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Never Bring a Schedule on a Boat Trip

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December 5, 2019

Did you know “they" say that the worst thing to bring on a boat trip is a schedule?

Following my blogs about what it means to be a boat owner-operator [click here] and how to prepare for a long boat trip as an owner-operator [click here] I want to use this blog to illustrate why being flexible about your schedule may help avoid bad decisions about going out in unfavorable weather and travel conditions. While our trip going north in July went like a dream without any boat or weather issues, the same cannot be said for the return trip, from Annapolis, MD, to Palm Beach, FL.

Plan A. We traveled from Florida to Annapolis by car on a Saturday to pick up the boat, which we had left behind to attend the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. Our plan was to use Sunday to get the boat ready and provision for the trip, and to leave very early on Monday morning for what should be a 5-day trip. The weather immediately threw a wrench in the plan as the forecasted conditions on the Chesapeake Bay were very rough for Monday. We don’t like to travel in very rough conditions if we can avoid it: it is not good for the boat or the crew on board, and it would have meant having to travel at a much slower speed so we would have had to revise the planned destination for Day 1 to make it a shorter trip, so we preferred to wait one day for smoother conditions.

Plan B. The forecast for smooth conditions for the following day seemed confirmed so we left our slip at 6.10 am. It was still dark. We were extremely cautious, surveying the water like hawks as our route out to the Chesapeake Bay is notorious for crab pots. After 20 minutes, before we even reached the beautiful Thomas Point Lighthouse, we suddenly experienced a very heavy vibration on the boat. Baffled, we immediately pulled her out of gear. We were sure we had not hit a crab pot or anything else on the surface of the water.

Maybe we had picked up a rope, or a fishing line or net around the props, or maybe we hit something under the water?

We immediately decided to turn around on one engine (brief diagnostics showed our port side propulsion had somehow been impaired). We briefly considered going back into our slip and call a diver, but decided to go straight to a nearby boat yard where we knew they had a lift large enough to haul out our boat. We arrived at the yard just after 7am, docked in front of the lift, and went inside for a coffee at the cafeteria while waiting for the yard to open. The guys met us with some curious looks, what were we doing there, we were not on the schedule to be hauled?

The yard owner was extremely helpful and agreed to lift us out of the water as soon as the yard opened. We were hoping it would just be a line around the props so we could cut it away and be on our way again, although we would need to adjust the day’s planned destination. We and the guys were waiting with anticipation, expecting to find some rope or something else wrapped around the props. We were all staring at the props as the boat came out of the water, but nothing! No ropes, fish lines, crab ports … nothing! Something was missing from the picture, and that turned out to be the problem: there was an entire propeller blade missing from the otherwise beautiful and shiny (clearly not impacted) propellers. It turns out we were unlucky and had suffered a manufacturing defect on one of the props (metal fatigue or a casting error). Only one solution, to get a new prop.

As the faulty prop was a warranty issue our dealer and manufacturing representative immediately got to work to locate a new one. Meanwhile, as this was bound to take some time, the decision was made to “block the boat” on the hard. When a boat is out of the water it is not possible to run the AC system (except when a “tower” can be provided), so while we had shore power, we had no heat, and it was getting COLD! We went over to a nearby marine store and bought a small ceramic space heater. We then heard that a prop had been located and would be shipped overnight for installation the following day. Great news! Bad news: the shore power tripped after the yard guys had left and could not be restored in their absence, so no power or heat on board (only things that were battery operated). That made for a cold night. Luckily, we had dinner with friends in town so that was a bonus get together. An electrician came the next day to fix the issue with the shore power, and a mechanic showed up in the afternoon to install the new prop. Yay! Unfortunately, it was too late for the yard to put us back in the water, but they promised to fit us in the following day.

Plan C. With a little help from our manufacturer’s representative we were the first boat to go into the water as soon as the yard opened. The conditions on the Bay were still good (about to change again) so we were good to go. Unfortunately, the later departure time (9am instead of 6am) meant that we would not be able to make the lock and bridge schedules required to get us to our planned destination of Coinjock, NC, so we decided to stop in Norfolk, VA, instead. This turned out to be a nice change as it allowed us to explore a marina and a great part of town we had not yet visited.

