Change of Plans After a Change of Plans

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

We woke up at 6am and Dan immediately checked the weather. There are supposed to be thunderstorms off the coast all afternoon. He isn’t keen on potentially battling rain, wind, waves, and an outgoing tide on our way back in, so we’ve decided to motor around a couple hours in the channels to gauge whether or not he was able to work magic on the engine and eliminate the smoking.

I made coffee. Brandy likes liquid Sweet-N-Low in hers. The top of the bottle pops off to reveal a small pin hole through which I usually add about 30 drops of the stuff. Today, however, I absent mindedly unscrewed the entire top off and dumped the last few tablespoons of it into her cup. So she drank my coffee. The irony of coffee is that it can make you function better, but making it gives you another task to potentially screw up while you’re drowsily making it. Maybe that’s why someone invented the automated coffee pot.

Brandy worked on her bookkeeping business, Dan did some options trading, and I made breakfast. Since we’re leaving today I decided I’d treat myself to my first full blown shower complete with soap and shampoo since leaving NYC. Dan, Dillon, and I went to shore and I made the short hike to the other side of the island where the camping showers are.

Along the way I was concerned with the attacking mosquitos, avoiding horse crap in the trail, and the humidity level rising as the sun came out. I passed a young girl who had obviously been camping overnight and was hauling her stuff out to the dock where the ferry was going to set her free from this island. Shoulders hunched, she stared at the ground with a scowl on her face and shuffled along never bothering to look up at me. My intuition told me she was dragged here by her parents against her will, had a miserable experience, and would much rather be sitting at home in front of her phone screen. I thought it a shame since it was such a cool place. Then it dawned on me I was essentially that same girl in that exact moment (although my physical appearance wasn’t as telling as hers). I had made the entire walk thinking about all negative things along the way. So I started thinking about how cool it was in the early morning shade compared to how hot it would be later in the day, how cold the shower was going to be, how good it would feel to be clean. I risked stepping in piles of horse feces and instead of looking at the ground gazed at the beautiful scenery. It was a much better walk.

My brain is attuned to every little difference in its surroundings in the midst of such a drastic lifestyle change. I suppose its common of everyone to subconsciously rate things as good or bad in times like these, but everyone focuses on the good or bad with their conscious thought at different ratios. I hope I can do better.

We wanted to leave around 10am, but now we’re back at the boat and Dan is trying to fix a hose on the generator that is leaking. It’s almost 11am.

Ok. Change of plans. It isn’t the hose that’s leaking. It’s the pump itself and we need to go to a dock so that we have electricity because we can’t use the generator to make it. It’s 11:45am and we’re taking off to go back to Brunswick. Pull up the anchor.

It’s midnight now as I write this…We stayed in the intercostal waterway instead of venturing out to sea to round up into Brunswick, GA. It should have been faster. More on that later. Before we start doing any overnight crossings where I’ll have to take responsibility of the boat, I thought it might be best to learn a few minor but helpful things – things like reading the charts, matching them up with the real world, and not running the boat aground.

I spent a few hours driving (is that eve the correct nautical term? I don’t know. Of course, I don’t know most of them so I’m not sure why I bothered calling that one out. Whatever.) the boat in what visually appeared to be a wide open channel, but when looking at the charts and and navigation buoys it was substantially more narrow. Still, there was a substantially small margin for error before running aground on either side.

When I first took the helm Dan had it on autopilot. I kept it on autopilot and asked a lot of questions about the markings on the charts and he explained to me how the different apps on his iPad and the boat’s navigation equipment works. Redundant systems are very helpful and we currently have about five charting/GPS information stations available to us. I didn’t have to pay too close attention to where we were going at that time because the autopilot kept us heading in a straight direction. Mostly straight, anyway. We call the autopilot “Mr. T” because the brand name starts with “t”. We also describe him as drunk because he doesn’t hold a great heading and tends to swerve port and starboard more than we would if we manually steered.

Entering our first turning point, I took off the autopilot and steered where we needed to go. Confident we were in good shape, I resumed studying the charts again. Suddenly, Dan yelled my name as if to say, “Hey, pay attention.” The wind and current had turned us toward shore instead of my intended direction. I had taken for granted the fact that my first 10 minutes had been looked after by Mr. T and forgot to put his drunk self behind the wheel again before looking away. It’s amazing how quickly you can “develop a bad habit” in such a short amount of time when learning a new skill. There are so many things going on you aren’t accustomed to looking at them all, and your subconscious brain hasn’t been trained to look after them for you yet. I can drive a car, zone out, and still safely get where I need to go, but wide awake and alert I couldn’t steer straight for 15 minutes.

I decided that I needed a mental checklist of the most important things to keep an eye on. Vertically, visually scanning from top to bottom, I numbered everything:

  1. Where are we physically heading?
  2. What do the charts say about where we’re heading and the depth?
  3. What is the depth?
  4. What do the gauges say about oil pressure and water pressure?
  5. Who is approaching us from behind? Are we still dragging the dinghy or did we lose it!?

And that was it. They were decidedly the most important things in the moment and I wanted to train my unconscious brain to handle those tasks. Later, I can start to integrate those motor skills with more complex cognitive data like, “What is the current doing to us?”, “How’s the weather going to effect us?” and probably a thousand other things I don’t even know I don’t know yet.

Most of the trip was relatively easy minus one hairpin turn around shallow shoaling on either side of us at the entrance of a channel out to sea. The current was a bit stronger, winds heavier, and rain had snuck up on us and obscured our vision enough that seeing the buoys was a little difficult.

The channel got narrower and narrower until we were a couple of hours away from Brunswick. We had called the marina in Brunswick to give them an ETA and the guy on the phone said to be careful because we were coming up on some shallow territory. He wasn’t too specific so we looked at all the data available to us. It was shallow, but according to the charts we should have been fine. We slowed the boat down quite a bit so that if we did hit ground it 1) wouldn’t damage the boat, and 2) we would wedge ourselves into ground as much. Brandy kept a constant eye on the depth and yelled out the reading, I steered, and Dan moved up front in the cockpit to get a better view and give me direction. It worked for a while with depths that read as shallow as half a foot from the bottom of the boat. But, suddenly we went from a crawl to an almost unperceivable stop. Maverick had hit ground. Great. My first time behind the wheel. Ah well, calm seas never made a skilled sailor.

I tried steering a bit, but it was not good. Dan quickly jumped behind the wheel and took over. He throttled back and we slid back off the mud. He then turned us on a dime to head back the way we came. Maverick hit ground once more and Dan throttled heavily up to get us through it. We were back in the still shallow but safer deep enough water.

Dan contemplated turning back around and giving it another go, but we ultimately decided to stay at a marina we had passed 10 minutes earlier. Brandy called and luckily they had a spot available for us, although the lady who answered was shocked at the 50 foot length of Maverick. I ran out on deck and got all the fenders and lines ready to dock up. The rain was still coming down and I was drenched and cold almost immediately. It was great.

We docked, hooked up to shore power, secured stuff, cleaned up, ate dinner at a restaurant at the marina, drank safe arrival cocktails on the boat, ate leftover birthday cake, and took advantage of the WiFi. Oh…and Brandy took an hour long hot shower to relax.

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