Closest I came to getting my ticket punched at sea (about 20yr ago) was a weekend trip a friend and I took in a little 19' swing keel sloop
and a storm system formed over our heads out of nowhere, we were about 30-40mi south of the Skyway on Florida's west coast
. We had left on a Friday (ooo...), spent the evening fishing
by a place locals called Horseshoe Island, and Saturday morning, from a clear blue sky it went completely black in 30 minutes with a chill wind
blowing out of the east. We debated hiding out on the leeward side of the island but currents there were wicked even in calm weather
. Home wasn't far away. So we rolled the dice and ran for it.
Headed for St. Pete and the weather
got worse very quickly, night fell and a familiar anchorage by USF was what we were trying for, beating into the 20+ east wind
on a NE heading to get into the Bay, we were making slow headway into the rising swells. We could see people's houses and their lights coming on, near and yet so far. Finally entering into the bay and trying to get a little easterly searoom before going NW to our anchorage, winds grew to 40+ and later the weather report said 12'-15' swells, to which I say, 'and then some'.
10 mi from home the axle bolt for the swing keel
bolt BROKE and our keel and all our stability went to the bottom. Had to make our turn to the NW now, no choice, with our keel on the bottom, no stability and enormous waves threatening to broach us. Wind and waves grew and I was the pilot of a big surfboard with sails
, a wave would pick the boat up and our weight would make us surf for 3-4 minutes before we passed over the top and got picked up by the next.
At this point my friend who had begged me to take him sailing for months was in the tiny cuddy cabin
bracing himself against the bulkhead and refusing to move, help, or even speak, other than occaisonal requests for a liferaft
, flare gun, radio
for SOS, of which we had none. I'm willing to bet he hasn't sailed the 20 years since.
At the entrance to the anchorage was a coast guard station with a cutter
and a support vessel and I distinctly remember the picture of one Coastie watching the storm, and openmouthed watching our "surfboard" coming in the middle of the night on a wave, breakneck speed, no lights, with a crazy man at the tiller hallooing all the way (with the storm and the lightning
, I had taken to singing at the top of my lungs to keep my spirits up).
We came into protected waters, and just as we were about to tie up to the mooring
, the rudder fell off
. The bolts holding the pintles had been pulled out by the stress of the boat being used as a surfboard. If this had happened at any time earlier, we would certainly have been history
, broached and windmilled by those waves into so much floating junk.
At the whole time we were never out of sight of land. And we had left for our weekend trip on a Friday, which, foolish superstition or not, I will never again willingly do.
Anytime somebody tells me how coastal cruising is safer because you can just run into a safe place anytime things look bad I start humming "Surf City" to myself...lol