All before 9AM
Monday the 28th of November. It is hard to believe it was only yesterday. I have a feeling I will remember that day for a long time to come.
Having gone to sleep at anchor under the South West corner of Rodriquez key in a North Easterly blow, we were fairly well protected. But we awoke to 20 kts out of the East, a direction from which we had no shore to break up the wind and chop in very lumpy and breezy conditions in only 8.5 feet of water. As the water is fairly shallow all through the Hawks channel, inside the outer reefs, it was not unusually for us to only have 2-3 feet under our keels. We had almost grown accustomed to these shallow waters…almost.
My dear reader, please make note of the wind speed and direction…it will become important again very soon.
At first light, we pulled the anchor…or more accurately described Jessie pulled the anchor and I just said WHAT? a bunch of times as she yelled into the 20-knot wind. She is really getting the hang of anchoring and we got it up on the first try. We headed ¾ of the way around Rodriquez Key about 45 minutes ahead of high tide with the intention of hauling Ojigwan out at a marina in Key Largo’s Rock harbor (thankfully inaccurately named). As this was the Monday after Thanksgiving and the chart showed 1 ft of water throughout the harbor and no marked channel we were…shall we say…’concerned’ about our entry into this boatyard. At 0740 we called the cell phone of the owner, Sam, who said something about 3 galvanized poles and to leaved them 5-8 feet to our starboard…, he wasn’t onsite but told us if we dialed the main office line, we would get the manager and he could give us more specific instructions. We did, he didn’t. You might imagine our surprise when the same Sam answered from a different phone number while we were heading unawares toward our impending doom. We were more than a little confused, so was Sam. With the 20 knots of breeze pushing us and the sun still low in the sky, this was a sub optimal time for an approach. I gave what I believed to be a wide berth to the pilings, believing that being too close to them was an issue. Jessie called him once again to confirm our approach as I saw 5 ft on the depth sounder. We draw 4 and with high tide around 0804 and current time of day being 0759 I knew this was going to be close. Well it turns out it wasn’t.
We went hard aground on both hulls at 0802 at the exact moment Jessie relayed from Sam that if we had passed the first pole we were home free. We weren’t. As the words, “I’m kind of freaking out here I only see 4.2 on the depth sounder” escaped my lips, I felt that motion that all sailors dread, the bow coming up followed by…nothing…that moment when all motions ceases and you are left in vain trying to get unfucked. Luckily Rock harbor was named by someone with a sense of humor; shallow shoal, or grass/mud flats, or even why bother bay, would all have been more appropriate names.
At this moment I said something I do not say much, “ I have no @#$%ing idea what to do” I did but I felt pretty defeated. There is no worse feeling than to go around, close to shore, in front of a resort and a marina at high tide with a strong breeze blowing you further on while the boys at the lift you are supposed to be using just motion and point. We acted pretty quick and I got the spare anchor stepped off the boat as it was only 4 ft. deep and walked up to where the channel actually was and set our Danforth. We put it on the primary winch and winched it banjo tight. No luck. Then as we winched and full throttled reverse…nothing, just mudnadoes spinning in the shallow water. At this point, high tide had passed and the wind pushed us further on the mud before I could get our anchor set. I envisioned us spending the next 12 hours sitting there waiting for the next high tide looking stupid, problem was by that point it would be dark and even harder to find our way into an abandoned marina that had no slips and no water at any but high tide. We were close to calling a tow boat, when Sam arrived. Though I cursed him for our predicament I was glad he was there. He showed up alone, with a Boston whaler and a 25 hp engine. I scoffed at how this would help. His plan was to try to tow us off sideways. Now Ojigwan isn’t a Yacht, but nor is it a small day sailer, it is our home and also a lot of windage, that is all currently trying to be more aground. Sam’s being alone was not a help, we gave him a bow line, and he tried a few times to avoid cutting it with his prop or getting it hung up on his engine as his boat was blown around in the wind. After 3 failed attempts, he finally was able to face the right direction and give it the beans…nothing. I was not exactly surprised, but sadden none the less. As he came around for another try the tow line somehow slipped off narrowly missing his prop. We agreed that perhaps a new angle of approach might yield better results. Turns out it did.
