To Cuba (almost) by Outrigger Sailing Canoe
April 2003

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I drove down the highway to the Keys til I saw some people parked by the water on a skinny little key. There were no "do not" signs and it didn't seem like a tow-away kind of place. I wanted a real campsite but it was a long weekend and everything was full.


I parked by a gap in the mangroves and put my canoe in the water.


I spent a few days working on it.


This is a rotary rasp made by sticking sandpaper to a socket. I liked it enough to take these pictures, but then I tried a pointy knife and that was better. Here I'm rounding the edges of the holes for the main aka lashings so they don't cut the lashings. I agonized over what would go and what wouldn't and packed the canoe.


What definitely was going went in first, which meant that the stuff I needed most would be least accessible. I was expecting to camp on land at least once to sort and repack before the crossing. Locals stopped and offered help and advice. They were worried about "the guy sailing to cuba in a canoe." "Why are you doing this?" was the main question. I tried various answers. They weren't satisfied. "My girlfriend and I broke up and then..." I said. And they'd say "Oh. Now it makes sense," and seemed relieved. That's how guys end up in the keys. Sometimes my visitors spent a long time talking to me or inviting me one place or another. It's a slow-paced very relaxed place. Sometimes I got the feeling they were trying to prolong my life by delaying me a bit.

Kirk Green invited me to help move his boat from one anchorage to another. This gave me a chance to look at the water. I talked him into accepting my truck.

Here I am saying goodbye to the ugly truckling.

Beached in the park behind the Islamorada library for a last hit of email. Then I sailed off down the channel. After all those preparations it felt really good to sail. I didn't actually much care where I was going, I just wanted to sail. I followed the lights of the highway southwest til I came to a high bridge, sailed under it and out to sea. By then it was dark and the stars came out. I could see the glow in the sky from Miami behind me and after a while I saw a glow from Key West also. I was aiming a little east of Havana to miss a U.S. imposed exclusion zone near Key West. You're supposed to get permission from the Coast Guard to be there. Cuban ex-patriots in Florida sometimes go to Cuba to blow up people and things. At least once they took a reporter and photographer with them and I read the story in the National Geographic. This zone is supposed to make them get permits before attacking. I sailed all night watching the stars turn in the sky and the phosphorescence in the water. The glowing turbulence behind my transom looked like a rocket exhaust. I wasn't hungry or tired or thirsty. The water and air were warm.
There was a glow in the sky where Havana should be. I sailed toward it. The boat and I were blasting along with a beautiful tailwind. The following waves got bigger and bigger, fueled by the same wind that pushed me. Havana's glow got bigger too. The boat slowed down to climb the back of a wave also going to Cuba. We broke through the top and surfed down the wave with a hissing sound.
I couldn't see the glow anymore. I was inside the glow of the city. The sky was getting lighter. Dawn was coming. We climbed and surfed down another wave. There was a cracking sound. The boat veered crazily. The tiller felt floppy and wrong. I looked back. The rudder was broken.

I lashed a paddle to a stick, lashed that to the stern, and steered with that as a sweep oar.

The part that broke had survived other trips and hadn't been one of my worries. I guess it has to be that way. Problems are always the unexpected ones.

The sweep oar had more drag than the rudder and slowed the boat. It was a lot more work, I had to push hard one way when going up a wave and the other way going down it. And there were a lot of waves. All you could see in every direction in fact. I couldn't doze at the helm anymore. If I fell asleep or stopped the oar work, the boat turned upwind and drifting backward with the sail rattling. I was crossing a part of the Gulf Stream that went northeast. I wanted to go southwest to Havana. When I slept or stopped to fix something the GPS showed me drifting at 3mph the wrong way. It was classic gulf stream. There were large steep waves from the wind pushing against the current. Clumps of olive-colored sargasso weed floated around,

and here and there were the little purple balloon sails of man-o-war jellyfish.

Every day my gps showed me further from Havana, so I aimed further east at Varadero, a beach resort that caters to foreign tourists. I thought the officials might be as friendly there as I heard they were in Havana's Hemingway Marina.

At the edge of the current were big eddies. Sometimes the water looked like a river, with visible currents like I was used to. When the eddy was against me it was as if the wind increased but the boat stayed in one place, just plowing a deeper wake. When the eddy was with me the wind seemed to die and the current carried me. I watched the stars and the little dipper rotate all night, as if pouring water out. When I was actually moving south I could see the big dipper slowly getting lower in the sky. I was laying on my back working the oar over my head. I realized I'd seen the dipper at that angle before, about 80 miles south of Cancun, where I'd lain on a beach and watched it rotate all night to figure out which one was the north star. So that's how far south I was now. The stars were incredible. Really thick up there, like cottage cheese. More and more stars behind the others. I've got to get laser eye surgery so I can see this stuff better. The salt spray fogs my glasses and it's hard to find something dry to wipe them with. Finally I was out of the current. I flopped over onto my side and slept in my wet clothes. While I slept I drifted back into the current.

