At any rate, the trip began in mid August ( yep ... temp was 98 degrees F), at Glades Boat Storage in La Bell, FL. La Bell is in south central Florida, on the Okeechobee canal about 1/2 way between Lake Okeechobee and Fort Meyers. The plan was to launch the boat and head east, motoring on the canal, through lake Okeechobee, onto the St. Lucie river, arriving at the Port St. Lucie Lock in 48 hours, and then a casual sail home the next day on the Intracoastal Waterway. Sounds simple, right?
Well, it wasn't so easy. Who knew that a simple delivery would turn out to be the adventure of a lifetime? For the record, I did read the Coast Guard's "Notice to Mariners" before we left, but how was I to know that periodic water releases from a dangerously high Lake Okeechobee translates into a 7 knot current on our bow? (It wasn't my fault, honest!) So, after 3 days of traveling in miserable Florida August weather, with 104 degree temperatures with 100% humidity and a broken refrigerator, a load of bad diesel fuel, clogged fuel filters, zillions of mosquitoes and 7 knot currents at times on our bow, and having to be towed by a power boat into a lock ... I'm afraid that tempers were flaring by the time we reached the St. Lucie lock in Stuart, FL. You can sort of picture this trip like the movie 'Deliverance" except those wimps didn't have alligators.
By the way, I'm here to tell you that yes, it's possible to be at full speed and actually travel backwards against a 7 knot current with a sail boat!! Catalpa made the trip in fine shape, however my brother wasn't thrilled with the ordeal (I mean...adventure), although I'm not sure if it was his heat exhaustion, the bee stings, the mosquito bites (did I mention we traveled through what is basically the Everglades? No?, well I sort of forgot to mention it to him as well), no cold drinks (do Germans really drink warm beer?), or being on what's definitely "not a powerboat", which contributed to his disposition.
From out of nowhere, a hurricane named Katrina decided to take aim at south Florida on it's way to devastating New Orleans. This hurricane formed very suddenly directly over the Bahamas, and gave almost no warning at all to eastern Florida. The National Hurricane Center was now predicting that Katrina was going to roll right over where I had docked the boat!! Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Obviously, if I planned on still owning a boat, I had better get my butt in gear and do something.
We begged a ride to Port St. Lucy and as we arrived at the marina, the winds were already clocking at 25 mph with 35 mph gusts. There was a power problem at the marina and they took forever to settle the bill, so we didn't untie the boat until noon. I took advantage of the delay and called City Dock at Vero Beach to reserve a slip and tell them we were on our way. It took 30 minutes to clear the Port St. Lucie lock, and another 3 hours before we made the turn onto the ICW in Stuart Harbor because of a delay waiting for one of the bridges to open for us. We said a prayer, and headed north on the ICW.
Conditions were what we expected. There was a small craft advisory posted, with gusting winds and a violent chop. The ICW is a protected waterway, but even so, in a short time 3-4 foot chop developed and the wind was from the NE, which was almost on the bow. At least there wasn't any traffic as it looked like we were the only boat on the water. I had the sails down and both diesels at cruising speed. My GPS indicated we were making 6mph SOG but it was already 3:30PM, and because of the delays, there was no way we would make it to Vero Beach before nightfall. Unfortunately, we had run out of other options. By 6:00PM, the rain squalls in the outer bands of the hurricane began to catch us. Let me just say that you'd have to experience this to appreciate it. Suddenly visibility is reduced to 50 yards, with rain directly in our faces driven by 40 mph gusts. The boat is taking the chop on the starboard bow with enough force to cover us in spray. It was stimulating to say the least, and fatiguing, as hour after hour we plodded north away from the approaching storm. We began switching helm duty as the day wore on, as it didn't take long for conditions to take a toll on us. We learned a couple of valuable lessons. First, I needed a helm seat, (Yep I bought one) and 2nd I learned the futility of trying to outrun a hurricane in a sailboat.
We were up before dawn, anxious to get underway as the winds were brisk and gusting and the sky was black as night and seemed to have no intention of allowing the sun to come up. We hurriedly gobbled down a breakfast bar with a cup of black coffee graciously offered by the guys at the City Dock, as we watched the Hurricane update on their TV. There was a slight shift in Katrina's path to the south during the night!! We were out of danger, but it was going to be a bumpy ride home. We left the dock at 7:00AM and headed north, in 3-4 foot chop and 50 mph steady winds which gusted to over 60 mph. In each gust we watched our boat speed slow as the wind was on our nose and catamarans aren't exactly aerodynamic. Condition did improve as the day wore on, as we were heading north and the hurricane was bending to the south. Every hour we put more and more distance between us and the approaching storm. We arrived at her new home in Melbourne, FL in early afternoon without incident just as Katrina came roaring ashore in South Florida. In reviewing the trip I can honestly say that the boat was level and stable the entire trip and overall she performed flawlessly. I feel like I've made a good choice in selecting a catamaran. Especially selecting a Catalac 8M!!