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It’s been a long time coming but, after almost a year, tons of repairs, and a few motoring runs, we finally got to raise the sails on No Tan Lines (“Tanny”)! We’d been waiting for just the right weather window before the rainy season starts and this was the day when it finally arrived. Richard was scheduled to train a new employee on this particular day and he later told me how SO VERY HAPPY he was to be spared from the stress and mayhem we endured!
It was a beautiful morning. Just a few clouds, a cool breeze, and hardly any boats on the bay at all. Just before backing Tanny out of the slip, we bumped the box on the dock housing our utility connections. My fault. Oops. Just a slight ding. If only I’d known that was a sign of things to come…
We backed her out of the slip, rounded the basin, and entered Tampa Bay. We then turned south, towards the Skyway Bridge. After the main, mizzen, and jib were raised, we cut the engine. There was a nice morning breeze for a few minutes but then it petered out and we were only moving at about 1 knot. It was starting to warm up and we were passing around the bottled water and sunscreen. Capt. Brian Whiddon rolled up the jib, and set the staysail, which has a boom attached so we could more easily tack and jibe. It was very relaxing and we saw large schools of fish and even two dolphins!
It was so quiet and tranquil…until the VHF crackled to life.
The Coast Guard started making frequent announcements about a vessel in distress. Some poor guy in a 22-foot blue and white boat was taking on water “10 to 15 miles” from one of the islands. They were asking anyone in the area to be on the lookout, and to offer assistance if possible. As the alerts continued, it was clear nobody had found him yet. We weren’t anywhere near that area so we couldn’t assist. But, the frequent requests for help were unnerving as we worried about him.
When we got closer to the Skyway, after passing the land mass, our quiet ride ended. The wind picked up with impressive speed and we were suddenly flying across the water with the boat heeled over and spray splashing our warm cheeks. We were having a blast! At one point, we heard a large crash below. A drawer in the hallway had flown out, spilling hardware everywhere. I quickly cleaned it up.
We had to tack to avoid a slow-moving tanker that was crossing directly in front of us. Once it was out of the way, we proceeded under the bridge.
Another tanker was heading our way and I was at the helm. I had no intention of playing chicken with that big guy. However, I had to head more into the wind to avoid him and our speed slowed a bit. I guess the tanker captain grew a little concerned so he hailed us on the VHF, asking how we planned to pass him. He was very nice, and probably just wanted to make sure we could see him. (How could we NOT see him?!)
Brian told him we planned to pass well off to his port side. After we safely passed him, I let Max and Mason take a turn at the wheel so they could sail in the Gulf of Mexico, too. They loved it! It was such a beautiful day!!
We sailed about a mile into the gulf but it was already mid-afternoon so we turned around to head back. The wind was still kickin’ us along quite nicely and, once we were back under the Skyway, it continued. After we got into the dead zone again (which was no longer dead as the wind had picked up everywhere), Capt. Brian adjusted the sails so we wouldn’t heel as much. Heeling is more fun and I LOVE to go fast but it’s not good to put stress on the rigging if you don’t need to. Still, I’d very much enjoyed the exciting ride! I admit I pouted a bit about the excitement ending but Brian reminded me, “You want this boat to last another 20 to 30 years, right?” I nodded and, while were still moving along at about 5 knots, I stared longingly at the Lev-o-gage, which showed we were only heeling at 1 degree.
Things would not be boring for long, however. Brian took the helm and I sat back, watching the cormorants diving for their dinner, and the occasional pelican flying nearby. I pulled out my phone and sent Richard an update, telling him our location and estimated time of arrival, and I also sent him several pictures I’d taken of the boys and the boat.
I had just clicked send…and that’s when I heard the bilge pump dumping water. No big deal. I hear it a few times a day, every day. When we’re at the dock, it turns on about once every two or three hours to dump the water the air conditioners produce, or when the sump pump overflows.
I knew the air conditioners weren’t running and nobody had turned on a sink or shower to fill the sump. Then, the bilge pumps kicked on again. Then they stopped. About five seconds later, they started again. And, it wasn’t a lazy dump of just a little water from the air conditioners, which I was used to hearing. It was a big dump. They turned back off. And, about five seconds later, turned back on.
And, that’s when it hit me. WE WERE TAKING ON WATER!
I didn’t want to alarm the boys. I tried to remain outwardly calm but my words came out in a high-pitched squeak as I mentioned the bilge pumps to Brian. I took the helm and he casually walked below. I heard him pulling up the floor board in the galley.
