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Lots of boats come to Oriental, some tie up at the Town Dock for a night or two, others drop anchor in the harbor for a while. If you've spent any time on the water you know that every boat has a story. The Shipping News on TownDock.net brings you the stories of the boats that have visited recently.

GODSPEED

June 27, 2004

W
e first saw the little boat from New Hampshire sailing near Whittaker Creek on a Saturday afternoon last September. Her lines were unusual — a dory ketch with gaff-rigging and lee-boards, not much freeboard. She looked to be about two dozen feet long and had a bunch of people on board.

We weren’t alone in noticing her. When the boat and her crew of five anchored in Oriental’s harbor, she caught the eye of many others. Some folks even wrote us here at Shipping News to ask. “Five people on that small boat? How do they do it??”

A few days later the question became, “How did they get through Hurricane Isabel?”

And a fall, winter and spring later when the crew tied up near the Town Dock in June the boat once again drew looks and smiles – and a few shakes of the head – and queries about how the family of five fared on the boat this past year.

With apologies for the delay, here then is the Shipping News story about “Godspeed.”

First of all, the crew: Lee and Michelle Siegmann – Lee had a tree service in New Hampshire, Michelle was a teacher. And their three children – Mariah 11, Morgan 10 and Allison 8 who are being homeschooled on their new home for this year.

The boat is just under 26 feet long (Mariah helpfully informed us that it comes in at 25’10” because that’s a size allowed on a trailer. And a trailer is how the family got their boat from New Hampshire and into the waters of the Chesapeake Bay in July of 2003.)

When they arrived in Oriental in mid-September, the Siegmanns had been living on “Godspeed” for just over a month. The family had their sights set on taking the 25’10” wooden boat south to the west coast of Florida by Christmas to be with Lee’s family. Then they hoped to sail to the Bahamas, (though they were wondering about whether the boat, with its low freeboard and 2-foot draft, could weather the day-long crossing.)

For the most part though, the only hard and fast plan they had was to live on “Godspeed” for a year.

Building Godspeed

“We’ve spent 8 years preparing for this one trip,” Lee says. Two of those early years were spent designing the boat. Then Lee spent three years constructing it.

Some of the wood — red and white oak — came from trees Lee felled on the job and he used some of them for the hull, as he built the boat in a former tannery near Nashua, New Hampshire. The tannery, he says, was one of the last to close (it’s now an EPA cleanup site).

As he worked on “Godspeed” inside that tannery, Lee found a mahogany barrel 12-feet tall that long ago was used to process cow hides. He took the barrel apart and used the 12-foot long, 3-inch thick planks for his boat.

It was a bear to cut, he says, because the chemicals that so blackened the mahogany had soaked deep into the wood, closing the wood cells. Lee says he went through many blades and belts but in the end, he says he has wood that “adds character’ to the boat.

And the boat has that.

Camping On The Water

Godspeed is an open boat, with a tent-style roof for protection from the elements, as well as for privacy. In the center, towards the back half of the boat and above the housing for the motor, there is a stove. Forward of that is a table that folds down forward. A port-a-potty is tied down near the aft mast.

On board Godspeed, there is not much room to take more than a step and walk around. For a visit, you sit, preferably low, because with the gunwales just a foot or two at most above the water, and only a couple of feet of draft, one person sitting on one side can lean the boat over.

When it’s time to sleep, the family spreads out on the available flat surfaces. It is camping on the water. (Lee says the family spent a lot of time outdoors when they lived on land.) On Godspeed, the family may be more in contact with the elements than many – even fellow cruisers.

Before this planned year on the water, the family had taken “Godspeed” out on some shakedown cruises in New England waters. For a week or two at a time, they’d see how she would handle and how they would handle being on her. One summer they took the boat to the outcropping of shale called Isle of Shoals off of the New Hampshire/Maine coast. Another year they went to Mystic, Connecticut.

Then, this summer, they drove to the Chesapeake Bay and in late July, put Gospeed in to the water and took off.

As much as this has been their dream, Lee says he prefers not to think of this as a year-long endeavor. Instead, he sees it as “going for one week” at a time “followed by 51 others.”

That going has not been fast. The engine pushes them along at about 6 knots and they’d been taking their time working their way to NC.

Godspeed, The Name

New to living on a boat, they named it “Godspeed” Lee says, because “we could use all the help we could get.” But almost instantly, when they got out sailing along the Chesapeake and in to NC last fall, they had some second thoughts after running across so many other boats with the name.

On arriving in Oriental however, there were bigger issues to deal with.

They arrived on Saturday September 13th. By Sunday the 14th, weather reports were foreboding. A hurricane named Isabel was looking like she would head in to their path. She was showing signs of being a Category 4 storm. The Siegmanns had to figure out what to do. Should they race south? Wait it out in the harbor?

Lee says that when he and Michelle talked about making this adventure, he promised he would “keep them safe” He told us this on that Sunday, as he surveyed his options and tried to calculate his odds. What windspeed could their boat take?, he wondered out loud. And what windspeed could they – the family — endure if they stayed on the boat? 65 MPH?? 75? 85??

While their parents sorted through their options and grappled with the reality of just what a hurricane could do to their boat, the three children seemed to calmly take it in stride. There were other things on their minds.

