Midnight Express

 25 June 2016

The light is a waning moon to the East, casting a beautiful glow on the water with scattered lightening to the North as we cruise out of Brunswick. It’s 12:45 AM.  The building cumulonimbus clouds are visible with each flash. They are not threatening. Since we are in cell phone range, (and we hope to maintain that as long as possible) we can still call up the weather radar and see we are safe for the next several hours.

We had spent the last 36 hours making some repairs and preparations for a brief voyage to get our sailboat Lost Loon to St Mary’s Boat Services for the off-season. And so we are underway. We navigate the zig-zag route toward the inlet, watching for unlit channel markers with precision. The docking hardware is stowed and we begin to ready the safety equipment. We are anticipating an uneventful ride, but will always be prepared. As this is Kelsey’s first overnight passage, we quickly run through some basic safety guidelines (one sentence…you wear a life jacket on deck at all times). She will keep watch with one of us, or sleep (if possible).


The heavy air lightens as we reach the ocean and there is relief from the heat of the city we have left behind. Once we are at St Simon’s sound we travel out another 5 or so miles before we begin our coastal voyage South. The seas are easy at 1-3 feet and the breeze is light. As our eyes adjust to the night surroundings, we approach the final marker and begin to reckon our position with lights ashore. The travel is slow at 6 knots. We need to maintain this average speed to arrive at the St. Mary’s inlet at dawn and not before. However well marked, it is usually unadvisable to make an entrance you haven’t experienced before in the dark.


Mike and I decide that he would take the first watch as I attempt to get comfortable on the cockpit bench for a nap. We are motoring and not sailing so there is no heeling except when we take on a wave of more considerable height and the boat rocks a bit more to one side, so sleep is marginal, but adequate knowing we are finally underway.  As my shift begins, it is 0300 am and we have gone beyond the limits of cell service and can no longer obtain cellular radar so I watch the sky for any signs of storms approaching and continue to identify landmarks along the coast. The sky to the South shows signs of electrical activity and continues to move off in that same direction (thankfully). St. Mary’s inlet shows up quickly, but at our speed it looms in the distance. The next few hours pass quickly and as the first signs of morning show in the Northeast we are on schedule for a 7 am arrival at the inlet.

We appreciate full daylight at 0715 and watch the South passing storms resolving. We begin to make our turn West toward the Georgia coast.


Much to our consternation we also observe a darkening in the sky to the Northwest (the direction from which all of the storms have been approaching in the last 24 hours). The radar confirms this. It shows a very large and deep cell coming toward us.




The first wave of light rain and wind hits just as we slip out of the ocean into the inlet. It was just before this that nature provides Kelsey with a semi-promised dolphin sighting.


(Recall that was the one incentive I had mentioned to entice her to make the trip that night). Mike takes the helm from Kelsey. We close up the hatches and go below.

As the thunder and lightening arrive we are making our approach to the intracoastal creek that leads us up to the marina. What is funny is that this creek winds some 2 miles to the marina, but you can actually see it off to starboard about ½ mile. These next 2 miles are supposedly fraught with shallow waters and shoaling /sandbars that MUST be avoided, lest we want to make our first call to Boat US for a tow. Mike determines he has to stay in a confined lagoon where the water is nearly 30 ft deep until the storm passes.

The next harrowing 30 -45 minutes seem like an eternity.(not unlike an episode from The Twilight Zone).  He maintains the helm and the boats position through incredibly close lightening strikes and near 30 knot winds. He is doing tight 20 yard circles to maintain position.


At one point, he can only see as far as 15 ft from the boat due to amazingly heavy rainfall. He suddenly sees a blip on the radar, like an approaching vessel. It becomes clear that this is no small boat and a 30-some-foot cruiser that blasts right by amidst the weather chaos. We wonder if he even knew we were there? By this time, with the continuous electrical activity, Kelsey and I have stowed all the electronics (cellphones, ipads, computers, radios) in the stove to act as protection from lightening strike. (I could see the headlines: The electronics survive!  3 souls are lost to lightening strike in Georgia). Every 5 minutes I take the phone out of the oven to check the storm cell position and find that for almost a solid 20 minutes this thing is building right over us! I suppose that as the storm came closer to the warm ocean waters it took on a new life. I am also watching the wind speed indicator down below in amazement and see gusts over 30 knots.

I was only fast enough to catch this speed.

Right next this is a chartplotter (the one that doesn’t want to be the slave) and I can see Mike’s nice tight circles forming in the basin. (No I didn’t get the phone out for that pic).  We wait, and as slowly as this squall approached it finally left us. Mike was drenched. We studied the weather radar and to our disbelief began to appraise another storm approaching. This was hitting Brunswick at the current time, and unfortunately we couldn’t figure out how fast it was approaching. It was 10:00 presently and we had at least a 45-minute slow run up the winding creek to the marina to our final dockage. We contacted the owner and he was ready for us whenever we arrived. We needed to go.