By 0835 we started to move…but remember we still have our anchor tight behind us. As our boat quickly turned to starboard and came backwards I gently and supportively requested that Jessie throw off the anchor line and quick tie a fender to it so we could retrieve it later, but to please do this as quick as possible and not get the line caught in the prop. He recollections of this event may differ. I knew we had one shot at this and I had to commit so I went full hard on the throttles hoping I didn’t catch my anchor line in my prop…and incredibly we started to move into the channel. Phew, now I saw 5 ft again, so at full high tide we had a full 8-12 inches of water under the keels, less in the waves. But we followed Sam in (much closer than the 5-8 feet from the poles I noticed. With the wind still on the stern and a narrow channel to navigate the stress had not abated. We quickly had to get all our lines and fenders ready as there was only one guy to received us on a jagged and surly looking concreted bulkhead. I slowed us down as much as possible as the one guy was joined by two others. He appeared to be competent, but had little faith in his companions; as I slowed the boat he handed the aft line (the one keeping us from slamming forward into the lift) to a gentlemen who I assume grew up in the desert, or perhaps mountains, but certainly far from the sea, who felt he was strong enough to hold back the full force of the boat with just his hands standing on the dock…The leader even instructed me to keep an eye on that guy and maybe I should just take the line. So I did and used the dock cleat to slow us down. As the lift dropped down and we slowing eased into it I felt some of the stress abate and it dawned on me that although we had made it through the channel there was still one battle yet to fight. Getting the boat in the slings correctly. The last time we were put in a lift it ripped a hole in our sail and pulled the paint off the bottoms and rubbed up the fiberglass. I eased a big sigh of relief as the boys brought out chock blocks to protect the hulls and asked me to inspect all the straps before they brought the boat up.
Moments later Sam returned with our fender…that I had assumed…rather all had assumed, was tied to the anchor and line that now lay somewhere near the scene of our mishap. Jessie was perplexed to say the least. She assured me she had tied a clove hitch. Though I was impressed she remembered the name of the knot, it was more likely a not, as in not a knot. I was a little gruntled at the prospect of having to replace an expensive anchor and 200ft of line, but Jessie, the eternal optimist assured me we would find it.
It had been a very eventful morning, I could not believe it as I looked down at my watch and realized we had pulled our anchor motored 4 miles, been hard aground, set a stern anchor, almost lost our tow line in a prop, almost caught our prop on our anchor line, gotten pulled off, found the channel, gotten hauled out, and retrieved the fender…All before 9AM.
As I surveyed the boatyard that would be the home of our home for the next 7 weeks, I was more than a little surprised at what I saw. Resembling some island of misfit toys or a nautical Ripley’s Believe it or Not, most of the vessels appeared boatish and many looked to have had experienced significant damage, some gutted from fire, a former 60-foot racer called rule 62 had been grounded on a reef before being brought from the Bahamas to this particular facility where it has begun a slow death decaying in the Florida sun. A hole, now boarded up in its fiberglass hull was a reminder of the AC unit installed last summer for an occupant, current wareabouts unknown.
Gone were masts, rudders, even keels and in one case pretty much the whole top of the boat had been cut off.
Another beautiful power cat had no trespassing by order of US Marshals’ signs posted all over it. The showers were cold, and riddled with tetanus, the toilets flushed by pulling up on a zip tie, the floors were aluminum slats, all behind shower curtain doors in a shipping container converted (I use that term loosely) into a bathhouse. It’s never good when your boat is the nicest in a facility, although we cannot be sure as one has built a tent around itself, though I’m not sure if it’s to shield it from us or us from it.
After a good wash down and lunch we returned to the marina and borrowed the Whaler at low tide to find our needle in the haystack. I was unhopeful to say the least that we would find it, but almost immediately when we got to the general area Jessie spotted it and I hopped overboard. Danforth anchors when loaded up actually dive down, the more you pull the deeper they go. When I was able to find ours it was buried under at least 3 feet of thick clay and mud and it took me the better part of 5 minutes to dig it out. But I was so happy to have found it! We returned to the boat and it was blocked and set.
As we walked up to Ojigwan, again above a gravel parking lot, though this time almost 1200 miles further south, it dawned on me how far we had come together. It was just over three weeks ago, we left the Chesapeake with desires to get south. We really didn’t know how far we would make it, but our secret goal was actually this facility in Key Largo, though I was hesitant to believe everything would work out and we would actually make it all the way in 3 weeks. It amazes me how far Jessie has come in such a short time. She is more than pulling her weight and we are becoming a team. More and more I am learning to trust her with boat stuff. Though the not knot will be a source of kidding for a long time to come. It will be hard being away from our home for 7 weeks. That will be the longest period I have been off the boat since I bought her over 6 years ago. We have secured and stored everything we can and prepared her for our absence, but I know we will both worry while we are away.