Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

26 April 2017

Back "on the hard" and time to close out our very short sailing season.  I think this was the first year that we really felt like we were cruisers.  We spent most of our nights at anchor, some of them on a mooring ball and none at a marina.  We experienced all types of weather (no snow!!), waves, currents, winds.  We had our moments of concern, discomfort, blissful sailing and gently rocking anchorages. We had mechanical and equipment failures and we gained the confidence that at least so far we could deal with them.

The last part of the trip to the boatyard involved a hand operated lock that makes the transition from the Myakka River at the north end of Charlotte Harbor to a canal that leads to the boatyard.  It is an intriguing little operation that is fraught with "challenges". On our way out in March we went aground right at the lock but wind conditions were better for our return and we had a higher tide so we thought things were going to be better. Mother Nature had something else in mind.  The winds picked up and the current was very energetic.  The turn into the lock is a very short 90 degree angle. It is very difficult to get a straight shot at it and we ended up being blown into the dock with a resulting unpleasant crunching sound.  We finally managed to get straightened out and proceeded through the lock. our desire to get out of there, we forgot to pull the chain one last time to prepare the lock for the boat that followed us.  We tried to back up - didn't work - but fortunately they were able to deal with it tho not happily.  When they passed us in the canal we tried to apologize but they were intent on "waking" us (in a pontoon boat no less) and angrily passed us by at full speed! 

Looking backward in the canal
Looking forward in the canal

We spent two days dockside at the boatyard doing a variety  of chores that require the fresh water of the canal - running the generator, running the outboard out of gas (we took a little tour of the canal just to see what the canals were like), washing the salt off the boat etc.  At haul out time,  thanks to strong winds we had a hard time lining up with the haul out well.  Then there were problems getting the sling from the lift underneath our boat thanks to low water levels due to the lack of rain in this area.  All in all, our boating life would be easier with a shallower draft.

We have been a little more organized about getting projects done while on the hard but again nothing fun to write about.  So here is a visual.

Shredded flag halyard

Preparing to replace line

Putting up secondary SSB antenna

Big "oops" from the lock!  Needs the pro's

Preparing to paint storage behind settee
The before picture

The after picture

Cleaning, waxing, buffing

There are lots of trawlers in the boatyard - seems like many sailors are moving over to the "dark side" as they get older.  They are enjoying the increased room, and increased ease of handling that type of boat.  Not us, not yet.

Trawlers of the "dark side" - our neighbors

The big excitement this week was the delivery of a new travel lift for hauling out and launching boats.  It took one huge semi, two boom trucks and two days of "putting it together".  It looked like a very large set of legos!

Travelift arriving preceeded by two large boom trucks

Almost finished

It is almost time to head back to MN and already I can feel my focus switching to farm projects and summer activities. The transition from water to land is always a bit of a jolt, but we are very lucky to be able to experience both modes of living.

A mandarin peel flower created by Jim

Monday, April 17, 2017

A Musical Mystery

April 17, 2017

I am very sensitive to sounds on the boat - a new pitch in the engine, a creak or a groan from the hull, the water pressure pump, the cycling of the refrigerator or freezer. For a while I have been noticing two musical notes that sounded somewhat like a flute.   They alternated at irregular intervals,  one of them more prevalent and pronounced than the other and they were a major third apart in pitch.  I never heard them when we were under way - way too many other noises.  As soon as we anchored or picked up a mooring ball I would hear them.  At first I thought they might be coming from a channel marker with a bell. But after the same two notes became part of every place that we stopped I eliminated that as a possibility. 

Last night the winds were particularly strong and after a dinghy ride into town when we were bringing the dinghy up to tie it down for our last stretch of sailing, I heard the tones very distinctly.  After looking around at the dinghy davits, I found that one of them had a hole in it, about 3/8 inch across.  So I blew over it - like we used to blow over coke bottles and there was my sound!!  I have not yet discovered the second one, but I am rather amused that my dinghy davits are a two note "flute"!!

We are at the end of our "on the water" time.  The last week at Ft. Myers was longer than planned and a bit boring. We were waiting for a part to deal with a gas leak in the outboard motor.  It took a week to get there (!) and we were hesitant to use the motor much so we were pretty much stuck on the boat except for a few necessary trips to the mainland: pay the bill, laundry, showers, grocery shopping and of course sampling key lime pie!! 

