Well, tomorrow will be one month since we’ve left Panama City Beach bound for Solomons, MD. I know I haven’t been able to keep to my posting schedule but that was impossible while at sea. Even when I put into harbor and had internet service, the thought of trying to summarize the journey seemed a bit daunting.
It still does but at some point I realize I have to put into words the experience of getting “Sonrisa” to her new home. Which, if I think about it, is a bit strange since we really don’t have a “new home”. We are really traveling like gypsies this summer and will have several different homes along the Chesapeake Bay and at the moment, that seems like a tiny sliver of heaven.
There is no possible way to put the events of the trip into this blog without it being 20 pages long and I don’t know that I have the patience for that. I’m almost certain none of you will have the patience to read it either. The “problem” with sailing stories is after a while, they all sound the same. Endless accounts of storms, broken boat parts and sleeplessness accompany the tales of severed digits and smashed body parts, etc… etc… I will say that we had our share of all of that but I’ll be brief. I am trying to cram 20 days in here.
As you know, Mel and my friend Graham joined me in PCB on Memorial Day weekend. We left out that Monday, May 28 to beautiful weather and a nice weather report for the week. Sunny, highs in the mid 80’s with a 20% chance of thunderstorms. Winds out of the NE at 10 to 15 knots. Perfect!
Out we went, bound for Venice, Florida – a perfect little navigation point to set up for the turn south to Marathon, Florida and our first stopping point.
We never made it.
That first night, as the sun set beautifully on the horizon to our west, a line of storms marched directly towards us from the north. It was almost saying to us, “you should enjoy that sunset because I’m about to kick your ass in a major, major way.”
My heart sank. I am the captain of this vessel, with my good friend and the love of my life on board, and while I have been in heavy weather before, it was not on my boat, and I was not responsible for the “souls on board.”
That storm hit us hard. Late night, thunder, lightning, rain, and wind. Lots of wind. If you’ve never been on the ocean at night it’s freaky as it is. Your mind will create sounds that aren’t there. You think you see things when you didn’t, and you’ll miss things, like tankers and cruise ships when they pass right in front of your face. But if you experience a storm at night while at sea, you’ll get a whole new perspective on fear.
That night and several times after that, I was more fearful than I’ve ever been in my life. I tried not to show it to the others on board but I don’t think the uttering of “holy f’ing hell” was as under my breath as I would have liked. That first night, I sat in the cockpit as they were below and prayed to high heaven that nothing would happen. I just wanted to see the sun and daybreak.
I was wet. Soaking wet and tired. Later, when the wind abated just a bit, Graham came up and we shined a head lamp forward to check out the boat. That’s when we saw that large, flapping seam in the main had let go. About 1/5 of the way down the sail from the head, the seam just split open – the thread and the sail were original to the boat and the boat was built in 1984.
The thought of nursing the old girl up to the bay was getting dimmer by the moment. The next morning, Graham sat on the cabin top and stitched the sail by hand as we made the tough decision to alter course and head for Tarpon Springs to see if we could get a “proper” repair.
Tarpon Springs was due east and nowhere near where we needed to go but as the Captain, I had to make sure we were safe. One headsail and a failing main do not make for safe going, especially with the weather we were having. Everyone agreed, Tarpon Springs it was.
Once we landed in Tarpon, we got fuel, water and a much needed break. We lucked into a guy named Herman who had a canvas shop on the dock and agreed to go over my old sails for $200.00 and stitch any places he thought looked suspect. That was a deal and we proceeded to sit there for about 7 hrs while he did just that.
When he finished, we loaded up, bent on the main and headed back out to the Gulf. The sun was setting and we were hopeful we could get clear of the Anclote River before dark.
Now this is where I’m going to jump ahead, generalize and skip the numerous storms, waves, microbursts and blinding rain stuff and head right to Marathon. Mel was getting off in Marathon to fly back to Nashville, and Steve Maseda, a good friend who’s got over 100k blue water miles under his belt, was getting on.
The channel to the dock in Marathon Marina was about 50 ft wide, or so it seemed. Boats on either side. Big, expensive boats and I have only docked Sonrisa once in Tarpon Springs… It was not a graceful experience. You could say my heart sank and the uttering of “holy f’ing hell” was not as under my breath as I would have liked. All for naught. I did ok. Actually looked like I knew what I was doing.
That night, Graham took off for a proper hotel, TV, and a shower. Steve got on board and we tried to sleep in 90 degree heat and humidity with two working fans. No go. the “no see-ums” (tiny bitting gnats that get through screens) were in full bore. Mel and I were laying there dripping in sweat, me slapping the shit out of myself for hours. It was quite appropriate since I was thinking… “You freaking moron! This is what you sold the house for? It’s going to be a long year.”
Mel and I argued about who should go sleep in the main cabin since the fan was working out there and the bugs weren’t bitting. She got the settee to port with Maseda sawing logs to starboard. I later crept in and slept standing up against the mast. Not my finest moment. I almost fell a couple times and resigned myself to sleeping with my head on the nav desk until my arms fell asleep. Ah, the glamour.
The next morning, Mel got off and flew home to get the dog and the truck, and drive to Philly where she would hang with my family until we arrived with the boat. Me, Maseda and Graham set out from Marathon to jump into the Gulf Stream and head north. We jetted up the coast and put in at Cape Canaveral for fuel and some needed supplies.
When we left Canaveral, we got slammed with another fifteen minute type, late afternoon storm. I didn’t even have time to get to the mast to douse the main before we were laid out. The sail split from luff to leech and not at the seam. It blew the cloth to ribbons just below the second reef point. We got her down and sat shaking our heads. Now what? Back in? Stop and fly everyone home? Leave the boat in Cape Canaveral ’til I can get a new sail? So many decisions.
We all agreed to just tie into the second reef point (makes the sail smaller) and just live with that. She won’t sail fast but we’ll at least have a main. Two hours later… another high wind blast, but we she was reefed down already so we sailed on. Rolled up the jib a bit and she was doing fine. Then, the wind backed quickly at the top of a swell and with it, the sail. We had a boom preventer on so the boom didn’t go across, thank God, but the sail did and split yet again. Into several ribbons. She was done. My gallant 28 yr old sail had seen her last trip.
This is the point where, “Can we please just get there in one piece?” becomes the mantra. We ducked into the Intracoastal Waterway and Graham bailed. He was not having fun and decided to fly home from Georgetown, NC. We were now two. Maseda had to be home for Father’s Day and it wasn’t looking good. This was supposed to be a seven day trip from Marathon, and now we were flirting with ten.
We motored up the ICW for twelve to eighteen hours a day trying to make Solomons Island before Maseda had to leave. When we landed at AYB in Virginia, our trip was over. A NE front coming down the bay, from the direction I wanted to go, was on its way in and it was going to blow 20 to 30 knots for three days. Steve flew out that night.
I sat. And sat. I pondered and questioned every stinking decision I’ve made and was going to make. My boat was getting beaten and bashed, as was my body and resolve. Only this wasn’t just my boat… this was our house. This was basically all we have left. That adds a different dynamic to the equation.
But… alas, Friday June 15 I left for Norfolk and the bay. The weather seemed a little more accommodating. That would change the minute I turned North at Thimble Shoals light. I bashed for 3 long hours to make about 5 miles. I slipped and fell, smashed and cut my finger, broke the auto-pilot when I landed on it, knocked out my GPS and was in serious difficulty before I just turned around and found a parking spot in the Old Point Comfort Marina. Where I sat for three more days. UGH!
Monday, June 18 I left bound and determined to hit Fishing Bay (you can look all these things up if you want!) I made Fishing Bay on Monday night and Solomons on Tuesday, June 19. Melody had driven our truck and met me on the fuel dock with Jet and we ate soggy turkey sandwiches she had picked up from WAWA. It was heaven.
We’ve been here just over a week. In that time I’ve done some repairs, fixed the anchor locker, washed and stowed all the chain, replaced all the hoses in the head (SHITTY job, if you know what I mean) and several other small tasks.
Melody has been working from the boat and looks like she’s in her element. We drink a cold beer around 6 PM when she finishes her last calls. We walk Jet a couple times a day and end our night by the pool looking at the harbor. We’ve settled into this with very little trouble. We cook dinner and breakfast on board. We have coffee in the mornings and sleep like babies.
I have to say, I’m stressing about not having an income. I promised myself and Melody that I would not do what I normally do. Freak out and put massive amounts of pressure on myself. Pressure to come up with the “plan.” People keeps saying to me, “So… what’s your plan?” And I don’t have an answer for them. I’ve not been good up til’ now with “no plan” but I guess I have to be, right? This is part of “the lesson”… Right now we’re ok. It is a bazaar existence. Doesn’t seem real and then at times, it seems all too real.
Frankly, it’s awesome. I have no freaking idea where the hell we are going but on July 19, we’ll be headed somewhere.
What I know:
- AC is worth every, single penny you spend on it.
- A fresh head (toilet) and hoses are worth more than the AC! Almost.
- Schedules are a joke on a sailboat.
- Our dog can climb ladders.
- Patience is truly a virtue. I’m working on this one.
- My girl Melody is one cool cucumber when the shit hits the fan.
- I’m busy. Every day there is something to do. The list is endless.
- Percolator coffee is really quite good.
- Time is passing at break-neck speed.
- I need to relax and enjoy this.
- Repeat number 10