John and Whitney sat down one day and came up with a plan that would put them on a path toward their dreams. It was much like plans that we have heard before. The couple was giving themselves five years to get out from under their possessions and search out their perfect cruising vehicle upon which they would acclimate to life aboard as they tested the waters, first near then far.
You know how it is when passion strikes. You jump all in. They immediately started looking for boats while John quickly found a need for his skills at a boatyard in the British Virgin Islands. Six weeks after their plans were hatched the two contacted me about sailing their new boat from Florida down to their new home in the BVI.
As John flew to FL to prep their new-to-them Beneteau 41 for a voyage to the islands, Whit was packing up the house and organizing the kids to come get their extra stuff. I had an open slot in my sailing schedule in four weeks time or we could leave in six days ... if they were ok with sailing around hurricanes. They opted for the asap option.
Back at the Lats offices I had been spying a little orange box that was sitting in our editor Sue's bookcase. Inside was one of those Spot devices. Haven't heard of Spot? It's a little waterproof device, the size of a small handheld vhf, that relays via satellite, your GPS position to people you've put on an email list. The box talks about safety this, safety that. I just wanted to use it to piss off my friends. We set it up with the findmespot.com people and I headed for FL.
Jacksonville was hot and humid which means to me that no matter how bad the conditions get out there the water filling the cockpit will keep my feet warm. John picked me up at the airport and we drove to the boat at one Sadler Point Marina. Somehow the boat didn't look like the broker ad ;). Still, I liked her. Beneteau makes reasonably sturdy boats for coastal cruising and more. This was an older one which was sturdier still. This boat had been raced hard but most of the gear looked like it worked. The work list had not been completed. Is it ever? I headed up the mast.
George and Nick were a couple of locals that stopped by with some valuable local knowledge about weather and tides and bridges and other info we would need to get out to the ocean. Thanks fellas. I quickly discovered that we were quite a ways from the sea. Younger Nick had a boat out on a mooring that he was prepping for his own cruising adventure. He hung around until our departure with the afternoon tide the next day. He worked hard and when John tried to pay him he refused. Nick was just happy to be part of our adventure.
I checked email one more time to get my departure weather report. Because it was hurricane season we had hired a pro wx guy based there in Fl. I did get an email but there was no report. It said that our wx guy was on vacation. Can he do that? We finally pushed off the dock. Our route to deeper water was complicated so it was lucky for us that we still had a route layed out on the gps from some previous adventure. We called the first bridge and got an opening right away. The second bridge was on a fixed schedule so we had 45 minutes to kill. We decided to pull up to a fuel dock to try and top off.
I know as much as anyone that the sea constantly tests us. What I wasn't thinking about at the time was that sometimes the sea's reach extends far inland. “Like landing an airplane,” I told John. Parking a boat when the current is flowing along an end tie is pretty easy. The water flowing by the keel and the rudder give you control when you are hardly moving. You just gently manuever over and 'set her down' against the dock.
Pay attention, I made a couple mistakes here that we can all learn from. We pulled up and John hopped ashore with the bow line and took a turn on a cleat mid-boat. I should have mentioned that we needed it on a cleat by the bow, mistake A. I turned the wheel to bring the stern in to the dock and stepped ashore, mistake B and C. I told John to move the line to the cleat at the bow while making fast my line to a cleat by the stern. It was at this point that I realized my mistakes and their compounding consequenses. Because the rudder was turned the current quickly drove the bow out and away from the dock. I was lucky that John was holding the longest dock line I'd ever seen. He was able to get a wrap on a cleat forward. Even with the two of us pulling we could not bring the boat back in.
There was the boat sitting 30 feet off the dock on two lines pulling very hard to get free. At least the situation had stabilized ... sort of. I looked at the bow line and saw a badly frayed section about half way out. I looked way aft at the hard looking low steel bridge that was patiently waiting to eat John's boat. Just then Bubba walked up. I don't know what his real name was but you know what I mean. He was a big shrimp fed local boy. He wasn't laughing, I don't know why not 'cause it was funny. I loosened up the stern line and us three brought the bow back to the dock. We got a third line on and I took my first breath. John seemed unphazed.
We got away easily (with more thought than the landing) and got through our last bridge. We followed the buoys until dark and then some. A miniature Coast Guard cutter approached. These guys were cool. They turned on the spotlight to read the name of the boat but had the class to not shine it directly at us. They carried on past, but returned on a dinghy. We got boarded. These guys went about their business quickly and professionally. They were even nice enough to zip tie the forward 3-way in the open position. They left while we were still smiling. As the last guy went to step off he looked over his shoulder and said, “You're not going out tonight?”
I think he was referring to the wind and the big swell. A hurricane had just gone through and was coming ashore in N. Carolina. I had been watching my own wx. It looked like gusts to 40 knots on the tail. It was a lot but I felt lucky that we had a tail wind going south to Miami. Why stop in Miami? The FL to BVI sail only has a couple spots along the way that offer safety from an approaching hurricane. There was a real possibility that we could be caught out. This boat was new to both of us. I wanted a break-in leg to see what we had. It worked out well because Miami was where my crew lived, yogini Kim from Yoga Onboard. Kim was also organizing our food. She was shopping and cooking a couple of advance meals.
That's all for this edition. Join the intrepid crew of Bananas next month as we pit men and vessel against the most rowdy sea conditions this skipper has had the pleasure of surviving.