Just Add Water!
The adventures of running a yacht from Maryland to Florida
Aug. 30, 2005 07:00 PM
The mechanics from Dover arrived shortly thereafter and took my
Hatteras pack to the marina. Three days before Christmas I was informed
that the vessel need four more pistons as a result of the first
incident, and the only pistons were 18,000 miles away at the Volvo
plant in Sweden. Since Volvo celebrates Christmas and New Years, the
parts would not ship until January 2, 10 days later, so two more weeks
in Dover, Delaware. The good news was that they were expecting a warm
front for Christmas and the temps reached a scorching 29 degrees. Next
time you plan to go south for the winter, remember that you have to get
there first. My winter clothing choices were foul-weather gear:
overalls and duck shoes, in two styles yellow and orange. Fortunately
Ronnie left me a camouflaged full-face hat...very stylish and perfect
for Dover as the hunting season was in full swing.
Onward and upward.
mechanics finished the job Friday afternoon as I prepared to depart
with renewed vigor and a bellyful of turkey. When I received the bill I
confused it with a bill of sale: $13,500 – cash. Of course, the banks
were closed until Monday.
So three days later I paid my bill
in cash and then paid the mechanic to load my 15’ jet boat on the bow
and strap it down for the long journey ahead. Big mistake, when you
want something done right, do it yourself. This would haunt me for the
next 500 miles. After checking the weather and saying my Hail Marys I
went back to the Delaware Bay and headed due south. Alone and fearless,
I throttled up. The air was cold and crisp and at first light the
engines purred their approval.
Four hours later I began to
appreciate the value of proper training. Twenty years before I had
gotten my pilot’s license. Little did I know it would save my life.
When the dew point approaches the air temp, fog develops. True to form
and 20 miles out in the middle of the shipping channel, the fog rolled
in like a Hitchcock movie and the seas were my angry friends. Having
learned to use radar while flying, I turned on my trusty Furuno and
navigated in 0 visibility by radar alone in one of the busiest shipping
channels on the east coast. What I failed to realize was the scope was
set on an 8-mile range when it should have been at 1/2 miles. As I
entered the mouth of the Delaware Bay/Atlantic Ocean my jet boat broke
free of its straps and bounced on the bow like kids on a trampoline. It
smashed its way through both salon windows and I had to do the
unthinkable. I climbed from the fly bridge to the bow and slid
violently along with the jet boat as the boat pitched relentlessly.
Twenty minutes after relashing the jet boat to the bow, I crawled back
to the bridge knowing that one slip would mean instant death as
hypothermia would have set in had I went overboard. Unfortunately, my
hands were frozen as the bridge was neither heated nor waterproof. The
plastic window bridge covers had ripped due to the winds and I had to
remove the center cover so I could try and see through the fog.
the radar starts blinking. But since the scope/range was improperly
set, I was unaware that the tiny blip on the screen was not 8 miles
away but 1/2 mile. As I gingerly peered through the fog, fortunately I
noticed a strange shadow dead ahead. Slowing down I saw the outline of
a huge towboat creeping slowly toward the west. I approached from the
north at a perpendicular angle, and at about 60 yards out I looked
behind the vessel and did not see the towline. Confident that she was
running unfettered, I began to edge behind her stern. My spidey senses
were tingling, so I decided to do a 360-degree turn just in case. Sixty
seconds later a 300 foot barge laden with an entire junkyard blurred my
entire view. Full stop! Full stop! I came within 50 yards of hitting
the barge and almost cut between the two vessels. Had I done this my
running gear would have ripped off and I would have sank in seconds and
the following day would have reappeared...in the obituaries!
15 minutes later the fog cleared and I passed the same inlet I had left
three weeks earlier, far wiser and very humbled. It was at this point
that I began to understand the challenges that the mariner faced
throughout time. Two hundred years earlier, at the exact same spot as
the towboat incident, the S.S. DeBreak had encountered foul weather and
was swallowed whole by sea. The Debreak was an 18th century sailing
vessel laden with gold and was returning to port when a violent storm
took all souls. I had experienced the same life or death incident at
nearly the same spot and survived. As I pulled into Ocean City,
Maryland, at dusk I was still alone but no longer fearless, I kissed
the dock and hugged my yacht. Some tests make you, others break you.
Fortunately I was bowed but not broken.
renewed vigor I awoke the next day to sunshine and happiness. I had
survived my first test and hoped the worst was behind me. One thing is
a must when traveling the Intracoastal – transportation. Fortunately I
brought along a sports bike, which provided me with the freedom to
spread my wings. I spent the next three days recovering from my ordeal
and repairing the damage done by the jet boat. Having spent summers
nearby, I relished the chance to relive my old haunts in Ocean City.
Most of the bars had long since closed but Skeeter on the bay was still
open and was a lively and spirited club even for a 44-year old like me.
departed Ocean City with a smile and headed back out to the Atlantic to
run south to Norfolk. On the way I saw the conning towers that dotted
the beach built during WWII to watch for the Nazi U-boats that were
patrolling the Eastern Seaboard. In those days hundreds of thousands of
tons of ships were being sunk every month right off our shores. My
generation does not appreciate the sacrifice made by the “greatest
generation.” I come from a proud military family. My father was an
officer at the Naval Academy and a distinguished judge. My uncle was a
Nazi camp POW survivor and escapee. Seeing these reminders, I paused to
remember those valiant mariners and military men and women who
protected our shores.
Interestingly enough, the Atlantic has
sandbars that appear 10–15 miles or more at sea. As I passed
Chincoteague, Virginia, I saw the horses that Chincoteague is famous
for. According to legend, a Spanish galleon laden with horses had
grounded in the 1700s. The horses swam ashore to nearby Assateague
where 300 years later the local firemen round up the horses every July
4th and have an auction to raise money for the locals. If you have
never been, I highly recommend Pony Swim week in Chincoteague.
I pressed on, the sea rose to 4’ and my jet boat became loose once
again. The fogs returned and I pushed on with the reassurance that I
was not in a shipping channel. The depth finder started to beep and I
found myself in 10 feet of water, 10 miles out to sea. It is quite
unsettling to go through this so far out knowing if I grounded, it
would have been very difficult to get help before dark. It’s always
wise to leave at first light just in case you have problems. When you
add darkness to problems at sea, you amplify the terror. So I slowed
down and journeyed on mindful of the pea soup fog. I finally rounded
the tip of Virginia and crossed the largest estuary in the world – the
spectacular Chesapeake Bay. Famous for blue crabs, oysters, rockfish,
and much more, the Chesapeake is home to generations of watermen.
seeing the Chesapeake oyster boats brought me back to my boyhood in
Annapolis as my folks provided me with the world’s best childhood! What
I failed to realize before the voyage was the extent of reminiscing I
would experience. The new memories that flooded my life were becoming
equally as thrilling as my previous experiences. Many of us live our
whole lives looking to the future for answers. I believe these answers
can also be found by revisiting our past and learning from it. Take a
dream trip, remember your youth, and appreciate your past. We don’t
have a lot of time here together.
Please stay tuned for more exciting adventures as I continue to head south on my voyage.