It was May 16th, 2016 and we were taking on 1000 gallons of fuel at the Galveston Yacht basin.  It was 5:30 pm.  I was hoping for an earlier departure but had a couple of delays.  I had a buddy from years ago, call me the day before.  I mentioned the trip and he offered to come with us to Key West.



  I knew he did not have a passport, so I never invited him to Cuba.  He owed about $6,000.00 in back child support so according to him he was not eligible for a passport.  His name was Erick and he was a self-proclaimed hillbilly from Arkansas.  I considered him to be a space alien.  When I met him 15 years ago, he claimed to be illiterate.  Despite this he was a wealth of knowledge in a variety of topics, including mechanics, electronics, husbandry, plumbing and a host of other things.  I agreed to pay a plane ticket back from Miami and he was all aboard.

I kept looking through my list of safety equipment and spares to be sure I was not overlooking anything.  Sure enough, I was short on racor filters.  The filters cleaned the diesel and separated water.  Each engine had two and I typically wanted 12 spares for blue water.  I only had four spares.  I checked with the marina folks and managed to get an additional four.  Once back at the boat I did a final review, and we checked all the fluids on the boat from the 300 gallons of potable water to transmission fluid and coolant.  We said our goodbyes to our loved ones, and I fired up the yanmar diesels.

“All aboard!”  I yelled from the bridge.

Baldo and Erick were manning the lines.

“Stern clear?”  I yelled.

“Stern clear, Captain,” yelled Erick as he boarded the cockpit.

“Bow clear?  I yelled.

“Bow clear,” yelled Baldo.

The wind was picking up from the north and pushing up against the dock.  I pushed the thruster joysticks to portside and the 40,000-pound Quid Pro Quo moved away from the dock.  I switched the transmission levers to forward, and we were underway.  I could see the whitecaps in the distance out in Galveston Bay and wondered if the forecast was off.  I asked Erick to turn the running lights on since it was close to dusk, and we made our way toward the jetties.  The swells were picking up steadily and by the time we reached the jetties the swells felt like a roller coaster.

The jetties were 2 miles long before we were out in open water.  It was getting progressively worse, and the duration was getting shorter.  The quicker the duration the greater the impact on the hull.  It was dark already and that always added to the situation.  I had an overhead remote spotlight, but it was frowned upon when you use it at night as a headlight.  It also created a danger of impairing your ability to distinguish navigation lights on any vessels that might be in the area.  There are rules of the road for ocean navigating.  The main one was unwritten.  Steel crushes fiberglass.  There were always 200-foot crew boats to 900-foot freighters navigating between the jetties.  It was critical to not only control your own vessel, but also to avoid colliding with something larger.

“The dingy is coming’ loose,” yelled Eric from the mid deck.

“Climb up there and check it out,” I yelled back.  “All hands-on deck and everybody put on life jackets.”  I ordered.  Erick reached into the life jacket locker on the bridge and handed out the work vests.  Those let you work because they inflate with air automatically only if you get tossed overboard.  The typical life vests are very bulky and hard to work in but they are better for long term at sea because they will float forever and turn you right side up if you go unconscious.  We all put our vests on and buckled them up.  Not what I was expecting before we even left the jetties.

We were now in 6-foot swells and the boat was taking a beating.  We got slammed by a wave at the bow portside and the dingy jumped up and broke the mounting davits.  We had glued the davits in place the way the prior owner had them.  However even though he had traveled the Great Loop and the Caribbean, it was quite possible that the boat had not been in high seas with waves of short duration like this.  The whole purpose of the jetties was to provide protection to vessels.  It was not a good sign for what was waiting for us once we were out in open water.  We got hit by another wave and the bow of the boat was momentarily submerged before coming back up.  The water drained out the scuppers and the bow came back up.  We came out of the jetties and I started to navigate towards our destination.

“The Dingy is about to fall off,” yelled Roberto.  He was on the mid deck with Erick and the Dingy was swinging wild.  The swells got bigger as we exited the jetties.  We were now in 8-foot swells.  Not good.  The dingy was half hanging off the deck and I started to worry it was going to take the deck with it and possibly Erick and Roberto. 

“I’m turning around,” I barked.  “Erick, I’ve got a spider strap in the box in the cockpit.”  I swung the boat around, careful to not get caught in a deep trough broadside.  Roberto and Erick were soaking wet and then it started raining.  Baldo climbed up on the mid deck and was holding the anchor line for the dingy to keep it from going over. 

“I got the spider,” yelled Erick.  He moved like a cat making his way up the deck and swung the spider strap over the dingy.  I was thinking about abandoning the mission.  It was not a good start to the trip having the weather forecast this inaccurate.  They each took ends of the spider strap and started to ratchet them down.  I had to turn around every few seconds to be sure none of them got tossed overboard.  By now it was completely dark and the moon was not giving any light because it was completely overcast.  I thought about heading back to marina and looking for another break in the weather.  The dingy was now secure and the crew was all on the bridge with me.

“I’m turning the boat back; we will travel for four hours and see how the sea behaves once we are in deeper water.  Everybody ok with that?” 

“Hell yeah,” said Erick.  I didn’t listen a whole lot to what he said because Erick was crazy.

“I think we will be ok,” said Baldo.  It was worse coming back from Cancun.  “But you’re the captain.”  I trusted what Baldo said.  All of his ocean experience was with me, but he had good sound judgment.  I felt fear because I didn’t want to lead my crew into danger.  However, Baldo was right, we had been in worse conditions.  He had not seen the bow buried by one wave that might have changed his mind, but the boat had popped right back out like a giant cork.  It did what it was designed to do.

“Turning to Starboard,” I yelled.  The crew braced as we did a 180 turn, slow and steady.  It was still like a roller coaster but at least the dingy was not swinging around.  The boat felt strong and steady.  I looked over at Roberto.  He was getting blue around the gills.

“You ok Roberto,” I asked.  We can go back if you want.  It’s ok to be afraid.  I know I am,” I told him.

“No,” he said.  “Tu eres el Capitan.”  Dale pa delante.  His eyes looked wild and bloodshot from the salty sea.  He had that look of someone who fears for their life and does not quite know what to do about it.

“Alberto, go down below and get Dramamine pills from the restroom cabinet.  Give two to everybody and be sure to take some yourself.  I’m sorry, I should have had everybody take them before we left.  I didn’t expect it to get so nasty so soon.”

“Si senor,” he said as he disappeared into the salon.  We exited the jetties.  We were traveling steady with the twin engines at 1800 rpms.  We were barely clearing 8 knots due to the rough sea conditions.  If we got up on a plane it might steady the boat, but the fuel consumption would go way up.  It was too early to start burning extra fuel.  We had to maintain our course and speed.   I looked at the chart plotter and checked our bearing.  I confirmed out heading with the compass and headed out into the dark sea.

One Response

  1. I’m really liking this story! Both Part 1 and Part 2 are great reads. I almost feel like I’m on the boat with the author. I’m anxious to read Part 3 !

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content