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Close Encounters

I
deliver boats for a living to finance my habit… I am a confessed traveling
addict. My favorite mode of transport is by boat. It’s such a great way to see
the world. Your house is always with you, kind of like an overburdened turtle.
I am addicted to cruising and need to get my fix whenever I can. And that takes
$$, so back to deliveries…

I usually manage to do 4 or 5 back-to-back
deliveries from the islands to somewhere on the eastern seaboard in the Spring,
and a couple back down in the Fall. That gives me a few months in between each
season and other work to take off and go…. sailing.

Whenever I take a new crewmember aboard
they inevitably gush…’what a great job you have, you must just love it’. I
usually just smile and nod. And think…’just you wait’.

Case in point. I deliver a Gold Coast 53′
daysail catamaran back and forth for an owner. Just finished my third trip on
her up to Albany from Puerto Rico. In early May. With those little roll down
windows along the cabin sides. And no way to close in the bridgedeck. Think
back…. The east coast was getting slammed with unseasonably cold and windy
and wet conditions…you get the mental image I am trying to project?

My crew for this delivery was a terrific
guy who works full time for this owner, and had already helped me deliver her
down in the Fall. We call him MacGyver. He is fantastic, can fix anything with
a wire tie and a Q-tip. The other crew is a friend of MacGyver’s, who was asked
to crew last minute. He’d never been offshore… for that matter, I don’t think
he’d ever been in anything bigger than his Tanzer 27. He was so excited about
this trip I thought he was going to wet his pants. I usually hire my own crew,
and get a known quantity… but this owner was trying to save $$, hence an
untried offshore crewmember. I commented to MacGyver ‘we are only as strong as
our weakest link’, but didn’t worry too much. I had double-handed halfway
around the world without incident…no big deal.

Anyway, back to the story. The new cabin
boy made that inevitable comment. ‘What a great job you have, you must love
it.’

We were having a fantastic sail, hitting 15
knots, cruising under spinnaker now and then, pit stop in Abacos, got chased by
a waterspout, and had the requisite lightning to dodge (with 200 gallons of gas
on deck… I love my job, I love my job…. I repeat like a mantra).

We pulled into Beaufort to wait out one
weather system, and got around Hatteras without a hitch. Then the proverbial
@#$% hit the fan. We hadn’t been able to tune in a good weather report on the
portable SSB receiver except NOAA’s NMN computer man, who gave predictions of
25 knots. No mention of rain, or possibility of low deepening. No big deal.

The
winds built from the Southeast during the night. We took in the first reef,
second reef, third reef, then finally ditched the main and pounded along at 10
knots under jib alone. You couldn’t see 100 feet past the bows in the black
void and freezing driving rain. Dismal
dawn finally broke, and we still couldn’t see more than a 1/2-mile through the
driving rain, but we had radar on. And the weak watery daylight showed the
waves and spume blasting off the tops. After hours on deck I went down to my
cabin to wrap myself in layers of sleeping bag and blankets for a half hour to
try and warm up a bit from human popsicle.

It suddenly got quiet, no water rushing
past the hull, or flying off waves. Hmmm. Something’s wrong. I grabbed my
jacket without taking the time to wrestle into layers, topped with foulie pants
and boots. Mistake. I get up to the helm and am soaked through immediately. I
ask my crew why we are in irons, as I look over to port to see bright lights
aiming right for us. I ask him why he has stalled us out in front of a
freighter. He is convinced it already has passed safely by, but thought he
should slow the boat down, by heading into the wind. Big mistake. With heart in
throat I am now frantically trying to lower the sled and fire up the outboards,
which, of course, never fire up on first go. We finally get them to sputter to
life in time to make a hard turn to aim for the freighter’s stern to let him
pass without getting mulched.

Now thoroughly soaked and more than a
little unsettled, I decide that we need to head in to regroup, warm up, have a
good night sleep. We make the course change for Cape May. We surf in on
standing waves, with the current rushing out and the wind howling in behind us
at 40 kts… it was no joyride as we were slewed sideways aiming for the
entrance channel, that at this point looked like the eye of the needle through
the murk. It was a nail biter until we cleared the entrance and headed for
shelter. Except there was none to be found. Boats were dragging everywhere and
a few were on the beach. The Coast Guard were being hailed constantly. The wind
was ripping through the marina, and maneuvering a breadbox around the fishing
fleet in driving sleet was no treat. We tied up, packed our soggy gear, and
headed for the hotel for hot showers in a heated room, never more thankful to
be safely out of the elements.

Round about then is when I asked cabin boy
‘now can you see why I love my job so much?’ But I guess it’s still better than
a bad day at the office. Only colder. But with a real adrenaline buzz.

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