Finally the part came in!!  Took all of a half hour to fix after they used their monstrous forklift to get the dinghy out of the water. Afterwards we enjoyed supper at the Parrot Key Carribean Cafe.

Dinghy on forklift - overkill?

Parrot at Parrot Key Caribbean Cafe

Key Lime pie at Parrot Key

The next morning it was not a boring day sailing in the Gulf up from Ft. Myers Beach to Cabbage Key.  We had beautiful winds, sunny pleasant weather, turning to no winds, turning to stormy and rough water, wind direction changing to the wrong direction, motoring and finally light rains!! Tucking into well protected Cabbage Key was a welcome relief.

Our momentary beautiful sailing

We headed up to Punta Gorda the  next day where we spent two days at anchor. Very bouncy.  I hate to be too picky, but it seems to me that I have a love/hate relationship with the wind.    It is hard to get it just right!! It is either too strong, in the wrong direction or not enough. And then there are the waves....I won't go there - not much love in that relationship.

We spent an afternoon at Fisherman's Village on the north side of Punta Gorda. It is a rather touristy area, but pleasant.  We went ashore for lunch and a walk around. As we motored through the marina looking for a dinghy dock we happened to see some friends from Regatta Pointe Marina who are now living at the Fisherman's Village marina.  Fun to chat with Robert and Joni!   We were amused that there was no dinghy dock but there was a "jet ski" dock.  We used it!!

Jet ski "parking lot"

The Fish Market at Fisherman's Village Mall

Key Lime pie at the Fish Market - what else?

After a few hours ashore we headed back to the boat in bouncy seas for our last sail back to Hog Island where we were staging for the return to the boatyard.


Sunday, April 9, 2017

Fort Myers Beach

09 April 2017

That first day at Matanzas Bay we did not dinghy in to register. Weather was not good and we knew that the outboard was uncooperative. The next day, April Fool's Day, things had calmed down so we went to the dinghy dock where we roared in.  (It was the slow idle that was not working so we could only go fast!  As soon as Jim throttled back, the motor died)  No crash landing fortunately.  After registration we waited in a long line for shower availability.  Amazing what a hot shower does for one's perspective.  It also turned out that the City was putting on a free BBQ for the boaters so we stayed in town and reconnected with a few other boaters that we had met last year at Marathon in the Keys.  

That afternoon, for obvious reasons, Jim decided that he needed to practice rowing the dinghy.  It actually went well, but notice that he kept himself tethered to the boat....just in case.

Practicing - note the blue tether!
When we took the dinghy in to be looked at, they fixed the slow idle easily but discovered there was a small gas leak.  One thing always seems to lead to another.  We are now waiting for the small part to fix it.

We have been at Matanzas Bay for almost a week and it has been very peaceful and semi productive.  Jim has finished the Auto Pilot and is still working on the SSB. He also discovered a problem with the windlass. We have very little information on it and the phone number for service has been disconnected.  ??

My accomplishments are more mundane: laundry (not a la Well, Why Not?), grocery shopping, a haircut and knot tying!  Apparently neither my girl scout training, 30 years with llamas or a week of sailing lessons had a lasting effect on my knot tying abilities.  Finding myself at a loss when faced with a tying challenge, I decided it was time to buckle down and work on them. Armed with a small rope and a 1969 booklet about knots I persevered.  

My "salty" instructor

Check out that bowline!

We have not done much sightseeing because of the dinghy but we did manage to continue Jim's key lime pie obsession and we have done grocery shopping via dinghy and via trolley.  

Key lime pie at Matanzas Bay Restaurant
Key lime pie at Nervous Nellie's

The only obvious sign for  Nervous Nellie's is this chair!
The Ft. Myers Beach trolley 

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Yin and Yang of Sailing

April 7, 2017

The yin:

Cabbage Key to St. James City at the south end of Pine Island was an easy hour plus of motoring through the Intracoastal Waterway.  We anchored just west of the island.  Lots of fishing boats hotrodded up and down the waters giving us alternatively a gentle and not so gentle rocking.  Fortunately by dark all of their activity stopped and we had a very peaceful night.  

