Servicing the Electric Anchor Windlass … Sort of!
Phil here, with a tech update on servicing and maintaining our Catalina 380, 38-foot sailboat. Boats of our size and larger have anchors that weigh on the order of 35 pounds and above, and have anchor rodes (i.e. lines) that are all chain. They are heavy. Thanks to gravity, anchors and chains are usually easy to deploy. However, it is difficult to retrieve them when it is time to pick up the anchor and sail away. That is where the electric windlass comes in.
Catmandu came with a very nice Maxwell Freedom 800 electric windlass, that has worked flawlessly for the past three years. However, last July when Kay and I were testing the boat’s systems at the dock in preparation for sailing south, the anchor windlass would. not. deploy.
We contacted our dear friend Mike Dillon, an engineer for Maxwell in Fort Lauderdale, for help. A new windlass costs about $2000, and I hoped we could repair ours instead of replacing it.
“When did you last service the windlass?” Mike asked when he came aboard with his bag of tools.
“You have to service anchor windlasses?” I replied. I had no idea. I thought they were magical devices that just worked for years when you pushed the buttons. They have shiny, stainless steel turny things on top and magical whirring things that are invisible below the deck.
It turns out you have to service anchor windlasses periodically. #Sad. It appeared that the windlass had not been serviced in over 20 years. Mike took apart the top part of the windlass and found that the two clutch halves had seized together, and that had prevented the anchor chain from deploying. We pried them apart with hand tools and brute force, cleaned out some embedded dirt, and greased the clutch. Then the anchor and chain deployed normally once again. Note to self: the user manual says the clutch has to be greased every year or bad things can happen.
Mike opened an access panel below deck and inspected the gearbox and electric motor. The gear box was empty when it should have been at least half full of 90 weight gear oil. All the oil had leaked out. Left empty, the gears would have eventually ground each other to dust and the windlass would be ruined. Mike was able to throw some regular oil into the gearbox so that we could get underway, and it was good enough for our cruise from Hollywood to Marathon.
Change the scene to the present day. Catmandu has been at a slip in Marathon for seven months, and properly servicing the anchor windlass has finally come to the top of the to-do list. Servicing involves greasing the clutch, removing the gear box, replacing all the oil seals, and replacing the gear oil. I was able to grease the clutch again. I even installed a “pressure arm” that presses the anchor chain against the chain wheel of the windlass since it was missing on my unit. However, after accessing the rest of the windlass below deck, the gear box would not come off. It had seized to the shaft and I could not get it off, even after applying penetrating oil daily, banging on it with a hammer, and applying heat from a heat gun.
The next best thing was to merely remove the bottom part of the gear box and the electric motor from the assembly while leaving the worm wheel and gear box cover on the shaft, as seen in the photo above. As you can see below, out of oil again.
Then I turned the gearbox to the side, and identified an oil leak past one of the oil seals. Oil seals are partly rubber and partly metal, and must seal the gearbox and shaft precisely in order to keep the oil in.
I bought a Maxwell rebuild kit for this windlass, which includes replacement oil seals, clips, o-rings, and a sight glass for the gear oil. I was able to get all the old seals out and replace them, except for the seal in the gearbox cover. Of course, there is a YouTube video for that.
I installed the new hardware and bolted the gearbox assembly back onto the windlass with fresh 90 weight gear oil. After applying anti-seize compound to the bolts, I secured the gearbox to the shaft and re-installed the electric motor.
To prove it works, I ran the anchor up and down at the dock a few times, and called it a success. Now, the anchor windlass has been completely serviced — except for greasing the worm wheel on the shaft and replacing the oil seal on the gearbox housing. Good enough, as long as they never have to come off.
“In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
― John Muir, Naturalist
“Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed.”
― Mary Oliver, Poet
In The Other, a 1971 novel by author Thomas Tryon, a pair of twin boys learn a game from their grandmother, and even though the novel goes to a very dark place, I love that game. I’ve remembered it through all of these years and practice it often. It goes like this: you stare at some living thing for a long time and imagine that you can see what it sees and feel what it feels. If it’s a bird, you can experience flying and feel the wind in your feathers, feel the drafts lifting you up by the wings, imagine how it feels to swoop out over the water and soar on the breeze. In the novel, the boys practice on each other and it doesn’t end well. But try it sometime. Pick a seagull or a pelican and take it for a spin.
Being retired, I feel that it is finally okay to spend time bird watching. It’s probably not okay to spend time imagining that I’m a bird, but the mind wanders and that’s what happens. From the cockpit of my boat, I can see seagulls, ibises, pelicans, cormorants, egrets, ospreys, and anhingas – sometimes all at once sitting on a large piece of debris in the harbor. They all sit together as if they are one flock. Birds have rules, usually. One bird to a piling, and only one. But a line of different species crowds together on the rusting train car, squawking and fussing.
Pelicans: My favorites are the pelicans. They are huge, with brown bodies and white heads folded down into their necks. In the air, they soar without flapping, graceful as scarves on the wind. But when they spy a fish in the water to capture and store in their massive throats, they become clumsy bundles of feathers, feet and beaks, crashing headlong into the water with a messy splash. It takes them a second to straighten out their limbs, toss the fish into their expandable throats and sit quietly, composing themselves. I’m going to make a slow-motion video of the pelican plunge and set it to the sound of a World War II bomber plane. These antics make me laugh out loud sometimes.
Ibises: These social birds fly together to a designated tree on land right at sunset. We’ve seen it again and again; they gather in the branches and rest there overnight. The coordinated timing is remarkable. They all seem to know when it’s time to go. White ibises have bodies shaped like footballs and long, pink curved beaks, although the beaks are straight until juveniles reach adulthood. These birds are the playboys of the bird kingdom. Males have multiple girlfriends, and mate often with a variety of females. However, a male will build a nest for one particular female and defend it while they raise their chicks.
Anhingas and Cormorants: These birds look very similar in the water. They swim around in a “seated” position, low in the water with just their heads and necks sticking out. They are similar in size, and both birds tend to sit on a perch with their wings unfurled. They don’t have oil glands like other sea birds, so they dry their wings by hanging them out. The lack of oil is an advantage in making deep dives for fish. Anhingas have pointed beaks and seem to be wearing snazzy silver jackets, while cormorants have hooked beaks and wear basic black.
