We lost both of our generators while on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland in February of 2014. Thick fog and rough seas, it took us three days to find our way home on nothing but a compass and manual steering.

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Comments: 512 • Responses: 37  • Date: 

diegojones4221 karma

I'm confused. Did you not have any charts? Where do you even put two generators on a sailboat? Did you have an engine?

partridge69267 karma

We were on a 110 guard vessel, supporting a seismic ship on the Grand Banks. Yes, we had all modern navigation equipment and charts. However, with no electricity, the emergency batteries could only supply the gps for about 12 hours, after that the charts were useless as we no position to plot.

partridge6946 karma

Pretty well, ours was a little older than the one pictured there, but the same idea

zoinks2 karma

What does a seismic ship do?

partridge697 karma

It surveys the ocean floor and beneath it for oil and places to set up oil rigs.

ljetibo152 karma

Can you talk more about how you did navigation once GPS was dead? I know it's a broad question but there's a lot of us that probably don't know anything about navigation. Did you use a sextant? How did you estimate your lat. and specifically long.? How did you correct for current, tidal forces (if any)? Did you know the formulas by hearth or did you have books? Which ones? Is this "lost" as in no modern technologies or as in "lost" - actually not quite knowing where you are or where you're going?

Stuff like that.

partridge69351 karma

I had to study celestial navigation to get my certification, so I was quite familiar with, however even though we had a sextant on board it was useless due to the ever present thick fog. We never saw the sky until we made it the dock.

This was the scariest part of the ordeal. We had to take our last known position before the GPS died and determine a course to St. John's from there based on a magnetic compass. We had no autopilot so that course had to be steered by hand (the poor deckhands were exhausted from steering 12 hours a day). As the wind was varying between NW and SW, we always had to adjust our course accordingly, but in the end it was mostly guess work if you no instrumentation. When we actually were within range of land, we found out we were about 40 miles south of St. John's, so over all , not too bad for a lot of lucky guessing in the fog.

ljetibo66 karma

That sounds like quite an ordeal. Did you have any magnetic maps? I know some areas have varying local magnetic fields so you can miss easily by just following the compass and estimating distance traveled by speed.

partridge6995 karma

Yes, variation can have a huge impact on your course to steer based on where you are in the world. The Grand Banks tends to have a variation around 22 degrees Westerly. In the end, we ended up about 40 miles south of intended port of St. John's, which isn't too bad considering we were sailing blind in the fog.

meddlingbarista17 karma

Maybe you answered this elsewhere, but do those ships have sails you can put up easily?

partridge6943 karma

We were a commercial motor vessel, therefore had no sails

meddlingbarista19 karma

Wait, how did you get propulsion? The engines have power but there's no way to send power to the electrical? Boats don't have alternators, I guess?

partridge6919 karma

I'm not an engineer, so I'm not sure about the engine's capability of supplying 240 volts to power grid. Perhaps there's an engineer who could answer that?

Thewingman1 karma


partridge695 karma

Yeah, the fog out there is brutal. We were out for 6 weeks at a time and going weeks without seeing the horizon can play tricks on your brain

Philyaz75 karma

What was the weather like? Were the days in the sun better or worse than the colder nights.

partridge69107 karma

It was thick fog pretty well the entire time we were out there. The first day the wind was thankfully quite calm, but the next day it picked up 35 knots from the Northwest, which put it right on our bow and slowed us down even more. The seas were about 4 metres, so just enough to be uncomfortable on a 110 foot ship. The lack of visibility was the worst though. It made a bad situation into a dangerous one.

DDaTTH66 karma

Did you think about cannibalism at all?

partridge69148 karma

It was tempting, especially when we started running out of stale cookies to eat, but thankfully we made it home before anyone lost an arm.

