C'est la Vie is a 1966 Charlie Morgan 34.

Her home port is Everglades City, FL. Our typical cruising area is Southwest Florida, the Florida Keys, the Southeastern Atlantic Seaboard, and the Bahamas. We are C'est la Vie's third owners and purchased her in 2005. We continue to maintain and update this classic vessel. Please post any questions or comments about C'est la Vie or our travels via the comment links below.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Dis-masted- Part 3

Dis-masted - Part 1
Dis-masted - Part 2

Years ago when installing a new AM/FM radio I wired a male/female coupling in the co-axial antenna wire.  Located in the electrical panel the joint could, in the event of a lost or damaged masthead antenna, allow us to connect the VHF to the AM/FM antenna without the need of additional tools or soldering. 

Unfortunately, I never installed a similar joint on the VHF antenna in the electrical panel.  The closest fitting on the VHF end was forward in the boat where the wire entered the mast compression post.  And so it was, I found myself removing floor boards and pulling wire while Anne piloted C’est la Vie towards the Cape Fear River.  Rerouting the VHF cable back to the electrical panel consumed vastly more time than the actual rewiring. 

Running the improvised VHF Antenna through the open electrical panel
Unfortunately, the hot engine and spinning belts prevented me from routing the wire in a manner that would allow the electrical panel to close.   Floor boards asunder and the electrical panel exposed, I connected the VHF to the AM/FM antenna.  We now had a VHF that would allow us to communicate with other vessels.

The USCG Charleston Sector replied immediately to my hail.  I stated that we were a dismasted 34 foot sailing vessel in the process of assessing damage.  Succinctly we progressed through her questions…  Location?  Injuries? Number of people aboard? PFDs for everyone?  Description of vessel?  Are you requesting assistance?

I looked around C’est la Vie.  The roller furling drum struck the bowsprit railings like metronome in time with the rolling seas.  Severed remnants of standing rigging littered the deck.  Piles of mingled running rigging sat idle in the cockpit.

Running rigging splayed about the cockpit after cutting away the rig
I scanned the horizon – only sea and sky for 360⁰.  I glanced back to Anne at the helm.  Before tears could again overtake me, I replied, “We do not require assistance at this time.” 

C’est la Vie’s engine, electrical, and steering systems were functioning properly.  Other than the single run cycle during the cut away process our bilge pumps remained silent.  C’est la Vie’s motion on the heaving seas was uncomfortable, but we steamed towards the Cape Fear River at over 5 knots.
Surprised that the Coast Guard did not request we check back in upon making landfall, we concluded our conversation with the radio operator taking my name and cell phone number. 

Still amped up from the surge of adrenalin, I asked Anne if I could take the helm to busy myself.  Anne then recorded the following log entry…

7/5/13 @ 14:53 – 29.1NM to Cape Fear River Inlet G”9” – ETE 5H52m – Course 53⁰ - Speed 5.4kts – “dismasted, motoring in, contacted Coast Guard.”

The trek into the Cape Fear River stretched into the night.  Emotions ebbed and flowed though each of us often surfacing in tears…  sadness at the damage to our home and our dream; thankfulness that we were uninjured, gratitude that C’est la Vie was still afloat and transporting back to shore, uncertainty of the future, and on and on emotions and questions.  We agreed to carry on with our plans for the next month and not make any hasty decisions.

As my mind mulled on our current state, I realized why the depth sounder was non-functional.  NMEA 2000 networks rely on data to complete a full circuit of the instruments and sensors.  If a wire or connection fails then the data “splatters” and the system fails.  The weather station at the mast head was gone.  The broken wire was causing our data to splatter.  Once we cleared Bald Head Island and the seas diminished, I crawled into the quarter berth and removed the wiring for the weather station from our NMEA backbone.  Success.  Other than the weather data our instruments were back online.

Another realization struck me as we began to mull over locations for anchoring.   Without a forestay to support the bowsprit the weight of the anchors and forces of raising / lowering the anchor were supported solely by three points of contact between the bowsprit and the hull. 

A summer 2011 picture of C'est la Vie's naked bowsprit.
We are thankful for C’est la Vie’s solid bobstay.  With only a wire for a bobstay the loss the forestay would place all the weight of the anchors and other forces on the two horizontal attachment points.  I have little doubt the bowsprit would have failed when I went forward to cut away the forestay or during our lumpy trip back to the mainland if it lacked the support of the solid bobstay.

