Tuesday, April 30, 2013

So close to paradise...

Still feeling crabby

Cate already wrote about the trip from Fort Myers to Marathon.  Here we sit ready to jump off for Bahamas the next weather window which looks to be coming up in a couple days.  We ordered the HookaMax (12VDC w/2 50' hoses and regulators) the moment we got into Bahia Key harbor and it arrived a week later.  We now have much better ammunition to use against the dreaded crab traps.  I have never seen crab traps so densely packed as what we found just north of Marathon.  The first trap we caught because we were not keeping a sharp enough lookout.  The second one, a mere hour later, is just pitiful; even though we were both on full alert the floats were literally less than one boat length apart!  We jogged to miss one only to run over another.  Actually, we jogged, and seeing one directly in our new path, we put the engine in neutral until we saw the float pop up off our stern.  When we went back into gear the thump thump screee sounds told us there had been more than one float under our boat.  I know crab pots are someone's livelihood but can't they at least gie us a little pathway to get through them?  Do they really have to stack them so close together?  

Marathon harbor

Marathon key harbor actually lives up to its reputation as the most cruiser friendly harbor in the keys.  Lots of shopping is easy walking distance: Publix grocery,Home Depot, West Marine, CVS & Walgreens, lots of bars and restaurants.  A short bus ride away in Key West is an even greater selection.  The ahem, new and improved, mooring ball rates are a bit steep at $118 a week including tax but anchoring out is little better since the marina charges only $20 less for just dinghy dock access - the joys of a captive audience.  On the morning VHF net a couple days ago Sombrero Marina announced their summer monthly rate: $430 includes tax, electricity, water and use of their pool!  Several folks moved off the moorings after that announcement.

We run across an old friend here in the harbor, Rudi on Cirrus.  His is one of two pictures on the old web site boats met list and I had not seen him since 2004.  Cate and I were kayaking around gawking at boats and I immediately recognized the boat.  No one was aboard that day but a couple days later we finally got to see him and ended up having a great reunion over lunch at Hurricanes.

So how have things gone our first month cruising?

We blew our first monthly budget by $1300 but that was mostly the hookah.  For power, our solar panels have been working great!  Except for cloudy days, they happily keep up with the fridge, freezer, and making water a couple hours a day (~15-20 gallons). The watermaker has saved lots of ferrying of jug water.  When we first started filling the tank with watermaker water, Cate said "this tastes funny".  The taste she was referring to was the non-taste of reverse osmosis water!  The fridge and freezer were problem children for a while.  Once we got to warmer weather, it became obvious the built-in fridge wiring and circuit breaker were weak so I totally rewired that circuit.  Then the freezer decided one day to stop keeping the ice cream solid frozen so I turned the dial up a notch. The next day it started quietly thawing all our provisions!  Our plastic trash bag collection in the bin under the freezer was keeping air from getting to the compressor so the evaporator froze up.  We moved the bags elsewhere, iced the freezer contents, and let it all thaw out.  A few hours later it was repacked and humming along.  Phew!  That was a close one.

Another real trooper has been the Toqeedo electric outboard.  We dinghy in to shore at least once a day and after 2 weeks in Marathon it still showed 40% charge remaining.  If I can keep from having the magnetic key shell fall apart and lose the magnet, we will be very happy.  We lost the first magnet overboard when the fob came open and the magnet dropped overboard.  The replacement key I had luckily pre-purchased, worked but one night that fob decided to also fall apart.  We were lucky to find the magnet still rolling around the bottom of the dinghy but I am probably going to try 5200 to hold the fob together next time.

To my workmates: Thanks for the waterproof backpack!  That backpack goes most everywhere with us when ashore.  We never know when we will get into sloppy conditions.

Municipality logistics

Someone once asked me about cruising and all the systems that have to be maintained. I replied that it was a lot like a municipality with very similar set of utilities and services required: water treatment, sewage, electric power, communications, transportation, entertainment, etc.  Luckily I can still manage to maintain most everything.

Monday, April 22, 2013

I may never eat crabs again!

Marco Island

After a day of argument about the meaning of heroics with me stating that if one had a choice between a 24+ hour transit and a shorter one with a night of rest, the prior choice is heroic.  The latter is a stress to several systems, the engine of the boat, the admiral* of the boat (who has the most overall impact) and the cats.  The last two systems are intricately linked.

Mike never seemed to grasp the argument, which is frustrating to say the least.  However the admiral, whose rank is rarely recognized, wore the captain down through sheer determination resulting in a rest break at Marco Island en route from Ft Myers Beach to Boot Key in Marathon.   We left Ft Myers at 8 am and anchored in Marco Island at 5:30.  Even the admiral’s math suggests that straight through to Marathon qualified as heroic. 

Marco Island appeared to be the home of the rich and famous, though we did not go ashore.  I had a nice long conversation with Boston daughter as I watched rays swim past.  We met our four anchor mates as they dinghyed up to introduce themselves.  All were traveling as buddy boats from the Keys up to Pensacola.  Only one admiral amongst them, poor foolish lass.

