Rounding the Cape (2011)

October 15

After The Sailing Club ran a Labor Day Weekend trip aboard Liberty Clipper, a 125-foot schooner based in Boston in the summer, my friend Bruce and I decided to join the boat for a passage from Norfolk, Virginia to Fernandina Beach, Florida. The course would take us around Cape Hatteras, North Carolina and through an area of ocean known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic.

Liberty Clipper at the dock in Pourtsmouth, Virginia

The Liberty Clipper sells passenger berths on their trips between Boston and the Bahamas, where they spend the winter, but these are nothing like the weekend junkets, or the Bahamas cruises. These are working legs with long ocean passages. Not a lot of guests sign on for these trips. Bruce and I saw it as a chance to experience real tall ship sailing, not the tourist cruise we’d been on in Labor Day Weekend.

We flew to Norfolk to meet the boat in Portsmouth, Virginia, where she was berthed along with all the other schooners that had competed in the Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race. It was just as well that my Virginia Beach family was too busy to get together with me, because instead, when we got to the boat the first mate handed us crew wrist bands and sent us up the waterfront to the post-race party. Music, dancing, roasted shellfish, beer… it was a lot of fun. The crew were all there, giving Bruce and I a chance to re-meet the ones who’d been aboard for the club’s weekend.

My luxurious cabin

Most of them continued the party on some of the other boats, socializing with fellow crew. Bruce and I made our way back to LC to settle in. They straggled back noisily and carried on for a while. I couldn’t blame them—we were going to be at sea for the next ten days.

Since there were only two paying guests, we were issued the best cabins. Back over Labor Day Weekend we’d shared the closet-sized standard cabins with roommates. There was absolutely no storage space, so we had to step over our bags on the floor, or sleep with them. On this trip, we each had one of the deluxe cabins with wider bunks. Our luggage had bunks of their own. Luxury!

October 16

We started the day with the racers’ breakfast at Roger Brown’s restaurant up the street from the boat. A huge buffet offered mediocre food, but plenty of it. Mid-meal, the crew of the Mystic Whaler all marched in wearing clown hats and blowing whistles.

Awkward helm seating on a glorious day at sea

Back on board, skipper Andrew held a crew meeting and introduced us to the crew we didn’t know. We were sorry to learn that the cook who’d been aboard for the previous leg down the Chesapeake Bay had left—she was a lot of fun at the party last night. The ship’s engineer would cook breakfasts, and lunch and dinner duty would rotate among the crew. When he asked Bruce and I if we wanted to stand watches or just chill, we both opted to participate. Bruce was assigned to the 12:00 to 4:00, and I joined 4:00 to 8:00. That meant I was on duty from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. and from 4:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m.

I was pulled into helping Tim with lunch. We did a black bean salad and chicken and hummus wraps. I did a fruit salad because there were baskets of the stuff in the saloon, compliments of the race sponsors, I assumed.

Bruce in control

I lazed around on deck as we motored through Hampton roads and out through the bridge tunnel. It was cool to finally be on one of the boats going through the channel instead of driving my car through the tunnel under it.

My watch rolled around and I paired up with Patches. He showed me how to do the hourly boat check of bilges and engine. I joined Tim in the galley making enchiladas using left over Barbeque pork. I looked up a sauce recipe online and found that we had all the ingredients. Tim did Spanish rice, but the basmati didn’t work that well. Still, they ate it.

Patches, Steve, and Captain Andrew at the helm

I was called to take a turn at the helm. I’d steered during the Labor Day Weekend trip, so I was ready for the boat’s incredibly slow reaction time, as well as the awkward helm setup. I could stand next to it, or I could sit cross-legged or sideways on the raised compartment it was mounted to. All of these options get tiring, so switching around is the only reasonable option.

Soon after I took over the captain called for sails. We had a southwesterly that we could use to tack off shore, then come back. So I was at the helm for the sail set, which Bruce pointed out as he took my picture. I steered for a while, keeping it at five to six knots with a comfortable heel on a heading of 145 degrees true. Which was why we were twelve or more miles off shore by the end of my watch. I wondered if we’d tack in the night to stay closer to shore. I went to bed. My final diary entry reads: “Humm. Footsteps on deck. Swells have built, but she’s driving through them. Something is going on up there though.”

