Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Safe Cove challenge

May 13

We decided to keep "Well, Why Not?" on the hard (up on jack stands with hurricane tie-downs) rather than in the water this hurricane season.  Safe Cove Boat Storage seemed like a good option and before we left Regatta Pointe Marina we drove down, looked at it and signed a contract.  It is located northwest of Charlotte Harbor and is accessed by way of a hand operated lock system and a 9 1/2 mile narrow and shallow canal! Sounded intriguing.

We were given two pages worth of instructions - single spaced, small print. The first ones were just how to find the lock - not so easy when coming from the south end of Charlotte Harbor. The first "rule" was to time ones arrival at the lock for high tide.  5:00pm, check.  Stay to the right of the green channel marker, check - but how far right?  Waaay right it turned out as we nearly ran aground.  At that point, the red marker which would have given us our right hand boundary was no where in sight. We kept going on faith with a close eye on our depth gauge until we finally saw a narrow channel become visible through the mangroves. As we got closer it was clearly marked by the green and red markers.  There were also a number of power boats and together we formed a slow moving line towards what we assumed was the lock. 

There it is....the hand operated lock.

Indeed it was the lock.  A series of challenges met us immediately. How and when to enter it - our boat was almost as wide as the lock and there were a number of power boats both going into and out of the lock in a somewhat organized fashion.  Apparently the lock is the only waterway access for residents in the South Gulf Cove residential communities to Charlotte Harbor, the Intracoastal Waterway and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico.

When it seemed to be our turn, and again following the next set of instructions, Jim pulled a chain which opened the first gate. We slowly entered, but worried that the gate would close before we were far enough in. Not only were we really wide, but we seemed almost as long as the lock.  Once in, there was another chain to pull which closed the first gate and opened the second gate. Do you pull the chain once?  When do you let go? The boats waiting in line were yelling out instructions (in a friendly manner - at least at first) "let go", "don't let go yet".. yikes! Finally the second gate opened and we headed out.  Normally at this point we would have had to pull another chain to close the second gate but there were so many other boats waiting in line that one of them did it. Once through we breathed a sigh of relief, took several deep breaths and continued on the 9 mile trip up the narrow and shallow canal.  

Heading up the canal looking forward.

Heading up the canal looking backwards

With a draft of 5'6" we were close to the maximum accommodated in the canal.  The directions continued and were....interesting.  "Favor the land side", "Bear left - there will be twists and turns", "Apparent dead ends will open up", Stay to the outside of the middle of the curve", "Keep to the left of the red markers" (mind you that put us within 6 feet and closer in spots to the mangrove shore).  Our depth alarm sounded regularly, but we never actually went aground. The trip was actually very pretty and was reminiscent of "The African Queen" without the leeches. Three hours later, we were relieved to arrive at the boatyard where we could tie up to the dock and wait until our haul out two days later.

Waiting at the dock for haul out.

The journey from the dock to the parking spot

Living in a boat "on the hard" is not exactly pleasant. Just getting on and off the boat was challenging. Because it is up on jack stands the deck is approximately 10 feet off the ground.  We parked our pickup (which we had previously left at the boatyard) underneath the stern, opened the tailgate, put a small stool underneath, pulled down the swim ladder and climbed right on up!

Life without a ladder

We had enough electricity to run the refrigerator and freezer, lights, outlets and water pressure. No air conditioner so it was hot! Altho we could use the water from our tanks for drinking and cooking, we had to line up a bucket underneath the thru hull from the sink so that the used water had a place to go. Most of it went into the bucket, some just dribbled down the hull and keel.   Restrooms, showers and laundry were a bit of a hike from the boat. 

It took us a week to empty the boat of all food and all of Jim's tools.  Jim rigged up a system with the dinghy davits to essentially create a "dumb waiter" to lower all of the heavy items.  We lowered lighter things in a bucket on a line.  Remember, going up and down the swim ladder/pickup truck pretty much required 2 hands. After much cleaning of the interior, we finally added a shade netting over the top - not pretty but it provides some sun protection. We started the air dryers to evaporate the humidity (a system that had worked very well for us last year) and we hired someone to check the boat regularly. And so after a week, we bid farewell and headed home.  A rather sad image - boats belong in the water!

Missing some of the shade netting, but almost ready.
One of the things we had not anticipated about "commuter cruising" was the culture shock and adjustments involved with the semi-annual change of venue.  We arrived home to cold weather, (a relief at first) green environs and lots of space.  Then the unpacking, sorting, reorganizing and reconnecting with friends and the activities that fill our lives in Minnesota. It would be very difficult to choose one lifestyle over the other - but it is a bit jolting to transition between them. 

