Excerpt for Hanging By Threads: Part Two by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Volume II … Continued from Volume I: Hanging By Threads: Part One

Hanging By Threads: Part Two

By: Jennifer Appel

Sea Nymph –

Ocean Saga

Table of Contents Act Two: A Trip To Remember

Section One: Sea Nymph Saga Background


Hawaiian Sailing

Why Sail the Tropics?


Sea Nymph

Rigging Hell

Section Two: The Voyage

A Trip to Remember

Electrical Nightmares

Ocean Weather

Turned Away 1 Christmas Island

The Black Sheriffs

Val and Zeus Love Love Love the Dolphins

Wet and Broken

Turned Away 2 Wake Island

Cold Water

Section Three: What Created the Sea Nymph Saga

Feng Chun No66 (Taiwan spelling) Fong Chun No66 (English spelling)

USS Ashland

Out of the Frying Pan AND Into the Line of Fire

Who Bleached Our Real Story

Continued in Hanging By Threads: Act Three … Who Knew What and When???

Act Two: A Trip To Remember


Scene One


Hawai’ian Sailing

Most people learn to sail with an instructor, at a school or from family members who love the sport. I learned by jumping into the deep end of the ocean, in the waters around Hawai’i.

The Hawai’ian Islands:

Hawai’i, as most people know it, comprises eight islands. They include:

The Big Island aka Hawai’i, Mau’i, Ko’olawe, Lana’i, Moloka’i, O’ahu, Kaua’i and Ni’ihau.

The Big Island on the eastern most side, also known as Hawai’i. Ko’olawae is south of Mau’i. Mau’i and Lana’i are west and north of Ko’olawae. Ko’olawae is south of Mau’i and east of Moloka’i. O’ahu with famous Waikiki beach and Honolulu is west of Mau’i, Lana’i and Ko’olawae. Kaua’i, and Ni’ihau are on the far western side of the aforementioned islands.

Ni’ihau and Lana’i are private and Ko’olawae, which has been used as bomb practice by the military, is uninhabited.

The Molokini Crater (which is too small to be shown on the image above) is one of two volcanic sunken craters on the planet which have a land portion that can be accessed by boat. Molokini Crater has wonderful snorkeling. Molokini Crater is off the southeast tip of Mau’i.

The channels between the Hawai’ian Islands:

The channel, Alenuihaha, between northern tip of the Big Island and Mau’i is known as one of the two most dangerous channels to sail between 30N and 30S latitude. The other dangerous area is in the Indian Ocean. Depending on the day, the Indian Ocean or the Alenuihaha may be crowned king of dangerous water.

At a moment’s notice, the calm crystal blue water can be swept into a frenzy that no Hollywood CGI artist can replicate. The actual Hawaiian translation for the word Alenuihaha is “great billows smashing” and roughly translated in sailor jargon as “the water laughs at you if you are not strong enough to pass.”

There is a very good reason why probably 300 out of 365 days a year there is a small craft advisory for that channel.

The fifth most dangerous channel to sail in the Tropics sits between Moloka’i and Mau’i
bordered to the south by Lana’i. Locals lovingly refer to it as the Moloka’i Expressway. On the charts it is listed as the Pailolo.

Tourists who venture too far off the gold coast of Mau’i at the Ka’anapali coast may have their dead bodies located off the southern tip of the Big Island which is called South Point, Big Island.

Often the stories in the Hawaiian media reference bodies that will take a long time to identify.

This happens almost every year but the officials keep it quiet for tourism purposes. Lifeguards are posted on land and water patrol roam the surf on jet skis to reduce the number of potential incidents.

Notably, Lana’i during the reign of the Kings was called the Prison Island before it became the Dole Island. It was also where the Japanese and other Americans of Asian descent were kept in internment camps during World War 2 if suspected of assisting the “other side.”

Each year between Mau’i, Lana’i and or Moloka’i there are races between the islands for sailors, paddlers, swimmers, paddleboarders and sometimes kiteboarders. Chase boats and medical staff are also part of the entourage.

In recent years, many races with international competitors have been called off because the conditions have been deemed too rough, even when the event organizers expect the best of conditions.

In prior years, people took off against the elements and were never heard from again.

A normal person, unlike the whales, sharks, dolphins and submarines who profusely utilize the channel, cannot handle the insane currents that go through that area which is why the island of Lana’i was the perfect natural prison in earlier years.

It can only safely be accessed from a boat or plane by a human.

The third most dangerous channel to sail or paddle is the space between O’ahu and the western edge of Moloka’i called Lau Point. The Kaiwi, or bone, crosses the Penguin Bank and the 26 mile chasm has an elevation range from 20’ to 2,300’.

Thus Moloka’i made the perfect location to house people with leprosy and a wonderful test bed for biotech’s GMO seed.

Should one think that a sail from O’ahu to Mau’i is a breeze, it is an almost always an upwind battle in the strong trade winds that flow from east to west.

I have made the trip in 12 hours and there have been occasions when the exact same trip took 27 hours.

I have seen water so calm you would have thought you were in a bathtub. At other times, 14’ face waves came up out of nowhere while wind and sky conditions remained unchanged.

It is not uncommon for this channel to be cloudlessly clear blue at noon then a torrential black sky with washing machine type waves at 1:00 pm. Often the sky becomes all clear and beautiful again before sunset.

The fourth most dangerous tropical water channel according to sailors, that is regularly sailed sits between O’ahu and Kaua’i.

Most people think a map of Hawai’i looks like the image above. However, there are also 137 other islands and atolls that make up what is called the French Frigate Shoals, according to Wikipedia, which comprise the Hawaiian Islands.

