You all remember Jane Fonda and her movie “Barbarella ” it was released in 1968. I was young merely 16yrs old. Unlike the real fictional character of the movie.Its was a term of endearment from my friends.
Lets jump to the future shall we? The year 1990. We were living in Miami, lovely city, full of life and activity. We purchased a boat a small 31 ft. sailboat, that my husband and I completely refitted, a handmade wooden sloop named the “Maximus” Max for short. Maximus sailed across from France. She was old but solid.
We decided that we were tired of the rat race and we wanted to get off. Our children had grown and moved out of the house. My youngest daughter, Holly, had moved to Atlanta and was starting her life working for a major phone company. Our oldest daughter Kristina, had moved out and was also on her own working for the University of Miami. Life was good! No empty nest syndrome here.
We were going to live out our lives to the Max on the Max! We wanted to travel the Bahamas as we have done many times prior. We always had power boats and would cross over to Bimini on many occasions or long weekends or vacations. Fishing and snorkeling was the life for me. It took us 2 yrs of hard work and saving for this wonderful new adventure in our life.
August 24, 1992, Hurricane Andrew is on the news, its barreling toward us. Our friends from Citrus Country come by to visit and join us for a cruise and sea trial of the Maximus. It was beautiful weather, the calm before the storm and I was given the name of the “very opinionated first mate” Ha! I not only was the First mate, Cook and Dishwasher but also the navigator and radio operator and relief on the night watch being the night owl that I am.
So we prepare and hunker down for the storm. My husband being the captain that he was tethered and created a spider web on the Maximus. Allowing leeway for the tidal surge that usually comes in front of the storm. This was not the first nor the last hurricane we would ever ride out. Living in Florida Hurricanes are as common as an once a year or many a year event. Sometimes they hit land, sometimes they don’t.
The news made it very clear to the citizens of Miami that this would be a major storm and that we should prepare and so we did. We evacuated to my mother in laws house where we would ride out the storm. Her house was built in the 1930, this house had weathered many a storm without any problems.
Hurricane Andrew hits Miami with winds over 175 mph. NOAA which was the command center states that they lost their wind gauge after registering over 155 mph winds. Andrew afterward was categorized into a Cat. 5+ on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane scale.
All night long we wondered how our prized boat faired the storm. I listened and watched several TV stations on my small 13″ TV which was also battery powered. Listening to Bryan Norcross in a way held our hands via his report all that night. As soon as it was safe to venture out, we headed towards the Miami River to check on the boat. My heart was pounding and my mind racing. Thinking about the damages and how we would tackle the salvage of our precious Maximus.
Lo and behold we get to the Marina, I looked for her mast. It was a red mast and I couldn’t see it or my mind didn’t want me to see it but as we walked in water up to our knees, the river had risen about 4 feet many miles inland. We see the Maximus. Perfect with not even a scratch on her. Now we can continue our plans. But first, we must help our friends who were hit badly and so our great new adventure turned into another one. Helping our friends to dig out their personal belonging out of their homes that were imploded due to the high winds. The city goes into a State of Emergency and the National Guard ride out and finally gets to the victims. I volunteered with the Red Cross and I happen to visit one of their MASH units in Homestead. In my zest to rescue one of my friends precious orchid, I laid the Crocodile Dundee Knife I had and it rolls off from where I had placed it and it was heading to the ground, point first, cutting whatever it would get in its way. It barely touched top of my knee so I needed stitches. I was lucky there was a Plastic Surgeon on call and he did a great job and I heal fast and good. I know where the scar is and I can show you. Thanks Doc you did a great job!
So we postpone our trip till we could find a weather window to cross the The Gulf Stream. When the oceans get churned you have to give the oceans a chance to calm down. It was just before what we call the “winds of lent”. A sailors Lore, 40 days prior to lent and 40 days after Easter, watch the winds. Los Vientos de Cuaresma ~The Winds of Lent. It is said that the winds of Lent spin counter clock-wise and can come with strong winds and can deadly. They can be sub-tropical in characteristic. Whether its fact or fiction? Coming from the island of Cuba and having knowledge of the seas. We take heed. As the sailors lore… Red Skies at Night, Sailors delight, Red Skies at Morn, Sailors take Warn!
The Island of Bimini was a mere 54 miles away give or take a few miles. By power boat depending on the seas, and your engines it could take from 4-6-12 hours. Our window happened on February 2, we set sailed for our new adventure and new ports of calls. Our trip took longer than expected but we met some friends along the way, a pod of wild dolphins! They rode our bow and mind you were merely doing about 5 knots it felt like we were on a row boat to China but we will not be discouraged. I had a great time watching the dolphins bow ride and they lead us then they disappeared and dropped off and it was good bye.
Our stay in Bimini was not brief it was very extended. While anchored out on Bimini Bay another storm hit us. A cold front ~ A no name storm. It was The Storm of the Century. Yes that is right… The winds start churning the bay and our GPS sounded the alarm we were off our anchored spot. It was getting cold. The winds were whipping all the sailboats around like the hands of a clock. We were all worried that we would collided in this spin and rinse cycle that Mother Nature put us in. We couldn’t bring up the anchor it was twisted around our keel we had to cut the rope and sacrifice one of the many anchors that held us in place and so we found cranked the engine and headed to a dock at the Big Game Club.
