The Little Star *
We thought we were going to die!
In May of 1987, I went to help a friend move a boat he had recently purchased. It was to be a simple move, just take it out of one parking place, go out to the bay, put it into another parking place and then go home. Sounds easy, doesn't it.
Well, like so many times in my life when I was confident that something was going to be nice and simple, ... it wasn't. Because of my Navy training with catastrophes, I sat down the next day and put together this little time-line.
I arrive at the dock, first one there. I walk around the boat, she is a 75 foot motor yacht, white with black trim. Single engine. The Little Star. Because it is a little brisk, I wait in the car listening to the radio.
Charlie and Roger arrive, I move my car next to the boat. Charlie tells me that we are making the trip to a new home for the Little Star. He has had her for about 10 weeks. After some careful calculations, Roger and I make two trips to buy gas, food and ice. We make some phone calls to arrange for transportation without success. Oh, maybe those calculations weren't so careful! You'll see what I mean, soon enough!
Donald arrives after Chuck and I tighten the rudder cable. We try to start the engine, but the starter won't engage the flywheel. We remove and reinstall the starter twice with no success.
Donald leaves to pickup his wife from work, and volunteers to drive us back from the new berth to get our cars. We tell him we will call him when we get in, about 7. (We were very close to being right, but not on our time zone!)
Manually engaging the starter after the third removal and reinstallation works, and she fires up. Excited, we prepare for to finally leave.
Underway under gray skies about three hours behind schedule. We are confident we can finish the trip before night fall. Boy, we were ignorant! We expect 2 to 4 foot seas at the most. The first leg of the journey, through the harbor itself, is uneventful. We steam directly into the waves, following a tug towing a barge full of sand.
A few minutes after passing over the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel, the engine starts to backfire, and after 30 seconds, stops. We drift back over the tunnel while double checking the engine. We did not get the hint, we were still determined to do what we had set out to do. We didn't even know that we were being given a hint!
We finally get the engine started again. We don't know why it stopped, but we are going again. The seas are rougher on the other side, we plan to tack back and forth across the waves instead of going straight. This will lengthen the trip, but smoothen the ride for the old hull. Chuck and Roger tighten down the anchor better, only seconds before we take a series of heavy rolls. Good timing on that, but we still don't get the hint! Chuck is almost swept overboard by the forward boom. Roger is also almost knocked overboard by one of the port side aft booms, and then again later by the refrigerator on the aft deck. Shortly afterwards, it goes overboard. After a near miss of my own with one of the booms, I secure the two aft booms to the railing, and almost lose my balance in the process. Again, we have survived in our opinion, and someone else may think that we were just ignoring the hints we were being given so graciously!
We turn toward the beach, our first zig-zag. We expect to go this way for a few minutes before turning back to the left.
The engine backfires and stalls again. We call the Coast Guard, telling them our position and notifying them that we might need a tow. This turns out to be one of the smartest things we do this day! Roger notices a very strong smell of gasoline from the aft compartment (above the fuel tanks). We don't smell gas in the engine bay. They acknowledge hearing us and agree to stand by.
We call the Coast Guard again and tell them that we are adrift, the engine has failed and we don't expect to restart successfully. They tell us they will have help on the way very soon. Notice how fast they really do respond.
Only 9 minutes later, the Coast Guard Rescue Vessel reports clear of the station and enroute our position. We have dropped one anchor, and it is dragging! We discuss later that it may have something to do with the tiny size of the anchor and the huge size of the boat we are on. Also, the boat is being wind-driven and tossed by the waves. Hey, even if the anchor only slowed us down a little bit, I would kiss that anchor today if I could find it! You'll see why every second it may have slowed us was very, very precious!
We drop the second anchor, and it also doesn't hold. I estimate being only 250 yards from the bridge-tunnel. You know the one that we crossed then drifted back over again earlier in the story? We, we are coming upon it again. Only this time, not teh tunnel section, but the bridge section. You know, the part where the Interstate Highway is still OVER the water, BIGGER than use and built out of CONCRETE! By the way, the Little Star was built out of wood. You would have realized that soon as you read on, but I wanted you to know now what started to go through our minds. We discuss what to do if we get nearer to the bridge. We decide to stay with the boat, because she wouldn't sink immediately, but survive the beating for quite a while. After all, she's a big boat! A few minutes later almost get knocked overboard by the door to the closet on the starboard side, aft as it swung open and hit me into the railing!
Because the sun went down , we are asked to update every ten minutes to the station in the hopes of helping the rescue vessel to find us. It seems that they have told the station they don't see us!
We can see the Rescue Vessel, they don't see us. It may have to do with that big bridge we are very, very close to, and all those cars and trucks and mostly the bridge lights. The rescue vessel looks tiny to me, and she is only a bunch of bouncing lights, hopefully coming towards us.
We are VERY close to the bridge, and the Coast Guard Rescue Vessel throws a line over, we start to tie up at the bow so they can tow us away from this . . .
bridge. We hit the bridge with our port side, while tying on the starboard side of the bow. On the second hit, the mast falls over and almost impales Roger, it is stopped, inches away from him by the starboard railing. The roof, which hits the bridge next, gets pulled up about 8-10 inches before being released. The third hit destroys all the railing on the port side, and the lights on the port side go out. We are hitting the bridge about every ten to twelve seconds and are working like crazy (we have been crazy longer than this, but now we are working like crazy) to tie that line!
After a very long two 2 minutes, we are pulled off the bridge. Boy are we relieved. We smile, we grin, we . . . forget that there is a long ride ahead of us in our glee.
Coast Guard Rescue Vessel slows down as requested, so that we can pull up our anchors. We are about 200 yards off the bridge by now, even though they're still dragging behind us as we are being towed. It is really, really dark out here now!
8:41 until, gulp, 10:30 p.m.
A very long tow, during which parts of the ship continue to get damaged by the 25 - 40 degree rolls that we take. We take on a little bit of water, not sure how. Each one of us gets little souvenir cuts, scrapes or bruises from falling.
The tow-line is shortened, to keep us behind Coast Guard Rescue Vessel as we enter port. Wow, it sure is smooth sailing in here!
We finally tie up, despite strong winds blowing us from the pier. It is too dark to assess damage, and we are too tired to care very much. Donald is initially upset that we call him five hours late, he had assumed we had gotten another ride back! Graciously, he leaves his nice warm bed at home and come to get us!
I take the best hot bath I have had in my life. Well, at least one of the top five if not the best. Well, that's it. Just another day on the Chesapeake Bay, huh!
Note: Yes, we had plenty of hints, and plenty of help. While we either ignored or misinterpreted the hints, we were very wise to not treat the help the same way. How do you do with taking hints from God? Are you as bad as we were that day? I am very, very grateful that today, 12 years later, I notice I take hints much better. Oh, I still have quite a ways to go, but I am making progress!
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* Names have been changed to honor other's privacy!