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The Squall and Gale Force Winds at Cumberland Island

On January 7th, 2009 we awoke with the wind rising and a chop on the river. The wind had shifted from the south to the West putting us on a lee shore if we dragged anchor. It was low tide but we still had plenty of water. The wind really started to howl and I could see a front coming across the west. It became pretty clear we were in for a blow, the front was moving pretty fast towards us. I jumped out and made it to the bow right as the rain really started to come down and the wind really picked up. I let out another 20-30’ of anchor rode and made my way back to the cockpit to start the engine. By the time I got back to the cockpit, I was soaked to the bone. I started the engine just in case we started to drag anchor. At least I could power her up and move her forward to keep us off the lee shore. Hil and Emma were safely in the salon. It was roly poly inside but nothing compared to the rain coming down sideways that stung from the 40-50 mph winds. I stood in the cockpit for almost a half an hour making sure the anchor was holding before the squall started to ease. A trawler was motoring down the river from the north when the squall hit. He stayed pretty steady in the river while the worst blew by us and motored on as the winds eased. He called us on the radio to make sure we were ok before powering up to keep moving south.

Our anchor held fine and there was no problems besides me being soaked like a wet rat. We had a nice cup of coffee, ate a hearty breakfast and got squared away before pulling anchor to a warm sunny day. We motored along Cumberland Island on a falling tide. By the south end of the island there is a security zone for a Navy Sub base to the west of the island. The ICW is narrow and the water was at low tide making for a stressful navigation.

We had checked the weather along the way and our area was subject to gale force winds gusting to 50 mph. It was still early in the day and we were hoping to cross the Cumberland Sound to Amelia Island and find an anchorage a little farther south to get clear of the front that was moving through this area. Hil was at the helm as we just clearing the southern point of Cumberland and the waves in the sound had picked up to 3-4 feet. The waves slapped against the side of the hull and sent spray over the boat into the cockpit. The wind was really starting to howl as well. I went below to check on the bilge and engine and right about that time the engine died.

We were (naturally) on a lee shore (the wind is pushing you towards the shore) and I quickly went below to switch tanks. Usually if a diesel dies from lack of fuel you have to bleed the fuel lines to get the engine to start, we got lucky and the engine started right back up sputtering and I have to goose the throttle to keep her running.

The Coast Guard hailed us on channel 16 and wanted to know our intentions. Amidst the winds, waves, and engine dying, I replied, “To cross the Sound.” They wanted to know if we were going out the inlet or up the ICW. At that time I looked ahead and saw how rough the inlet was and decided we should head back to Cumberland and deal with the fuel issue before trying to cross the sound with high winds and choppy waves.

It is true we are a sailboat- with the intention of hoisting sail and, well, sailing. But we were hoping to break Emma James in gradually to the heel of a boat and the 20 degrees of roll a boat has under sail. We didn’t have a headsail attached or the mainsail halyard attached. Technically speaking, we could have raised the main and kept her going, but in light of Wife, Child, and weather, I felt it best to turn around and use the wind and current to push us into a small river on the south side of Cumberland.

We cruised back in at 7 knots (that’s fast for us) and found a nice spot that was somewhat protected from the westerly wind and dropped anchor. The tide was rising but the wind was howling. The anchor rode (mostly 3/8” chain) was tight as a drum. The weather forecast said the gale force gusts would continue until Friday (today was Wednesday) before easing. As a precaution, we decided to rig the 2nd anchor and throw it out as well (not literally THROW it out- it’s 35 lbs).
The rest of the day was windy and rolly, but promptly at 5pm the winds subsided and it was a perfectly calm anchorage all night. The next day I had to patch our dinghy which sprang a leak from the pressure valve. Actually the valve wasn’t glued in that well and it was leaking around the valve. In the end, I had to cut out the whole valve and put on a 3” x 4” patch. It cured overnight and held up fine (so far). I tracked down the culprit in the fuel system. The previous owner replaced the gaskets on the tank inspection plates with a liquid gasket. When he put the screws in, a little droplet of the liquid gasket dropped into the diesel fuel and got sucked up into the fuel line to clog the small orifice on the tank selector valve. This is the second time I have had to take the selector valve apart and clean it for gasket goop balls. I went ahead and replaced the Racor fuel filter. Now all my fuel and oil filters are VERY recent, it should be a couple of hundred hours before they need changing again.

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