After returning from the 4th of July cruise to the Northeastern Seaboard I learned that I had been accepted in to the Enlisted Educational Associates Program, EEAP. This was such a big deal! After High School I had attended a year and a half of college at Ouachita Baptist College in Arkadelphia Arkansas. It was a disaster! I was no where near ready to go to college. The first semester I actually made mostly C’s. The second semester was mostly D’s. The third semester, well I might as well have stayed home.
That was over 20 years earlier, now I was a grown man and was more than ready for this challenge. I had served the Ship, the Navy and my Country and was ready to move on. My third enlistment time was about to come to an end and I needed to re-enlist while still on board the ship. In all actuality I knew unless something really unexpected came up, this should be my last enlistment. At the end I would be at 20 years. Retirement time.
When a sailor re-ups he will usually have his choice of where to do this. The first time I was in Long Beach California on board the JPJ and I took the oath on the Signal Bridge. The second time I was in the Persian Gulf on board the Talbot and raised my right hand once again on the Signal Bridge. This time I wanted to make it unforgettable. I came up with a plan that would accomplish just that!
When I reported on board the Morrison in November of 1989 the city of Charleston was still reeling from a direct hit of Hurricane Hugo a few months earlier. A lot of this historical town was still bruised from the pounding. I was alone and as I’ve said before I had finished Rehab a little over a year earlier. My spare time was spent working out at the base gym and running. No bars, no clubs. I would usually go to a restaurant in Charleston after ‘knock of ships work’ was passed. I would buy a newspaper, find a secluded table, read the paper and enjoy my alone time.
One evening I decided to look in the classified adds for an item I’d been dreaming about for years. A live aboard sail boat. After much searching and finding nothing I happened on an add that was perfect.
I guy out on one of the barrier islands had been hit very hard by the hurricane and had nearly lost his house. He was in the process of rebuilding but needed to sell a few items. One of those items was a 22-foot South Coast boat with a trailer. He wanted $1500 for the whole thing. I called him from a pay phone and arranged a time to come see it.
The boat was built in 1972, single mast sloop. The hull and trailer were in great shape, the interior had been ruined by the flooding but only cushions and carpet. Nothing that couldn’t be fixed. I gave him the money and hitched it to my pickup and headed back. I had rented a space in the storage area on the base. This was a section for Sailors to store their cars and trailers and, boats. I backed it in unhitched it and just before leaving I stopped and stared at it for probably 15 minutes. I couldn’t believe it was mine! This was a dream come true for sure!
For the next 3 or 4 months all of my spare time was spent working on my boat. I bought new cushions for the cabin. The sail was a little torn so I had it repaired at a local shop. When I knew I was getting close to launch time I put myself on the waiting list for a mooring buoy at the base marina.
Sometime around March I think it was they called me to tell me that a buoy was available. It was the start of something I had wanted to do for ever. I bought a small raft so I could paddle out to the boat and some weekends I’d stay out there just enjoying the solitude. I had an ice box, a small butane burner and a battery powered little 6-inch tv. Sleeping on my boat was blissful, the waves lapping against the side. I’d cast off at least a couple of times over the weekend. Never really went anywhere, Charleston harbor is huge.
When my orders came in and my reenlistment request was to take the oath for the fourth time on my own boat. My Father made arrangements to fly out and he and I would sail the boat back to Jacksonville. I had calculated it shouldn’t take more that 3 days to make the voyage.
I drove back to my home in Jacksonville, picked up Dad from the airport and we rode a bus back to Charleston. The plan was to sail back, moor my boat at the Jacksonville Naval Station Marina and then return to Charleston. I’d wrap up everything and get ready for a new chapter in my life.
The reenlistment ceremony was tremendous. Twenty or Thirty crew members came to marina for the show. The Captain of the Morrison, Commander Parrish even asked permission to come aboard my boat. Dad was there it was just a perfect day.
Everyone left and my Dad and I cast off sometime around 1400. We were going to spend at least one night at sea and then maybe pull in around Savanah for a break if we needed too. It was a perfect plan. But everyone knows what happens to perfect plans when the elements come in to play.
About 2 hours later we were maybe half mile away from the marina and no where even close to exiting the harbor. And then the wind went silent. All I had for power was a small outboard 6 horsepower engine. I cranked it up to at least get us out of the river and into the harbor water. As night began to creep in I told Dad that I think we should pull in to the harbor marina and get an early start tomorrow. He totally agreed. We came to starboard and tied up to the pier at Charleston public marina. It was good sleeping; it had been a very long day.
The next morning, we did just as we planned. Had a quick breakfast at the marina and then cast off again. This time we were going to be unstoppable! We exited the harbor about an hour and a half later. The swells were not bad so I gave a quick lesson on how to handle the tiller. I went below to sync in the Loran receiver I had borrowed from the quartermasters, spread out the charts on the table and began to track our course. We would sail about a mile off the coast, I didn’t want to get out of sight of land at all. Then I heard my Dad call me to the cockpit. He said look at that and pointed off to the southwest.
Huge rolling black clouds were building up on the horizon. I checked the time and then 5 minutes later I could tell how fast they were moving in. I had a marine walky-talky. I tuned to the weather channel and what we heard was frightful to say the least. This storm was coming in fast and a small craft warning was broadcast out. Well, just great!
