21 May 2010

Planning is Everything

Photo: Eisenhower Archives

"I tell this story to illustrate the truth of the statement I heard long ago in the Army: Plans are worthless, but planning is everything. There is a very great distinction because when you are planning for an emergency you must start with this one thing: the very definition of 'emergency' is that it is unexpected, therefore it is not going to happen the way you are planning." -- Dwight D. Eisenhower 

One interesting thing about cruising is that, on the one hand, you need to plan ahead, and on the other, you need to realize that hardly anything works out the way you planned it.

Gary Player used to say, "The harder I practice, the luckier I get."  But I say, "The more I plan, the better I am at improvising."

For days I'd been scheming about sailing across Lake Okeechobee. With my borrowed 15hp Yamaha clamped on to the Blue Moon's transom, I eyed the weather from the canal off Clewiston, FL, on the southwest rim of the Lake.

The wind was blowing from the NE, as it had for days. Maybe a bit earlier, and a bit stronger than usual. It was only 11 am, but already there was a light chop in the protected waters of the canal. But it was worth a try.

The first leg of the Lake Route channel, between unlighted buoys 19 and 11 (click on map above to see details) was protected by grassy islands on both sides. The wind was in my face and strong, but the barrier islands kept the chop down, so we made good time.

But once past buoy 9, we were in unprotected waters. The 10-15 knot wind, blowing across 20 miles of open lake, had kicked up a steep 3-4' chop. These weren't nice, rounded, sine waves. They were more like the square waves I remembered from electronics shop in Junior High.  Or maybe sawtoothed.

 Wave forms
image wikimedia commons

Square or sawed, they were nasty. The 15hp motor was pushing us through it, but seemed to be straining. Worse, the sharp waves caused the Blue Moon to pitch, and each time her stem pitched down, the prop -- on a 15" or 20" shaft -- popped out of the water and the engine raced. That didn't sound good, and I didn't want to abuse an engine so kindly lent to me (thank you, Steve!), so I pushed the tiller over and headed back to Clewiston. It was time for Plan B.

There's a second way to cross the lake: the Rim Route, which curves around the eastern shore. It's about 10 miles longer, but protected from the NE winds. At least, that's what I hoped.

And it was protected. It was also a bit boring. A hundred foot wide hurricane dike surrounds the whole lake, protecting the surrounding countryside, but blocking out the view to the right. On the left were either grassy barrier islands, or views of the open lake.

But those views of angry Lake Nemesis mediated the boredom. It was better to be bored on flat water than to be thrashing into those square waves.

I passed the time with my binoculars around my neck, spotting alligators (or are they crocs?), and bird watching.

The Clewiston-based fishing boats were soon left behind. After that, we didn't see another boat until reaching Port Mayaca. The entire eastern shore seemed boatless. And though the engine was running well, I was nervous... These isolated shores would not be a good place to break down.

But the engine ran like a clock, and about 2/3rds of the way around, we were heading north and the wind had backed around to the east. I hoisted my sail and for the first time in 2 weeks, we made progress towards our destination under sail. Fantastic!

At 7 pm, we locked through the Port Mayaca Lock, and dropped anchor in a small gunk hole, just west of an old railroad bridge, as the sun was going down.

We hadn't crossed Lake Okeechobee the way I'd planned, but we were finally across.

Port Mayaca RR Bridge at dawn
photo jalmberg

The next morning, we were underway as soon as I could make out the markers. The end of the Waterway and Stuart -- where I planned to find a mooring -- were still a long way off.

I hoped to reach Stuart by night fall, but I had my doubts. There were still several bridges and a lock to get though, and each could delay us by as much as a half-hour. We were cutting it close, but I was anxious to get back to New York in time for Helena's birthday, just a few days away.

I say I planned to find a mooring in Stuart, but though I knew where the mooring was, I didn't know exactly what I was getting into. I didn't know what kind of services I'd find at the Stuart marina, or how I'd get stuff off the Blue Moon, or what I'd do with Cabin Boy once I got there. Clearly, some improvisation would be in order, once we were swinging on the hook.

But meanwhile, we had a whole day of motoring ahead of us. To be honest, I was getting a bit bored with motoring. To make matters worse, the Waterway east of Okeechobee seemed less interesting than the waters west of the lake. The western waters had seemed wilder, more teeming with life -- gators and birds, at least.

If I was Huck Finn, I was a Huck Finn who had voyaged beyond the wild reaches of the river, into a zone of neglect -- the natural equivalent of an old mill town. You could imagine that the river had once teemed with activity, but it now just looked used and run down.

