I’ve already shared parts of this story in the “We Going Somewhere” entry, but there were a few things I left out of that post, so here we go…


It was my 21st birthday, and I remember it well. I had left the Manatee River early that morning en route to Venice, Florida. After weighing anchor, I promptly lost my boat hook overboard, ensuring that all attempts at docking for the rest of the trip would be significantly more difficult.

Once I got a few miles offshore, the day turned perfect and I experienced the greatest sail of the trip so far. The wind was blowing a beautiful 15 knots out of the west, allowing for a speedy ride down to Venice. I made great time and covered the 42 mile span quicker than expected. This was good news and meant that I’d be able to see some of Venice before deciding where to eat my birthday dinner.

The only thing standing in my way was Venice Pass. A thin inlet that connects the Gulf of Mexico to the Intercoastal Waterway, Venice Pass can be a rather unforgiving beast in certain conditions. The narrow pass is lined on both sides by very large rock jetties. In normal circumstances this wouldn’t be an issue, but I soon learned that I was about to enter during one of those unforgiving times.

After sailing south all day, I dropped my sails before making the left hand turn towards the inlet. I fired up my trusty outboard & made the turn as I approached the entrance channel. I couldn’t help but notice the large group of sightseers standing on the jetties taking in the views in hopes of experiencing one of Florida’s breathtaking sunsets.

Naturally, I began posing for the photos I’m sure they were taking of my peaceful little sailboat and me. So what if I was too far for them to be able to notice.
And then, as I was steering, smiling and posing, I began to notice the waves.

See, the Westerly wind I’d been enjoying all day did not agree with the tide that was swiftly exiting Venice Pass. With the stiff breeze pushing the surface of the Gulf water one way and the tide running the other way, it was a perfect recipe for nasty waves ahead. The skinniness of the pass only multiplied the issue.

Just as I got close enough for my smiling and posing to be apparent on their photos, one particular wave crashed over my outboard causing it to sputter to a halt. Before I knew it, I was surfing uncontrollably towards the jetties.

So as the warning buzzers, red flashing lights & MacGyveresque countdown clock began in my head I contemplated my options. Still smiling on the outside so as not to ruin any photos–many people still used film in ’04, mind you–I was quickly panicking on the inside.

50 yards to the rocks. One pull on the starter rope. Nothing.

40 yards, another pull. Still nothing, the rocks growing larger by the second.

I can picture a newlywed couple standing on the jetty, arm in arm, seeing the deceptive smile on my face, discussing how blissfully relaxing sailing must be. Or a father, fishing off the rocks with his son, promising to take him out on a sailboat when he gets a little older, because it looks like so much fun.

30 yards. The numbers on the MacGyver clock were starting to flash and the buzzer was getting louder.

Before running towards the mast in a desperate attempt to raise the mainsail in enough time to regain steerage, I reached down for one last tug on the starter rope.

Visions of a nautical homicide scene vanished as the outboard roared back to life. The clock stopped counting and the buzzer silenced. Control was restored and we fought our way through the bumpy inlet, narrowly prevailing over the outgoing tide.

That was close.

If I weren’t so preoccupied with getting to a dock so I could exercise my legal right to purchase a much desired stiff beverage, I likely would have recognized the opportunity to wax poetic about how often we spend our lives smiling and posing on the outside, while the sirens and buzzers are sounding off in our heads as we teeter on the edge of crashing headfirst into a wall of rocks.

But like I said, at the moment all I was really concerned about was getting a drink. It was my 21st birthday, after all.

[Image Credit]