The view from our front porch 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Good-bye Boot Key Harbor

May 03, 2016

We left Boot Key Harbor after a great five week visit.  Our solar panel project was completed and the season was too far gone to travel to the Bahamas.  So, time to head home. It had been a comfortable and fun place to be for awhile. The garden which someone had started was just beginning to produce.  I managed to get a couple of green beans! 

The lovely, healthy and productive vege garden

Final strapping on of jugs

Our last trip of the season was to make our way up to Safe Cove Boat Storage in Charlotte Harbor.  Given that we had enough time, we opted to do it in day trips rather than the two overnight sails that we had done on the way down.   We left on April 26 with at least two days of good winds predicted.  And, indeed that is what we got!

Both sail out and filled!

Proof that we actually sailed!

Our first day we sailed, I repeat, SAILED to Shark River where we anchored mosquito free.  This is in the 10,000 island area and a part of the Everglades.  We were really pleased to have been able to actually sail altho the wind was from the south east and the boat motion was side to side.  Still I expect the sails were happy to see the light of day!! And we were happy to see the sails!

Shark River

Sunrise at Shark River
Day two we were also able to sail and after a long day found Russell Key, a totally private bay just east of Indian Key.  Only a few tour boats and fishing boats passed nearby but as evening approached we were totally alone.  It reminded me of the privacy and isolation of the Boundary Waters Wilderness Area of Northern Minnesota except the green was from mangroves and not evergreens.
A little stowaway who visited us for awhile

Russell Key, Everglades National Park

 Day three we headed to Marco Island and with the dying winds it became a motor sail.  The anchorage in Factory Bay could not have been more of a change.  We were surrounded by boats, housing and/or hotel complexes, loud music blaring from all corners.  However, in the morning we were treated to the moon setting in the west while the sun rose in the east.

Moon setting in early am at Factory Bay

Sun rising in early am at Factory Bay
Day four was a repeat of the motor sailing and after a long day we opted to spend the night on a mooring ball at Ft. Myers.  Even treated ourselves to a lovely restaurant meal by the water.

Let me just interject here:  Dolphins are a tease!!  They play around the boat and swim alongside...until you reach for a camera.  Then they become shy.  One of these days I will get a good picture.
See the dolphin?  

Day five was a full-on bashing into the wind, and with 2400 rpm we were only making about 3 knots.  We tried a little tacking to gain some help from the sails with a bit of success.  It was another long day but we were able to anchor in daylight at Pelican Bay just at the entrance to Charlotte Harbor.  We appreciated the quiet, relaxing environment.

It was with some sadness that we knew that Day six was our last day of traveling on the boat.  No wind, so we motored across Charlotte Harbor and timed our arrival at the hand operated lock at high tide, late afternoon.  The process of leaving Charlotte Harbor and getting to Safe Cove is worthy of its own post.  It involves shallow canals, a hand operated lock.   To be continued....

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Whack-a-mole, goodbyes, and finally a SSB

16 April 2016

Trying to finish stitching up the bimini is like playing whack-a-mole.  Every time I stitch up one ripped seam, another one disintegrates!!  I have two more sections in the rear part of the bimini and the other rips that keep rearing their ugly heads I am going to ignore!  We obviously need a whole new one, but I am not sure that I am up to sewing one from scratch myself even tho they are crazy expensive to buy.  Trying to exist in the Florida or Caribbean sun without a bimini is not an option.  It would be miserable and likely a significant overdose of sun and heat. 

Mike and Betty on JS Newby, Seth on Serendipity at Sea and Jim and I on Well, Why Not? had a farewell dinner at Burdines, one of the favorite spots in Boot Key Harbor. They are known for their wonderful hamburgers (impossible to eat with any sort of decorum) and a large discounted basket of fries to cruisers (impossibe to eat, because of volume).  It is beautifully situated by the harbor and the night we were there, we were serenaded by two singers from City Marina.  We hung around after eating just to enjoy the music.

Jim and I with Betty, Mike and Seth at Burdines
Enjoying live music
catch of the day???

A small group from C-dock at Regatta Point Marina got together yesterday for happy hour at Lazy Days in Marathon.  A few are staying at other marinas in the area, a few drove down to see about coming down here permanently and a few of us just happened to be here temporariy. Forgot to take pictures, but it was fun to reconnect with them. It stikes me that a typical characteristic of cruisers is that they are always saying "hello" and "goodbye"  and that once you have connected with someone, no matter where you run into them nor how much time has passed, they are still friends!

