“When you leave Coinjock you can head out into the sound, set the autopilot and relax.” That’s a lie. We cleared the entrance to Albemarle Sound and set course for Roanoke Island. 200 yards later Jan says, “so what are those white things??” Crab pots. Hundreds of millions of crab pots. Autopilot adios.
We started weaving between them for a bit then figured out, they are in a string – just like on Deadliest Catch. The buoys, no bigger than a soda bottle, were laid in straight lines, cris crossing this vast stretch of open water. From the air it has to look like artwork drawn by a 3 year old. There was no going straight for long. All we could do was follow a string in the general direction of south, then jump across and pick up the next one. I felt like we were tacking in a sailboat. Maddening. No, it was worse. We wanted to relax, enjoy this fine day and let the Cummins diesels hum us to our next stop.
That next stop was to be the harbor at Manteo on Roanoke Island. We were already looking at a looooooong day. And then the weather changed. It started howling out of the south. Right in our face. “How high are these waves?” Jan asked. “2 maybe 3 footers” I replied. They never got much higher, but the 30 knot head wind was pushing them fast against the bow. An hour into the trip we finally cleared the crab pots and now we were taking water over the bow. The rise and fall of Shangri-La in the heaving seas was giving us our first test of what it might be like to cross really big water. Where was she?
I started to panic. No Jan. I can’t leave the helm. At least I don’t think I can leave. But where in the devil is she?? Yelling over the wind, I hear nothing in reply. Oh my God, tell me she didn’t fall overboard!! I’m starting to panic. No crab pots in sight, I set the autopilot – I need to find her. Heading back towards the stairs from the bridge, I look down. You have to be kidding me. There sits Jan, feet on the rail hair blowing in the wind. Watching the waves roll by. And she’s laughing. Not a little. She’s laughing hysterically. Loving it.
Ok, maybe we’re going to make this work. Here’s a woman who grew up pulling water skiing kids all over a lake in Minnesota. This is big water and she is 100% enjoying it. Living the dream. Eating life. This is good. Very good.
I grew up on the Great Lakes. From the time I was a young pup I remember my dad pulling an aluminum boat off the car top carriers on our Chevy station wagon and sliding it down the dirt ramp to Tawas bay. While he was busy hanging the 5 hp Gale outboard on the transom, my job was to fetch the rods and lunch pail. We’d motor out into the bay and spend the day catching perch. For hours.
Later the boats got steering wheels and larger motors. We went farther from shore. It was always big water. We only went to ‘little lakes’ when the Big Lake was too rough. We never had a ‘big blow’ catch us in those days, but I grew up respecting the big lake. Jan had never been on water like this. It was a a lot of rough water. And she was handling it just fine. So was Shangri-La.
We didn’t have the eisenglass up on this trip, just the Bimini top. It finally got so rough the spray was washing over the upper helm. We had to go downstairs. Inside the pilot house we setup shop. Her navigating, me trying not to get knocked out of the small bench for the captain to sit upon. Then I got to turn them on. Windshield wipers. Not one or two, but THREE windshield wipers. I’m a God. I’m piloting a grand vessel through rough seas with windshield wipers. Can it get any better?