The Un-bound Bahamas – A Series of Unfortunate Events

Dearest reader, if you are reading this in expectation of a heartwarming story of a family cruise to the Bahamas, you are best advised to stop reading now. This story contains no such thing; in it you will hear about such unpleasantness as a leaky exhaust system, a marina that does not sell oil, keys locked in a car, the Wrong Parts being ordered, and encounters with large reptiles and birds. If these types of situations are not what you would like to hear, may I suggest you skip this article and pick up a copy of the latest Cruising World instead.

This story finds our heroes, a brave young family of four sailors, on an adventure of the grandest sort; a trip to sunny Florida to visit their new boat and take her on a ten day vacation to the Bahamas for fun, sun, and snorkeling. The horrible reality that awaited them was beyond their darkest imagination. In the weeks prior to the vacation, Father had gone several times to Florida to work on the new boat, the workman had come to paint the bottom and service the engine and replace the sea cocks to make sure that everything was safe, sound and operational for the arrival of Mother and their two Darling Children. The week before departure the family’s reliable dinghy was lovingly crated with its engine and placed on a truck to ship to Florida.

Eager and excited, the family boarded a plane on Friday morning laden with bags of clothing, snorkeling gear, boating equipment, and other necessary items from the old boat. The children were wide eyed with excitement at 6:00 in the morning as the plane taxied down the runway…by the time the plane reached Palm Beach they were barely able to suppress their enthusiasm. “Are we in the Bahamas now Daddy?” asked the adorable little girl, who had just passed her sixth birthday. The plan was to provision and check out the boat on Friday and Saturday, and leave for the Bahamas with a good weather window in the wee hours of the morning on Sunday; though this is hard to clearly illustrate to a six year old.

Unbeknownst to the unsuspecting family, several weeks before the fates had begun to conspire against them…the full horror of this conspiracy the family would shortly learn.

The first disaster struck almost immediately. “What shall I wear tonight?” asked Mother, as Father returned from the airline luggage office with the news that the suitcase containing all of her clothes had been lost by the airlines. “You’ll be OK,” says Father, “your bag will be found soon.” So the family bundled into the car under a slight cloud and headed to the waterfront town of Riviera Beach, where their lovely new vessel awaited them.

If you’ve ever spent time in South Florida, you know that Palm Beach is a lovely area full of wealth, glamour and beauty. You also know that nearby Riviera Beach is…not. Riviera Beach is where the “Bad Element” that the denizens of Palm Beach pretend not to notice actually live. It is a less than idyllic location for a vacation, but has very affordable marinas, even with the enhanced costs for security, and therefore has considerable appeal to the boat owner with no long term plans to keep the vessel there.

It was on arrival in Riviera Beach that things began to slip. Clouds gathered on the horizon as Father began talking on the phone to the vendors and visiting the yards. The new boat was to be launched at 4:30 that afternoon, two weeks behind schedule but still in time for vacation. Unfortunately, the diesel mechanics had not had the opportunity to work on the boat in the water due to delays from the through hull work, so there was some concern by all that the engine and generator would function fully when the boat was launched.

In the meantime, there was no sign of the family’s trusty dinghy which was to be delivered no later than Friday. This was an item for grave concern, because with an eight foot draft on the new vessel a reliable and fast dinghy was a must for a visit to the Bahamas to be remotely possible. A phone call on Friday afternoon around 3:30 confirmed the worst – the truck driver who was to deliver the boat had fallen gravely ill and would not be able to deliver the dinghy. Apparently he was the only truck driver available in South Florida, as the shipping company now planned to deliver the dinghy on “Monday or Tuesday”, though they had failed to contact Father and tell him this. Disaster! Our heroes would be two days in the Bahamas by then. By 4:00 the shipping company had helpfully made arrangements – if Father could find and rent a truck and drive to seventy miles South to Miami by 6:00 p.m., he could pick up the dinghy from the shipping warehouse. When asked if one could reasonably expect to drive from Riviera Beach to Miami at rush hour on a Friday and arrive by 6:00 p.m., the locals laughed out loud…this provided some degree of relief for father though, as he was conflicted by the need to be on hand for the re-launching of his new vessel.

A few more judicious phone calls secured an open warehouse on Saturday morning, so that problem was allayed. But more was to come…already, Father had learned that in spite of calling the Marina where he had a slip rented to tell them he was returning, the Marina had failed to clear his slip, the only “open” slip he could fit in there which he had already paid for. So there was no place to take the boat that night. Fortune intervened though, and the yard that was launching the boat said it could stay overnight in “the pit”, though it must be vacated by 8:00 the next morning. Father decided to deal with this (and the early morning trip to Miami for the dinghy) later.

