Norfolk, the Hard Way

Yesterday morning we woke up and it was downright cold. It was in the high 30s or low 40s and JoAnne was cold and complaining about it. I hate when she’s cold, I feel sorry for her because I can’t keep her warm enough.

At about 10:45 we received a phone call from Cobbs Marina in Norfolk area and told me if I could get there on Sunday evening they could look at the boat first thing on Monday morning (today is Monday) so we made a dumb decision.

We decided to go late in the day without doing a major weather check. We did a cursory check on the winds and such and it looked fine to leave.

And it was.

To leave that is.

Getting there was going to be quite another thing.

It was so chilly and windy that JoAnne couldn’t remain in the cockpit so I told her to go below and stay warm. We used the ham radios to talk to each other until her’s died.

I actually raised the main for a bit but kept jibing so it was not a good situation alone. I finally took down all sail and motored. But the swell was coming in from the fetch the wind had over the water.

I did NOT know about the cold front moving through or the wind speeds at 18-20. Then I measured 18.8 knots and it wasn’t slacking.

I knew the wind was going to cause bigger and bigger waves over the next few hours and I was 5 hours-plus at 5 knots away from the destination. It was going to get rough before it got better.

I warned JoAnne it was going to get choppy, and I expected it. What I didn’t expect was that the swells would be as much as four feet every so often, hitting us on the stern quarter.

It was getting pretty bad.

Finally, about 5 miles out of our destination to Cobb’s Marina, we got hit pretty hard. The boat got picked up and slammed hard tossing anything lose about the cabin. The things I use to navigate, like my binocs, my calipers, my charts and my pencils got shipped to the floor. Followed by me.

JoAnne was dealing with crap flying in the cabin below, including her. She was so sick she couldn’t really function well.

On top of ALL of the incessant pounding the swell is doing to us, even with me trying to change course to take it on the stern, we get slammed again, and my chart plotter goes out. Dead, blowing the breaker. I go below, grab my hand held to get my exact position to plot on the chart (mostly because I’m driving the boat near to markers and have a good idea, but not exactly where I am and now I want to be dead on accurate).

I got the lat/long, find the spot on the chart, find a buoy and start looking for it. Then the boat starts going up and down in the swell and the engine is freaking out.

I am concentrating on not getting killed, thrown from the cockpit and checking on JoAnne below, who is now puking her poor heart out. I felt bad for her but I couldn’t help right then.

So, we’re getting our asses kicked, I’m working on getting my precise location because the chart plotter is out, but at least the depth finder it working and I know the direction the wind is blowing – from dead behind me at the moment.

Finally I spot the buoy I’m looking for, and now I can get a pretty good idea on the chart where I really am. By the way, the little Gamin hand held is cool, but it sucks at trying to find your course and a few other things. I can ascertain my location, but not necessarily which way I am going at the same time, or for that matter the bearing on an object. Or much else. I don’t know why I even have it now.

Anyway, it did help verify my location. I was two miles from the shore, and way too far to the east for getting into the entrance of the marina (and Naval station and other marinas, etc) without a lot of trouble.

I tell JoAnne “It’s about to get really rough for a few minutes, I need to change course!” I shouted.

She can’t hear me, she’s sitting below, door mostly closed, engine roaring, wind howling. Damn, the sun is shining and it should be a beautiful day, but other than my poor wife whom is the only beauty I see around me at the moment, and she’s throwing up, I can’t figure out what the HELL I am doing there.

I turn to my starboard and head for a compass heading that ought to bring us close to the entrance of the marina. Hell, Warships go in and out, I can’t miss it!

I make a 35 degree change, and get hit once, twice then three times by breaking waves on my starboard side and the engine roars once, coughs and quits.

I hear JoAnne yell, “What happened!”

“Engine died” I mutter.


I respond with trying to start the engine. Nope. I’m looking a mile off at the shoreline. I look at the water depth, 30 feet. I glance at the gps, 2 knots over ground. South. Right at the shore line.


“JoAnne! Get BoatUS on the phone as fast as you can!”

She begins working on that. I look up at the rigging. The back stay is pretty loose but I decide this is it. In less than 30 minutes we’ll be sitting ON the shore, not looking at it if I don’t do something.

I debate internally what to do. So, I do what any sailor would do. I grab the outhaul on the main (ours is a Seldon in-mast furling system) and I crank out about 4 or 5 square feet of sail. Tighten the boom to dead center and watch as the wind grabs the tiny amount of sail and we take off at five knots. I slowly turn the boat to starboard, the direction I want to go, and we start doing almost six knots.