Talk about adventure. The temperature dropped down to the mid 20° in Bimini! We were not prepared for this but we managed by finding an old ruined hotel and bringing back to the boat some bricks which we heated in our stove and warmed the berth and of course pile on layers after layers of clothing. I always prepared and had brought along some heavy blankets. Still it was really cold.
Our return to Miami was very delayed. We were supposed to be 2 boats crossing back together. Our new friends on S/V Maya, a 21 ft. decided to continue, we didn’t, we only ventured out an hour on the water before we decided to head back. You could see that there were “elephants” on the horizon. Their radio was not working and since they were a lighter faster sailboat she was lost to the horizon. It took us nearly 5 hours to get back again with a head wind working against us. So we were stuck again in this wonderful Island paradise. We finally reach home and the mainland on March 31st. Wait, you want to know about the Elephants in the horizon? When the sea is choppy at least on the Island of Bimini you could go on Flagler Street which is a ridge that is in the middle of North Bimini. If you look toward the horizon (East) you could see very large waves. You have to know if there are elephants or not! Never cross when you see them! Let them pass.
Jump forward to 1997 again the sea calls to us and we want to find a bigger boat. We looked and called at many potential boats until we found it. The Aeolus, God of the Wind. She was berthed in St. Petersburg, Florida. She was a beauty but the name Aeolus was not doing it for us. After a few weeks of preparation for our cruise through the Intercoastal waterway, through the Okeechobee Bridges and Locks around Lake Okeechobee then one final bridge Pt. Mayaca, the lowest bridge of them all. We were off…
We passed the Sunshine Skyway Bridge on our way to bring the Aeolus home. Unbeknown to us that there were once again Hurricanes churning in the Caribbean. Hurricane Georges was heading toward us and we needed to make way to a safe haven. As we pass Egmont Key , we hear that the weather is just deteriorating we decide to head back to St. Pete. We knew of a Marina that we could stay and so we come about and full speed ahead. I see a huge black cloud forming and tell my Captain it did look very good. We then really tried to head for a safety harbor. Too late there is a cone coming down, I can see it, its a funnel cloud! A waterspout its crossing toward our port side. But wait there is another, and yet another and I grabbed my camera and started taking pictures. In one picture I was able to photograph 3 in a row out of the four. The Aeolus started to heel and come about again. Our engine was not strong enough for the wind and the funnel sucking all the water it seemed our sailboat had a mind of its own. Helpless we tried to stop the boat from heading towards the waterspout. Well, we did stop somehow the water surge took us to a sand bank where we heeled on to side in 2 feet of water. We called Seatow and two boats came out and rescued us from this low water. They tied a rope to the mast head and pulled on the mast, we then tipped almost horizontally and we slid of the sand bank on the starboard hull and we were free once again to sail away. This little episode caused our transmission to fail and we were towed to a Marina. I stayed behind while my husband rented a car and headed for Miami. Eureka! We had a spare transmission off to Key Largo he drives
We cranked up the engine and hailed the bridge tender that the Sailing Vessel Aeolus needed an opening. Aye Aye Captain was the response. That bridge tender knew who was in charge! The storm is coming behind us and the barometric pressure is dropping fast and furiously. We cannot make headway once we reach the Sunshine Skyway bridge. Its seemed like we were standing still our poor little engine, Universal 25 hp could not move all that weight with the out going tide in the channel. Its seemed like an eternity we were stuck there over an hour I decide to send out a Mayday call to the Coast Guard. I kept looking up under the
bridge we were not making headway and if the engine died on us we were in such a precarious situation that I actually was in fear of hitting the rocks on the Jetty. The Coast Guard answers back, Negative. All boats are tied up to ride out the storm here is a number call this guy he is a wild cat rescuer. Over and out. So here I find myself calling all my family telling them where and what was going on. I proceeded to get a hold of the Cowboy of the Sea and he said…Ma’am it will cost you $300.00 for me to come and get you. I answered I got the cash how fast can you get here. Meanwhile we are still under the bridge and me praying to that little engine …be the little engine that could!
We finally make headway and are about 200 yards in front of the bridge. Two hours have passed and still no head way, but wait I see a boat coming. Our Rescuer is there. I was never so glad to see this man. I almost kissed him. Or maybe I did. Who can remember that part. I knew he was towing us in and we could get a good nights rest.
The next morning, my husband and I decide that the name of Aeolus has got to go. So we go and get a bottle of champagne and we christened the boat. The Barbarella! We break a bottle of champagne and please take my advice never hold the bottle of champagne by the neck and always cover it with cloth…The boat also had some sacrificial blood from my thumb. I guess it was a true tribal ritual blood, word and alcohol. Way to go Barbara!
We embark on our wonderful journey till we get to Venice, Florida. Venice beautiful quaint little town. Gorgeous sunset. So beautiful we decide to hang out for a month. Not by choice but the bridge to Boca Grande was under repairs. After all the drama on getting out of Tampa we decided we didn’t have a time of arrival nor we needed to punch a clock. So we waited in a marina and had a great time.
Once we realized that the bridge repair was going to continue longer we really wanted to get home we decided to hit the Gulf of Mexico and come in thru Boca Grande /Pt. Charlotte. We picked up the InterCoastal waterway again and once again it was easy cruising. Stopping at quaint cheap marinas and heading home.
More on this wild adventure… The Locks, the Okeechobee Waterway & John Glenn.