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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Pulling up anchors and sailing off to Marathon...

It is day break and I find myself pulling up my anchors in the quiet anchorage just outside of Rose Marco Island Marina. I pause a moment to contemplate the early morning sunrise before carrying on with the task at hand and for once my Nissan 9.8 hp outboard is not giving me any grief and starts right on up.

Blondie's sails are ready to be hoisted but first there is the business of motoring through three miles of inlet channels. It is a delightful cruise right on past some of the most fabulous homes and condos you'll ever see and they all reek of money and lots of it.

I continue motoring out into the open waters to the last channel marker before attempting to hoist the mainsail. Winds are more than steady and it is with some effort before I can get the bow pointed into the easterly wind and finally raise the mainsail all the way up.

With the mainsail now up, I shut down the outboard and uncleat the roller-furling jib line and watch the jib spill out and fill with wind. Blondie is now slicing through the water at a good five to six knots without even breaking a sweat.

There is hardly a ripple in the water as I continue sailing on past Marco Island beach where just days earlier I had sailed right up to then dropped an anchor. I continue sailing on past Romano Point while occasionally looking back only to see Marco Island and all its luxury condos looking smaller and smaller on the distant horizon.

I think about the friendships forged over the past ten days or so and suddenly feel like a nomad not having a clue of what lies ahead in my life. I think about my brief conversation with the senior gentleman who cut my hair just days before and of him talking lovingly of his wife of many years.

I find myself yearning for my ex-wife's companionship and regretting not having been a devoted husband. I remind myself that life is a collection of life experiences and to have a more positive outlook on things and that I "need to embrace this" as Blondie continues on slicing through the water.

Soon enough Blondie is sailing right on past my first waypoint programmed into my GPS and it is but ten in the morning when I sail on past my second waypoint. The same waypoint which days earlier was within sight yet forever unreachable because there wasn't the slightest breeze to fill the sails.

Steady winds are out of the east and I'm hoping that they stay that way for awhile until I sail on past the Northwest Cape. I'm anticipating that the winds will gradually start shifting out of the south and am later hoping that the westerly winds will kick up and carry me southeast to Marathon. This seems to have been the wind pattern of the past few days.

Blondie wasn't but a mile or so away from the second waypoint when the easterly winds suddenly start gusting. It seemed like an isolated gust at first but soon one gust of wind followed another and were all out of the east.

The boat is suddenly heeling over and lurching forward. It is no longer a controlled sail... never mind whether it is comfortable sail or not. I reef the roller furling jib to some extent and let out the mainsail as much as possible so that the wind spills out.

By now, the smooth water of early this morning is a thing of the past. The water now resembles a caldron of boiling water. Blondie is now heeling over somewhat precipitously every time a swell sneaks up on us.

I am constantly surfing down the swells to keep the boat upright and once again I am frightened and regretting not heading the advise of a power boater to sail in close to shore and not sail out on the open waters. "Good luck to you" were her ominous departing words. But what the hell do power boaters know about sailing?

The easterly winds do not lessen nor do they shift out of the south. It is a brutal sail. I am exhausted and even more importantly thirsty. There is plenty of water onboard the boat this time around except that it is all down below in the cabin. My three liter bottle of water didn't last long and there is no way I can risk letting go of the tiller to go down below into the cabin to retrieve another bottle of water.

My legs ache from constantly bracing myself in the cockpit. My right hand now has callouses from having grasped the tiller with all my might all day and my right arm aches so bad that it is crying out for a bit of Ben-Gay.

Sunset for that day was scheduled for 7:32 pm and sure enough I watch the sun dip below the horizon at the appointed time. It's now around 8 pm or so with very little daylight when I see a massive thunderhead cloud light up in the distance.

I've made my mind up. The mainsail must come down one way or another and it must be now regardless of the ocean swells. I point the boat into the wind as best I can and race towards the mast while grasping everything in sight as tightly as possible while anticipating a large swell smacking Blondie at any moment.

Much to my relief, I successfully drop the mainsail and gather in the sail as best I can. I hastily fasten the mainsail to the boom with three bungee cords that I earlier had clenched between my teeth while scrambling up on deck.

I am pleased to see that my new topping lift functions as intended and that the boom is not on the deck rolling about. Blondie is no longer under sail but simply bobbing off one swell after another but I am relieved to go down below in spite of all the swaying motion.

I check my position with the GPS one last time and mark it. I am fifteen or so miles north of Big Pine Key... way off course but in deep enough water nevertheless. I'll worry about getting back on course in the morning when it is daylight. For now I am simply too exhausted to do anything but collect myself both mentally and physically.

I secure the gear in the cockpit and go down below into the cabin. It is a mess. Gear is strewn everywhere and all is wet from the ocean spray and occasional rain showers. Damned... I've yet to replace the two portholes along either side of the V-berth.

My cutlery knives that I previously thought were secure are all scattered on the cabin floor. I collect those up first and make sure that I've got'em all. Next I pick up a number of items that had spilled out of the various tote boxes and secure those as well.

Now it's time to look out after myself and I proceed to drink what seemed to be at the time a quart of water. I kick off my wet sneakers and strip off my life vest followed by my white long sleeve shirt that had once seen better days in an office. I then strip off my wet swim trunks while continually bracing myself down below while Blondie is continuously rocked from one side to another.

I dry myself off with a grungy towel but then reconsider the extent of my "bathing". Even I can't stand the grime and odor that's stuck all over me. I dig out a bar of Irish Spring soap, a clean washcloth, a bucket, and some fresh water and scrub myself clean.

I later rinse off as best I can with the same washcloth and dry off with a clean dry towel this time around. I pull on some dry underwear, a t-shirt and a pair of basketball shorts of all things. I am now somewhat clean and dry and my disposition has improved.

My stomach reminds me that I need to eat something but nothing sounds appetizing with all the rocking motion going on. I rummage through my tote box containing my provisions and come across a can of Campbell's condensed tomato soup. I pop open the lid, grab a spoon and down my first spoonful. The soup is cold right out of a can but I remind myself that this is what is surely called plain Gazpacho Soup in Spain. The soup is decidedly satisfying and comforting.

Sleeping in the V-berth is out of the question. It is completely wet and there is way too much motion going on to sleep in there. I lay out my somewhat dry towel on top of the deflated dingy laying on the cabin floor where there is the least amount of motion to be felt. I lie on the towel and soon enough my exhaustion takes over and I am sound asleep.

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