The Longest Night of Our Lives

Hud kept our spirits up during the long, awful day by playing his uke and singing.  It has taken me a few days to process what ...

Hud kept our spirits up during the long, awful day by playing his uke and singing. 

It has taken me a few days to process what happened to us on our sail from Luperon to Samana.  Even now, I don’t really feel like writing this, I’d rather just forget it ever happened.  But it happened, and it’s part of our story, and I know I won’t feel right if I don’t include this on our blog. 

The sail from Luperon to Samana is considered by many to be the toughest in the Caribbean.  It’s a 24 hour trip (which we broke up into 2 days), and for the duration of it you are headed east, directly into the trade winds.  Because you are going against the wind, this is primarily a motoring trip (solely sailing is not a really a possibility, unless you beat upwind the entire way, which would take five times as long).  We chose a weather window that was ideal for motoring, no wind.  The trip is kind of treacherous- rocky coast is on one side of you, the wide open sea with big swells on the other.  There are only a few places where stopping or anchoring along the way is an option.  There are two large capes (jutting horns of land) you must get around, and the seas can get rough around them.  We waited for an ideal weather window and we lucked out with a great one.  We had worked for many days prepping Moxie for this trip, checking all of her systems, getting all ducks in a row.  Our crew felt ready. 

We sailed at night, when the trade winds die down.  We left Luperon at 10 pm on the first night under a starry sky.  At about 4 am, out of nowhere, the engine mysteriously died. Trav switched fuel tanks and replaced a fuel filter, and our engine started again.  We figured it had just been a fuel filter issue, no big deal.  We reached the anchorage in the morning and rested, preparing for the following night, which would be the second, sketchier and much longer leg of the journey.

On the second night of the trip, I had the first solo watch, which began at 11 pm.  Trav went below to sleep, and I was at the helm.  It was a gorgeous night- little wind, warm air, smooth seas.  I posted on Instagram at 2:18 am about what a great time I was having.  By 2:45 I was ready to end my watch- my eyes were getting heavy and I was looking forward to switching off with Trav at 3 am.  At exactly 2:59 am, the engine died.  Groggy Trav leapt out of bed and immediately switched the fuel filter again, noticing as he did so that it was super dirty, which it shouldn’t have been because it was brand new from the night before.  “It’s algae.  We’ve got algae in our fuel,” Trav reasoned.  Our boat had sat in Luperon for 7 months and we figured the fuel had become contaminated.  Dirty fuel meant that we couldn’t just keep replacing the filters- we’d go through them all really fast.  At that point, my resourceful husband thought fast.  “Jen, get me the jerry cans from the bow.” I unstrapped and retrieved the seriously heavy cans of diesel from the front of the boat and carried them down to the cabin where the engine compartment lives (under the floor boards between Hud and Viv’s berths). My clever husband took one of these emergency cans of clean diesel and McGyvered an ad hoc fuel tank, hooking it up to the engine with tubes.  See photo below:

       


It was a crazy, messy, difficult job, setting up those jerry cans full of diesel at the as the boat rocked and pitched in the swells.  Trav was dripping sweat, working furiously to set up the emergency fuel system to get us going again. 

With nothing to power us, Moxie was in danger of drifting, so I tried to sail her as best I could, in the pitch black night with only 5 knots of wind. I couldn’t keep on our course (which was headed directly into the wind), so I tried to tack (sail in a zig zag) to at least keep us moving forward and in the right direction.  I had never done this by myself.  I didn’t do it well.  At this point, it was 5 am.  My head was spinning.  I messed up tacking and ended up turning the boat totally around.  Now we were going the wrong way.  Trav leaped up to the cockpit to help me.  He looked me directly in the eyes and said, “You have to do this.  You have to do it right.  You have to do it now.  You know how.  Slow down, figure it out.  DO IT.”  He also made me drink a half a bottle of Five Hour Energy.  (Have you ever tried this stuff?!?  It was my first time.  Holy crap, IT WORKS.  My head woke up.  My eyes woke up.  I was capable again.  I am a BELIEVER in 5 Hour Energy).

