Christmas adventure, ditch, dolphins, engine trouble, Intracoastal, mooring field, Mosquito Lagoon, New Smyrna, sailboat delivery, Vero Beach Marina
If you are interested in the full experience, read The Gravy Run, Part I
Days 1 and 2.
Standing next to our newly inflated dinghy at the Vero Beach Marina, M and I are eyeing the current between the dock and the three-boat mooring raft where we had left the Labiris. Our dinghy does not have a motor, so one of us will have to paddle.
I have just paid the hefty marina dues for the month-long stay to the dock master, who apparently had thought I was a homeless person trying to move on board of my boyfriend’s boat without consent. His manners shifted slightly when I whipped out my card to pay, but by then I did not care: I lost all respect for him for his judgmental and dismissive attitude. The only reason I mention this is because both before and after this incident my encounters with people in the sailing community were extremely positive. In my experience, sailors are friendly, extremely helpful people who go out of their way to make your trip successful.
Anyway, we launch the dinghy and my audacious husband volunteers to paddle. After a couple of minutes and several 360 degree spins, it becomes clear that he has never done this before. We switch places, which is not an easy feat in the loaded dinghy, and, fueled by resentment and anxiety, I pull us across the current to the boat.
To our relief, everything is all right on board. We stay for the night and get on our way early the next morning (Day 2). At 8 a.m., our raft-neighbor lowers his morning paper and shouts after us: “I’m glad yours is not one of those boats that are dumped in a marina indefinitely. Have a good trip.” His orange cat stops cleaning himself and sits up straight to watch us leave.
Ok, so we are on our own. I had begged CH to come with us, but, in his no nonsense way, he had said, “You don’t need me. I’ll be on watch for any emergencies, though”. He added, “When you get to Jacksonville Beach, give me a shout. I’ll swim out to your boat.”
CH being on the other end of the lifeline is definitely comforting. Imagining him swimming miles to the boat in any case of an emergency is even more reassuring, yet slightly disturbing.
With a sharp starboard turn right in front of the Merrill Barber Bridge, we enter the Intracoastal. At this point, we are still yelling inarticulate fragments of nautical commands towards each other, fired up by the rush of departure into the unknown and the unsettling feeling of being on our own. Last time, back in November, M and CH ran aground coming in –much to the satisfaction of my husband -, so we stay close to the bridge which raises the hair on my back. I am in an agitated state of mind, watching for signs of mishap.
Sooner than expected, I calm down. The ditch is tranquil. Early morning sun rolls over the mirror-smooth water, and the trees cast sharp shadows along the side of the canal. It’s time to do some sightseeing while I finish my morning coffee.
The engine runs efficiently for the next eight hours. The ditch has its charms, contrary to many sailors’ complaints, except for the bridges. I had no idea there were this many bridges crossing the Intracoastal.
At a wide section of the canal between two bridges, we pull off beyond the markers and drop the hook just before sunset. Overnight the winds grow to 25 knots, which lends an amusing rhythm to our sleep. I cannot wait to be back on the ocean.
Around 4 p.m. the next day, we pull in to the Titusville Marina to get diesel. M opts for practicing docking, so it takes much shouting and several circles in the tiny bay in front of the fuel dock before we tie up the boat. We are both exhausted. Without an autopilot, one of us has to be behind the helm at all times. Our plan was to stop overnight during the trip, so we did not set up a watch schedule. After fueling, having a nice shower and roaming the gift shop, we decide to stay overnight and, to save money, we anchor beyond the mooring fields of the marina.
While we are at the dock, a 60+-foot catamaran pulls in. It takes them about 30 minutes to fill up one of their water tanks. I glance at our run-down Labiris: she looks like a matchbox next to the catamaran, and I wonder why I feel so safe on board.
“Starboard! Starboard!” I shout, crouching at the bow at 6 a.m. the next morning. M is behind the helm, and he cannot see the protruding concrete spike off the left wall of the ruins of an old bridge that frame the channel leading out of the Titusville marina. He is trying to compensate for the current and steers the boat to port side. The hull of the Labiris misses the concrete slab only by inches. I’m falling apart: we almost wrecked the boat.
Ahead of us is the infamous Mosquito Lagoon with its narrow pathway and stagnant, tepid waters. The engine is cutting out. There is a draw-bridge at the mouth of the lagoon, and we don’t know if we can make it through. We radio way ahead of time, and the bridge responds: “Call back when you are closer”. The channel narrows, the engine is coughing, and we are frantic. If the engine dies, can we restart it? As we approach with a sickeningly inapt speed, the bridge opens. The engine dies, we restart it. Five times. Fishermen stand thigh-high in the water a couple of yards from us, and I wonder what they are thinking.
We make it through. On the other side of the bridge we hastily anchor in line with the channel marker. The sun is beating down on us, and M proceeds to change oil. I start taking photos, but my heart is not into it. A stream of air breaks the surface of the water a couple of feet from the boat. Two nostrils emerge and I yell, “Manatee”. M’s voice comes muffled from the engine room, “Great. I missed my first manatee”.
M is tired after the oil change, so I take over the helm and navigate through the Mosquito Lagoon with a partially opened jib and our hand-held GPS.
We run aground only once. We get stuck in the mud even though the GPS and the depth sounder indicate ample water under our 6-foot draft.
An hour later, we cut through a pod of dolphins and thousands of birds feeding on a giant school of fish: an unbelievable experience.
But the engine is still sick, and the 5-knot SSE wind does not fill even the jib. At sun-down we anchor. We choose a tight spot between two shallow, long shoals at the edge of a spoil area. The New Smyrna Bridge is right ahead of us. After anchoring, M decides to go around and get wedged further in between the shoals. We pull anchor, run the engine, and run aground. M gets us off, and we drop the hook at the same place as the first time. The current is strong, but later it subsides. After dinner, I sit in the cockpit and hear the wheezing blows of dolphins all around, hundreds of them travelling past our boat, the moonlight bouncing off their pearl-grey dorsal fins and wide backs as they arch in and out of the water. They are travelling to the feeding spot we crossed a couple of hours ago. I watch the dolphins and I don’t want to be anywhere else on earth. Sleep comes easily under the oversized comforter in the V-berth.
The next morning the engine does not start up, but the dolphins are still goofing around the boat. They spin, flop, and chase each other in tight circles a couple of feet from the Labiris. They entertain us while we wait for the tow boat.
We arrange a slip at the New Smyrna marina ($1.25 per foot per day, $207 in advance for five days) and book a rental car.
After a mere two-hour drive we are back at the house. It’s the 23rd of December: home for Xmas. We have six days to prepare for the last leg of the delivery trip.