Escapade 19.3. No way to get there from here


Larry Caillouet

Wednesday, January 23, 2019.  Diana and I had been on Escapade in Bermuda for 13 days, and while Bermuda had a far more pleasant climate than the US was experiencing, Bermuda wasn’t where we wanted to be.  We had used the days to make several needed repairs to Escapade after our rough passage there, but the delay caused our two crew to have to fly back to their other lives, so we were looking for two more crew.  We talked to several folks back in the US who would have loved to sail down to the Caribbean with us, but couldn’t do it on such short notice. Our friend Elaine from Toronto, who had sailed with us several times before and is an excellent sailor, could come! We just needed one more for our standard four-man crew.   

An RYA instructor said he could come, but then he couldn’t.  Another ocean sailor said he could, but then he couldn’t get off work.  Then Elaine found Ian, a Bermudan friend from previous passages. He was perfect—he had significant blue water experience, was already in Bermuda, was an enjoyable guy, and could leave on Wednesday, our next weather window.  Early Wednesday morning my phone rang. Ian was seriously ill. He went to his doctor and the doctor grounded him. Now we were back to 3 crew.

Thursday.  We interviewed two local sailors who were available, but they both wanted to be paid a daily rate plus airfare.  We decided to sail with a crew of 3. We hurried to get ready to leave immediately even though we had missed our weather window on Wednesday.  Even though there was a horrible storm between Bermuda and the US east coast, there were no storms ahead of us. However, the seas would be 6-8 feet for a couple sof days and the wind would be directly on our nose for several days.  Sailboats can sail in any direction except directly into the wind or within about 30-40 degrees of either side of the wind. In other words, there was no way to get there from here.   By sailing to Bermuda we had checked into the Eagles’ Hotel California where you can check out any time you like but you can never leave.

If we decided to leave, the first few days would be slow and lumpy, but if we waited for a more favorable wind, we might get stuck for a long time.  We cleared Customs and Immigration, fueled up, and left the calm protected harbor at St. George’s and started motoring into lumpy seas, wind on the nose, as daylight began to fade.  

Setting sail just before nightfall was not my best idea.   People are usually more prone to seasickness during their first several hours on the water, and night time exacerbates the problem by making it harder to see the horizon as a point of reference.   Diana soon became very seasick again. Her days on terra firma cured the earlier seasickness but did nothing to prepare her for this new passage. We turned west to begin to return to Bermuda. West was a calmer point of sail and Diana got better, so after another debate with ourselves, we decided to press forward.

Seas were rough but manageable.  Wind was 15-20 knots, good for this boat but right on the nose.  We couldn’t sail against it. We tried motoring but made very slow progress.  At that rate it was clear that we wouldn’t have enough fuel to keep motoring for days until the wind changed.  We added the mainsail to increase stability and speed, but we had to head off our due south course in order to benefit from it.  This was the beginning of 48 hours of motor sailing.

Friday and Saturday.  Tacking upwind even with motor assist was very slow.  We gave it up and decided we could power through the waves better with full spread of sail.  Speed increased but so did heel. Escapade heeled 15-20 degrees, sometimes 25 or briefly 30.   15 degrees is no problem in a small day sailing boat, but try walking on a bouncing tilted floor.  Then try opening the refrigerator door and spotting and grabbing what you want before food starts falling out.  Or try putting it in the oven or microwave and catching it sliding out hot when you open the door. This problem occurred only on starboard tack when we were heading east, so we tried to time our meals to be on port tack sailing west.

The fridge quit cooling.  Uh-oh! Our supply of lunch meats and lasagna would soon be endangered.   And who wants to drink warm ginger ale? Maybe all the bouncing across rough seas had forced air into the sea water intake which was essential for the water cooled compressor.  I emptied the cabinet over the sea water intake, pulled up the floor boards and bled the supply line to the refrigerator pump. Success! This solved the problem and the refrigeration started working again.   Our food was safe—boat crisis averted.

We tacked several times over our first two days and were always disappointed that we had gained so little southing for all the hours spent.  Lots of east and west, not much south. After two and a half days we were only about 225 miles south of Bermuda, about one fourth of the way to the destination.   

