Tuesday, June 22, 2021


Intermezzo is sitting on the deck of the Chipolbrok Star towards the ship's bow, blocked, chocked and strapped down. Finally!

We loaded at around 2 pm this afternoon. The whole process of getting Intermezzo to the ship and then making sure the boat was properly secured on the deck was quite an intense process.

My day started at the dock along a canal in the Harbor Beach neighborhood of Fort Lauderdale. I had buttoned up the boat the day before and stayed the night at a motel, about 15 minutes by bike from the boat. My loading time was 3 pm, so I left the motel around 11 am and grabbed breakfast on the way.

When I got to the dock, I folded up the bike and stowed it below, packed a few last items into my bag and then set to work figuring out how I was going to leave the dock singlehanded. I had attached my fenders to the fixed dock's pilings to protect Intermezzo and now had to remove them. This would normally be a non-issue but today's low tide was really low and Intermezzo's hull was right next to pilings that were covered with exposed, razor-sharp oysters. The wind was blowing us slightly onto the dock, so I had to figure out how to rig fenders on the boat that would stop the hull from being scratched by the oysters.

Tying a couple of fenders horizontally along Intermezzo's gunwale did the trick, but then I wondered, "How am I going to get off the dock by myself?"

Usually in circumstances like this, I would motor against an after bow spring line (a line tied to the bow and extending aft to an attachment on the dock) to bring the stern out, then reverse away from the dock. However, I didn't have crew to handle that line or fend the bow off the pilings.

Hmmm....I began studying this tricky situation and coming up with options. Right in the middle of my problem-solving, my phone rang. It was Oliver, the loadmaster from the shipping company, asking if I could bring the boat earlier, like at 1:30 instead of 3:00. To make that schedule, I had to get through the nearby 17th Street Bridge during its 1:00 opening and it was already 12:45. No, I couldn't make it by 1:30, but I could make it by 2:00 if I got through the bridge at its 1:30 opening. But I didn't have much time.

I decided I would put a whole bunch of fenders on Intermezzo's bow, untie the boat from the dock and try to crab the boat out sideways using the engines. I moved quickly in the blazing hot sun and humid air, moving fenders, getting more out of the locker, untying dock lines, preparing the boat to get underway and starting the engines. I cast of the last line, jumped to the helm station and gradually worked my way off the dock, enough so that I could reverse away from the dock. I didn't come close to touching a piling. Nice job, but now it was 1:15 and I had only 15 minutes to catch the bridge.

I motored out of the canal towards the main channel and then realized that this really low tide might be more of a problem. What if I couldn't get from the canal to the channel? There is a big shoal between the end of the canal and the channel and I remembered having to be really careful deep enough water to get into the canal on my way to the dock. I followed my old track on the chartplotter, which roughly shows the route I took to get in the canal, the emphasis on roughly. I was particularly concerned about a hazard I remembered plotted on my iPad's Navionic charts warning of a rock in the vicinity. I motored slowly, trying to stay in deeper water but the depth sounder started rapidly going from 10-feet, to 6-feet, to 5-feet and then, kadunk, I found the rock. I was going really slowly and it just lifted the port hull a little as the keel slid off and along the shoal, but the sandy, raspy, grinding noise was, shall we say, unsettling.

I immediately reversed the engines and got off the shoal and started nosing around to try and find route out. What if the tide was so low that I couldn't get out and I couldn't get to the ship, and I'd miss loading, and it would leave without me, and I would have to wait months for another one? I quickly interrupted all those negative thoughts and focused on driving the boat. I figured that there would be deeper water fight up close to the dock of a nice waterfront home and I was right. Six feet, seven, 10, 11-feet. We were free!

I turned into the main channel and increased speed as I now only had a few minutes to make the bridge opening. I engaged the autopilot and ducked down below to inspect the bilge and make sure I hadn't put a hole in the boat. Thankfully I hadn't.

We made it to the bridge in time and passed through it. Now I had to get all my fenders and dock lines arranged to come alongside the ship, while navigating the boat through pretty busy waters. I had requested a starboard tie, as I have more visibility of that side of the boat from the helm. Oliver agreed, so I engaged the autopilot and worked quickly to get all the fenders and lines properly set up on starboard.

That done, I caught my breath and then radioed the Port Everglades Harbormaster to get permission to enter the restricted area of the port where the ship was docked. Permission granted, I motored ahead to the ship, about a half mile from the bridge. As I drew nearer to the ship, my phone rang. Oliver again.

"Would you mind coming alongside on your port side?"

