I wanted to shake up my life and go sailing (or learn on the job, so-to-speak) so headed to Florida to crew on a catamaran. This is about how it went or, rather, didn't - and my life since. Hopefully it will lead to a catamaran on the clear aqua blue waters of the Caribbean Sea, watching the sunset, a coconut rum and coke in hand. You must START AT THE BEGINNING of the blog, April 2009, to get the whole story...

Monday, June 15, 2009


It’s Tuesday, the big day. I am awake early but don’t want to leave my room just yet so I sit in bed and type up my blog for the past few days. I get carried away and before I know what time it is, Jake knocks on my door and says I better get up. I poke my head out and see on the wall clock that it is 9:30 already. “You have about 20 minutes before we have to get off.” he says. We can’t be on the boat while it is on the lift. I hurriedly dress and grab my camera, phone and water bottle. I down my vitamins and run a comb through my hair and catch it up in some clips. It’s getting really long and I am thinking of going short again when I get home. And blond. Really blond.

We get off the boat and I take pictures as the process of getting the boat off of the supports and lifted begins. It takes a while. I walk out to the dock for a better vantage and look down into the water to see a huge school of Parrot Fish. Looking closer I see a small Ray of some sort as well. He is just sitting there not moving. I take some pictures of the fish and one of the ray and then I take some of the boat as it is driven to the water and lowered in. The houseboat looks so much smaller once it is in the water. It's weird to see it that low. They turn off the big rig’s motor and everyone walks away. I turn back to the water and look for more fish, and there are lots of them and I snap some more pictures

Sam, the owner of the boatyard calls out to me and asks where Jake is. I say I don’t know, that I thought he was over with him. “No. That cheque he gave me, the bank says there isn’t any funds.” “Sorry, I don’t know anything about it,” I say, “I am just visiting.” “Oh.” he says and walks back to the rig, fires it up, and lifts the boat back out of the water and lets it dangle there as he walks away. Ok, that's not good. It’s then I realize that Jake’s car is gone and he has left yet again without telling me and now I have nowhere to go. I can’t go on the boat, obviously, and it’s blazing hot out here with the shade rapidly leaving. I am not happy. I walk down the dock to where the people who live in a small houseboat there have set up a little makeshift bench of breeze-block and a plank. It’s in the shade and I sit down. I check the clock on my phone and it's almost 10 o’clock, which means it’s almost 7 at home. I dial Ashleigh so that I can wish her a happy birthday. I hope I am not waking her. I needn’t have worried as she is on her way to work. We chat for about 20 minutes and she tells me she can’t wait to see me. I feel the same and talking to her just makes me long all the more to get back. I am so glad tomorrow is the day!

Jake comes back while I am on the phone and when I look up after hanging up, he has gone again. Now there is no shade and I am broiling. Half an hour or more ticks slowly by and just as I think I might pass out he pulls in. I tell him Sam was looking for him and he says he knows. “That idiot tried to cash the cheque before we are even out of here.” he says. “I have been back and forth to the bank to sort it out.” “Is it sorted?” I ask. “Yeah.” I ask if that is why Sam took the boat out of the water and he says, “Of course it is. That’s the problem with being a thief; you think everyone else is a thief as well.” Funny because just the other day he was telling me a story about how he used to steal steaks in California, stuffing them down his cowboy boots and inside his jean jacket. He claims he did it so the kids could eat but I don’t think they needed steak. Takes one to know one I guess.

