December 1, 2003
Truckin' in Annapolis
Recognizing our impetuous nature, it might not surprise you to learn that we didn't have a firm plan of exactly how we'd wrap up our cruise or what we'd do with the boat afterwards either.
Being closer to the northern latitudes than southern ones, we headed north and tucked our 34' John Robertson H34, Force Five, into Annapolis harbor. Obligations drew us back to California and we could not know when we might return for more Caribbean adventures. It was a brief moment of weakness when we put her up for sale. Then a near-hit by Hurricane Isabel knocked some sense into us, and we were searching for boat transport companies before the national media had stopped covering the hurricane. Curt led the survey of potential carriers relying on sailing friends, chat rooms and word of mouth to see which companies rose to the top. It was discouraging to find that no one carrier seemed to shine, but rather, our options were from among those that had the least amount of bad buzz. In the end, Deep Water Transport based out of North Carolina seemed like a sound candidate. We did a little due diligence by calling our boat broker and Burt Jabins (the local boatyard) and a few others to query of their experiences with them. We heard no complaints.
Deep Water Transport's website had a handy online quote request form that walked us through the information necessary for them to provide an accurate and competitive rate: vessel type, manufacturer, dimensions, current location, destination, intended transport dates, and so forth. We received an estimate of $6450 within two days that was within our budget and we began putting the next pieces of the puzzle together; the dates, our flights, where to haul the boat out, and our ultimate destination in Santa Barbara California. We chose Anchor's Way boatyard based on sterling recommendations.
Our flight from the sunny California coast transported us into frigid 40-degree weather and a biting 35- knot wind in Annapolis. We arrived at the boat around 2am. The weather convinced me I would not have become much of a sailor if these were the waters I had to learn on.
The next day Curt and I emerged from our sleeping bags to a still and misty morning. We had allotted five days to strip the boat down, take the mast off, and pack her up for the trip west. As we stood there on the decks in the brisk morning air, we looked at all the work to be done and were overwhelmed. We walked down the road to get a cup of coffee.
At the end of the first day, we hadn't made much progress. We had anticipated jumping in and cranking out the work, but we did more staring at the boat with our hands on our hips and deliberating. I tagged the lines and rigging with blue tape marked with their respective titles. And before we took anything apart, I shot photos of everything while it was still in its proper place. While Curt was confident it would all come back together without a hitch, I was less so and was pleased that we had a back-up plan if we couldn't piece it all back together later.
On a whim that night we called some friends we had met cruising in the Caribbean. We had sailed to Annapolis together that summer, and it was largely due to their prompting that we had taken Force Five here. As luck would have it, they happened to be arriving that very evening for a short visit. We were dumbfounded with appreciation when Don offered to meet us at the dock the next afternoon and lend us a hand. The camaraderie felt like we were cruising again.
Don isn't the sort of man who waits for things to happen, so when he arrived, we kicked things into overdrive. And it was a good thing we did, because the trucking company called to ask if they could pick the boat up a day early. We needed to move her to Jabin's boatyard the next morning to start the process by taking the mast down.
When our turn came due, Curt guided Force Five into the travel lift area and a handful of men jumped aboard while Curt and Don loosened the rigging with measured turns on each. A crane moved over the boat, while someone climbed the mast to clip it to the crane. Then all at once, it seemed Force Five was stripped bare with no sails, no mast, and no canvas. No sooner was the mast off when Curt got the second call that with a snowstorm looming, Deep Water Transport wanted to pick the boat up yet another day earlier. The next day at 3:00pm, Force Five had to be ready to go for her road trip, and we still had the bulk of the work to do. We kicked things into panic mode and Curt began winterizing the boat.
Contrary to what some southern latitude sailors might think, this does not mean he drank all the beer aboard so it wouldn't freeze with the first snow. He poured non-toxic antifreeze into the water tanks and ran it through the engine. He changed the oil and unhooked the batteries. I picked up packing tape and immense amounts of bubble wrap and returned to dismantle the radar and wind generator. Then Don and I worked together to wrap everything in bubble wrap and stow it below. Nuts and screws went into labeled Ziploc bags and they were then taped to the bubble wrap. Come noon the next day, we were ready to go and Ken, the driver from Deep Water Transport, was already there twiddling his thumbs. Force Five was in the travel lift a second time, now guided there by line handlers. The sling's straps were positioned underneath her bulkheads. With the sound of a mechanical whir; she was raised out of the water. Our 34-foot boat looked immense as she hung above our heads and for the first time we were able to survey the condition of her bottom without a snorkeling mask. Several months in the Chesapeake gave her a barnacled bottom, but otherwise she looked great.
The travel lift edged forward while Force Five gently swung from the gusting winter wind. Her wing keel presented a bit of a problem as she couldn't sit as low on the bed as planned because her keel couldn't slide between two braces. When it was all said and done she did still sit just below the 13' height restriction. As they positioned her above the semi-truck, Ken built steel braces up around her placing thick pads where the braces met her hull. Straps tightened her down to a snug fit. Force Five's mast, also wrapped in bubble wrap, slid below the boat along the length of the truck bed. She was ready for her road trip.
Ken the truck driver expected it would be a week to reach Anchor's Way in Ventura. He had the required permits prepared, and had planned his route according to restrictions on daylight highway travel, as well as which roads and highways he was barred from traveling entirely. His route would take him through the first snowstorm of the season in the mid-Atlantic, the southern states, on through the Arizona desert to the Central California Coast.
No surprise to anyone, Ken arrived in Ventura early. We greeted him under a warm and sunny sky. Force Five pulled into Anchor's Way covered in dirt, road grime and blotchy purple stains that we would later discover were nearly impossible to remove.
After several weeks of hard work putting her back together, Curt and I sat on Force Five's deck and shared the last beers we had stowed away in Venezuela over a year before. We marveled at the landscape our boat had seen. From South Africa to the Caribbean, to the Bahamas, up the East Coast of the United States and into the Chesapeake, and now across the U.S. to the Pacific Ocean, we felt confident this tough little boat held lots more adventures in store for us on this side of the world.