In honor of my book release THIS WEEK, this is it — the s/v Tanglefoot from None Such Like It. The book is out now on Amazon and on discount this week only. Go get it for an even more intimate, first-hand feel for this comfortable, trusted coastal cruiser. Thank Mr. While You’re Down There for the literary entertainment and the tour! And, tell this little salty sailor “Au Revoir” at the end of the video as she embarks on her Atlantic crossing headed for France! Bon Voyage Video Annie!
CRACK! There went another. I’m telling you, I like to watch lightning. I think it’s beautiful. I’m not sure I ever need to see it again from the cockpit of a boat, though.
Big thunderheads seemed to loom over us every time we sailed away from the shore. We had the handheld electronics piled in the oven and Mitch, Phillip and I were curled up, tethered in in the cockpit and we watched as the storm in Apalachicola Bay thankfully (knock on teak!) skirted around us. Once the storm eased off a bit, so did we, and it was all smiles and “whews!” as we motored our way in to take some much-needed shore leave in Apalachicola.
We called ahead to see if we could get a slip at the Water Street Hotel. When Phillip and I sail to Apalachicola we usually try to snag a spot at the City Docks. You may recall the lone sign there that says “Call Chief Bobby Varnes for dockage.” But, the house batteries on Mitch’s boat appeared to be running low (although the eMeter was a little confusing). We just weren’t 100% confident in their capabilities, so we figured a nice, air-conditioned, rejuvenating night in a slip would be a welcomed reprieve for this tired crew. Also, Mitch has much less draft than we do (4’11”) so he can creep further up the river than we can in our Niagara (5’7″).
We made Mitch handle the docking strategy and tell us what lines to tie off in what order (again so he could practice coming in single-handed) and he did a pretty good job. He had everything planned out right, he’ll just have to work on which side is starboard and which side is port (but I goober those up all the time too, so … “No, the other starboard.”). In all, it was nice to see the boat tied up and secure with the longest offshore passage behind her.
Now it was off to the showers for this crew! See ya!
It seemed our marina shower luck had run, though. Back in Clearwater, we’d had hot water but no AC in the shower rooms. What did I call it? “It wasn’t a shower, I’d say it was more of a steam spray.” The minute you stepped out of the water stream you started sweating. Well, this time, in Apalachicola, we had nice, chilly AC in the shower rooms, but no hot water. I’d call this one an Arctic rinse. My lips were turning blue and my teeth were chattering by the time I got out of there. I’ve never been so thankful to step into the humid Florida air and feel beads of sweat start to form on my skin again. Ahhhh … nice and muggy. Once we were spruced up, it was time to hit the town.
Phillip and I love the old sleepy Florida feel of Apalachicola. It’s like it’s been frozen back in time. Everyone moves a little slower. They talk a little slower, too, and I kind of like it. We decided to go Up the Creek for dinner (literally).
[WARNING: Foodie pics coming. I hope you’re not already hungry.]
The grilled conch cakes we’d had there when Phillip and I were making our way back from the Florida Keys last year was, we decided (and it was very hard to make this decision but we finally settled on it) one of the best meals of our entire Keys trip. They are incredibly rich and drizzled with a honey lime sauce made from local Tupelo honey. Words simply cannot describe …
The boys got some fish dishes with fries that were good but not good enough that I can even recall them next to my conch cakes (oh, and a side of brussel sprouts – love me some greens!)
We had a good chat during dinner about the trip. Mitch confessed that his worries were finally starting to ease now that we had brought the boat on the other side of the Big Bend. This was definitely the home stretch of the trip and the Nonsuch was still intact and performing well. We decided to take our time motoring “the ditch” the next day over to Port St. Joe so Mitch could experience it. Phillip and I had often described it to him as a jaunt down the ole’ Mississip’, as if Huck Finn would pull up right next to you on his rickety raft. The Westerbeke was chugging along really well and departure from Port St. Joe on the other side of the ditch would give us a nice jumping off point to make the last overnight run to Pensacola. We came back down the creek after dinner to find Tanglefoot plugged in and chilled for the evening, and we all got a much-needed solid night of sleep on the boat.
The next morning, though, I found myself facing a kind of peril I have never encountered in all of my cruising: Killer Bees! I kid you not. Around 6:00 a.m., I stepped out of the boat to stretch my legs and make a little trip to the ladies room (so as not to wake the boys on the boat) and as I was walking along the sidewalk along the dock behind Water Street Hotel, about every five or so feet on my path there was a bee sitting on the sidewalk. At first it didn’t bother me, there was just one. As I walked by he started to buzz around so I walked a little quicker, but then I encountered another and another and another. By the time I got to the restrooms I was flailing and swatting and batting them away. I jiggled on the handle but it was locked and I felt like I already had a swarm on me. Screw the bathroom! I decided to run. I was jumping and sprinting and yelping all the way back to the boat and (seriously) hitting a bee with every arm stroke. Those things were on me! The boys got a big laugh about it but I saw them swatting and yelping a little too when they made their own trek to the men’s room. The bees in Apalachicola are no joke.
We decided to head over to Cafe Con Leche for breakfast. It’s a quaint little shop Phillip and I had stumbled upon last time but didn’t have the chance to eat breakfast there. They have books and magazines and local art and fresh homemade arepas (baked corn cakes stuffed with all kind of goodies–peppers, ground beef, cheese, etc.–you pick). Phillip and I split the Picadilly arepa and it was scrumptious.
Mitch turned his nose up at the arepa (mistake) and got a plain old ham croissant. You can get those anywhere, Buddy! Boring!
We walked around Apalachicola poking in all of the quirky little shops and B&Bs.
What are you looking at?
Mitch was huffing and puffing everywhere–hot as a pregnant cow. He was cracking Phillip and I up flinging every door open with an overly-dramatic sigh and a gulp of the AC. That man is not meant to cross deserts. We found some diesel engine oil at the marina by the City Docks so we stocked up on that as well as transmission fluid to replenish our leaking fluids before motoring the ditch over to Port St. Joe that day. Like clockwork, the storms started brewing on the horizon the minute we started to think about tossing the lines. I swear those storms were chasing us!
We hunkered down in the boat to let the rains pass. While they look pretty intimidating, the summer storms were usually intense but very brief. They would rumble and flash and dump some rain and then the skies would clear. We spent the stormy hour battened down in the boat replenishing the fluids.
Yes, that’s my “work suit.”
It didn’t take long for the storms to pass and the clouds to part. We had put over a half-quart of oil in the engine and, while she didn’t emit the monstrous “black blob” that had shot out of her the last time we cranked, there was still a little bit of black discharge that floated behind her this time. It was probably a product of us running her harder than she’s been ran in quite some time, but she really was performing like a champ. Captain Mitch handled the de-docking plan and managed to get all of his ports and starboards straight this time as we tossed the lines and started puttering up the ditch to Port St. Joe.
Cute little house boats docked along the river.
And the not-so-cute …
The storms stayed on our horizon but never did anything more than sputter and sprinkle on us as we enjoyed a nice, easy day motoring the ditch over to Port St. Joe.
Phillip and I (totally exploiting our role as crew) started talking up Joe Mama’s Pizza and the big, lavish Italian dinner we were hoping for once we got to Port St. Joe. They have great wine flights there, incredible sauceless chicken wings, a HUGE family size salad (made table-side) and decadent thin-crust pizza. Aren’t you hungry now? We love Joe Mama’s! Mitch really didn’t have a choice in the matter.
We stopped in first at the fuel dock at Port St. Joe to fuel up for the last leg of the trip and, I have to say, Mitch’s docking skills really were improving. He did the whole thing–docking and de-docking at the fuel dock–on his own. Phillip and I could tell he was really getting a feel for his Nonsuch, which is a fun thing to watch. Now, did he bump a piling or two when slipping up next to his dock for the night? Sure, but who hasn’t? You have to get a feel for that too, because it’s just going to happen.
Once we were docked, our first mission was to make a Piggly Wiggly run to get some provisions for the last passage of the trip.
Mitch was killing us over this Arizona Green Tea.
Yeah, that stuff.
He had brought two gallons of the stuff for the trip (that and eighteen, give or take, single serviecs of Gatorade–the man cringes at water). Mitch had burned through his two green gallons early on in the trip and now needed more. He meandered the Piggly aisles back and forth with no success and finally enlisted one of the fine red shirt-clad Piggly people to help him on his hunt. When she couldn’t find it in thirty seconds, however, he enlisted yet another. I swear, Mitch had two little red helpers following him all over the store looking for his beloved tea.
I’ll tell you, there is never a shortage of stories when it comes to Mitch. He is walking entertainment. Sadly, the red broads came back empty-handed and Mitch had to make do with just the Gatorade. Sorry Buddy.
After our store run, we spruced up for a night on the St. Joe town!
Aren’t they dashing?
For Phillip and I, that usually kicks off with a pre-dinner drink (or three) at the Haughty Heron.
I think he’s trying to pat his head and rub his stomach there. Not sure.
It was fun to chat with the owner there–Wade, I believe it is–because he said he remembered Phillip and I from when we came through on our way down to the Keys last year. Probably because we had spent a couple of days kiting in the cove at Port St. Joe and drew a pretty good gathering of lookie-loos! Kiting tends to do that.
The Heron folks were great, though, and even gave us a drink on the house. Then there was no stopping us. Phillip and I had pretty much forged the deal while we were motoring the ditch that day. We had been craving those succulent chicken wings, that tangy salad dressing and the cheesy, meaty goodness of a perfectly-cooked thin crust pizza all afternoon. We didn’t even let Mitch vote. It was Joe Mama’s or bust.
I know. Yum, right?
We ordered the “La Roma” pizza–pecan pesto sauce, pancetta, tomatoes, basil and two eggs baked on top. It reminded us of John Besh’s restaurant, Domenica, in New Orleans. Just great quality dough cooked in a stone oven. So good.
Our server was quite the character, too … Get this.
She was making small talk with us while dropping some linens and plates down, moving pretty quickly, obviously trying (as a good server should) to get us drinks, then appetizers, then the main course. We weren’t having it, though. This was a highlight of the trip for us. We were going to do it like the Europeans: nice and slow. We told her we were happy for her to take her time with our dinner.
“We want to enjoy the AC in here,” Phillip explained. “Because ours is out.”