Egrets and Herons: My father was proud of being able to identify birds by their minor characteristics. My sisters and I would tease him by asking what color the bird’s eyelashes were, or how many toenails they had. I guess I have come full circle: I know the difference between great egrets and great (white) herons is in their leg color. The white phase of the great blue heron is found only in Florida and has light colored legs. The great white egret has black legs. We have both here in Marathon, and we have some cranes that also look similar. They are tall, graceful, majestic. They can stand perfectly still on one leg in the shadow of the mangroves as we drift by in the dinghy.
I’m not very good at identifying the birds; I have a brother-in-law who can tell you what bird it is if you just send him a picture. But these are my few favorites, and I do love to waste my time watching them.
Manatees: There are manatees at the marina for the winter. We are warned not to feed them or provide fresh water (you should see them lap up the freshwater leaks, as if the water they live in is too salty for their taste). Manatees are huge blobs of elephant-gray blubber, sometimes eight or nine feet long. They are shaped like giant loaves of Phil’s French bread, adding a flat tail, fins for front legs and a pig-like snout. When you see one in the water, it looks like an oval hump of seaweed until it raises its nose to breathe. In spite of this ugly description, manatees are actually cute. They have adorable faces.
These water-logged blimps are also mysterious and shy. We know they are here, but no one knows how many there are, and they’re nearly invisible when they hang out at the bottom of the harbor. Is that a rock, a seaweed pile, or a manatee? One day, a large adult floated for hours near the back of our boat, and we were convinced it was dying. It moved very little except to breathe. Our next-door neighbor, an ER physician, told us it was normal manatee behavior, related to mating. I guess they play easy to get, just waiting for a suitor to wander by.
Dolphins: When the dolphins come, they stay for a while. They never come alone, but in groups of two, three, sometimes five. They slide through the water in graceful arcs, silent and dignified. We have seen one or two fly completely out of the water in a frenzy, but that is rare. Mostly, they travel from south to north in our harbor, showing their dorsal fins every 30 feet or so. Twenty minutes later, they are gone, and I feel fortunate to have seen them.
I don’t know why people love the dolphins so much. People gather on the railing of the dockside restaurants to point them out, and the kayakers rush over to get a closer look. As far as I’m concerned, they are royalty – the lions of the ocean – honoring us with their presence. I know when I’ve been blessed.
How to Be Happy
For twenty years or more I’ve been trying to write an article titled, “How to Be Happy.” I may finish it one day, and I think I’ll put something in there about hanging around in nature. My happiest times in childhood were spent wandering through the woods in Connecticut and in California. Getting up early to catch rabbits in the backyard or deer next to our campsite brought enormous surges of joy. Sadness has no place in the woods. The birds won’t let it rest there.
So it’s not surprising that I spend time looking for wildlife in the Keys. It’s a different kind of wilderness here than I am used to, but the expanse of water just past the cockpit, the shadowy green of mangroves on either side of the harbor, the amazing oranges and fuschias of the always spectacular sunsets; they call to me. There is a lot to learn under the water and in the salty creeks where turtles and iguanas hang off the low branches. There are tiny deer in the islands to the west that I have never seen. I have a lot to do.
It’s just past five now, time for the ibises to be gathering and flying off toward land. There’s a small manatee next door. We just saw him poke his snout up to drink fresh-water drips from the boat in the next slip. Maybe later there will be dolphins.
“This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.”
― John Muir, “John of the Mountains,” American Naturalist and Environmental Philosopher
And Then Came Ian
The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore.
– Vincent Van Gogh
When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high and don’t be afraid of the dark.
At the end of a storm, there’s a golden sky and the sweet silver song of a lark.
– “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” by Rogers and Hammerstein, Carousel
The storm was supposed to be called Hermine, but a swift upstart came racing off the coast of Africa behind it and took the name away to sea. So, then came Ian. It was a slow mover, keeping a steady pace across the Atlantic as Storm 9 until it finally earned a name as it reached the Caribbean. “Waiting for a hurricane is like being stalked by a turtle,” a friend posted on Facebook. We didn’t think Ian was coming for us.
The track was uncertain, but the tropical storm went south of Puerto Rico and made for the Western Caribbean. Like many others before it, Ian could gain strength in the warm waters of the Gulf and head toward the shoreline of Louisiana. Poor New Orleans! I really thought that’s where it would go. Local knowledge tells us that if a storm passes south of Puerto Rico, it won’t threaten southern Florida. Ominously, another storm in 2004 – named Charley – also passed south of Puerto Rico and did a lot of damage in southwestern Florida.
Friday, Sept. 23: The spaghetti models (those stringy looking storm track predictions) were promising a turn to the north across the island of Cuba and then an easterly turn toward the west coast of Florida. It wobbled to the west, giving us a little relief. But we were concerned about high winds and began preparations. The marina office told us we can move to a larger slip, to give the boat room to bob around. We made a list of high-wind preparations. Luckily, we had friends coming to visit who had lots of sailing experience and we listened carefully to their advice.
Saturday, Sept. 24: With our friends’ help, we removed the head sail and stowed it inside. Then we moved Catmandu to the larger slip, so the boat was now facing west. Since the storm would pass to our west, that seemed the most likely wind direction. This proved to be wrong, but the decision to move was definitely right.
We were able to double our lines, add more lines to the midship cleats, and put spring lines on both sides to keep the boat loosely in place. Too tight, the lines or cleats could break; too loose, we could bounce off the concrete dock or the wooden pilings. Phil went to WestMarine to buy new lines and found the stock was greatly diminished – no surprise. He came back with two new lines, shorter than we wanted, at a cost of $190.
Although we thought the storm would bring high wind and waves from the west, we didn’t base our preparations on that fact. We were looking at a long fetch in that direction, which means a great expanse of water loomed with no obstructions. Beyond the mouth of Boot Key Harbor, there is Hawk Channel with its shallow coral reef, and beyond that, nothing but Cuba to the south and a few islands to the west.
It is best to shelter from the fetch, and some sailboats in the harbor began to leave for the Shark and Little Shark Rivers, up around the south coast of Florida and into the Everglades. The eventual path of the storm put these boats closer to the eye, but they tucked into the mangroves and remained until Ian passed. They all made it with little to no damage. The natural protection of the narrow river and dense mangrove trees made this a nice hurricane hideout.
Sunday, Sept. 25: We watched the forecasts every three hours. On the day the storm was forecast to pass closest to us (Tuesday), there was a 20-30% chance of 34-knot winds, and a 5-10% chance of 50-knot winds. In our location, there were no hurricane watches or warnings because the wind has to be 65 knots or greater to be a hurricane (75 mph). (Phil has a way of explaining watches and warnings: Taco Watch – We have the ingredients for tacos. Taco Warning – We are having tacos.)
