First Cruise/First passage, STORIES

The Shakedown Cruise

So here it is… finally – our shakedown cruise!

After 22 months of upgrades, projects, renovations, busted knuckles, bloodied toes, cursing, drinking, more cursing and drinking, we are as ready as we’re going to be. We are going somewhere, people!!

Our cast of characters includes my husband, Captain Ken, the First Mate (me), Ken’s teenage son (Ken Jr.) and our cat, Spinnaker aboard Makana, our Morgan 384, and a similar crew (minus a cat) aboard Eagles Wings, our friends’ Morgan Out Island.

Two weeks, from Gulfport, Mississippi to Port St. Joe, Florida and back (with some stops along the way).

The night before we set sail we stay aboard in the harbor so we can get an early start. My brain won’t shut off and sleep just doesn’t seem to be working out, so I very ungracefully stumble over the Captain out of the V-berth before dawn, and see the cat perched perfectly still on the galley counter. She is staring at the sleeping teen in the quarter berth – I suspect she is plotting to steal his breath, and I make a mental note to monitor her creepiness.

Captain Ken says your crew can make you look really good or really bad. The relative inexperience of this First Mate tends to lean more towards “mediocre”. Sometimes our docking is smooth and impressive. Sometimes it’s a clown show.

Aware that our dock friends will be seeing us off, I’m fully expecting the circus music to be blaring…

Day 1

7:55 AM we cast off the dock lines.

The First Mate doesn’t drop a single line in the water – not one! Alright! Of course my excitement is short lived as my thoughts of a 15 degree heel are squashed by the fact that we have no wind. Sails are up but the motor is running.

About an hour into our journey our newly installed (second hand) autopilot, Striker, is being a jerk. He is meandering and swerving like a distracted driver on a cell phone. The Captain is fixing to give him an attitude adjustment that may not end well for either of them.

Striker vs Captain

All this swerving makes me think he may have had one too many and I take a quick inventory of the ship’s bar. But, by early afternoon Striker seems to have settled down and sobered up. I’m honing some mad fly swatter skills.

Day 2

The overnight watches went well, but the Captain and I pretty much spent most of the night in the cockpit taking turns napping. We motor sailed all night and I’ve started to strongly dislike the noise.

The lady of Eagles Wings and I chatted a bit on the radio while we were both on watch, and I figured as long as I still had her in sight all was good.

At about 7:45 AM while the Captain was below deck napping, the chart plotter said “Caution: Missile Test Area”. Wonder if I need to ask him about that?

I have Eagles Wings to my Starboard and she is sailing fearlessly through without hesitation, so I guess we’re good, right?

Finally about mid-day we have enough wind to shut this motor off! I’m grateful for the silence and the dolphins playing at the bow. The closer we got to Port St. Joe, the sportier the sail became. There’s water splashing over the bow and the boat is rocking and rolling.

This was a lot of fun, except for Spinnaker who we discovered finds a sporty sail a bit nauseating. A shout out to the person who invented disinfecting wipes…

Only 36 hours in and already a few new traditions were being forged aboard Makana: when dolphins come to visit you stop whatever you are doing and scurry up to the bow to enjoy the entertainment. If Son of a Son of a Sailor comes up on the playlist, the Captain and First Mate stop their conversation mid-sentence and sing along word for word.

Meanwhile, the teenager has been asleep more than he has been awake, and I secretly wonder if the cat’s breath – stealing stare is to blame.

We anchored up after dark in Port St. Joe, put up our fancy new wind catcher, opened all hatches and ports guided by the forecast of no rain.

But, we made a rookie mistake in trusting that forecast and at about 3 AM said un-forecasted rain came. Mad dash to close up hatches and ports! The Captain had an entertaining wrestling match with the wind catcher.

Day 3

Plans for some serious beach time!

While I was in the galley washing the breakfast dishes Captain and the teenager worked on lowering the dinghy into the water. We keep ours on the deck and the outboard motor sits on the stern rail, so we really flirt with disaster when it’s time to move that thing around.

I hear the Captain say to let it down slowly, followed by something falling, footsteps running all over the deck…
Get the boat hook!”
“Does that piece float?”
“Should I jump in and get that?”

That ruckus was followed by clapping and cheering coming from Eagles Wings. All I know is, the dinghy was in the water, right side up, and the motor was attached. I probably don’t need to know anything more.

So, we spent hours at a pretty little beach emptying our coolers of their beer supplies.

