I sure hope we don’t get a bill from the Coast Guard! And let me tell you the thought that loved ones back home were aware that our boats Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon or EPIRB had gone off sickened us. “Send out a spot” Jim said wanting to let his wife Sylvia know that we were in fact ok. With that I activated my Spot personal tracking device.
It was about 10:30 am Tuesday morning, the fourth day of a Pascagoula Mississippi to Corpus Christi Texas crossing. We had been stopped dead in the water using a maneuver called heaving to since just after midnight. The previous day was spent beating as close to directly into the 20 plus miles per hour wind as the boat would allow when I decided that I had enough and felt it was time to stop and situate the boat where the crew could get some rest.
For the prior 24 hours or so we were trapped in a world of banging and clanking as if we were on a non-stop roller coaster ride with an elementary school drum band practicing in the seat behind us. Wham, bang, clank, boom, wham, bang, clank, boom was the noise as cabinet doors, cast iron pans and other debris moved in unison with the seas. The engine room doors were propped closed with a large tackle box on the starboard side and cutting boards on the port, making moving to the aft cabin or the kitchen an occupational hazard. As far as the kitchen was concerned this mattered little because we would soon find out that the refrigeration had stopped working and was engine room warm. Included in the debris on the salon floor were the heavy salon table and its post that were ripped from the floor, piles of clothing and the microwave oven. The boat was in shambles not to mention that all of this made trying to get some sleep impossible. This is when the decision was made to stop the boat to get some sleep.
The next morning as we sat in the cockpit of the Irwin 38 sloop, finally rested, we were wondering if a cold front we had been expecting had already passed without fanfare. The winds had started to come from the northwest and there was a considerable drop in temperature. Just as we were feeling that we could perhaps start sailing again Ed Portis pointed to the North and said, “There is the cold front.” A wall of dense precipitation stretched across the gulf as far as the eye could see but before what was about to hit us sunk in we were slammed with horizontal gale force winds. We powered up the boat and ran hard into the storm. The enclosure was not installed and the crew was being beat by blowing rain and copious amounts of water as the bow would plunge into a wave and seawater would splash, first up, then whoosh horizontally through the cockpit.
“Jim am I doing alright or would you do something different” I called out seeking Jim’s reassurance as I powered into the seas. “You are doing just fine, it won’t last too much longer” was Jims response. It did seem to last for a while but eventually once the winds calmed somewhat we were able to turn around and run with the storm. Running with the storm with a deeply reefed mainsail still sheeted tight amidships we were effectively running under bare poles and doing 9 plus knots. At least we were now able to put some mile back into the bank that we lost crabbing along while hove to and then driving into the north winds.
After a little while the winds laid down to around 25 to 30 knots and life on board had just started to settle down when a Coast Guard jet buzzed our boat. “Do you have any EPIRBS on board” the jet asked us on the VHF. “Are you in distress?” “Where are you headed?” After confirming the ID numbers on both EPIRB’S we were told that one of the devices had gone off, alerting the Coast Guard that we were in trouble. The EPIRB was a spare that belonged to Jim that we had packed into our ARC ditch bag secured on a stern lifeline. After getting it out and looking at it, it showed no signs of going off. No flashing strobe or audible signal it looked just like it did when we packed it. After assuring the Coast Guard that we were ok they wished us a safe voyage and were on their way.
What was going through the minds of our wives back home? The thought sickened us and that is when Jim asked that I send out a Spot message to let everyone back home know we were ok. I am thankful that Jims wife Sylvia did not call my wife when she was contacted by Coast Guard Officers investigating the signal from the EPIRB registered to her husband. She saved the other wives from worry and again I am thankful.
All said and told the trip went well. We stayed in safety fairways when needed and got weather forecast from a hand held Grundig HF radio. This allowed us to plan for the cold front. Just a few days before the front hit Ed Radtke the owner of the boat and I were able to swim in a dead calm sea. So calm the main sail was still up and the boat did not move.
It was a pleasure to sail with friends from Bay Yacht Club Jim Whitworth and Ed Portis and I think we all got along good. Ed Radtke, whose boat we were delivering to Texas, is a novice at sailing and boat ownership and I was impressed with how he did not let his sea sickness get the best of him and was able to maintain his watch. So often people who have never been to sea down play all of the warning that experienced sailors give and this was the case with Ed but it was nice to see him humbled by the show of force Mother Nature beset upon his boat. Having a respect for the wrath of Mother Nature is a part of being a good off shore sailor, and there is no doubt in my mind that is what Ed will become.
As for me there is always a lesson to be learned. First is the reassurance that some of the habits I have developed while making crossings with others, if followed, work well. But the biggest lesson was that I need to stick to a policy that I follow when sailing alone, that is not to go into port at night. Even with all of the local knowledge Jim, Ed P., and I had of Aransas Pass and the assurances from everyone that we were prepared to pass through the Jetties at night it was a disaster and without doubt the most dangerous thing we did on the trip. Our electronic navigational equipment on board was marginal and an encounter with a tug pulling a barge that would not talk to us on the VHF put all of our safety in question. There was no need to take this risk when we could have hove to 15 miles off shore and waited for sunlight.