On Sunday we encountered our next boat problem.  We decided to sail east with full main and Genoa to better position the boat for expected wind changes.  This would also smooth the ride, although it would increase the heel. Steadier and faster would be better.  We were trimming the big Genoa when boat crisis #2 happened. The block on the port Genoa car exploded with a bang like a gunshot.  It took a while for us to figure out what had happened, then we saw it. The block was split open like a smashed pumpkin, leaving the Genoa sheet flying high above the deck and pressing against the life line.  The sheet wasn’t controlling the Genoa properly and chafe would soon saw the line in two. We needed to replace this turning block but there was nothing to attach another block to but the old Genoa car, which still had the twisted broken block on it.  I used the cordless angle grinder to cut the wreckage away and shackled a spare snatch block to the car. Would it hold? Yes! Second boat crisis averted.

By Monday we had come to grips with the realization that this was not going to be a three-hour tour.  With more favorable winds or more favorable positioning 900 nautical miles would be a five day cruise, six if the winds turned light.  Our amateur mathematicians calculated the sines and cosines of our track thus far and projected landfall in 9 more days, twelve in all.  Which land wasn’t exactly clear. Maybe St. Thomas, maybe Puerto Rico, maybe Dominican Republic. Cuba?

We were enjoying our most pleasant sail thus far when with sundown approaching we noticed that the dingy, which should be securely hoisted under the dinghy davits at the stern was swinging around rather oddly.  Wearing my PFD and tether I crawled out the back of the cockpit to investigate the situation. I discovered that the wire cable that hoisted the bow end of the dinghy had snapped and the only thing holding the dinghy up was the webbing belt that ran under it.  I was able to rig up a temporary hoist with a couple of spare lines and secure the dinghy to the davits. Third boat crisis averted.

We had made a lot of easting on a long tack.  In fact we were 150 miles east of the rhumb line from Bermuda to St.  Thomas. So we decided it was time to turn back toward a southwest heading.  This fit our overall sailing plan, plus it put the boat on a port tack, heeling to starboard.  This was the most comfortable tack for cooking dinner and for sleeping.

At 4am Tuesday morning, we had sailed 135 miles on an ESE tack and a SW tack to achieve 65 miles south in 22 hours.  We had come 320 miles from Bermuda in 4.5 days. The steady east Trade Winds were still 200 miles south of us.   15 hours later we had sailed 95 more miles but made only 21 miles of southing.

Somewhere in the night boat crisis #4 occurred.  We started the engine to assist with a light wind tack.  Within a minute or two we heard a hissing sound like steam from the engine room.  We shut the engine down immediately and completed the tack the old fashioned way. The next morning I examined the engine and found orange residue of engine coolant on the starboard side of the engine.  We started the engine again and found the leak. Several turns of a screwdriver on a hose clamp solved boat crisis #4.

On Tuesday we finally found gentle seas and a bright sunny day.  We tacked back to the east again and enjoyed a picture perfect sailing day.  The wind had dropped so we opened the full main, Genoa, and staysail. I’m not sure of how a staysail’s physics work, but it seemed to allow us to point higher as well as sail at 6 knots on 8 knots of wind.   75% efficiency is good for a heavy blue water monohull.

Tuesday night was dark but not stormy.  Cloud cover moved in turning the normally crispy bright stars into soft glowing orbs.  The seas gave the boat a galloping effect. When Escapade rose up on a wave, you could feel yourself being pressed into your mattress.  When the wave dropped out, you could feel yourself slightly levitating, just before the next lunge into the mattress.  It was a lee cloth night. Heeling 15-20 degrees to port is a formula for rolling out of bed, but with your lee cloth raised into place, it was easy to snuggle up against it and sleep, knowing that Lee had your back.

By sunrise Wednesday the good breeze had faded but the seas were almost flat so we were still making 4 knots on 5 knots of wind.  Winds increased during the day, but when evening came the winds were light again. The evening watches were peaceful but required a different vigilance.  The highest priority was keeping the boat moving. The exact direction was less important. The best combination of speed and direction occurred when the wind was at 60 degrees apparent to the boat, so steering became a matter of constantly making small adjustments to keep the wind at 60 degrees.   

Diana was on watch at midnight when boat crisis #5 occurred.  Escapade had hit the wall between northerly winds and southerly winds.   The air movement in the narrow gap between northerly and southerly winds seemed wildly random.   No matter how we turned the boat or set the sails it was wrong. Part of the problem was that this was occurring at night when we had very little point of reference.   The cockpit enclosure panels were so drenched in salt spray that it was virtually impossible to see through them, so we opened them to be able to see the stars for reference points.   We tried port, we tried starboard, we tacked, we jibed, and finally the boat seemed to find a heading it liked and began to move forward. Looking back at the track the boat left on the chartplotter showed that we had changed direction 16 times in about 30 minutes.   