These uninhabited jewels stretch past Midway Island (Atoll). Not shown on a basic Google map or most maps of the world, they do exist on marine navigation maps which are called charts.

The entire line of the French Frigate Shoals extends almost past the International Date Line, at 180 degrees, which is between 179W and 179E. Midway Atoll is the second blue dot from the left in this chart.

The French Frigate Shoals are a wildlife protected habitat. Nobody in America may access them without special permits. (Maybe Taiwanese fishermen have access that Hawaiians do not have?)

The French Frigate Shoals are exceedingly dangerous to traverse during the winter months as the extreme currents and underwater islands can wreck a boat before one knows what is happening.

Two boats ended up as permanent reef during the first exploration of the atolls. If you want to learn about these islands, buy a Coastal Pilot for Hawaiian waters and you will get a real education.

The Coastal Pilot is a boater’s bible. It tells everything about the areas including hazards, landmarks, lighthouses, island amenities and usually something about the history of the place.

Learning to sail in Hawaiian waters means you have learned to handle weather patterns as a regular course of daily, normal, natural behavior. Nearshore weather is very predictable and usually the winds are below 20 mph with relatively flat water.

The weather can be very unpredictable offshore. Offshore, it is typical to encounter15-30 mile per hour winds or gusts and six to eight foot seas a few miles off any Hawaiian coast on an almost daily basis.

These waters are very different from the ones I have experienced off the eastern seaboard, the Gulf of Mexico or California. Authors and instructors of the Annapolis Heavy Weather Sailing videos I had on Sea Nymph tell people to avoid eight foot seas and 30 mph winds.

Experts tell sailors to steer for home to stay clear of what may be deemed normal Hawaiian offshore weather.

The waves don’t always look like the screenshot below. But the weather behaves like the screenshot below, pretty often or Hawai’i would not be considered a year-round surfing mecca.

The numbers in the picture are the wave heights and the arrows represent the wave direction.

Dark blue conditions are nice to sail in as the dark blue represents calm water.

Scene Two


Why Sail the Tropics?

Our planet is ringed by latitudes with the equator at the center. The areas above 40 degrees north latitude (40N) and the North Pole and the area between 40 degrees south latitude (40S) and the South Pole are called the Roaring Forties and Furious Fifties. These areas have the worst weather imaginable for a boater or human, in my opinion. Many people have managed the typhoon type conditions to circle the globe or visit an arctic region to catch fish. I have seen the show called the Deadliest Catch but this is not the type of miserable cold water situation I hope ever to find myself in.

The areas between 40N to 30N and 40S to 30S contain some very heavy vicious cold water currents. The best boating weather is shown in the image below as blue and darker blue areas. These areas are between the Hawaiian Islands at roughly 20N and Tahiti in the Polynesian Islands near 20S opposing each other on both sides of the Equator.

Growing up, I was always under the impression that the Equator had a 400 mile breadth of doldrums with no wind that must be traversed by using a motor. In the early 2000’s I talked with sailors who had crossed the Equator and was told the doldrums were now a mere 200 nautical miles of diesel-smelling boredom. Around 2010, I learned that there was wind whenever there were storms. To get across the Equator with ease, I should learn to use the storms to help get across. There is a sailing legend that tells a sea captain to always remember to leave a gift, (pour an alcoholic beverage into the ocean for Neptune / Poseidon, aka the water god), for good luck when making the transit. Sea Nymph found wind crossing the Equator both times without storms.

I know the planet is changing because we really only hit doldrums when a storm sucked the wind out of the sky before a storm hit. (An example would be the Volume II book cover image.) There were very few placid days and very few of those were near the Equator.

The Atlantic Ocean is known for storms. People who have survived the hurricane season that affects the eastern seaboard and those in the states bordering the Gulf of Mexico are very familiar with an Atlantic Ocean storm.

Very few hurricanes hit the Western Coast of the United States in California, Washington or Oregon. Most American people are unfamiliar with what the Pacific Ocean can create. However, those in New Zealand, Australia and Japan are very knowledgeable about the destruction and devastation that Pacific Ocean storms can bring with very short notice.

The Pacific Ocean gets its name for being the pacified ocean, unless there is a storm. Those Pacific Ocean wonders make the Atlantic Ocean whizzers appear tame by comparison.

Before I purchased my first boat, my experience sailing was limited to being visual candy on the deck of a boat. I enjoyed drinking and sunning myself to the surround sound music and the easy bounce that the boat made topping wave after wave. I never had to care about safety or what parts of a boat were called as most boats I boarded never got away from the sight of land. I always felt comfortable with the captain’s abilities or I wouldn’t have left the dock.

I had no idea what a halyard was or a sheet or how to use a winch. I didn’t care either. As far as I was concerned a birdie was either something in a golf game or a noisy thing with wings and feathers that makes a nest and lays eggs.

Who knew a birdie is the thing on the top of the mast that tells the direction the wind is coming from when talking about boats? I didn’t back then and neither did many of the reporters who interviewed me who said they knew something about boats or had been sailing.

What they really meant was they watched Gilligan’s Island as a kid, just like me, but that was about the extent of their boater knowledge. If their boating knowledge had been a bit more extensive, things I said like “the spreader failed” would not have gotten translated as a “broken mast” to the public. A little research would have gone a long way.

A quick Google search will illustrate pages of sailing pictures, boat-part diagrams, sailing nomenclature and sailing websites in a fraction of a second.

Pintrest has some wonderful pictures that speak a thousand words.

