On several other boards Skip Gundlach has posted details of his first voyage in "Flying Pig" and how he came to grief on a reef near Marathon Key. I offer his explanation of what happened blow as I think it will be of interest to others.
Obviously the errors here are human ones and I think it serves as a cautionary tale to those who think they have nothing to fear or are considering passagemaking without adequate preparation. Skip and Lydia seem to be really nice folks who have spent a lot of time and money preparing for their voyage and getting a lot of input from others along the way. Their saga shows how quickly a few errors can get you into trouble. For those of you interested in hearing about what has happened with them since this post just do a search for Flying Pig on www.ssca.org
or follow the links on Skip's sites noted below. They are presently safe and sound. Here's the post:
Since most casual lookers will most likely not go to the various links, here's what I said about my analysis in the places I posted it. I think I've been candid, open and complete. If I had it to do over, the only changes I'd have made would be to have pulled in the first night, which would have changed the entire dynamics, and avoided most if not all of the cascading challenges.
The flap of a butterfly's wings, etc...
And PS, I'm on the phone and sending this from the anally-acquired wifi; otherwise I'd see none of this and have no communications at all...
Here it is:
"I learned about sailing from that"
By this time, the post-mortem on our grounding is well under way. Nearly
always, even in a hurricane (which virtually always, these days, one would
know was coming), if a boat comes to grief, there's ample possibility to
make mistakes in preparation, and learn from the results.
Pilots nearly certainly will recognize the title's slight migration from the
stories which used to (been prolly 30 years, so I can't swear that it's
still so) finish each issue of Flying mag. Herein is my contribution.
Our plan had been to take a very easy ride down to Marathon, from St. Pete,
anchoring in each night, getting a full night's rest, and going on as the
spirit moved us the next day. We'd been on an insane schedule for the last
several weeks, typically up until at least 2AM and, as I'm photosensitive, I
was usually out of bed by 7 at the latest. That had been preceded by 5
months of intense work as we raced to finish our refit and head out to make
the jump to Georgetown, Bahamas, to pick up the kids, and later, Lydia's
mother, for cruising fun.
The ideal weather window passed us by, just as we were almost ready to
leave. So, deprived of a target, we were going to take it easy and recover
along the way. Forecasts for the entire way - at least as I could access
them - St. Pete, Bradenton, Sarasota, Venice, Charlotte Harbor, Ft. Meyers
and Cape Sable - were perfect. 10-15 NE, which, on our heading and speed,
would make for beam reaching the entire way, and moderate seas, which, for
our trooper of a boat, would be totally easy.
We'd planned to hug the coast, coming in each night, and make the passage
through Mosier Channel to clear 7 Mile Bridge, and anchor in either Boot Key
Harbor or on the south/west side under the bridge, opposite the shallows.
Despite my earlier concerns, and having pestered every forum and list I was
on about how difficult I thought it would be, with our 6.5+ draft, we were
assured that it was entirely feasible to come through and continue on our
Many discussions ensued about using Key West as a jumpoff point, and while
it could have been done, would entail a much longer time in the stream in
order to cross, and would have no readily available check-in point. In
addition, having done it the other way in the course of delivery from Ft.
Lauderdale, I knew that that channel was dead simple, but, yet, when viewed
on a chart or from the air in GoogleEarth or the like, looked totally
treacherous and impossible. From that we inferred it was much the same in
the route to 7 Mile Bridge.
With all the encouragement and affirmation, we elected for Marathon. In
hindsight, we would still do the same, as, while under tow at dead low tide,
we never touched on the way in to Keys Boat Works on the bay side of the
bridge. And, this was in full dark - but obviously the tow captain not only
had extremely good chart and radar information, he was intimately familiar
with the route. We had not expected, nor intended, a dark passage. Instead,
as we reached the area (as happened - as planned, it would have been full
light), we were going to throw out the hook outside the channel and wait for
So, what happened?
