A Change of Plans

Our alarm went off at 1AM New Years Day, we were underway by about 1:30, and we headed down the ICW towards Port Everglades, Bar Cut, and the Atlantic Ocean. We had come from Lake Worth to Ft. Lauderdale a few days prior, having decided to attempt the crossing to the Bahamas from a point further South so as to get a better lift from the Gulf Stream. The forecast was for SE winds 10-15kts, shifting S during the day, seas 2-3 feet subsiding over the course of the afternoon.  We passed the last few New Years Eve party boats as we turned the corner off the ICW into the inlet channel of Bar Cut. As we made our way out the inlet, the flat calm of the ICW gave way to the somewhat less placid surface of the ocean. A Port Everglades pilot boat pulled alongside and requested that we turn south in order to allow the container ship he was escorting to make his turn. With the ship past, we hauled up the main and working jib, and the press of the sails steadied the boat’s motion somewhat, although we were still moving around quite a bit. With the SEish wind, we were just able to steer our course, 90° E, close hauled. Our plan was to motor sail the entire way, with the engine running at about ¼ throttle and both sails pulling, we were doing about 5 kts, which would put us into West End at around 2 PM. The motion of the boat was considerable, despite our previous experience in “boisterous” conditions on the Chesapeake, the motion of the ocean as it were was something completely different. At this point I felt that we were managing the conditions. Ryan may disagree. Our friends Annick and Giles on “Calista” left a few hours behind us and were giving us encouragement over the radio. After about 2 hours and 10 miles progress, our motor cut out. I fiddled with it a bit while Ryan steered, I thought that maybe the tilt lock had come undone. Got the motor started up again, ran for a few minutes, cut out. We gave it one more chance, the motor started, ran for a few minutes, cut out. We made the decision to turn around, I didn’t relish the idea of coming into West End under sail alone, and our crossing strategy relied upon the motor helping us make good speed. We turned the boat around on a reciprocal heading, and shortly passed by “Calista.” We tried taking pictures, but it was too dark, but Calista made quite a sight slicing to windward under genoa, main, and a bright moon. We checked our speed and realized that we were making between 0 and .3 kts over the ground, having just encountered the edge of the Gulf Stream prior to turning back. We altered course to the West, and as soon as our course over ground indicated that we were no longer being set N by the Gulf Stream, altered course for the sea buoy marking the entrance to Bar Cut. Which of course was just about close hauled. We sailed in the inlet, having just a few moments of worry sorting out the lights of the buoys from the lights on shore. Bar Cut is wide and strait though, so navigating back was fairly straightforward. Upon making the turn onto the ICW, we got the motor started, it cut out again. We sailed a little further towards the 17th St bridge, the seas quieted, the motor started, and stayed lit until we dropped anchor right where we had left 7 hours prior. Occasionally in the course of this blog I have, if not censured, then understated the occasional stressful moment so as not to worry our worried mothers too much. J The final detail of this particular yarn is something that I was tempted not to mention, but it plays into our subsequent decisions. Upon getting the boat squared away and cleaned up, we discovered the bilges were full of water, right up to the floor boards. “Firefly” is a nice full keeled boat, with deep bilges, that’s quite a lot of water. It took 10-15 minutes to pump all the water out, manually of course. I set to trying to figure out where the hell it came from. Turns out the hole I drilled in the lazarette bulkhead to run the wires for the solar panels was the culprit. When there is any wave action at all, the lazarette fills with water from the motor well…this is normal, we fill it up just about every day on the ICW when going through wakes etc. However, with the exaggerated motion of the ocean, as well as heeling the boat hard over close hauled, there was enough water in the lazarette to just about submerge the hole for the wires, funneling it below and into the bilge. Needless to say this scared the shit out of us. So we have decided to forgo sailing to the Bahamas and are instead heading to the Florida Keys. Ryan did not have any fun sailing in the ocean, I don’t blame her. I fixed the hole, but am somewhat concerned that some other nasty surprise lies in wait should we test the boat offshore again. Fortunately, we should have ample opportunity to sail the boat in the Keys, and give everything a good thorough testing. In some ways the experience has also made me more confident, despite the various challenges, we were able to safely navigate the boat back through an inlet at night, having never gone offshore previously.