We wait around for 15 minutes or more for the guys to come back and put the boat in the water. When no one shows up and we are both dripping with sweat, he gets in the car. “It’ll be cooler in here.” he says as if I am stupid for not thinking of it myself. “Yeah it will. If it’s running and the air is on.” I reply. “What?” he says. I don’t repeat it. He starts the car and I get in. I have no idea where we might be going but I don’t care. The air is blasting and it feels fabulous and that is all that matters at the moment. He drives up to the yard office and gets out, leaving the car running. As I sit there I notice that there are three buttons on my arm rest and they each have a picture of a car seat on them. Two show waves of heat coming from just the seat on one and then from the seat and back on the other. The third button does not have waves, just a bright sun beside the seat. I push the button and immediately my seat cools right down. Amazing. Before long Jake is back and he tells me that when Sam lifted the boat back out of the water, a lot of water ran out of the bottom. I tell him I didn't notice that. Now Jake is freaking out that the welding job isn't good and the boat leaks. “Why doesn't he come and put the boat back in and take it out so you can see for yourself.” I say. “That’s what he’s gonna do, isn’t it.” he snaps back at me. Okay then. So that is what happens and I stay in the car and watch while there is a lot of talking and arm waving between them. Then Sam goes back to the lift, drops the boat back in the water and starts to maneuver it out of the slip. I turn off the car and get out as it seems wasteful to sit there with it running for so long. The heat hits me like a wall. Jake gets on the boat and one of the yard workers comes to help move the boat to the dock. I watch the slow process of easing out of the slip. Once it is free of the lift it starts to float to the dock and I can see that it is going to hit it. I run down the dock and get there just before the boat does and reach out to try to hold it back but there is no way I have the strength to push it away and it hits with a loud crunch and bounces off. I see that it has smashed one of the lights on the bow and it now dangles in pieces at the end of the wires. Jake runs forward and I say, “You just lost one of your lights.” “Oh, thank you very much. I really wanted that to happen.” he snaps at me. I am way too hot and cranky to take it lying down so say, “Oh, I’d guess you’d rather not know then? Rather I not tell you?” He doesn't reply, just gets the bow rope and holds it out to me. I take it and hand it off to the yard worker who ties it to a cleat and then I notice that the back end is drifting in towards a small dinghy that is tied up to the dock. “Oh no, we are going to hit that boat.” I say. I run back to see if we will clear it "We aren't going to clear it!" I yell, and we don’t as the boat hits with a sickening crunch. The yard worker runs to pull the dinghy out of the way but it is tied up too tight, there is no slack to move it. Somehow we get the houseboat down the dock enough to clear the dinghy and then I grab the stern line and tie it up. Jake gets off and then I see that it’s a bit loose so I go to tighten it up and he grabs it out of my hand. “THIS is how you tie up a boat.” he says and proceeds to do it just as I had. “I know how to tie up a boat.” I say. He scoffs and then yells, “Look at you getting angry because I am showing you the right way to do it. THIS is what you did.” he says and then proceeds to make a mess of it that looks nothing like what I did. “THIS is what you should do.” and then proceeds to do exactly what I did. I just get on board and walk inside.

He leaves again without saying a word and while he is gone I take another look at my luggage situation and hit on a solution of sorts. I am going to be overweight no matter what so I decide to put all the heavy stuff in one bag and therefore have just one overweight bag to pay for. Not ideal but the best I can do. So I set about switching everything around and because we now have no power on the boat and so no air conditioning, I am sweating like a pig. But I am so focused on what I am doing I barely notice. And to think I never used to let myself break a sweat. It seems that is all I have done since getting to Key Largo.

Jake returns in about an hour with Bob, the captain of the dive boat that took us out on Sunday. He helped Jake get the boat to the boatyard 5 weeks ago and now will help to get it back. I am relieved that Jake won’t be doing this on his own.
Bob asks Jake, "Are both motors running?" Apparently they weren't when they brought the boat here; they came the whole way on one engine. Jake replies, "I don't know." and I can see that Bob is not impressed. He shakes his head and grimaces as he heads for the cockpit.

Bob turns the key for the starboard engine and it starts up right away. Twenty seconds later there is a loud constant beep from the console. Bob groans. "Something is wrong with the engine" he says. He turns it off and goes back to where Jake is at the engine. They can’t see anything wrong but Bob thinks maybe it needs oil. Jake takes off to buy some oil. While he is gone Bob tries to fire up the generator but it won’t start. He calls Jake and tells him to pick up some starter fluid.

Jake gets back and they do whatever they need to do and the generator runs fine and now we have power. As for the engine, apparently the connections to the battery were really loose and have now been tightened. Once Jake is out of earshot, Bob shakes his head and comments to me how unprepared for this trip Jake is. Five weeks of sitting high and dry with nothing to do all day, Bob thinks that would have been a great time to check the engines and make sure the genny was running well, not to mention cleaning up all the crap on the decks so that a person could actually get to the ropes without tripping over something. I can't disagree.

