Crunch Time

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En route to the boatyard? Don’t be in such a darn hurry!

The weather was bad, as is often the case in late autumn in northern Florida. The sky was gray in some patches and black in others, the mercury was hovering around 55 degrees, a cold, steady rain was pouring down, and because of all this, my buddy Dave and I were not even remotely enjoying our annual trip to the boatyard. Indeed, Dave looked pretty darn grim sitting there beside me on the flying bridge. His jaw was tight and he was shivering, primarily because both of us were soaked through, despite our slicker suits. For a variety of reasons not worth going into here, we had no hardtop above us at the time, and no bimini either.

“How long you figure until we get to the yard?” asked Dave as a big, cold dollop of water sluiced sideways off the brim of his Life Is Good baseball cap.

“Maybe another hour or so,” I replied. “We still gotta do North Bay and then the run up Fanning Bayou.”

“At least the visibility’s holding,” Dave observed, manfully trying for a little positive spin. He’s a good guy, Dave, and rarely complains. And because I felt just a little guilty about getting him into this awful meteorological mess, I did something that a lot of us cruisers do when we’re closing in on a destination, whether it be a marina, a boatyard, or whatever—I throttled up a few hundred revs.

Of course, the need to speedify at trail’s end like this is purest human nature, and therefore nearly universal. But having a buddy along, who’s getting himself half-drowned in a cold hard rain, tends to intensify it, or at least it did in this case.

An unintended consequence resulted, however. Since a skipper’s doings, whether they be focused on speeding things up or slowing ’em down, often directly affect a crew’s doings, both Dave and I soon found ourselves deeply, albeit subtly, committed to the very same, full-blown, hurry-up mode.  

“There she be,” I said as the sheds and docks of Panama City’s Miller Marine finally came into view. When I called the yard on the VHF, I got an unexpected request—instead of proceeding directly to the TravelLift, which was temporarily out of service, we were told to tie up in an empty slip just a little ways off.

“There’ll be a couple of guys down there to help with your lines,” the foreman noted. 

Dave and I had the obligatory heart-to-heart about docking arrangements before we entered the main fairway at Miller and then, once I’d pivoted the boat at the mouth of the appropriate slip, I began backing down carefully, fighting the pesky urge to rush the whole affair, in large part because the pilings delineating the slip were positioned so asymmetrically.

While I was doing this, the rain got even worse, a development that got the dock guys in on the hurry-up act as well. Each of them simultaneously tossed a stern line into the cockpit and, unbeknownst to me at the helm, Dave began pulling on both  like he was a plow horse.

“What the…?” I exclaimed as soon as I noticed the unnatural increase in speed astern. First, I tried stopping it with a shot of forward propulsion to no avail. Then I quickly shifted back to neutral and bolted for the rear of the flying bridge where I immediately saw what was going on.

“Stop, Dave!” I yelled just as a mighty crunching noise arose from the vicinity of the swim platform, a relatively delicate, relatively expensive matrix of curved teak slats and spacers.  

There was no point in returning to the helm at this point. Engine control was no longer necessary. Dave had more or less immobilized the boat by seizing one of several pilings at the rear of the slip with the swim platform. I made my way to the transom and peered over—two of the outermost slats of the platform were broken off around the base of the piling and a third was cracked.

The moral of the story? Certainly, Dave and I were able to get our boat tied up a little quicker than we might have otherwise that afternoon, thanks to the very human tendency to rush the tail end of a trip, coupled with the impatience that exposure to bad weather often engenders. But hey, our expeditiousness had come at a price—it’s surprising how much a couple of teak slats for a swim platform’ll cost you!


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