When I awoke the wind had died and I was further away than ever, in a chunk of ocean going northeast at 5 mph.
There were no signs of such speed. Sometimes you can see the current. It makes the waves look a bit like standing waves in a river. It must have been deep and the waves couldn't feel the bottom. The river of current must have been wide too, the waves were regular, with none of the funkiness from being bent by passing currents. The only way I could tell was by looking at the gps. 5mph. I didn't think that was possible. What makes all this water want to get somewhere like that? I lifted the boom up to the mast and wrapped the sail around it, tied it up with the sheet. No wind to move me. I dug for my food. All I'd had in the last few days were some lentil sprouts, water, really delicious grapefruit (thanks Frank!) and some rancid olive oil that had made me sick. Probably less than a thousand calories a day, during which I was working nonstop and hardly sleeping. It was an effort to eat. I couldn't stand the sight of any of the food I'd brought. And it was hard to get to because I'd packed the important stuff first. I started throwing out some of the less useful stuff on top. I threw out the olive oil can I'd drunk the rancid oil from. I'd been saving it to cut holes and use as a cook stove. Nothing I had with me needed cooking and the fish didn't seem to like the lure I'd just dragged 200 miles. After some agonizing I threw in my sewing machine. It was a nice one and I'm sure someone in Cuba would have loved it, but I was embarrassed to be carrying such a heavy thing and would hate to die because of it. So splash, off it went and the boat bobbed a little lighter. I took the chain leader off my anchor and threw it in. Makes the anchor not hold as well, but I'd seen my same 6lb danforth(?) anchor on yachts. I guess it would hold me fine without the chain. If I was ever lucky enough to get to land and use it again.

I forced myself to eat some more sprouts and made a concoction of powdered milk, quick oats, and brown sugar. There was a bad smell in my hull that I couldn't identify. I didn't want to eat but I knew it was a good idea. I couldn't think of anything I'd eat if I had it. Rare steak? Guava juice? Too much working out and no appetite. All my food was in plastic soda bottles. Enough for a couple of months or so. Or maybe a year at this rate. And my twelve gallons or so of water. Every ounce made the boat sit lower and meant another ounce of ocean I had to push out of the way to move forward. I hadn't been worried about speed when I planned, because Cuba is 700 miles long and there were ports of entry all along the coast. I'd be crossing the Northeast tradewind at 8mph or so and crossing the current. Now I was north of the tradewinds again and into a fast current going straight the wrong way. I couldn't go faster than the current and couldn't go without sleep anymore. I took a nap.

I looked down into the blue turquoise water. Little brown jellyfish like mushrooms swam south. A blue fish about a foot long hovered next to my main hull. Should I dig out my spear and try to eat it? it seemed like a lot of work, and wrong to eat a fish if I didn't even know what species it was. I'd been drifting a few hours. Where were the Mahimahi? They were supposed to be schooling under me already. Maybe my hull was too clean. Maybe they didn't like white canoes. The Marshallese painted theirs black below the waterline. Must be for the fish. I looked for sharks, didn't see any, and went for a little swim. Just a dip though, I wasn't used to being so far out with such deep water under me. I was about a hundred miles from land. I climbed on deck, put my gear back on, propped my head up on a water bottle, crossed my arms, and went to sleep.

       the tiny birds
In my dream something fluttered on my head. I pried myself out of sleep,
squinted at the sun, and moved my head. A little yellow songbird appeared
fluttering around the boat. It must have been perched on my head while I
slept. It looked tired.  It perched on my broken rudder and panted.

Amazing. I'm a hundred miles from land, and here's a tiny bird
with a gas tank the size of a thimble. What motivates this tiny hero? If
it landed in the water it could never take off again. Of the thousand
possibilities for my friend, death is all of them.

I thought "I should give my pal some water. How can I do that?" I puzzled
over the mechanics of finding a cup and pouring water. It seemed
impossible. My brain was too fatigue-muddled to figure it out.

All I had to do was pour the water into the bottle's own cap and set it
down. The bird would smell the fresh water and drink it if it wanted it.
It was too tired to be afraid of me.
That's me thinking now. At the time I couldn't figure out a simple thing
like that, which I'd practiced over and over again as a toddler in my
mom's Montessori school.

I must have gone to sleep again, because I awoke again. The bird was gone.
Amazing. Crazy for a tiny land bird to fly so far over the sea. Even
crazier to find a place to perch in the middle of the ocean and save one's
life. Finally and totally crazy to leave it for some promised land that
had never been seen. I dozed again and awoke to another tiny bird on the
boat. This one pink and white. Again I slept and again it was gone when I awoke.
What drives these tiny animals? Can they decide not to do this?
The earth turns the right way and the sun says "fly far away". And these birds do it.
I do it too.

I took another nap. It was very quiet. The only sounds were an occasional splash as a wave hit the side of my boat in a funny way. I listened to the various faint ringing sounds in my ears. There was a low hum. Must be the echo of my bad exhaust and wind noise from the drive down. If I was lucky those cochlear hairs would stand up again and the hum would go away. Where would I go to find such quiet and see? Maybe the desert.

       the helicopter
I heard a helicopter. It got louder and I looked up. It was huge and headed straight for me.
It veered off and circled. there was a guy in helmet and goggles in the open door in a green jumpsuit looking at me.
The helicopter was black with a yellow stripe on the side. I tried to not look too interested.
I waved with one hand and he waved back. I wondered how they'd seen me or what they thought I was.
I guess there are lots of agencies watching this area. They tell congress that's what they do anyway. I didn't think they talked to each other or worried about little guys like me though. I was glad to have the florida registration number on the hull so they didn't think I was an aspiring immigrant. I'm sure the boat looked a lot like that with the innertube lashings on the platform. The helicopter kept circling me. It was big and looked expensive. If they declared me a "manifestly unsafe voyage" and dragged me off the water, I wondered how much luggage they'd let me bring and what it would cost. Would they cage me in Guantanamo and make me fill out lots of forms? I didn't want to get out my radio, because I was sure I would sound like an idiot. In the past I'd kept the coast guard from rescuing me by yelling "I have a flashlight!" at them until they left. That was the only thing I was actually required to have on a boat that size. Out here though they'd probably use more independence in judging "unsafe." What was the gesture of a competent mariner? I gave them a thumbs-up sign. Those guys can see a thumb a mile off. I remembered the look on the recruiter's face when he told me my eyes weren't good enough to fly jets. Like a death in the family. This guy's blurry little arm moved as if it had a thumbs-up on the end of it, and his blurry little face seemed to have a thumbs-up kind of smile on it. They kept circling me though and I supposed their training told them that no one ever really wants to get rescued and will often hide from rescue teams or run away from them, even while starving or freezing. They gave me a few more orbits to let me reconsider things, and flew off north again, powered by your federal taxes and kerosene from Abu Dhabi.

