Inspired by actual news events, with authentic quotes and a fictional hero. With apologies to all those yacht captains who see themselves in Capt. Old Timer.
Twenty seven years in yachting and this Bahamian charter topped them all, thought Capt. OId Timer.
Weathered and frequently stowed away wet, Capt. Timer did not bring a sparkle to a girl’s eye the way the captains on fancy white megayachts did. On a good day, folks called him unrefined, ornery and, well, a bit musty smelling.
Although no one confessed to hiring the green replacement crew, booking the seasick family that didn’t speak English or ordering up the foul weather, the captain was sure someone was to blame.
Nevertheless, the yacht had fought through the Atlantic Gulf Stream and was on the downhill side of the voyage home to Ft. Lauderdale.
Capt. Timer stared at his manual compass, steering from the heading on worn paper NOAA chart No. 11470. He knew the red-and-white smokestacks of Port Everglades were just ahead. The thought of those candy cane-colored towers eased his mood.
When the skyline appeared, he strained to make out the towers, but they were not there.
“How’d I get off course?” he growled, rechecking his compass. “Is that Palm Beach?”
It wouldn’t be such a stretch to think so. Those towers in Port Everglades have been a landmark on Ft. Lauderdale’s horizon for decades. But just as the fictional Capt. Timer lost his bearings without them, spectators who gathered atop the 17th Street bridge just after dawn on July 16 to watch them fall wondered if they, too, might lose their way.
Florida Power and Light demolished the smokestacks and the boilers beside them to make way for a more energy efficient facility in the footprint. The 350-foot towers were just four small circles on nautical charts, but they lined up as range marks for navigators since 1960 for entrance to one of the U.S. east coast’s busiest ports.
“My dad used to tell me ‘Don’t go beyond where you can see the smokestacks’,” said Ben Duggan, marketing team manager for West Marine Megayacht Supply in Ft. Lauderdale. When he was a kid boating out in the Atlantic, those smokestacks kept him safe.
“That’s how we’d find our way home,” he said.
Dave Carmichael, president of Brownie’s YachtDiver in Ft. Lauderdale, was there to witness the demolition, too.
“It was always nice to see them,” he said. “When you saw the stacks, you knew you are about 10 to 12 miles away.”
The stacks’ importance as landmarks extended across the Atlantic, as noted in the British Admiralty sailing directions. The text on Port Everglades describes, “The most prominent objects seen when approaching the port are four stacks painted with red and white bands about 1.2 miles southwest of the harbor entrance. These stacks are marked by red aircraft lights at night.”
And Dozier’s Waterway Guide describes, “For the weary mariner searching for the port from offshore, the stacks are a welcome sight indeed.”
Make that were.
Standing alone on the bridge, long after the towers and the crowd had gone, Duggan needed a little time to himself.
“I didn’t know how sad I would be.”
Dorie Cox is associate editor of The Triton. Comments on this story are welcome at email@example.com.