I wanted to get the boat in the water over Labor Day weekend. Work had kept me off the water all summer and I did not want to let this weekend slip through my fingers. We decided to sail from Wilmington to south port. The trip would be 25 miles of the Cape Fear River. It was going to be Brian, his girlfriend Tera and Me. Brian and I were going to camp out on the boat and Tera was going to drive back home to let dogs out. We launched, the 30 year old Macgregor, at the base of the Cape Fear Memorial bridge at 12:30 on Saturday. We motored away from the dock and raised our sails. And off we went. Tera immediately questioned some water in the bottom of the boat, but I assured her that it was from me washing the boat out the day before and there was no cause for alarm. We sailed for about an hour when the wind died down. The river was smooth calm. Me being the hardcore sailer that I was did not want to start up the motor. But when some kayakers passed us, and then a family of ducks, I conceded. So I fired up the motor and with the sails still up we continued down the river. About an hour later the wind seemed to pick back up and we shut the motor down and continued under sail. The wind was coming from directly behind us but the old Macgregor really stalls out on a run so we tacked back and forth on a broad reach. It was prefect sailing conditions, plenty of wind to move us along but not too much. I passed the tiller to Brian so I could stretch my legs and noticed Tera standing in ankle deep water. I asked why she did not say anything and she said she did earlier and I told her it was fine. Brian turned on the pump but nothing happened. That’s when I told him that I tried to charge the battery yesterday but it seems that the charger that I had just bought was not working and the battery was dead. But it really did not mater because the pump was up under the V berth where the water collected while on the trailer. And now the water was in the middle of the boat. My calm attitude did little to ease their minds so I explained that the water was coming in through the keel lock down bolt hole. And this hole was above the water line but water was splashing in. So he bailed us out easy enough, and I told him where to find the bolt to put in the hole. The bolt however was much too small to do any good, so we plugged the hole with a Wal-Mart bag on each side. Which worked surprisingly well and we had no further problems.
We arrived at the Southport marina about 5:00. It was perfect timing for a relaxing dinner at the Prevision Co. restaurant. Total fuel used 1/3 gallon. We ate dinner and talked about how great of a day it had been. And how we need to do this more often. Some friends that live in Southport came by and we had a few beers and enjoyed the perfect temperature and humidity the night had to offer.
Sunday Brian and I walked over to a nearby diner for breakfast. It was overcast but no rain or wind. The weather channel was on and they were calling for 10-20 mph winds and a small craft advisory. So I thought 10 mph winds would be about perfect and 20 might be a bit much but we should have a great day of sailing ahead. We motored out of the marina and toward the river. I wanted to get a feel for the conditions before we raised the sails. The hanked on jib was still attached but at the base of the forestay. The main was on the boom with a couple bungies keeping it in place. A forty footer came out of the same marina about a half-mile behind us. So at least we were not they only ones out here. When we got to the river it was apparent that we would not be raising the sails. I could tell it was going to be rough. We would ride up one wave and crash down into the trough. The jib was looking mighty vulnerable in the pulpit so I decided I better get it off. Brian took the tiller while I went through the cabin and reached through the hatch to get the jib. It was very rough in the front of the boat. Every time we came off a wave the cushions in the v berth would fly up about four inches. The anchor was up there too and bouncing around. The motion and trying to concentrate on jib, started me feeling sick. I got the jib down and closed the hatch and back to the cockpit just in time to release my breakfast over the side. I then closed up the pop-top and pulled the hatch cover to us. The waves were at there worst at this point. The 40 footer behind us, was not doing much better. Their bow was going down to kiss the waves before going back up to show off her bottom paint. But at least they had a dodger and were probably dry. With each wave our whole boat shook as it pounded into the water. The motor was coming out of the water on every wave. It would kick back each time it came out of the water, and then bend down as it bit into the water. The keel was swinging back and fourth on the pivot bolt, slamming against the hull each time. I considered trying to put the lock bolt in but that would require removing our Wal-Mart bag plugs that seemed to be working so well. I also figured if worse came to worst we could beach the boat on one of the nearby islands and wait out the storm. Having the keel locked down could only make things worse. So I gave the keel winch a couple cranks to keep it from smashing into the hull.
