De-Masted in Marathon

The weather started getting rough. The tiny ship was tossed. If not for the courage of the fearless crew…

Writing about a tragedy is hard so I have been putting it off.  Then I finally figured out that the story might not even qualify as a tragedy.  Sure, our boat was damaged.  Yes, our plans were delayed.  We even cried when it happened. But nobody got hurt and we were in the beautiful Florida Keys for a few months…I am thankful to still be on the journey of a lifetime!

Travel Lift Damage
Travel Lift Hits Forestay

Crumpled Mast
Crumpled Mast
Marathon Jan 2016

The first week in January was supposed to be the final preparation time for traveling to the Bahamas.  We left Regatta Point Marina (Tampa Bay area) almost right on schedule heading for Marathon, Florida (the middle of the Florida Keys).

Our short stay in Regatta Point resulted in a surprising number of new friends.  This life we have chosen is shared with people from all around the world living the dream, each in his or her own way.  We found much in common with fellow Endeavour boat owners Mike and Cammy on S/V In Decent Seas, and Dan and Dawn on S/V Soulmate; dock mates Max and Lisa; power boaters Richard and Judi; house boat gurus Sam and Linda; nurses Jim and Kim; young explorers Rob and Crystal (whose blog can be found here: Let it Breeze); and many more.  It was kind of sad to leave. We have found, though, many of us are traveling a similar path so being stuck in one spot (in the Keys) allowed us to see some of these people again as they passed through, and we expect we’ll see them again as we journey about. It’s always “see you later” with sailors, not goodbye.

The trip to Marathon was not uneventful itself.  Most boaters make the trip using the Intracoastal Waterway. We decided to go straight across the gulf part.  We found hundreds of thousands of crab traps which threaten to tangle boat propellers.  Fortunately, the wind was in our favor to shut off the engine and sail. They say you won’t catch the traps if you are sailing…well, somehow, we caught one after the sun went down.  But that is not why Cheri woke me up during her watch.  The high level bilge was pumping water out.  Which means the water level in the bilge was way beyond normal.  I had a case of déjà vu.  As it turned out, the low level bilge pump switch had accidentally been turned off, and our aft sink was siphoning water in…lesson learned.  Shortly thereafter, we decided that the reason we had slowed down (and the autopilot was struggling to maintain course) was not the slight wind shift we had experienced, but rather an object caught on the propeller shaft, a crab pot. That sounds like a small thing, but these are large, wooden, waterlogged crates tied to a rope with a floating ball on top. Heavy stuff. In the dark of the night we decided to anchor in 30 feet of water and deal with the tangled propeller in the morning.  We tossed our trusty Mantus anchor overboard, and that was it. We had no ability to back down to set the anchor, because we couldn’t start the engine without risk of damage due to the crab pot on the prop. It held like glue all night anyway. When we awoke at first light, I tied our camera to a pole and videoed the propeller to find that the crab trap had shaken off during the night.  This meant I did not have to go in the water to cut it away.

On to Marathon we went.  Here is what happened:

We had scheduled a one week stop in Marathon to have the Marathon Marina paint the bottom of the boat before continuing to the Bahamas.  Painting the bottom must be done every 3 years or so and was the last maintenance item on the list before venturing out into the wild blue yonder. (Insert your own Bottom Painting jokes here J)

Painted Bottom 2016

First, the weather did not cooperate. Rain kept us from painting the first week so we remained just outside the harbor at anchor.  Finally, the rain let up and we came in to be hauled out and set up “on the hard” as they call it.

Everything was going well.  The marina yard staff people were very friendly and did a great job hauling the boat and painting the bottom.  The day came to lift the boat off the stands to paint the spots under the stand pads.  This is where things turned.  As they maneuvered the big travel lift crane into place to lift the boat, the operator failed to watch the front which ran right into our forestay. For our non-sailing friends, this is the front wire, of many, that hold the mast up and centered. It attaches from the very front of the boat to the very top of the mast.  The travel lift hit so hard, the compression crumpled the mast about half way up.  My heart sank.

Cheri had been very vigilant in watching everything very closely when they hauled the boat out originally. She had even admonished the operator to be careful with the forestay.  Well, they had been so careful with the previous haul out that neither of us had reason to believe they would not be just as careful again.  Cheri was using the time to do some laundry. I now had to figure out how to go tell her what had happened in a way that she would not think I was joking.  All I could do was walk straight up to her with sadness and tell her about the terrible accident.

The mast was not broken all the way through. It was dangling precariously half way down by the wire rigging that usually holds it in place.  We watched as a rigging crew and a larger crane from an outside company tried to dismantle it the rest of the way. That alone was harrowing. It was dangerous to the riggers, to the other boats on either side of us, and to our boat, as it seemed impossible to lift safely with the crane. Our hearts were in our throats the whole time, and the mast wasn’t brought down until the next morning, after a regroup and planning brainstorm on the part of the riggers.

Our plans to leave that evening were changed forever.

While standing there, watching the riggers work, we met a man who curiously asked about the event with reverence.  After just 15 minutes of talking to us, he offered to loan us his car for whatever we needed.  This fine gentleman’s name is Graham.  Later, he introduced us to his wife, Mary Catherine.  Over the next few weeks and months, they showed overwhelming kindness as we became friends.  They were not boaters.  Turns out they venture to Marathon every year in their beautiful travel coach, and stay in the RV Park next to the marina. These people give humanity a good name. We are lucky to have met and hope to see them again.

The ensuing months were full of insurance hassles, fixing the boat and Florida Keys shenanigans.  We made new friends and enjoyed new experiences.  Fellow boaters stopped to say hi and offer comfort on their way to the Bahamas.  We even met people that have sailed on Consort before we owned her…Herb and Cathy took us to an air show in Key West.  All in all, we met some great people and upgraded the boat. 

Manatees 2
Friendly Manatees
Start of the Air Show
Florida Mermaids
Florida Mermaids

I would like to extend a big thank you and endorsement of Florida Rigging and Hydraulics. Their expertise and patience helped get everything repaired properly.  I also want to give a shout out to Neil, our insurance adjuster, who helped get the marina’s insurance company to do the right thing and pay for the damage.

We are now, finally, in the Bahamas…just cruising around, looking around. We don’t always have internet but feel free to comment here or drop us a note via email or Facebook. We’d love to hear from you.

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