Well, the first day of boat ownership was a challenge. A perfect storm of poor planning on my part, inexperience – again on my part and mechanical issues. Palani is Hawai’ian for “FreeMan” and the sailboat will provide a means of leaving the gilded cage of society.
As I hadn’t really expected to find a boat this early in my search I was slightly overextended financially (had everything covered but with limited reserves to get myself out of trouble). This forced me to take a very optimistic plan of action by default. As a person with a lot of experience offroading in the Mojave, you’d think I would plan better for the heat and conditions of summer in Florida. But I expected a quick trot down the St Johns with the ability to dock if needed mid-trip. So I didn’t bring enough water along and when I had mechanical issues that required me to spend time in the engine room (ok, not really a room, more like a torture cell at Gitmo) I quickly found myself dehydrated and making simple mistakes.
Every boat is different. Palani has a much older design that is more at home on the open ocean than dealing with the tight confines of a marina. That coupled with all the little things that go into piloting a sailboat (how much power and time make the ship react to your directions, how much windage does the boat have – which affects how the wind pushes it onto or off of the docks, how sensitive are the controls) led me to make some basic mistakes in seamanship.
It’s one thing when you’ve been working on a vehicle or boat for a while and something breaks or changes. You have a history of what’s a normal sound or action. You know what’s been worked on, and what the game plan was when you installed a system or part. I had purchased the boat from the daughters of the previous owner after he had passed. So I didn’t have the benefit of his input of what was done prior to me taking over.
My First Day On The Palani
Palani was on the hard (stored on land) in Green Cove Springs. I scheduled with Holland Marine to launch Palani at their earliest convenience. They were able to work her into the schedule around 9:30. The plan was to send a quick email to the insurance company with some additional information and then start the engine and go. I noticed, earlier that morning, that the genoa sheets (the ropes running from the headsail back to the winches in the cockpit) weren’t long enough to reach that far, and as I was by myself it would just be simpler to motor down the St Johns. The Plan failed, epically.
I went to the cockpit, warmed the glow plugs and turned the key to start the engine. The warning buzzer was on but nothing happened. Ugggg….
I had noticed that the batteries had been left on earlier in the morning. So after testing the batteries and them showing low, I went and purchased a new battery to start the engine. By this time I was soaking wet from sweating inside the engine room and pulling myself in and out of the cabin (the access stairs have to be moved to gain access to the engine room, so I just bypassed them by doing pull ups into the cockpit all day) as you have to go into the cockpit to turn the key to start the engine. The replacement battery didn’t solve the issue.
So now I started trouble shooting the electrical systems. Growing up my uncles had always placed a cut-out switch in their hot rods, so I texted a friend of the previous owner’s family who knew the boat a little bit, on whether there was an additional kill switch somewhere as a security device. In talking back and forth with him, I told him I noticed a broken wire on the solenoid and would try to locate the other end of that wire. His response killed me, “Oh shit, I was playing with a remote starting system and that was the test wire I was using. I forgot to hook the correct wire back up”. I did hook up the correct wire but it didn’t fix the issue but now I was close to a solution. A few more minutes and I was able to jump the solenoid by climbing through a storage area in the cockpit to get to the side of the engine. Now we had a running engine.
By this time I had been bouncing in and out of the cabin for 3 hours and was starting to feel the effects of dehydration. My mind was not at its sharpest. So with the engine running I started to untie the bow and stern lines so I could leave the dock. As the wind had picked up since the morning, the boat started to slide away from the dock. Now the issue of being on a boat I was not familiar with raised its ugly head. I accidently moved the throttle in the wrong direction and the low RPM’s allowed the engine to stall. Now I was drifting from the dock with no power, and jumping into the lazarette would take too long as there was a parallel dock only 50 yards away. I made the decision to tie back up and made the leap to the dock with the stern line in my hand. I was able to stop the movement of the boat towards the boats on the other dock, to the great pleasure of the other boat owner watching the bow of my boat heading towards his. Once I was able to secure the stern line I made the leap back onto the boat. Taking the bow line back to the dock I secured Palani back to the dock, course the bow had swung 180 degrees while all this was happening so now I was tired and pointed in the wrong direction.
I took a break for a while to think through the situation and figure out what to do. This gave the wind time to die down and when it was calm I decided that I could back out of my spot and get on my way. Yea, about that…
Focusing on making sure to keep enough throttle to keep the engine running, I untied the bow and stern lines again and started to back out. Now the current started to swing my bow around, so I decided to follow it and swing the boat around. Unknown to me the bowline had slid off the deck where I had hastily put it in my rush to get back to the helm. I was close to the other dock while making this turn and as I pulled next to it the bowline trailed into the prop wash and wrapped itself solid stopping me cold. I quickly jumped to the dock with the stern line in hand (getting good at this for a guy who’s 46 and past his prime) and tied the boat to the new dock. Unfortunately, my current series of books I’m reading is historical fiction based in ancient Egypt filled with stories about man-eating crocodiles. As I dove into the murky St Johns river to cut the line these stories filled my imagination. It took me about 45 minutes to cut the bowline from the prop and shaft, all the time holding myself down into the water so only my nose was above for air.
With the boat safely secured to the dock, everything in a “ready to go” condition I decided that I should leave well enough alone for the day. No injuries, no costly damage, in my offroading days we called this a good day. I would tackle the trip down the St Johns tomorrow when I was fresh.
One thing that is vastly different between North Florida marinas and those I’m used to on the West Coast are the nearby facilities. In Green Cove Springs there are no restaurants or convenience stores in the direct area. 2 Marinas and a half dozen related businesses all with no support. On the West Coast, there would be a few restaurants and convenience stores to support the marinas and hotels for tourists.