We were never advised by authorities that we should evacuate. At this point, we knew it would not be a direct hit. In fact, we were out of the cone altogether: No tacos. So we wrapped the main sail, lifted the dinghy from the water and secured the outboard on the back of the boat. We took everything that could fly and secured it inside. We left the dodger and bimini up, a decision we questioned later. (For non-sailors, these are the canvas coverings over the back of the boat.)
Then, Ian shifted slightly. Fed by warm ocean waters, it became larger and stronger. It moved closer.
Monday, Sept. 26: By Monday, the wind was making an eerie whirring sound above the marina, and small rain showers passed through. The rain bands from Ian were approaching, even though the eye was still 200 miles away. We spent the day getting ready: tying down the solar panels, securing the cockpit table, strapping in the dinghy. Ian was moving slowly across the tip of western Cuba.
At 6 p.m., the air conditioner stopped working. It wasn’t the storm at all, just a reminder that a boat will present problems no matter what else is going on. The inlet through-hull was clogged. As Phil tried to unplug it, the plumber’s snake broke. We headed to Home Depot. Phil bought a new snake and a little plastic drain cleaning tool ($3) that busted up the clog.
As soon as we got the AC running, I started closing the hatches. There was a scary sound of distant thunder. I was reaching up to close a hatch when we simultaneously saw a brilliant flash and heard a deafening crack. I ducked and screamed but was not hit. Phil and I looked at each other. “That was close,” I said.
“Right here,” he said. We found out later that lightning had hit the boatyard less than a quarter mile away and knocked out the Wi-Fi signal. (A week later, it still has not been repaired.) Lightning is a danger to boats with tall masts. Phil says he relies on the “buddy system,” which means positioning next to taller boats. The wind kicked up in the middle of the night and Phil went outside to loosen some of the lines and alleviate the banging. The boat was straining all the dock lines, but the wind was primarily from the southeast. The dinghy was swinging against the stern, making a lot of noise. Sleep was difficult.
Tuesday, Sept. 27: I confess to Phil that I am having trouble writing this blog. It should have been done days ago – and it’s getting so long.
“I know how it should start,” he said.
“It was a dark and stormy night…”
It started with a tornado watch, and then a warning. We are having tacos. I’ve always wanted to see a waterspout, but only from a distance. Tornado warnings are scary, to be sure. At 9 am, the winds were only at 12 knots but it was dark and stormy. People were starting to come out on the docks, checking lines and making last minute adjustments. We loosened the lines on the dock side to give Catmandu room to move around without hitting. Rain came in small squalls all morning and the wind started to build. By afternoon, we could no longer get off the boat. We turned on the wind instrument and saw gusts of 28 knots. I took a picture of a palm tree. Looking at that, I can hardly imagine what 120 knots would look like.
Tuesday afternoon, we started rolling and heeling to the starboard side. The winds were roaring, and they made a flute-like sound going across the masts and shrouds in the marina. Outside, it was impossible to talk over the higher gusts, which were now in the upper 30s. The palm trees were all fanned out to one side. When the storm track shifted slightly to the east, it brought our location to the very edge of the tropical storm force winds. Farther up the west coast, Fort Myers was getting ready for a direct hit. Ian passed Key West and stirred up 25-foot waves in its wake.
Phil doubled the port stern line and backed it up by winding the end around the winch. The cat curled up under the table, a spot she claims whenever the boat moves around too much. By suppertime, we were rolling around so much, I had to release the gimble on the stove. This allows the stove to swing, keeping it level. We were tied to a cement dock, but bobbing around as if we were in open ocean.
The wind rattled the aluminum frame that holds the bimini, making the boat sound like it was coming apart. As evening fell, we looked at each other every time a sustained gust leaned the boat to 20 degrees or more. The winds were beating on the port stern, kicking us in the butt. The poor dinghy was swinging around like a balloon on a string.
Since the wi-fi was still out, we decided to watch a movie. I guess it was a strange choice, being on a boat in a storm, but we watched The Abyss on DVD. The winds were getting stronger outside, and we started getting periods of pelting rain. Phil put towels in the aft cabin where rain comes in to prevent wet pillows on the bed. But we weren’t sleeping. The boat was moving around so much, our Fitbits were registering steps. I was waiting for dock lines to snap and throw us against the pilings, or worse.
After the movie, we went outside with flashlights to check the lines, and all were holding despite the onslaught. We checked the wind speed and found sustained winds of 30 knots with occasional gusts up to 55, more than gale force. (We found out later that gusts of 67 knots had come through Boot Key Harbor. Hurricane force is 65.)
Looking out into the wild night, I imagine being a primitive human, with no knowledge of weather and no advance warning for storms. In that mindset, with this kind of fury, of course I would believe the gods were mad at us. There could be no other explanation.
Wednesday, Sept. 28: After a long night, we heard a lone voice on the VHF radio. “Okay,” he said, “I’ve had enough of this!” We could not pull the boat to the dock to get off, the wind was still so strong. Phil hooked a dock line to one of our winches and used that to pull the boat close enough for him to jump to the dock. I wasn’t going to try it. He took a picture of the boat, noting the weird color of the water. It looked like pale blue milk. It was so full of sand and silt it had become opaque.
Elsewhere, Ian was churning toward the west coast of Florida and gaining strength. The Waffle Houses closed – a Florida signal that something terrible was coming. We were starting to relax a little and felt renewed sympathy for those in the path of the storm. We had made it, but not without damage. The solar panels had somehow rotated to an unnatural position, and at first we couldn’t figure out how that happened with the outboard motor in the way. Then Phil discovered the dinghy davits (the stainless steel racks that hold the inflatable boat up) were bent. Yes, the winds had bent steel.
Aftermath: I love storms. I love watching lightning in distant rain clouds, especially over the water. A gentle wind can stir up emotions and memories along with the rustling of the palms. I’m the last one to take shelter when the first drops of rain fall. Now that this storm has passed, even after witnessing the fury of the wind, I don’t love storms any less. I will still marvel at thunderheads, feel the thrill of lightning strikes reflected in the ocean, still watch the horizon for waterspouts. But I will think twice about being on a sailboat within two hundred miles of a hurricane.
Love Song to Marathon
The loveliest fleet of islands that lies anchored in any ocean.– Mark Twain, on Hawaii
And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet,– Khalil Gibran, The Wanderer
and the winds long to play with your hair.”
Some people don’t like visiting the Florida Keys. It is hot here in the summer, which stretches from May through October and brings temperatures in the 90s and high humidity. They don’t like the traffic, which is limited to one road that connects the tropical islands from Florida City to Key West. Route 1 does get clogged on Friday and Sunday afternoons when weekend visitors come and go. Crossing the busy highway is nearly impossible at times. To go left, you might have to turn right and find a place to take a U-turn.
