Voyage of Traveler / Blog

October 25, 2009

Traveler Postcard, More From Morocco

Hi, Everyone,

Brian and I went out surfing yesterday here in Rabat at the river jetties that forms the harbor entrance, with the centuries old Kasbah fortress on the bluff.  The waves were up from a big storm in the north Atlantic, and we joined about a dozen local surfers by having some fun with some 6 to 8 foot waves.  Brian was on our surfboard and I was just body surfing.  It reminded us of our time body boarding at Teahupoo in Tahiti, which was the last time we caught waves together.

While these waves in Morocco were fun for us, they were a disaster for “Summer Wind”, a Jeanneau 45 from the UK just a couple of hours earlier as they tried to enter the harbor.  They waited just outside the jetties to observe the wave pattern, and when they thought it was safe they powered in at full speed between sets.  They didn’t make it.  Four huge waves hit them as they were in the shallow part of the harbor entrance.  They were able to ride the first three waves, but the fourth wave, about ten feet high, broke behind them. They tried their best to keep their boat straight in the soupy white water.  But the wave quickly filed their cockpit, flooded the open companionway hatch and poured down below, and washed about four feet high over the deck, tearing off their bimini.  Then the force of the wave caused the boat to broach to port.  Being sideways on a breaking wave caused the boat to capsize, and all four of the people on board were thrown overboard.  Thankfully, they all had their PFD inflatable life jackets on which, they told me, without a doubt saved their lives. The boat managed to right itself, and thankfully the engine stalled, because when they broached it was in gear with full throttle.  Had the engine not stalled, after righting itself it would have powered into the breakwater with no one left on board to steer her and been crushed by the rocks and waves.  This model Jeanneau has a swim step, and eventually all four of the crew were able to get back on board, but it took about 20 minutes for them to do so as wave after wave kept breaking on them in the channel.  They swam to the boat, fighting a strong rip current.  After several minutes, they were able to get the boat’s engine re-started, but in the meantime she bumped the rock jetty a few times, causing minor hull damage.  All electronics (chart plotter and radar, VHF and SSB radios, cameras, cell phones, TV), along with all clothes, bedding, charts, books, and food were drenched with the sea water that flooded the cabin. But all crew survived, and they managed to save the boat, bail it out and limp into the marina, where they are docked across from Traveler. Lessons learned: (1) always wear your life jacket, and (2) if the conditions are dangerous, better to wait, if possible.  Hind sight is always 20-20, and obviously they would have been better off staying a safe distance off the harbor entrance until the waves diminished and the conditions to enter the harbor were safe. They entered the harbor at low tide, when the channel is only about ten feet deep over the sand bar.  At high tide, about five hours later, the channel was about 16 feet deep over the bar, which made enough of a difference.  The waves were still rolling in between the jetties at high tide, but were not breaking.

This gave me time to reflect on close calls we have had this voyage on Traveler.  I counted five.

The first was on passage from Hawaii to Tahiti.  With wave after wave breaking over our bow, I noticed the bow was low in the water.  The waves had filled the anchor locker and it was not draining, I discovered, because when I had the boat painted six months earlier in NB the painter, not realizing the purpose or significance of the drains at the bottom of the anchor locker, just painted over them. By turning the boat down wind, the waves were no longer breaking over the bow and I bailed out the locker with a small bucket.  I managed to reach down to the twin drains and un-clog them by poking a coat hanger through the paint.  Lesson learned, check to make sure your drains are not plugged before going to sea.

Nearly a year later, while motoring across the calm waters of a lagoon of a horseshoe-shaped island in Fiji, we bumped a reef.  We were trying to make an anchorage as the sun was setting, with about a half mile to go.  The boat went from 5 knots to a dead stop with a horrendous noise as our hull crunched coral. (Or was it coral crunching our hull?) We quickly found that there were no leaks and then we just backed off the reef and anchored there for the night. The chart plotter had an error (known as a chart offset), and we were actually about 200 hundred yards south of where we thought we were, as shown on the screen.  Lesson learned: (1) do not try to find an anchorage in unfamiliar water at or near sunset when visibility is poor, and (2) do not assume your chart plotter is always accurate.

This past May, in the northern Red Sea while motoring into 30 knots of headwinds with steep waves breaking over the bow, I noticed the bow was very low in the water.  I went below to see if we were taking on water, and yes we were, lots of it.  The forward v-berth was awash with the floor boards floating knee deep and the sea water was pouring in.  But from where, and how to stop it?  We were close to sinking, and it all happened in just a couple of minutes. I had to stop the incoming water quickly or we were going down.  The cowl vent to the anchor locker had a plastic bag over it with a cable tie, but a wave ripped that off allowing water to pour into the anchor locker.  A $2 cotton work glove that I use to handle crusty mooring lines had fallen off its hook and plugged the drain.  Once the anchor locker was full, water spilled over the top of the bulkhead and quickly filled the forward deck locker, located immediately aft of the anchor locker.  And once that locker filled, it caused the bow to go under and the sea water spilled over the top of the bulkhead from the deck locker to the forward V-berth.  I turned the boat around to run with the wind so the waves stopped breaking over the bow.  Now the bilge pumps could go to work with no new water coming on board.  It still took about 20 minutes to get 95% of the water out of the boat, and two days to get the boat dry again, and another three days to dry out the mattresses in the V-berth.  One misplaced $2 work glove nearly sank Traveler.  Lesson learned: (1) keep nothing in the anchor locker that can plug the drain, and (2) find a more bullet-proof way to keep water from going down the cowl vent on the hatch to the anchor locker.

In June, while at the island of Aegina in Greece, just after anchoring, we noticed the bilge pump was on.  Why?  We opened the engine room hatch and saw that water was gushing in from the packing gland where the propeller shaft goes through the hull.  We tried to stop the incoming stream of water, but the leak just got worse.  The problem was beyond our ability to repair ourselves.  With the bilge pump able to keep up and Barbara on board, I went ashore at 11pm on a Sunday night to find a mechanic.  Within a half hour, I persuaded a mechanic to leave his bar stool and come out to the boat.  He was able to stop the leak temporarily, but said the boat had to be hauled to fix it properly, which we did early the next morning.  Had this leak started when we were ashore, the automatic electric bilge pump would have soon drained the batteries and stopped working, and Traveler would have sank.  I understand a leaky propeller shaft is the number one cause of yachts sinking.

And then in July, while in Kotor, Montenegro, just after raising the anchor to depart, we noticed the bilge pump came on.  Why?  Where is the leak coming from this time?  We opened the engine hatch and saw that a hose clamp had broken, and the water was flooding in at a faster rate than the bilge pump could handle.  The flow of water stopped when we turned off the engine.  We managed to replace the hose clamp, and we were on our way again.

We also lost the steering three times this voyage, which could have been disasterous if we were near shore–twice on the Transpac Race and once between Bali and Singapore.  Each time we were well out to sea and able to fix it while under way.  Last month, in Barcelona at the North Wind Yard, we made improvements to the steering system so, hopefully, that should problem not happen again.

Were we lucky, or unlucky?  Depends on how you look at it.  These close calls are all a part of cruising and, in talking with other yachties, also fairly typical.  And a good reason to carry both a life raft and insurance.

Livin’ the Dream,

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