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 and/or
"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
I have no doubt there will be many people here that will stand back and make all types of negative remarks (smile).
In stories like this (especially when they have a happy ending... everyone survives), we as sailors should stand back and be thankful no one was killed (which usually happens) and evaluate what mistakes were made to save our own butts and that of others.
I have never spoken to Skip (that I know of). Seem like nice people. I hope they get it all worked out and find a way back out to the life. The world is filled with a** holes, nice to see some that are not. So, should they read this: Hope you can get things back together. Don't lose faith or be turned off by any negative comments.
These are my basic cruising grounds, so I will comment on what he did and what I do different. THis is not meant as a crituque (though it will come across as one), but learning for anyone else that is going to make this run or anything offshore. I am not the expert, learn something new everyday, and I could write a book the size of a dictionary on my screwups... I just did not lose my boat in them. WIth that said, here goes:
1) Sea sick. Ever been sick? It will screw with your mind in every repect. At some point if you are sea sick, you are more of a liability than an assett. I have said this a thousand times, but will say it again: EVERONE GETS SEASICK! We all just have different thresholds. Realize that and learn what those thresholds are before makina a passage. Also, being down below is the worst place to be if you are prone to becoming sea sick. Stand at the helm and hand steer. Stare at the horizon. Drink a lot of water. Whatever works for you.. but learn it before heading off.
2) Scopalomine. I use it if I am going to be off for more than 24 offshore. I guess everyone gets different side effects, but one of the most common is your inability to focus (isn't that kinda how it works too??). Maps are ok, but small letters are difficult. Forget reading anything (ship names or markers) through binocs. Still, it works very well. It does not make me sleepy, some people it does. This is one of those things that you can learn how your body reacts to it BEFORE getting on a boat and making 24, 48 or longer offshore. Just stick it behind the ear and walk around a few days (or day). The med does no really set in for about 24 hours, so be thoughtful of that. Still, it is all but mandatory on my boat. Other things work too (ginger for some, phenyl for serious problems) but that is not the point of this thread.
3) Offshore versus coastal. I dissagree with his concern about heading offshore. Especially there, the further off you get the more the waves spread out and roll. Deep water is the best place to be in a blow. They should teach that in every class and make you write that 100 times before you buy a boat or set foot on one. A dead south heading from Tampa will take you further and further offshore, but following the coast past about Naples, the water becomes shallow. I don't care for the marathon passage, the Key West is better. If you get stuck near the 10k islands in a blow, you will be miserable. Give yourself a lot of berth.
4) Instruments. Your sailing partners that will stand watch better know your instruments as well as you do.
5) Watch. 4 on and 4 off works best for us. Other differ, and that is fine. Find one that works and stick to it. If a strom blows in, neither will get much rest, but just closing your eyes help.
6) There is a MASSIVE misconception amongst some cruisers (especially new cruisers) that the gulf is a good training ground for offshore and an easy run. Nothing is further from the truth. Would it be fair to say (with exceptions, many of them) it can be worse?? The fetch that builds across the gulf makes for large rollers in deep water but when that hits the shelf they climb to tall, square waves that have a tendency to break. That is why a northern can be so dangerous (and is very frequent). I have been caught in them (even when they were not supposed to be there). Nothing like deep water, the Pacific especially. Also, the shelf goes out for over 100 miles (or more) from the W coast of Florida.
7) Charts. They are a good generality, but the hurricanes have screwed many of them up. There are channels where there used to be islands and shoals where there used to be channels. Thus, never get anywhere near an anchorage or inlet you do not know at night. Heave to. Sail in circles. Turn on the engine and beat into the weather. Throw out your anchor and listen to Buffet with a drink... whatever works for you... but it is insane going into shallow water where reefs are present at night. The best time to hit them is daytime when the sun over you. Morning is tough and evening can be tough (due to the reflections). What is it... blue is fine, green is getting close (slow down), brown is oh **** grab onto something.
8) I would have reefed to or heaved to for sleep.
9) REalize the importance of cross track error and account for that or have a CP that does.
10) We won't even discuss the schedules aspect of making a passage. Let the sea decide.
11) I don't care about wind speed, I care about wave height & period.
12) **** happens.
