There is no end to the sailing season in South Florida. Therefore, there is no beginning either.
It was 2010, in mid-February and Mia and I had sailed the 40 miles from Miami to Pompano Beach offshore in a stiff northerly, riding the choppy seas of the Gulf Stream north. It was downright cold by Florida standards. I was wearing my winter foul weather jacket and a winter hat, complete with earflaps. But we were sailing, something only the heartiest sailors in Annapolis – which I call home – could have said then.
Then again, there is something to be said for the winter hibernation most northern sailors endure. Taking advantage of an unseasonably warm day in January to get out on the water; enjoying a steaming mug of coffee in the cabin of a sailboat warmed by the stove and the company of friends; the feeling during a late-March day that the sun might be just slightly warmer than the day before, announcing the coming of spring, the coming of sailing season.
For the second straight year, I had serendipitously run into my old friend Pete Horner in Ft. Lauderdale. He’d been traversing the globe on a 130-foot schooner and just returned from New Zealand after crossing the Pacific from San Diego. We’ve been spending the past week reminiscing about our days crewing on the Woodwind in Annapolis.
“Growing up in Baltimore, springtime sailing on the Bay was like sudden freedom from a dark, gloomy winter prison,” Peter recalled.
During the three seasons that I worked for the schooner, I came to know and enjoy the excitement surrounding the start of sailing season. Springtime is a call to arms of sorts for the crew. The first nice day in March sees all hands gather at Port Annapolis, where Woodwind and Woodwind II are laid up, usually side-by-side, 150 feet of sleek hulls in need of green bottom paint. We rip the shrink-wrapped winter covers off with fervor. Two by two we coat the bottom of each boat with antifouling; it takes a miraculous team effort to get the work done in one day.
As the days grow longer and warmer, the pace becomes faster, the crew working to ready the boats for sailing. Sails are passed down from the loft at the workshop, arduously hauled down to the boat and bent on. Fresh coats of varnish are applied to the mahogany trim on deck.
In short, making the Woodwinds ready for sail is no different than what the thousands of boat owners on the Chesapeake experience each year. While many of their boats probably won’t see the service that the Woodwinds do over the course of the summer, the experience of the spring season is virtually identical.
While Mia and I went down to South Florida from Annapolis for a specific purpose, I’d been experiencing a twinge of jealously thinking about my friends up north and the excitement that surrounds the spring season.
Meanwhile, Mia and I continued working on Arcturus in anticipation of a May departure for Bermuda and beyond. The weather remained essentially constant. We never took the sails off, never winterized the engine. It was enjoyable for sure – but I couldn’t help but feel that something was missing. To quote a favorite movie line, “Without the bitter, baby, the sweet ain’t as sweet.”
Andy Schell is the former editor of All At Sea SE. Follow he and Mia online at 59-north.com.