Saturday, February 5, 2011

Plague Ships

2011 02 01
Great Sale Cay, Bahamas
26 59N 78 13 30 W

Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one's self esteem.  That is why young children before they are aware of their own self importance, learn so easily and why older persons, especially if vain or important, cannot learn at all.
Thomas Szasz American psychologist reported in the Feb 3 issue of the Globe and Mail.

The old Canadian Cunard canard holds that the journey is at least as important as the destination.  Getting there is half the fun goes the advert.  Old man Cunard got the proportions a bit wrong.  In life the journey is all of the fun.  It is all there is.  When the journey's over there's time enough for sleep. (apologies to ae houseman)

But before you can take the journey you must embark.

Several of our friends have chosen this year to ply the waters of Eastern Florida, the Florida Keys and the dry Tortugas.  Their reasons for doing so are varied: lack of time, parents are ill, business worries, haven't seen it yet.  This is not about them.  There are other boats however...

A few nights ago we entered North Lake Worth.  Already at anchor, we found two boats which quickly identified themselves as "Bahamas Bound".   This was hardly a surprise.  Boats anchored in North Lake Woprth are either waiting for  a weather window to cross the gulf stream or anchoring for the night while they make their way south along the ICW to a point from which they will make a crossing.

The first of the two boats bore an enthusiastic older couple which we had encountered previously.  Although we had never broken bread together or even shared a bottle of cheap plonk we had passed each other often on the small craft shipping routes and had shared anchorages.  Friendliness governed our relations in preference to aloofness.   The occupants of the boat were met by us at the dinghy landing in Lake Worth. 

Asking our plans and being duly informed as to the nature thereof our dinghy dock buddies expressed interest in crossing to Bahamas with us.   They had been waiting for ten days for the weather to be suitable and as this was their first time going to the Bahamas they would like the comfort of fellow boats  on the passage. 

Absolutely was our reply.  We explained that a beautiful 3 day window was opening wide the very next day and we were poised to defenestrate (jump out the window).  In a habit we acquired from Peter and Heather Loveridge we have come to prefer crossing the Gulf Stream at night arriving in the Bahamas as day breaks.  In this way we have full daylight available to cruise the shallow water of the Bahamas Banks.

The window coming on the morrow was lovely we continued.  Three days long it began with slackening winds, slated to reduce to below 10 knots that very night.  Deprived of wind the seas  would ameliorate to two feet or less.  We anticipated a smooth if windless crossing.  Nicer by far to sail but crossing is the goal.

Immediately our newly met comrades were uneasy.  They explained that to their knowledge this was a bad idea.  The winds may be mellowing but they would still be out of the North.  They had taken a course, you see, and their teacher had given them all the rules for crossing the stream.  You could not cross in any wind out of the north, no matter how benign.  You could not cross at night.  These rules were written in stone along with a host of others.  All the rules were prohibitory:  rules that said do not do this and rules against doing that and more rules against never ever ever even thinking about doing anything else.  It struck us as we listened that that was one teacher who had no class or rather should not have had.

As they set out the rules and our violations thereof our dinghy mates greww increasingly strident. 

We listened politely, after all they were nice people.  When the rules had been asserted to us we explained that we sailed only our boat.  We did not sail their boat and that the duties arising from that office were set on their slate. 

Our experience and the available forecasts suggested the crossing would be very nice on the eve of the morrow.  That was what we would do.  But what would we do if we found conditions to be unsatisfactory, as we most surely would, inquired the skipper of the stayed boat.  Well then, we replied, our boat would sail in a different direction, probably south if he was correct in his prognostication.

"Ahhh" came the knowing retort.  "You have no plan.  That is no way to sail".

By now I was taking umbrage and it required all the self control in my meager store thereof to limit my response to a nod and a terse "good day to you".

Next day, the day of our anticipated departure, the Budget Committee wanted to buy some fresh veggies, she having learned that in Florida no produce lasts more than a day or two once home from the store.  While the BC restocked I internetted at Starbucks.  BC joined me at 1000 hrs. for scones and coffee.

While we were enjoying our midmorning repast a lanky fellow in his mid thirties approached our table.  "Are you Benner?"  he blurted by way of introduction.  This being a reasonable interpretation of the facts I averred that indeed I was he.  "The one who is crossing tomorrow?" he asked seeking clarification, as if there could possibly be more than one Benner in any coffee shop anywhere outside of Fort Erie.  I confessed to the sin of being that Benner too.  I declined to mention that I was probably tne most significant Benner he would ever encounter in such circumstances.

My newly met young friend, as I then thought of him, sat himself down.  Without invitation you will note.  He wanted to discuss the crossing with us.  He and his wife occupied the second boat alluded to at the outset.  Heretofore we had met only the wife.  They had, he informed me, been waiting in Lake Worth for two and a half weeks waiting for a window and tending to some electrical issues that were plaguing his Volvo diesel.  I sympathised with his having an ailing Volvo for we all  know how it costs to repair anything on a Volvo engine.  I also commiserated with his having missed two fabulous opportunities to cross, presumably while his European power plant did what European power plants do best.

There then issued an interrogation from from the chair beside me; a series of questions delivered at machine gun pace.  There was an inquiry into when we would leave.  A flotilla would be a great idea in his opinion and never having crossed themselves he and his wife would like to join with other boats.  Our theory on when to leave and our anticipated route were returned to our interrogator in the same forthright manner as the questions were asked.   My coffee was cooling and my scone was going uneaten.  You can imagine how my mood alters as I am required out of politeness to sit and NOT eat what appears to be a perfectly delightful scone while my coffee cools to the temperature of visschychois.

"But..." began our uninvited intrusion.  Sadly the introduction was filled with another discussion of the many reasons why departing that evening was a terrible error in judgement.  The stridency and directness of the man who had just suggested he would like to join us on a crossing was putting me off.    As he continued my attention diverted full time to my scone.   The Budget Committee has required that I exercise restraint in my dealings with other citizens and concentrating on inanimate objects seems to help.  As the man continued his learned dissertation I examined my scone with increasing attention to detail.  For five minutes this person explained why we should not go when we intended.  Five minutes of intense scrutiny of every crumb, crevice and fissure in my breakfast scone.

Finishing his lecture our instructor, for that was how he was conducting himself, informed my wife and I that we should not cross tomorrow but should wait another week for a proper weather window.   With a masterful stroke he finally concluded with the observation that his dogs could not stomach rough seas and it would render impossible his crossing the gulf stream that evening.

The BC and I looked at each other, not for the first time since sitting down.  After the mandatory ten count imposed on a "no exceptions basis" by the Budget Committee I thanked the fly in my morning repast for all of his helpful suggestions and wished him a safe crossing.

Returning to our boat the Budget Committee and I hauled the outboard and stowed the dinghy.  Anchor was weighed and Meredith was moved, or transited as people seem to say now, to a temporary anchorage at the Lake Worth inlet.  Friends met in Vero Beach who had never crossed before moved with us.

At 8 pm two boats slid silently through the water of the inlet at West Palm  Beach and eastward into the ocean.  Twelve hours later those boats arrived at West End Bahamas having enjoyed silence calm stillness and warmth during the most pacific crossing of the gulf stream we have ever enjoyed.

Two other boats remained at anchor  and likely will continue to do so until spring or until they motor down the coast. 

Preparing to post this note, sitting drink in hand at Green Turtle Club in Green Turtle Cay, Abacos I can tell you neither of of the two boats mentioned here have crossed my mind since that night.  Reading it over I wonder about the minds on those boats. 

No comments:

Post a Comment