NEWS & EVENTS FROM THE DEFIANCE
Black Shark Enterprises is now on a boat. That's right. My wife, our teenage son and myself have left the comforts and luxuries of land life behind as we work on our 36' sailboat, Defiance, to get her ready to cruise the world. Expect weekly updates on our progress as we restore, refit, provision, and sail our 1977 Islander.
Who Says You Can't Get Nice Stuff from Craigslist?
Yes. That's right. I bought a boat from Craigslist and now I live on it. Am I crazy? There are certainly those who would say that I am, but I prefer to think of myself as eccentric. If you are interested in the story, then you can follow it here. I'm going to lay out the whole gruesome tale for you and in the end, you'll have to decide if you think I'm crazy.
My wife and I lived in a two bedroom apartment with our teenage son. Our lease was almost up and we found out that our rent was going to go up $200/month. Some of our friends had moved aboard boats previously and we were aware of how cheaply we could live in a marina. Although we had little to no experience with boats, we had friends who did and we sought out their advice when shopping. So it was that on a fateful Friday evening in late February of 2017 we were travelling together with these friends to go see a 36' 1977 Islander that the current owners were keen to sell. Their ad on Craigslist had attracted us. Although the sun was setting at Shell Point Marina when we arrived, there was still plenty enough light to survey the cockpit and deck of the boat, which were in solid shape for a boat that is nearly 50 years old. Each important item above and below decks seemed to be in good working order, many features were in excellent shape. As day became night we haggled out an acceptable price and before we knew what we had done to ourselves, we were the owners of S/V Defiance. What we didn't know would, of course, swim around like a shark and take a big bite out of our @$$e$, but if you want to know how you'll have to come back next week.
Why Would You Name a Place "Little Cockroach Bay"?
Last time I mentioned how the things we didn't know would get us. Don't they always. ;) There are many things about boats that my wife and I didn't know that S/V Defiance has taught us. One of the most basic we figured out the day after we bought her. Shell Point Marina, where the boat was docked, is located in Ruskin Florida on a body of water named Little Cockroach Bay. The marina sits just on the edge of the Cockroach Bay Preserve state park which offers 500 acres of mangrove swamp to explore through numerous canoe/kayak trails. The average depth of Little Cockroach Bay, outside the channel, is about 3 feet. S/V Defiance is an ocean-going sailboat with a 6' draft. The former owners had docked S/V Defiance in a place where, even if you stay in the deepest part of the channel, you could only get her out on the highest of tides. We didn't know this when we bought her, but it quickly became clear to us that the boat was stuck until we could get a high enough tide to move her. This was a major pain in the arse because Ruskin was nearly an hour from our apartment. It simply wasn't feasible to leave the boat there; we couldn't afford the back and forth. We would have to move her closer to home.
BTW, apparently Little Cockroach Bay got its name from the horseshoe crabs that were once prolific on the west coast of Florida. The Spanish explorers believed the crabs, because of their look, were somehow related to the insects. Thus when they discovered a shallow bay full of these crabs, they named it as you would expect. I will have to say that the Cockroach Bay Preserve is beautiful. It is filled with numerous types of birds and sea life. If you ever get the chance to visit, I highly recommend it. Just be sure you bring a kayak and not an ocean-going sailboat. We had to pay the marina for about a week's worth of time in the slip before we finally got the tide we needed. Once that tide rolled in, we were ready to go -- or so we thought. Come back next week and you'll learn how long we REALLY stayed in Little Cockroach Bay.
Little Cockroach Bay is a Lovely Place to Visit, But . . .
The tale of the Defiance left off with us still in the slip at Shell Point Marina. We bought diesel fuel, oil, food, drinks, and some missing safety equipment (flares and a safety flag), then we stowed everything for travel. Previously, we had arranged for a guide to lead us out of the marina and safely through the channel (remember, Little Cockroach Bay is very shallow; failing to know where the channel is could mean running aground). We disconnected the boat from the water and power at the dock, removed all but one of the lines connecting us to the dock and started the diesel engine. It roared to life with a satisfying sound. Defiance and her valiant crew of three were ready. We signalled our guide that we were ready to depart and I eased the boat into gear. Marty (our guide) rowed ahead of us on a kayak and we slowly made our way out of the slip on the beginning of our 28 mile trip to Defiance's new home at the Jean Street Shipyard. We noticed that a number of the folks at the marina were watching our departure with earnest interest. (I would find out later they were taking bets upon our fate.) I had little time to care about this as I was busy at the helm doing my best to stay directly behind Marty. I had been at the helm of a few boats in my time, but only one larger than the Defiance. We were about 3 tenths of a mile from the Marina when the engine started to smoke.