I told him I had just got all my lines and fenders set on starboard and I was singlehanded.

"No problem if it takes you five minutes" replied Oliver.

So, I slowed the boat down to just make steerage, engaged the autopilot, and moved all the fenders and lines over to the port side. It was just one little adrenaline rush after the other today, but at least that gives me focus and speed.

I drew alongside the ship, the loading crew looking down on me from the deck about 15 feet above. I asked them what they wanted me to do.

"Throw us your lines," replied the loading crew chief.

The wind was blowing 15 knots from behind, a 2 knot current was pushing me a along and there was a nice motor yacht less than 150 feet alongside the ship ahead of me. If I left the helm to handle lines, I risked drifting into the other boat.

"Ummmmm, no. I'm not doing that," I told them, "Can't you send someone down the ship's ladder onto the boat to help me?"

They sent one of their crew down the ladder and we quickly had Intermezzo secured. The rest of the loading crew and diver immediately set to work getting Intermezzo into the lifting slings.

The written directions from the shipping company said that I would be climbing up the ship's ladder to assist the loading crew in securing the boat and to turn over the keys to a "ship's officer". So much for that. The loading crew chief told me I wasn't allowed to get on the ship from its water side for security reasons and to "just leave the key in the door."  A tender would come to take me back to a dock near my hotel.

I really wasn't comfortable with this. I asked the crew chief, "Can I come onto the ship from the land side?" Because I am a USCG-licensed mariner, I have a Transportation Worker Identity Card (TWIC) that allows me to get into secure areas of ports. The chief told me that, yes, with a TWIC I could come onto the ship, but had to get a pass from security at the port's entrance gate.

I hopped on the tender which brought me to the 15th Street Boat Ramp, coincidentally also known as "Cox's Landing". Cox made his landing and called an Uber, which slogged through heavy Fort Lauderdale traffic back to the port.  I got the pass I needed at the main entrance to the port and the Uber driver dropped me at the gate to the secure area for the ship. A security guard was dozing in his kiosk at the gate. I though about just walking in, but decided that might cause a problem, so I woke him.

"Do I need to check in with you, or anything?" I asked.

The security blinked his bleary eyes a couple of times and sleepily replied, "No, just go on in."

A member of the ship's Chinese crew was at the top of the gangplank leading up to the ship's deck. I was prepared to show him my ID, explain who I was, why I was getting on his ship, but he just smiled, waved me on board and helped my find my way onto the upper deck, no questions asked. He even helped me with the rather heavy travel bag I was carrying, having taken it with me in when I got into the tender in case I couldn't get onto the ship. I don't think he cared what I was doing and I'm pretty sure I could have stowed away on Intermezzo and stayed on the ship all the way to La Paz.

Let's just say the security was somewhat lax.

I clambered around on the ship's deck with my bag, found Oliver and said hello. He showed me how to get to Intermezzo. The boat was supported by wood block cribbing fore and aft on each hull, some blocking had been laid under the keels, steel stands welded to the ship's deck between the hulls and heavy tie-down straps were in place to prevent lateral movement. It looked okay, but not like it should be.

I had sent drawings to the shipping company that show how the boat is supposed to be supported on land. The fore and aft supports are supposed to be in specific locations and their are specific requirements for the keel blocking. The aft supports are about four feet out of position and the keel blocking is not tight and extends too far aft. Apparently no one on the loading crew looked at the drawings. I was not happy, but the loading crew had moved on to loading and securing more boats and it was clear that they were not going to re-do mine. I texted Oliver to complain, but he didn't respond.  Oh well. It's probably okay and Leopard catamarans are known to be strongly built boats. It it's not, I took photos to document the improper job and I'll deal with it.

On a positive note, I inspected Intermezzo's hull to make sure I hadn't done any damage when I hit the rock and was grateful to find no evidence at all of the grounding.

I hung around on the ship for a while, watching the loading of one boat after another. I have to say the loading crew is really skilled and hard working, very impressive to watch. From what I could tell from the position of stands and blocking, the ship's deck looks like it will be filled with boats. I'd guess at least a couple dozen, a mix of motor yachts, sport fisherman, and catamarans.

I caught an Uber back to the motel, took a shower and walked to a pub to get a cold beer. It was a busy, intense, somewhat nerve-wracking day, but Intermezzo is on a ship. Finally! Cause to celebrate.

Intermezzo in the slings, getting ready to load onto the ship

Intermezzo dangling in the air from the ship's crane

All blocked, braced and strapped to the ship's deck, ready for the trip back to Mexico