Winslow Homer The Fog Warning 1885, Dave Mallach's nautical report on fine yachts

Solutions

I. A Christening

I was shocked to learn that long after his heroic WWI exploits in the Middle East, Lawrence of Arabia swapped his camels for boats and became a successful boat designer. By all accounts, Sir Lawrence was pretty good at it. Here is a wonderful video of the 1938 christening of his record-breaking hydroplane, Empire Day:

Now I’m going to steal a little bit of Sir Lawrence’s thunder to announce a christening of my own, welcome you to the long awaited The Fog Warning Magazine!

My grandmother used to say “Good things come to those who wait.” I hope she was right, as this magazine certainly has been a long time coming. As always, I have the full story for you.

Long time readers of The Fog Warning Blog know that its keel rests firmly on answers to two key questions:

What makes a yacht great, and why?

Who makes a great yacht, and how?

As for the who, I’ve found over and over again that the best builders are those who listen best to their clients. Of course, if it were easy every builder would do it. But in the crowded marketplace of builders and designers, it’s actually a fairly rare thing. It takes a confident and flexible approach, a well-managed ego, and a whole lot of cash!

It’s no different in this brave new world of online publishing. My loyal blog readers have been telling me for some time what they want, too. And what they want is ...more!

As in:

More stories that provide well-grounded answers to our two big questions;

More high value, ad-free content, including interviews and product reviews;

More engaging video content; and,

More in-depth profiles of fine new and brokerage yachts –Maybe even yours!

These needs push beyond the boundaries of what a simple blog platform can do. It calls for a more robust and visually exciting platform – a free monthly interactive digital magazine. So,  I welcome you now to Issue #1, and I hope you enjoy it. It is available as an App on the iTunes store:

Apple App Store version of The Fog Warning

and the Google App Store:

Android App Store version of The Fog Warning

You can avoid the one-time (Apple-required) $0.49 fee by entering the code “000” under the “Current Subscriber” tab.

Of course, for desktop readers, and for anyone interested in my archives, the blog will continue for your viewing pleasure.

Meanwhile, as always, if I can help you buy or sell your yacht new or brokerage, whether listed by me or with your own broker (at no additional charge) you know the drill –

Just launch that flare!

II. Four Creative Boating Solutions

The simple truth is that our boats basically live in a punishing environment:

Even a partial list of challenges can be sobering. Consider a world of:

  • High salinity,
  • Dripping humidity,
  • Baking sun,
  • High temperature, and
  • Constant vibration.

Throw in cramped access to mechanical equipment and it’s only a matter of time before challenges pop up. I’ve come to feel that for these moments – the times when our pleasures collide with our problems – working through the solutions becomes part of the fun. It won’t always feel like fun in the heat of battle, but it certainly can later, swapping war stories at the bar.

By solutions I don’t mean only the fixing  of things (sometimes under great pressure), but also the improving of things. Finding better ways to go faster, smoother, safer, longer, and cheaper.  Today The Fog Warning addresses four such solutions, although presumably not in the way Bette Davis had in mind…

A. The Need for Speed

Here’s a story about a fruitless try at improvement. The goal? Faster!

Some readers were perplexed by last month’s 360-degree video of my unusual little pocket Yacht, Gypsy.

Here’s a typical comment:

“Um, Dave, have to say your trawler is a little ….. strange!?!”

That she is! She started life in 1993 as a Taiwan-built Island Gypsy 32. How she got stretched to become the world’s only Island Gypsy 40 is an interesting and instructive tale – one of unreachable goals, amateur engineering, and failure. And the story of the creative deal making that made her mine may be of use to you as well.

The story starts with a trawler owner’s strange obsession with speed. Strange, because no matter what you do, a 32 foot trawler with a single 220hp Cummins diesel can only do nine knots, and that’s flat out and downhill! But this owner was determined to get her to twelve knots, without re-powering. Any naval architect could have told him that a 33% increase in performance was impossible. But he developed his own homegrown re-engineering plan, and went to work in three [increasingly expensive] stages:

Stage  I – The “Bulbous Bow”

You’ll see here a torpedo-like extension protruding from the bow:

If its upwards sweep reminds you of a surfboard, you win! Yes, he directed his yard to glass in the front half of a surfboard, and then faired it to fit the hull.  For the record, the yard did a great job (although I live in fear of T-boning a dock and shearing off all their excellent work).