Fatigued and concerned about the stress anchoring may place on our now stay-less bowsprit, we entered Deep Creek Marina long after closing hours.  We selected the first vacant slip and landed without incident at 23:07.  


Part 1
Part 2
Afterward & Lessons

Dis-masted - Part 2

Click Here for Part 1

Fortunately, Anne and I were both in the cockpit and clear of all the rigging and sails. My initial scene survey lead me to the port side of C’est la Vie. The rig and sails were visible at the water’s surface. Unsure of the extent of the damage, I told Anne to disengage the auto pilot, put the boat in neutral and attempt to hail Tow Boat US or other vessels in the area. Despite the now sickening motion of the boat rolling in the seas, my initial instinct was to salvage the rig and sails. My effort began with the mainsail sheet shackle at the bail on the boom. By the time I was able to remove the split ring and unscrew the pin, the rest of the rig and sails sank below the boat. A couple thumps resonated through boat as the rig struck the hull underwater. Our broken mast could strike the hull and sink C’est la Vie. This thought convinced me that quickly cutting away everything hanging below the water was our only option. Passing Anne hailing all vessels on the cockpit VHF, I dashed below and excavated the cable cutters from below the vee berth. I vividly recall standing below decks with the cable cutters in both hands saying aloud, “I never thought I would need to use these.”

Returning to the cockpit, Anne informed me that she did not think the VHF would work with the mast head antenna under the boat. Damn, why didn’t I think of that? She went below to retrieve the handheld VHF and continued her efforts. Fearful the backstay could foul the rudder or prop, I began cutting at the stern. I wanted the backstay gone. Hell, I wanted the whole rig gone. Moving along the port side towards the bow of the boat, I began clearing standing and running rigging… the roller furling control line – snip; the genny sheet still on the winch – snip; the starboard side cap shroud puling tight across the cabin trunk – snip; the port side dyneema dux lower stays – snip, snip; the inner forestay - snip. At the bow, I realized the roller furling foil shielded the forestay from the cable cutters. Clearing the forestay required exposing the wire. I shouted back to Anne to get the hacksaw. Moving along the starboard side of the boat to retrieve the saw from Anne, I cut the starboard headsail sheet on the foredeck, and then found no other taut rigging to clear in my trip back to the cockpit.

Anne took the cable cutters and I started back to the bow with the hack saw in hand. Before I cleared the cockpit, Anne requested that I clip in. Typically, while offshore on C’est la Vie anyone going beyond the cockpit on deck must clip into the jacklines that run along either side deck from the cockpit to the bow. Focused on the task at hand I had jumped into action without donning my PFD or clipping into the jacklines. I donned my PFD, but starboard jacklines were covered with rigging and the portside lines were buried under my paddleboard. I returned to the bow to clear the forestay. Keeping the saw moving in the growing kerf required two hands. While frantically working to clear the foil my torso bounced between the bowsprit rails. Later in the day I would discover the bruising, in the moment I was thankful the rails were keeping me on the rolling deck. Once the cut extended through one wall of the foil, the forces bearing on the thin tube of aluminum quickly tore through the remaining material. I returned to the cockpit, traded the saw for the cutters, and then made my way back to the bow. Again, working in space between the bowsprit rails required some two handed finagling, but the forestay eventually succumbed. I watched the roll of crisp genoa sail cloth sink out of sight.

Thinking the rig is now free of the boat, I turned back to the cockpit. Stanchions on both sides of the hull bent inward. The portside dorade vent was gone. Electrical wires sprouted from the tube in the center of the now naked mast step. My paddle board, originally tied off to the starboard life lines, now lay on the side deck with a couple rips visible in the cover. Snaking my way back to the cockpit I felt an odd jerk in C’est la Vie’s side to side motion. It felt like being restrained by a seat belt in a car making a sudden stop. Realizing the rig was still hanging below the boat, I started back up the port side and discovered the intact cap shroud stretched taunt between the chain plate and the dark surface of the ocean. The wire cut easily. Our mast, two year old standing rigging, two year old genoa, one year old whisker pole, and 8 month old mainsail were now drifting to the bottom, 75.1’ below.

At some point in the following 24 hours I realized the blind luck of missing the port side cap shroud on my initial pass. If I had cut the shroud on my way to the bow, then the entire rig would have hung from the forestay while I struggled to cut through the foil. I have no doubt the forces involved would have destroyed our bowsprit. 

