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Tony, should we get out on deck?
By Tony DiStefano, the Beep
The last thing you want to hear at 2:30am is should we abandon the boat? But those were the words that greeted me. But let’s back up a little and get the full flavor of the trip.
For the last three years at Christmas I have my holiday sail from St. Petersburg Florida. Alone or with company I take the 37 Irwin to someplace for a holiday adventure that sets my mood for the New Year. This year my friends from Arizona Annette & Bob joined me for a trip that was to include Key West for Christmas then the Dry Tortugas then back to St. Petersburg just after New Year. That was the plan but with a sail boat the wind makes the plans. After provisioning the ship and doing a few repairs we left the dock on Saturday the 20th under south west wind. Not good to get to the Keys but with a late leave we chose to anchor at the Manatee River for the night and catch the North West winds that were due the next day. Anchor set we planned the next day and went to bed early.
At midnight I woke to high winds so I let out an additional 20 feet of rode and went back to sleep only to wake at 6am to 25 knot winds and chop in the lovely bay we were in. The winds were from the NW but gusting to 30 knots and there was a small craft advisory in the Gulf with 4 to 6 foot seas. Calm seas do not make a good sailor but when on vacation why fight the wind and sea, so we stayed at anchor and enjoyed our books and music and did a little fishing.
The next morning the wind was out the NW but at 5 knots so off we went to the Keys. Well I should say at about 3.5 knots per hour. 9 hours later we had covered about 35 miles and it was getting late, we chose not to sail but anchor again. A check of the charts and Sarasota was the place to go but the entrance to the intercostals had shoaled and there was only 5 feet of water and we draw 5.5. So it was back 10 miles to Long Boat Key. What a great area, the bridge operator told us the correct channel to take and where to be careful and led us to a lovely anchorage tucked in a cove that was clam and so restful with a great sun se and sun rise.
In the morning we took stock of our supplies and we realized we had eaten more than we should so back to the dock to spend Christmas and stocking up. After a great day and night walking around St. Pete it’s off again in the morning with a SW wind we chose to go north. First to DeSoto Beach , one of the best in Florida then up the coast to see the Don Caesar from the water then back to the north channel for the night. It being 5pm we need an anchorage fast so we followed the intercostals to the Pass a Grill area and saw a bunch of sail boats anchored, so we joined. Our chart did not show this area well but the depth sounder showed 11.5 feet and we anchored behind the last boat for the night.
I awoke at 2:20 am feeling something wrong, then it happened the boat went over on it starboard side and continued to do so for abut 10 minutes till it stopped. I was now standing on the starboard porthole of the v-berth not the deck. Bob called from the aft cabin and asked should we get out on the deck and we did. It was dark but I could see that the keel of the boat was out of the water and the starboard side was in the water. We had been blown on a sand bar and as the tide went out the boat fell over. As light came we noticed the water in the cabin, at first I thought we were holed but it was the result of the sink with a direct outlet to the sea, the fix was simple we put the sink stopper in and the flow was stopped. Then I realized we had just put 180 gallons of water in the tanks and there was no plug just a plastic bag closing the filler hole. At this moment the bilge pumps came on and a mighty stream of water came out. My new worry was that the engine was wet and would not start. But it was cold and we lay on ports to the salon naming the items as they fell from the port to starboard side. The pumps got a lot of the water out but the water not in the center of the bilge could not be pumped and with the pumps on battery we did not know how long they would work. We went back into the boat and got the manual bilge pump handle just in case.
As it got lighter Bob went overboard to check for damage but there was none and he said we only have to swim about 10 feet across the channel to land should we abandon the boat he asked. At 8:00an I made a captains decision and called Tow Boat US to have us pulled off. It was 8:30am, 6 hours out in the night for the three of us before they arrived and did the wonderful job they do. It took two pulls, one each way to get us off, and the engine started and we were free again, tired and cold. We put things back in order in the salon and the two cabins, made a pot of tea, and headed out to the gulf. The plan was to get back to port to take on water (only 20 gallons left) then head out again but the wind was from the North and we were doing 7 to 7.5 knots so once again it was off to the Keys, we could get water anywhere. Three hours later the wind stopped it was back to port under motor. At the dock we did a complete inspection of the boat filled the tanks, batteries and dried out the wood that was wet.
Then off the next morning to Manatee River for a two night stay and dink exploring of the parks. We returned to port New Years Eve and enjoyed St. Pete’s first night party in the parks complete with fireworks. Then it was clean the boat and head home. All systems on the boat worked great and the best part of the trip was of course sharing my Holiday Adventure with friends.
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