Bulbous bows are not uncommon on big commercial boats. Here’s the Queen Mary:

The Ronald Reagan Aircraft Carrier:

And most big freighters:

These extensions modify the laminar flow of water around the bow to reduce drag and increase speed, range, fuel efficiency and stability. Large boats can see a speed increase of up to 15%.

The secret to their success is that as the boat moves through the water it creates two successive bow waves. The bulb extension produces the first wave, and the bow itself produces wave #2 a second later. Physicists say that the principle knows as “The Destructive Interference of Waves” causes the two waves to cancel each other out, allowing the boat to pass through with less effort. It looks like this:

It’s a tried and true technology, but naval architects are unanimous in their belief that it only really works with waterline lengths greater than 50 feet (and even then, only at full RPM). No one told Gypsy’s prior owner about this limitation. So tens of thousands of dollars later, he found his bulbous bow added only an additional .7 knots of speed. At a new top end of  [only] 9.7 knots, he began a second modification.

Stage Two – The Stern Extension

Increasing waterline length is a tried and true method of increasing speed for any displacement boat, whether sail or power. The physics is well understood: Overall speed is limited to 1.34 times the square root of the waterline length in feet. Naval architects write it this way:

HS = 1.34 x √LWL

An almost three-foot (cored) hull and transom extension was tagged onto Gypsy’s stern.

This time the physics worked as expected, increasing her speed by 1.3 knots. He now had an 11 knot boat. If only he had quit while he was ahead….

Phase 3 – The Kort Nozzle System

Here where things got a little weird….

In the 1920’s canals in the Hamburg area were collapsing due to wake erosion. The German authorities required large boats to have wake-limiting prop guards installed around their propellers. That didn’t do much to protect the canals, but captains were delighted to find increases in both speed and thrust. This caught the attention of one Ludwig Kort, an aeronautical engineer from Hanover. He experimented with multiple shapes and sizes of these guards, and through trial and error developed an optimal design – one that improved propulsion efficiency by 10%. “The Kort Nozzle” system received a US patent in 1930. Today you sometimes see these nozzles on large, heavy boats like these:

However, a naval architect would have pointed out this works only for large boats, with large diameter props, and at speeds under 10 knots. Here’s what he did Gypsy:

It was a disaster, costing her two knots of speed. This put her back to her original 9 knots. And I won’t even discuss what this nozzle did for her handling in reverse.

Last Stage – The Deal

Sadly, the owner passed away unexpectedly just after the Stage Three sea trials. His yard was left largely unpaid, and a messy estate plan left Gypsy’s future uncertain. Soon the yard, the broker, and the estate were all locked into a three-way lawsuit. Gypsy just sat on the hard in a distant corner of her yard for well over a year as everyone (but the lawyers) suffered. I was doing a survey there when I tripped over her, and it was love at first sight.

I had just sold my Prout 39 sailing cat,

and was looking for a small trawler. With close to one hundred deals under my belt, I thought I could devise a win-win-win solution to make this little pocket yacht “go away.” It took months (largely because of the lawyers) but in the end, I sold all parties on a creative deal that made each of them reasonably happy. But no one was quite as happy as me, as I took title to Gypsy at a killer price!

But then again,  I found myself owner of a strange-looking 9 knot boat that proved almost uncontrollable in reverse. So, I removed the nozzle system (there is a place in boating for sledge hammers), and Gypsy now happily maxes out at 11 knots. As a former sailor, that’s plenty fast for me. I fuel her up just once every other season – long enough between fuel docks that I sometimes forget where the fuel fill is.

