The tale of Sweet Allie

I have been meaning to write the adventure up and time slips away, so it’s time to start I guess.

I got the wild hair in around April 2015, and started looking. In Sept, after reading a half dozen recommended books and reading the want ads EVERY NIGHT for the whole time, I found the boat of my dreams (and budget). My boat was in Barnegat Bay NJ (BB). and I was in Hickory NC. I made an offer “contingent upon”, hired a surveyor, and (eventually, two months later) rented a car to drop in NJ and packed it full of stuff, and went up there.

I paid $10K (the owner wanted $13K) for my really quite immaculate ’73 Morgan OI 33. And it really was in quite good shape. The first owner had it for about 3 years, ’73-’76. The second owner had her from ’76 until 2013, or approximately 37 years. It was his pride and joy and he took great care of her, replacing the rigging and repowering her along the way. The last owner had her for just 1.5 years before selling to me, most of which time it was on the hard.

So it was in fine shape. Except that the PO had started installing an AC and a DC breaker panel and hadn’t finished the wiring the DC part. So much stuff didn’t work. But it turns out that the wires were hanging out in the back of the DC panel, neatly labeled, just not wired to the breakers. 

And the running lights were 40+ years old and the plastic was almost opaque, and so I had to replace them. The steaming lights likewise, which required a trip up the mast. No not me!!! And there was no chain locker, nor in fact a way to drop an anchor other than throwing it over the side. Sigh. Which required welding an anchor roller on the bowsprit. I was advised to do a bottom job, which I did (required pulling the boat), and renamed the boat (Sweet Allie Bluebeard). So I spent three weeks living on the boat, and $2500 in various costs to the marina. During this time I hired a sailing instructor to take me out on my boat and show me the ropes (pun intended). Yea, I had never sailed until I bought my boat.

I advertised for help getting it back south (not a commercial mover) but all the folks willing to crew with me wanted it on their schedule. Imagine that. It eventually became obvious that I was going to have to solo it.

To be honest I didn’t have the background to understand my options, and so once it came down to “ok gotta get there”, and it became apparent I was going to do it solo, I was advised to take the ICW. I was told do NOT go outside down the coast of Maryland to the Chesapeake. Which meant basically sail outside from BB down to Atlantic city. From there down to Cape May. From there hit the ICW which means sailing up the Delaware river and taking the canal across to the Chesapeake, down to Norfolk and then through the canals and such to get into the Albemarle and Pamlico sound. I took that advice.

And so I set a target date, when all the minor repairs would be finished and the only reason not to take her home was my inexperience staring me in the face. On a fine Saturday, with the weather in my favor, sun shining and a 15 knot wind, 2-3 foot swells on the bow, I headed out of the Barnegat Bay inlet, by myself. Scared (did I really say that?) and alone but confident that the boat would not kill me. Once out of the inlet I hoisted the sails (a hanked on jib!!! ) and started sailing south towards New Bern where I had decided to home port my baby.

I had purchased a Tiller Pilot, which was a wonderful crewman I must say. I got Sweet Allie pointed south parallel the beach, perhaps 3 or 4 miles off shore, and set Tillie to keep me pointed that way. And sat back to enjoy the ride. Which is when I discovered exactly how slooooooow a boat moves. I had done the math, I understood at an intellectual level, but there is no replacement for sitting in the cockpit, with Tillie steering, nothing much to do, for HOURS.

I will say that when that moment of understanding hits, one can rebel or acquiesce. I decided to enjoy it. I have lived my life rushing around, and here I was forced to do nothing, for hours on end. Look out at the waves. Observe the motion of the boat as she rode up and then splashed down into the nice small waves. Watching the wake and marveling at how fast it appeared to be moving, for not actually getting much of anywhere.

Out on the horizon to the south was a squall line, that dark line of clouds with rain falling out of it. I can’t really say how often I had read “if you think you outta reef”. Well I didn’t. The squall line hit and the wind picked up to 25-30 knots and 5-6 foot seas. On the beam. And I learned my first lesson of the day, it is terrifying to be alone on a boat in 25 knot winds, with your sails up and knowing that you pretty much have to get them down. With the waves on the port beam, the boat rocking and rolling. I had a jack line and tether. I couldn’t stand up on deck, so I pulled myself up on my belly to the mast, then “one hand for the boat, one hand for me” struggled to get the sails lowered. And with no experience to work with I was trying to do this on a broad reach.

