I had not one but three crew for the next leg of this year’s homecoming odyssey: my brother Peter, an engineer (see photo up top), and two engineer buddies of his, Steve and Greg. They didn’t know much about sailing, so to help them feel useful and appreciated I staged a mechanical emergency within moments of our departure from the Morehead City Yacht Basin last Wednesday. This is not too difficult: all you need do is forget to open your engine’s intake valve.
I was surprised at how long it took my engine to start overheating. As soon as the alarm went off, I dope-slapped myself and opened the valve, but still the needle on the temperature gauge kept climbing higher. I realized the raw-water pump’s impeller must have self-destructed and immediately anchored the boat and shut down the engine. Fortunately, we were still inside the harbor, in relatively shallow water, just off the Coast Guard station.
The raw-water pump on my Nanni diesel engine is fairly easy to get at, but the front of the pump, perversely, faces aft. Removing the cover plate and changing the impeller was thus challenging enough to keep my crew interested. They also enjoyed removing an awkwardly positioned hose so as to chase down the many missing impeller blades.
Destroyed impeller (left) and its replacement
The missing bits
It was a good thing we got the engine running again, as we certainly needed it. We were able to sail a few hours at a time here and there–broad reaches mostly and dead-downwind wing-and-wing sets in the prevailing southwest wind–but we had to do a fair bit of propeller spinning to get where we were going. My team of engineers, who do a lot of work on large Navy vessels, were impressed nonetheless. Never have I sailed with such an appreciative crew!
From left to right: Peter, Steve, and Greg basking in the silence of sail-power
Greg enjoys an al fresco bath
Steve and Greg inspect a passing container ship
On the dock in Cape May, New Jersey, after 55 hours underway from Morehead City. Most of that, just over 41 hours, was spent motoring, which cost us just under 38 gallons of diesel fuel
We arrived at Cape May Friday night after dark, a process that fascinated the crew, and the next morning, as planned, I put them all ashore. I’d originally intended to immediately set out again on my own, but by now ugly rumors of an impending gale had been confirmed by weather forecasters. Best to stay put, I thought, and so spent the afternoon wandering around the town.
Cape May is renowned for its gingerbready Victorian architecture, as seen in this modest home
Summer cottages on stilts along the harbor basin
There were large dead horseshoe crabs drifting around everywhere. I have no idea why
The obligatory downtown pedestrian shopping mall on Washington Street
Can you guess what country we’re in???
The gale came the next morning, courtesy of a low that had quickly formed and deepened along a cold front trailing off Cape Hatteras. The sort of thing you expect to see along the East Coast in the late fall and winter, but not in early June. Serious wind: a steady 35 knots from the northeast, with long sustained gusts over 40. I heard later one crew in the anchorage reported seeing a gust to over 50.
I spent hours hunkered down in the doghouse, eyeing the scene nervously, then finally told myself to chill out and settled down in the saloon with my laptop, hoping to get some work done. Soon I heard the anxious blat of an airhorn somewhere outside. I instantly sensed this was intended as an alarm and rushed on deck to find my dinghy had flipped upside down in the wind behind the boat. The outboard engine was fully submerged, its fuel tank floating alongside, tethered tenuously by its fuel hose, while the dinghy’s oars drifted rapidly downwind.
A young Canadian fellow, Matthew, from the boat Harfang II anchored next door, who had seen my dinghy flip and sounded his horn, was instantly on the scene in his tender. He collected my oars and fuel tank, then helped me right my dinghy and get the outboard off it. We stood together for a few minutes under Lunacy’s hard dodger–discussing the weather, of course–when suddenly we noticed Lunacy was dragging her anchor.
Thank God Matthew was there. The dinghy was by now upside down again, creating all sorts of weird drag as I tried to maneuver the boat. With the engine running full out I only barely managed to keep off the rocks while Matthew worked the windlass to recover the anchor. We managed to reanchor, but soon were dragging again. Another fire drill then as we again struggled to recover the anchor while keeping control of Lunacy. By now it was blowing 40, with driving rain. Finally I shouted at Matthew to cast the dinghy loose. This made all the difference, and soon we were anchored again, on about 160 feet of chain rode (in 13 feet of water), and this time, fortunately, stayed put.
Meanwhile, another helpful Canadian, Yves, from a Jeanneau named Dream Factory anchored just downwind of me, shot out in his dinghy to capture mine. Matthew soon returned to his boat, and I took the outboard down below to give it a thorough fresh-water rinse in the shower.
The gale continued to roar into the night, but by morning the wind had diminished and the sky was bright. Yves, who had kept my dinghy tied up to his transom all night, came over to return it. Later Matthew stopped by again, and together we got my outboard running. He had toured the harbor earlier in the morning and found there were other casualties: a large catamaran that had dragged on its mooring, and a small Catalina that had been driven up on the beach.
Coast Guard recruits drilling on shore the day after the gale
Matthew from Harfang II, a Grampian 30. He and his wife and two girls have been cruising the East Coast and the Bahamas since last year
The resurrected outboard
Beached Catalina. It has a swing keel under it that is buried in the sand
Lunacy at anchor with Harfang II in the background. That’s Matthew’s elder daughter at the masthead, working to replace a missing Windex
From the small-world department: this German-flagged Bestevaer, Ariel, which was at Fernandina Beach in Florida while I was there, also rode out the gale at anchor at Cape May. I think she may have dragged anchor too, as she shifted position and reanchored not long after I did
I finally started moving again the following morning, on Tuesday. By now I was way behind schedule, with commitments at home later in the week, so I resolved to make the short 30-mile hop up to Cape May and leave Lunacy there for a while. My old friend Ariel, sailed by an as yet unidentified singlehander, headed out just before I did. I slipped out the inlet with my mainsail already raised and found her just outside, with her mainsail climbing up her mast.
A moderate breeze was blowing from the southwest. Ideal conditions for an informal race.
Another wing-and-wing set
Ariel eats my wake. By the time we reached Atlantic City she was three miles behind me (in all fairness, her high-cut yankee jib does look a good bit smaller than my full-size genoa)
A brief rain squall, then a rainbow, after tying up in Atlantic City
Lunacy at rest in front of the Golden Nugget hotel and casino
In the words of Douglas MacArthur: I shall return. And next time I’m not getting off the damn boat until she is floating in home waters.