Bob starts the starboard engine and the beep starts up again. They can’t figure out why but they decide to go with it. We cast off and Bob is soon yelling that he doesn't have any steering. We bump hard into the dock on the stern. Jake is yelling from back there that we are hard on the dock and Bob yells back that there isn't any steering. He turns off the engine and goes back to see what is up. Jake is yelling something about fluid leaking all over the place from the genny or somewhere. They seem to get that taken care of in about ten minutes and then Bob starts up the engine and tries again. He still doesn’t seem to have steering and Jake is yelling that we are about to hit something. And we do, hard. Bob tells Jake to take the wheel and he goes outside. It isn’t long before he yells, “JAKE!! HELP. QUICK!!!!” He sounds terrified. Jake doesn’t move. “JAKE!! QUICK, GET OUT HERE.” “WHERE ARE YOU?” Jake asks. “PORT SIDE FRONT. HURRY!” Jake doesn’t move. I yell, “HE NEEDS YOUR HELP JAKE, HE'S FRONT PORT SIDE.” I cannot believe that he still isn't moving so I run out onto the front deck. Bob is hanging onto the side of the boat with his fingernails and toenails. The fly screen is zipped up all around and he can’t get in and he is about to fall off. “HURRY!” he screams. I can’t find the zipper head. I reach down but can't feel it and then up but it isn’t there and then down again and find it way at the bottom tight to the hull. I force my hand in and rip the zipper open, flinging the netting out of the way. “GRAB ME!” he yells. I grab his arm thinking that there is no way I can keep this big guy from falling off and I can't see how he is going to be able to step over the railing from where he is without losing his grip. I suddenly see that there is a gate right in front of me in the railing and I yank up the catch and kick it open with my foot. I am still hanging onto Bob for dear life with my right hand. Jake now decides to come out and says “Just step in Bob, for f***s sake.” I pull hard on Bob’s arm and he makes a giant step sideways and falls onto the deck. Meanwhile, the houseboat is drifting and Bob yells “We are about to hit that wall!” and we do with a loud crack and a shudder. Jake runs to the back to push off and I lead Bob inside and he collapses on the couch. He is shaking like a leaf, sweating, and his face is beet red. All that coupled with his laboured breathing has me worried he might be having a heart attack. "Are you ok?" I ask. "No." he says. Ok so now I am really worried. "Are you having chest pain?" I ask. “I’ve hurt my back.” he says. I ask if he wants something for it but he doesn’t. “This is a disaster.” I say.

After a minute or two of rest, he gets up and takes the wheel again. Apparently it was just a spasm and he is fine now. Jake yells from the back that we are about to bottom out. We have drifted into the shallows. Bob is pulling forward and Jake yells that the props are hitting the bottom. Bob yells back that they aren’t, it’s just really shallow and it’s kicking up silt from the bottom. Jake comes in and says, “Then why did I hear thumping?” Bob hands the wheel over to Jake and tells him to guide the boat out to sea by keeping the sticks on the port-side and the boeys on starboard to stay in the channel. “STICKS ON THE LEFT, JAKE!” he yells. “I AM TRYING” Jake yells back, “I HAVE IT HARD OVER TO THE LEFT.” I guess boating terminology goes out of the window at a time like this. “YOU NEED TO BE HARD TO THE RIGHT JAKE, YOU WANT TO GO BETWEEN THE STICKS AND THE BOEYS.” I can't bring myself to look out of the window. I just don't want to know. Jake finally turns the wheel. I am wondering why Bob doesn’t just do it himself. He is a captain, after all.

By some miracle, we make it out of there without totally wrecking the dock, running aground, or otherwise hurting ourselves or the boat. But I am seriously wishing I had taken up Nancy’s tongue-in-cheek offer to spend the day at the Pet Resort with her. She wants so bad to be here for this but at the moment I think she is having the better day. I am just praying we get there alright. I am having serious doubts.

