Pirates, Sinking, and other such Calamities

Tom Hanks captains his ship through the pirate-infested waters off the coast of Somalia near the horn of Africa. With an admirable display of courage and leadership, he endures being taken hostage by the Somali pirates.

Robert Redford, on a solo voyage across the Indian Ocean in his 39-foot sailing vessel, hits a shipping container, encounters a storm, and loses his boat (and, perhaps his life).

Inevitably, when we tell others of our plans to cross oceans and sail around the world, two topics quickly surface: Pirates and Storms. “Aren’t you scared?” “What will you do if you encounter pirates?” “How will you survive if you are caught in a storm?” These worries are now magnified for many by two recent movies, All is Lost and Captain Phillips.

Of the two movies, Captain Phillips, is the much better film (in my humble opinion). From the first minute of the film to the final moments, the film is intense and pregnant with the sense that bad things are likely to happen. The production of this film is incredible, and Tom Hanks continues to prove that he is one of the best actors ever. Hanks provides a model for displaying courage under pressure.

I was eager to see the second movie, but I was quite disappointed with All is Lost. Robert Redford is a great actor, and performed admirably in a film with almost no dialogue. One reason I was frustrated with this movie is that his actions as a sailor were just plain inexplicable and inexcusable at times. I have gathered limited sailing knowledge over the past couple of years, but, even to me, it was obvious that his nautical decision-making was questionable. The film also lacked any character-development on the part of Redford (We don’t even know his name. In the credits, he is listed as “Our Man.”) I’m sure this was intentional, but it made the film less interesting. I found it difficult to relate to this generic gentleman.

Stepping out of my movie critic shoes, the most significant thing about watching these two movies is that I watched them with Cindy. And… she still wants to go sailing around the world with me! This was the ultimate test! Other than unforeseen health issues, I’m not sure anything can stop us now. If she can watch a sailor lost at sea and another taken hostage by pirates, and is still willing to abandon terra firma to sail the vast blue sea, then our dreams are in pretty good shape.

What do we make of the dangers of piracy and storms at sea? First, piracy. There are well-known areas of the globe (primarily off the Somali coast) where the risk of piracy is quite high. However, the vast majority of the seas are safe. It is quite easy to avoid those high-risk areas. We do not plan to sail into waters which are known to be high risk for piracy. Does this insure that we will never have our safety threatened? Not at all, but there are no guarantees of that at home. (Ask those folks in New Jersey and elsewhere who were minding there own business when they were attacked and knocked unconscious in the “knock-out” game.) People are assaulted, have their homes broken into, and otherwise suffer violence every day on land. This threat doesn’t disappear on water, but, as long as one uses common sense, the likelihood of violence is quite low. I am certain that the ocean is a much safer place than many cities.

Cindy encountered this pirate at "Squid Lips" in Melbourne, FL

Cindy encountered this pirate at “Squid Lips” in Melbourne, FL

What about storms? How will we deal with those? First, we will use our common sense to avoid all we can. Sailors have been roaming the seas for hundreds and thousands of years. Global weather patterns are fairly predictable. Taking advantage of readily available knowledge significantly lowers the likelihood of encountering life-threatening storms at sea. We plan on staying out of areas during their tropical storm season. We plan on being smart about when to leave port to head to our next destination. Beatitude is also well-equipped with several layers of safety equipment. The bottom line is… we are not really worried! No one’s life is immune from the possibility of bad things happening at any time. We don’t think the risk is any higher out on the open oceans. The wonder and adventure is worth the risk!

Even living at the dock, one may be subject to attack by wild beasts

Even living at the dock, one may be subject to attack by wild beasts

I must pause to be thankful for my amazing wife, who is not exactly an adventurer and risk-taker by nature, but is all-in for our future sailing plans. She has displayed remarkable courage already and does not shrink from future adventure. I would not represent reality well if I did not acknowledge that she has more fear and apprehension than do I. But, that just means she shows more courage than I!

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor, catch the trade winds in you sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

“Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most.” – Fyodor Dostoevsky

“To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself.” – Soren Kierkegaard

Besides, we always have Wilson!

Besides, we always have Wilson!