Here’s what you can pull out of this strange tale:

  • The need for speed can make people do crazy things. Do your homework before making structural modifications to your yachts. Marine architecture is not for the untrained. Even calculating simple things like trim tab performance can be much more difficult than you might expect. Sometimes it’s an art, but usually it’s a science!
  • When it comes to closing complicated deals, a skillful, flexible business approach can come in handy. With twenty years of creative problem solving experiences afloat, I can put these skills to good use for you, my loyal readers, in the sale or purchase of your next yacht. So, you now what to do….

Just launch that flare!

B. Stable and Able with Stabilizers

I recently had much fun running two stabilized yachts offshore – one with fins, and one with gyro’s. Baron, my 2008 Miami Vicem 72 listing, has TRAC (fin-style) stabilizers. Here she is, underway:

IMHO, stabilizers are great.  But the truth is that on large planing hulls most days you won’t need them. Hull forms designed to run on top of the water don’t present an underbody that rolling seas can grab on to until waves reach helm height. Baron’s owner tells me that even running to the Bahamas he often forgets to engage the stabilizer option! But when your sea state reaches a steady five or six feet, you’ll be glad you can flatten them with a touch of a button.

On the other hand, displacement and semi-displacement hulls (which I’ll define for the moment as any trawler-style yacht that can be pushed to 20 knots) ride in the water, where they are much more at the mercy of being pushed around by seas. For these boats, you’re not going to forget to engage your stabilizers.

This brings me to an important design consideration – one easy to overlook in buying a fin-stabilized boat, or adding one to your current boat. They must be sized to your intended rock-and-roll speed.

The ideal size of your fins, measured in square feet of surface area, is determined by your rough water boat speed. This requires some analysis of your boating life. If you spec them for your normal (flat water) 28 knot cruise speed, they will prove inadequate for handling things at your rough water speed of 18 knots. So with fins you should decide up front what speed you can run comfortably and safely run for hours at a time. All stabilizer manufactures can help you with these calculations.

Alternatively, you can go with gyro stabilizers, like the Seakeeper systems. This megayacht has three of them!

Once they are at full RPM (and this can take 30 minutes or more) you can turn their stabilizing function off and on at will. Last month, aboard a Seakeeper-equipped fifty-two foot trawler, I experimented for hours outside Jupiter Inlet. When I engaged the system, it was like King Neptune himself reached up from the seabed and grabbed hold of the hull. A very impressive experience.

Two things to keep in mind about gyros:

  • They take time to reach warp speed. Large megayachts, with as may as six units, can take a few hours for their gyros to rev all the way up. You probably won’t be surprised to know that charter fees kick in when this powering begins, not when you arrive with your luggage! I’ve heard that Seakeeper is developing a remote app that can begin the process remotely, even while you are driving to your marina. But I’m not sure I’d want to push that much juice through an unoccupied boat.
  • Secondly, they require AC power. That’s one more load on your generator. In recent years they have reduced their power consumption considerably, but on large applications I still prefer two generators.

My good friends of more than twenty years, Charlie and Aaron of Atlantic Marine, know these systems better than anyone. They have provided me with this video of their latest installation and sea trial aboard a Sabre 40:

C. A Creative Approach to Tender Lifts

When it comes to solutions, some come from far outside the box. And sometimes, from outside the bottle….

A skilled and knowledgeable client of mine runs a 50 foot downeast design out of the Bahamas. She has a Freedom Lift tender system like this one:

The loads are such that they must be hydraulically driven. A few months ago my client was cruising the Out Islands, and had launched his tender to explore some isolated beaches. Returning late in the day, he found his lift wouldn’t raise. A quick look in the engine room found a significant puddle of hydraulic fluid under the lift reservoir. Not a happy find!

His options were rather limited. He had no spare hydraulic fluid. The hand crank on lifts only work if there is fluid. It was a long haul back to his marina, and with the lift in the down position it would have been harbor speed the whole way (and who knows what damage could have resulted). But in a moment of brilliance, while mopping up the puddle of leaked fluid he noted its color and viscosity were very similar to this:

As a great cook and healthy eater, he happened to have an extra large bottle of olive oil in his galley. He pumped it into his system, and was able to lift his tender normally. When he got to his marina, he replaced the fluid more permanently. I have the most brilliant clients, don’t I?

