ET Coming Home
Once upon a time there were five guys at Pearson at 430AM with a thousand pounds of gear, sheets sails, filters, etc. There were, as we came to be known, Gismo Gadget Gardner (3G for short), Mr. ZZZs (alias Sun Bunny), McGyver, Sparky, and Two Pillow. There was a very wide range of experience and expertise, but no one had sailed 4 or 5 days, 24 hours a day, in the open ocean, out of site of land and navigational marks.
These guys were on a mission – a mission to move an 18,000 pound centre cockpit Beneteau 402 from Tortola, BVIs, to the Alexandra Yacht Club in Toronto. Advertised time, depending on where you were standing, was 19 days … advertised route was from Tortola to San Salvador (Bahamas), then to New York City, up the Hudson River to the Erie barge canal, and into Oswego for the crossing of Lake Ontario.
As part of the gear headed to ET were 4 GPS machines, a laptop with electronic charts of the planet, an expensive Garmin PDA with charts and star gazing software, a large chart of the entire North Atlantic, an Imray-Iolaire chart of the Virgin Islands, a Bahamas crusing guide, and a 20 year old set of charts for the Erie Canal system.
May 18, 19, 20: Nanny Key, Tortola [N 18° 24‘ W 064° 38’]
The crew arrived at Nanny Key after a flight change at Dulles Airport, two overloaded island taxi rides and a ferry to Tortola. It was a long and tiring day indeed, followed by a boat tour and the first of the ‘last suppers’ with the skipper at the Peg Leg, walking distance from ET for most. Then came the rum, then the guitars.
The next day tasks were assigned. One was to provide ET with a full 15 days of provisioning, with a 24 case rule in effect—that is, 24 cases of 24 cans of OM, a beverage know to some as beer—a.k.a. Old Milwalkee at $13 per case. In addition to the beer, about a half tonne of bulk goods were bought at the Cash and Carry in Roadtown. Another hundred pounds of real groceries were bought at Rite Way, while the others spent a grueling day in the sun, tuning the rigging, installing jack lines, changing fluids and filters, buying jerry cans, flares, more filters, etc etc.
Sunday, May 21: 1100
Another day of boat prep was planned but every task failed because stores were closed. We departed for the gas docks at 11 with no life raft, dingy or EPERB, a flaky satellite phone rented in TO at great expense, and a ditch bag in preparation. But they were of no concern to anyone as we enjoyed a beautiful sail to a snorkel site at Norman Island, where we picked up a $20 anchor ball. (It turns out that dropping an anchor was allowed at that site free of charge).
Monday, May 22: Norman Island
At 9AM a call was made to a supplier in Red Hook, St Thomas in order to procure a life raft. None was to be had — “reserve at least 6 months in advance”. So ET headed back to Roadtown to buy a new Caribe dingy, which was secured over the aft deck (known as the inner sanctum). After a messy approach to the customs dock, in a swell and crosswind, we departed for San Salvador, a 100 hours away, and out-of-range for ET's fuel supply. As we moved out of the harbour we watched sailboats, trawlers, and racing machines being lifted out of the sea onto the deck of a huge boat transporter. No one appreciated the beauty of that sight — we were sailors, and sailors sail. The 50 hp Yanmar gets fired-up.
May 22-24: speed 6 knots
Shifts were assigned in staggered 4 hour stints—2 guys always in the cockpit and someone up from below for relief every 2 hours. The days were beautiful and hot: we were visited by a whale, 3 or 4 dolphins, an almost new life ring from a cruise ship, and a large wahoo at the end of our fishing line. The spinnaker went up for 4 hours which took ET 20 degrees off course but on a pleasant broad reach—then the Yanmar again.
Calculations showed ET with 40 hours of fuel and 61 hours to San Salvador. Then came the first of many course changes—a move toward Coburn Harbour on South Caicos for fuel. At about that time 3G figured out the problem with the satellite phone—a poor battery and serious interference when the ship’s GPS was on. After that, regular weather reports were downloaded to the laptop.
Thursday, May 25: 12 miles from the lighthouse on Grand Turk Island.