The kids were awake at this point.  I tried my best to keep my face and my voice totally void of the fear I felt.  I sang songs, I cracked jokes, I told stories.  I sailed the boat as Trav worked hard, switching fuel cans and bleeding fuel lines.  He had to keep sucking diesel to prime the lines when he switched them and every time he did so he would feel so nauseous he’d have to come up on deck and breathe fresh air before going back down in the cabin again to work more on the makeshift fuel system.  Our living space was splashed with diesel. Everything reeked of fuel. 
For Hud and Viv, this awful day meant sitting in the cockpit for almost 12 hours with nothing to do.  Although we kept our heads and tried not to let them know how stressed we were, they knew what was happening.  And they were amazing- they stayed calm and never once complained. 
          
Trav’s homemade fuel system worked, but soon we were running out of the emergency diesel.  We still had over 50 miles to go.  Our only option at that point was to switch back to using the dirty fuel.  We’d just keep replacing the filters and hoping we had enough filters to get us to Samana.  But when we switched back to the big tanks, Trav couldn’t get the engine to prime, he couldn’t get fuel to the engine.  He then thought we had a fuel line problem, so he followed the lines all the way to the tanks themselves, where upon he discovered what our actual problem had been all along:
The tanks were bone dry.  Our fuel had been stolen in Luperon. Someone had taken all of our diesel.

The diesel hadn’t been contaminated as we’d thought, the filters were getting clogged because the gas going through them was the sludge from the very bottom of the mostly empty tanks.  Someone, during the 7 months Moxie sat in the Luperon harbor, had siphoned out our 180 gallons of diesel.  Moxie doesn’t have a fuel gauge, so we just keep track of how much we buy and how much we’ve used by how many hours we've traveled since we last fueled up.  We should have had 180 gallons of fuel in our tanks.  But we didn’t.  We had zero gallons.  And we were 15 miles now from Samana. On a sailboat that averages 7 miles per hour at top speed with decent wind and a fueled motor, 15 miles is a long haul. With no wind and no fuel, 15 miles is like going to the moon.  And at this point we were nearing the cape, the sketchiest part of the sail with the most unpredictable seas.

We needed a way to move forward.  There was no wind.  Our dinghy was deflated and stowed on our bow; we inflated it and got it in the water.  It was my job to lower our 20 horse motor (which weighs about 1000 pounds) on a pulley to Trav below in the dinghy.  Imagine doing this with huge swells lifting and dropping you every few seconds--I could have slammed Trav in the face with the motor as I lowered it.  He was straining to keep himself upright in the pitching dinghy and he easily could have dropped it the motor into the ocean.  The whole endeavor was super dangerous and very scary.  I successfully lowered the motor, and Trav miraculously got the it set on the dinghy and started it up.  He attached the dinghy to our starboard side and we used it to pull Moxie, very slowly, forward.  (You can see our dinghy pulling Moxie in the photo at the top of this page.)  

In the meantime, I was using our InReach satellite device to send a text message to our sailor friends who were already in Samana.  I told them we were on our way via dinghy power but could they please try to bring us some diesel.  At this point, we were about 12 miles away.  It was 1 pm.

We have been incredibly lucky to make wonderful friends on this sailing journey.  I was never more appreciative of this than I was when our friends Trent and Kevin from SV UpsideUp and SV The Kraken responded to our satellite message and immediately made preparations to come help us.  They got a boat from the marina, stocked it with snacks, beer and emergency gear, and set out in the huge swells, late in the day, to bring us the diesel we needed.  They reached us at about 3 pm.  The sight of them made me teary. 
  