Plan D. The next day the weather forecast for the Albemarle Sound and Pamlico Sound in North Carolina looked rough, so rather than going from Norfolk, NC, to Beaufort, NC, we decided to just go as far as Coinjock. This is a very short ride that takes you through a lock and 3 bridges along what is referred to as The Ditch, the ICW (the Intracoastal Waterway). We left Norfolk in time to make the first southbound opening of the lock after the rush hour (several of the bridges do not open during rush hour so there is no point rushing there). But of course, we got stuck in front of a railroad bridge while still in Norfolk so we had to wait for the next lock opening. This got us to Coinjock by lunch time, with plenty of time to take care of the boat, catch up with the very friendly marina staff (and dogs), shop for some Coinjock Marina sun shirts in the ship store, eat at the famous Coinjock restaurant, and catch up on all the gossip and travel stories with all the other cruisers who like us had decided it was not a good day to travel the Sounds.

Plan E. As the weather conditions offshore were not favorable to being able to run fast offshore, and given the days are short in November, we decided to go from Coinjock, NC, to Beaufort, NC, rather than go outside into the ocean in Beaufort to make it to Southport, NC. We left Coinjock at sunrise and after passing all the slower boats that had left before us we caught up with our dock neighbor from Coinjock. As we had similar boats and traveled at similar speeds and were both headed to Beaufort we decided to run together for the day. I always like it as it is good to know there is at least one other boat nearby (especially when you are running 30-40 miles offshore on the ocean)! Stopping in Beaufort was nice as it is not only a very charming town, but friends of ours were also staying there so it was great to catch up with them over a lovely dinner. We were pleased to also find some other friends in the same marina as they were waiting for a weather window to head over to the Caribbean. I love how this world of people who cruise up and down the US East Coast is relatively small and we meet people again in different places.

Plan F. With a forecast for heavy winds and gale conditions, the offshore conditions were certainly way too rough to run offshore, so instead of going from Beaufort to Charleston we decided we would go to Southport on the ICW. However, looking at the weather and travel conditions on the inside (no less than 28 shoaling areas identified on the ICW between Beaufort and Southport, and with very strong wind gusts), and having chatted – before sunrise – with the captain from our new travel buddy boat who had made the same plans as us, we collectively decided it was really not worth the risk and stress of running the ICW in those conditions for relatively little progress, especially as a great 3 day weather window to run offshore was opening the next day. So, we decided to stay put in Beaufort, enjoy walking around the town, and meeting up with our friends again for brunch. The plan went back to running offshore to Charleston, but the next day.

The next day we left Beaufort at sunrise to run offshore to Charleston, SC, with our travel buddy boat. The conditions were great, a little bumpy at first, but then it smoothed out. We made good time and arrived at the Megadock in Charleston late afternoon. I always love stopping in Charleston as it is such a lovely town with great shops and restaurants, but also because we have friends who live there. As we were going to make full use of the 3-day weather window we could not stay longer than one night, but we at least got to meet up for dinner with some of our friends.

The next day we left again at sunrise for a wonderful smooth day out on the ocean, all the way to St Augustine, FL. The colors of the sky and water were absolutely magnificent, and I love to observe the different patterns in the water. We saw a few turtles and lots of dolphins. We often see dolphins, but rarely manage to get decent pictures of them. However, this time we got some really nice shots of a whole pod of dolphins playing in our wake. Such a treat! We arrived in St Augustine late afternoon and after taking care of the boat decided to go into town with the crew of our travel buddy boat to enjoy the Nights of Lights, the annual festival where the historic town center of St Augustine is decorated with millions of tiny white lights, and a tasty dinner.

The following, final day, we left early, again with our travel buddy boat who had decided to make our destination their destination too for that day, and caught the sunrise just as we were coming out of the inlet going into the ocean. It was a great smooth ride down the coast of Florida, and it is always thrilling to see the launch pads and buildings at Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center from the water. We were very happy to arrive back at our marina in Palm Beach at 3:50pm, safe and sound. Another trip safely completed!

Even though our trip this time took a little longer than planned, I am glad we made the right decisions along the way to keep our crew and boat safe.

“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.”

― Albert Einstein

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