When my wife, DeeDee, and I set out to buy our first “big” boat, the biggest boat I had ever captained was 21 feet. Our goal was to find an affordable boat large enough to spend a few nights on. I wanted to fish from this boat, and I knew overnight trips including my wife would require creature comforts like bathroom facilities and air conditioning. Boat builders know this and have even coined the term “convertible” for a manly fishing boat gussied up in order to get spousal approval.
Choosing our “convertible”
After extensive research, we settled on a 40 foot Mainship Sedan Bridge, which I had discovered was more like a sportfish, err … convertible, than the typical Mainship trawler. Rather than opting for the more expensive diesel engines, I intended to go with gasoline engines like Three Rings, a Mainship owned by Coach Jimmy Johnson. That is, until I was discussing the foolishness of spending a lot more money for diesels with my good friend, Randy. He quickly explained the problem with having gasoline fumes in enclosed spaces on larger boats. He told me a story about one couple who, after having their boat serviced, stepped aboard, causing the boat to list, thereby triggering the bilge pump to kick on. Gas fumes in the bilge ignited, launching the couple some distance into the air.
As an immediate diesel convert, I located a twin diesel version of the 40′ Mainship Sedan Bridge in excellent condition. It was love at first sight, and I was excited to make an offer after studying and searching for so long. Perhaps you can imagine my devastation when I learned that my offer had spurred another buyer to raise his offer and buy the boat out from under me. Dee Dee kept telling me “things always happen for the best,” but I wasn’t buying it. At least not until a couple of weeks later, when we found another one down in Miami that we both liked even better. One of the MANY times my wife was right—just ask her.
I Can Handle This…
The boat was owned by a female dentist, who looked to be about 12 years old and probably weighed 100 pounds soaking wet. Meeting her reaffirmed my choice of boats; I reasoned that if this petite lady could handle this 40 foot boat alone, surely I could too.
The only problem with the boat was the name. The dentist/owner had named the boat’s dinghy Tooth Pick, which I thought was sort of cute. It was the name of the actual boat which caused me concern: Tooth Fairy. I decided there was no way I could arrive back home to be greeted by my fishing buddies with that name on the back of the boat and ever live it down. As luck would have it, the seller insisted on removing the name for use on her next boat before finalizing the sale. That worked for me! So the deal was done, and we prepared to take delivery.
After repeatedly watching a video I had bought on how to run twin engine boats, I felt ready for my 30 minute lesson on boat delivery day. Though it was a little tough on my ego to have an instructor who looked like she should have been selling Girl Scout cookies, I quickly discovered that she knew her stuff. She taught me as much as I imagine anyone could learn in half an hour.
Unsuccessful in our efforts to enlist friends with boating experience to accompany us on our maiden voyage, DeeDee and I finally had the boat provisioned a few days later, and had convinced ourselves we were ready for the trip. I have to tell you that my sphincter was pretty tight as I pulled the boat out of the slip at 8 a.m. that bright summer morning. But I managed to do it without knocking down any pilings or going aground. We made it through Channel 5 in the Keys and anchored for the night near Spanish Cay.
Any doubts about the wisdom of our purchase evaporated as we grilled steaks in the boat’s cockpit while enjoying our rum drinks and watching a gorgeous sunset that night. The next morning everything went well until I had to make a refueling stop on the north side of Florida Bay. Approaching the dock white-knuckled, I envisioned embarrassing myself by destroying the dock and my boat. But much to my surprise (and certainly Dee Dee’s), docking went without a hitch. After two more pleasantly uneventful days at sea and two nights spent at the Marco Island and Tarpon Springs marinas, we prepared to make the “jump” to the Florida panhandle.
Taking on the Big Bend Jump
I will say that the Big Bend jump, a long day of running that would entail losing sight of land, had Dee Dee somewhat unnerved. So on the morning of our crossing when we left the marina in the pouring rain, with the sky filled with squalls, including not one but two waterspouts, Dee Dee was not happy. I boldly assured her that the waterspouts were nothing to fear, while silently praying we could avoid them. But after we’d been running for less than an hour, the sun came out, the sky turned bright blue, and the seas laid down. We couldn’t have ordered better crossing weather from Neiman Marcus.
Standing on the foredeck that day while Dee Dee took over running the boat is one of my most thrilling memories. I suspect that Leonardo DiCaprio somehow saw me, thus inspiring that scene in Titanic where he stands on the bow of a somewhat larger vessel and yells something memorable.
We were riding high on our perfect crossing when we entered the channel at Carabelle. That is, until I pulled back the throttles to slow down and discovered that we had blown the port engine’s turbo. It may surprise you to learn that there are not a lot of skilled Volvo diesel engine mechanics in Carabelle, Florida: population 1,000. So, after trying for a couple of days to have the turbo repaired, we were forced to leave the boat there. Instead of arriving in Gulfport on our new boat to a cheering throng of friends as I had imagined, we arrived on a Greyhound bus, much to the delight of my jeering throng of friends.
To be continued…
Disclaimer: Frank Wilem is an author, speaker, and all around funny and entertaining guy. On this blog, his stories are based on his real life experiences, often with a satirical twist.
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