O’day 27 Slams Into Chandeleur Islands

Published: July 1991  Mid-Gulf Sailing
© 2013 Troy Gilbert
By Tim Murray

Eight point two miles south of Chandeleur light on the Gulf side of the Island, high and dry on the beach, lies the QuestChandaalmost bare hull of Quest, an O’Day 27. With it also lie the shattered dreams of its skipper, Ted Boyd of LaCombe, Louisiana.

Quest went ashore late Monday after-noon, April 29, 1991. Ted, who was solo sailing, was rescued on Tuesday morning by a Coast Guard Helicopter. Quest is almost bare because she has been stripped by scavengers.

The direct cause of the grounding was fatigue, heightened by hyperthermia. Contributing causes, according to Ted, were solo sailing itself and ignoring bad weather because of his desire to finally get to sea.

To understand this story we really have to go back a lot of years. Ted bought his first sailboat 25 years ago. Since then he has owned sailboats most of the time. Several years ago he bought Quest from its former owner. Since then he had planned and prepared for a long cruise.

Ted is now 58 years old and retired. For many years he was with a large computer company. With early retirement he had the time for a long cruise, perhaps as far as Bermuda and Europe. He did not have a lot of money to spend on a larger boat or on unlimited equipment. For navigation Ted had taught himself how to use a sextant, and felt that he has mastered celestial navigation. He had opted not to buy a loran, because many of the areas he hoped to go to would not have good loran coverage. He did not think that he could afford a new GPS system. (He was not aware of how much the prices have come down.) He also had a depth finder. We could fault him for not getting one of the inexpensive loran sets that are now available but that really did not have anything to do with his going aground. He could see the Island but as you will see, he just did not have the strength and presence of mind to do anything about it.

This time last year Ted had started out on a similar voyage. Again he was by himself, as his wife is not a sailor. That time the weather was also bad and out of the southeast – dead on the nose. He stayed inside the intercoastal waterway and made it from Lake Pontchartrain to Destin, where his daughter lives. After sailing around Choctawhatchee Bay for a while he realized that he wanted someone else to go with him if he was going to make long crossings. Reluctantly he headed back home with the idea of finding a crew for the big trip.

During the winter he advertised in a national magazine for crew. There was some response but it did not lead to anything. Part of the problem was that he had a 27 foot outboard powered boat and potential crew wanted to be on a larger boat. In April he was ready to set out, but despite trying very hard to find someone he still did not have a crew. He had built a wind vane self steering device.

One thing was a little different. Ted was going to try to sail in company with another boat. It was a 37′ boat with two people aboard. They spent Friday night in the Rigolets and by Saturday night they were holed up by Fort Massachusetts on Ship Island, planning to head out to the Florida Keys in the morning. That night the weather was rough and Ted got very little sleep. According to Ted, he was reluctant to set out because of the weather. The guys on the other boat wanted to get underway and Ted decided to stay with them In hindsight he realized that this was a major mistake. The other boat was ten feet longer and better able to handle the weather. Shortly after the boats set out they were separated. Ted later found out that the other boat had given up and motored back into Gulfport.

The weather was bad from the start. Northern Gulf racers may remember this as the day of the return race from Dauphin Island and the return race from Mandeville to New Orleans, both of which were gear busters even on fully crewed boats.

Progress was tediously slow. He tried to sail on the partially furled genoa alone – he had been talked out of a second set of reef points in the main. This did not work well with the self steering gear. “I was swinging 30 degrees back and forth.” He put up his storm trisail but it did not really help much. By Sunday afternoon he had worked south to the top of the Chandeleur Island – a distance of only 15 miles – and tacked off to the east before dark.

T was swinging a lot and as it got dark it started to really blow hard. I had to roll in more of the genoa. That night I stayed out in the cockpit -1 couldn’t sleep – it was really blowing.” The wind had moderated a little after dawn and he had put his main back up. Mid-morning Monday, he had stayed on the same tack all night, Ted saw land off to the North, which he thought was Horn Island. About the same time he could see a big storm off to the west and knew it was time to head back south.

At this point he really did not have any navigational fix. The sky was too overcast to take sextant sights. He was not keeping a dead reckoning position, but he was watching the depth finder.

As the wind picked up he got his main back down and tried to roll back in more genoa. About that time the jib sheet came loose from the sail. It seemed that he was using sheets that came with the boat, which must have been spinnaker sheets because they had snap shackles on them. ‘That is the way they were so I just used them. They were real heavy stuff – I didn’t think that they would break or anything – I also didn’t think that they would come undone, but they did.” {Point of reference, tie a bowline knot to attach your sheets to your sail. ed.) He finally got the jib in, but the extra effort of going forward and wresting with the sail had added to his already considerable fatigue.

