There was adventure aplenty as Leg I fades into the books. Never have two men and one badass boat had more fun being arguably miserable a’sea than Chris Pruitt, Ave del Mar, and I did during our 20 hour slog south from West Palm in the near-coastal waters of Mother Ocean. I will only say that it was both a shakedown and a test of substantial magnitude, and I could not have chosen two better companions than them to be by my side.
Most of those hours were spent in wonderment of Ave del Mar’s incredible ocean going manners as she chewed up and spit out wall after wall of Atlantic water, while Mr. Pruitt and I accepted our repeated wash downs with a reactive holler, a brief (and insincere) expletive, and then a hearty laugh. It is a rare friend who proves himself so absolutely, and a rare friend in Chris I have indeed.
I left West Palm Beach with a bang, not a whimper.
In this episode of Postcards From Sea my firstborn Alex joins me to discuss feta cheese, how to do nothing on the boat for a solid week, whether or not she has actually sailed Ave del Mar, and if Türkmenistan is a real country.
Shortly after arriving in West Palm Beach, Florida, I took it upon myself to clean out the boat of a man who had recently died, and as always the universe paid me back more than I gave. In Episode II of Postcards from Sea you can hear the whole the story and meet the man who is bringing the boat — and her former owner’s dreams — back to life. My show and many other exciting boating shows are available on boatradio.tv. ♡ ॐ 氣
In my new podcast Postcards from Sea you will be able to hear the stories of my travels, told with a little help from some of the wonderful characters that I meet along the path. Listen right here or enjoy this and many other wonderful boating podcasts by visiting http://www.boatradio.tv.
My phone chirped, and the screen said New Text Message from Elizabeth SV Luna. I slid the screen open with my thumb and looked, but there were no words — just a photo of a brown cardboard box with my name on the front. I had a package awaiting me at my friends’ office.
A couple of hours later, after dropping Margot, my dinghy, back into the water, I rowed in and walked the few busy West Palm Beach blocks to a tall, white office building. In shorts and a t-shirt, with my flip-flops flip-flopping and a red bandana tied around my crazy hair, I made my way across the mirror-clean tile floor of the building’s main foyer and sprung up the stairs to the second floor, two at a time as always. I poked my head in the office door where my friend Chris sat hard at work on his computer. He motioned me in. “Just picking up a package,” I said somewhat nonchalantly, such that if he were deeply focused he could wave and I would be gone.
He stood, though, and we chatted for a few minutes about those things that cruisers chat about: pretty new boats in the anchorage, drama on the docks with boats that have been sold and re-sold and never seem to shake the tragedy of their own energy, comings, goings, and pleasantries. I knew that my friend was busy, so a few minutes in I stuffed the delivery box into my backpack and offered my farewell.
“Someday,” I said to Chris, “when one of us writes this book, we need to make absolutely sure that we tell the story of me having my dead friend’s ashes mailed to your office. This kind of thing just can’t be left out.”
Chris laughed — a tad uncomfortably at first, but then again, louder, deeper, with the discomfort far gone like a passing fog. “We do,” he said. “We really do, because the more I think about it the more awesome it is.”
The package was from Ave del Mar’s previous owner Marjorie Bryson, the wife half of the husband-and-wife team of Jamie and Marje Bryson, and indeed it contained a portion of Jamie’s ashes. He had died in early August of 2016 after a years-long battle with Parkinson’s disease that left him in constantly-declining health but with a spirit that remained as big as the Alaskan skies he used to fly in his small plane. His ashes had been divided into thirds, with one lot sent to rejoin him with his Alaskan home, one lot sent to rejoin him with his first wife (who had died many years ago when a plane they were flying went down into the Gulf of Alaska), and a third lot sent to my care, so that Jamie could have one last voyage aboard his beloved sailboat Ave del Mar, this time with me at the helm.
I think Jamie would be proud of me at the helm, even if he might scoff at a few of my “improvements” to “his” boat. I think he would rib me about my obsession with LED light fixtures and feign disgust that the top stripe on the hull has been changed from blue to marine green. He would grumble about his cassette tape collection being discarded or that I store food in bins on what was a paperback bookshelf for him. But he wouldn’t actually care, and I wouldn’t bother to defend myself to him anyway. We would stand there, face to face, old regime and new regime in a courtship of mutual respect.
