Sunday, June 21, 2015

Departure Day

Through the Bridge of Lions and ocean bound!
The day of departure had perfect weather.  The ship motored through the Bridge of Lions, ringing their bell in a farewell clang acknowledging the well-wishers lining the bridge.  The living history folks at Castillo de San Marcos fired a single cannon shot farewell.

View of the departing Galeon from the gun deck; photo by Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
Our plan, since we couldn't sail this leg, was that we and another American crew member would follow with the dinghy and get some photos.

Following the ship out; that's us in the little bitty dinghy to the right; photo by St Augustine 450th Commemoration
In addition to the photos, we had another job.  About 3 weeks ago, the Galeon was struck by lightning, damaging all the electronics. There had been a mad scramble to get everything working again. On the scheduled day of departure, all was fixed except that the autopilot needed to be recalibrated.  (For the non-sailors: in practice, this meant they had to take the boat out in open water and go a mile or two out and back, and then turn in circles and various other maneuvers so the autopilot learned how much to turn the rudder to make the boat go where it was intended.) On Cinderella, this was calibration was accomplished in an hour or two on the Chesapeake Bay.

A heavy rainstorm on the Galeon, viewed from the shelter of the galley.  Every time the photographer's flash went off we all jumped, thinking it was lightning again!  (Photo by Teaira Marque)

The Galeon, however, is a big ship, not a little sailboat, and everything is bigger and takes longer.  For one thing, there was no place in Matanzas Bay big enough and deep enough for a 170-foot ship to turn circles.  The job would have to be done at the edge of the open ocean, actually, beyond the sea buoy at the St Augustine inlet, about a 4-mile dinghy ride from the dock.  We planned to follow the ship in our dinghy to the sea buoy, and then the ship would continue out into the Atlantic, calibrate the autopilot, then return to the sea buoy where the electronics tech (who was a contractor from a Florida company and not a member of the crew) would leave the ship and we would take him back to shore in our dinghy, and the ship would continue north.

Going out to the sea buoy in our dinghy was something we'd only consider in good weather (which we had) as it was about the limit we felt safe.  We got there without incident, and proceeded to hold station while the Galeon sailed away to turn circles.  It was a calm, beautiful morning.

They sailed away ... and kept sailing! They were perhaps having trouble with the calibration?  We chatted and chilled, hanging out at the sea buoy for about 45 minutes, then finally saw the ship start to turn back.  Now I know what a shipwreck survivor feels like, we three bobbing about in our little dinghy surrounded by nothing (except in our case we were safer than a real shipwreck survivor, we were right next to the whistling sea buoy, very visible on radar).  The ship came closer to us, grew bigger and more beautiful in the sunshine .... and then at the last minute turned away again!  What was going on?  We hailed them with our handheld VHF, which died halfway through the conversation.  I had one bar of cellphone signal so I tried to phone the boatswain, who couldn't hear me. We sounded like a bad Verizon commercial "Can you hear me now?"  Finally we relayed through the crew member who was doing shore support.  Our plan was to continue to wait at the buoy and when they came back, they would ring the bell so we knew it was time to maneuver close to pick up the tech.  We had it all planned, how we would come alongside, close to the ladder built into the side of the ship, and on the downwind side as we'd been taught by the Navy, so the bulk of the ship shielded us from the waves, for the tech to descend.  We had it all worked out.

"Chasing Galleons" ... that smudge on the horizon is our ship! The dinghy feels awfully small at the edge of the ocean.

Except, the tech wasn't finished.  We had been bobbing around the sea buoy for almost 3 hours, the wind was started to pick up, it was not all that strong but it was from the east, and the tide was ebbing so we had wind against current and it was getting choppy.  It was a beautiful day for sailing but not such a great day to be too far out from land in a little dinghy. Clouds were beginning to build over land, too.  Finally we got the word that the calibration was not going well, and we were feeling unsafe staying out much longer, so we came back to shore.

We got very familiar with the buoy marking the entrance to the St Augustine inlet from the Atlantic 

In the end the tech was out there for six hours turning circles.  They finally had to pick him up to bring him back to shore using the local law enforcement police boat.  Dan and I went out that evening for a dinner cruise with our friends on the Black Raven, and we still saw the Galeon, on the horizon, finally sailing away.

For the ship, a (hopefully) pleasant and uneventful passage to Philadelphia awaited.  For us, the usual last-minute jobs to prepare Cinderella to be left unattended; and then a road trip to rejoin the Galeon in Philadelphia.

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