We had tunnel vision. Sail off to the Bahamas on a dollar and a dream. We made quite a bit of progress but before we ever actually pulled the trigger on a boat my vision became blurry and skewed by what I mistook for love at the time. When I finally snapped out of my daze we had missed Caribbean sailing season for the year.*
I went back to my travels and Lee held down the fort in his hometown of Merritt Island becoming a windsurfing instructor and sometimes boat repairman.
Lee has a knack for finding free shit. Some of his past scores include an inflatable pedal-powered kayak, handbuilt wooden kayak, several bicycles, a small plot of land on a remote Bahamian island, etc.
The Florida coast is full of elderly folks who are apparently well aware that they can't take it with them.
Enter stage left a fine 1979 AMF PY26 sailboat, approximately 9 months ago.
It had belonged to an older man who had intended to fix it back up and sail around like the old days. Eventually he ran out of motivation and the boat sat in the water for years. When word got to him that young Lee was looking for a boat to fix up and sail he offered to sign it over as long as Lee would move it asap.
Lee tossed a 9.9hp outboard on the back and motored it to the dirt-cheapest Marina he could find. Said Marina soon became even cheaper when after two months the property went under contract for sale to a big developer next door. Lee's humble steed slipped through the buereaucratic cracks and no further rent was paid.
The boat needed work. Not a huge amount, but a decent bit. Lee started grinding away at it with gusto but like many before him, he eventually became discouraged and lost motivation. Once again our noble floating stallion sat neglected.
November-December, 2018: I find myself milling about in Panama- hiking, surfing, sipping coconuts straight from the vine. I'd just finished up another season of whitewater raft guiding when I wound up back in Florida. My usual instinct when I end up in Florida is to leave immediately. I boarded a $65 flight to the misty jungles of Panama where I planned to suffer quietly in tropical paradise until just before Caribbean sailing season. I planned to return to Florida toting a plethora of saved Craigslist boat ads and jump on the first cheap but somewhat functional vessel I could get my hands on.
All the while during my Panama boat searching I became less and less ambitious about the size of my prospective ship due to budget concerns. Leland seemed to take note of this when one day he says "You know, if you're looking at 27 footers you might as well just take my boat. It's a 26. Practically the same. You can have it."
I flew back to Florida one week later to get crackin' on the boat. I got crackin' very literally when on the first test sail the forestay** sheared off at the top of the mast and the once intact roller furling jib mechanism lay rent asunder, dragging in the water. Whoops.
Over the next month or so of full-time marina squatting I'd work out most of the major kinks and learn to endure most of the minor kinks with the help of a motley crew of boat dwelling neighbors.
Lee and I scavenged derelict vessels washed up on shore for parts and found spare lines, stainless steel fittings, fishing gear, kitchen utensils, a motor mount, and the pièce de résistance- a fully functional 80 watt solar panel.
As for provisioning, the CVS dumpster proved a valuable source of nonperishable goods including mixed nuts and Oreos and I opted to supplement with the purchase of dozens of pounds of rice, lentils and oats. My stove is the single burner removed from my van which I've attached to a bbq grill propane tank. Hopefully this will last a while- does the Caribbean use propane?
Navigation was to be accomplished with a bootleg copy of the "Navionics" GPS charts app and several Android phones in various states of disrepair. At least one will remain in a drawer, wrapped in foil as a backup in case of lightning strike.
When at last I was satisfied that the boat would likely not fail catastrophically again in the near future, it was time to bid farewell to the safety of harbor for places unknown. Lee, who had recently quit his job, opted to join the expedition at least for the several day journey down the Florida coast to West Palm Beach- the preferred departure point for Grand Bahama, the nearest Bahamian island.
We christened the boat "Pájaro Libre" by writing out the name in pencil and smashing a dumpster beer across the bow. We'd sail with the wind at our backs for 4 days down the intracoastal waterway from Merritt Island to St Lucie inlet.
Day 5 was the big one. We'd be leaving the placidity of the intercoastal behind for a 27 mile taste of the mighty Atlantic. Even the relatively mild 5 foot swells tossed our tiny boat like a salad. Lee was soon tossing his breakfast overboard with fervor. His seasickness grew in intensity until he remained bedridden, occasionally dry heaving over a bucket.
After 8 hours at the helm and my first puke in 7 years we plowed our way into the angry, churning Lake Worth Inlet under full sail and full outboard throttle, fighting to keep our heading. We dropped anchor amidst hundreds of other sailboats and hastily dinghied to shore for celebratory taco bell which we hoped would quell our nausea.
Lee decided that he'd had enough open ocean sailing for now and returned to Merritt Island to continue working towards his charter captain ambitions.
As for me? I'm on the boat right now. Anchored in West Palm waiting for the perfect weather window to sail the 14 hour gulf stream crossing to Grand Bahama and beyond. This is a one-way trip. My boat's last huzzah. I intend to sail as far as I can before it inevitably disintegrates. I've got eyes on Luperón, Dominican Republic but who knows. For now I just stare down waterfront mansions, cruise ships and mega-yachts as I shit in a bucket and throw it overboard.
*Caribbean sailing season runs from December to June due to the necessity of avoiding hurricane season which runs July to November.
**The forestay is a long metal cable from the bow of the boat to the top of the mast. It helps support the mast under heavy wind loads and is one of the most highly stressed parts of a sailboat.