Scene Three

2007 - January 2012


My first boat, a 34’ Coronado sloop, which had been raced from British Columbia, Canada to Mau’i in her earlier years, was purchased for about $10k on a whim one day after spending the night in her and having the best sleep of my life. She was also a sale-able asset that was cheaper than land living. In Hawai’i, harbor water lapping at the hull is arguably much nicer than listening to land-locked neighbors living in thin walled apartment dwellings or zero lot line homes. In a high density Hawaiian residential community, every so often an argument (sometimes nightly) would allow the knowledge of personal things that nobody in their right mind would ever want to know about those living in close proximity.

I never took a formal sailing class. The classes offered at a time I could participate had two people on tiny single person dinghies and I wanted to learn to sail on bigger boats in the ocean. Why pay money to learn on someone else’s dinghy that can capsize when you have your own boat to play with? Instead of starting small, I let other sailors, like world class sailors who had sailed the oceans, sail my boat and teach me what they felt was important. I also read the cover of Sailing for Dummies and often referred to the inside if there was something of particular interest I wanted to know.

At one point, I decided I would join a crew to learn how to race. I learned that I did not like being yelled at. I also learned that I wanted to sail, not use my “female skills” to provide sexual gratification type happiness down below as most female sailors on another person’s vessel are “required” to do. I have always been my own pimp but the rules of the ocean are very different than the rules on land. I quickly realized that it might be safer for everyone involved if I just learned by trial and error to sail on my own with people who retained their manners both dockside and out to weather.

There came a time when I wanted to test myself to see if I would be able to make a solo passage. I spent 30 days offshore, but in sight of land to see if I could handle the rigors of solo living. I passed with flying colors. I was so looking forward to a long hot shower on land and a nice big, fat, juicy steak dinner. I truly enjoyed the shower but once I got into the restaurant to eat, while overhearing conversations of the people around me, I couldn’t wait to box my steak and head back out to the water. It seemed as if the ocean serenity was far more palatable than the drama vomited by individuals so immersed in the minutia of personal details that they couldn’t see the bigger picture.

I did what I thought was right to the boat in order to prepare her and myself for a passage between islands.

One of the more fun ways I prepared for Hawaiian island water hopping was skippering a weekly booze cruise, of mostly naked drunk people, that had been occurring for more than twenty years, which had only the following rules:

One hand for the boat, one hand for your beer. If you want to touch a girl, put the beer in a safe place and use that hand while the other stays in contact with the boat.

No toilet paper in the head (toilet).

Don’t fall off the boat – all we can do is push the man overboard button and call the Coast Guard – it will take us longer to find you than the creatures in the ocean to eat you and you will most likely die when you hit your head on the way down anyway – so stay onboard.

NOBODY goes below deck while the boat is sailing – you may go down to get your stuff when we anchor to snorkel and eat.

If you need to pee or vomit, go to the downwind side of the stern, (back), of the boat.

Have fun and follow the captain’s orders.

These weekly excursions into the channel between O’ahu and Moloka’i taught me how quickly the weather can change in the Hawaiian Islands. I also learned how to keep up to 50 drunk people with inebriated interests directed towards the naked body in their laser focus instead of the larger, overarching safety feature of staying on deck, on the boat.

I also jumped aboard another mid-week west side cruise that was more intimate and gave me experience in the opposite direction toward Kaua’i. With these guys, multiple boats were at our disposal for use and we regularly went out past the Ahi Trench miles from shore into blue water.

While off-shore but still in the sight of land, we purposely jumped overboard to practice man overboard drills and lots of other required blue water emergency skills. These west side experiences taught me how to deal with ripped sails, dismasted boats, how to get out of irons (dead wind) and hull breaches… we never called the Coast Guard for help.

The “coasties”, (Coast Guard), knew me from skippering the naked sailing excursions. Boats with happy naked people and blaring music are pretty hard to miss on the water, especially since there isn’t much else to look at.

The test day came for FSOW. The sky was blue there was a nice swell and the boat captain from another boat who was to go with me was suddenly unavailable. He offered another individual with sixteen years of experience as a deckhand on the “don’t fall off the booze cruise boat” that I had sailed with before. I obliged. I should have waited for another day or called another captain I knew.

As soon as we cleared the inner channel, the outboard motor quit. I went forward to put up the sails and while doing so, the other individual turned the boat and pointed the bow directly back towards shore into the black lava rock jetty at Magic Island. Two waves later, we were beached.

He got a ride to his apartment from the reporter who published the story in the paper the next day. He told her he had crashed the boat. The reporter allowed me some latitude by not putting my name in the paper. It was not even worthy of its own story as its few lines were smashed in with several other more interesting ocean rescue stories.

The FSOW story was located between a notation about a dead tourist found in the surf break at rock piles in front of the Waikiki Hilton, mere yards from Magic Island, and a lost kayaker off Mau’i. The only reason it was noteworthy is that there were two pictures associated with it.

The sixteen-year veteran of the weekend sailing adventures went home and had a beer on his couch. I cried on the dock all night next to an empty boat slip.

No, the sixteen-year booze cruise veteran did not offer to pay for the boat nor did he offer me a couch to stay on. It was a life lesson that nobody should have to endure.

Had we air-bagged the boat to keep it from pounding the rock jetty and used maybe $200 worth of epoxy and fabric at high tide, the boat could have been salvaged. I would have had to learn rigging and how to step a mast at the deck. Keep in mind, a salvaged boat only pays about $2k to the salvage company. A totaled boat requiring removal and destruction pays about $20k. I don’t fault the financial business decision made by the salvage company. At the time, I was emotionally devastated and accepted the advice of the professionals around me. The professional’s perspective was a good business decision. At the time, I was told insurance would pay off and I would get a new home. That did not happen.

