Saturday, December 17, 2011

Batten Down the Hatches a Storm's a'Brewin'

It was now October.  We had made a friend at the marina who was our age and living on a Choey Lee Bermuda 30 on anchor. He  would disappear for weeks at a time to do cruise ship renovations or First Mate a Mega Motor Yacht. He would come back and dump his earnings into prepping his boat for voyaging.   It was nice to have a friend who was doing the same thing in life.  The latest job he had landed was a yacht delivery.  He was to take it from Stuart, around the entire peninsula of Florida and up the West coast to Venice.   He asked AJ if he would like to do the delivery with him, for the experience and even a little pay.  AJ jumped at the opportunity. 

He felt bad leaving me on a boat alone on the ball with no power or water and a greasy engine in the middle of everything. But I assured him I'd be fine and he should not pass up the opportunity.  I really didn't mind, and was actually wanting to spend some time alone on the boat anyway for a lot of reasons.   I really wanted to be by myself so I could get to know the boat better and have the responsibility to myself. His absence was going to more than double the amount of labor required to carry out daily life activities.  AJ always motored or rowed us to the docks for instance. Men drive, it's what they do. They always get in the drivers seat without question or discussion.  So the only time I rowed was when I wanted to run to shore or back for something and AJ didn't, which wasn't often. Now, wanting to get to land, grocery shop, take out the trash, do the laundry, or anything at all would require me hauling everything on and off the dinghy by myself, and rowing back and forth. Not to mention maneuvering heavy bags and myself through the booby traps of my hatch and cockpit.

They set sail on a Friday. Darrin was against leaving on a Friday. Starting a passage on a Friday is like saying MacBeth in a theater. Superstitious or not, you just don't do it. Also there was a storm that could blow in in a few days and he thought it more prudent to wait it out. But the new yacht owners were typically impatient and insisted. So on Friday the 14th of October they set out and headed South.

The first three days were calm and hot. I spent a lot of time in the lounge, as there was really nothing to do on the boat in it's condition. The cockpit was piled high with tools and rusty engine parts. We had laid a tarp under the engine, and it was now covered in oil and grease. So suffice to say I packed up a bag and the net book and rowed to shore for part of the day and the evenings.

Around the third day the weather started to take a turn. It became gray and dark. The wind picked up and the rain started.

If the wind is too strong or the chop too high or the rain too heavy I can't row to shore. For two days I remained boat bound and I tried to protect things in the cockpit from the rain best I could, but it was really a futile effort. It was all just getting rustier. I stuffed rags under the leaky windows and kept a close watch on the bilge. Since the power was disconnected so was the automatic bilge pump, I had to pump it manually. On the afternoon of the third day of rain it finally became calm.  I took the opportunity to bail the dinghy's, then rowed ashore.

That calm afternoon was unfortunately not the end of the rain but the calm before the storm. A couple hours after I got to shore it got nasty. White out rain came pelting down with wind that made the boats in the mooring field bounce around like plastic toys. I stared out the lounge windows and tried to see the details of my boat. We were on mooring ball 1 so we were on the row closest to shore, even still it was hard to make out much through the water and darkness. The dinghy was bouncing around like a ping pong ball. Later it looked as though our dinghy may have gotten swept under the wind-vane. But I could not tell for sure. The rain did not let up for hours, and I was getting anxious. Around midnight not knowing was driving me crazy and I had to go see what I could see. I put on my rain coat and rolled up my pants and walked down the dock barefoot to the closest point I could get to my boat. I walked bent over to stay balanced against the wind. When I reached the closest spot to our boat I tried to shield myself against the rain to see. The dinghy had gotten sucked under the wind-vane and was still bouncing and slamming around with the wind-vane beating against it the inside of it. I feared for the dinghy and the wind vane. Being so close and feeling like you can almost reach out and touch it only compounds the feeling of helplessness.  I also was trying to make out the water line. I was freaked about the bilge filling up and had no idea how much water had gotten in. Not being on the boat was driving me crazy. The waterline line is dark blue so it was hard to tell where the sea ended and the blue line began in the blackness but it looked to be floating high enough. I could not help but just stand there, staring, stumbling in the wind and replanting my feet over and over and over again. I could not take my eyes off it.  With lighter rain I felt a little better about the boat not sinking and started back to the marina.

