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Tales and Travels January 26, 2013

Posted by Katherine Harms in Uncategorized.
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Tuesday evening as I was setting food on the cockpit table for dinner, Larry was on deck watching a police boat circling one of our boat neighbors to the north of us in the anchorage. We mused together about the reason for such a visit. Hoping it didn’t mean that all the boats would be visited by the police, we sat down to eat. The police boat went away. We enjoyed our food and conversation. It was sunset and became dark as we ate in the glow of our little cockpit light. It isn’t exactly candlelight, but it is quite pleasant.

Suddenly Larry looked forward and said, “Is that a new boat?” as he got up and went out to the deck. We were pretty much done with dinner, and I joined him on deck to look at the boat that had engaged his attention. I am not gifted with good spatial imaging, but Larry is. He watched that boat closely, and then he said, “He’s dragging. That boat is coming right for our bow. Help me get the dinghy down.”

We stow our dinghy on deck during passages, and that is where it stays until we decide to go ashore. We had not gone ashore since we anchored in Miami Beach, so the dinghy was still on the forward deck. Larry went forward and began to untie it while I went below to get the oars. We hustled. In the short time it took for me to pull out the oars and bring them up, the drifting boat had moved much closer. Even a spatially impaired person like me could see that it was closer. It was being moved by the very considerable tidal ebb on a path that would absolutely impact our bow unless something changed.

We dropped the dinghy over. I tried to get Larry to put on a sweatshirt, because the breeze is quite cool here after dark, but he waved it off. I did persuade him to put on a lifejacket. He had a flashlight in his pocket. He climbed into the dinghy and headed for the drifting boat, which was moving dangerously closer every minute.

When he arrived at the boat, he circled it. He went to the stern and banged on the hull, shouting and trying to get someone’s attention. There was nobody aboard. We learned later that there had not been anyone aboard this boat for a good two weeks. The boat was anchored and abandoned. When the anchor dragged, there was nobody to care.

Larry climbed aboard and went forward to figure out what could be done. I was still on our boat watching anxiously. I looked all around, hoping to see someone on a nearby boat who could go to help. I saw no one. I could hear the anchor chain rattling and I could see Larry heaving on it. What I didn’t know until much later was that he could not at first get the anchor up. It wasn’t dug in, because the boat was still drifting, but he could not lift it, and that was a mystery.

The boat continued to move nearer to our boat. Larry yelled at me to call the police and see if they would help, so I went below to get the phone. Our yelling must have attracted some attention, because after I went back up later, someone in a dinghy was just arriving to help Larry, and another person arrived shortly after that.

First I had to figure out how to call the police. I really did not think this situation merited a 911 call, but when I checked our cruising guides for Miami Beach, that was their advice. To reach the police call 911. So I did.

The 911 operator asked me why I was calling, and I explained the situation. He transferred me to a police operator. The police operator transferred me to someone who took my information. That person transferred me to the Coast Guard. Well, if I had thought the Coast Guard was the right place to get help with a boat adrift in a municipal anchorage, I would have started there. The fact that we had seen a policeman searching around in the anchorage made us think of the police first. In Lake Worth, we often see the local sheriff handing out warnings and tickets, so we would probably call him about a problem there. We would later learn things about the drifting boat in Miami Beach that would truly give us pause. However, at this point, we simply wanted that boat to stay away from our boat and stop drifting.

I told the Coast Guard my story, and I was glad I wasn’t on the radio. It was bad enough over the phone. I have listened in on numerous calls for help with the Coast Guard, and this time I was the one answering all the questions. Except I didn’t have any answers. It wasn’t my boat.

 

G What it the name of the boat that is drifting?

L I don’t know. I can’t see a name anywhere.

G What kind of boat is it?

K A sailboat. A cat.

G Do you mean catamaran?

K Yes, yes! And it is still moving.

G What color?

K Color? It’s dark. I think it is white or cream or something like that.

G Okay. How long is it?

K I don’t know.

G I need to know how big it is.

K I can’t tell. I don’t know how to guess. It is shorter than our boat, and it is getting really close. Can you send us some help?

G How large is your boat?