After so many days of fighting lumpy seas and wind directly on our nose, Thursday was the kind of ocean sailing day you dream of.  The early morning hours were gentle with 5-knot winds still moving the boat steadily forward at 4 knots.  Wind and boat speeds picked up during the day and by noon we had reached 25 degrees north latitude, the soft northern boundary of the trade winds.  Not only did speeds increase, but the wind had a pronounced shift to East Southeast allowing us to turn to 195 degrees true, the most southerly course we had been able to achieve.  Now we were racing toward our destination. This is what we came for!

Then night fell and a whole new world of beauty emerged.  Bright stars were splattered all across a dark and cloudless sky.  The boat was tending to itself and freed us to watch the sky in wonder.  The clarity was breathtaking. Orion’s Belt across our lap, Ursa Major at our shoulder, and Gemini’s twins watching us from above made us feel not so alone on the big ocean.  It had been 6 days since we had seen another ship of any kind, so our companions in the sky were comforting and beautiful neighbors. Such a starry, starry night!

Friday morning.  The wind is a sailor’s friend, but she can be such a wicked woman.  She sits down south blowing the perfect east wind while giving you nothing but wind in your face.  With an enticing smile and soft eyes she coaxes you, “Come on down here, sailor man, I’ve got just what you want.” So you fight through hell and high water to get there and just when you reach for it she laughs, tosses her hair, and pulls it away from you.  “Northeast wind? That’s what we asked for a week ago! Why are you doing this to me? What have I done for you to tease me and treat me so wickedly?”

We had been eagerly awaiting the 15 knot trade winds from the east.  They would give us our best speed and steadiest sailing, but the wind shifted so quickly from southeast to northeast we had only an hour or two to enjoy true easterlies.  But what’s wrong with a northeast wind that will blow you down the rhumb line to the Virgin Islands? How soon we forget the wind that was in our faces or no wind at all.

Saturday midnight.  It had been more than a week since we had seen another vessel of any kind—not a cargo ship, not a cruise ship, not even an airplane, and certainly not another sailboat.  Then around midnight we saw two cargo ships about 10 miles away and they had us in their crosshairs. Paulina was approaching from the west at 20 knots and E.  R. Soule was approaching from the east at 14 knots.  Our AIS told us that each was projected to pass about two miles away from us.  That’s a safe distance, but deserving of vigilant monitoring. We felt relieved when Paulina passed 2 miles behind us and E R Soule passed 2 miles in front of us.  We could relax and enjoy another beautiful starry night.     

Saturday 4am.  Can you sail too fast? Ordinarily sailing too fast is like being too rich or too good looking—no such thing.  But if you are trying to time an arrival, you might be sailing too fast. We wanted to arrive in the Pillsbury Sound between USVI and BVI in the daylight because there are many navigational hazards in this area.  Some are tiny islands, some are rocks that barely protrude above the water’s surface. Some rocks and reefs don’t quite protrude, making them the most dangerous of all, lurking just beneath the surface. Sure, these are all marked on our charts, but it is still safer to navigate them in the daylight.

Saturday was our last full day at sea and it was picture perfect.  The blue sky dome over the Atlantic was decorated with white, puffy clouds.  The wind was a steady 13 knots on the beam, driving the boat at 8 knots over long rolling waves.  Escapade heeled 10 degrees to starboard, and if a boat could purr, she would have.   We plotted a course to enter Pillsbury Sound between Jost Van Dyke to the west and Cane Garden Bay on Tortola to the east.   Then we would turn slightly to starboard and angle down to Lovango Cay. That would put us in US waters for the first time since we left the Chesapeake Bay.   US waters was important for two reasons. First, it meant that our AT&T phones would work as local phones and emails would be free. Second, it meant that we would be eligible for free towing by Towboat US since we are members of BOAT US.   

Towing?  Yes, due to the problems we had experienced with the transmission and the collections of strange sounds we had heard from the engine room, I was nervous about going into a marina anywhere and having to wonder if I could maneuver and stop the boat on command.   I had paid for this insurance, so why not use it?

