After the dinghy incident, Mitch’s “non-drowsy” Dramamine kicked in again and we lost him to the settee (the boat’s version of the couch) for another 8 hours. Phillip and I stayed up at the helm through the night, enjoying the now smooth feeling of the boat heeling left to right and the pleasant swish of the hull rolling back and forth in the water. Don’t get me wrong, it was still spitting rain and we were chilled and soaked, clinging to the helm like a wet cat on the edge of the tub. But, without the screeching and banging of the dinghy on the back, what was once about as pleasant as the dragging of hooks across sheet metal now felt like a summer afternoon on a sun-drenched porch swing. I curled up next to Phillip at the helm, laid my head on his back, closed my eyes and let the movement and sounds of the boat engulf me. Although serene, the night was a bit eerie in the sense that we could not, had not, seen the horizon since sunset and there was not a sign of any other vessel that night, no other ship, boat, plane, train or automobile anywhere to be seen. We were still in the middle of the Gulf, completely alone, with stinging rain and cold winds. But, we bundled up and hunkered down at the helm.
The boat performed beautifully that night. The waves were still 4-6 feet, but she climbed them effortlessly and without complaint. It was as if the dinghy was the one bloody thorn in her heel and now that we had pulled it out and rubbed the wound, she embraced us with gratitude and carried us through the storm. Phillip, too, was a rock that night, holding the helm for about 8 hours, without complaint, despite the steady heeling and rough waves.
Once the sun came up on Monday, and we could finally see the horizon and the waves and assess our state of affairs in the daylight, my survival instincts sauntered to the background and my initial, adventurous tendencies returned. I whipped out the camera to begin, once again, documenting our tale. While trying to capture Phillip in photo at the helm, I inadvertently took a short video clip. Funny thing is, I scolded my phone at the time for going rogue but clearly she had the right idea as I wish I had recorded another 10 seconds to give you a real feeling of the waves we had been scaling for the last 24 hours. But, alas, as it always rings true, my “smart phone” is, indeed, smarter than I. I give you the clip regardless:
I fear, much like a third of a gopher, that video would only arouse your appetite without bedding her back down.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2qw6Hon013E (Complete with spanish subtitles for your viewing pleasure).
No, no. Only a whole gopher village will do for my faithful followers. Here you’ll find some much more fulfilling footage of the friendly, finned ambassadors that welcomed us that morning into the Pass at Apalachicola.
We’d been out to sea for approximately 27 hours (Phillip and I having spent about 24 of those in the cockpit or at the helm). A slightly-less ghastly Mitch finally woke to the light of day and joined us in the cockpit.
We finally made it into the Pass around noon and spotted land. The shelter from the shore also gave us some relief from the wind which, for the first time since we had left Clearwater, was finally pushing us along toward our destination as opposed to beating us broadside and making us fight for every nautical inch. But, most importantly, we were finally on the “other” side of the Gulf. We had done it, crossed it, conquered it, put it behind us and we all collectively breathed a sigh of relief having simply achieved it. Being in the Pass, in the sunlight and comfort of familiar shores, definitely put the crew and captain in good spirits.
We were eager to get to Apalachicola, get the boat secure and get ourselves to a hot shower. We finally regained cell signal and called the Bottom Line guys to check in. Although we learned later we had not actually lost radio contact the night before. The main unit below simply wasn’t working because the handheld had gone out. Once we disconnected the handheld, the main unit worked fine. But, that was certainly not the understanding the night before and, regardless, that revelation came a bit too late because it turns out the Bottom Line crew had been trying to hale us on the radio throughout the night and, after hours of no contact, had reported to the Coast Guard that they had lost contact with us. They were just getting into Apalachicola (about 3 hours ahead of us) and were glad to hear we were safe. We contacted the Coast Guard to let them know we had made it safely, albeit minus one dinghy. Looking back, that was a small price to pay.
We expected to get into Apalachicola around 3:00 p.m. and we motored along the Pass, enjoying the sights of land, other boats, a bridge, all the soothing signs of civilization around us. The Bottom Line guys had told us the bridge into Apalachicola was 65 feet, so we wouldn’t have any trouble getting under. One little lesson about sailing (a very obvious, but easily overlooked one – or at least I over-looked it) is that you can’t go under a bridge that’s too short for your mast. The mast on Plaintiff’s Rest’s is 50 feet, which is definitely on the high end of the spectrum and something we considered at length when we were thinking seriously about buying her. But, you learn, over time, that every option and feature on a boat is a trade-off. While a Sloop Rig, like ours, with a taller mast means less sails to deal with:
shorter masts (usually two – like on a Ketch Rig pictured here) means more sails to wrestle and wrangle:
I stand behind my original analogy in that finding the right sailboat is like finding the right mate. Any sailboat is never going to be absolutely, 100% perfect. There’s always going to be things about her that you have to work around or deal with, it’s just a matter of deciding which “flaws” you can live with and which ones you cannot. Our mast height is one we decided we were willing to live with. But, “living with it” means we have to check and double-check each time we come to a bridge. So, Phillip got the guy at the marina in Apalachicola (another Lou, Bob, Dick, Harry type) and asked about the bridge height. He told us he thought the bridge was 50 feet but that he wasn’t certain. Thanks man, real helpful.
This troubled Phillip to no end. And, for good reason, because I’ll tell you, the time to learn your mast is too tall for a bridge is not right when you come up on it.
As much as we may curse our mast on occasion, we never want to see her laying down on the deck like this:
So, Phillip pulled out the paper charts Jack had left on the boat to check the bridge height. Sure enough, the chart said it was 50 feet, which meant this Plaintiff was not going to be Resting anytime soon, and particularly not in Apalachicola. We began looking for another marina where we could come in to dock for the night and we found we had passed the inlet for Carrabelle River about eight miles back. (Funny, I’ll bet you’re thinking, like I used to – eight miles, that’s nothing, whip around!). Let me drop some knowledge on you. Our optimal speed in the boat is about 4-5 miles/hour. So, “eight miles back” translated to another two or so hours backtracking in the Pass (against the wind) and then another two to three hours to get into the river and get docked and it was 2:00 p.m. already. But, considering the dilemma with the bridge, it was the only option. The crew was a bit disheartened as we turned around and started steering away from Apalachicola. It was just there on the horizon, within reach it seemed, but we were now turned, steering away, putting more distance between the boat and land. Mitch and I stared back like two kids leaving Disneyland. Thankfully, though, the weather had died down at last, Mitch had regained color and we were moving along smoothly. We looked forward to getting to Carrabelle. Little did we know what was waiting for us in the River.