March / April 2024

The Oceanic EGRET

Bluewater sailing in a shoal-draft sharpie
The sharpie ketch EGRET


The sharpie ketch EGRET, designed in 1886 by Commodore Ralph Munroe, was instrumental in the settlement of Miami, Florida. Here, the author’s EGRET interpretation, with its 8” draft, skims backcountry flats in the Florida Keys nearly 100 years after the launch of the original. Her forward and aft centerboards left a barely discernable track, unlike the lasting propeller scars in the turtle grass beyond.

EGRET is moving too fast. The ocean bottom is 2,000' below the sharpie’s flat bottom as successive seas rise 10' high astern, too steep and too close for comfort above the open, shallow cockpit where I sprawl, legs braced, one hand on the mainsheet cleat, the other on the tiller, one eye forward and one eye aft, as sapphire rollers carry us in sun-spangled slaloms of amazing speed toward the east coast of Florida.

The Gulf Streamers rise in hypnotic rhythm…a towering crest approaches…elevates the stern…engulfs the hull…and sends us downhill…fast…faster…surfing…20, 30 yards in a burst.

EGRET glides through the foaming trough. Another looms immediately.

Minute by anxious minute, then hour by mesmerizing hour, we’d sped off these indigo crests, enveloped in a conveyor of kinetic energy, nonpareil sleighrides, the white ash tiller quivering as the balanced rudder vibrated in the slipstream off the rear centerboard, fully extended, or we would surely have broached hours earlier.

As sun and wind rose in tandem, my old Nikonos snapped the day’s only Kodachrome, looking astern. Now off soundings, there was no returning to the town of West End on Grand Bahama Island. We were into it. By noon my early anxiety became guarded exhilaration. I realized EGRET was running for home with a bone in her teeth and a mind of her own, and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it. We had an all-day freebie on one of Mother Ocean’s interminable water-park rides.

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