Friday, March 11, 2011

Faith on the Rocks

At an anchorage on March 10, I sprung out of bed at 1:00 am and could barely make out what I was looking at.  It was land and it was less than 10 feet away. The wind was blowing over 40 knots, waves around three foot and raining so hard. As Craig raced past me checking the engine systems and running for the bilge, I pulled the kids out of bed and while putting on their life jackets he started sounding the horn non-stop and then made his way to the bow of the boat with an air horn. There was a sailboat that we were sharing our anchorage with whose ground tackle had broke free and was coming right for the Negotiator at high speeds and the captain was asleep.  I struggled to reach the bow of the boat in the high winds and pelted with rain I screamed at the top of my lungs like I had never done before....HELP...WAKE UP!!!!!

Backing up a few hours, we were just north of Cocoa, Florida at the Palm Shores Causeway Bridge area.  It was our first night traveling in five days and we were excited to have a good spot to anchor and felt protected from the wind.  Beautiful peaceful sunset and we checked the forecast a few times that evening and it stated 10-15 mph winds from the south and 20% chance of isolated T-storm.  We went to bed around 10:30; Craig was up at 11:30 and 12:30 checking everything as the wind had picked up more than anticipated.  It was then that we awoke to our grounding. 

It was one of those surreal moments that we shared a moment of disbelief looking into eachothers eyes.  Comforted knowing we were close to shore and could reach safety, our senses were heightened with the kids on board and constant bantering of waves, wind and rain.  I've never been in such a bad storm and made me think of the movie Cape Fear and the book Black Wave.  
The engines were able to start, but once put into gear would shut off as the stern was lodged into the shore and propellers with no room to move.  As the storm increased in severity, the anchor wasn’t able to reset itself quickly enough.  However, right at the end it did grab and was able to keep the bow off the rocks.  The sailboat captain finally awoke just in time to get out. He was fortunate enough to have a keel to keep his propeller out of harms way as he gunned the engine before colliding with us and the rocks. 

I immediately was in touch with the Coast Guard and TowBoat knowing the situation could escalate relatively fast.  The kids sat up at the helm with lifejackets on, cuddled together and ready for anything.  They were speechless, motionless and cold. We grabbed a blanket for them, Craig a shirt and me some pants.  The Coast Guard asked a series of questions and kept us calm for the hour we waited for help. It seemed like forever as we watched our home rising in the waves and rocking around, rain pounding down and wind howling like crazy. 

At some point during the hour, the sheriff cars started arriving on shore. They faced us with the decision of leaving Craig aboard alone and getting the children and I to safety.  We are a team and we have always stuck together. It was a hard decision to make, but we deployed the dinghy and threw them one of two ropes.  Kids were off without a hitch and I slipped on the rocks scraped my legs and was bleeding from the injury with salt water soaking in it.  The kids found shelter in the police car and I proceeded to call my parents to get a phone number of their friends that lived nearby.  I felt bad worrying them in the middle of the night and their friends were out of town for the night and unreachable. 

Meanwhile, TowBoat arrived and Craig worked with him to get a line secured to pull the Negotiator to safety.  The first attempt failed when the one inch thick line completely severed in half trying to get a mere 40,000 pounds offshore….so back to square one.  Once the boat was freed the anchor needed to come up.  On their second try they shortened the line with a different style of rode only being attached to the single bow cleat on our boat which Craig installed around Thanksgiving as the original one was ripped off in another storm a few days prior.  The second time seemed to take an eternity as the center-console single engine 250 hp towboat swayed back and forth trying to wiggle our vessel out.  In the meantime Craig had to bring in the chain and anchor as it inched forward.  Thankfully the windlass gypsy that Craig had just repaired (hand cut a new slot for the key), was put to the test as it was wedged in the towline.  All of a sudden the boat was freed.  They worked their way to the other side of the bridge with more protection from the turning wind.

It was then I got a phone call that TowBoat was coming to bring us home. The bilges were dry and there seemed to be only minimal damage done.  Within a 3 hour period we were back aboard, anchored out next to the sailboat.  This truly is hopping back into the saddle.  As Morgan insisted on bandaging me up before she went to sleep, Ryann was so excited when she looked at the clock and realized she had never been awake at that hour before.  Jaxon started playing with toys as if it were morning or maybe just making sure that they were all okay.  Meanwhile, Craig was outside bailing out the dinghy that was completely full of water.  He wasn’t able to raise it after we went ashore and it was only secured by the davits in the water which allowed it to fill up quickly.  

By 4:00 am TowBoat left us with over $1,000 bill that was covered by our insurance with them.  The winds blew so strong that it completely detached our front burgee flag pole off, somersaulted over the railing and caught in the exterior netting.  We sat in the helm after it all recounting our every move and knowing that in life we've always put safety at the forefront.  Craig slept in the helm from 4-6 with one eye open at all times.  I wanted to rest up for the kids, but too kept a watchful eye knowing how fast things can change.    

The next morning the gentlemen on the sailboat kayaked over to thank us.  He had been in a storm two weeks prior in reported 43 knot winds without a problem. He said he heard my screams and was so thankful of the outcome.

After 4,000 miles of traveling and anchoring the majority of the time, having faith in your ground tackle is a must. We have more than sufficient gear. Our anchor is more than twice the size recommended with 200 feet of chain tailed by 300 feet of rode.  We also carry two spare anchors with 40 feet of extra chain and 900 feet of rode. 

A lesson learned here is that you need to have faith in your boat/Chris Craft, faith in your ground tackle and faith in the decisions you make as a captain and crew.  We have faith in ourselves and in the middle of the night we overcame the situation and stayed level headed.  We do believe there was a hand of some sort that pushed away the sailboat on the collision course.  The hand also set the anchor within the last ten feet we had before rolling on the rocks.

There may be some rough waters that alter your course, but don’t get discouraged.  We’re not…and plan to anchor again soon. 

A photo on the wet slippery rocks. Our boat was strong and determined to keep us safe.

Many of you know that for years, Craig has worn a bathing suit to bed. He jokes that it makes him ready for anything.  Upper left corner is one of the police cars that came for assistance.

A view from shore as we stood next to a four lane busy causeway bridge. The square  light spot was a sign posted in the water for slow speeds.

The 38 foot sailboat we shared our anchorage with.

Above is the towline that broke free during our first attempt.
Oh yes, and don't forget - for the first time in ten years of boating we decided to get the Boat U.S. towboat insurance policy for a mere $ well spent. We've used it twice, this incident and once for not really running out of gas (more of that story later).  Bills totaled over $1,600. 
More to come on the days following our 'adventure.'


  1. This adventure on the Great Loop is one of many rewards and trials all wrapped up in one. Knowing how organized, efficient and aware the 2 of you are, the unexpected was yet again handled to the best of anyone's ability. Under this kind of pressure to remain cool and collected, IN THE DARK AND STORMY WEATHER no less, you did an amazing job and I'm so proud of you. Thank you for keeping your family safe!!! Hurry home to us, m

  2. Thanks for sharing this story with us. Your wonderful written description allowed us to feel some of the emotions that you were living through as this was happening. Wow! I think it's really awesome the way that you and Craig handled this situation. Not the kind of adventure you anticipate but one you'll never forget either. Glad everyone is safe. How's your scuffed leg from slipping on the rocks? Hope it's OK now.

    I'm guessing that you had to check the running gear the following day to make sure nothing got out of shape when The Negotiator ran aground.

  3. Great Job!! Nothing like a well prepared team! I hope Negotiator comes through fine!
    Stay well