Thursday, January 11, 2018

...the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day!

08 January 2018

Thank you, Judith Viorst, I couldn't have said it better myself.

The day began by running aground - twice - and ended with the anchor windlass breaking with a loud crash and catching Jim's jeans, ripping a huge hole in them and in the process pinching and tearing off a portion of the skin on his thigh!  And inbetween the beginning and the end, it was a most unpleasant and interminable slog in 3-5 foot confused seas and 20 - 25 knot winds gusting to 29 right on the nose.  Need I say the weather was not what we anticipated. 
Howling wind and white caps in our anchorage - time to leave 

White Pelicans the night before we left
After waiting at Russell Bay for a good weather window and evaluating some conflicting information about wind speeds and directions as well as wave heights, it became clear than unless we wanted to wait several more weeks, it was the best time to leave.   We were expecting 10-15 knots from the northeast which would have given us one nice sailing tack and one motoring tack.  
last sunrise at Russell Key
Jim pulled up the anchor and within minutes of getting it off the bottom, we ran aground!  We had barely moved. The tide was coming in and I was following the "cookies" on our GPS.   I was exactly on the track we used entering.  What???  We got loose, went a few more feet and ran aground again!  Since we were right in the middle of the channel, we didn't know whether to go right or left... We fiddle faddled around for about a half hour and finally got clear and headed out to the Gulf.  Once out of the protection of all of the islands, the water was much choppier and the winds much stronger than anticipated.  We needed to head west around the Romano Shoals and then north.  We knew we would be able to sail for a short while on the westward portion. The winds were good for sailing altho a little strong.  We pulled out our jib only and made good progress in very choppy and confused seas.  Soon the 2 -3 foot seas became 5-6.  Winds settled in at 25 gusting up to 29.  A little more than we had bargained for. It was time to change course or we would have ended up in Mexico!  (Eventually!) The wind was now on our nose so we had to pull in the jib and turn on the engine.  Despite our RPM's at 2400, we were barely making 2-3 knots.  At that rate we knew we would not get to Marco Island before dark.  The ride was very uncomfortable and I was feeling worse and crabbier by the minute.  We tried doing a crossword puzzle and listening to our audio books, but it is very hard to concentrate on anything in those conditions!

It was an interminable six hours and was indeed dark by the time we got to the Marco Island Channel.  At least we had been there before - channel markers can be very confusing at night and this particular entrance does some zigs and zags.  Again we followed our "cookies" and this time they did not lead us astray.  But I was exhausted and scared.  With Jim beside me, helping me to stay on track, and ignoring my shaking, we made it to our favorite anchorage spot.  When I was backing down to ensure that the anchor was well set, the snubber slipped, something broke loose on the windlass and Jim's jeans got caught.  The ripped hole was insignificant compared to the huge bruise on his thigh and the pinched skin.  I took a picture but decided it was too gross to put on the blog.  After getting him patched up, and relaxing awhile, we could appreciate that the day was over and that we were safe and sound.

The three days at Marco were a lovely respite.  The weather warmed up and we met our anchorage mates from Russell Bay for lunch. (They had had a worse trip than we did.  They  had engine problems and could make no headway against the wind and waves, so had to be towed into Marco!).  We resupplied our milk and cheerios, went out for key lime pie, had good internet and all was well.
Key lime pie at Snook Inn at Marco Island
What seemed like compensation for a less than wonderful trip to Marco island, was the sail to Ft. Myers Beach.  Winds had calmed down and for the first time this season we were able to set both the mainsail and the jib, quietly glide along with the rippling of the water the only sound, the occasional company of dolphins and the sun warm on our faces.  
A peaceful sail from Marco Island to Ft. Myers Beach
There was no mooring ball available for us at Ft. Myers, so we spent one night anchored out in the bay before moving into the mooring field the next morning.  We have stayed here before, but never had the chance to explore the area.  This time we will.....and it started with ice cream!
An obscene amount of ice cream but it did not defeat us!

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Things that "growl" in the night

02 January 2018

Because it gets dark early and because we are very conservative in our power usage after the sun has gone done, we tend to play cards, do crossword puzzles or read (with our headlamps on).  One of our first nights in Russell Key we heard what we thought was something rubbing against the hull.  Several checks outside revealed nothing.  Then a second louder sound started and it caused a slight vibration under our feet in the cabin. The two sounds went back and forth as if in conversation.  Still nothing visible outside and in fact the sound was loudest inside the boat.  It was a bit unnerving.  Finally Jim speculated that it might be alligators!  What??  A little exploring on youtube and we were finally able to listen to alligator bellows, growls and what sounded like loud belching!!  That was what we were hearing, altho it wasn’t as loud.  Noise travels well through the water so they were probably not as close as it sounded. Apparently we were eavesdropping on an alligator conversation!!  We heard them for several nights in a row and they proved to be "chatty" but unobtrusive neighbors!

A few projects:

A 12 volt outlet added to the cockpit for charging our electronics.
Repair to the sacrificial on our mainsail - a UV protection system

Jim sitting on the boom to repair sail
Laundry done in my new "washing machine" 
The new agitator

And then the “Arctic Freeze” hit with a vengeance.  With all due respect to my family and friends in Minnesota and Michigan, it was COLD!!  38 degrees above, not below, but in Florida??? As "Murphy" would have it, our heater in the boat was not working.  We obviously didn’t bring our winter gear on the boat, so evenings we put on just about everything we did bring, put an extra blanket and an opened sleeping bag on the bed and have managed to survive.  Everyday we appreciate the cockpit enclosure.  It protects us from the brutal winds and the suns beats in and warms it up to a balmy 65 degrees.