The route is lined with strip malls housing sandal-and-t-shirt shops, dive stores, and bait and tackle sellers. There are seafood grills, tiki bars, and mom-and-pop breakfast cafes. Hotels and motels are expensive, even when they look like something out of the 1970s painted over with aqua blue gloss and decorated with pale starfish. The exclusive resorts along the coast are hidden by dense acres of mangrove trees and long shell-paved driveways. These luxury enclaves are even more expensive, and their waterfront restaurants feature $50 lobster dinners complete with conch salad and key lime pie.
Yes, it’s expensive, sometimes crowded, and oddly run down for a vacation paradise. But there is much to love here, too. Some of those strip malls include art galleries where local artisans sell their driftwood sculptures and sunset watercolors. The dive shops offer half-day snorkeling tours of a local reef just six miles out, where the pink, yellow, and striped fish swarm around your feet and the coral fans wave beneath you. We have done this once, and we will do it again. (See Phil’s photos, below.) Next door, we can rent kayaks and go paddling through the cool mangrove creeks in search of manatees.
“Chickee” or Tiki bars are magical places where you might find the mayor of Marathon singing and playing his guitar. Local musicians can be heard in the waterfront tiki bars from early afternoon until closing time. It’s cool under the thatched palm fronds, a result of native Miccosukee (or Seminole) engineering. The steeply pitched roof draws heat upward and brings breezes in through the open walls. The drinks – what Jimmy Buffet calls tiki-pukey drinks – are made with fresh coconut, Florida orange juice, key limes, and island rum.
The food here is a problem for a vegetarian such as Phil. We can usually find veggie fare in Mexican restaurants and Italian or pizza places. The nearest Mexican place seems to be in Islamorada (a 20-mile drive). But for me, a seafood-eating pescatarian, options are plentiful. If the prices scare you, order appetizers. Last night I had a super delicious coconut shrimp appetizer at a fraction of the dinner cost. It was crunchy and light and came with a pina colada sauce that was dangerous to my blood sugar level. Other offerings at Porky’s BBQ and Marina were crab cakes, peel and eat shrimp, alligator bites, and of course, conch chowder. (They had a mediocre veggie burger for Phil.) Next time, we will arrive by dinghy and tie up at the restaurant’s dock.
We haven’t even started exploring all the entertainment venues here in Marathon. We went to see “Where the Crawdads Sing” at the local cinema, where patrons sit at tables and the concession stand sells beer, wine, award-winning popcorn, and nachos. It is only big enough for about 100 people, but shows first-run movies. They also have a community theater run by people who live in Boot Key Harbor. There is a turtle-rescue hospital just down the road that offers tours, and a dolphin encounter beyond that. (We encounter wild dolphins here in the harbor, so we might skip the captured dolphin show.)
The natural wonders are the real draw for me. The sky is big here and the clouds are fascinating. Our boat’s cockpit faces the incredible sunsets and the frequent lightning storms. The bay to the west of Boot Key Harbor is very shallow, only 2 to 3 feet in most places, and features a rusting train engine that washed here from the 7-mile railroad bridge during a storm. (We call it “the little engine that couldn’t.”) It just sits there, hosting a party of birds until the tide comes in and hides all but a single spire. On that single spire, we will often see a lone anhinga bird drying its wings. This morning, we saw a great egret sitting there as two dolphins swam past.
The road to Marathon goes through Key Largo, Islamorada, Lower Matecumbe, Long Key, Duck Key, and Grassy Key. Marathon, on Vaca Key, is a little more than halfway from Key Largo to Key West. All along the route there are expansive views of the shallow, light blue water on both sides of the road. State parks line Route 1 from John Pennekamp to Long Key, to Curry Hammock and Bahia Honda, with dense green mangroves protecting the narrow beachfront. When I was in college, I spent one spring break camping with two girlfriends along this stretch of wild tropical islands. I’m happy to say, it has not changed much in nearly 50 years.
In coming months, we will wander westward by car or sailboat down to the next keys and on to Key West. Along the way, we may fall in love with this place. Eventually, we will sail to other islands and leave the Florida Keys behind. For now, we are explorers – by dinghy, kayak, or sailboat. We have a lovely fleet of tropical islands to discover beneath the expansive skies, anchored in aqua waters. Through the dense cool mangrove creeks, palm-studded beaches are waiting for our footprints.
Marina Life and Death
“The great courageous act that we must all do, is to have the courage to step out of our history and past so that we can live our dreams.”Oprah Winfrey
We lived on our sailboat in Loggerhead Marina for nearly three years. We got used to boat life: endless dishes to hand wash, trips to the local laundromat, walks up and down the dock with a rolling cart because the groceries or boat parts were just too heavy. We met wonderful, interesting friends who are nomads and disappear sometimes in the early morning on their way east to the islands or north to other ports. That is our story now. People will walk down Dock 500 and say, “Remember that couple with the cats? I wonder where they went.”
We are moving on, first to the southwest to explore the Florida Keys and then on to Dry Tortugas; perhaps we’ll turn east to the Bahamas or up the west coast of Florida. It’s time to start our cruising journey. First, we have a list of boat projects to do, and an engine to refurbish. Six more months of marina life, and then we’ll be moving – probably. But this edition is dedicated to life on the dock.
Marina life attracts mostly couples and single or divorced men. The live-aboard community doesn’t include many single women, but I think that may be changing. It’s an inexpensive way to live, especially if you can find a boat you can afford that provides a comfortable way to sleep, eat, and shower.
Our 1998 Catalina 380 was less than $90,000, fully equipped and ready to go. We didn’t want a project boat since Phil and I were still working. Dockage can be expensive and hard to find, but for our size boat, it ranges between $900 and $1300 a month. That includes water, electricity and pumpout services. (If you’re looking for a dock, it is helpful if you say you would like to “stay aboard” instead of “live aboard.” Some marinas frown on the latter.)
Marina life has some down sides. Boats don’t normally have washers and dryers, so a visit to the local laundromat is a recurring treat. Most marinas have a laundry room for the boaters, but often the dryers don’t work or are so busy you can’t get a machine. Another inconvenience is the pumpout service. It is not easy to get on the list for some reason, and a regular emptying of the boat’s waste tank is essential.