These are just my uneducated thoughts. Others may differ. Again, I wish nothing but the best to Skip and should he read this: What does not kill you makes you stronger. Get back out there. You will be fine. Everyone screws up (even on this site, no matter what they say!), yours just cost you your boat. We were lucky and ours did not. Don't let anyone elses contentiousness bring you down. When in doubt, just refer to #12 above - I do.
CD makes some excellent points...
I'd emphasize a few of them though.
1) Seasickness is a problem, and having medication or treatments for it that work once it has set in is key to staying functional. This is extremely important if you are sailing short-handed. Suppositories and pills aren't ideal, since the effects of seasickness can prevent you from absorbing enough medication that way. Transdermal patches are probably a better solution if it has taken hold.
2) Many sailors, especially newer ones without the experience to draw on, don't realize how much more dangerous it is to head in towards shore in a storm. Many harbors and inlets are essentially unpassable in any kind of heavy weather, and even the ones that are relatively benign in such conditions should only be entered if you have fairly good knowledge, preferably experience as well, of the passage. What may seem like horrid conditions within 10 miles of the coast, may be much more bearable further out to sea. Also, the closer you are to shore, the more danger you are in of dealing with a lee shore position should the wind shift—the further you are out to sea, the more options you will generally have.
3) Most cruising boats are crewed by a couple—husband and wife, two friends, what ever... However, I can't stress how important it is that both individuals have the knowledge and the skill to single hand the boat, as if the other was not aboard. If one is injured, seasick, or exhausted, then you are going to be single-handing the boat for all intents and purposes. If you don't know the boat and the equipment on it, and have the skills to manage it—you are putting yourself and your partner at risk. Learn the skills, and practice them. If your partner tends to take over, force them to stand aside until you are comfortable that you can handle the boat by yourself, even in heavy weather or other abnormal situations.
4) CD's point about the Gulf of Mexico not being a really suitable training ground is very valid. The conditions that you see out on the open ocean is far different than what you would see in the shallower coastal areas of the Gulf.
5) Charts are just approximations...and a snapshot of the area at some point in the past... The area can have changed considerably, especially if it was subject to one or more severe storms. Sandbars, shoals, and even buoys can be moved. Also, some of the charts out there are based on readings taken many years ago...
6) Sleep is a weapon... it is a resource... without it, you are very vulnerable to making dangerous mistakes. In heavy weather, slowing the boat down, so that the crew can rest is vital. Whether it is heaving to, or using a drogue... make sure that you have tactics that will allow you to get some rest... Even short periods of rest can be helpful.
7) Schedules, other than a radio or watch schedule, have no place on a sailboat. Distance covered and days spent on a passage are up to the whims of the weather and sea... and expecting to keep to a firm schedule is both foolish and unrealistic at best, and fatal at worst.
8) CD's point about wind is pretty good. Wind isn't really the danger... high winds, without the corresponding waves are relatively harmless to well-found boats. Wave heights, their frequency and whether they are breaking or not matter much more. I've been out in 45 knots of wind...but the wind hadn't lasted long enough for significant seas to build...and it wasn't a problem. Those same strength winds, given a counter current or time enough to build, could have easily been very dangerous, rather than just exciting and challenging.
One bluewater sailor I know, who has decades of experience, told me that bluewater passages, even rough ones, don't really worry him.... he knows he and his boat can handle them. "It's when I get near landfalls that I start to get nervous... other boats, the shore, the shallower water depths all add complexity and danger to the situation. Out on the bluewater... you can't really hit much of anything, and a good boat really won't sink, even in a pretty serious storm—once you get near land, all bets are off. "
Knowledge is good... Experience is better. When I was asked about how you get heavy weather experience... my answer was—go out and sail in it. Practice reefing and your other heavy weather tactics in lighter conditions—and as you get more practice, try doing so in heavier winds and higher seas. Eventually, you'll get to know how to do them so well that it is instinct rather than thought... and when you need to do them in 40+ knots and 15+' seas, it will be second nature.
Nice SD. I dont often see you make a long passage, so it was nice to read. Thanks.
I'm glad you enjoyed it. Some points deserve to be hammered home. :D
Yours was too CD!!
Thank ya Cam.
Ahhh.....if Jeff H comes here......you guys are dead:D :D :D
Ummm...why would JeffH want to kill Cam or CruisingDad???
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