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Making a Delivery – Skyhook Round Two

After sailing Skyhook to Grenada, I was hooked on speed. When I got an email the next year from the owner of Skyhook, I was keen to deliver her from Tortola, BVI to Ft. Lauderdale. I called Julie from The Workbench in Virgin Gorda, and asked if she was up for this delivery. No hesitation—she was on. Julie has raced with me for the past 16 years in the Caribbean, and when I ask her to do something outrageous, she doesn’t think twice. She tells her mother that she is safe with me—boy, is her mother mislead!

Planning on at least four days of island-hopping once we got to Bahamian waters, we set sail from Tortola at the end of June 2001. The tiller pilot, nicknamed “Otto,” refused to work from the get-go. I had picked him up from Cay Electronics and assumed that the previous brain-scrambling on the way to Grenada had been resolved. Wrong. All he wanted to do was go in circles.

We anchored overnight at Los Palaminos off Fajardo, Puerto Rico, a beautiful, tranquil cay. Next morning we went ashore and called Cay Electronics. Simple solution: open up the unit, disconnect the leads and swap them around. They had been reconnected to have the tiller pilot drive from the starboard side, not the port. Simple—we made the switch and got back underway. By the time we sailed to the other end of Puerto Rico it was dark and stormy so we decided to drop the hook and tackle the Mona Passage in daylight.

Good decision. The Mona Passage is notorious for its rough conditions when it is wind against current. We were surfing the waves, and getting a little nervous about burying our leeward ama. Julie stuck her head down at one point and asked ‘how far can you bury it before it gets dangerous?’ I woke up enough to pop out the hatch and see that things were building and getting a little too boisterous for full sail. We reefed down, and relaxed a bit.

Still surfing at 15 knots through the Mona Passage, I had a look out of the cabin. Otto and tiller were no longer connected. Julie wasn’t comfortable driving at 15 knots in surfing conditions, so I threw on my foulies and took the helm while she hung off the stern to drill a new hole in the tiller with the hand drill. The pin that held the tiller pilot had sheared and we had to install a new one to reconnect the pilot to tiller. Our tiller pilot woes were becoming a bit of a joke. I took a photo for Julie’s Mom to prove that she was safe while hanging off the stern— wearing her harness, as promised!

Things went from bad to worse when Otto spat the dummy again. We opened the unit and wiggled connections until he coughed back to life. Julie was becoming like a mother hen looking after her sick offspring. She wiped him down repeatedly and finally taped a plastic bag over him to keep him dry. But once again, Otto gave up the helm with a last gasp. Hand-steering three hours on and three hours off was getting very wearisome, and we decided to make a pit stop in the Turks and Caicos.

Once we got into calmer waters we were able to track down the latest problem in the ongoing saga. The connection point of the auto pilot to ship’s power was exposed to direct hits of salt water. It was tucked away under the cockpit seat, but directly above an open cockpit drain where geysers shot up like “old faithful” every time we hit a wave. The connection was a mass of corrosion.

We pulled into the boatyard at the end of the afternoon after a heart-in-throat entrance over shallows with no depth-sounder during squally weather. Our neighbour on the bulkhead happened to be an electronics guy with a soldering gun. The gods were smiling upon us once again. We chipped apart the corroded hunk of junk, cleaned it up, and reconnected all the leads. A little precarious—one of the connection points was all but disintegrated—but with fingers crossed, we set off the next day for the Exumas.

We had now used up three of our precious cruising days, were running out of time, and had to push on. We reached up Exuma Sound and ran across the banks south of Nassau, with the plan of getting across the banks to Bimini in the dark. But by 2200, lightning was flashing all around, and I was feeling uncomfortable about running the banks in 10 feet of water in the dark with no reliable depth sounder. We made the decision to pull into Chubb Cay and navigated the narrow entrance accompanied by lightning streaking across the sky and tied up at midnight. We were up and at ‘em at 0500, and had a glorious run across the banks in bright sunshine.

We were now up to our 23rd operation on Otto—opening him up yet again. Julie now had an almost witchcraft like chant that she would recite at every unscrewing of the tiller pilot, stroking him like a feverish child, calming and reassuring. It would calm us slightly but reassure us not at all. We secured the cover yet again, and prayed at the moment of truth of plugging him back in. Ureka! Cooperating once again, but for how long remained to be seen!

We finally arrived at our destination having done zero cruising. Julie made her flight to a family gathering with minutes to spare. I had made arrangements with the Mad Russian to dock Skyhook in his backyard. At Pier 66, we measured the mast height to make sure we had bridge clearance. We were under 65’, so off we went for the scenic cruise through Ft Lauderdale. We got to the I-95 bridge, and, barely moving forward, hit the first girder with our Tri-light. Bugger. We backed up to a dock, waited for the tide to drop another foot, and went for it again. Success.

We turned the corner into the final canal. It looked tight. I went ahead dead slow. There was a big steel hulled boat on one side and a small plastic fantastic on the other side. Thunk. We stopped dead. I put her in reverse. No response. We were jammed between a rock and a hard place. The owner of the plastic fantastic came out his back door to see what was up. We pushed. We pulled. I had the two big men on one ama, bouncing up and down. Wouldn’t budge. Bugger. I finally was able to punch one of the fenders down and out of the way, giving us enough clearance to back out. We wouldn’t be getting into this canal—par for the course for this delivery.

I found a temporary dock while I flew to Bermuda for a wedding. When I got back, we found a permanent spot for her in one of the bigger canals where she would be put up for sale. If I had the bucks, she would be choice. With a new tiller pilot, Skyhook makes a terrific little racer/cruiser!

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