Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Yesterday, not just a Beatles song

We're going to interrupt this normally chronological journal of our trip to tell you about....yesterday.

We started out in Harrisville, MI.  We'd been there 2 nights, waiting an extra night so we could avoid what turned out to be some pretty spectacular thunderstorms that moved through that afternoon...but more on that later when I fill in with a whole nuther post about the time spent between here and Put-in-Bay, where we left you last.

We were headed to Presque Isle, MI, a 50+ mile run for us that could take over 7 hours depending on how the wind and waves behaved.  Our contingency plan was to "duck into" Alpena, MI, which is 12 miles back into Thunder Bay and quite a ways "off the road."  We were excited about the anchorage up there because we haven't anchored in quite some time...since the Hudson River!

Our course was pretty much a straight line from Harrisville to a point off Thunder Island, then on up to Presque Isle staying about 2 miles offshore.  We were three hours into the trip, just about the middle of the mouth of Thunder Bay when our engine stopped.  Wouldn't start again.  Here's the story as I've sent out to my family ahead of this blog post.  I think it will describe the incident sufficiently...and it a very conversational tone. ;-)


We don't yet know about the engine because we only talked to a Cummins guy yesterday afternoon.  We had him lined up to send a mechanic out this morning...but our insurance company wants an adjuster to come out first. (Skip long story about fuel tank failure at beginning of Loop trip last time and how insurance ended up not paying for it because we hadn't gotten them involved early enough in the process.  Lesson really, really tough...but we learned.)  We're waiting today to hear from the adjuster.

I was amazed how totally calm and collected we both were during that whole ordeal yesterday.  Neither of us was really scared...just a little, how shall I say, green around the gills at times.  Of course, like all of us that have boated seriously, we've thought many times about "what if"...and actually called the Coast Guard during our last trip while we were on Lake Michigan and one of our two engines quit running...just to let them know our situation and that we were making it into shore, etc. 

It was a really surreal kind of feeling, though, to be at the helm, as I was, when I sensed a change in the rpm's.  Next thing I know, the dial had dived to 0 and the "low oil pressure" alarm had come on.  Wayne was downstairs and tried to start the engine again (we can only start from lower helm)...but it wouldn't.  He came upstairs, got on Channel 16, and started the Pan Pan call.  [From the US Coast Guard web site, a definition and description of the distress calls you can use and when to use them:

Making the Call
First, make sure your call is sent on Channel 16. Channel 16 is the internationally recognized hailing and distress channel on your VHF radio. It is the channel the Coast Guard continuously monitors and most other boaters listen to as well. Do your best to make your call in a clear and distinct voice. Use the proper pro-word. Use MAYDAY when you are in imminent distress, and the term PAN, PAN (rhymes with on, on) for situations where you are concerned, but not necessarily in immediate danger. Do not wait for the Coast Guard to answer before stating your situation. Coast Guard operation centers record channel 16, so they can always play back what you said. Waiting for a reply may cost you all the time you have to communicate. If you do not hear a response, however, call again to confirm your call was received. It may be helpful to post a checklist of critical information near your radio so you won't forget anything. Though even veteran Search and Rescue personnel debate what the most vital information is, these three items always make the top of the list:
The number of people on board:
If the first victim found cannot communicate, it is vital to know that there are still people waiting to be found.
Your position:
Hopefully self-explanatory. An accurate latitude and longitude is best. Without that, a position relative to a specific location is best, such as 5 miles southwest of Point Loma. Try to be as specific as possible.
A description of your vessel: 

Sault Ste. Marie Coast Guard, or Sector Sue, as we began to know them, was the group we worked with and they were great.  Granted, they were a long way away from us, though, and IF we had not been able to find a Boat US contract tow in the area...the Salute Set. Marie group was "getting some boats ready" in case they had to be the ones coming to our rescue.  They asked if we could anchor safely there...but we were in 140+ water, so that wasn't an option.  Did I tell you I don't swim?  Well, I swim...but I can't BREATHE and swim.  Needless to say we both had our lifejackets on and our PLB's clutched in our clammy little hands.

The engine died at 9:30.  We had left Harrisville at 6:30, knowing it would take us 7 or more hours to get to Presque Isle.  We had the contingency plan of stopping at Alpena if we decided the bounce was a bit much in the waves...but we were doing fine in that respect and would have gone on around the bend had it not been for the engine.  Boat US contracted with a dive/tow operation here in Alpena to tow us into land.  The Coast Guard handled getting in touch with Boat US for us (we supplied our member number) and coordinating with the dive/tow operation.)  Sector Sue had us contact them every 30 minutes to give them our current location and condition.  The location, of course, changed as we were reading the GPS coordinates.  We drifted further out as we sat immobilized.  

