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This is our boat before we left.


This is what the tricolor should look like.


The tricolor as it sits after being  blown off.


Another shot of our boat before we left.


The above is the boat just after coming back from offshore.


Note: Some times and distances are estimates recalled as best we can. Our sail track can be seen HERE.

On Monday, November 9, 2015 we awoke at 0530 to be at the Galveston Yacht Basin fuel dock first thing to top off our fuel tanks for our trip down to the Dry Tortugas and on to Key West. The plan, based on the weather, was to sail due East from Galveston to at least Southwest Pass at the Mississippi River before rounding more southerly and then around even more to the South. At 0615 we were fueled and exiting the GYB. On board was myself, my husband Chuck, and our friend, Geoff. All of us were experienced sailors, Geoff had just returned from assisting another boat in their passage from Bermuda to the Azores. Combined, we held close to a hundred years of experience.


The bottom of this pix is the radar reflector that helps other vessels see your boat on radar.  The next component up is our radar.  The mount at top is where the TV antenna was before it was blown off.


We quickly fell into a watch schedule as we sailed East. The entire trip from Galveston to the Mississippi River was punctuated by smooth seas and virtually no wind; the Gulf was like glass. As we passed the Mississippi River outlets we faced a fuel decision in that as we had motored the entire way so far, we did not have enough fuel to motor on to Tampa should there continue to be no wind…we’d have to pull into one of the upper Gulf Coast ports and take on additional fuel. We chose Biloxi, Mississippi.


This photo shows our tricolor masthead light as it dangles upside down from the side of the mast.  Normally it would be mounted directly on top of the mast. 


The wind was almost calm as we turned first North and then Northwest in order to approach the Gulfport Sound Channel on the west end of Ship Island, right off the coast of Biloxi. Our tracks show we entered the Gulfport Sound Channel way after dark, approximately 2341 hours, Wednesday, November 11th. The wind had risen to about 15 knots from the Northeast.

The charts showed spoil banks and uncharted depths in all four quadrants as we approached and then turned East onto the Intracoastal Waterway…our AIS and radar also showed two tows, one east bound, the other west bound…both were in front of us.

Being unsure of the water depth on each side, we raced to clear the spoil banks before the west bound and approaching tow got to us. We made it past the spoil bank in plenty of time to avoid even the slightest chance of meeting the tow while we were both between the spoil banks. We turned north immediately and prepared to drop anchor for the night just behind Ship Island.

And, then… the entire boat went black.

With the wind now blowing 20 knots, Chuck and Geoff both yelled from the bow to turn into the wind so they could drop anchor. As the helmsman, I struggled to sense the wind direction behind the dodger…with my compass light out, I was blind. Chuck picked up the issue and switched to a different battery bank. The chartplotter came back up and we immediately dropped anchor. Our relief was short lived for though we had not dropped in the Intracoastal Waterway, we were dangerously close to it. Exhausted, we pulled anchor, motored a half mile further south and well out of the way, and then set the anchor again.

The following morning, Thursday, November 12th, we contacted Point Cadet Marina and motored across Mississippi Sound towards their fuel dock. In completely mirror-like water, we entered the marina and topped off our tanks. The decision was made to rent a transient slip and spend the night, resting before continuing on. By early afternoon we were safely tucked into this marina and Chuck/Geoff headed off to find an alternator, the cause of the previous evening’s black out.

The rest of that day and the morning of Friday 13th was spent with all of us discussing the weather and replacing the engine alternator.

In the interim, things offshore had turned dreadful during the previous 48 hours of so. There is nothing to be gained by rehashing the decision but suffice to say that some of us were more for heading out than others. With all three of us having absolute veto power on whether to stay in port or depart it’s accurate, however, to say that collectively the decision was made to head back out to sea. At 1200 hrs we departed the marina.

It was not one of our best decisions…we will get no award for making it, unless it’s the Dumbass Decision of the Month trophy.  From the ship’s log:

Friday, November 13th

1200 Hrs

We depart Point Cadet Marina

1530 Hrs

We exited the Gulfport Sound Channel into the open Gulf. We fully set the genoa and raised the mainsail to the top of the mast. The wind speed was roughly 15 knots and the seas were less than 3’ with heavy chop.

1700 Hrs

The first reef was put into the mainsail. Wind is roughly 20 knots.

1800 Hrs

The genoa sail in brought in completely and secured. Wind is 20-25 knots. Seas are around 4’ and whitecaps.