Jamie sailed Ave a lot. I’ve told those stories many times over. Together they circumnavigated the world with Marje and their son Stewart over five years, passing through both the Suez and Panama Canals. Years later, thirsty for more, Jamie set out singlehanded, conquering the gold standard of sailing: the rounding of Cape Horn on South America’s southern tip. Jamie and Ave del Mar both have pedigree. They have chops. I have dreams. I can’t even see chops from where I sit.
But Jamie was a fan. We stayed in regular touch over the years, Marje handing the phone off to him when I called and Jamie’s voice sparkling to life through the speaker. There were a few busy stretches when we may have missed a week or two, but in general it stayed consistent right to the end. Marje and I offered faint debate as to who among us benefitted more from the calls. We never did settle that. I still think it was me. She thought it was her, because Jamie always perked up dramatically when I called. Whether or not Jamie thought it was him we will never know.
In the beginning the calls were of mysteries unfolding on the boat, advice about systems or hardware, or requesting Ave’s former-captain’s input on pending decisions. As time wore on the tenor of the calls changed, as Jamie grew more confident that I was the right person for Ave and as I grew more confident in my own decisions and my own voice. One warm early-winter day on the Chesapeake Bay, as Ave del Mar and I were underway southbound, we had a particularly good phone call. Jamie’s praise was heaped deeply and sincerely onto the decisions I had been making while sailing along. “Skipper,” he said to me at the end of that call, his voice calm and lighthearted, “you’re like a son now. I am going to call you ‘Adopted Son No.3.’ You know what that means, don’t you?”
These sorts of questions were usually straight-man setup lines. You weren’t really supposed to guess. “Tell me,” I offered.
“It means you can’t fuck up, because you have me as family to answer to.”
We never met face to face, Jamie and I, but I cried long and hard and deep when I got that phone call back in August letting me know that the end was upon him. I have painted his boat and fixed her engine. I’ve re-rigged her and re-wired her and sailed her from Annapolis to Florida and again within Florida as much as I could. She is as ready as I can get her and I am as ready as I can be. Soon Jamie and I will finally sail together — him for the last time as I take him to sea, and me for what I hope is the first of many crossings. I can see him scowling at changes made to his beloved Ave, but I can see that sparkle in his eyes, too, and the hint of a smile on his lips.
Mike McDowall, Boat Radio’s founder and gifted host, lives on the idyllic island of Mallorca and has a truly-fascinating backstory. He has agreed to be a guest columnist here on avedelmar.com. I trust you will enjoy his tale as much as I did.
If you never caught his interview of me, you can hear it here:
On the first evening in our new home on the island of Mallorca, I gazed out of the bedroom window at the Mediterranean Sea and at the mountains lit pink by the setting sun and I thought how wonderful it all was.I then looked into a nearby garden and watched open-mouthed as one of my neighbours – an overweight, bandy-legged and particularly hirsute man in late middle age – took a shower under a hose clipped to a washing line.Mercifully he wore a pair of underpants, although they were sodden and sagging and water piddled from the swollen pouch in a constant stream.I called my wife and we watched, mesmerised, as he shampooed his entire body, getting both hands down those underpants.Somewhere a donkey brayed hysterically.
My wife and I moved to Mallorca from London just over a year ago in search of a better life for our daughter, Molly.Island life has always appealed to me although even now, after dreaming of it for years, and after living it since last summer, I cannot quite put my finger on why.What I can say for sure is that there are a great many positive aspects to living on this island.And, of course, one of those is the multitude of boats.
I love boats.I love them as a means of transport but also as objects of sometimes ethereal beauty.I love them too because it is possible, in a relatively small vessel, and without an engine, to circumnavigate the globe in some comfort and at very little cost.I find this reassuring and also remarkable almost to the point of miraculousness.
