CHAPTER 2 — be advised…

This is US Coast Guard – Miami, Florida Group, US Coast Guard – Miami, Florida Group. Be advised that channel 16 is a hailing and distress channel only. Take all other traffic to another working channel. US Coast Guard – Miami, Florida Group, out.” The Cubans were driving them crazy again this morning!

VHF radio transmissions in most maritime locals are a classic example of societal necessity, Anglo-Saxon civility and common courtesy. And then there’s Miami and the upper Keys. Anywhere else the typical message sent out on channel 16 might be a true emergency, a hailing request for a marine operator’s assistance or a come back transmission to some other vessel. Regardless of the exact nature of the communication, the conversation would be immediately switched to another, agreed upon, channel to ensure that 16 remained available. Even when a boat with children aboard is reported sinking, I’ve heard some seemingly heartless Coast Guardsman routinely come back with “Please acknowledge; switch and answer channel 23 alpha – US Coast Guard, out”

A man’s voice crackled back on the radio:

“Jodete y aprieta el culo Guardacostas!

Oye, Luis tenemos tres mas pez rey, pero estamos fuera de la cerveza. ?Cuando vas a volar el muelle?”

I don’t believe the fisherman’s suggestion was anatomically possible but evidently the Coast Guard radio operator had either quit caring or just didn’t understand the instructions.

Again the VHF sprang to life…

This is US Coast Guard – Miami, Florida Group, US Coast Guard – Miami, Florida Group. Be advised that channel 16 is …

I turned it off.

An old Irish blessing asked for “the wind to always be at your back and the sun to shine warm upon your face.” Irishmen obviously never spent any time sailing in these latitudes. I’ll have to put more gook on my nose in a little while and having the wind at your back is a pain in the ass. If I had a bigger headsail and a whisker pole I could go wing and wing but, as it is, I’ll just let the main full out and hope for the best. No need to unfurl the yankee. It’ll just be masked and worthless with the wind coming from aft.

Last night I decided to anchor in the old channel on the south side of Key Biscayne just off the entrance to something that shows on the charts as “No Name Harbor” – never been in there. I set the hook early. The breeze was shifting to the southwest by the time I cleared Cape Florida and the lighthouse coming in from the Atlantic. Around here, an afternoon weather system shifting quickly clockwise east to south to west usually means a north or northeaster overnight and the wind always increases. No need to chance it by going on out into Biscayne Bay and turning south. There was no place to duck in short of the shallow water at the north end of Elliott Key and I didn’t feature a night of hobby horsing at anchor in open water. Facing a headwind in the channel, I had dropped the canvas and cranked up the engine. The 2 cylinder Volvo-Penta diesel is my faithful companion, and I stopped being a purest years ago when it’s comes to narrow passages, shoals, and stiff currents.

Just as I had put out the danforth, the NOAA weatherman on the VHF, whom most sailors refer to as “Doctor Doom”, had confirmed my forecast by predicting 25 knot north to northeast winds subsiding to 10 to 15 by morning. With a taunt anchor rode and in the lee of the Australian Pine covered island, my two or three glasses of cheap red had led to warmed-up Chinese pork fried rice and the last of my head lettuce for a salad.

Unless I’m going ashore, my routine never changes: After evening meal – heat water in kettle on kerosene stove, wash and stow cook and flatware as more water begins to boil, and then pour some hot and cold water together to fill a plastic gallon jug. Hopefully it’s dark or I’m in some hidden cove because, striped down with soap bar and towel in hand, my next step is up into the open cockpit.

Le Esperance only carries forty gallons of fresh water but a gallon bath is always required of captain and, if there is any, crew before bedtime. Once you learn how to ration the jug of water it’s not too hard to wash off the day’s sweat and grime but sometimes you have to forget modesty.

On one occasion I was forced to anchor for the night off the little public park next to, and virtually beneath, the Las Olas Blvd. Bridge over the Inter-coastal Waterway in Ft. Lauderdale. The sun had set well before gallon bath time but, with all the streetlights and other nighttime activity, it never got dark. Long after I had finished my dinner, pedestrians crossing on the south side of the bridge were still stopping to look straight down at me. Sitting aft next to the tiller, I remember pondering the situation and pouring myself another Johnny Walker.

