There are certain movies I’ve watched, that start out with a scene near the end of the story. I’ve always enjoyed those movies because it begs the question “what happened?” And usually goes on to tell how they got to the opening scene. This post is a little bit like that.
Please enjoy this video clip of Shannon describing the scenario:
“where are you right now?”
“well, I’m stuck on a sandbar in Boca Chica Florida.”
“Yeah? How’d that happen”?
” Well I went out and tried to sail to Key West and …it was pretty rough. My sails are shredded. The coast guard came by and escorted me back here… and so I got stuck on this sand bar when the tide went out… I’m gonna be here for about 6 more hours. But listen to that mast singing me a song. Oh now it’s starting to rain”
Here’s what happened.
Shannon had done a lot of work to figure out the logistics of this trip, which was eventually to be in Key West. He had looked for parking, Called around the area for weeks, looked at maps, looked for marinas and he had called a bunch of them to find out where we could stay for a few nights. We were thrilled to find out, that because he works on a military base in Alabama, and has a “CAC” card, (Common access card) that we would be able to park at the Naval Air Station on Boca Chica, and pay only $2 a day to park. In addition, the route from Boca Chica to Key West by boat, was one of the only routes we could take in our sailboat that had 22 foot clearance under bridges we’d need for our 20 foot mast.
We’d driven from Alabama down to Homestead, Florida the day before (a fifteen hour drive), and had been watching the nautical forecast during the 3 hour drive from Homestead down to Boca Chica. What we’d read was that there was a “small vessel advisory” in the morning, that *should* move out and improve “through the day”. As we drove south through Key Largo, Marathon, and Islamorada, we frequently looked out over the water to see if we thought it looked as bad as the reports claimed. It didn’t look bad at all! It was a beautiful day, the water looked clear and inviting, and we were not concerned.
As we were very well aware of the fact that we were novice sailors, we’d said out loud that we were just going to launch the Shinin Brite at Boca Chica, and motor the 7 miles or so around to Key West, to the marina that Shannon had reserved for us for the first couple of nights. That was the original plan. BUT once we got out of the channel and into the water, it was impossible to resist the overpowering urge to put up the sails for a little bit. It was beautiful! There were some waves but nothing that seemed too daunting. Shannon looked over at me and said “let’s put the sails up!”
We put up the mainsail and the jib, and within 3 seconds we were practically airborne. The Shinin’ Brite took off like a shot, and we headed strait out into open water. In a matter of about 6 minutes we’d gone from 5 foot waves, which were larger than a beginner is really comfortable managing, to 10-15 foot swells (the boat is 17 feet long). About that time, as we were getting pitched back and forth around the cockpit, and I witnessed Shannon slam both shins into one of the benches, I said “I think we should probably go back.” He agreed and said ,”Ok, take down the sails”. * Side note – taking down the sails was no small task in this scenario. Neither was fighting with the steering tiller, which Shannon was doing with all of his strength agains the waves and current. I had to stand up, while we were bobbing up and down these 15 foot waves, and *handle* the sails, which were flapping wildly. I pulled the mainsail down in a big bundle, and when I did, put my fingers right through a rip in the top of the sail. My fingers grabbing the sail made an even deeper rip plus a new one. I’m now holding onto the boom for dear life, and attempting to wrap velcro straps around the mainsail to hold it down, as we bobbed up and down. That’s when I turned over my left Shoulder to say “I’m so sorry I just ripped our main sail “, and saw a large coast guard tug boat right at our stern. The 24ish year old coast guard sailor yelled “are you ok?” Shannon told him he thought so. At this point I was trying SO hard to keep my pride intact. I looked over nonchalantly and said “we’re just fine”.
After yelling back and forth with the coast guard for a while, where we assured them we were heading back to Boca Chica, they insisted on following us back in to make sure we got back ok. Shannon cued up the outboard motor, and we eventually made it back into the Boca Chica Channel, and then back to the Marina. At some point the coast guard had come up beside us again to let us know they’d be waiting for us at the marina. We expected to get a ticket – but we never saw them again after that.
I have a friend from Alabama, who’d moved down to Key West about 6 years ago. As we were about to take the boat out of the water, he called to tell me that he knew some people who were having a private party all weekend, and they were hosting the Zac Brown Band, and a private concert for 80 people. We made plans to meet him at 8pm at a brewery in Key West, where we’d take his boat and watch from the water. As it was now about 5pm, we had plenty of time to take the Shinin’ Brite back out into the channel and look for a good place to anchor for the night. We’d hoped to anchor her close to the main road, so that we could come back from the concert and find her easily. We motored her exactly 5 minute away from Boca Chica marina, when that sand bar (in the beginning video )appeared out of nowhere. Yes, it was low tide. After I called my friend to report that we wouldn’t be making the concert, we settled in for the next six hours.
As we were not in a great spot to park it for the night, we knew we needed to move as soon as we were able. We lit the camp stove and made one of our dehydrated hiking meals for dinner. Took naps. Listened to music. Watched the sunset. It wasn’t a bad set up. In fact, it was pretty spectacular. Around 11pm when we finally had enough water to successfully float off of the island we’d been sitting on for 6 hours, we motored back to the boat launch. * Side note – there were a lot of people hanging out on their boats in the marina this entire time. I have no doubt at all whatsoever that a few of them were watching all of our shenanigans.
Once we got back to the marina, we’d decided to go and get the truck and trailer, get the boat out of the water, and drive on down to the Key West Marina. We got the truck and drove over to the lot where the trailer was held, and discovered that the gate was locked. The only option at this point was to climb back onto the Shinin Brite, (which was now tied to the cleat at the boat launch,) and wait for morning. We woke up with the sun, to all of the marina boaters walking their dogs and such. We finally loaded her back onto the trailer around 7am and headed for Key West. * Side note – one of the coolest things happened while we were taking down the mast and stowing the rigging for the ride to Key West. We heard bugles playing The Reveille, just on the other side of some bushes beside the road. Almost immediately following, was the roar of jet engines, and 2 fighter jets taking off in unison.
Next, we headed to Key West! That’s up next!