I have sat for many hours in dockside bars in Piraeus, southwest of Athens – the busiest passenger port in the Mediterranean, actually in the whole of Europe – and watched boats of all types and sizes arrive and depart.I’ve done the same thing in London, New York, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Sydney, Hong Kong, Genova, Monaco, Eivissa, Palma de Mallorca and numerous other places around the world.I can while away entire days watching boats.
As I write this, thunder is reverberating around the Sóller valley.The rain is absolutely torrential and a remarkably large, vivid green praying mantis has sidled in through the open window looking for shelter.After another long, dry summer, this weather is welcome.
Meanwhile in Florida, John Herlig, skipper of this blog, has been forced ashore and is doubtless anxious as Hurricane Matthew threatens to destroy Ave del Mar and, with her, years of passionate toil and craftsmanship.I have renovated a couple of old houses but that’s mostly donkey work: gruelling but not particularly skilled.Restoring an old boat, on the other hand, is more like breathing life into a piece of antique furniture.It requires expertise, dedication and, above all, patience.Plus, when your house renovation is completed, you’re not then required to float the finished project in a churning, swirling, splashing body of corrosive liquid.Boat restoration requires a level of forbearance I’ve never had to find.
One day, perhaps in my home harbour, Port de Sóller, I hope to join John on board Ave del Mar and crack open a bottle or two of the excellent local cava Mallorquín.And I will record that momentous occasion, in both sound and vision, for myself and also for Boat Radio.So I’m a little tense as Matthew approaches Florida; concerned primarily for the people in its path but also for Ave del Mar.
But it wasn’t boats I was dreaming about as I gazed out of the bedroom window on that first night, it was Boat Radio.
I have worked in media for more than twenty years.I started out on hospital radio in Bristol, reading aloud from the newspapers and spinning a few tunes.My core audience consisted of those receiving treatment on a long-term basis – mostly the elderly and the dying.Back then old ladies were still very fond of Frank Sinatra so I received many requests for ‘My Way’.Unfortunately, the opening line – ‘And now the end is near and so I face the final curtain’ – was deemed inappropriate for those in palliative care so it was on our list of banned songs.So were ‘Girlfriend in a Coma’ by The Smiths and ‘Drop Down Dead’ by The Housemartins.I’m pretty sure I didn’t ever play anything by The Grateful Dead and even Joe Jackson’s humorous ‘Cancer’ was forbidden.Looking back, I realise I should have subverted those nonsensical rules.I should have played Amii Stewart’s ‘Knock on Wood’ and dedicated it to ‘those planning a casket send-off’; ‘Disco Inferno’ for those headed for the crematorium.
After college, I took a job as a newsreader on a local network called Chiltern Radio, based just north of London.Within eighteen months, I’d moved to LBC – London’s best-loved but doomed talk station.Since then, despite my being a dyed-in-the-wool slacker, I have presented and produced some of the most popular and acclaimed news and current affairs shows in the UK, working for the BBC, CNN, AP, ITN and various other acronyms and abbreviations.Oh, and Reuters.These days, I ignore all of them.
Boat Radio began as an idea for a weekly show on a local station.But Radio One Mallorca was not the place for what I had in mind and I could drum up no interest at all among other media outlets so, in the end, the only option was to start my own radio station.Or so I thought.
Boat Radio burst into life on July 1st, about an hour later than advertised and about two weeks after the birth of my second daughter, Martha.The first manifestation was as an audio stream.Visitors to the Boat Radio website immediately heard the day’s programmes as though they’d switched on a wireless set.I sat in my garden, sweating buckets in the scorching summer heat, editing and uploading radio programmes with maniacal fervour.Alongside me sat the mighty James Finlayson – another former BBC radio man, who came to stay in the casita at the end of our garden and who was pivotal to the launch of Boat Radio.
Even before lift-off, we were plagued with technical problems.If the audio streaming service was interrupted for a software update, which it was, frequently, the schedule would suddenly and irremediably fall out of kilter and it would take me hours to rewrite it.Add to that the pressure of feeding the voraciously hungry beast that is talk radio and things soon started to unravel.Even with James working away for 12 or 15 hours at a time at the other end of our garden table, and dedicated presenters and producers delivering fresh reports from all over the world, I was unable to keep up with the sheer quantity of material required.
