Voyage of The Damned

Dante clearly didn't know all there was to know about Hell, because if he did, he would know that there are in fact several circles beyond the 9th.

The 10th circle of Hell starts in the Virgin Islands during the hottest time of the year, late August and September, which just so happens to be hurricane season. During this time of year the sun is approximately 6 feet above your head. If that sounds a tad warm, try going even further south, to Cartagena, Colombia where not only is the sun positioned directly above your already sizzling brain, but the equator is about 3 feet to your left. It's like living in Satan's armpit while he takes a steam bath. Should you ever find yourself in these conditions, bring a knife, you can use it to cut the air.

Into this inferno five Seattle guys naively strolled with the intention of cruising a 45-foot power catamaran yacht from the British Virgin Islands back to Seattle in just one month via the Panama Canal (a trip of over 5,000 miles). Anyone who has experience with ocean going boats and the area of the planet that we were navigating through is probably choking back laughter or smiling like the Cheshire Cat about this point in the story, because they know just how wildly optimistic and naive this notion was. Jimi Hendrix once asked the musical question "Are You Experienced?" Nope, but in a few more weeks we would be.

The funniest and cruelest part of this joke is that when considering this trip, at first glance it really does sound like one long, lovely vacation cruise. The ports that we planned to visit along the way are in all the slickest vacation brochures. We all had visions dancing in our heads of sport fishing, snorkeling, fresh fish and lobster everyday, and tropical cocktails with umbrellas in them. The reality is that a 45-foot boat is quite small with 5 guys aboard when out on the open ocean in 6 to 7 foot swells. Now, throw in constant mechanical problems and the type of heat that we came to refer to as "Africa hot" and you've got a lot more misery than any of us bargained for.

Clearly God and Satan were making bets again, as in the Biblical story of Job. It seems painfully obvious to me now that the Biblical account of Job left out one important fact ... Job must have been a boat owner. There's a special kind of pain in this world that only boat owners and Job know about. Fortunately I wasn't the boat owner for this adventure, but because my father has owned boats for most of my life, I am all too familiar with one of the truest sayings in recorded human history ...

"The two best days of your life are the day you buy your boat and the day you sell it."

Where to begin? I guess introductions are in order.

Lee, the boat owner, purchased The Great Escape III Prowler 450 over the Internet. Enough said? Probably. All the really worthwhile lessons in life are learned the hard way, aren't they? My only complaint with that basic fact of life is that sometimes the people who are learning those lessons drag their friends along with them. Since I won't ever have a spare 300k floating around to buy a yacht over the internet, I'm not quite sure why I needed to learn this lesson as well. But I certainly know better now.

Lee is a former US Marine and like all Marines there are certain sayings that have been drummed into him. One of Lee's favorites is "Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance" ...  the six P's as he calls it. Lee is a financial planner and a very smart guy. He's made a lot of great buys and savvy purchases over the Internet, but most of us probably aren't quite so bold as to buy a yacht that way. Lee felt he could take charge from Seattle and by hiring the right guys to inspect and prepare the boat, and he could get everything taken care of from several thousand miles away. Never trust anyone trying to sell or repair a boat, that was apparently the lesson that needed learning there.

As one chaotic event swirled into another on this trip and it became clear that Murphy and his infernal "Law" would dance a jig on our steaming skulls, I dredged up an appropriate line from the movie "The Wedding Singer" that was uttered by Adam Sandler's character ...

"Information I could have used previously."

Unfortunately as this story unfolds you will see how that line became a catch phrase for the entire trip, along with other phrases like "it's Africa hot", "voyage of the damned, part X" (insert steadily increasing integer here), "the sun is six feet from my head", as well as a very long list of indelicate phrases uttered by Lee about the performance and character of our (not so) esteemed Captain Rob, who we quickly nicknamed "Pogo".

Rob earned this nickname because he could never stop hopping around, something like the way I would imagine that a Ferret on methamphetamine bounces around. I'm still shaking my head over how this guy hasn't managed to get himself killed by now. It seems likely that I'm going to become addicted to the obituary pages, just waiting for Captain Rob's name to show up there one day. Its only a matter of time, I figure.

Captain Rob, aka Pogo ... I don't even know where to begin. I guess we lost confidence in him about the time he bumped into a coral reef as we were trying to find the marina in Aruba. His resume certainly looked good when Lee hired him to pilot and navigate the boat back to Seattle. After all, we were a bunch of ocean going rookies who didn't know jack squat about cruising the Caribbean, so we needed an experienced hand to guide us. Hiring a skipper not only seemed like the right thing to do, but the only sane option. Pogo is a fairly likable guy, but you have to be able to patiently overlook some of the manic caffeine/sugar induced states he seems to work himself into. I don't know that I've ever seen anything quite like that.