19 May 2010


I'm writing this post from a motel room somewhere on Route 81 in western PA. I honestly don't know the name of the town, though I could probably find out with a call to the front desk. However, the location doesn't matter. What matters is that the first leg of my voyage is complete and I'm on my way home -- hopefully arriving in time for Helena's Birthday.

But before I get into the details of the last couple days, I wanted to address a question that several readers have asked, which is "Why are you so dependent on an engine? Why not just sail to windward?"

This is an excellent question. One that I think I have answered correctly for myself, but perhaps I'm thinking wrong. I'm definitely open to suggestion, since I do wish I wasn't so dependent on my engine. Believe you me!

Let's take my first attempt at crossing of Lake Okeechobee as an example.

Lake Nemesis (aka Okeechobee)
Click for larger image

You can click on the map to get a larger version.

The "Lake Route" across Okeechobee, from Clewiston (lower left) to Port Mayaca (upper right) is about 27nm long. The first 10nm are through a well marked channel, bordered by shoals and rocks. The rest of the passage is through open water, with plenty of depth.

The entrance to Port Mayaca is the Port Mayaca Lock. You can't enter the St. Lucie Canal without being locked through.

In general, I prefer not to enter new ports in the dark -- particularly ports guarded by locks. I have made night entrances several times on this voyage, most notably at Cedar Key where I had to navigate a tortuous 5nm channel, picking out unlighted day markers with my flashlight. That bit of white-knuckle navigation made me much more cautious about arriving at my destination before dark.

And Port Mayaca Lock had a further constraint: it only operated until 9pm. No one travels the Okeechobee Waterway at night. It's just too darn dark. So a night time enterance was not an option, even if I had the nerve to attempt it.

With my lousy engine, I figured I could make an average of 3.2 knots to windward, as long as the wind didn't kick up. Giving myself a little extra time for the lock, I figured I needed 10 hours to get across the lake and through the lock.

The day of my crossing, the winds were 5-10 knots from the North East -- directly against me.

However, for several days, the wind pattern had been the same: light winds from the East or NorthEast during the day, building to a howling 15 knot East wind in the evening, with gusts to 20 knots. These high winds tended to last until midnight, and then tapered off to morning, when we were back to the 5-10 knot winds.

As far as I knew, the rim of the lake was surrounded by shoals. I discovered later that this was not strictly true. There is a small area a few miles south of Port Mayaca where you can sail off the lake, nearly to the lake shore. However, I did not know this at the time.

So, as far as I knew, if I didn't lock through Port Mayaca by dark, my options would be 1) to anchor off Port Mayaca in fairly deep water, or 2) tack back and forth off Port Mayaca until dawn. Neither of these options were particularly attractive, given the expected howling night winds, so I really, really wanted to get across before dark.

I'd actually started the day in Moore Haven, about 15 miles back, so I reached Clewiston a little before noon. This left less than 9 hours until full dark at 8:30pm. A bit outside my window. However, I didn't want to waste half the day, so after a few minutes dithering, I decided to give it a try. If it looked like I wouldn't make it before dark, I could always turn back, with nothing lost.

It took over 4 hours to motor the 12 mile channel out of Clewiston. It might have been possible to sail one 2-3 mile stretch of this channel, but I figured I would have lost more time than I gained putting up and taking down the sails, so motored the whole way.

Once I cleared the channel around 4pm, I had to decide whether to motor or sail the remaining 15nms. The windspeed was still 5-10 knots, with a slight chop. The wind direction was still from the NE.

Now, people wonder how the Blue Moon sails into the wind. The short answer is, it sails as you would expect a well-designed gaffer to sail. I haven't had a chance to create a polar performance diagram, but from the month of sailing her, I figure she can sail at least 50° into the wind -- i.e., a bit worse than a racing boat optimized for upwind sailing, but not terribly.

With the 5-10 knot wind, figured I could average about 3 knots boat speed on a close reach. Maybe a bit more, but since I'd done so little upwind sailing, I tried to be conservative in my expectations.

However, the real question was, what would be my speed made good (Vmg) towards my destination?
As most sailors know, your speed made good (Vmg) is the cosine of the tacking angle multiplied by the boat speed.

Assuming an angle of 50° and a boat speed of 3 knots, my expected Vmg would be:

Vmg = cos(50°) × 3kn
Vmg = 6.4 × 3kn
Vmg = 1.9kn

So the best I could hope for would be a speed made good towards Port Mayaca of a bit less than 2 knots. This meant a 7 1/2 hour upwind sail to cover the remaining 15nm. Since it was already 4pm, that meant it would take til nearly midnight to reach Port Mayaca.

On the other hand, if I motored at 3.2 knots, it would only take 4 1/2 hours to cover the same ground. This would get me to the lock a little after 8:30... still cutting it close, but just doable.

