I have seen and fished the shoals off Lookout and Hatteras. I had seen Lookout's from my father's fishing boat. These shoals were avoided easily enough; you just motor up toward the choppiest water and look for the bottom; when you can see it, you are too close and back away outside the severest chop. I had no fear of
We recognized Bald Head and made way for open sea, close-hauled on a reach, trying to yield as little distance as possible while gaining depth away from the shoals. The wind freshened; inland I detected a faint tracing along the clouds, the slightest hint of a squall. I pointed to the line, but neither Ollie nor Ed took any interest. They believed it was just a cloud. We studied the depth meter closely, switching from fathoms to feet. The depth held anywhere from 26 to 31 feet, so we had plenty of water. Ahead, we saw the water begin to churn, the chop of the waves steepening with occasional whitecaps. Was it Frying Pan? We disbelieved what we saw because we were at least five or six miles offshore. Eyes scanned depth meter, waves, then clouds, constantly reviewing, evaluating, seeking affirmation that Elska was safe in her depth and outside the reach of the Shoals. I still thought the clouds over land were threatening; they seemed to approach quickly and moved contrary to our breeze.
Suddenly, the depth dropped from 27 to 21, then 19, then 16, and 13.
"We're running over the Shoal!" someone screamed.
But we could not reverse our course. 11 feet, then 9, then 7. (We needed 4 feet for the keel.) We bucked wildly in the rough water that seemed to surround us without warning, steep waves rising, lifting the bow as the stern sank, the pull of the water seeming to seize Elska in its grip. We were losing steerage. The squall line became clearly visible, now a black-edged cloud rushing toward us from the west, heavy rains dropping in metallic gray columns, the shore behind the squall now lost.
"Ollie, look!" I pointed to the squall. "It is a squall."
Then the wind slapped us with a cold snap of its fist, wind and rain mixing with the spray of waves lifted and thrown with all the wild fury of an unrestrained sea. It was as if Neptune himself rose beside our boat, scooped a mighty handful of salty sea and hurled the cold gray waters into our faces.
In my initial fear, I just wanted start the engine and power out of the danger. But we were truly making headway and soon found ourselves in stormy seas, but south of the shoals, sailing briskly in the remainder of the squall. The rain passed and we again could see the coast, and the lights of
It was dark when we entered
After a shower at the marina, I called my parents.
"Where are you?" they asked.
"You've been sailing for two days and only reached
"Yep." I tried to explain the effects of having to tack away from the coast at night and avoiding Frying Pan, but then changed the subject. "I was hoping you might be able to come down and bring me some clothes and other stuff I need."
"You know we want to see you. Just tell us what you want us to bring."
A few hours later, as Ed, Ollie and I rested in the cockpit, I looked up and saw my parents walking down the dock. I called to them, at the same time wondering how they were going to react to meeting my shipmates. Introductions went smoothly; I know my parents were as charmed by the British accents as I had been. I spent the afternoon with my parents, telling them everything I had experienced in the previous two days. They were visibly reassured that I was safe and travelling with trustworthy gentlemen. After dinner, they drove home. The next morning, Ed, Ollie and I departed
South of Southport, the ICW passes through open sounds between the outer islands and the mainland. The channel cuts through shallow waters marked by shoals of marsh grass, the black mud of which is exposed at low tide and smells like the primal ooze where life began. The channel is generally too narrow to permit sailing and tacking, so a motor is essential though tiresome. Still, the scenery was nice enough to alleviate some of the tedium of listening to the motor droning its monotonous song.
As we entered
By late afternoon we were docked somewhere near North Myrtle Beach beside an old junk-style yacht. We each drank a cold beer and enjoyed the slightly cooler air of early evening before locking ourselves in the cabin behind the porthole and deck hatch screens. The whine of mosquitoes was constant after sunset. Sleep was hot and without rest. I lay sweating on my clammy berth, wishing for the slightest movement of air that never came. Dawn was heavy and humid, but brought the illusion of cooler air until the sun rose over the trees and the baking began again.
