Every New Year's Eve reminds me of a favorite trip . . . .

Started by Charles Brennan, Dec 31, 2023, 04:11 PM

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Charles Brennan

Runnin' against the wind . . . . . .

It was a couple decades back, New Years' Eve '92.  Hurricane Andrew had come and gone back in August, and although there were still washers, dryers, and the occasional microwave oven, randomly distributed throughout Biscayne Bay, life for the most part, had slowly gotten back to normal.

My son showed up unexpectedly on my doorstep, on a long weekend leave from the 82nd Airborne.  He had enlisted in between Gulf Wars and had been in Korea, Somalia (not in the group that rescued the Blackhawk Down guys, but in the group that cleared a path for them to get back to base), in California helping after an earthquake, helping in Florida after Andrew, building runways in New Mexico, the whole gamut of Armed Forces Service. 
He showed up, knowing from how he was raised, that: Home Is The Place Where When You HAVE To Go There, They HAVE To Take You In.  Though he said nothing, his look clearly showed he was a little weary of "being all that he could be".   
"We gotta get outta here, Dad",  was all he said.  :(   
The look in his eyes erased any concerns or doubts in my mind, about the suitability of weather, or anything else for that matter.   There have been many times when I too, needed to Escape The World.   A boat was usually my Escape Vehicle of choice, so I completely understood.  Prophets have their deserts, we have our Oceans.

Checked the NWS weather forecast; (mostly as a formality; after all, we were going, no matter what) I've seen that same haunted look in a mirror and knew the only real cure, is Sea Time. The forecast would only tell me WHERE. (Nice thing about living where there is Ocean on three sides of you and a big honkin' Lake just north of you. There's ALWAYS someplace to go.) NWS told us that the looming cold front was stalled over the Florida Panhandle, until at LEAST the end of the weekend. We hurriedly put some rods, bait, drinks and some food (our usual order of priorities! ) aboard Urchin, and headed South, past our usual haunts like Dinner Key, or Crandon Marina on Key Biscayne, driving south until we reached Homestead Bayfront Park. I called my wife at work and gave her a rough outline (very rough, since I had no real idea) of our plans.   "Babe! I got the kid and we're goin' sailin' and fishin'!! See ya sometime tomorrow!" :D     

In south Florida, on New Years' Eve, we have to deal with nearly as many whackos on the water, as we do on the roads. So I wanted to get us across Biscayne Bay as quickly as possible, and get offshore, by Fowey Light. It's far enough East, that the seriously alcohol-impaired no longer have sufficient motor skills to be a significant threat.   Plus, you can see 'em coming from a long way off, when you are that far out.   The wind was from the Southeast at about 10-12 knots, which would have been smack on our nose, had we left from further North. Counted on a close reach and favorable tides, to get across Biscayne Bay and out to the edge of the Gulf Stream.

So, OF COURSE, the wind veered East, so as to be STILL smack on our nose.  >:(     Since my Drifter/Reacher doesn't tack worth a damn, we switched to the Genoa, and started tacking. Didn't like the wind veering, and turned on the weather radio, and got the same NWS forecast, so I had no real good reason (other than a suspicious nature, where NWS Weather Weasels are involved!) not to keep on, keepin' on.  My son sat up on the forward cabin trunk, knees up, with his back to the mast, his favorite position since he was a small boy, and now wrestling with whatever Demons had brought him down here.  Hmmmm . . . . As I recall, it was MUCH Easier to see around that small boy, than the big slab of a man hulking before me.

19 miles per the chart's rhumb line, and about 45 tacking miles later, we reached Fowey Rocks Light, just ahead of the sunset, setting behind us.

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 My son started wetting lines (guess where HIS priorities always are?  ;)  )  while I started heating dinner . . . . . a huge can of canned beans and weenies, (to give you some idea of just how hurriedly we had packed, and left). My son started visibly de-compressing, (which made me relax a little) while I tried really hard, not to notice how the waves were now starting to come from East-Northeast and the air temps were falling (which made me tense up, all over again). 