Help came from an unexpected quarter – the listeners.They rode to the rescue by making it abundantly clear that what they wanted was not radio in the traditional, scheduled sense.Instead they wanted a library of shows available to stream or download whenever they felt the inclination.And so the current manifestation of Boat Radio emerged.
I use the word ‘current,’ but in fact it changes all the time.Soon we’ll start adding video to the website: interviews, documentaries, vlogs and other material of interest to our listeners.We will also be covering some live events, including Sarah O’Kelly’s upcoming shark dive.There will be feature articles and photo essays too, and I hope to revive the original plan to have a decent weather programme.I hope also to begin a series about boats and sailors in popular culture, fictional or otherwise.Michael John made a terrific show about Joseph Conrad’s yacht, The Nellie.I would like to hear similar programmes about the African Queen, The Bounty, Alexander Selkirk, Donald Crowhurst, Thor Heyerdahl, F/V Andrea Gail, and many more.Plus, Zaca, of course – Errol Flynn’s old schooner, which was berthed here in Mallorca for many years and which later rotted for three decades before undergoing a complete restoration.Yes, Boat Radio must somehow find a way to get on board Zaca.
James Finlayson will soon be launching a show about inland waterways – Slow Boat, will look at the UK’s magnificent canal and river network and the many different types of vessel which plough those waters.Sailing royalty Lin Pardey will be joining us with regular programmes from her home in New Zealand.We’ll be podcasting some of the very best interviews from Andy Schell, who many of you will know as the face and voice of 59° North.Plus, Dan Mattson of Hooked on Wooden Boats will be providing us some of his excellent material, recorded in the Pacific Northwest.
Boat Radio isn’t about boats, it’s about the people who sail or drive them; the people who live and work on them.It’s about great yarns and inspiring life stories.It’s a labour of love but it’s also a real contender in the world of podcasting.Our programmes – 145 of them to date – have already been streamed or downloaded 50,000 times.Last week, 1,000 people per day listened to our programmes.This week, I expect that number to be around 1,100.It’s clear there is a demand.Pretty soon there’ll be commercials but we’ll keep them as unobtrusive as possible, preferring to opt for programme sponsorship rather than ad breaks.And I plan to use Boat Radio’s growing popularity to promote good causes like our chosen charity StreetInvest.orgI hope as well to persuade John Herlig to document his voyages aboard Ave del Mar – irregular postcards from an irregular life, if you will.
Please take a look at the website – www.boatradio.tv – and let me know what you think of it all.If there’s anything you think we’re missing, let me know.We may already have a solution in the pipeline, we may not.Either way, it would be great to hear from you.
Incidentally, our neighbour, who works in a bank, has not indulged in any more al fresco bathing.Well, none that I’ve witnessed.That first night must have been a special occasion.
PS.I know, I know – Eddie Floyd’s original ‘Knock on Wood’, on the Stax label, is doubtless much preferred by aficionados, but I was a disco-era kid.
I have a copy of Don Quixote that is dog eared and yellowed throughout its 1023 pages. There are no fewer than 4 bookmarks in it—one is of the proper glossy cardstock variety that says “BOOKS for every age and INTEREST, The Book Exchange, N. Palm Beach,” and another three that are either receipts or scraps of paper conscripted, perhaps, for marking an important passage worthy of later debate or contemplation.
“Do you read? You look like a reader.” This came to me from a calm yet teary-eyed woman named Tiffany who was standing on the West Palm Beach city docks next to Ave del Mar. I had just introduced myself, not really sure why there were so many people coming and going from the somewhat disheveled looking sailing vessel Capricious that was docked right in front of me in the Florida sunshine. I came to learn that Capricious had belonged to Tiffany’s father, Richard, who had died just a few days prior from a particularly nasty skin cancer that he may-or-may-not have attended to as diligently as was required.
“He has so many books,” she went on. “I would love it if you would look through them and see if you’d be interested in any.” I stepped onto the decks of Capricious and into the cockpit where I saw the line of books running along the seat. Most were crime novels of the sort that I don’t often read, but there at the end was Cervantes’ Don Quixote, thick and worn. I clutched it, long enamored with the stories of the great hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha but not ever having owned a copy of my own.