D. Bilge Pump Blues

Unlike John Lennon (who sailed from NY to Bemuda on a 40 footer)  I don’t believe Bob Dylan is a boater. Nevertheless, one of his songs came to mind last month as I was I was checking out an older sailboat. I tried to test the cockpit mounted manual bilge pump, but one push of the handle ripped the unit out of its mount. It left me singing the last two lines of Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues:

The pump don’t work
‘Cause the vandals took the handles

This reminds me of another “solutions” story (and another song) concerning a Vicem 52. Here is the very boat in question, courtesy of French TV:

About ten years ago we had a captain bring her from Miami to NY’s Huntington Yacht Club. She arrived about noon on a sunny June day, and I was working hard at my desk about a half mile away when a colleague called me from the club:

“Dave, your Vicem is sinking at the dock!” 

Maybe because I was on a tight deadline (reviewing a complicated stabilizer design), I refused to believe it.

“Oh come on! What boat travels 1300 miles safely to just sink at the dock?”

But then I remembered that old adage that more boats sink at their docks than at sea, and I raced over. But not before I called a local yard and asked them to get their largest travel lift ready just in case.

Walking down the dock I saw that her waterline seemed ok, and figured it all had to be a false alarm. But when I opened up her lazarette hatch, I found 18 inches of water sloshing in her bilges. It began to look like she really had travelled all that way to sink at our docks.

What would you do, loyal readers? If you are curious, here’s what I did, step by step:

  • I listened for the bilge pumps, and heard nothing. I ran up to the helm to check the bilge pump switch. As I recall, it was this very one:

It was set to AUTO, but its indicator light was off. It did not light up when I threw the switch to MANUAL. Even though bilge pumps on Vicem’s are wired directly to the batteries (bypassing the master battery switch) I checked the battery switch. It was in the OFF position, but switching it to ALL didn’t light the panel light, or start the pump. Clearly, whatever was to follow would follow without bilge pumps! Then,

  • I started the engines in case I had to run her across the harbor for a rescue haul.
  • I ran back to the engine room, but not before grabbing a wine glass from the galley sink. Yes, it was time for a drink! Scooping up water from the bilge, I took a swallow. Was it salt water, or fresh? If the fresh water tanks had leaked, there was no crisis at hand. But…… I couldn’t tell! It was, at best, brackish. What did that mean? I assumed the worst.
  • There was a tool box at hand, so I grabbed a screwdriver and scribed a line along the water line on a stringer. At least I would know if the water level was rising. A few minutes later I checked, and I still couldn’t tell!  The normal rocking of the boat in the harbor made it hard to know if water was still coming in.
  • But no news was better than bad news, so I moved on to try and find her thru hulls, now entirely under water. It wasn’t as easy as you might think. I was involved in the design and construction of eleven different models in the Vicem line. I could not tell you, then or now, the thru hulls locations in each model. There wasn’t a diagram in that engine room showing their location, but there sure is one in my boat’s engine room today, a simple laminated one like this:

 I knew such a diagram was in the owner’s manual (Vicem’s have great owner     manuals) but didn’t want to take the time to look.

So, I started feeling around on my hands and knees, turning off the valves as I found them. Then, reaching way back underwater by the transom, I touched something metal, and got zapped!  Whether DC or AC current, it was a good, unhealthy shock. Ample cursing followed. Making my way back forward, I passed my earlier scribed line, and became reasonably sure that no more water was coming in. I climbed up the ladder and called my marine electrician friends (See Charlie and Aaron, of Atlantic Marine above!) and the delivery captain, now on his way to the airport. Then, out of solutions and out of crisis, I waited for the experts.

Here is what they found:

  • The Yacht Club staff had washed the boat down, and went to lunch. They had left the hatch open, and hose running. A few thousand gallons later, someone ashore turned off the fresh water hose. There must have been some sea water down there to begin with, hence the slightly brackish taste to it.
  • The Captain had lost power to one of the trim tabs on the way north. His temporary repair had left a pair of steel vice grips around its hydraulic cylinder. The wrench had at some point rotated around, pulling out the green wire of the bilge pump system. Goodbye, bilge pump! Exploring around the bilges, I had touched that same pair of vice grips, connected myself to the hot wire, and gotten shocked. Fortunately it was jus DC.

