Mice Will Play: Passagemaker and Cruiser
My first step outside the Ft. Myers airport left me wishing I'd brought more warm clothes along, a feeling that would stay with me over the next few days. I had just arrived from Ottawa to help deliver a new PDQ 32 from the boat show in St. Petersburg to a charter company in the Bahamas. It was November in Florida, but it felt like October in Canada.
The plane was delayed just enough that the departure of Mice Will Play, a brand new PDQ 32 from Cape Coral, had to be delayed until the morning. The boat had arrived in St. Petersberg a few days earlier for the boat show. We performed our provisioning and made a few last minute phone calls and adjustments.
I have sailed the PDQ 36 on several occasions but this was to be my first visit aboard the 32. My first impression of the cockpit was that it was a touch closed in when compared to the larger 36. However, I was soon to fall in love with the more protected feeling and comfort of the hardtop bimini and wrap-around dodger.
The first day we motored all day along the St. Mary's river at a comfortable 6.7 knots (although speed over ground was less due to the small current flowing from Lake Okechobee to the Gulf of Mexico). The on-deck speakers were able to match the drone of the engines. At 50 degrees the dodger gave great protection from the wind and elements and almost made up for my lack of warm clothing. Little did I know at that time that the green grass I had left in Ottawa had been covered in three feet of snow!
The next morning we approached Lake Okechobee. The St. Mary's River enters and exits the lake at the middle of the oval lake. A canal system provides a route along the southern shore due to the shallowness of the lake. We planned to go most of the way south and then follow the channel into the lake. This would be safe but also promised to be a tad uncomfortable as we would have to go straight up the lake into a strong norther. After motoring for about a couple of hours, we came around a corner and the canal emptied out into the lake -- there was nothing in sight. No buoys, no buildings, no nothing. We quickly checked the GPS and found that we had missed a right hand turn and ended up in an old channel which had not been in use since the 1970s. The moment of truth was upon us. We could either motor back down the canal and return to course adding an hour or more to the passage, or grasp the serendipity of the moment and head straight across the lake. The chart indicated about three or four feet close in to the shore but the depth indicated closer to six feet.
After some careful considering of the charts and nosing around in the shallow water, we decided that the 3' draft was up for it and I headed forward to raise the main. There was a strong norther (hence the cool weather) blowing raising about three foot seas. As I hung on for dear life I fondly recalled this procedure on the 36 where all halyards lead to the cockpit. It turns out that the chop was about the same length of the boat and so made the motion particularly severe until underway. We watched as the depth gradually increased to about 16 feet, about the deepest you will find this shallow lake.
We flew, as the proverbial crow would, directly across the lake approaching close hauled. Rather than the tiring beating at a 20 degrees of heel we were warm in the protected cockpit and no heel at all. We managed to shave several hours off the trip and got an exciting sail in as well. We arrived at Stuart at 3:30 in the afternoon after getting a tail current on the way back down to the Atlantic Ocean. We had thought it might be after dark when we would arrive - and on a slower boat with deep draft we would have been.
We spent a day in Stuart installing a few new-boat amenities such as garbage cans, hook holders, extra glasses, and so forth. We picked up an extra crew member for the crossing of the Gulf stream and got the laundry done, a boat full of provisions and a restaurant meal on board. We only half filled the storage lockers under the settee with gallons of cheap beverages which were extremely expensive in the Bahamas. In fact we never came close to using up the vast locker space available.
At 4:00 that afternoon we set out for the Ocean. It quickly got very dark and we picked our way out to the intersection of the St. Lucie River and the intercostal waterway. From there we made for the Port St. Lucie outlet. The outlet is one of the more spectacularly unmarked channels out of the intercostal. The shifting sands at outlets lead the buoy placers and chartmakers to virtually abandon the area. With no depths on the chart, no buoys, and traffic with bright headlights bearing down on us we picked our way to the sea. We missed the sea walls and breakwaters as well as a few large tankers in the shipping lanes. Again I was happy of the three foot draft as there were more than a couple of spots where even a four foot keel would have given us trouble.
A beautiful night to cross the Ocean. The water temperature was about 72 degrees, the wind moderate, about a three foot sea and nothing but stars above. As we got several hours off shore the water temperature surged to 82 degrees and the seas heightened to about five feet -- we were in the gulf stream. I stood a four hour watch steering due east and heading for Orion's belt. The lights of the gold coast seemed like a permanent twilight which did not fade until we had reached the Bahamas.
At 12:00, my shift over, I headed below for a nap and what a nap it was. The aft location gives a gentle rolling motion and not the hard slapping which can occur with bunks foreword. Three hours later it was up again. Just as first light appeared in the east, the Bahama Banks were coming into view on the horizon. We sailed all day in about 12 feet of water and finally reached Sale Key by 4:00pm. We had covered about 170 miles in 24 hours.
The following day we made for Green Turtle Cay to clear Customs and register the vessel in the Bahamas where it would be staying in charter. We arrived just after the Customs officer had taken the last ferry for Nassau and would not be back for the rest of the day. So we headed in to get some gas while flying our quarantine flag. The water in the Bahamas can be very thin. The most difficult thing is to be able to recognize when it really IS thin and when it just looks thin to the eye - an eye which is used to brown water lakes. This distinction eluded the watchperson we had placed on the nets and Mice Will Play proceeded to run onto a coral head whilst heading for the gas docks. However a quick shot of reverse pulled us off the reef and a later inspection showed no damage at all (except for the slight scratch to the antifouling paint).
Off to Marsh Harbor where we finally contacted a Customs agent and were now able to step ashore. All in all a good crossing. We had been working 11 hour days or more for a week and it was time for some relaxation. We dropped off our friend at the airport and were joined by our wives to enjoy the cruising portion of the sailing trip. From passagemaking to relaxation, the PDQ 32 made the transition.
As we leisurely sailed to Little Harbor, Great Guana Cay, Harbour Town, Man-o-War Cay we spent less time in the cockpit, (it had finally warmed up) and more time out on the trampoline and the excellent bench seat right behind it. There was so much room that four people never felt close. <Picture>
I have fallen in love with the PDQ 32. It felt solid, safe and seaworthy with good speed for passagemaking. It lacks some of the speed of the 36-footer but tends to make up for it in the comfort of the cockpit (a more aggressive sail plan might help). The yacht was comfortable, spacious, fun and good looking -- just great for cruising. It is really all the little things that add up the total quality impression of the PDQ.
These boatmakers obviously think about cruising all the time -- both in cold and warm weather. For example, the floor was incredibly easy to clean-up and the no-slip rubberized surface made great sense and looked good (if you have ever stepped on a teak and holly floor with slippery wet seawater feet you'll know what I mean). Also, think how much damage sand can cause to a wooden floor. We also had occasion to suspect the water pump had failed and proceeded to try to find it, wrestle it out of its hiding place and attempt an inspection if not repair. Armed to the teeth with tools we were quickly delighted by the cleverness of the device and its neat installation. It was easily accessible from two angles, the wires were connected using easily unpluggable sockets, and the actual pump lifted out of a mounting bracket without the use of screwdrivers. The leak turned out to have been crew error and not the pump at all. All these little things add up after you have been cruising for a few weeks.