Finally, fortune smiles and the boat is launched and nothing leaks. The diesel mechanic arrives, and the engine is started. But the mechanic calls father downstairs and says to him “Look at this, there is a leak in the exhaust at the bottom of the riser”.

“I know,” replies father, “That was in the work order I sent you weeks ago.”

The mechanics replies “I thought you meant the top of the riser, not the bottom. That was covered by the other workmen and I couldn’t see it. This boat is not safe to take offshore with your family. I will try to order a part right now for this, but it will not be here until Monday.”

Ah, the joys of trying to manage a boat from 1,000 miles away.

Father, with hopes of the Bahamas on Sunday dashed, bids goodnight to the workmen and secures the vessel for the evening in “The Pit” as he tries to figure out if there is enough battery power left on board after four weeks on the hard to get through the evening without shore power. Mother’s clothes have not yet arrived, and spirits are low. Finally at midnight Mother’s clothes arrive, although with some difficulty as the driver is not quite used to finding boats in a yard.

Saturday morning comes, and the family sets out for breakfast. “Hey, where are you going, you need to move the boat soon” yells a marina attendant. Hopes of breakfast dashed, Father walks to the marina next door to see if his slip has been vacated, while mother takes the children back to the boat. Soon everyone is back aboard and there is a slip to go to. Father starts the engine and…NO WATER COMING FROM THE EXHAUST! Quickly the lines are re-secured and the engine is stopped as Father climbs into the engine room to check the bewildering array of sea cocks, engines, generators, filters, lines and hoses which are packed into there. Father is bewildered, as his last boat’s simple 30 HP Volvo engine was not such a beast of intimidating complexity as this 145 HP turbocharged monstrosity. Fortunately quick thinking by the yard manager leads him to bleed the raw water exhaust system. The boat is finally out of the slip. With some degree of effort and a favorable tide, the new vessel is moved to its new temporary resting place and secured.

A brief word is in order about the nature of this slip, as it figures prominently in several of the incipient disasters (incipient is a word meaning beginning to become apparent or starting soon) which await our beleaguered heroes. The inland waterways in Florida are not terribly deep, and the family has acquired a vessel with an eight foot draft. This is a large vessel as well, with a fairly broad beam – so the choices of slips to fit it in the local marinas are quite limited. This particular slip is on a pier on the outside of the marina, with the boat place facing west and lying in an east west direction. There are pilings some thirty feet or more from the dock to which the vessel needs to be secured in order to protect the boat from the concrete dock and pilings with the three foot tidal swings and aggressive currents in the area. Also unfortunate about this slip is its depth; it is not truly deep enough – the vessel sits hard aground at low tide and has a very narrow path to thread getting out of the slip and into the channel.

While father is making arrangements for the dinghy delivery to the marina (having abandoned leaving for the Bahamas before Tuesday morning for the repairs), a diesel mechanic arrives to put a temporary patch on the engine so the boat may be used safely in close waters. He assures Father that the parts are ordered for Monday, and the bright orange patch of fixit he stuck on the exhaust leak will keep them safe while moving the boat. With a now operational boat, that evening Father’s in-laws are invited to come for a “joy ride” with the new boat on Sunday. On Sunday, all arrive with bright eyed excitement to take the new boat out for a spin; sandwiches and drinks are stowed and they are off.

The sail was beautiful; the boat handles like a dream. Mother and Father are able to set the sails easily and take a fast comfortable cruise up the Florida coast. Everyone enjoys the sail, and the family is struck with wonder watching sea turtles, flying fish, and other fauna at play on the edges of the Gulf Stream. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and like Cinderella on her prom night, she must return to her slip before the tide drops too low for a safe entry. Father turns the boat home, and sails back to Palm Beach Inlet.

As the entrance buoy approaches and Mother and Father are starting to furl the sails, disaster again strikes hard. The hydraulic furling Genoa refuses to turn more than one revolution, and it won’t unfurl all the way either. Mother takes the wheel as father bravely strides to the bow to try and wrestle the recalcitrant hardware into submission. Our brave family and their In-laws now find themselves with a headsail that will not furl or come down, and are racing the clock against a rapidly falling tide back at the dock. Father scratches his head and stamps his feet in frustration while the sail flogs and Mother tries to keep the boat stable. Finally, it dawns on Father that if he tacks the sails around the outside of the head stay, the sail will be unfurled enough so it will no longer bind in the luff track and can be pulled down. So this is what he does, then he leaps in the air and hangs from the sail with his not inconsiderable weight until he feels it begin to move downward. Finally, he and mother are able to wrestle the sail to the deck and lash it down to enable a safe return to the harbor.