“Oh, in the truck or the trailer?” she asked. A good ole’ country girl.
“Neither. The boat!” we all said heartily. I’m not sure what that makes us, but we got a pretty good laugh out of her. Dinner was such a treat. While we don’t want a lavish fine-dining experience every night, the occasional splurge is worth it. Especially after a couple of salty, tiring days at sea. We definitely indulged and it was great of Mitch to treat the crew. Thanks Buddy!
I don’t recall much about the walk back. There were lots of replays of the Arizona tea fiasco and the lack of AC in the truck/trailer, I know that. I know there was some bumping of elbows and backsides as we all brushed our teeth as quickly as we could over the kitchen sink and scrambled to our respective bunks. And I also know the crew slept nice and soundly that night. Maybe a little too soundly …
“No more two bottles of wine for you guys!” Mitch croaked when we woke the next morning. “Phillip snored all night.”
Phillip just smiled and rolled over, which made me smile too. It had been a fun couple of days ashore. But, the Gulf was calling us back. It was time that day to ready the boat and head offshore again to make our last twenty-four hour run from Port St. Joe to Pensacola. We woke to a crisp sunrise and, for the time being, clear skies. The coffee was brewed, the beds were made and the crew of s/v Tanglefoot prepared to make way.
Thanks to my Patrons who help me share the journey. Get inspired. Get on board.
So … accidental jibes? Apparently not much fun on a Nonsuch (and probably not much fun on any such). After assessing the minor loss of the outboard tiller extender and choke, we were able to get that big ass sail settled over to starboard and get on a nice downwind run. That also meant we could finally kill the engine, which was a relief. She’d been running another twelve-or-so hours since we’d turned her off the evening before to check the transmission fluid and Phillip and I were eager to let her cool so we could check the level again to make sure she wasn’t bleeding out.
While Mitch’s Westerbeke isn’t super loud, it was nice to have that industrial rumble gone. It was still dark out, still cloudy, but just more serene with only the sound of the wind in the sail and water gently lapping along our hull. It was almost 6:00 a.m. by then and the sky to the east was starting to bloom into a bright pink. We knew the sun was about to rise. Sleepy or not, there is no reason to ever miss that. It marks the start of a new day, a new canvas for adventure and─in our case─another safe night passage behind us. We were getting that boat closer and closer to Pensacola.
Neither of us said much as we watched this blowing pink ball start to peek over the horizon. It seems slow when you’re staring right at it but if you look away just for a minute, to another point on the horizon, or some spot on the boat, or your own body, whatever, when you look back, you notice it has changed. The vast expanse that was once a brilliant yellow-pink is now fading to purple and then blue. It’s happening right before you and always quicker than you want it to but you can never stop it. Time. She just keeps passing right before you.
My Lorde-inspired “not done sailing” shift that night and the Mitch-silencing sunrise the next morning were probably some of the most memorable moments for me on this trip. They’re just sights and feelings I have no way of replicating so I just have to remember them. I think we all felt we had kind of made it over a hurdle that night, probably because we had. This offshore passage was definitely the longest of the trip and the furthest offshore, not to mention the same passage that had cost Phillip and I a dinghy, an outboard and some busted davits the last time. Let’s just say it was good to get those particular nautical miles behind us and wake to a new day with all equipment working and all signs pointing to the Florida panhandle. Getting the boat across the big bend of Florida was certainly an accomplishment and now─just five or so hours out of the East Pass─we were getting close to achieving it.
But (how many times have I said this?) just when you start to sigh and let your guard down, Mother Nature likes to scooch across the floor in socks and zap you. Then she laughs about it. Just as we started to settle in for coffee and a nice morning sail, the winds started to kick up, some gnarly clouds started to bubble up to the east, then we saw it. A white crack of lightning across the sky.
“We need to crank soon,” Phillip said. With the way the weather was building we knew we were going to have to drop the sail soon. Yes, the big huge one that we had not thirty minutes ago raised. Sailing is such fun. The engine was still a little warm but I was able to get the transmission fluid dip stick off in order to get a peek. She had a nice pink coat on the bottom of the stick, so we were fine there. The oil was a little low but not dangerously so. Phillip decided to forego topping it off this time so we could get the sail down in case the storm jumped on top of us.
We were ready to crank. Phillip tried once, twice, three times a lady, but no dice, which was baffling because she had been running solid for hours, days even, on end. Phillip was stumped, irritated, frowning at the ignition. He didn’t want to try again and have it not crank for fear of pulling in too much raw water and overflowing the intake.
“I don’t think I can kill it again,” he said. Crank? I thought. You mean you don’t think you can crank it again? But, it must have been a fortuitous Freudian slip because just as the words tumbled out of his mouth, Phillip’s face lit up in a bit of an “Aha!” realization and he lifted the lazarette lid to check the kill switch. We had done this before many times on our boat─accidentally left the kill switch in the up position, so it prevents the engine from turning over. It’s not a hard thing to do. Like leaving a light on when you leave a room. And, Mitch’s boat was still somewhat new to us and the accidental jibe had left us all a little flustered. That definitely did the trick. Once the kill switch was down, the engine roared to life and I jumped topside to get the sail down. Yes, the big one. (If it wasn’t already apparent, I, personally, am not a huge fan of the huge sail on the Nonsuch.)
The winds were blowing a good 15-18 by then and it was definitely pushing us around as we turned into the wind to drop the sail, which pointed us right toward the storm. I could see the boys back at the cockpit trying to sheet the sail to center. It was clear they were having trouble. Right when I saw it, I knew. It was my fault. I had put it there.
“The chafe guard!” I hollered back as I made my way to the cockpit. The sail on the Nonsuch is so big the main sheets actually run behind the bimini. When we had first got the sail settled far out to starboard on our downwind run, I noticed the main sheet lines were rubbing hard on the corner of the bimini frame. Worried about chafe (which I’ll grant myself is a legitimate concern), I had wrapped a towel around the lines at the chafe point and duct-taped it (a very unique method, patent pending). But, lesson learned: do not put the chafe guard on the line, which needs to move, put it on the immovable fixture, which does not. I should have put something on the bimini corner if I was worried about it because where was my chafe guard now? After our accidental jibe, the heavy winds, the flapping around of the sail during our turn-around? It had slid down the line and was now jammed in the pulley at the base of the cockpit. I tried scooching it up the line enough to allow us to sheet in and get the sail centered but she wasn’t moving fast enough. As I mentioned, we’d had the sail waaay out to starboard so there was a lot of line to pull in.
“Get me a knife!” I shouted to Mitch and he grabbed the utility knife we kept near the companionway, for this very purpose I suppose. I started sawing away on the duct tape and─for a brief moment─felt a bit like I had been transported back in time. Back to that fateful night when the three of us were hacking the drowning dinghy off the back of mine and Phillip’s boat. Phillip had been at the helm then, too, and Mitch had handed me a knife and watched as I sawed through lines. I was struck by a strange reminiscent feeling. Maybe I need a new sailing nickname: The Hacker or something like that.
But, I finally made it through the layers of terry cloth and freed the line. Like I said, it had been my fault for putting the guard on the line, so I deserved to deal with the aftermath. Many lessons to be learned in sailing. With the sail centered and another hack job completed, we were finally able to drop the sail. Putting the sail cover on, though, was a bit challenging in the heavy winds. She’s just massive! Running from the mast back to the cockpit, I guess that must make her thirty feet at least, with a grommet and toggle about every two feet. I was sure after Mitch got the strong track put in on the mast to make raising the sail easier, the very next thing he was likely going to want would be a stack pack to make lowering and covering the sail easier. If you give a mouse a cookie …
When it was all done, the three of us fell into a heap in the cockpit and kept an eye on the storm. I swear every time we seemed to get offshore in that boat, there was a lightning storm on our horizon. I’m serious, they were everywhere! Maybe it was the time of year (late June) or just that part of the state, but I can confidently say there wasn’t a day that went by that we did not see lightning. Thankfully, though, it seemed this one was content to just eff up our sunrise sail and then back off. It left us little wind, however, that was─of course─right on the nose, which meant we had to continue motoring.
It was more favorable once we turned toward the pass so we raised the sails around 1:00 p.m. in order to kill the engine (remembering this time to push the kill switch back down) and check the fluids again. Yes, those pesky things. Trust me, if you see anything dripping out, you need to keep a close eye on them. Recall the oil had been a bit low when we cranked right before the storm. Well now, five-or-so hours later, it was really low. And, so began the adventure of adding oil to the Nonsuch. We had yet to do this and─this may sound crazy─but when Phillip and I first looked at the engine, we were a little unsure of how exactly you would go about it. The oil cap is literally back about a foot and a half from the front of the engine with maybe ten inches between it and the ceiling of the engine room. It would be difficult to get a funnel in there, much less a bottle of oil above the funnel to pour in. We all kind of scratched our heads a bit then I offered up the one thought that always seems to pop in my head when we talk about catching, pouring or saving fluids.
“Maybe use a water bottle?”
The boys seemed to be on board with this, so I began cutting the bottom end off of a water bottle. Mitch insisted he could do it and Phillip and I decided he would need to get used to doing it at some point, so we handed him the water bottle oil bin with about a cup of oil in it. I can’t tell you how many times we asked him: “You got it, Mitch?” “You sure?” “Can you see the opening?” “You sure you got it?”
“Gees guys, would you shut up already. I got this,” Mitch finally said. And, turned out, he did. I was a little surprised, but he displayed some real finesse wiggling into that position and gingerly dumping bottle after bottle of oil in. We kept checking the fluid level and determined she looked decent after we had put about a half quart in. Certainly a good bit. The transmission was still slowly dripping around the shifter arm and we put a dash more transmission fluid in there too─for safe measure─then deemed her fit to travel. The wind was still steady enough at the time, though, to allow us to keep sailing and, with all of us sweaty, sticky and dirty from the fluid ordeal, Phillip decided it was time for a dip.
I have to say, I have never (knock on teak) fallen off of a sailboat when it was under sail, but nor had I been allowed to float behind one while it was under sail. What a rush! With the wind pushing us along at about 4 knots, Phillip tied a throw line behind the boat and we took turns letting the boat drag us along by that or the ladder.
