Several years ago, a buddy and I were delivering a new 44-foot motoryacht we had picked up at PortMiami to her owner’s dock in Fort Lauderdale. Easy jobs like that were a good source of drinking money in our younger days, and unless the owner specified otherwise, we would run outside up the coast to save ourselves a few hours of Intracoastal bridge openings and no-wake zones in order to be tied up before happy hour.
A cold front had blown through earlier that day. As locals, we knew conditions would deteriorate as the breeze clocked around behind the front, but we also figured we’d be well inside the breakwater by then. Plus, we had free fuel to burn, so we headed out the cut.
Forty-five minutes into the jaunt, our steerage began to slip. Easing off the throttles in search of a diagnosis, we realized several things. One, the sea conditions were deteriorating faster than we’d anticipated; two, our hydraulic steering fluid had for some reason bled out and was now sloshing around in the lazarette; and three, we were losing daylight fast.
There was no time for troubleshooting, nor did we have the proper tools on board to make a quick fix. By then, what had begun as a light chop was reaching small-craft warning conditions. We had to get off the ocean and into the safety of the Intracoastal Waterway.
Unfortunately, our only means to get there was to walk the engines manually, a relatively simple technique under normal conditions. But in a tricky sea state, in darkness, with no GPS on board but for smartphone Navionics (the boat’s electronics package was yet to be activated), this task would surely put our skills to the test.
Maneuvering a careful turn to port, we made a beeline for the flashing channel marker at Haulover Inlet about halfway between Miami and Fort Lauderdale. More port throttle, more starboard throttle … more port, more port … PORT! Okay, now starboard …
Ours was hardly a textbook performance. We required a few approaches, with the swell attacking us on the aft quarter and nearly broadsiding us twice.
But we made it—white knuckles and all—and after tying up at the first dock we saw, a cold beer returned my blood pressure to normal levels.
Through the brief ordeal, I never considered for a moment that our safety, or our boat’s, was in jeopardy. But the Eagle Scout in me—the one whose motto is “be prepared”—was justifiably humbled. That night in bed, a hundred scenarios floated through my mind, featuring all the little precautions we could have (and should have) taken to prevent the experience altogether. Sure, hindsight is 20/20, but the takeaway is that anytime you leave the dock, there is no such thing as being over-prepared.
Speaking of getting prepared, an annual haul out is a great time to update and upgrade your boat for the next voyage, be it routine or ambitious. I encourage you to read our ultimate haul-out checklist, penned by contributing expert Steve Zimmerman.
And never underestimate the little things that can turn south in a hurry on the water, even amid the simplest of endeavors.