After pulling the stuff out of the hulls, throwing a bunch into the water, and packing the rest back in in more reasonable order, I made a sea anchor by lashing sticks across the mouth of a sail bag and tying a bridle of ropes to the sticks. I put a chunk of buoy foam in the bag to keep it at the surface. I wanted the boat to keep pointed into the waves and wind while I slept so I wouldn't get rocked so hard or splashed with water so much. I'd heard of using a regular anchor for this, and I tried letting out the anchor from the bow but the boat didn't stay straight. The drag from the anchor, chain, and all that rope wasn't enough. The sea anchor though worked well. I had a bridle going from the outrigger and main hull to the rope that went to the sea anchor. The waves had built up to five or six feet and a bit chaotic, but mostly the boat went up and down and I had another nap.

I'm in the Palm Beach public library typing. A ceiling fan with hand fans for blades. A comfortable rattan couch. A loud reggae band is playing "No Woman No Cry" outside. It's Sunfest and many blocks along the intracoastal are fenced off and they've hired every band to play on innumerable stages. Now the library is closed and I'm sitting in the park with the fountain and my ac cord plugged into a pillar. When I got here Cheryl Crowe was singing "Leaving Las Vegas". My friends listen to her music on auto-repeat and watch the videos on their computers while they work. "Are those real?" I ask. "No." they say. "How about Jewel?" "Pushup bra." They'll give me a hard time for being this close to the concert and not going in. But it's too nice out here by the fountain watching people walk by. My fingers still hurt a bit when I bend them. From sunburned cuticles and cuts and infections and saltwater sores and soaking in saltwater for way too long and then puffing up in rainwater drawn in by the salt that pickled my fingers.

"No Woman No Cry" was the song I'd had in my head most of the time I'd been on the water. I didn't mind. It's a good one. A big relief actually. The last time I'd really tried to get away from it all, I was laying on the beach of an uninhabited Marshallese islet watching the moon over the reef break. I had sailed there across the lagoon from town, and no one was waiting for me anywhere. I was ready to clear my head completely and become "susceptible to divine influences" as J.S.Bach would say. Have the next big idea. Instead I got a Paul McCartney song "Band On the Run" stuck in my head. I'd never liked it or had any use for it. But there it was and I couldn't do a thing about it. So much for getting away.

I used up very little of my food and water and was never cold enough to put on all my gear. The air and water stayed in 70s which felt warm to me, coming from the north. I didn't get much sunburn because I stayed covered up. The big problems were the lack of sleep, fatigue, saltwater sores on my hands and behind, other pain in my fingers from sunburn, infections. I couldn't keep my fingers covered and still grip the sheet and tie knots. The water washed off the sunscreen. So they got sunburned. I had plenty of lanolin from Urist in BC canada, but after my skin was already soaked with water it just wouldn't go in.

Ships were my big worry. Some areas had a lot of ships, others had none. I've read a lot of lifeboat narratives, and they all had trouble getting close to a ship or getting the ship's attention. Ships are big but the ocean is a lot bigger. I came too close to a couple of ships and wondered why. Then realized I was using them for landmarks and heading straight for them. If you're moving and hold a constant heading to a ship, you'll run right into it. And then you'll be right in the sea-lanes where more ships will come. So then I tried not to use ships as landmarks, although the eye tends to slide off the other scenery and settle on them, so it's hard not to do. When I got close to one, I'd just stop til I figured out where it was going. It's really hard to judge the speed of a ship. It's so big it looks like it's not moving, but it's screaming along and if you try to pass in front of it it'll be right on top of you. They can't just spin the wheel and miss you or hit the brakes. They have to ring bells and yell down to the engine room and it takes a mile or two for them to respond to anything. I preferred to sleep during the day because I thought I'd be easier to see and more likely the ship had someone awake on watch.

Eventually I was halfway between Andros Island, Bahamas and Miami, going the wrong way. There was no way I could get to Cuba like this. I looked at my books. "Cruising Guide to the Caribbean" wasn't any good. It referred to charts rather than gps coordinates. I had no place to keep charts dry or roll them out to look at them. Inside the front cover was a map though that let me figure out where I was. Okay. I'll head for Florida. A new phase of the trip had begun. To sail from Florida to Florida had never been an ambition of mine. I'd given up and all I wanted was to get back to land and the trip to be over. I wanted to sleep and be dry. But it wasn't so easy. There was a lot of water between me and the land, and I couldn't just wish myself there. On monday a storm was coming and I wanted to be off the water. Last I checked anyway. I hadn't pulled out the radio since, because I asked myself what I would do if I knew for sure, and I was already doing it as fast as I could. That meant tuning the sails, working the oar, staying awake and keeping the canoe pointed at Miami.

I'd be sailing with my eyes open, and what I was seeing would sort of freeze. From then on I was dreaming, but my arm would still steer the boat, and the waves that hit the boat didn't quite line up with the dream waves. They'd hit the boat from a wrong angle and I'd jerk awake, able to see again, and straighten the boat out. I couldn't always tell if I was awake. I thought it would be a good rule to not do anything dangerous in my dreams since I might not really be asleep. Day came and I slept, less afraid of being run down by a ship. I'd wake up a few minutes or hours later and sail again til I couldn't stay awake, it would get dark and the stars would come out, and I didn't really know how many days it had been or if I'd missed some.

