The months of toil were finally at an end. Alassiel (our boat) was ready. Marc (my boyfriend) was ready. And me? I was waay past ready.
We started the motor, gathered up the docking lines, and gunned it, making our final glorious escape from Green Cove Springs Marina. Hasta la vista baby. Five minutes later…
We had a leak.
No! Horrible flashes of having to turn around and go back filled my mind. But the leak was small-ish (packing gland, for those of you that know what that is) and Marc decided to try to fix it on the way. We weren’t going to let a silly little thing like water coming into the boat stop us.
That would be crazy.
That night we anchored by the Hart Bridge in Jacksonville. It was all lit up and the moon was nearly full and reflecting on the water. The boat bobbed gently and we saw our first dolphin of the trip (okay I missed the dolphin but it was still a magical night).
The next morning we got on to the ICW (intracoastal waterway) which is a series of connected rivers and dredged waterways on the Atlantic coast. We would be following it down the entire length of Florida, till we reached Miami.
The jolt was a shock.
It was only our second day and we were coming in to anchor at Pine Island (basically a river mouth surrounded by wild marsh lands). The Cruising Guide claimed that it was safe to enter the anchorage on the north side.
Turns out the exact opposite was true.
I heard someone say once that there are two kinds of sailors. Those that have hit the bottom, and those that lie about it. Well, I had kind of hoped that I would make it longer than two days before I joined the rest of the sailing community in this, but oh well, what can you do.
We were both flung slightly forward as our keel rammed into the gooey mud bottom. Marc instantly threw the gear into reverse but for long agonizing seconds it looked like we weren’t going to get free.
When we finally did, we were shaken. Ignoring the Cruising Guide, we tried entering again, this time on the south side – as slowly as our boat could manage. It was good!
But there was worse to come. A lot worse.
Another beautiful peaceful night followed by beautiful (and sometimes peaceful) days. We would take turns steering Alassiel. One of us at the wheel and one sitting behind, arms encompassing the other. Sweet moments punctuated with flashes of old-married-couple bickering (over things like whether or not we should clean the anchor chain).
Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach, West Palm. The days and places slid by. I was shocked at the growing number of boats, stranded and rotting in the waterway. Boats that had hit the bottom but never got free. They served as a warning sign to every single passing sailor. The ICW was a boat graveyard.
It was growing late. On the far side of Fort Lauderdale we were ready to stop at a little anchorage recommended by the Cruising Guide. We began to make our way in. The depth beneath our keel was ten feet.
Then it was nothing.
And this was no sandy bottom. It was either a wall of rocks or some inebriated farmer had driven his entire fleet of tractors into the river. The waves picked us up and slammed us down on whatever it was beneath the surface. Repeatedly.
We desperately tried to back off. It felt like the rudder was going to tear away with each impact.
But miraculously we got free of the underwater tractors. Then like we did at Pine Island, we tried to enter the anchorage from the other side. Again, ten feet to nothing in a split second. Again, we were pounded against the hard something. And again we got free.
Night was falling. We needed to anchor fast but there was no way we were going to try to enter the harbour of death for a third time.
There was only one option. On the other side of the bridge there was supposed to be another tiny harbour, just big enough for one or two boats to anchor.
There were four boats in the harbour.
And then it started to rain. Just to make things more pleasant.
For the next few hours, cold, soaked, and completely exhausted, Marc and I tried to anchor in this little harbour. There just wasn’t room. Every time we thought it might be okay, the now howling wind completely changed direction and threatened to smash us into one of the other boats or the huge metal pylons of the private marina next door. Twice trying to bring up our main anchor it got caught on some debris on the bottom. Yet when we tried to put out our back up secondary anchor it wouldn’t hold to anything.
Lighting streaked the sky and cracked close by. Everything seemed so surreal that I was seriously tempted to grab my video camera and start filming. But then I figured that being strangled by my boyfriend probably wouldn’t help the situation.
Anchoring wasn’t going to work we finally realized. So what now?
The private marina. Could we maybe just sneak inside?
We hadn’t seen anyone there throughout our entire ordeal. But there were security cameras…
Too tired to care any longer, we stealthily motored into one of the slips and tied up. Safe at last. If anyone was watching through the camera, hopefully they were also watching our anchoring clown-show and would either take pity on us or be entertained enough to let us be.
Still, I didn’t sleep well that night, expecting at any moment for some gruff cave-troll of a security guard to come banging on our windows.
At the crack of dawn we were out of there, no cave-trolls in sight. Woo hoo! And without further mishap we made it to Miami.
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