The next day was worse. Hotter, more humid, as still as roadkill two days dead. We muddled south down the dull, colorless channel, seeing nothing but tidewater marsh and swamp, breathing engine fumes, sweating every drop of water we drank and more. Having endured a nearly endless day under a scorching sun, we anchored for the night in a small cove off the main channel. There was no land in sight, only still brown water, brown marsh grass and the smell of decay. No one could eat. With the setting of the sun, the whining mosquitoes surrounded and besieged our tired ship. We suffered another long restless, claustrophobic night hiding behind small screened portholes. We listened to the insects cry and prayed for blue seas with fair winds.
By midmorning the next day, we spied signs of civilization, a dilapidated fishing dock. We had reached Charleston. Without pausing to explore the pleasures of this historic seaport town, we motored past the freight docks, the
How glorious and refreshing to have returned to open ocean! The maternal roll of the swells, the seductive caress of the wind and the complete liberation of the senses unfolding to a boundless horizon. Our spirits rejoiced. We were sailing!
A few days of good peaceful weather followed.
Then, the first afternoon off the coast of
Night and the next day were again lazy sailing under clear skies and pleasant winds. But, again in the afternoon, the same kind of storm formed and rushed seaward to thrash us about. The scenario repeated for another two days until we yielded and decided to seek shelter on the ICW again. We needed provisions anyway, so we entered Ponce de Leon Inlet beside its magnificent nineteenth century red brick lighthouse. The water was clear, and we were fascinated by the stunning electric colors of the large jellyfish that floated beneath us.
I met a gentleman topping off the gas tanks for his daughter in her 21-foot center console outboard, the Little Damn.
"Where are you headed?" I asked.
"My daughter's running over to Bimini."
"By herself?" I queried. It seemed to me a long way for a teenage girl to go alone.
"Oh yeah. She'll be fine. It's a clear day. And it's only 60 miles; take her four hours at the most."
That close, I thought to myself. I never realized that the Bahamas were so accessible. Sixty miles and I could be in another country, a tropical island paradise (I had not yet seen the islands, so I had my dreams). These people could run over for the weekend. I began to regret that Ed and Ollie were in such a hurry to reach Jamaica. Maybe they lived on a tropical island, but I had yet to see one, much less visit one. I wanted to go, but I had no vote. They had been away from home for more than a month and were very anxious to return as quickly as possible.
We motored down to Miami and docked in the municipal marina beside a city park in the middle of what appeared to be downtown. The three of us walked into the city, grabbed a greasy burger at a lunch stand, then wandered through the streets listening to the Latin culture overwhelm things English or American. Ed wanted to go into a K-Mart, so we browsed through as he looked for batteries or something. Then, over the crackling speaker, a blue light special was announced...in Spanish. Somehow it all felt too foreign, too isolating. My mind disconnected; I was not in Florida, I did not know where I was. I could not understand the people or recognize the culture of the streets. What was supposed to be familiar was strange; I had wandered too far. I began to fear that I could not return to the place where I began, could not find the park, the marina, or anyone or anything that would connect me with my past, my own culture, my homeplace that I did not know I had left.
I hurried along the sidewalk looking for anything that I might remember. It was hot; there was no longer any shade on the streets. The stone walls of the buildings, the concrete of the sidewalks, the asphalt on the streets all combined to magnify the heat, the humidity, the unbreathable hotness of air that lay deathly still in the middle of the crowded city. I needed space, color, room to walk and air to breath. I looked for the park and eventually saw trees, palm trees, green fronds waving gently on fresh breezes against the pure, rich blue of a perfect sky. Then I saw the water, its blue also a reflection of the purity of the sky. I began to relax, to recover, to feel no longer lost or alone.
I wandered about the park, enjoying the shade, the breeze, the sights; Ed and Ollie returned an hour or so later. They were snickering about having purchased some Quaker Instant Grits.
"Do you really eat grits?" they asked.
"Sure. They're good. Though the instant grits are not as good as the kind that cook for a while. Best with sausage and eggs, but I've eaten them alone," I replied.
"Good. After we are at sea, we want to see you eat some," Ed said, daring me.