I begin readying the bowlines and fenders as well as releasing the lock on the anchor and checking the windlass (If we had another storm out here, we would end up on the shore without a doubt, unless we somehow anchored ourselves in the middle until it passed…we would be ready like a boy scout).With Kelsey watching port and myself to starboard we began the final leg of this short journey to dry storage.


The chart plotter maps are good (no …they are really indispensible), but one must depend on visual reckoning under these situations. That would prove to be impossible however, for after the storm this shallow body of moving water was now deeply brown, there was no indication as to depth. So, my job became watching for floating obstructions (logs).

Maneuvering the boat in a bit of a current, trying to avoid sand and shallow depths, was challenging. After our first or second negotiated turn, we felt a very slow and quite identifiable surge to a halt. The keel hit bottom. It was very temporary as with Mike’s quick action at the wheel and reversal of the prop we were off. (Uncharted shoaling is quickly humbling). We all regain our breath. Around the next bend, we are rewarded by the sighting of a small flock of pink flamingos along the shoreline. (We take that as a good sign). Our final approach to the marina is made and in Lost Loon-style, Kelsey and I make docking the boat (however on a rusty steel barge) “look easy”. I think that Mike’s first words, as we made the final figure eights on the cleats, were “holy s— where’s the bourbon?”


The radar was showing a continued approach of the next thunderstorm. Rocky, the marina owner indicated that he would have his team ready to put us in the slings quickly to pull the sailboat out of the water. This would mean we would have to remove our belongings down a ladder once the boat was secure out of the water.

Enter a caption

Mike was instructed to motor into the slings, which did require him to work against a current, but as he made the approach and pulled into the slings, they realized that we would need to come in stern first. With the size of the boat, and specific placement of the slings to avoid the keel, they noticed the forward jib forestay would not fit. I wasn’t on the boat, but I could hear Mike’s thoughts….”this boat doesn’t have good reverse propulsion ….&^%$ #   #@#%… and against a current it could be difficult, if not near impossible”. Once back out of the sling, Mike made an initial attempt at holding the wheel over hard in reverse and there was little position change. I could see the frustration in his face, he tried with as much engine power as he could.  from where Kelsey and I were it appeared just plain stuck!  So, for the next 25 minutes, those marina boys on the mechanical sling wrestled Lost Loon like a wayward calf. With ropes pulling the stern, boat hooks pushing the bow and the strength of a prizefighter, they were able to turn that boat right around and allow Mike to back into the sling stern first.


Finally in correct position Lost Loon was lifted out of the brackish water, dripping wet, but no worse for wear, ready for respite. The mechanical sling moved her over the hard concrete as the first sound of thunder approached. (It brought to memory a trip Mike and I attempted to make from Grand Portage MN to Isle Royale, 2 yrs previous ,when we had to return to shore to spend almost 3 hours trying to de-rig our Precision 23 in the middle of a gale….ok terrible lightening rainstorm.)

With a ladder in place, we were able to again access to the boat and I can’t recall if it were Mike or Kelsey that opened the first beer. We began the process of unloading our gear, having lunch, and re-organizing (have I mentioned that is a never ending process? ) The final tasks were underway to close the boat in light showers, a bit of thunder, no wind or lightening. We closed hatches and placed the canvas cover sadly and systematically….for the 3rd time this year. We had somehow become attached to this new/temporary home. Moving her from port to port as we continued to dream of a time when we can spend more than a week or so traveling.


We needed to get back to Brunswick to retrieve Kelsey’s car and the marina offered a car for use. The only problem  was that the marina owners had loaned it to someone else. We would wait…..and  took our time getting everything in place on the boat for the summer storage ….and we waited…..

We completed all our work, had another “cool one ” and were still waiting…it was just as we made a call to a local cab that they returned with the loaner. We made a 60-minute round-trip to Brunswick and back before we were off for Cape Canaveral. The next event on the agenda was to deliver our Platismo 6-person life raft for re-certification the following morning.

We arrived at that night’s hotel tired and ready for rest! We had found a reasonable rate near Cape Canaveral, so we would be close and on time for our appointment to discuss and deploy our life raft the next morning. Every 5-7 years if unused a life raft should be taken out of its valise and checked for small tears or deterioration, as well as inspection of the CO2 canister to inflate said raft.

We had previously discussed with Gator, the owner of Lifeline Marine Safety Services, that we would review what we had on the raft and what we would need as well in emergency. He would also inflate it so we could appreciate the process, with hope that we would never have to do that again. We were greeted and escorted to a warehouse type room accompanied by our life raft. After a great in depth discussion of safety, when to deploy and board the raft, as well as options for safety equipment to stow, we eventually did inflate the rescue vehicle. As this had never been re-certified or deployed before, we found it was in excellent condition.


