Leaving the pier at the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London early last Sunday may not have been our best decision considering the weather forecasted that day. Weather prognosticators were calling for winds out of the east around a consistent 15 knots with gust to 20 knots and waves near the Fishers Island Sound to be in the vicinity of 2 to 4 feet stretching out the length of Long Island Sound. Jean and I discussed staying at the pier another day and possibly leaving at first light Monday instead, but the forecast for Monday read the same. The rough idea was to cruise to Stamford or Greenwich and anchor out for the evening and then time our approach to the Throgs Neck Bridge the next morning to ride with the current through the East River to New York Harbor and spend a night at Liberty Landing in Jersey City. The next day would be a four or five-hour cruise up the Hudson to Half-Moon Bay Marina and tie the boat up for a week. We had purchased airline tickets in advance for a trip home for a week, and we would then commute to a hotel near LaGuardia Airport and fly out Friday morning. We had planned a couple of weather days into our formula, but we were using those up quickly. Sunday was the kind of day we knew might not be our most comfortable cruise but forecasts are just that, and they could prove to be wrong. Being wrong though can go either way, meaning, the weather could be better or could be worse.
Jean and I made our preparations for departure and waved good-bye to family as we brought our lines on board and headed out the Thames River. It was a sunny morning with winds out of the east around 10 knots or so and little to no waves in the river. As we reached the mouth and begun our turn west into Long Island Sound, we thought that maybe this cruise would be a little lumpy but not uncomfortable. We turned on the auto-pilot and cruised with the current at 10 to 11 mph for a couple of hours. As we traveled along with the following sea, we began to notice the increase in gusts and the height of the waves. The two to four-foot waves forecasted turned into four to six-foot waves with several rollers higher than that. The high swells would lift the boat up and place it down 45 degrees in the trough, and we would have to quickly steer in the opposite direction to straighten out again. The auto-pilot was turned off, and we steered manually for another hour or so looking for a harbor or river to enter for the day when the steering began to become practically unresponsive. After 50 miles of four to six-foot waves and dodging submerged crab-traps seen at the very last minute, we found a safe haven in the Milford river and headed to Milford Landing Marina. We were met there by 4 marina staff that helped catch lines, run electric and water to us. I wanted to see if the rudders and shafts were ok and if we had snagged some rope or something that hindered rudder control. I put on a diving suit and went into the water to check underneath the boat. There appeared to be no line wrapped around rudders or shafts, and the rudders were appropriately aligned and tight to the touch. Later I checked the steering compartment and could see nothing amiss so after adding hydraulic oil to the steering reservoir, we settled in for the night and planned a first light departure for the next day.
Jean and I departed Milford the next morning at 630am and headed back out into Long Island Sound. The steering still felt off, and the waves were still high. I went to the steering compartment as Jean steered and I immediately saw that the pedestal that held the steering cylinder and auto-pilot arm was cracked and was separating from the hull and ready to break off. We immediately turned around and using propellor thrust only, headed back to the marina. Upon closer inspection, I saw that the auto-pilot arm was sheared off and that while the steering components were in working order, there was no stable platform for the steering gear to function upon. We were fortunate that a highly recommended marine boatyard was located next store we would call them when they opened.
We tied up in the Milford Landing Marina and waited for staff to arrive and discuss the possibility of leaving the boat there for a week or so and having fiberglass work done in the steering compartment by the Milford Boat Works next store while we are away. I was happy to learn that the manager of the marina followed our blog and had heard of Makin Memories and followed us since Key West. We talked about the loop, and he hopes to begin the loop in a year or so with his wife. The boatyard next to us has been in business for over 80 years and sent a person over to inspect the damage first thing that morning and will repair the steering with the boat in the water at the marina.
We learned several new lessons as well as being reminded of many old lessons as well. When I first started to research the loop I read a post that said that the number one rule is “thou shall have NO schedule.” Weather and mechanical can put you into decision-making loops that can be harmful to you and your boat. Our cruise Sunday was very close to breaking that rule. Fortunately, we were able to find positive alternatives. This could have been much more dangerous than it turned out to be. A second lesson is that pushing for high mileage day after day can sap your energy and effect your decision-making as well. The joy is in the journey and not the destination. A lesson that I personally learned is that I will need to be much more thorough in my inspections and to follow-up every suspicion that may arise and test before getting underway.
Lastly, I want to thank the individuals at Milford Landing Marina and Milford Boat Works for their professionalism, responsiveness, and friendliness to boaters in need. Our impression of Milford is that it is a great community and it is evident in the people that we have met there.