After sailing for a while and getting really tired, the waves and sails started sounding like voices. I ignored them for a long time, but they didn't seem to do anything scary and they were mumbling anyway. Eventually I started tuning them in, and it was pretty funny stuff. There were some evil aliens that lived in my transom. When I went fast the transom made kind of a hissy alien sound. It was the soundtrack from a cable-tv sciencefiction show. These aliens had landed at a goth disco and were trying to fit in. They dressed up like vampires and looked really evil and talked in scary voices and were the coolest couple at the disco. They were really into evil in theory but they never actually harmed anyone. They said it was a "big-picture" approach to evil rather than a "street-crime" approach.

Sea birds made calls sounded like people shouting things at me, I could never tell what.
The rhythms of wash from a boat going through waves are a lot like standup speech or talkshow talk. Sort of regular, sort of random, just right to stay interesting. "Set up expectations, then surprise them," someone once said of how to compose music. Wash, spray, and waves have all the frequencies of speech. When I finally got the nerve to tune it in, it was great. I got to listen to about a forty hours of standup comedy and talk shows delivered by splashing waves.

My sails were a married couple on a radio talk show hosted by a divorce attorney turned marriage counselor. The jib was the wife. "The wife is the stability of this couple. You can always count on her. But she needs room to work well. She needs time for herself too. Don't worry, you're not going to lose her, just loosen up a bit." The sails were chiming in saying "that's right" and telling anecdotes about the problems they used to have. I asked, "Are you saying I should let out my jib sheet?" "Well, you could give it a try," they said. So I let out the jib sheet and the sails puffed out, the canoe sped up, and the load on the oar decreased a lot.

I talked out loud to the waves and birds and so on, but I didn't talk to the voices out loud. That's supposed to be important. If you're talking out loud it means you don't know the difference between what you're seeing and what you're imagining. If you know you're imagining them it doesn't make any sense to talk out loud. They'll hear you just fine if you imagine talking to them. Sounds like a simple rule, but when I didn't know if I was awake or asleep I also didn't know if I was talking out loud.

The wind turned and it was a fast downwind run surfing northwest down the dark waves. I didn't have to see them. Behind each wave was another one. It was a lot of work with the oar keeping the canoe pointed the right way when the stern got propped up on one of those fast-moving waves. I thought the canoe might keep moving without my help if I fell off, so I tied the sheet to my ankle. That way if I fell off it would sheet in the sail and flip the canoe over so it would stay with me. An upside-down canoe with the sail in the water is pretty slow. That's a real virtue when you're trying to swim after it.

At night the little dipper got higher and higher in the sky and the glow of the city in the sky got brighter and nearer. Then suddenly it was gone. Where had it gone? I decided I was inside the glow from the city now. When dawn came it was grey. There was haze all around the horizon. I squinted. In the haze ahead were tiny rectangles. Buildings? I squinted and looked away and back to see that they were still there. Then I looked behind me and saw buildings in the haze there too. I couldn't stay awake any more and brailed up my sail, wrapping it around the mast. I put out the sea anchor, pulled my hat over my eyes, lay down on the foam pad on my surfboard across the beams and went to sleep. I gripped a crossbar with one hand. Sometimes a bigger wave smacked the boat and soaked me. I woke up and cursed and went back to sleep. I was sleeping on a slippery rocking platform narrower and shorter than my body, and I never fell off. What is human nature? What are our instincts? One is the ability to cling to sticks in our sleep. We're still primates with lots of circuitry intact, and it's safe to sleep in a tree. People die all the time falling out of bed, but that's because modern beds have nothing to grip. Just to make sure my instincts didn't fail me I tied a rope to my ankle.

I woke up and there were no buildings to see. I sailed while the wind turned and ended up straight against me. It increased and there were whitecaps. It was getting harder to sail and there was more spray from waves hitting the boat or breaking just as we got to them. I looked ahead and there were towering black clouds with brown rain under them. It looked like big trouble and it was coming my way fast. I thought I was all worn out, but suddenly I was scampering around packing stuff into the hull, putting out the sea anchor, taking down the mast, wrapping the sail around it, and lashing it to the akas with innertubes. The waves got bigger and broke more. Just as I got done it hit. The wind howled and blasted me with rain and spray that hurt. I put my hands over my face and squinted through my fingers to see what was coming. It just kept increasing and increasing. At the peak the swells were round and smooth. The wind was so strong it knocked the tops off the waves and rounded them off. Above the water was a layer of blasting spray I couldn't see through. I turned my head to breathe. When the wind decreased the waves kept getting bigger, coming from different angles, and breaking more. The sea anchor was about one and a half wavelengths ahead like it's supposed to be(I think), and jerked me ahead through the breaking waves just as they hit. They couldn't take me with them and roll me, so it wasn't so bad. Two of the akas broke loose from their lashings and were whacking the ama. The main beam on the front stanchion was holding fine. I jumped in the water, pulled myself over there and lashed the ama right to the akas with bicycle innertubes while the boat rocked and bobbed and waves hit us. Then I sat astride the hull, had some quickoats+powdermilk drink, and enjoyed the storm. It seemed as if it was as bad as it was going to get. I imagined a british officer training a corps of commandos who only attacked during storms. "The only thing more beautiful than a storm is a storm with a young girl dancing naked in it." He told his troops. I forget how the rest of the movie turned out.