Over the next few days Tiffany told me stories of her father. She told me of working with him in his restaurant and of his dreams and disasters. Richard and his boat had run aground several times there in West Palm as his health deteriorated—stories confirmed by a gloriously-dreadlocked man named Benjamin who added tales of the vessel bashing into coral reefs in the Bahamas and the gallant Richard soldiering on, consequences be damned. Chaos covered the boat like a fog. A bicycle leaning on the port lifeline was more rust than metal, and one could only wonder if it was the lifeline supporting the bike or the decaying bike propping up the lifeline. A thick coat of soot from engine exhaust covered the transom and items of questionable condition littered every inch of the decks. It seems the boat, like its now-former owner, was a bit of a lovable wreck.
“He was always ‘almost ready,'” Tiffany said, looking down at her feet, “always ‘about to go’ or ‘this close’ to going, but the islands are as far as he ever went. He was a dreamer.” I stood there, knee-deep in my own dream, consoling a woman I hardly knew while clamping one of her just-dead father’s books under my arm. I think lots of sailors are dreamers, books of fantasy and chivalry tinting our minds and our perspectives.
“Didn’t I tell you to be careful? Didn’t I tell you they were only windmills?” Sancho Panza scolds Don Quixote in the book.
“Affairs of war, even more than others, are subject to continual change,” replies Don Quixote. “Frestón, who stole my library and my books, has turned these giants into windmills to deprive me of the glory of victory.”
No matter the circumstance, no matter how clearly things looked to be one such way from the outside, our hero sees his reality through very different and unwavering eyes. I often wonder if the Don Quixotes of the world are crazy at all. Being eternally true to oneself is hardly a crime, whether your trusty steed is a horse or a boat.
I wish I had met Richard. I wish I could tell him that his book is in good hands and that knight errantry lives on in the hopes and dreams of sailors everywhere.
The heat had been oppressive—nothing record setting, but relentless and without relief, day or night, rain or shine. The West Palm Beach basin, my adopted summer homestead, had lost a little of its glimmer as I looked out through the heat at the same boats and the same skyline day after day. Ave del Mar and I needed a change of scene, and late on a summer Wednesday we weighed anchor and made south for the city of Lake Worth and the relative calm of its anchorage.
I settled into my new spot and went to take a swim in the clear and cool Atlantic Ocean. Walking back to the boat I passed a young woman of maybe 25 who was sitting on the grass by the sidewalk off of Florida A1A. I made the slightest of eye contact, offered the slightest of nods, and kept my pace. An abrupt “Hey! Mister!” came bulleting my way as she sprung to her feet and scampered across perhaps half of the ground that separated us, where she skidded to a stop and I readied myself for the impending request for money that I was sure was coming. What I got instead was, “Do you know where Federal Highway is?” and a bit of a death stare. She did not look happy.
“I do,” I replied, pointing west across the Lake Avenue drawbridge. “It’s that way.”
“OVER the bridge? Like on the other side?”
“Like on the other side. Dixie Highway and Federal Highway. I get them mixed up—I’m not from here—but they’re both close.”
She closed another chunk of the gap that stood between us, an odd mixture of pensive and focused. Her words spilled out, one on top of the next, like a rock pile.“Me either. I’m from south Philly and I’m like FUCK this place I don’t know where ANYTHING fucking is—I was in Boynton and now I’m here and I need to fucking just get to Federal Highway.”
“It is definitely in that direction,” I assured her, smiling, “maybe four or five lights after the bridge.” I left her and went on about my way. In a flash she was by my side, in sync with my pace stride for stride. Her concert t-shirt was obscured by a rather dingy hoodie, and the freckles on her face suggested that she sees a lot of sunshine. A small backpack hung heavily off one shoulder.
“You’re walking that way, I’m walking with you.” This was 100% statement, 0% request. She walked with me. She also spoke, her South Philly charm rather free-flowing. “FUCK. Like I have NEVER FUCKING walked over a fucking bridge before. This is fucking CRAZY.”
I pondered that for just a second. “You scared of bridges?” I was serious.
She laughed at me. ”God, no. I just HATE fucking walking.”
I smiled. I nodded. I walked. She kept pace.
“So you’re from South Philly but you’re here now?” I asked.
“Just till the end of June. Then I can leave.”
“And what brought you to Lake Worth, of all places? Unless that’s too personal a question…” I added.
“No. FUCK, no. I don’t mind. I might have gotten into some drugs,” blank stare, “then I went to rehab but the DOCS there sent me here because I still have my mom’s insurance so they SCHOLARSHIPPED my ass because the FUCKING doctor—who my mother thinks is a goddamned GENIUS—‘Oh, honey, he’s going to save you!’—gets FIVE GRAND for shipping me to another rehab but she can’t see what a FUCKING scam it is. Oh my GOD I am WALKING on a FUCKING bridge. Why are you here if you don’t live here?” Every thought rear ended the next, like the thoughts-and-questions version of a 50-car pileup.
“I live on a sailboat. I was in Annapolis but then I sailed it down the east coast and now I live wherever the boat happens to be, which right now is here.”
“Oh.” She processed this. “So you’re like…,” pause, “a hippie! ” Then a big, big smile. “That is really cool. I like the Dead!”
“I don’t,” I replied honestly.
“Oh it’s cool I’m not like INTO them or anything but I like them. OH my god we are in the MIDDLE of the bridge. Like, this is the middle, right?!”
“So now I’m in this lame-ass halfway house and all my housemates are dudes which is cool but isn’t really cool and I’m like FUCK I gotta get OUTTA here but I have to stay until the end of the month. I mean my BOYS from South Philly are dudes but they’re my BOYS so that’s different. This just sucks.”
“That sounds hard,” I said.
“Ehh it’ll be alright it just SUCKS right now. Do you live alone?”
“I do,” I smiled.
“As soon as I’m done with this SHIT I am flying back to Philly. I saw tickets online from like 190 bucks so I’m gonna try to get my homies to get that together for me and then I am OUT.”
“Nice,” I said. “You can take Tri-Rail to the airport from here.”
I told her about the train system. “It’ll get you there for like five bucks.”
“FUCK that. I will fucking HITCHHIKE to the airport. I will! I don’t care.”
“Is your boat big?”
“Oh.” Pause. “And you fucking SAILED it here?”
“Perhaps,” I said. We walked.
“I don’t like PHISH, though,” she added. “I like the Dead but I never liked Phish.”
“Fair enough,” I said. “I don’t either.”
We walked on.
“I’m Rosa,” she offered, I think just because I hadn’t asked.
“R-O-S-A Rosa? Nice to meet you, Rosa,” I said. “I’m John.”
She turned towards me, smiled big, and shook my hand without missing a step. “Nice to meet you John.” Another pause. “I fucking hate this place,” she added, to no one in particular.
“I can tell,” I said.
As we neared the bottom of the bridge I pointed towards the docks and said, “This is where I veer off this way and you keep walking that way.”
Rosa turned towards me, sweaty and young and troubled and confident and angry but in that moment oddly proud and a little happy, I think, and said through her big smile, “I WALKED over a fucking BRIDGE. That deserves a high five!”
So I high-fived her. Then she held up her left hand so I high-fived her again with my left. Then she insisted on one more, my right to her left.
“That’s really awkward,” I said.
“I know, right?” She grinned a big, freckly grin and turned towards the west and Federal Highway and walked, alone again, the bridge behind her and everything else still ahead.
As with many things new in life, a first trip on the intracoastal Waterway—mine of course southward from Norfolk towards Miami—is monumental. I am not among the first to learn a new skill in mid-life, but the challenges on the water do not care if you are young or old, nice or mean, retired or weekend sailing. And there are challenges aplenty.
Georgia was my terror zone, leaving me mentally and physically exhausted. I knew full well as I edged southward that the tidal ranges increase dramatically. In my marina back in Annapolis we would see a swing of perhaps 1.5 feet between low and high tide on any normal day, but in Georgia that becomes 9 feet, meaning the water depth will change by a factor of 1.5 times the amount of water I need.
