Bustard Islands in August: Exert from “Hero’s Loop”
By: Mike and Denniese Liles
Hero’s Loop is a book about the fun and adventure of boating. It begins with circumstances that lead a young boy to love and own boats. His love for boats influences him as an adult to work on old boats as a hobby and enjoy the sight of seeing an old boat turn into a jewel. This book exults the friendships developed and maintained within the boating community. The book is mixed with fun and adventure and a few mistakes along the way while completing the Loop around the eastern part of North America. The Loop encompasses over six thousand miles of waterways and Mike, Denniese and a wild beagle dog named Maggie Mae take you along the way as if you were part of the crew. Enjoying the view and appreciating the uniqueness of each location adds flavor to Hero’s Loop. Put on your PFD and enjoy the ride.
Bustard Islands in August:
We woke to gray skies and cooler temperatures. After all, it was August and summer was officially over for this part of the world. It looked like it would rain most of the day, so we decided to stay put for the day. Killarney was our next stop and it could wait for a day. This was a good day to sit back and enjoy a good book. The wind started blowing with force about 0900 and we watched as a sailboat to our port started dragging their anchor. The boat was anchored in the inlet and there was little danger of running up on a rock with the general direction they were moving. We watched and tried to attract the attention of the crew but they were tucked in below and out of the weather. A half an hour later the captain stuck his head out to check his location and discovered he was about 100 yards closer to the inlet than where he had dropped the anchor. Denniese and I watched as other boats added scope to the anchor rode or dropped a second anchor just to be cautious. Other boats were dragging anchor but we held steady. I fully expected the admiral to congratulate me for my anchoring skills. We closed the hatch and I opened my book and began my reading of a Clive Cussler book that I had been working on for about a week. As I adjusted my cushion, I heard some hollering from the outside. I asked Denniese what all the hollering was about. I casually raised from the comfortable worn green chair and stuck my head out of the hatch. My eyes widened as I grasp the situation. We were dragging our anchor at an alarming rate toward a huge rock. The yelling we heard was from people on boats and on shore trying to warn us of the pending doom. The stern of our boat, the swim platform, and more importantly, the prop or rudder would be the first things to hit. Damage or destruction was inevitable if we could not stop the boat. I jumped from the ladder and ran toward the lower helm as I shouted for Denniese to prepare for the crash. The trusty Ford Lehman started on the first turn. As I took the helm, Denniese instructed me on the proper heading. I always leave the key in the ignition and the fuel system on while at anchor and am glad I had developed that good habit. I engaged the transmission and waited to hear the crushing of the prop blades against the solid granite rocks to our stern. Seconds passed as the wind continued to push us toward a piece of granite the size of a barn that had not moved since the last ice age. The prop sliced through the water and ever so gently overcame the force that the wind had established. We were seconds from crashing into the rock and only the yelling and noise from our neighbors averted the disaster.
This is one of the many stories that you will read in our book “Hero’s Loop” by Mike and Denniese Liles, available now at your favorite book site.
Out of danger, Denniese took the helm and I reeled in the anchor. I looked for another good anchor spot but all were taken and eventually we anchored back at the same spot only with additional scope. Next we loaded the dingy and went around to the people rebuilding the summer home and thanked them for getting our attention. Then we went to each boater who had blown an air horn, yelled or broke out the dinghy and were on the way that helped with the accident avoidance and thanked them. What was it that Denniese called this trip, “An Intense Adventurous Challenge”? Maybe we should add dangerous somewhere in that statement.
I watched as a large squall line developed to the northwest. It is hard to tell the distance, direction, or the strength of a squall line from a boat in open water, but this one looked big. This squall line had it all, lots of wind, lightening strikes on the water and a curtain of rain. There is no way to outrun a squall line in small boat. They will be moving at speeds equal to a car on an open highway, not a slow displacement type boat. We watched the storm, hoping it would pass to our east and discussed our plans if it did not. Curtis was looking ahead of us and watching the waves. I was sitting in the cockpit looking aft at the approaching weather. I told Curtis I was going forward to take the main down and stow it. At the same time Curtis turned the boat into the wind and started rolling in the headsail. The boat was equipped with a sailpack with lazy jacks for the mainsail. That meant when the mainsail was released it would fall down the lines called lazy jacks into a sail cover called the sailpack. The zipper on top of the sailpack secured the sail and protected it from the weather and sun. I released the main halyard and controlled the fall of the reefed main into the sailpack. The sail was almost entirely in the sailpack when the microburst hit us. The wind was over 50kts. Had it hit us on the beam we would have been knocked down and I would have been tossed into the water. I would have been dragged along through the water by the tethered line. The wind from the storm was bad but the rain was even worse. The rain was blinding and put welts on any bare skin. Minutes passed and I was still holding onto the sail with my arms wrapped around the boom and holding on with all my might. Knowing if I let go of the sail it would be caught in the wind causing the boat to veer and I would go