October 17

Oh dear lord.

At 10:55 we took a wave over the bow that came pouring through my hatch. Note that the hatches on this boat are set into boxes two feet above deck level. My bunk was soaked. Fortunately, all the electronics escaped. I moved to the lower bunk, feeling the boat level and thinking we were tacking. There was activity above, but I was so exhausted.

Near midnight I heard the watch change. That meant I had four hours to try to sleep, but the boat was plunging and jumping through heavy swells and the wind was howling. There were noises on deck. I thought they must be reefing. A little later I heard Angela saying something snarky to Tim about how he should have learned about the hatch pins in the safety briefing. Shortly after that she came in to my cabin to pin the hatch shut and found no pin for it. I knew it was supposed to be hanging on a string from up inside the deck fitting. I didn’t bother to tell Angela it was too late.

At 1:30 a.m., exhausted but unable to sleep, I got dressed and went up on deck — the spreader lights had been on for a while, visible through the translucent hatch far above me, and there had been constant voices. Surely they were not just reefing!

Idiot. So stupid not getting up earlier!

The aft third of the main boom had snapped. The sail had ripped, and the foresail had ripped too. All sails we’re down and the boom was secured to the lifeline, hanging over the side near the stern and occasionally dipping in the water. And the rolling had caused the ice machine to shift and the diesel task to slop out through a vent onto the deck. Things were under control, though. Bruce, who was on watch, asked if I had slept through it all. I don’t remember what I said. I felt stupid.

Skipper ordered the boat turned around. Bruce suggested we should rent a car and drive home rather than try to change our flights. Mentally re-planning the next few days I went back to bed and got up an hour later for my watch.

Crew securing the mainsail, Bruce and Johnny looking on

We motored north for four hours, watching the dawn. Sitting behind the helm, I felt the broken boom regularly dig into passing swells. I studied the damage—the jagged broken end above my head, the torn fabric still secured to it, the tangle of lines bundled together to keep them out of the way. 

Finally, we got back into cell range and captain Andrew had some long talks with the owner, Andy. I got busy with breakfast — I was the designated crew to help Joeabar the engineer. I resisted accusing anyone of sexism regarding crew duties. After all, I was also steering, standing bow watch, and doing boat checks on my watch. And I like cooking.

By the time breakfast was served and I found Bruce in the salon he said we were going south again. I looked out I saw that was true. Calm seas, light wind, just the jib.

I went back to bed and got at four hours of blissful sleep.

That’s a lot of sail to control

At lunch I learned that the plan was to go in to Beaufort, North Carolina to meet Andy, who was trying to arrange materials to scarf the boom.

Bluto had a fishing line out most of the day. During my afternoon watch Patches was sure he saw it jerk, so Cory decided to pull it in. Patches went to get Bluto, who was getting into the shower. When we saw there was nothing on the hook, Patches had to admit his folly to Bluto and apologize for interrupting his shower.

My watch mates spent the afternoon repairing several rips in the foresail. That work was almost done by sunset, but they secured it until tomorrow. The mainsail was torn too badly to try to use part of it with the shortened boom. It was just as well. By 9:30 p.m. the wind was building from the southwest again. And it was the four to eight watch crew who failed to reef early enough the previous night.

Angela repairing the jib

I calculated that we’d be off Hatteras by dawn, when we’d turn southwest toward Beaufort.

I had expected this trip to be interesting, but I did not expect this much motoring. 

Bruce and I were learning the ins and outs of the ship by standing watches. We found it funny that we were doing the hourly checks that were so annoying to some of our folks on Labor Day Weekend. We cook. We help with lines. We get to go up on the bow, which was off limits that weekend.

October 18

We rounded Cape Hatteras at dawn, finding the lighted red buoy but never laying eyes on the unlit number two buoy that the skipper was concerned that we not hit by accident. Conditions were good, with moderate swells slowing us down some, but a pleasant breeze. Around then we heard the 24-hour weather report predicting gale force winds for that night. Even in pleasant conditions I needed full follies on deck because of the spray and occasional wave over the bow. A gale sounded very unpleasant.

