I bought the
boat. All I had to do was bring it 150 miles from his house to my house and
that would be that. But I hadn't sailed in 15 years and in nothing larger than
boats half the size of the Meadow Lark. Two friends agreed to go up with me,
and the owner would give us a brief shakedown on handling the boat. But when we
got there, the owner, unfortunately, had broken his foot; all he could do was
hand over the documents, the key to the auxiliary and a map of the utterly
Byzantine contours of Biscayne Bay. We took three days coming down to Key West.
We were becalmed, spent hours under small craft warnings with the lee rail
pouring foam, were becalmed again and finally, rarity of rarities in the Keys,
we were caught in a fog. We listened to the big diesels of shrimp boats moving
about us and knew we could be run over almost before we saw a boat coming. We
were nearly home but took a straight inshore tack to see if we could tell where
we were by fetching up on the beach at some point we'd recognize.
We headed through
the cotton, under power, totally disoriented. Suddenly the mangroves were in
front of us and we were in two feet of water: Saddle-bunch Key. We knew where
we were but night was falling and we had some distance to go. We headed out of
the shallows, where but for the extraordinary shoal capabilities of the Meadow
Lark we'd have gone aground, and darkness fell in fog around us.
lights of the desalinization plant appeared like a switchboard in the sky and
we turned in to Stock Island and a safe mooring. Toward the end the wind had
blown weirdly through the fog and we sailed blind at a pace that was unnerving.
Then we were in and secured. We fussed over the springlines, gave the Meadow
Lark one last look and headed home.
The last thing to
be done before attempting to fit the big sharpie into our routine was to make
an extensive shakedown cruise; not me and my competent companions but me and my
family, including a hysterical if glamorous bird dog named Molly.
We began to get
things ready: fresh water, groceries, charts, books and blankets, a collecting
net for our son, dog food and a first-aid kit. As we prepared, the weather got
steadily worse. It rose to Condition Two and stayed there. We kept eating the
perishables among our trip groceries and replacing them and waiting and eating
the perishables again. Every morning we got up, one ear on the wind, and sure
enough it would continue to howl and the dry palm leaves rattled against the
house and the same iron sky poured at us from the northwest at 40 miles an
We decided to go
anyway. Our plan was to sail west to Boca Grande and look for a protected
anchorage there. We loaded the latest groceries into the car and deliberately
took the shore road to Stock Island, where the boat was docked. Breakers were
rolling toward Key West from the horizon and the only craft we saw, commercial
fishing boats, appeared and disappeared in explosions of white water.
went into the Meadow Lark, and I started the auxiliary, noticing the clatter of
shrouds and rigging overhead. We freed the lines, reversed into the basin and
picked our way out through the commercial fishing boats crowded in because of
the weather. At the end of the long channel by the desalinization plant, I
could see the weather and white water, but we'd been waiting a week or more and
we were just going to go.
protected water swept by us. We were still under power when we hit the first
big waves. The boat began lifting and plunging down through it. A couple of
times green water broke over the deck and poured down and out the scuppers in
an organized way; most of the heavy spray that we knocked into the air blew
across the deck ahead of the house. We stayed fairly dry.
I wanted to get
out of the commercial channel before attempting to get the sails up, but by
chance I glanced at the engine temperature gauge. Perhaps I had smelled
something first. The water pump had failed and the engine was dangerously
I shut it off and
we lay in the seaway, heaving with the rollers that passed under us as they
raced for the Key West shore. I rigged our heaviest anchor on the foredeck in
case the worst happened and we got blown toward the beach. The beach itself was
making a low rumble to our right and we could see the green water race,
elevate, whiten and break on the shore.