DanN5844 karma

Couldn't you duty cycle the GPS, taking readings only once every ten minutes or so to avoid exhausting the batteries? A handheld GPS will work for days on a couple of AA's, so the backup batteries don't seem very capable.

partridge6941 karma

We did try that actually, but the batteries don't just run the GPS, they also run the Radar and VHF/MFHF radios, which we needed on at all times due to lack of visibility and contacting any vessels we were able to spot. This drained the batteries pretty quickly.

n1ywb53 karma

Hindsight is always 20/20 but you guys REALLY should have shut off the radar. You were in an Apollo 13 situation and you left on the one thing that draws KILOWATTS of power. KILOWATTS. CONSTANTLY. Radios on receive and GPS systems only use a few watts; they just sip power by comparison. You could probably have had radio and gps for 3 days instead of radio/gps/radar for half of a day and then nothing. And of course everybody else with radar can still see you. And you could have been calling mayday every 5 minutes on the radio which everybody is supposed to monitor. And you could blow SOS on your horn or flasher if you spot somebody.

In fact, now that I think about it, why the fuck didn't you just activate the GMDSS or EPIRB? Or do you guys not carry those systems? And if not, why not? You really couldn't get ANYBODY on HF or MF for 12 hours? Don't you have satellite systems? I mean honestly how the fuck was it that during the 12 hours you HAD power you couldn't reach ANYBODY for help?

*removed USCG references; not a USCG vessel

partridge6950 karma

We needed the radar because we were in thick fog for three days and in a major North American shipping lane and an area prone to iceburgs.

We did carry EPIRBS, but those were a last resort. As we still had a working engine and a general direction of where we were going, the captain didn't feel we needed to set them off at that time.

We were able to contact a couple passing ships (thanks to the radar) who relayed our situation to the Coast Guard and our company. The company sent out another ship to meet us roughly 50 miles off the coast and they were able to guide us back to St. John's.

thehpoe40 karma

What was the reaction when everyone saw land again? Was there celebration like in the movies or was everyone too exhausted/tired/hungry?

partridge69112 karma

We were all happy as hell, but scared too. Technically the worst part was over, we'd found land, but we were in a unique situation geographically and mechanically. We had to dock in St. John's NFLD, which has a very very narrow entrance to it's harbour and little to no tugs to assist you. Due to the lack of power, we knew once we got into the harbour and put the engine in neutral to slow down, it was unlikely we would have enough power to re engage the engine again if needed so it was a one shot deal to get it right. A very small tug and the local pilot boat had to help us get into the dock.

Once we were tied up, everyone breathed a big sigh of relief and went down the gangway pretty quickly, There's no way I can describe the feeling of relief when your feet hit solid ground after an ordeal like that.

DaMarco1716 karma

Would would be the worst outcome in that kind of a situation? If you failed parking, the boat and dock would just be damaged, right?

partridge6956 karma

Yes, we could have run aground, ran into another vessel, damaged a fuel tank and polluted the harbour etc. Just a lot of paperwork and potential jail time that we didn't want haha

wigitalk18 karma

Did any of the crew members have a panic attack or lost it?

partridge6933 karma

No, everyone was surprisingly calm for the most part. Everyone was nervous for sure, especially as we got closer to land due to the lack of visibility, but everyone was very professional. There was many years of experience going to sea between the 8 crew members.

IntoTheWildBlue15 karma

Were the provisions adequate?

partridge6936 karma

We had enough drinking water to last us a couple weeks, but it was very hard to cook food beyond heating up some water with a butane torch and boiling hot dogs. We had 8 crew members to feed. There were a lot stale cookies consumed over those 3 days.

Under_the_Milky_Way20 karma

Why did you bring stale cookies to feed your crew?

partridge6935 karma

We had already been at sea for 5 weeks straight when it happened so fresh food was in short supply.

n1ywb10 karma

More details about the failures. When you say "both generators" you mean the hotel generator AND the emergency backup generator? What the hell happened to them?

I can guess that the emergency generator probably got short changed on maintenance; other than firing them up for five minutes once a week they get ignored a lot.

A solar panel or wind generator would be a smart backup to keep the batteries going. But of course this it the government so that would make too much sense.

partridge6914 karma

I'm not an engineer, so I can't give you exact details on what happened to them. All I know is we lost the first generator a week before this all happened and the engineers were unable to fix the problem, so we were told by the company to stay on site with only the back up generator )which we really didn't want to do, but oh well). A week later, we were having a really really bad vibrations throughout the ship. Turns out the back genny literally vibrated itself out of it casing and broke the coupling. Total blackout then.

