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.

(Photo notes: I'm glad King Tut had a door through the transom, compared with climbing two steps to enter Tomboy, r.  Tom Lazio, a retired English teacher from upstate NY, was the first to encourage my early writings.  I'd mail him stories from Puerto Rico, which he reviewed, annotated and returned.  Tom passed away last year and is survived by wife Pam, who cooked the most fabulous Christmas turkey dinner on their trawler.  It was demoralizing at the time.)

Cap would throw out ideas for names since mine were total crap. (I offer Cap's name as an example...need I say more?)  In general, the 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 on the sides.

Cap was anxious to be on our way, but we still had to do something with Trigger; Czar needed some 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.  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, yum.  I was happy to play Swabbie, for my idea of gourmet cooking is sauteing onions and garlic. Single-hander Tim's beautiful thank-you gift was dropped onto our deck, and Cap made the most of it, including the lobster quiche, above.  I could never...

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 in a box which was brought on board 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 sod to line the tray from his Army footlocker (brought 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 preferred to wait until he reached 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 just not handling it very well.  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."
A friend's sister who lived nearby offered to keep Trigger at her place but it didn't work out; so at the last minute we scrambled for a storage facility, leaving my baby with 1/4 of a tank of gas and Mom's steamer trunk in the back. They 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.

I hate being rushed.  It gives me ageda.
"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, 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. 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,
"Lo & behold, we were off from the marina at noon.  I was nervous as hell; 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 IntraCoastal 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.

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 precariously return with cups and plates 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."  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.


"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 type of drawbridge.  Nobody told me.  Good thing the name wasn't on the boat.  As I recall, we waited until the bridge opened for other boats and slipped through with them.

We motored for roughly 4 hours and anchored in Sarasota. It probably wouldn't have taken as long if Cap didn't insist I steer just a little.  I fishtailed along and hated it the whole time, but at least I knew I could steer the boat in a pinch. 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 in the shade on the bow, a cool wind blowing his hair and mine.

Boaters usually wave to one another, as we did to the large power boat which raced 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 cursed while reaching for anything to grab.

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 furniture, 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.  Dishes, placed semi-upright to fit in the tiny space, rolled back and forth, and condiments were spilling out. The stupid hinged bathroom door was swinging and folding and making a racket, and the fridge door was also swinging open and shut, but luckily the contents stayed put.

I hopped over my strewn possessions and grabbed the wheel.  Through the front window I watched Czar steadying 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 tried to straighten up enough to make a path through the cabin.  After that, we installed makeshift barriers.   I'd brought along my Dad's 36" drafting ruler, which fit across the bookshelf beautifully.  Dowels prevented the galley cabinets from sliding, Cap attached hook and eye latches to the freezer and refrigerator doors, and since the bathroom door never stayed closed, it was folded in half and kept in place with a rock.  I began a list of things to secure prior to raising the anchor.

(Photo note: I painted a replacement floor after the teak one disintegrated; but the rock is still against the door. It's difficult to see what's what in this tiny space, but here you can see the split door a bit better. The two steps from the galley were removable, and the little latch on the left secures the trap door to the engine compartment. Underneath the carpeted floor was a separate bilge, so everything had to be removed to either inspect it or work on the generator.)

We picked up a new VHF radio for up top 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 return it where?  We ran across little more than obscure, independent marine stores, no major chains.

We were preparing to enter the Okeechobee Waterway, recommended for boats with less than 10-foot drafts.  Ours was only 3 so Cap wasn't overly concerned; but we had a bunch of locks to pass through, and this would be our first real challenge.

For a novice, I think Cap did quite well.  The first lockmaster was very helpful 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."
We circled around at the entrance to Lake Okeechobee because I placed doubt in Cap's mind of his direction; until he realized, and 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 the cabinet underneath the garbage can.  The door to that cabinet also swung open and shut during wakes; as did most other cabinet 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.

It was also the first time we ran aground, after anchoring too close to shore.  The boat swung during the night, and we were 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."  

Between the two, and the passage of time, we eventually drifted off our mound, but ooooh, he was mad.  We were trying to do something called 'kedging' but Cap needed to put a spare anchor into the dinghy before he took off.

"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.

"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.  From Stuart on the Atlantic we headed south and spent a couple days in beautiful Hobe Sound, relaxing and provisioning in what's know as Florida's Treasure Coast.
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 made final preparations and waited for a weather window to head for the Bahamas.

Up next:  First Try

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To read from Chapter 1:  A Rough Start


  1. Ohhhh. I'm torn between being horrified about what you both went through and laughing. (Sorry) LOVE the bascule bridge part!! But I want to hear more about what happened when Cap's steering wheel came off and you had such trouble getting to the one down below. Also, I wish there was more about the getting grounded part. I am reminded of Hyacinth on BBC when she and her hubby went 'yachting.' I think there's a series plot in the making here... And there's probably three or four episodes right here in this one blog. Keep up the good work... Love it!

  2. That's alright; I was laughing while writing. Thanks for the comments; I've added some bits I deleted during editing. More ungroundings to come. Thanks so much!


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