Our heroes
 Superheroes Trent and Kev took the weary but resilient Hud and Viv on their boat, fed them junk food and cheered them up.  I was so, so grateful for that.  My kids were troopers through the entire ordeal, and I was so relieved that they were safe and in good hands.  Trav and I put the new diesel into our tanks, and poor Trav had to prime the fuel lines once again (more diesel in the mouth).  

It took over an hour to get Moxie’s engine started again.  When I heard the engine finally start, I was too exhausted to even be happy.  I felt depleted and drained and disheartened.  I felt sad and miserable. We motored the final leg of the trip, passing gorgeous cliffs and stunning vistas without noticing them.  We were a silent mess.

In a million years, it never occurred to us that someone would steal from us in this way.  I can imagine what the thief might have thought, how he or she might have justified this theft.  We get it- we are the haves, there a lot of have nots in this country.  It would have been great to have received a note that said something like, "I stole your fuel, it helped my family.  Your tanks are empty, FYI." Perhaps the thief was desperate, and maybe by taking our $900 of fuel, this person was able to save himself in some vital way.  I guess I hope that’s the case.  But I can only pray that the thief did not have enough sailing knowledge to comprehend the danger he put my family in by stealing our fuel.  If ANY component of the trip had been different, if a squall had come up or if the north swell had increased, or if our friends hadn’t been able to help us, this story might have had a very different ending.  We were so, so lucky. My stomach can barely handle the thought of how my children were put in danger.

I am proud of how we handled that frightening experience.  I am proud of my unflappable, positive kids, who never complained throughout that terrible night and day.  I am unspeakably proud of my genius husband who came up with solution after solution after solution.  I guess I’m proud of myself for keeping my cool. But I would be lying if I told you that this experience hasn’t tainted my feelings about sailing a bit.  It’s still fresh, we are still raw from it.  It was the most difficult part of our journey thus far. 

Thank you for reading. xo         

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13 comments

  1. Oh dear moxie crew. I cried and felt with you all reading about this part of your trip. Thanks for sharing also these harrowing details of your journey. I hope that you will be able to get a fuel gage on your boat. So weird that it did not have one. May this leg of your trip make you stronger. I am proud of you all too. Way to handle this emergency!

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    1. Thank you for your kind and supportive words, dear Ulli! I appreciate you. xoxo Jen

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  2. Oh my goodness Jen and Trav you’re amazing, resourceful and so stinking brave. I am overwhelmed with pride in you both for cool thinking and solving so many problems that could have been disastrous. Praying for safety as always for you all. 🙏🏻🙏🏻❤️❤️🎶☀️🙏🏻

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    1. Thank you so much, Sylvia! It is Trav who deserves all the credit. I am still in awe of the way he handled all of those problems that night. He is our hero. Thanks again for your friendship and support. xo

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  3. Thank you, dear Universe, for keeping my friends safe on their journey. I love you guys!

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  4. Incredible! We are so happy to hear a fairly happy ending to this part of your trip! But WOW!!!!

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  5. Hey Jenn, wow, It’s 5am and when I read this, my eyes were dripping tears into my coffee. What a crazy ridiculous and wonderful story. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, I suppose. But shame on the thief (stealing’s OK…but just leave a note. Well put! I 100% agree). But also congratulations on pulling through as a team, and being able to write about it. Your writing is amazing and engaging. Now…go find another adventure, leg, experience, or moment worth writing about! Just make it a safe one, ok? Hopefully see you guys after Xmas. Glenn, Sheila & Cairo

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    1. Thanks SO much, Glenn. I really appreciate your kind words, empathy, and compliments about the blog writing. Part of traveling is the tough spots that inevitably present themselves- your awesome adventurous family knows this, I know! I hope we will see you in Samana because we really want to have you to dinner on Moxie. Big hugs, Jen Trav Hud & Viv

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  6. So glad you are all safe and sound! I can only imagine the thoughts going through your head trying to protect the kids. You are safe now!

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  7. Congratulations to you all! I am still following you from frozen MN. (I loved Luperon but there's less drama here.)

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