What a trip! A buddy of mine named David and I flew to Lauderdale and stopped by my brother Bill's to say hi and pick up the electronics. Ft Lauderdale will never cease to amaze me, it's a solid mass of writhing humanity packed in like sardines. Crazed sardines on speed. Headed down to Marathon and stopped to meet Jeff, a guy who has a IP 38 just like ours, just a few hull numbers newer. He's ahead of us a few years, bought his boat about five years ago and is playing the snowbird now. He's from Mystic Connecticut and spending the winter in Florida. Still working, part-time, he does some kind of computer stuff that he can do on the boat. One of the nicest guys I've met and he turned out to be a major help on the trip After meeting him and getting some groceries we headed down to the boat. When we got there everything looked fine, the batteries were flat and she was dirty and stinky but other than that nothing looked out of place. Major relief. We spent the night on the boat. In the morning we went to Key West and got the jib that I'd left at the sail loft. Then we tore into the boat, installed the sails, the dodger, ran the engine, all that, trying to get her ready to go the next morning. Saturday night we went to Marathon and checked out the boatyard. I wanted to see what it looked like from the land before we attempted finding it by sea, and it was well worth the trip. We met some interesting characters and got the place scoped out.
Sunday morning we got up and went to pick up Jeff. He helped us turn the boat around in the canal, which was tight as the neighbors are all home and they all had their boats there. On the way out of the canal there was a 50 footer on the left and a 30 footer on the right. There was only about a foot or two of clearance on both sides of us as we passed through. I had to keep moving, the current was pushing us so I had to keep motoring so I could steer. It was a little nerve-wracking shooting the gap between a million dollar boat and a hundred thousand dollar boat with my boat. Then as I turned out of the canal the current tried to push us on the rocks. I got out of that and we got out into the bay, where we had about two miles of markers to follow to get into deep water. You have to almost make a figure 8 and if I hadn't done it before with Capt Dan we'd never have made it. As it was the only reason we got out was because the tide was about a foot above normal which gave us a cushion. We left on the rising tide so we'd get floated off if we got stuck. We did drag the bottom a couple of times, but we finally got out into Hawk Channel. The wind was right on the nose and we had 35 miles to go so we just planned on motoring the whole way. Yeah, right. After about an hour the fuel filter plugged up. The water was rough and the fuel tank was sloshing around and the sludge that was on the bottom of the tank got mixed up in the fuel and bam, the motor would die. So I changed it out, fortunately the boat has a nice big Racor on it and when you change the filter you don't have to bleed the fuel system each time. Unfortunately the boat was slamming up and down and left to right and we were both getting a little seasick and when you went below and opened up the hot engine compartment and smelled the diesel fuel it was worse. So after about three filters we gave up on the motor. We decided to see if we could beat into the wind so we pulled up the sails, which wasn't as easy as it sounds. The boat was moving around so violently you had to keep an arm wrapped around the boom, there was no way to hang on with just your hands. Once we got the sails up and pulling the boat took off and the motion got a lot better. So we headed out, pushing the boat upwind as much as we could. It was still pretty rough, especially inshore where the water is shallow. It was really choppy. Once we got out a couple of miles into Hawk Channel the water changed color and smoothed out to large swells. So we're sailing along and pieces of the cover start to come off the jib sheets. When I tied them on Saturday morning they looked ok, but years of Florida sun had baked them and made them brittle. Every time we tacked they got worse, the outer covering started to pull off and when you tried to pull the line in it was like skinning a snake. Then the outer covering started to wad up and plug the blocks, so we couldn't release the line to tack. About that time we sucked up a crab pot, so we had to head up and use a boat hook to pull the thing up to where we could cut the rope. So now the engine won't run, the prop has a rope wrapped around it, and the sheets are falling apart in our hands. Did I mention it was getting late by now, we hadn't had anything to eat since breakfast, and it looked like we were not going to make the only safe anchorage available? It was still a mile or two dead upwind of our position. We were getting exhausted and I was a nervous wreck. So we reevaluated, decided we could make the anchorage, and went for it. The anchorage actually wasn't a good one, we had to shoot the gap between the old railroad bridge, against the tide, and we didn't know what we'd find on the inside. But at that point we didn't have much choice, except to chicken out and turn downwind and run to the last safe anchorage. Since that was always available we felt comfortable pushing it, but if we hadn't had that option we'd have turned back long before. We finally got in just at sunset and dropped the anchor and it bit good so we collapsed for awhile. We didn't have much food on board since we didn't intend to take two days to go 35 miles, but we had some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and oranges and plenty of water and Pepsi. After we ate we called Jeff, back in Marathon. He had our rental car. After discussing the options he came down the next morning and, using his kayak that he'd stuffed into the rental car, kayaked out and brought us breakfast, coffee, and a bag full of fuel filters. Talk about a savior! So after eating breakfast and talking some more about our options he headed back and we pulled anchor and sailed on. By now we were about three-fourths of the way to where we needed to go, we were getting an earlier start, and we had some coffee in us. Much better start. The wind was just as bad this day, right on the nose. The first tack we went out a couple of miles, came back in, and had, in an hour and a half, only gained about a half-mile. At that rate we wouldn't make it today, either. The next few tacks we gained some, and as the day progressed the wind gave up a couple of degrees and we got to the Seven Mile bridge. I was never so happy to get somewhere as when we sailed under that sucker and into the calm waters of the bayside. Here we could drop the hook anywhere and swim to shore if we had to. Once, while out in Hawk Channel, as the rope was falling apart, the prop was wrapped in line, and the engine filter was plugged, we were sailing along on a tight reach, the water was that translucent electric blue, the sky was bright Kansas blue with white puffy clouds, the temperature was perfect, we had just seen a big ray jumping, and there were two dolphins surfing our bow wave. I told David that this would be great, if the boat wasn't falling apart on us.
After crossing under the bridge we sailed another few miles to the boat yard where we sailed right in, just using the motor for the last bit. I was beat. We had to cut the lines to the jib to get it rolled up they were so bad. We had a room booked so we showered and enjoyed the air conditioner a while, then we picked up Jeff and went out to eat. We ate at a local joint, where I sat next to a fishing boat Captain from Maine, one of those guys who made a living fishing off the Grand Banks. He was 72 and talked my arm off.
Next day we went back to the boat and cleaned it up, hauled a few loads of trash off, and made arrangements for all the work they're going to do. The first thing I had lined up was a fuel tank cleaning, and I made sure the guy cleaned the heck out of every nook and cranny.
It's actually good that all this happened, I learned how to sail the heck out of the boat and I gained a lot of confidence in it and my ability to sail her anywhere I want. It sails better than it motors, which only makes sense. It is a sailboat, after all, and a very well designed and well built one at that. For example, the chain plates, which are what hold the mast up, are bolted to the sides of the boat. According to the Island Packet owners manual one chain plate alone is strong enough to support the weight of the entire boat.
I couldn't have done it without the help of two great guys, David and Jeff. David has quite a bit of experience and he kept us on the right track and off the rocks, and Jeff shuttled us around and delivered breakfast and the filters. The breakfast turned out to be the thing we needed most!
Strangely enough, the boat shrunk on me! When we left Sunday am it was a huge, ungainly monster of a boat. When we walked away from it at the dock two days later I looked back and it looked quite reasonable.
So even though it was nerve-wracking, being my first time in charge and fighting a neglected boat, going the wrong direction and trying to make a schedule, we also broke everything on the boat right away and now it'll all be fixed before we go out again. The motor will run and the ropes will hold. And hopefully the dolphins will still be out there.