Wow. Now we’re sailing. Not quite what I envisioned when I took this job on. I measure the wind. 18.9 knots.

JoAnne has the BoatUS people on the phone, hands me the phone and goes to try to fix up things below. I give my coordinates, tell them we’re in a bit of trouble, and I don’t think I can sail us in with the rigging issues, we have no engine and they connect me with a Tow boat driver.

He tells me “Get an anchor out, asap”. So I tell him I will, turn the boat into the wind, drop the sail and tell JoAnne I’m going forward. The boat is pitching like a bucking bronco, up about four feet, then back down.

I hook my tether to my makeshift jackline and head forward. I note the only boats I see now around me are giant ships, one is passing just past a marker buoy I’d passed minutes before. Where he came from, I’m not sure, but I had not seen him before. Either that or I was so preoccupied with my predicament, I failed to see him previously.

Now I am crawling forward, grabbing bold as the swell comes in and back out. Three more times before I can get there.

I untie the line on the anchor, remove the windlass wrench from the slot by the windlass, loosen the clutch and kick for the anchor… and miss as the boat makes a nose dive into a wave. The wave drenches my feet all the way to my waist. My face takes a lot of it. My ears are ringing from the water that hit me so hard it was like a cold punch in the face.

When the boat settles I regain my feet, grab the stanchions knowing they will throw me overboard if I get hit like that again, and I kick the release. Out goes the 50 lb CQR and chain. Lots and lots of chain.

In 30 feet of water my math told me I needed 150 feet of rode. The other night, we dragged our anchor in lesser winds than this, 300 yards and I didn’t catch it until it was almost to late.

Not today, Mother Nature, not today.

I let out 280 feet of chain before it bound up under the deck in the locker. I grabbed my snubber line and tied it off and cranked 30 feet back in, then connected the hook and was hit by another swell, but this time, we yanked to a sudden stop by the chain.

I sat down and slowly let out the snubber line with my feet braced against the windlass. When it was nearly out, I tied off the last of the line, and let out some more chain to give us a little bit of slack.

The wind howled, and the swell kept coming, but the bouncing was lessen a lot.

I made my way back to the cockpit and called out that I was still alive. She acknowledge I was there, but was busy being sick again.

And I waited. The driver said “an hour, at least”. This was going to be a long, long hour.

I turned the rudder to the swell which was no longer coming directly from the wind now, to help guide us into the swell.

True to his word, the tow driver, Captain Byron, called me and said he was there to start pulling the anchor. I looked but did not see him. We communicated back and forth several times and even through binoculars I could not spot him.

I told him I would NOT pull the anchor until I could get a visual on him. Suddenly, like the cavalry in an old movie, there he was, flag flying and everything. Just not bugles.

I ran to the front and sat down and started trying to get the windlass to haul up almost three hundred feet of chain and a fifty pound anchor, a foot at a time.

It took me fifteen minutes. I signaled for him to drive in font and block the swell several times, but he wasn’t hearing me or understanding me at all. Finally, something clicked and he powered up hard, drove in front of me and the swell stopped.

I gave him a thumbs up and the last 50 feet came aboard in record time, but not without breaking something in the platform. He threw me a messenger line, and I hauled it in, then got the bridle and we were hooked together in a couple more minutes. The tow in took almost an hour.

But we’re alive tonight and that’s all I care about.

Tonight, I’ve gotten the electric working again, the chart plotter is back online, I know why the engine died (fuel and gunk in the fuel) and we’re having maintenance done on the mast, lights and rigging in a few days, the diesel “polished” and we have a plan to get JoAnne down to Florida to get her doctor check up she needs, us to have insurance for medical and I’m putting full coverage on the boat in the next day or two.

I’m also likely going to hire a delivery skipper to help me, and train me, to deliver this boat to Jacksonville, FL in the next month or so.

And, tonight we finally wandered away from the marina and got some food and beer outside.

This last part is for Kurt Seastead, who did the video the other day and likes making these little memes for me. The foregoing story is a true one, the meme is not. (But it IS funny!)


2 thoughts on “Norfolk, the Hard Way

  1. Thanks for turning us on to your blog! You had me on the edge of my seat. These are the things that make cruising a boat ‘interesting’. Lucky you were in shallow enough water for anchoring! Around here, that close to shore you’d probably be in 300 feet or more.

  2. Pingback: Good Bye Winter – Hello Spring | Winds of Time

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