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Dangers at Sea?! Forget It! (Blog)

There is no shortage of current and historic horror stories breed from catastrophes at sea. But, as cruiser-blogger Joe Chilberg quickly learns while dockside in Marathon, Florida, being "safely" tied up at the docks can be just as harrowing.

“Only when I found the anchor in myself did my sense of insecurity evaporate.”

- Mary Jane Ryan

Don’t talk to me about the dangers at sea. I don’t want to hear about groundings, waterspouts, hurricanes, rogue waves, anchor dragging, Captain PhillipsThe Perfect StormAll Is Lost, fog off Nantucket or engine problems 500 miles off shore. No way… you can encounter just as much danger by being snuggly tied up at a dock, minding your own business.

We were waiting out the winds at the Marathon Yacht Club. They were a steady 25 knots, with gusts to 35. The wind was blowing us onto the dock, so we had all our fenders out protecting us. It never occurred to me to put fenders on the other side, since there were no boats there and only a very small channel into the yacht club’s docks. No one would venture out under a Small Craft Advisory with 35 knot winds, and certainly they wouldn’t try to enter here. Since the other side of Marathon has a perfectly protected harbor with docks and moorings, we felt very safe.


Boy was I wrong!

Suddenly, Susan looks out the port window and a 40+ foot Ocean sportfish is trying to pull out of his slip directly behind us, with the wind blowing him down on us. As he began to slide right down on our beam, he upped the throttle and slid by us by no more than 6 inches. I felt I would not see him again for several days . . . until he returned with the same high winds bearing down on us. He spun his boat around next to us, repositioned himself several times, and tried to back into his slip behind us. I assumed that he would see it was pointless to endanger our crafts and depart. Never assume!

There was no way that this would end up well, as he could not avoid swinging his bow right down onto our hull. Crunch! A few choice words for a guy – who, it turned out, owned a boatyard on the other side of Marathon where there was total protection. Fortunately, the crunch appeared to be his hull and not mine. Thank you, Grand Banks. Well, he neither stopped to check on us nor apologize, but departed the next morning without a word. So much for a secure dockage and #@$%& yachtsmen.

Well, after that fiasco we knew that we would not be departing in these winds, and again I assumed that no one else would attempt entry here. What do they say about never assume? Well, as I am sure you have guessed, another boat attempted to enter. This time it was a large Carver Motoryacht with the sail area of a Clipper Ship. Even worse, he was attempting to tie up on the leeside of a dock with 25 knot winds blowing him off. I was later told that 30’ lines were tossed to the docks 29’ away. Not even the Incredible Hulk could have held those lines with that wind. Well, as you can imagine the boat blew down on the other boats in the downwind slips. We heard a crunch, with fiberglass flying as hull met bow pulpit and anchor this time. About a dozen people came out to help, as is the way it is at the Marathon Yacht Club. Lines were tied together, and about 8 of us on various lines pulled the boat across to the appropriate dock and tied her off. Within 15 minutes all was calm and everyone moved to the bar!

Numero uno playing Uno peacefully on the hook.

Numero uno playing Uno peacefully on the hook.

The following morning we said good bye to the Mellmans and departed out the Channel 5 Bridge into the Atlantic Ocean for a calm peaceful cruise to Rodriquez Key off Key Largo. The water was clear and 77 degrees as we pulled into the anchorage about 100 yards from several catamarans in 9’ of water and no wind. Yes, we went up the ICW … yes, we went out the ‘massive’ Channel 5 Bridge (pictured above) with uncertain currents … yes, we went across the ‘treacherous’ Hawk channel out into the ‘daunting’ Atlantic Ocean up towards Rodriquez Key. We crossed the ‘infamous’ reef near Molasses Light in about 15’ of water and ‘risked’ anchoring. I am sorry, but we slept like logs, with a cool breeze and gentle rocking. Enjoy your docks … I’ll take an anchorage most anytime!