The days and nights were becoming tougher as sleep patterns were disrupted and the relentless heat took its toll. Each person had his private sick-day—heat exhaustion, cheap rum blues, constipation, stomach problems, or Gravol hallucinations. But all was well aboard ET as we went aground at low tide, 200 yards from the fuel dock on South Caicos. For the first time of many, the question was asked, "is there an airport here?”.
After what seemed like hours, 3G returned from the customs office, a mile from the fuel dock. While he was gone, the rest of us were entertained by a loaded banana boat (literally), as it tried to reach the government dock. It went aground over and over, stirring up a sea of mud in the shallow blue water. The dingy was launched (under oars) for the first of its many trips to the fuel dock with jerry cans.
Three hours later we were under motor again headed to Marsh Harbour in the Bahamas, a port within our 450 mile range (50 gallons in the tank, 5 jerry cans @ 5 gallons — or 75 hours at 6 knots, running at 2600 rpm). Then came the buzz…a US Coast Guard helicopter (CIA aboard) at incredibly low altitude and very close to ET’s mast, monitoring our drinking habits for 2 or 3 minutes.
But who is he who does all things well?
Friday, May 26: 1500
The OM bar opens at 1535 and guitars come out at 1556. The days are long and the nights longer. Mysterious ships and barges—miles off—move to our starboard or port at night. No land in sight. Shifts have become routine, but not easy. Everyone is tired, but crankiness is held at bay. Food is good. Spaces on ET have become smaller and dynamics have changed. Forty hours to go to Abaco in very light winds. The Yanmar plugs away—day and night.
Saturday, May 27: [N 24° 36‘ W 074° 32’]
Boat inventory shows 16 cases of beer and 24 jugs of water but no fresh food. Power is installed at the helm for the GPS to cut down on battery use by the handhelds. Finally we see another boat: a huge cruise boat Nassau bound. The OM bar opens at 1000 with 26 hours to the Man of War Channel leading to Abaco. Then the first of many engine shutdowns - out come the jerry cans.
May 28-29: Marsh Harbour, Abaco Island, Bahamas
We moved down the shallow channel to the fuel dock at Conch Inn Marina for water and fuel, and then, to the great relief of many, we moved to a slip for an overnight stay. We enjoy a swim in the pool and another “last supper” with 3G in an air-conditioned restaurant at the marina.
The next day begins with trips to the laundromat, the grocery store, the rum depot, and numerous marine supply outlets for provisions, more jerry cans, and more filters.
As we depart Marsh Harbour at noon in shallow water numerous waterspouts appear in the distance with very black storm clouds and lightening all around. Then the wind blows up and we do our first real sailing aboard ET.
Tuesday, May 30: 1100 [N 28° 15‘ W 077° 04’]
The fuel tank was filled an hour earlier, but now a second engine shutdown is experienced. There is a serious fuel problem and an engine that will only run for 45 minutes @ 2000 rpm before it shuts down. Where do we head? Much discussion and indecision - St Augustine, Jacksonville, Titusville, Beaufort/Morehead, or keep on heading toward Cape Hattaras? At noon we are stalled again, 250 miles from a diesel mechanic, no engine, and ET drifting out to sea in a strong tidal current. A call to a Yanmar man in TO leads to a reroute of the fuel tank intake to a secondary intake designed to run a diesel generator. Looks like the problem is solved. But then the engine shutdowns an hour later.
Then into an awful night of hard winds, 5-7 foot seas and driving rain. The odd wave comes crashing into the cockpit. Later that night ET moves into a small cyclonic storm cloud with light winds swirling 360 degrees. Then a 20 knot northeaster slams the boom across to port and the sliding car on the boom carrying the clew of the mainsail blows out, spewing ball bearings and leaving the mainsail high above the boom. And with such a heavy heel to port, sleeping in berths (all on the starboard) becomes impossible. Only the “inner sanctum” is spared. Hanging on with one hand in a partial sleep is necessary, or the cabin floor greets the crew member. Weirdness happens in the Sargasso Sea!
