More lessons learned

In April 2008 I took two old friends out with me on one of the same J-24's that we rode before.  In between sails I stayed busy learning all about boats and cruising by reading everything I could get my hands on.  I had a lot more confidence, had learned a bunch about sailing theory, and had all of the lessons learned from the previous sail firmly printed in my head.   I picked a beautiful Saturday to leave, and made sure the weather was going to cooperate.   Luckily enough, the entire day ended up with light but fun winds, and all the sun we could handle. We left the harbor with little fuss.   We had a problem with the outboard, but the marina took care of it without us having to stress.   We left at around 11:00 am and the winds were very very light, but they filled the sails nonetheless.  We started off going north on the Intercoastal towards the Guana river. This was the same area where we hit the storm in the last sail, but this time the ride up was pretty uneventful.   I taught the lads all of the basics they needed to be useful on the boat as we sailed up the river.

One of the guys was on the tiller soon after we left and I went down below to take care of some things.   A few minutes later he yelled to me in the cabin to come up and check something out.   He asked if we were heading the right way and I told him yeah, but to stay between the markings so we don't run aground. "woops" he says.   My stomach immediately sank.

I came up and noticed we were about a hundred yards west of the west marker.  What this means is that we are waaaay off of the channel and are in very shallow waters.  I could see a big sand bar to the right and to our left was the shore.   He was just cruising along the shore but after a while the markers move towards the middle of the waterway indicating shallow water.   After looking around, it seemed as if the sand bar to our right would end and the deep water would intersect us up ahead.   So we hoped that we could sail our way through and find a way to the deep water.  Just to be sure, we turned on the motor.

A few tense moments passed and we slowly moved towards the deep water.   The channel we were in was getting more and more narrow as the shore and the sandbar to our right started to close in together.  I had faith (blind faith) that we could make it.   A few moments later..."SMACK"!   The keel shoved into the ground and we came to a grinding halt. It was a sound of agony and embarrassment.   "Great" I thought, "Only a half hour out and we have to call a tow boat".   I was embarrassed and mad, but it was my fault for not teaching the crew how to navigate.   Lesson learned and I will probably never do that again.

I tried to remember what to do if we ran aground. Luckily it was just a sand bottom, so damage would be minimal, if any.   We tried to turn the boat around on the keel to loosen it up using the motor.   We were able to turn the boat, but it seemed that it just drilled the keel deeper into the sand.   I checked the tide tables to see if the situation was worse than it was.   If the tide was going out, we would be screwed because the water would be getting shallower.   If the tide was coming in, we could wait it out and hopefully the water would lift us up.   The chart said the tide was coming in but it was already near high, so not much help was coming.   I went back to the tiller to try to wiggle us out again with high power on the motor.  Just as I was doing this the wake of a large boat came towards us and lifted us off the ground. WOOHOO!! we all screamed and jumped for joy.   I havent felt that much relief since braving the storm last sail.

We turned the boat around and I tracked us out the same way we came in.   We were very nervous and were waiting to run aground again, but after a half hour of nervy sailing we made it out of the shallows and back to the deep water.   Crisis averted again, and a lot of lessons were learned.  The rest of the day was spent sailing smoothly with light but fun winds.   he guys had a blast, and I had two more friends who were down for sailing.

The only other event happened as we were coming into the marina at the end of the day. We were motoring in the marina entrance which is surrounded by tall pylons which mark very shallow water to either side of the entrance.   The tide was falling out and there was a lot of current in the entrance.   Our motor was pushing us just fine and we didn't think twice about anything going wrong.  As we were in the middle of the pylons (there were 4 on each side I think), the engine stopped. It hit me immediately that the motor had been burning a lot of gas today due to the grounding and some light airs, we must have run out at the WORST possible moment.   It wouldnt have been too bad except for the fact that the current was pulling us directly into the pylons and we would either hit them or run aground in about 20 seconds.

In probably one of the least clumsy, smooth and extraordinary moves I have ever pulled; I whipped the gas cap off, grabbed the gas tank from one of the guys, filled it up a few chugs, closed the cap, cranked her on and cranked her high to get us moving.   All of that took under 15 seconds or so, I sh*t you not.   My heart was racing and about to explode, but the addrenaline rush made me get the job done.   One of the guys was on the bow ready to use his hands and body to cushion the blow against the pylon we were approaching, but the motor got us out of there with about 3 feet to spare.  Needless to say, that was close....waaaaay too close for comfort.  But we made it and we made it safe.  It was embarrassing for sure, a few deck hands on the big millionaire boats saw us almost eat it on the pylons.

Docking and unloading was uneventful, and drinks were had once we got home.   The day was a great sail overall except for the two misshaps. But I learned some things and am glad I made those mistakes in relatively safe and familiar waters, on a crappy boat that could take the beating.

Lessons learned:

1. make sure anyone on the tiller knows how to navigate 2. make sure the gas tank is full when you know you need it.

Here are some pictures from the sail: