Northwest

It's Not All Cocktails in the Cockpit

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Ten days gone, five things wrong…forget it!” How often have these words been uttered by a captain in a state of complete frustration?

We’d said our goodbyes at Georgia’s Brunswick Landing Marina and cast our lines. All was bright until we headed across St. Andrew’s Sound. The sunny weather changed quickly, and we were surrounded by patchy fog for the half hour we had to point our bow into the Atlantic. This was necessary to round buoy #32, which lies between Jekyll Island, one of Georgia’s Golden Isles, and Cumberland Island to its south. Although such patches had been forecast for the early morning hours, we did not expect to find them still. We’d motored along just fine until that moment. It’s disconcerting to suddenly be unable to distinguish sky from sea and to be drifting ensconced in a bubble of gray haze. Without radar we could not track a nearby shrimp boat with its nets that stretched afar, nor two trawlers, all of which had passed us earlier and were still somewhere ahead. Fortunately our chartplotter with GPS guided us around the buoy and before we knew it, the fog cleared and the haze bubble dissipated. We were once more in a bright environment with the north end of Cumberland Island plainly in view. The navigational aids along the Intracoastal Waterway guided us southward, and we were on our way.

After our evening meal my husband John declared, “Great supper! Why does ordinary food taste so extraordinary out here?” As we settled snugly in one of our favorite anchorages, a river that ambles through the marshes of northern Florida, we tuned to VHF radio Channel 16. To our surprise NOAA was issuing a tornado watch in effect until 2300 hours for our geographic area. The electronic voice of Perfect Paul stated, “A tornado watch means there could be destructive winds and hail.” The U. S. Coast Guard then advised listeners to switch to Channel 22 Alpha for a weather advisory: “Mariners should seek safe harbor.” Oh dear.

As daylight waned we watched the clouds hastening across the twilight sky and calm water lapping the marsh reeds. We waited. At about 2100 hours, as the broadcasts continued, we reviewed our situation. Here we were, anchored in the path of a possible tornado, being advised to seek safe harbor. A short distance, a sturdy dock marked “private” offered more protection. To me that word means, “Don’t even think about docking without fear of life in prison.” Although normally a prudent crew, safety warranted the forbidden dock and we decided to go for it.

We raised anchor and nosed our way to the dock only to discover sturdy beams on the river side, a bad sign as Pacific Rose, our 38ft Beneteau, would have had her hull gelcoat scraped. Uncertain if the inside depth could accept our 5ft 6in draft plus the tide formula, I inched the boat gingerly forward. Meanwhile, John was at the bow whispering encouraging words into his microphone on the headsets we wear for anchoring. We used our quiet voices because in these days of security consciousness, one never knows if a camera is looming in some dark spot recording nefarious activities or if a motion sensor is operating. Yes, paranoia accompanied that nighttime docking.

We strengthened the lines. No one appeared; we felt prepared for whatever weather nature had in mind. We even slept soundly, intending to listen to the radio for the 2300 hours “All Clear.” At 0100 we awoke, tuned to Channel 16 once again, and found no mention of the tornado watch. A cockpit check revealed a moonlit night and a millpond-smooth river. “Up and at it” was our cry and within an hour we’d set the anchor in the muddy river bottom. It took four tries before it finally held. Again we fell into the berth. One day into our cruise and we’d already had a tornado watch and an illegal docking. Things were off to quite the start.

Our third adventure took place a few days later as we continued our southward journey on the ICW anchoring in one of our favorite spots. We awoke to discover the rising wind of early morning had blown the boat too close to shore and we were aground. “Oh, no” was our unison cry. Every boat goes aground. Every crew has done it or will do it; it’s just a matter of when it’s your turn. That was our lucky day. By the time the tide rose enough to allow us to move to deeper water, a departure would mean a too-late arrival at our next planned anchorage. As high winds had been forecast for the next few days across open stretches of water we’d have to transit, we used the wonderful commodity we have in this gypsy life—time. We stayed anchored in the same spot for three days. We read, wrote, did boat chores, listened to the radio and relaxed. That’s one of the unexpected gifts that cruising sometimes bestows. So it’s almost unfair to include this grounding as one of the five things that went wrong. My mind was saying, “I think it went rather right.”

The fourth untoward event introduced itself as my vigilant spouse let his gaze alight on the mast. In a puzzled tone he queried, “Do you see something missing that should be there?”

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