Flies, flames, surreal landscape, no coffee

This weekend saw the accomplishment of a task that had been frustratingly slow to come about. I tried since about mid-July to find someone qualified and available to captain for Amanda Grace’s journey home. Captains Ashton and Reynolds were kind enough to take our boat from Herrington Harbour North to Lusby, but then Amanda Grace hung out at Skipper Yeckley’s for weeks while I basically begged everyone who might possibly help or know someone who might help. I wanted to bring her home in time for our scouts to sail her before the end of the season.

Fortunately, Mate Schmoker could commit to the Columbus Day weekend, so I knew that, at the least, I would not have to go for my last-ditch options: have an acquaintance sail her down mid-week with one of his friends in late October, without any members of Ship 7916.

With all else going on recently, ship’s meeting, Winter Training sign ups, new members, Petty Officer Training sail, and more, I am pleased that I decided to keep Amanda Grace sail down plans simple. This sail was a lot less work than the usual; I did not have to coordinate rides and meals, check for permission slips, plan program, or even figure bunk assignments.

Even so, there was a lot to do in preparation, and most of it was coordinating equipment, like a boat hook, anchor, spot light, GPS, batteries, tools, and galley furnishings. Also, some food planning and purchasing, though Mate Schmoker and I each just committed to 1 day of meals, with no real coordination beyond that. Bunk assignments were non-existant. The scouts crashed on the main cabin berths, Mate Schmoker stayed up all night, and during the 4 hours I slept, I was in semi-sitting position in the cockpit–easy for the captain to rouse me when he needed help with navigation- or just staying awake.

Sitting on cushions in my sweats and coat, with my down bag over me, I fell asleep around 10pm and was awakened from a dream at 2 am by Mate Schmoker tapping my foot. I rose, rubbed my eyes, identified the flashing red lights that he said were my mark, and took a turn at the wheel. By then the moon had traveled from overhead to ahead, the sky was spotted with a variety of clouds, and the combination of light and dark was a startling sight. The river was so quiet–we seemed to be the only travelers–and scenery so impressively surreal that I kept thinking, “This is like being inside a painting.”

The surreal scene also affected navigation; it was difficult to see, easy to confuse on-shore lights with navigation aids, and hard to see unlighted markers. The spotlight was perfect for checking numbers on the navigation aids, its light catching the reflective tape and broadcasting the numbers like neon signs.

Unfortunately, the challenge posed by the compressed alcohol stove–compression leak, and a scout sleeping atop the fuel/compression tank– essentially prevented preparation of coffee, so the captain had to make do with a couple of ibuprofen tablets and instant lemonade. Somehow, he persevered until dawn’s light made navigation much easier and we were both comfortable with me handling the helm solo. I followed the markers from Possum Point power plant to the channel at the Occoquan River, using my cell phone to call in a report to Mr. Sanford, and listening to the regular thrum of Amanda Grace’s single-cylinder diesel as it chugged along, “splooshing” in time- and the occasional tinkle of bilge water as the pump kicked on due to an over active stuffing box.

Commodore Alexander had said we could expect that Amanda Grace might use around 3/4 gal. of fuel per hour, but at about 1,500 to 2,000 RPM, she actually consumed much less. We started out with about 3/4 of a tank of diesel, motored for 24 of the 26 hours under way, and still had about 1/4 tank left!

Our little crew of 4 managed to effectively handle a tangled stern line, being besieged with hordes of bloodsucking flies, shooting flames from the galley stove, the necessity of a couple of minor jury rig repairs, chill winds and confusing lights in a surreal landscape, little sleep, one-pot meal cooked on a malfunctioning stove, cold breakfast with no coffee, and make it from Lusby to Occoquan in one shot, at about 4 MPH. I think we did alright.


Caitlin’s blog post, Amanda Grace Comes Home, chronicles the unexpected challenges during the 26-hours-straight, 132-mile journey from Lusby to Occoquan. More photos available at the online photo album, and here is an updated map of the course.
This photo, by Ann Cameron Siegal, shows two of my scouts next to Amanda Grace at dock, the only “blow boat” among the Sea Ray power boats at Prince William Marina.

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