After the storm, everything still lashed down, and before sailing again. I've heard, "To flatten out waves, just point a camera at them." The waves increased but the wind died down and eventually I realized I could sail again. I felt great. I'd been through the storm and hoped there wasn't another one. I put up the mast and got ready to sail. It wasn't easy because the fresh water from the rain had already gotten to my skin. My fingers were puffing up white and wrinkly and the deck was very slippery to my feet. I had a hard time standing on it. I slipped and fell off a couple of times and felt really stupid before I got used to it. My butt had saltwater sores on it already despite my efforts to grease it with lanolin and stay off it when I could. I started sailing and it was very nice in the big swells, but then the wind died and it started to pour rain. The waves died down, quit breaking, and I sat there bobbing up and down in a constant pouring rain that seemed like it could go on forever. This was the worst part of the trip yet. I couldn't get dry or get grease into my skin or get out of the rain or read a book or open a dry package or sail. It wasn't exciting or scary like the storm or give me anything to do. I couldn't sleep in that rain. I screamed. I was sick of being wet. I wanted some decent sleep. This was torture. Saltwater ulcers were flaying me, my hands were puffing up and turning white, and every time I thought I was going to get to land something came up and prevented it. Waves kept splashing me at random intervals. This was supposed to be fun. What had I done wrong? I looked at the boat. I'd built it and made the gear and planned the trip myself. How had I actually built a torture machine and imprisoned myself on it? This boat was perfect to keep me alive indefinitely and miserable the whole time. It couldn't sink or break up and had plenty of food and water and there was no way to get dry or sleep well out here in these waves. I'd done it all myself. These random events like giant current eddies and headwinds and storms could occur in just the right sequence to keep me at sea forever. Was I cursed? Was I actually dead, in hell, being punished for something? I imagined the waves talking to me.

Waves: "So what have you learned?"
Me: "That I like water, rocks, and trees, and now I've only got water?"
Waves: "And?"
Me: "And humans are land animals with skin that's got to dry out. That's why we pave and aircondition everything. To make it 70 degrees and dry like Addis Ababa, our ancestral home."
Waves: "And?"
Me: "This has all the features of torture except for some guy with a tray full of tongs."
Waves: "And?"
Me: "I'm an idiot."
Waves: "Are you sure?"
Me: "I could do anything and here I am. It's not bad luck. I did it all myself."
Waves: "Go on?"
Me: "I'm an idiot."
The waves didn't say anything, but they looked pleased.
Me: "So now what?"
Waves: "What do you mean?"
Me: "What do I do now? How do I act on the knowledge that I'm an idiot? Whatever I decide, it might be stupid. Do I need advisors? Or do you just want me to be aware that I'm an idiot?"
It went on like this for a while. The waves wanted me to admit I was an idiot and to remember it, but didn't have any answers for me about what to do next.

I got superstitious about sargasso weed. I could tell it was the real power behind this gulf stream thing. I didn't recall ever seeing any on shore, and there was lots of it out here. How did it stay in the current, how did it keep from drifting onto shore? Shoes and bottles and everything else washed ashore. This Sargassum wanted to be in the current. And it had the power to get there. Sometimes I picked up a bunch and tossed it on my deck to look at it. A wave always came and washed it off.

There was a lot of variety to the sea. Usually it felt like being on a low hill which was the dome of the visible earth. Sometimes it was like being in a valley or on a riverbank on in a river. There's a shallow area centered between miami, cuba, and the bahamas. There the currents were fascinating, rivers next to rivers. One place reminded me of a rapid in my hometown where I'd spent a lot of time growing up. I kept feeling like the Sauk Rapids bridge was just behind me, but when I looked for it it wasn't there. As I got closer to Florida the reflected waves and bottom contours made lots of features. One spot seemed like fields of corn stubble and a row of poplar trees between them. I sailed a while and looked back. It was still there. Another place was the flat top of a capped landfill, like a place where my friends and I fly kites.

I squinted at some rectangles in the haze at the horizon. Very similar to the ones I'd maybe hallucinated there before. I kept looking away and then back to see if they were in the same places. This time I didn't manage to see any in the haze behind me, and after an hour or so I got used to seeing the rectangles and decided they were real buildings. It took them a long time to get any bigger. The wind was increasing and turning to a headwind, and it was getting harder to sail. It looked like another storm might be coming at me from the land. My hands were puffy and white from the rain water. There were deep gouges in them from the rope, and my cuticles were split and raw with big hangnails and infected sores. It made sailing much less fun. There were whitecaps and on one of my tacks I couldn't get the canoe to sail well again. I could force it forward at a crawl, but the front beam kept plowing into the waves and stopping the canoe. I had to let out the sheet and let the canoe turn upwind to keep it from flipping over. By this time I was pretty wiped out. I was seeing personality in everything around me. In my mind I asked the sails what they thought.
"Well, you could try something different?" they asked.
"Such as?"
"Moving around?" I thought that was a little weird because I was already far back on the hull and that wasn't holding the bow up. I sat out on the beam, putting my weight on the outrigger. It made the bow pop up just a little bit and quit hitting the waves so hard.
"What else have you got for me?" I asked.
"What else is there?" they replied.
Me: "Two sails and an oar?"
They: "What can you do with the oar?"
Me: "Pry on it? Watch it bend?"
They: "Just grab it at the thick part. See the difference?"
It was pretty amazing. Flex in the oar shaft was apparently a bad thing. Grabbing the thick part made a huge difference. The canoe went faster and didn't plow as much.
And so on. It worked so well I started paying attention to what the waves were saying too. I learned a bunch of new tricks. I pushed the outrigger down and that somehow popped the bow up. I bounced just before waves, and that popped the bow up. I held the oar at the thick part and worked it at an angle that pushed the stern down and that did the same thing. I worked the oar in time to the waves instead of just holding it steady, and the waves gave me a lot of help. Before long I was flying along toward shore.

