Sunday, September 25, 2016

08-Aug: Ghost Rider Down

Forewarning:  this is a very long post, as well as a painful one. 

What follows is the result of Michelle and I documenting on a daily basis everything that transpired between 08-Aug and 20-Aug – we did not want to trust specifics and details to memory, particularly under such pressing circumstances, nor did we want any to risk potentially skewing the story with clouded afterthoughts.  So we believe what follows is very factual, without any sugarcoating.

On Monday afternoon (08-Aug) we departed the Summit North Marina on the eastern end of the C&D Canal, entered the Delaware River and Bay, and headed south.  In our last blog post we had concluded it with:

“As we approached our target anchorage in the Delaware Bay area around 1700 everything was looking good, but then the situation went to hell in a hurry....”

That was something of an understatement, because in the end the boat sunk. Writing this is likely part of the penance – we were taught to own our actions and mistakes, and this was a definite screw-up, with an end result of Ghost Rider sinking to the bottom of the Delaware River.

How She Went Down
Just Before Waypoint #12 is Where We
Struck the Jetty.  But We Were Not
Using This Chart Rendition.
To put it as simply as possible, we missed the fact that there is a submerged (at least at a high tide) rock jetty between the main channel and an entrance to an anchorage south of Reedy Island.  On the raster charts – which we weren’t using at the time – it was fairly obvious.  But on the vector charts, it was not as prominent.  But it was there (see chart excerpts.) The C-Map chart on the Furuno unit we were actually using to navigate at the time we struck it was even less revealing.  None of that in any way is an excuse.  A prudent mariner should always study all information available to him, especially when transiting into unfamiliar waters outside a marked channel.  We had closely examined depths, tides, currents, Active Captain tips and comments – but overlooked the damned jetty markings.

What It Looks Like on the Furuno C-Map
Display....Similar to the One We Were Using
(Pic Courtesy of Southern Star)
Anyway, we hit the thing at about 5 knots, there was a loud bang and crunch, and then a very sudden and complete stop at about 1700 local time.  It was a hard grounding, with the submerged jetty lodged firmly under the vessel, roughly at the hull’s midpoint.  Immediately going to idle & neutral made little difference – a 95,000 pound boat carries significant momentum even at a slow speed.  We scrambled to make a preliminary inspection for damage and water intrusion in all compartments and bilges: wherever we could pull an inspection panel.  None was apparent at the time, but that would change.  Minutes later we donned our inflatable life vests and placed a mayday call on VHF channel 16 to the U.S. Coast Guard, who promptly dispatched a fire rescue boat, as well as a SeaTow assist vessel. We toyed with the idea of launching the dinghy, but SeaTow arrived on scene at approximately 1800 hours and we seemed stable. The fire rescue folks departed, we shut down the main engine, stripped as much power as possible to conserve house batteries, and then readied the ditch bag.  By then we had also notified BoatUS (we’re a member, but their closest location was over 40 NM away) and our insurance company.

A Couple of Hours After Impact the Jetty
Becomes Visible as the Tide Recedes
Both we and the SeaTow personnel made another detailed inspection of the vessel for damage and water intrusion, including the engine room and its bilges and all lower level inspection hatches, with once again none being apparent.  Rick was especially vigilant with the starboard side stabilizer compartment, since initially we thought it was possible we had ripped that thing off, although we never saw water there.  (We hit the jetty at a slight angle….from the measurements Rick took we thought the port side stabilizer probably survived. We also decided to plug the starboard side scuppers on the lower deck level, being unsure if the boat might heel over that far with tide and current changes (it didn’t….but the current can rip through there at 2.5 knots.)

