Lessons From A Circumnavigation

Story & Photos By Scott Flanders
Published: October/November 2013

Big adventures start with baby steps, a yearning to get more out of everyday life, learning boating lessons the hard way, and a giant leap of faith.

Learning How To Handle Our New Baby

In August 2001, Mary and a Nordhavn delivery crew took our new 46-foot home on an overnight passage from Florida to Bimini in the Bahamas, where I met them. Our plan was that Mary and I would finish commissioning Egret and learn the ropes at our own pace. But first, we needed an official Bahamian stamp. The Reverend Doctor Pinder, a waiter at the Bimini Big Game Club, had The Stamp. We paid him $200 and a whole chicken. The chicken was tradition. Fee paid, chicken delivered, the good Reverend dropped the stamp, and Egret was free to voyage onward. Our feeling was exhilaration mixed with nervousness.

Mary and I were alone aboard for the first time. Now it was up to us. The ripping Bimini harbor tide had swung to outgoing and Egret's stern faced the tide. We'd been small-boat boaters for years, yet I had no idea how to get Egret off that dock. Finally, we tried a midship spring line. It worked! The next hurdle was to clear the shoaling harbor entrance on the falling tide. Our electronic charting was useless, so we eyeball-navigated from the flybridge, driving through the nearly imperceptible depressions of deeper water into safe territory. So it started a bit shaky for sure, and then it got worse.

Photo of the Egret anchored in Golden Bay, Stewart Island, New Zealand
Egret anchored in Golden Bay, Stewart Island, New Zealand.

After an overnight at anchor in nearby Gun Cay, we launched the dinghy to visit a boat we knew from Ft. Lauderdale. But they'd left early to go diving, so we decided to tow the dinghy to Nassau, a day's run away. Driving from the flybridge, we'd look back from time to time to check the dinghy. The last time we looked, all we saw was a long yellow polypropylene line. Instead of tying a bowline to the tow eye, I'd whipped the towline instead of splicing it. (To this day, I still can't splice.) We searched for hours for the dinghy, but with no radar, it was hopeless. We had to buy a new dinghy and outboard in Nassau.

The next three weeks in the Bahamas were a dream. And then it was back to work for six more months. During all this, we had no plans beyond cruising the Chesapeake the first summer and wintering in the Bahamas. This we did. Even getting to the Chesapeake was intimidating, but we were determined. Egret departed Ft. Lauderdale the first week of April 2002, and headed offshore for St. Mary's Inlet on the Florida-Georgia border. We were so nervous about being offshore for the length of Florida. We'd plotted a number of bailout inlets if weather was approaching. In the end it was a wonderful learning experience standing watches and such. We were so proud of ourselves when Egret entered St. Mary's and dropped anchor off Cumberland Island, Georgia. Accompanying Mary and me was my father, 84 at the time. He spent a wonderful two-and-a-half months aboard Egret, and said the cruise was one of the highlights of his later life.

Within a few weeks, Egret went aground a couple of times, we got lost for a while, and bashed a few docks, but all the time we were learning and no damage was done, except to our pride. It was great fun cruising the Chesapeake, and meeting other cruisers. For the first time in our lives, we could do anything we wished without having to put on a parental face or vocational face. It was enlightening. With no schedule, we were free! We were having an adventure, breathing clean air, and most importantly there was No Stress. And so the summer went, step by step.

Next up was the Bahamas for the winter, most of it in the Exuma chain. It was magic exploring the clear water and white-sand beaches. Mary and I caught fish for lunch from the dinghy. Was that great or what? We met people the first year in the Bahamas we're still friends with today. We only went aground once. We were getting better.

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