently kicked by our volunteer deck crew overboard. It doesn’t matter how it sucked into the spinning prop, the bang and abrupt stop of the diesel going from eighteen hundred RPM’s to sudden silence was an eye popper. Now things happened in rapid succession. 

No engine; which I was to discover had been jerked backwards breaking the rear motor mounts, leaving us in a perilous predicament.   Colony II is being blown down on the jagged coral and the rapidly deployed anchor is skidding along the hard-packed sand, barely slowing us down.  I grab a regulator from the deck box, fumble it onto one of the scuba tanks, tuck it under my arm and jump overboard.

Sometimes saving the day is the focus and what’s at hand guides your options for action.  It hardly matters at that point what mistakes were made that got you here.  COVID-19 rightly or wrongly caught us off guard.  We the public, and likely most of the officials and experts didn’t see a big threat, till the green water suddenly turned to white. 

Sliding down the anchor chain and burying that plow in is the singular focus and singular option to averting the catastrophic crunch of fiberglass grinding against coral.  In the crystal clear Bahamian water I see the reef looming, it’s a now or never effort and standing on the flukes and riding the anchor like a sled being pulled by a seventy thousand pound sled dog works!  We’re hooked with at least a hundred feet to spare. 

Like all of us on the voyage to nowhere it’s not over, it’s now what?  Change is thrust on us and we have to noodle our options.  It’s a hundred and forty-eight miles back to Lauderdale, forty-eight nautical miles south to the nearest inhabited island of any size for possible help.  There’s a small settlement three islands north of us and the fishing boat “Love Train” has offered assistance if we need it to get out of the tiny bay.  We got this hook-up from the coast guard Miami group in the evening hours on the sideband radio.  Like COVID-19, it’s happened, things are changed and we need a new plan.  The night is divided into standing anchor watches just in case.  

~ “Safe In Place” ~

This morning dawned bright, breezy and beautiful; the breezy remains unfavorable to allow a sailing escape. Colony II is firmly hooked in and floating about twelve inches above the sand.  For now we’re safe in place. Sleep has fostered a plan to get underway on our own; Love Train for now is thanked via VHF and put in the back pocket.  Its feeling like our Country is thinking similar thing’s about the new reality. Make a plan that seems to make sense, take the responsibility that it’s not guaranteed to be one hundred percent safe and do it. 

For Colony II the step-down from her 135 hp Perkins diesel to the 15 hp Yamaha outboard on the Avon, strapped fore and aft just behind amidships, is dramatic.  If I can get her just past the coral finger hooking into the bay we can hoist sail and steer clear.  It’s going to take some well-timed maneuvers, and a well prepped crew to execute them to pull the anchor and get her moving away from the coral.  We won’t have steerage if we try to push her with the relatively puny little dinghy directly into the wind and away from danger. 

Up short on the anchor we coax the bow across the wind and break her loose.  Full throttle by Dave in the dinghy bravely churns the water with its little seven inch prop and a hopeful grin slips out.  C II is gaining way.  The reef is running parallel now, only about seventy-five feet off the port beam.  Not time to unclench just yet, but I’ve got steering. 

I’m feeling this about now on this Corona voyage to nowhere–we, meaning the Country, are getting under way again and the deep water is not so far ahead.  We’re giving up safe in place, which couldn’t last forever anyway, to get on with the voyage.

The grins are in full bloom as the tip of the reef slips astern. The hoisted staysail takes wind, the main jibes across and fills on a port tack. We are underway! 

In general it feels like America is ready for some of the same to me, and seeing that spirit is the beginning of what can be some upside to this.  I’m thinking there’s going to be more to come, smarter folks than me believe we need adversity and disruption to make progress. 

There’s no way I would wish broken motor mounts in a remote anchorage on myself as a good lesion in learning to sail your boat under sail alone.  Sea gods take note that I’m only saying when fate, mistakes or bad decisions happen it forces change. 

But that was the upside to this misadventure; it turned itself into an adventure story.   It turned me into a better Colony II skipper.  We learned to work together under sail alone; something I wanted to do that was easy to put off till next time.

For instance, I came up with a lovely technique for sailing the anchor in that bit hard and fast every time, something I continued doing once the Perkins was back in service.  Getting in and out of anchorages under sail and sailing off the hook became routine as we made our way down the island chains toward Marsh Harbour. We were to seek out the rumored mystery man reported to do magic things with welding cast iron.

New rules; don’t go into tight spaces you can’t sail out of.  Engines help you easily bend and break that one, but not so much anymore.  And there are a decent number of other things learned, absorbed and incorporated during those engineless six weeks–boat stories for another day. 

The point is the bad thing that happened made me, for one thing, appreciate how easy things had been, and for another it made me a better sailor.  It came with tension, anxiety, sweat, work and pain.  Squirming your way into the bilge and cramming yourself under a diesel engine to wrench a motor mount bolt free in a rocking anchorage is nobody’s choice for fun.

Only a wise and visionary man or a deranged sailor would wish a calamity on his ship, or his Country as a growth tactic, but sometimes it’s the price. Forced change can also equal forced improvement, the upside of a down thing. Things will change. Will this COVED-19 bad thing, in the end make us a better, smarter, more prepared country? I say let’s hoist that hope for the Country up the mainmast and salute it.  



This is post #8 of the Voyage to Nowhere series of thoughts that began with “Quarantine Flag Flying” on day 16 of the COVID-19 shelter in place shutdown. The idea went something like this: What if I decided to imagine that we are on a crossing, a voyage say, across the Atlantic or Pacific instead of a lockdown. Pretend the dock and the other seven boats aren’t even here and think of it as a metaphorical “Voyage to Nowhere.” Hmmm … 🙂

Post script :  I saw something new to me today, just off the stern on this imaginary voyage to nowhere.  No paddle foot pedal kayaks with bimini tops!  Innovation & imagination, go humans! 

4 Comments

  1. Vicki Rae Stewart

    well done, and well told. Austerity had a couple of nail biting episodes along the same lines. Will continue checking your posts, you are making good use of your downtime.

    Reply
    • Connie Vest

      OMGoodness, Captain Bill! Your account of this memory sure brings back memories for me. I enjoyed sharing this adventure with you, and could just imagine the anxiety of you and your crew as it was happening. When you described checking into customs and then moving on to this anchorage, I had the feeling that I had been there – and I think we had, although must have been slightly different spot because shallow water was not the thing that made this memorable. However, drug runners (two go fast boats) were, as they were circling our boat in the middle of the night! Scary! Just another cruising adventure. Looking forward to the next episode of Colony II’s adventures!

      Reply
      • Bill Peterson

        Helllooo Connie …. welcome aboard 🙂 Well good, I’m pleased to trigger your memory wheels. You’ve got a lot of good ones to pull from for sure. Now, drug runners in the middle of the night might not be one of the best of memories … but it does now qualify as an official Adventure. Oh yeah that reminds me of a story about the go fast boat approaching us off the Fla Keys … 🙂

        Reply
    • Bill Peterson

      Hi …
      Thanks Vicki 🙂 and yes no doubt any sailors have more than a few tales to tell. ha-ha … We think of them as adventures now.

      Reply

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Traditional sailboat anchored during a dramatic golden and blue sunset in Abaco Bahamas. The sailing Ketch Colony II off Powell Cay

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