Insurance refused to pay the claim. They are in the business of taking money, not sending it out. Their logic hinged on a technicality, as payouts on a claim often do, which had something to do with whether or not the boat could be salvaged, whether or not it was a residence and WHAT was I thinking handing the wheel to someone else while I put up the sails? By the time the insurance decision was made, the boat was useless from being banged against the rocks and scavenged. Unable to pay the salvage company, I ended up cutting the boat apart and putting it into black plastic trash bags in the dumpster.

I learned so much about boat construction from the disassembly process that all the knowledge garnered from the first incident was used to build Sea Nymph into a much stronger boat than I could have purchased off the shelf.

Having no boat, I ended up living on one of the weekly naked booze cruise boats for a while and gained tons of experience island hopping until I got my next boat.

Scene Four

January 2015 - NOW


Years later, I purchased a 45’ Morgan Starratt & Jenks boat that was loved and labeled by its first owner and used as a punching bag each time the second owner got angry with his wife. He purposely reefed the boat right outside of the Lahaina harbor. She was a perfect blue water vessel and a fantastic project boat. With the help of an America’s Cup racer named Kasey, we sailed her from Mau’i to Honolulu between 8-9 knots with a broken keel that had several missing sections in it. Two years later, the entire boat had been re-built and measured 50’ from bow to stern. The boat was now a custom Jennifer Appel 50 newly christened as Sea Nymph.

Sea Nymph is a home and was redone as a floating architectural masterpiece. Comparable to any well designed 500 square foot New York City, Los Angeles or Honolulu apartment, it has 7’ ceilings, two bedrooms, including one queen bed and one larger than California king bed, two bathrooms which contain a shower, sink, vanity and toilet (head) and linen closet.

Sea Nymph also had storage: a wet locker, chain locker, motor area, electrical vault, water maker area, hanging closets, clothes storage, two pantries, three battery banks and deck storage under the exterior solar panel table.

Additionally, in the interior, there was a sit down navigation station, full size couch with storage under as well as behind the plump custom cushions, a quarter berth (which is a mini 8’ sleeping quarters), dining table for eight, surround sound, lighting with switches, an office desk table and shelves, a captain’s quarters sitting area, a separate office area with built in shelves, rear clothes storage with mirrored doors and interior backlighting, standing full sized wall mirrors, a kitchen complete with two freezers, a refrigerator, microwave, toaster over, full size cook-a-turkey for eight people on Thanksgiving day two rack oven, three burner stove, double steel sink, under sink cleaning supply pantry, cabinets, 12v and 110 lights, counter tops, hot water, four dvd players spaced throughout the boat, an air conditioner, gas and electric heaters, lots of built-ins on the two library walls and many more things that are required on a boat that I am failing to list here.

To help you understand a little better, the replacement cost for the things that can be replaced inside of Sea Nymph, is a little more than $1.5M USD. Enjoying the practice of architecture with an emphasis on tiny house architecture, my personal live-in masterpiece with deep satin cherry wood stained mahogany finishing and custom thick pile wool floor rugs, was no “piece of junk” no matter how ridiculously satire bloggers and land lubber media wanted to portray it.

All the things I wanted were in my moveable home. If I wanted, I could wake up to new scenery each day if I so chose. One also has to be very self-reliant on a boat. Knowing there is a lot of trash in the ocean and not entirely sure what nature would “throw” at me, I used the FSOW knowledge to take my first crack at becoming a naval architect. This is the same approach I entertained with my own homes on land. I built my own project to learn instead of only applying book knowledge or listening to advice from people who had never built a boat.

The bow was 4” thick solid epoxy with a ¼” stainless and nickel plate in it. That reinforcing helped enormously when I hit a 6-8” diameter by 8 foot long log in the open ocean one afternoon. The insane amount of reinforcing also explains why Sea Nymph was still floating after the fishing vessel encounter. While the extra weight at the bow gave my boat a heavy lag – the comfort level that came from the fact that nothing ever punctured the hull at the bow was worth every ounce of weight. By steering effectively I could account for and assuage the tripping factor when green water would rush over the deck in large swells. (The term tripping is just like it sounds. When the bow dips into the water and the force of the impact causes the bow to stop short while the rest of the boat wants to keep moving forward, the boat is tripping. It often causes the spectacular crashes seen in YouTube racing videos. Green water is the term for large amounts of ocean water that washes over the deck and up to the cockpit.)

The deck was rebuilt to remove the soft spots from the second owner’s purposeful reefing. The 80 pound dogs could run back and forth and the sound underneath was just pitter-patter of 16 toe nails being kept short on the custom north shore coral, sand-infused non-skid deck surface.

The thinnest part of the boat when finished was at the hatch locations. A hatch on a boat is a window on the deck. This area surrounding the deck hatch frames was 2” thick. (Most production boats have a hull thickness of 3/8”.)

The rest of the boat, including the deck-to-hull-joint approximately 12” below the top deck, where the “freeboard” is located, graded into a 4” thick hulls at the waterline. The hull graduated into a single piece wine glass design solid keel with a graded center point along the exterior centerline of the full keel base starting about two feet below the waterline.

(Most boats are rounded on the bottom and do not ride a stiletto edge. During the two years and four haul-outs (term for when one lifts a boat out of the water), I changed the design several times until I found an angle I liked and one that Sea Nymph liked as well.)

