Brunswick to Ft. Lauderdale (Part 1)

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

We spent several days in the Brunswick marina where Dan did some boat projects and Brandy and I worked on our respective businesses. My girlfriend, Caitlin, also flew into town and we all spent a day/night in Savannah having entirely too much fun…


And then it was time to leave…


I woke up at 3am and couldn’t go back to sleep. It was too exciting thinking about the journey ahead. At 5:30am I finally got out of bed.

With the yoga mat and Bluetooth speaker I went straight out to the pier and began to work out. There was no trace of the sun, the water was like glass, and it was slightly cool with a light breeze. The only light was from the marina docks and sleepy nearby downtown. But the perfection didn’t last long. Five minutes into the workout a mosquito found me and told about 20 of his friends where a delicious (and sexy) meal could be found. I spent about 50% of the workout flailing my arms and legs around beating myself with my hands to try and keep them off of me. I imagine I looked like I was trying to Jazzercise while having a seizure (sexy I tell you). But I was determined to get in a workout in, persevered, and had 20 or so welts to show for it when it was all said and done.

I took a shower, made coffee and breakfast for Dan and Brandy, and we went straight to work readying the boat for a departure. After topping of with water, filling up with fuel, pumping out our waste, and paying the bill, we took off and left Brunswick. For the unexpected second time!

After a little over an hour we were almost out of the channel and decided we’d start our 2 hour shifts to watch the helm of the boat for the next 48 hours. Dan took the first shift at that time, 10am. I took the second and Brandy the third shift. Thus, for the remainder of the trip, Dan would have the 10am, 4pm, 10pm, and 4am shifts. Brandy had the 2am/pm and 8am/pm shifts and I had the 6am/pm and 12am/pm shifts. At shift change we’d pass off any relevant or critical information to the next person. This is the waypoint we’re currently shooting for. There are two boats on the horizon over there. The Coast Guard is warning about storms in our area. All the gauges look good. And now I’m going to sleep.

Navigating in the open ocean is MUCH easier than in the Intracostal Waterway. Far enough out, the water is deep enough that you don’t have to keep a constant eye on it, there isn’t as much marine traffic, and you aren’t having to slalom between all the buoys like a downhill skier. Basically, we’d just make sure nothing on the boat broke, the boat stayed on course, we didn’t hit any other boats, and there were no wrecks to avoid (sometimes a large boat or mast of a sunken vessel can protrude up out of the depths and cause a hazard).

The only surprises at any given time seemed to be the whizzing of the fishing reels each time a fish was hooked at which point we’d jump up, run to the back and reel them in to see what we caught. It felt like playing the lottery. I’d grab the pole hoping for a large edible fish and then start to make immediately make assessments in my mind. How hard is it fighting and how large does that make this one? What color shimmers of light do I see way back there when it surfaces and what kind is it? Can we eat it? Please don’t be a stupid barracuda!

We caught nothing but Spanish Mackarel the first day, probably half a dozen or so. They also seemed pretty small and not worth the effort of filleting as individual fish so we let each one go. Hindsight being 20/20 we caught enough to have easily made a meal for us all. Oh well. Legally, I don’t know what we could have kept so that was another issue all together.

The highlight of the day was throwing up all three sails, cutting off the engine, and hearing nothing but the wind and small waves crash up against the boat. It’s my favorite part of sailing and up until then we’d only moved the boat by engine. Per the weather reports, we had expected to sail for about 24 under sail; but a few squalls moved in, changed the wind direction, and we were forced to take them down and fire up the engine again. I lost track of time enjoying the experience and can’t recollect now how long it lasted.

During my 6pm-8pm shift, Brandy made dinner her now famous-on-the-boat sausage and veggies dish. It was fantastic again, and decidedly my favorite meal. The weather started to get a bit more intense and the waves picked up a bit.

On past sailing vacations, I 100% of the time became seasick at one point or another. Usually it was exacerbated with dehydration and/or a hangover, but I could count on it occurring eventually regardless of my state of being. Being on deck alleviated 90% of the ill effects, and I would avoid at all costs going down into the boat while we were sailing. Even looking down below would make me want to vomit in an instant. One might wonder why I kept going on trips with Dan and Brandy every year if I knew I’d get sick each time. All I can say is, I absolutely love it out here!