The wind increased more, I had more trouble. I wondered if the new storm would come and push me back again. I wondered if I would ever get to land, or if I was cursed. Would I just work myself to exhaustion every day and be stopped by squalls, calms, and eddies in just the wrong accidental way. I wondered if I was really alive or if I was dead and in hell and being punished forever. I asked the waves, they and the sails gave me more lessons, and before long I was sailing well again.

I had some sargasso weed on my deck for company and because I wanted to see what it would do. I knew I would never get it to shore. This stuff had the power to stay in the current, and had been staying in the current for a long time. I got in close enough to the city that there were small boats and helicopters going along the coast. I could see windows in the buildings and sometimes little cars between them. I started feeling pretty good, like I was really going to get to land again. The sails and waves wanted to see how fast I could go. I did my new tricks and the canoe stood up and took off fast, but after awhile I got out of sync with the waves and plowed into one. The front beam threw up a lot of spray, then the back beam hit the wave, and the canoe flipped over. "Time to find out about capsize," I thought. It took a while to flip it right again. I had to free the sheet so the boom could swing underwater. I pulled myself around the canoe in the water until it was turned outrigger upwind, so the wind would help. I had a rope tied to the outrigger and a loop around my waist. I stood on the bottom of the hull, leaned way back, jumped up and down, and waved my arms. The outrigger slowly came up, I leaned back more, the sail came out of the water, and once the outrigger was straight up in the air I pulled it hand-over-hand to me and it smacked down in the water. My foam pads were floating away. The Sargasso weed was gone, having gotten itself back into the current. The hull was low in the water. It needed to be bailed. Probably I couldn't have righted it without that water in there, because it shortened the lever. Next time I re-rigged I'd put the outrigger closer to make righting easier. This had been too difficult. I pulled enought stuff out of the hull to get to the bottom. Like always I tied a rope to anything that wasn't inside the hull and started bailing . My sprouts had spilled. There were a lot of lentils all over in the hull.

Back to sailing. I was a lot further out than I thought and it took a long time to get close to the city. It got dark and the lights came on in the buildings and spotlights in the sky. I tried to figure out where Miami Beach was. There was music from a concert in one of the towns. One of the spring-break industry's giant stripmines. I had to turn north to make any headway against the wind and currents. There were some really strange currents and eddies that stopped me for a long time. I think I got into a tide rip coming out one of the inlets. I felt a cold wind. That was bad. It was just like the wind I'd felt before the storm. Another storm would push me back and my skin would keep hurting from too much water. I really wanted to get to to that land. To see if I could get there. To prove that I was alive and not cursed to fight the wind and currents and not dead and dreaming in a watery hell. To see what it was like to stand on dry land. Because really I'd forgotten what it was like and didn't know for sure how many days it had been. Strange how reality can change so much in such a short time. I asked the waves for some help and they waved in a way that said "Just watch what we're doing." They helped push me through the last of the currents I was fighting. I picked a spot where the buildings were lower and all different and there was a gap between them. I figured that would be a more humane area where people would be friendly. I thanked the last ocean swell when it gave me a push. A foam man waved goodbye and melted back into the wave as it touched bottom, dropped, and rolled back out to sea. I rode the back of a breaker in and ran the canoe up onto the beach. Dry land. It was real.

Late last night I dragged my outrigger canoe up the beach and slept under my sail at Pompano Beach, FL. My first sight of land for days. This is about a hundred miles NORTH of where I'd launched at Islamorada in the keys.

After unloading the canoe and dumping the stuff above the high tide mark and dragging up the canoe I went walking in search of food and a telephone. There weren't many people out and everything looked closed. I asked a woman where the nearest restaurant was. I asked her again and she ignored me, standing next to her car digging in her purse for something. Then I realized she wasn't a woman at all, but a sign swaying in the wind and I'd just hallucinated. I laughed and was glad to be standing on dry land.

This is what I looked like right after that. I wondered what kind of a crazy look I would have.
The eyes that couldn't tell a "private parking" sign from a person. I walked up and down the row of hotels and couldn't find a restaurant. One hotel had a restaurant but they "Didn't have food yet." I found a payphone and left my mom a message that I was alive, probably a pretty confused message. Even though I was exhausted my legs wanted to keep walking around. This was their first chance to walk anywhere in a while. Eventually I went back to the beach, piled up my gear, spread out my damp blankets, spread my sail over the top and crawled underneath to go to sleep. "Presidential hospitality," I thought to myself. "The epitomy of fine lodging."

In the morning I heard people talking. "Cubans or Haitians?" "No, it's got a Florida registration number." After a while I lifted the sail, came out, and started spreading out my stuff to dry on the sail. I met Mike Spear, who comes to the beach every morning to take pictures of the sunrise.

He took these shots. I'm checking the weather with my waterproof handheld marine radio. Just took it out of the "camelback" ziplock bag. I had the important stuff waterproofed with "belt and suspenders" like that. This one had three levels of dry, in a 5 gallon bucket with an o-ring lid. Mike had been a merchant sailor for years before getting into computers, and I asked him about that. I kept asking him to keep talking. It was nice to hear a real voice for a change. His friend Joseph Eger came up, taking his morning beach walk. We chatted for a bit and they invited me for breakfast. That sounded great. I put the sail back over my stuff and we went to Joseph's house.
And what did Joseph's wife Dorita offer me? Mung and Lentil sprouts!

