I couldn’t have scripted a more perfect day. I spectacular sunrise greeted me as I flipped the switches and pressed the starter buttons causing the little diesels to rumble to life. With just a bit of current and not much breeze, the new to me catamaran tugged lightly at her dock lines as if anticipating the sail to come. I grew up on a small Kansas farm, dreaming and reading about sailing on the ocean alone, today I would once more live out that dream.
I was in the familiar waters of the canals and waterways of Ft. Lauderdale, the Venice of the Americas. In the last two decades, I’ve lived aboard, sailed and motored the beautiful mansion and palm tree lined waterways over a hundred times in half a dozen boats. I’ve come to know the bridge tenders by their accents, memorized their schedules, and learned to wait patiently if I arrived minutes too late for the openings scheduled every half hour. This time I hit every bridge perfectly and didn’t have to wait once. I went through Sunrise Boulevard, East Oakland Park, Commercial Boulevard, and East Atlantic Boulevard while tagging along behind a beautiful hundred and something foot long motor yacht appropriately named Living The Dream with its large LTD chrome initials boldly backlit on the stern. Finally, I followed a midsized fifty-foot sport fisherman and a sixty-foot Sea Ray motor cruiser through the Hillsboro Beach Bridge which opens on demand and out thorough the tricky Hillsboro inlet to the Atlantic Ocean.
Waves were a little dicey in the inlet. A large sign on the bridge proclaimed the inlet was dangerous and for experienced boaters with up to date local knowledge only. I guess I qualify since I have run this one many times, just not lately. The tide was coming in and the wind was blowing with it, so it wasn’t too bad. The channel was narrow but well-marked. The dredge wasn’t operating that day
Once I was out in open water, the waves weren’t too rough, and the wind was steady. I set the autopilot to steer the boat as I went to the mast. The boat was bouncing a bit, but I was able to wind the main halyard (rope used to raise the main sail) around the winch and slowly crank the sail up. I decided to leave a double reef in (reducing the sail area by about a third) since I was single handing and the wind was forecast to be 10-15 on the beam. As I secured the sail, the engine overheating alarm went off. I slowly walked back to the helm keeping a firm hold on the boat and shut off the starboard engine. One hand for you and one for the boat is the mantra I practice. It is especially important when sailing alone with no one to come back for you if you fall off.
I then unfurled the genoa (sail in front of the mast). I was able to shut down the port engine and enjoy the peace and quiet of sailing. The autopilot kept us on course and the wind and Gulf Stream pushed me along north at 7-8 knots, a very respectable speed. I could see large squalls with towering thunderheads, lightning, and blinding rain several miles behind and in front of me further out to sea heading west, but they didn’t get to me. Eventually the sun came out and I paralleled the coast about 6 miles off shore.
The visibility on the boat is great. I was able to see very well from the helm and the cockpit table watching the tell tails to see that the sails were properly trimmed for the best speed and to watch for traffic. I had to alter course for a few fishing boats and a moderately sized tug towing a barge with a big dredge.
The color of the water on the edge of the Stream is such a beautiful dark blue, I always marvel at it. The steady wind off the ocean and the shade of the hard top kept me cool. I counted on the trip taking 6 hours, but I made it in 4. I pulled into the wide, safe, easy Lake Worth inlet between mansion filled Palm Beach and high-rise condo lined Singer Island. Using the single engine and the autopilot, I was able to drop and stow the main and furl the genoa alone with little fuss. Docking on one motor is a challenge but I made it without much fuss.
I love sailing up or down the coast. It is such a relaxing, enjoyable way to travel. I am truly living the dream I had as a child.