There are other things that some people wouldn’t like. Your neighbors are very close, like 10 to 15 feet away. If they are good neighbors, that’s fine. If they have barky dogs or loud music you hate, it’s not. We have been fortunate to have great neighbors for the past few years, so we have no complaints. We made good friends at our last marina, and became part of a community that we really enjoyed.
And that’s where the joys of marina life come in. Boat people are a breed apart. At the risk of generalizing and stereotyping, I’d say people who live on boats are interesting, courageous, fun-loving people. Our dock had lawyers, real estate brokers, doctors, and business owners in various stages of work/retirement. Some sold boats for a living, one was a working chef, one owned a solar panel business, and one was a bronze star recipient. Then there were the entrepreneurs who took any project for pay, started and lost ventures, and got along however they could. They are the most interesting.
Just like a small town, there was gossip, tragedy, love stories, and scandal – and everybody knew. One neighbor with a heart problem (and a ferocious dog named Marco) called 911 when he had chest pains, and the dog kept the paramedics from boarding his boat. I’m sure the poor dog was protecting his master, but the man died before animal control showed up to remove the dog. People talked about that death for months. Another man we knew fell from his boat, hit the dock with his head and never fully recovered. In fact, that story repeated often with varying tragic results.
Our cat Max was popular on Dock 500. He discovered he could leap from the boat to the dock and did it often. He was also smart enough to know which boat people would offer him a bit of deli meat if he visited. After he passed away, the neighbors started telling me how much they would miss him. I had no idea how many boats that cat had visited until he died. (He was old; he passed from natural causes.) “I’m going to miss that cat,” one neighbor told us. “He used to jump on board, find me, and tap me on the shoulder for a treat.”
People on the dock were always willing to help grab a line, walk a dog, provide a bottle of spirits or a takeout meal for dockmates in need. We tried to do the same, leaving flowers and wine on one boat for a captain whose husband was in the hospital for ages. People brought us gifts from their travels (delicious Wisconsin cheese curds), and one neighbor cooked us Creole tofu when he found out we were vegetarians. We cared for each other; we were family.
As one who has moved around all her life, it’s not easy for me to find a sense of community. My birth family was a military family, and we moved every two or three years. I attended three different elementary schools. It is hard to put down roots when they get torn up the next year or the next. So I loved marina life, and even though I might have been shy about making friends, I will miss Dock 500 at Loggerhead. I appreciated the feeling of belonging, and I crave that now.
We had been to our current marina several years ago on our previous boat and visited friends who lived here on two occasions. It has many of the amenities that we look for in a marina: a great swimming pool, a tiki bar, an exercise room, and laundry machines that work. It also has neighbors, and we have met a few. The wider community includes another marina and all the boats attached to mooring balls in Boot Key Harbor. They talk together on the radio every morning at 9 a.m. on the “Cruisers Net.”
Maybe saying goodbye is the curse of the nomad, and if I find that painful at times, I know I did it to myself. I embrace marina life, and I know (with any luck) we’ll be sailing away one day. I hope, in the meantime, that there is a place for us here: a community, a family, a home.
Night Passage to Marathon
“The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.”
― Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Sitting in No Name Harbor, we contemplated our options. The good news: we were safely at anchor, we didn’t have a schedule to keep, and we had plenty of food. The neighbors in the anchorage were polite, for the most part, and kept their music soft. Some nights, there were only two boats anchored, but on Saturday night, there were many. We kept cool by swimming and running the air conditioning by generator for an hour or two before bed. The bad news: we had an engine that spewed white smoke and wouldn’t power up past 2,000rpm.
It was scary to think of continuing our trip without solving the problem. We could be anchored off Rodriguez Key with no engine, no wind, and no way to get towed to our destination without spending thousands of dollars. We were out of options until a friend called with a suggestion, and an offer.
“I can join you onboard and help limp the boat to Marathon in one overnight passage,” Reinhard said. “We can sail if there’s wind, and just motor slowly if not.”
Phil and I had never sailed at night, and it was not something we planned to do in the near future. To be honest, we had precious few working flashlights, no spotlight, and the compass light did not work. We also had some doubts about the auto pilot. Our running lights worked fine, and if we were able to maintain a speed of four knots, the 90-nautical-mile passage would take just short of 24 hours. At the end of that journey, we would be in a place where sailboats were more common than power boats, and diesel mechanics might be available. There is also a travel-lift and a boatyard right at the marina. Plus, we would be home. We said yes, and planned to leave on an outgoing tide Monday at noon.
I discovered a free transportation service called Freebee in a blog posted about No Name Harbor, and downloaded the app. We requested a ride to the Wynn Dixie store a mile or two away and went to the wall in our dinghy with our grocery bags. It was amazing! The electric vehicle came quickly, the driver was helpful in every way, and we were able to replenish our drinks and some small food items. Normally against our principles because of the plastic waste, we even bought a case of bottled water since our tanks were a little low. (There is no public drinking water at No Name Harbor.) The return driver even helped us carry the water to our dinghy.
Monday came, our guest arrived with his wife Nina, and after brief goodbyes, we cast our lines off at 11:40 am heading out of the harbor. It was hot, still, and flat calm – a mixed blessing.
We turned to the southwest and saw a disturbing sight: the wreck of a green navigational beacon. We hoped the others marking our way through shallow passages were in better shape, especially those we had to pass in the dark. We really wanted to sail, to help the engine a little and practice our skills with an expert on board. But the wind was directly on our nose, so no chance of forward movement with that angle. We motored, watching whisps of white smoke flow off the stern.
Reinhard discovered the auto pilot was broken but not dead. It could be repaired, once we were able to take things apart and put them back together. So, we had to hand-steer for 90 nautical miles, taking turns at the wheel. Phil had expected to stay up all night, but I thought we could nap in turns. I had underestimated my ability to stay awake, and I did the most napping. During the day, we all took turns steering, but once darkness fell, I took the helm just once. It was too dark and dangerous to rely on my poor night vision and limited skill level.
As we gradually changed our course from southwest to west, the wind also changed. It was definitely taunting us, keeping our sails furled and useless. We could sail by heading off course and then tacking back, but it’s a slow way to go. The plus side was the complete lack of waves. It was quite flat. In fact, the battery died in my motion-sickness band, and I didn’t even notice.
By late afternoon, we had passed some familiar landmarks. We spotted the Boca Chita light – where we had anchored the night Fidel Castro died (another story, another boat). Elliott Key’s long shoreline gave way to Key Largo, where Phil saw the Fowey Rocks Light – a favorite snorkeling spot opposite John Pennekamp State Park. We passed the first anchorage we had planned to use on the way down, Rodriguez Key, and I whispered a “see you later, sometime” as we passed it by.
