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 

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