(By the way, I came across a discussion of All is Lost on a cruisers forum. The comments of a young lady named Julie helped me make the most sense of the movie. [Spoiler Alert!] All was lost for Redford long before he took off on this solo ocean voyage. He had lost everything important to him prior to leaving. He never intended to return home. He, however, did not want to just kill himself. He wanted to go out with a perception of valor and courage. This explains his sometimes inept handling of himself and the boat. He was a man who felt he had nothing to live for and wanted to die. I found this helpful and it at least somewhat rehabilitated my opinion of the movie.)

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish…!

Those of you who devoured all the wonderful books of Dr. Seuss growing up know the rest of the phrase. But, we’ll return to this later.

The Crew of Beatitude.

The Crew of Beatitude.

Monday and Tuesday of this week, Cindy and I took Beatitude out for another mini-adventure. We’ve been down the ICW southward on a number of occasions, so this time we decided to head north. Mid-morning we eased out of our slip, down the river, and across the bay. It was a beautiful day with a light chop on Tampa Bay. Instead of following the main channel of the ICW under the Sunshine Skyway bridge, we saved 7.5 nautical miles by taking the Sunshine Skyway Channel which parallels the bridge and highway to the west. The initial entry to this channel was quite dicey! Our depth meter read 3.9 ft on one occasion (our draft is 4’3″, so we should have hit bottom at that point, but, thankfully we didn’t!). We finally decided that the first couple of daymarks marking the beginning of the channel were useless. So, we simply followed our chart plotter and GPS, intersecting the channel a couple of hundred yards down and never saw less than 6 or 7 feet along the way.

One of the many dolphins sighted.

One of the many dolphins sighted.

Dolphin.

Dolphin.

It is always challenging to venture off to new places and take new routes which we’ve never traveled. It’s also nice to have a change of scenery on occasion. The Sunshine Skyway Channel eventually joined back up with the main ICW channel. We took a 90° turn to port and continued through the Pinellas Bayway bascule (draw) bridge. We then faced another one of those 65′ clearance bridges that are prolific along the ICW. These things always cause my blood pressure and pulse to rise. As probably mentioned previously, our mast was cut down to 64.5′ feet to allow us to navigate the ICW. These 65′ bridges make me wish it was a few feet shorter. I hold my breath and pray every time we approach one. Once we’ve passed under the first part of the structure without hearing the sound of crunching metal all is well again.

The Pinellas Bayway Bascule Bridge.

The Pinellas Bayway Bascule Bridge.

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After having passed under the second bridge, we entered Boca Ciega bay. We continued across the bay to anchor at the Gulfport anchorage. Gulfport is a beautiful little artsy town complete with its share of idiosyncratic residents. We stopped one of the locals to ask for a recommendation for dinner. With her recommendations, we decided to eat at Pia’s Trattoria, where we enjoyed some fine Italian dining and wine. Very nice! The weather was perfect and the anchorage was placid and calm when we returned to our boat. The only downside to our home for the night was the wild party taking place on shore late into the night which delayed and interrupted our sleep.

Enjoying my wine flight at Pia's.

Enjoying my wine flight at Pia’s.

Perusing the menu at Pia's.

Perusing the menu at Pia’s.

Cindy in front of our evening restaurant in Gulfport.

Cindy in front of our evening restaurant in Gulfport.

As we walked down the pier from the dinghy dock, the seagulls were lined up to welcome us ashore.  They flew off ceremoniously, a few at a time, as we made our way down the pier.

As we walked down the pier from the dinghy dock, the seagulls were lined up to welcome us ashore. They flew off ceremoniously, a few at a time, as we made our way down the pier.

Cindy and our Dinghy at the dock.

Cindy and our Dinghy at the dock.

Beatitude at anchor.

Beatitude at anchor.

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Tuesday morning, we awoke to a beautiful sunrise and I decided to rig up one of our spinning reels and see if I might catch any thing by casting off the side of the boat. After 10 or 15 minutes of nothing, Cindy asked for a try. Approximately 10 seconds into her first cast, a fish was on the line. She landed a nice catfish, which I carefully released overboard after it posed for a photograph.

Sunrise over Boca Ciega Bay.

Sunrise over Boca Ciega Bay.

Catfish!

Catfish!