1900 Hrs                                                                      

The decision is made to put the second reef into the mainsail. In the process of putting the second reef in the mainsail, the full battens become entangled in the lazy jacks. It is dark and even with the spreader lights, we can neither raise nor lower the mainsail…it is stuck between the first and second spreader. The seas are around 5’ with whitecaps. The winds is consistently 25 knots with gusts to 30.

It might be worth noting again that this is Friday 13th.

Saturday, November 14th

0640 Hrs

I awake after taking a rest break to find Chuck and Geoff exhausted but in good spirits in the cockpit. It is dawn. The wind is consistently 35 knots with gusts to near 40. The seas are 8-10’ and breaking. We are under power and the only canvas up is our still jammed mainsail. The decision is made to drop the main as soon as it’s safe enough to do so and head for the nearest port. It is 68.8 nautical miles back to Ship Island but well over 200 nautical miles on to Tampa, our original destination. As it turns out, the wind dictated our nearest and quickest safe port and it was back the exact way we had just come. We do a 180 degree turn and prepare for the, (according to our chartplotter) 11 hour slog back through the slop to Ship Island.

As the day and then afternoon dragged on, though uncomfortable, we made steady headway. By mid afternoon we found our chartplotter indicated we would be at the mouth of the Gulfport Sound Channel around 1630 hours…with plenty of daylight left to negotiate the channel. Spirits were running high.

1500 Hrs

And, then…the engine quit.

When the engine died it gave every indication of quitting due to a clogged fuel filter. We changed the dual Racor filters only to find that we could then not start the engine or even turn it over due to an electrical problem. By this time, we had raised our staysail and continued to make good headway. The failure of our electrical system also meant that we could not start our on-board genset. Not to worry, we pulled our brand new Honda 2000 portable genset out and prepared to put it online. It would not start either. The result of no engine, genset, and backup genset is that the 12 volt system began to bleed battery power. We doused every 12 volt system with the exception of our radio, chartplotter, and auto helm.

We continued to make good headway under sail and hold our course to Ship Island. However, though we could get to Ship Island, we did not have a wind direction that would have allowed us to sail up the Gulfport Sound Channel…when we got to that point the wind would have been on our nose with very little sea way to tack inside of a ship channel. We had two options as we neared Ship Island. One was to anchor out in the Gulf in the slop and wait until morning or, two, call the US Coast Guard (USCG) and have them have one of the two towing companies we are members of (Sea Tow or BoatsUS) meet us at the channel entrance and tow us on in.

At this time, we sent a text message from our Delorme satellite tracker to Geoff’s wife informing her that we were OK but to please call Sea Tow Biloxi and ask them to meet us at the channel entrance. (As a side note, Marie, Geoff’s wife does exactly that but by the time she gets the message and contacts Sea Tow the USCG has already done so.)

The decision was really a no brainer.

1800 Hrs

Around 10 miles out from Ship Island, we finally established communication with the USCG via our VHF. We explain our system failures to them and request they contact Sea Tow to meet us at the channel entrance. The USCG does so.

2000 Hrs

USCG indicates Sea Tow has an ETA to our position of roughly four hours. That ETA meant to us that either way we would have to anchor in the Gulf to await their arrival.  USCG requests we contact them when at anchor and give them our location.

2130 Hrs

We anchor in 20’ of water roughly a half mile out in the Gulf from Ship Island in 3-4’ chop and 25 knot winds. We advise USCG of our position as they requested.

2200 Hrs

USCG advises us that Sea Tow has been towing people all day and feel their crews “are too fatigued to safely meet us” and that as we were in no immediate danger, Sea Tow would not be at our boat until 0800 the next morning. Not pleased, but understanding, we settled in for an extremely rolly/bumpy/rock and roll night at anchor…we got no sleep whatsoever and counted the seconds until dawn and our tow arrived.

Sunday, November 15th

0830 Hrs

Sea Tow arrives, a bridal is attached to the bow, we lift the anchor, and we are towed back to Point Cadet Marina.

1200 Hrs

We arrive at the marina and tie up to the dock…after a wonderful meal from Chef Knowers (Geoff), we settle in with a bottle or two of wine and an excellent night sleep.