For three days we kept close watch on weather hoping for a weather window to head north.  Small craft warnings kept us where we were!!  Another boat joined us and despite being no more than 100 feet apart, with the extreme current (5 ft tides twice aday) and 20+ knot winds we didn’t feel comfortable dinghying over for a visit.  The waters were choppy and the wind howled although we were somewhat protected from the worst of it  

Finally it looked like a decent weather window and we were ready to head out.  So we did, and therein lies a tale for another blog!

Saturday, January 6, 2018

To Fish or Not to Fish?? That is the Question!

29 December 2017

Two years ago, in a fit of enthusiasm, I walked into a fishing shop in Bradenton.  When a nice young man came up and asked if he could help me, I said “yes, I want you to outfit me with the right kind of equipment to catch fish”.  I could image what was going on in his mind and at first he was very hesitant.  After he asked me lots of questions, he finally figured out that I did not know the first thing about fishing and he became intrigued with the challenge of making me a successful fisherman.  I set his parameters:  keep it simple, keep it relatively inexpensive, and sell me everything I need to get started.  So he did!

Time passed and while at anchor in Camp Lulu, I finally pulled the rod out from the lovely teak holders that were in our aft cabin and the plastic box of tackle from a small lazarette.  I watched a youtube video on how to rig the rod.  Line put on - check, sinker attached - check, two hooks attached - check, and salami cut up for bait.  (couldn’t think of anything else I had that might work.)  I was ready!!  Let’s just say that my casting was very amateurish as you might expect, but I was having fun trying to get the hang of.  Casting between standing rigging, running rigging, life lines and other miscellaneous ropes is challenging at best.

I had no expectations of catching anything, but sitting on the side of the boat was pleasant and my casts were getting a little more coordinated.  Suddenly there was a tug on my line.  I would love to say that I gave it a practiced yank, but in fact I just jumped and the hook was set.  With visions of grandeur I yelled for Jim to get the net, which I most certainly did not need.  I pulled the fish onto the boat and the hook that had gone through its cheek caught on a jib sheet.  (a rope attached to the jib) So, here I am with a squirming fish, not only caught on the hook, but also on the jib sheet. Jim started to release the hook then realized that he needed pliers and a towel to protect himself from the barbs both on the hook and on the fish.  My excitement for having caught a fish was slowly turning into distress for the fish and a sinking feeling in my stomach!  Jim first got the fish loose from the sheet and then loose from the hook and threw it back into the water. (my request) It was between 10 – 12 inches.  I pulled out a book on Gulf fish and identified what I had caught as a Channel catfish – excellent eating according to the book.  There was no way I could have eaten that fish and in fact I was so upset that I put the fishing gear away and contemplated whether or not I ever wanted to fish again.  

My first fish!

Friday, January 5, 2018

Back in the Land of Internet - catching up!

December 28, 2017

After a few relaxing days at Hog Island, we were ready for some socializing and headed over to Fisherman’s Village where we met up with some friends from “C” dock at Regatta Pointe.  Fun to get caught up on people that we tangentally keep up with on Facebook or through other people”s blogs.  Lunch with Sher and Steven with a stop-by from Robert and Joni filled our knowledge gap.  

Sher, Steven, Joni, Robert (former "C" dockers)
Sher and Steven took us to Publix for the a resupply of milk and sent us back to the boat with homemade Christmas cookies. I predicted they would not last until Christmas and they didn’t but they were a wonderful treat!

Off to Cabbage Key the next day for frozen key lime pie and then onto Ft. Myers to take a few days to write Christmas letters and treat ourselves to a few restaurant meals, laundry facilities and showers!

Matanza Bay Bar and Grill
Our sailing plans such as they were, had us making an overnight stop at Marco Island before heading to Camp Lulu in the 10,000 islands of the Everglades for Christmas.  After a false start trying to enter on the wrong side of Factory Bay at Marco, a good Samaritan sailor who saw we were headed for grounding trouble contacted us on the VHF radio, and talked us in to a spot where we successfully anchored – on the second try.

The next day, December 24 we planned to travel to Camp Lulu where we would spend Christmas Eve and and Christmas Day.  Wrong.  We were on our way out the Marco Island channel when Jim popped up from down below to tell me to turn around and go back.  There was water in the engine room which was coming from a leaking stuffing box - the last line of defense to keep water from entering the boat from around the propeller shaft.  We found an easy anchoring spot outside Factory Bay and Jim worked on a repair.  We headed out again, but the leak persisted and we returned to the same anchor spot knowing we would have to spend the night. I was disappointed, but at least there was no time pressure on Jim and after some strategizing, he was able to fix it permanently. In the meantime, he remarked that the good news was we had confirmation that our bilge pumps worked well and could handle the incoming water!

After our traditional caramel yeast rolls the next morning, we headed out to Camp Lulu and arrived in time for a beautiful Christmas sunset.

Sunset at Camp Lulu
This was not the isolated island that we had anticipated and after several days of being inundated by fishing boats and campers who arrived via kayak, we went to Russell Key, a delightful bay, further south and east into the Everglades. Not another soul in sight and it was a beautiful spot to stay, do some dinghy exploring and get a few boat projects done.

Our private anchorage at Russell Key - Well, Why Not? in the background