K 45 feet. The boat that is drifting is smaller than we are.

G Sure. Can you see a line on the front of the boat? Anchor rode.

K I told you. It dragged.

G Does it have a rope in front?

K I can’t see the front of the boat. It is drifting and the stern is toward me. I can hear the sound of a chain rattling as Larry is trying to haul it up. Is somebody going to come and help him?

 

Eventually the Coast Guard told me that a boat would be dispatched. I thanked him and ran up to shout to Larry with the news. By then, I didn’t have to shout very loudly. That boat was close! The two men who had joined Larry in trying to stop the dragging used their dinghies to push the boat. They were able to prevent it from hitting our boat, but nobody could stop it.

When it was all over, I learned why it was so hard to stop this boat. When Larry eventually did hoist the anchor, it turned out that there were two anchors. One anchor was attached to the other on the shaft, and he had to pull both of them up at once. Furthermore, one anchor had rope and the other had chain for rode, and the two rodes were knotted and snarled together. When Larry did haul up the anchors, he had a huge wad of chain and rode and anchors. The boat drifted past our boat with Larry aboard and his two helpers using their dinghies to push the boat in whatever direction would keep it from hitting other boats in the anchorage.

The Coast Guard’s last words to me were that help would be coming soon. He said that they were in the Miamarina, and I expected to see that boat coming our way very soon. I was encouraged in that expectation by receiving a call from someone who said he was the one who would come in a boat to help. Ten minutes went by. No boat appeared. I called back. The person who answered said that the team was getting ready to leave. He said something about 30 minutes, and I thanked him.

More time passed. Still no sign of a boat coming our way. By this time I had lost sight of the drifting boat. That was worrisome. The tidal currents are strong, and I couldn’t guess where the boat might wind up. I had to trust that the men in their dinghies could control its path enough for Larry to be safe, but I didn’t like the situation at all. I called again. This time the man who answered seemed a bit testy. Well, I felt testy, too.

 

G Did the drifting boat hit your boat?

K No. They used their dinghies to shove it away.

G Where is the boat now?

K I don’t know. The last time I saw it, it was passing Star Island. I thought your boat would be here by now.

G They have thirty minutes.

K Thirty minutes? I thought they were coming to help.

G Well, they have thirty minutes to launch, and there are still five minutes to go.

 

At this point I was upset.

 

K Are they required to use all thirty of those minutes?

G They are about to leave. They will be there soon.

 

It wasn’t more than ten minutes before I saw blue flashing lights in the distance coming toward me from the marina. They never got to me, but that was fine. I wanted them to get to that drifting boat and help Larry.

The blue flashing lights stopped moving, and after a bit I assumed that they must have connected with the drifting boat. I don’t remember how long it was before I saw the red and green bow lights of a dinghy coming my way. One of the men who had helped Larry came to tell me that the Coast Guard had taken the drifting boat off their hands and that Larry and the other man were not far behind him.

When Larry finally arrived at our boat, he told me all about the snarled rodes and the bizarre way the anchors were connected. He said that they finally unsnarled the rodes and separated the anchors. Using two dinghies they moved the boat out of the main traffic channel. Larry threw the anchor over and it appeared to be set. Unable to use the boat’s engine to back down on it, he could only hope the anchor was dug in sufficiently to hold the boat. It held until the time when they relinquished the responsibility to the Coast Guard, but it must have been a good set, because the next morning Larry could still see the boat where he left it.

One of the men who helped Larry that night had been in the anchorage when the drifting boat first arrived, about two weeks before. The day after the boat arrived, three men and a child got into its dinghy and went away. They hadn’t been seen since. They left the boat in the anchorage unattended all that time. The boat had a Florida registration number on it, and the Coast Guard indicated they would follow up with the owner of the boat. We were just glad our boat was safe.

The next day after this adventure, we started reviewing the weather with a view to making our way to Marathon. The weather looked good for the weekend. A high was building, and breezes would be mild into Monday. We planned to move back to Fisher Island and start our trip from there.

The move to Fisher required using high tide to pass a shallow area near the end of the Venetian Islands. We saw a good chance to make that move on Friday morning about first light.