Facebook caption ….”hopefully the only picture of Mike and Nancy in their liferaft”

It was a great experience, however foreboding, to think of our precious Lost Loon sinking and having to abandon her for the safety of our lives.

We finalized options for our survival tent and were quickly on our way again, heading much further South, but now on vacation for SCUBA diving, snorkeling, fishing and relaxing!


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kelsey mike


Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the thing 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

Making a move…again.. headed for dry storage….

June 2016

A ship in harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for. John Shedd.


We needed to move the boat out of the water and to a place where we can get bottom work done. (In boating terms..). We had made a decision after the Bahamas trip that we would need to get the boat out of the water for cleaning and painting. Now there are several schools of thought on storing a boat in the water vs. out of the water. There is a definite advantage in keeping a new bottom paint away from the critters that chose to make their residence within the fertile growth that occurs on a boat that sits inactive at the dock. These sea creatures can eat away at the bottom paint over time.(This is actually what marine paints are formulated to defeat this growth. From the origin of sailing and boating, mariners have tried to discourage the barnacles, and aquatic growth by adding all kinds of coatings to the hull of said boats. Before “we” were environmentally conscious (as well as safety aware for health reasons) boats kept in saltwater endured applications of arsenic, tar, sulfur, tin and pesticides! As time and awareness have evolved they have found newer compounds of copper that work as a biocide to prevent heavy marine growth. (OK…boring I know, just one more thing…there are so many paints for the hulls of saltwater boats its incredible. So what’s different? The concentration of copper mainly and how fast the paint wears away to reveal “another layer” of copper to work. And you don’t have to pain the bottom every year!) Just so you know that we don’t needlessly spend hundreds of dollars just to have a “nice looking bottom”.

In hauling Lost Loon out of the water, we would also realize a benefit on our insurance. Additionally she needs to stay above or close to the 31st parallel to stay within the provisions of our insurance policy. So, the closest location to Brunswick Harbor Marina would be St Mary’s Boat Services, a marina that would allow us to have the boat “on the hard” (a nautical term use when you don’t have the boat in the water) in order get some work done and be safe for the summer. The location is just about 40 nautical miles south of where we were currently located. But before we just loose the dock lines and motor off to St Mary’s, we were obliged to get permission from the insurance company as this was at 30 .44 degrees north latitude (every so slightly south of the 31 degree line in the sand we are held to). It took a few days of emails, phone calls, and of course an additional $50. added to our policy (there’s always a hand waiting for money) to get the insurance company to “OK “ the new location just south of 31N.


Once we knew we were clear to make the move we had to decide on a route. We would have 2 choices :   #1- intercoastal waterway all the way: full day of motoring basically down a “riverway”, this would require us to leave early in the morning and anchor close to the marina overnight to make the final approach up the creek early morning so we have good light in narrow waters navigating to the marina. (This could also prove to be a VERY LONG HOT trip) and #2- an overnight ocean passage out St Simons inlet south along the Atlantic coast about 20 miles and back into St Mary’s Inlet with arrival early AM at the St Marys inlet for a daylight creek approach early AM for a mid day hauling. Technically, either way this is a 2-day event. We made the decision early on to take the outside journey.

We knew we needed to leave by 12AM to arrive at St Mary’s by 7or 8 AM , (given good weather). As usual we watched the weather for days prior to our arrival in Brunswick, with the hope we had that 7 or 8 hour window to make the run. We had noted a very clear weather window to St. Mary’s on Friday night and that our chances of running into storms increased Saturday and Sunday.

To add to (or complicate, depending on your view of the yin and yang of things) the decision making process, we had reservations to meet up with friends in Marathon for some snorkeling, spearfishing and diving Monday night .

We planned our arrival in Jacksonville early afternoon Friday, and we would drive to Brunswick , replace a fuel filter (critical), uncover Lost Loon, obtain some meager provisions and head off into the night. Sounds good on paper (or the Excel spreadsheet) but in reality flights get delayed, it takes 2+ hours to replace the fuel filter, and we find that some of our navigations lights are not working.

Yes, we arrive in Charlotte, NC and our flight is delayed by almost 2 hours. We have our sweet daughter, Kelsey, now waiting patiently at the airport in Jacksonville for us. She has kindly driven down from NC to help us with transportation, join us on this overnight journey and the rest of the week in “the Keys”.

