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Safe Adventures

My friend Jack Bulger foraged his way through a fried seafood platter at the 15th Street Fisheries in Ft. Lauderdale like it was his last meal, pausing for a few seconds to wipe away a wayward dollop of tartar sauce resting in the upper portion of his beard. With our T-shirts, flips-flops, and pink skin we looked like tourists down for a few days of beachcombing and all-you-can-eat buffets. Yet here we were on a blustery November day wondering when we would leave terra firma for the Caribbean—and on what boat.

“Where are we going again?” asked Jack, while taking a sip from his bottle of Bud. I shrugged my shoulders, looking to our host, Capt. Mark Mitchell. Mark is a busy delivery captain and this time of the year he was bottlenecked with boats heading south and asked for my help. I was all in.

 Since I was a kid, I’ve had an unquenchable thirst to watch land disappear and then spend days on the open ocean. On this day, Mark was helping to cure that wanderlust. At the end of the table, he was busy making calls while scribbling notes on a cocktail napkin.

“Okay, can you guys head over to Marsh Harbour and take a 42 to St. Thomas?” he asked in a manner more akin to somebody asking if you could swing by Starbucks on your way to work. 

“Umm, yeah, ahh, sure. When do we leave?” I impressed myself with these really tough, probing questions. 

“Today,” he shot back as he settled up our lunch check and began herding us toward the exit. And so, our 1,000-mile journey began. Before lunch I was fairly confident I was taking a Hatteras to Antigua, and now I’m taking a Grand Banks from the Bahamas to the Virgin Islands.

Before we’d left the Abacos, we knew the bridge electronics were not operational due to electrical issues. I will say that the one item that worked flawlessly was an ancient Datamarine Corinthian Series with depth and speed/log. 

Like clockwork, as the sun set and the wind increased, the lower electronics headed off for a sabbatical as well, not to return for the remainder of the trip.

I gave us a more easterly course to gain sea room off Eleuthera as we made our way to the southern tip where we would turn toward Exuma Sound and George Town. Jack was in relative bliss above. I waited for the right moment to tell him we were back to navigation basics. I finally confess a little after midnight, hoping to take advantage of his fatigue to slip in the issue. “Hey, we’re making pretty good time and right on course. But we lost the lower electronics too. So, we’re dead reckoning.”

“Well, I reckon we’re dead,” he answered in a dry tone as he slid off the helm chair onto the bridge sole where we’d made a makeshift watch berth. Well, geez, I had hoped for a more confident endorsement. I usually don’t get into a tender without my handheld GPS, yet this rushed trip had resulted in a lot of boneheaded missteps. 

I’ll openly admit that often times I kick myself for not following some of the practices we write about in this magazine. However, safety is not one of them. As much as I love salt water in what’s left of my hair, I really love the peace of mind that comes with being prepared. Yep, we lost the electronics on this trip and I should have dived deeper into our electrical issues before we left. Yet, I had paper charts of the area, was logging our progress, kept my dead-reckoning skills polished, and had the right navigational tools. 

So contrary to Jack’s stinging endorsement, we were doing okay. The engines purred, we were both wearing our inflatable PFDs, used the intercom if we were leaving the cabin to alert the other guy. Our life raft was serviced and I’d rigged up the tender with our ditch bags, water, extra provisions, and secured a large dive knife next to the tender harness to cut the boat free from the deck if needed. 

We don’t expect you to practice everything we cover in Power & Motoryacht. Yet, I urge you to take a look at the special safety features our editors have assembled in our September 2015 issue. Dan Harding’s story, “Hell or High Water” provides powerboaters lessons from serious ocean sailors. Capt. Bill Pike spent some time in the boatyard down from our office tying knots and handling lines over several days. Our editors have suggested gear and electronics to help make you safer, and the entire magazine is lined with safety tips to make your time on the water more enjoyable.

Jack and I made it St. Thomas without incident. We felt satisfied, as you typically do after you arrive safely from any adventure. Jack turned to me on the plane flying home, looking a little weathered, and asked when we were leaving again. Hopefully soon. See you on the water.