The rising sun slowly began burning the vapor away and a freshened
breeze coming ever so slightly from the west began to blow. We enthusiastically hauled up the sails. But Mother
Nature was feeling a bit manic and the fog didn’t really dissipate. By 2:00 PM it coalesced into a rolling band
of threatening clouds.
“Fronts coming. Looks like we’re gonna get wet.” I dug out our
rain gear just as the first drops began to fall. In preparation for the strong blow that would surly follow,
we opted to drop the mainsail. Don began turning us into the wind, and like a nymph the breeze rotated before us until it veered
due north and abruptly mutated into a screaming demon. Wedged between the mast and pulpit, I watched the port cap rail dip into the water. Don looked like the Gorton’s Fisherman grappling with the wheel while I wrestled
to douse the sail.
The previously absent wind began blowing 25-30 knots, putting us on a 6 knot run.
The 12’ – 15’ waves that followed pushed us up to our max hull speed. Normally in high
winds, the standing rigging on some sailing vessels reverberate with an eerie moan. But I swear I heard “WAAHHH HOOOO!!” from
Re Metau as each wave lifted her, thrust her forward, and then let her slide down toward the trough. Our blue
water boat was finally in the element for which she was built and she was riding it like a blue ribbon
Without a whisker pole, the jib collapsed then billowed out with a shotgun crack each time we plowed over a crest.
you think the staysail would do better?” Don proposed as he fought to keep our course with each roll.
was thinking we furl the jib and motor.”
This fairly ordinary task turned into a series of ‘OH S**T!!’ moments.
I released the jib sheet in preparation, but our pitching and rolling caused the furling line to fall
off the drum and bind in a jumble around the base of the forestay. Don yelled something about the jib sheet going into the water, but I saw the stopper knot wedging the standing end in the block and was confident it wouldn’t get wrapped around the prop. My more immediate attention was
drawn to the bowsprit. The cacophony of the luffing jib exceeded the screaming wind and I needed to go ride that bucking bronco to untangle the chaos.
At least it had stopped raining.
With whatever calm I had reserved, I worked through the mass of line, and
then hastily furled the jib from the bow. But it wouldn’t completely roll up, and the wind continued to pry the sail open. I headed back to the
safety of the cockpit to assess the situation. The cause, to both our horror, was in fact the jib sheet in the water. It
hadn’t wrapped around the prop, rather it had made one big loop around the entire keel! With the line swaddling the hull, we were unable to set or furl the jib, and with the jib luffing wildly, we
were unable to loosen the line. Although we were in neutral, the kinetic energy of our momentum caused the prop
to spin freely. Untying the stopper knot meant risking another bind up in its vortex. I took the wheel
while Don retreated to the bow to do some primal scream therapy.
At this point, I began wondering if Tow Boat
US would come out this far in such bad weather. Don took a more logical approach and came up with a way to get
the prop to stop spinning.
“Do you think you can turn her into the wind? We’ll have
to time it with the waves so we don’t get broadsided.” I rounded Re Metau as fast as she
would go and the boom, previously left unsecured, flipped out of the gallows and swung wildly in assistance. Don untied the jib sheet and safely pulled it free, then set out
to tightly cleat every line on deck. He even tightened the draw strings on his hood so it wouldn’t fly off.
Relieved of the helm, I went to check on the First Mate and ascertain the cause of all the crashing noises
coming from below. Neptune had taken refuge under a cushion, his eyes as big as dinner plates. But I was happy
to discover he hadn’t tossed his kibble – must’ve found his sea legs. The coffee percolator
that had previously been braced onto our gimbaled stove turned out to be the source of the clatter.
Breakfast and lunch time had long passed, but it was a constant effort just to keep from being pitched around.
I had to forego the galley wench role. The crew just had to go hungry.
We spent six exhausting
hours riding that roller coaster, fighting the wheel trying to keep the barn door of a rudder on course. I was
grateful when Don stated he felt better positioned at the helm. Control issues or misperceptions about women drivers
be damned, I gratefully acquiesced to his desire. As we got closer to the Keys, a distressing thought
began to gnaw at my brain. I had charted our course and knew there was no break wall around the North West channel,
just shallower water and a scattering of sandbars. Key West Harbor was only a harbor in name; minimally protected
by two tiny islands to the west, the main island to the east, and a whole lot of open water north
and south. I began whispering a mantra to the sea, pleading to calm her now completely erratic composure. Don
popped my meditative bubble when he piped up “You know the waves are only going to get worse as we get into
“You just had to say that out loud didn’t you!” I really
need to get him to work on his visualization skills.
The sunlight waned and Don’s level
of stress rose by the time we reached the channel entrance.
“Just follow my waypoints and
you’ll be fine. I’ve charted it so you’ll see the red markers. Just look for them” I soothed.
“But what about the GREEN markers!” he fretted. “Why
didn’t you chart them?!” Our previous experience had been navigating channels wide enough
for 2 or 3 boats to pass. Look right, you see red - look left, you see green. I’d plotted our course just
off the red markers, so Don imagined running down green buoys that I’d not referenced. No amount of assurance
seemed to pacify him. I took the wheel while he grabbed the spot light and binoculars to scope out
the situation. He calmed down when he discovered 3 or 4 ships could easily pass in this channel – that
is 3 or 4 cruise ships! We had more than 1000 feet of clearance on either side.