I plastered on a fake smile for the boys while my mind raced. ‘Okay, breathe, Angie. Taking on water. Have dinghy. Have outboard. Have Epirb. In Tampa Bay. Easy to find…not like that poor guy they were looking for this morning. We’ll be fine, right? Keep breathing, Angie. Wait…bilge pumps are working. But, how long will the batteries last when they’re running non-stop? We have an emergency pump but what if the generator stops working?‘
A million words were flying through my head. I knew we weren’t going to die but I didn’t want to lose the boat and ALL of our belongings. ‘Can we get her close enough to land to run her aground? Is that even a good idea? Aarrrgghhh!!! Why haven’t I read more sailing books?! Angie, you have GOT to start budgeting your time better! Can Sea Tow get to us before the batteries give out???‘
It had been maybe 90 seconds since Brian went below. I heard the bilge pumps dumping again. Then, I saw Brian race past the companionway opening, from the galley to the nav station. My stomach tightened. He then silently darted by again, back toward the galley. The bilge pumps made another dump. Bile started rising in my throat.
I heard the bilge pumps dump yet again. I was counting in my head, waiting for the next dump. Three-one-thousand… Four-one-thousand… Five-one-thousand… I turned my head and strained my eardrums. No spurting. No splashing. Nothing. Whatever was wrong, Brian had fixed it!
The bile settled back down in my gut and I sat down behind the wheel, remembering that I was supposed to stay on course while in a full-blown yet silent panic. That’s not easy.
Brian casually climbed back into the cockpit. I didn’t mention the sweat on his brow. Still not wanting to alarm the boys, I smiled, and said, “Seacock problem, eh?”
Looking out at the horizon, he shook his head no, and said, “We’re fine.”
I asked, “What was it?”
He turned, looked at me, and sternly whispered, “We’re FINE.”
I knew he didn’t want to scare the boys with the truth. It must have been something bad. Very bad.
A few minutes later, the boys went downstairs for a snack and Brian leaned over to tell me a hose had come loose, and was filling the bilge. He had no idea how long the bilge pumps had been running because we couldn’t hear them when we were in high winds and rough seas. He’d managed to plug it with a cylindrical cork he pulled from the emergency bag but he didn’t know if the hose was going to the engine, or the generator, or somewhere else. No generator means dying batteries. No engine means we’re stuck out there, hoping we can sail to more shallow water, and anchor while we wait for help…all the while hoping we don’t start taking on water again.
Now that the boys were down below, blissfully unaware of our predicament, Brian wanted to see if we had outflow from the engine and generator. I fired up the engine but we were heeling and the exhaust opening was under the waterline, so Brian couldn’t see if water was coming out. We had to turn around so the boat would heel to the other side. Gurgle gurgle spurt. Thank GOD! It wasn’t a hose going to the engine. Brian then tested the generator. It wasn’t that, either. We’d have to wait until we got back to the marina to see what caused the problem. For now, we tried to relax, hoping the plug in the hose would hold.
I was tempted to send Richard another update but I didn’t want to give him a hear attack so I decided that probably wasn’t a good idea.
Taking down the main sail later was another adventure involving a lot of sail flapping, deafening clanging from the rigging, and hollering back and forth. The main didn’t want to come all the way down and one of the lines got stuck. We may have suffered some mild hearing loss from those few moments. The evening wind had picked up and Brian had to climb part way up the mast to fix the problem while Tanny pitched to and fro. He managed to get it down and things once again got quiet.
It was getting dark and we were still pretty far from the marina. Worse, the wind was blowing directly out of the northwest (the direction we needed to go) so we’d have to tack back and forth in order to get home. And, each time we thought we’d gone far enough north to avoid heading directly into the wind to get home, the wind would shift again. All the while, that hose was on our minds. We wanted to get home. And fast.
So, we sat in the cockpit, watching the sun set and the city lights coming on in the distant buildings.
We tacked to port, sailed awhile, then tacked to starboard, then back to port, then back to starboard. We weren’t going to make it home until around 10 p.m., if we were lucky. If we got home AT ALL. As the sky grew dark, I tried to relax while listening to my heart pound in my eardrums, and silently talking to myself once again. ‘Come on, Angie. Chill OUT!! I mean, seriously, what else could POSSIBLY go wrong?!‘
READ PART II RIGHT HERE!
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Angela Hoy is a publisher, a blogger, and the author of 19 books. She lived on dirt her entire life before her family gave away almost everything they owned, and moved onto a 52-foot Irwin Center Cockpit Ketch. They all live, work, and play on board full-time.
Angela is the publisher of WritersWeekly.com, a free source of paying markets for freelance writers and photographers. If you want to write for magazines, websites, businesses, or others, check it out. It’s free! Her publishing services company, BookLocker.com, has published more than 9,000 books over the past 18 years. If you want to publish a book, she’d love to hear from you! Abuzz Press is BookLocker’s hybrid publishing company. And, PubPreppers.com offers services to authors who are having their books published elsewhere.