Would we be able to navigate to an anchorage by Lovango in the dark and avoid the rocks that are numerous in this area?  The wind must have read our minds because when we entered the semi-protected waters of Pillsbury Sound, the wind dropped significantly and our speed decreased to 3 knots.   This slowing allowed the sun time to rise and when we reached Lovango it was already early morning. We executed a 180 degree turn into the wind and dropped anchor in about 50 feet of water.   We could relax now. We were finally at home. St. Thomas was only 3 miles away.

The American Yacht Harbor marina at Red Hook, St. Thomas wasn’t ready to receive us on Sunday morning, but we were happy to relax on the boat in 80 degree weather with soft breezes.   There were several tasks to complete on the boat after the 10-day passage, so this was a good time to do them. The marina could wait.

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Escapade 19.2. Bermuda Shorts by Larry Caillouet

While waves of ice and snow storms were sweeping across the continental United States, in Bermuda we were enjoying sunny days in the 70’s and nights in the 60’s.  It was great weather and a great place for vacationing, but our days were busy with getting the boat ready for the next leg of the voyage. We tied to the town dock in St. George’s which proved to be a really convenient location.  A grocery store and a pharmacy were a block away. A laundromat and a barber shop were a block away. Restaurants and pubs were in sight. And repair services were nearby. In fact, the Doyle Sails shop was—you guessed it—a block away.  The crew helped me remove the mainsail and hoist it off the boat onto the Doyle truck that came for it.

A machine shop was next to Doyle Sails.  We needed a new latch on the hatch above the forward head.  It had broken and every time a wave washed over the deck, gallons of sea water would push the hatch open and flood the head.  We had to bail the head out because the sump pump couldn’t keep up, and then we rigged a spider web of small lines to hold the hatch down.  It wasn’t water tight, but it reduced the flood to a splash. The machine shop made the most beautiful polished stainless steel latch for the hatch over the head.  It was a work of art, and priced accordingly.

The list of repairs had grown to an even dozen.  Some were essential, like the sail repair, and others were only highly desirable.  The refrigeration had quit working after we crossed the Gulf Stream. This was after paying a king’s ransom to a marine refrigeration company in Annapolis to have the freezer and refrigerator working perfectly for the long voyage into tropical seas.  It turns out that when they changed the refrigerant in the system they did not replace the high pressure valve with one for the new refrigerant and when the boat got to warmer waters, the pressure increased and cut off the refrigeration. The correct valve solved the problem.  Other repairs were marked off as various technicians came to the boat or as we walked to the hardware store (two blocks) for hooks, screws, etc.

The town dock is adjacent to the town square, a popular place for strolling, eating, socializing, and taking photos.  It is also the place where the historic dunking machine is located. At noon on Saturday the town crier announced that a woman had been convicted of being a gossip and a nag.  With much ceremony and repartee between the woman and the town crier, a crew bystanders was assembled to administer the dunking. I had wandered down to see what the commotion was about and was pressed into the dunking crew.  After the woman was seated in the dunking chair, we rolled her out over the water, and after a final obstinate refusal to repent, we dunked her! When she came up shouting protestations and insults, the town crier instructed us to dunk her again, so we did!  If I counted correctly, it took seven dunkings to reform the woman’s character. She left the square a sober, repentant, and thoroughly soaked woman.  

History is ever-present in Bermuda.  It is the oldest continuously inhabited English settlement in the Western Hemisphere.  Ancient light houses and forts warned, welcomed, and defended the island, but now serve mostly as tourist attractions.  The dockyards at the southern end of the archipelago that is linked together by bridges into the “island” of Bermuda served the British navy for almost two hundred years in the 18th to 20th centuries, but now are filled with interesting shops and recently hosted the America’s Cup.  The oldest English speaking church in the New World in continuous operation is St. Peter’s Anglican Church in St.  George’s, founded in 1614. We went there on Sunday and found a small congregation served by a priest with a decidedly Tennessean accent.   

Although there are many fine churches in Bermuda, the one that all tourists go to see is known simply as “the Unfinished Church.”  Construction was started in 1874 on a Gothic styled cruciform cathedral to seat 650. Funds were sent to complete the church, but a fire had destroyed the main cathedral in Hamilton, Bermuda’s capital, so the funds were diverted there.  Hurricanes and other storms have battered the church since that time and as of now, there are no plans to finish the Unfinished Church, making it one more historical tourist attraction.

