One Wrong Turn


11 Broward
110′ Broward


We eventually found longer term employment aboard a 110 foot Broward by a very nice older gentleman who happened to own his own amusement park somewhere in Michigan. He spent his time in the winter months aboard his yacht in Ft Lauderdale making the occasional crossing to the Bahamas.  This was a 15 hour trip for a yacht traveling at it’s maximum speed of 11 knots (12.7mph).  in the summer months the crew would take the ship up the East Coast through Canada and then down to the Great Lakes where his summer-time business resided.
His crew was low-key, his boat was not overly done, again we found mid-westerners won out as the nicest folks to work for and with.  I was employed as deckhand/engineer and Carrie filled the bill admirably as chef and stewardess. His girlfriend, in whom he had invested some serious upgrades, was very kind. She and Carrie would take her matching Jaguar to the grocery store to provision and to pick up the dry cleaning at times, and they seemed to enjoy each others company quite a lot. The captain aboard this vessel was a very kind easy going gentleman with whom I got along greatly. He was also an experienced drinker, and our workdays ended at 4:30 regularly. It was on this yacht that I first cut my teeth as a pilot.

One dark evening, we were transiting from the Florida coast to the Bahamas. Headed for Paradise Island, Nassau, Bahamas.  This was a lengthy trip, and the captain was in need of some down time.  He gave me a quick rundown of the controls. “Follow this heading, watch this radar screen, if you need me just pull back on the throttles and I’ll come right up, nothing happens fast out here.”  I settled in to drive my first yacht!  It was exciting and exceedingly dull at the same time.   Nothing happened for the first few hours.  It was perhaps 3a.m. and I’d been watching a small dot on the radar get closer and closer to the center, but could see nothing out the windscreen but blackness. The yacht rose and fell rhythmically, the thrum of the engines and the sound of water rushing by at 11 knots being the only sensory input for hours now.  This particular yacht also had a fly-bridge, a duplicate set of controls on the top deck from which the yacht could be operated.  I went topside to see if I could see anything from up there.  The night was clear and calm. I thought I could see a faint white light far off in the distance.  I went back down to the bridge and continued to watch the radar for any change. The little green dot on the radar kept inching closer to the center. I had neglected to ask for a sense of scale for the radar, so I didn’t know how far away the little white light was, though it was now clearly visible.  The light appeared to be laying on the water dead ahead, though I could not tell how far away as it appeared unmoving and did not change in intensity.  The minutes ticked on.. and on..   The little green dot on the radar was very near the center now, but the white light in front of me still remained unmoving as it had for the past hour or more..  But wait,.. it gradually began to rise up off the water, more quickly with the passing seconds, until it rose high up in front of me.  I recognized this must be a ship, and it appeared to be bearing straight down on us!  I ran to the fly-bridge as the light continued up and up, directly in front of us.  I became convinced whatever it was would run us over, and it was clearly up to me to do something about it.  There was no time to alert the captain for instruction, so I threw the wheel hard to port and cut the engines a few moments later.  (this was exactly the wrong move I found out later, I believe now that I had turned our yacht directly into the path of the other ship).

Bahamian water tanker
Bahamian water tanker, provides Andros Island with fresh water daily.


30 seconds after my bad move a tanker passed close by our starboard side.  The radio crackled in broken English, “Absolute stupid” said a disembodied voice from the now again-empty ocean.   I had narrowly missed being crushed by a tanker employed to take water to and from the islands.  If I had held my course I now believe we would have passed, quite closely, but I imagine that was the other captains intention.  I still feel considerable anxiety at my amateur response and the near calamity that I would have been responsible for. Our captain came up on deck in response to my actions. By then the tanker was out of sight. He made a small effort to calm me with a few words and adjusted our heading, once again turning the yacht back over to me and retiring below.  Carrie had also come up to see what was happening.  It was now a little after 4 a.m.  I asked her to sit with me for a bit until my nerves settled.  We were very lucky that I had made my improper turn early enough to avoid an impact.  I could have killed us all with that one wrong move, and it haunts me to this day.

The Spring Surge

Evening on the Swan
Underway on a fine spring evening.

The Memorial Day weekend has just come and gone.  Preceding it’s arrival was a great surge of effort both for Carrie and myself, and the kids even kicked into gear earning a little spending money. With the weather cooperating it was possible to bring our primary property up to near July 4 standards!  This has been one of the warmest, sunniest springs I can remember.  The snowpack is only 61% of ‘normal’, and that means, unusually, forest fires are a concern this spring.  Eastern Montana has experienced wildfires already. So a bit of rain is quite a welcome occurrence just now, and today it is raining.