Knowing how quickly a single impact with a 3/8” sidewall or hull section would rip the glass apart, Sea Nymph was going to have the overkill benefit of every strengthening concept I could employ.

During the renovation, the keel bolts, which allow the keel to separate from the rest of the hull, were rendered useless and the entire steel frame got a new steel facelift. Fearing for the potential loss of the rudder, the rudder post shoe at the base at the very bottom of the rudder was Splash Zoned into place. The only way to remove the propeller was to know where the hidden locking screws were located. All through hulls had two manifold-ed ball valves (sea cocks) to ensure that one broken at sea would already have a second backup in place and ready to perform.

Three separate battery banks ran two sets of solar systems and one wind system. Just about everything had a backup. (Sea Nymph only had one refrigerator and one microwave but double stoves, freezers, automatic water makers, hot water heaters, GPS, radios, rigging, sails, seeds, growing trays and most everything needed to stay out in blue water as long as I wanted to.)

Having a closed boat required lots of ventilation fans. I had more than one per bulkhead, and there were 9 bulkheads in Sea Nymph. Everything electrical in the boat ran on a 12volt system. There was also a shore power system and a separate 110 system with multiple inverters that ran tandem to the 12volt system. Each battery bank had the option to supply power to different parts of the boat or the entire thing depending on the settings I used.

The vessel had four bilges instead of one. There was one main bilge that the others emptied into but they could also be stand-alone systems. Each bilge had the option to use separate exits if some horrific experience required the release of fluid from more than one bilge at the same time.

Four separate lines ran out of the stern in addition to the motor exhaust and the fore and aft head exhaust outlets. Each bilge was designed with two automatic bilges capable of emptying in seconds and each bilge contained two additional manual Whale pumps. There were also additional electric impeller driven high pressure back up sump pumps with extra hoses that could be led out of the companionway if a stern line was blocked or if additional pumping was needed.

The sump pumps had been tested during Houston hurricanes at my land residences and I knew they could perform miracles if everything else failed.

Getting water out of that vessel was designed to be an effortless breeze if Sea Nymph were holed by an impact with something in the ocean. Tempting fate, it became extremely necessary to test all the fail safes I created before the journey ended.

I built everything I knew how to do. The things I didn’t have expertise in, like rigging and electrical to and through the mast, I hired out.

Sadly, these were the two main components that failed. If they had been properly installed, you would probably never have heard of the Sea Nymph nor would you be reading this right now. I will get to those issues, but for now, know that I am aware that the captain is responsible for the boat when leaving the dock. It is obvious I know that from the FSOW experience.

I took responsibility for something I didn’t do because that is maritime law. The captain is responsible no matter who performs the action once the boat leaves the dock.

However, we only know what we know. If I had known how to rig the boat or do the communications, I would have installed them myself.

Besides having a solid hull, the rigging and the communications are the most important parts of a correctly functioning boat. A failing hull or surcharging bilge means you and the boat sinks. Failed communications means you cannot contact anyone for assistance or get weather updates. Failed rigging is like driving down the street on flat tires or a broken axle. You can do it but it will be slow going.

I didn’t have the confidence to do the rigging and the electrical. I did not want to have any issues with those aspects, so I hired professionals to do those items.

My dockside inspections of improper work did not uncover the failures because I did not know any better and I trusted the people I had hired to do the work correctly.

I should have realized there might be a potential problem when the rigger came down from removing and replacing the newly installed starboard spreader to make “adjustments” at the spreaders and handed me one extra bolt and nut assembly.

I thought he was being nice and giving me spare parts. I was wrong.

Scene Five

October 2016


Since the Sea Nymph experience, I have read several books about rigging and each one strongly urges the boat owner to learn how to rig their own boat citing that even the best riggers can make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes can be costly but what is more important is that when out on the ocean, nobody is able to assist you, so knowing what to do and how to do it properly is the best solution.

This scene is not for bashing the rigger. (I think that was accomplished in previous scenes and we will continue the beatings until morale improves, elsewhere in this list of events.) This is included because it is a large part of the integral story. If the rigging had not been an issue or the communications worked, you would never have heard about Sailing Vessel, (S/V), Sea Nymph.

As such, I am including the communications I had between the riggers’ insurance company and myself in Appendix B. It is interesting to note that the insurance company denied the claim. Additionally, they indicated in a verbal message that they would retain the case information as it would be wise for me to hire an attorney in this matter. I believe the adjuster knew I wasn’t phrasing my request correctly and that the insured was guilty of negligence. Hawai’i is a hui (Hawaiian term for clique). After months of attempts to retain an attorney in Hawai’i… I got nowhere. Not because the prima facie case wasn’t solid, but because my reputation was so badly damaged by the press, nobody felt I had enough credibility to successfully win the case.

Simply put, for the non-sailors reading this: after passing the Big Island of Hawai’i to go south towards Tahiti, we were facing south and the wind was coming from the east (California). The sails were on the right or STARBOARD side of the boat, which is called a PORT tack.

I use this saying to remember which tack I am on: I am on a PORT tack because I can only see out the PORT side as the sails are blocking the STARBOARD view and vice versa.

On a PORT tack, almost all of the load and stresses are on the PORT, or left, side of the boat while the STARBOARD side of the boat rigging is “loose.” If something in the rigging was going to fail, it should have failed on the PORT side where the stresses from the load were. That did not happen.

The STARBOARD spreader failed while under almost no load. The ONLY way a STARBOARD spreader could fail in this type of situation with almost no load being applied, is if the brand new STARBOARD spreader was not properly installed.

