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!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Long weekend to Gulfport

March 20, 2016

The week before we left on our adventure southward, we took a long weekend trip to Gulfport, about a 5 hour sail north from our marina (or more precisely a motor sail which seems to be our pattern). Travelling there was a good chance to go somewhere new on our own. Navigating new channels, the Gulf, and a new anchorage on our own were confidence builders.  An added bonus was meeting up with Mike and Betty, friends from the marina once we got there. 

Gulfport is a delightful, touristy town sporting cute little shops, small restaurants and coffee houses. There are charming small houses for rent and for those who are so inclined there are intriguing bars that seemed to be hopping until the wee hours. Dinghies must be off the dinghy dock by 3:00am! There is music everywhere and on Saturday morning the beach volleyball team was out practicing.  Diving on the sand with a string bikini does not sound pleasant to me, but then again just wearing a string bikini would not sound pleasant either!

Being on the boat for four days gave us a good taste of what cruising might be like and we were very comfortable in our cozy little home. Instead of just being nervous about the unknown ahead of us, we are also beginning to get excited.

Saturday morning we ate breakfast at an outdoor cafe which was reminiscent of Venice, CA.  Lots of character and characters!  The winds may not have cooperated, but the weather certainly did - it could not have been more pleasant.

On the way home we stopped for a few hours at Egmont Key.  It is a State Park, which is primarily a bird sanctuary most of which is closed to the public.  The rest of it makes for some interesting hiking.  During the 19th century the island housed captured Seminoles and later the Union Navy during the Civil War.  Fort Dade was built prior to the Spanish-American War and remained active until 1923.  While ashore, we "visited" with the land tortoises and explored the ruins of the fort. 
The lighthouse built in 1858

One of the many land tortoises

Remnants of Fort Dade

Sunday, March 13, 2016

More Bits and Pieces

March 13, 2016

We are in the process of installing an SSB (single sideband marine HF radio) which we bought at the Miami boat show.  It is important for longer range communication than the VHF radio is capable of and can be useful for keeping in touch with other cruisers, sending email as well as accessing weather information.  

There is a back story.  Two years ago when it became clear that we were going to go cruising, we decided that an SSB would be an important part of our communications equipment.  Naive as I was, I thought I would need a Ham radio license to operate it so I took a class and obtained my technician's license.  Not exactly my strength, but I managed. Ironically it turned out that I didn't need it to operate the Marine SSB which is a more restrictive radio.  But, it turns out that if we want to use the free email capability, I actually need to get the general license, the next level up. I am not thrilled, but have become resigned to a summer of study.

Jim has checked out the wiring behind the navigation station and is still trying to figure out where the physical components could be placed.  
Looking at the wiring behind the "nav" station
The antenna (one of them) can be attached to our current back stay and through a system of telescoping be run up 33 feet.  The challenge was that something (turned out to be a U bolt used as a cable fastener) was attached to the back stay at about 20 feet and would preclude running the antenna up all the way.  This required (allowed?) Jim to make another run up the mast.  He tied a line to himself which I then used to pull him away from the mast and over to the back stay.  Maybe a 6 foot distance but it required a neighbor to help me pull him over until he could use his legs to hold himself in position, attach a safety line and work on the stay.  He successfully removed the U bolt. Unfortunately I did not get a picture. It was quite the sight.  Installing the actual antenna and all of the SSB components will  have to wait until we are in Marathon or even somewhere in the Bahamas.

We carry 100 gallons of diesel fuel and 215 gallons of water in onboard tanks.  That seems like a lot, but we are still taking extra of both since we are hoping to be in remote anchorages for extended periods of time.  The challenge was where to store them. After pacing the deck and playing "musical jugs" we finally decided to attach them on the port side of the bow. That required attaching a board to the stanchions to which the jugs could be tied.  Aesthetics required that the board be stained or painted. (!) Jim opted for paint.  However, aesthetics seem rather irrelevant because the jugs themselves have either discolored in the sun or were deliberately camouflaged and are really quite ugly.  However, we bought them from a fellow cruiser for a song so can't complain. 

Diesel jugs on the bow
 We are also taking an extra 5 gallon jug of gasoline for the dingy outboard.  That stores easily on the aft deck with the two 7 gallon jugs of water.

We have done our last minute shopping trips both for spare parts and provisions. There are a few items left to remove from the boat and store in our truck.  The truck itself will be taken to storage tomorrow. So, we are as ready as we will ever be!! Now it is just a matter of dealing with whatever comes our way.

Going to miss this view in the mornings from the back of our deck!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Bits and Pieces

March 9, 2016

The deadline for leaving our marina is fast approaching.  (Actually our first deadline has already passed!)   It is admittedly an arbitrary date but without it we could easily extend our stay until the sailing season was over.   The marina is full of really nice and entertaining people, there is a long list of things that could and/or should be done to the boat and one project just seems to lead to several more.  I guess we have finally accepted the axiom that we will never be ready....we will just GO!

The last blog left Jim atop the mast dealing with the wind indicator.  It took two more trips up the mast, but the missing piece has been replaced and we now know from whence cometh the wind!  

Relaxing after the "ride" down.

Here are a few things we have been working on:

The autopilot.  Works well while motoring, but gets a little balky when sailing.  After wiggling a few cables or whatever magic he purports to do, Jim wanted to check it out.  So in 21 knot winds we headed out mid my usual nervous trepidations at leaving the dock.  We did manage to get out to Tampa Bay and do some sailing in rather rough water only to confirm that the autopilot was still not working right.  The sail was a little more exciting than necessary (my opinion) and coming back into the dock was most "entertaining" – we were blown forward towards the dock while the engine was working away in reverse!!  Thanks to some neighbors who saw the challenge and came to help, no damage to man, boat or dock transpired!!

Hundreds of nuts, bolts and washers
Apparently we had not stowed everything into its proper place before taking off and when we arrived back at the dock and ventured down below, strewn across the floor were the contents of a medium sized container of screws, nuts and bolts.  A fine evening’s entertainment was provided and a lesson was learned!

Another project has been sprucing up our toe rail – the wooden trim with a metal stripping which surrounds the top of the deck.  The first priority was to reset some screws.  Some had stripped out, some were glued in and some missing.  In the process Jim had bought some clamps and pretty much before he even got started, one of them fell into the water.  He pulled out his trusty magnet pole but couldn’t find the clamp.  (The diver found it the next day)  It is things like this that slow the work down.  The next step was sanding the wood and then applying two coats of sealer.  We had debated between the matt finish of the sealer and the shiny look of varnish and opted for the sealer.

Clamp overboard (toe rail before sanding)
The new toe rail

It is not all work and no play.  We took a day off for a lovely visit with my cousin and his wife.  He and I are the youngest and closest in age of a passel of cousins and even though we lived relatively close to each other in Minnesota and now relatively close in Florida the visits have been too far apart.  It was great getting caught up despite nearly freezing while eating lunch outside at the river side grill.  Who knew it would be so cold??

Cousins Joann and John