Ten-year old Morgan looked across the dining room table at TownDock’s editor and asked, “Is he Swedish?” Told that he was not, and asked why he asked, Morgan said that his father had told him that Swedish men had big foreheads.

Perhaps the ten-year old was also calm because he’d been forewarned when they left NH. Morgan told us that his dad had told them they would be going through “hurricane country.”

That was not the time to point out that many boats come through North Carolina and don’t ever have to confront one. It seemed a cruel trick of fate that less than two months in to their dream trip, Morgan, his sisters, mother and father were up against Isabel.

Calls were made. A family in Florence, Tim Balfour and Jennifer Smart, offered them a dock to tie the boat up to and shelter inside their home. The Siegmanns sailed up to Florence on Monday and then stripped their little boat of everything – everything — that could fly off. That took the better part of a day.

Two days later, Isabel slammed through the Pamlico Sound, its eye passing only a dozen or so miles away. Nonetheless, “Godspeed” got through the hurricane fine. The family did too, even venturing out during the eye of the hurricane for a swim in the water that covered the yard in Florence.

A week later they had the boat reassembled and returned to Oriental for a few more nights in the harbor before heading south.

In mid-November, a post card arrived at TownDock.net. It was from St. Augustine. Michelle wrote that they had confronted another gale. This time, they stayed on the boat and rode it out.

After Eleven Months on Twenty-Five Feet
Life at Sea and Lessons Learned

In mid-June “Godspeed” and her crew returned to Oriental and tied up along the bulkhead at the Town Dock for a few days. That gave even more folks in town a chance to see the boat up close, and to again, ask just how they did, five of them living in that little space.

They liked the year on the boat. Michelle says it was “95% wonderful” The family had a variety of favorite memories. The aqua blue water of the Bahamas, the dolphins that came alongside, the blue purple of the water in the Gulf Stream…

The Gulf Stream

The crew of Godspeed ultimately did cross the Gulf Stream. Which brings us to what Lee now sees as the biggest lesson he got during the year: “This is not a blue water boat. “ Lee says of the 2-foot draft craft he built. “It’s a canoe. And sometimes, the weather wasn’t canoe weather.”

That became clear in the Bahamas. The family had crossed east from Florida to Bimini. The notoriously fickle Gulf Stream waters treated them gently that first time. But that was not the case with all their blue water passages, five in total. Lee has them catalouged. “Two were good. Two were challenging. And one was life threatening.”

The Chub Cay Passage – Not Canoe Weather

That was when the family set out on what appeared to be a simple 8-mile crossing to Chub Cay. It took them 2-1/2 hours, in conditions that tossed the family and their boat about.

The day may not have been ideal for the crossing, but Lee says, the family was anxious to leave the island they were on because they’d run out of water and needed to fill the tanks. Chub Cay beckoned.

Unfortunately, their gas tank was also low. As Lee explains it, the gas tank and the water tank also served the role of providing ballast.. and with them low or empty, the boat weighed less. That meant that in the choppy conditions, she got thrown around even more. Once that leg of their trip was over, Lee says, Michelle asked if they could have the boat put on a freighter and fly home from Nassau. But they persevered, with an even greater respect for the sea.

Anchoring in Open Water – Another Lesson

There were other lessons they gained in the Bahamas. One came the night they decided to anchor out, in the Banks, in what was essentially open water. It seemed flat when they dropped the anchor in 15-20 feet of water. But during the night, winds and waves kicked up. “Everything rocked,” Lee says, “Things groaned that hadn’t groaned before, the boat was rocking so violently.”

In the relative calm of the Oriental harbor waters, Lee points to the Porta-Potty on the starboard aft. On that night in the open waters of the Bahamas, he says, the portable head wiggled free from where it was lashed to the inside of the hull, and Lee found himself in the position of “trying to wrestle a vinyl box of human waste.” (He won.)

When we asked what about the year on the water surprised them or went counter to their expectations, Lee paused, and thought for a while. What got him, he says, is that he wasn’t prepared for “what the ocean can give with winds and waves.”

Over all, though, they say they loved the life, the idea of “staying for a few days in a place and then moving on.”

Reflecting on the past year, Lee especially thinks that it passed too quickly. “It shouldn’t be over. We should only be a quarter of the way through it.” His and Michelle’s children for the most part, he says, seem ready to return to their friends and school, “They can smell the barn,” the closer they get to New Hampshire.


Lee says as much as he soaked up the cruising lifestyle, and as far as Godspeed got them, “she’s not the kind of boat to cruise on indefinitely.” (In particular, he says he wasn’t expecting to have his back hurt as much as it did from scrunching down under the canvas of his boat.) He says that he’d like to live on a boat again – a bigger boat – perhaps once the youngest, Allison, who is 8, is finished with high school.

But for now, Godspeed will be ‘mothballed’, once they get back to New Hampshire. No sailing this summer in New England. Instead, Lee expects, it’ll be time to get on with the task of getting used to land again.

A few days after they stopped back in at Oriental, the crew of Godspeed, Michelle, Lee, Mariah, Morgan and Allison took off, via the waterway to the Chesapeake, and then a car and trailer ride that would take the daughty boat on one more passage, up I-95 to New Hampshire…

We wish them Godspeed.

Posted Sunday June 27, 2004 by Melinda Penkava


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