03367_000_009Sailing Near the Florida Keys
It was a bright, sunny Monday morning, with a breeze a little stronger than usual for August. The weather forecast for the Florida Keys was just right for sailing—moderate winds from the northeast, clear skies to scattered cloudiness, with widely scattered rain squalls. Along the Miami River a few elegant sailboats were already getting underway.
At the Out Island pier, 17 Explorers and leaders from Post 9796 were busy stowing supplies and personal gear below deck on two sleek, 41-foot sailboats the Maupiti and the Shepahoy. This was the beginning of an activity they had been preparing for ten months, the culmination of extensive planning.
At post meetings they had learned about sails and nautical charts, dead reckoning, safety, and the “rules of the road.” Now they were finally dockside, actually loading their snorkels and scuba tanks on board. The food they would eat all week was going into the galleys. Everything was nearly ready.
Excerpts from the logs kept on both vessels succinctly record the excitement of the group’s adventure at sea:
Monday, 10:55 A.M.—Shepahoy cast off. Motored down the Miami River to Biscayne Bay. Will pick up fishing gear and rendezvous with Maupiti at MacArthur Causeway.
Noon—Delayed by final engine repairs. Underway with Brother Bowman as first helmsman. Eight drawbridges had to raise for us as we went downriver. Three blasts with the horn is the signal to raise a bridge.
12:50 A.M.—Shepahoy and Maupiti left Miami River under sail in a brisk wind, making six to eight knots. Note: A rope is not called a rope. It is a line except when it’s a sheet, a lanyard, or a halyard. But it’s never called a rope.
2:30 P.M.—Finally learning how to walk on sloping, pitching decks. Slippery decks can be bad for your health! Note: If you are told to “fall off,” it means to steer further away from the wind, not to jump overboard.
3:15 P.M.—While underway, Richard Holt caught a barracuda. Now everyone wants to fish.
4:10 P.M.—Broke the topping lift. Repaired it. Glad the skipper was giving orders when it broke instead of one of us landlubbers!
6:55 P.M.—Anchored off Elliott Key. Rafted vessels together. Everyone went swimming, then ate dinner.
8:10 P.M.—Boats separated and anchored apart for the night. Mosquitoes pretty bad until wind came up. Must anchor further off shore in the future.
Tuesday the group headed for Angelfish Creek, the passage through the Keys into the Atlantic.
9:15 A.M.—David Spellman sighted the first shark. The water is amazingly clear. It looks like you are about to go aground even when the Fathometer reads 11 to 13 feet.
1:30 P.M.—Dropped anchor just off Carysfort Reef lighthouse in 25 feet of water. The four qualified scuba divers made their first dive, while the others went snorkeling. The reef is amazing, visibility magnificent. Color and variety of fish are fantastic. We sighted barracuda, huge angelfish, groupers, grunts, and lobster, as well as brain coral, antler coral, and fan coral. Derek Doty saw a shark. Too bad no one has an underwater camera!
The boats anchored off Grecian Rocks for the night, where high waves on a rough sea made them pitch heavily. Showers hit just after 2:00 A.M., sending those sleeping on deck scurrying below. By daylight the sea was even rougher. Several of those assigned galley duty couldn’t fulfill the assignment—on the Shepahoy Brett Summers was the only Explorer who could do the cooking, but there wasn’t much demand for food. On the Maupiti Don Wise and his father looked strangely healthy while the others were turning a little green. Only a few hearty souls didn’t show specific signs of “epigastric awareness,” and there was a feeling that those who didn’t join the general misery weren’t expressing proper brotherhood. One fellow felt so ill he asked for a priesthood blessing, and he seemed relieved after receiving it.
Nevertheless, by 9:00 A.M. both vessels were moving out. Maupiti headed for Rodriguez Key and more snorkeling, while Shepahoy’s crew decided to stop at the underwater statue of the Savior. The figure and base stand about 30 feet tall in a grotto of coral heads, the highest point about ten feet under water. An enormous barracuda seemed to be guarding the site and kept anyone from getting too near to the impressive memorial.
The two vessels rendezvoused again and headed together to Key Largo to fill the ships’ tanks with water and the scuba divers’ tanks with air. Solid ground felt good after the rough seas. Key Largo’s supply of seasickness pills and snack food was perceptibly reduced during the Explorers’ visit.