Of course, if I had a decent engine that could push me along at 4.5 or 5 knots, I could have been in Port Mayaca in time to enjoy a sundowner while swinging safely at anchor. That wan't an option, but I sure was thinking of it!

The point is, these small differences in speed made good make a huge difference when you need to cover 15 or 20 nm. And you need to make these calculations in your head while keeping in mind the possible -- even probable -- changes in the situation.

At any rate, I clearly had to keep motoring to have any chance to get through the Port Mayaca Lock before dark.

A little after 5:00pm, when I was almost exactly 1/2 way across the lake, my engine died. As I've already reported, one of the plastic ports on the fuel pump cracked, allowing most of the gas to leak out. Unfortunately, it still pumped enough gas through the fuel line to allow me to restart the engine, and keep it running until I put it into gear, when it promptly stalled again. This gave me enough hope to keep restarting the engine so I could fiddle with it, and see if I could get it going again, for 20 minutes or so. Yes, I'm an optimist.

However, as the clock ticked towards 6pm, I recalculated my options.

Putting up the sails and sailing on to Port Mayaca was one option. I could have reached the lock by midnight, where I would have the option of anchoring or heaving to until morning.

Or, I had the option of sailing back to Clewiston. The wind was picking up, so I figured I could do 5 - 5 1/2 knots down wind. Clewiston was about 12 or 13 nm away, I could just make it before dark.

So I could have sailed in either direction. Why did I choose Clewiston? First, I didn't fancy anchoring, or heaving to, or beating back and forth off Port Mayaca all night. I fully expected to get the howling evening wind, and such a night would be uncomfortable at best.

But really, sailing on was not a practical choice. There was no marina in Port Mayaca. In fact, the next marina to the east was in Indiantown, another 15 or 20 nm along the St. Lucie Canal. And there was no way I could sail up the canal against the wind. I'd have to wait for the wind to swing into the West, and the forecast was for Easterly winds for the next 4 or 5 days.

Clewiston, on the other hand, was one of the handful of towns along the Okeechobee Waterway that did have a marina.

I knew all this, because I could only carry 12 gallons of gasoline on board, so had carefully researched marinas along the Waterway.

So the actual decision took less time to make than it takes to read through my decision making logic. I put the sails up, and headed down wind. By the time I got back to Clewiston, the wind had picked up to a howling 20 knots, making the last few miles pretty exciting. I didn't have the nerve to sail into the Clewiston Lock under those condtions, so rounded up just outside the lock and anchored for the night.


And that is why I did not sail upwind to Port Mayaca. There may have been other options that didn't occur to me at the time, but given the situation and my experience, going back to Clewiston seemed the most prudent, and the most practical decision.

I have put down this experience in detail to make the point that cruising long distances -- particularly in areas that are, frankly, a bit deserted and short on marinas and help -- is quite different than day sailing. It's not just a matter of upwind sailing ability. Even if the Blue Moon was a 23' racing machine, instead of a serious cruising boat, optimzed for off-the-wind sailing, I doubt if it would have changed the situation significantly. I still would not have been able to reach Port Mayaca by dark, and there still would not have been a marina.

As they say, however, life is for learning. Given the situation as it was, did I have other options? What would you have done? Leave your comments/thoughts/ideas below in the comment section.

Tomorrow, I'll tell you about the final leg of my shake-down cruise. Until then, I need to get home for my sweet heart's birthday!

>>> Next Episode: Planning is Everything

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  1. You sail for fun, right? So, there is no reason to beat yourself up to achieve some arbitrary deadline. You did exactly the right thing. I'll bet that was a fun sail back to Clewiston.

  2. A quote from the aviation world might be appropriate here: "There are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there aren't very many old, bold pilots."

    The consequences of your having pressed on would probably not have been nearly so dire as the quote implies, but there was no need to subject yourself to a night of misery.

    You did exactly the right thing.

  3. i dont know anything about sailing
    i do know about logic
    i like your logic
    shmuel brody

  4. I agree with Anon,,,you did absolutely the right thing. Sailing in unfamiliar territory is at best a little risky. Sailing in that territory at night borders on stupid. Best take an extra day and get there "safely"....Bill

  5. A gentleman never sails to windward.

    You did just fine. No sense beating yourself and the boat up to meet someone else's schedule.

  6. "A gentleman never sails to windward"... I have to remember that quote!

  7. "A Gentleman Never Sails To Windward" is the title of a book; it's a good read.

  8. 50 degrees eh? I think you area real optimist, but perhaps you have better sails than those on Uncle Husted(the gaffer in the pic). I think 60 was about the best she could do...and that might be fudging it a bit too! Not to mention leeway - LOL!

  9. Impeccable sailing logic! I'm really enjoying your tale. Thanks.


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