About 9:00 I said “to hell with it”! The hot water in the kettle had cooled and a couple of curious gals had ensconced themselves on the bridge not a hundred feet above me but I was taking a bath.

Buck-ass naked, gallon jug of cold water in hand and having had one too many, I stepped up the companion way and out of the cabin.

The women were still there, now unabashedly gawking in my direction.

Cupping my hands together and bringing them up to my mouth, I faced them full on and hollered out – “If you see something God didn’t create, just kill it with a stick.”

I slept well and the bridge was empty in the morning.

Honey, can’t you remember, We played all the parts, That sweet scene of surrender, When you gave me your heart, Please say you will, Play it again, Cause I love you still, Baby, this can’t be the end……We had it all, Just like Bogie and Bacall

Bertie Higgins, my newfound friend, brought me back from memories. Just as well, I’m having too many lately.

More marine traffic on Biscayne Bay than I remember. Miami’s getting huge and I think everybody here buys a boat right after their first bicycle.

Two gazillion horse-powered muscle boats roared by. Each had a helmsman and single crew, both standing upright leaning on butt props and wearing sound protection headphones. One was painted to look like flames were coming out of the wake off the bow and the other was jet black with alternating stainless steel lightning bolt and dragon head pipes covering the mid-ship exhausts. My assessment of the situation was that those guys were probably a little bit higher up on the Dade County evolutionary chain and had progressed from bicycle to Harley and then to boat.

“Mierda, Marco, No puedo creerlo! ?has visto las tetas de la chica? Estoy dando la vuelta. Creo que estoy el amor!”

A momentary pause and…

This is US Coast Guard – Miami, Florida Group, US Coast Guard…

What are all those sailboats doing?

Without my noticing, the entire horizon behind me near the west shore of the Bay had filled with sails. All manor of riggings were evident but it was the multi-colored spinnakers that stood out. With the mid-morning skyline of Miami as a backdrop, I was being pursued by hundreds of sailboats and they were all gaining on me. I know this is Friday but what I was looking at was no weekend get-a-way! It’s almost like a nautical jailbreak and they’re all headed in the same direction – my direction. Whatever they’re doing, it won’t take long to find out. Give them another hour and I’ll be part of the pack.

It didn’t take that long but trying to hail the first vessels that flew past me was impossible. There were three of them and except for the ballooning spinnakers they all looked the same. Fifty, maybe sixty, foot sloops with forward swept transoms, laminated mainsails, and masts that scraped the clouds! I’ve only seen sailboats like these in races like the America’s Cup. What are they doing out here and what the hell is going on?

My first thought was that this had to be a race of some kind, but to where? Reaching down into the cabin, I picked the binoculars up off the step and panned the waters of Bay dead ahead. There weren’t any buoys to mark a course and on the heading they were on the next stop was the cut through Fetherbed Bank and the nuclear power plant at Turkey Point.

Before I lowered the binoculars, I swung my gaze over to the deck of the nearest passing super boat. The voluminous headsail was bright orange with “Club Cleavage” emblazoned in bold black over the shadowed outline of an exotic longhaired nude. Ocean racers often have their sponsor’s logos featured on the hull and sails but they’re usually more on the order of “Chevrolet” or “Mutual of Omaha”. The pornographic spinnaker didn’t hold my attention for long. I’ve never seen so many people on the deck of one boat in my life. The crew, if you could call them that, were all young guys and gals and, along with their laughter and plastic cup libations, they were all wearing the same thing from the waist up–the skin they were born with.

I quickly swung the viewing field of the binoculars to the other sloops that had passed me by. The overall scene was a little bit different on these two, but very little. The moniker-laden spinnaker on the race leader was ice blue and the other’s was raspberry with white stripes. The visual differences in the crews?… well, there was one rather unique tattoo…

This didn’t look like any ordinary competition, but if it was, I’m betting that the winners will be the ones that finish last.



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