Need I tell you what happened next? I don’t think I have to tell you that there was not enough water to make it into the slip, nor do I have to describe the time spent extricating this heavy vessel from the soft mud in a falling tide; you have figured already this will happen and you can clearly imagine Father’s efforts. The worst was avoided though, with Mother and Father only having to wait a few hours tied to the fuel dock for the tide to come back in so they could bring the boat into the unfamiliar slip in the dark.

At some point, many adventures pass from the sublime to the ridiculous. This event perhaps happened about 9:00 on Monday morning when Father received a phone call from the diesel mechanics.

“Your new exhaust riser will cost $489.00 plus overnight shipping, do you want me to order it?” inquires the service manager.

“What!” exclaims Father, “I thought you ordered it last Friday!”

“No,” replies the Service Manager, “it was too late to order it; I am ordering it now for Tuesday.

Father is getting concerned. He has been watching the weather, and knows that the wind is expected to turn North and blow hard after Wednesday morning – crossing the Gulf Stream in a hard Northerly is not recommend for most people; the wind sets against the current and makes for steep, high waves and unpleasant conditions. Especially for a family with two young children and a boat they are not familiar with. Father knows his weather window is about to close. However, there is little he can do to change that. There is some small consolation in that late in the day the dinghy finally arrives in a large and impressive crate. A really, really large and heavy crate. The Family spends some more time with the in-laws, and thinks about the Bahamas for the next day.

Tuesday arrives bright, sunny, and hot. The sun beats down as the family makes the plan for the day. Father will take a crowbar and hammer to uncrate and assemble the dinghy. Mother will take the Darling Children to a nearby beach to explore and play. It should be noted that when the boat and engine where crated and shipped, the fuel tank could not be included for safety reasons. So Father has to get a new fuel tank and connect it to the engine with the fuel line, a task which turns out to be easier said than done. To accomplish this he has secured a new tank, and an adaptor for the fuel line.

While sweating in the sun, Father diligently uncrates the dinghy. When he does this, he discovers to his dismay that apparently he did not explicitly tell the crating company which side of the engine to pack in the down position, and they did not see the instruction sticker on the engine either, as it was packed upside down. All the crankcase oil has leaked into the dinghy. Quite a mess, but father gets some rags (a lot of rags) and looks at the bright side as he had never gotten around to changing the oil in the fall anyway. The crate comes apart and the dinghy goes together as the day begins to fade. At this point father realizes that the adapter he purchased and installed for the fuel tank is the wrong sort; the fuel line does not fit. However, Father optimistically leaves in search of some appropriate engine oil to replace that which he mopped out of the floor of the dinghy since at least that can be completed. Though located in a marina with a “full service” fuel dock, Father soon discovers something disturbing. The only oil available for sale is two-stroke engine oil, which is completely inappropriate for his four stroke dinghy engine. While Mother is at the beach with the children, father is left with no car. Asking a few questions reveals that the only likely nearby source of oil is the convenience shop at a nearby gas station, so he braves the wilds of Riviera Beach and sets off to acquire this oil on foot. He succeeds (although at a criminally inflated price) and returns with a quart of oil. Without a gas tank the dinghy can not be started, and on land it is impractical to try and fill the engine with oil so dinghy assembly is halted for the day as it can not be completed and launched.

Father also notices that as the day begins to fade, the diesel mechanics are nowhere to be found with the new expedited part. A few phone calls secure the services of one, and he arrives late in the afternoon. As Father finishes showering and cleaning up from his efforts with the dinghy he hears the mechanic on the phone with the office. To his growing horror, he realizes that they have ordered the wrong part. It does not fit and can not be used. Compounding this, it is once again too late to order a new part. Father is devastated to learn that the earliest the correct part could arrive now is Thursday; his weather window is over and the Bahamas are now unobtainable this vacation. Dad tells the diesel guys to deal with the problem after his vacation and prepares to break the news to the children.

Mother and Father are now trying to decide how best to salvage the remains of this vacation. They have a car, courtesy of Father In-Law, and can get out of the marina for some activities, but the Marina lacks the “ambiance” of a true vacation destination. Tuesday night and Wednesday they do research, make plans and phone calls, and arrive at a plan. The plan is to get out and sail, and to take the boat to Fort Lauderdale and spent a long weekend at a pleasant marina, which is a walk to the beach, has a pool, and is not surrounded by the illicit pharmaceutical salesmen and dealers in human fulfillment that haunt the area outside the marina in Riviera Beach.

