Last month I started the tale of one of my more eventful boat deliveries. You want to hear the second half? OK then. To recap, my friend Scott and I were helping to deliver a 65’ sailing ketch from Puerto Rico to Texas, under Cuba. Mack, our skipper was an old sailor from the big wars nearing the end of his career. Our fourth for the trip was a young socal kid who earned the name Foolio. During the first half of the trip we had endured the news that we would be at sea for weeks without beer, survived a very near miss with a large ship and barely escaped sinking our boat on a treacherous Cayman reef.
We were on our way home. We had departed our halfway point, the Cayman Islands and were headed west along the bottom of Cuba. On one particularly rolly night I was coming off watch and found Mack getting some shut-eye with his lee cloth down (no it’s not that, it’s the canvas tarp that keeps sailors in their bunks). It was just a matter of time. I asked if I could put it up for him. He refused. Later I was awoken by Foolio to have a look at Mack. ‘What for?’ I wondered. Mack had taken a major hit. He had rolled out of his bunk and hit his eye socket on the foot bar. It didn’t look so good. We cleaned him up. I took it as a compliment that he trusted me to redress his lacerations each day.
And then we made the turn north around the west end of Cuba and sailed into the Gulf of Mexico. The weather started getting rough, the tiny ship was toss … wait a minute, that’s a different story. In this story the weather started getting rough and we sailed on through the night because we didn’t know any better. We didn’t have great weather info onboard. The only weather info we were getting was reports from passing traffic, which was a rare occurrence. ‘They’ say that what you don’t know won’t hurt you. I don’t suspect that ‘they’ were on a boat at sea in the Gulf in the middle of hurricane season.
We didn’t first hear about our Hurricane until it was too late. We were a day out of Galveston with the hurricane reportedly behind us and coming our way. We were in the hurricane’s bad quarter which is normally bad news. The bad quarter is where the winds are the worst but in our situation, the winds on the bad side were winds that were pushing us toward port. You never want to enter a port in a hurricane but Galveston was a big port and with the way our trip was going, I wasn’t all that fired up about remaining offshore to do battle. Not that it was my choice anyway. Our ex-navy, power boating, half blind skipper decided we would press on.
There is another interesting thing about the approach to Galveston. For the last hundred miles the water is infested with giant oil platforms, each surrounded by webs of anchor cables. The nearby hurricane was making things squally. In thick rain you couldn’t see anything. Even the radar couldn’t see through the thickest rain. With four nervous and thereby very attentive crew members, we successfully (with some luck) navigated the giant mine field.
Just as we closed with the coast we heard the news that our hurricane was turning away, leaving us with a ton of wind aft and thirty foot swells pushing our big boat in. After doing battle with oil rigs, a hurricane, sleep deprivation and sobriety, we finally made it into the relative safety of the bay. We motored up the waterway and arrived at our boat’s new home, The Houston Yacht Club. The owner of the boat had arranged for us to “make ourselves at home” at the club. After some quick showers we partook of some fine dining … and some catch up drinking.
This last part of the story is not really sailing related except that it demonstrates that to refuse a sailor his rations for weeks at sea and then cut him loose in Texas may not be such a good idea. After the yacht club closed up for the night and kicked us out, Foolio and I got dropped off at a local dive, a ways up the highway. I stumbled out of the dive a couple of hours later. I decided I’d walk home. Walking got boring after a while and so I decided I’d hitch hike. Apparently hitch hiking is illegal in Texas … when you’re inebriated.
Once in jail I decided that I needed to call the boys to let them know that I would not be coming home … ’til Monday. To do this, I would need to get the guards attention. I didn’t have a cup to ring across the bars so I did the next best thing. I whistled some of my favorite ballads. I was halfway through a rousing rendition of Brown Sugar and getting no response from my captures when I heard a loud low voice rolling out from a cell down at the end of our block. My new friend was announcing, in fairly rough and certain terms, his displeasure with my late night musical presentation. I had a sudden concern that silence from me would have indicated willingness to become someone’s bitch so I countered with equal resonance and foul tongue, a strong suggestion that my new friend keep to himself.
Bubba was having a bad night. I would later find out that he spent a lot of time in the La Porte County Jail for various drunken/violence related crimes. But I didn’t know this at the time. Bubba caught my eye as he came charging out of his cell. Like the large ship that we almost collided with in our previous episode, Bubba’s form grew to gargantuan proportions as he closed on my position. I never looked him in the eye. I never even turned to face him. I just dug in.
When we were kids, the guys who knew used to tell us that you had two choices when you found yourself in a to-late-to-talk-your-way-out-of-it fight situation. You could turn and run or you could make that first punch count. I was always too dumb to take the first option. In this case, I didn’t have the luxury of a choice. I planted my right foot and started motions to lean into that all important first swing. For a second I almost felt bad for the big guy. He’d never see it coming. It didn’t happen though. Out of nowhere came a guard who stepped between us, just in time and turned Bubba back. And I got my phone call.