Out of the frying pan, into the fire

Here I go again, piling adventures on top of adventures. We’ve just returned from a train adventure to sunny Southern California. Those tales will come soon — but in the meantime, I left my readers hanging about the trip from Florida to the Bahamas.

There’s an album of photos from this trip at http://www.mepsnbarry.com/pix/.
April Fools’ departure — three years after Cayenne

We left for the Bahamas aboard Vger on April Fools’ Day. We’d planned to catch a favorable tide and leave on Saturday evening, but just off the fuel dock, we went aground. Luckily, it was a “soft” grounding, meaning we were mired in sand, and TowBoat US was able to free us from our predicament. In the meantime, we provided entertainment to all the folks in the marina and at the shoreside restaurant. They gawked and pointed, and we felt foolish.

Once freed, we slunk back towards West Palm Beach with our tail between our legs and looked for a place to anchor and regroup. As the only able-bodied crew member (Barry having a broken arm and Kris having thrown his back out), I had to drop the anchor, then pull it back up and drop it again when it wouldn’t set.

Barry and I retired to our bunk, but Kris had a sleepless night, afraid our anchor would drag. It did. At 2 o’clock AM, he woke me to pull it up and put it back down again. Some nightgowns are better for that than the one I had on. Sorry, there are no photos of that.

At dawn, we headed back to the fuel dock, hoping for better luck the second time. Instead, we had two more mishaps.


Kris was at the helm as we motored along a narrow waterway almost under an enormous high bridge. The sound of gospel music and clapping caught my attention on shore — there was a sunrise Easter baptism under the bridge. I caught a glimpse of white-robed people being led into the water, and I ran below to grab the camera.

Suddenly, there was a horrible sound of stressed metal and splintering fiberglass. Had we been hit by another boat? Was the mast collapsing? Were we sinking? Was I being punished for blasphemy?

I dashed back up again, camera and baptism forgotten. The name of the Lord was definitely being taken in vain up there! We had somehow struck an aid to navigation, a steel I-beam marking the edge of the channel. Sinking was not imminent, but our skipper’s confidence was badly shaken — glare from the sun had rendered the steel piling invisible, and he’d run the port side right into it.

We continued on to the fuel dock, where we bounced off some dock pilings and added more damage to the port side of the boat. An attendant came out, filled our diesel tank, then returned to his shoreside office.

We took advantage of his absence. Kris quickly plugged in an angle grinder and removed three feet of twisted, mangled stainless steel trim. I unloaded a mountain of full garbage bags, probably not what the attendant expected when I’d asked if I could leave “a little trash” there on the dock.

And then we motored to the inlet at West Palm Beach and pointed our bow towards the Bahamas.

It was still not to be. Someone “up there” was playing an April Fools’ Day joke on us.

The waves that met us on the Atlantic that morning were big, ugly, and chaotic. A north wind had been blowing for days, in opposition to the southerly Gulfstream. Evidently, Mother Nature hadn’t been paying attention to weather predictions, for our southerly wind hadn’t materialized. It was blowing right on the nose, out of the east.

Vger crept up the back of each confused wave and then slammed down with a shudder. Kris struggled with the helm, keeping us pointed into the waves, but unable to make any speed. Finally, we gave up and turned back to Lake Worth. At Kris’ direction, I dropped the anchor once, pulled it up, then dropped it again in a new spot. Then pulled it up and dropped it again. I was getting plenty of exercise.

We spent the whole day anchored in idyllic Lake Worth under blue skies, with fleets of nimble sailing dinghies frolicking around us.

Second time’s the charm

The weather settled slightly, so we left the inlet again as darkness fell. Behind us were the bright lights of Palm Beach. Ahead was only blackness.

The seas were still rough, and the bulkheads and rigging creaked and groaned alarmingly. Motorsailing, it was hard to keep the boat on course The autopilot did the best job, until it stopped working. Then Barry had to give up and wedge himself into the v-berth forward and let Kris and me hand-steer.

There we no lee cloths to keep us in the bunks when the boat was heeled. I tried sleeping on the port side, but the cushions were soaked with salt water. I moved to the starboard settee. When we tacked, I fell on the floor, whacking my head so hard that saw stars. I was terrified of the creaking bulkheads, afraid that the mast would fail and Barry would be trapped in the v-berth and I would be trapped in the head.

Dawn was a welcome relief, a chance to see the foe, those waves that kept slamming into the boat. It was not long after that the depth of the water dropped from unfathomable to about 15 feet. The color of the water was magical, like jewels — aquamarine, sapphire, emerald. We were in the Bahamas.

We still had hours to go to reach a proper anchorage, but the bashing and crashing of the Gulf Stream were done. We stopped the boat and let it drift. Kris and I leaped off the deck for our reward, a swim in the crystal-clear water.

When night fell, we still had a few hours to go to reach our destination, Great Sale Cay. Barry returned to his nest in the v-berth, and Kris was yawning. “Get some sleep,” I urged, “I’ll wake you when we get close to our anchorage.” Alone on deck for a couple of hours, I kept our course with a light hand on the wheel.

Finally, when we were about a half hour away from our destination, I went below to wake Kris.

An ominous noise in the middle of the night

He sprang up instantly. “How long has it been making that noise?” he asked. I cocked my head and heard it, too. It was a new sound, a rattle I could just make out over the loud roar. He started poking around the hot, smelly engine, which had been running non-stop for almost 28 hours. I returned to the helm.

When he joined me, he was worried. Peering ahead, where a few scattered anchor lights marked our anchorage, he said, “I think it’s going to die when we throttle back.” That meant we had to anchor perfectly the first time, with no chance of re-anchoring. It also meant we were about to be stranded in the middle of nowhere without an engine.

Kris took over the helm and I moved to the bow and readied the anchor. As he’d said, the engine died with a “klunk” when he throttled back. Even up on the bow, the silence seemed loud.

I waited patiently by the anchor. By starlight, I could just make out the ripples of water gliding past our bow. The boat moved more and more slowly, until finally, the ripples were still. Then I eased the anchor over the roller and let out the rode.

In just over 48 hours, we’d had a grounding, an anchor dragging, a collision, a docking incident, bad weather, a dead autopilot, and a rough crossing. Now we were anchored off an uninhabited island with a dead engine. But we were secure and protected, and we were in the Bahamas.

I climbed into the v-berth with Barry and curled against him. “Mmmmm…everything OK?” he murmured in his sleep. “The engine’s dead, and we’re safely anchored in the middle of nowhere. Good night.” And we went to sleep.