Monday, November 16th

After washing the salt off of the boat, we took stock of the damage. The list goes something like this:

  • Top 15’ of mainsail is ripped about two inches from the luff.
  • Starboard lifeline lost fitting at the gate.
  • Port cover on amidships port was ripped completely off by water.
  • Engine starter was fried.
  • Honda genset needs to be serviced.
  • Bow thruster was knocked out due to salt water.
  • Deck shower hatch was damaged.
  • Mast TV antenna above radar was blown completely off.
  • Courtesy flag halyard parted from starboard shroud.
  • Mast head tricolor, was blown off of the mast head and is dangling.
  • Bow thruster battery charger must be replaced.
  • Anchor locker s/s chain cover was blown or washed overboard.
  • Starter key was broken in panel.
  • Companionway stair mount damaged.

As we sit today, Wednesday, November 18th, we have replaced the engine starter with the spare and the auxiliary is up and running smoothly. The lifeline fitting is on order. We are researching local sail lofts for the main repair. And, a new bow thruster motor is on order. Though Geoff will need to return to his family and is scheduled to do so next Monday, we have a mechanic who has agreed to drive over from Kemah to assist in the other repairs after Thanksgiving. As soon as the wind subsides a bit here, we will move our boat into a formal slip in the marina. We estimate the total time for the repairs to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 3-5 weeks.


One of my favorite sayings is “you don’t know what you don’t know.” It applied to our decision to go out last Friday perfectly. All of us had been in bigger seas than what was predicted. Chuck and I were in 10’ seas in the Atlantic bringing our boat home. Geoff was in 20’ seas on his recent passage from Bermuda to the Azores. But those seas were huge, non-breaking, rolling swells…nothing like the 8-10’ breaking stand up seas we had. It is not understatement to say at it’s worse, it was brutal.

The boat itself held up quite well with the exception of some mild to moderate hatch leaks and a fairly aggressive dripping area over one of the settee seats.

As a crew, I’d rate our performance as a solid “A”. We all knew what needed to be done and did it. There was never any overt fear or panic and, for the most part, we kept to a watch schedule, however, there were numerous times when all of us extended our watch in order to keep two people in the cockpit. We stayed tethered to the boat 100% of the time…no exceptions. Geoff fancies himself as somewhat of a semi gourmet cook and I know Chuck and I felt that every one of his meals bordered or exceeded restaurant quality.  Thank you, Mr. Knowers.

On the negative side, I think we all knew we should have stayed in port. And, at least several hours into this ordeal, should have made the decision at that time to return. However, our weather prediction when we left was 5-7’ seas and 20-25 knots of wind…not great, but manageable. Reality showed us 8-10’ breaking seas and 35-40 knot winds…a big, big, big difference. I’m sure I speak for all three of us when I say that had we had any idea of the actual sea state we were about to sail into we wouldn’t have gone…but, we didn’t know what we didn’t know.

One thing we experienced that we’d never before was the concept of a breaking sea and the power it holds. Having a 10’ wall of water break on the side of the boat’s rail with howling 35 knot winds is one of those things one just has to experience to fully appreciate…think of a much lower case Deadliest Catch scene and you kind of get the gist.

Anyway, as they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger or in this case, a better sailor. Sometimes that experience gained is a bitter pill to swallow, however. Needless to say, it was an extremely uncomfortable and very, very expensive exercise, but it gave all of us a much better understanding and incredibly more respect of the washing machine that is the Gulf of Mexico when it is riled.

The definition of a Pan-pan  (pronounced pon pon) is:

“Three calls of pan-pan are used in radiotelephone communications to signify that there is an urgency on board a boat, ship, aircraft, or other vehicle but that, for the time being at least, there is no immediate danger to anyone’s life or to the vessel itself.[4] This is referred to as a state of urgency.”

The purpose of issuing a pan-pan is essentially to put one on the USCG radar, to alert them that things are not dire, but could definitely be better.

Though we didn’t formally issue a pan-pan, by proxy, we most probably did. Whether we did or didn’t is neither here nor there. But, from the moment we contacted the USCG until we gave them our anchored position just off of Ship Island a few hours later they were in almost constant contact with us, inquiring of our wellbeing and status. I doubt 15 minutes went by that they were not on the radio checking on us. Though we were way past the high seas drama of earlier in the day and were essentially using them to relay our ‘need to be towed in’ message, it was way more than a little comforting to know they were there. Their professionalism, patience during the communications, and overall demeanor was priceless. On a final note, we can’t really say enough good about the United States Coast Guard.


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