Last mile mishap

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In the category of "it's not over until its over," live aboard voyagers Ed and Sue Kelley on the cruising catamaran Angel Louise were only 25 miles from from Antigua and finishing an Atlantic crossing when they ran afoul of some floating debris. 

Here's their account of the incident. It's a great slice of voyaging life.   

Tue, Jan 13, 2015 at 3:24 AM Antigua

Good morning, if that is an appropriate greeting at 3 something AM from Antigua where Angel Louise is now anchored peacefully!

It is Tuesday local time. (I just woke up finally after being dead to the world)

When we finished closing with land yesterday we were physically exhausted and spent, and though I downloaded mail and saw nice emails after we got to Jolly Harbor, in my stuporous state I did not remember enough to get most email off… i think.

Although I described our incident in the night I will try to put it more clearly. We had a scare in the night very early Sunday in darkness though the moon was behind rain clouds above … (We were worried as at about that time forecasts called for more extreme winds and seas up to 16 feet or more! So we were heavily reefed – our two front sails on the forestay about 40% their normal size and we decided we had so much fuel that, "lets run both engines about 1800 rpm and keep up good speed thru darkness and have engines for power and more control if a squall should hit…which we were wary of, as we had many little squall showers moving thru fast from East to West, temporarily hiding the higher cloud layer)

Anyway, then in night (shortly after 1-ish am local) about 25 miles out at sea we hit a bunch of gear or something including (in retrospect) at least one yellow partly floating fuel jug and assorted tied together flotsam. It started with some type of collision below my left side hull continuing scraping for a full second as we proceeded over it at speed of 5+ knots with incredibly loud banging hard scraping noise of collision that felt like a buoy inside and underneath the left hull – though we are sure it was not –  (strapping was later observed streaming off the back as we assessed things later). . If my description is unclear, it is because it was unclear as it happened to us. We both were up in the cockpit seats and in unison uttered a loud expletive that begins in Sh..! as it occurred. Only reason we know any of the stuff we hit is because Sue bravely got a bright lithium battery powered light (guess UK would call it a torch) and crawled under the dinghy bow on the back deck and found us streaming remains of webbing, a big jerry jug and long strapping material with numerous loops in it going back behind us farther than her light would show. Afterwards it was a drag on us we could feel and could not correct for with rudder action and sails… Engine on left immediately started dying at collision with whatever this stuff was and I quickly put it in neutral and observed right engine was obstructed as its rpm had dropped dramatically too … and would not rev up properly so we put it in neutral too, the rudders failed to keep us on course down wind in the 20 knot blow despite adequate sails on the front to keep us going and we turned uncontrollably abruptly right about 90 degrees despite 283 magnetic reading of the auto pilot (AP). Sails were already partly reefed wing and wing and we started getting severe flappage <G> As waves and rocking from the east wind were now on our starboard beam we went out of control in the dark… on instruments only as rain obstructed the skyline during part of the recovery.  Both Sue and were a flurry of unreconstructed activity. I tried to get the engines back, but they were not able to turn normally in gear … While I did that Sue also checked our port engine compartment to see if the shaft had been dislodged or if water was coming in from the colliding with the objects. It had been loud and horrible vibraton afterwards but no.. all was intact. Thoughts of what the ….?  Later after rolling headsails in further to stop the noise and while trying to regain control with manual steering we found right engine alone by then could slowly muster about 1500 rpm and it was enough that although the AP failed to turn us earlier now we had some manual steering we could maneuvor (sp) back to turn the bow West again towards Antigua. A while later we ended up trial of reversing each engine for a couple of short spurts to see if that would free up anything but observed no positive results.  Discussed my putting on Wet Suit and going overbeard but rejected that as a bigger crisis than we then had.  Finally then decided we had enough control and would keep the bow on course again even if we kept sails reduced to avoid a problem with an unseen squall. We are Chicken Sailors originally from Iowa and on a catamaran you only get one knockdown before the voyage is over and done with.  We weighed whether we should call or radio Antigua in middle of night (we were still 25 miles out) and decided quickly — no.. this was not a Pan Pan situation & in any event and even if we could not figure it out now… or in morning – we joked that even if we could not get turned into a port on the South side of Antigua (which we knew we eventually could do) we could sail on to central America with all the extra Raman noodles on board for food. <smile>. So we relaxed some and decided to cut all engine power lest we hook something else.  We decided in conversation that had we not started and run the engines, the stuff might have passed under us after our striking it, instead of being sucked into the props and running gear!   Sometime later, with engines off but props obviously turning from the 3 knot speed thru the water, we figure the cutting disks we had put on at Sopromar Boat Yard in Lagos Portugal finally cut through some of whatever webbing was binding our prop shaft and props as Sue noted about a half hour after being moving west the stuff streaming from the left side of the stern was not there, and is likely out there in the water waiting for some other luckless soul to hit it… being held up by at least one yellow jerry jug attached.

We motored through the night slowly under sail, with a brighter moon later, and finally arrived just outside Falmouth Harbor as the civil twilight put lights back in the sky, and we proceeded into the harbor with both engines.  We were unable to find a suitable spot we liked to anchor and reasoned with the wind then blowing and the hour early, maybe we should proceed to Jolly Harbor, where we had originally reported to authorities we would land on January 7th.  So we motored out, put up sails and sailed just under 3 hours north in sunshine and passing showers, to check in here.  We are now anchored in sand just outside Jolly Harbor.

No plans for the week yet except meeting friends on boats. We definitely want to meet up and celebrate their – and our – happy last few months!  Life is good. All is well.


Ed and Sue – finished at 3am in between Ed trying to find little electric motor that keeps cycling on and off in our left bilge – is a small automatic 650 gallons per hour bilge pump … now why is that running??? … TBC (to be continued)

By Ocean Navigator