Have you ever had one of those days when everything that can go wrong does?
The Florida 120 is my 'tune up' sail for the Texas 200 a month later. Held the weekend after Mother's Day among the Panhandle's intercostal waterway stretching from the western tip of Florida to Mary Ester, the 120 mile four-day sail in protected waters is a great time to work kinks out of a boat while renewing and gaining friendships of like-minded sailors. A low key event with suggested places to meet up every day, the trip offers a wide variety of interesting places to stop with zero pressure to keep to a schedule. If whimsy strikes, a captain could stop anywhere they like on the trip.
Although this being my second FL120 trip, I was bringing a new boat built over the winter. In fact, the boat will splash for the first time the morning I launch on the trip. Perhaps not a good idea but a boat has to start sailing someplace. Why not with friends?
Of course, add in the rush to get the new boat finished in time. Although there are some rough edges and the brown polytarp tramps look rather redneck, the new boat splashes on schedule.
New boat, new way to load. Sans trailer, I decide to car (truck) top the new boat. While standing on truck bed rail, a misstep sends me crashing 4' to the ground butt first and bouncing off the open truck door on the way down. The fall itself wasn't bad, but the landing hurt! After 10 minutes of lying on driveway and moaning in pain, I finally manage to get up and take stock of the injuries; left thumb sprained to the point that the hand cannot grip anything, a sore left shoulder, and an ominous lower back pain. The back was already weak from years serving in the military.
Taking a break and one of the Air Force's cure-all pills (aka 800 mg Motrin), I decide the trip is still doable and finish loading the truck.
Little do I realize the effect these injuries will have later.
The first two sailing days are wonderful! It is a joy to see known friends, met new sailors, and remember friends no longer around. The new boat sails very well though not bug free. The sail needs work and on the second day the daggerboard box develops a crack.
The second day was especially fun! Powered by a beam to broad reaching wind, the new boat flies from Spectre Island near Mary Esther to Sand Island past Pensacola Bay in a mere 5.5 hours.
So looking forward to tomorrow's sail.
The Longest Day
The day's sail is a long one with the group heading back east into Pensacola Bay before turning northeast for a long run to the upper bay camp. With a south wind blowing a strong 15 - 18 mph, it will be a wild ride just to get to the bay. Even after the turn, boats will have to deal with wind-blown waves in the open bay.
Barely 20 minutes after launching into rough water, a loud crack and an odd settling motion announces something seriously gone wrong. A beam mount has torn away! Well! So much for making next camp. Pointing the boat towards the nearest shore, it only takes a handful of minutes before the boat runs up on the leeward shoreline.
Now one may think that all is safe and sound. In one respect that is true. My personal safety is ensured. Safe on land on Pensacola Naval Air Station. The boat on the other hand is in mortal danger.
It is high tide and the lee shore surf is pounding the boat against the sand. Waves swamp the stern and cockpit and into the hatched compartments. Meanwhile, the amas and beams are getting wrenched in their mounts with every wave. I need to get this boat out of the surf now! Thinking to drag it higher upon shore, I fail miserably. With water in the boat, somewhat steep shoreline, high tide waves trying to drag it out, and the earlier back injury there is no chance. A Marine trainee jogging on the beach comes over to try to lend a hand. Her heart is strong and in the right place but both of us together cannot move the boat.
Before any more damage can happen, I cut the ama and beam lashings from the hull and drag them up on the beach. I also cut the sail loose to drag it out of the way. I end up emptying the now water logged equipment into a soggy pile and laying the masted hull on its side. It settles on the sandy bottom, half in and half out of the waves washing over it. We tie a line from the bow cleat to a nearby dock 120' away.
Exhausted and hurting, I taxi back to the launch point and collect my truck. On the way back I stop off at Verizon to get a new phone, plenty of fluids, sunscreen, and a bunch of rope from Lowes.
Arriving at the boat around noon, I find it half filled with sand. Using a pull saw, I cut out the cockpit floor around the mast step and pull the entire thing out. Eh, it was probably going to need replacement anyway.
Various unsuccessful methods were tried to pull the boat off the beach to include:
- Using sheeting blocks to make a double, then triple, purchase arrangement from the boat to the dock for a manual attempt at hauling the boat out (failed)
- Running 300' of rope from the boat across sand dunes to the truck parked on the edge of the dunes. Might have worked if not for the cheap rope breaking repeatedly.
By this time it is late afternoon. People have come to the beach and went. Even had some interesting conversations. I think on finding a hotel for the night and giving it another go tomorrow. So discouraging is the situation that I even think about abandoning the hull on the beach and simply going home.
About this time an older Navy gentleman shows up with his family. As fate happens, he is an avid kayaker and couldn't stand seeing the broken hull on the beach. So he offers to help while family plays on the beach nearby.
With low tide fully set in and the hull mostly out of the water, we scoop out most of the sand, roll it upright, and drag it up off the beach. He and his wife help carry the hull to the truck and even load it on top.
For his help I am eternally grateful. That hull would have not come off the beach without his selfless assistance.
By this time it was around 6 pm or so. The only thing left was the 5 hour drive home.
Home Sweet Home . maybe!
Finally on the way though thoroughly beat up, tired, and with a back hurting so much that driving is painful. Dark clouds pile up overhead to herald rain that starts falling midway between Pensacola and Mobile. A couple more aspirin and some fast food and away we go!
An hour north of Mobile on a dark tree-lined state road, I notice a string of blue sparks about telephone pole high alongside the road. Wow. That looked neat. Not something you see every day. I wonder if there was an overload . oh %$*^%!!!!
The colorful language is accompanied by a desperate yank on the steering and a hard stab at the brakes to avoid the cause of those sparks; a fallen tree in the road!
The van ahead hits it. I miss but the panic swerve and braking causes the roof rack mounts to break loose and shift the entire boat forward 3' and to the right, nearly spilling the entire thing on the ground. Pulling off the road beyond, I get out and inspect the damage.
Darn it, the entire roof rack is going to need shifted back into place and that isn't happening with the boat on top. Being in the middle of nowhere with no lights other than headlights, falling rain, and on the side of a somewhat busy dark two-lane road, there is no way to take everything down and remount the rack safely. So a couple more straps is tossed over the entire load and back on the road to find a place to work.
While walking around the truck one last time, I look down and see the downed power line 2' away from my right foot. Assume a miracle that saw me avoid getting electrocuted.
Around 20 miles later, I find a closed backwoods gas station with a single street light and a canopy just big enough to park the truck under. It's around 1030 pm.
Everything but the hull is unloaded. Ratcheting straps and pure (weary) muscle coaxes the rack back into place. Everything is reloaded, strapped down, and finally safe enough to get back on the road. After a quick stop at the next open gas station for more pain meds and something to eat, it's around 1130.
The rain stops before reaching Columbus, MS. I'm very tired, barely staying awake, weary, with back pain half dulled by pain meds. It's 2 am and I'm only 6 miles from home of what could be called an interesting trip end.
While driving out of town and 4 miles from home, the truck runs out of gas.
The rest of the story involves police, a shooting, another closed gas station, a 3 mile walk, a sleepy daughter helping to gas the truck, and finally the truck parked in the driveway where it sat untouched for the next 8 days while my severely injured back recovered enough to do something with the boat. The back healed over the summer but I did miss the 2015 Texas 200 because of it.
Let's leave it here for writing the story is as weary as the trip. For final words: I HOPE NEXT YEAR IS BETTER!!