And speaking of "goodbye's, Seth left yesterday for Bimini.  It was a last minute decision based on the weather.  So we had breakfast at the Harbor Hillbillies floating breakfast cafe, Jim helped him raise the outboard and dinghy and then Seth left.  The "neighborhood" seems rather lonely without his Island Packet 38 moored right next to us!
Serendipity at Sea leaving Boot Key Harbor for Bimini

The major accomplishment of the week has been the installation of the SSB.  Mind you we have not yet successfully listened to anyone or transmitted anything, but we have the manuals and we will persevere.  Last week we attended a "hammer" lunch and met a local group of ham (not just marine) operators.  I was chastised mightily because when we introduced ourselves I did not know my ham call sign!  But really, I have had no radio either at home or on the boat, so why would I have memorized it?  But believe me, I am now going to memorize it and next time when asked, I WILL know it!!  :)  FYI it is KD0YDL for anyone who might care!
SSB in its temporary location

We have been watching the weather and it looks to us like the best weather for leaving will be Tuesday or Wednesday. Given a few more days than expected before departure, I think I will hunker down with my Kindle and get some reading done.  Nevermind cleaning the dinghy, restitching the bimini or staining the toerail.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Progress, Diversions and Plan B

April 5, 2016

One of our major motivations for coming to Boot Key Harbor was Alex at Sea Tek.  His company is based here and he did some great work for us last year.  This year's project was adding power.  To do that he determined that exchanging our older less powerful solar panels (120 watts each) for new ones (250 watts each) would make a significant improvement in our independence.  Enter Darren, his fabricator, who designed a new structure to mount the panels above the bimini.  He had to bend the stainless steel and in the process added grab bars which we had really wanted.  
new 250 watt solar panels
solar structure with grab rails
The second project was to fix the auto pilot which worked just fine when motoring but showed low power when we were under sail. New electrical cable had to be run from the steering quadrant underneath our aft bed to the circuit breaker in the salon via an amazingly circuitous route!  Jim managed to solve that maze and Alex finished the electrical hook up.  If we ever have a chance to sail, we will have the chance to confirm that it now works!
Jim running cable for the auto pilot 
Trying a different angle

In the meantime, before the new solar panels were up, but after the old ones were disconnected, our generator died!  Spectacular timing.  Running the engine accomplishes pretty much the same recharging of batteries so it was not crisis time, just irritating. Mike, a friend from Regatta Pointe very quickly diagnosed the problem - a dead fresh water pump.  We ordered a replacement and he and Jim installed it one afternoon.  Pretty straight forward except that they had to fashion their own gasket.  

Mike making the gasket for the water pump
It always amazes me when Jim seems to have stashed away whatever materials he needs and the gasket material was one of those things!  A drinking glass to make a circular pattern, scissors to cut it out, a hole punch and voila..a gasket!  And the generator was fixed!

The installation of the SSB is still a work in progress.  Again, running cables has been an exercise in flexibility, determination and scraped knuckles!  (See pictures above!)  The antenna has been installed onto the back stay and the ground plane is now in place. Much more to do: more cables, wiring, and equipment installation.  
Marg installing the antenna onto the rear stay

Another work in progress is hand stitching the ripping seams in our bimini.  All of the sudden many of the threads have decided that life in the sun is too hard and they are giving it up  en masse.  The effect of that is that we can no longer zip up our cockpit enclosures - neither the isinglass nor the netting - because the zippers are no longer attached to the bimini.  So in a fit of enthusiasm I bought a sewing awl which enables one to sew thick thread into thick material, one stitch at a time.  I admit to procrastinating and in the meantime more seams have ripped.  So I finally got started after watching a You Tube description of how to use the awl (there were no instructions that came with the awl) and although it seems very awkward at first, it gets easier and I got better.  It took me about 2 hours to stitch 2 1/2 feet!! This project will keep me busy for awhile!
A small example of the problem
First attempt, stitches at the left

The awl and some extra thick waxed thread

In between these projects we have made room for a variety of diversions.  First, Easter. An inviolate tradition in the Blanchard/Nelson household has been to make carmel nuts rolls at Christmas and matter what!! This year was no exception.  I have no conventional oven on the boat but I do have an Omnia Stovetop Oven.  Thanks to it and Pillsbury instead of homemade yeast rolls we had a minimally modified traditional Easter breakfast. 

