27. Learning to sail means learning about all kinds of things, including navigation. Navigation involves a lot of numbers and math. I became a lawyer so I wouldn’t have to do math, and here I am, becoming a sailor, doing math. You would think the seasickness and math would make me change my mind about being a sailor, but that just goes to show you how strong the siren call of the sea can be.
We took our first course test, on navigation, before we left port. We didn’t pass. So we have studied, studied, studied, and while our second attempt is graded, we are going to take a break and swim to this cute little island.
We were going to take a break from studying and do some “man overboard” maneuvers (no actual men are thrown overboard in the making of these maneuvers), but some really rough weather snuck up on us. So, instead, we made dinner, drank wine, and yes, studied more.
I go to sleep tonight knowing I have completed, if not passed, the written portion of my 106 level course. Now, if only I can recover a man overboard at night on the skills section of the test, I will have achieved all that is expected at this level of seamanship.
And good news, no seasickness today!!!!
30. After night maneuvers, we began the sail north to our home port at Ft. Lauderdale. When we docked, we were informed we had passed both our 105 and 106 level courses! Until now, I felt hostage to the Captain’s ability to fail me on the class. But I am now free to tell the real story of our last week at sea, one which was so terrible, that two days into the trip, two of the four crew (Roger and I being the other two), abandoned ship, in a foreign country, in the middle of the night without a word to anyone.
31. Our combination Teacher and Captain, Tracy, was unwittingly prophetic, when he finally clambered upon our boat, “Kiss”, and announced that one of the crew of “Gitana”, who he was orienting in their Captain’s temporary absence, was ready to jump ship. Because, two days later, two of our four crew did just that.
For the rest of our first evening on board, we learned that if he was bragging about his racing adventures, or pontificating about his own sailing knowledge, Captain Tracy was happy and we should be also.
We learned precisely how smart our Captain was when he couldn’t operate a simple socket set, or couldn’t find the forward port locker, or thought the gulf stream ran south. We learned how reliable his verbal instructions were when he would give a command, immediately followed by its exact opposite and deny having given the first command.
We learned how ethical he was when, after complaining about people who trash our oceans, violated the law and emptied our waste tanks a little more than a mile from shore when three miles are required. He lectured us about everything being in its place, and then proceeded to never put anything in its place. He was clearly from the “do as I say, not as I do” school of thinking.
Another example of “do as I say”, was being given a lecture on how to behave towards officials in foreign ports (a lecture none of us needed) and then on the second day of our trip, having crossed the gulf stream and docked in the Bahamas, he drunkenly argued with Marina staff, insisting he was not moving Kiss a few feet aft on the dock, despite a vessel more than twice our size bearing down on our bow. After I advised his superiors of his embarrassing, unprofessional, drunken behavior via an email, he confronted me in front of the entire crew.
After Captain lurched to bed, the rest of us sat in the cockpit, eating our supper and telling stories. The grim look on Byron’s face only became meaningful in hindsight the next morning, when we discovered that Byron and his wife, Joan, without saying a word, had gathered their gear and silently left the ship in the small hours of the morning. Although we felt for certain it was the Captain’s behavior which had caused Byron and Joan to leave, Captain himself was at a loss to explain their decision and his feelings were very hurt.
It seems that either this new blow, or last night’s alcohol, had made him forget all about last night’s drunken docking incident and the concerns I expressed to his superiors.
For the rest of the trip, Captain repeatedly asked my husband, Roger, and I if we were happy and having fun. We knew to answer yes, because to say no was to risk the Captain’s ire. He had already threatened to put me off the boat in the Bahamas when I was trying to obtain clarity about the testing procedures. Because he was the one grading our practical and written skills test, it was also to risk failing the tests.
Upon discovering the absence of half the crew, Captain decided to sail back to the US. He looked at no chart, checked no weather, and gave us not a clue to his plan. He did not clear customs. As we left the dock, he told us visibility was so good we could see Miami fifty miles away. It wasn’t Miami. It was a container ship.
I suffer from motion sickness, and although the rolling motion of a following sea is not nearly as difficult as beating into a choppy sea, my sea sickness eventually took me down. Once in Biscayne bay, I revived and we planned night drills. These had to be cut short due to storm clouds we could see approaching. We barely made it to anchor and safety when the storm hit.
As soon as it passed, Captain started the engine and began hauling on the anchor despite more threatening weather being visible by merely looking at the sky. When Roger suggested checking radar before raising the anchor, Captain refused. I managed to say “please honey, for your wife, check the radar” loudly enough for Captain to hear. Precisely as we expected, there were multiple storms, one after the other. We stayed put, suggesting that since we were at anchor we could have wine with dinner. The suggestion was well received by Captain.
We only have one more day left of sailing with the person we have nicknamed Dick Tracy, partly because of his constant contradictions of himself, partly because of his arrogant, unpleasant demeanor. I have yet to operate the vessel, listen to a weather report, look at a chart or do an engine check under his command. I will be happy just to make it back to port.
We arise before dawn Thursday to complete our night maneuvers and then sail home. Incorrectly referencing a statement I have made previously about being a “kinesthetic” learner, after barking commands at me I did not understand, Captain explained he wanted to talk me through the drill so I would know the kinetics of it. When he asks if I understand, it takes everything in me to agree with him, rather than push him over board or laugh in his face.
On Thursday evening, we escape the boat for dinner on land and commiserate with our friend who had been our Captain on a prior classroom sail. The next morning, we have passed all tests and are finally free to leave the boat.
The comedian Mike Birbiglia explains in one of his stand-up routines that, sometimes, the joke is later. This idea consoled me during the entire trip, that when we told others the story about Dick Tracy, that would be the joke, later.
There is a happy ending to the story as on Saturday we looked at a 42′ balticat and fell in love. We put in an offer, but much like buying a house, there are a lot of steps between offer and ownership. Fingers crossed!
32. It’s Roger and my last day together on this adventure. Tomorrow we part ways. I take an airplane and head back to work and he continues in the truck, visiting friends in St. Augustine and Savannah before heading back in time for his Friday cancer shot. We are especially glad to be spending this last night together at the Victoria Park Hotel. The folks who run this place have made it not just beautiful and clean, but also like home. They are always friendly and helpful. As Shakespeare would say: all’s well that ends well.