On Friday January 22nd, we moved Southern Wind from the dock where we have been working for months in Palm Coast, 30 miles north up the Intracoastal Waterway to St. Augustine for a haul-out and two weeks of yard work at St. Augustine Marine Center before we sail for Haiti. Haiti has always been our fist planned destination, and ever since the earthquake we have been frantically trying to finish our work on Southern Wind and set sail. The Rotary Club here has raised money for additional fuel–normally we would travel under sail as much as possible to avoid using too much fuel, but people are more important than diesel and when we depart, we will travel with all sails up and both engines pushing hard all the way to Haiti.
Our project is designed to deliver medical supplies where there are no ports, so the devastation in Haiti’s commercial ports will not deter us from going. Also, we originally planned to sail on from Haiti, but we are leaving some of our field gear here in Florida to make foom for additional supplies and volunteers. Our friend Veronica from Rotary has a bus that we can store our surplus gear in and collect when we return to Florida to drop off Volunteers and take on new arrivals before departing for Central America.
First, though, we had to get Southern Wind safely out of the canal where she has lain for ten years, over the 6-foot bar between our canal and the intracoastal, and safely up the intracoastal to the marine yard in St. Augustine for a haul out the next m0rning. Southern Wind is a BIG boat–70 tons, and this would be our first time feeling how she moves in the water. Captain Ryan Emberley, our friend from West Marine in Jacksonville, was aboard to pilot the ship safely on the maiden voyage of her rebirth after years of exposure to weather and slowly dying in her quiet canal.
We were to dock at St. Augustine Marine’s long dock on arrival, stay there the weekend, and haul Monday morning. We calculated that at 10 knots and no problems, the 30 mile run to St. Augustine could TECHNICALLY be made in 3 hours, but even though I think all of us figured there was no way things would go that smoothly, none of us anticipated the Three Hour Tour we would all experience over the next 72 hours.
Besides working so hard for so long, besides our desire to put our project into action, despite the earthquake in Haiti that has us chomping at the bit to set sail, we had one additional reason to want to move Southern Wind out of her canal–lots and lots of dead fish. A record cold snap (of course, right? While we were here in Palm Coast, we have had record floods, record cold…what’s next?) kept the temperature around or below freezing for days on end, and the canals got so cold that THOUSANDS of fish–mostly catfish, but also snook, jacks, mullet, needlefish–froze to death, and in the two slightly warmer days of preparation to move Southern Wind, all their rotting bodies floated onthe surface and the tides and wind brought ALL the canals’ dead fish down into our blind end canal.
So, on Thursday we put the first fuel into the boat (that we transported in 15 containers of various sizes in 12 trips to the gas station and a lot of siphoning into our fuel tank), loaded our tools and construction materials, and warmed up the engines for a few hours. Friday morning we loaded food and supplies for the next three days, and waited for Tow Boat US to arrive. Two Tow Boat captains generously donated their time to help pull Southern Wind off the dock, down the canal, and over the bar into the Intracoastal. The canal is around 8 feet, and Southern Wind drafts 7. We were floating high because the boat is unloaded and has only a small amount of fuel, but the bar is only 6 feet…this was going to be close. Plus, Southern Wind had developed a V of sand under her keel, so she would need help pulling away from the dock. We attached tow ropes, cast off our bow, and Captain Ryan Emberley powered up our engines and for the first time in many years, Southern Wind pulled away from her dock, rising from the dead to voyage once again on the sea.
All our neighbors and many of our friends were on the dock to wave goodbye while we are in St. Augustine. Dennis and Jeannette Dean, who let us have Southern Wind to us forour mission, our friend Art, Captain of Conch Pearl who took the crew on their first offshore training sail many months ago, all our neighbors…everyone was cheering, neighboring boats sounded their horns, we rang our bell, and watched the Southern Wind’s home for so long, never to be seen by Southern Wind again. It was emotional pulling away…it was the culmination of so many months of hardship, toil, and constant challenges to overcome, but we also were reminded that soon we would be saying a more final farewell to all our new friends here in Palm Coast, and it is hard to be funny when green harbor water is widening between good friends.
We motored and were towed down the canal, JUST scraped along over the 6-foot bar at the entrance, made the turn to the North up the Intracoastal Waterway and we were on our way! I’ll never forget looking at Sky and realizing that if she ever played professional football, I know what her Touchdown Dance would look like. And so the chapter in our lives encompassing life living and working on the boat at the house and dock in Palm Coast, was closed forever. We would continue to live at the house and commute to the boat in the boatyard every morning for the next two weeks, and then we would be back living in the boat and doing our final loading to depart for Haiti.
It was a beautiful day to be on the water. After the cold, cold weather–and let me tell you, doing fiberglass, or epoxy, or rigging, or engine work, or wiring, or ANY of the acitivities we had to undertake all day nearly every day through the cold is AWFUL–it felt wonderful to be moving on the water, feeling the wind, the motion of the deck of a vessel underway under our feet. The Tow Boats would escort us through the dreaded Matanzas–this inlet into the Intracoastal is notorius for its twisting channel and shifting sandbars–the middle of the intracoastal is actually the shallowest part here, and the channel lies right up against the west shoreline. On such a clear, cloudless day this would be no problem, even without a depthsounder–we have installed one, but it will not be functioning until we put the through-hull transducer in the bottom of the boat at the marine yard. Even going up on one engine (the port engine would not shift, which required 30 minutes of tightening a seal on an oil line the following day to fix) seemed like no problem. And what do you know, as we approached Matanzas, a dense, zero-visibility fog rolled in and the temperature dropped about 30 degrees. I was on the phone with my folks, sharing this this great moment with them since without all their support and encouragement since Sky and I were born we would never have been able to do this. I said farewell, and the crew all gathered on deck to lookout as we tried to negotiate the winding channel on the falling tide. After a few minutes, we came aground on a sandbar, and the Tow Boats immediately attached lines and after a few anxious minutes, they managed to free us.
