This is part three of the Living the Sailing Dream series. You can read part two here.

So there I was, on the dock in Isla Mujeres with a borderline insane captain. He suffered from bouts of anger, often due to his short-term memory loss caused by the accident that paid out the money for his sailboat. We suspected it was a former drug-running boat due to her “unique” compartments.

Even in unfavorable conditions, Leah gets some hands-on sailing experience.

My friend Erika and I were planning on buying our own sailboat when we got back to Florida so we could bum around the Caribbean and scuba dive. Tim, our captain, often liked to throw it in our face that we didn’t know much about boats. Since the only head aboard had crapped out (pun intended) just as we got to port, Tim said, “If you girls want to own your own boat, you are going to have to take apart the toilet and rebuild it.”

We were beginning to understand how inexperienced Tim was as we realized the lack of tools, parts, and supplies on board. We borrowed what we could from other sailboats and jury-rigged the toilet, hoping it would last the rest of the journey. We didn’t have any o-ring lubricant, and you don’t even want to know what Tim went out and got as a substitute... but you can bet it played a roll later in the evening to help him lose our provision money.

The day before we left Mexico, we all paid up for food and fuel. Tim took off for a last bender before we set sail, his pockets full of our provision dollars. The next day he returned much poorer. Apparently he’d picked up a woman and while he was passed out in a hotel room, she relieved him of all our money (unbeknownst to him, she was a prostitute).

What follows leads me to believe he decided to short cut fueling the boat to capacity. As we left the dock, we immediately hit a dead calm. For the next couple of days, tensions ran high as wind ran low and we motored on. Until the engine sputtered. And died. And his cigarettes ran out. And he became Captain Bligh.

At one point we were drifting backward toward Cuba, and I started wishing I’d followed my instincts and gotten off the boat in Mexico.

In a moment of desperation, the captain and the Australian began lifting floorboards, looking for a hidden stash of cigarettes. That’s when we found two things: The bilges were nearly full to capacity with water (We were lucky we didn’t sink near Cuba.) And there was actually a valve needed to switch over to use another tank of fuel. That is, we had plenty of fuel. It just wasn’t in the tank we were drawing from.

Right around the time we discovered the fuel, a storm blew up on the horizon. We sped through the night with rain, thunder and lightening as our companions, finally gaining some headway.

Several days later, we made it into Clearwater Florida and met some of Tim’s “buddies.” Drunk and boisterous, they said, “Wow, you trusted your life to this guy? We thought he sank his ship and died. He was only leaving on a 24-hour shake down cruise, and that was eight months ago!” By that point Erika and I were more than ready to get the heck off that boat. We asked him to dingy us back to our precarious mooring (he dropped anchor practically in the channel) so we could get our things and go.

His method for making sure his dingy didn’t get stolen while drinking ashore was to disconnect the battery. We watched him, in his drunken stupor; shock himself many times before finally getting the battery hooked back up. Erika offered to drive, but he wouldn’t let her, hurling another insult about our incompetence.

I don’t know how he did it, but rather than tying the dingy to the boat, he took the line and hurled himself at the boarding ladder, only to slide down the side of the boat like Wile E Coyote. As he went under the waves, for a split second Erika and I looked at each other and said, “Should we save him?” contemplating how we could take over ownership of the sailboat.

But before we could entertain a decision, his head popped back up, and Erika pulled him out of the water. Somehow we pulled him up the ladder and into the cockpit. He was bleeding, so we patched him up before quickly hightailing it off the boat. It was worth paying for a hotel for the night, just to get rid of this guy.

Next stop, shopping for our own sailboat.

Living the Sailing Dream, Part Two

Living the Sailing Dream, Part One


Read part four of Living the Sailing Dream next Tuesday.