On Safari in South Carolina
Life — June 2003
|What came out of the woods when we were off the water.|
This cruising adventure began with a call from a friend inquiring if I would be a mate aboard his 42-foot Grand Banks on a trip from Beaufort, North Carolina, to South Florida. Having few pressing matters to attend to, I agreed.
Now, a ditch run is one of those peculiar events where people's opinions seem to have no middle ground. Rarely have I met anyone, other than a delivery captain, who is ambivalent about this particular excursion. When forced to make this run, the sportfishing crowd, with their armada of rocket launchers, gold-tipped Rupp `riggers, Guy Harvey T-shirts, and 16-cylinder diesels, seem to see it the way the average tourist sees a trip down I-95: The quicker one gets past Pedro's South of the Border, the better. This impression is partly the result of the plethora of signs along the ICW demanding, "Absolutely No Wake."
Then there is the trawler crowd, traversing the waterway at roughly the equivalent of a brisk walk. They're happy to just amble along, commenting on this or that interesting piece of flotsam and generally trying to figure out a way to keep doing this and pay the bills. For them a ditch run is as close to doing nothing as humanly possible. Which is precisely the reason they love it.
Although we fell into this latter category, our departure from the bucolic port of Beaufort was exciting, as is the beginning of any boat trip, involving an early awakening, a beautiful morning sky, and an overheating port engine (a problem that had plagued us for the better part of 200 miles until we finally shimmed the water pump with a nickel). After three hours of tedious work, we finally left the dock under a still-beautiful but now midafternoon sky.
We were headed south on a late-spring day, a time of year when every boater who has wintered in South Florida is heading north, presumably intent on mucking about in the fog banks of Maine's Mount Desert Island. The neat thing about going "backwards" is that you get to see so many boats, instead of constantly passing and being passed by the same few.
Day two found us heading down one of those narrow canals the ICW is famous for. Not only was it scenic--Spanish moss bearding the trees, giving it that tunnel-of-foliage look--it was also rather tight quarters, thanks to a bottom that can go from 12 feet to two inches in the time it takes to sip your morning coffee. In fact, it was so narrow we both decided to put down our books and shut off the autopilot. I relinquished the wheel and decided to do my morning inspection of the various components--primarily checking to see if the nickel was still safely wedged in the water pump. The last thing I remember seeing upon taking my leave from the bridge was a tilted old sign, quaintly painted, advertising prop and shaft repair two miles ahead.
My inspection was going smoothly, and I was in the perfect position to hear the resounding THUMP that emanated from the area of the running gear. I was back on the bridge in record time, where I observed mon capitan taking the port engine out of gear and shutting it down while intently eyeing the depthfinder. I kept my eyes trained to our wake, hoping to see a floating log or an irritated creature, but nothing--dead or alive--surfaced. When we restarted the port engine and put it in gear, we were greeted with a disconcerting vibration that coursed through our spinal columns and settled in our wallets.
This article originally appeared in the May 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.