The current sneaked up on us. The weather was nice and the water calm, but as we idled near the mouth of the Steinhatchee River trying to look up marinas in our Florida Cruising Guide, the current pulled us over an oyster bed. Emotions were still high from our first day of open water on the Gulf of Mexico, and now we were struggling for control.
“Could you at least pretend to do something?!” barked Elizabeth, trying in vain to use helmsmanship to counter the water’s force.
We were 23 days into our three-month trip and 1,000-plus miles from our starting point in Chicago — an accomplishment that mattered little right now in a deceptive and unceasing current outside a waterfront restaurant. A group of onlookers, likely waiting for their dinner reservations, leaned out to watch our debacle. We’d prepared for rough water and mechanical failure on the trip. But a strange crowd gawking at our tight little boat, adrift ... moments like this would test our breaking point.
Day 1: Post-Graduate Work
The adventure started as a solo maneuver when I pointed the boat south out of Chicago on June 4. Elizabeth was finishing final exams, and for me it wasn’t exactly a stressfree send-off with a cozy prelaunch. The electronics, Suzuki outboard and even the console had been rigged in the final hours leading up to the boat’s first long haul — a tow on the highways from Seattle to mid-America. I’d have preferred a longer break-in period for the motor and my willpower.
Nevertheless, a few days after cruising out of Chicago, I arrived in Galesburg, Illinois, where Elizabeth was graduating from Knox College. Her first day after graduation would be spent close to me in the 16-foot Duroboat — same as the next 80-some days.
Day 15: Tight Quarters
For the first two weeks, complete strangers shared their charts, advice and even the guest quarters on their liveaboard boats. (They were sympathetic once they heard we planned to sleep on the Duroboat.) This became our first real overnight test. We arrived at midway marina in Fulton, Mississippi, around 4 p.m. The marina is just before the Fulton Lock on the Tenn-Tombigbee Waterway, and our boat was predictably dwarfed among an assortment of liveaboards, all retrofitted and refurbished to varying degrees. We set up our little ritz: a 4-foot-by-5-foot pop-up tent that I’d purchased for $9.99 from a convenience store back home in the Seattle area. I bought it because it would be small enough to fit on the front deck. The tent had been stowed for two weeks under a specially fitted set of floorboards, and only now did its shortcomings occur to us.
“OK, get out,” Elizabeth said as she waited for me to unzip the tent. Movement in a tent this small had to be planned and communicated.
“I’m waiting for my legs to wake up,” I answered and stretched my body diagonally across the tent, an option made possible only when one of us was sitting up.