Instead of accepting responsibility for his actions, the rigger, Sam Gary of Rigging Hawai’i, LLC…

Let’s state it this way… when the quality of someone’s work causes you harm, you hope the quality of the person does not cause you further harm.

Hawai’i may be unique in a certain type of specific legal aspect. There is a statute of limitations in Hawai’i, like most states, for contractual obligations. Hawai’i also allows much greater awards and a much longer period of time to bring suit in a case where a defendant has lied to an insurance company to limit a payout. Apparently it happens often in Hawai’i and the Hawai’i legal system has many of these types of cases.

I was chastised among sailors for stating that I paid the rigger more than $20k for the brand new rigging. I was told by several riggers after the US Navy rescue, that they would have done the job for 1/2 - 1/3 the price.

That may be true on the mainland, but there are only a handful of riggers in Hawai’i and they may charge whatever they want, even if it seems obscene to mainland riggers. Many avid sailors believed I was massively overstating the price paid. I did not overstate the amount.

There is a prior invoice for $5,500 for the roller furler and additional invoices going into March 2017 after the ones in Appendix B. I am choosing to provide the same invoice shown to Alan Block of Sailing Anarchy (Act One) during our interview in November 2017. The price I paid in “money” may be an issue to some, but the quality of the work was what was important to me such that I would not be paying with “my life” or the lives of others on the boat.

Section Two: THE VOYAGE

Scene Six

May 3, 2017


It was now May 3, 2017 and leaving Honolulu was harder than I thought it should be.

This GPS track, shown above, represents part of the first four days of the 2017 Sea Nymph voyage.

In April we tried for days to work out the kinks to get on our way. Each day, a new kink would wrinkle the fabric of my well planned six-month trip. Hurricane season for this part of the world, in the northern Pacific Ocean, usually starts May 15th and ends in November. If we were going to make a summer trip, we had to leave. If we didn’t get out by the first week of May, it would be another seven or eight months before we could leave. I wanted to be back for the winter surf season not leaving during the best time of the Hawaiian surfing year.

In French Polynesia of the South Pacific, the intended initial destination for six months, all non-residents are required to leave the area for their winter hurricane season on November 1st. It is not a “winter” destination for water travelers.

The rigging, which was supposed to be a two week job, lasted from mid October until almost April. We were stocked with everything I thought we could hold and we had extras. The storms were starting their pile up line of oncoming threats like they did every year.

I made the extra effort to confirm with both the rigger and electrician (since they were both in the same harbor as Sea Nymph), that we had a “green light” to leave before beginning our trip.

We did a shake-out run between Keehi and the Ala Wai harbor for part of the day and decided to spend the night of May 2, 2017 at the Ala Wai harbor to wait for a weather event in the east to pass.

It was barely dawn the first morning when we left. We had been up almost all night making a final provision run and keeping a watchful eye on the boat adjacent to us which had a steady stream of track-marked arms flowing in and out of it all night long. (Heroin addicts.)

The wind was normal, the weather looked great. It would be an easy against the wind sail (beat up) to get to the back side of Lana’i to turn on the motor and make it to Mau’i for dinner if we wanted. For non-sailors, there is no wind on the back side of Lana’i. One has to motor past the island and into the next channel to get to Mau’i. Nobody goes from O’ahu towards Moloka’i and upwind through the Pailolo.

Leaving the harbor I smiled. We made one final cell phone call to my mom before we passed out of cell phone range of the island and headed east. We wouldn’t be talking to her again until we made landfall in the Marquesas or Tahiti, depending on the weather. The winds were stout when we made the channel, which takes about an hour from the Ala Wai harbor in the early morning breeze. The waves were normal and I kicked back to teach Tasha how to steer without any worry of hitting something.

The day was normal until about mid-afternoon when the water got incredibly choppy. I knew this meant a storm to the east. We talked about turning around or going south to avoid the mess that I believed was coming from the Mau’i angle. We chose to go south. Before dark we had the main sail flaked, (completely down), and only half the 90% jib sail out. (There were multiple different sails on the boat and each was called by their size.) The wind was still picking up and it was getting dark. This was going to be Tasha’s first night out to sea. The dogs, Valentine and Zeus, had made several trips with me single handing overnight in the two years we had been together. They really didn’t think much of the experience and went down below to relax on their giant comfy pillow bed. The sky was starting to go black and the twinkle of starlight enveloped in pitch.

We heard a broadcast about that time saying there was a storm warning which additionally asked all boats to seek safe harbor. A warning means the event is imminent. A storm warning means the event is going to suck. I poked my head down through the companionway and asked Tasha what she wanted to do. Believing the storm was north of us near Mau’i we continued to drive southward. Why would we turn around and go into a guaranteed storm? She said she was cool with going on to the south. I told her to “go sleep with confidence.” As the first raindrops hit us, we put the doors into the companionway. I got in my rain gear to nestle in for what I hoped would be a very short thunder burst and then we would have a nice clear night.

That thunder burst turned into an all-night event. I reeled in more jib until only about 30% of it was showing.

The night was black and the only things I could see were the birdie on the masthead triple, (wind direction finder and light at the top of the mast), the lighted binnacle, (compass), giving me my heading and the petrels, (type of water bird), darting around the stern light.

We were doing about 7 knots with no main and almost no jib, fully kinked over, starboard rail in the water when Tasha came up to the companionway to ask if this was normal. I said “no” and asked her again if she wanted to turn back. We shortly discussed that the event was definitely to the north and east and our options.