Reunited in the cockpit, we melted into an embrace as tears overtook both of us. We were numb, sacred, sad, uncertain, weary... listing the mix of emotions washing over us is an impossible task. Standing together in the cockpit we shared feelings of relief that neither of us were seriously injured. 

What next? To our alarm the bilge pump ran once while I was cutting the rig free, but it now remained silent. Fortunately, at this time the engine and rudder appeared unaffected. Lacking an antenna, our primary VHF was out of service. Anne’s efforts to communicate with the handheld VHF proved fruitless. Our cockpit mounted GPS has an internal antenna and was continuing to function properly. Oddly, the depth sounder simply flashed the depth of the site of the dismasting. Lacking sails to reduce the effect of the seas, C’est la Vie rolled uncomfortably. Necessity required we set our emotions and discomfort aside. Anne began to steer a course for the Cape Fear River Inlet. I went below to rewire the VHF to the am/fm antenna mounted astern on the wind generator pole.

motoring towards Cape Fear River Inlet with the rig gone.
Part 1
Part 3
Afterward & Lessons

Dis-masted - Part 1

In an attempt to wait out the weather and make one final offshore push up to Beaufort, NC we spent July 2 & 3 in Charleston.  On the 4th of July we sailed close hauled across a busy Charleston Harbor and re-entered the ICW at Sullivan’s Island. 

4th of July traffic off our stern in Charleston Harbor
The south east winds allowed us to sail the majority of the skinny, marsh grass lined waterway along Bulls Bay and into the Cape Romaine National Wildlife Refuge.  I recall the day seemed to stretch on a bit long as we fought against a flooding tide for the final couple hours.  We had no idea that it may be our last full day of sailing aboard C’est la Vie.

Initially the 5th went according to plan.  In an effort to take full advantage of the ebbing tide through Winyah Bay, we awoke at dark thirty and were underway as the hazy sun crept above the marsh grass.  A fresh southeast wind greeted us as we entered Winyah Bay.  Once in the bay we raised the main sail.  Motor sailing close hauled on the ebbing tide C’est la Vie bounded towards the ocean at 7.5 knots.  On two bells, we overtook a couple outbound tugs straining to keep their barge in the channel.  Fortunately the depths allowed us plenty of room to slip the commercial traffic before the channel narrowed as the mainland fell away.  Once clear of land the well-marked channel is hemmed on both sides by long rock jetties that occasionally rise above the water’s the surface.  Our 09:10 log book entry notes we put R”4” astern and set a course of 75⁰.  Close hauled under a full main & genny we were making 5 knots. According to our GPS, 13H39m of sailing would place us off the east end of Frying Pan Shoals. 

Offshore, we quickly realized that passing rain showers were confusing the local winds and seas.  Our hopes of sailing the entire final 160NM back to Beaufort faded as the winds increased and backed to the east.  According to the log book at 09:30, only 20 minutes out of the Winyah Bay inlet we restarted the motor.  With the engine now assisting with propulsion, we were able to sail our rhumb line.  Shortly after engaging the engine we put one reef in the main and reduced the genoa to approximately 60%.

Within an hour, the squall passed off our stern.  The winds clocked back south a few degrees.  Local windborne whitecaps rode atop a 3 to 5 foot easterly swell making sea state confused.  C’est la Vie handled the conditions well.  Under the reefed main, reduced head sail, and 1800 rpm on the engine she was making over 6 knots with her leeward rub rail skimming the water.  We set up the electric auto pilot and let it take over the well balanced helm.

Our morning watches were irregular, but by noon we agreed on a cycle of two hour watches.  Anne took the 12:00 to 14:00 watch and I settled into the leeward side of the cockpit for a nap.  I awoke nearly two hours later.  Rousing from my nap, I made a scan of the boat and surroundings.  Another squall was building to the east and the winds were again pushing 20 knots.  Realizing we were now well ahead of schedule and would likely arrive at Beaufort Inlet on ebbing tide, we further reduced the head sail to approximately 40%.  Prior to beginning my watch, I made a log book entry...

33⁰23.947’N  78⁰35.717’W – 7/5/13 @ 14:01 – 38.8NM to Frying Pan Shoals – ETE 6H44m on a course of 76⁰ - Speed 6.2 kts – winds approx 18 knots SE – “Couple of showers to east over Gulf Stream. Motor sailing close hauled on lumpy seas.”

We were both in the cockpit, Anne facing forward and I facing aft when the rigging failed.  Alarmed by a sharp snap and Anne screams, I spun around in time to see the folded mast and white sails entering the water on our leeward (port) side.