Wednesday, May 31
The engine problem has now been isolated to an intake of air at the primary fuel filter. The filter is bypassed and the Yanmar lives again. (A jury-rig fix is found using a casing from a Bic pen and clamps. But ET is still pitching heeling and rolling—activity is limited to eating bananas, french pears, and granola bars. Another very uncomfortable set of night watches.
Thursday, June 1
The weather clears, leaving beautiful things … moon, stars, warmth, and light air. In the middle of the night a plan to go back to the Cape Hattaras course is hatched. Tension and tiredness have eased, the weather is downloaded and charts re-examined.
But the weather picture does not look good and ET changes course again, this time to Morehead/Beaufort N.C. Emails and calls are made about our change of plans, and good times return to ET. At 1430, land is in sight; by 1700 we were sitting in a slip at a Beaufort marina. After the fuel and water intakes, Two Pillow takes the crew to beer, wine and dinner, but unfortunately it ends up being a seedy restaurant for the down and out. Charts for the intra coastal waterway (ICW) are purchased and everyone's in bed by 2100.
Friday, June 2: Beaufort NC [N 34° 30‘ W 076° 41’]
In Beaufort we were loaned a late model station wagon, and headed off at 0815 to meet with Waldo, the entertaining US Customs man. This is followed by a trip to West Marine for hundreds of dollars of boat parts. Finally, on our way back we stop for more groceries and beer. Within an hour after arriving back at the marina, we head into the ICW with its array of bridges, canals, creeks, rivers, and sounds — safe from Cape Hattaras. We watch peregrine falcons atop every navigational mark for miles and miles, while dodging crab pots everywhere. We motor sail-by-wire (a.k.a. auto-helm) to Norfolk where Sparky would leave ET to fly home for his daughter’s convocation. Very sad for all.
June 3-4: 1830 Norfolk VA [N 36° 54‘ W 075° 42’]
The approach to Norfolk began with a 1900s industrial wasteland---stacks and derelict buildings everywhere. Then we passed the huge naval shipyards with vessels surrounded by floating booms and armed patrols. Finally a real city appears.
After fuelling we depart Norfolk through the long shipping channels, headed out to the North Atlantic. It becomes very black with lightening firing off to the north. The cruise ship “Carnival Victory” radios for ET to move out of the shipping lane. An hour later a huge container ship radios ET to "move out of the lane, do it sharply, and do it now." We moved out of the shipping lane again, where we thought we were in any case … south of the green buoys.
Monday, June 5: North Atlantic [N 37° 54‘ W 075° 03’]
While under motor, we filled the tank from jerry cans as the latitude numbers ever increase and the longitude numbers decrease— we are headed north east to NYC. It is cold, dark and foggy as the sun rises. We are out of boat water—but not drinking water. The system had been acting erratically for about a day, but it was of little concern. But when the bilge alarm went off, every one freaked. We find all of the ship’s water in the bilge, and bailing by hand begins in earnest—the bilge pump is poor, or not working at all, and the gusher hand pump is flakey. We now know that the ship’s water system has a leak.
Tuesday, June 6: 1000 approaching Sandy Hook [N 40° 25’ W 073° 56’]
Finally we round Sandy Hook, almost off of the North Atlantic. The NYC skyline is clearly visible in the distance, as we are checked out by a US Coast guard vessel. We enter the New York Harbour approach channels: first the Sandy Hook channel, then to the Swash channel, on to the Chapel Hill North channel, and finally into the Ambrose channel underneath the Verrazano Narrows bridge.
We enter the NYC harbour at 1337. Seeing hundreds of faces at the base of the Statute of Liberty was quite an awesome sight, as the Staten Island ferries criss-crossed the harbour in every direction. The harbour simply put, was buzzy and exciting. As we moved north into the Hudson River, still no one is below. At 2000 we anchor in Peekskill Bay at [N 41° 17’ W 073° 57’]. A very good day indeed.