First, we went aground nearly immediately after turning south, in uncharted
new ground produced by prior hurricanes, just off Bradenton/Sarasota. The
decision was made to turn outbound and motor hard for a short while to get
offshore so as to not have a repeat performance.
This was in the early-mid afternoon - about 2-3 hours from sunset. Sailing
conditions were, as forecast, ideal. We were still in sight of land, but
the ideal point of sail was taking us further from land. Thus, the first of
several cascading decisions was made. Instead of backtracking as would have
been necessary under sail, or straight motoring in to an anchorage, we
continued into the darkness.
We were both alert and in fine condition. The boat loved it, reaching
effortlessly on into the night. We had a lovely dinner of leftovers from
the prior night, heated up. Lydia went below to sleep while I continued my
watch. The VHF's mechanical man and woman on NOAA weather radio continued to
say it was marvelous sailing, and the boat proved it. The chartplotter
showed our progress steadily down the coast, but continuing to reach
As we had to miss the corner, anyway, that was no problem. And even though
the wind picked up a bit, the boat handled it with aplomb. Otto steered his
course without so much as a tweak from me. The waves built a bit, but that
was to be expected as we continued to move offshore.
However, as the new day dawned, it was apparent that the waters weren't all
that benign any more. The world outside was empty - never a sight of another
boat on the entire trip once we left landfall - and nasty, as well as
getting windier and lumpier.
Still, she shouldered on, with our full enclosure keeping us relatively dry
and reasonably warm, and our course was fine for our destination. As we
began to heel a bit, we just eased the sheets, allowing her to stand up
again. That she did so, and also increased her speed suggested to me that
we'd been too tightly sheeted, anyway. Our speed over ground (SOG)
increased to the high 8s - high performance and exhilarating and
That was another decision point which, with hindsight, probably contributed
to our eventual downfall. We probably should have reefed, instead, and
pinched up a bit. None the less, at this rate, we'd make our marker well
before dark - an outstanding run for the trip. That, too, contributed to
our continuing as before. Had we any concept of what was to come, we'd have
done something different - but hindsight's always 20-20. Instead, we
continued, making extremely good time, in comfortable position.
By this time, the winds were pretty reliably in the 20s. Again, no worries,
as we came over on our delivery in winds which never went below 20. VHF
forecasts were now very spotty, as we were pretty far from land, and the
seas were beginning to be nasty. As the wind built, we heeled even more.
Yet, still, we were well within our experienced prior range for wind and
felt no concern. So, with about 70 miles to go, we just bore off a bit,
easing the pressure yet again - but taking us further from shore.
Soon, the seas and winds were untenable. We dropped all sails and headed
inland. By this time the winds were in the high 20s and flirting with 30.
We made more than 4 hours of motoring to next to no effect. All the prior
decisions had put us, effectively, out to sea, in nasty conditions.
What to do? Lydia didn't want anything to do with my going forward to put
in a triple reef, but if we didn't have some sail up, the boat was extremely
uncomfortable, thrashing around in the washing machine of what I estimated
to be 9' seas or better, based on the disappearance of the horizon from a 6'
freeboard/cockpit elevation with me sitting on top of it.
However, I pointed out that we could run the engine full blast and make less
than 2 knots, perhaps overheating it (there was an elevated temp but not an
overheat condition), and in the end, take the next two days to reach land at
that rate, or put me into the harness and straps and go forward in a
cautious fashion, straighten out the sails issue, and stabilize the boat if
So, I did. Good decision, among what might have been several poor ones, as
it stood right up and sailed. However, the winds were still building, and
it required bearing off, again, from a beam reach. That put us yet again
further downwind of what we wanted, but we were still a great long way from
anything, so sailing was ok from a safety standpoint.
We discussed going to Key West. Another potential missed opportunity; if
we'd done that, likely we'd not have had any problem. But, again, we were
very far from anything, and the charts all showed pretty much a clear shot
at our first waypoint. Two equipment failures contributed to our eventual
demise: The radar would not light, so land was invisible in the night, and
didn't see the squall/front, either (apparently we were just in front of a
weather system the entire way down, none of which was mentioned in the VHF
automated reports updated so regularly), and our electronic charts didn't
have the detail needed to see what was coming.
