Don and Renae Shore had flown down from Minnesota to joint us in Florida for a weeks cruise, and learn the gentle art of sailing, or so they thought. It was only going to be a quick jaunt up or down the ICW, whichever way the wind blew, on Britannia, with a possible excursion out into the ocean if things went well. It was also a trial run for the boat, to test all the extensive modifications and fittings I had installed over the past year. One of these was a complete remodeling of the chart table and moving the main electrical distribution panel, with which I confess I had got into a bit of a fix, having transferred the panel to another place and rewired the whole board.
The Shores had never been on a sailboat before, at least one that moved, and they wanted the experience, as it could ever be in a week on the ICW, to see if they liked sailboats, with a view of possibly buying one eventually.
After they had stowed their gear I showed them how to flush the electric toilets, and not to drop anything down it that they had not eaten first. I showed them how to operate the shower, etc. with words of caution about leaving lights and running water on. Due to their inexperience I insisted they wear life jackets, even as they walked about the deck in the marina. It is just as easy to trip and fall overboard there as under way, and I would much sooner fish somebody out in a marina, than from a swaying boat. I then started them off on deck with re-fitting the three roller furling sails, jib, fore staysail and ‘tweenmast staysail. The roller furling mainsail and fore course squaresail were already snug in their respective tubes. After this I showed them how to coil a rope and heave it ashore, tie a few knots and bend a line to a cleat—all very simple stuff to sailors, but complete mysteries to newbie’s.
The next day, after topping up with water, the engine was started and I began to back Britannia out of the slip, but after only about ten feet we got stuck on the bottom. We were in th semi-tidal barge canal near Cape Canaveral, Florida, and been there for some time. The combination of over a ton of additional water in the tanks and shifting mud had caused the grounding. I tried to drag her through with the engine but just caused clouds of black exhaust smoke and mud. Finally, we had to call the marina manager to give us a tow with his 150 hp tender. This dragged us over the bank and into deeper water, but not a very auspicious start you might think. That was nothing, more was to follow.
Half a mile down the narrow canal towards the ICW the engine oil pressure gauge dropped to zero and I immediately cut the engine. My wife jumped behind the wheel as I rushed forward to ready the anchor, which was stuck under the adjacent anchor fluke, and I hurt my hand freeing it. As Britannia slowed I let go thirty feet and she swung to a shuddering halt. I then lifted the floorboards and checked the engine oil, which was okay. I suspected electrical trouble and disconnected the oil sender, cleaned the connection and restarted the engine. Bingo, 50 Lbs of oil pressure! Strange, it never happened in the slip…
We got moving again and I switched on the depth gauge—nothing! Having a working depth gauge is quite important in the shallow intracoastal waterway. It's almost impossible not to run aground with one, but driving blind more of less assures it. I hoped the sender on the outside of the hull had become clogged by dragging her though the mud, and it might clear on its own.
The wind was east to south east, 15 knots, so I decided we would go north, and I set a jib. It was interesting to see complete novices handling the sheets, (what's a sheet?), through the blocks and trying to wind them round the self tailing winches. Things we take for granted took some learning by the rooky crew.
Don unwound the jib and suddenly found out how much load there can be on a relatively small sail when it's pulling hard, and why I had insisted he wear gloves. “That’s how it pulls 22 tons of boat along,” quoth I. Cameras immediately appeared, as though we were under full sail at nine knots, instead of motor sailing at about three. I say about three knots because the log wasn't working either was it? The log was a diddly little paddle wheel thing, and I supposed it too had become clogged up by all the mud kicked up at the start. I hoped it would clear itself, but it never worked at all during the whole trip. We had to rely on my wifes I-phone, which had an app giving speed over the ground by GPS, and probably more accurate than the ships log anyway.
We sailed under a fixed bridge, then had to roll the jib back in to transit a bascule bridge which opened to my radio request. This delighted our guests who said it was a change to be on the other side, instead of waiting in their cars.
Over a particularly straight stretch I decided to give our guests the feel for real sailing, and I pressed the stop button for the engine—nothing! It has a solenoid actuated lever to cut the engine, so I had to scramble into the engine, again, and pull the lever by hand. There were a couple of startled glances as the engine stopped and all went quiet. I have seen this before, and it’s something about pure sailing which can disconcert landlubbers, that a whopping great boat can actually move along without an engine. I’ve been asked questions like, “How do you stop it?” and “What if the engine doesn’t start again?”
Just for good measure I decided to fly our ‘tweenmast staysail, which my crew set about with a little more enthusiasm and knowledge this time. It was a bit more complicated because the Leeward running backstay had to be let go first. Eventually the sail billowed forth, to more camera clicks. This was about all I thought prudent as the wind was picking up, gusting at about 20 knots. Using these roller furling, loose footed sails soon convinced Don that they were worth all the loss in sail power attributed to them, simply for ease of short handed sailing. All Britannia’s sails are roller furled, including the large fore course squaresail half way up the foremast, and controlled from the cockpit.
We sailed past NASA’s vehicle assembly building, where the space shuttles were built, and within sight of Pad 39b where they were launched. More camera clicks.
We then decided to pick up a buoy for the night in the City of Titusville mooring field. The crew hooked the mooring line successfully and set a bridle and we celebrated their first successful “voyage” with champagne. We had sailed the magnificent distance of twenty miles. Our guests thought it was about a hundred.
In the morning we had a leisurely breakfast, slipped the moor and sallied forth in a northerly direction once again. The twisty intracoastal made it impractical to set sails, until we passed through the canal into the large Mosquito Lagoon passage, which is almost dead straight north to New Smyrna Beach. Here I had them pull out the mainsail as well as the jib and ‘tweenmast staysail, and we sailed majestically for about 15 miles, even though some of the narrower sections, with houses both sides of the fairway. People waved and shouted “fabulous boat,” and words to that effect. I felt very proud.
