Crossing the Gulf of Mexico

by Susan on July 6, 2012

May 14, 2012

We left Isla Mujeres at about 6:30 on the morning of May 14.  The weather was fine but by noon we were back in a washing machine.  It was uncomfortable and nauseating but I was not complaining.  This was good.  No high winds, no big seas, no storms, no lightning. I could handle this.  In fact, I could handle this for the entire 350 nautical mile trip if I had to.  We would get relief from the confused seas occasionally but it wouldn’t be long-lasting. We got hit by one squall at about 4:30 the following morning but we only got rain, no high winds or large seas.  All still within my comfort zone.

By 8:00 a.m. we got hit by another squall delivering 30+ knots of wind accompanied by very confused seas and at about 1:00 p.m. our engine died.  Again we thought this was due to dirty fuel or sediment being churned up in our tank.  This time, try as he might, Michael could not get the engine started.   We decided to shake out the reef and unfurl the genoa to get more sail power. As Michael was shaking out the reef, he looked up and discovered we had partial rigging failure.  The jumper stay broke making it dangerous for us to unfurl the genoa.  The stay was partially wrapped around our mast and partially flailing about.  Fortunately, the current was helping us keep our speed at about 4 to 5 knots.  Michael jury rigged our mast with the topping lift to give it more support since it was wobbling quite a bit then went back down to work on the engine while I stayed in the cockpit to keep an eye out for tankers and followed Michael’s instructions to start the engine now and then to see if he had fixed the problem.

For 5 hours Michael worked in the hot engine room, replacing the fuel lift pump, changing the filters, replacing rubber O-rings, switching fuel tanks and bleeding all the air out of the system and tapping new threads into the fuel filter bleed-off.  He tried everything.  Meanwhile, I sat in the cockpit watching our mast wobble and our speed steadily decline.  In a few hours it would be dark and we would be potentially dead in the water (I’m referring to the boat, not us).  I tried calling the Coast Guard on every frequency I had for them just to let them know where we were, what the circumstances were and to ask if we could check in with them hourly so that if we didn’t check in, they would know where we were and could send help.  I got no answer.  I tried repeatedly on every frequency and still got no answer.  I couldn’t believe it.  Why do they even have frequencies?  Another boat nearby heard us and tried to relay the message to the Coast Guard also, again with no response.

All kinds of things were going through my mind.  “What if ” Susie went into overdrive.  What if we lost our mast, what if we lost our radio, our radar, what if we ended up in the path of a tanker that could not see us and we could not get out of its way?  What if, what if, what if?!?!?!!!!!!!

Then Michael instructed me to turn the key and try the engine again and it started.  The relief was overwhelming.  It was worthy of a celebration.  I wanted to open a bottle of something but we weren’t out of dangerous waters yet.  We got back on course and watched our mast wobble for the entire remaining 200 miles left of our trip but, thankfully, we didn’t lose it.  Michael is my hero.  He never gave up.  Even when it seemed all his efforts were futile.  Exhausted, sweaty, with an aching body he worked for hours in that hot, smelly engine room,  never giving up.

We arrived in Key West the next day (May 16) in the afternoon and made it to the mooring field at Garrison Bight at about 4:30 p.m.  We were so happy.  Things could have gone so much worse.  Once we got tied up to the mooring ball, we found the dinghy dock and the office where we needed to pay rent for our stay in the mooring field and then caught a cab to Key West to have a few stiff drinks and a wonderful dinner in celebration of our anniversary (which was the day we left Isla Mujeres) and our safe arrival in Florida.

Within a few days, Anna and Gary on Trumpeter, who had just gotten out of the boat yard to repair the damage they got from crossing the Gulf met us at Garrison Bight to spend a few days with us before Michael and I headed to a boatyard to get our mast repaired.  In the meantime, we researched our options with regard to which boat yard we wanted to take our boat, and researched competent riggers and shipwrights who could do the work Calypso required.

On the morning of May 26, we loaded Gary’s bicycle on our boat and he joined us for the short trip over to Robbie’s Boatyard on Stock Island.  After helping us get tied up, we said goodbye to our good friend who bicycled back to Garrison Bight from where Trumpeter would start its journey to Tampa Bay.

Everything was arranged by the time we got to Robbie’s.  The riggers were there, the crane was there, etc.  They removed our mast, put it in their workshop and hauled Calypso out.