Now I believe in God and so I am telling God he was welcome to give me a little hole in the storm, just a few minutes of no wind would do. Well it doesn’t work that way it seems, but what He did for me was remind me that I was supposed to be heading directly into the wind to drop the main. Oh yea. So back to the cockpit, hand over hand on my belly, to get Sweet Allie pointed into the wind (directly out to sea), motor on and idling, which I knew from my sailing lessons kept her moving 2 knots, and Tillie keeping her pointed into the wind. Hand over hand on my belly back to the mast and now the main came down pretty as you please. Tying it on the boom was ugly but I finally got it. For some reason the Jib didn’t want to come down so easy. So I belly crawled back to the cockpit to get her headed down wind, back to the mast and managed to get the jib down.

And as I am wrapping it with bungee cords to restrain it, I notice that the waves around me were white capping and really choppy. It seems there is a shoal about 1/2 way between BB and Atlantic city and I had managed to motor right into it. Luckily by that time I had the sails under control and I had only gone in a couple of hundred yards so I grabbed the tiller and did a 180, sailing back out as close to my original course as I could get. I was later told that those shoals are bad enough that if you go aground, they don’t even try to pull you out, they just lift you off in a helicopter and you wave good bye to your boat. Of course they might have been yanking my anchor chain?

At any rate, I headed out to sea to get around the shoals, then I motored south, 5-6 foot waves on the port beam, but at least the sails were down. We were definitely rocking and rolling. I went below to get out of the weather, only to discover that anything that could move, had moved. A LOT. Lesson number two, keep heavy stuff low when under way. The salon was a mess, everything, and I do mean everything, was on the floor. But we were still rocking and rolling so I just braced myself against the quarter berth and contemplated why I thought this was so much fun.

Popping up on deck everything 15 minutes to make sure that I wasn’t in danger of being run down or hitting something. I was a few miles off shore and saw a grand total of three ships the entire day. And doing the math told me that I was moving forward a little under two miles every 15 minutes. Remember I mentioned how slooooow a boat moves? Yea.

And then, as I started up the ladder, the boat pitched violently. and I flew off the stairs and onto my right ribs on the stove. Six hours into my two week long voyage it felt like I had broken a rib. When you injure your rib cage, that entire side of your upper body becomes almost useless. Searing pain in my chest doing anything with my right arm.

Luckily I had an engine and Tillie, so I just nursed my bruised ribs and my bruised ego and motored along, for hours. The squall eventually blew over, and I more or less enjoyed the rest of the motor trip down into Atlantic city.

Lesson #3 has to do with backups to backups, and having them instantly available. I had a pair of Android tablets and my phone all of which had Navionics on it. What a grand program. It would save my butt many times in the next 11 days. But tonight… I had one of my tablets in the cockpit and was motoring into the Atlantic city channel and on into the bay. There was no traffic and Navionics doing a grand job. Until I slipped and caught my tablet, and Navionics was giving me a “yes / no” choice. Without properly reading what I was being asked I selected yes, and Navionics closed. No problem, I just opened it back up. Except the only thing visible was the humerously crude depicition of the land, all angles and pretty much useless. All the water stuff was not showing, why I never figured out. It would work fine again tomorrow, when I didn’t need it immediately. I never again sailed without Navionics up and running on all three of my devices. Which of course meant I never again needed that backup.

Anyway, I am playing with Navionics, trying to figure out why I had no water features, and getting nowhere, so I throttled back to idle (remember the 2 mph crawl thing?) and crawled along as I tried to figure this out. I am in the middle of the bay and my Morgan OI 33 has 4′ draft so I’m not worried. Looking up occasionally to make sure I am not running into anything, still in the middle of the bay. The tablet is refusing to cooperate so I duck back down to get another tablet and back up. Looking up I am about to go under a huge bridge, and I have no clue what is on the other side, and I have no charts. So I made a quick decision and turned to starboard and ran aground. Immediately!!! Like 10 seconds later, pointing due north towards the shore. At 10:00 at night. With the tide going out as I discovered a little later.

I tried reversing her out but that didn’t work. So I eventually got the cell phone out and called SeaTow. The best advice I ever got was to buy the unlimited membership, which I had. But how embarrasing, the very first day out? SeaTow informs me that the local boat is out in the ocean working with the Sheriff to raise a private plane with a body in it, and the guy on the phone was down in Ocean City and couldn’t get there any time soon and… the tide is going out anyway which meant I was not getting towed off tonight.

So as the tide went out, and Sweet Allie settled on her starboard side, I went to bed. With my salontrashed, everything I owned on the floor somewhere, I propped myself in the corner of the bunk against the hull and went peacefully to sleep, wondering why I thought this was so much fun. What a fitting end to my first day of solo sailing.

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