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Tough Trip to Charleston


Capt. Bill Pike

The view from Betty Jane's wheelhouse while we were southbound on the ICW on a showery day.

Things got off to a mangy start. Right in the middle of breakfast, my buddy Chuck called from Florida saying he'd missed his flight—something about being "sicker than a dog" and trying to catch the next plane. "Bill," he added, "I feel really awful, man, and I'm not sure I can even get outta bed. I'm sorry." My wife BJ looked at me doubtfully from across a table in the dining room of the Kitty Knight House, a towering old B&B in Georgetown, Maryland. I continued polishing off my eggs Benedict (with crab cakes instead of Canadian bacon). When vexations arise, eat! That's what I always say.

"So?" asked BJ. It was a heck of a question, really. Chuck had agreed to arrive earlier that morning to do deckhand duty on the delivery of our recently purchased Grand Banks 32 Betty Jane to Charleston, South Carolina, the first stop in a multileg transference to Florida via the Chesapeake Bay and Intracoastal Waterway. There was nobody else I could get on short notice. Beyond the windowpane, in keeping with the fact that it was late March, snowflakes wafted down upon the nearby Sassafras River. It was an unpromising scene, particularly for cranking up a long, one-man boat ride.

"Well," I replied, "We'll make sure that the Betty Jane's ready to go and then drive up to Philadelphia International to see if Chuck made it. And if he didn't, Betty and I'll just take off by ourselves—maybe somebody else can join us further on—and you can return the rental car to Philly and fly home the way we planned."

"Hmmmm," she replied, giving me a baleful look. We finished our meal in silence (my assurances about taking along a 406 EPIRB, a couple of extra handheld VHFs, a snap-on safety harness, and PFDs up the ying-yang made little impression) and then headed to Duffy Creek Marina where Betty Jane had been dewinterized and launched the day before.

What a gorgeous sight she was! We parked behind a set of freshly varnished teak nameboards on her transom valiantly proclaiming "Betty Jane, Panama City, Florida." With the same gusto I'd visited upon breakfast, I climbed the ladder to the flying bridge and began installing a new Garmin GPSMAP 3206C chartplotter, a slick little unit with built-in cartography (for the whole coastal United States including Hawaii and Alaska) and a sharp, daylight-viewable screen. In the meantime, my wife went shopping for groceries, flashlight batteries, and other odds and sods. She returned about the same time I finished with the Garmin, and together we topped off lockers, drawers, and cabinets and then hightailed it to Philadelphia, some 60 miles away.

Chuck made it...just. When BJ and I first caught sight of him (wearing a grey sweatshirt incongruously emblazoned "Lucky"), he looked like the star of a 1950's horror flick—ashen, feverish, herky-jerky. He looked so bad, in fact, that I momentarily wondered whether sharing Betty's accommodation spaces with him over the next few weeks might not queue me up for a tte--tte with the Grim Reaper. "Well, Bill," he said, sneezing violently, "I said I was gonna be here, and I'm here."

We skipped lunch on our way back—just mentioning food seriously exacerbated Chuck's cold chills and waves of sweaty nausea, he said—and bopped into departure mode as soon as we got to Duffy Creek. Chuck's late arrival had put us way behind, and with just 12 days of vacation to play with, I was pushing to leave soon. Heck, maybe we could still make Solomons by nightfall, I theorized, although Solomons was some 90 nautical miles distant, a long haul in a 7-knot trawler. After checking Betty's vital fluids—or at least as many as I could think of while charging around like Napoleon at Waterloo—I fired up her 135-hp Ford Lehman, kissed BJ goodbye, promised to stay in touch, bid the folks at Duffy Creek farewell, and after tossing off our lines (Chuck was indisposed at the time), made my way to the flying bridge. We were off!

This article originally appeared in the July 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.