Michael and Our Rigger

Getting Ready to Attach the Crane Cable

Attaching the Crane Cable

Mast Coming Off

Mast Off

For the next month it was like living in hell.  It was so miserably hot and humid.  We have a small air conditioner but it was almost rendered useless.  It just could not keep up with the heat.  The boatyard was filthy.  There was nothing within walking distance so everywhere we needed to go including the grocery store for provisioning required either a cab ride or our bicycles.  We decided in Key West that we were never going to pay for a cab ride again in the Keys because it was ridiculously expensive so we got our bikes out and they became our only mode of transportation.

How Michael endured our time at Robbie’s I will never know.  He had so many things to keep an eye on: the painter, the shipwright, the rigger, etc. Robbie’s is a self service yard; you can do your own work or contract work but you can only contract with those that are approved by the boatyard.  Before we could get the bottom painted we needed to let the hull dry out a bit to see the extent of the blisters popping up on our hull.  During that time the painter (who would also be addressing the blisters) increased his bid to what we thought was unreasonable so Michael decided to finish popping the blisters, filling them in and painting the bottom himself.  I offered to help but he declined preferring not to expose me to the toxic chemicals.  For two weeks in a hot suit and mask in the extreme heat and humidity, he worked to near collapse drinking gallons of Gatorade every day.

Now that the mast was off, a closer look revealed that at about the same time our jumper stay failed a half-inch thru bolt holding the spreader tang failed.  The remaining bolt was also bent 20 degrees.  Thankfully, that bolt too did not snap otherwise we would have been dismasted. A portion of the center of the mast had to be cut out due to some dry rot and a new piece scarfed in and the fitting holding the staysail to the mast was bent which needed to be straightened and slightly redesigned.

Rigging Failure

Sheared Thru Bolt

Michael also discovered that the set screws holding the foil onto the furler worked themselves loose and a few were missing so the parts needed to be ordered and replaced.

The mainsail had a small tear which had to be repaired.

The loose rigging chafed through our awning as well but we decided to deal with that another time.

The cutlass bearing was worn out and also had to be replaced.

And of course we needed a polisher to resolve our dirty fuel issue. When the polisher came out, he spent about an hour and a half polishing our fuel but indicated that our fuel was not dirty at all.  The problem was a large sheet of paper towel which had been left in our tank by the contractor we hired in Marina del Rey to clean our tanks before we left California.  It clogged the polishing machine so he was able to physically show us the towel.  I was so upset, I called the guy who cleaned our tanks in Marina del Rey to let him know the potential danger his oversight put us in and the amount of money we just wasted getting that paper towel out.  Because of the 3 years that had elapsed since he worked on our boat, he refused to take any responsibility for it.  I tried to explain that there was absolutely no other way a paper towel could have gotten in our tank regardless of how many years had passed.  He had cut a hole in the tank, cleaned it with paper towels and then refiberglassed it, but still he refused to accept any responsibility.

Finally, on June 29, 35 days later, the blisters were gone, the bottom painted, the mast repaired and re-stepped, the other smaller issues dealt with and Calypso was put back in the water where the riggers attached all the rigging.  By 6:45 p.m. we were out of the boatyard and anchored right off Stock Island.  The water was calm with no wind to speak of.  We poured a drink and shared a salmon dinner while enjoying the sunset, once again loving life.

Putting All the Rigging Back On

Mast Ready to be Put Back on Calypso

What a Great Paint Job and No More Blisters

Going Back in the Water

Back in the Water

Exhausted but Happy and Ready to Move On

Loving Life Again

We departed Stock Island the following morning (June 30) and headed toward Fort Lauderdale.  We spent one night anchored in 10 feet of water off Marathon, then a night anchored at Rodriquez Key which was magical.  It was a beautiful calm night, with a lovely breeze under a full moon.

On July 2 we continued on, with the plan to stay overnight at Hurricane Harbor in Key Biscayne but we got there at low tide and did not feel confident we’d make it through the shallow waters so we anchored outside of the entrance.  We were rocking and rolling so much that after dinner we decided to get a little rest and continue on to Fort Lauderdale.  At midnight, we weighed anchor and got underway.

We arrived in Fort Lauderdale early in the morning on July 3rd.

Our intention was to stay here for a short visit and then continue on to Brunswick, GA.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

mike April 26, 2013 at 4:16 pm

Ok, my desire to buy a boat departed instantly when I read, “For 5 hours Michael worked in the hot engine room”. Then it went from bad to worse.

Get that guy a medal.

But really after 4 years adrift in the mighty oceans of the world, you would expect some repairs to be needed.
Nice blog, baby!

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