Many of you know I went on a little “side-line” the past couple of weeks. Offered a chance to sail an older offshore Choey Lee 48 ketch from Moorhead City NC to St Thomas, and get paid to sail, I took it. The boat was a true joy to sail. She handled heavy weather beautifully, and a good thing as we had plenty. In all we experienced over four days of gale conditions with winds in the 35 – 45 knot range and seas over 20 (sometimes 30 feet) for most of it. The boat was designed by Bob Perry, had recently been re-rigged and with all new sails was well up to the task. Unfortunately no boat is perfect and she had her flaws, the first of which was the auto-helm so most of the trip was spent hand steering. Not an issue except that as an old off shore designed for a big crew, we were unable to adjust any sails from the helm…effectively making sailing a two crew job anytime the weather kicked up. Then the human factor kicked in.
Regardless of the (loooooong) South Pacific sailing stories we were regaled with, one of the crew had difficulty handling the helm when the weather got tough, lobbied often for reducing sail (even when impossible as only the single smallest sail on board was flying [huh???]), steered us through an accidental jibe during an expected and observed approaching frontal passing, couldn’t/wouldn’t get adequate rest, and really didn’t seem to understand the concept of sailboat systems or operation. A distraction for the crew to say the least…perhaps so too for the Captain with whom she shared a bunk. For those sailors out there you know about running the engine to charge battery banks, and the importance of isolating those banks when charging is done. Say it isn’t so, but yes the batteries remained combined, selector on “Both” after charging. Discovering the mistake going into our second gale still 650 miles out of St Thomas it was too late…no engine for the rest of the trip. Oh…and no power, no fridge, no electric bilge pumps, stove, running water, auto-helm, chart plotter, navigation lights, VHF, etc. With just our personal head-lamps, one rechargeable GPS (with ½ power left), one hand-held VHF and an Iridium phone (1/2 power left), now it’s exciting! Interesting how you never really know how much a boat leaks until the electric bilge pumps don’t work and you must hand pump. In our case I estimate 5-8 gallons/hr. Eventually I found and stopped all the leaks allowing the last four days of sailing without pumping….and much better sleeping I might add. In short, we put into Puerto Rico hungry and needing showers for a jump start and a nights rest, then on to St Thomas. In total 15 days at sea, some great experience, a few “notables” for my own off shore checklist, realization that big swells are not a problem when the boat sails well, and mostly the confidence that we can do this….probably do it better and safer.