Wednesday, June 7: 0930 near the Malboro Yacht Club on the Hudson
The engine of ET shuts down on a windy, rainy and cold day on the Hudson. Fear is raised as a result of our problems a week earlier. We sail toward the shore, drop an anchor and furl the sail. An error has been made in our engine hour calculations, and up come the jerry cans again.
At eight that evening we are tethered to an anchor dropped at the bridge near Rogers Island. Everyone is chilled to the bone by the wind, cold and driving rain. There is still no water for showers.
Thursday, June 8: 0615
The boat, bedrolls, cushions and clothing are all wet due to leaky ports holes on both sides, but we leave our anchorage for the Castleton Boat Club for long awaited showers, clothes dryers, and a dinner off the boat. The mood aboard is good as we sail-by-wire up the Hudson at 5 knots or less.
Arrival at Castleton is made at 1030, and by 1530 the 54 foot mast is tied down the centre of the boat. We take on more fuel and fill the water tanks one more time. We hear that lock #8 up ahead is closed due to very high water levels, so ET stays put for the evening. While hanging around we see a boat transporter move a large power boat into the club. 3G inquires if the man could transport ET to anywhere on Lake Ontario - he could only move it to Montreal due to height restrictions. Too bad!
Friday, June 9: 0700
Yes!! Water is running again on ET. 3G has found a leak in a hose line buried low inside one of the midship lockers. It is now realized that every time we filled the tanks, we were slowly pumping more than 100 gallons of water into the bilges. We bail again, but we have water.
We move north to Albany, then Troy, and make a left turn into lock #1 on the Erie Barge Canal, where the elevation of ET is raised by 30 feet. And on we go, lock after lock.
Saturday, June 10: 0713
We leave lock number #11 after an overnight tie up at the wall. The weather has turned extremely cold with a strong north blow. We wait at lock #15 for an hour for the return of the lock master, who was downstream at another lock due to “understaffing”.
We stopped early that day as Ken and Michele had driven down to say hello, have a few beers, and go to dinner. We walked and looked for the prescribed restaurant, but to no avail. Two Pillows asks a pickup truck driver where it was and was told it was "outside-of-town" by a half a mile. He said it was too bad he had a pickup otherwise he would drive us. Five of us hop into the bed of the truck within seconds, while Sun Bunny gets into the cab. Three miles later, frozen solid, we arrive and then have another filling 'last supper'. Candy, our warm and gracious waitress, drives us back to ET in the dark, where we start up a large fire okayed earlier by Berny, the harbour master.
Sunday, June 11: St Johnsville NY Municipal Marina to Slyvan Beach
We reach Slyvan Beach at the foot of Oneida Lake, only to see about 8 boats tied up at the wall. We proceed out into the lake for the crossing, but turn around within minutes – the crossing was not possible due to wind and wave on the shallow lake. We tie up, and after spending a few hours adding additional lines and braces to the mast sitting on deck, we head to the Canal View restaurant.
Monday, June 12 0530 Slyvan Beach to Oswego
We depart early in the morning before anyone else, and reach the Oswego Marina by 1400 after being lowered seven times by the lock system. (There were actually eight locks, but #4 was never found and did not seem to exist).
By 1700, ET looked like a sailboat again; she moved out into Lake Ontario for our 18 hour crossing to Toronto. In the wee hours of the morning we had difficulty in reading the direction and speed of a large freighter. We changed course and radioed – yes we were clear, but we were then lectured about staying out of the shipping lanes - we should check the charts.
Tuesday, June 13: 1400 Alexandra Yacht Club [N 43° 37’ W 079° 24’]
At precisely 2 pm ET moved in the AYC basin where we were greeted by dozens of fellow club members, friends, and ... Michelle ... who provided balloons, beer, wine, cheeses, dips, bread, and appetizers fit for a king and his queens. Thank you Michelle.
David Gardner (Gismo Gadget Gardner or 3G), Ron Tyson (Mr ZZZs, alias Sun Bunny), Grant Walters (McGyver), Ken Daisley (Sparky), and John Tibert (Two Pillow).
[story taken from the Tibert/ET ship log – May 18 to June 13, 2006]
[assistance and editing : Dorathy Moore]