We were averaging three knots, not pushing the engine that hard. By noon we were running five knots. Bluto asked captain Andrew if we’re going to do a man overboard drill and he said normally yes, but we’re in a hurry. Bruce offered to be the man overboard, but the skipper’s answer was still “no.”

Angela observed that captain Andrew had been reclusive since the accident, which I had also noticed. We speculated that, as she said, “he’s in deep doodoo.” I said if we see captain Matt, one of the other regular skippers, on the dock in Beaufort we’ll know why.

View from the galley

All day work crews varnished, spliced, replaced chafing gear, and continued to repair the foresail. The light breeze was on our nose, so the sail wasn’t top priority. But it would be a long job, so they needed to keep at it. Sea chanties on the stereo were replaced with head banging rock at some point. The sky was powder blue with puffy white clouds that could mark the gulf stream—they form over the warm water. If so, we were right on the edge of it. There were also clouds twenty miles northeast over Portsmouth island. The sea was calm but not flat. Low rolling swells hobby horsed us as we moved along. Our speed was close to six knots. Captain Andrew was definitely focused now on getting there.

For a while we slowed down so we would not get in too early. I inferred from various overheard discussions that the skipper wanted to tie up at the fuel dock and spend the night for free. I could relate. I’ve done that. Then the weather seemed to be building sooner and, while I was at the helm on my watch, captain Andrew gunned the engine.

We we’re chugging along at six knots plus and I notice the bungee cord on Blutos fishing line stretching. I figured, “yeah, we’re going faster. But still…” I was alone on the aft deck and had the helm. So I waited until Cory and Patches turned up and checked it. Yup. Something was on the hook.

There was great excitement as Bluto was summoned and Cory asked Captain Andrew permission to slow down long enough to pull it in. This was granted.

Bluto hauled and hauled and finally we saw the lure and then—yes!—a shiny body. He hauled in the five- or six-pound tuna with glee, then posed wearing a huge grin. He started to filet it there near the helm but Captain Andrew evicted him with what I thought was somewhat sour tones. Who knows whether Bluto has a bad history or it was just Andrew’s mood. In any case, fresh fish tomorrow. And Bluto immediately put the line back out.

My next position was bow watch. I was sitting there enjoying the evening when I heard an odd splash off to port. Something big was swimming there, bioluminescence outlining its form. It had jumped and splashed as if to get my attention. Then the four dolphins began to play in the bow wake. Their dark bodies were haloed by the luminescence and they left long sparkling trails. They swam in tight formation, then one would dash across beneath the prow. They seemed to be daring each other to cross in front of the boat, although each of them could easily swim faster than us. They played and played, and I was their sole viewer for a long while until I saw some crew on deck and called out. A few joined me to see them. Steve seemed most enchanted, but Ray also watched for a long while. Angela joined us but made little comment. It was indescribable, really. It made the trip.

We approached Beaufort, North Carolina, where we expected to be secure for the night. The rain had started, but not the predicted very heavy wind. As we entered the channel, the ship’s GPS went out. We missed the turn to starboard for the channel to town. There were platy of buoys marking the channels, but none of them were lighted. We turned around in the larger left most channel to the west of Radio Island while regrouping.

Captain Andrew had a small printed chart in a plastic bag. I considered offering my iPad with its Navionics software, but I didn’t have a waterproof case, and he was not in a receptive mood to deal with passengers. I understood that. And I also easily imagined him setting it down in the rain without thinking.

Safely docked in Beaufort, North Carolina

Instead, I went and got my flashlight. Andrew roused Cory from off watch to take the ship’s spotlight to the roof of the deck house. Since he asked Cory to focus on lighting the port side buoys, I found a position on the starboard side deck and looked for red buoys.

With the entire crew spotting, Captain Andrew aimed for the correct channel. Cory would find a mark with the big light, and the rest of us with our smaller lights kept it lit as Cory looked ahead. My bright dive light was great, easily revealing buoy numbers from a distance. Steve commented on much brighter it was than his dollar store light. Cute.

