It’s 5:15 and the sun is setting over Miami. It’s not a movie-set sundown, but a more somber affair as the sky has clouded over. A swirl of blues in various shades hovers over the buildings downtown as we motor under the Rickenbacker Causeway. I look for the building with the unusual architecture that was made famous in the opening frames of “Miami Vice.” I can’t see it anywhere.
Soon my attention diverts to the water traffic in front of our catamaran. Power boats zoom by at top speed, and a ferry pushes a load of cars and a one-ton truck toward the city’s muted skyline. A container ship seems dwarfed by the Transformer-like cranes that line the cargo docks. A ferry off in the distance appears to be at a standstill. Suddenly, it turns and heads toward Fisher Island to disgorge a load of commuters in Mercedes and BMWs. Clearly, this isn’t a no-wake zone.
Mike, Mikayla and I remain on high alert until we put Miami behind us and enter the channel that guides us to our first trip across the Gulf Stream. Mikayla claims the first turn at the helm, and I retreat to the V-berth with Belle. I’m not sure who’s more nervous–the dog or me.
At 10 p.m., I take over. Mike reports that Mikayla adroitly circumnavigated a barge going who-knows-where. He brings me up to speed on our heading and the inky splotches indicating ships on the radar screen. Then he joins Mikayla in slumberland until he returns to the helm at midnight.
I tell myself that everything is going to be fine. Rev. Elizabeth blessed our boat, and Happy Times is running well since Steve and Tim’s surgery on the starboard engine earlier in the day. Mike, too, performed his magic on the port engine. We have a nearly perfect weather window: the wind is coming out of the south at 3-5 knots, and the waves measure 1-2 feet. As an added bonus, the moon is smiling down on the water and highlighting the waves.
Nonetheless, I’m uneasy. I feel as though we’re traveling through a giant funnel. The black sea looks like it’s 10 feet tall on either side of the boat. I look ahead and watch a cruise ship, lit up like a Christmas tree, fade slowly into the distance. I wish I were aboard it, not this 40-foot matchstick in the ocean.
Mike takes over at our appointed time, and I return to the V-berth. Sleep is out of the question. I roll back and forth, pull Belle closer to me and fluff my pillow. It’s no use. I can’t settle down to sleep.
At 2 a.m. it’s time for my shift again. Mike points out a cargo ship crossing our path. We watch it together and he explains that when the lights on either end of the ship line up and slip apart, it means that we have passed it safely. Another small light in the distance remains my only company until it, too, disappears.
I try to quiet my mind, but the worry wart inside continues a constant banter of anxiety. I remind myself about the positives on our side: Mike’s sailing skills, our prayers, our successful voyages of the past. Slowly, my mind starts to ease, and I find myself struggling to keep my eyes open.
I see lights ahead of us, dancing in the distance like fireflies. It’s West End, Bahamas, our destination. We’re nearing civilization again, and we’ll be safe once more. I close my eyes for only a minute. I’m so tired. I shake myself awake and stand beside the wheel for a few minutes. I want Mike to sleep a while longer, because he’s been awake almost all night long.
Returning to the captain’s chair, I close my eyes again, just for a little bit. Suddenly, I find myself slumped over, poised to fall out of the chair and land on the cockpit floor. It’s the wake-up call of our voyage.
I look up and see that the sails are all askew. I holler at Mike, because my brain can’t pierce the strangeness of their setting. Something is amiss. Then I recall what the guidebooks say about entering the Bahamas. They all agree that upon arrival, the depth changes rapidly from an undecipherable code on the chartplotter to 20 feet and less.
I look at our depth and, sure enough, it’s shrinking. I run inside and flip on the light in the starboard passageway and holler at Mike. He doesn’t hear me. I return to the helm and try to figure out why my repeated attempts to recalculate our course have failed. Happy Times should be turning. Then I hear the sickening sound of our boat running aground, and I turn the wheel hard to port and scream out Mike’s name.
Reaching down, I start the port engine and continue steering away from land. The starts to increase. Mike steps beside me and starts the starboard engine. We’re hitting the waves head on, but now, thankfully, we have 50 feet under our keel.
With a rush of relief, I turn the wheel over to Mike and confess that I fell asleep on my watch. We nearly ran aground on our maiden voyage. All I want to do is close my eyes and wake up when the nightmare is over.