Going into St. James City the next day was a new experience for us. The city is largely built around canals lined with fairly small houses, all with boat lifts which held mostly fishing boats, some considerably larger powerboats and a few sailboats.  We explored the main canal by dinghy and ended up at the Ragged Ass Saloon.  With a name like that we had to stop there for lunch. They had NO desserts so no key lime pie, but their shrimp tacos were wonderful!  There was a small marine store nearby where Jim managed to get some parts that he needed to finish the wiring of the auto pilot!

Heading down the canal at St. James City

Jim in front of the Ragged Ass Saloon

The yang:

When we returned from our dinghy exploration, the outboard engine decided to misbehave, ie die. It waited until we were about 20 feet from the boat with the wind and current pushing us away from the boat. Jim could get the motor started but it would no longer keep running at low speed.  He managed to get it started many times and by the last time we had made enough progress towards the boat that we were able to grab the rail and hang on long enough to tie off the dinghy.

More yang:

The winds were picking up and changing direction so we decided to move from St. James City and find a more protected anchorage.  Glover Bite seemed to be perfect. It was pretty much east of where we were and altho we had to thread our way around a plethora of fishing boats all of whom were sharing the narrow beginning of the Okeechobee Waterway we made it.  We found, however, that the winds were penetrating what had seemed like a very protected bay although it was better than other nearby options.  However, after three tries at anchoring only to drag each time after we thought we were holding, we opted to go on to another anchorage in San Carlos Bay, across from Sanibel Island and north of Ft. Myers Beach.  

By the time we reached our anchorage, the winds were increasing and coming from the south - the one direction from which we had no good protection.  We had been on the move most of the day and it was getting late although not dark yet. We could have crossed the bay to the east coast of Sanibel or tried to call the Matanzas Bay mooring field again to see if they had space.  (I had talked to them earlier and they were full) But, we were tired so we stayed put and I made a rookie mistake.  I was carefully monitoring the depth, but not the tides. When we dropped anchor, the depth gauge read 8'.  (We draw 5'6") The anchor held and though it was rather rolly and bouncy with winds in the 15-18 kt range we thought we were OK. 

 About 10:00pm we were startled by a bumping of the boat on the bottom. At this point the depth gauge read 5'.  We tried to pull forward and managed to get far enough to pull up the anchor, but then we went hard aground. Now the depth gauge alternated between 4'2" and 4'9"!  There we sat for a very long two hours while the tide came back in ever so slowly.  We tried to take advantage of the waves to raise us up and move forward a bit. Meanwhile it was pitch black. We had our reckonings that we always take when we are at anchor, so we could pretty much tell that we were moving slightly. It did not appear that we were heading toward any other land. The jarring bashes into the bottom, the strong winds and waves, worrying about what damage we were doing to the boat and wondering how long this would continue were a bit disconcerting. 

Finally around midnight we could tell that we were making some progress pulling forward and then all of a sudden we were free.  We simply went out further into deeper water and reanchored.  We survived a very blustery night on a watery roller coaster but no more incidents. The next morning it was still rough but the mooring field now had an available ball so we hightailed it into the Matanzas Bay mooring field.  Thanks to a good Samaritan who came over in his dinghy to help, we were able to pick up the mooring ball. (It was missing its pennant and our boat hook didn't fit the tight loop on the ball itself.) Though the winds continued to whistle above our heads, inside the bay the water was calm!!  A deep breath, a cup of coffee, a nap and all was well!! 

And this was the beautiful and peaceful end (the yin) to what will be remembered as quite the "interesting" adventure.

Sunset our first night at Matanzas Bay

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Gasparilla Island, Boca Grande and Cabbage Key

29 March 2017

Are we ever bored?  NO!  What do we do at anchor?

Begin the day with a cup of coffee in the cockpit while enjoying the beautiful views

Work on boat chores – Jim is still trying to solve an electrical problem with the autopilot and to learn the intricacies of the SSB.  

Itemize smaller projects – the infamous project list never seems to get any shorter

Research the millions of things we need to learn

Strategize what we need/want to do to improve life aboard

Mend – I would never choose to mend jeans by hand at home, but not many other choices exist on the boat – duct tape? stapler?