At our exclusive beach in Port St. Joe

While heading back to the boats, our outboard decided to take a break and leave us stranded 50 yards from where we frolicked. We got a tow from Eagles Wings’ dinghy. Our outboard is feeling the wrath of the Captain.

Day 4

I’m thinking the dinghy motor is in cahoots with Striker. The Captain seems to have things sorted out so he and the teenager take it for a spin… a very short spin. Let’s call the first half of today “outboard motor rebuild”.

Observing the Captain’s method of disassembling the motor with all of its small, non-floating pieces while it is still attached to the dinghy, which is still in the water, seems to me like maybe not the best idea. But, I’m not offering my opinion to a frustrated Captain at this time. Going to work on my tan.

Final consensus of both Captains: bad fuel.

Day 5

Anchored near Panama City

Mother Nature was pretty cranky last night, and we are sailing out of Port St. Joe in the rain this morning. But, we found a beautiful anchorage in Panama City! This is where we had perhaps the most bizarre experience of the trip.

After some afternoon beach time (I’m sensing a theme here), we enjoyed a fantastic steak dinner aboard Eagles Wings. While on deck enjoying drinks, a voice was calling out from the pitch black. A small boat with no lighting and a very intoxicated skipper came into view.

It was a really weird encounter – he said he was from a neighboring houseboat, and his ramblings included a ten minute dissertation on thick cut bacon, an invite to breakfast, and an ominous warning of “it’s real nice in here now, but wait until about two or three in the morning”.

Well, his warning didn’t disappoint, and at 2:30 AM the winds picked up to 25 – 30 knots and rocked and rolled us for a bit.

Day 6

More rain. The Captains are conferring on our next move. I’m calculating if I’ve collected enough rain water to wash some clothes that are talking back to me.

Eagles Wings needed a generator part sent via overnight delivery, and we get hooked up at a local yacht club for the evening. Hmmm… shore power (which means we can run air conditioning), an opportunity to refill water tanks and get more ice, you know what? Count us in!

Let me tell you, the folks at this little yacht club in Panama City were some of the most friendly, accommodating, fantastic people I’ve ever met. We enjoyed a delicious lunch and outstanding service.

Day 7

Teenager training for Olympic sleeping

It didn’t take long for the crews of both vessels to get spoiled by the benefits of being hooked up to shore power. I think the teenager might be training for the sleeping Olympics.

The generator part arrived for Eagles Wings (hand delivered down the dock by the yacht club staff), and the two Captains got it installed with only a little bit of cursing.

It was still early so we sailed back to the anchorage from the night before. After some rum-flavored courage, the two Captains, myself and our teenager (minus the rum-flavored courage) wandered over to the houseboat of the late night visitor. We figured, for our own peace of mind, we should investigate. Talk of the possibility of finding bones of missing mariners on the houseboat carried on until we got over to his place. What we found was absolutely the opposite of what we thought!

A beautiful, home built two story house boat, nicely appointed and furnished, and the very friendly (still very intoxicated) owner who gave us a full tour of the place! He was delighted to share his story of building it and where it has been. He invited us back any time we were in the area. I have to admit, I was quite relieved…

Day 8

A sporty sail to Destin is forecasted.

I gave the cat some sea sick preventative (and probably should have considered some for myself and the teenager – but who knew?). The forecast didn’t disappoint and we enjoyed some big swells and a very dicey sail/motor into the inlet. Makana even did a little surfing.

We decided to go out for a nice dinner, enjoyed a cool shower and was looking forward to a good sleep, until the cat flushed out – gasp! A cockroach! There will be no sleep for any aboard! Captain Ken dumps out the entire wet locker so the cat can look for the roach, but the cat declines and curls up for a nap instead.

Emptying lockers on a cockroach hunt

Day 9

Happy Flag Day! Raise the black, thieves! Destin is a blast.

We spent the day marinating in waist deep clear water at Crab Island, losing count of how many beers it takes before you think performing stunts on a rented paddle board is a good idea.

Paddleboarding – not exactly perfect form!

The lady of Eagles Wings decides to try hot Cajun boiled peanuts that vendors in little boats are peddling. We have now discovered an obsession that we still cannot let go of…

Day 10


We decide to spend another day in Destin due to predicted rough seas and unsafe conditions in the inlet. Tough gig.

I notice my skin looks like leather and the skin on my feet has a subtle burning sensation. I wonder if having wet feet for ten days is a problem? Eh – who cares. I have beer, ocean and hot Cajun boiled peanuts.