The same thing I'd been eating on the boat. Hers were better than mine, but I couldn't eat much. I ate the rest of the food they had in the house. We had a lot to talk about. Joseph conducts a symphony and organizes various projects with the UN. Dorita is the author of a beautiful book called "I heal" about 14,000 Ukranian children who've gone to Cuba to be treated for cancer and other effects of the Chernobyl disaster.

They had a stack of comics there called "Addicted to War".

I bought a copy. It ought to be required reading for all Americans. It's a history of America's military adventures and how we came to spend 50% of our federal budget on the military, 37% of all worldwide military spending. It started to rain and Mike gave me a ride back to the beach to cover my stuff. Dorita gave me a ride to the grocery store while Mike helped Joseph with some computer problems. I got a baked chicken and a bunch of other stuff. She gave me a ten lb. turkey she'd gotten for Christmas from work. She and Joseph were vegetarians. I wrapped it in a blanket and put it in a plastic bag. My plan was to carve off the outside as it thawed and eat it gradually. Mike gave me a ride back to the beach.

I spent the rest of the day alternately spreading my stuff out and covering it up again when it rained. I propped my sail up as a better tent to duck under during the rain. A couple of sherriff's deputies came out to ask me to leave the beach, I was trespassing and someone had complained. I told them my story, they looked at my license, and they shook their heads and said I had a lot of balls and went away. As I worked sometimes people came up and talked to me. One guy who was a kayaker told me, "You were in the spirit world, man." That night a beach cop roared up in an little four-wheeler and said "What the hell are you doing here?" and I said "Huh?" because I was finally sleeping well and wasn't quite awake. "What the hell are you doing here?" I wasn't too coherent, but convinced him I'd been through something and was doing my best to leave. "Don't you know the inlet is right up there by the lighthouse?" He took off.

The next day someone had left me coffee, cookies, and an apple. Mike I think. The weather was the same alternating rainstorms and sun, I kept rushing to get my stuff put away before it got soaked again and then take it out to dry some more. Cathy from Cambridge stopped to talk.
"Where are you from?"
"Massachusetts?"
"Where in massachusetts?"
"Cambridge"
"Where in cambridge?"
"Pearl street?"
"Where on pearl street?"
"Last house on the left before the river".
"Do you know Steve Cooke?"
She was moving out of her room and offered me a beer while she packed. She introduced me to Carl Thomas in one of the other ground floor units. He let me plug my battery chargers into his outlets. Another friend of his stopped by and gave me a litany of horror stories about currents in the Caribbean and the hazards of Cuba. They said there was a marina on the intracoastal a few blocks away.

After spreading out my gear to dry again I went looking for the marina. I felt bad trespassing on a private beach and getting all this attention from cops and people. They'd paid a lot of money to live on this beach and it wasn't to look at some weirdo turn over his collection of ratty gear all day. I'll just do what people do. Pay a marina and park my boat there. I finally found the marina, the only one in town. It was full of shiny huge motor yachts and people in polo shirts. I told them I wanted to park my boat there. "You need to fix your boat?" "It needs a new rudder. I just need to buy one and put it on." They looked at me strangely. I could tell there was something wrong with me. I'd forgotten to dress up. "We don't do that." "I just want to park my boat here." "Is it insured?" "No, I don't think anyone would insure it." "Then we can't touch it. Here's a list of Florida marinas. There's a marina in Ft.Lauderdale that might take it. In the inlet there, and up the east river. About 25 miles from here." "But I can't sail there because my rudder is broken." "I'm sorry, but this isn't a do-it-yourself yard, and we don't do small boats." I felt defeated. "Ok, how do I get to Kmart from here?" They gave me directions that involved driving. "But I'm on foot. I came by boat." On the way out I used the restroom. On the bulletin board next to it there was memo from a customer. It was a long list of everything he wanted done to his yacht. Align the motors, etc. Seemed like everything you could do to a boat that already worked fine. "and please do anything else you think it needs and just let me know what it costs. thanks."

I walked along the highway toward the mall feeling like crying. The pavement and cars seemed to extend forever. I passed a car lot completely full of giant pickup trucks. Behind it was a huge pink church. It looked like the Church of giant SUVs. At the mall I bought a pair of pants and a watch. So I could know when business hours were, when the beach patrol would come by, and I could keep the sun off my legs without looking like a case of contagious poverty. I went to radio shack to buy resistors to make an LED lamp to anchor the boat overnight near shore. They didn't have any parts at all there. They did have a digital windspeed/direction guage for $29. I'd have bought one but it wasn't waterproof. I told the guy that on a boat it would get soaked in a minute. I pointed to the picture of racing sailboats on the box. "Serving suggestion?" It would be a nifty unit if you could cover it with epoxy or something.

When I got back to the beach someone had left me a couple of bottles of water and a chunk of good bread. I went to get my charged batteries from Carl's place.

"They were going to tow your boat away." He said "Tenants complained. But I got you some time. They're gone now, and they won't be back til 10am tomorrow, and then they'll have a meeting." I said "I just went to the marina and they wouldn't take the boat. Maybe it's better to let them tow it away. At least it'll be somewhere." He said. "Boats they understand. Just don't hang your stuff all over it like the Clampetts. That's what they don't want to see." Me: "I'm just trying to dry it out." He: "Sure, and I know that, but they're not used to it." So I packed my stuff again and tried to make it look as small as possible.

I took a break to chat with Carl some more. He asked "What exactly is wrong with your boat?" I told him. "How can I help you fix it?" I showed him what I had in mind. He said "Would this help?" and offered me the table top from his end table.


It was thick plastic, just the right thing. And we worked for the next few hours making the needed part and talking.


