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This is the "WALDEN" a 32 foot Westsail that I got caught in a hurricane with in August 1985, 100 miles east of Jacksonville FL.  (Story below!)
This photo was taken in Key Largo at Jewfish creek the day the first space shuttle blew up in January 1986.
Sailing in a hurricane 1985

August 1985, the business is sold (Kleen Wheels) and I'm retired  so I can finally head out to sea in my Sailboat ‘Walden’, a 32 Westsail Cutter.  I’d been preparing this boat for a couple of years to sail across the Atlantic to cruise the Mediterranean.  I was solo-sailing (alone)!

I left Key Biscayne and headed out the channel at the south end of Miami Beach and on out into the Gulf Stream to take advantage of the northward current.  I was headed up the coast to New England as kind of a shakedown cruise and to visit with my dad.

The weather was beautiful as was the sea.  That first night at far out to sea everything is really black.  Unless you can experience it yourself you cannot believe how many stars there are and how bright the sky is.  You can actually read by starlight when there is no artificial light around.  It was so inspiring!  I had the autopilot set and slept off and on.

The following morning was beautiful and the sailing was wonderful.  I fell asleep during the afternoon, and was woken by the wind blowing and the boat lurching and going much too fast as it was flying full sail.  The sky looked sunny and nice in front of me, but when I turned around and looked back, I was scared to death.  I was being chased by a rapidly encroaching storm.  Little did I know it was a hurricane overtaking me.

I managed to reef the mainsail and furl the headsail.  I left the staysail up with a reef.  Soon it was night and the boat was being tossed around by the huge waves, but I managed to get the boat headed into the wind but by now the staysail was ripped to shreds.  I had set of storm sails, but it was too late to get them out of the forward cabin and mounted on the boat.  Actually, I had tied myself to the boat and was too afraid to move around the deck for fear of being thrown overboard.

For about 48 hours the boat was thrown around.  At one point it fell off a wave and I cracked some ribs on the companionway.  A boat falls off a wave when the wave crests and disappears under the boat. The boat, a 32-foot Westsail is a very tough and strongly built sailboat.  If I were in a lighter boat I wouldn’t have made it back.

During my bout with the sea for 48 hours everything in the boat was tossed around, and then after falling off the wave the bilge pump came on continuously. I thought the boat cracked and was leaking and that I was going to die. Well I was wrong.  The bilge pump had moved and the float switch got stuck in the on position.  At that time I started the engine to charge the battery and run the radar.

By now I was near Charleston SC, and figured I could duck into the big navel port there. Fortunately I had radar installed on this boat and had I not, I would have smashed right into the three-mile jetty that protrudes out of the channel into the ocean.  Anyway, I saw it on the radar and motored out and around the end and into the channel.  It was daybreak when I got inside the channel and as I was headed in there were two subs coming out.

Once I was all the way inside the nine-mile jetty and at the mouth of the river.  I dropped what remained of the sails and motored up the river to the municipal marina. The auto-pilot stopped working when the storm hit two days earlier, so I was manually steering the boat all that time.

I was very tired as I hadn’t slept for two days and nights, but managed to get tied up at the fuel dock and filled up with diesel.  The dock master assigned me a space along the main pier.  I tied off and went below to eat and sleep.  As I was going to sleep I saw the dock master retie my lines.  It’s a good thing because I hadn’t figured on a six to eight foot tidal drop.  When I woke up many hours later the dock was way above the deck of the boat.

I spent about 10 days there getting my sails repaired and the autopilot replaced.  I had a very nice time touring Charleston on my bicycle and took the navy base boat tour.

While at the marina I ran into some sailors who were out in the ocean at the same time.  They told me the storm was a hurricane they weren't sure how strong the wind was because their wind speed indicator had been pegged.  They estimated the waves to have been 20 to 30 feet.

At that point, my decision to solo-sail the Atlantic was reconsidered, and I decided to sail the boat back to Miami. Heading back I cruised the Intercoastal Waterway and did that all the way back to Key Biscayne.  I was a nice not eventful trip.  I did try to head outside to the ocean a couple of times but the wind being out of the south added to the northerly current of the Gulf Stream made trying to sail south a stupid goal.

I motored south in the Intercoastal Waterway and stopped in St. Augustine where I stayed for three weeks at the municipal marina just for fun and relaxation.  

I encountered tropical storms and lots of squalls all the during the stretch from Charleston to St. Augustine.  I had to dock on the north side of the St. Johns River for two days waiting for the storm to subside so I could cross the river and safely navigate the channels.  You can’t navigate channels when it’s raining so hard you can’t see.  From St. Augustine south it was just a nice ride, but sometimes a challenge to stay in the channels fighting the tidal flows, and having to anchor just off the channel at night was very challenging when you don’t know how much water depth disappears with the tide.

Making a trip down the Intercostal in a sailboat has it’s own group of challenges because of the keel depth and the mast height.  There is one fixed bridge in Miami that many sailboats (mine included) cannot get under.  You have to sail out to the ocean and come back in south of that bridge.  All the other bridges all the way from SC are either high enough or open for you.  Sometimes you have to wait for a certain opening schedule.  That’s fun if you have to anchor for hours in a storm and then get the anchor up and get under the bridge before it closes again.  Not fun if the wind is blowing against you.

More later as well as some editing as I remember things.


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