We started to feel a little whisper of wind, and got our hopes up, but the direction kept changing. It turned out we were alongside a small weather system, and rain appeared in a gray curtain to our starboard side. We watched it get closer, but it never really reached us except for a few fat drops that made plopping sounds on the bimini above us.
The sun started dropping into the clouds above the storm, and we kept trading places at the wheel. There were snacks of bagels and cream cheese along with a large jar of peanuts, but no dinner. The voyage started to feel long, and the hours crawled by as I noted our progress on the paper chart. If you ever think of this planet as a small world, consider how long it takes to go just 90 nautical miles by sailboat.
The chart plotter kept track of our expected arrival time at the marina, and it looked for a time like we might arrive before first light. Luckily, currents kept us back a little and it looked like we would arrive just past daybreak. The sky became inky black with a miraculous display of stars. It was a little cooler, and Phil and Reinhard took turns at the wheel while I stared at the sky. Objects in the total darkness were hard to make out, and there were navigational beacons with no lights marking shallow spots. This is terrifying, and we passed close enough to one marker to make out its hulking shape in the shadows off to our port side.
Boats with improper lighting gave us a few mysteries to solve. Off in the distance we saw a white anchor light and two fainter red and green running lights. When we got closer, we realized it was a catamaran anchored two miles offshore with a dinghy attached to stern davits. The lights were glowing on the dinghy, creating a strange configuration in the dark. Another mystery was a steaming light above a set of brighter spotlights and no running lights. It looked like a huge ship on the horizon but turned out to be a small-powerboat captain trying to repair his engine under his bright deck lights. He was anchored, it was the middle of the night, and he had our sympathy.
First light saw us alongside Key Marathon, and we made a slow turn toward land. I could see the headlights of cars on the Seven Mile Bridge, and the one green marker with a 4-second light. Four seconds seemed too long, and we knew if we got out of the narrow channel, the water was only three or four feet deep.
Eighteen and a half hours into our trip, we made the turn into Boot Key Harbor as the sun came up, and Phil steered us slowly along the row of boats to our spot on the west dock. Reinhard stepped off the boat onto our pier, and tied up Catmandu in her new home, slip 98, Safe Harbor Marathon.
Safe Harbor – There are few nicer phrases after a long passage in the dark.
Lovely writing, Kay! Engaging and evocative.
[…] My favorites are the pelicans. They are huge, with brown bodies and white heads folded down into their necks.…
loved reading this. i felt like i was there. and u both are nuts!
Off the Dock and into a Harbor with No Name
August 8, 2022: Day 1 to Day 3
“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than those you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the wind in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”– Mark Twain
It started out well enough – perfectly, in fact. We were up early, ready to go on a hot Wednesday morning. There was no one on the dock for farewells or bon voyage. We said a quiet goodbye to Dock 500, released the lines and retrieved the power cord. Phil backed Catmandu out of the slip as if it were a Fiat, as one dock friend once remarked. Fenders up, we were on our way a half hour early.
Three bridges later, we were crossing the turning basin where cruise ships live and heard a loud wap-wap-wap sound from the engine. Phil’s face fell. After years of owning a small sailboat with a terrible gas engine (the Atomic Bomb), he was used to breakdowns at the beginning of a voyage. But instruments looked good, and the noise stopped quickly so Phil went below while I kept us on course.
“Everything looks fine,” he said. “Let’s keep going.”
So we did. It was an eight-hour motorsail to our first waypoint at No Name Harbor on Key Biscayne. (Motor sailing means we kept the engine on while we raised the head sail, to keep our speed up in light winds blowing directly from our point of sail.) It was rougher than anticipated and hard to stay on course. With a forecast of two-to-three-foot waves and 10-15 knot winds, we thought it would be smooth sailing. It was not.
Strong currents and gusty winds kept us on our toes and my motion sickness kept me from being an energetic co-captain. I took the helm when needed, but Phil did most of the driving. He kept to himself the concerns he was feeling about the engine performance and the constant stream of white exhaust coming from our stern. He didn’t want to worry me.
We planned to stay two nights at No Name Harbor because we could. We have no deadline to get to Marathon, where a slip is waiting. We swam, took exploratory dinghy excursions, and slept under the stars when it got too hot in the v-berth. We had a spectacular sunset and moonrise the first night a we grilled veggie burgers for dinner. The gin and tonics flowed and we were completely relaxed.
There were several boats around us, all with Latino crews onboard. It seems to be a Spanish speaking area, but it was a weeknight, and the music wasn’t too loud. However, the servers at the Boaters Grill restaurant were (too loud). The yelling in Spanish was deafening at times. We had gone ashore for a nice restaurant meal the second night, but it was less than satisfying. The restaurant is overpriced and has no vegetarian options. The power went out a couple of times. “I guess it’s a lot like Cuba,” Phil said after the lights dimmed a second time.
Thursday night we ran the air conditioner for a short time but ended up sleeping in the cockpit again under a bright full moon – the Sturgeon Moon. It was idyllic until a rain shower drove us indoors at 4 a.m.
We pulled the anchor at 8 a.m. and headed out of the harbor, following our breadcrumb trail from two days earlier. As we were navigating through the channel markers out to Hawk Channel, we noticed a lot of white exhaust smoke. The engine was struggling, and when we tried to throttle up, it did not respond. Cue the Star Trek Scotty voice: “She’s not responding to helm, Captain.”
With 48 miles to go, and no protected anchorages along the way, we had a decision to make. Put up the sails and keep going, or turn back and get the engine checked out. I mentioned that we have no deadline on this trip, and that is a factor. With the prospect of light winds and sketchy engine performance, we turned around. We are sitting at anchor in No Name Harbor, waiting for the mechanic to call. Not a great start, but there is a breeze and swimming is in our future. Phil seems at ease with our decision. “There’s no one I’d rather be stranded with,” he said, and I feel the same.
The news was not good. One of our four cylinders has no compression, the head gasket may be bad, there may be damage to the cylinder caused by an overheating problem months earlier. It may be a bad fuel injector. No matter which option it is, we have to pull the cylinder head to properly diagnose it. The mechanic, Mario, was certain there was nothing else to be done. Phil asked about alternatives, and Mario pointed up. “Sail?” he said.
We have a towing plan that is “unlimited,” but actually there’s a limit of $3,000.00 so a tow to Marathon would be $11,000, just $8,000 out of pocket. Um, no. Phil called the mechanic back, got recommendations for repair marinas to try, and quickly reached a dead end. Marinas are full, they are hard to get to with our 5’6” draft, or they don’t do engine repairs. We kept trying until we ran out of options. We went swimming.