Leaving Charleston I began to share the path with a few other boats for the first time since leaving home. Although none of us were buddy-boating, it did brighten up the day hearing familiar voices on the radio both ahead of and behind me as people now familiar to me called to marinas and to other boats along the way, seeking fuel or maybe just a slow pass from another boat.
And to report groundings.
Zach, from Alicia Lee, miles ahead of me calling out to someone just behind him, “You’d better watch it there near Red 42. Gets real shallow,” followed just moments later by, “To the sailing vessel right behind me, this is Alicia Lee. We’re aground. You can pass us to our port side. We’ve been dragging on the bottom for about the last mile.”
Bonnie, from Quandary, was too far ahead to radio me, so she emailed. “Beware of skinny water on the Matanzas at Red 80 and 80A. The trawler in front of us went aground. Then we went aground. We heard several more run aground there in the same spot.”
My grounding happened at the mouth of Wahlburg Creek as I was pulling into my anchorage at the end of one of those taxing Georgia days, and unfortunately I can’t find anyone but myself to blame. Literally 200 yards from my goal, fueled perhaps by exhaustion but more-probably by sheer statistics, I missed a somewhat subtle contour line on the chart and ran onto a sandbar like a speedboat pulling onto a trailer. My depth sounder was reporting 17 feet of water mere seconds before I ran aground.
I grabbed a couple of wooden plugs and popped them into my cockpit scuppers (the holes in the floor of the cockpit that allow water to drain out) so that they wouldn’t let water in if it came to that. I checked the bilge and the anchor locker to make sure everything was in a happy state, called TowBoatUS simply because I was scared, and then I waited. Dana from TowBoatUS seemed unimpressed with my situation. “We all get a turn, buddy,” he assured me over the phone. I recalled Bruce van Sant’s advice from Passages South, where he says (paraphrased) “Go below. Read a book. When you are done with the book check the boat. If you’re still aground go below and read another book. When you are done with the second book the boat will be floating and you will be that much smarter, because you just read two books.”
And sure enough those massive Georgia tides taketh, and then they giveth back. Ryan, the towboat operator, kept me company, telling me stories about running hard aground in his Catalina with his 8-month-pregnant wife years ago. “Would you believe that’s how I got this job?” he asked. “I was kind of afraid to ask if they were hiring, since it was obvious that I might not be the best navigator.” After maybe an hour Georgia decided to pick me up again and send me on my way, the only scars from the incident scratching the frail shell of my ego. The boat was fine. Ryan asked me to email him photos from my journey. “I’d really like to do something like you’re doing someday,” he confessed.
I slept better than I might have expected and trudged onward the next day until I came to Front River, where the chart, the depth sounder, the tides, and the GPS all added up to #$%^&*!. I was tired, I was a tad gun shy, and I truly couldn’t figure out where I was supposed to go. With tides at about one third and falling I decided to throw in the towel—I backtracked a bit and anchored off of Dog Hammock Spit in a beautiful but unprotected anchorage, where I stayed the next day, too, while a front went through and the wind howled through Ave’s rigging. Then with a new sunrise buoying my confidence I went on, achingly slowly, a blind man and his boat feeling their way through cuts and straights that seemed to defy navigational logic. The ground stayed where it was supposed to—well under Ave’s keel, and Georgia slowly unfolded behind us. It was, as I described to my friend and sailing mentor Tammy, the most beautiful stretch of sailing that I have ever detested.
Two days later I pinballed my way into the marina at Jekyll Island in what seemed like a parallel parking spot from Hell, with current and wind perfectly aligned for a misery salad. But in the end no part of my boat hit any part of any other boat nor, for that matter, any solid object at all, and I tumbled out of the cockpit into the warm embrace of my friend and former marina neighbor Linda from TrueLove who promised me hot showers and plentiful wine.
The showers were indeed hot, the wine was indeed plentiful, there was a bonfire, new friends, old friends. and the worst of Georgia was behind me. The challenges of the ICW had been met and, if not conquered, at least endured.
Driftwood Beach on Jekyll Island
With my dear friends Linda and Paul from TrueLove
Ave del Mar safely tied off to the Jekyll Island Marina dock