We would be in this kind of weather all the way back to Mau’i, several hours behind us, to find a mooring ball outside the harbor. From years of personal experience travelling in and out of Lahina, Mau’i, I knew going into the Lahina harbor would be almost impossible. The shoaling that left the harbor entrance only about eight feet deep and winds pushing an 8’6” drafting Sea Nymph into the shallow side of the channel would be a reefing disaster.

She asked how I felt. I told her that this was the most fierce weather I had ever encountered in the channel and if I screwed up we would all be dead before anybody located us. I had told her before we left to always watch the dogs. If they were scared, then it was time to be scared. If they were fine, then there was nothing to worry about. I asked about the dogs while a wave came over my head. Tasha said they were curled up with her and doing fine. I said “ok.”

She asked if I was scared. Ala a Jeff Foxworthy comedic moment, “here’s your sign” while shaking the extra salt water bath off my jacket, I meekly mustered “a little bit.” While taking another cockpit smashing wave and gaining confidence to complete the sentence between spitting to remove the salt water out of my mouth, “but I am in it to win it so if you are ok knowing there is a chance you could die tonight and you are ok with that, I would rather just keep going and I am going to have fun with this. I don’t get wind like this very often and I want to see how Sea Nymph handles the run.”

My attitude had improved so immensely by the time that last part of the sentence had concluded with conviction that she said “ok – enjoy yourself” and she went downstairs, closed the hatch door and went to sleep with the dogs.

I knew I was completely on my own. We were getting pounded. Waves were crashing over the side of the boat and into the cockpit. Rain was blowing sideways. This weather experience was a pure adrenaline rush. I was leashed in on both sides with a poor man’s harness made from the bight ends of both jib sheets that were cleated so I could not get washed overboard if we got side slapped by a set wave roller. I could hear the crests on the waves breaking, yet, I could not see a thing. I sat on the cockpit floor, held the wheel with both hands and felt my way through the waves all night long.

I listened to the sound of the wind generator. It was whizzing at least as fast as it had in Tropical Storm Darby when I moved the boat to Keehi Lagoon the summer before. Keehi Lagoon had 55 mph winds coming down the shear from the Kalihi Valley and into the harbor. Darby dropped so much rain overnight that I had to empty my hard bottom dinghy three times and finally let it flood since it was the West Marine Boston Whaler design type that would not sink.

Keeping the dinghy empty during TS Darby helped keep the weight of the full dinghy from dragging on the boat while on the mooring ball that night. To give you an idea of how miserable the harbor conditions were the night I experienced TS Darby, the unattended boat about 50’ away from Sea Nymph sank and so did a few others.

I didn’t want to be in a slip for Darby because the boat just gets beat up slamming into the fenders at the dock and Sea Nymph was known for blowing out fenders with her heavy weight and pulling mooring balls out of alignment. I ended up gifting that dinghy to a friend for use until we returned as it was too big for the deck of the Sea Nymph and we had a brand new inflatable inside anyway. Why would we need a dinghy out in the ocean? If it gets washed over by a wave, it becomes a dangerous sea anchor.

The May 3, 2017 night winds and rain never let up. When the light of day shone above the blackish gray mass above us, I could make out Mauna Loa on the Big Island behind us, back off in the distance to the north east and a black wall of storm blanketing the horizon directly to my south. It was almost impossible to tell where the water ended and the sky began.

Tasha was awake, I asked her what she saw on the Furuno radar, she tilted the screen so I could see it. There was a huge black mass on the radar in front of us and only a skinny break closer to the east in what is normally the dead wind pocket or fast moving wind cone depending on the weather off the southern coast of South Point, Big Island. We headed towards it, knowing we needed to go east past South Point anyway.

When I look at the track line from the GPS, which only shows about one point per day, it really looks like we just went south but we actually made some easting until we hit the dead wind spot on the edge of the big Hawaiian island. This gave me a chance to check everything on the rigging at the deck but I did not go up the mast. We were being pushed back out to the west by the current and back into the storm.

From our vantage point, the storm seemed like one big thing. I didn’t know we managed to travel with cells of a storm that was below the Hawaiian Islands until after we had gotten to Japan in November 2017. Like an ant in your backyard, we were 50’ from boat tip to boat tip and these storms were miles across.

Round two on the second night was every bit as vicious as round one the first night. This time, the dogs got scared but I felt fine. It was easier. I knew what to expect. I was tired but it wasn’t scary to me anymore. I had some fun the night before as anyone does who exceeds their own expectations and learns something new about themselves they didn’t know was possible. I would have fallen asleep at the wheel if I could have… but the weather was not cooperating for a nice comfy sleep atop smooth water under a twinkling starlit sky. The driving windswept sideways rain and wave bashings continued, unabated.

The third morning started with the usual dark black turning to a slightly deep purple and then a slightly lighter dark purple haze. I locked the wheel so I could pee over the cockpit rail. As soon as I let go of the wheel, the wheel lock broke and the wheel took a hard, unexpected turn to starboard.

I reached back and grabbed it with all my might realizing that the drains inside the cockpit could serve more than just the function of removing wave saltwater. I wasn’t exactly sure what had happened in my tired stupor. I completely forgot about the wheel lock until the 3/8” solid stainless steel rod holding the wheel lock handle fell out of the wheel post a few waves later. A wheel lock on a boat is like a cruise control for a car. Without that locking mechanism for the wheel, all steering had to be done by hand or “poor man’s autopilot.”

I thought to myself, “this is odd.” “Did we hit something?” I looked out over the now starting to turn a deep purple blue sky and everything looked flat, then things got dark again. The wheel was hard to hold steady. I didn’t think we were going that fast. Speed makes it harder to hold the wheel on course and I thought maybe I was just really tired from being up so long. Then the sky kinda got lighter and then darker again.

