Week One in Review


We’ve done (note I avoid the term mastered) locks, bridges and canals.
We’ve docked in mostly rural marina kind of places, much more user friendly than the long fairway, wind, lots of watchers, cluster we experience in more urban marinas.

We have waited for showers behind homeless people doing their laundry at municipal marinas and watched bald eagles catch fish at sunrise heading to our next spot. There have been numerous cocktails but the two beer before lunch limit, yes, has slowed down quite a bit as most days in new waters are just too challenging for alcohol before settling in for the evening.
At night, we go over the charts and cruising guides to get a handle on the next days journey. The night before doing the 23 mile (that’s about 4 hours at 6 knots for us) canal excavated in the 1920s connecting the Pongo and Alligator Rivers, our cruising guide contained the following passage describing the author’s experience with the canal: “Another time we headed slowly into the canal as the fog lifted, and there we found another sailor who had dropped his hook due to the zero visibility. Unfortunately, the anchor snagged on something on the bottom, and it took two of us running lines across the cockpit to pull the anchor up using the sheet winches. Slowly an enourmous stump emerged from the tea brown water and then at the last minute tipped over, releasing the anchor, which came flying straight at the boat and us, like it had been attached with a giant rubber band. We ducked and the anchor richocheted off the boat. Don’t anchor in the canal if you can help it.”

We were damn straight not going to anchor in the canal. In fact, we did not mostly because Kevin went snorkeling in the Pongo Alligator River canal while I circled our boat in the canal, and I realized I pretty much had never actually dropped our anchor on this boat with the electric windlass and all, and thus anchoring not an option. The swim was intentional with Kevin trying to untangle the dinghy painter from another boat in our group that had run aground and when backing off, wrapped the painter around the propeller shaft. That was all pretty interesting, as things go with Kevin rowing in our dinghy to the grounded boat with me radioing each of the huge Florida bound go fast fishing yachts going at least 40 miles an hour in the very polite language used on the hailing chanel of the marine radio (polite and curt and monitored like a hawk by the coast guard), “motor vessel approaching red sailing vessel in canal at high rate of speed, please switch to 69”. (an allowed more chatty channel) at 69, “Captain we have a vessel aground and someone in the water assisting” and then the Captain slowing down pretty much 2 seconds before ramming us congregated to help in the canal. It was made even more interesting by the law of “no good deed goes unpunished” … one of the other helper boats wrapped a tow line around its prop shaft (all the while I am circling, circling) and then had to anchor to wait for Tow Boat US to come. Apparently Kevin wasn’t up for prop diving under the 44 foot yacht. Two other boats from our rally did anchor to help though, and everyone made it to the marina, some under own power and one boat under tow. One of the group is a real diver with tanks and is going to try and cut the line in the marina today. We’ll see.

Our group had a wine and cheese gathering at the marina, and apparently the half of the group that had come here the day before was listening to all the drama on the radio all day, so it was a fun gathering, filling everyone in on all the events. We are really glad to be part of a rally group, crap happens to everyone and the support is really comforting.

Today, Kevin and I are going to a creek off Belhaven where I will learn to drop and set the anchor myself. He apparently already feels comfortable circling the boat.

The Slow Pass

There are faster boats and slower boats on the ICW and the ICW in most areas is quite narrow. This means boats of both types are in close proximity when the faster boats overtake the slower boats. There is a protocol for handling this procedure. Typically this begins with some discussion on the VHF radio. Boats typically hail each other on Channel 16 and then move to another channel for a more involved discussion. Vessels approaching from the stern will hail the slower forward vessel and indicate they would like to pass on either the port or starboard side. The slower forward vessel will acknowledge and re-state the procedure and confirm that they will support the effort. The slower vessel typically travelling at 6 knots or so will slow down even further. The faster vessel approaches quickly from behind and cuts their speed at the last minute to reduce their wake. Once past, the faster vessel returns to their normal traveling speed – often 10 -20 knots or more.

Executed artfully this procedure minimizes the impact on both vessels. I have observed that 95% of the time the Captains of both vessels work hard to cooperate.

The subject of the slow pass and how artfully (or not) and with what degree of expertise and consideration that a Captain manages the maneuver is the single biggest subject of discussion on the VHF radio. “The slower vessel did not slow down enough..”. “You are aware it is called a slow pass, right?” “I am reporting you to the Coast Guard.” ” I will see to it that you will never get another job as a delivery Captain.” “Thanks for the wake Captain.. you just spilled juice all over my kids.” “That was excellent, Captain.”  “Captain, I am sorry that was not my best work.”  These are just a few of the transmissions I have heard.

There is love, waterway rage, admiration, respect, tension, resolution, and friendship. It is like listening to spoken word poetry at times.

My personal favorite came when observing a white cabin cruiser motor boat named INTERMEZZO approach a beautiful trawler named MUSIC. INTERMEZZO (from New York by the way) clearly had very little experience and was attempting pass in a no wake zone and under a bridge as well.  A double foul. The Captain and crew looked every bit like characters from the Godfather movie. The Captain of MUSIC tried repeatedly to hail INTERMEZZO as had several previous boats. Finally the INTERMEZZO responded with a classic –

“You Talking To Me?” They are probably already in Miami.