Sail day three, 1-2-09: 35.8 nautical miles to Ft. Myers beach.
As Patrick and I motored down the Florida coast towards Ft. Meyers, I noticed that the steering felt funny. The boat was very slow to respond when I turned the wheel and I could feel a strange constant vibration.
I suspected that I might have a problem, but there wasn't much I could do about it until we reached a slip at Ft. Meyers beach. Besides, most of my attention was on the big bleeding blister on my right foot. It was between my big toe and whatever the next toe is called and had been caused by those stupid flip-flops I bought in Venice Inlet! I'm no crybaby—despite what Patrick has probably been saying—but it freaking hurt!
When we reached the inlet at Hurricane Bay, we hung a right and motored along the long thin island of Ft. Meyers Beach. I had arranged for a slip at Moss Marina, where—although I didn't know it at the time—I would be spending the next month. As we approached the marina, I radioed for a dock master to help guide us to our slip.
What followed was not completely my fault.
I was, as you have probably guessed, operating with a damaged rudder (and some slight brain damage to my frontal lobe, suffered in a freak street football accident when I was 10 years old—but that's a completely different story). As the dock master pointed me toward my slip, I swung the wheel to turn in ... or tried to. The boat refused to respond and kept going straight toward the wrong slip and somebody's yacht! I threw it into reverse and gunned the diesel. This stopped me from hitting the other boat, but now we were sitting 10 feet from the dock, dead in the water. I was afraid to power up, because by now I had realized that something was seriously wrong with my rudder (and my driving). Patrick threw a line to the guy from Moss Marina and he actually towed us by hand over and into my slip. This would be the first and last time I put my boat into a slip without ramming the dock.
We had completed another triumphant day of sailing.
Before I could celebrate our having reached safe harbor once again, I had to check out my rudder. To do this I would have to dive down under my boat and I really wasn't looking forward to doing that. Unlike the clear blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the water in every harbor I have ever seen is not very clean. The water around my boat was no exception, it was filthy. I had to see what the damage was though, so I put on a dive mask and dove over the side.
I kicked my way under the boat, my blister stinging from the salt water. My rudder was broken almost exactly in the middle, with the bottom half turned up in an L shape. How in the hell had we made it here from Port Charlotte! What was I going to do? I had a broken rudder and no idea what to do about it.
I couldn't ask Patrick, because maybe he would have a good idea and then he would take credit for it and then I would never hear the end of how he 'saved my ass'. I decided to do what I always do when faced with a serious problem. Go have some beers and let 'future Mike' take care of it. After dinner and many drinks, we hit the sack.
The next morning I was up early, as usual. I walked over to the Marina dayroom with my cup of coffee, sat down at a table, spread out a navigation chart for the west coast of Florida and tried to figure out how (and if) I was going to continue my journey. Obviously I had to get a new rudder for my boat, but since I had no idea how to go about doing this, I put that problem on a back burner. Instead I tried to figure out how in the hell I was going to get from Ft. Meyers beach to the Bahamas. I mean in just three days of sailing, I had managed to; fall flat on my face in a drunken stupor, break my damned rudder and get a blister. I wasn't even half way to Miami, which is where I planned to make my Gulf Stream crossing. Also, as I looked at that chart and the rest of the way down to where I would pass the Florida Keys I almost shit my pants. There were about a million tiny little islands I would have to make my way through in order to drop an anchor on the first leg of that jump down the coast. Most of these had shallow water inlets, that became the Everglade swamplands not far from the coast. And according to the guy I had talked to in the office while paying for my slip, getting through the Keys was apparently pretty damn tricky. You had to sail down to someplace called Marathon to make it under the road that connected all the islands of the Florida Keys. Where the hell was Marathon and how the hell did I get my boat under a freaking road.
As I sat there at that table staring at that damn chart, I must have looked extremely pitiful. At least that's what Jake later told me. And that's how I met Jake and Stacey. Jake is a tall good looking, cheerful guy, who always has a big smile on his face. He runs an air conditioning business in Indiana with his dad. When winter rolls around, Jake gets his ass out of the Indiana cold and comes down to Ft. Meyers beach, where he lives on his small sailboat for a few months. Stacey was his girlfriend, who later became his wife. She is gorgeous and Patrick and I instantly had a big crush on her.
So there I was, sitting at that table. Not crying, I'm far too manly for that, but obviously looking like I was in some distress. Jake sat down and introduced himself (how does he do that?). He said I looked kind of lost and could he help.
Biiiiiig breath ... 'I'm sailing my boat to the Bahamas and I don't really know what I'm doing and I just broke my rudder in half and I have no idea how I'm going to get it fixed and have absolutely no idea how I'm going to get down the coast past the Keys and I'm a pathetic, puling little baby girl, who never should have left dry land.
I didn't say the last part, but it was a given.