We left Marco at 2 in the afternoon, totally throwing the cats off their routine.  They had been complacently lying in portholes until the dreaded engine clicked on.

The first hours of the journey were uneventful.  Sunset was beautiful over our backs.  First watch was Mike’s, we were sailing so the noise factor was high.  Water whushing by the bow, whoosh of the jib belly.  Two hours into an hour of sleep Mike called me to adjust sails.  My watch started early, but the captain wisely remained in the cockpit attempting his sleep. Needless to say that was pretty difficult due to the wind and noise. 

I was not aware of how sound affects my psyche.  My job was to perch on the helm seat while watching the radar and the horizon for any interference.  Seems simple right? 

The helm seat was designed for a 6 ft person with long knee to heel area.  I’m a 5’2” person with short knee to heel area. Therefore my watches consist of using buttocks and toes to balance as the boat heels.  Most of my time is spent grasping both grab bars desperately and praying for time to fly as fast as the boat appeared to be.  My Nano Shuffle was the godsend that got me through.  Unfortunately my lack of tech savvy means that I had Akon’s Drop it Like It’s Hot mixed in with Pachebel’s Canon in D.  The selection totals about 50 with an eclectic mix that once was my audio rollerblading companion.  Had a webcam been recording, it would have  shown a desperate woman hanging onto the helm poles with the demeanor of either a swiveling pole dancer or a desperate diva lip syncing with Pavarotti to Ave Maria.  Remembering my dancing days with Shakira,  Sean Kingsley or reveling in the majesty of the sea and stars along with an aria from Verdi’sLa Traviatta.
The earbuds would not block the noise as the wind speed increased to 15-20 knots.  I calculated my comfort zone at 13.7.  I prayed throughout my last hour that we slow down.  It worked mostly.  Perhaps next time I should pray that I don't feel frightened . . .

Thus I passed my first three hour watch. It felt horrendous.  I was reflecting on the ease of travel by car or plane until the next day proved even more exciting . . .

The Morning After

Mike’s shift came and I retreated again to the lower berth with Ollie at my pillow frantically digging to safety under my pillow. Dawn brought some sanity, meaning the wind died.  At which point captain decided to fire the engine back up.  With low wind, the chart plotter was showing our destination at 30 hours out . . . Remember that word heroic? Three cheers for the Marco Island stop.

Mike debated about the need to take a 5 hour energy drink.  I agreed that it was a good idea because the crab pots were EVERYWHERE.  I was whupped and wasn’t convinced my energy alone could ward off a much of anything.

Within 15 minutes of his completion of berry flavored Kryptonite, the engine halted as the propeller snagged a crab pot.  I was at the helm . . .

Captain got his snorkel, tied a life line and life ring for my management to the stern rail and began an arduous dive and cut routine.  The rope between buoy and trap was wrapped about 40 loops tight on the propeller.  The barnacles on the hull took slices of Mike’s fingers and arms with each surface showing blood dripping.  My role was to keep eyes on him as he worked-- ready to throw him a life line. 

My mantra/prayer was Calm Seas, Strength and Air. The three things my captain, now hero, would need.  He looked really good in the Caribbean teal sea which was a healthy 82 degrees.  He dove and rose, his feet all that was visible when he was down. 

The seas stayed calm except for the occasional rogue wave that made Horizon hobbyhorse, adding potential head injury to my concerns.  On one rest break Mike saw fins in the water.  Asked me if they were sharks or dolphins?  How do I know the difference?  Sharks stay atop more than dolphins.  Thank God it was dolphin.  But with Mike’s aspirin induced blood flow . . . I added safe to the calm sea part of the mantra.  Finally he was finished, scraps of rope floating off as he hacked his way through the loops. 

We cleaned him up, retreated to the cockpit and started the engine.  Together we would watch for the crab buoys staying on our feet to assure success.  It was the only way.  We were now entering a grid of not one crabpot line but three inter-laced.  We idled through and jogged around one only to hear the thunk of the engine as we snagged another.  This was only 45 minutes later! 

The energy drink was long gone.  But the captain donned his snorkel, retied the life saving line and floats and went in.  This one was even more looped in a conical shape . . . Calm, safe sea, strength, air.  Calm, safe sea, strength, air.

Five or ten dives into it with no net progress Mike came up the ladder and admitted defeat.  We retreated to the cockpit where Mike got on the VHF and put out a message Anyone within 15 miles north of Boot Key with dive skills please contact Horizon.  At this point my distaste and fear of the overnight was long overshadowed by the prospect of sitting in the gulf for hours waiting for help.  But within 5 minutes not one but three different boats had responded. No surprise the one that came through first was Silver Lining.  He sounded young, energetic and spoke of we.  He would be passing us in about an hour and 20 minutes, if we had not succeeded he would try his skills.  We gave it one more college try but then surrendered to the hope of fresh lungs.

I did take pause when the Coast Guard hailed him 10 minutes later asking him for his planned destination and country of origin.  Great, we have an  international drug runner coming to help.  However his respectful and thorough answer to the CG had them rescind stating they were looking for a boat from another country of origin.

