Friday, January 14, 2005

Chris: Boarders and getting underway

About 3:00 this morning, we had a boarder -- a toothless drunk who had tried to paddle his kayak out to his boat and got caught in the tide, which was running past us like the Columbia River. He managed to grab hold of our whaler, which was tied alongside, until Joe, who was on anchor watch, heard the thunking of gunwales and brought him on board. The fellow looked like Ben Gun in Treasure Island and was so grateful that he threatened to wake up the entire crew. If he had not caught hold of our boat the tide would have taken him into open sea. Joe calmed him down and gave him a tarp to lie under until the tide turned and would take him back to his own boat.

Along about 8:00 a.m. Ben Gun returned with gift of CDs for Joe, who he again credited with saving his life. In the light of day we could clearly see that his kayak was well designed – to carry a beer cooler aft of the paddler.

Boarders can be a problem in harbors like this one, where many of the visitors – and residents – are not in their right minds. Drunk enough, they can imagine themselves as pirates, and storm our “pirate” ship. They can be handled, of course, but not without waking our people, who are at the point in this voyage where the novelty has worn off and sleep deprivation has set in. We are getting very serious about sleep, especially those who have to interrupt theirs to stand watch in the middle of the night.

Conditions remain salubrious. The night was lit well with stars, and a light warm breeze wafted in from the east. According to the latest cell phone reports, snow and freezing rain are expected in Connecticut. My wife, home alone in South Hadley, has taken to bed with a feverish cold, making me feel very guilty having such a good time here.

Getting underway this morning was tricky, as we were anchored in a fast running current between Key West and one of its islands. The current was stronger than the wind, which came from the port, abeam. We could set all our sails and sail off the anchor, but there was no room to drift aft or to leeward. So the captain chose to lee-bow the current, in the hope that the current would keep us upwind of the island until we could attain enough speed to sail on through the channel and out to sea. We set all sails, including the main t’gallant, hoping that the higher sails would pick up a slightly stronger breeze and drive us forward through the current. It was a dicey situation; enough so that the Coast Guard came out to watch. But the strategy worked, if barely, and we sailed out of the harbor without embarrassment.

It might well not have worked if any of the gear jammed, or the crew fouled up. But everyone stood by their stations and did everything right and in proper sequence. All sails were set before the anchor came up, and it was hauled just as we got underway. The forestays’l, re-rigged while we were in Key West, worked properly, and made the difference.

A lot went on simultaneously, as both the main t’gallant and tops’l had to be raised up their masts quickly. This takes eight or ten hands on the halyard, with one person shouting “Heave, ho. Heave, ho” or “two, six, two, six,” which means the same thing. Rose went up and out onto the t’gallant yard to set sail and surprised herself on how easy it was after less than a week on board.

Once clear of the anchorage we sailed south from Key West and then wore around and headed due north on a starboard tack up the Gulf, towards St. Pete. The sky is clear but for some scattered clouds; temperatures continue to run in the high 70s, low 80s, with a 10 knot breeze driving us along at 4 to 5 knots per hour. The sea is calm, and the hot sun and light rocking action are conducive to laziness, even torpor. It is possible to lulled into the illusion that this is all there is to sailing.

All around us, however, are treacherous reefs. Sailing this same course through heavy fog would be very different; a time for ultra vigilance. Years ago, Erskine Childers wrote a gripping novel about a couple of Englishmen sailing through the Friesian sand flats in northern Holland, where the underwater topography changes radically with every few feet of a substantial tide. I can imagine the same sailing here, despite the relatively low rise in tide.

At the moment we are making 4 to 5 knots, which means we could be back in St. Petersburg on Friday, if we wished. The current plan is to use the extra time to practice evolutions, and to drop our hook off Egmont Key outside Tampa Bay late Saturday afternoon. That will give us time to clean ourselves and the ship up before taking her into Tampa at mid-day Sunday. Then there will be more time to get ready to meet the local alumnae at 5:30 p.m.
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posted by Chris