overboard. Curtis always used the sailpack, so he had never cut any short lines for sail ties. Because of the force of the wind, the sail would not drop into the sailpack and it would not close over the sail. I couldn’t let go of my grip on the sail for fear it would be sucked out of the sailpack and we would broach. Lucky for us Andy knew he was needed on deck even though he was off watch. As he came up the hatch and slid the cover back I hollered for him to bring up some sail ties so I could secure the main. Andy ducked down into the boat and started digging through lockers looking for sail ties. Meanwhile Curtis was trying to control the boat and keep it from broaching. The rain and the wind was still the strongest I had ever been in, on land or sea. Now the lightening was striking the water close to the boat and not just every once in a while but almost constantly. Here we were sailing along in the storm of a life time with a tall lighting rod, or mast, attached to the boat. Earlier in the day Curtis had attached car jumper cables to the stainless steel shrouds and let them dangle in the water. The shrouds are the support lines that go from the top of the mast to the hull of the boat. The thought was, the jumper cables would neutralize the electric charge and reduce the chance of a lightning strike. It must have helped because we didn’t get a direct hit. Andy slid the hatch back and attached his tether to the boat and came up on deck to help me secure the sail. Andy could not find any sail ties but did find a ½ inch 50’ utility line. It was not what I wanted but with lots of wraps and a dozen or so knots I was able to let go of the sail and rest. I dropped down onto the floor of the cockpit and sheltered myself from the rain and wind. Andy went below to get out of the weather. Curtis had turned the boat and we were now running with the storm with bare poles (no sails up). The hood of his rain gear was covering his head and he was peeking out to maintain our heading. We were only able to communicate by hollering. The storm lasted the better part of an hour. After that the rain and wind were only a mild discomfort. I looked at Curtis and his eyes were still large and set on the horizon. I broke his stare by asking him, if during the storm he could hear me praying? He said, “No, I was too busy singing hymns”. A second squall line passed but we were ready for it. During the storms we had recorded surfing down the waves at 12kts and winds in excess of 50kts for almost an hour. By 1630 most of the storms had passed and we were only 135 miles from the finish line.
Daylight Monday brought more storms and lots more lightening. We heard the Coast Guard calling for boats to render aid to a boat in distress. We were several hours from the boat in distress when we heard the call and turned to head in that direction. Another boat was answering the call and was even closer. China Doll had turned to intercept the boat. A coast guard helicopter was on station and a coast guard cutter was on the way. With help on the way we turned High Cotton back to the race course.
Later the captain of the distressed vessel (Laun Two) made the following report of his decision to declare an emergency. “I keyed the DSC MAYDAY button on the VHF radio. China Doll answered! China Doll’s captain asked me if I had set off the EPIRB (emergency position indicating radio beacon). No, not yet I answered. I was trying to locate vessels nearby. He recommended I go ahead and set it off which I did. About midnight I heard the USCG call China Doll asking them if they were in contact with Luan Two. I could hear the conversation but my batteries were weak and could not make contact direct with the Coast Guard. China Doll was roughly 30 miles behind us and headed our way”
China Doll, which had also lost a sail, arrived about 1100 hours on Monday and the USCG Cutter Drummond arrived around 1200 hours. The USCG boarded Luan Two and determined they were helpless and had been drifting in the storm and rough seas for the past 20 hours. The sails were shredded, someone had fallen into the wheel and broken the steering and the engine was inoperable due to fuel problems. The crew and boat were in peril. The USCG took Luan Two in tow and headed for Key West.
Another boat caught in the storm was the sailing vessel Maltese Kross, a CYS 37 cutter. The captain became seriously ill, seasick, dehydrated, hallucinating and suffering heart problems. The crew decided to abort the race and activated their EPIRB. The US Coast Guard helicopter was sent to the scene and safely removed the captain. Two boats were hit by lightning, but no one was injured. On another boat a sailor was sitting on the head when the storm hit. The force tossed the sailor and the head down the passageway. A forty pound toilet and a 200lb sailor bouncing around the interior of a boat in a storm is a dangerous thing. The head was captured and secured and the boat suffered no further damage. The sailor had a good story to tell.
The sailing magazine “Southwinds” July 2005 issue reported the race and the storm in part with the following. “Soon the fleet was experiencing increasing wind. Then it became scary. Winds were reported at a steady 40 knots with higher gusts and with steep seas to 20 feet. Naturally, this was between midnight and dawn. Mike Boom was on the yacht “Mi Vida Loca” reported “We watched lightning strike all around us for seven hours. It was the most intense storm I have ever seen. We hove-to for two hours in wind gusts exceeding 65 knots”.
There were many knockdowns, and most in the fleet had sails blown out. Two boats were struck by lightning. There was a dismasting. Two other boats were disabled. Roller furlers took a beating. A successful Medevac rescue off a yacht saved a crewmember who had become ill. Seven boats returned to their Florida ports….
By Monday afternoon we were in better weather. The sun was out and we were cleaning and straightening our floating home….more of the story to come.
To order a copy of Mike and Denniese Liles book, Hero’s Loop visit: https://www.amazon.com/Heros-Loop-Stories-Boating-Adventure/dp/1496909127