We departed from Foxtown on Thursday after topping off on fuel and headed to Great Sale Cay. Had we known we were going to be towed the last 40 miles of our crossing, I could have passed on adding those last 5 gallons to our fuel reserves, but who knew we were about to experience an engine failure that would leave us stranded in the Gulf Stream.
The winds were light leaving Foxtown so we motored until we were north of Great Sale, then turned south and were able to raise our sails until we reached the anchorage on the south side of the island. No sooner had we dropped our anchor than we were hailed by our friends on s/v Makana. They were continuing straight through to Ft. Pierce. Taking the opportunity to sail with another boat, we raised our anchor and headed east.
On the way across the bank Logan put out a fishing rod. I was quite certain all we would catch on the bank would be barracuda but when something struck our bait and started spooling out the line, we quickly realized we had something much bigger than another barracuda. Christine put the boat in neutral while I reeled in a 2 1/2 foot long Mutton Snapper. Christine put the boat back in gear and I lit the grill!
We watched the sun set on yet another beautiful day in the Bahamas after finishing our fresh fish dinner. Nearly off the Little Bahama Bank, we thought life couldn’t get any better. Little did we know the day was about to take a turn for the worse!
Christine and the boys were sleeping when the engine temperature alarm sounded at 11:30 that night waking everyone to the unpleasant reality that our engine had overheated. Christine pulled the kill switch on the engine after being abruptly woken up and took the helm while I went below to look at the engine.
The engine compartment was awash in coolant. We hailed Makana on the radio and they waited while I searched for the source of the leak. It didn’t take long to realize the bearings on the fresh water pump had let go. After replacing the lift pump and the raw water pump last month, the freshwater pump decided to go as well. We wouldn’t be motoring back to Florida.
Luckily the wind had picked up somewhat in the night and we were able to raise the jib for what appeared to be a long downwind run back to the states. We weren’t moving quickly, but we were sailing and we had a buddy boat with us as we entered the early morning hours of Friday the 10th. Lightening had been flashing off in the distance but now seemed to be gaining on us as we crawled our way closer to the coast. We had bought towing insurance from Towboat US before leaving for the Bahamas and though we were too far out of range to hail them on the VHF or call them on our cell phone, luckily, we also had an Inmarsat satellite phone on board. Their web site is www.explorersatellite.com. That phone was the ace up our sleeve.
We pointed its antenna skyward and dialed Towboat US to arrange for a tow back to Ft. Pierce. We were told our policy only covered the first $50 of the tow and we would have to pay the balance. Minutes ticked by the 1 hour balance on our sat phone as we sorted out the error with Towboat US. After finding the error, they assured us the tow would be covered. We had called them shortly after 12:30am and were no closer to getting a tow 2 hours later. We were still too far out and would have to get closer before they would send out a boat and needed time to assemble the crew.
A few squalls came upon us with thunder, lightening, clocking wind and sheets of rain. It was disorienting when they hit and took great effort to keep sailing on our bearing.
At about the same time, Makana, who had been at our side this whole time started having problems with their chart plotter. They were reasonably concerned with their own safety, but my heart sank when they said they needed to leave us and make it across the gulf stream as quickly as they could. They would still be in radio contact for a time and might actually have been able to relay messages for us as they neared the coast, but our situation was discouraging as their lights grew dimmer in the distance.
Then the wind left us too.
Unsure about the arrival of our tow and now without even the wind to move us, we drifted into the gulf stream. Christine had 6 AIS targets at one point on our chartplotter and she could only visually see the lights of 1 boat. If we were to lose our last VHF (our other 2 VHFs failed earlier in the evening), we would have no way to hail an approaching ship and no way to maneuver. Rick on Makana suggested using our dinghy as a means of propulsion until our tow arrived and we concluded we had little choice but to start the process of putting the dinghy in the water. We dropped our sails and started the process of hoisting our dinghy over the side. I put on my harness and tether as we began the awkward task of lowering the dinghy into the swells and attaching the outboard.
Before we left the Bahamas, I had a discussion about designing boats with a boat builder. He explained how the process of building a boat follows what is called a design spiral where each decision you make about the design of a boat brings you closer to the outcome of your final product. I realized that our crossing was also starting to spiral and I didn’t like the direction that it was heading. I asked Christine to call the Coast Guard and give them our position. Makana had moved out of VHF range from us and was therefore not able to relay. While we were not in imminent danger and the Coast Guard could not come to our aid, they did begin relaying our position to Towboat US. It was also a relief to know they would maintain contact with us every half hour until our tow arrived. We continued the process of lashing the dinghy to the side of the boat and were able to move ahead at close to 3 knots until the wind lightly filled in again.
The hours ticked by as we moved ever so slowly toward the coast and at last we could see the first light of day in the east. We inched our way across the gulf stream trying not to drift to far from our rum line.
We heard the hails from the Towboat US captain as he zeroed in on our position. Shortly after 8:00am, I slipped the tow line around our bow cleat. We were so glad for the assistance I didn’t ask where the crew was that he had been waiting to assemble. Six more hours passed as we were towed the last long miles to Ft. Pierce.
Low on fuel, the captain of our towing vessel passed us off to another boat for the final escort into the marina. It was with a sigh of relief that we stepped off our boat at Harbor View Marina hours after leaving Foxtown.
We cleared customs but not before I had placed the order for a new water pump!