Mending Jim's jeans
Keep up with the normal household chores which don’t seem to disappear just because we are on a boat: laundry, cleaning, cooking, doing dishes etc. 

Washing machine a la Well, why not?

Clothesline a la Well, why not?

Plan trips off the boat for fun activities or picking up supplies

Play games or read in the evenings

Our last day anchored off of Gasparilla Island, we played tourist.  Having never driven a golf cart, I thoroughly enjoyed mastering the finer art there of.  The island, also referred to as Boca Grande, has a bike/golf cart/walking trail from one end to the other.  We opted to head south to see one of the two lighthouses that currentlly are on the island.  The newer one, known as the Gasparilla Island Lighthouse, was originally erected in 1927.  It is a steel "skeletal" light house which was in the final stages of restoration. 

No accidents or close calls

Jim in front of restored lighthouse

Original lighthouse at Boca Grande, now a museum
Sadly it was not yet open to the public.  So we headed further south to the original light house, now known as the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse.  It was erected in 1890 and has gone through a number of restorations thanks to sand erosion, weather etc.  It has been converted to a delightful small museum, showcasing the lighthouse history, its keepers and families, drawings of the Calusa Indians, early maps, and displays of many shells and sharks’ teeth, including a jawbone full of hundreds of teeth. Lose a tooth?  No problem, a new one takes over - thousands in the course of a lifetime! 

Jim and his key lime pie - a recurring theme!
After a fun lunch at one of the many outdoor cafes which included a key lime pie for Jim, we returned to the boat amid increasingly rambunctious winds and waves. It turned into our roughest night…so far.  Lots of bouncing, rolling and banging!  I, for one, was happy to get underway the next morning.

It was a short jaunt over to the south end of Charlotte Harbor without sails.  Since our episode a few days earlier, the winds have not calmed down enough to try out the sails while at anchor so we opted to motor rather than risk another furler failure in 20 kt winds! Once we arrived at the Intracoastal Waterway we had to motor anyhow.  The waterway itself is well protected from winds and waves and it was a very peaceful ride down to our anchorage between Cabbage Key and Useppa Island. 

Sunrise at Cabbage Key looking eastward toward Useppa

Sunrise, same day, just a few minutes later
For the first time on this trip, we had neighbors!! The fishermen race up and down in their noisy, powerful fishing boats during the day, but they left us alone at night and it became a charming quiet anchorage.

Well, why not? as seen from Cabbage Key - trust me, it's there
Well, why not? seen a little closer up!
Cabbage Key Restaurant is theoretically the inspiration of Jimmy Buffett’s song “Cheeseburger in Paradise”. But part of the restaurant’s claim to fame is the compulsion of every visitor to stick a signed dollar bill onto one of the walls.  One write-up from several years ago boasts there were over $50,000 worth.  I put my dollar bill up last time we were there – I didn’t feel like I needed to do it again and in fact I didn’t even look to see if I could find mine.  The island which is accessible only by boat is very popular with the big tour boats as well as smaller boats going up and down the Intracoastal Waterway. The island itself has a number of walking trails with slight changes in elevation due to shell mounds.  The water tower is climbable and gives an expansive view of the island from 60 feet above ground. Jim pointed out to me that he was that that high when up our mast!

We spent much time riding around in our dinghy looking for the fabled “tunnel of love”, a narrow tunnel created by overhanging mangroves. 

Picnic lunch among the mangroves
Never did find it, but we had a lovely ride in a beautiful area dotted by small islands and little inlets and tucked in at a little mangrove cove for a picnic lunch. Of course, afterwards we had to treat ourselves to ice tea and frozen key lime pie at the restaurant. Apparently Jim is doing a "scientific" survey of various versions of key lime pies.

Frozen key lime pie
If we could eat, so could the osprey - right above our table

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Herein lies the tale.

