Ch 9 - No Name Trawler and the ICW

“We need to come up with a name for the boat.”

People had begun calling us the No Name Trawler.  Boats tend to have cute names, but for whatever reason ours was saddled with King Tut.  Neighbors handed out boat cards:  business cards with the name and style of their vessel, owner’s names and mailing addresses back home, and a few had emails and satellite phone numbers. Fortunately for us, Tut's name had been obliterated when the boat was whitewashed, so we had a clean slate with which to work. I didn't care when Sis claimed, "It's bad luck to change the name of a boat."  Poppycock.

Owners generally take care when naming their boats, just as parents do with children, I'm guessing. Some are named after their owners, such as  Tomboy, Chez Freddy, and Volk’s Wagon. Others have foreign noms de bateaux: Matin d’Or, Liefde, La Vie Dansante,  Por Fin.  Nature is represented by Butterfly, Magnolia and Turtle Dove.  A few never made sense to me: Jabulani, Tybalt and Enee Marie (which I called Eeny Meeny); but I believe the vast majority represent states of mind expressed plainly or subtly:  Attitude, Chrysalis, Xanadu, Dream Catcher, Destiny Calls, Cimarron, Shazam.  My all-time favorite was a trawler owned by a podiatrist and ob-gyn called  Puss and Boots.

Cap would throw out ideas for names since mine were total crap. (I offer Cap's name as an example)  In general, our suggestions reflected the broken-down nature of our tug, which Cap insisted on calling his yacht but I described as Forrest Gump's boat, which always annoyed him.  I hate pretense but Cap wasn't deterred.

“How about the Cubic Z?” or, “Why not the Minnow?  We’re having as many troubles as Gilligan.”

He finally came up with Ruff Life and I loved it immediately.  I'd paint the transom at some future date, but I started working on a couple of wooden signs he cut to mount to the sides of the flybridge.

Cap was anxious to be on our way, but we still had to do something with Trigger; Czar needed shots; and we had an appointment to make out new wills, just in case.  I asked the attorney about the IRS coming after me for my early IRA withdrawal, but she said it would probably take them a year to even notice anything's wrong. That's as long as we planned on cruising anyway, so I figured I could deal with that mess later since they'd have to find me first. There were more important things to think about, like learning to cook on a boat.

We needed to eat healthier, for sandwiches were getting old. I was completely inexperienced with camp-cooking let alone on a boat, so Cap increasingly took over the culinary duties, his one-pot meals a specialty. He'd boil the elbow macaroni and ground beef together, drain it all, add Cheese Whiz, season with Tony Chachere's and we'd wolf it down.  I was happy to play Swabbie, since I just couldn't manage anything creative in that tiny space.

November 7th, Palmetto:
"The place looks pretty good.  We still discover better ways to pack and store things without getting wet.  Better to find out while we're near land than out to sea."
Trying to organize was making me crazy.  Everything brought on board in a box had to be repacked to avoid roaches.  I’ve never owned so many plastic storage containers in my life, and I kept discovering reasons we needed more.

And Czar? During the first few weeks Cap doggedly tried to create Czar's poop deck; providing an on-board relief station, since there would certainly be times we couldn't take him to the beach, as we called it. Cap bought a couple squares of sod to line the tray from his Army footlocker (along for storage) and even tried priming the pump, in a manner of speaking, but Czar would have none of it. There were no other options, but Czar proved time and again that he would wait until reaching terra firma.
"Cap's tools got wet so we have to de-rust them.  His footlocker got soaked, so his dive gear needs a new container.  Our emergency kit's coming along."
I hoped I selected enough of a variety of items to keep us alive, should we have to abandon ship, Cap remarked more than once.  It ultimately included:  2 washcloths and one shower mat (to keep Czar from sliding in the dinghy); hydrogen peroxide; first aid bandages; flare kit; small suntan lotion; Q-Tips; fishing line and hooks; one summer sausage; a Swiss Army knife; Wet Ones;  Gas-X; makeup mirror; 4 safety pins;  lighter and a few smokes; Clinique moisturizer; Tylenol; and of course a tube of toothpaste, as per Hillary’s harrowing portrayal of a family adrift for weeks.
"A quick overview reveals we've spent around $9,000 so far - wow!!"
Wow was right, for we weren't finished. We moved onto the boat on October 12th, and by November 13th I was battling depression:
"Just when I think I'm getting better about this whole thing, I slide back.  I'm not handling it very well at all.  We've been getting ready to go and took (we thought) our last trips to marine stores.  Chester hasn't been by in over a week, but stopped by yesterday while we were out and left Cap's computer. Apparently he couldn't do anything with it, either.  Czar's been hopping off the boat regularly, like he knows something's up."
At the last minute we scrambled to put Trigger in storage, leaving my baby with 1/4 of a tank of gas, and Mom's steamer trunk containing my Royal Wocester Evesham salad bowl; the only piece not included in the auction, but completely impractical on the boat. The guys at the facility said they'd start it every couple of weeks. Abandoning it this way wasn't how I'd expected to part with my faithful steed, and I wondered how it would run when we returned because we'd done no prepping, but there was no time to dwell on such things.

