There are bits and pieces of this saga on Facebook and sailing forums, but I thought it would be good to put all of this in one place for easy reference. I’m not aware of many/any other boats that had been abandoned, drifted for so long, and were brought back to shore in good condition and ready to sail another day, but such is the story of our little Spadefoot.
Recall from my previous post, “The Fate of Poor Spadefoot”, that I abandoned Spadefoot on June 5th, 3 days into the Bermuda 1-2 Race, roughly 200nm NNW of Bermuda and 450nm SSE of Newport, RI. Spadefoot was left adrift with a YB tracker, an AIS transponder, and the tri-color on. Everything was left reasonably secure and closed up. At that time, Spadefoot was still in excellent condition. I hadn’t had any real issues during the race and while the keel was moving, because it is a lifting keel inside a keel trunk, the movement did not imply damage had occurred. It did indicate the potential for damage, or catastrophic failure, particularly as the conditions would worsen over the next 2 days.
After leaving Spadefoot, the YB tracker continued to update hourly. In the first few days, Spadefoot did exactly what we expected. She drifted in various directions between east and north, presumably pushed by the strong southwesterlies and by the Gulf Stream. On June 9th, Spadefoot was 255nm north of Bermuda, and any thoughts of a recovery faded. Roy, the B1-2 Race Director, mentioned that when a similar abandonment happened a few years ago, the boat eventually ended up in Scotland! He also mentioned something else that proved very useful. He told us that on that previous occasion, YB had moved the boat over to a private web page so the owner could track the boat, but the public could not. We asked Roy for the same, and YB quickly moved Spadefoot over to a private page. The move didn’t go unnoticed by family and friends, but we were able to assure them Spadefoot was still afloat and transmitting.
Chris & I flew back to the US on Sunday the 11th and started our next chapter which involved driving from Newport, RI to Austin, TX to Orcas Island, WA, picking up an Airstream trailer along the way, and beginning our new life on Orcas. We drove over 7,000 miles in 3 weeks, and 2/3rd’s of the trip was completed either towing either a boat or an Airstream which is almost the distance from Madrid, Spain to Beijing, China. There were some (many?) sad moments as we contemplated the loss of Spadefoot. My biggest disappoint was knowing how much fun we would have had sailing Spadefoot in the San Juan Islands.
Shortly after starting our cross-country trip, sans Spadefoot, things got more interesting. Spadefoot started tracking south, mixed with several complete circles. My memory was that the rudder was secured with the tiller slightly to port, meaning Spadefoot would, when moving through the water, constantly try to turn to starboard. This is evident throughout the track as there are lots of small and large clockwise circles in the track. By June 14th, 9 days after leaving Spadefoot to wander the Atlantic Ocean, she was 165nm north of Bermuda. Interesting and quite unexpected, but still that would be a long way to go for a recovery. So we continued to watch the tracker, staying very busy with our new life on Orcas.
On June 16th Spadefoot was only 135nm north of Bermuda, but then she started tracking NNW, directly away from Bermuda, for 2 days. So we watched and wondered.
On June 22nd, 2.5 weeks after leaving Spadefoot, she was 166nm NNW of Bermuda. And then she started heading SSE. On Friday the 23rd she was 137nm from Bermuda and still headed SSE. At that time I started contacting people. Would it be possible to recover Spadefoot? Could we get a ride out to Spadefoot on another boat and sail her back to Bermuda? Should we? Would Spadefoot be in a condition to sail that far? Would it be safe? Could we get a tow from that far out? I contacted a few friends, Oren and Rachel, that had sailed with us since the beginning on Spadefoot, and I contacted a few of the local marine businesses in Bermuda to see if they had ideas.
On Saturday, the 24th, Spadefoot was only 111nm from Bermuda. Rachel suggested I contact friends Reed and Emmett who had just finished the Block Island Race Week and had contacts in and familiarity with Bermuda. On Sunday, a plan was hatched. Emmett and Oren would fly to Bermuda from Texas on Monday and try to arrange for a boat to take them out to Spadefoot for the recovery. Emmett had some good leads, but nothing concrete. We would take our chances. Spadefoot was 88nm from Bermuda.