The harbor master here at the Alpena Municipal Marina, Rich, was the captain of the boat, Maverick, that came to get us.  Apparently he was off on another operation with a towboat when the call came into him because it took over an hour for him to reach us and he came to us from north of the Thunder Bay.  

We spent two hours dead in the water...with a beam sea slapping us silly.  (Beam sea = waves hitting square on the side of the boat making it tip side to side). We both swallowed additional Bonine (we both use it when going out on the open waters), put it under our tongue...Gee, I was ready to tape it under my armpit or snort it!  Finally, we were both able to fight back the "green wave" of seasickness and just maintain a FIXED GLAZE on the horizon UPSTAIRS in the fresh air...watching for Maverick.  

When he arrived, Rich threw us a line that we attached to a front side cleat...and off we went.  An hour and a half later, we came into Alpena Municipal.  We were probably 15 miles out from Alpena because we were running across the opening of Thunder Bay.  We were about 6 miles off land...but we couldn't "land" there. Oh...did I mention that Thunder Bay is known for the over 200 shipwrecks that occurred here????  And they have a whole museum dedicated to shipwrecks on the Great Lakes.  Think I'll skip this one.

I had taken this screen shot to relate how nice the AIS system is about showing approaching vessels that might intersect our path.  We're the big black boat...following our course line, and the small grey vessel is the approaching freighter. Turns out, it's a good visual of the area we were near when the engine stopped.  The bay to the left there is Thunder Bay and Alpena is located pretty much at the outmost curve.  We were in the center of the bay area...only about as far out as we are in this diagram from shore...

The dock hands at the marina guided us gently into our slip and helped us get tied up and powered up.  We called the Coast Guard back and told them how grateful we were for their assistance and concern, as they had requested us to update them of our getting safely to harbor.  When we get to Sault Ste Marie I want to look them up and give em a big ole hug.  

Rick, the Maverick captain, is so competent and thorough in his job...I can't believe he's here at the marina (no offense to other harbor masters I've known).  A big cement freighter/barge was coming into the Alpena concrete plant ( which, from the waterfront, looks every bit as big as Alpena).  Rich called back to us to explain that the freighter had a depth restriction and needed to be in the channel.  Rich was going to give him a wide berth...and we would be outside the channel, but still in plenty of water.  He just wanted to explain this to us in case we saw we were not on the "correct side" of the buoys.  Little did he know, but we had gone into a trancelike state induced by Bonine, adrenalyn aftermath, and pure relief.  He could have pulled us around the harbor in circles for a while and I'm not sure we would've noticed.  ;-)

Delivery pizza, a couple of glasses of vino...and I was in bed by 8:30.  Quite a day!  But...what we know is, the system worked.  Time is one of the most critical issues, for sure.  The further out you are, the more sparce the rescue options,...all these add up.  Just gotta take precautions and stay calm.  We were thinking, yesterday as we were tipping side-to-side, what we would do if we capsized.  We'll probably think some more about everything that happened yesterday.  Wayne has already come up with an idea for the rescue ring we carry.  Always thinking, that man....

So then...I get this email from my Book Guild in Knoxville.  Every year we do a collaborative book project where every participant creates a page on a group-chosen topic.  Then each participant makes as many copies of their page as the number of participants...and we swap pages until everyone has a copy of everyones' pages.  The pages are all made in a uniform size so they can be bound into the book...but that's where the limits stop.  You can paint, sew, stomp, weave...however you want to.  Doesn't have to be done on paper, I've seen fabric, plastic, foam...you get the picture.  The list of possible topics this year was long, probably made up from all those suggestions in years before that hadn't won. 

So, anyways, I get this email saying the group has voted and we have our winner.  This year's topic is (drum roll).....WATER.   Really?  Water? I didn't vote for water.  I voted for 1)favorite song 2)collage  3)mandalas (not on their list, but we could suggest).  Water.  Somehow, I thought it was just too ordinary.  But I woke up this morning thinking about it and I think I'm gonna do something like a stream of consciousness piece on water from the perspective of one who's lived on water for a year.  Not sure what all will be involved yet...but I'm excited now.  

Stream of consciousness.  Pretty much what this email has been.  

I've been trying this year to do the "grateful" thing whenever I can think to do it...which isn't everyday like you're supposed to, of course.  Greatly simplified, the idea is if you think often of things for which you are grateful, you will live a happier life (see 365grateful.com, for instance).  Given our experience yesterday, we have enough to be grateful for to fill up a couple of months.  ;-)  And we are certainly grateful for all the people who care about us.  Don't worry about us.  We are very conscious of safety and yesterday only proves that it pays off.  ;-) Till next time...