by John Almberg
“What have I gotten myself into this time?”
We were fifteen miles offshore. It was dark—really dark. The west coast of Florida was off to the left, far over the horizon, so I couldn’t even see shore lights. All I could see was the black night all round us, and the occasional ghostly-white crest of a wave.
And stars—a million stars.
I was wedged into a corner of the cockpit. I was comfortable, but not too comfortable. It had been a long time since I’d slept properly, but now wasn’t the time to nod off, tempted though I was.
The wind was still blowing hard enough to need a reef in the main and, with fifteen miles between us and the coast, there was plenty of room for the wind to blow up four-foot seas. They rolled in from the port quarter (left rear corner of the boat), but the Blue Moon didn’t seem bothered by them. She rose lightly and let them slip under her keel without fuss. The sheet-to-tiller steering gear held us on a steady course. I was as relaxed as I’d been so far on the voyage. The Blue Moon was taking care of me for now–perhaps just paying me back for all the loving care Helena and I had lavished on her.
I cast a wary glance towards our only company: a large container ship several miles off the starboard beam, also heading south. I wasn’t worried about her. We were roughly following the three fathom line on the chart. The big ship and her sisters stayed in the shipping lanes and wouldn’t venture into shallow water just to run us down. As long as we stayed out of their way, we’d be fine.
Someone once said that there are only two wildernesses left on earth: the tops of mountains, and the sea. That night, as we rolled along under reefed main and staysail, watching the tip of the mast draw figure eight’s in the star-filled sky, I understood what he meant. The sea hadn’t changed since the pirate Jean Laffitte roamed these waters in his schooner La Diligent in the early 1800s, and the Blue Moon wasn’t all that different from Laffitte’s ship. We had the same amount of electrical power, for instance. That is to say, none, except for the small amount I managed to generate by solar power. Just like Laffitte, most of the lights we had on board were oil lamps. And like the furtive pirate, we weren’t showing any running lights, except for a kerosene light hanging from the mizzen mast.
The Coast Guard, I knew, would take a very dim view of this arrangement. I hadn’t seen a Coast Guard boat since arriving in Florida, but I wouldn’t let us get caught offshore at night again until I had a full set of running lights installed.
Wind, waves, stars, the gentle rolling of a good sea boat… what more could one ask for?
A cup of tea, of course. Must drink something to stay awake.
I soon had my gimbaled stove roaring. It was a delight to be out of the wind, down below, in my snug little cabin, while the Blue Moon steered us towards Tarpon Springs. Why were we the only boat out here on this beautiful spring night? Why didn’t everyone want to do this? At that moment, I couldn’t imagine…