Whenever we come back from a fishing trip, my wife asks what my son said, and what I said, and does he have any new girlfriends, how does he like the army, is he going to re-up, is he making friends, and did he ever finish that car he was restoring? She is always astounded to hear me reply something along the lines of:   "Well, . . . . . umm, . . . . . . . . once he said: You want me to cut the strips thinner?"   ???   "Oh yeah, and then one time I said: You're gonna lose that one, if you don't move him away from the motor."   

She always shakes her head in exasperation. "I'll NEVER understand Men!"  :o
Not True.
Women understand us, all too well.
Why they continue to put up with us, is the Real Mystery.

"TWO males, TWO feet apart in a small boat for TWO days and saying TWO Words!!"  :o  This is incomprehensible to her and she wrote both of us off as: Hopeless. I had just figured that whatever demons in his life he was trying to exorcise, he would either talk about it, or not.  I'm that way myself, far too often, so I know where he gets it from.  Sometimes, Parents think they have to DO something for a child; sometimes, Parents think they have to LISTEN to their child.  Most times, they simply have to BE there for their child.  I was there, ready for anything.

I turned on the weather radio again, and got that same lying NWS forecast, from some guy who clearly had recorded it as a joke at the office party, and then gone home for the holiday weekend. Wind was Northeast now and the temperature was dropping.   
"Stalled cold front", my butt!"   >:(   
I asked my son when he had to be back to the base. He said he had enough time for two days at sea, and one night on the road, back to Ft. Bragg and I replied we would probably need both of those days (and we had already used one). I went below, and sacked out, getting ready for a tough day tomorrow, while trying mightily NOT to do the arithmetic in my head about my son going from Hollywood, Florida to Fort Bragg in one night.  Lessee here, must mean an average speed of . . . . . . . I fell mercifully asleep, before I could finish the calculation and all but guarantee a sleepless night.   :o 
At midnight, he woke me up by having a freshly caught under-sized strawberry grouper slap my face awake: FWAP-FWAP-FWAP-FWAP-FWAP!!  ;D  His idea of a joke, ever since he was 8 years old!, then wished me a Happy New Year.
Starting the New Year aboard your own sailboat, is not really a bad way to start a new year, grouper-slapped, or no.   I turned on that lying NWS weather broadcast one more time, just to be sure I was really on my own (yup, so what else is new?) and put a spare blanket around my son (I sincerely believe the kid would've fished out there, until he was completely hypothermic), and then turned back in.

Sure enough, the next morning was cold, and the wind was from the Northwest (all 5½  knots of it), smack on our nose, for the trip home.   >:(   I put my spare clothes on over my fishing clothes (preferring the warmth to the smell), and set about retrieving the anchor, and trying to second-guess the tides out there. All the Keys and flats in south Biscayne Bay tend to make tidal flow calculations little better than a guess, except for the one certainty, that most any guess will likely be Wrong.

My first tack sailing up toward my anchor line proved my first "guess" of the day was wrong. Fell back off, gybed, and tried again. Could barely reach the anchor.    Hmmmm . . . . .time to wait out the flood tide, and maybe have breakfast: the OTHER half of the big can of pork & beans.    (Did I mention we had packed rather hurriedly?)    While my son ate, (It was still a little too early in the morning for me to be facing pork & beans, un-aided) I sponged off the condensation from the sides of the cabin, where our breathing and cooking had condensed all the moisture on the cabin sides.   You up-north types think cold is bad?    Try cold AND humid!  :'(
Tide was past flood, but still outgoing at a pretty good clip; when I suddenly realized I had a fairly muscular (courtesy of the U.S. Army!) "windlass" ALREADY aboard! :D
"Yo, Chris! Get that anchor aboard!"    (Hey, if you can't afford good sailboat gear, then just breed it!) :D     We got underway, and prepared for a long, cold, slog home in very light airs. The sky had gone from the sapphire azures of yesterday, to that depressing gunmetal gray, like winters up north. So far, 1993 was not NEARLY so pretty as 1992 had been. I started doing close, choppy tacks, until I found out which tack got me the most "bite" to the West. Northwest was where we needed to head, but we all know where the wind was coming from, right? Every time I was in need of some sour amusement, I turned on the National Weather Service forecast, in all its Unchanging, Unrelenting, Error.   >:(