So, having discarded the Key West option, Lydia wanted me to get some sleep,
as the boat was sailing along at a comfortable (for me) 5.6 under triple
reef, again still far from anything. So, she took over and I went to the
aft berth where the motion, while substantial, was easy and thus was of no
issue, and I slept soundly. What I couldn't have known was that she was
very uncomfortable, nearly seasick, and rather than standing watch, was on
the saloon sole, popping up every few minutes, looking around, trying to
make sense of the chartplotter which - since she'd not been monitoring it,
and making range adjustments to look ahead and also in detail at where we
were headed by zooming in along the intended route - she really couldn't
comprehend, worsened by her physical state.
Looking back, she should have gotten me, despite how tired I was, or how
much she wanted me to get some rest. My practice with the chartplotter
would have revealed our course taking us dangerously close to the reefs on
which we eventually came to grief, and we could have pinched up, rather than
doing our broad reach, or, even, simply tacked off in the opposite
direction, to take us away from where we were.
The final straw was what the locals characterized as a real stinker of a
storm. Visibility was nil, waves were very high and breaking over the boat,
and in Boot Key Harbor, normally the best hurricane hole in the Keys, people
were staying up on anchor watch (which is how the first word of our rescue
reached the Morgan group - someone had heard the entire exchange between us
and the CG, following them all the way to Key West and their eventual two
refusals on previously chosen landing spots, on their VHF. So, already
perilously close, we were blown off course.
Any of the prior decisions, had they been different, might have saved the
day. However, up until the end, all of them might have worked out well.
When we were under tow into Keys Boat Works, at dead low tide, not once did
we touch, let alone ground, on our course behind the towboat. So, the path
is eminently do-able. We just weren't quite on it...
I'm glad to say that Lydia's recovered and is ready to get back in the
saddle again. Of course, our insurance company may have other thoughts on
the matter, because once they've decided it's a total loss, there's no going
back, other than to buy it from them for salvage - and our bank account
won't stand it (I know what it will be, because I helped someone buy another
M46 out of insurance salvage from the owner who was willing to take the
reduction on the expectation that my friend would buy it for an immediate
So, your prayers and thoughts are encouraged on our behalf. Some of you
already know about Hayden Cochran's web site - an Island Packet owner, no
less! - at http://ipphotos.com/FlyingPig.asp. A poster in rec.boats
cruising has pictures up of our boat on the hard, before we even did
(http://www.geoffschultz.org/Flying_Pig/index.html) - though we'll soon have
pix of our extraction up, and later the gory details on the damage which -
since it's just some of the exterior, Geoff's pix can't really convey.
Thank you all for your support. It truly has been overwhelming, literally
hundreds of mails, the office at Keys Boat Works (700 39th Street, Gulf
Marathon FL, 33050 305-743-5583, where we can receive
mail, brownies, cookies, or anything else) has been inundated with calls,
and all the other things too many to mention which show how our amazing
sailing/cruising network responds to someone in distress...
That's all I can manage for right now, being sleep deprived in the extreme.
Thanks for all the love...
Skip and Lydia
PS for those seeing this event for the first time, extensive discussions
have taken place in the sailnet Morgan, west florida and livaboard lists,
the rec.boats.cruising newsgroup, and to a lesser degree, the renegades and
lats and atts forums, if you'd like to catch up. Of course, you could also
look at our log lists for a compressed view, without all the chatter on the
event, of the sites above
Morgan 461 #2
SV Flying Pig KI4MPC
See our galleries at www.justpickone.org/skip/gallery
Follow us at http://groups.google.com/group/flyingpiglog
"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you
didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail
away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore.
Dream. Discover." - Mark Twain
Morgan 461 #2
SV Flying Pig KI4MPC