It was a lovely dawn, but it was cool. We needed long sleeves and pants, even if we were in Miami Beach. Fortified with hot coffee, we brought the dinghy up on deck. While Larry tied it down, I went through the boat making sure ports and hatches were closed. Larry turned on the engine shortly before 7AM.

Raising the anchor was a unique experience this time. Ordinarily, when Larry begins to pull the chain in, the boat slowly moves forward. Ordinarily, the anchor is somewhere in front of the boat, and the boat pulls backward on the rode. On this occasion, however, the tidal current had pushed the boat forward over the anchor, and the anchor was behind the boat. As the chain came in, the boat backed up. It was a weird feeling. We have learned that the price of a full keel is some strange action when anchored or moored. Generally speaking, if there are significant currents, the boat is influenced by them more than by the wind.

We enjoyed some more coffee as we glided past the little artificial islands. They are all quite attractive. We passed over the shallow spot with 2 feet of water to spare, turned south and passed the MacArthur Causeway Bridge and the railroad bridge right behind it. Then we were into the channel south of Dodge Island on our way to Fisher.

It was a gorgeous morning. The wind was 15-18 knots out of the northeast, just as predicted. The sun was gloriously shining in a clear sky with a few puffy clouds. A thought occurred to me. It wasn’t even 8AM yet. If we just kept going, we could be at Rodriquez Key in midafternoon.

“You know, we could just keep going,” I said.

Larry thought for a minute. “Is that what you want to do?”

I ran below and got my Kindle. I can get the NOAA text forecasts on it when we are under way. I had the Hawk Channel forecast URL bookmarked, so it was easy to verify that the forecast was good. Winds northeast to east 15-20 during the morning and decreasing throughout the day and into the weekend. We could expect a turbulent ride till we passed Cape Florida and started turning more to the west, but nothing we couldn’t handle.

“Let’s go,” I said. Larry nodded.

We don’t often make decisions about starting a passage this way. Our plan, however, had been to anchor at Fisher and then leave on Saturday. We already had a good feel for the weather. This last-minute change in plans simply took advantage of preparations already made.

It was a magnificent day. We had about three hours of turbulence after we left Miami. The wind was pushing waves mostly 2-4 feet but sometimes up to five feet directly on our beam as we headed south. We were rocked thoroughly. Because we hadn’t planned to go outside when we pulled the anchor, I had to do some putaway and other straightening after we were already out there. Some books fell in the floor. The cockpit doors banged a few times before I got them put away. But all in all, it was a wonderful run.

When we began to turn west, the seas began to simmer down. By noon, the winds were consistently under 15 knots. Our course put the winds behind us, but as we entered Hawk Channel, the protection of the reefs began to soften the wave action. We found a friendly spot and dropped anchor. A beautiful day turned into a beautiful evening. The sun went down. The moon came up. This is what we came for.

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Comments

1. Heidi Kreider - January 26, 2013

I love reading of your adventures! Makes me feel like I’m there without the risk of motion sickness. 😉

Marathon was one of my parent’s favorite ports.

Katherine Harms - January 27, 2013

How interesting! Did they cruise on a sailboat? Marathon is cruiser heaven actually. They treat us very well, and the price of a mooring is quite reasonable.

2. bobbistowellbrown - February 3, 2013

I’ll be following your blog. My husband and I dreamed of living on a sailboat from the time we were first married. We lived on land until 1997. We joined the U. S. Power Squadron in 1974 and started out small with a 14′ Sealark and sailed on lakes. Next we had a 17′ Thistle, then a 21′ San Juan. We had a 27′ Francis, and then a 34′ Crealock. My husband studied celestial navigation and engine repair achieving Senior Navigator with the U. S. Power Squadron with a full certificate. My husband and I sailed our 40′ HR to Mexico in 1997. He then sailed it to Tahiti and I flew over. We are now on land in a condo. We were older when we took off on our adventure and I had come down with fibromyalgia so cruising turned out to be painful for me as well as lonely. At each port, if we stayed for awhile, I would try to find a church and a writing group. I was constantly on ham e-mail. We had satellite e-mail but it was too expensive. God was good to us and we safely lived our dream.


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