Back at sea, on the way to Mosquitoe Bank, Miguel, the young professional Scouter who had accompanied the LDS group as an adviser, caught ten lobsters. Lee Burdge, with great delight, caught one of his own, and we had the makings of a feast.
Capturing a lobster by hand requires considerable talent, because they have quick reactions. The lobster hides in crevices at the bottom of reefs, and the hunter, without being seen, has to tickle its tail with a long wire. This causes the lobster to dart from its hole, and the hunter then tries to catch it in his gloved hand, avoiding the sharp and pinching claws.
Wednesday evening rain fell again, postponing the scheduled talent night. Thursday morning the divers found no lobsters, but did spot a large moray eel in the reef and stayed clear of it. Shawn Pergande shot two fish with an air gun, and a six-foot barracuda followed Ray Holt, Wayne Bucklew, and Shawn for about 30 minutes. At 10:45 anchors came up and the two boats headed for Rodriguez Key, in the first of two races held during the trip.
The Maupiti started off slightly behind. Both vessels were beating hard against the wind. The entire crew of the Shepahoy hiked, trying to get the mast straighter and higher. The race had no formal finish because the Shepahoy ripped her genoa and dropped out for repairs. But let it be officially noted that the Maupiti was at least three lengths ahead when the sail tore.
The Maupiti was at anchor when the Shepahoy arrived. As they came alongside, cannoneers suddenly burst from the cabin with buckets and tubs of water balloons. The Maupiti was hit with a full salvo, but its crew had heard rumors of a possible sneak attack and returned the fire. One of the great naval battles of all time ensued—not one that would topple empires, but certainly no more colorful or spirited engagement ever took place. Brother Holt, awakened by the sound of combat, sleepily poked his head out of the cabin and immediately received three direct hits. As ammunition ran low, Doug Lind and Lee Burdge dove into the water to retrieve unburst balloons and came under heavy fire. Boarders from the Shepahoy were repulsed after almost scaling the Maupiti’s anchor chain. The battle lasted 30 minutes, and final victory was inconclusive and much debated for the rest of the trip.
That night, following a delicious feast earned by great heroics, the postponed talent night was finally held. Richard Holt and his father started with a skit, the bishop recited a poem, Donald Harper-Smith and his dad presented another skit, and eventually everyone shared some form of talent before another rain squall, just after the closing prayer, called a halt to the evening.
Friday, 6:10 A.M.—Awoke. Breakfast. Set sail for the statue. Anchored. Divers in the water. Discovered we are at the wrong reef, Cannon Reef. Recovered divers and set sail. Arrived at the statue. Waves too rough for diving. Difficult to handle tanks and flippers on pitching deck. Skipper canceled dive for safety reasons. Set sail for Angelfish Creek and Miami.
10:20 A.M.—We entered the Gulf Stream. The water is deep blue. We expected a lot of fish here. Didn’t find many. Ray caught a barracuda and Richard caught an amberjack. Wayne snagged a lobster trap!
As the two vessels cleared the Angelfish Creek channel, a second race began. Across Biscayne Bay the two beautiful boats darted, beating to windward. The breeze was brisk, the weather exhilarating. Rounds of shouting added to the excitement. The boats were well matched, the crews intensely competitive. Fairness requires, though, that the Shepahoy should be credited with a clear-cut victory.
Anchorage that night was across the bay from Miami. The skyline reflected beautifully in the water. Lobsters tasted better for having been caught by hand. With boats moored together, the combined crews held a testimony meeting, expressing their brotherly love and gratitude. The setting was spectacular and the spirit impressive. Almost everyone had expressed himself when Miguel, who had been quietly listening, asked if he could participate.
“Of course,” he was assured. He said that he felt a wonderful spirit, that he hadn’t felt anything like it since he had been active in his own Catholic Scout troop. He said he had been on cruises with many Explorer posts, but he wanted us to know he felt something special about our group. Everyone was deeply moved.
That night, as the boats rocked gently, everyone slept soundly. In the morning, we would sail up-river to the docks, and our days at sea, for the time being at least, would be over. But we knew it wouldn’t take much prodding to get us to come back again.