Eventually we were in the narrower but more protected channel and we could make out the way ahead more easily. We saw anchored boats to starboard and dockage to port, and then the town, mostly shuttered for the night but with street lights and shop signs all glistening in the rain. We knew we were to take the end of a T dock. We found two available, with large powerboats on two others. The slips inside were populated with an assortment of sailboats and sport fishers. I didn’t see a marked fuel dock.

First attempt we couldn’t get close enough to heave a line on a piling, nor have a deckhand jump ashore. The wind pushed our bow toward the dock, and the current spun the stern away. Captain Andrew reversed us off and got the bow around to try again at the other empty T. Same thing happened.

So he ran downwind for another try and deployed the small boat with Cory and Patches aboard. Cory took Patches to the first T and moved off so Captain Andrew could try again. He got much closer this time, so crew was able to heave lines to Patches on the dock. He got two on a dock cleat, and then a third, but the bowsprit was only feet from the second piling as it passed. It was aimed right at the third piling and we had a lot of way on to counter the breeze.

The call to slow down didn’t reach the helm in time and the bowsprit ran up on the piling, snagging the starboard cable over the top. The current began to pivot the stern around with the bow still stuck on the piling. The dock lines were useless with the boat pointing bow to the dock. Back at the helm, Captain Andrew didn’t know why reverse wouldn’t work at first. Finally word was clearly passed to him and he ordered the lines loosed so the boat could move more. He backed again and the bowsprit popped free. Then he had to stop our momentum before we backed into the anchored boats behind us. Of course by then everyone on a boat in the neighborhood was watching.

For number four Captain Andrew put us close enough to heave the two amidships lines to Patches, but far enough out to keep the bowsprit off the pilings. With two spring lines secure Captain Andrew was able to walk the stern in with the engine. Cory pushed the bow with the small boat. Crew took up the slack on the lines gradually, walking the boat sideways until the stern and bow lines could be tossed and secured.

The moment we were snugged to the dock Paul was there with the power cord and hose, connecting our systems. And then the “foofoo lights”– ropes of lights running just under the gunwales—came on. Very festive. And the rain had mostly stopped.

Captain Andrew called a meeting on the main deck.

“There’s a bar on the dock. Don’t get sloshed. Muster at eight a.m. No watches, but keep an ear out. Communication was bad between bow and helm about the status of the bowsprit. I was scared to death coming in that channel. Dismissed.”

Wow.

Most of the crew convened at the bar. Some moved on for a couple more at another place that had pool tables. I met a guy crewing his dad’s Beneteau south, then Rebecca got talking to a couple guys who claimed to work sea tow in the Chesapeake and hand helped tow Liberty Clipper off a shoal a few days ago.

To my left Bluto muttered “smell that?”

“What?”

“Bullshit.”

Bruce washing up

Then they asked Rebecca if she saw the UFOs. She had: strange lights inshore, like flares or fireworks, but blinking oddly. They’d been reported from Virginia Beach to Saint Augustine, according to the guys. Rebecca had been among those who reported them. The coast guard response had been that the lights coincided with military activity. Still, these guys insisted it was UFOs.

As it happened, not long before this trip I was sitting on the deck in a rented beach house in the Outer Banks drinking. So were my nephews and niece and their spouses. We’d watched these bright lights in the sky, out over the ocean, but not far out. They would approach from the south and the north. We’d watch them coming for a minute or more. And then they’d vanish within a mile or so of our location. After watching this happen many times, and continuing to drink, someone said they were sure they were not disappearing, but were turning out to sea, and we could no longer see their lights when they did. We concluded that it was military aircraft doing some kind of training.

I decided not to get involved in the bar conversation about the same phenomenon.

October 19

The next morning the rain was back. At 8:00 a.m. the crew mustered in the saloon to learn that we were in for. Captain Andrew set dock watches, meaning minimum of one person from each watch had to be on board, sober for at least eight hours. Bruce and I excused ourselves entirely, not because of the sobriety rule (Bruce doesn’t drink anyway), but because standing around on a boat at a dock is boring. It didn’t sound like we were leaving today.

Bluto, Bruce, Angela, and I went for breakfast at a place on the dock where we found good omelets, with grits for me and Bluto and chocolate milk for Bruce and Angela.