It felt just like a roller coaster ride. I cinched my wrist in right and tight in the line and let it tug me along, sometimes slowing so my body would ease toward the boat as a wave rolled under, then pulling me hard and fast with a swift tug as the boat coasted down the front of the wave. I was all giggles and “Wheees!” the whole time. It felt so good to let the fresh cool water wash over you. I had never done that before and I was so glad Phillip had the idea.
But again, it was short lived. I tell you, Mother Nature had some real fun with us on this trip. As soon as we got dried off, we saw some big thunderheads rolling up on the horizon. We were close enough to shore for cell service now and the radar showed a big green pile of crap coming toward us. It was time to crank and get that big ass sail down again. Yes, again.
“What the heck was that?” Mitch asked right after Phillip cranked. He was leaning over the back stern rail. I’m going to presume he was checking to make sure raw water was coming out as we had taught him (points for you Mitch), but he also pointed out, behind the boat, at a huge blob of black floating behind us. It was maybe two feet in diameter, with a rainbow-like sheen to it. Obviously oil. And, since we had just cranked, it had obviously come from us. Now we knew where all that oil we had replaced went. I can’t say I know exactly what happened or why such a big blob blew out but we didn’t take it as a good sign. We made a mental note to pick up some more oil (along with transmission fluid) once we docked in Apalachicola. But, at the time, we needed to keep motoring in order to get the sail down for yet another impending storm.
I could feel it in the air by then. Fifteen minutes prior I had been hot, sweaty and thrilled to death to dip and be dragged in the cool water behind the boat. Now, in my bikini, goose bumps began to form on my arms and my wet hair began to turn chill on my head. The temperature drop was palpable. I’m sure if the barometer on the boat was working, it would have shown a drop as well. We all donned our foul weather gear and prepared to drop the sail. Mitch insisted we all put on our life jackets as well. Oh alriiight. I’m not terrible about wearing mine, I’m just not super eager. But, he was the Captain this go-round, so Phillip and I did as we were told. It was probably for the best, too, because that particular sail-drop was the worst we’d endured. Coming into the East Pass, the water was churned up and the Nonsuch was bucking and kicking over 2-3 foot waves, which made the sail flop and misbehave. The wind had picked up too and was batting her and us around.
“Hang on!” Phillip shouted from the cockpit, “but tie her good!” Okay. “I’ve got winds over 30!” he said. Oh shit. It seemed to have come up so suddenly, but that seemed to happen often with the storms we saw on this trip. Mitch and I clung to the flinging sail, hugging her every 2-3 feet and working a sail tie around. The salt from the sail ties filled my mouth as I clenched them in my teeth and gripped the sail. After Mitch and I got them all tied, we decided to forego the thirty-foot, 15-grommet sail cover for the moment. You can imagine why.
And, two small gripes here about the Nonsuch as well, because I think it’s good to share. There is a row of pointy nubs around the perimeter of where a dodger would go if there was one. There is not, so that just leaves little spike-like stickey-ups (yes, that’s what I’m going to call them) along the top of the companionway placed just perfectly to step on if you’re trying to wrestle and tie the sail down, particularly over the bimini. For barefeet, they’re worse than Legos. And, while we’re on that─Gripe No. 2─the sail is really hard to reach in the center of the huge-ass bimini. I’m a pretty sporty gal and even doing an acrobatic tiptoe on things I shouldn’t be standing on, I still couldn’t reach it. Mitch, with some difficulty can, but he’s 6’4”. Not all sailors are! The big sail is just a bit awkward to man-handle. That’s all I’ll say.
With the sail finally contained, though, the crew thoroughly pooped, we hunkered into the cockpit and watched a wicked lightning storm brew to the east of us. Lightning seemed to bubble up and percolate, until the cloud would finally boil over and a shocking white streak would jet out. We watched in silence, and probably within just a two-minute time span, as three big bolts broke free and stabbed the ground. Phillip told Mitch and I to go below and put all of the handheld electronics in the oven (another helpful trick he’d learned from his vast cruising/sailing resources). If you do and the boat gets hit by lightning, it at least won’t zap your phone, laptop, GPS, etc. He’s a smart man that Phillip. It was strange to think not one hour prior we had been swimming and frolicking on a joyous sailboat amusement ride and now we were geared up in foul weather and life jackets putting the electronics in the oven. It was shocking how quickly things sometimes changed. But, we felt prepared. The sail was down and lashed. The engine was running strong and we were all tethered in. The three of us sat in the cockpit and watched as the sky to the northeast grew a dark grey and wicked cracks of lightning continued to spear the shore.
Thanks to my Patrons who help me share the journey. Get inspired. Get on board.
AC on a boat … I’m still not sure that sits right with me. It just de-acclimates you. It took me a good ten minutes to thaw out topside after our first night on Tanglefoot. My toes prickled as I walked the deck, leaving my first dewey footprints on the boat.
Mitch must have slept about as soundly as I did because he wasn’t long behind me. 6:12 a.m. and the man is up, fiddling with things, looking again for his flashlight. I’ve never seen Mitch up so early but I’ve never seen him so excited either. He would ask me a question: “What was that last thing we needed from the store?” I would respond: “Trash bags. I already added it to the list.” And not five minutes later it had already slipped his mind: “Oh, here’s the list. What was that thing we needed?” He was like a kid with a new train set. He couldn’t wait to get the track all laid out and watch her go! But he would always forget the batteries.
Our plan that morning was to get the dinghy off the davits and secure her on the foredeck. We’d learned a hard and expensive lesson, the first time the three of us crossed the Gulf in our Niagara, in not securing our dinghy to the foredeck for offshore passages. There would be no clanging davits this trip, no hacking off of the dinghy mid-Gulf. Not again. While davits are a convenient, easy way to lower and raise a dinghy on a boat that’s cruising around in protected waters, they are not─in our opinion─secure enough to hold a dinghy for an offshore passage, no matter how heavy duty they may claim to be. The dinghy that came with the Nonsuch was an eight foot Walker Bay with a 2.5 hp outboard. Although an eight foot dinghy would generally seem plenty big enough for a 30-foot boat, for some reason, it still didn’t seem big enough for Mitch. But he got in there anyway, ass-up, and cleaned out the rainwater so we could flip her over on the deck.
I have to admit, at this point I was thoroughly impressed with Mitch. It had been an early rise, with some pretty hefty chores to conquer before 7:00 a.m. and Mitch was taking them all on with a smile, some light-hearted jokes and only the occasional “Okay, now hang on a minute.” So far, he was really stepping up … until it was time to check the fluids. I have said many times how glad I am that our Niagara is laid out and designed the way that it is─with the easy pull-back sink compartment that allows impressive access to the engine and all fluid check-points:
But when we began to tinker around the Nonsuch and locate all of her fluid bins, I was reminded yet again.
To check the fluids on Mitch’s boat, we had to access three different tight compartments. You have to remove the companionway stairs to access and check the transmission fluid.
The oil must be checked (not re-filled, though, mind you, just checked), by opening a storage compartment on the starboard side of the companionway stairs and then opening another access door in that compartment that allows you to reach the oil dipstick. But wait, there’s more! Once you’ve buttoned up all that mess, head up to the cockpit and the coolant bin is located down in the starboard lazarette. It can be checked (not filled) by leaning in upside down with a flashlight.
Filling it requires you─or your trained monkey─get all the way down in the lazarette and be sitting upright in order to pour coolant in.
I won’t say it was ridiculously inaccessible, but the fluid check-points were a bit tedious, particularly for a large man like Mitch. While he and Phillip were checking the fluids, I broke down all of our provisions (taking food and products out of their cardboard boxes and packaging) and took a load of trash up to the marina trash can. That whole process took about forty-five minutes and when I came back, Mitch was still checking the fluids. I’m sure he’ll get quicker at it over time. But─like I said─he did impress me by crawling into every tight hole, albeit it with some grunting, moaning and just a few more snaps: “Now, hang on a minute.” But he did it.
Once the fluids were checked, we headed out to make our store runs and grab those “last few items” we had jotted down while inventorying the boat the night before. The plan was ACE hardware for all that kind of trash bag-type stuff (cleaning brushes, sponges, shop towels, dust pan, hand-held broom, etc. along with propane), Publix for our perishable food items and West Marine for some back-up fuel filters. We had planned to grab our store goods and just eat breakfast back on the boat and go. I mean, why else had we hassled Mitch about buying all of that food the week before? But, it started to become comical when every store we pulled up to (ACE, Target, Publix) didn’t open until 8:00 a.m. It was just a few minutes after seven then so we deemed it a sign: Breakfast Break! We drove the main Ft. Myers strip a time or two looking for a Starbucks or Bagelheads or something easily recognizable as a standard commercial breakfast and, surprisingly, came up empty-handed. Our inability to find a Starbucks in a three-mile radius particularly surprised me. What kind of Americans are we? But each time we made a pass we kept eyeing this greasy-spoon diner with a packed-out parking lot and the savory scent of sausage enticing us in. “Marko’s Diner,” Mitch read the sign aloud as we pulled in. Being a traveler and an adventurer like us, Mitch loves to check out the local stuff when he’s in a new place. He wants to eat where the regulars eat, shop where they shop and do what they do. And, it always feels good to support local businesses, so Phillip and I were on board. “Marko’s it is,” we agreed.
I don’t know if she was in fact Mrs. Marko but this plump, vivacious, loud Greek woman clad in a shoulder-padded bedazzeled sweatshirt, her hair sprayed out on either side in sticky, jut-out wings was greeting customers the minute the bell on the door dinged. Most folks she greeted by name: “Hey Jim.” “Morning Claire.” But the newbies you could tell she spotted immediately and really put on a show for them.
“Well aren’t you a tall drink of water,” she said when Mitch walked in. “That’s what they tell me,” Mitch said running a hand through some pretend James Dean hair. That was all she needed to pull the rug out from under him. “Is it now? Well I’m glad you’re here Big-and-Tall. You made it just in time for the early bird senior special!” she said as she laughed, pulled one of many-a-pen from her hair and nudged her way by him with a pot of coffee in hand.