Bermuda is old, but not out of touch with what is happening today.  The town square and every restaurant has WiFi and the restaurants on the narrow streets of St. George’s all seem to be sports bars with flat panel televisions.  We treated ourselves to dinner at the White Horse Pub on the evening of the NFL conference championship games. The meal was excellent. It was also long, due to the big television in plain sight from our strategically chosen table.  Diana and Elaine gave up and went back to the boat long before I did.

Kentucky doesn’t have a monopoly on cave attractions.  We were surprised to learn that Bermuda, which is of volcanic origin, has its own Crystal Caves.  Diana and Elaine toured the caves one afternoon while I was working on the boat and

said that while they are much smaller than Kentucky’s famous cave system, they are beautiful.   

The town of St. George’s where we docked and lived for almost two weeks is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The island of Bermuda is relatively small, but is so filled with historical and modern attractions it is a worthy destination for a vacation.  But what we admired and liked best were Bermuda’s people. They were highly skilled, well educated, friendly, and polite. All tourist destinations don’t welcome their tourists, but Bermudans make theirs feel right at home.

Escapade 19.1. Dark and stormy nights

I had been dreaming of sailing the South Pacific since I was a teenager watching “James A. Michener’s Adventures in Paradise starring Gardner McCay as Captain Adam Troy” on television.  I can still remember the sound of the announcer’s voice and the opening scene of a big schooner cutting through the black-and-white waves.  And now, after all these years, it was going to happen. We had spent years cultivating our ocean sailing skills and months planning the details of this voyage.  We recognized the inadequacy of our skills, particularly my mechanical skills, but if we waited until we were fully adequate, we would be too old to go. I had recruited and selected some outstanding crew members to give us a crew of four for each segment of the voyage.  I selected people whose skills complemented and filled in the gaps in my own, and whose interviews demonstrated that they were folks we could enjoy being in close quarters with for weeks at a time.

We planned to leave on November 1 from Hampton, Virginia with a group of sailors called the Salty Dawgs.  We had sailed to the British Virgin Islands with them in 2016 and 2017 and back to Newport, Rhode Island with them in 2017.  But we got hit with a monkey wrench. The mechanic whom I hired to put the engine in ready-to-cross-oceans condition convinced me that the oil cooler really needed to be changed.  It had corrosion on it and if it rusted through and let engine oil mix with salt water, the engine would be dead. That’s bad news if you are at home, but catastrophic news if you are in a really out-of-the-way place, so I had him to order an oil cooler.  We discovered that there were none in the USA that would fit Escapade’s Perkins M-90 4.236 engine so it had to be ordered from Europe. It didn’t arrive in time for the November departure. In fact, it arrived and was installed in December. Escapade spent the holidays at a dock on Mill Creek, Annapolis.  

This caused us to lose one crew member who was going to crew for us in November, but a crew who was going to sail with us later volunteered to crew on this passage also.  Diana and I and the two crew met on the boat in Annapolis on January 1 and set sail on January 3. We had sailed only 2 or 3 miles when we concluded that the autopilot wasn’t working.  The autopilot, whom many sailors name “Otto” is like a fifth crew member, or maybe a fifth and sixth. You just absolutely do not want to leave home without it. Hand steering across hundreds of miles of featureless ocean waters is very tedious in good weather.  In bad weather, don’t even think about it. So we turned back to the dock and called our mechanic. He put us in touch with a Raymarine dealer who came to the boat to analyze the problem. The good news was that he isolated the problem to the computer “brain” of the autopilot system.  The bad news was that it couldn’t be repaired. The good news was that he had one in stock. He installed it the following morning and we set sail.  

The cruise down the Chesapeake was uneventful and we reached the mouth of the bay a few hours ahead of the deadline that the professional weather router gave us for entering the ocean.  It felt good to know that we had gotten a small jump on the weather window. Storms sweep across the North Atlantic frequently in the winter, so timing is all-important for navigating a sailboat across the ocean.

Ocean navigating is like a quarterback throwing a football to a player who isn’t where he is going to be when the ball arrives where it is going to be.  The ball (the boat) travels at a different speed than the receiver (the weather) and follows a different route. The quarterback has to calculate both trajectories and anticipate all potential interferences that could affect either.  The ocean navigator uses the best data he has about boat speeds and weather patterns to anticipate what the weather is going to be at the location where he hopes to be when that forecast weather develops. Woody Hayes, the irascible coach of the Ohio State University football team, said he didn’t like to pass the ball because three things can happen and two of them are bad.  The quarterback’s pass can be caught, dropped, or intercepted. The navigator’s odds are no better–he can sail the boat into fair winds, doldrums, or storms.