As soon as we left the Brunswick channel and made our way into the open ocean I did feel ever so slightly nauseous, but it passed after a few hours. Surprisingly, Brandy felt a bit sick herself and to my recollection she’s never had a problem. Even more surprising, I was able to walk below deck and not have that old familiar feeling of wanting to navigate around with my eyes closed, feeling around with my hands like a blind man before darting back up the stairs for fresh cool air. My seasickness seemed to be cured! I had half joking said to Dan at one point in St. Augustine that living on the boat for a couple of months in a marina might be good for my seasickness since my brain could get used to the constant, albeit almost unperceivable and ever-so-slight, rocking of the boat. Maybe it worked!

Anyway, I knew I only had four hours before my next shift so I wanted to get some sleep. I went below but before I even laid down a reel started buzzing as a fish ran with the line. It was stripping line FAST. I ran up top where Dan had slowed the fish down with the drag wheel and I started the fight. When I picked the rod up from the rod holder the fish happened to go on a big sprint at that exact moment. Coupled with my amateur sea legs and the power of the fish, I was tugged forward and nearly slammed into the rail and fell overboard. This was a big fish! I’ve never caught anything more than 10lbs or so, but I do know that on a large fish you need to wear it out rather than muscle it in quickly to reduce the likelihood of it breaking your line. I’d reel in a bit, and then the fish would sprint and strip the line back out. I was patient enough for this tango for about 12 minutes. When it was finally pretty close to the boat I got anxious to see what it was and started trying to muscle him up to the surface. I have 150lb line on the reels with metal crimps instead of knots holding the hook in place and was cocky that I could get him to the surface. I pulled and pulled trying to get a glimpse as it was right below the boat. Unfortunately, I hadn’t accounted for the strength of the metal hook! It’s a large, stout hook, but it apparently bent outward on the massive weight of the fish. With the slightest bit of tension released from the line, the fish took advantage and shook it loose, and I never even got a peek of it. It was exhilarating.

Finally, I went to my cabin at the bow of the boat for sleep and the waves had picked up considerably in the previous hour or so. Now, every boat person knows this and I did too, to some extent. The bow of the boat rises and falls more drastically than the rest of the boat in the waves. You can think of the boat like a seasaw (ha, sea what I did there? I crack myself up), but with the pivot point moved further to the back. When the boat approaches a wave, the bow lifts up and up and up until the wave makes it’s way far enough back that it comes back down. Further back in the boat it doesn’t experience the same elevation changes. The back of the boat is much heavier and it doesn’t really pivot back up into the air to get that same seesaw effect. Being in the back is like being on a seesaw and always having your feet on the ground while you lift the person on the other side way up into the air. Again, I knew this. In theory.

However, knowing something and experiencing something is a completely different exercise for the brain. On our sailing trips we’d anchor or pick up a mooring ball every night so I never had to sleep on a passage and this was a first. Sleeping in my bed felt like a roller coaster in which I’d slowly go up and up and then suddenly come screaming down. In the first five minutes I wondered if I was actually losing contact with the bed as the boat launched me up at the crest of the wave and then came crashing down without me. Worse, the time between waves was short. Therefore, when the bow of the boat came crashing down it hit the next approaching wave instead of settling into the back of the initial wave. Every rise and fall was accompanied by a sudden jolt of the boat and loud slam of the hull into the water.

I knew immediately sleep wasn’t going to come easily, if at all. Thinking ahead, I wondered how long (in months, not hours) it would be before I would ever be accustomed enough to sleep in those conditions. I moved to the salon (living room) where I could sleep on the couch and not experience quite the same turbulence. I slept, but only because I was endlessly exhausted – for 10 minutes at a time, anyway. A large enough wave would knock me out of my slumber, and they came often enough. Before I knew it, it was midnight and time for my shift at the helm…

I know I wrote a decent amount for the day, but it doesn’t capture half of the realizations I had during the day. Stuff didn’t make it in (nor did many pictures get taken), not because I didn’t think it was worth mentioning, but because 1) I forgot a few days later now that I’m writing this, 2) it was mentally exhausting taking it all in (sensory overload, thinking about our safety, compartmentalizing all the nuances of the boat that change under way, etc.), and 3) it was physically tiring (battling the constant movement of the boat, the heat, lack of sleep, etc.). Akin to the theme I wrote about earlier in which your subconscious mind starts to take over after you become proficient at something, I’m sure it will all get easier over time and allow me to multitask better, but for now, those memories are lost in time.


    1. Author

      Hopefully, I’ll have another pirate story to regale over Christmas.

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