With the storm the wind had shifted to the Northeast and he was now running under bare poles and heading southwest, toward the Chandeleur chain. He was going “about as fast as I have ever seen that boat go, period – under any circumstances – I mean it was really moving. I was doing alright to start off with, but the swells were still out of the southeast and the wind was out of the northeast and it was blowing the tops off of the waves – I heard that the harbormaster at Gulfport recorded winds of 70 mph – I can believe it.”

By this time fatigue was taking over. Ted had not slept much Saturday night, none during the day and almost none on Sunday night. The whole time he had either been wrestling or worrying with the boat. “You had to hold on with both hands and try to do something with a finger.” He was trying to keep the stern to the waves. When he let the boat get away it would get sideways to the waves and “roll like it was not going to come back up, but it always did.”

“It started raining and I was very, very cold. I started talking to myself and I know that something was wrong. I figured that I would wait until I was shivering. About an hour latter it got that way, so I called the Coast Guard and told them that I thought that I was getting hypothermia., it’s a horrible combination, fatigue and hypothermia.”

This is another area that Ted’s choice of equipment let him down. He only had a handheld VHF. He did not have a regular VHF wired to the ship’s battery with a masthead antenna. Nevertheless, he made contact with the Coast Guard and was able to keep contact with them for awhile, long enough for them to tell him to engage his EPIRB and for them to find his position, which he did not know. At different times he talked with three different Coast Guard stations. They were very helpful and encouraging.

At the speed and direction that Quest was moving it was not long before they were closing in on the Chandeleur Islands. Despite Ted’s fatigue and hypothermia he made several attempts to anchor the boat before it went aground. At first he tried to drop a 20 pound Danforth-type anchor from the bow, but the boat was going too fast for it to grab. “It was like a stone skipping on the bottom.” To tired to go back to the bow he then dropped a CQR from the stern. That did catch, which enabled the bow anchor to catch. All of sudden he was broadside to the waves.

The story gets a little confusing at this point. One line was cut and somehow the other one got wrapped around the rudder, and was eventually cut. Yet a third anchor was set, from the stern. By this time, he was close to the Island and the waves were breaking over the transom, but not getting below. At this point Ted did not have the strength or presence of mind to relead the anchor line to the bow and ride out the storm. For whatever reason, this last anchor line was also cut, other one got wrapped around the rudder, and was eventually cut. Yet a third anchor was set, from the stern. By this time, he was close to the Island and the waves were breaking over the transom, but not getting below. At this point Ted did not have the strength or presence of mind to relead the anchor line to the bow and ride out the storm. For whatever reason, this last anchor line was also cut, leaving three new anchors for someone to find, and Quest headed for the beach.

Going aground was anticlimactic. It was still daylight, somewhere around six or seven o’clock. The boat easily slid over the outer sand bar and came to rest on the inner bar. Ted gathered some food and flares and stepped off of the boat into knee deep water. As he waded ashore, the water only got up to his waist. When he hit the beach, he knew that he was not going to drown. Relieved and exhausted, he crawled into the tall grass and got a little bit warmer, was able to eat a little and sleep some.

Although he saw a helicopter and was able to fire a flare, the helicopter did not land. Ted later found out that the weather was too bad for them to do so.

About midnight he went back to the boat which had been washed all the way to the beach. When he went aboard, the interior was more or less dry. After finding some relatively dry clothes to change into he fell soundly asleep. Tuesday morning he awoke to the sound of a helicopter and someone knocking on the side of the hull. It was still blowing 40 knots, which was too much for the copter to land, so they had lowered a man down to find him. In order to complete this rescue the Coast Guard had also deployed a plane with special EPIRB receiving equipment all of the way from Clearwater Florida, to establish his location. A short time later Ted Boyd was at the Bell Chasse Coast Guard Base, alive and deeply disappointed.

At the time of this interview, late May, Ted Boyd felt that his sailing days are over. As soon as he can get his boat off the island he wants to sell her. When asked about the future he said, “I would not make a trip on the Queen Mary.” Hopefully time will revitalize his sailing dreams.

What advice does Ted have for others? “I would not advise going southeast in the Gulf of Mexico in April or May, or maybe even June. I would go down the inter-coastal.”

“Unless you are a young person I would not advise going by yourself. It is just too much, too much to handle, you just can’t do it. If I was 30 or 35, I could make it.” When it was pointed out to Ted that he appears to be in good shape, he said, “but not in the shape I was in when I was 30.”

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