Monday, April 22, 2013

I may never eat crabs again!

Marco Island

After a day of argument about the meaning of heroics with me stating that if one had a choice between a 24+ hour transit and a shorter one with a night of rest, the prior choice is heroic.  The latter is a stress to several systems, the engine of the boat, the admiral* of the boat (who has the most overall impact) and the cats.  The last two systems are intricately linked.

Mike never seemed to grasp the argument, which is frustrating to say the least.  However the admiral, whose rank is rarely recognized, wore the captain down through sheer determination resulting in a rest break at Marco Island en route from Ft Myers Beach to Boot Key in Marathon.   We left Ft Myers at 8 am and anchored in Marco Island at 5:30.  Even the admiral’s math suggests that straight through to Marathon qualified as heroic. 

Marco Island appeared to be the home of the rich and famous, though we did not go ashore.  I had a nice long conversation with Boston daughter as I watched rays swim past.  We met our four anchor mates as they dinghyed up to introduce themselves.  All were traveling as buddy boats from the Keys up to Pensacola.  Only one admiral amongst them, poor foolish lass.

We left Marco at 2 in the afternoon, totally throwing the cats off their routine.  They had been complacently lying in portholes until the dreaded engine clicked on.

The first hours of the journey were uneventful.  Sunset was beautiful over our backs.  First watch was Mike’s, we were sailing so the noise factor was high.  Water whushing by the bow, whoosh of the jib belly.  Two hours into an hour of sleep Mike called me to adjust sails.  My watch started early, but the captain wisely remained in the cockpit attempting his sleep. Needless to say that was pretty difficult due to the wind and noise. 

I was not aware of how sound affects my psyche.  My job was to perch on the helm seat while watching the radar and the horizon for any interference.  Seems simple right? 

The helm seat was designed for a 6 ft person with long knee to heel area.  I’m a 5’2” person with short knee to heel area. Therefore my watches consist of using buttocks and toes to balance as the boat heels.  Most of my time is spent grasping both grab bars desperately and praying for time to fly as fast as the boat appeared to be.  My Nano Shuffle was the godsend that got me through.  Unfortunately my lack of tech savvy means that I had Akon’s Drop it Like It’s Hot mixed in with Pachebel’s Canon in D.  The selection totals about 50 with an eclectic mix that once was my audio rollerblading companion.  Had a webcam been recording, it would have  shown a desperate woman hanging onto the helm poles with the demeanor of either a swiveling pole dancer or a desperate diva lip syncing with Pavarotti to Ave Maria.  Remembering my dancing days with Shakira,  Sean Kingsley or reveling in the majesty of the sea and stars along with an aria from Verdi’sLa Traviatta.
The earbuds would not block the noise as the wind speed increased to 15-20 knots.  I calculated my comfort zone at 13.7.  I prayed throughout my last hour that we slow down.  It worked mostly.  Perhaps next time I should pray that I don't feel frightened . . .

Thus I passed my first three hour watch. It felt horrendous.  I was reflecting on the ease of travel by car or plane until the next day proved even more exciting . . .

The Morning After

Mike’s shift came and I retreated again to the lower berth with Ollie at my pillow frantically digging to safety under my pillow. Dawn brought some sanity, meaning the wind died.  At which point captain decided to fire the engine back up.  With low wind, the chart plotter was showing our destination at 30 hours out . . . Remember that word heroic? Three cheers for the Marco Island stop.

Mike debated about the need to take a 5 hour energy drink.  I agreed that it was a good idea because the crab pots were EVERYWHERE.  I was whupped and wasn’t convinced my energy alone could ward off a much of anything.

Within 15 minutes of his completion of berry flavored Kryptonite, the engine halted as the propeller snagged a crab pot.  I was at the helm . . .

Captain got his snorkel, tied a life line and life ring for my management to the stern rail and began an arduous dive and cut routine.  The rope between buoy and trap was wrapped about 40 loops tight on the propeller.  The barnacles on the hull took slices of Mike’s fingers and arms with each surface showing blood dripping.  My role was to keep eyes on him as he worked-- ready to throw him a life line. 

My mantra/prayer was Calm Seas, Strength and Air. The three things my captain, now hero, would need.  He looked really good in the Caribbean teal sea which was a healthy 82 degrees.  He dove and rose, his feet all that was visible when he was down. 

The seas stayed calm except for the occasional rogue wave that made Horizon hobbyhorse, adding potential head injury to my concerns.  On one rest break Mike saw fins in the water.  Asked me if they were sharks or dolphins?  How do I know the difference?  Sharks stay atop more than dolphins.  Thank God it was dolphin.  But with Mike’s aspirin induced blood flow . . . I added safe to the calm sea part of the mantra.  Finally he was finished, scraps of rope floating off as he hacked his way through the loops. 

We cleaned him up, retreated to the cockpit and started the engine.  Together we would watch for the crab buoys staying on our feet to assure success.  It was the only way.  We were now entering a grid of not one crabpot line but three inter-laced.  We idled through and jogged around one only to hear the thunk of the engine as we snagged another.  This was only 45 minutes later! 

The energy drink was long gone.  But the captain donned his snorkel, retied the life saving line and floats and went in.  This one was even more looped in a conical shape . . . Calm, safe sea, strength, air.  Calm, safe sea, strength, air.

Five or ten dives into it with no net progress Mike came up the ladder and admitted defeat.  We retreated to the cockpit where Mike got on the VHF and put out a message Anyone within 15 miles north of Boot Key with dive skills please contact Horizon.  At this point my distaste and fear of the overnight was long overshadowed by the prospect of sitting in the gulf for hours waiting for help.  But within 5 minutes not one but three different boats had responded. No surprise the one that came through first was Silver Lining.  He sounded young, energetic and spoke of we.  He would be passing us in about an hour and 20 minutes, if we had not succeeded he would try his skills.  We gave it one more college try but then surrendered to the hope of fresh lungs.

I did take pause when the Coast Guard hailed him 10 minutes later asking him for his planned destination and country of origin.  Great, we have an  international drug runner coming to help.  However his respectful and thorough answer to the CG had them rescind stating they were looking for a boat from another country of origin.

Elon was a nice young man who not only was willing to change routes but entered the crabpot minefield himself to help us out.  He and his first mate had to anchor three times before it held.  He had to launch his dinghy to get to us.  Ahh youth and the spirit of cruisers that Mike and others had reported on but I had never experienced.  Meanwhile two other older sailors were on standby with hookahs if we were unable to disengage the trap on lung power alone.  Wowser.  Impressive response from the universe.  Thank you God.  After serving water to her rescuer, catching up on his journey we decided sailing was the only way to effectively navigate, sans propeller.  When we passed the bridge at Marathon, it was a grateful crew that tucked into the coastal gap.  We fed the cats, drank lots of water, and slept for hours. 

The cats eventually came out of hiding, only to find that we were moving again the next day, the short 2 mile ride in to the Boot Key Mooring Field.  Where we are happily awaiting a Hookah dive system that will supplement old lungs and perhaps a buddy boat for transit to the Bahamas.  My Boston daughter suggests we find one with younger sailors . . .
But it beats an orchid showJ!

*Admiral is term reserved for wife of captain.  It is not used as often as needed.  It is the Stepford Wife AfloatTM attempt to clarify rank.

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