But it passed quickly, and that was what mattered. I occupied myself by keeping close track of my fuel levels. We were down to our last few gallons, and there was only one marina on the waterway -- in Indiantown, 20 odd miles before Stuart.

When the Indiantown Marina finally hove into view, we turned into it and slowly crawled up to the fuel dock. I still didn't have a good feel for maneuvering the Blue Moon in close quarters, but there's only so much damage you can do at a crawl. Luckily, the Blue Moon's huge rudder gives the boat steerage way, even at very, very low speeds. I like that.

Indiantown Marina

Once tied up, I made friends with my neighbors, a retired couple in a large sailboat that had just spent 3 years cruising the Caribbean. They were cleaning their boat and planned to put it 'on the hard' for the summer, so they could visit their kids and grand kids back in Tennessee.

I had only meant to stop long enough to fill our gas tanks, but having a good long chat with this experienced cruising couple, and talking about the beautiful Blue Moon and Cabin Boy made time fly. An hour went by and it was lunch time.

My brain was already calculating time/distance formulas, and was telling me there was no way we were going to make Stuart today, anyway. I decided to walk into town for some lunch.

Walking gives you time to think, and the first thought that popped into my mind was, "Why not stay here?"

The Indiantown Marina was 26 miles inland. It was therefore much better protected from storms, etc., than Stuart.

And though I'd been thinking of saving money in pricey Stuart, I thought I might be able to afford a few weeks at an Indiantown dock.

Plus, I'd heard stories about thieves who preyed on boats in the Stuart mooring field. I didn't know if these stories were true, but they had me thinking.

Finally, having the Blue Moon on a dock would make it much easier to get stuff on and off. Mainly off, since I planned to improve much of my 'cargo' out of existence. But that's the subject of a future blog post...

A quick phone call to Helena confirmed my thinking. By the time I'd lunched and walked back to the marina, my mind was made up. Plans were made to be broken. This is where I would end the first leg of my 2000 mile cruise in the Blue Moon.

The 500 mile shakedown cruise was over. I was going home.

The Blue Moon, tucked into an oversized slip, at the Indiantown Marina
photo jalmberg

The well-used, but still dry, Cabin Boy
photo jalmberg

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  1. I have been wondering for a while why you never mentioned motorsailing in your predicaments. Usually, your destination is _not_ directly to windward, so if you were tacking you would make long tacks one way, and short ones the other. If sailing close hauled, with the motor running at a low speed, the boat will point higher, and with less leeway. If you motor first in the "short tack" direction for a while, then hoist the sail and still run the motor, you'll frequently never need to tack again. This is both quieter and more fuel efficient, than motoring, and quicker than plain sailing.

  2. What a trip! Now tha tyou are home, I am sure you enjoy the tale and cannot wait to get back out there. You Learned much and adapted well. I enjoyed all moments of your trip. Recover well and when will you continue?

  3. Tim: hopefully 2-3 weeks. I'm waiting on a new engine. Unfortunately, they don't stock long shaft outboards in Florida, so it had to be ordered.

  4. Ian: I hear you. Unfortunately, for the last few weeks, either I've been in a canal, or the wind actually has been directly against me. Once I get out of the Okeechobee Waterway, those summer easterlies should be good for sailing. Keeping my finger's crossed...

  5. following your progress with interest, since you took the short cut think your decision to lay over in Indian Town is not all that bad. Boat will be in fresh water and any salt water varmits should wither and die by the time you get back and a quick bottom scrub should be all you need. Did you see ant Anacondas or Boa constrictors on the lake? Suggest that you keep your hatches closed at night. bob archibald

  6. Bob: geeze... I never thought about snakes. Glad you didn't mention this until I was almost across!

    Yes, I thought about the goodness of a fresh water bath, too, though hopefully the bottom paint is keeping them away. Can't hurt, though!

  7. cabin boy looks like she is not done
    there are no gunnels
    but i have not read all of your posts
    i am just finishing a lovely 12ft sharpie
    called summer breeze
    gunnels inside and out really stiffen the boat
    good luck

  8. shmuel: you are right. I ran out of time and had to cut a few corners (like making the thwarts out of plywood), and leave a few things undone, like the inwales. When Cabin Boy gets back to NY, I'm going to replace the twarts with real wood, add a third seat in the bow and an extra set of oar locks, add the inwales, etc., and refinish him.

    By then, he'll deserve some pampering :-)

    It's plenty stiff without the inwales, by the way.


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