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near Stuart. The noise never sounded like the engine; possibly I had hooked a fishing line and heard a sinker or lure tapping against the hull. A swim confirmed the shaft was now clear, and no noise was heard on long test runs. With nothing evident to fix, we decided on a final test and would go if successful. We were influenced by a tight schedule. I only had a week with my crew and needed to deliver them to a return airplane at Marsh Harbor, Abaco, in five days. I would later wrestle with the tight schedule. Test run normal, we went. Our St. Lucie exit was routine, and the forecast looked fine for a crossing; moderate SW winds and four-foot seas with 10-second intervals. It sounded like easy rollers with winds from a great direction. The conditions we encountered were easterly 18-knot winds and higher gusts directly on the nose, and a confused mess of steep four-foot breaking waves from all directions. I hoped that the wind direction was a sea breeze and the confused sea would improve farther offshore. It was uncomfortable and slow going, but not dangerous. We pressed on. Although 30 years old, Rhombus has always been a great-running boat. On this trip, I was harassed by a litany of uncharacteristic and frustrating equipment failures, including my RPM gage, main and standby depth sounders, house water supply pump, running and steaming lights, laptop navigation computer, and even my TV! While the RPM gage remained intermittent, everything except the TV was eventually coaxed back into operation. With all the failures and the slight engine uncertainty, I was more than a little uneasy and a “what next” mentality prevailed. Later, in the dead of night and well offshore, my chartplotter would fail, or so I thought.

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The Bahamas Crossing: We headed slightly north of east to my first waypoint at White Sands Ridge on the northwestern edge of the Little Bahama Bank. Once on the bank, I would head for Great Sale Cay and then on to some leisurely cruising in the protected Sea of Abaco. Expecting a SW wind, I was disappointed with the continued east wind, rough seas, and dismal progress. Matt and I alternated two hour watches throughout the night as we crept east. I relieved Matt at 0200 in the charted center of the Gulf Stream, 28 NM from the waypoint. I was struck by how little progress we had made in the preceding two hours. The boat’s icon on my chart-plotter displayed a due north and 90 degree aspect from our course line. I expected deviation to the north, but, I should at least see a diagonal boat direction angling left of our target. Additionally, after several minutes, the distance to the waypoint didn’t change. A new moon dark with steep and confused seas, there was no sensation of turning. Unable to alter the picture on my chart-plotter, I came to believe that I had lost steerage control. A check of the steering quadrant was normal. Unconvinced, I donned security gear and descended into pitching seas to check for a rudder. It was there. Tired and confused, I climbed back aboard to assess our options. The boat’s chartplotter icon still pointed due north and we hadn’t closed on our waypoint. Well behind schedule, we could continue creeping east or turn north toward home. Tough call. The Bahamas was 28 miles east and our nearest reachable U.S. port was Cape Canaveral, 75 miles north. Still suspicious that my chartplotter wasn’t working properly, I reverted to paper charts and parallel rulers to plot a magnetic course. Using the compass to navigate, its light went out and a little later, my new flashlight used as a substitute, quit too! Bermuda triangle? Tight schedule, travel delays, minimal progress to destination, chart-plotter and engine uncertainty. What was the camel’s final straw? I think it was the flashlight! I turned north! Home and Reflection: By daylight, everything that happened was clear. The chartplotter’s operation now looked normal. My earlier expectation of a northeastern travel indication hadn’t occurred because of the boat’s minimal speed east. My steering corrections were to starboard toward my waypoint, more at odds with the Gulf Stream with even slower boat speed. Also, my chart plotter was set at a very small scale setting. Rhombus would have to travel a substantial distance before the boat’s icon would show displacement from the intended course line. None of the boat’s other problems re-occurred. With the engine purring like a kitten, we battled the elements at seven knots for another ten hours, arriving at the Cape the next day. It was a rambunctious Gulf Stream sail, and although we were all very tired, it was really pretty nice! Disappointed? Sure. Made the wrong call? Probably. Mistakes? Several. Took the safe option? I thought so. Cruise again on a tight schedule? Not a chance. Try again next year? Absolutely!!! Capt. Fred Braman, USN (ret), is a frequent contributor to Southwinds Magazine.

(If you hate your boat, we aren’t interested — you must at least like it)

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December 2017

SOUTHWINDS

www.southwindsmagazine.com

Southwinds December 2017  

A free, printed sailing magazine reporting on sailing in the southeast U.S: Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Missi...

Southwinds December 2017  

A free, printed sailing magazine reporting on sailing in the southeast U.S: Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Missi...