After dinner, we heard live jazz music coming from the open-air bar that overlooks Biscayne Bay. As we sat in the cockpit watching the sun set, a single dolphin swam by, doing three perfect arches and a tail slap to let us know he was there. Tomorrow, we will solve our problems. For tonight, we have strains of muted trumpet and piano, a sunset punctuated by silent lightning, and our own private dolphin show.
Buying the Dinghy of Our Dreams
To cruisers, your sailboat is your “house” and your dinghy is your “car.” Think about anchoring the sailboat in a secluded bay surrounded by a white sandy beach and coconut palm trees for a week or a month. Once in awhile, you want to go ashore to buy food and fuel, buy more rum, go out to a restaurant, visit a tiki bar, or pick up guests. You also also want to visit that sandy beach, and explore the islands on day trips.
For that, you keep your sailboat at the anchorage and take your “car” to town, the beach, et cetera.
Kay and I bought our 1998 Catalina 380 — a 38-foot monohull sailboat — two years ago, and it came with an inflatable dinghy. It was a 9.5 foot long hypalon Achilles inflatable that had an inflatable keel and a wooden floor. Inflatable boats are made of either polyvinyl chloride (PVC) fabric or the more expensive hypalon. The boat could be disassembled and rolled up for storage, like we did during Hurricane Irma a couple of years ago. However, the Achilles was not the “dinghy of our dreams” (hereinafter referred to as the “DooD”).
The problems with the Achilles were myriad.
First, we could not get the boat titled and registered with the state because the previous owner messed up the transfer of title. Second, the wooden floor was disintegrating in the warm seawater environment of south Florida. Third, it would be difficult to get an inflatable boat to “plane,” which is boater-speak for “go fast.” Fourth, it would. not. hold. air.
Oh, we tried and tried to find the leaks in the Achilles and patch them as best as we could. We watched YouTube videos and bought several tubes of hypalon adhesive at thirty bucks a pop. But, they never worked well and it leaked so badly that we had to pump up the boat while we were motoring around the back canals of Hollywood, Florida, where we are docked. Even though we are not cruising the islands yet, we decided that we still want to have a dinghy to use in the meantime and it was time to shop for the DooD.
First, Kay and I made a spreadsheet to study different boat sizes, materials, features, and prices. There are a handful of dinghy manufacturers, including Achilles, West Marine, AB, Caribe, Zodiac, and Highfield. Each has a different reputation for quality in the cruiser community. As for materials, we decided on the more expensive hypalon because it is resistant to ultraviolet light, which south Florida and the tropics has in spades.
There is a type of inflatable boat that Kay and I wanted that has a hard bottom (not wood) and inflatable side tubes called a RIB. RIB stands for “rigid inflatable boat.” There are few different types of bottoms you can get on a RIB. They include fiberglas, aluminum single layer, and aluminum double layer. Fiberglas bottoms can be cracked or punctured if you run the boat onto rocks at the beach, but fiberglas cracks are relatively easy to fix. On the other hand, aluminum hulls will dent if you hit a rock at the beach, and they are unlikely to be punctured. Single hull boats, whether fiberglas or aluminum, will doom the cruiser to having wet feet forever since there is no good way to get all of the water out of the bottom of the dinghy all of the time. Double hull aluminum boats are more expensive than single hull, but have other benefits.
We decided visit some dinghy dealers in area so we could see them in person before we made a decision. Like buying a car, we wanted to kick the tires. There are several specialty dinghy stores in the area, believe it or not. But when we did some research, most were not open outside of regular 9 – 5 business hours, Monday through Friday. Why aren’t they open when buyers were available? Did they only sell to people who are retired or unemployed? We called several stores and asked how we can see their dinghies before we buy. Mostly, none of them returned our calls. I finally reached a sales rep live and found the answer.
There are no dinghies!
Due to COVID-19 pandemic, one of the most popular ways to enjoy the outdoors in a safe and socially-distant way is to get out on the water in a boat. Therefore, there has been a run on boats of all kinds over the past year, and there is almost no inventory available anywhere. You can put in an order, sight unseen, pay your money, and hope to see a boat in six months or later.
Kay and I decided to just pick our DooD and put it on back order. We decided to pay some extra money for our DooD and placed an order for a Highfield Classic 290, a 9.5 foot long hypalon boat with a double aluminum floor. It has a lockable bow locker for a gas tank and an anchor, movable middle seat with big zipper pockets, AND A DRINK HOLDER. Yes, DooD has a drink holder. Many of the cruisers we follow on YouTube have Highfield dinghies, which speaks well about their quality I think.
We ordered our boat from Nautical Ventures, a specialty store, that actually answered our phone calls and e-mails. We signed the paperwork and made a big deposit, sight unseen, hoping that the DooD would be on a shipping container toward south Florida in four to six months. But, in two weeks, we got a call from Nautical Ventures saying that a sale of an identical boat fell through and that one was available right away, still in the crate! We accepted it immediately, and had them deliver it to the water’s edge at our marina in Hollywood.
Kay and I have been enjoying the new dinghy. We travel the canals of Hollywood to see the iguanas in the mangroves, and several kinds of herons and egrets. Our small electric outboard pushes the boat at its theoretical hull speed of about 3.5 knots. We want to buy a new outboard engine between ten and fifteen horsepower so we can plane and go to destinations further away. But when we look for new outboards, there aren’t any!
Once CLODS, Now Liverboards
Don’t look over your shoulder; you’re not going that way.
I can barely remember living in an apartment, and I haven’t lived in a house for more than 17 years. I once owned a condo in Stratham, New Hampshire. I loved the back deck facing the woods, and looked forward each year to the parade of wild turkey chicks as they passed my picture window. The trees changed colors, dropped their leaves and held remnants of snow in their limbs. In spring, they sprouted pale green buds and started over again.
I am nostalgic for my New Hampshire home, but I’m not going back. I live on a boat now. Yes, Florida is hot, but you don’t have to shovel heat or brush it off your car. Each morning, I poke my head out the companionway door to feel the breeze off the water and decide whether to have my coffee in the cockpit. We wash dishes by hand, fill our water tanks, empty our waste tank, cook by propane stove, and have cocktails outside. At night, we fall asleep to gentle rocking.
CLODS are cruisers who have to leave their boats temporarily and live on land. This happens when boats need repair or when the cruisers are between boats. It’s an acronym for Cruisers Living on Dirt. We were CLODS because we dreamed of being cruisers, and planned to move onto our boat when our lease was up. When I told my best friend in New Hampshire that we were going to buy a bigger boat and live on it, she said, “Kay, what’s a liverboard?” I had told her we would be live-aboards.
