June 24th, 2017

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Saturday June 24. A new chapter.

Saturday, June 24th, 2017

I am sad, embarrassed, but grateful that I am alive and excited as to what God’s plan is for the new chapter.

Another shipwreck. “Fleetwood” grounded near Mink Island on the Virginia Eastern Seaboard at around 4 a.m. yesterday. A coast guard helicopter from Elizabeth City, Va. lifted me off the life raft at daybreak. This is the scenario that led up to this. I had planned to leave before noon on the low tide to be able to clear the bridge near the marina in Portsmouth, Va. When I tried to start the engine the ignition switch was loose, after several attempts to fasten it, I ended up having to replace it. I left the dock at 16.30 hours and then sailed against the incoming tide arriving in the Atlantic and out of the  Chesapeake shipping lanes at sunset. At 2.30 am I had cleared the lower Eastern Seaboard peninsula sailing  N.E. and felt safe to set the alarm and take a one hour nap. But I had not realized how tired I was and I most likely slept through the alarm, in the mean time the wind must have changed from a westerly to a south westerly and with the wind-vane changed direction towards shore. The “should haves”: Prudence would have been to leave the next morning to get out to open water earlier without the lack of sleep. I had paid the moorage and the adrenaline was pumping.

The boat was moving at over 5 knots with full main and the 140% genoa.  I awoke by the grounding and dropped the sails, started the engine and reversed.  It was pitch black and difficult to determine which direction the deeper water was without going down in the cabin to check my position. It was hard sand bottom and with every new wave I was getting harder aground. The boat was bouncing like a wild bronco. I called a May-Day on channel 16. At first there was no response. Then I pushed the alarm on my Garmin In Reach tracker. They received the signal at 4.30. I put the two laptops, billfold, two back up hard drives, ship’s log and my Nikon and Go-Pro camera in the new ditch bag I had bought since losing my laptop in the Cabo San Lucas surf. Water started to come in from the bilge on the cabin floor. I was constantly talking to the Coast Guard dispatch. When the water was coming in heavier I pulled the life raft from the cabin floor into the cockpit. This turned out to be a near impossible task. Never stow a heavy valise like this below deck, in ideal conditions this might work but not when the boat is bouncing and you are under stress and getting exhausted. The boat started listing but when water came up to my knees on the cabin floor it straightened out. I managed to step/dive straight into the open canopy of the life raft. I took my portable VHF and the Garmin Tracker with me in the raft they turned out to be the only survivors out of the ditch back. The bag turned out to be useless for keeping equipment dry. I dried the log book pages and my wallet’s content.

The coast guard rescue swimmer pulled me through the water on my back with my inflatable PFD and put me in a steel wire basket and then swam back to the life raft to bring the ditch bag through the water. The crew chief then winched him up by his harness. I was told at first that we were flying to Elizabeth City, their base, but they were directed to search for a boater* in the water at the mouth of the Neuse River, just north of Beaufort, N.C. My shin had a deep gash and was bleeding the rescue swimmer put a bandage on it. All that I wore was a t-shirt, wool sweater and my under shorts and boat shoes. The copter had to refuel at Cherry Point US -Marine air station. Here I went without pants, still dripping wet into the air conditioned lounge, shivering. We got a hold of my daughter Jeannine to come and get me, a three hour drive. She brought her husband’s sweat pants, a t-shirt and underwear. She insisted to take me to the ER of the hospital across the street here in Norfolk to check my shin wound, get antibiotics and a tetanus shot. I have mentioned that I injured my back in a nasty fall in the cabin in a storm off Cabo Malo the day I reached the Panama Canal. I have had a constant back ache, since. I walk with a stoop and cannot straighten my back. She and her two sisters insisted that I have this checked out as well. We spent from 10.30 until 18.30 in the ER ward of the Sentara hospital. The X-Rays showed an 80% compressed vertebrae, next the MRI showed more problems higher up at the neck but no nerve damage. According to the neurosurgeon I have two options to relieve the pain, besides rest which has not been easy while sailing and maintaining the boat, a corset or surgery injecting a plastic (Kyphoplasty) to raise the compressed vertebrae.  Since I am no longer a free man and can sail and go where I please, that decision shall be made by my keepers, my children.

I have to cancel my presentation at the Wooden Boat Show in Mystic Seaport, the books I had hoped to sell are now flotsam. I had roughly a thousand dollar sales value of my books aboard. They are replaceable. I loved this boat. The last I saw of her with just her name visible at the waterline. Two Fleetwoods lost. May they rest in peace. I am very grateful for the excellent and professional response of the US Coast Guard, the help, love and friendship from my family and friends.

I have no idea what my next destination will be. The Great Loop trip has taken a great leap out of my reach. My reputation as a navigator may be somewhat dubious but I am a good multi language boat hand and cook and excel as a house, pet and chicken sitter. Keep that in mind  Something good will come out of the loss and disappointment.

  • The search ended by finding the lifeless body on the Neuse river shore. A sad ending to his boating mishap. I count my blessings to get an other chance.