Bilge Monitoring: This was a BIG lesson in my book! I have made it part of the hourly checks while underway offshore. This means a PHYSICAL look into the bilges. I know some Captains who disable the Auto-bilge so they can monitor the amount of water pumped out with the manual bilge pump. This is a persoanl choice, but not a bad idea. By counting the number of pumps it takes to empty the bilge each hour will let you know if there is an increase in the volume of water in the bilge.
Satellite Phone: We lost satellite phones on the ship's system due to water in the bilges that came all the way to the floor boards and submerged the batteries in the bilge. The antenna of the satellite system never got submerged. It was mounted on a tower on the transom. There were drinks with grocery bags stowed in the bilge under the floor of the galley which came loose, got into the bilge pump and jammed it up. We lost ALL DC power due to that issue. NEVER stow bags in the bilges!
If you have a high water alarm... Test it regularly!
Portable Back-ups: A portable satellite phone (Back up) is what saved us. The portable GPS and Portable VHF radio... ALL served us well. Portable systems are the obvious best back up when the ship's power systems are damaged or incapacitated. we had battery banks with power, but with the fuses blown, we had no way to operate anything on the DC circuits.
With that said, one thing that would have been helpful is a 12VDC plug (Found at any Radio Shack) with extra wire to connect to the batteries to charge phones and radios. A portable inverter would have been even more helpful. (I now carry a small bag with these items as well as various connectors)
Canvas & Bimini: Bimini and Weather Cloths should be furled when a forecast of 35 kts or more are forecast. We took a partiularly large breaking wave on the starboard weather cloth. The weight of the wave in the canvas was so powerful, it caved in a stanchion at the cockpit on the Starboard side. So remove the weather cloths!
A windvane is a great item if there is a an autopilot failure... Even in the extreme conditions we were in, it held course well. It was a "Monitor" brand wind vane. If you do mount one be sure it is secured well and all the bolts are checked for security regularly. One of the frame bolts came out on ours within an hour.. Luckily, no others came out.
SPOT LOCATOR SECURITY: My new SPOT II unit has a harness/holster and I keep it clipped with a carbiner clip on a stout line under the dodger now. It will NOT go anywhere even if we are rolled.
Also... As soon as the wind hits over 35, I recommend turning the aft quarter to the wind and dropping all sails with the exception of just enough jib to keep headway. I recommend to NEVER sail with large seas and wind on the beam EVER again! If I have the sea room I intend to take a "passive" tactic and wait out the worst of the storm and not strain the boat or the rigging.
I already had to use the passive tactic on next trip... We hit gale force winds off of Long Island on an Island Packet 42. We immediately rolled up the jibs, lashed the bimini with extra line, turned the starboard stern quarter to the waves and wind and locked the auto-pilot on the smoothest course possible. We stood watch, strapped in the companionway and hunkered down for the 20 hours until things subsided and we continued on our way unscathed. I didn't think I would need to apply my "lessons" so soon after the last incident... But it worked.
I noticed after reading my last blog that I didn't properly thank and ackowledge the contributions of the Coast Guard and the French Vessel that was part of the AMVER Program. I am would like to do so now...
Thank you to the crew of the CGC Elm, who endured a very rough ride as I described in my last article. They were indeed getting the worst of it out there! We could see the Cutter getting rocked pretty hard in the heavy and confused seas. (Especially when crossing the Gulf Stream.) Through it all, they remained professional and vigilant. I cannot describe the feeling of relief we felt when we knew we had the Coast Guard over our shoulder standing by with their vast resources.
Additionally, I want to thank the crew of the 47' Utility Boat from Station Oak Island, NC who arrived promptly on schedule and took us in tow outside of Cape Fear River. They worked as a well oiled machine and passed us a tow line in turbulent waters with one toss of the heaving line and got us under tow quickly and efficiently. Once in the harbor, they took us along side and deftly maneuvered us into our slip at Southport Marina.
Being a retired Coast Guardsman, it gives me a great feeling that the proud tradition of excellence is being continued within the service. They give me great hope for our newest generation of "Coasties" who perform their duties proudly and professionally in the most difficult of conditions at sea.
I hope my writing here will possibly help anyone who would find themselves in a similar situation. In closing, the biggest lesson I can impart is to NEVER give up your ship! As long as it is floating, it beats the heck out of trying to transfer to another vessel either floating or flying. Just the evolution of being hoisted to a helicopter, or transferring to a ship in heavy seas and high winds would place rescuer and rescuee in peril. If you can ride it out on your vessel... DO SO! Even if you get too tired to sail, you an always heave-to and rest until you can continue on.
I hope no one will ever have to experience what I did. There is nothing wrong with being prepared in the event that it might happen! At the very least, you will have the peace of mind that you have the tools to handle it. Be safe out there! Before you head offshore, be sure everything is lashed down tight. Once you have done that.... Lash it down even TIGHTER!