You have to love a woman who can hold her own, particularly a hefty, big-hearted Greek one. Mrs. Marko was great though, making sure us “out-a-towners” got good service, the whole schmorgas board (eggs, tomatoes, biscuits, grits, gravy) and hot piping coffee. It was just what we needed to fuel us up for the day. After our Marko’s feast, the store runs were quick and expertly executed. Three three of us took on ACE then the boys dropped me at Publix while they went to West Marine for the fuel filters. We were back on the boat and packed for passage by 10:00 a.m. With the fluids already checked, all we needed to do was crank and go! This was it. The big moment.
“Be sure to hold it 15-20 seconds,” Phillip said to Mitch as he got ready to warm the glow plugs and crank the engine. I was sitting next to Mitch and had to smile as he pushed the button in and started an actual, audible “one one-thousand, two one-thousand” count. He was so careful it was almost cute. But apparently cute wasn’t going to cut it. The engine tried to turn and sputtered a few times but would not crank. Mitch tried three times to no avail. Phillip was worried if he tried to crank one more time without the engine turning over we would pull too much raw water in and it would back up in the engine, so we took a moment to investigate. I had watched Mitch hold the glow plugs plenty long enough so I knew it wasn’t that. Phillip looked at the fuel filter which didn’t looked clogged or dirty and the fuel gage read three-quarters of a tank. Then he asked about the starting battery. Mitch had thought it was on, but it was clicked only to “house,” not “both.” Aha! Always takes a little time to learn a new boat. Once that adjustment was made and we gave it a bit more gas she fired right up. The crew let out a collective breath. For a moment, it had seemed our big adventure was about to putter out at the dock.
But she was running great now, purring actually. Mitch was a little anxious about backing out of the dock, but we told him to configure a plan (which lines would be released in what order) and we would execute it. We were there to help Mitch get the boat home, for sure, but we also wanted to let him get as much hands-on, solo-sailing experience as possible because he would essentially be handling the boat on his own once he got her back to Pensacola. So, as often as possible, we would have him do everything with us there merely to step in only if he was getting into some real trouble. Think of it like training wheels that don’t touch unless you start to tip over. Right out of the gate, Mitch got a great lesson in steering his boat in a tight marina.
We wanted to fuel up, pump out and fill the water tanks before jumping out into the Gulf so we planned to stop at the fuel docks. Of course, as luck would have it, there was a line and Mitch had to circle around a few times, back up, pull forward, turn around again. It was a great lesson in getting a feel for the boat’s reaction time. There was a good bit of “easy, gentle, wait for it, slow down!” as Mitch leaned a little too hard on the throttle but─with Phillip’s instruction─handled the whole three-time turn around and first fuel docking himself.
I set about filling the water tanks and handling the pumpout while the boys fueled her up. The water was no problem. While she did take on a good bit, we got the tanks filled to the brim and the caps secured back down. The waste, however … was causing some real issues.
“I need a hammer,” I told Phillip as he walked up on the deck to see what I was struggling with. I could not get the cap off. No matter how hard I turned and groaned and grunted. That one little sliver and a boat key was just not going to cut it. I was starting to imagine what this trip would look like if we started out with a mostly-full holding tank and no way to pump out. While I was sure they had checked the macerator during the survey/sea trial, I would rather not be the first one to actually try it out. What if it didn’t work? What would we do then? Things could get shitty. These were the thoughts that were running through my mind as I’m beating on the back end of the screwdriver, the head wedged into that stupid little sliver when the cap finally clicked free. My guess is the previous owner just never went on the boat (I envy the fact that men can easily piss overboard) or never pumped out at the dock because it felt like the waste cap had not moved in a decade. Luckily, though, she finally spun free and were able to pump out. Whew. While I was glad to help Mitch sail his boat back to Pensacola, I was secretly hoping that offer would in no way involve head repair or maintenance.
Finally, with all of our chores done, it was time to get out of the marina and get that boat moving. As we were making our way through the channel, another boat─Miller Time─came along side us and hollered over: “Is that Wade Alexander’s boat?” (The previous owner). “Yeah!” Mitch hollered back. “I just bought her!” he beamed. “Oh, congrats!” Miller Time shouted back. “Have a great trip.” It was clear Mitch was going to get a lot of looks with the cat rig (and that he was totally loving it already).
Once we made it out of the channel Phillip decided it was high time we threw up this big ass sail on the Nonsuch. I stationed myself at the mast, pulling the halyard manually, while Phillip set up on the winch and Mitch held the wheel. While it was difficult to pull by hand at first, it was moving along until we got to the reef points. Unfortunately, the last time the boat had been sailed─on the survey/sea-trial─they had practiced reefing her to make sure all the lines worked properly. Recall Mitch’s eloquent description about the monkey and the football. That meant the sail was still reefed as we were trying to raise her which always makes it tougher. Our first time raising the sail, we got a crash course on the reefing lines, which one was reef one and reef two as well as their particular hang-up and pinch points. Once we got all the reefing lines loosened, though, we still had another three or four feet to go to fully raise the sail. That’s when the real fun began.
I was working the halyard at the mast while Phillip was cranking on the winch back in the cockpit, but I had done all I could do on my end. The rest of the sail just had to be muscled up using the winch and─my God─that thing shrieked and cried with every turn. I watched as the halyard grew tauter and visibly thinner before me. I gave it a light tug a time or two to see if it still had some bend but after five or six cranks on the winch it wouldn’t budge at all. It was as tight as a steel cable and we still had another two or so feet to go at the top of the mast. I hollered to Phillip to keep cranking and the winch continued to wail. I didn’t dare touch the halyard after that, I thought just my light fingers on it and the whole thing might explode. I couldn’t stand the sight or sound of it anymore. I backed away from the mast and just stood near the cockpit, my hands ready to come up and protect my face if there was an all-out halyard explosion. Mitch was watching from the helm, staring at the top of the mast to see when the sail finally made it to the top. “Keep going,” he shouted to Phillip who looked to me topside for confirmation.
“It’s still got some bag in the bottom, but who cares? We’ve got plenty of sail up.” I was not in any way inclined to push the gear any more than necessary. I was literally afraid to go anywhere near the mast with that much tension on the halyard. We had squealed her to her limits. Phillip gave it just one more crank and said, “That’s good.” Mitch looked up through the bimini window and started to say something but I heard Phillip’s voice over whatever he tried to mutter out: “It’s good.”
Thank God, I thought. This may sound silly, but it’s the truth: raising that sail was frightening.
But it was now up and we were finally sailing! Motor sailing but that still counts. We were making 6.2 knots.
We were surprised the boat pointed as well as it did. I guess with the massive surface area of the sail that the wind has to travel around, it’s got more suction into the wind than you would think. I will say, though─just as Mitch had predicted─tacking the boat was astonishingly easy. What do you do? You turn the wheel. That is all. The sail handles the rest. Not that letting the Genny out on one side and cranking her in on the other is super exhausting, but it can be a bit of a chore in heavy winds or when you’re trying to kick back, eat grapes and read a book. On the Nonsuch, though? You just turn the wheel. That’s it. You could tell Mitch was getting a real kick out of that. He tacked far more than he needed to that morning just because he was having such a good time doing it. It was fun to watch him enjoy his new boat. We had a nice day motor sailing. The sea state was nice and smooth. It would have been perfect for sailing had the wind not been right on our nose. For that reason, we kept the iron sail going to make headway but even with the motor running, we were only making 3.8 knots trying to tack into a light headwind.
We were still debating whether to point toward Venice for a sooner stop or just push on through to Clearwater. With the motor running solid and the sail and rigging all fairly tested and proving seaworthy, the crew decided to just keep trucking to Clearwater. Everyone was in good spirits and enjoying the passage so far. We figured we might as well capitalize on our fresh morale and cover a good bit of a ground our first offshore passage. We dropped and secured the sail (a bit of a chore with the cat rig) and throttled her up to 5 knots. That put us on a heading to reach Clearwater the following afternoon so we divied up the night shifts:
Me: 8 p.m. ─ 10 p.m.
Phillip: 10 p.m. ─ 12 a.m
Mitch: 12 a.m. ─ 2 a.m.
Me:2 a.m. ─ 4 a.m.
Phillip:4 a.m. ─ 6 a.m.
Mitch:6 a.m. ─ 8 a.m.
With three of us, it was going to be nice to get at least one solid four-hour stint of sleep. The first and last shifts we called the “gravy shifts” because everyone is usually up with you during those times so you’re not alone at the helm. Phillip wanted to take the short straw this first leg of the trip and get his two-crap-shifts night over with right out of the gate. Looking back on it, it was a smart move─take the worst leg while we were all still fresh and excited on our first passage. But Phillip must have played us well, because Mitch and I happily signed up for one gravy shift and only one solo shift during the night. With that settled and entered into the log book (so there could be no debate later), we decided to put the bimini down and enjoy the sunset from the cockpit. We watched the sun turn into a hot pink ball on the horizon. I love when it does that. Blazes so bright you can hardly look at it but you can’t look away either, as it drops down beneath a denim blue horizon. She put on a stunning show.
Phillip and I cooked up a hot batch of red beans and rice and salad for dinner and dished out some hearty portions for the crew. We watched Mitch curiously, though, as he merely pushed a few beans around, ate a sprig or two of lettuce and then said he was full. We didn’t want to say it (because sometimes just saying it makes it happen) but we suspected Mitch was getting seasick. Recall during our first offshore passage with Mr. Roberts he got monstrously seasick and was put down for twelve hours after taking some allegedly non-drowsy Dramamine. Phillip and I were hoping, for our own sakes so we wouldn’t have to man the helm as much, that wasn’t happening this time. We didn’t want to say it, though. It’s like a jinx. We just asked: “You getting tired, buddy?”
“Yeah, tired.” Mitch said, seemingly thanking us for our courtesy pass and taking it straight to bed. “I’m just going to get some rest for my shift,” he said as he headed down the companionway stairs. Phillip and I were hoping we weren’t going to lose him again to seasickness, but if so I certainly wanted to be fueled up for a more trying, two-person only offshore trip. I grabbed his unfinished bowl of red beans and rice and scarfed it right up.
Phillip sat up with me during my first night shift. You see? Gravy. Phillip and I were breathing and basking in the feeling of being back out on blue waters with an unfettered horizon, crisp night air coming in. God it felt good. But, just as she starts to sense you getting all comfortable and cozy, she likes to remind you whose in charge. Right after the sun dipped we heard an ominous rumble behind us. Phillip and I turned around to look out from the stern and saw big, rolling thunderheads on our horizon.