End of story. No harm, no foul. And this quick aside:

Who is Bob Dylan (circa 1978), and who is your favorite yacht broker, same year?

And now, my last solution for you: There is an old bit of wisdom about bilge pump sizing  that ends with the phrase “No pump works as well as a scared man with a bucket.” That May be true, but in my telling it should read “….. with two buckets!” Because in my engine room I keep two at all times:

The reason? Because after I scoop one, I can hand it up to my mate, who can hand me the bucket they’d just  emptied overboard. Twice the throughput, for an additional $4.99. Hard to beat!

Ciao for now, loyal readers. I hope you will enjoy both the blog and magazine versions of The Fog Warning. And feel free to pass on your own solutions for future issues.

Big Wave Dave

PS: You knew I was going to end with this one:

You Snooze, You Lose (again)!

I. More Mayday

My last posting, Mayday – A Cautionary Tale, was the most widely read (and shared) post in the ten years I’ve been doing this. I am thrilled to report that readership of The Fog Warning has now climbed past 10,000 readers. For what this can mean to you and your yachts, please see below.  But for a refresher, here’s the original posting:

II. You Snooze, You Lose…

Go ahead, punch The Fog Warning sales button:

Truant, my Vicem 70 listing (and one of my most-inquired about yachts) is now under contract! Her new owner has owned some truly remarkable yachts (including the most stunning Lyman Morse ever) and knew exactly what he was looking for. His successful search says a tremendous amount about his taste and values, about the enduring brilliance of Vicem yachts, and the “blank check” stewardship of her seller.

But fear not, fellow yachtsmen! I present you with other compelling choices. I have spent the last few weeks moving up and down the east coast showing these fine offerings (click on the vessel name for the full listing):

The Baron, my Vicem 72 listing in Miami:

The Baron

Mahogany Rose, my Vicem 67 listing in Charleston:

Mahogany Rose

Essence, my Vicem 85 listing in Palm Beach:

Essence

And, the superb custom Viking 82 Skylounge  – Untethered: 

Untethered

If you are looking for a fine yacht for this season, now is your time. Anyone who worked the Palm Beach Boat Show last month would tell you that quality yachts are trading hands right now. Sales velocity has picked up, and inventory is dropping.

I looked at the data last night, and found that older listings are [finally] finding new owners. Stated another way, older listings have really been the norm for the last few years, but they are now attriting out.

Almost 400 powerboats in the 65 to 85 foot range sold in the US over the last twelve months. I did the (very tedious) math very carefully and found the average time-to-sale was 13 months.

By price, it breaks down like this:

Under $1,000,000 11 months
$2,000,000 to $3,000,000 13 months
$2,000,000 to $3,000,000 12 months
$3,000,000 to $4,000,000 10 months
Over $4,000,000 13 months

But note that these numbers mostly relate to production boats. Classic, custom and otherwise unique yachts are averaging 28 months. Large sailboats? An incredible 31 months.

III. All about the Velocity

It doesn’t have to take this long to find or sell the right yacht. I’ve both broadened and sharpened The Fog Warning’s approach to help you add velocity to your deals.

  • If you are looking to buy, and feel Baron, Mahogany Rose,  Essence or Untethered could shake up your life I suspect you may soon miss out. All have had showings in the last few weeks. If you don’t want to be on the wrong side of one of my snoozeagrams, launch a flare today.
  • If you are shopping more broadly than these offerings, please consider letting me help you find your next yacht, no matter where she swims.  I am currently helping one client find his ideal Fleming, and another find her ideal Marlow. With all significant projects, I can now provide a signifiant “real dollar” cost savings. Please call for details.
  • If you are considering selling your current yacht, let me put the full power and reach of The Fog Warning behind you. As mentioned above, we are now at over 10,000 readers. And all indications are that they are exactly the right kind of readers.  What’s more, Constant Contact, the email system that regularly connects you to The Fog Warning, just awarded me its 2017 All-Star award:All Star Award 2016 WinnerThe reason? 94% of my recipients choose to click and read every Fog Warning posting. I am honored by your allegiance. Clearly you value what I deliver. Which is why I am investing considerable time, effort and money on moving The Fog Warning to an exciting and more powerful platform – a [free] Interactive Digital Magazine, with app versions for all devices. My goal is to add even greater reach and value for you, my loyal clients, finding or selling your yachts more quickly. I aim to put The Fog Warning’s award winning content in front of as many qualified boat shoppers as possible. Simply stated:

Let me put your yacht in front of their eyes! 

  • Even if your special yacht is currently listed with another broker, The Fog Warning can add velocity to that listing at no additional cost to you. Just launch a flare to hear the benefits to you of this groundbreaking initiative. At the very least, I promise you an eye-opening conversation about the state of marketing in our industry.

In short, loyal readers, let’s push The Fog Warning button together and sell or buy your fine yacht:

IV. Your Mayday Comments

Yes, my cautionary tale is the most read (and most widely shared) posting ever. To all who took the time to pass on their “glad you survived” comments, my profound thanks. And, I’ll add this thought: ME TOO!

I found the substantive comments of great value, and I believe you will too. Here are a few, along with my answers:

  • Wow, Dave. An incredible story. Thanks for sharing. I’ll admit I always considered myself a “safe” captain. Always had more than the required number of flares, pfds, etc. and close at hand. When you said “I always wear my mini-ditch kit” my first reaction was that it sounded like overkill. I was shocked, however, by how quickly the smoke overtook you.

Well, no one was more surprised than me. One reason is that the boat had an enclosed helm. There was no helm-side door, and the windows were fixed. The aft end was mostly enclosed by eisenglass. There was no simply no place for the smoke to go (except my lungs).

  • Dave, I’m curious about the salvage team that tried to intercept your tow. I’ve had some experiences with those pirates. Or are they vultures? Looking forward to your coverage on the applicable laws and practices.

Stand by for that, Batman. The deeper I dig into this, the more fascinating the details.

  •  I think being alone on that delivery may have been a huge advantage for you. You only had to worry about yourself and the vessel. There were no children, inexperienced passengers, non-swimmers and such to distract you. They would very likely interfered with your the mission critical tasks.

Well said, and this hadn’t occurred to me. It argues toward a forceful approach with guests. When it comes to guests at sea, maybe there is a time and place for volume and authority?

  • It sounds to me that even if you had a life raft, you wouldn’t have had time to deploy it.

True, that. And hydrostatic releases for rafts are irrelevant to fire situations.

  • Dave, you said a few times that you wasted precious seconds. What would you have done if you hadn’t? 

Great question! The answer is something that never occurred to me in the heat (sic) of battle. There was a hatch right over my head. I never thought to open it. Duh! Smoke would have cleared more quickly, allowing me to both see and think more clearly.

V. Blank Check

I mentioned at the top of this posting that Truant’s quick sale proved the value of an uncompromising maintenance schedule. Recently I had the opportunity to review over 200 pages of maintenance records for one of my listings. They representing six years of “blank check” ownership, and it was a little like reading a great autobiography!

I invested the time in putting together a spreadsheet of it all, hoping for a “big picture” view of how maintenance dollars are spent.

She is a New England boat, stored indoors in a heated shed each winter. Here’s how her expenses break down:

I was surprised about how significant commissioning/decommissioning expenses can be. So I backed them out, presenting a picture of a southern boat, or perhaps a north/south boat:

One interesting dynamic that jumps out at me is upgrade costs. Almost by definition, upgrades are optional. But they do make a brokerage yacht stand out among the competition. I’m looking now at how upgrade projects pay for themselves, and/or affect sales velocity, at final sale. As usual, I look forward to your comments on this, that, and anything else.

Ciao for now, loyal readers. I hope you enjoyed reading this post as much as I did writing it.

Enjoy!

