I learned to sail on Shannon from my father Paddy Dooley; a lot of people will remember him as he used to own Dainty Dairy in Bedford Row and Cecil Street. He taught me well, as lessons learned on Shannon between Foynes and Carrigaholt stood me in good stead when following little adventure happened.
I thought you might be interested in this account of a trip on an old English Morecambe Bay Prawner between Annapolis Maryland, and Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts.
On board were 3 people, Ashley Butler from Essex, England, Wendy his American girlfriend, and myself Shay Dooley from Limerick.
This all happened just over a year ago at end of October 2001, about 6 weeks after horrendous attack on World Trade Centre.
I had volunteered myself as crew on "Ziska," old wooden gaffer belonging to Ashley Butler. The plan was to bring it from Annapolis to Vineyard Haven on Martha's Vineyard. About 380 miles which should take 3/4 days. There were three of us onboard, Ashley, his fiancée Wendy and myself. Wendy had done no sailing. Ziska is 42' on deck, 60' with bowsprit and windvane, and weighs in at a svelte 15 tons. She is iroko on mahogany massively built. Her mast is 45' long and her boom is 21'. She did not have an engine. We had two compasses, 2 handheld vhf's, 2 GPS's, flares, an EPIRB (emergency position indicating radio beacon), lifebelts, lifelines, and kerosene lamps, both on deck and below. We had a Monitor windvane self-steering.
We got there, but not without some incident. We left Annapolis on a beautiful Sunday morning, last Sunday of October. As this boat does not have an engine, we use a pusher boat to get it out and to manoeuvre it in confined quarters. A pusher boat is basically a dinghy with an outboard, lashed tight to stern and it is surprising how effective it can be. Point dinghy in direction you want to go, and big boat slowly turns in that direction. Once we cleared approaches to Annapolis Inner Harbour, we hoisted sail and took off on a fast reach up Chesapeake. We averaged 6 knots all day and reached head of bay Sunday night, in time for a foul tide on Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, so we anchored and turned in.
We were up at about 0400 and with a good flood we pushed boat through canal and covered 12 miles in just under two hours. We then entered Delaware River, and after an initial slow start, got down to Cape May NJ, by dark. The mouth of Delaware River is as big as mouth of Shannon, about 15 miles wide. Our first night at sea, Monday was spent inching up New Jersey coast. At least that was what it felt like, as it seemed to take forever to pass bright lights of Atlantic City. Donald Trumps Taj Mahal should be on chart, as it is so prominent. Huge red lights on roof. We were able to see it from 20 miles.
We averaged 4/5 knots all day up New Jersey coast, Tuesday and between 1400 and 1900 barometer had, dropped from 1010 to 998mb. The forecast was for a veering change to south and west from current easterly 2/3. The forecast changed at about 1700, saying wind would suddenly veer to south and west and increase to 25 knots with gusts of 30/35 with occasional gusts of 40. We decided to do 2 on and two off, to see how night went.
I had 2100 to 2300 watch. We were sailing in a fitful easterly, just shy of being luffed. Our course and track was about 050 m. The wind was 10 to 15 knots.
We had a Monitor wind vane, which had self-steered boat effortlessly. They are amazingly effective.
Ashley relieved me at 2300. At 2320, we were hit by a gust of 40 knots, which came from nowhere. Ashley said he saw a kind of black cloud. I certainly did not. The boat had full main, and jib and flying jib on bowsprit.
In 40-knot gust, boat went over probably 35 degrees. The main hatch was open, and Ashley said water on deck got to within a few inches of hatch.
The next few minutes were a blur. I was in my bunk, and I felt boat go over. I heard Ashley shouting for me. I heard a loud crack, followed by a second not so loud one. I had trouble getting out of my bunk, because of motion, and then decided to put on my oilskins, harness, lifeline and boots. I put a torch and a knife in my pocket, and went up. The mast had broken just below hounds, and was in water on port side. The remainder of mast, which was keel stepped, was still there standing up like a massive toothpick, with no rigging holding it up. The mast at deck has a diameter 18 inches. Big stick, a solid piece of Douglas fir. The rig in water did not deaden motion of boat. The wind was about 30 knots steady, sometimes 35. It was a dark night. Wendy stayed below.
We set out sea anchor, which took some time, owing to debris in water. Once it set, it pulled bow more or less to weather which was NW by now. The top portion of spar was immediate problem, as it was banging into hull about 6 feet back from bow on port side. We chopped through wire, halyards, strops, and just about anything else, and managed to haul it on deck, and lash it down. At least hull was not so much at risk now. Thankfully we had bolt croppers.
The remainder of mast, gaff, and boom were still in water, as were sails. We next salvaged two jibs and lashed them on deck. We then needed to separate gaff from mast, so we chopped and hacked until we had that free and on board. Separating jaws of gaff from mast was a game, and eventually we got that onboard too. The mainsail was still attached to boom, so we separated them and got boom on board. The boom was 21' long. That left mainsail, which we eventually got on board. That all took from 2330 to 0140. By that stage we were exhausted and I had been sick. Probably a combination of fear, seasickness and whatever.