We watched in silence for a moment more, expecting our suspicions to be confirmed. She rumbled a time or two again, then we saw it: a shocking white crack of lightning that branched out and traveled the sky. There was no denying it now. But there was no point in saying it aloud either. It was clear. We had a massive thunderstorm on our stern, chasing us into the Gulf.
Thanks to my Patrons who help me share the journey. Get inspired. Get on board.
“Tanglefoot,” she said over the loud speaker. Phillip and I kind of eyed each other curiously. “Tangle-FOOT!” she said again, this time with more emphasis on the “foot.” That’s when we really found out how serendipitous this whole boat-shopping venture had been for Mitch.
It was June 19, 2015 and Mitch, Phillip and I were heading down in a Beverly-Hillbilly style packed-out rental to Ft. Myers to help Mitch sail his recently-acquired 1985 Nonsuch back home to Pensacola.
Didn’t bode too well that I suffered my first “boat bite” (or I guess this would be a “rental car bite”) the very minute I stepped into the car.
Don’t ask me how. There were flip flops and a floor mat involved. That’s all I remember. But it was a bit of a bloody mess we had to deal not our very first mile into the trip. Leave it to me … But the boys got me doctored up and we continued our trek south.
We stopped in for some lunch at Panera in Tallahassee and that’s when we first heard the name: Tanglefoot. The third time the little Panera chick said it over the intercom Phillip and I started to look around to see who was going to respond to that calling. Then we saw him─Mitch─bouncing up to the table with our food trays in hand. “What do you think?” he asked, looking at us as if his question made sense. Phillip and I kind of sat there dumbly: What do we think about what?
“Tanglefoot,” Mitch said again. “That’s the name of the boat.”
You see what I mean? 6’4” Mitch Roberts finds a damn-near perfect boat, in great condition for a great price and it’s named the only single thing in the world I could imagine to be more fitting for his vessel name than “While You’re Down There.”
“Tanglefoot,” Phillip and I repeated him chuckling. It was almost too perfect. Plus, Mitch has no poker face. He holds nothing back. If he’s thinking it, you’re going to hear it. He kind of tumbles over his words sometimes they come out so fast, so Tanglefoot-in-Mouth works just as well. And it wouldn’t be long before we would actually be setting foot on the infamous s/v Tanglefoot ourselves. It was a long haul (approximately nine hours) to make in one day but we got to the docks in Ft. Myers around 10:00 p.m.─just in time for our first Tanglefoot adventure!
Stopped at the Barrel in Ft. Myers for dinner. Annie loves “Country Fresh Flavor.”
The boat was docked in a gated community with water access and slips. Mitch said the owner’s broker was supposed to have called the security gate to let them know he would be coming that day to the boat. Of course that didn’t happen and here it was─10:00 p.m.─and we find ourselves being held hostage by the little gated-booth police because we don’t have clearance for admission. Mitch tried calling the broker several times while the gate guards watched us. Mitch’s impatience was visible. “I can’t believe these knuckleheads are serious,” he told Phillip and I, thankfully behind a rolled-up window so the guards didn’t hear. After three failed attempts to reach the broker, he then tried the owner, which I thought was a long shot because it was so late and─I mean─the man is, according to Mitch, “older than molasses,” which we took for mid-eighties. But, I guess I have to admit I’m ignorant to the night life of eighty-year-olds because the owner picked right up, sounding cheery as a nun on Sunday and was able to get us clearance through the booth. For whatever reason, though─even after the phone call─there was still some very important paperwork shuffling and “processing” to be done in the almighty gate booth. You should have seen these three rent-a-goobers, wheeling around on their whirly chairs, shuffling papers back and forth, writing things down like they were solving the mystery of global warming. Mitch kept trying to roll down the window to say something to them─something Phillip and I were sure would get us banned from the place forever─and Phillip kept rolling his window back up to contain him.
Then─in an apparent effort to entertain us while the all-important “gated booth processing” procedure was completed─one of the uniformed security blokes comes out to chat with us. He pulled his pants up a few times, Barney Fife style, and leaned into the driver side window.
“Evening all,” he said tipping his hat to us.
“Evening,” we all mumbled back kind of awkwardly, keeping our thoughts to ourselves: What in the bloody name of gated booths was taking so long?
“You come here to stay on the boat tonight, huh?”
“Yes, sir,” Mitch said back, trying to be patient. I was proud he’d changed the “knucklehead” to “sir.”
“What slip are you in?” Fife asked. It seemed like he was trying to be cordial.
“I don’t know,” Mitch said, a little embarrassed, but more irritated than anything. Who gives a crap? Let us in!
“Well, what dock?” Fife followed up, now a little suspect.
“I don’t know,” Mitch barked back, now noticeably irritated. “I just know how to get to the boat. I don’t know which dock it is.”
“Well, there are only five docks,” Fife snapped, giving us a stupid, how-can-you-not-know frown.
“I told you … ” Mitch started to fire back and reach for the door handle. I thought he was about to step out of the vehicle and blow our chances of ever getting to the boat that night but, thankfully, he was cut off. Fife No. 2 stuck his head out of the booth, waved some papers in the air and said, “You all have a safe night, now,” as the gate buzzed and the arm finally started to lift, allowing us through. Fife No. 1 hiked his pants up again, because I’m sure there had been some slippage in the “which dock?” exchange and gave us a scowl as we drove by. The three of us were laughing about it─now that we had gotten in─but those rent-a-Fifes were unbelievable. How important is the maintenance of the gate log and documentation of thru traffic in a quiet gated community in Ft. Myers, Florida? I mean really?
Mitch held true to his word too. He had no idea what dock the boat was on but he knew exactly how to guide us to it. Here it was─our first time to see Tanglefoot.
Man, did Mitch get lucky. She was a sound, solid, well-built boat. Dirty as all get out but with just a few swipes of a Clorox wipe I could tell she was going to clean up incredibly well.
And, it was shocking how big the boat felt. At thirty feet, Mitch’s boat is a good five feet shorter than ours but it feels five feet bigger in every direction down below. It looked like you could line up three ballerinas in the saloon and have them each do pirrouettes and they wouldn’t hit each other. It was like a floating condo.
And, the companionway blew my mind. The entry-way is like four feet fall, with two measly steps down to the cabin floor and Mitch could stand tall and straight most everywhere in the cabin below.
No wonder Mitch said he felt comfortable on this boat. It’s like it was built for him. The cockpit is massive too. I think the fact that beam of the boat is carried so far forward and so far aft is what makes it feel so much bigger than ours. The Nonsuch is probably a little squattier in that regard (I like to call those “fat bottom girls”) which can make them a little less comfortable to sail in heavy weather, but it certainly makes them super comfortable to cruise around coastal waters and spend the weekends in. Phillip and I were both really impressed with the layout, look, feel, build and quality of Mitch’s boat. You done good, Buddy. You done good. We started poking around and tidying things up a bit and discovered some interesting eighty-year-old man finds. There was a complete drawer of canned Buds in the vberth. Think like eighteen cans in one drawer and a mounted can crusher by the companionway stairs.
It was gross─all grungy and moldy with years of dirt caked on. That was going to be one of the first things to go. But, modifications and thorough clean-up would come later. For now it was time to settle in─get all of our provisions on-board and stowed away and the boat put in a somewhat functioning condition for sleeping that evening so we could rise early and make sure she was ready to head out tomorrow morning for the passage.
Mitch was so excited showing us around the boat he kept dropping things and losing his flashlight. I can’t tell you how many times he had to ask Phillip to borrow his. We decided we were soon going to have to put a head lamp on him permanently. Or maybe a chest-mounted push light that you could just click on whenever he came near. That would have been helpful.
But, you couldn’t blame him. He was just excited. This was his boat! His very first sailboat! Tanglefoot! And this was his first time to have friends aboard and get to show her off. And (and!)─even better─we would soon be shoving her out of the slip and sailing her out into blue waters. That’s some pretty good stuff. Definitely worth a couple dropped nuts and bolts and forever-missing flashlight. I’ve never seen Mitch so giddy. Since he was all smiles and giggles we decided to give him his little Captain’s gift then─a log book and a waterproof accordion folder for all of his manuals. Pulling from experience, we know how important it is to keep those handy and organized.
After a couple of hours unpacking, cleaning and stowing, though, this crew was beat. It was well after midnight by then and we were planning to make one more provision run in the morning for perishables and then toss the lines around noon and start making our way north, toward either Venice or Clearwater. Venice was going to be a shorter trip, more paralleled to the shore. We were keeping it open as an option in case we suffered some equipment or engine failure or other likely catastrophe on the first leg of the trip. If things were going well, though, we were hoping to make it all the way to Clearwater right out of the gate. Talk didn’t last long, though, as the crew’s lids started to droop. It had been a long day. Phillip and I folded down the table in the saloon to set up the double bed on the starboard side for us, while Mitch prepared the vberth for him. The amount of room in the cabin of the Nonsuch is astounding. Phillip and I felt like we were sprawled out in a five-star suite!
Then Mitch cranked up the AC. Yes, a boat with AC. This would be a new luxury for Phillip and me. Whether it was the chill or the new sleeping digs or just the excitement of spending our first night on Mitch’s boat knowing we were going to sail it out into the Gulf tomorrow, none of us got much sleep that night.
Personally, I blame Mitch and the AC. He has got to cool it─no pun intended─with the AC because that about the coldest I’ve ever been in my damn life. I was tugging and grunting and trying to get every body part covered with Phillip and I’s shared sheet but it still wasn’t enough. I was barely groggy and froze-toed when the alarm went off at 5:45 a.m. the next morning. The first thing I did was step out into the cockpit to the much-welcomed muggy warmth. My feet prickled back to life as I walked the dewy deck with a smile. We were sailing today!
Thanks to my Patrons who help me share the journey. Get inspired. Get on board.
So, no surprise here I’m sure: Mitch got the boat. At 6’4″, if you’re in the market for a boat and you find one you’re, in his words─”comfortable on”─you get it. Not to mention this boat was well-made, by a dependable builder, in fantastic condition, had passed the survey/sea trial with flying colors needing only minimal repairs and was going for half the asking price. Half?! Pssshhh … There’s really no way Mitch could say no. He let the time lapse on rescinding the offer and on June 14, 2015 Mitch became the proud new owner of a 1985 Nonsuch. All he needed to do was sail it home from Ft. Myers, FL.