After that several of us did laundry—I mean, why not? Johnny and I talked to a guy transiting his sailboat single handed south. He said he’d gone around Cape Hatteras on the outside based on advice from someone. “Never again,” he shook his head thoughtfully. “It was terrible.” No kidding.

He had great stories of his sailing life: He sails and his girlfriend flies to meet him. He told of refitting in St Martin last year for $50,000. He said he had lots of scars, all of them surgical. After chemotherapy he took an ASA class and decided sailing was it. He bought the boat in Malta and had mostly singlehanded it since. He preferred not to have crew to have to explain his decisions to. I understood. I imagined him as a high level executive somewhere with a fat portfolio and good benefits that had covered the cancer treatment as well as his new lifestyle.

When my laundry was done I stowed it and wandered the town. Bruce took a nap. I enjoyed the very good maritime museum where I learned all about the Queen Anne’s Revenge, Backbeard’s ship, which was found in 1996 on the bar at Topsail Inlet—the one we’d come through last night in the dark. We’d practically sailed right over the pirate ship wreck!

I visited a couple shops and explored the small town. The streets were flooded from the rain, forcing me to slog through four-inch deep puddles in my Keens. I met Bruce for lunch at Clawson’s, where we had fried shell fish baskets. Back at the boat, the dock crew had wheeled a portable fuel pump up beside the boat, its hose snaking along the dock back to the storage tank on shore. No wonder there was no marked fuel dock.

After a nap on board the Liberty Clipper, I went back out to buy new, dry Keens.

At dinner time Angela and I roused Bruce out of his bunk to go back to Clawson’s for dinner. Angela said she felt strange so we walked her back to the boat, chatted briefly with Paul on the dock, and then went to the Dock House bar where Captain Andrew was drinking downstairs and crew was drinking upstairs.

Bruce went up. I stayed down. Andrew and I talked about management theories agile/team based vs top down. I said thought Steve was floating through life, not motivated. Andrew said there were two in the crew he saw as not taking initiative, always waiting for direction, but Steve wasn’t one of them. I couldn’t guess who he was thinking off just then, but in retrospect realized Angela was one. I wasn’t sure about the other. He talked about running a ship in the gulf where half the crew was diabetic. He insisted they get tested and get it under control. They resented him, but he saw improved health. A couple beers there was enough and we walked back together. He said the seven a.m. muster he’d called was more about discipline than doing anything with the boat because he expected to stay another day.

October 20

Indeed, crew mustered in the salon in the morning. Captain Andrew said that although the day was sunny and windy, sea conditions were bad. With twelve foot swells and 25 to 30 knot wind out there, we weren’t moving—we couldn’t even get the boat off the dock against that wind. 

It occurred to me to look for geocaches, now that it was dry out. I found two quickly, the third I went for had a long list of “did not find” log entries, and I was the same. I met Bruce for lunch at Queen Anne’s Revenge where we had grouper sandwiches. I shopped some, walked west to find my third cache on a fishing walkway overlooking a marshy area where dead boats go to die. Back on board mid-afternoon I lay down to continue my 24 marathon on my iPad and nap. Bruce and I went to dinner at the Dock House and I brought back half my steak. Cory and patches we’re just leaving for one of the bars, but we both decided to turn in.

October 21

At 7:00 a.m. the orders were to get moving. The wind had calmed and half the boats in the harbor were heading out, including the single hander. It did not escape my notice that Liberty Clipper’s owner had not turned up in Beaufort with repair supplies as mentioned days before.

A pod of dolphin was fishing in the channel as we prepared to cast off, but they didn’t escort us out as we hoped. Seeing the channel by daylight, and the shoals we’d avoided in the dark, I realized we were either very lucky or very skilled. Probably some of each.

Aquatic visitors

Seas near the inlet were heavy, but an hour out they flattened a lot. The breeze was from the west, on our nose. Captain Andrew appeared to be hugging the coast to stay out of deeper water and bigger swells.