20 March 2017

We left Hog Island on a beautiful day – sunny, windy, 10-15 kts and fairly smooth seas.  It was a very comfortable broad reach with the jib partially out and no mainsail.  The winds dropped slightly after we had been out an hour so we decided to let a little more of our jib out. To our dismay, the furler mechanism at the top of the mast froze up and we could neither let more line out or take any in.  Since we were going along so well, we decided to wait until we needed to tack – in roughly 2 hours and then we would see if by some miracle we could free it up. Unfortunately by then the winds had freshened up significantly increasing to the 20’s with gusts up to 24 – 25kts.  This was getting a little too dramatic, but at that point there was not anything to do except proceed.  As we tacked and began motoring into the wind, the jib began flapping like crazy and the lines were whipping around the deck. They were still attached at the cockpit, but the lines between there and where they attached to the tip of the sail were free to whip around dangerously.   I pulled them in as much as possible.  Jim was up front but could not grab them until he was able to throw another line around them, and pull the lines down to the deck using the power of the anchor windlass. After cleating them off at the bow, the tip of the sail was tied down as was the top that was stuck in the furler.  It was the middle of the sail that was now flapping and snapping and the deck was bouncing like a bucking bronco.  He tried to wrap the sail around the forestay, but was just not tall enough.  Using a boat hook he managed to get a few wraps on. 

Meanwhile, at the helm, I was reviewing everything I ever knew about Man Overboard drills and mentally yelling at the winds to cease and desist. By this time, they were consistently between 24 - 25 kts with gusts up to 27 - 29kts.  Jim was crouched on the deck and then lay down on his back and just stared up at the mast, the jib and the furler.  It was incredibly noisy between the wind and the sails flapping so that we could not talk to each other and I wondered if he was OK.  

Finally he crawled back to the cockpit and said he had an idea.  He could not wrap the sail around the furler so he decided we could drive the boat in a tight circle which would effectively force the sail to wind around the forestay. We  had enough depth and enough room that we could do that.  Even at 2200 rpm the boat had a hard time when we were turned into the wind which tended to just blow us back the other way.  After a number of tries I got the boat moving in a tight turn and amazingly the sail began to wrap around the forestay!!   Once I got some momentum going, the turning became easier and the free part of the sail smaller.  I should have kept track of how many times we went around because after a few times, the cookies from the GPS gave up and just showed 3 or 4 circles.  It was probably closer to 20 times.  Under normal circumstances I am not good on merry-go-rounds, but adrenalin was high and dizziness was the last thing on my mind.

While circling, we were passed by a Coast Guard Patrol going very slowly – if he tried hailing us, we don’t know because between the sound of the wind, the waves and the slapping of the sail and lines we could hear nothing on the radio!  But since we didn’t hail him, he probably figured all was well, if not a little strange!

Once the sail was as wrapped up as it was going to get, Jim went back forward with a line and a boat hook.  He made a loop around the forestay and with the boat hook was able to lift the loop to the lower part of the mostly wrapped sail and then pulled it tight and voila, the bottom of the flapping jib was under control. 
Jib partially controlled with one line
The upper part was still flapping and very noisy but at least we could continue to our anchorage spot.  It was a very relieved crew when we anchored. Even the loss of our anchor buoy seemed like a mere trifle.  Once anchored, we were able to work together to get another loop around the sail, this time a little higher up.  Things quieted down considerably.  
Two tie downs to control jib
After a quick dinner we both crashed – didn’t even have the energy for a beer!  A little too much excitement for one day or as Jeff from Two Can Sail might have said – it was an “interesting day”!

The next day was too windy to work on the jib so we took the dinghy to Boca Grande, enjoyed walking around and treated ourselves to Key Lime Pie and iced tea at the Pink Elephant.  By the next day the winds had subsided so we could work with the jib furling line but had no success. With no other alternative, Jim decided it was time to go up the mast.  Out came his climbing gear and two hours later he was ready to ascend.  Amazing how much paraphernalia it takes but it gives me some comfort that he pays a lot of attention to safety redundancy, checks and rechecks.

Getting all his gear in order

Part way up

Even further up

Waving from the top
We communicated via cell phone (Jim handsfree with a blue tooth – which he kept in his ear thanks to a stocking cap).  When he reached the top, he lubricated the furling mechanism with WD-40, was able to twist it by hand and almost immediately I was able to reel in the jib!!  It didn’t take any blows with a hammer or any other severe measures.  We are now waiting for another low wind day to “exercise” the jib and make sure it is repaired at least for the moment.  Turns out there is a better lubricant than WD-40 which as soon as we can find it will require another trip up the mast.  

We are leaving Boca Grande tomorrow and I, for one, am looking forward to an undramatic day.