But as the tide kept receding and the up angle of the bow correspondingly increased, we did observe exterior fiberglass damage low on the forepoint of the bow….although an inspection of the anchor chain locker revealed no obvious interior damage.  SeaTow remained on site and a second boat delivered float bags (but did not deploy yet), and they expressed with some optimism they would be able to pull or float the boat off at the next high tide, which would occur around 0330 the next morning.  A short while later a Delaware DNR vessel approached, came aboard, and processed their report requirements; they also made another inspection of the vessel, again with no other damage found at that point except for some stress cracks in the fiberglass floor of the engine room, just forward of the main engine in the vicinity of the high-water bilge cavity.  That was a foreshadowing.
The Jetty as Seen Through Ghost Rider's
Starboard Side Pilot House Door

Shortly thereafter (at approximately 1900 hours) as we continued to make periodic re-inspections of all lower compartments, we observed water entering the rear bilge from an unknown location.  SeaTow had departed to retrieve some more equipment, so we hailed them on VHF channel 16 to inform them of the water intrusion.  Because of the angle of the boat – it was bow-up by 5 or 6 degrees according to the inclinometer that Rick had set up in the pilot house shortly after the collision to monitor boat movement – the water was pooling in the aft bilge and exceeding the capacity of its small pump (rated at 400 GPH).  So we began pumping it out with the manual bilge pump (rated at 1800 GPH…but note that any of those pump ratings are optimistic given the lift distances).  SeaTow returned a short while later and began deploying their gas-powered dewatering pumps…two of them at first (another would not start...which turned out to be a recurring theme.)

Initial Dewatering Pump
Hose Runs from Engine Room
Up and Out to Cockpit Area
They had some trouble getting those pumps started and primed, so Rick and Chelle took shifts on the manual pump...right up until it failed about 30 minutes later – a seal had burst at the rear of the unit and now it was just sucking air.  But SeaTow finally got their pumps working a short while later, and we never got the chance to see if the manual pump failure was repairable.  (Other Nordy owners should take note....we are not aware of any scheduled or preventive maintenance on the manual bilge pump, but there should be.)  We had also added an additional small electric bilge pump in the main shaft cavity since the bow-up angle of the boat caused some occasional bilge overflow to accumulate there.  Another check of the forward bilge revealed water flowing beneath its floor drain (where it is connected with the rear bilge via a 2” pipe that runs from the bow)….that meant we had a hull breach somewhere forward of that location.

By this time we had opened up two of the salon floor hatches for direct engine room access – we used one to route the dewatering pump hoses down there, and the other for personnel access to & from that compartment, as we were making very frequent trips down there to check on damage and water ingress / egress rates.  With the up-angle of the bow and wet floor (from all the foot traffic to/from the cockpit) one had to be very careful not to slip and fall into one of them.  That angle also caused the galley’s oven and fridge doors to pop open – we secured the former with a rope, the latter with its underway securing latch (although that required the use of a hammer to coax the bolt into its slot.)  At about the same time the boat’s two internal fire, smoke & CO detectors started screaming – the fumes from the dewatering pumps were triggering them at regular intervals.  Rick finally just removed the batteries and disabled them, although we all agreed to minimize time spent in the salon where airflow wasn’t particularly good.

Over the next few hours that rate of water intrusion increased significantly, and the high-water bilge was now filling up as the up bow angle increased – to the point that the boat’s swim platform was submerged. Rick noticed a bulge starting to protrude into that cavity, enough to dislodge the high-water bilge pump from its mounting and moving it above the water’s level.  It took Rick about 15 minutes to relocate its discharge hose and the pump itself so it remained submerged, after which it began pumping well (rated at 3700 GPH theoretical capacity).  Rick then went up to the pilot house to silence the high water alarm…it was pretty obvious that wasn’t going to change any time soon, and we didn’t need that screeching in our ears.

On the Rocks After the Tide Receded
Photo Courtesy of Delaware DNR
But as the hull breach progressively worsened it became evident the situation was getting dire.  Around midnight Rick told Chelle two things:  that he had serious doubts the boat could be saved, and to pack a couple of small bags in preparation for leaving the boat.  The SeaTow folks did not seem to share that sentiment at that particular moment, although we suspect they are trained to say such things (up to a point?)

