It's been a fun-filled week or so since we left, some of it boring, some a little too exciting/frustrating. We had a cold 50 mile run through icy winds and snow to end up in a sheltered anchorage for a night and left early for Oriental the following morning. Bowling along a canal with the main up, we were verbally hauled over by the USCG for a safety check......why they seem mystified at our manoeuvres as we had to get the main down, turn and get alongside in a restricted space always bemuses us but there it is. They ran through the usual, wanting to see life-jackets, pointing out that the jackets we have on board do not have USCG approval rating...why should they we wonder when they're perfectly acceptable in Europe but heh.. Inspection completed we went to head off and found, moments after the bow line had been released, that we had no forward gear and the bow began to swing out into the current. Luckily the safety checker was stood there with a line in his hand and we were soon back alongside. Negotiations began on how long we would be allowed to stay and we managed a grudging 45 minutes whilst we found out what the problem was. Initially we thought it was gearbox but as the problem alternated between no forward but reverse and vice versa it had to be something to do with the linkage. And so it was - a locking nut had worked loose allowing the linkage to revolve. So a lucky escape really as had we lost reverse when coming onto the dock we'd have speared the other yacht who was hauled over with us.
Onto Oriental and I had doubts about the depth of the entrance. Calls to fishing boats brought no response but a passing cat. informed us the channel was shallow and he’d gone aground drawing 6’ some years back.....however we could see fishing boats moving slowly in so felt comforted. And so we would have been had I not stupidly decided I should leave the green buoy to starboard which is a complete reversal of how it works over here....with the cats warning of shallow depths I wasn’t too alarmed when the depths began to fall but when we hit the mud my feelings changed!! We began the process of extracting ourselves but an hour later had got no where...a passing fishing boat refused to assist as his 13’5’ restricted his ability to change direction in the channel and instead he called TowboatsUS. The bottom line for them was they would charge $13 per foot +$160 per hour or roughly $600 to get us off. We carried on extracting ourselves....Bee has an indescribable amount of tenacity and kept up a constant barrage of energy and encouragement and eventually we were off...only to go aground again as we sort to get back into the channel. I despaired, Bee kept us going and off we came and into the anchorage for a nights rest. Filling up with fuel the following morning we met a guy who we hadn’t seen for several years who happened to be having a coffee before returning to his new boat to continue the re-fit. Timing is a funny thing.
The next long section took us through a couple of known shallows and a military firing range. We got through the shallows with no problem, but the approach to the range was dominated by gunfire. The CG weren’t that helpful so we went on, knowing that if they were firing we’d be turned back and need to retrace to a poorly sheltered anchorage with the forecasted blow for the next day. But the firing had no warning lights or patrol boats and we were through and relaxed as we approached our anchorage for the night. The day was calm, and about 4pm, turning too soon after our mark, we went heavily aground! By heavily I mean a subsequent check, whilst waiting for the tide to return, showed a mere 5’ amidships where we need about 7’....so well into the soft mud. Quick calcs. showed we wouldn’t be able to do much before 8 and more probably 9pm. But as the hours passed and no returning flow of water could be seen we began to get concerned....the weather began to deteriorate; rain and increasing wind. I call the USCG to check the next high water and explain the situation. Beyond asking whether we had Salvage Insurance!!!!!!, had enough food and water for the night and a anchor they could offer nothing. We lit the fire to keep us warm in the impending rain and set to work to extract Hannah. A backed stays’l kept the bow pulling away from the bank and, with the helm hard over, the boom well over to port to tilt us, a raising tide and some serious use of power we came off. By now the tide is flooding in, the rain and wind are increasing and it is DARK. We’re in a channel about 45 metres wide and in the confusion of coming off, looking for the next mark we hit the bank on the other side. But with our stern into the current and the wind astern it can only be a matter of time before we’re off. As I’m reporting in to the CG Bee yells we’re off. We are but going sideways toward the green marker. Desperately I accelerate , pushing the tiller hard over to bring the bow into deeper water and facing the tide...we hit the bank again but this time all the shallow is to our right. The rain and wind continue, the tide has picked up speed and we’re cold. But luck is with us and we manage to get off a third time and accelerate slowly into the channel...TOO slowly and I find we’re going backwards toward the bank we’ve just got off.AAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH I cannot believe the mess I’ve got us into but we remain clear and slowly move toward the channel entrance. But the tide pushes us sideways rapidly and the depth drops rapidly. We reverse hard and a combination of prop-walk and the tide spins us so that we’re now facing back toward the green marker. We continue to try and reverse but now away from the damned marker, somehow I need to get Hannah turned and facing both wind and tide. And it’s at that point, when we hit stern on, my spirits sink and I doubt we’ll be able to get off again. We have a very heavy, deep full keeled boat with a comparatively small engine and we’re in a bad situation. Not particularly dangerous as it’s all mud but we’ve already heard a local towboatUS hailing us over the radio and the costs will be prohibitive. I suggest to Bee we might have to lose a significant amount of money to get us out of the mess.”Before we think about that” she says “let’s have one more go” Despite knowing the chances of it working are slight, that though the tide is going to lift us that same tide and wind combination being beam onto us is likely to push us further onto the bank, I agree. I gun the engine harder as Bee, sat on the boom, screams "we’re moving"!!! And slowly, so so slowly we began to come round into the stream and now, at all costs, we had to get Hannah round and facing both weather and current. Well we did and inched toward a marker, selected a spot that would, we hoped, keep us out of the channel and dropped the hook, some 8 hours after we’d first hit the mud. As we were so close to the channel we stayed up all night to keep a lookout for barges that run and with the fire running all evening we were able to dry off and warm up.
Spent the next day recovering, sheltering from a blow and then moved on down to meet up with R&J. Now we’re in Southport awaiting a wind shift to take us outside and down the coast toward Charlestown.
So there it is, a couple of inexcusable, fundamental errors on my behalf and a determination not to be beaten on Bee’s enabled us to save ourselves. I’m a lucky man.