Helped Ray with lunch—made still more fruit salad to o with his tuna salad. I reheated my leftover steak for myself, though. Later I baked a loaf of banana bread from scratch since some of the many bananas were turning and I had cellular service to find a recipe on line. I was slicing it, aromatic steam wafting off of it, when Captain Andrew wandered into the galley saying, “I smell smells…” My initial reaction was guilt, because he’d told the crew to use the cooking gas sparingly. But no, he wasn’t there to chastise me. He wanted a piece. He got one.

October 22

On bow watch, a few minutes before sunrise I saw splashes in the otherwise calm sea off to starboard. Sure enough, it was dolphins heading our way. Seven of them took up position under our bow, breaching and twisting, dodging back and forth, nudging each other. As they left us the sun rose, passing slowly behind low clouds to cast a rosy glow across the sea, then emerging to warm my cheeks. Glorious morning.

Aquatic acrobatics

NOAA reported a northerly, but we didn’t see it yet. We were making what wind we felt. Before dawn we’d sighted a tug and barge astern. They were overtaking to our east for a while, then turned right toward us. Cory radioed them and they said they’d take our stern to get inshore of us. And they did. Such was the excitement of the overnight watch. It moved the boat about twenty-four miles closer to Florida. Two-hundred eight to go.

We were out of cell range, so I hoped nobody expected more baked wonders after the banana bread. Although I could probably construct something from memory, dough is easy. An apple tart? We still had a million apples.

Dolphins escorted us most of the day. When the northerly finally filled in we accelerated to eight knots and they started doing acrobatics in our bow wake. We were also visited by several small grey and yellow birds the took up residence, darting all around the boat eating insects. I was certain they were migrating.

Winged visitor

The work party continued, scraping and sanding the rails and even doing some varnishing. Patches and Cory went up to the mainmast spreaders to lower the halyards and blocks. The mainsail and it’s gaf and boom would have to be taken off for the repair. They detached the foot of the sail from the broken boom with some hope of figuring out a way to fly the main free-footed, but the lazy jacks and other rigging running from mast to boom would get in the way, and there was no way to rig an out haul.

So we ran all day and night under jib, staysail, and foresail. The northerly weakened later in the afternoon and the dolphins stopped visiting when it got dark. As I turned in, Angela pointed out one of the birds perched on the head door frame. It had its head under its wing and its feathers all puffed out for sleep. I was glad we made it feel safe.

October 23

I finished out my morning watch on the helm just after sunrise. When I went below just before that, around six, I found the little bird dead on the floor. Poor little thing, and here I’d thought it was happy. At least it had a dry end. I gave it a burial at sea. When I told Cory he assured me that they we’re all dead and we’d be finding them in the coils and such after daylight. But as if to prove him wrong, while I was steering, one popped up out of the chart room hatch. Then two more turned up from somewhere else. Soon the three survivors were darting around the deck catching insects again.

Bruce goes up the rigging

Another schooner off to starboard was hull down on the horizon when I went down for a morning nap. When I got up late morning she was closer. I saw sails off to port as well. Clouds rolled in thicker, but never brought a heavier breeze. We’re 21 miles out.

The work party was de-rusting painted surfaces using a mild acid. They hosed the decks, presumably to get rid of all the sanding dust. Bluto, shirtless in white basketball shorts, his little paunch jiggling, hosed off the acid.

Tattooed Johnny English went below with a bottle of multi-purpose cleaner to clean the heads as he did twice a day. He told me yesterday that his grandfather was marooned on Christmas Island during World War I and didn’t know the war was over when they found him. Sounded like a story I saw a movie version of.

Angela finally moved all her crap from cabin three next to Bruce and my cabins to the fock’sl where the crew lives when guests are aboard. She did while others were doing boat work. But to be fair, the rest of her watch she worked while Cory, Chris, and I all took naps. Cory and Chris were trading watch time to work in the afternoon. I was just lazy and not needed.

Tim made tortellini and homemade focaccia for lunch. Everyone expected dinner to be on shore, or on their own.

Amazingly, despite the stay in Beaufort, we were going to arrive a day early in Florida. Bruce waited impatiently for cell service to try to change his flight. I considered doing the same, but I was waiting for cell service to call Meghann and see if I was welcome for a visit.