We kept watching the storm and monitoring the marine band weather station. It wasn’t long untill they were broadcasting an advisory that all small crafts should seek inland shelter immediately. I took a loran fix so I could get our exact location. Then traced the coast line, there was an entrance to a small river that was maybe 20 minutes away. I thought that if we can just get into the mouth of the river, in shallow water we could drop anchor and wait out the storm. Is was coming in so fast which translates to moving out fast also.
I went top side and informed Dad of what we needed to do. He pointed at what looked like an entrance to the jetties. I told him that I didn’t think so, it was to close. I went back to my chart and double checked, then took another loran fix. I went back topside and let Dad know that it was a false entrance. We continued to sail.
Within about 30 minutes I could see the entrance but could also see the waves breaking all around it. By this time the winds were near gail force and it was starting to rain. We trudged on till we had a 90-degree approach angel to the jetties. I took the tiller and halyard, no need for charts right now, it would all be line of sight from here.
I told Dad to stand by the mast and wait for my call to drop the sail. I also said to him ‘please hang on’ we’re going to get some rocking as soon as we come about. 3-2-1 drop the sail. Down it came and at the same time I fired up our outboard motor.
We were making way but very slowly and then not at all. I was marking certain points on the jetty to gauge our progress. When we went to no headway, I knew we were probably close to losing momentum pretty quick and sure enough, it started.
I had Dad hold the tiller and I went to the bow of the boat with the anchor in hand. He held the boat on a direct line pointing at the entrance which was still about 30 yards ahead. I swung the anchor around once and the heaved it forward. Gave it a little tug to set it and felt the resistance that told me it was set. I then returned to the cockpit and took a fix on a prominent rock on top of the levy. We were holding! Now it was just a matter of waiting it out and keeping our fingers crossed.
Dad went below and then returned with his wallet in hand? When I asked him what he was doing he replied.
“When my body washes up on shore, I want them to be able to identify me”!
Okay this was pretty funny and I really needed a good laugh in the middle of this bedlam!
The storm kept howling, the rain was now coming down hard and sideways. But the anchor held. We were just waiting for the peak. Hit the peak and then look for the downward trend of the wind and the rain. Finally, it began to happen. The winds slacked and the rain began to decrease.
It was at this time that I came to another conclusion that we were not going to be able to continue, at least not today. I went below and retrieved the radio, turned to the communication channel. I called the Coast Guard just to get some advice. I really didn’t want to go back to Charleston Harbor. The radio operator asked me if we were in distress? I said no, just wet and needing a place to tie up for the night. The first thing he said was ‘good’ because they had floundering small vessels all over the coast. I told him where we were and he gave me good news. I thanked him.
I went back topside and told Dad that the Coast Guard had given me good news and bad news. The good news was there’s a marina just up this river, the bad news is, it’s about 6 miles. Let’s go.
I stood by the tiller and just a few feet away from the outboard. I kept a can of gas right near me and every 15 minutes or so I would top off the engine. The last thing I wanted to happen was to have the motor stall. The tide was going out and we were going against it. This river or canal was narrow, maybe 50 yards wide. It was a man-made inlet that led to the Intracoastal Waterway.
Right at dusk we spotted the marina. I had Dad take the tiller while I went to the bow. I told him to head for the pier and that I will leap from the boat as soon as we get close and for him to kill the motor as soon as I jump. We had one shot at this because as soon as that motor goes off the boat will be swept back down with the tide. I could just imagine the boat heading back out to sea with just Dad on board.
I jumped, he killed the motor, the boat stopped and I quickly slipped the line to a cleat on the dock. The bow was secured and then the stern. We had made it.
Once we settled down, we just started laughing at the experience that had just occurred. We hugged and I said.
“This isn’t exactly what I had in mind but I wouldn’t take anything for what we just did”!
We changed into some dry clothes and then walked up the pier to a small café and hopefully get some hot food. Not to be, the place was closed and in fact there was no one was around anywhere. The marina had 4 or 5 other boats moored but no patrons to be seen.
So dinner that night was Vianna Sausage and Crackers and it was just as delicious as if we had been feasting on Steak and Lobster. We slept super sound that night. The next morning, I looked at the charts and presented options to my Father.
Option 1 was to fight our way back down the canal to open water.
Option 2 was that since we were now on the intracoastal waterway, we could follow it all the way to Jacksonville. We would have to depend on the outboard motor quite a lot and it could take 3 or 4 days.
Option 3 was that there was a canal that connected the intracoastal to Charleston Harbor. We could go through it and be back at the Base Marina by mid-afternoon
The unanimous choice was Option 3.
The boat was secured at the base and we caught a cab to the bus station and that night and returned to Jacksonville Beach and my house by 2130 that evening.
I later traced our journey on the charts and calculated that we had sailed about 60 miles total. Okay not exactly what we had set out to do but the memories we made were priceless. I will always believe that this was Poseidon, King Neptune and maybe even Davey Jones telling us that we weren’t quite salty enough to tackle this voyage.
My Father is a Baptist Minister and has told this story from his pulpit many times. He speaks of the adventure, the danger accomplishment but his main emphasis is always on the embrace where we both agreed that this was an experience that we would never forget and wouldn’t take anything for.
I moored my boat at Naval Station Jacksonville Marina for about a year. Sailing time was very limited with me being a full-time student and another event took place within that time frame that changed my life forever.
My Daughter was born and became the focus of my Everything. I eventually sold the boat and always intended to get another one. That was nearly 30 years ago and the odds of me ever setting sail on my own boat are very slim and getting slimmer with every passing year.
Doesn’t matter if I ever go to sea again. It was an amazing.