A Schooner Delivery: St. Thomas to Florida
A few years back, depending on how you define a few, I was on a Lake Michigan sailboat delivery from Manitowoc to Chicago, soaking it all in and having the time of my life. About a year earlier, I hadn’t even know that boat deliveries were a real thing, much less that they’re amazingly wonderful. Imagine someone paying you to go sailing?! Yes, yes, there’s so much more to it than that, but sailing as a real job. Who knew?? There’s a saying, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”. The origins of the quote are a bit fuzzy, but I think whoever said it must have done boat deliveries.
On this delivery, we were close enough to shore to have a cell signal and someone on the boat mentioned that they had been tagged in a post on Facebook by a friend looking for help moving his schooner from St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands back to Door County, Wisconsin. There was a lot of grumping by the tagee about “Not in a million years”, and “Not with a ten foot pole”. I thought to myself That sounds like a fabulous adventure. Two days later I was on a plane bound for St. Thomas.
The Schooner’s Not Quite Ready Yet
Now some might say that flying 2,100 miles to sail a type of boat I had never sailed with a group of people I’d mostly never met before “might” seem a little crazy. I had met two of the crew one time in Key West and the owner was a friend of a friend. That’s how it works in the sailing world. We’re all connected somehow. Everyone’s reputation checked out, the safety equipment list was satisfactory and the vessel had proven herself seaworthy. Count me in.
Planes, trains, and automobiles later I arrived at Red Hook Marina with my sea bag and a smile. Walking out to the end of the dock to see the Edith M Becker for the first time, a 65’ traditionally gaff rigged schooner, is something I will never forget. Her boom, and I swear half her contents, were lying on the dock with wood chips everywhere. Some dry rot had been found and they had gotten as far as chopping it all out. That was the moment I wondered, really loudly inside my head, What have I gotten myself into??? I wondered it again after introductions and hugs when I went to stow my sea bag and saw the austere and chaotic conditions below. I was informed that there was nothing to be done on board until the mast work was complete. In a remote place, with nothing but flip flops and a dream, I quickly found myself at Duffy’s Love Shack, “The Best Parking Lot Bar In the World”, and also darn entertaining people watching. I haven’t been to many parking lot bars, but having now been to Duffy’s, I tend to believe their claim.
Provisioning and Shoving Off
Over the next 36 hours, I met the rest of the crew, a colorful and interesting bunch; and we worked on putting the boat back together. Three of us set out for provisions at a place where Sam’s Club meets the developing world, an adventure all by itself. We would have only an igloo cooler for refrigeration and that only as long as ice lasts in the tropics. The countertop galley “stove” made my college hot pot look like something from The Jetsons. I feel that surviving the trip to the third world Sam’s in a rusty pick up truck, with two twenty-somethings and a dog, whizzing along on the wrong side of narrow, winding roads at breakneck speeds was fairly adventurous right there.
The six of us shoved off at day’s end, with a quick stop at the fuel dock just before closing. At some point while at the fuel dock, said galley “stove” caught on fire. I have always wanted to be able to raise just one eyebrow, and if ever I could have used that skill, it was then.
Ocean Waves Are Not Lake Waves
Motoring out through a tropical anchorage, surrounded by hilly islands at sunset was picturesque and then WHAM. Reality quickly smacked me in the face. I had a fair number of sea miles under my belt and the Galligan constitution (and stomach) is the stuff of Legend, but I was still bested by the ocean waves. We had decided to run watches in pairs, four hours on, eight hours off, the two young couples together and then the owner and I. It was all fun and games until my turn to hit the rack. I spent the next 24 hours quite uncomfortable each time I needed to go below. The owner, Peder, handed out great advice. He told me to get below and horizontal as quickly as possible. I would jump in my bunk still in my foulies and lay there until I felt I could start to wriggle out of them lying down. Ocean waves are different than Lake Michigan waves and I find that each time I have to transition to the ocean there’s 24-36 hours of adjustment to the wave action.
Once adjusted, I quickly fell into the wonderful routine of ocean passages with this rogue group of seafarers. The wind came and went. Sails up, sails down, which is a whole lot more work on a schooner than a regular boat. We plotted positions on a paper chart, kept up with the log, whipped lines, told stories and played “would you rather”. Would you rather circumnavigate the globe by plane or by boat? We talked at length, especially after the ice in the cooler had melted, about what would be our first meal when we made landfall again. Though peanut butter and jelly never gets old, the overwhelming answer was something cold!
The Schooner and Her Crew
Schooners are not for everyone. They are not sport boats. They are not sleek, streamlined race horses nor comfy cruising boats. There is no gadgetry, no fancy, no modern. There is not a winch or a lick of Dyneema anywhere in sight. What they are is beautiful, curvy, wooden ladies built with old fashioned tools, hard work and love. If you believe that life is about the journey, you just might “get” schooners. The Edith M Becker, formerly the Appledore III, has a rich history, including two circumnavigations in her lifetime. Aboard her, I learned that sail ties are called gaskets; the place where the boom meets the mast is the throat; and the forward area below, in the bow, is called the fo’c’sle (pronounced folk-sill). Passing through the Bahamas, I also learned that cruise ships give off an incredible amount of light pollution, like a floating Las Vegas passing through the library.
Jolene, a high intensity, high energy charter captain living on her own boat in St Thomas and Captain Ryan, the couple from St Thomas, couldn’t wait to get to Florida to fulfill their dream of eating at Outback Steakhouse. Noah, an incredibly intelligent, twenty-something Wisconsin kid, living and working on schooners in Key West, is an old soul. He’s as ageless and wise as the sea itself. His sea stories could not have been better if he’d had a pipe and a parrot. Kelsey, the sweet, wonderful Southern girl made that makeshift galley sing! Her coconut rice and beans were a thing of beauty. And Peder, the owner of the schooner he named after a beloved relative, is a well educated, well read, dreamer of dreams, who is doing whatever it takes to make them happen. Somehow this whacky, diverse and oh so wonderful group came together as a team over the course of the 1800 miles we sailed together. Eight-ish days later, we hit West Palm Beach and that cold drink and cold meal. Four of us got off the boat for other adventures and the rest reprovisioned and sailed on.
There’s just something about being on the ocean with no land in sight that forms lifelong bonds. I left the experience with a love of schooners, a load of great sea stories and five new friends. Who could ask for more?