I hate being rushed.  It gives me agita.
"Got Reed's Guide to the Caribbean but I can't get as excited as Cap about this.  I thought we would be able to just hop from island to island but it's not that simple. Besides the normal shit of watching out for reefs and 'lights', each island has its own rules regarding cruising in their waters; guns; pets and fees.  It won't just be a simple joyride, but Cap keeps telling me it will be easy and not to worry.  I can't be like that.  I don't understand how things seemed to go so well before we left Oregon, and now...maybe God is playing a cruel joke on me.
"The boat still leaks. Got the wills taken care of. Cooking is fine, but I'm afraid I'm not prepared enough, considering how infrequently we'll be stopping for groceries.  Canned green beans, corn and tuna fish.  Can you exist on that?"
Cap was pretty resourceful when he wanted to find pot, too, and my gloominess sent him on a quest around the marina until he located and brought home a 'treat', which definitely improved both our moods.

The next morning a couple of Captains came over to help Cap with charts, directions and  encouragement in preparation for our departure; I mentioned Cap's a likeable guy.  As the hours passed I hoped we'd leave another day because I wanted to see Chester before we left and couldn't reach him by phone.  How could we not?  But Cap announced, “If we’re gonna go, let’s go,” so I quickly wrote a thank-you note and left it with a neighbor.  I do hope Chester got it.
"Lo & behold, we were off from the marina at noon.  I was nervous as hell but Cap was full of optimism, confidence and just happy as shit.  All I could do was look for those stupid markers.  Cap tried the autopilot (it worked), the VHF up above didn't, and the depth finder below wouldn't shut off, but oh well, nothing's perfect."
The plan was to follow the Intra Coastal Waterway (ICW), a 3,000 mile inland connection of various waterways, running from Boston, MA southwards along the Atlantic coast, around the tip of Florida, and up along the Gulf coast to Brownsville, TX.  We were on the Gulf side heading south to Ft. Myers, then cutting across the state along the shallow but wild Okeechobee Canal. I'd begun a log of our movements, GPS points, engine mileage, when we got diesel and how much, checked the oil, and where and when we arrived and departed, boaters do that.

Cap disliked steering from the confines of the cabin and preferred the view 10 feet up. It was easier to spot Czar, too. As First Mate I’d head to the galley and return with cups and plates precariously balanced in hands and teeth, rocking every which way, climbing the 5-step wooden ladder and staggering to the front.  It didn’t take many trips to smarten up and simply step out the side door next to the galley to hand up or speak to Cap.

As we neared the first drawbridge, I took over the wheel while Cap went below to call the Bridge Tender to open 'er up.

"What's the name of this bridge?" he asked on the way down.

"How can I tell?"

"The name will be on land, near the bridge."

"OK, hang on."  Good grief, charts are confusing.  "It's  called  the Bascule Bridge."

"The what?"

"The Bascule Bridge.  B-A-S-C-U-L-E."  I had to repeat it a few times and finally spelled it out for him.

"Bascule Bridge, Bascule Bridge, this is the motor vessel Ruff Life approaching from (wherever)."


"Bascule Bridge, Bascule Bridge," yada yada repeated.  Nothing.  "Are you sure about the name of the bridge?  Hand me down that chart."

I was insulted.  "It says Bascule Bridge. does the next bridge...and the next one...what is this?"

Turns out bascule is a style of drawbridge; good thing our name wasn't on the boat. Too embarrassed to hail again, we waited until the bridge finally opened for other boats and slipped through with them.

We motored for 4-1/2 hours and anchored in Sarasota (13 miles as the crow flies). It probably wouldn't have taken so long if Cap didn't insist I steer just a little, in case I have to at some point.  I fishtailed along and hated the entire time, but at least I learned I could do it. Other than the bridge all had gone well, and our first night on the hook was blissfully uneventful.

Having survived our first day, I felt more confident, too.  The weather was gorgeous, as you can see. While Ruff Life chugged past multi-million-dollar estates I was having a “Dynasty” moment.  My handsome Captain was steering with confidence and Czar seemed comfortable on the bow, a cool wind blowing his hair and mine.

Boaters usually wave to one another, as we did to the large cabin cruiser racing towards us, bow raised, white foam spewing from either side.  Ruff Life's 20-foot mast and cross beam rocked back and forth like a metronome from the resulting wake and I swore while reaching for something to hold on to.