We joined friends for a real Easter dinner:  A multi course meal with the pre dinner Polish competitive entertainment of cracking hard boiled eggs.  It was a lovely time.

Starting the competition of egg cracking

Jim trying his best

with Mike and Betty

The Budweiser Clydesdales came to town last week.  It was quite the event!  They drove an 8 horse hitch around the parking lot of Publix and gave rides to a few lucky folks.

Unloading the wagon from the semi

What a way to travel!
And now for Plan B.  Between projects and iffy weather, time has run out for going to the Bahamas. We, along with many others have had to make other plans.  When the weather looks right for SAILING and not motoring we will head back north and do some "gunkholing" around the ten thousand islands and then head up to Save Cove where we plan to put the boat on the hard.  Then ... back to Minnesota.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Nerves of steel have I not!

March 28, 2016

When Jim and I first started sailing together, we found that it worked best if I was the helmsperson and he handled all of the lines, bumpers, etc.  (This, of course, ignores our first sailing together 45 years ago in his Balboa 20.  I was purely the passenger on that boat!)  We developed this pattern with our Islander 33.  It was a flushdeck and very high off the dock.  The way the lines and cletes were organized it was necessary to jump off the boat as we came into the slip and tie it off.  Jim is more of a gymnast than I so he assumed that job.   Also, he was used to steering with a tiller not a wheel and had a tendency to turn the wrong way when behind a wheel rather than a tiller!  I was not hampered by prior experience so I just used the wheel like in a car and it worked.  So that is how we fell into our pattern.  

But what this did not take into account is my nervous system and my tendency to worry which is exacerbated by being behind the helm.  As Casey, a friend at Regatta Pointe once said to me "What is the worst thing that can happen?"  I think she meant to make me feel better, but that is not something to ask me.  There are lots of answers to that question.  I have one of the world's best imaginations at conjuring up disasters: destroying our or someone else's boat, sinking, running aground, hurting someone, being scared - I mean really scared, feeling totally out of control, etc.  I worry about things breaking on the boat (they will) and how to prepare for it, I fail to understand about through hulls which are holes in the bottom of the boat, I mean really HOLES under the water line ...just think about it! Lower on the list is just plain worrying about making a total fool of myself and believe me in docking, anchoring and mooring alone, there are zillions of ways to do that. And oh how other cruisers love to watch - you become the subject of a spectator sport.  So my nerves and my stomach have been overwhelmingly challenged in the last couple of weeks as we have prepared for our departure from the marina and have actually departed. Outside my comfort zone, indeed!

An example:  There were no mooring balls available at Marathon which meant that we had to anchor in a very crowded anchorage - something we have actually very little experience in.
Anchorage at Boot Key Harbor, Marathon

Sure enough between dodging shallow areas, other boats, and 20 to 25 knot winds and a strong current, it took us 4 tries to successfully least we thought we were successful. We had been waved off by a sheriff (who knew they patrolled the waters here?) when we headed to an area that was too shallow, we were encouraged to move elsewhere by a boater who said the "holding" was not good. When we finally anchored, we thought we were a little close to a couple of other boats but could not figure out anywhere else to go.  We met these two neighbors - one had a ferro cement boat- we were not going to hurt his boat any.  The other gentleman was also concerned about dragging as he had no functioning engine and said he would just blow his horn and we could put out the bumpers.  So they were both very understanding and we felt better.  The first night we got up frequently to check our positions.The second night, also.   Our last check was at 6:00am but when we got up at 6:30 it was clear that the boat had moved and that our anchor buoy was caught up in the outboard motor of our ferro cement neighbor.  Mike and Betty meanwhile had come into the anchorage the day before. When we told them about the anchor buoy they came on over and it was actually they who released the buoy and within minutes our boat moved backwards with a bit of speed. (remember the wind and the current?)  Anyhow I started the motor, Jim started pulling up the anchor and the owner of the closest power boat came out and looked a little stressed as our boat headed towards his.  I actually had a lot of trouble turning the boat away because of the strong winds and ended up backing in a circle before I could go forward. When Jim pulled up the anchor he pulled up a large branch that was caught in it as well as any number of other "things" that had been at the bottom.  After we re-anchored and calmed down with our cups of coffee, we were suspicious that the branch had prevented our anchor from digging in solidly to the bottom and finally just let go in the strong winds. We hoped there were no more branches lurking under the water!  Several more nights of conscientious checking and a mooring ball finally became available!  Although the mooring field looks more crowded, it is more organized than an anchorage with calculated spacing between boats and a least at this mooring field you can be pretty sure that the balls are solidly attached.  We are not going anywhere for awhile, so, back into our comfort zone temporarily! 