For the next 16 hours after leaving the Chesapeake we sailed in a southeasterly direction which roughly paralleled the coasts of Virginia and North Carolina.  We were 20 miles offshore from the notorious Cape Hatteras by 5 am the next day and left land behind. We entered the Gulf Stream around 8 am and were expecting rough seas, but they were remarkably well-behaved.  It took about 14 hours to cross it and during this time the seas began to build into the rough weather that we normally expect in crossing the Gulf Stream. Southbound wind over north bound current creates a nasty confused sea.

We were approximately 140 miles ESE of Cape Lookout and 200 miles ENE of Cape Fear when we exited the Gulf Stream.  We expected milder weather but instead the weather continued to deteriorate. Diana was thoroughly seasick by this time.   

By Tuesday morning it was obvious that this was going to be a peanut butter day.  Cooking was out of the question and assembling sandwiches with things that don’t stick to the bread was not such a good idea either.  Winds were in the mid-20’s with gusts to 35 knots and the sea state was increasing. We were sailing mostly eastward, but that’s not bad.  We think of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands being far south of us, but they are far east of us as well. It is important to get far enough to the east or south east before turning south on the trade winds.  By evening we had furled the big genoa and were sailing on the staysail and a reefed main. We deployed a running backstay to stabilize the mast from the pull of the staysail and a preventer on the boom to avoid an accidental jibe.  In heavy wind an accidental jibe could take down the rig.    

Wednesday morning brought more of the same—high winds, big seas, and peanut butter.  We were making 8 knots to the southeast on reduced sails, but the ride was “challenging.”  Winds continued to increase into the mid to upper 30’s and seas were 15-25 feet. We were remarkably dry and

comfortable inside the cockpit enclosure, but when waves washed over the foredeck they would surge all the way to the top of the bimini.  Looking through the dodger window was like looking through the glass door on a front-loading washing machine. The boat was handling the weather well, but Diana wasn’t.  She continued to be quite seasick to the point of being incapacitated. The report from the weather router indicated no prospect of the weather easing up for the next 200-300 miles to the east or to the south.    Puerto Rico, our destination, was to the south, but there was no assurance that the storm wouldn’t continue spreading southward. To the east was Bermuda, a port of refuge. The boat had developed a few problems along the way, including loss of refrigeration and a rip in one panel of the mainsail.  It all added up to a decision to divert to Bermuda. Around 4 pm we jibed to the northeast and headed for that reef-fringed dot of land in the mid-Atlantic.  

Unlike a road trip where the highways stay firmly in place to make route planning reliably predictable, route planning on the seas is more ambiguous.  The report from the weather router said we could expect the wind to clock around to the north or northeast, so we set our course north of Bermuda in anticipation of that wind shift, the wind shift that never occurred.   When it became apparent that our course was going to miss Bermuda to the north, or perhaps flirt with the deadly field of submerged rock and coral that extends far to the west of Bermuda, we changed course again to come under the south end of Bermuda and up the safe east side to the entrance at St. George’s.  This course required that we either jibe onto a port tack, or sail by the lee for several hours through the night. Maybe we were just too tired or too lazy to go through all that would be required to jibe in high winds, but we decided that the normally taboo practice of sailing by the lee was the better choice.  Well, after all, we had a preventer line on the boom, so if we kept the wind above 150 degrees, it seemed safe enough to me. By doing this we cheated our way around the south end of Bermuda and as morning dawned we were sailing comfortably in the lee of the island. St. David’s Lighthouse, the icon which marks the end of the Newport-Bermuda Race, marked the end of our race from Annapolis.  We turned into the calm waters of the Town Cut and headed for the dock at the Customs and Immigration office.

ALERTA: 2019 Memberships and liability releases!!

ATTENTION : I just mailed out 2019 Renewals and a Liability Release for members to sign and return with 2019 Dues. We need the release on file as our new insurance company is requiring it.. Please check the renewal application and update your information as needed .. Thanks! If you don’t get this in the mail in the next week, let me know and I’ll send out another.. If you lose these forms they are always on this website under “Club Forms” .. Thanks!

