When a recent cold front sent 20-knot winds whipping across the Atlantic Ocean, Capt. Tom Tiernan and his wife and first mate, Cathie, canceled a catamaran trip. The winds weren't too strong for the 53-foot, double-hulled sailboat, but they were for the people chartering it.
The whitecaps were still there the next day, but the customers -- a family from Colorado -- were game, so the Palm Breeze set sail. "They had little girls, and they hung on to the net the whole time, just squealing and screaming," recalls Cathie.
The "net" is actually a mesh seating area strung between the two hulls of the giant catamaran. With 20-knot winds pushing the craft along, water was spraying through the rope webbing onto passengers. Thus all of the squealing.
When you think of a catamaran, you imagine something like a Hobie Cat skittering along whitecapped waters, balanced on one hull, its navigators leaning way back so as not to let the boat tip over. But "these boats are way too heavy for that," Tom says of a model like the Palm Breeze, which weighs about 26,000 pounds and can handle high winds without capsizing.
Today capsizing isn't even a remote possibility. Passengers on the Palm Breeze are set for a two-hour trip that will soon leave from Cove Marina in Deerfield Beach. "Ten knots is sailing," says Tom. "Twenty is really fun." The breeze is somewhere shy of ten knots.
The boat seats up to 50 people -- atop the hulls, in the galley, and on the net. But with only ten passengers aboard today, there's plenty of room to spread out. Most people want to be where the action is: the net, which according to Cathie offers the best chance to view flying fish, sea turtles, and dolphins. Before heading out, she offers beer, wine, or soda and invites anyone who's interested to help her hoist the sails. For what promises to be a languid ride, however, pulling ropes sounds far less attractive than basking in the sun and taking in the sights while Jimmy Buffet tunes play in the background. Just to spice things up, Tom makes a deal with the passengers: Anyone who tells him a joke can take over the wheel. (Two adolescent girls later take him up on the offer, each telling a Monica Lewinsky joke.)
Leaving the dock with the help of a motor, Tom heads south, navigating past luxurious homes. As the boat approaches Hillsboro Inlet -- where fresh water mixes with salt, turning from green to blue -- Cathie points out Tom Selleck's house, a grey, two-story structure with a copper roof.
The Breeze soon heads past the open draw bridge, the namesake lighthouse, and marker buoys into the ocean. When they reach open water, Cathie hoists the sails. White fabric billows, but the breeze isn't strong enough; Tom keeps the engine running.
Eventually he drops anchor hundreds of yards offshore, where high-rise condos shimmer in the distance. He offers passengers a chance to get wet by hopping off for a swim. Tom's been captaining charters for 10 years; he worked in Hawaii and the Bahamas before moving to South Florida this past January. Like any good skipper, he's always prepared.
"You've got to adapt to the conditions," he says.
-- John Ferri
The Palm Breeze sails out of Cove Marina, southwest corner of Hillsboro Boulevard and the Intracoastal Waterway, Deerfield Beach. A two-hour trip costs $30 per person; custom charters are also available. For schedule and reservations, call 561-368-3566.