Cap was gripping the spokes to steady us when the wheel suddenly came off in his hands. Momentarily stunned, he hollered for me to get to the wheel in the cabin as he frantically tried to put his back on. I scooted on my butt along the open deck and managed to climb down the stairs without breaking my neck; only to be blocked by the storage buckets I’d stacked on the couches, now scattered across the floor. I had assumed that since we weren't at sea all should be calm, and kicked myself for not following Chester's earlier advice.

The books on the shelf were all over the floor and the sliding cupboard doors in the galley never stopped moving. Cap's black, octagonal plates, placed semi-upright to fit in the tiny space, rolled back and forth, and the condiments inside were spilling out. The hinged bathroom door was folding and swaying and making an awful racket, and the fridge door was also swinging, but luckily the contents stayed put.  I hopped over the strewn possessions and grabbed the wheel.  Through the front window I watched Czar steady himself and prayed he didn’t fall overboard.  He wasn’t wearing his life jacket.

"A__hole! So much for being friendly."

Cap quickly put his wheel back on, and after we stopped rocking I straightened up enough to carve a path through the cabin.  After that fiasco we installed makeshift barriers: Dad's 36" drafting ruler fit across the bookshelf beautifully; dowels in the grooves prevented the galley cabinets from sliding; hook and eye latches kept the freezer and refrigerator doors shut; and since the bathroom door never stayed closed, it was folded in half and kept in place with a rock (same rock, later years). I began a list of things to secure prior to raising the anchor.

We picked up a handheld VHF radio for the flybridge so we could make our sentiments known in the future, but it stopped working two days later.  Cap said it was unrealistic to think nothing was going to break, but come on.  We didn't buy another one because it would only break, too, and we'd return it where?  We saw little more than obscure, independent marine stores, no major chains, and no charts.

Czar dutifully tagged along on most of our outings, but he still refused to go in the water.  He'd walk around puddles; but learned to spread his toes while walking on widely-spaced docks.

The shallow Okeechobee Waterway is recommended for boats with less than 10-foot drafts.  Ruff Life's was just under 3 so Cap wasn't overly concerned; but we had a bunch of locks to pass through so this would be our first real challenge.

We circled around at the entrance to Lake Okeechobee because I placed doubt in Cap's mind of his sense of direction; until he realized, then convinced me, he was right.  Such was the nature of our relationship.

"We moored in bug heaven - there were millions of no-see-ums on the deck the next morning," which I rinsed off using my new spiral hose, a luxury I was pleased was already of use.
It stored nicely in a cubby in the tall garbage can cabinet (r). The door to that cabinet swung open and shut during wakes, as did most of the other doors; so Cap finally added small brass locks to them all. He hated marring his beloved mahogany and my things to secure list continued to grow, but it was much quieter when we cruised.

It was also the first time we ran aground, after anchoring too close to shore.  The boat swung during the night, and we woke up stuck on a mound.
"We had just read the night before how to 'unground', but when it actually happened, all that knowledge flew out the porthole.  The only thing I could remember was rock the boat, which we tried; check where the water's low; and get in the dinghy. Big help. Cap got in the dinghy and tried pulling the boat off using the outboard motor, but that wasn't working either."  
We were trying to do something called 'kedging' but forgot the What and Why about taking along a spare anchor in the dinghy to help.  Between our attempts and the passage of time Ruff Life eventually drifted off the mound, but ooooh, Cap was mad.
"I can understand why everyone says boating will either make or break a relationship," something I heard early on in the First Mate's Club.
Approaching the locks, my job was to toss the bumpers over the side. For a novice, Cap navigated quite well in the locks.  The first lockmaster was very helpful by guiding him into place, doubtless recognizing newbies; plus we were the only boat around.
"Cap went flying into the second lock (feeling more confident) and although he learned his lesson and slowly entered the third lock, the lockmaster had to repeat several times, You can stop now, Captain.  Captain, stop, now!  But in the fourth lock he was perfect.
"Saw lots of birds, flying fish, a dead alligator, but hardly a living soul."
It seemed surreal.  The lake looked limitless, and as I watched a storm in the distance I was glad we were hugging the shoreline.  It took 3 days to cross Florida and once we popped out on the Atlantic near Stuart we headed south, spending a couple of days in beautiful Hobe Sound, relaxing and provisioning in what's know as Florida's Treasure Coast.

Luckily, in 1997 it was still possible to anchor for free in the ICW, but at some point the laws changed, in part to discourage transient boats (spoiling resident's views).  We eventually moved to a marina in West Palm Beach, where we'd make our final preparations before leaving the United States for good.

Up next:  First Try

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To read from Chapter 1:  A Rough Start

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