PmMeGiftCardCodes9 karma

What kind of boat were you in, a sail boat or a power boat?

partridge6922 karma

We were on a 110 foot Guard Vessel, out supporting a larger seismic ship. The ship was actually a US submarine escort that was built back in the 60's before it was bought by our company and re purposed.

n1ywb27 karma

Just to clarify, OP was on a COMMERCIAL vessel, not a COAST GUARD vessel.

partridge696 karma

Thank you :)

PmMeGiftCardCodes4 karma

So did your engines work or were the engines dead as well?

partridge699 karma

Our main was still working thankfully, or we would have been completely dead in the water and sending out a distress call for a rescue.

Maritimemafia3 karma

If you were supporting another boat why didn't you just call them and try and get some support. Coast guard tows for free in that situation, also did you not have a satellite phone?

partridge693 karma

We did. They relayed our situation to our company and the coast guard before we left. The seismic ship could not leave the site so we had to go back on our own. We had a sat phone but it was not a mobile one and therefore received power from the ship.

partridge692 karma

It's been fun ladies and gents, but I have to get back to work. Thanks for all your questions. Happy sailing!

coryrenton2 karma

was there enough light through the fog to power solar cells if you had them?

partridge692 karma

I'm not really sure to be honest

aaleon08232 karma

What did you guys do to pass the time besides figure out how to get back to land? Or was that all you guys focused on?

partridge694 karma

We honestly spent a lot time playing cribbage and I Spy on the bridge lol. Everyone's phones were dead so we actually had to talk to each other for three days.

KM4WDK2 karma

How were you found and what did you think when the generators first died?

partridge693 karma

First thought? God damn it, crew change day was 5 days away! We made to about 50 miles from the coast on our own. At the point, our company had sent another ship out to meet us and guide us the rest of the way in.

DrZed4002 karma

Did you guys have equipments to get fresh water?

partridge692 karma

We had a water maker on board, so our fresh water tank was full when it happened and we carried enough bottled drinking water to last us for weeks.

bananacatguy2 karma

What would you have done if you ended up going further into the ocean some how?

partridge694 karma

Based on our distance from land and our speed, if we hadn't encountered land when we did and therefore were truly lost, we would have had to set off our emergency beacons, which send a distress signal and it's own gps location to Canadian rescue coordination centres.

hopsbarleyyeastwater1 karma

How would the emergency beacons work if your equipment was dead?

partridge695 karma

They have their own battery supply. They are small hand held beacons that can be activated manually or automatically if the ship sinks

DaMarco171 karma

Did you ever run out of food or resources? I can't imagine how scary that would have been if you did.

partridge695 karma

We had plenty of water, but limited ability to cook anything and the food we did have was not very fresh. And we couldn't flush the toilets, which fucking sucked.

subdian0 karma

It's still not clear to me if you had a working engine. You had no generators, so no electrical power, but maybe you had a diesel engine. If you had an engine but no power, is there no USB outlet on the engine? They're sometimes on offer in LIDL and ALDI

partridge691 karma

Yes, we had our main engine, but no it didn't have anything like that. It was the original engine from the 1960's. Thankfully the engine gave us no problems until we got to the harbour.

rudderstock1 karma

But don't you have an emergency generator? I'm a merchant Mariner myself. I know the rules of merchant vessels don't apply to military vessels. But I'm just curious. We had a similar situation while crossing the Atlantic. But the emergency generator came on and we were able to rectify the issue in about 3 hours.

partridge691 karma

We only had the two main generators, as we were under Transport Canada rules and not Solas and were not required at the time to carry an emergency generator (stupid, I know. but if it's not required, generally a small company like ours was not paying for it)

Wizzerd3481 karma

Was there no shaft generator on the vessel?

partridge691 karma

No, we only had the two Cat diesel generators.

Play3er20 karma

Got any more proof aside from your word and a certificate?

partridge692 karma

I wish I did. I know it's a hard one to prove, especially since it happened almost three years ago. All I can tell you is it happened about the vessel Strait Signet, owned by Superport Marine. I don't if we made the local news or not.