As told by Chapman Ducote
For a young man with the world at his feet, the call of the sea was stronger than anything else in his life.
I was at the University of Miami from 1995 to 1997. My father always said that he would pay for four years of school but no more, so I got it in my head that I would do it in three, and then maybe he’d give me the remainder of the tuition in cash. I don’t know where I got that idea from, looking back. It would have been about 20 grand all-in for tuition and boarding and all that other crap. I thought he’d cut me that check no problem and maybe I’d get myself a car or something. But then I graduated and I came to my dad and told him my plan and he was like “No way, kid!” And I was like man c’mon I graduated college in three years for this! Aren’t you proud? You gotta give me something! (Like I said, I was young, and still had a lot to learn.)
What my dad ended up doing was agreeing to buy me some fuel. I had a trip in mind. I had been in Miami for so long, and I loved it, but I didn’t have a proper boat and I didn’t spend a lot of time on the water, and I loved the water, I grew up on it in Louisiana. And I had just started spearfishing and I knew I couldn’t do any of that in Louisiana or on the west coast of Florida, not like I wanted to anyway. I really wanted to go to the Bahamas for the real deal. Spearfishing was the impetus for the whole thing, honestly. I was hooked, I guess you could say. And I also wanted to “circumnavigate” Florida. Not only that, but I wanted to test myself, push myself to the limit and do it the old-school way without any electronics.
I already had a decent ability to read charts and that sort of thing. Growing up we had a Hatteras sportfish and we had a captain for many years. We sold the boat when I was 12 or 13, but we maintained contact with the captain, and I had reconnected with the guy when I was thinking about doing this and asked him for help plotting the courses. So I sat with him and plotted out the legs of the trip. His name was Glen McCluskey. Glen thought I was crazy for sure, but he also thought it was doable as long as I was safe and didn’t try to do too much, and made sure I had enough fuel and that sort of stuff, which I did. He knew I was impatient though. I didn’t want to be in the Florida Panhandle, man, I wanted to get around the other side!
So I set off in the summertime from New Orleans with a friend named Ryan Meadow. We grew up together and did a lot of boating together—he was really handy on a boat. Knew his way around, you know? We were the same age and we wanted to share an adventure I guess. It was just fun. We were in a 35-foot Intrepid. And I remember that first day it was rough as hell. The first leg was the biggest leg by far. Looking back at it I’m shocked at how unafraid I was of the size of the seas, especially making the pace we were making in 8-foot waves … again, I was young.
On the first day it was huge but it was quartering and this particular boat was really good in a quartering sea. We made it to Apalachicola, and we had oysters when we got there. The next day we went from Apalachicola to Tampa, which is a hike, it was still rough but it had calmed down a bit. We were in and out of Tampa pretty quick, not much for us to do there. Well, you know, maybe we made one stop at Mons Venus, I don’t remember. Ahh, who am I kidding, we hit it on the way back too!
From there we went straight to Marco Island, that was the short hop, and then from there we went to Key West. We got some spearfishing in there before heading to the Tortugas, and coming around Marathon. But when I got to Key West is when I started to get in trouble with my old man. I had told him I wouldn’t go any farther than Key West—it was his boat, I should add—but I did, and finally he cut the credit card off. I had a little bit of cash, but barely enough to get home. But to hell if I was going to turn around, so I started spending what little cash I had on fuel, and my dad basically lost track of me for a little bit. I was in the wind.
The next stop was Key Largo, and then from there we prepared for Bimini. It was the closest Bahamian island and really all I wanted to do was be able to say I made it to the Bahamas with no GPS, no markers, no nothing, just plotting my course using rulers and a pencil on a paper chart. That was the goal. That was the whole point.
So we cross the Gulf Stream and the water starts to get beautiful like it does, and as we came into the harbor there I remember just thinking: We made it. Coming all that way with no instruments, no support, no money actually! It was a good feeling. It was this feeling of we found land, and I mean that in more ways than one.
We went to the Big Game Club and checked in. Then immediately we went back out spearfishing around the rocks on the south side. We stayed on the hook there near Cat Cay in about 4 feet of water, which was pretty dumb in retrospect.
Sitting out there on the boat that night was amazing. The feeling of accomplishment was like nothing else. To get all that way as kids with no instruments man, there was nothing else like it at the time. It gave me a lot of confidence to do whatever I wanted to do in life. And that’s what really stuck with me from that adventure.
We rely on all these instruments and people think they need them to go out on a boat. But you don’t. People take this stuff for granted, but really if you had to navigate the old-school way in a pinch, could you? Because someday you might need to. I, for one, know I could.
Chapman Ducote, 39, lives in Miami Beach, and is a professional Le Mans race car driver, an expert bluewater spearfisherman, and the Director of the Americas for Delta Powerboats.
- Builder: Intrepid
This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.