Emmett and Oren arrived in Bermuda on Monday afternoon. First visit was to the Customs dock to make them aware they would be attempting to recover a boat adrift. Their response was essentially have fun and good luck. Good, no problems with Customs then. The remainder of the day was spent chasing leads. The first option was a 40′ RIB that could reach Spadefoot in just a few hours. That ended up falling through as the America’s Cup ended that same day, and the RIB along with the mother ship would be departing for the US shortly. The idea of towing Spadefoot back to the US behind the mother ship was not pursued with any seriousness. Spadefoot was 86nm from Bermuda, but no longer making progress towards the island. This was our window of opportunity. It looked to be now or never. They just needed a boat. And a willing skipper!
Tuesday morning Emmett texted to say they’d found a good boat, a 35′ sportfisher, with a captain crazy enough to take them out Spadefoot and for a price we could stomach paying. With no time to waste as Spadefoot was beginning to head ENE, away from Bermuda, at a rather hastened pace of 1.5 knots, they departed Tuesday, late afternoon.
No sooner had they left the dock than disaster hit. Spadefoot stopped reporting on the YB tracker. 4 hours had gone by with no updates. Was the battery dead? Had Spadefoot sunk? I made a quick call to YB, based in the UK, in their early evening and left a message. It looked like they would have to dead reckon the position of Spadefoot currently moving at 1.5 knots with an expected rendezvous in 12 hours. If she was still there, could they find her?
30 minutes after I left the message, I received a call from Nick at YB. Since the B1-2 race had been over for several days, he had just turned off all of the trackers. But no problem. Spadefoot was still transmitting, the battery life was good, and he could turn it back on immediately. Even better, he would up the ping rate of positions on the website to every 15 minutes. I texted Emmett the good news, and we were back in business.
Oren and Emmett were able to borrow a satellite phone for the recovery, but they had no way to check the YB website for position updates. As night fell in Bermuda I started texting an hourly position report to the sat phone. Somewhat humorously, our property on Orcas does not have good cell phone coverage, and we had no coverage inside the Airstream. So every hour, I’d check the website, write a text, crawl out of bed, and wander outside about 10 feet where I’d get a signal, and the text would send. This also meant they couldn’t call me during the night as I couldn’t receive a call while in the Airstream.
As morning dawned in Bermuda, the expectation was that they’d reach Spadefoot soon, so each hour when I refreshed the tracker the hope was that I’d see a change in direction that indicated they’d reached the boat and changed course back to Bermuda. At 4am on Orcas it happened! Spadefoot was heading SW directly towards Bermuda. They’d done it! They’d found her and had her under tow.
The return trip passed quickly with Spadefoot able to plane comfortably at 9-10 knots behind the sportfisher on a very, very long tow line. Roughly 30 hours after they’d left Bermuda and 23 days after I’d stepped off Spadefoot, Spadefoot was tied to the customs dock in St. George’s, Bermuda. She’d made it to Bermuda after all.
So what happens now? Several people have asked me if we were planning to sail Spadefoot back to Newport. The answer is an unequivocal no and here’s why:
This was the bolt holding the keel in place inside the keel trunk. I can’t say if this bolt bent while I was still onboard, or whether it happened after, but either way, I can’t imagine what would have happened to it after 48 hours of hard upwind work if I had continued to race to Bermuda. Suffice to say, I’m glad I got off when I did. We’ll obviously have a good look at the keel, trunk, and attachments when Spadefoot gets to Orcas Island, but I’m confident this system can be redesigned to be strong and secure.
So, what does happen now? Well, Oren and Emmett spent the week cleaning (3 weeks adrift with sea water sloshing about and chocolate milk in the ice box does not a pretty boat make), drying out, and derigging Spadefoot in preparation for shipping aboard the weekly container ship from Bermuda to New Jersey. That meant we needed to find someone to drive our empty trailer from Newport to New Jersey, then the trailer will be loaded on the ship to Bermuda. Once in Bermuda, someone will drive the trailer over to the boatyard in St. George’s, load Spadefoot on the trailer and then everything gets shipped back to NJ. Once back in the states we will have to arrange for someone to tow Spadefoot across the country to Orcas Island. Hopefully, Spadefoot will be back in the water and ready for some fun by the Fall.
We’re grateful to Oren and Emmett, and to other friends and family for ideas and support. We’ll be paying it forward for sure, as we got so lucky with the outcome and the help we received.