Swashbucklers and flying fish
Updated: Dec 16, 2019
I am always excited to embark on a delivery because it is impossible to predict what will happen with all of the different variables: the boat, the weather, and sea life to name a few. For this trip, I had to deliver a 100-foot, 100-year-old wooden gaff-rigged schooner from Melbourne, Florida to Alexandria, Virginia. The plan was to navigate Florida’s Intracoastal Waterway, exit near Cape Canaveral, Florida, and head out to open ocean for 5 days. Although I felt like I was part of history by commanding this beautiful, rustic, century old boat across the ocean, it was not all smooth sailing.
Of course, every boating experience comes with its bumps and bruises. As is the case with a long-term, romantic relationship, these kinds of challenges keep things fresh and exciting. With the invention of such modern amenities as the Keurig coffee maker, a person could wake up to a freshly brewed cup o’ joe. But aboard Old Lumber (my nickname for the boat), this “simple” task took 15 minutes starting with the manual pumping of the stove. After five days of this arduous process, I can promise that I will never take a coffee maker for granted ever again. At this point, it may not surprise you that we did not have an electric winch, so we had to pull up the anchor (chain gang style) every time we were ready to cast off for the next destination.
Like cruise control in a car, autopilot generally comes standard in modern yachts equipped with electronics. But you guessed it, not in a ship that has been around for a century. As a result, trying to turn while the waves were see-sawing back and forth was a little like struggling to hold an umbrella over your head during a hurricane — if you cannot relate to either of these situations, consider yourself lucky.
Motoring a deep keeled boat through Florida’s Intracoastal Waterway always tests a captain’s skills because the canals are so shallow. The English word canal comes from its Latin predecessor canalis, which means water pipe or tube. Not everyone is familiar with boating, but I am quite sure most people would understand that an ample amount of water is needed for a boat to navigate. Much to my chagrin, Old Lumber went “aground” in one of these canals and I had to maneuver my way out of the sand. Suddenly, I was Austin Powers trying to make that three point turn with a big, clunky luggage cart in a narrow hallway.
Gliding along these canals was a surreal experience: a cross between the 1950’s swashbuckler hit Treasure Island and Total Recall. Natives, bronzed and weathered from sitting out in the sun all day on their porches, rocked back and forth in their rocking chairs while peering out at us from underneath their straw hats. Although, instead of sweeping the porch or sewing, they were glued to their cell phones and flat screen TVs much like the majority of people in the modern world. Speaking of peering eyes, we also came across some alligators that looked at us like we were invading their territory.
One night while I was on watch (naturally it is pitch black when you are surrounded by ocean in every direction), something smacked me in the face a couple of times. Unfortunately, by the time I turned on my flashlight both times, there was nothing to see and no clues were left behind. Finally at sunrise, I was able to determine the cause of the “attack.” About a dozen flying fish lay lifeless at our feet all along the floor of the boat.
Needless to say, every boating excursion has the element of surprise whether you are a novice or a seasoned veteran like myself.