Our living quarters are small, but in that lack of space, there is freedom. It’s a freedom from stuff. The transition to the new boat involved getting rid of stuff – furniture, clothing, knick knacks, dishes, pots, appliances and pictures. Some things were harder to let go of: a clock my sister got me at a vineyard we visited in California; gifts given to me by my children, like the little snow globes with kittens inside; the sweet Hummel angel given to me at age 14 by my dearest friend as I was about to move away. (I kept the little broken angel; I couldn’t part with it.)
A friend gave me some good advice for dealing with the precious artifacts of a life on land: Take a picture of it and let it go. Slowly, the apartment began to empty out. We sold some things, gave some to charity, and gave away items we could have sold if we’d had more time. One middle-aged Latino came to look at our kitchenware and ended up with an entire pickup truck of furniture, appliances and dishes. From his limited command of English, we got the idea that he was in the midst of a divorce and had to furnish his bachelor pad. He got it all for free. Just before moving day, we took the few things we were keeping to a rented storage unit (most cruisers have one).
On Saturday, Oct. 6, we left my two cats in the apartment while we motored to the new slip in Hollywood, Florida, a 6-hour journey down the Intracoastal Waterway. We had left Phil’s car at the marina so we could return for the cats and the final cleaning. I took just one picture that day, and I barely remember the trip itself. I know the wind was blowing hard from the east and we broke two stanchion bolts with a hard bump into the fuel dock when we were trying to leave. I felt responsible for that, since I should have been fending off as we pulled away instead of wrapping up the bow lines. With only two people on board, it’s hard to be in the right place all the time.
We had some trouble backing into our new slip because the canal is very narrow, and the slips are not spacious. The east wind was blowing harder by then, and we gently bumped the bow of the boat next door, but no damage was done. Our neighbor, Joe, was extremely gracious and helped us with the lines. I was about to have my own problems with that wind, and the storms it was driving onshore.
After the boat was secure, we drove back to Port Royale to clean the apartment, gather up the cats and head back to the marina in our separate cars. The cats are mine; I’ve had them since they were tiny kittens. Phil has always been understanding of my need to keep them with me, and of my responsibility for their lives. The truth is, he would rather not live with cats, and the care of them is my duty, not his. I packed them into two carry boxes – one plastic cat carrier, and one cardboard carrier we had gotten from the vet for a hurricane evacuation.
It was getting late, and we were exhausted, so Phil volunteered to finish the cleaning as the cats and I took off in my Prius for our new home onboard. The cats cried all the way to the marina, fraying my nerves. Just as we got to the parking lot, it began to rain and I heard the familiar sound of wind through the sailboat rigging. It did not occur to me that the wind would be blowing the boat off the dock, making an unsafe gap over the water. I was about to find out.
It was dark on Dock 5, as the marina was in the process of replacing the dock lights. I found a dock cart and loaded the two crying cats in, along with a case of catfood and the new litter box. As I approached the boat with my load, the skies opened up and rain poured down on me, the cats, and – to my horror – the cardboard cat carrier. Now I pictured the gap between the dock and the boat swallowing my cat as the cardboard gave way. I would have no way of finding her, let alone pulling her out of the water and onto the boat.
So, the first order of business was getting the heavier female cat (Maggie) on board in her carrier before it fell apart. It was high tide, and the wind was getting stronger as the squall passed overhead. I pulled on the dock line to get the boat closer, but the wind kept pulling it back. I couldn’t step aboard with the carrier because I had to hold the bottom so she wouldn’t fall out. Out of sheer will power, I pulled the boat close, and as it started drifting away from me, I threw the cat carrier onto the cockpit cushion, hoping the poor thing would land upright. It didn’t. It leaned dangerously into the cockpit table at an angle. But she was on board and not in the water.
Cat number two (Max) was even harder. Even though the carrier had a handle, and was sturdy, it was heavy and awkward. I tried several times to pull the boat in, and the wind pushed it away. I was soaked and I could hear Maggie crying from her soggy cardboard box. Max was desperately trying to escape from the carrier in my hand, and I pulled hard on the dock line to get the boat close enough to shove the box into the cockpit. I got it on board, but the carrier was perched dangerously close to the edge of the catwalk as the wind pulled it away.
I decided the other items could wait until Phil arrived. I took a big step from the dock and got one foot under the cat carrier before the boat drifted away and I hung on to the bimini with my other foot hanging behind me. I shoved the carrier into the cockpit and it fell sideways – hard – onto the deck. Max stopped complaining for a tortured minute and I opened up the companionway. One at a time, I carried the cats onboard and released them from their boxes. I closed the hatch with the wooden slats and sat down inside.
“We’re home,” I said out loud. Then I put my head in my hands and cried. It was relief, exhaustion, and regret. “What have I done?” kept coming to mind. The animals were wandering around, exploring, and were finally quiet. After a few minutes of feeling sorry for myself, I wanted to text Phil to let him know I was home safe. Then I realized my purse, and my iPhone, were outside in the dock cart along with a case of cat food cans and the litter box.
The rain was stopping as I ventured out again, but the tide was high and the dock looked like a long leap away in the dark. As I wondered how to get off the boat without going swimming, a neighbor came down the dock and asked if I needed help. As he took the items out of the dock cart and handed them up to me, he introduced himself and welcomed me. He was an angel named Patrick.
Marinas are full of characters and interesting travelers, old salts and new cruisers. There are the bachelors on boats (the “BoBs”) who divorced and lost their homes to ex-wives and children, and the families with children whose weekly laundry flaps from the lifelines. There are experienced captains who live aboard here between assignments of bringing mega-yachts to their owners around the islands. There are sailing couples who walk their dogs every morning and evening. We know their dogs’ names before we know theirs.
Marina people form a community like no other I’ve experienced. If you need help, or company, or a simple gathering around someone’s BBQ, you’ll find it. When a boat comes in, multiple residents rush to the dock to catch the tossed lines. Patrick was no different; he just came along exactly when I needed help.
By the time Phil arrived, I had the litter box set up, the cats were eating, and I was calm. We had a drink and I told him the story. He’s a patient listener, even when I go on and on with detailed complaints. When I was done, he was quiet for a minute, then he made me laugh with the phrase we always use when life on board is anything but idyllic. “Living the dream!” he said. Then he made us another round of drinks.
Loved this and learned a lot! Since I don’t see well from a distance, identifying birds has always been a…