We considered turning back, but I felt we could make it to fort Fisher just as quickly, but I had not been to that boat ramp since I was a kid and did not even know if it was still there. It seemed to be calming down so I suggested we try for the Carolina Beach boat ramp about 10 miles away. We called Tera and had her go over to my house and get the truck and trailer and meet us at the ramp. Things were looking up. The motor was staying in the water now, and the spray was much lighter. The forty footer was now passing us. We waved to them. I wondered if they felt conditions were as bad as we did. Or was this nothing for them. But the calm did not last for long. The swells started to build again. The bow was crashing into the waves again with solid water coming over the bow up to the hatch. And that’s when the hatch flew open. With the next wave we hit pouring gallons of water inside. I had to get that hatch closed. I looked for something to tie it down with and found some wire. I cut a couple feet of the wire off and went up front in the cabin. I got the wire tied to the hatch and started to pull it closed when a wave came over the bow and ripped it out of my hands. The hatch flew back and tore the hinges off and was gone. By this point I was about to loose the rest of my breakfast and really did not care about the hatch or the boat for that matter. I tumbled back to the cockpit just in time to heave over the side. The ferry was passing us right then. We must have looked like complete fools to them. Our tiny boat in these rough waters with the crew puking over the side. Then the rudder fell off.
The rudder has been nothing but problems since I got the boat. I had pined the rudder when we left with a cotter pin. But the pin was gone. I could not believe it had fallen out, it must of sheared it off. Only the top pin had come out of the bracket, and I was able to get it back in fairly quickly. I then went to look for something to replace the lost cotter pin. I grabbed some more of the wire I had tried to use to keep the hatch closed. I was able to wire the rudder on with that. Then I looked around at what else might fail. The rigging was nice and tight. The bolt at the bottom of the mast! I had just threaded the nut on by hand. If it came off it would be a disaster for sure. I remember that when I put the mast up that there were several treads sticking out past the nut. Now the end of the bolt was flush with the nut. I could not reach it so I figured the best thing to do would be to just keep an eye on it. Then the rudder fell off again. This time it had ripped the wire off and bent the bottom bracket. There was no way I could get it back on, so I pull in aboard.
We could still steer with motor, at least when it was in the water. The boat had an adjustable motor bracket on it when I got it. The 9.8hp 4 stroke extra long shaft motor I bought was way to heavy for the adjustable bracket. So I had made several attempts at modifying it to make it rigid enough for the motor. This last modification I had done seemed to be working quite well. If we lost the motor then we would be in a real bad spot. I looked back at the motor mount to admire my handy work and noticed that a bolt was missing. “Son of a gun” I thought. I looked closer and another bolt was coming out and the nut was gone from a third. I had reused old worn out nylock nuts and now it was falling apart.
Brian was ready for a break from the motor so I took over. I still could not believe the amount of water coming at us off the bow. This was not even the ocean it was a river. How could the waves be so big in the river? Every wave was like a bucket of solid water right in the face. The salt was starting to sting on my face. We were cold and wet. The only positive thing I could tell Brian, was that if the boat sinks, at least we won’t get any wetter.
We finally made it to Snows Cut, where it was calm and almost sunny. Lots of people were out boating, fishing and kayaking, all having a good time. No idea of the conditions just a few miles away. And then there we were, looking like a couple wet rats. Tera met us at the ramp with the trailer and we loaded it up and headed back to the house. I really could not ask for two better friends. I stood there looking at the boat in my driveway. It was a complete wreck. The cushions and bedding were everywhere and weighed 50 pounds each with water. The anchor brackets on the pulpit and one of the stay adjusters were bent. All in all the boat did quite well. If we had been warm and dry it would have made a big difference. So now I just need to fix the front hatch, the rudder and motor mount. And then she’ll be ready for another trip. Or maybe I should sell her and get a bigger boat.