The bulge in the high-water bilge cavity was intruding further and further, splintering and cracking its top coating of FRP and revealing parts of the hull one really shouldn’t ever be looking at.  Given its location, essentially in the middle of the boat and just forward of the main engine – basically where the vessel was resting on the rock jetty – it made sense that’s where the major hull damage would occur.  Rick spent considerable time trying to peer into these new openings to discern the nature and size of the hull breach.  The ragged nature of it made that extremely difficult….the Forespar foam-cone plugs we carry weren’t a good fit and had no impact on the flow; same for the kapok bags, rags, bedsheets and the StayAfloat goo that he attempted to stuff in there to at least slow the flow.  At that point the SeaTow captain-in-charge came down to the engine room and asked Rick to remain above decks for safety reasons.  Agreement was reluctant.

Over time the buckling of that hull area continued to increase along as did the rate at which we were taking on water.  We surmised this worsening condition was due to the outgoing tide (the jetty was now quite visible) and the boat’s dead weight of 95,000 pounds lying on the rock jetty far exceeding the hull’s design limits.  The boat was essentially trying to break in half….we think only the quality of its build kept it together as long as it did.
Getting Lots of Water into the Engine Room
SeaTow retrieved and deployed two more dewatering pumps, so by that time we had four of them in service, as well as float bags (finally but only partially) inflated under the stern area.  (We'll want to revisit that topic later.) When the last pump was added to the array now covering the cockpit floor it sprung a large leak in its large 4-inch discharge hose.  SeaTow attempted to sleeve it, but the water volume and pressure was just too much for that.  Rick retrieved several rolls of rescue tape from our on-board emergency gear and applied 2 full spools around on the hose, topped with numerous wraps of 3M vinyl tape, finally getting it to seal.  Chelle also spent much of her time in the cockpit helping the SeaTow crews manage the pump discharge hoses, refueling the pump motors, as well as redeploying fenders between our boat and theirs at the swim platform.  She also kept an eye out for boat traffic in the channel –  it’s a busy shipping lane with large ships displacing big wakes; when one was sighted (or when an AIS target showed up) SeaTow would hail them on VHF 16 and request a minimum speed pass; it wasn’t always successful, and the subsequent rocking motion certainly exacerbated Ghost Rider’s wounds as the teetering hull was grinding further into the rock jetty.

At approximately 0300 hours (now 09-Aug), the SeaTow captain asked us to leave the boat to find accommodations for the night as they continued their efforts – it was very apparent at that point in time that staying on the boat was not an option for us.  Before we departed Rick provided the SeaTow captain-in-charge instructions for main engine and generator start-up in case those would be needed, as well as an overview of the electrical panel; and also suggested that at some point they parallel all batteries as the house bank capacity neared the 60% level.  We also agreed that attempting to pull the boat off wasn’t a good idea; instead they would attempt to locate divers to inspect, and if possible, plug some holes before attempting that maneuver.  Chelle had looked at the chart and we selected some nearby shallow areas with soft bottom as potential landing areas should that plan turn out to be feasible.
And More Water....We Put the Biggest Pump into the
Breach Area in the Forward High Water Bilge Cavity

We grabbed the minimal gear Chelle had packed us for the night – one of the bags with a special American flag inside it, thanks to Chelle’s clear-headed thinking – and Rick changed into some dry clothes.  Another SeaTow captain ferried us to Delaware City Marina, and from there to a nearby hotel.  It was about 0430 when we checked in.

A bit later, at approximately 0530 – a strange time of day to be drinking wine and scotch in your hotel room, but that’s what we were doing – we received a call from the SeaTow personnel who needed additional assistance in starting the vessel’s generator.  (So at that point we knew the boat was still afloat.)  We walked them through the procedure for genset startup, and while it started, the unit would shut down after only a few seconds. We were pretty sure that its internal safety switches for various fluid levels didn’t like the angle the boat was at.  Rick had also recommended that they start the main engine and rev it to about 1200 RPM should they need an alternate charging source, though it was likely to suffer from similar issues, and in the end it really didn’t matter.

At 0930 SeaTow called us again, this time reporting the boat’s stern had been swamped by passing boat wakes (e.g., those very large ships that transit the nearby channel) and the situation was now turning to strictly salvage….Ghost Rider had dislodged from the jetty and had slowly settled to the bottom after drifting about a mile further south with the outgoing tide and current.

Our next post addresses salvage operations and the HERE.

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