"Can I put my turkey in your freezer?" I asked. "You have a turkey? We better cook it right now" So he thawed it in his microwave and put it in the oven. It came out great. It had taken me two days to eat my baked chicken. Now my appetite really came back. Carl had about half of a breast. I ate the rest of that ten pound turkey in less than 24 hours. I'd have eaten more if there was any. There should be a committee handing out roast turkeys to Cuban and Haitian boat people when they land here. I slept on Carl's hideabed and no one bothered the boat that night.

I spent the rest of the next day packing the boat and getting ready to sail again.

My usual flabby self, before eating the turkey. Over the next few days I suddenly sprouted huge muscles. There was a south wind and if I couldn't sail south, I'd just sail north. Otherwise my plan was to sail down the coast to the keys, cruise there, and recover some more. I was afraid of the ocean and very reluctant to go. So it took me a long time to get ready. Some young guys showed up to go swimming. I asked them for help launching. It was slow going tacking into the wind and current. After a while the wind died and I paddled along the shore just outside the little breakers. Everything was privately owned and the boat was too heavy to drag up the beach without unloading it. The wind picked up just enough to sail while paddling. I felt pretty low. There was a seemingly infinite series of highrise hotels and other "developments".

I was almost to Miami when I couldn't take it any more, and decided the trip was over. I'd go to that marina in Ft. Lauderdale, park my boat, get a car, and drive north. I turned around and sailed back to the Ft.Lauderdale inlet. It was pretty quick going with the current and wind. Just inside the inlet I beached the canoe and went looking for directions and a telephone. "This is private property" yelled a guard. "I'm just going back to my boat." "Not this way you aren't" she yelled. I was thinking, "Bet they'd be nicer than you" and a bunch of stuff about detaining the master of a vessel who's come ashore for good reasons. Instead I went aound the long way in a hurry because I could see a ship coming that would pound my canoe with its wake. I stepped on a sprinkler head and cut my foot, but got to the canoe in time and beat the ship. I sailed up the inlet, sometimes hailing passing boats about where the East River was. The canoe was sailing well and to my surprise outran a girl in university logo garb sailing a Laser dinghy. The east river is a canal that winds through downtown Ft. Lauderdale. It's pretty nice. I tied up at a stone wall and went ashore for a phone and a burger. One of the marinas advertised that owners are welcome to work on their boats. That sounded good. I got the night manager on the phone. "Just tie up in front of the Louise G." I paddled up the river thinking about the movie "Apocalypse Now" passing all the houses with their tropical landscaping and boats tied up in front. At the marina I tied up in the proper spot, chatted with the security guard for a bit, and walked to a convenience store for some food. It started to rain and they gave me a box to use for an umbrella on my walk back. When I got back to the marina I spread out the box on some steps under a roof overhang and went to sleep on it.

"You've got ten minutes to get off this property!" was the first thing I heard in the morning. It was some guys in polo shirts in a golf cart. I was happy. I was on land and had just had a good night's sleep. After a brief interview I found out that they really did want me to leave. "You should just take your boat and disappear." I said I'd do that. The guy in charge left his underlings to make sure I did. They were pretty nice. "Try that next one under the highway." They said.

I paddled under the highway bridge to the next one. A sign said "Best storage rates in town. Call for specials." There was at least one beat-up boat of foreign folkish origin tied up there. I found an empty spot at a dock, and went to the office. "I want to park my boat here." "We don't really do that." she said. "Unless the bottom shape is right, it won't go on those racks" she said, indicating some giant shelves with hundreds of powerboats wrapped in plastic parked in them. A huge forklift sat nearby. "Two months minimum and a fifty dollar setup charge." "What do people do?" I asked. I didn't know the right language to speak here. My trip up the Northwest coast had been nothing like this. There had always been a town dock and a dinghy dock. The harbormaster told me which one to use and how much it cost. Here I was a lost tribe of one, finding no place to rest. "Try Gary at Precision." she said. "He sometimes stores things for people".

Gary was a breath of fresh air. He had a boat trailer he was going to tow back to his storage area in Palm Beach that night. For a modest monthly charge I could pile my canoe on that trailer and he'd store it for as long as I wanted. Gary Bass, (954)583-8890 Precision Composites, located at Jackson Marine Center on the north branch of the East River just under the I95 overpass. He and his crew build big strong shiny things quick. Hire them.


Here's the canoe before I took it apart and put it on Gary's trailer. He even gave me a ride to Palm Beach, where my sister lives. He's an nth generation native Floridian. "Seen a lot of changes, all of them bad." And so ends the watery part of this trip. It remains to find a way to carry the canoe north somewhere and then what to do next, but at least there's no time pressure or any more security guards or people yelling "Private property".


My brother-in-law Dave demonstrating the difference between "before" and "after" in bodybuilding. He achieved these results without dieting or excercise in a mere ten seconds!

My sister Kathleen demonstrating the new wide Palm Beach where they've just dumped a jillion truckloads of sand.

THE END.

GPS Waypoints entered on trip:
2003-04-23 11:07 N024*29.356' W080*27.624' AM
2003-04-23 16:16 N24*29.032' W080*27.979' MOB
2003-04-23 23:44 N24*35.740' W080*09.946' WEDPM
2003-04-24 19:32 N24*27.789' W079*42.344' T2
2003-04-24 10:33 N24*42.022' W079*42.195' THUAM
2003-04-25 21:34 N024*49.769' W079*47.301' FRI
2003-04-26 10:54 N25*47.057' W079*45.338' SAAM
2003-04-26 10:59 N25*30.000 W080*45.297' HOME
2003-04-27 12:12 N26*14.893' W080*05.085' POMP

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Copyright Tim Anderson 2003