As Sea Nymph would crest the wave, I could see the sunrise begin. As we would go down in the trough, there was nothing but water. Up to sunrise and down to water walls. These waves were HEAVY. Once I saw that at least 2/3 of the waves were at least half way up the mast to the spreaders, (the spreaders on Sea Nymph are roughly 32’ above static waterline), and the other 1/3 were either above or below that height, I quit caring about the course and started looking for the line that had the least ability to roll the boat.

Night sailing, in my humble opinion, is far more fun than day sailing, because you can’t see what is coming. One gets to pretend they are in Star Wars… “Luke, use the force.” One has to “get on the same page with nature” in order to survive, especially if the spreader and steaming lights quit working. (This is the exact reason sane sailors don’t prefer the night watch.)

Some of these waves I experienced were equally as tall as the waterline length of the boat and a good 2/3 of them were breaking. Our speed, at the time with only a small part of the jib sail, enabled me to work up one wave and down the next at about a 45 degree angle. I had been doing this for about four hours when Tasha appeared rested and smiling in the companionway and asked if it was time for her to steer. I looked at her and said, “These waves are heavy. NO! The dogs cannot come up and pee and you keep the doors locked until I say you can come out.” She tried to peer out of the companionway to catch a glimpse but all she could see was a sun ray and then water. She retreated. I knew the dogs were freaking out.

We were working a 45 degree angle to the faces of the waves so that Sea Nymph caused some waves to break as we passed by and some of the already breaking waves I could steer off the backside and into the next trough. It felt as if I was on a surfboard and unable to duck dive the waves. Sea Nymph did wonderfully well at this. She was very responsive and seemed to enjoy the hand steering experience. Attitude is everything but the constant beating I was getting from an unruly ocean was starting to suck. I had been at it too long and was wishing the ride would just quit for a while so I could catch up on some food and sleep. Drinking a liquid diet while holding on to a turning wheel is even less fun on a boat than it is in a car. At least the driver of a car can pull off to the side of the road and stop for a bit.

Looking out on the horizon, I could see no end in sight to the series of rollers that were coming whether I liked the situation or not.

With every topping of a wave, I looked east to visualize a seemingly never ending army of marching soldiers with only their helmets visible from horizon tip to horizon tip, they pressed west. I said to myself, “Suck it up buttercup.” I grabbed a Nat Sherman, lit it, inhaled deeply and got back to the business of both hands on the wheel. I was exhausted but every time I saw a wave set that looked like it matched the spreader tip, my adrenaline was pumping and I was right back in the game.

Losing the horizon on a surfboard is fun… it means the waves are big and the sesh (session) will be great… but on a boat… not so much.

I can remember wishing I had bought that go pro head cam piece so I could get some footage of the situation that morning. I hoped I would never see anything like this again and I wanted that once-in-a-lifetime video to remember it and show it to others. The waves, in surfing terms, were stand-up, well-defined, clean-faced, fast and mean. The period between them was only a few seconds. The sea was pushing about due west with vicious speed, frothy when the tops would curl and send sea spray in our direction. I knew the dogs would not be able to come up on deck to do their business for a long, long time. It was far too dangerous.

No skill set I had would be able to safely hold the boat steady for the dogs for even a few minutes in these conditions. In fact, we never saw anything even remotely like those waves again during the six months at sea. The Garmin GPS still on Sea Nymph has this May 5 wave data in its .gpx file and I wish I had a copy. (If I had known we would not be reunited, I would have pulled the big Garmin off the wall and taken it with us.)

The water, as always, calmed down a few hours later and Tasha took the wheel when the waves had dropped to what I believed were about eight foot faces, Hawaiian style. I had been awake for about 80 hours at this point and was completely exhausted. Being a newbie, Tasha did not steer the boat like I did and the pounding every so often jolted me out of my comatose state.

Before I passed out, I made a pan-pan call on the VHF to let someone know our position and that we were continuing south.

Technically, a “pan-pan” is a type of distress call that tells people where you are and that you are not in a critical situation but you could use a hand because something isn’t perfect. It is one step above a securite’ distress call like “hey, buddy on that other boat over there, wanna grab a beer when we get back to shore” and one step below a MAYDAY which is a true SOS, “Oh dear GOD, we just hit a reef and we are sinking or Beam Me Up Scotty, we are going to die!”

I should have called in a securite’ instead, although considering what happened later that evening, I don’t think it would have mattered.

The following image from a Google search illustrates the three different types of distress calls.

Our pan-pan was not a cry for help, it was just to let someone know we had made it through the storm, shaken and a little stirred but that we thought we were fine and pressing on. Sort of like calling your friend and letting them know you made it home – it’s just polite behavior.

At the time we thought we had at least 20 nautical miles of VHF range. As you will learn, we only had about one mile. How the heck did anyone hear us? There was no one around and we would have been able to see another boat only one nautical mile away.

Later that evening, a few hundred miles offshore, the US Coast Guard flew over us and asked if we were ok. We weren’t expecting anyone to look for us and did not even respond the first time we heard something over the VHF. We actually thought they were looking for someone else.

When they positioned themselves over us in the dark of night about 80-100 feet above the water doing circles, we were surprised. They asked if we wanted a tow back. I thought it was a very odd question. I had absolutely no idea why they were flying overhead and asking us about arranging a tow back to O’ahu. The USCG did not make any attempt to explain their cryptic request, either. I said “no.” We didn’t make a MAYDAY call and we were sailing south when the US Coast Guard flew over us.

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