I'm going to pause here to say this is ABSOLUTELY NOT HOW ONE SHOULD GO ABOUT GETTING A BOAT NOR HOW ONE SHOULD PREPARE FOR ANY TRIP IN AN UNKNOWN VESSEL. I'm pretty much a fool; a good-natured and slightly adventurous fool. I figured, for some unknown reason, that like an old car, the boat would just keep running without issue, even though it was smoking madly, for the whole trip. We came to a stop when the engine made a sudden hollow popping sound, and began pumping oil into the cabin. The magic smoke had definitely been released and the engine would not restart. We came to a stop about 8 tenths of a mile from the marina where we had started. We made it passed 2 of the 8 channel markers that we'd need to put behind us to escape Little Cockroach Bay. It was at this point that I truly regretted NOT having purchased a membership to TowBoat US or Sea Tow. We were forced to abandon Defiance, after anchoring her at the edge of the channel until we could either get the diesel repaired or find another way to move the 9 ton vessel where she needed to go. S/V Defiance ended up spending 19 days in Little Cockroach Bay because . . . well you'll have to back next week to find out. ; )
Our First Night Onboard Defiance
Last time I wrote that we were forced to abandon Defiance at the edge of the channel that connects Little Cockroach Bay with Tampa Bay. This is true, but I got a little ahead of myself. After the engine failed, in a true move of hindsight, we purchased a TowBoat US membership. Truly, we should have done this immediately after we purchased the boat. If we had, then Defiance wouldn't have had to spend 19 days sitting in Little Cockroach Bay and we would have saved ourselves untold time and effort in trying to retrieve her. Ignorance can cost you a lot of money and it can even get you killed. Whoever said, "Ignorance is bliss." didn't know the price they were paying for that "bliss" or they would never have said something so ridiculous, but I'm getting ahead of myself again.
An important thing to know about a TowBoat US membership is that it does not become active until at least a full 24 hours have passed since the membership was purchased. So we developed a new plan. We'd stay onboard Defiance through the night until the next afternoon, when we could call TowBoat US for a tow to Ricks on the River, a bar/restaurant and marina about 4 miles from the Jean Street Shipyard. This was where we were going to repair and refit the vessel. It was early March and the weather during the day and the first part of the afternoon were quite nice. It wasn't until late afternoon, when the sun was low in the sky that it started to turn cold. Again, our lack of preparedness was demonstrated to us. We had light jackets, but little else. We had expected a 5 to 6 hour motor out of Little Cockroach Bay, into Tampa Bay proper, and then up the Hillsborough River to Ricks. We had not prepared to spend the night on the boat. Our light jackets were OK for those staying inside the cabin, but because we were stalled in the middle of a narrow channel, someone had to be on watch for other boats at all times to be able to warn them that we couldn't move. We each took 2 four hour shifts being lookout, while the other crew members relaxed, as best they could, in the cabin. Remember that we weren't prepared to spend the night and the boat had very little in the form of "entertainment" onboard. We did have a yahtzee game and that was how we passed the time we weren't sleeping or shivering. More than a few powerboats zoomed passed us at close quarters and we learned what it was to be waked. Finally, night gave way to morning and morning gave way to afternoon and it was time to make the call for a rescue, at least that's what we thought. Did you ever get confused about what time it was, well most unfortunately that is exactly what happened to us.
You see, if you make the call even 1 hour too early, then TowBoat US will NOT pay for the tow and you will be on the hook for EVERYTHING (i.e. The full cost of the tow, any additional charges for soft ungrounding or fuel for your vessel, plus the cost of the fuel for the towboat from its dock to you, then to where you want to be towed, and finally from there back to the towboat's home dock.) In our case, this would have been thousands of dollars and it was a sum that we could NOT afford. So now we had two problems. First, we had a 36' boat stalled in the middle of a narrow, high-traffic channel that we had no way to move. Second, we had no way off of that boat that didn't involve swimming at least half a mile to shore because we didn't have a dinghy or even a life raft. You'd never believe that I used to be a boy scout, would you? Come back next week to learn why we stayed so long in Little Cockroach Bay and we finally got out.