Although we’re both pretty bummed about missing the Bahamas, we’re excited to hit the Keys and catch up with some folks we know headed down that way. (WE R COMING 4 U CHICKADEE) I also still have every intention of shooting fish in the face with a spear. Now, to end on a more positive note, while waiting in Ft Lauderdale for our (somewhat dubious in hindsight) weather window to cross, we had a rager of a time celebrating Ryan’s 30th birthday. We started out at the Southport Raw Bar with Annick and Giles of “Calista,” which is the de facto sailors hang out due to their dinghy dock.


There we met Dave and Rose of “Cloud 9.” Giles drove us back to the anchorage aboard their dinghy, skillfully dodging mega yachts and the Ft Lauderdale Fun Killers (aka water police) all the way. Giles and I then drove around the anchorage and invited all takers over to “Firefly.” The French crew of a large sailboat joined us, so we had 10 people, 2 languages, and 1 dog aboard. We were somewhat down by the stern. We had a blast, a right good party for my lovely wife.


She’s pretty awesome eh? Some pics between Lake Worth and here.


We thought this place was pretty big until we saw how they do it in Lauderdale.


Then there was the time a palm tree fell in love with the prop


Quick, suck in that beer belly!



19 thoughts on “A Change of Plans

  1. OMG what a scare you guys had, and what a great response you had to the situation. Very sorry you had to have that, but my hat’s off to you for coming up with a new plan, and continuing your adventure. Excellent troubleshooting skills! There’s nothing like surviving a thing like this to bring a seafaring couple together . . . right? Right? I sincerely hope so! Thanks so much for the update, and Godspeed on the next leg of your journey. Enjoy the Keys!

  2. Firefly meets the open ocean! Great to hear that you guys tried, sorry that your plan didn’t work out (but what plan ever does!!). Sounds like you made good decisions and handled the situation properly, the leak- found it, corrected it, move on! Have you found the problem with the engine? Sounds like a cooling/water problem, check the impeller and water flow. Lot’s of fun in the Fl Keys, your inner beast would love fishing/diving the Islamorada humps and the Pennekamp Park is awesome. Have fun and keep updating!!!!

    • Thanks James! I think it was a fuel supply thing, check port was shooting water just fine…getting it checked out today. She ran fine this morning, I don’t think she liked being jostled quite so much. Hope you’re doin well!

  3. I am so glad you are ok! It is a pretty interesting thing that the drill hole was the culprit for the water logging ! Have fun for the next part, and know there are more people besides your mothers worrying about your travels!

  4. Happy belated birthday, Ryan! Sorry we won’t see you in the Bahamas but I am sure you will love the adventures of the Keys. We are still in Ft L another week getting stuff done before we take off for the islands.

      • We are now up the road from your latest SPOT. Long story short, we didn’t get our bimini until last week
        Friday and the weather has not cooperated for going across so we came south. We are at John Penneycamp marina at least until the weekend. Stop in!!!

      • Glad you guys made it out of Ft Lauderdale! We were pretty ready to not be there anymore…my folks are coming for a visit so we probably won’t make it up there, but hope you have a good crossing! The weather has got to get better right!?

  5. The Atlantic will still be there when you and Firefly become better acquainted. And a full shake-out run down the Keys? Your plan B still looks pretty good compared to most folks’ plan A.

  6. You made the right decision. It’s good to take things as they come and not endanger yourselves or the boat because of some set itinerary. It’s a shakedown cruise and you’ll work out the bugs as you go and it will all be routine.
    Barring the breather on the tank being closed, primer bulbs go bad and don’t allow proper fuel flow & pressure. If yours isn’t new/newer, look into that as the culprit. Had our outboard doing exactly what you describe and a new hose/bulb cured it.

  7. Chris, Thank you for sharing the details, and I’m sure I am better for not feeling some of the emotions you both may have gone through out there in the dark, but can only imagine. I also thank you for having the skills and instincts to bring the Firefly back in safely and the crew intact. I’m sorry that the theme of Gilligan’s Island keeps running through my head, “…if not for the courage of the fearless crew, the Minnow would be lost…” I look forward to hearing tales of your upcoming travels, the Keys and look forward to benefitting from your accumulated experiences this coming Summer in the Bay.

  8. Great adventure, you should be very proud of what you have accomplished with Firefly, my parent live on the ICW near Beaufort SC- right across from the MCAS airbase if you need anything on the way back. Best Regards – Jerry Smith – Ariel #417 – B’more Maryland

  9. Discretion is certainly the better part of valor — glad to see how ‘grown-up’ you are about making a decision like this. Have fun the in the Florida Keys.

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