All that required was willing crew.
It’s probably no surprise here, either: he asked Phillip and me.
I don’t know, though. Would you trust these two?
Seems Mitch was keen on cashing in the favor chips he had racked up when he helped us sail our Niagara 35 from Punta Gorda, FL to its new home port in Pensacola back in 2013. But, the irony of it was almost comical. Not only were the three of us about to make just about the same trek again on a sailboat, but (BUT!) we were going to do it again on another 1985 model boat and (AND!) another Hinterhoeller. Shut up. I’m serious. The symmetry of it was kind of wild. Can you say: Salt of a Sailor the sequel! We hoped this time, though, we wouldn’t have to hack off any critical parts of the boat, string a puke bucket around one of the crew member’s necks, suffer a man down to (allegedly) non-drowsy Dramamine or endure any other significant equipment failures like last time. (If you haven’t read Salt yet, I hope you’re intrigued now.)
We all hoped for a safe and prosperous delivery of Mitch’s new boat from Ft. Myers to its new home port in Pensacola, FL. But─maybe it was just Phillip and I although something tells me Mitch maybe a little too─we were also hoping for a bit of an adventure. You don’t ever want anything to go wrong during a passage across blue waters, but you know it can always happen. No matter how hard you prepare, plan or tread cautiously, a lot of it’s just luck. Sometimes it’s just your time for shit to go wrong. We didn’t want that to happen to Mitch, but if it was going to, we wanted to be there to help─and experience and learn from it.
Now this time thankfully I was a bit more sail savvy than last time. I didn’t ask at least─with big, blinking doe eyes: “When are they going to deliver your boat, Mitch?” I knew we were going to have to sail her home, and Phillip and I were excited to head out on another blue water passage. We’re always up for a blue water passage─Phillip especially. That man loves nothing more than to stand behind a helm and look out on a blue horizon.
Okay, lay. He likes to lay behind the helm too.
Mitch really didn’t even have to ask. It all seemed a given from the moment he started looking for a boat in south Florida. He had been there for us and he knew we would do the same for him. Hell, we were happy to. We set a date that worked around everyone’s schedule─June 19, 2015─and started planning and provisioning. If everything went well, we were expecting the entire trip to take seven days but we cleared ten just in case. My only concern was the Bahamas. I was set to fly out of Pensacola to Ft. Lauderdale on July 2nd. Honor of a lifetime: I had been asked by a friend’s parents to crew with them on their boat in the Abacos Regatta. After reading Salt, seems they thought I would be helpful to have on board─or entertaining at least. The Bahamas saga will be coming up next on the blog. Be excited!
So, June 19th to July 1st was the time slot. The Mitch trip was going to be a tight fit, but it did fit. And we figured if something happened and we had to leave the Nonsuch somewhere─like, say, I don’t know … Carrabelle─we could leave her and drive the rest of the way home. We hoped that wouldn’t happen (again this time). We wanted to sail her right into the Pensacola Pass our first time out but there was always the possibility the wind, weather and whatever sailing karma is out there would see otherwise. Whatever the case, we were up for it.
What cracked me up, though, was Mitch. He always does. I love that guy. It’s fun to watch a new friend sort of walk up to the boating ledge, look over, kick a little pebble off then just fall, head-over-heels and tumble all the way down. No matter how many times you tell said friend it’s going to cost a lot, things are going to break often, and then it will cost a lot to repair them, it’s like they just can’t hear you. You continually try to warn them: You’re going to have to buy a lot of boat crap. Then you’ll start using all of that crap and discover what other boat crap you really want and then you’ll have to buy all of that too. It’s just a process. But when you finally get your boat dialed in─just the way you like it─it’s totally worth it. And, after having endured that entire process, you’ll really have fun watching friends go through it after you. I have to admit. I was having a hell of a time watching Mitch.
The naan was the least of his worries. After going through the list Mitch made when he was on the boat for the survey/sea trial of equipment already on board, we made another list of items he would need to purchase for the three of us to safely make the passage on the boat. The amount of stuff baffled him.
“Towels? What kind of towels?” Mitch asked, bewildered.
All kinds dude. Dish towels, bath towels, work towels. The three of us are essentially about to move onto your floating home and live there for a week, while we’re sailing and working on it. We might need to─I don’t know─bathe on occasion. Wash our dishes. Wipe our hands. I mean, maybe. If you don’t think so, though, nix the towels. He was funny. And some of the costs really put a thorn in his side, like the EPIRB.
“Do we really need that?” I remember him asking Phillip.
“Only if you want the Coast Guard to come if we’re sinking,” Phillip said.
But, I get it. I mean, those things are like $400. It’s not an easy pill to swallow. I had to laugh, though, when we started talking about a hurricane haul-out plan for his boat. And, again I agree. If $400 for the EPIRB gives you heartburn, you’re really going to take it on the chin with the $1,500 price tag on the haul-out. Mitch was understandably trying to stop the bleed:
“So, it’s $1,500 to haul out, if need be, for a hurricane?” he was trying to get Phillip to confirm.
“Well, it’s $1,500 for the year,” Phillip replied.
“Oh, okay, so if they don’t haul out, then that carries over next time, right?”
“No, it’s $1,500 a year.”
“Even if they don’t haul you out?!”
Sorry buddy. Boats are just expensive. But, like I said, Mitch had got the Nonsuch for an exceptional price so he, thankfully, had a little wiggle room left in his budget. Still doesn’t make it any easier to write those checks. He was a good sport about it, though. Better than I ever expected. Mitch really stepped up. Phillip and I gave him a pretty extensive list of things we would need for the trip─stuff for him to buy, stuff for us to bring and stuff for him to bring. It was good practice for Phillip and I to go back through that thought process of readying a boat for passage, except this time we kind of felt like yacht delivery people, like very amateur Kretschmers. But, some of the tips and tricks Kretschmer had mentioned when we attended his seminar at the Miami Boat Show back in February did seem to trickle through.
The whole idea of sitting down to make a list of items and equipment we would need to bring a boat across blue waters just gave Phillip and I a little tingle. It was exciting to think we would soon be back out there, in the Gulf of Mexico, looking out on a vast body of water with nothing on the horizon but a sun sinking into blue denim.
Thankfully, we had kept a digital copy of the list we had made when we were preparing to bring our Niagara 35 back home across the Gulf. We dusted that off and modified it a bit to suit Mitch’s boat and needs. In case any of you find it helpful in preparing for a passage, or a Kretschmer like yacht-delivery (yeah!), here ‘tis: our Provisions List.
We went through it with Mitch, item by item, making sure he had each one. And he did. He had bought it all, even some extra goodies for the two of us─little treats for us for agreeing to make the passage with him. Like I said, he was big on the snacks.
We were set to leave the following week and the only thing Mitch got stuck on was the naan.
“It’s not a snack. It’s bread, like a soft fluffy pita. We’ll eat it with the tiki masala.”
“Masala. Tiki masala.”
Yeah that. We’ll get that one buddy. See you in a few days.
Thanks to my Patrons who help me share the journey. Get inspired. Get on board.
We’ve all had it happen to a friend at one point or another. They see you’ve got a boat. They come and hang out a time or two on said boat. They start asking you questions about maintenance, where you keep it, how much this costs, how much that costs. Then it happens. It’s inevitable. They get bit. They want to a sailboat too.
Then they drive you crazy. It’s all they can think about. All they can talk about. They drive their spouses mad. They spend every free minute, even to the early hours of the morning, poring over listings on craigslist, yachtworld, broker sites, even eBay─trolling their fair share of ”boat porn.” They should have a support group for the addicts. The hunt is consuming.
Now usually these friends don’t actually take the plunge. It’s easy to shop, compare, research, ask hundreds of questions but when it comes time to actually choose a boat and put in an offer, most of these “bitten” friends find the urge is not quite strong enough. They talk a big game, but when it comes time to actually sign up with a broker and put in an offer, well … But, while they are “seriously shopping,” I’m curious─what do YOU like to do? Encourage these poor boating newbies because you want to watch the show? “Of course you should get one, Jim. Sailboats are awesome. They’re fun 100% of the time and they never give you problems,” you say through a slick, devilish smile.
Or, do you really try to help them? Wise them to the realities of boat ownership? “Now, it’s a lot of hard work, Jim. It’s going to be very costly in the beginning and will continue to always cost you more than you expected. It also requires a lot of time and labor. It needs to be your biggest time and money commitment. Are you sure you’re ready for that?” You might do the latter because you’re a good person and you really care about poor Jim and his continued financial and marital stability. Or you might do it because you know if he does get a boat and it does in fact give him problems─shocker!─the first person he’s going to bring those problems to is you. You’ve got your own boat, remember? Your own daily host of boat problems. You don’t need his too. But, sometimes, no matter how hard you try to talk Jim out of it─ease him back from that ledge─he takes the plunge anyway. He’s getting a boat dammit! If that’s the case, you might as well jump on the bandwagon and help him. You know, at the very least, it’s going to be one hell of a show.
That’s where we were. After Phillip, Mitch and I made the initial epic Gulf crossing bringing our Niagara 35 from Punta Gorda, FL where we bought her to her home port in Pensacola, Mitch really did swear he would never get back on the boat with us to cross anything. And he didn’t. Never again for a passage. But, he did get on our boat again a time or two when we invited he and his family out for the occasional weekend to enjoy the brighter side of cruising─life on the hook. Hourly dives off the bow into warm crystal-green waters, grilling burgers in the cockpit, eating dinner under a smattering of stars, falling asleep to the sound of the wind and water lapping at your hull. Then it happened. Then it really was inevitable.
Mitch got bit. He wanted a sailboat too.
Look at him, all kicked back, Havana day-dreaming. He was a goner.
Oh boy. At first, Phillip and I kind of scoffed at the idea and laughed it off. While Mitch is a good sailor, he is still─as I outlined in critical detail in Salt of a Sailor─a screamer, a slapper and certainly a big person to fit on a little boat. We didn’t think it would really come to fruition. But he proved us wrong by going out and buying a boat all on his very own─a very small boat, however, for his not-small stature. It was a Sea Pearl 21─a trailerable open day sailer. A very cute little boat and one that he picked up for a helluva “I’ll-pay-cash-now” deal but it was a tiny little rocky, rolley thing for he and his family.
