Chance Encounters


Lisa and I have recently spent two months exploring the towns and waterways along the eastern coast of the United States, with our friends Louis and Diane Wade, from Morehead City, North Carolina. We’ve had buckets of fun together visiting towns, meeting people, playing games and exploring museums, anchorages and marinas that were new to us. So it was only natural that we were a little sad when, because of different travel plans, Bella Luna and Kismet went our separate ways in early January. As we started to travel by ourselves again, I took some time to reflect on the many people we’ve met recently while boating and how most of these chance encounters would never have happened if we had not been traveling by boat on the water. I also marveled at how many “encounters” have turned into budding relationships and hopefully lifelong connections.

Tied together at anchor makes it convenient for social hour, dinner or games.

Our last day and night with Bella Luna began as we departed Ortega Landing in Jacksonville, Florida to head south on the ICW in search of warm weather. Bella Luna’s ultimate goal was a quick shot down to Marathon while we were heading south slower and then west by crossing the state through Lake Okeechobee. We wanted to tour the west coast of Florida and have our mothers visit us, for a week each, before heading to Key West for a two-month stay. Our anchorage for the night was off Pine Island and by this time in our travels we had our anchoring routine perfected. We would drop our anchor, get a good set then Bella Luna would come along side of us and use their lines to tie off onto Kismet’s portside. We’d been doing it this way for two months without any problems, worries or cares.

Dinner that night was on Bella Luna, we laughed, played cards, reminisced, made plans to meet in the Keys and finally said good night. Because we were going separate ways the next morning, and with Bella Luna’s lines tied to our boat, I told Louis I’d get up at 7 a.m. to help them set off. Much to my surprise I slept until 7:30 and when I went above to help them I was equally surprised to see that they had already departed. I saw them off in the distance on the other side of a marsh working their way south and thought of how much fun we had traveling together, all because of a chance encounter back in 2008 when we first met in Charlevoix, Michigan, our homeport.

Lisa and I sure had a great time with the Wades, who here are getting ready to explore in their dinghy.

With only 14 miles to reach St. Augustine, our next destination, we took advantage of the quiet surroundings of the anchorage and had a leisurely breakfast before pulling up the anchor and heading out. Once settled into the St. Augustine Municipal Marina, Lisa asked if one of the boats she noticed as we were docking was a Californian and if it could be our friends Ed and Linda, on Shore Thing. Upon close inspection of the boat in question we found it was not them so we proceeded into town for lunch and a walking tour of our country’s oldest city.

That’s me posing for Lisa at Habana Village, one of favorite restaurants in St. Augustine.

After lunch at our favorite Cuban restaurant, Habana Village, and a short walk around town, we returned to the marina to find a few more boats had arrived in our absence. Scanning the marina to see who had arrived I noticed another Californian had docked right across from us and to our amazement it was our friends Ed and Linda on Shore Thing. How does this happen? We got together for happy hour, shared boating stories and discussed our winter cruising schedules. This was another encounter with people we met while boating on the Illinois River when we were both stranded on the free wall, in Joliet, Illinois when it was flooded in 2008. We both departed the next day with different schedules and destinations but I’m confident we’ll meet up again.

Chance encounters always need to be recorded with a photo, I guess to remind us of all the good times. Here we are with Ed and Linda, Shore Thing, in St. Augustine.

Before our departure from St. Augustine we had Jack and Chris Carpenter, from Anastasia Island, over to our boat. We first met Jack while we were at dock in Palatka, Florida, during our tour of the St. Johns River in December. Jack was raised in Palatka and makes an annual trip back to his hometown and he happened to be walking the city dock the day we were there. He stopped by our boat and, during our initial discussion, we found we shared a passion for the water and that he and Chris had done a lot of cruising. That day in Palatka Jack invited us to give them a call whenever we were in the St. Augustine area.