Big Wave Dave

Mayday! A Cautionary Tale

Mayday!

Last summer I did a solo delivery of a friend’s 45’ boat from Sag Harbor to Newport. A few miles off Fisher Island she caught fire, and I sent out the first (and, I hope, the last) Mayday call of my life. It all ended well enough (meaning no one was hurt) but I thought it time to share the story with my loyal readers. Perhaps it can help you in preparing your boats (and minds) for the coming season.

She was your basic twin engine down-east style yacht, and I’ve done this trip many times, alone and with friends,  day and night, in good weather and bad. She was a well-equipped and well-maintained boat, but did not, notably, carry a life raft.

I was heading east at 11 am at a speed of 24 knots, with light winds and two foot seas. It was the proverbial weekday milk run, and the only other boats I saw were a couple of fishing boats drifting through The Race, perhaps three miles away.

I’ll say upfront that I love running boats by myself.  Even on Gypsy, my 40’ trawler, I’m most at peace when it is just the two of us:

Maybe that’s why I can be a little safety-obsessed (my kids’ friends refer to me as Safety Dave). When I am moving a boat alone,  90% of the time I’m wearing my own personal mini-ditch kit. I’d like to say that’s the case 100% of the time, but it just isn’t.

That kit consists of my Offshore inflatable PFD. I like this one, as it is rugged, fairly light, and not too uncomfortable:

There was a product recall a few years ago on this model, due to defective strap design. If you own one, make sure it’s been checked out.

To it I’ve attached this Mustang Utility Pocket. It hangs easily at waist level, and I usually forget it’s even there:

Into it I tuck this mini-EPIRB (properly registered with NOAA):

The Coasties who saved my ass that day told me that 25% of owners don’t register their new EPIRB’s, and 75% of those who do neglect to update it as their boats and contacts change over time. Enough said about that….

Also in there is a sharp knife, and a fairly recent signaling innovation – a compact laser flare. Day or night, it can get someone’s attention from two miles away:

So equipped, I was cruising along at 3,000 RPM,  when suddenly the RPM on the port engine  dropped to 600 RPM. I heard no reason for this – no cough, bang or break. What follows is my best recollection of the exact sequence of events over the next 48 hours.

+ 5 seconds – I remember muttering to myself “Well, that’s not good.”

+ 8 seconds – I put both engines in neutral, and began to check off possible reasons. I glanced at the fuel gauges, which showed half full. Then I remembered I’ve been stranded a time or two due to faulty gauges, and I kicked myself for not checking the engine room’s fuel sight tubes before departing Sag.

+ 12 seconds – I turned off both engines, thinking a restart might cure the problem.

+ 15 seconds – Dense, oily black smoke billowed through the enclosed helm area. I was shocked at how quickly my visibility was reduced to under 12 inches. I leaned forward to check the GPS Plotter, and began to cough.

+ 20 seconds – I grabbed the VHF mic (pre-set to Channel 16, but not by me). I was grateful that the new Standard mic had a GPS display right in the handset.

I announced a Mayday and my position, and with my other hand began to feel around for the manual Halon Fire Suppression switch. I was kicking myself that I didn’t know where it was.

+ 30 seconds – The Coast Guard answered my Mayday call, asking for vessel name. I didn’t pick up the mic to answer, and kept feeling around for the Halon switch. Coughing more, I found I could no longer see the plotter through the smoke. I had the (weirdly calm) thought “I’ll give it twenty more seconds. Then I’m going to have to jump overboard.”

+ 35 seconds – With a loud whoosh,the automatic fire suppression system fired. It took me a moment to identify the sound, as I had completely forgotten about the automatic trigger. Within seconds the smoke cleared, and I knew that everything was going to be OK. Then I saw the that the manual Halon switch was nowhere near where I expected it to be.

+ 40 seconds – I answered the Coast Guard’s call, and told them I was now in no immediate danger. They said I’d have a rescue boat alongside in twenty-five minutes.

