Sea Stories That Never Made It To Sea

Rob Temple

Someone once said that the only difference between a “sea story” and a fairy tale is that a fairy tale starts off with “Once upon a time…” and a sea story starts off with “Now this ain’t no sh*t!” 

But not all such yarns involve the high seas.  Remarkable incidents have been known to occur on vessels still in port. 

I well remember one such occurrence on a sunny winter day in Flamingo, Florida down in Everglades National Park.  I was puttering around the deck of my schooner while, just across the small marina basin, a tour boat was loading up for a two-hour cruise on the shallow waters of Florida Bay.  It was the M/V Pelican.  At the helm (or “steering wheel” at the flimsy center console) was Captain Bob, a dapper, pipe-smoking dandy with greying sideburns and gold epaulets on his khaki captain’s costume.  The seats were filled with tourists who sat in a stupefied trance as Captain Bob spoke on the microphone. 

“Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Welcome to Flamingo and welcome aboard the Motor Vessel Pelican.  We’re about to embark on a 2-hour cruise on Florida Bay.  My name is Captain Bob and the mate and tour guide is Dick.”

Meanwhile Dick, a retired dentist from Montana, was casting off the dock lines while the twin outboards idled on the transom.  As Bob absentmindedly puffed his meerschaum, Dick accidentally dropped a spring line overboard and lunged the bulk of his prodigious weight over the aluminum rail to retrieve it.

Not a good idea as it turned out.  Dick suddenly somersaulted into the alligator and crocodile-infested waters of Flamingo Marina.  Although probably quite in his element on horseback, Dick had never had occasion to learn to swim.

Fortunately, one of the passengers roused himself from his zombie-like stupor enough to bring the situation to the attention of Captain Bob.  Captain Bob immediately flew into action. Putting his pipe down on the console, he pushed his way through the crowd and jumped up on to the pier where he commenced to wring his hands feverishly while passionately muttering, “Oh dear, oh dear!”

Meanwhile, Capt. Jim, a fishing guide with years of Everglades experience who had been washing off his boat after a charter, lunged up onto the pier from his boat, flopped down on his belly and, reaching a strong hand down to Dick floundering in the murky water, grasped him by the wrist and yanked him up onto the pier.  When both men regained their footing on the pier, Jim calmly said:  “There goes your boat, Bob.” 

Sure enough, since Dick had managed to free all the dock lines before taking his dip, the M/V Pelican was now adrift and rapidly blowing away from the pier in the freshening breeze.

“Oh [expletive deleted]!” cried Capt. Bob, backing up to take measure of the distance from pier to vessel. For a few frightful seconds, it appeared as if Capt. Bob would attempt to leap back aboard his command – a leap which undoubtedly would have resulted in a second “man-overboard” situation. But, just in the nick of time, the same alert passenger who had intervened earlier grabbed a bow line and threw it to Capt. Jim.

Soon, the M/V Pelican was underway again.  As Dick stood bare-chested in the bow with the microphone, his shirt draped across the rail to dry, and Capt. Bob coolly puffed his pipe, he said, “Once again, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Everglades National Park… 

Backing a trailer requires great skill.
Backing a trailer requires great skill.

The launching ramp at the Flamingo Marina, like many others I've known, is equipped with “liars' benches” on either side.  These afford an ideal observation point for regular early morning entertainment.  Especially on weekends.  The ramp is wide enough for four boats at a time to be launched and there's usually a long line of at least a dozen trucks full of fishermen waiting with varying degrees of impatience to get onto the water where they can begin (or resume) drinking beer.  Some are better than others at backing trailers.  Up in the park rangers' office there's a cork board covered with photographs of some of the more memorable launchings.  Lots of shots of nothing but hood ornaments visible above the water's surface where guys in a hurry forgot to set the brake before getting out of the vehicle to prepare the boat for launching.

One Saturday morning I happened to be walking by when two guys pulled up in a fancy new diesel-powered pickup to launch a 22' center-console outboard with big twin Yamahas on the transom.  The truck was equipped with an impressive stereo system that was cranked up to eleven with heavy metal music. One guy hopped out of the truck to give hand signals to his buddy behind the wheel.  He was also shouting directions which could only be heard by those of us far enough away from the truck and its speakers.   

Everything was going well as the trailer dipped far enough below the water for the boat to float off.

The signal was then given to the driver to pull away with the trailer, which, of course, he proceeded to do with alacrity.  But then the guy behind the truck began to shout in alarm and wave his arms. Although he had released the ratchet on the winch, he had forgotten to disconnect the cable from the bow of the boat so, as the trailer pulled rapidly away from the floating boat, the cable flew rapidly off the spool of the winch as the crank handle spun furiously at about 1800 R.P.M. before fetching up abruptly at the end.  Away went the truck followed by the trailer followed by the boat!  Across the marina rang a loud cacophony of rock music, frantic shouting and the sickening grinding of fiberglass and aluminum across the asphalt.  The driver, of course, was blissfully oblivious to all but the music.  He had no idea that anything was amiss until he pulled the truck into a parking space eighty yards away and stepped out!

In the interest of full disclosure I suppose I should at least own up to one of my own numerous dockside blunders.  It happened in that very same Flamingo Marina in fact.  When I was a younger man full of energy, I skippered my schooner on five trips per day seven days per week, weather permitting. The most popular trips were at sunrise and sunset when the various shore birds were most likely to be flying overhead.  

On a dark winter morning a half-hour before sunrise, my deck hand Frank and I loaded some eager birdwatchers aboard my 57’ schooner Windfall.  There was a brisk northeast breeze already blowing, so we hoisted all the sails right at the dock before casting off.  That way, all we had to do was throw off the dock lines, shove the bow away from the dock and sheet in the sails for an exhilarating send-off.  For good measure, I had the 44-h.p. engine idling so I put her in gear and gave it a good forward burst right after tossing the stern line ashore.  Frank had already cast off the bow and the schooner accelerated rapidly away. Two second later there was a loud report like a gunshot at very close range!  I looked at the port gunwale and saw a ragged gaping hole which perfectly resembled a direct hit by a 9-lb.cannononball. 

No, we were not taking fire.  Looking back at the dock, I could see in the dim light the forward spring line – a ¾” nylon rope still firmly secured to an 8” galvanized deck cleat – hanging from a piling. 

When I forgot to cast off the spring line, it simply came taught and ripped the cleat – along with the brass hawsepipe fitting—clear through the 2” pine and epoxy bulwark.  The passengers all looked at Frank and me with expressions that said “What the …??” while we, thankful for the darkness, simply shrugged and carried on as though nothing were out of the ordinary. 

I had to cancel my mid-day trips to make the repair, but by sunset the epoxy and paint were dry and the boat looked good as new. 

And, believe it or not… that ain’t no sh*t!


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