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.

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