The boatbuilder, Alan, whom Peter had found for us was wonderful. He loved Kantele from first glance, and he knew exactly what she needed. We left her in his care for almost a year. He removed all the deck planking, and replaced the entire plywood deck and then replanked her with new teak. We traveled to England a couple of times to visit her (and family, of course) but the highlight of each trip was the visit to Brightlingsea.
[ Editor’s Note: See Christine’s entire Series HERE ]
We had decided to sail her back to the US. We had never undertaken such a long voyage ourselves, and so we invited Geoff and Lesley, a couple of friends to come with us. There were all kinds of decisions to make – when should we make the trip? We wanted to avoid the hurricane season as much as possible. We also wanted to avoid as much generally bad weather as possible, and since I prefer warm weather, we decided on a southerly route. We also had work schedules to consider. It’s difficult to think of taking much time off when you run a company. We thought that 3 months should be enough time – allowing for provisioning, bad weather and problems as well as sailing time – so that’s what we scheduled – we booked our flights and then we began to think, in earnest, about what we needed to do on our arrival in England.
We planned to go down the coast of Portugal and Spain, across to Madeira, the Canaries, then Bermuda, and the Bahamas, and up the East Coast. That meant that we would have places to restock our provisions and to take shelter in case of bad weather. We had a GPS. We also had a stack of charts a foot thick, tide tables, tidal stream atlases and an Atlantic Pilot Atlas. We had 2 sextants, 2 compasses 2 pairs of binoculars, and a whole bunch of other gear. We had 120 gallons of fresh water, 100 gallons of diesel fuel, 25 gallons of kerosene for the cooker and lights, and every locker was filled with food – mostly canned, some dried and then fresh onions and root vegetables. The center of our drop leaf table, designed by Kirk, held 10 of the largest bottles of rum we could find! We planned to ration it carefully.
The day for leaving Brightlingsea came. We had planned to sail around to Brighton, where we were to pick up Geoff and Lesley. The weather was good but, because of tides, we knew we were going to have to stay overnight in Ramsgate. We had a very pleasant and uneventful trip down the Thames Estuary and then turned South to pass around the North Foreland towards Ramsgate. It can be a slightly tricky entrance to Ramsgate, as there is a narrow entrance channel with a couple of significant turns, marked by large, heavy iron buoys, so we decided to take in the sails and approach under engine. We came up into the wind in order to drop the foresails, and as we did a pigeon hit the jib and fell to the deck. It shook itself off, staggered around, making a mess on the deck, and then it fluttered onto the doghouse and towards the main hatch that led down below. I shouted to Kirk, who was steering too close the main hatch cover, as I have visions of the pigeon going below and making a nasty mess in the cabin.
Here’s where the story gets interesting. We had read the tide tables and looked at the tidal stream atlas, and we thought we were doing everything right. We were deliberately to the lee of this large metal buoy so that the wind would take us away from it, and we thought that the tidal stream was doing the same. In our concern about the pigeon, we didn’t notice we were moving closer to the buoy. By the time we noticed it, it was too late and we hit it just astern of the bow. We didn’t hit it hard, but enough to do some damage. What had we done, when we had made sure that the wind and the stream would carry us away from the buoy? It turned out that for a 30-minute window at a particular state of the tide, there was a stream that ran 180 degrees counter to the normal the direction of stream, so instead of carrying us away from the buoy, it took us towards it, despite the wind.
We motored into Ramsgate, called our friends to tell them that we wouldn’t be making the voyage, and called the boatbuilder to tell him we’d be back. Our friends drove over to see us and tried to persuade us to just patch it up and go anyway. But we had our insurance to think about, and we really didn’t like the idea of being out in the Atlantic with such damage. Once the insurance assessor had been to look at Kantele and discovered that she had 6 planks and 2 ribs stove in, we made our way back to Alan and Brightlingsea, feeling very embarrassed and mad at ourselves.
So, there we were, a boat full of provisions, water, and diesel, and we had to leave her in Alan’s boatyard for a repair he estimated would take several months. We had lost our vacation window, and by the time she was ready and had been inspected by the insurance company, it would be winter – no time for crossing the Atlantic.
Then an interesting event occurred. While she was sitting on the cradle in the boatyard, 2 portholes fell out – all of their own accords. Alan took a look at them and discovered that they had been put into the hull with brass and not bronze screws. Electrolysis had leached the zinc out of the brass and turned it to powder. He checked the remaining 5 portholes and discovered the same problem. The screw heads had been covered with varnish so many times that they looked OK, but underneath, they were powder. Kantele was very high-sided, and when she heeled, all the portholes on the lee side were under water. When we all thought about what could have happened out at sea, with the screws in that state, we said a prayer of thanks for that pigeon! Even what appears to be bad events can turn out for the best. As Marcus Aurelius said: “Whatever happens, happens for the best.”
So, to finish the tale, once Kantele was repaired – and looked as good as new – we had her put on the deck of a container ship, wedged in between the containers, and brought across to the US that way. She arrived in Baltimore Dundalk in good shape, and we spent several happy years sailing her on the Chesapeake.