Sailing Canoe´s Tents Tale

When I spring the last tent pole and pop it into its grommet, the stout tradewind grabs the old Moss tent like a tumbleweed.

It´s upper 80s; dewpoint upper 70s. A few steps down the beach, water temperature is low to mid 80s. This wind --- maybe it´ll be the best of my life? --- is from the southeast and has been for four days.

Even the old tent´s ground tarp had fought jaw and claw, flailing and throwing sand. Damn. I´d wanted the old Moss set, me fed, and at ease before moonrise.

I lunge and grab the tent back from the wind, cursing my bitter impatience.

But in a side cove of my mind I´m loving every second of this cruise, of this day, the flapping tarp and leaping old tent, the sand and damp.

* * *

Two nights before, twenty miles east of here and a couple miles north of Key West, I´d been happily oozing sweat, cooped under the new tent on fifteen foot Puffin, swinging off a long painter belayed to a Sea Pearl 21 hanging to her eleven pound Bruce. The tent had kept bugs, rain and wave popple out --- and the wind, too --- on a moonlit June night of coursing, maritime air.

Hugh's tent for his sailing canoe Puffin Hugh's airy tent for Puffin. Very light.
Hugh's tent for his sailing canoe Puffin Suitable for sleeping on the water and on shore.

Puffin´s new tent wasn´t meant for sleeping afloat, though. It was made for the no camping rule of the Key West National Wildlife Refuge. From a high water mark down, I argued, I could sleep inside the boat and not break the law.

But first I had to try the new tent afloat --- for what slumbers are more beguiling than those on a small boat?

In the morning the three Sea Pearl 21s sailed west, ahead of me, across the Lakes Passage. The water was like the Bahamas --- emerald to turquoise to sapphire. Sharks in it reminded me of oblivious, college town pedestrians. That night I pulled Puffin out on Boca Grande Key and slept aboard blissfully as intended, under the new tent, with the no-see-um screen and rain fly set to catch the unwavering wind.

Dawn woke me on Boca Grande with no time for coffee. The afternoon before, I´d heard the Sea Pearls on the VHF discuss their tough crossing of the ebb, roughened by the wind against it. So I wanted to catch the tail of the flood.

I packed her fast but carefully, thinking capsize, which didn´t seem too unlikely on an open five mile crossing down the prevailing winds. A capsize would delay, but with water in the 80s, and the current taking me north along the islands, while being blown into them, the risk seemed okay if I had a re-entry problem, which was doubtful with so much flotation aboard. If I were out after the tide change, the ebb would bring me back along the Marquesas, still being blown ashore. Sharks I´d seen looked only interested in each other.

Howard's tent for his sailing canoe Sylph Howard Rice prefers to sleep on shallow water. The tent is held by the boom. The side flaps...
Howard's tent for his sailing canoe Sylph ... can be opened for ventilation....
Howard's tent for his sailing canoe Sylph ... or totally be rolled away. Photos courtesy of Howard Rice.

The crossing was a full reef, broad reach blast in three to five foot seas, no sharks, and only two "broach approaches" from too much seascape gazing. Sloppy wet? Yes --- but in such a glorious circumstance!

After meeting the Sea Pearls and having coffee, we´d sailed north around the east side of the "atoll" of the Marquesas Keys, and west to a beach at the end of the mangroves surrounding two thirds of the Marquesas Keys shallow lagoon.

About 4:PM I followed the Sea Pearls south. They went on to anchor, while I turned east into the three mile wide flats.

Enno's tent for his open sailing canoe This is Enno's tent for his open sailing canoe, which is held by flat iron bars. Such tents were used for german sailing canoes around 1920. Enno sleeps either on firm ground or alongside a pier. Photo by Axel Schmid

I tacked up ebbing, shoaling channels, then paddled, then poled, grunting, hanging my weight on my double paddle, scooching Puffin with my feet, slithering her across marly muck. I yanked and tugged on the stuck paddle like a pretender until each time the young Arthur in me won --- suddenly --- with flying clots of gloppy marl. In spite of the twirling mud globs, the beauty was stunning. The heated shallows shimmered, reflecting big, white herons --- a phase of great blue herons --- feeding with other wading birds in lees and ponded water.

On the southeast corner of the flats, I paddled out into the wind, paddle-clacking close to mangrove roots, on the bugs-blown-away side of the Marquesas Keys.

* * *

Finally, the old Moss (with its airy, sprawling space) is set. I clip on and tension the rain fly, and its vestibule scoops the splendid air.

I struggle out of my heavy, wet and sandy clothes, and splay on Puffin´s seat on the beach, sipping a rum and lime, hairs streaming and fluttering.

Axel's tarp for his Bufflehead sailing canoe Axel likes to sleep on firm ground, under a tarp which is spanned between two mast segments. Ventilation is regulated by the position of the spray boards. A good sleeping bag is essential. In cold nights, a space blanket can be used. Photo by Axel Schmid.

Three south bound sharks idle by, their dorsal fins reflecting the darkening rose of the sunset.

Color is gone. Behind low, silver-edged clouds to windward, the lunar loom, one day from full, glows quickly brighter.

~ Hugh Horton

Axel's tarp for his Bufflehead sailing canoe Hugh's airy Moss tent. The camping seat in the foreground is also used in the canoe.
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