Becoming Crew

With our boat La Vie Dansante now officially ours and duly registered in the Ledger of the Deep (and with the US Coast Guard), we were ready to begin moving her to her new home at Naval Air Station Key West’s Boca Chica Marina. Being a Navy retiree comes in handy when you’re on the water, and the opportunity to dock our boat in a beautiful, well equipped and secure marina for a fraction of what it would cost on the Florida Keys economy is a great example!

There was one major issue, though – we took possession of La Vie Dansante in Fort Lauderdale. Key West was about 160 sailing miles away and Barbara and I had never sailed by ourselves! As we’ve chronicled earlier, all the sailing we’d done up to that point included a professional Captain and crew.

I’ll never forget the morning we gathered our courage, fired up our two Volvo 55 hp engines, untied from Fort Lauderdale’s Pier 66 Marina, hung a left in the 17th Street Yacht Basin and made the first VHF radio call from our new boat.

“17th Street Bridge, this is sailing vessel La Vie Dansante requesting your next opening”.
“Coming open in about 12 minutes, Captain” came the reply from the bridgeman.

With a mast height of 68 feet, we had to request the bascule bridge (drawbridge) to open so we could get through, so we waited the 12 minutes. After turning a couple of water donuts around the channel, we lined her up, passed through the open bridge, navigated the short basin and found ourselves staring out into the great wide-open – the Atlantic Ocean!

La Vie Dansante’s mast passing through the 17th Street (A1A) Bridge!

OK, now what?

“Well, we might as well hoist the main and see if we remember enough to start heading in the right direction” we both thought. Turning into the wind, We wound the main halyard around the electric winch and carefully – like parents handling their new baby for the first time – cranked the mainsail up the mast, watching closely to avoid getting it caught in the lazy jacks.

“Is it up?” I asked from the helm.
“Yeah, I think so” Barbara responded, establishing herself permanently as La Vie Dansante’s sail trim subject matter expert.

At the helm I turned away from the wind, toward the south, and to our delight the breeze poured over our starboard quarter (coming from behind us on our right side) and gently grabbed hold of La Vie Dansante, smoothing out all the wrinkles in our mainsail and filling it with enough power to move us – slowly – through the water. While there wasn’t a lot of wind, there was enough of it – on a broad reach – to keep us moving south. I moved our throttles to neutral, let the engines settle out for a bit, then secured them.

The quiet was pleasantly surprising and exciting at the same time! We were sailing – just Barbara and me – and it was AWESOME!

My Navy friend, John, came out in his boat Nauti Blonde and got pics of our departure (featured here, thanks John!). A short time later, the wind picked up a bit and got us moving triumphantly toward our first overnighter and our first crack at anchoring on our own – No Name Harbor!

Looking back, it seems funny now. As we approached, Barbara considered the entrance alarmingly narrow and asked whether we couldn’t just anchor “out here” where there was plenty of wide-open ocean! We wound up braving the generous approach and found only two other boats. Although the Harbor is actually plenty roomy, to newbies intent on avoiding any possibility of collision with other boats, it seemed as if we’d be squeezing in pretty tight!

To make an extremely long story extremely short, we had a wonderful adventure over the ensuing four days, trying our hands at anchoring, motor-sailing, night sailing, navigating “skinny water” (shallow areas) and catching a mooring ball! When we finally got to Boca Chica on the 4th day, we did so with a feeling of great accomplishment! We weren’t seasoned sailors by any stretch of the imagination, but we had settled into our respective duties aboard and succeeded in handling our new boat through several challenges without running aground, drowning, ramming someone’s mega yacht, becoming the Coast Guard’s public enemy #1 or endangering our marriage! In fact, we discovered we work pretty well together under pressure – a good thing!

Safe and sound in Boca Chica!

All glory is fleeting, however.

With our boat now in paradise, we flew back to Texas excited about our next crack at sailing! We had invited my Mom and my daughter Lindsay to join us in our next adventure – A Christmas run to the Dry Tortugas and back!

12 Thoughts

  1. Great read TD. I totally understand that first docking and worry about hitting a boat! Looking forward to reading more of your adventures! Sparkj

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      1. Saving this website and will follow the adventures! I’m very excited and happy for you and your wife.

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  2. May you have fair winds to fill your sails, sunny skies to fill your days, and star lit horizons ease your evenings. Congratulations to you and Barbara on your new adventures. Enjoy!

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  3. Your Dad and I read your blogs and they are really good. Glad you all are going to use your time to read through the Bible while you are out. You will need it from what you have said so far. Good to see your lesson learned on your blogs. Be safe and glad Barbara is healing up. You all work good together. Love Tess

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