The morning of our departure from St. Augustine Lisa made a cinnamon coffee cake (I love it when we have guests) for us to share with the Carpenters when they came that morning for coffee. We had the best time sitting in the saloon of Kismet talking about our mutual cruising adventures. They’ve been to the Eleuthera, Exuma and Berry Islands and beyond a number of times and since this is somewhere Lisa and I want to eventually explore, we were glued to everything they had to say. Before they left Jack offered to take us for a road tour of Anastasia Island, which we’d only seen by water, so the perspective from land, of this area, was a new experience for us. The highlight of the short road trip was when we stopped at their home. Nestled just off the ICW and tucked up under the protection of some pine trees they have a beautiful home with a display of boating memorabilia from their many cruises and the local area. Another chance encounter but it’s about to get even better!

We wished we could have spent more time with the Carpenters who gave a tour of Anastasia Island and their beautiful home.

Our next stop, after a short cruise, was an anchorage just 14 miles south of St. Augustine and a few miles past Jack and Chris’ home. Our anchorage was in the Matanzas River just off Fort Matanzas where Jack volunteers once a week. We positioned ourselves and lowered our anchor, letting out plenty of scope before securing a good set. We noticed the current was running a strong three to four knots but with a 100-foot of chain rode and our fairly new Buegle anchor we had no real anchoring concerns. The only concern “we” (code for Lisa) had with the current was getting back to the boat, by dinghy, after our tour of the fort. You see, our outboard engine had stopped running and we’d been powering our dinghy recently the old-fashioned way… by rowing. The trip back to Kismet from the ferry dock was going to be against the current but I promised Lisa that I would get us back. These were famous last words that came back to bite me.

We cast the dinghy off and I confidently rowed us to shore, and secured the dinghy on the beach, so far so good. We made our way to the Visitor Center and caught the next ferry over to Fort Matanzas. On the way over one of the volunteers (sorry I don’t remember his name) was asking about our boat and the ferry captain, Thomas, asked how we knew the Carpenters. Unbeknownst to us, Jack had called the park to alert everyone of our arrival, so they knew all about us before we ever got on the ferry.

It appears Kevin is telling someone to shoot the cannon at that there yonder vessel anchored by the fort!

Once we arrived at the 270-year old fort, built by the Spanish to ward off the British from St. Augustine, we learned all about Fort Matanzas from Kevin McCarthy, an enthusiastic history buff, who was dressed in full period attire. An Irishman, dressed as a Spaniard, talking to his guests about American history. We enjoyed our tour and history lesson and left for our ferry ride back to the visitor center to retrieve our dinghy and row back to Kismet, or at least that’s what was supposed to happen.

Have you ever had your mind send you a message that your body’s ignored? Upon our return to the dinghy this happened to me when we were putting the dinghy back into the water. I saw a rock and my mind instantly told me that I’d better lift the dinghy pontoon over the rock instead of drag it across it. My body’s action paid no attention to my mind and that’s when I heard the unmistakable hissing sound of escaping air and looked helplessly at the deflating pontoon.

We cannot say enough good things about our rescue team, seen here delivering our limp tender back to Kismet.

With no way back to the boat and dusk fast approaching we returned to the Visitor Center to sheepishly ask what help we might be able to receive from all of our newfound friends. We were amazed at how quickly Thomas went into action by having the ferry dispatched from the fort to the beach where our sad deflated dinghy sat. With Linda at the controls of the ferryboat, Thomas, the volunteer, and I secured the dinghy to the side of the ferry so it could be towed back to our anchored boat. With the ferry departing for the last trip of the day back to the park dock and the dinghy once again secured to the deck of our boat, we felt relieved to be back on Kismet before dark and thankful for all the help we received. Without the help from Thomas, and the rest of the park’s staff during the waning hours of sunlight, shortly before they would have all left for the day, Lisa and I would have had a very cold night on the beach and I would have felt bad about not being able to keep my promise to her.

As Lisa stated “if this is the worst thing that ever happens to us on the water we should feel fortunate” and I agree, after all it was fixable.