The blackness engulfs us. I stand watch while Cindy sleeps. We are situated twenty-five miles off shore, east of the Brunswick, Georgia inlet. A reddish-orange gibbous moon lifts its sleepy head out of the eastern sea. I smell like fish. It is 12:17 a.m., early Wednesday morning, as I sit in the cockpit typing this paragraph. We left Charleston Harbor Marina eighteen hours ago. In those eighteen hours, we have covered one hundred twenty miles on our way south. Cindy felt queasy throughout most of the morning, but the “mal de mer” subsided by mid-afternoon. I dropped the fishing lines in the water around nine a.m. Within a couple of hours, I had landed two, 2 1/2 foot long king mackerels which will provide enough meat for several meals. I decided I had enough fish for the day, so I didn’t put that line back into the water. Later on, just as I had determined to bring in the port line, a fish hit that line. After several minutes of fight and some significant arm muscle-burn later, we landed a nice three and a half foot king mackerel. That’s why I smell like fish. The other highlight of the day was not one, but two visitations by pods of dolphins. It was glorious to watch them frolic and play at the bow for ten to fifteen minutes each time. What a special treat to be provided our very own dolphin show aboard Beatitude.
The heat and humidity envelop us. It’s obvious we’re back in Florida, although not quite as far south as we had envisioned. Our goal when we left Charleston on Tuesday morning, was to make Miami by Friday morning, and cross the Gulf Stream this weekend — meaning that we would be in the Bahamas by week’s end. But, alas… that was not to be. It is 2:20 p.m. on Thursday afternoon as I write this paragraph. Much has happened since the preceding paragraph. Wednesday was a gorgeous day out on the water with light breezes and benign seas. We motor-sailed under bright sunshine. I did not fish because I had no place to put any more fish in the freezer. Then, shortly after 5 p.m., an alarm went off on the autopilot. It could not steer the boat anymore due to some sort of overload. I called Garmin right away, and after several minutes of frustrating conversation, the prognosis was that I needed to head to shore and have a Garmin technician come out and take a look. This was easier said than done since we were hours from the nearest passable inlet. The Ponce Inlet was only a couple of hours away, but the charts say it can be very difficult. There was no way I would attempt that at night. So, on we went throughout the night, hand-steering in less than comfortable conditions. That wind clocked around on our nose and Beatitude did her best, banging into the waves. It was hard work behind the helm to steer in the right direction. Neither of us slept much because we did very short shifts steering. Given the conditions, I decided to lower the sails. The electric winch stopped working just shy of having the genoa completely furled. When I released the mainsail halyard, nothing happened. I managed to lower the main by pulling in on the reefing lines until the third reef was in. Then I was able to muscle the rest of it down, discovering at the end that the halyard had jumped the pulley and was wedged in the block. A few hours later, the forward navigation lights failed, prompting us to put up our temporary lights instead.
As you can see, it wasn’t a good night. We pulled into the Port Canaveral Inlet twelve hours after losing the autopilot, at 5 a.m. We last entered into this inlet back in April on our return from the Bahamas, surrounded by multiple cruise ships. There was no large ship traffic this morning as we made our way into the protected waters of the port. We pulled over to a marina gas dock waiting on the Port Canaveral Lock and drawbridge to open at six. I needed to find a marina, but, of course, none would be reachable until eight a.m. Around eight, I reached Cindy, from Harbortown marina, situated directly on the canal. We were thankful to pull into our slip and tie up our lines for a while. After checking in, we took a two hour nap while Garmin scrambled to find someone to take a look at our autopilot. The Garmin Customer Service did a great job finding a local Garmin dealer/installer to come investigate. Around 3 p.m., Bob, the owner of Gerlach Engineering, and his excellent technician came over and found the problem immediately. When the unit was installed the ram from the autopilot which connects to the rudders was not securely fastened. The bolts had loosened and the ram had slipped off. Twenty minutes after arrival, the suspected problem was fixed and a dockside setup was performed. That should do it! I trust I’ll not have any surprises when I leave the slip.
So, our landfall in the Bahamas is delayed. Although, we’re hot and tired, things could be much worse. I’m thankful we are safe and sound in a nice little marina with friendly people. I’m thankful that capable, efficient, and responsive workers were available to address the problems. We may hang out here for two or three days for nicer weather to continue our trip southward. The outstanding, crystal clear waters of the Bahamas may have to wait a few days longer.