I even struggled to keep that thing from tipping and Mitch’s lovely lady, Michelle, reportedly wedged herself in a far corner like a wet cat pretty much every time they sailed. In fact, the story we heard was the last time she went out with him on the Pearl, they darn near tipped over and she’d vowed to never set foot on that boat again. With that ultimatum, I guess Mitch really didn’t have any other choice if he was going to bring his lovely lady out with him on the water.
The Pearl was just the wrong boat for them, but Phillip and I were not yet convinced any boat would be.
Mitch, however, was still succumb to the delirium. He sold the cute little rocky-rolley boat and did what those bitten do. He started scouring listings, shopping online at midnight, looking at boats in marinas around town. It was all he could think about. All he could talk about. Phillip and I tried, initially, to talk him back from the ledge. “It’s a lot of work buddy. A LOT of work.” Every time he talked about getting a boat we would warn him again about how much it would cost, how much time it would take to maintain it, how hard it would be, how tough sometimes, how much it would cost (yes, again). But none of it stuck. He waved us off time and again. Our words seemed to strike him like little pebbles and clatter uselessly to the floor. No matter what we said Mitch persisted. Until finally his persistence won us over. It became clear Mitch was going─hell or high water─to get himself a boat. It was kind of inspiring. Even in the face of stern advice, it was like he knew he wanted this. It seemed he needed it. We couldn’t stop him. So we joined him.
“We might as well help him get a good one,” Phillip finally conceded and we were officially enlisted as Mitch’s trusted boat counsel.
Mitch’s number-one concern was a boat he could easily single-hand. While his significant other is a fun, bubbly, attractive lady, a sailor she is not and does not desire to be─which is fine. It’s not for everyone. And, at ten years old, Mitch’s son─while he may someday become a great sailor─doesn’t yet have the knowledge or strength to truly help Mitch handle a boat.
Initially, it would be Mitch manning the entire vessel, so his primary concern was a boat that was large enough to fit them all comfortably, including his sizeable 6’4”, but that he could also handle and sail alone.
He also wanted a boat that was essentially “turn-key”─just toss the lines and she’s ready to go. Mitch did not have the time, knowledge and money to dump into a fixer-upper. Oh, and he had a very tight budget─as we all do. Mitch is a savvy businessman and wisely frugal. In all, it was a bit of a tall order but the man is irritatingly lucky.
One of the first boats Mitch considered was a Nonsuch. It’s a cat rig boat with a very simple set-up. Think one big sail. Seriously, that’s it. Once you hoist the sail, there is nothing more to do than trim it. How do you tack? You turn the wheel. That’s all. The boat handles the rest. It was a great idea for a single-handed sailor. And, it was a Hinterhoeller─the same make as our boat─so of course Phillip and I gave him a thumbs-up there. And, it was Hinterhoeller’s flagship model. Compared to the number of Nonsuches they produced, the Niagaras were a mere fraction. But, it’s not a very common boat. I had never seen one before. And the first sight of it from the pictures Mitch sent made me do a double take. It looks awfully funny─with that big tree-trunk mast at the very, very front of the boat and no stays. Not a one. That huge, hulky mast stands of its own accord, like a pine in the wind.
I’d be curious if many of you have seen a Nonsuch sailing around in your parts. We certainly hadn’t, which made it a bit hard for Mitch to find one close to home to set foot on. Most of the ones he did find that were even worth a look were hundreds of miles away. So, he honed in the hunt to boats closer.
Mitch sought the trusted advice of our Broker-Turned-Boat-Buddy, Kevin with Edwards Yacht Sales, to run a few seemingly potentials by him that Mitch had found himself among the numerous local listings. Because Mitch was working on a tight-belt budget, Kevin offered to help give him a little guidance and insight at no cost. I’ve said it before, but─I don’t care, it’s my blog─Kevin is a fantastic broker. Thankfully, he was able to steer Mitch away from some real dogs─boats that needed a ton of work or had real problems (termites, deck rot, you name it) perhaps not visible to the novice sailor’s eye. Then Mitch stumbled upon a late-eighties Hunter 34 located in Pensacola. Kevin’s colleague actually had the listing so he was able to coordinate a look-see for Mitch. (Real technical term in sailing─you look at the boat and see what you find.) Phillip signed on for the look-see and what he and Mitch found was that Mitch didn’t fit. It was a good boat, in good condition for its age─as Kevin had said it would be─but Mitch literally hung head-and-shoulders off of the vberth bed. While this alone was a tell-tell sign (no sail pun intended), overall the boat just didn’t feel right. You just know when you step on a boat if it “feels right” to you.
For whatever reason, all roads kept leading Mitch back to the Nonsuch. There’s just none such like it. (Don’t worry, that will not be my last Nonsuch joke. Get ready.)
Seeing as how it’s a Hinterhoeller, Phillip and I highly approved. We knew, at the very least, the boat would be good build quality and a dependable boat for our insatiable new sailboat buddy. Once he’d set his sights on it, it was a done deal. I mentioned the savvy part. Mitch searched high and low and finally found one within suitable range. There was a Nonsuch down in Ft. Myers that had been on the market for quite some time. It was a 1985 like ours. (I know, kind of eerie.) And it appeared to be in good condition. The man who owned it sailed it often. Reportedly all systems worked. No big repairs, overhauls or major modifications were needed. The selling broker told Mitch the boat was just as it appeared in the photos which─minus a little elbow grease and Simply Green─it appeared pretty effin fantastic. He also told Mitch the owner was motivated.
“If you put in an offer half the asking price, I think he’ll go for it,” he told Mitch.
Half?! I was annoyed at the thought of it. I mentioned the irritatingly-lucky part. But, it made us all skeptical. To be such a good boat in such great condition for such a great price? It sounded too good to be true. On Phillip’s recommendation, Mitch made the offer contingent on a satisfactory survey/sea trial to be sure, and that way he would find out if the owner was serious. It was a smart move but still a little bit of a crazy one in my opinion. An old Nonsuch sitting down in Ft. Myers, and Mitch While-You’re-Down-There Roberts puts in an offer. Sight unseen.
Actually, I don’t think “dirty” covers it. I need another word. Stick with me and you’ll see what I mean. Delve into our head for a moment, will you?
Yes, that one. The throne. The John. The almighty porcelain God on our boat. Also the one that had decided to stop keeping the shizz in the holding tank where it belongs, but, rather, let it flow back up in the bowl. Some God!
Sad but true. And, unfortunately for us, it meant we were going to have to crack her open and replace her ailing parts. I decided to call in a specialist.
I got a job for you Mike!
With Rowe on board, we donned our special dirty-job apparel,
and set to work. Now, let me teach you a little something about the shizz system on our boat. Here’s a birds-eye view of the layout on our boat:
Here’s where the shizz goes:
Real fancy. And, let’s just appreciate, for a moment, the rockin’ 70’s Hinterhoeller ad where I got this fancy layout:
That is one fine-looking skipper ladies. I’ll bet if you rub his pot belly, it brings good luck.
“Hey Velma. It’s tough standing here at the helm. Why don’t you give my calf a good rub while I hold the wheel.”
That was fun, but back to the shizz. This is the suction tube:
So, let’s think about it. If the suction tube wasn’t holding the shizz back in the holding tank, then where do you think it was holding it? Anyone? Anyone? In the tube! We had a big black tube full of shizz that we had to take off to replace it. Someone had to clean out the tube before we could remove it.
Rowe said “NOOO!!!”
So guess who the job fell to? That’s right. The first mate. I said “How?”
And, Phillip handed me the shop vac.
I hope you’re putting two and two together by now. Yes, that’s it. We did what you’re thinking. We took the shop vac,
stuck it in the toilet,
and sucked the shizz out. And, I wish this was some kind of interactive blog, or a scratch-and-sniff, at least, because I don’t think words can express the glorious smell that emanated from our boat that day. And, as if this job could get any funner, after the sucking was done, then where do you think shizz was? Yep! In the shop vac! Someone then had to clean that out.
Damn you Rowe!!
So … I cleaned out the shop vac. (And, do, please, try to imagine the gentle care with which I carried that sloshing thing through the galley, up the companionway stairs, out of the cockpit and up to the dock. I kept imagining the little plastic clamps that held the tank on were going to break and shizz would dump everywhere. Please, do try to vividly imagine!)
With the shop vac purged and the tube cleaned out, we set to work on wrestling that thing off the head, which actually turned out to be a monstrous chore. What did Phillip akin it to? Oh yeah. Like wrestling an anaconda in an airplane bathroom. Something like that. And, I’ll have you know despite the suction wonders of the shop vac, we weren’t able to get all of the shizz out, so some of it was still oozing out while we were twisting and grappling with that stupid hose.
And, I’ll have you further know that yanking and pulling on a ripped, wire-threaded hose is NOT a good way to keep your flimsy, paper-thin vinyl gloves intact. It was inevitable:
“Take that Rowe. You big Nancy!”
I told you it was a dirty job. But, while it seemed the dirty part was over, the hardest certainly was not. It took Phillip and I about two hours to maneuver, tug, pull and curse that damn hose out through the vberth. Phillip was stationed in the bathroom trying to push and shove it through the hole in the cabinet under the sink:
While I was wedged under the mattress in the vberth trying to pull it out on my end:
It was quite the chore. But, we finally got her out!
And, there’s a reason we have a rag shoved in the end. You don’t want any spillage!
After that, it really was a piece of cake. We replaced all of the rubber parts,
gave her nice wipe-down, and
cleaned up the last of the shizz,
Then put her back together, and voila!
And, the new suction tube:
was super sucky in the best kind of way. Everything went right from the toilet to the tank. Sccchllooop! And stayed there!
And, to prove it, I filmed the dumbest video ever to memorialize our monumental feat.
Superstar is right! We had just accomplished the dirtiest job ever, and documented the whole thing for your viewing pleasure. What does Rowe know about entertainment? Despite his lackluster performance, I let Rowe stay, though. Well, because, let’s face it.