Noah and I can be seen in this picture watching the spring line cleat we installed on the starboard side rail we rebuilt get tested for the first time by a Tow Boat at full throttle, straining against a bowstring-taut tow line attached to the cleat. Noah and I just stared at the cleat waiting for catastrophic failure but the cleat never moved a milimeter. Now I have COMPLETE faith in it.
A lot of the repair work we did got tested–the hull, as we bumped along the bottom, got tested, the rail and cleats, the keel, and the crew got tested. Everyone did great–we followed one Tow Boat closely, and the other sounded ahead with sonar to find the channel and they led us safely through Matanzas. After getting us through Matanzas, they had to leave, warning us to ‘Watch out for the turn at Devil’s Corner.’ I was like “Really? ‘Devil’s Corner’?” It was like a warning out of a bad movie!
Captain Ryan slowed the boat to a crawl and we inched through the fog, all the crew on deck wiping the constantly misted windows, monitoring engine function, checking the bilges in rotation, or peering from the bow through the icy wet cold trying to see the channel markers–usually when we got within 50 feet of one, if we were lucky–sometimes we just tacked left and right, going from one shoreline towards the other and tacking sharply away from the other shore when it came in sight.
What followed was two hours of bone-chilling (literally and figuratively) stress as we felt our way forward through the mist. Captain Ryan was a champion, it gave me great confidence in having him Captain for us to Haiti and beyond. Freezing and dripping wet on the bow, we finally passed though a drawbridge about halfway up and the visibility improved–just in time for us to pass under the 312 bridge RIGHT before the turn down the San Sebastian River in St.Augustine and dock at the marine yard.
This was the worst moment for me–Southern Wind drafts 64 1/2 feet from the marked waterline. The bridge has 65 feet of clearance under it at mean high tide. We arrived at the bridge about three hours AFTER high tide, as it was falling. Southern wind is floating above her waterline (unloaded and mostly empty fuel and water tanks to make a shallow draft) about a-2 feet, and we added about 9 inches of weather instruments to the top of the mast. The marker at the bridge showing the water depth was showing more than 65 feet, but it was all overgrown and could not be read, so we weren’t sure EXACTLY how high our mastop was, and EXACTLY how much clearance the bridge had…
I was on the bow, and watching the masthead approach the bridge was one of the the scariest moments of my life. We squeaked under the bridge with about an inch or two to spare above our mast…a passing wake might have slammed us into the underside…I yelled back for all hands to lookout for falling material as we started to slide under…Sky was on the stern ready to take her chances in the water if the mast came down on the boat…man oh man, got a few gray hairs that day! I would include a picture, but we were too busy bracing for possible impact to bother taking a pic!
We made it to the dock just after nightfall; the long dock we were meant to tie up to was full, and we ended up having to straddle two small docks on either side of the slipway of a neighboring marine yard. Ryan’s wife Morgan’s folks came and picked up Ryan, Morgan, Claudia and I and drove us back to Palm Coast; Claudia and I took our car back up to St. Augustine, and then the next morning, fixed the problem with the port engine and we moved the boat to a newly vacant spot at the St. Augustine Marine Yard dock (with an 11-hour grounding during a pivot turn in the narrow channel till we floated free at the next high tide…oh, I can’t WAIT till we put the transducer in the hull and have sonar!). We stood dock watches and montitored the boat, drove home in shifts to shower and change and feed and walk Giles and Tweek, and on Tuesday morning (Monday was too windy), Captain Ryan came up and we moved the 18-foot wide Southern Wind into the 20-foot wide slipway and she was ready to be hauled out.
The guys at St. Augustine Marine Center have a hundred-ton travellift, and the expertly got slings under our boat and prepared to haul her out of the water, move her onto land and put her up on supports so we could repaint the bottom, check our through hulls, clean our running gear, and repair any weak points in the hull. Our boat is a wood boat with fiberglass over it (and a huge steel keel plate) and I had my last heart attacks of the weekend watching her rise into the air above our heads.
Everyone on board during this transit should be prooud of themselves. I have been in some scary situations at sea–I prefer to try avoiding getting into those situations, but occaisionally over a lot of time at sea, they can happen. To be honest, it was one of my scariest days on the water…the things we contended with during this process tested not only the boat, but the mettle of the crew and their ability to work together on-the-fly under stressfull, ever-changing conditions…and everyone did AWESOME.
Just to make it through that transit without panicking would have been an achievement, and not one person onboard lost their cool.
Even when you make detailed plans and plan for every conceivable contigency, the Ocean always has surprises–and only the ability to learn and adapt quickly to unexpected demands on yourself our your ship or equipment can bring you across great waters and safely home again. We COULD stay tied up at a dock forever, and we would be safe. “A ship in port IS safe…but that ’s not what ships are built for.” They are built for the horizon, and this boat has been rebuilt to bring help to people on other seas under other stars. Countdown to Haiti begins (and have to pack up the house we have been living in, pick up arriving crew, sell our car, load our supplies and food, and sail with the tide on February 21st!)…