A Fog Mull
Lessons Learned Under Crisis

Sailing in Maine: Two Wrongs - Two Rights It All Evens Out

Those who follow me on Twitter (@BarbAtSea)know that we left the dock for the first sail of 2009 on July 2nd. This is almost two months later than normal and due entirely to the horrendous weather we've had this year. The photo at left was captioned: "Barb At Sea, Truly, Really at Sea. I love my boat.' 

I do love my boat; I love sailing with Stew; and for the most part I enjoyed the sail regardless of the weather. What very few people knew was that we left South Portland at 5:30 AM with the intent to arrive in Harpswell at Great Island Boatyard by 9:00 AM, showered and ready for busy work days for both of us. We didn't make it to GIBY until 11:30 because the engine sputtered and died just outside of Jewell Island. 

Wrong: EW had checked the fuel the evening prior, and knew that we  had fuel in the reserve tank, but thought that one or both fill tanks were empty. We were tired, we wanted an early start and he thought there was enough to get to our destination, where we could fuel up prior to heading back to our home port. We don't actually know how to measure the amount of fuel in the reserve tank or how long that will take us. That isn't a safe boating practice and we know it. 

Second Wrong: When the engine died, he and I both immediately assumed we were out of fuel. We didn't even think of other possibilities. Clearly we both had wondered if there was enough for the trip, so that the first and only cause that we considered. The next day, when EW brought 5 gallons of diesel out to the boat -- he discovered that we actually had fuel in the tank. In fact, the level on the stick was nearly as high as it was when we started out on Thursday. Ah-ha! Then we looked for other issues and sure enough, we found a clogged fuel filter. Changed it out, bled the engine and the issue is solved. We could have done that Thursday morning and arrived nearly on time. I would have been on time to my appointment and completed more phone calls, but we would have missed a very fine sail, which brings me to ... 

First Right: While the wind wasn't coming from the optimum direction for a direct and timely sail to GIBY, we did have wind. We worked together to quickly unfurl the mainsail, move us away from the rocks, unfurl the jib and correct the course to allow for multiple tacks to our chosen entrance to Quahog Bay. We had good visibility, good wind, light rain, and a really nice sail. I plotted the best course given the conditions and we were able to sail right up to the mooring. I love the teamwork in sailing. I love being able to work with my life's partner to make the boat move, overcome challenges, and fix problems. 

Second Right: I told only 3 very close friends that EW had allowed us to run out of diesel. We joke, we tease, and we "tell on" each other -- but not about things that would be deeply embarrassing or are unprofessional. EW is a yacht broker and licensed captain. He is phenomenally knowledgeable about sail and power boats, can fix just about anything, and I trust him with my life. He was right that we had more than enough fuel to reach our destination. And I have recanted my story and reported the correct version to those 3 close friends. 

Lessons learned: 

  1. We need to determine how to know the actual amount of fuel we have in the tanks. We use the diesel to run our furnace in the winter, and we heat water through that system when we are away from shore power in the summer. We cannot rely on engine hour records to give us accurate information about the amount of fuel left on board.
  2. We need to take the time to do things right and to make sure we are completely ready for a safe passage, whether it is a matter of 30 miles or 3000 miles. We were anxious to finally move the boat away from the dock and impatient to take off. Certainly many a world sailor has found themselves in rough weather and dangerous situations due to being insistent on getting to a certain port regardless of the circumstances. 
  3. Trust your partner and your boat. We didn't panic, blame, condemn or yell. We just got to work to move the boat. Because of that, it was indeed a great sail. I do love our boat .. and EW.


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