So Charles, why not just use the motor?   ???   Well, seems our (then) British Seagull had one of those engineering "improvements", a nylon water pump impeller, on a square steel shaft. As the shaft rusts, it splits the nylon impeller, causing it to slip and pump insufficient cooling water (a problem that the old, hard, un-improved rubber impellers never seemed to have; THANKS, Engineers!)  >:(  and the engine will run for about 5 minutes or so, before it seizes. It will not start for about another 4 – 6 hours, until after ALL the metal parts have cooled. While this will trash most motors, it's merely an annoyance on a sturdy British Seagull.

The Japanese had successfully run the Brits out of the US market, and parts were becoming problematic.  This was barely Pre-Internet and parts had to be ordered from Poole, England, via Telex.  If I had known then, what I know now about how to obtain Seagull Parts, I would probably have kept the motor.  I had parts on order already and had been expecting the parts to arrive in a few weeks or so, but my sons' needs had seemed great enough, to risk a trip without a reliable motor.  Homestead Bayfront Park is in a harbor accessed by a narrow channel smack into the wind, so we didn't dare use our motor until the last 1000 yards from the docks.    And after all, we had PLENTY of wind!  The NWS PROMISED us!!   Yeah, right.  :-[  All 4¾ knots of it, smack on our nose.  Just wasn't coming from where we wanted! DOHHHH!!!       

One good thing about humongous tacks, is you get to see a LOT of the Bay. Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant, on one tack, Fat-Cat Mega-Homes in Coco-Plum, on the next tack. At our lowest point, fighting wind direction, tides and light winds, we were sailing in concert with two manatees who were seeking warmer waters . . . . and we were falling behind! :o  Passed up by porpoises is one thing, but passed up by Manatees?   
VERY hard on the ole Ego!  ???     

Just after dark, after sailing ALL day long, we finally reached Homestead Bayfront Park, whereupon the icy winds picked up and promptly roared down the channel unabated, at some 25 knots, right in our face. To give you an idea for reference, this is normally about a four-hour trip in ideal conditions. Cold, wet, tired, smelling much like the previous day's bait, we quickly retrieved the boat, (slapped/tied the rigging any which way), got into the truck and cranked our heater up, neither of us saying anything, but both of us thinking of the Dunkin' Donuts, and hot chocolate or coffee, at the southern-most Turnpike Plaza, mere minutes away.

Driving back north up the roads of a New Year, trailing just behind the remnants of that "stalled" cold front, that seemed to be keeping to a rock-steady 30mph, with my son zonked out on the truck seat beside me, all demons in his life, apparently exorcised; I reflected that a lot of my life has been spent "Runnin' against the wind."   
Whether the NWS had anything to do with it, or not.

Happy New Year, Everyone.   
Charles Brennan

Norm L.

Wonderful story Charles. Thank you for that trip.
I don't need to be reminded of the change and feeling of a winter Norther, but I hadn't heard or thought of Fowey light in decades and how many times I took bearings on it and the others down and along the Keys.

Riley Smith

Good read CB.
The weatherman doesn't lie in the winter here. It amazes me, they get it right almost every time from January to May. They predicted rain two days ahead and there wasn't a cloud in the Continental United States at that time. Then it rains right on cue.
The first hurricane shows up, and THEN they start talking about steering currents being unpredictable.
Yeah, been in that getaway mode a few times myself.