The saying “When it rains, it pours” holds true time and time again. Truly, when life gives you a challenge it rarely gives you a singular event which will “teach you a lesson”. Instead, we can expect to have several events culminating in a grand finale of epic proportions.
Cue in a gorgeous, sunny, fun, Central Florida day. Lil’ Sudden is leading the charge, southbound on the intercoastal from our anchorage at Sailfish Point to the Tequesta/Jupiter Anchorage while we “brought the rear” in Saga at a leisurely 8.5 knots. Sun was shining, water was calm, wind was brisk just enough to keep the heat feeling like you’re not going to pass out from heat and humidity. Oh, and bugs were non-existent. One could say that things were JUST RIGHT. The plan has been to head out to the Blowing Rocks Preserve and spend the time there for a couple of days while we slowly work our way to West Palm Beach for some scuba and snorkeling adventure.
Queue in my first mate (pardon me, the Admiral) coming up to the bridge with a somewhat strange question “Hey, did we pass something strange because it smells like gasoline in the boat?” As a captain of a diesel vessel, many things go through your head. Did we go through a gasoline spill? Did the dinghy gas can spill over? Did someone fart? With all those questions in mind, I quickly tell my lovely wife/admiral/love of my life to watch the helm, with which she responds “But what do I do?”
So, to some of you this is not that much of a surprise. The Admiral does the Admiraling, while the Captain does the Captaining, and the two shall never cross over. We both grew up on boats, have owned boats for over a decade, big boats for the last 3+ years. I digress…
We went through a quick crash course of “the boat is driving itself on autopilot. Watch out for anything getting in front of us. If you have any doubt, just put the engines in neutral HERE and scream from the top of your lungs so I can race up to the fly bridge” As soon as the safety briefing was over and done with, I headed down to the engine room to check what might be this gasoline smell. What greeted me as a bilge floor covered with red substance and the port engine spraying stuff all over the place.
The analog fuel gauge on the engine had failed and started spraying diesel from the pressure relief valve on the face. At 70PSI, the spray was all over the port engine, the floor, and anything else you can imagine.
We shut down the engine, assessed the damage and decided that the best path forward is to continue to our journey to the anchorage on the starboard engine. Lil’ Sudden graciously backed us up and we kept going to our next destination. As we limped forward to our next anchorage, we got in touch with one of our great resources to help diagnose the issue. Charlie Smithwick from Smith & Wick Marine Diesel in North Palm Beach, Florida was able to quickly tell us that even the tiniest leak in fuel will cause the fuel pressure to drop dramatically. Only option was to plug the pressure gauge hose and remove the analog bits from the system. The engines are Cat 3196 with full ECM sensor suite and controls, so analog gauges are not truly necessary.
One would think that this is enough to cap off the day and the adventure has reached its peak, but you’d be sorely mistaken. Keep on reading our fellow mariner, much more is in store here.
As we sailed southbound down the intercoastal, we realized that Jupiter doesn’t offer many options for anchorage. With the tide going out, we decided to make a stop and anchor right across our destination. We overshot the anchorage and as we turned around, we realized that there is a sandbar trying to poke its head up out of the water. I quickly get on the radio to warn Lil’ Sudden to make sure that we are safe and clear of the obstruction. What I failed to calculate is that with one engine, going up current that is 3+ knots, and having a broadside wind from the starboard, out ability to overcome the push onto the sandbar to our port was impossible. Within seconds the bow caught the current, the wind pushed us sideways, and the rudders were unable to overcome the thrust of only having the starboard engine.
In less than 3 seconds, the boat shook, the engine shuddered, the back end kicked serious mud, and we ended up on the sandbar… yes, the same sandbar that I warned Capt. Matt to stay off of just moments before, the irony is not lost on me… trust me. I kicked the engine in reverse, just to be met with a quick shudder and the RPM dial reading ZERO. The situation was clear, we need to get off this sand bar and quick… the tide was still going out and we had nearly a foot to go until we hit the lows. Lil’ Sudden came around with a rope to help us get off the sandbar but that plan is quickly aborted because I feared that the props were dug in and we’d end up either bending the props, bending the shafts, or ripping the struts out of the boat as we tried to get us off the sand.
Plan B was quickly created, Lil’ Sudden would anchor out and then come back to assist with a rescue plan while the Saga captain assessed the situation.
As you can see from the look on my face about 3 seconds after I got into the water is that “we’re screwed”. I’m 6’2″ and the boat drafts 4ft from the factory… sooo yeah… you can do the math.
Why not have two guys try lift and move a 50,000 lbs vessel stuck on a sandbar, that is definitely going to work. OK, to our defense, we really had hope that it would work but looking back we were absolute nutcases thinking that this would work.
So the next step was to have an expert take a look and really tell us what we needed to do. He was happy to oblige with a quick snorkel dive and offered to clean the hull while he was at it as well.
Ultimately we accepted our fate that we will have to wait for the high tide to come in and for us to get off the sand bar. This fate is really hard to come to terms with though as every few minutes the bow is further up, and the starboard side is digging just a bit more in due to the current shifting the sands against the hull. luckily for us, we had the awesome crew of Lil’ Sudden making things a bit more bearable with a boat side dinner delivery.
I will be honest, with the bellies full, and great company, it was much easier to let the time pass and wait out the high tide scheduled at midnight… having a sleepless night was really not a happy thought but it was better than a few weeks at a boat yard doing repairs.
Unfortunately for us, the winds coming from the east were picking up and instead of 15 knot sustained, with 20 knot gusts, we were seeing 20-25 knot sustained winds to our stern. We quickly realized that with rising water we are being pushed further onto the sandbar by the wind. Every time we would wiggle out just a bit and start bobbing around, the wind would push us further onto the sandbar causing another serious issue. If we didn’t get off the sandbar by the high tide, we’d not be able to get off at all. With a quick Hail Mary, the next time the keel would start swaying we’d turn our engines on and we’d try to get out.
Fortunately for us it worked, and within minutes we were backing the Saga off the sandbar and into the anchorage with winds howling and the tides moving us around more than we’d like… but hey, we are doing The American Great Loop, what can be better than that? Not much to be honest!!
The next morning we looked out and saw the sandbar (to the far right) that we spent our brief stint on.
Nicely written. All is well that ends well I think. Your first of many “adventures “.