Day 11

Pulled anchor early to head over to Big Lagoon near Pensacola. Three to five foot seas and ten to fifteen knot winds predicted. The cat, teenager and I partake in some sea sick preventative this time. Both ships punch through the inlet easily.

I agreed with the three to five foot seas but not a lick of wind! The drone of the motor and the diesel fumes wafting into the cockpit makes me want to look into a sculling oar. I ask the Captain if that’s feasible. We could make the engine room into a fantastic fridge/freezer combo! Right? I’m fully aware this isn’t actually an option…

Day 12

The Captain is still concerned about the stowaway cockroach. The cat was alerting to something in the headliner which renewed the roach panic. I try to talk the crew down off the ledge… and the Captain of Eagles Wings brings us some bug killer.

Minds are eased and we enjoy a great day exploring Fort McCree, marinating in salt water and watching the Blue Angels practice.

Day 13

Roberts Bayou anchorage

Big Lagoon has been so still – no breeze at all. I begin to wonder how it is that one can sweat continuously for days on end and not die? I think the teenager is counting the minutes until he can get off the boat.

We pull anchor and head out to relocate to Robert’s Bayou. The teenager mentions he awoke to find the cat giving him the breath stealing stare. I’m convinced something is up with that little fuzzy thing.

In Robert’s Bayou the adults enjoy Bushwackers at Pirate’s Cove on the recommendation of Eagles Wings crew. I don’t know what exactly is in those drinks but I think it is actually crack for sailors. I had to get a T-shirt from this place…

Day 14

Awoke to find the cat plotting to steal MY breath now! The Captain and I are surprisingly chipper after an unknown number of Bushwackers followed by the adults of both crews polishing off a bottle of rum aboard Makana. Side note – the teenager found us at our most entertaining that night.

We’re headed toward either Pettit Bois or Horn Island, depending on the wind (like, if there is any wind). The winds were actually gusty in Mobile Bay and I’m on high alert.

I’ve heard people say if you’re thinking about reefing your sails, you should just do it. So, after having this conversation for about ten minutes, a big gust caught our sails (and we had full sails out), Makana heeled hard to starboard, the sails went for a salt water dip and the Captain fought to regain control with his feet on the wall of the cockpit and his elbow touching the floor.

I grabbed for the coaming board, lifeline, whatever I could to keep from flying off the port side and crashing into the sleeping teenager (who was now wide awake). Anything on the port side that was not strongly secured was now somewhere else. Sea water poured over the starboard gunnel and into the cockpit. It was pretty “exciting” but not in a really good way.

Once the Captain regained control, I marched right down below, grabbed my harness, clipped in and marched my happy butt up to the mast and reefed that sail down!

After the initial startled feeling subsided, I was angry because we knew better. I spent the next half hour texting the lady of Eagles Wings all about it. (I’m having a hard time letting go of my constant connection to technology).

We made it to Petti Bois Island, anchored, ate and went to bed.

Makana at sunset, anchored at Petti Bois Island

Day 15

I can’t believe our adventure is coming to an end.

We sailed toward Gulfport and even though we finally had twenty knots of wind, it was directly off our nose. I wish we could have snapped a photo of our two amazing, tough boats sailing toward the harbor side by side.

We were greeted at the dock by our wonderful marina neighbors and friends who were curious and excited to hear about our adventures on the high seas! Queue the circus music for the docking fiasco.

I would say this was one of the greatest adventure of my life so far, and I was so lucky to have my family and great friends to share it with. The crews of both boats are already talking of the next adventure together.

On another side note, while doing some post-voyage cleaning the roach was located; squished under a rug outside of the ship’s head, and very dead and probably for quite some time. You had one job, cat.

Things I learned:
  • Running the motor for any length of time annoys me.
  • You can never have enough sunscreen
  • Blue crabs enjoy spoiled meat thrown overboard
  • Sea sick preventative is very helpful, however sleeping for almost an entire day is a disappointing side effect.
  • It’s impossible to have a playlist everyone likes
  • When discussing the possibility of needing to reef sails, shut up and get it done
  • I’m much better at this than I thought.

About Tracy Mazzeo

Tracy on the journey back home

Tracy, her husband Ken and cat Spinnaker live aboard Makana, their Morgan 384 sailboat in the Florida Keys. They cruise every chance they get with plans to cruise full time in the next couple of years.

They have spent the last three years sailing and refurbishing Makana, starting on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and then moving to their current marina home in Tavernier.

Many repairs, upgrades and sailing adventures have been documented on their S/V Makana Facebook page.

Learn more

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