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Crab Pots on the Way to the Florida Keys

I bought Caesar’s Ghost, my Gemini MC105 catamaran, 10 years ago at the age of 75, and have had many adventures during various trips from Massachusetts to the Bahamas and back. This year, my annual trip to Hope Town in the Bahamas would be different, thanks to an added side excursion—Key West, here we come! Gigi, my daughter, and I flew down from New England to commission and provision Caesar’s Ghost, which was stored ashore at a boatyard in Stuart, Florida.

The plan was to take off for a week’s sailing in the Florida Keys before meeting my male crew, who would make the Gulf Steam crossing to the Bahamas with me. As I have reached my dotage, I always opt for youngish male muscle (any age under 80) when I cross the Stream. Gigi has crewed for me many times on coastal passages.

Thanks to Caesar’s Ghost’s shoal draft, Gigi and I had a good sail down the protected but shallow Florida Bay side of the Keys, followed by a rollicking time in Key West, as the sights are provocative and the town is a partying place.

Now, on a hot windless day, Gigi and I are motoring up the Hawk Channel for the crew change in Ft. Lauderdale. This is the ocean side of the Florida Keys and runs between the keys and outer reef. Again, with the shallow draft of my boat, I like to run close to shore for what I call the “real estate tour,” forgetting that this is where the crabbers put most of the pots. Of course, I snag a pot on the propeller. This means we have to lower the dinghy from its davits and raise the engine’s drive leg, whereupon Gigi has to hop into the dinghy and saw the line off the prop—no easy task, as residual line stays wedged in and requires strength and finesse to remove.

About an hour later, we are on our way again, only to snag another pot a half an hour after that. The whole process repeats. By this time daughter is beginning to register a bit of pique with mother. Our shifts on the helm are one hour on and one hour off, and she never snags a pot on her watch.

We finally reach the Channel Five passage back into the Florida Bay side of the Keys and I promise to be eagle-eyed from now on. However… I meander out of the channel, and we gently come to a halt with one rudder stuck in the mud. I have been heading for what Gigi says is a red channel marker, but which turns out to be a small boat with a red sail.

“Hop out and push us off,” I command.

“It’s so yucky!”

“Here, use my beach shoes.”

Soon we are in deep water again, but as I start the engine a terrible racket ensues. We peer over the transom to see a portion of the drive leg dropping into the water, with the rest in danger of following. The gentle grounding could not have caused this; I am convinced it was the trauma of snagging two crab pots that had weakened the sacrificial yoke on the drive leg and the grounding was the final straw. This sacrificial yoke is my boat’s $600 equivalent of an outboard’s shear pin!

We tie the remaining portions of the drive leg to the boat with a cobweb of lines, call TowBoatUS, and are towed to a safe anchorage for the night. Next morning, because the local boatyards have no room, we are towed again to a distant boatyard in Key Largo. Hours later we are tied to a bulkhead awaiting repairs, and Gigi makes her escape back to work in the north. Her parting comment: “Mom, it’s not so bad, you’re still on your boat, you could be in a home.”

Diane Hunter lives on Cape Cod. She has owned a succession of shoal-draft boats, starting with a Marshall 18 catboat and culminating in her Gemini 105MC cat, which she regularly sails between Florida and the Bahamas

MHS Fall 2015

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