Thursday, September 15, 2022

Running Up To Beaufort, Part One

To properly start this new season of the Bubba the Pirate Blog, we must start from the end of last season. Here is a story from mid-December, 2021. It was a hell of a send-off for me on my way back to a stint of truckdriving. 

As early as October, Victor and I had thought that our boats would be launched about the same time. We had talked about heading down the river together, and over to Wrightsville Beach. The main obstacle along the way is Snow’s Cut; a man-made canal that connects the IntraCoastal Waterway (ICW) coming down from Beaufort to the Cape Fear River. The tidal currents can rip through the cut and since I had done it a few times, and because Victor had just bought his first big boat -- he was keen to follow someone who had done it.

Victor is a youngish guy, an engineer and recently out of college; recently compared to me anyway. The boat he had bought was going to be his home up toward Beaufort, NC, near his job. We had gotten along from our first meeting and he can geek out about diesel engines, electric motors, and general boat stuff, but had lots of questions too. I don't yet qualify as an 'old salt' but I was nearby, and I have a lot of opinions. And I was a hero one day because I was the last person to hit the start button when his engine started.

His boat, a Willard 36 trawler was near my boat in the yard and he came over one day with a question about his diesel. I demurred that I probably wasn't the right guy to ask. We had talked enough previously that he knew I had been a truck driver for a while.

"But you've started a bunch of diesels," he stated with confidence I hardly deserved. "Can you just come have a look?"

So, I wandered over and climbed up into to the shippy-looking old boat and admired its efficient layout. The floor boards in the main salon were all up exposing the engine. Victor hung onto the water intake hose slung into a tub of water and had me gingerly cross the open space to get to the helm station. I pushed the start button a couple times, but didn't get it started. However, he might have been right about my experience because I sensed that it really wanted to start. We agreed on giving it one more try, so I pressed the button with new found confidence and the big John Deere engine roared to life. We all danced around and I got the credit; though all I did was push the button one more time.

Back at the yard last December, I had just figured out that my engine had seized and Ruth Ann wasn’t going to make the trip. Also, the yard had discovered that Victor’s boat had several cracks in its stern tube. We had talked about me crewing for him in lieu of taking Ruth Ann, but I had started to look for a job to pay for a new engine. The stern tube had to be custom made with an uncertain leadtime, and I was preparing to leave town.

I had pushed my luck and stayed nearly longer than was feasible. Hoping against hope that the yard's boom truck would get fixed and my mast raised. Nevertheless, the mast never moved before I headed back to Florida nearly out of money.

The stern tube had suddenly arrived the first Monday of December and the yard was going to install it yet that week. I had 4 or 5 applications out and was waiting for word on a driving job. Helping Victor sounded like great fun, but timing was everything. I was ready, and it was basically necessary for me to jump whenever one of the trucking companies called.

My batteries had to be at 50% state of charge for storage. So, Wednesday that week I disconnected the solar panels and started using up amps that wouldn’t be replaced. Thursday morning Victor’s boat was ready to go and I had the job offer that I wanted. I was headed back to Florida to drive for a good little company that I had worked for before. I knew the people, the system, the equipment, and the schedule. And I knew that I could work for several months and not have to buy a car. And ... I was going to be able to make the trip with Victor!

Truck driver job ads are a bit like used car ads and I have trouble believing anything I read. Going with the devil I knew was an easy decision once my application had been approved down in Groveland, Florida.

As luck would have it, the company sent me to get a drug test at a clinic that was right across the road from a laundromat that I’d been using all along. The nights had been chilly that week so after it warmed up a little, I loaded my laundry into my bike’s saddlebags and rode into town.

After my clothes were in the dryer, I walked over to the clinic, but they were pretty busy. The lady at the desk suggested that I come back in an hour or so. So, I wandered back to the laundry. Once everything was folded and packed back up, I left the saddlebags on an out-of-the-way table and walked back to the clinic.

Victor texted that the yard was ready to launch his boat. I replied that I was stuck in line at the clinic and he should not to wait for me. It crossed my mind that my reply might have sounded a bit churlish but I didn’t think he was prepared to leave without me anyhow.

When I pedaled back into the boatyard, Victor’s Willard was in the slipway, in the water. He beckoned me aboard, so I ditched my stuff and climbed in. The yard guys had helped with a couple final details and we were ready to make a trip -- momentous but only about 20 yards over to the dock. The boatyard is not a marina, it is, in fact, a boatyard. The dock is a fairly large platform but is only used as a place for skippers to stage their boats either on the way in or out of the yard. In fact, we met a couple that evening, who were preparing to bring their boat up the river and had stopped by to check out the facilities.

Friday evening we prepped both boats. I tidied up Ruth Ann and the space around her and gathered my stuff for the trip. I was likely going straight to the bus station from the boat. Two stuffed duffel bags, my book bag with my laptop, and a ukulele were all I had packed to occupy me for the next six months or so. It was just spitting rain when I pitched my duffels to the ground. After climbing down, I hung them on Ruth Ann’s jack stands to stay dry. Back up the ladder, I did a final check and turned off the batteries. When I climbed back down and was thinking it would be best to make two trips over to the dock … I was confronted by an empty jack stand - a missing duffel!

There’s a few of us hanging around the boatyard, so I immediately suspected that someone was messing with me. However, there had also been a guy, occasionally acting a little crazy, who had recently brought his boat to the yard. Sometimes he was more than a little drunk, and other times random things had come up missing around the yard. I had not met the guy yet, so all that was mostly hearsay, but just in case, I decided to pass by where his boat was.

I grabbed my book bag, my ukulele, and the one duffel I still had, and crunched through the gravel across the yard. Around the building, with a flash from my light, there was no car and no activity around the allegedly crazy guy’s boat. Just then, a pebble skittered across the pavement near me.

“Now I know you’re out there,” I said out loud to my unknown nemesis.

I started walking toward the dock as if giving up. Another pebble skipped over the gravel. After a few more steps feigning nonchalance, I spun around, clicked on my flashlight, and spotted Mike -- laughing and lugging my biggest, heaviest bag.

I hadn’t seen Mike in a couple days and I was leaving. After helping Victor get his boat to Beaufort, I was going to catch the bus to Florida to start truckdriving again. It was good to have a chance to shake hands and say ‘see you later’ to Mike, one of my boatyard pals. My bags were packed heavy, hence the two trips idea. After we laughed and shook hands, Mike said with a smile, “well, I’ll walk down to the dock with you but I’m not carrying your stuff.”

Departure Morning Sunrise
So there I was with everything in one trip, but I didn’t mind. We stumbled down to the dock. I shook
Mike's hand again and tossed my stuff down to the boat. Victor’s mom, Cheryl, was aboard with Link, Victor’s big, ol’ sweet dog -- and lots of food. There were several grocery bags, a large cooler, and takeout supper that was filling the boat with delicious smells. She had brought provisions for a battalion.
“Do you think we’ll have enough?” she asked.

Victor arrived and the three of us, and Link, prepared to tuck into the fried chicken, BBQ pork, coleslaw, and hushpuppies Cheryl had brought from Smithfields. We stowed some of the groceries, moved the big cooler, and each found a place to sit down to eat.

“I’ve been on 3 day voyages with less food than what you’ve brought for supper,” I told her with a smile. “I think we’ll be just fine.”

Homeward Epilogue

sv Ruth Ann in Beaufort, SC, 12/23 Ruth Ann is the last in a series of boats on which I was attempting to escape. I found her when I found a...