Elon was a nice young man who not only was willing to change routes but entered the crabpot minefield himself to help us out.  He and his first mate had to anchor three times before it held.  He had to launch his dinghy to get to us.  Ahh youth and the spirit of cruisers that Mike and others had reported on but I had never experienced.  Meanwhile two other older sailors were on standby with hookahs if we were unable to disengage the trap on lung power alone.  Wowser.  Impressive response from the universe.  Thank you God.  After serving water to her rescuer, catching up on his journey we decided sailing was the only way to effectively navigate, sans propeller.  When we passed the bridge at Marathon, it was a grateful crew that tucked into the coastal gap.  We fed the cats, drank lots of water, and slept for hours. 

The cats eventually came out of hiding, only to find that we were moving again the next day, the short 2 mile ride in to the Boot Key Mooring Field.  Where we are happily awaiting a Hookah dive system that will supplement old lungs and perhaps a buddy boat for transit to the Bahamas.  My Boston daughter suggests we find one with younger sailors . . .
But it beats an orchid showJ!

*Admiral is term reserved for wife of captain.  It is not used as often as needed.  It is the Stepford Wife AfloatTM attempt to clarify rank.

Monday, April 15, 2013

How to start...

This has been a most eventful couple weeks since we left Saint Petersburg and pictures seen to center around sunsets, usually when we get into port.

Our first couple of days were spent in Point Desoto, the first anchorage up the Manatee River.  There we decompressed and transitioned Horizon from a dockside home to a cruiser.  When the weather front passed we headed off to our first port outside Tampa Bay: Charlotte Harbor, a destination about 50 miles south.  We had a great 11 hours downwind sailing and riding the swells that had built up from the prior front.  But when we turned to make the 2 mile channel into Charlotte, of course those same swells were now abeam.  With the brisk wind and seas breaking around us, we were really happy to hunker down in the lee just inside the entrance at Boca Grande.  Until the wind turned at 2am...

The next morning we motored to Punta Gorda up at the top of the bay.  The first evening we were met by Robert and Susan from SuzieQ.  They had moved from our dock about 6 months ago and it was really good to see them again. We had drinks at the Tiki Hut then a really good Mexican dinner on the other side of the bridge.  They even drove us to the grocery to pick up missed essentials :)  Over the next days we did get to do some walking around the town and shopping.  They have done a wonderful job reconstructing since Hurricane Charlie swept through in 2004.

In all we sent 3 days in Punta Gorda then headed out again.  Another 10 hour day brought us to Fort Myers Beach where we picked up a mooring ball.  Everything is very close together there which is great for cruisers, bars, groceries, laundry, bars, restaurants, live music, bars, shops.  We hooked up with family a couple times, it is always good to see familiar faces.  One of the best bars we found is Bonita Bill's Waterfront Cafe just under the bridge on the mainland side of the channel.  It is open air but they have good food at cruiser friendly prices and they almost always have live music.  The tables and dinghy dock are seldom empty.
Fort Myers Beach Bridge
Bonita Bill's Waterfront Cafe

Cate line dancing at Bonita Bill's

Live trip map!

While in Fort Myers I asked an ex-work mate and sailing cohort Chris for help getting our SPOT Messenger Check-in messages onto a permanent map.  He first tried to set up a web interface to EveryTrail but then he found SpotWalla and helped get us set up our live trip map.

We are now anchored at Marcos Island.  Weather looks pretty good to leave on this afternoon's high tide for an 85 mile sail to Marathon.

In case you are wondering, we are still using our phones for all internet, email and online activities.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Caribbean bound

The view south over 2 bikes and dinghy

Yesterday we finally did it.  Our BFF neighbor Rhonda and Lisa were there to help when we came back from one last grocery run and they helped us unhook Horizon from her shore environment.  The last dock line was pulled aboard and we executed a perfect reverse out of the slip for the last time ... until Lisa shouted "LINE IN THE WATER"!  We were so busy making sure that all the normally attached lines were aboard, that we forgot our spring line.  There were a few Keystone Kops moments while we got our hardware off the spring line then we were once again on our way.

We did make one last stop at the marina fuel dock to top up the diesel tank and fill the gasoline and diesel jerry jugs.  Rhonda met us there again to give us one final hug.  We are sure going to miss that woman!

Our keys were turned in and bill settled and we headed out of the marina for the last time.  We did make it past the breakwater before my hat blew overboard and Cate was able to display her aptitude with the net to retrieve it.  Then we were off again.

We sailed and motored all the way to Manatee river, a whopping 5 hours away! And here we sit at anchor decompressing and getting Horizon ready for sea.  The kayaks are now securely stowed along each side, the 8 fenders are neatly secured around the boat and away from our walking area, the dock lines, power cord and cable coax are all coiled and stowed out of the way.  All we have left is to run jack lines, wait out the front that is coming through this evening and tomorrow, and we should be ready to get Horizon properly heading south.