We then weighed anchor and pursued an alternative route home. New territory once again! After dropping a couple of lines into the water behind the boat, we exited the bay by heading out the North Channel into the gulf. It seems like the fish always strike when either exiting or entering a channel from the gulf. Just prior to exiting the channel, the drag started clicking and I hurried over to grab the rod and reel in our prize. We are actually getting a lot better at this fishing business. Cindy took the helm and slowed down the boat, while I brought our fish. It was a fish of 5 lbs. or so. What kind? I had no clue! I got out my fish identification charts and we finally decided it was a…. (If you couldn’t finish the title of this blog post) bluefish! After I pulled the hook from his razor teeth-lined mouth, I sat down to read about the bluefish:

“Known as ‘pirana like,’ watch your fingers around their sharp and strong jaws. They can bite your fingers right off. Have been known to snap fast, bite fingers and bite lures into pieces.”

WHAT! Now you tell me! I feel fortunate to still be in possession of 10 fingers.

Bluefish!!

Bluefish!!

We made our way out into the gulf and back into Tampa Bay using the Egmont Key Channel. We were passed by a large tanker ship with dolphins jumping and playing in its bow wake. Both days were, in fact, filled with dolphin sightings. We must’ve seen at least 25-30 on the first day and quite a few more on the second.

The bow of the tanker with a dolphin playing in the wake.

The bow of the tanker with a dolphin playing in the wake.

A dolphin just in front of the tanker.

A dolphin just in front of the tanker.

For those who’ve been out on Tampa Bay, you know that there are crab traps everywhere marked by small buoys floating on the water attached to the traps on the bottom by a rope. One tries to avoid these when possible. But, there are times when one reacts too late. Now, fortunately (for us, not for the crab trap owner) we have line cutters attached to our props that cut the line rather than allow it to wrap itself around the prop disabling our engine. We heard the usual clatter associated with one of these buoys and lines being chewed up by our props and we continued on just fine. A few minutes later, however, I noticed an object surfing along behind the boat. It was a crab trap! While not interfering with our prop, it was obviously wrapped around something. We decided to stop the boat and I donned my wetsuit, flippers, mask and snorkel and took the plunge to cut it loose. When I inspected the bottom it was nowhere to be found. Bringing Beatitude to a stop must have released it and it sank 18 feet to the bottom of Tampa Bay.

The Crab Trap surfing behind our boat!

The Crab Trap surfing behind our boat!

Preparing to go in to release the crab trap.

Preparing to go in to release the crab trap.

The water was cool enough to take my breath away, even in my wetsuit.

The water was cool enough to take my breath away, even in my wetsuit.

What was left of the crab pot.

What was left of the crab pot.

As we crossed the bay and made our way back down the river, Cindy spent some time at the helm as she becomes more comfortable controlling our sailing home. Once back, we perpetuated our return home ritual of giving Beatitude a thorough washing (which she really needed.) What a great couple of days!

The Admiral at the Helm

The Admiral at the Helm

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Around the World

This was a melancholy morning. Our friends, Tim and Annie, aboard their 40′ Island Packet, You Bet, motored passed Beatitude around 8:45 a.m. Conflicting emotions of excitement and yearning welled up in us. We were excited for our friends as they embarked on a dream several years in the making. Earlier this year they sold their home and belongings, moved aboard You Bet, and made preparations to sail around the world. Today, their adventure began in earnest. All the necessary planning accomplished, they set out for distant horizons. In a few months, they will transit the Panama Canal to cross the South Pacific. I am so happy for them and will eagerly await updates of their travels as they circumnavigate this beautiful planet. We have enjoyed the occasions when we have been able to sit down together and discuss our future cruising plans. We have gleaned much from their preparations to set off on an extended voyage that will help us as we prepare for our own.

You Bet slips out of the marina this morning

You Bet slips out of the marina this morning

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We will miss the camaraderie and the excitement we felt as we would sit and talk about our plans to cross oceans. Hence, the yearning. The yearning to throw off our dock lines and explore. To visit new places. To experience the open sea. To explore. To experience other cultures. To set out ourselves for unknown, far-off places. To do what few others have ever done. To cross oceans under the power of our own sails. To follow in the footsteps of the great ocean explorers of times past, Columbus, Magellan, Drake, Cook, and others. Aaahh… to dream. Until the time comes for our departure, I read as much as I can and make and revise lists of those things we need to do before we leave.

This is one of my favorite books to look through and study in preparation for our voyage.

This is one of my favorite books to look through and study in preparation for our voyage.

To Tim and Annie, Bon Voyage. We hope to meet you in the islands.

Wilson is ready to go!

Wilson is ready to go!