Jacksonville, Florida – Petur had promised not to buy any more boats until he finished a few existing projects. But this old Catalina was too good a deal to pass up! And the poor fella advertising on Craigslist was so desperate to sell that he phoned me daily until we relented and returned for a second look.
The 22 foot Catalina, built in 1973, had racked up dock fees, and the owner had moved her to an anchorage. A summer storm came along and she dragged. A good Samaritan helpfully re-anchored, adding, for good measure, an additional stern-anchor. Which meant that, being unable to swing to lee, she filled with rainwater with the next summer downpour. The desperate owner watched her sinking and phoned me again, lowering his price and throwing in the perfectly good trailer for free. So we bit.
Arriving with cash in hand, only then did we realize that there was no rudder. And there was no nearby ramp to haul her out with. So we bailed out the freshwater, clamped our long-shaft outboard motor on, and Petur managed to steer the boat with the motor-tiller. We decided to make the day-trip from the marina near Trout River to the boatyard in Green Cove Springs.
The first few hours, we were excited, moving happily with the sails up and engine on low speed. Then we felt the tide change and slow us down. A dark sky formed and wind whipped up, and we took the sails down and put the motor on full-throttle. Waves built, causing the boat to roll – every time a wave lifted us, the propeller cavitated, so I crouched close to Petur in the corner of the stern to add my weight. It was starting to get dark – we had to find a stopping place – no way could we make it another few miles that night!
Luckily, the Rudder Club was welcoming. We pulled in to a wet-slip, co-incidentally next to a new sleek Catalina 22.
Next day at home, Petur whipped up a rudder, using a piece of scrap wood he had lying around, and we soon sailed happily to our local boatyard, where we spent a few days cleaning and repairing. We were delighted that the sails and rigging were in great condition. The drop-keel worked fine, the interior was clean, there were no leaks anywhere. We cut and covered some foam cushions and fixed a few little things. Then we were ready for a weekend aboard. We packed a cooler with way more food than we could eat, loaded up a pile of pillows and blankets, stowed the portable-potty in the nifty spot forward, remembered the sun-screen and dog-food and flash-light, and first-aid kit and tool-box and reading-lamp and battery-powered fan, and we were quite well loaded for just a few nights.
The St Johns River is the best kept secret in North Florida. I should probably not be writing it up, lest it be discovered and ruined. Oh, it already has been discovered – there was a fishing tournament involving droves of high-speed boats with ear-splitting engines and frightening paths. Dozens of these craft whipped past, so fast you could just take in the fact that some drivers wore goggles and protective face masks. Look out, everyone!
Heading upriver (south, that is) we ambled along, keeping the sails filled. I was not paying close attention to the channel markers, and was surprised when suddenly we whammed into a soft shallow. Oops! Petur dropped the sail, we cranked up the keel, and I shoved us off using the boat-hook. The tide was rapidly receding, and now that I looked, I could see water-grasses breaking the surface. No worries, we were free. I reached back and cranked up the outboard motor. Rrrrr! YIKES! The engine noise had freaked out a hidden manatee, who probably thought I was going to slice him open – he leaped and thrashed, making a big splash! Sorry, Manatee! I didn’t mean to scare you! I doused the engine and we drifted to a safer distance from the bed of green grass before proceeding.
We passed fancy waterfront homes, small towns of former fish-camp glory, a few sea-food restaurants and marinas and RV campgrounds. We enjoyed free dockage and hot showers at the sleepy town of Welaka, and the next day continued to join a party of friends at a waterfront eatery. I found a patch of water so clean I jumped in for a refreshing swim.
Then we snagged a crab-trap, which got snarled up in the rudder and had to be extricated carefully. It was time to head on home – after a few days shifting around such a small boat, you are definitely ready to return to land!
Up came the wind – yay! Real sailing, really swift, speeding over the sparkling river, ripping right along, I was keeping an eye on the channel markers now, having realized that way up river, there is a narrowly-defined channel which does not always co-ordinate with your wind direction. I was steering, Petur was standing by to help move the sail from side to side as we tacked, and the wind rose and fell like a breathing being. It rose again – higher than before – wheeeee! Whizzing along, heeling hard! I was getting a little bit over-stimulated! I wanted to slow down! What should I do?! I shouted into the wind; Petur could not hear. Should I drive into it or steer away? What about the depth? Maybe I ought to ease the sheet. How exciting! Whoooo! Then: pop! snap! The boat suddenly veered! What happened!?!
The rudder had snapped!
Another mishap on the water! Back to steering with the outboard motor – luckily we had a nearby friend, and were able to borrow her dock, and get a ride home. And this time, make sure the new rudder was strong enough!