Once we are clear of the shallows and out where there is no danger of hitting anything other than a turtle or another speed boat, I take my water bottle and sit in a chair I have moved from the roof onto the bow deck. I am watching the water and I can see all the way to the bottom. I can’t see any fish down there, we are going too fast for that although we can’t be going more than 5 knots. Along the way I see a small fish skip along the top of the water like a rock. I ask Bob what that could have been and he tells me it was probably a needle fish. That’s what it looked like to me, I recognized it from seeing one when I went snorkeling, but I didn't know they could do that. He tells me it is how they escape their predators. Every now and then I see a big splash ahead but I never manage to see what made it. At one point it feels like we're veering back and forth and I look back at the wake; sure enough. We aren't 10 minutes underway and Jake's already having trouble keeping the boat on a straight course. I can't imagine what it'll be like when he's had half a dozen or more beers.
A bit later I come inside and see that Bob has blood all down the sleeve of his left arm. "What happened to you?" I ask. "Oh nothing much. I was down in the engine compartment fixing a leaky hose and rubbed up against the fan-belt. It's nothing." I am thinking how I boated for 6 years or more and not once ever did anyone go into the engine compartment while it was running and fix something. I can't believe that it's a very safe practice or a good idea.
This is going to be a long trip, apparently it took 9 hours to get the boat to the boatyard. Bob doesn't think it will take that long to go back, "At least I am hoping not." he says. They both crack open their second beers and then I am hoping it doesn't take that long either. If both of them are going to drink the entire trip, they won't be in any shape to tie it up to the mooring balls and dock when we get there. And I know I won't be able to do it. I am more than a bit worried about the drinking on this trip. I am a firm believer in not drinking while underway on a boat. It just isn't safe. And considering the trouble we have just had while they were both sober, it just doesn't bode well. I decide I better be keeping a sharp eye out for the rest of the trip.

We motor past Ocean Reef, the exclusive community on Key Largo where we went snorkeling from a few days ago. Bob points out a HUGE house and tells me it belongs to the family that owns Chiquita Banana. He says that they bought the property with a big house on it for 7 million and then bulldozed that house and built this one for 20 million. Oh to be wealthy. What must that be like?

The weather is changing and over to the left just past Ocean Reef there is a bank of dark clouds and forked lightening. We never sail into it but the sky does cloud over and it cools off considerably. Earlier in the trip I tried sitting on a deck chair up top but I came down after 20 minutes, it was just way too hot, and sat back down on the fore deck. As we get closer to the canal that goes through the mangroves I spot a dolphin in the water ahead. I jump up for a better look and it swims right towards the front of the boat. I am worried that we will run over it and it appears that we have. I lean over the bow to see if it's OK and there it is, swimming in our bow wake. I yell to the guys that there’s a dolphin. Bob comes out to look. I just took my camera inside. I run in to get it and by the time I get back he is gone. DANG! Up ahead I see two more dolphins breaching and I snap a picture but it’s just as they go under. They swim right towards the boat again and I am hoping they will swim in the bow wake when a wave runner races up and scares them away. That’s disappointing. Bob tells me that he is out on the water almost every day and has been for the past 25 years and has only seen that happen one other time. "It's a rare treat," he says. "I am thrilled to have seen it and even more so that you got to." he tells me. What a sweet thing for him to say.

It's been about 5 or 6 hours since we banged our way out of the dock of the boatyard. We have just passed under the bridge that links Key Largo to the mainland and are making our way to the property where I can see Nancy is waiting in her truck. We slowly troll up to the first mooring ball and Jake hooks it with the boat hook on the first try and then gets me to take over and lift it out of the water so he can clip the line onto it. That goes off without a hitch, thankfully. Now, in theory, the current will swing our back end around towards the cement dock tied to the permanent dock. It doesn’t happen and what ensues is a back and forth, pulling lines, yelling at Nancy to grab the stern with the boat hook she is holding (yeah right), bottoming out with the props, and so on. After about an hour of this we are finally lined up. Jake has to get off the houseboat and onto the pontoon boat and bring it around for the second line, which is then tied to the second ball. At one point Jake is on the pontoon boat just off our starboard bow and he tells Bob that he can tie the line onto the cleat right at my feet. I look down and there is a cleat there all right, but it isn’t screwed down to the boat, it looks like a spare or something. “Down there, right at your feet!” he yells impatiently. So I bend over and pick it up and hold it out. “This cleat?” I ask. Bob cracks up and so does Jake. He doubles over and doesn’t straighten up for a full 30 seconds or more. Turns out there is another cleat that is screwed down about two feet behind me. Not exactly in my line of vision, nor 'right at my feet'.

Now if we can just get the water hooked up and heated so I can take a shower and use the head. I have been dying to go all day.

Our Voyage Marked in Red
All photographs are mine and not to be copied without express permission from me (click on them to see the large version).
Some names have been changed to protect my butt.

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