The Whole Picture is Nothing But a Compilation of Details.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

C.R.U.I.S.E: Epilogue

Feb. 23, 2013

Balboa Clipper update from crew member to me:

"we hit 11.5 knots on the clipper then the sheets for the jib jammed on the anchor on deck a mess so we dropped the mainsail and Cap lost the bitter end and I got hit by the boom and hung on for dear life! fixed that mess too...did I mention the mizzen mast blew thru the floor and I jammed Kellys steel bucket to keep it from punching the hull? ..on dry for awhile!"

C.R.U.I.S.E Part V: The Bitter End

Cringing dinghy my companion
Howling winds my chorus
Wincing wood my lyrics
Tomorrow my hope

-Written by crew member at 4 am.

We are all eager to get to dry land, each of us with our own reason: To get parts so we can put the boat back together and sail on to Belize, to eat something other than rice and beans, to socialize, to experience the renowned Fantasy Fest ( where body paint is more prevalent than clothes, to get away from the damned boat that won't stop moving like a rocking horse... I have one more day left of vacation and, full up with adventure and close calls, there is nothing I want more than to spend it somewhere, anywhere, away from this boat.

We part ways at the dock - in typical fashion, the crew goes one way, the captain another. Us crew members fall into the nearest restaurant, relieved to be on "the hard". The TV broadcasts continuous updates on Tropical Storm Sandy saying it could be "a rare event" and we discuss returning to the boat versus not returning to the boat. When the waitress asks what we'd like to drink we laugh out loud and in unison order three dark and stormys, a lovely concoction of spiced dark rum, ginger beer and lime.

Further decimation happens among the crew after breakfast. I'm in the contingency of two who go to explore Fantasy Fest. Originally an initiative undertaken to boost tourism to the Florida keys in the slower months, Fantasy Fest week has taken on a life of it's own and now produces the most revenue of any week during the year. It's a show, a carnival with festive floats, costumes, no shame, a whole lot of body paint and even more rum.

We circle back to the dock between rounds of rum punch and at long last we intercept the captain, soaking wet, dinghy in tow. Soon, a crowd gathers, soaked boat cushions, a cooler, frozen chicken thighs, a few apples, and life jackets are offloaded onto the dock. We can't help but laugh at it all. His attempt of returning to the Balboa Clipper with one of the crew members, groceries and a new steering cable had failed, in the true sense of the word: Going straight into the weather, one wave too many had come over the bow and claimed the rights to the dinghy directly in front of the coast guard station. The rescue was swift but far from painless to the ego. When the TV crew on board the coastguard cutter asked for permission to film, the answer was reportedly "short and negative".

I now really regret not having taken my backpack off the boat and since none of the other crew members have any intentions of setting foot on board that night, only I remain to go back out with the captain. Despite the inherent risk, my heart pounds with excitement. This is another Louis and Clark expedition! Oh the fine line between brave and stupid... Engine flushed out and reattached to the dinghy, we test the waters once more, with almost the same disastrous result as the first attempt. Bailing feverishly to keep up with the waves crashing over the dinghy, we joke about what to tell the coast guard if a second rescue is required...  "Um, yes sir. I found this lovely young lady ashore... I'm sure you understand..."  Luckily, no such scene is called for and as soon as we reach the Balboa Clipper (almost not soon enough) we quickly clutch the stanchions and haul ourselves out of the near sinking dinghy, bucking like a yearling under saddle for the first time. With an acrobatic balancing act and not just a little bit of luck we remove the engine, check the anchors, dry out soaked wallets and cellphones, secure what can be secured, and put our heads down for the night.I'm fully dressed, including life jacket. My passport and wallet are in a watertight bag in my zipped up pocket.

Against all odds, I sleep very restfully. Probably from sheer exhaustion. And the knowledge that I'm close to the end of this delivery. I have booked a ride in to shore in the morning with a shuttle service, will grab a taxi to the airport and once there with a boarding pass in hand, I will have a stiff drink and not worry about my safety for the first time since we left Fort Lauderdale.

Now I need a vacation.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

C.R.U.I.S.E. Part IV: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Our boat is quickly transformed to a floating repair shop, brightly illuminated by deck lights. Not only is the steering cable off its track: The bowsprit is looser than it was when we cast off in Fort Lauderdale due to a rotted out heel, and there is a one inch play in the steel plate securing the mizzen mast.

Looks like we'll be here for awhile.

A surprising amount of tools are pulled out of the hold, one by one, like rabbits out of a magic hat; a mounting mess including hundreds of feet of anchor chain, a portable generator, a sawsall, spare pieces of wood, steel bars, caulk, glue, drill sets, socket sets, various hammers and mallets, bolts, nuts and screws of every size imaginable... In the wee hours of the morning, the moon, a creamy yellow big crescent of cheese sets in the big blue, and defeated by fate, we find a place to rest. I curl up in my sleeping bag under the dodger, worried about the prospect of our floating scrap metal yard being tossed around by the elements due to a dragging anchor with no available options of maneuvering. I wake up continuously.

Morning comes, and with energy levels and hope restored, the Balboa Clipper is pasted together with a mixture of ingenuity, steel plates, and marine caulk. I'd like to point out that, against all odds, the second most common problem on a boat, after crew, is not in need of repairs: the packing is tight and sounds like a happy donkey each time the handle is raised and lowered to flush. As a result, we begin to refer to the head as The Donkey. It didn't take long for "I'm going to hit the head" to become "I'm going to feed the donkey". Ah, life on board a boat...

We set sail, haul the anchor, and point the nose to the west, hoping to reach Key West before we have an altercation with the rapidly approaching, recently upgraded Tropical Storm Sandy. She brings us plenty of wind and a display of spectacular storm skies to our aft, but the skies above are blue and the winds on our backs. If I could only shake the constant, nagging feeling of "when?"

 "When" happens at sunset, just as we enter the channel to Key West, in close proximity to other boats and the hard (i.e. land) for the first time in sixteen hours. The emergency tiller, a two feet long steel shaft is installed and in 35-40 knot winds we enter the mooring field, its water boiling with whitecaps.

Another meal of rice and beans, anchors out and holding, wind howling through the rig. With no reliable steering, I'm happy that the Coast Guard Station is located eight hundred yards away.

We wouldn't need them until the next day.