Last Saturday night I arranged a tow from someone who was driving from Philadelphia to Florida, over 1,100 miles, to get a much-needed donated 14' RIB and 40hp outboard motor to our 97' gaff-rigged ketch in Hollywood, FL. unfortunately by Sunday evening, we had blown and replaced one trailer tyre, a wheel bearing which we fixed, then found the other bearing was about ready to burn out. So 245 miles short of our destination, my lift was on a schedule elsewhere, so we managed to limp to Daytona Beach and launch the RIB before the wheel fell off, donating the trailer to Halifax Harbor.Unfortunately, renting a vehicle with a tow hook and replacing the bad bearing on the trailer was going to cost many hundreds of dollars more than just fuel for the outboard motor, so the decision was made.
I slept aboard the boat at the ramp sharing space with the tools and other equipment to be transported. The dinghy was full! I was actually glad to be out of the van and back on water... yeah, right.
So Monday morning I found a fuel dock, filled the tank and fortunately I had the full charts of the Intra-coastal Waterway (ICW) that goes all the way from the Great Lakes to the Florida Keys. This was going to be a river cruise with no budget for hotels, by little more than an inflatable dinghy.
What's the difference between adventure and adversity? Attitude! So with the heart of an explorer I set off with the highly unlikely mission of getting to our large boat with dinghy and supplies to the destination intact, without badly running aground, hitting a log and damaging the propeller, being struck by lightning, getting swamped by enthusiastic power boaters or the outboard motor dying.
So at ICW Statute Mile 830 (or to mariners, latitude N29° 13') in Daytona Beach with the inflatable tubes pumped up, I motored out heading south, keeping the morning sun on my left and looking for red and green ICW Channel Markers, which are sometimes less than obvious, especially in the rain! In the ICW you have to follow the channel very closely, if you make a mistake you can be in just a foot of water in no time, which isn't good because if I lost a propeller by grounding that would be the end... But by Monday night I had made it to a point I could go no further, in the dim moonlight with just 10 miles covered at mile 840 I couldn't see the next channel marker and very sleepy, I tied to a red channel marker pole illegally and slept. Sleep didn't come too easily; although I was out in the edge of the channel, the mosquitos came hunting. I stupidly hadn't considered to bring bug repellant so suffered it until dawn, trying to cover myself up from insect bites. I haven't started feeling the pains of Dengue Fever yet!
Tuesday dawn and with first light I could now easily see my guiding markers in the channel. The critical green flashing light was dead and had stopped me cold at night. Now I could motor on down the Indian River to New Smyrna Beach at mile 845 (N29° 2'), where I refueled. They wouldn't give me 15 minutes to have a much-needed shower without paying a parking fee, so I moved on, a hard slog further down the Indian River past Titusville and Vero Beach where I stopped at a marina and tied up to a dock. Early Wednesday morning I refueled again and made my way to Fort Pearce (mile 965 at N27° 28') where I got advice from a young blonde called Sherry aboard her yacht at anchor, where I could beach the boat to drain a flooded lower hull. I had to beach at high tide, wait on the beach 6 hours until I could open the hull plugs, and a ton of water flooded out. I could motor no more than 4 knots that way, where normally I could plane at 15 knots or more, so it was really slowing me down and costing a lot more fuel, though it took all day for the tide to come back up and re-float my boat with the help of a beachcomber who had been living in his car for two months for lack of work.
While beached, the starboard inflatable tube gave way to a split seam. Fortunately a RIB has positive buoyancy as long as the hull chamber isn't flooded, and I've just drained mine! I hoped no water would get in though. I missed my breakfast, lunch and dinner, in fact ate nothing at all from Tuesday night to Thursday morning, but at least while on the beach I had a 5 litre "Chateau du boit" (some people call it Vin de la Carton") of Merlot. I think I must have drunk the equivalent of a couple of bottles that day.
So it's Wednesday and I've barely made any progress, and I was raring to go, pedal to the metal as fast as possible in the dark. At about 2am on Thursday morning I made it to Jensen Beach (ICW mile 990) where in total dark and running out of fuel, I found a marina more by luck than judgement and tied up at a guest dock. I was looking at all the other boats there dreaming of entering one and sleeping on a clean bed, but didn't try. Yes, I slept on an inflatable tube again! Dawn came soon enough so I got a breakfast across the road while awaiting the opening of the fuel dock.
Thursday morning, tanks full, boat afloat (just about) I high-tailed it out of there with 85 miles to go. Could I do it in one day? There were thunderstorms all around and twice I got soaked, bailing out as fast as I could (because the electric bilge pump failed and I couldn't get it working again) barely keeping ahead, lightning strikes all around me and torrential rain stinging my face, but it wasn't too hard to stay in the middle of the channel. All the way for mile after mile were huge houses with their own docks and beautiful boats, and through their windows I could see the families dry and cool at their dinner tables drinking wine.
On I went through Jupiter Sound, Palm Beach, Lake Worth, Boynton Beach, Delray Beach, Boca Raton and to my great relief, Fort Lauderdale late at night in the pitch dark on Thursday. A water police boat pulled me up with flashing blue lights. I don't have a working reverse gear so as I pulled up to him I stopped the outboard so I could hear him and promptly rammed his shiny new cigarette boat! He told me that my red and green running lights were not very visible with the pile of stores in the dinghy foredeck, but was a friendly chap and we chatted for a while before I headed off further south. No harm no foul!
So it was almost midnight on Thursday night, after four nights living and sleeping on a small dinghy, I finally made it to Thunderbird 5 (ICW mile 1075, N26° 00') exhausted, sores on my butt and desperately ready for a dip in the pool and a bite to eat.
I'm NEVER doing that again!