We arrived at New Smyrna Beach just after lunch, still with no gauge to measure depth in the anchorage. I then presented Don with my “lead line,” and led him to the bow. As my wife steered very slowly into the anchorage Don swung the lead and counted the knots disappearing under the surface. When we were in two fathoms I let go fifty feet of chain and let Britannia ift astern. At this point I showed Don how I attached our second anchor to the chain and heaved that over as well. We then ran out another fifty feet, to be well and truly moored for the night. I told him it was my practice to never, ever, lie to one anchor at night, and my system has never failed.
Even as the sun set it was very hot below decks, so I decided to start the generator to run our twin AC units. It fired first time, then after a few minutes it stopped. I suspected another clog-up of mud in the filter or lines, so I tried to unscrew the plastic filter bowl, which wouldn’t budge. Don said, “let me have a go,” and put so much leverage on the filter it snapped the 1”inch sea-cock clean off the through-hull, with an associated gush of water as long as your arm! Don got a face full of water and a soaking, but had the presence of mind to press his hand over the hole and partly stop the water, which had already started the bilge pump. I rummaged though my wooden plugs box and found a suitable size, which Don shoved into the through-hull and stopped the influx. A few taps with a hammer and the emergency was over, but it left me with a dry mouth. My wife put the kettle on, while we wedged a length of wood over the plug, to stop it popping out. We never touched it again until we were back in the marina. It was actually the first time, in forty plus years of boating, that I have ever used these special tapered wooden plugs, but I didn't tell our guests that. I was just glad to have the plugs handy, “Happens all the time,” says I. I made a mental note to fasten a plug on every sea-cock when we got back, which would have saved precious minutes.
Luckily Don has had a wealth of experience with diesel engines, and I was pleased to find he didn't mind getting his hand dirty either. We re-routed the generator inlet pipe to another sea-cock and the genny started again, then stopped once more. Clearly, it was not only a clogged filter or pipe. We diagnosed a faulty electric fuel pump, so I had to go ashore to find one in a auto supply store somewhere, since I knew the pump was the same as used on cars.
There was a lot of dinghy traffic in the anchorage, so I hailed one who looked like he might be heading ashore, and he offered me a lift. Not only that, but he ran me to the nearby Discount Auto car parts store in his car, where I bought a fuel pump for $56. After doing his own shopping my good Samaritan took me back to Britannia, then with a wave continued to his own boat. Our guests were surprised to learn that it was probably easier to thumb a lift on the water than on land, and boating people tend to help each other more readily.
Don and I installed the new pump and the generator ran continuously, enabling the AC to be on until the air cooled for the night. I have to admit I did get up a couple of times in the night to inspect the sea-cock, but all seemed well.
With the wind easterly and on shore, blowing 20 to 25 knots, with four foot seas outside, I decided it would be prudent not to venture out into the ocean through the nearby Ponce inlet with a wooden plugged boat and guests who had never been to sea before. That really would be tempting fate, the plug to vibrate loose and two sea-sick passengers who thought they would die. They seemed relieved to hear it. We stayed another day at anchor, enjoying the passing boats and the nautical scene in general, then we set off south for home.
The wind had shifted south easterly, so we could only set a tight jib as we motor sailed back the way we had come. This time, though an horrendous rain storm, which was thankfully short, but gave our guests an opportunity to test their new foul weather gear. Half way home the engine water temperature gauge failed, and I had to throttle back a bit for fear of overheating. I concluded we had another electrical fault, but kept an eye on the motor just in case.
We arrived back at our berth late in the evening and I fully expected to get stuck in the same mud, like when we left. As I edged Britannia into her berth she bottomed, but a quick burst on our trusty “Perky” Perkins 4-236 pushed her through. I attributed this to having used up a good load of the water we had taken on, amounting to a slight reduction in draft.
Later the forward toilet refused to flush and I diagnosed a faulty circuit board. My reasoning for buying two electric toilets the same was now born out , because I carried a spare circuit board to both toilets, and I got it working again.
Don and Renae said they were delighted with their first experience of yachting, notwithstanding that things had not gone so swimmingly. It had given them an insight into all the things which can go wrong on a complicated cruising boat, and for which they needed to be prepared. They said it had not put them off their dream one bit. My wife and I just looked at each other and shrugged. Some people advertise sundown cruises, perhaps we could advertise “breakdown cruises” in future.
After seeing Don and Renae off to the airport in an Uber, my wife and I stayed on board for the night Then, unbelievable as it may sound, during the night our aft cabin AC broke down, and was later diagnosed as a faulty compressor and burned out relay. Boats, who’d ‘av ‘em?
The electrical problems were due to bad connections and grounds on the gauges and senders. Which I hasten to add! I never touched in my re-wiring of the boat.
The engine solenoid just needed oiling, after which it has worked flawlessly, so far.
I repaired the broken sea-cock without even lifting the boat, using a nifty British product called a Sea-stopper. This is a rubber mushroom shaped device which, when inserted down a skin fitting, opens out with the pressure of water and seals the through-hull fitting, enabling repairs to be effected. Still, there is now a wooden tapered plug attached to all sea-cocks.
I withdrew the log impeller and found it completely clogged with mud and barnacles. I don't really like these little impeller type logs, but after cleaning it works fine.
The depth gauge is still not working properly, but this might be due to the depth under the keel being only about 12” in our berth.
I have to buy a new spare circuit board for the toilet, from Raritan Engineering for $165
The AC unit was eight years old and not worth trying to repair. I bought a new 16,000 BTU unit for $1850 and installed it. This does not bode well for the forward unit thought.
How a shakedown cruise turned into a breakdown cruise.