Two Days in November

by Larry Caillouet

It was a sunny day in early November, 2015, when my phone rang. “Are you available to crew for me from North Carolina to the Caribbean?” I had just retired from Western Kentucky University, so I was pretty much available for anything. “When do you plan to depart?” I asked. “Can you fly to Beaufort tomorrow?” I was certainly caught off guard by the immediacy of the request, but I was quite interested in the opportunity. Diana and I had recently purchased an Oyster 55 with plans to make ocean passages like this next year when the boat’s equipment had been upgraded, so a passage from the east coast of the US to the Caribbean on a similar boat would be excellent experience. I could imagine all the practical things I could learn from this passage that we would soon be making on our own boat. “Well, I’m available but I’ll have to check on airline schedules. Let me check and I’ll let you know.”

I don’t usually get calls like this, but I had talked with the caller, Robert Jacobson, earlier in the year when he was moving his boat from Newport, Rhode Island, down to the Chesapeake or further down the coast. He had a beautiful Hylas 54, almost a clone of our Oyster, but he was a bit indefinite about exact dates of departure and the intended destination so we never worked out a plan to sail together. This November passage was a little indefinite regarding destination, maybe St. Martin, maybe another island in that area of the Caribbean, but I knew all these islands and it made no difference to me.

I was expecting flights on such short notice to be either unavailable or very expensive, but I found a flight from Nashville, TN, to New Bern, NC, for a reasonable price. I booked it and accepted the invitation. Robert explained where his boat was located in a tiny marina between Morehead City and Beaufort. This was about 40 miles from the airport, but Robert told me that it would be easy to get a taxi in the airport. I packed my sea bag, booked a shuttle to the Nashville airport, and flew out the next afternoon.

I had never been to the Morehead City-Beaufort area and didn’t understand how many little marinas and private docks lined the inlets in this area, so finding Robert’s boat turned out to be a challenge. It was dark by the time we arrived in the area, but the Uber driver was patient and helpful. We made several stops before finding the right dock, but a hundred dollars later I was looking at a gorgeous red hulled Hylas named Alcyone. Robert welcomed me aboard and asked if I had eaten supper. I hadn’t so he showed me where everything was stored in the galley and said I could eat whatever I wanted while he went into town. “Town? Do you have a car here?” I asked. “Yes, I’m going to spend the night with a friend before we leave tomorrow.” This raised Red Flag #1: He had hustled me down here on a moment’s notice and had a car, but let me pay for an expensive taxi to the poorly described location of his boat. That didn’t sit too well with me, but I didn’t want to get an adversarial relationship started as soon as I arrived. So I made a sandwich while he gathered up a few things to go into town.

“Which cabin is mine?” I asked him before he left. Clearly the owner’s cabin aft would be his, but which of the two forward cabins would be mine? The other crew wasn’t on the boat at that moment but I assumed that he or they had already chosen a cabin and stored gear in it. “You can have either cabin you want. My other crew cancelled at the last minute.” Whoa! Red Flag #2: Robert hadn’t told me that this was going to be a double handed passage for 1200-1400 miles. I came here at the last minute so I must be the replacement for that crew, which means that Robert knew when he invited me that it would just be the two of us, but he hadn’t mentioned that little fact to me. I hadn’t bargained for a double-handed ocean passage,but maybe it would be a good learning opportunity. On the one hand,it would require learning and adjusting to a different watch schedule than the 3-hour rotations I had used before. This might be valuable for a future passage on my own boat. On the other hand, it would be physically demanding for 8 to 10 days at sea. And it was unethical for Robert to conceal that information from me until after I had arrived. It was already night time and I wasn’t going anywhere before the next day, so I didn’t voice my complaint. I could sleep on it and decide in the morning whether to do the passage or bailout.

In the morning I was reading and sending emails when Robert called me. He was going to stop at West Marine and then would come to the boat. We wouldn’t set sail immediately, he told me, because he wanted to haul the boat and have it surveyed. “Surveyed?” I asked him. “Yes, for insurance.” That didn’t make a lot of sense to me. Did he just now discover that he didn’t have insurance or would need a survey to get insurance? And why did I have to hurry down here if he was going to have the boat hauled? And who would own a half-million dollar yacht without having it insured?

