It was the spring of 1989 when I first saw her, Adriana, in a canal off the Intracoastal Waterway in Boca Raton, Florida. If you half closed your eyes you could see her pedigree. Her lines were drawn by Phil Rhodes, a master of lovely boats and this was apparent in her sweeping sheer, the bold curve of her bow, the neat, tight transom. If you opened your eyes fully you saw the grime, the decrepitude, the sun-baked weariness of her. Her white painted hull was chalky, her canvas sun-bleached, her teak was grey and dry. She was a tired boat, was Adriana.
She was owned by sailor, writer and magazine editor, Dan Spurr. As we stood on that dock in Boca Raton together Dan looked apprehensive, waiting to see how I’d react. I stayed calm. We’d committed to taking Adriana north together, from Boca to Annapolis, and that’s what we’d do. I’d reserve judgement until we arrived in Annapolis. My friend Wayne was along for the ride and after Dan picked us up at the airport we’d gone to the supermarket to provision for the fifteen-hundred-mile trip, and then made Adriana ready for sea.
In the morning we fired up the Yanmar diesel engine and puttered out into the main Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) and headed north. The ICW is the network of interconnected canals, rivers and sounds by which it’s possible to travel between Miami and Chesapeake Bay without ever going out into the ocean. But it’s shallow, interrupted by bridges and impractical to sail. It’s possible to travel the ICW by night, but not advisable. We had no intention of motoring up the ICW in day time stints, it would take a month, and so at Fort Worth we went out through the cut into the ocean, set the sails and pointed Adriana northeast.
Two days later we were becalmed, drifting, out of sight of land. Not a breath of wind to fill the sails or ripple the water. We were being carried slowly north by the Gulf Stream, the mighty ocean current that flows relentlessly up the eastern seaboard of America. It was hot, the horizon shimmered. I was floating on my back in the relatively cool water looking at Adriana. She was splendid if you saw past the neglect. I ducked under so I could see the dark silhouette of her semi-full keel that gave her such good stability and doggedly determined tracking through the water. She was going to be OK, she’d do the job. She just needed some tender, loving care. I realised Wayne had jumped in and was breast-stroking away from the boat. I looked behind me and there was Dan lazily treading water. I quickly swam back to Adriana mindful that a puff of breeze might take her away from our ability to catch up to her. Standing on deck drying myself I could see a wind line approaching and summoned my crew mates back to the boat. Soon we were under full sail and making solid progress. The wind held all night and through the next day but died again and we decided to start the engine and head into Savannah to top up the water tank and refuel before motoring up the ICW and popping out into the ocean again at Charleston.
On the eleventh day we entered Chesapeake Bay and traveled overnight to the marina on South River where I planned to renovate Adriana before heading for points south again in the autumn. Although she was shabby and neglected I’d fallen for this boat and after a little haggling over some items that were less than described in the specification we shook hands on it – Adriana was mine.