The Whole Picture is Nothing But a Compilation of Details.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

C.R.U.I.S.E. Part III: Cut and Run
Under skies the color of Guinness stout beer, the outgoing tide carries S/Y Balboa Clipper through the labyrinth of canals of Fort Lauderdale, a man-made engineering marvel that makes me question human intelligence. If Hurricane Katrina sank New Orleans, it's easy to imagine what a tsunami would do to Fort Lauderdale and Miami, not exactly towering above the ocean at eleven feet above sea level. Deduct a normal average wave height of five feet and very little margin is left to protect the multi-million-dollar homes with their curbside boat slips and drive-in boat houses. In what is supposed to be a tight housing market, a motivated seller lists his single family home at $6,999.000. Others are listed between $55,000.000 and $100,000.000.

She glides along towards open water, one bridge after another opening on command, like the door in Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. Her engine purrs like a content kitten in stark contrast to the gruff bridge operators, surprised and not particularly happy about having to actually work so early in the morning.

Traffic is sparse. It's 3:30 am.

As the sun rises out of the ocean in the east, S/Y Balboa Clipper dumps out in the Atlantic Ocean. We hang a right at the flashing green buoy marking the channel into Port Everglades, leaving a rapidly approaching container ship and her pilot (guide) boat to our aft. Container ships always move a lot quicker than they appear to. Our heading: 180. Dead south, which inherently gives you a strong feeling of good. We cruise along making decent speed on a perfect heading, until suddenly our speed over ground drops four knots. Feeling of good gone. On the wheel, I wonder what I'm doing wrong and ask for the sails to be eased, then trimmed, and when my efforts of gaining a knot or two only slow us down further, I ask for them to be eased out again, back to where they were. Sigh.

The Gulf Stream rushes east and north through a deep, narrow strait some 25 miles wide between Florida and the Bahamas.  Here, the current typically averages three knots, although it can reach speeds up to eight knots at times. This Gulf Stream is the fastest and largest current in the Atlantic; over a billion cubic feet of water rushes past Miami every second. Fascinating facts to read. Heartbreaking and very frustrating to experience. But change is constant and before long, the wonders of nature, a current running in the reverse direction (southbound) on the outer edge of the Gulf Stream, also called an eddy, picks us up. Soon, we see the sky-rises of Miami proper and South Beach sprouting out of the ocean, LEGO like. Eleven feet above sea level. Marvelous.

Sailing has been called "the art of going nowhere at great expense", and this trip is no exception. We are running behind schedule (this is a delivery, not a pleasure cruise) and the two extra days I had added into my already conservative timeline for "oh shits have already run out. Apparent final destination, assuming all goes relatively well from here on: Key West, maybe Isla Mujeres, Mexico. As we round the southeast tip of Florida we obtain reports of tropical disturbance number 19 brewing on our port and tropical storm Sandy, now hurricane Sandy, south of Cuba. Emails from friends read: "Some people's life is meant to be quiet and calm. NOT YOURS!!!!!!
Your is meant to be an adventure. I pray you are safe and well!!!" and "So, there's a hurricane where you are. Typical."

My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends -
It gives a lovely light.
Edna St. Vincent Millay, "A Few Figs from Thistles", 1920
US poet (1892 - 1950)

With bobbing sea turtles and bottlenose dolphins playing at our bow, we forge ahead, surfing down waves on the fringes of two big storms, licking us with their advantageous, brilliant steady winds. This is some of the best sailing I've ever experienced.

As dusk falls, our captain decides to teach the two first-time sailors how to anchor. In the dark, and in twelve feet of water. Aye, aye. I head into the wind, and hold her there. Suddenly the strong wind grabs her nose and pushes her to starboard. I turn the wheel hard to port to correct. She doesn't react but is pushed further downwind, the wind now starting to fill the sails. I at full tilt, and nothing happens. She is at the mercy of the howling wind. The steering is gone.

"DROP THE ANCHOR", I shout loudly into the wind as I throw my hands up in the air. I point to the wheel and motion with my hand across my throat to signal the loss of steering.

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