I was still doing emails when I heard a knock on the hull of the boat. “Robert, is that you?” I called out. “No, it’s not Robert.” So I set my laptop aside and went up topsides to see who it was. Imagine my shock to see five men in uniform standing there with guns! I quickly surveyed the scene and saw that a large white power boat had pulled up behind the Hylas effectively blocking its exit. Then the questions started:

Who are you?”they asked me. I gave them my name.

Is Robert Jacobson on the boat?” “No.”

Is anyone else below?” “No.”

Are there any weapons below?” “I don’t know. I just got here! I haven’t searched the boat.”

The men came aboard and after taking my cell phone, two of them searched the boat. Satisfied that Jacobson was not on the boat, they came back to me.

When will Jacobson be back on the boat?” “When you knocked I thought you were him. I’m expecting him at any time.”

How do you know Jacobson?” “I don’t really know him.”

What are you doing on this boat?” OK, that’s a reasonable question, I thought, but I knew this was going to be hard to explain. This is hard enough to explain to sailors, but these guys, two FBI and three North Carolina Marine Patrol, are going to have a hard time understanding why anyone would get aboard a boat of someone they don’t know to leave the country and sail across the ocean.

I began to explain that there is a service which matches boat captains who need crew with sailors who are willing to crew on the boats for the experience of the passage. I had been in touch with Robert earlier in the year about crewing for him, and he had called me again about crewing on this passage. So I had had some interaction with him, but I didn’t know him. I just knew that he had a high quality blue water boat, and I was willing to contribute my time and work in exchange for the experience.

The men asked me a couple more times about when Jacobson would get back to the boat and I had given the same answer as before, that I expected him at any minute. Then the fun really began! Jacobson pulled into the parking lot and was walking toward the boat when he noticed the men with guns standing at his boat. The men with guns noticed Jacobson noticing them, and they took off chasing him on foot. He made it back to his SUV just before they caught up to him with guns drawn, and spun gravel in his getaway. The two FBI jumped into their black Suburban and raced after him. The other three sat down with me on the boat and explained what was happening.

It was not a drug bust as I had assumed. Jacobson was wanted in California for a few million dollars’ worth of mortgage fraud. The FBI had been tracking him for about two years and had caught up to him now. With that explanation, everything began to make sense. Jacobson had probably bought the boat with embezzled cash. That’s why he didn’t need to have insurance to get a loan for the boat. He needed insurance now either to protect his “investment” or because he was planning to scuttle the boat to convert its value back into cash! That startling thought made me wonder what he planned to do with me. Set me off on an island? Worse? There were no bullets fired that day, but I had certainly dodged one. The FBI had been business-like and professional with me. If defrauded home buyers had found me on Jacobson’s boat they might have taken action first and asked questions later. If the Coast Guard had intercepted us in international waters the explanations would be much more difficult. And the ambiguous end-game might have been worse.

The FBI returned to the boat without Jacobson. He had gotten away. They explained that they didn’t want to endanger local people with a high speed chase, but they were confident that they would catch him. And in the meantime they had his boat, his means of leaving the country with no record of his departure. They asked me to write a statement of all that I knew about Jacobson and my experience with him, which I did. “Is there any need for me to hang around here any longer?” I asked. “No. In fact, if you will show us how to start the boat, we are going to impound it in Wilmington.” I showed them how to start the boat and gathered up my gear, which I hadn’t really unpacked. Being thoroughly professional, and not really knowing if I was just a chump who was nearly shanghaied or a clever accomplice to the attempted getaway, they searched my sea bag in case it was full of cash instead of sailing gear. Finding no cash, they were satisfied that I was just a chump.

I booked a return ticket to Nashville and for a ride back to the airport I called the same taxi who had brought me to the boat. The conversation on the ride to the airport was considerably more animated than the first ride to the boat was.

And Jacobson? Now doing 6.5 years in prison for mortgage fraud.

POYC Christmas Party!

Shiver me timbers! Yaaarrrrr! It’s that time o’ year again, we’ll
keel-haul ye! Time t’ put on yer most festive Corsair garb and celebrate
th’ Christmas season. th’ party will be Dec. 8 at th’ Episcopal Church
1215 State Street Bowlin’ Green, KY. Festivities begin will be 6:00 till
10:00. Brin’ an appetizer t’ feed about 10 pirates. Club will provide grog
and ale. Cost be $10 per Corsair t’ cover cost o’ thee hall. Dress be
Christmas casual. RSVP t’ assure we have enough grog or ya’ll walk the
plank!