The dinghy is still not functional and needs to be launched and cleared from the parking lot. On Wednesday Father works to get the dinghy assembled, and after several visits to local marine suppliers gets a functional fuel line in place. The dinghy is launched, Father fuels it, adds engine oil and climbs in and prepares to start it. The little bulb is pumped and father smiles as he feels the fuel fill the engine from his now complete gas line. He pulls the starter cord and…it won’t pull. Several tries later, it still will not budge. Close examination reveals that somehow, the engine is stuck in forward and will not come out of gear; it can not be cranked and started. Father now puts his powers of deduction and engine expertise to use and tries to find how to get the engine into neutral. The sad result of this is the snapping of the clutch control knob; the engine is now completely useless without a professional repair and replacement parts. Father discovers that he needs to learn some new profanity, as his current vocabulary is insufficient to adequately express his feelings on this matter. He does not look forward to rowing the dinghy to the boat.

Putting the dinghy aside, as it is no longer needed with the new vacation plan, father does his best to put it behind him. Wednesday evening everyone goes to bed with a plan and some optimism.

Thursday morning dawns clear, bright, and calm. A gentle breeze is blowing from the west, and is predicted to pick up later in the day promising a pleasant and fast sail to Fort Lauderdale. The family heads to breakfast, and to shop for some provisions while the tide comes in. When they return to the marina, they grab the groceries and prepare to return Father In-law’s car by locking the key under the fuel tank lid for him. They stroll down the dock…to discover to their dismay that in their absence the wind has picked up dramatically and swung to the North. If the reader will recall the nature of this slip, the implications of this to Mother and Father are immediate, obvious, and painful. Simply put, with the Northerly and the lay of the slip it will be impossible for Mother and Father to get the boat out of the slip while retrieving all their dock lines and not damaging the boat.

Why, you might ask, has this seemingly simple task become such a Herculean effort? The new vessel weighs well over 50,000 lbs. It is being blown hard onto the cement and piling dock. The offshore pilings that are saving the boat from being dashed on the dock are some twenty feet or more from the vessel (which is connected by two springs and bow and stern lines). Father has been instructed by the Dock master that he needs to move from this slip to another when he returns, so all of the lines which are very tight on the pilings need to be taken with them – especially as they have no dinghy to retrieve them later. But more importantly, when the lines on the pilings are slacked, the boat will be thrown against the dock moments later by the heavy breezes. Two adults simply do not have the strength and enough hands to accomplish the task without risk to the boat or themselves. So with reluctance, the decision is made to abandon the attempt to go to Fort Lauderdale that day as the tide would not be high enough to get out of the slip again during daylight, even if the wind dropped.

If the reader has been paying attention, you may have perceived that which has not yet dawned on the protagonists. Namely, that in anticipation of returning the car to its owner they have locked the keys in the car and no longer have a way to leave the marina. They are now stuck in less-than-idyllic Riviera Beach in the most complete sense, being unable to move by water or by land. When this strikes them, the mood becomes dark indeed.

Friday arrives overcast and blowing hard from the North again. There shall be no departure today either; nor at any point as now it is impractical to make a trip to Fort Lauderdale for but a single day. Plans are made to retrieve a new car key, Father and Mother look for ways to salvage the remaining time with the family before the flight home the following Monday.

Saturday, with a car available again and renewed enthusiasm the family sets off for a trip to the Kennedy Space Center. This becomes the high point of the trip, with the large alligators, Bald Eagles and other wildlife in the preserve at the Space Center competing with the technological marvels and wonders of our adventure in space. Sunday, though cool and overcast, is spent moving the boat to the new slip, refueling, and failing to pump out either head before a final visit with the family. Everyone departs on Monday with mixed feelings of relief and sadness.

A wise sage once said that “Attitude is the difference between an ordeal and an adventure.” Throughout this adventure one must commend the unflagging attitude of the Darling Children. When pressed, they would concede though disappointed about not making the Bahamas, they still had a tremendous time going to the beach, catching fish in the marina, hiking in the parks, seeing all sorts of animals, and swimming in the in-law’s pool. Father valued the time he spent with the family, and the lessons, though painful, he garnered about the families new second home. Mother has been nothing but supportive and enthusiastic…if not a bit strangely quiet about the whole affair. Attitude, indeed.

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