Saturday, September 5, 2015

Down But Not Out

News travels fast so many of you already know, Belle Starr went on the rocks. That sounds a bit like one of my sly jokes, but it's not.

A winter force gale swept through the Pacific Northwest the last hours of August, leaving thousands of homes without power. Belle Starr rode high and secure through the first heavy gusts but chaffed her solitary anchor line as the storm crested.

Two hours after we'd made a positive visual check on her position from shore, the Coast Guard called and said she was on the beach. At an extreme low tide, that's where I found her, in sand pocked with barnacle encrusted rocks and only a couple boat lengths from a rip-rap jetty.

After watching the tide come back and the surf rise while assessing all options, I called Vessel Assist. In most cases I would much prefer a self-rescue but it was clear I didn't have the resources this time.

Vessel Assist at first told me the seas were too high and they couldn't approach the wreck. We must wait for the wind to die down, possibly another six hours according to predictions. But barely had I digested this news than their boat appeared just 100 yards off shore. They deployed an inflatable and a diver swam a hawser in-shore. With the boat leaping in the surf, the diver lassoed the bow bits and Belle was towed carefully off the beach. I'd been told she was breached, though she made a mighty effort to float, so soon she lowered herself in thirty five feet of water to spend the night on the calm sand below.

The salvage crew told me that while they were working, gusts had been clocked on their boat at 80mph.

Break of dawn the following morning in a calm, flat sea, divers wrapped Belle in a cocoon of air bags until her cabin deck was above water and she was towed to the travel-lift in the boatyard.

She's on her trailer now. My very good friend, the superlative shipwright Paul Miller from Cowichan Bay, BC,  drove south Wednesday to help me cut away the damaged portions of Belle and prep for repairs. He's started a thread on his favorite social media, lumberjocks:

Paul is having way too much fun.

Belle Starr now looks like a cut-away view of herself. There is a very good chance she will be back together and weather tight in a month.

Please stay tuned..........


Bursledon Blogger said...

Really sorry to hear about Belle star being wrecked, and amazed at the work you and Paul have done on the repair so far.

Good luck with the full repair and look forward to see her sailing again


robert.ditterich said...

Commiserations Michael, that must have been dreadful to feel so powerless in those powerful conditions. I think I know how self-possessed and independent you are and how tough it must have been to have the sea do this to your lovely boat. On the upside I can just see you taking this opportunity to make her even better than she was. I hope you can find some joy in the process.
best wishes,

Alden Smith said...

It must have been heart wrenching to have watched all of this unfolding. She's a beautiful design and it will be a great day when she is fully repaired and sailing again - best wishes for a full restoration.


EyeInHand said...

Holy cow, what a storm. Totally impressed by your dive in and just get it done response. I'd still be crying in my cups.

Anonymous said...

Hello Michael, I'm so sorry to see your beutiful Belle Star so damaged. But when I see what you and Paul have done in so little time I believ you will have her back in shape agin quickly

Best regards
Hakan Ericsson

doryman said...

Thank you, friends. It's a sad day for Belle Starr, but it will all be better from here on out. You deal with life's vagaries as they arise. One thing I can be a bit smug about - a fiberglass boat with this much damage would be garbage.
The boat is a small part of my current work load. We just bought a house that desperately needs help and is inhabitable at the moment. The boat repair will proceed as time allows. She'll be ready by next spring.

It was fascinating to watch the boat battle nature almost as a sentient being. The fellows who rescued her were simply amazing. They were calm and professional through some tough conditions. My kind of people. My kind of boat.

Anonymous said...

Sad to see, but I know she's in good hands.

Joel Bergen said...

Hi Mike,
Sorry to hear about Belle Star, and I hope you get her back in shape soon. Just out of curiosity, did your anchor line part, or did the anchor drag?

shipwright said...

What stories we will tell in the future. Arr .... the wreck of the old Belle Star you say..... Ah yes, and the restoration story as well.
It (the story) will only get better as the years go by.......
...... sailors are such good story tellers....

doryman said...

Aye, Paul and I remember how the boat practically repaired herself. It was a wonder.

Joel, I still have 120 feet of anchor rode with a very fuzzy end. That's 30 feet from the chain. Must have chaffed on something on the bottom. I would guess she did not drag her anchor. A second anchor might have saved the day. Several boats went aground that day, Vessel Assist told me they had 15 calls by noon. The one boat that rode it out had three anchors down.

Brandon Ford said...

I was heartsick when I heard of Belle's sinking. I was glad to read your optimistic post. Wish I could come up and help, but we're in full out panic mode aboard Oceanus to leave before October.

Best of luck with all you have to do: house and boat. I know you'll have lots of help. We'll be following your progress.

Brandon and Virginia

Graham Neil said...

Hi Michael,
I just caught up with this, very sorry to hear about Belle's misadventure.
I really do admire the "Stuff Happens, deal with it" attitude, and as you say a plastic boat would be almost impossible to repair.
You have the skills to make her right, I look forward to reading the story.

Regards Graham.

doryman said...

Imagine this project as a new build where the finish work was done out of order. As we all know, a boat's hull goes together comparatively quickly. It's the rigging, furniture and other finish details that take the time. Remarkably the hole in the hull and a broken rudder are all that suffered. What remains (including mast and rigging) is sound.
The loss that resounds is all the gear that didn't survive a dunking. Two marine radios, a hand held GPS, a pair of binoculars and every chart I've collected over the years of my favorite cruising grounds. All the foam-filled cushions smell like the muddy bottom and will have to be replaced. The re-launched Belle will be lacking some essential elements that make her a sea boat, since the cash to replace these items will be scarce.

Denis said...

Sad news indeed Michael, Glad for you that she's repairable.

Tweezerman said...


Wow! Big lumber repairs are way beyond my expertise but I'm sure Belle Star will come out the other side looking just fine.

I have a post queue'd down the road of a friend of mine whose 33 footer sank this summer when lightning blew out a thru-hull fitting. Not as serious as yours but still a shock when the club manager calls you on Saturday morning and tells you your boat is on the bottom.

Anonymous said...

Oh Michael,

Mette and my heart go out to you. I must have been wrenching to see Belle wrestling with her nemesis - the shore. It seems like you have her well on her way to sailing again. When we see each other again all the drinks are on me.

All the best my friend,

Dan & Mette

doryman said...

Now, that's an offer I'll never refuse. Thanks for your concern. Belle will be back, there is no doubt, it's the time to do the necessary work that's the holdup right now.
By the way, I'd love to own one of your guitar stands. We'll talk.

Anonymous said...

I've been out of touch for a while and am very sad to see this too. I so enjoyed the time I spent sailing with you on her. While I'd be no help with the woodwork, I'm pretty handy with a brush. Do call me if I can help later on.