As I sit contemplating the past 4 weeks…, maybe 6 weeks of strong effort in chasing the forest back beyond our cultured boundaries, I am relieved by a brief respite before the final push to the July 4th holiday. It’s Sunday.

I’ve found Sunday’s are the easiest days off to justify.  Carrie and I have tried (successfully at times), to schedule our off days more towards the Tuesday-Wednesday zone of the week, but those days are easily gobbled up by contractors or appointments made by folks who don’t share our more creative view of a work week.  Scheduling Saturday and Sunday as work days fits well for us as those days are generally the focus of visits and parties to the properties we care for.  But Sunday…  Rarely does anyone argue about taking Sunday off.  So this was a Sunday, and I was taking it off.

With our primary property up and running, owners happily inserted, and other clients due to arrive in the next 2 to 3 weeks, I have had very little time to sail.  So I took Sunday off, and managed to spend 8 hours on the water.

Thunderstorms have been moving through the area, and I’ve discovered a neat little WeatherBug radar app that shows the storm clouds in real time as a stuttered display, logging their approach on a map over time; 40 minutes away, 30 minutes away, 20 minutes away,…visually I can see the storm clouds and their severity from satellite telemetry.  This, combined with an audio alert for thunderstorms in the area allows me to seek shelter readily if necessary.  I feel pretty secure sailing this narrow Rocky Mountain Valley during spring storm season thanks to an absolutely remarkable piece of technology. The smartphone.

So, the day was just fantastic. I began by motoring out to fLi’s mooring alone during a light shower and took the opportunity of the wetting rain to scrub the bird poop off all decks and fixtures.

The sparrows love my boat. Lots of Perch space.

C-25 sparrow
A sparrow attempts to light while underway. (probably looking for a good place to poop)

I finished my task, interrupted only by a visit from the owner of The Cedars and his guests as they pulled up to our bow a bit too quickly on the pontoon boat, giving his passengers a start. A couple of them cried out softly as the owner powered the 275 horsepower outboard in reverse, pulling her to a stop just inches before collision, and just as he’d intended, with a big smile on his face.
After introductions and a brief chat they were on their way and I went back to tending fLi.

Her decks now taken care of, the rain still falling lightly, and threat of thunderstorms perhaps 20 minutes away, I climbed into The Old Man, my 1970’s 12′ aluminum boat with her three wood benches, a 9.9 horse outboard, and a reliable anchor and oars.  I named her for my grandfather, who gave me his boat before he passed away.  Sporting swim noodles in brightly varied colors around her gunwales, I am able to pull her upside and bear against the sailboat in nearly any position without leaving a mark. I lashed The Old Man to the side of fLi and began the duty of scrubbing the water line.

I was reminded of a day more than 15 years ago in the Florida Keys.  Carrie and I were stationed on a 115′ Hatteras at an exclusive resort, and the entire crew were required to stay aboard, owners only were permitted ashore. It was a perfect opportunity to scrub the waterline. We all donned our swim gear, grabbed green kitchen scrubbys, and sat on our life jackets on the water.  In our free hands we each held a suction cup equipped handle. The handle could be easily attached to the hull while we scrubbed, giving us a handhold.  We wore flippers to further buoy our position against the boat.  It was laborious work and the effort required a lot of muscles that I was not used to using at such length. By the end of the chore I was as rubber as Gumby.

Back to Swan Lake.

With fLi I found it  most comfortable to lean on the gunwales while reaching into the lake to dampen my brush and then scrub away, thereby removing most of the filth fairly easily.  Though a fine green line remains on her blue bottom at the waterline and will require a sturdier tool.  Perhaps a green kitchen scrubby is in order.. another time.

I then crawled inside the cabin to relax and let the effort drain away. I grabbed a book, and an hour and a half later, nearly asleep from the somnolence of the rain pattering on the decks while bobbing around.  I received a text from Michelle, one of the many folks I’d invited to join me that day. She was available and would meet me on the dock!

With my crew welcomed aboard and the storm having passed, we set out for 8 hours of terrific sailing, company, and sustenance.  In that time we traveled no further than 3 miles from our mooring.  Tacking back and forth, running, heaving to, and generally exercising the boat and sails creatively and frequently, complete with a late sail change where we necessarily reduced the headsail AFTER a storm front blew in and knocked us -sailing!…  As for my lack of foresight I blame the fine display of treats that had been spread before me… I simply couldn’t see past them!

The result of all this varied weather was a very active, blustery, occasionally calm, and very enjoyable evening on the water.

Tomorrow is my wife’s birthday, she would like me to take her sailing. My Weatherbug app tells me there will be storms.

One can only hope!