Mooring field, Boot Key Harbor, Marathon

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Ft. Myers

March 26, 2016

It took two days at Ft. Myers to recover!  We enjoyed a great get-together for supper with Betty and Mike and Fernan and his family!  So nice to see some familiar faces although they all decided to head south the next day.  The next evening we made connections with Linn and Chris who were at Regatta Pointe last year and who joined us for supper on a raucous St. Patrick's Day. Chris has joined the ranks of professional writers and already has 6 books on amazon!!  

We spent much of our time studying the navigational charts and decided to do another all nighter to arrive in Marathon in time to beat the storm front scheduled to move through over the weekend.  And so we left at 8:30 the next morning.

Looking forward as we leave Ft. Myers

Looking back at the entrance to the mooring field

This trip was much more pleasant than the previous one though a little bit longer.  It was clear, the seas were relatively calm, although as usual, the wind was on the nose. We had enough food, did crossword puzzles, listened to audio books, played solitaire on the computer and in general the time passed fairly quickly. The crab pots were not too obtrusive and following our "cookies" on the GPS from our last trip made the entrance to the City Marina very easy!

Our view all day - sure beat the fog!

Good  morning, Marathon

Good night, Boot Key Harbor, Marathon

This will be our home for a couple of weeks while work is being done on the boat: repair of the autopilot and the addition of better and more powerful solar panels.   That is the list for the professionals, but we have our own daunting list of things to work on!  We won't be bored!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Off in a cloud of dust - sort of!

March 21, 2016

Our plan was to leave Regatta Pointe on Monday March 14, spend the night at "Hulk Harbor" and take off early Tuesday morning.  Taking our pick up truck to storage took a little longer than planned as did a few other errands and the winds were blowing over 20 knots out of the south making departing and anchoring out seem a little less appealing.  So we stayed one more night at the marina and headed out at 9:00am the next morning.

Our last C dock party.

Farewell C dock friends - we'll miss you!


Farewell Regatta Pointe Marina - we'll miss you too!

An hour later things started getting foggy and by the time we arrived at Tampa Bay the fog was as thick as pea soup! Even the Sunshine Bridge had been closed to all traffic due to fog. Channel markers were virtually invisible until we were right upon them.  We debated turning back but decided that out in the Gulf it might get better, but even if not, there would be very little boat traffic.  There is normally very little anyhow. So onward we went.  We had planned to stop overnight at Venice, (FL) but they were totally socked in also and since we had never been there, the safest and most reasonable option to us was to sail overnight and arrive at Ft. Myers in the morning where clear skies were predicted.

The picture does not do the claustrophobic fog justice

 It was a long and uncomfortable night.  Our electronics including radar worked fine, the engine with assist from the mainsail kept us at 5 knots plus or minus, but we were uneasy.  The waves were 3 to 5 feet on the beam - perfect for an unpleasant rolling motion.  It ended up taking us 24 hours and we saw only one other boat the whole time.  It was not the most auspicious beginning to our travels, but as someone pointed out, it is all part of the adventure.  Really??

The dawn of a new day as we arrived at Ft. Myers

We did learn some things for future use:

Food. I prepare food for longer trips and keep it in the cockpit so that I do not have to go below.  Not having planned on sailing all night I didn't have enough "real" food. Snacks, yes, but meals no. 

Fog. For us at least fog is a perfect environment for getting seasick. (not to mention the rolling motion)  Apparently without an horizon it is hard for the eyes and ears to sort things out. So we both were queasy - most unusual for Jim, not so much for me.  I wore the wrist bands and finally took Bonine.  That seemed to work except I felt awful the whole next day - not sure if I can blame Bonine for that.  

Sleep.  We have not done a lot of overnight trips, but when we have, we take shifts - not as rigid as some but enough so that we each get sleep.  We usually stay in the cockpit, but this trip neither of us slept well there. I tried going below and I slept a little better, but I think we were too much on "alert" for what lurked beyond the fog bank. 

Entertainment. Somehow it never occurred to us that we needed to entertain ourselves.  There were a lot of hours to do nothing other than contemplate the instruments, the fog and our own musings.  

Next time we will be better prepared!