On August 19 at 1515 hours, Semper Fi left the commercial dock at Fernandina beach, having topped off her 500-gallon tank with 245 gallons of diesel fuel. Reuben Trane was at the helm. Besides George Sass, and myself Van Dozier of Gainesville had come aboard with fishing tackle and high expectations. Seas were calm, and we were a happy crew.
We sat down at 1800 for a meal of lasagna, three-bean salad and garden salad, and established our routine. The watch schedule would be a leisurely 2 hours on, 6 off. During the day we’d graze the fridge for our own meals, but each evening at 6, we’d share a cooked meal around the dinette.
We maintained a careful log, noting GPS coordinates, course, speed, wind and sea conditions on the right page, leaving the left one blank for random observations and calculations. Every two hours or so, we’d plot our location on the chart to see if we were still on the rhumb line. The idea was that if the electronics were to fail, we would have a record of our last position and could proceed from there to follow the contrails into Bermuda.
We settled into our routine. We ate, stood watch and read, interrupting ourselves every so often with lively conversation. We did a laundry in the washer-dryer.
I was disappointed to find that the BBC short-wave frequencies I had counted on for news had been taken over by Christian ministries. Our hopes for news were raised when I found a clear Canadian Broadcasting Corporation transmission, but quickly dashed by an interminable story about giant grasshopper infestations in Florida and a prolonged dirge on the effects of drought on western cattle herds.
We had been sold a bum battery with the sat phone, so we couldn’t get on the internet either, though we were able to manage short phone calls to home base, which were made each morning and evening.
When the favorable currents promised by the Atlantic Pilot Chart failed to materialize and, worse, began slowing us down, we experienced a brief moment of self-doubt. Our naval architect, Lou Codega, had worked out fuel consumption statistics that showed Bermuda within easy reach of the Navigator. And fuel flow data from one of our Great Harbours, which shares the same hull as the Navigator, confirmed Codega’s calculations. But when we found ourselves going slower than expected, we launched into the math until we came up with numbers that reassured us that running at 2500 rpms wouldn’t burn too much fuel.
The nights were illuminated by a full moon, and when I say illuminated, that’s the truth. So bright was the moon that once when it reappeared behind a cloud, I thought for a moment a freighter had managed to sneak up and throw a spotlight on us. But there were no freighters once we got away from Florida, just Semper Fi, a calm and empty sea and the contrails above.
By the third day, our resident angler, Van Dozier, was excusing his sorry performance thus far by referencing the old fishing superstition that we had “too many bananas on board.”
Maybe he was right. George Sass was at the helm and had just taken a bite out of a banana, when it happened. Whrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!! “Fish on,” Sass shouted as he drew back on the throttles. Big changes in rpms always get your attention on passage, underscoring what would be the most dramatic moment of the trip to Bermuda.
Dozier grabbed the rod and brought in his catch-a yellowfin tuna. We had happened onto a school of them feeding on squid. I rushed down to the liquor locker for some fish killing liquid. Squirt booze into a fish’s gills and the argument stops on a dime; the fish dies. But I had a decision to make. Tangueray-that’s too expensive. Gosling’s rum-not much left, and I might want to drink it. There it is-cheap tequila, the very definition of poison. I rushed up to the cockpit and started pouring toward the tuna’s gills, but apparently word of this technique was out because our captive was keeping his gills closed and the tequila was spilling onto the non-skid.
Sass, a descendant of the Huns, grabbed the boat hook and, in a credible imitation of the man-ape scene in 2001 a Space Odyssey, clubbed the hapless tuna into bloody submission. Dozier cut two massive filets from the 16-pound fish and later grilled one for dinner. This was to be the culinary high point of journey, a meal marinated in our own adrenaline, so to speak.