Around 1 am the rain had calmed to a heavy drizzle and many of the other stranded folks to start motoring back to their boats. I was offered a ride. Once I was aboard I sqeezed between the engine and the counter pulled back the tarp and awkwardly removed a floor board from under the swinging engine so I could see into the bilge. It had a lot of water in it, but we were not sinking yet. It is hard to see the bilge in daylight as it is 4 feet deep and 10 inches wide.  All I had was the shittiest of flashlights that gave a dim flicker and had to be shaken every 10 seconds; "luckily" the water was high enough to see easily...  I climbed back out into the cockpit and pulled off the bronze lid to the manual bilge pump in the cockpit bench. The first pull was met with great resistance. Thank god it did not have to be primed this time. Pulling on the handle feels like lifting wights at the gym. It takes 1-3 seconds to pull it up.  I began pumping it as fast as I could with my right arm, but soon it become a two handed job with a foot braced on the bench to muster up every ounce if strength even from my toes. Pulling up up up, and slam back down. Curses to my 100 lb frame and puny wire arms. My curses were sucked up by the wind as quickly as they left my mouth. If i had been lifting weights there is no way I could have lasted that long. But in such a crisis adrenalin says it can be done. The labor of the pumping the bilge became my existence.   I had no other function or independent thoughts of a self to distract me. I was a bilge pumping machine. Nothing else.

Once it started sounding empty I slid back inside and shined the light into the deep dark narrow bilge. I could not see the bottom, but I saw a lot of hoses and pumps on the way down that were underwater before. It was time for bed. I used the rain to get the grease off my feet and tried to make it to the V berth unscathed. I laid in bed exhausted but hyper-vigilant from the adrenalin. I listened to the rain and bangs and creaks caused by the wind and wondered what they were and if I should be concerned about it.

The forward hatch is 3 feet above your head in the V berth. It's view is straight up the mast to the stars.  The rain and wind are sometimes so loud it is hard to sleep, but generally I find it peaceful. The clanks and taps and thumps and creaks can be trying but if the noises are random I can sleep through it. But sometimes the noises conspire and get on a rhythm. The rope on the mast slaps the top at a high pitch then slaps the bottom at a lower pitch in even time. Thwack thwack, Thwack thwack. Then the dinghy reveals it's treachery when it joins in with a Thud, th th th th th thud. then unidentified menaces finish the percussion symphony clang-idy clangs and tap tap taps. This makes me scream in my pillow. Luckily that night it was a chaos of bangs and creaks and howling of the wind.

AJ and Darrin were stuck in Miami through the storm. The delivery was delayed by 3 days anyway as Darrin had predicted. The 5-7 day delivery was already 6 days in and they had not made it past Miami. They ran into more trouble and delays every day. Guess they should not have left on a Friday after all. The boat was not as in as good as condition as stated on the survey. They had engine trouble and got stuck waiting for parts. By day 10 they had only made it to Marathon in the Keys. And they were going to have to be there a while getting work done. Darin told AJ he could jump ship since he didn't know how long it was going to take, and he had already been gone longer than planned. I drove to Marathon to pick him up.

The farther south I went the better the radio stations got. Stuart's stations play what my hometown played. The top 20 of yesterday and today. The songs you know all the words to but are not even sure who sings because you never bought the album and never listened to it on purpose. It's like you have known these songs from birth. Programmed into your brain. I hate these songs. But the closer I got to Miami those songs were replaced with songs I did not know and genres I'd never heard on the radio. I hadn't experienced such ear candy since Germany where the stations had no theme and the song progression would go something like: Nirvana, Meatloaf ballad, 50's BeeBop, Lady GaGa, Michael Jackson, The Beatles, Bon Jovi, The Ramones, Abba, Sinatra, German Rap, DEVO, U2, German Pop, Patsy Cline. Anything from the last 50 years could come next. Anything.

I arrived in Marathon late that night and spent the night on the boat they were delivering. The next morning we drove back to Stuart.  I proudly showed AJ that we still had a boat, and then it was time to tackle the filth of engine and engine room and try to salvage the weather damaged parts. 


  1. Wow, this is all very interesting to read. I am so proud of you, you are doing so well Sarah (though you may not think it). One day you will be so happy to have had these adventures. I will be a faithful reader for the journey. I miss you, and I wish you better weather and better luck.

  2. :) Nothing like a little time on the water to gain experience. Thank you for sharing, sailors certainly are an odd bunch. Ali

  3. Don't these experiences make you wish you were in cubical land, safely working under the glow of florescent lights and the hum of an HVAC? JK


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