A Plan in Action

We retrieve our baggage on arrival at the Jacksonville airport, head out with haste in a very full vehicle (with just enough room left for people), and make our first stop in St Mary’s to inspect the marina. We quickly depart after meeting the owner finding this marina very sufficient for storing Lost Loon for the Summer, making tracks north to Brunswick Landing as planned to begin our ship preparations. After removing the trusty canvas that has protected Lost Loon from tons of bird doo-doo in the last 2 months, we debated about who might jump overboard and check the prop. (This wasn’t the Bahamas, Dorothy, it was late in the day with sun approaching the horizon and water that is brackish..i.e., salt and freshwater combined that moves very slowly through the marina.)….Luckily (for me and Kelsey), Mike made a quick decision to snorkel down 3-4 ft from the surface to check on the aquatic growth. We knew this was of primary importance as on a previous trip we had tried to maneuver with a prop that was so full of growth we were moving out of control. That was before we realized the amount of growth that can accumulate on a boat sitting at the dock. We had tried to get our “dive-guy” to make a visit, but in all the preparations to get away we had not called him in enough time to get it done. But…Viola! The report came back with very few barnacles and little to no cleaning needed! Job 1….check!


Next, I begin to reorganize and Mike started on the fuel pump. We had last left her after the Bahamas we had removed and folded the sails, stored the life raft, removed the solar panels, and stowed the Bimini canvas. So the salon , forward and aft cabins along with the galley were quite full of equipment, in addition to being quite near 100 degrees upon my arrival. The goal that evening was to make enough room for 24 hours of living and resting to make the trip. That process went well (however very warm) and I was able to secure some items on deck and along the starboard and port walkways to make room. We sent Kelsey off for some provisions and cold beverages, enough to help us get through a night while we continued the work. Later in the evening as the sun was actually setting the light available to Mike in the port lazarette, where the fuel pump resides, was getting dark. Like a surgical assistant, I provided light, towels, and precise tools for completing the job. It was hot down there and any hint of a breeze had disappeared with the sun. With the new pump in correct position and all the lines connected…Jobs 2 and 3 were done.


It was dark when we started the engine and found it wouldn’t keep idling. Air. Of course, there was air in the lines..a quick bleeding from the engine side and it was back running like it should. It was after 9 PM and Mike connected the instruments as I made a check of fuel and navigation lights. I found no stern lights and the deck floodlight flashed and wouldn’t come back on. Now, there is a moment in time when you realize that your said plan needs revising or scraping, this was that time. So at roughly 9:30 PM after we had sweat to the bone trying to get the boat in order to leave…we had to scrub Plan A.

Moving on to Plan B





The air hung like the moss from the stately oaks  and cypress down the street, it was heavy and still. We were in no position to combat that all night without a bit of air conditioning and so we quickly connected to Hotels.com for a cool and refreshing nights sleep. We knew we had another 24 hours or so before another attempt at leaving Brunswick for Lost Loon’s summer home. If the weather changes…well, there is no Plan C, we would exhaust our window and have to leave the boat at Dock 15, slip 23.

We broke one of the first rules of sailing and that is leave enough time for weather window. We would have to suffer the financial consequences with the insurance company, but knowing safety is first and foremost, that would have to be.

Saturday morning arrived bright and as hot and humid as we left it Friday night. Plan B was hatched before retiring: leave Kelsey in the comforts of the hotel (no use everyone of us baking in the summer sun), shop for replacement lights, attend to a few other small jobs and hopefully spend some time relaxing near a refreshing body of water. By noon we had retrieved Kelsey, stopped for more provisions and lunch and soon found ourselves sitting by a local Jekyll Island resort pool. No harm we borrowed a swim as an escape from the very hot near 100 degree day again, might have shared a cocktail, and checked the weather radar at frequent intervals (like a football coach getting ready for game night we reviewed the game plan, confirming with each other that we were ready to go.)


We had dinner at a very nice Brunswick establishment The Southern Table, where they touted the true southern atmosphere. The waiters and servers wore bowlers and black suits. The crab cake,  salads, and  blue crab mac and cheese dinner were original and delicious. And the sweet tea was wonderful and obviously brewed to perfection. We sat in conversation about the days events and continued to monitor the radar. The offshore prediction center had increased the possibility of storms from scattered to about 20%. We returned to Lost Loon about 10 PM. We arranged the car that we would have to retrieve the following day via UBER and set to rest an hour or so. We found ourselves lying in the cockpit and across the deck for a whiff of cool air. We watched lightening move from the northwest to the east just north of us. At one point we decided that we would take respite in the community room, where there was AC. In anticipation we couldn’t sleep, but even for the 30 minutes we were still and cool. By 11: 30 PM we were ready to move. We had seen storms pop up on radar and dissipate quickly as they approached the coast.

We eventually were able to confirm that there was nothing approaching on radar that was ominous and decided that since it would be about 1 ½ hours to reach the coastal waters, we had time to watch for “ominous” and turn back. We cast off the lines, had the fenders stowed and were motoring out under the stars and light of a near full moon in leave of Brunswick at 12:15AM.


Lost Loon,  coastal bound under near full moon

Up next…..the approach to St Mary’s….the first storm.