Late in the afternoon we sailed in the channel north of Fernandina beach on a screaming broad reach. The channel starts ten miles offshore and is marked by lighted buoys. It’s well maintained because it serves the St. Mary’s submarine base. We didn’t see any military vessels.

While we sailed in Bluto made a turkshead around my ankle. Bruce went up the topmost with Chris and Johnny, satisfying one of his wishes for the trip.

We turned to the south once past Fort Clinch and dropped the sails. Captain Andrew had learned that the marina could not take us until tomorrow, but that the anchorage had room for us. So we motored down the ICW to town.

I reached my niece shopping with her mother in Jacksonville. They would be in town for dinner with friends, so they’d look for me in the marina. Bruce was able to reschedule to catch an 8:00 p.m. flight from Jacksonville. He paid $260 for the change. I couldn’t bring myself to pay that much (doubling the original cost of the flight) in order to be back at work on Monday.

Bruce and I were on the first boat ashore along with Rebecca. She had been the watch captain when the winds off Hatteras built up, the person who neither called for the sails to be reefed, nor woke the captain to get his orders on the matter. We left several crew waiting on deck for their turn to get off for the evening.

My niece Meghann and her little girl Adrian were waiting for me on the dock.

Fort Clinch

Dinner was with friends of Meghann and Ron: another submariner and his family, including four well behaved kids. They talked about their Hunter 30 in a marina where they were posted years ago. They had not seen it in a year. And as sailors they we’re interested in our boom loss story—and understood it.

I had not moved off of Liberty Clipper—after all, I’d paid for the cabin for another night. So I made plans for the family to pick me up tomorrow and caught a ride back out with some crew around 8:00 p.m. I found Cory itching to get off and Tim cooking shrimp. Tim urged Cory to take the small boat ashore and find Rebecca, who was due back at 9:00 p.m. We both assured Cory the small boat would be fine tied up at the dinghy dock for a few minutes.

I was laying in my bunk watching Netflix when Angela and Rebecca’s voices carried down through the hatch. The words were indistinct, but Angela was clearly counseling Rebecca. Later I heard Tim, obviously standing on the ladder, saying something to Rebecca about her need for accuracy, that he was not going to bed. Apparently she had said something about being on watch and all the rest of the crew going to bed. Tim said he expects to be roused if he’s needed in that case. I spectulated that they would not be arguing if Rebecca were not getting off here. And I was also glad I wasn’t on her watch, for any number of reasons.

October 24

I was awakened by a call from a co-worker work saying he would miss work today. He’d moved and had no Internet. Welcome back to reality.

We docked the boat at midday and I was met by the family. I left my luggage on deck and we went to lunch at the beach.

We came back early in the evening to get a tour for them and collect my bag. Jobar, sitting on the dock, waved us aboard saying, “you can do a tour as well as anyone.” I showed them everything, including the engine and generator, which Ron was into. Ray found us in the saloon and I introduced him. In our brief, chat Ray said something about the captain seeing us at the helm and wondering who we are. I’m was puzzled. Then Andrew came half way down the ladder and asked Ray for a one of the keys to the dock heads. He didn’t acknowledge our presence. Ray gave him the key and he left, but he came back a moment later and returned it saying something about not needing it after all. Still no acknowledgement of us.

We got off, saying good bye to Joabar and Steve who were still sitting on the dock. A few yards along we met Johnny coming the other way. Fortunately, Johnny is a talkative guy. He explained that captain Andrew was fired, and Joabar is mad about how it was handled, and I realize that the stranger I saw in deck was the new captain, and that’s who Ray was referring to. It explained why Andrew ignored us in the saloon.

I was sorry not to be able to wish Andrew good luck, but if I were in his deck shoes, I’d not have wanted to talk to anyone either.

In the months after the trip, I followed the boat on Facebook as it wintered over in the Bahamas doing week-long cruises for paying passengers. Clearly the boom was repaired and life aboard ship went on with the usual rotating cast of crew characters. I realized that Captain Andrew must have told Rebecca to get off the boat on the first launch so she would not be there for the owner to fire. She’d gone ashore and arranged transportation to some other boat in some other marina, then returned to stand her last watch. This was a tremendous reminder of the long term consequences of failing to reef before you think you need to.

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