+ 1 minute – I went out to the cockpit to take some deep breaths. I thought about opening up the engine room hatch and taking a peak, but then remembered my Coast Guard Six-Pack license training –

Whatever you do, don’t reintroduce oxygen into an engine room after the suppression system fires. Everything will just flare right up again!

+ 10 minutes – A large ferry boat stopped fifty yards away. Dozens of passengers looked down at me. The Captain called me on the VHF. I said all was under control, and they could proceed on their way. They refused, telling me that commercial rules required them to stand by until the Coast Guard arrived. I realized, happily, that if I had jumped overboard these guys would have fished me out even before the Coast Guard arrived.

+ 25 Minutes – I saw the Coast Guard rescue boat coming towards me from several miles away, and I flashed my laser flare at them. When she pulled up, I saw she was crewed by four Coasties – three men and a woman. Their average age was no more than 24 years old. I was pleased that they said they could see my laser flare from over a mile away!  Two of them stepped aboard my boat, and set up tow lines. One said “We heard your Mayday. You sounded very calm.” Indeed, I will say that through this entire episode I remained calm and clear-headed. You’ll see below I paid for it all later. 

+ 30 Minutes – A rather beat up private marine salvage boat arrived, and exchanged a series of dirty looks with the Coasties. There was no love lost between any of the parties. They follow us for most of the tow back to Long Island, clearly unhappy about missing out on their salvage fees. I made a mental note to research the rules of salvage.  I’ll cover this in a future post on The Fog Warning. 

+ 10 hours – Late that night I took a car ferry back from CT, making my way home. That’s when I become aware that some sort of delayed shock has set it. I noticed for the first time that my clothes smell badly of smoke. Fellow ferry passengers clearly were aware of it. Then I found that a real and uncontrollable tremor had set up in both of my hands.  And finally,  I noted that I had begun compulsively telling my story to complete strangers. All in all, an unsettling trip home.

+ 48 hours – My hands stop shaking. The fire department inspection in port revealed that the fire was electrical in nature.

Now, eight months later, here are my thoughts and observations on all that happened. I look forward to your take on it as well.

What I did right:

  • I was well equipped for this emergency, and believe I would have easily survived going overboard if the automatic Halon system hadn’t kicked in. Since I did not have the time or visibility to locate the boat’s PFD’s and signaling gear, I’m quite pleased to have been wearing my mini-ditch kit. If I did jump, the water temp was reasonable, and I’m a good swimmer (my normal pool routine is a 45-minute mile, three or four days a week). Even if I had drifted away from the boat in the strongly running tide, I could have easily stayed afloat until rescued by either the Ferry or the Coast Guard, with the possible help of  the EPIRB and the laser flare.
  • I was well trained. The Fire Safety module of the CG six pack license stuck with me. If I had opened up the engine room hatch, I’m sure a full abandon ship situation would have followed.
  • I kept my head. A lifetime of thoughtful time on the water became useful, as did the hundreds of  barroom war stories I’ve heard from friends, clients, and delivery captains.

What the boat did right:

  • She was well-equipped. The Halon system did its duty, and if I had done a better inspection before departing I would have known where its manual switch was,  saving valuable time and damage.
  • I’ve become an enormous fan of GPS displaying VHF handsets. They are not just a gimmick. When time and vision is short, they really can be a life saver.

What I did wrong:

  • I was new to the boat. I should have done a complete walkthrough before departing. Beyond the manual Halon switch, I didn’t even know where the PFD’s were. This is inexcusable.
  • Almost a month later I realized that I had completely forgotten about the red DSC distress button on the VHF. Using it would have saved valuable time. I am embarrassed to say that I wasn’t even really sure about how this feature worked. Needless to say, I later studied the manual carefully.

  • On Gypsy I keep a survival suit:

And a small valise-style life raft:

Even after the events of this story, I’m very unlikely to pack them aboard for a late-summer forty-mile trip to Newport. But maybe I should?

Beyond that, loyal readers, you tell me….

Safety Dave

All thoughts, feelings and opinions expressed in The Fog Warning are just that – My own personal can’t-fall-asleep-at-night ruminations. Some people lay awake and count sheep. For some of us,  it’s boats…