On the 18th, the crew woke to a lavender sunrise and a light breeze. It was a beautiful day. We were rested and ready to go. We tore through the Hampton Inn schmorgas board breakfast and hit the road. Our sail groupies were eager to make the big send-off.
The parents and I headed to Publix to make the big provisions run and, I have to say, I ran a tight ship. Mary was assigned canned goods and other non-perishables while I ransacked the produce and meat departments. I sent Paul to the back to gather boxes and bags and he cleaned them out. We looked like the old Supermarket Sweep contestants
Minus the matching numbered jersey sweatshirts of course. Man, these people are excited. And, just for an extra laugh (so all my hard blog work doesn’t go to waste) – this is worth a minute of your life, trust me: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UO_tm-C7yfU).
I texted Phillip a few pics to make sure I had picked up the right items.
364 dollars later (ouch!) we made it to the boat and started stacking up all the goodies in the cockpit. Down below, I was initially a little worried about how we were going to fit everything in the boat. Remember all that crap on the Provisions List? Well, now we had it – we just had to find a place to put it on a 35 foot sailboat. But, I will say, that turned out to be a non-issue. There were more nooks and crannies on that boat than an English muffin. (Which, interestingly enough, are patented and were recently the cause of a top secret muffin scare. Oh my! A riveting read I assure you: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/industries/food/2010-07-29-english-muffin-lawsuit_N.htm). Thankfully, we were able to cram all the crap in all the crannies in record time. We shook hands with Barbara and Jack and engaged in a nice photo op to memorialize the big event.
They were excited for us but a bit sad to see their beautiful boat go. We promised to take good care of her and they assured us if we did, she would certainly take good care of us. We set off around 11:30 a.m. and headed out into Charlotte Harbor.
The sailing was prime that day. The sun was out. The wind was blowing 8-12 knots and the waves were 2-3 feet all afternoon. We started to play around with the sails some and learn the systems. No matter how much you know about sailing, it always takes a bit to learn the rigging when you’re on a new boat. For us, this consisted of a very complicated pull-and-wiggle approach where I would pull or wiggle a line from the cockpit and Mitch, up at the mast, would find the line I was expertly pulling and wiggling and determine what it controlled, the outhaul, or the boom vang or a reefing line, etc. We, of course, forgot most of that when it came time to reef (pull the sail down a bit) but it just takes a while. After we got the sails up and trimmed and on a nice tack, the crew took a collective breath and let the afternoon seep in. We put on some good music, made some snacks (tuna salad sandwiches and homemade guac!) and, as all good sailors do, shed a few clothes.
Some of us relaxed more than others:
Now I did promise a full-fledged Chaucer rendition of Mitch, didn’t I? You readers … so demanding. Mitch. Where do I begin? First, I must say, he’s an incredible friend to give up five days to sail across the open Gulf with us and help get the boat back. As fun as it is, remember what I told you about sailing, it is indeed hard work, and we were out of touch with the rest of the cellular world for days at a time. That’s a big commitment, and there is no way we could have done it without him. There, now that I’ve given Mitch his due praise, let me give him his due description. As I’ve told you, Mitch is all of six feet, four inches. While that may seem pretty normal for a guy … on land … it’s a bit much for a 35-foot sailboat. Mitch lumbered and bumbled around that boat like an elephant going through a carwash. Each step of his foot on the deck sounded like Neal Armstrong landing on the moon. I honestly felt sorry for him while I watched him clamor up and down the companionway stairs and through the hatch. He must have felt like he was crawling around on Playskool equipment.
I think the fear of getting stuck in the hatch prompted him, each time I got up to go down the stairs, to ask me for something he needed from down below, rightly earning him the name “Mitch, While-You’re-Down-There, Roberts” for the duration of the trip. He was a talker and a screamer but he had a heart of gold. Mitch taught me a great deal about sailing and he was a true asset on the trip.
We watched the sun set over the bow of the boat on Thursday evening and congratulated each other on an excellent day of sailing.
I got industrious and labored away on some sweet potato chili in the galley. I managed not to blow the boat up and fed the crew right and proper. It was a sailing miracle! Clearwater was still another 15 hours away and we had a long night of sailing ahead, but the crew was full and content and ready to make way.
You’re probably thinking: Finally … screw the food and wine and Miami broads , I want to get back to this whole boat-buying business. Trust me. I get it. We felt the same way. It seemed like ages passed before we saw that beautiful boat again.
Totally gratuitous shot, I know, but when you own a boat this beautiful, you have unfettered bragging rights. (And I doubt I’m ruining any surprise by telling you we do, now, own the boat. If I did, you’re a terrible blog reader. Clearly you’ve been indulging only on the spoon-fed “front page” posts, while failing to dig deeper to the other, equally-entertaining tabs, namely, the one titled “The Boat.” Go ahead, check it out. I’ll wait . . . http://havewindwilltravel.com/the-boat-2/).
So, the time finally came for the survey/sea trial. For those of you unaware (don’t worry – I was head of that department when we began this whole business), typically, when buying a boat, you put in an offer contingent on a satisfactory survey/sea trial, meaning contingent upon the boat passing inspection and proving it truly is sea-worthy. The survey is meant to uncover potential problems with the boat that you perhaps cannot see or test upon gross inspection, like issues with the hull or engine or the electronics, for example. Things you could not uncover when you first looked at the boat because you either (a) couldn’t access them, or (b) wouldn’t know how to test them even if you could. I’ll let you guess which of these two categories we fell in. Hence, the need for a trusty boat surveyor. But, I’ll get to Kip in a moment.
In order to do the survey, they had to do a “haul-out,” which is just about as technical as it sounds. They hauled the boat out of the water so we all could have a look at her.
Our boat came glistening out of the water. Fin keel and all. She was huge! And, I mean that as a compliment. Little did I know at the time how important it is to have so much counter-weight under the water. I learned that when I found us heeled over to the tune of about 80 degrees during the crossing back. But, that’s a post for another day.
She hung there on straps, her underside exposed for all the world to see. She certainly wasn’t shy and, apparently, neither was Kip. He began digging around and rattling through his things and getting to work on her.
Now, Kip was quite the character. I’m sure my efforts will only offend Chaucer, but I will attempt regardless to give you a glimpse of the man. Kip clamored up to us that morning, pot-bellied and boisterous, lugging a large, seemingly vintage, toolbox of sorts, a satchel and a rolling briefcase. He began sweating profusely the minute he exerted the slightest amount of energy opening the latch to his case and he extended a wet, meaty paw to each of us, introducing himself only as Kip. I didn’t even know he was the surveyor (and wouldn’t have taken him for one with the two silver, pirate-like loops he bore in each ear and the incredulous, over-sized gold ring that hung heavily on his left hand) until he handed me a card, adorned only with the name “Kip.” Like he was more famous than Madonna. And, he was full of lewd jokes and inappropriate humor, most of which fell only on light chuckles and awkward shuffles. W didn’t know what to make of him. Phillip and I stood in bewilderment as Kip pulled out tools and began beating the bottom of the boat with a hammer, talking about how “every gal loves a good bangin’ in the morning!”
See Kip bang. Bang Kip bang.
But, our broker assured us Kip had a reputation for being extremely thorough and brutally honest, which is just what we wanted. If there was anything wrong with the boat, we wanted Kip to find it and give us the run-down. And, find it he did. At each point Kip accosted the hull of the boat with his yellow hammer, we heard a high-pitched, ringing “whack.” It appeared this noise pleased Kip as he would continue along un-phased by each shrill note, until he reached the area where the strut is fastened to the hull. When Kip struck near this area we all heard a dull, sickening, thud, much unlike the shrill, high-pitched sounds that had preceded it. Kip immediately stopped, struck the area again. Another deep, low thud. He struck the area to the left and right of it. High-pitched shrieks. He struck the area again. Thud. He started writing feverishly on his clipboard and he circled the area with his hammer. We all came around and examined the spot, a bit disheartened.
Kip explained it seemed there had been some water intrusion in the hull and there was a small pocket of water just above the strut joint on the starboard side. Thankfully our broker got his best “bottom-job” guy on the phone and got an estimate for a potential repair. For those of you wondering, a “bottom job” is simply that – work done on the bottom of a boat – cleaning, resurfacing, repainting, etc. – about every three years. (I’ll admit, I was shamelessly a little saddened to find that a “bottom job” search on Google (even images!) renders only nice, clean, kid-friendly things relating to bottom work on boats, other than this gem – which I include for your reading pleasure:
Thankfully, the estimate for repairing the “thud” didn’t give us too much heartburn and it certainly wasn’t a deal-breaker. The seller, Jack, even came around to investigate as well and seemed equally surprised by it. He assured us he had not noticed it when the boat had been hauled out in July of the previous year, which also gave us comfort. We determined later the fact that we had hit that speed bump early on actually turned out to be a good thing because it seemed the sting of it was quickly forgotten once we got out on the water and into the wind. The rest of the day was then left open for a beautiful sail and only thumbs up and smiles from Kip. Kip even told Jack himself what great shape the boat was in given its age. Apparently flattery gets you everywhere with Jack because this warmed him so much that he grabbed the helm and took us out himself for the sea trial.
It was a beautiful day. Not a cloud in the sky and just the right amount of wind. We hoisted the sails and felt her take off.
Phillip and I were happier than Richard Simmons at a fat camp (that’s right, you heard me, I went there: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vhZ2fYQj6IM) and we did a very poor job of hiding it. I don’t think smile is quite the word. Goofy, child-like grins were more like it.
After the sea trial, we pulled back into the marina and Kip packed up his bags and satchels and told us he’d write us up a “real good report.” Aside from the small issue with the hull, the boat had passed Kip’s rigorous test with flying colors. Phillip and I shook hands with Jack and Barbara and told them we’d be in touch (each of us feeling as though the day had gone well and the boat would soon be ours). For Jack and Barbara it seemed bitter-sweet. While they appeared to like us and felt the boat was going to good home with Phillip and I, they were also sad to see her go. They had sailed and cruised and enjoyed that boat for more than twenty years. That’s a long time to love a thing. And a boat is not an easy thing to let go. But Barbara and Jack hugged us warmly and waved back heartily as they left the marina to head home.
Phillip and I stood on the dock, breathing mightily, watching her go, thinking it would now, and forever, always feel like too long before we found ourselves back at that helm.