We hit the trail at about one o’clock. Charlie Levine, Power & Motoryacht’s new executive editor, had driven up to Jacksonville from Orlando to help me deliver the Betty Jane II to her new, floating-dock-equipped marina, not far from Fernandina Beach. Shortly after our departure, however, the fates obtruded. As we approached the old, bascule-type railroad bridge in the midst of the city, the darn thing levered down and stayed that way for two freakin’ hours while the train itself just sat there, twiddling its thumbs.
“If I was you, Cap,” the bridge tender suggested at one point as we chugged around in circles, periodically checking in on the VHF, “I’d call the railroad and complain.”
“Yeah, right,” I opined to myself.
Of course, by the time we got into Fernandina’s vicinity, we were way behind the eight ball, it was pitch dark, and because Betty has no radar, we were constrained to ease along through the murk via spotlight, binoculars and my brand new Garmin 742xs chartplotter. Moreover, because the daymarks sidelining the long channel into the marina are not lighted and, although I hate to admit it, because my night vision isn’t what it used to be, things occasionally got just a tad tense on the flybridge.
“What the heck’s that?” I’d mumble as Charlie zeroed in with the spotlight or the binocs. “Is that number eight? It’s gotta be number eight.”
“Yup, that’s eight, Bill,” he’d emphasize. “Eight!”
Certainly, I was glad to have the young guy along—he had night vision to burn. But my gratitude was marred, I must admit, by a certain anticipatory sympathy. Over the years, I’ve taken passels of Power & Motoryacht staffers and newcomers on a variety of North Florida jaunts, each with the same underlying mission—to have as much salty fun as possible. But every one of those cruises, to be brutally honest, has entailed a touch of hardship, whether it meant having to endure several wintry North Florida nights on board the Betty Jane II way before she was capable of reverse-
cycle warmth, or having to subsist on Cheetos, Doritos and -Oreos for days on end due to provisioning lapses.
The rain began just as we were tying up. And hey, it turned into a deluge, a lightning-lit thunder-clapper. Indeed, the ferocity of the storm only increased as we took a fast pass at a Mexican restaurant for late-night takeout. When we finally slid into fitful, exhausted sleep, Charlie on the foreshortened settee in Betty’s salon and me in the V-berth up forward, it was almost midnight.
“Uh-oh,” I thought, right before nodding off. “Oh, no!”
In my haste to wolf two, giant, wholly delectable shrimp burritos, I’d forgotten my brand-new Garmin 742xs chartplotter, still on the flybridge, exposed to the elements. Given the roar of the rain, this was a freakin’ emergency—I mean, plotters are -expensive, but are they THAT waterproof?
I made a split-second decision. Garbed only in boxer shorts, I threw on my hooded slicker-suit jacket and headed -stealthily for the door that opens into the cockpit. As I stole past, a flash of lightning briefly illuminated Charlie lying on the settee, scrunched up with his face turned to the wall. It was a sad scene, to be truthful. I quietly let myself out.
Disconnecting the Garmin took time. But eventually I got it loose, descended from the flybridge into the cockpit and creaked the salon door open, thinking I’d kept the whole operation under wraps, as they say. But wouldn’t you know—just as I stepped into the salon, the big kahuna of lightning bolts hit at the very same time a monstrous clap of thunder literally shivered the timbers of the ol’ Betty Jane II.
There’s no other way to put it. Charlie erupted from the settee with his eyes bugged out. Then, when he saw me standing in the doorway—a dark, glistening, hooded figure, in boxer shorts—his eyes virtually pixilated.
“Don’t worry, Charlie,” I yelled in an attempt to assuage his terror. “Don’t worry. The Garmin’s gonna be okay, man!”