Adventure, danger, culture shock and personal growth: Out of Africa meets the Perfect Storm. Follow Andrea Jansen’s mid-life ride from Oregon to the Caribbean, thanks to RUFF LIFE: a 1971 Tradewinds Trawler, 33-feet and destined for disaster. Sharing her exploits: Czar, a water-hating collie; and the anonymous but ubiquitous 'Captain’. For twelve years Andrea battled hurricanes, machismo and the IRS; became a Puerto Rico artesan; and survived to become her own woman.
“What the hell happened? It was clear skies last night!”
Along with a dozen other boats heading for the Bahamas from West Palm Beach, we’d moved Ruff Life to a staging area (similar to a starting block for swimmers) the evening before we were to leave.
Our lack of anchoring experience caused us to drag and collide with more than one neighboring boat during the night. After one particular scraping and screeching, we popped our heads through the front hatch to discover our railing had become entangled with a sailboat's rail-mounted barbecue. Even the dinghy, tied to one of the davits in the back, swung on its own and hit the side of a catamaran, rudely waking it's Captain and First Mate. It was embarrassing, being yelled at in the dark.
We finally moved a safe distance from everyone else. Once more I tossed the 40-pound anchor over the side, followed by 15 feet of chain and yards of rode, or anchor rope. Ruff Life's electric anchor winch didn't work (black button on deck); and because I couldn't actually drive the boat, my job was throwing the anchor, etc, over the side and then hauling it back up, every time we moved. Sis, familiar with sailing, had gifted me a pair of weightlifting gloves in her Care Package, but even so, my hands burned as the braided cotton slid through them yet again.
Cap, at his driving station up on the flybridge, called, “Enough," and I secured the rode by looping it Figure 8-ish several times around a metal cleat which ran through the 4" wooden Samson Post (above, right). The connecting Anchor Pulpit, also wooden, protruded over the bow of the boat, and a bracket at the end kept the anchor rode from sliding around (my explanation, see top photo). The Post went through the deck and was connected to a contraption inside a compartment in the bow.
Once tied off, Cap backed up Ruff Life to sink the prongs of the Danforth into the grassy bottom, but it hooked something that didn't budge. I stared helplessly as the Post, straining against the force, exploded into a cloud of rotten splinters before my unprotected eyes. I screamed to Cap but there was no time to explain before lunging for the rode disappearing over the side. After tying it to a side cleat we turned in once more, too exhausted to discuss the horrific night.
As soon as it became light, Cap, already annoyed our plans were so horribly thwarted, hollered for me to raise the anchor. He immediately threw the boat into gear to head back to the marina for repairs.
Unfortunately, I forgot to mention that before going to bed I'd tied the back end of the dinghy to the second davit so it wouldn’t swing into anybody else's boat. It sat peacefully in the water, parallel to the swim platform.
No sooner had Cap increased the throttle that there was a roar like a jet engine as the dinghy became a 10-foot fiberglass scoop, flipping around at least once; and the force sheared one of Cap’s prized, self-designed aluminum davits cleanly in half (bottom of photo, right). Our 8-horsepower motor was headed for the bottom until Cap dove in for the save. We lost the top half of the davit and a few other things, but Cap was in no mood to go back down.
Ruff Life wasn’t the only wreck. My courage had disintegrated and I became a prattling fool, dwelling on the absurdity of our venture. What were we thinking three months ago in Oregon? I sat uselessly on the couch for a week while an assortment of Captains traipsed through my nice clean home with tools and construction materials, helping Cap rebuild the boat. I’d finally organized everything, only to watch my home returned to shambles, but I was in no position to complain.
If we couldn’t even get out of Florida, how could we possibly make it to Venezuela?