May 26, 2013 – The Crossing Finale – Best Sail of Our Lives

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The sun peeked up above the horizon around 6:00 a.m. the next morning, finding us stretching and blinking in the cockpit, ready for a big cup of coffee and a crisp morning sail.  We readied the boat, taped up a new catch bin under the transmission and tossed the lines.  The sea that morning was calm and the waves were dancing and playing around the boat, literally pulling us home.  We headed out of the pass at Panama City and set our sights west towards Pensacola.

to pensacola Revised

To this day, Phillip and I still talk about that sail, with a dreamy look in our eyes, a blissful, breathy sigh and, sometimes, a small salty tear in one eye.  Okay, no tear – those are just allergies – but we always refer to that sail as the “best sail of our life.”  Because it was.  The sea state was calm, 2 to 3 foot waves lulled and pushed our boat, and the water was a soft, denim blue.

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It was a beautiful, sunny May day (not “May Day!” — just a day in May) and we spent most of the morning basking up on the foredeck and watching horizon.

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And please do note here the fancy schmancy trash bag tied to the shroud.  Just so happens we lost the flag with the dinghy (http://havewindwilltravel.com/2013/06/24/april-17-23-2013-the-crossing-chapter-five-a-harrowing-debacle/)and this was our rigged-up wind indicator in the interim: a good old Glad trash bag tied to a pole.  We do get creative on the boat!

At one point we were sitting in the cockpit and Phillip saw a patch of light brown ahead on the water.  He started checking the map and the depth gage to make sure it wasn’t a shoal sticking out that would cause us to run aground (we’re always worried about that damn depth!).  He asked me to go up to the bow and look to see what it was.  As I went forward, I could see the big, brown patch he was talking about but as we neared it, I could tell it was just some dirty, frothy blob of something floating out to sea.  For my environmentally conscious followers out there, I’m sure it wasn’t pollutants, or radio-active at least.  It was just sea junk.  But it was shallow there, about 8 feet and the water was a crystal green, so clear I could see straight through to the bottom.  Just as I was looking down admiring the water, five, six, seven dolphins came swimming up and around the bow of our boat, rolling around on each other, playing, jumping and diving.

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Dolphins 3

Like a tweenager at a Justin Bieber concert, I started giggling and screaming at the sight of them.  (And know that I had to Google Bieber to make sure I spelled it right – apparently it’s “i” before “e” – that’s just how big a fan I am).   I scared Phillip half to death back in the cockpit, him thinking we were about to run up on a shoal and wreck the whole boat.  But, I quickly assured him, it was just the most amazing sight I’d ever seen – no big deal.  Those dolphins really were something.  I’ve never seen so many swimming around and playing together like that.  As a fun little aside, I now know what I think they were doing, click here if you’re interested: http://scienceline.ucsb.edu/getkey.php?key=1132.

While the dolphins were certainly “pleasurable,” the rest of that sail is what Phillip and I are really talking about when we mention the “best sail of our life.”  It was around noon that day, and we’d just had a great lunch, a refreshing drink and were kicked back enjoying the sail when the wind came on us south, southwest at about 10-12 knots.  The sails filled and never moved.  We stayed on that tack for 16 hours.  Six-teen.  We barely had to hold the wheel, the sails were so balanced.

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We set the auto pilot so it could make the centimeter adjustment that was needed every hour,

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All set here Cap’n.  Turn on the “Otto!”

then we moved up to the foredeck picnic style, with snacks, chairs, a book, and just enjoyed life.  Phillip said he had never been a tack that long.  It was incredible.  The sea state started to pick up into the evening,

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but it stayed on the same angle, south southwest, which only meant we went faster, still perfectly balanced, still gliding right along on our path with the helm needing only intermittent supervision.

Around ten, we saw fireworks on the horizon.  Just tiny little dots exploding above the water.

Firework 2

We thought it might have been Destin, although we weren’t sure, we were so far from shore.  But it didn’t matter where they were coming from, in our minds, they were for us.  Our own little private fireworks show in the middle of the Gulf.

And, the moon that night was exceptional.  It was bigger and brighter than I had ever seen it before, with defined crevices and craters crawling all over it.

Moon

Just amazing.  It felt like we had a beacon spotlight pouring into the cockpit all night long.  We kept turning around out of habit to see what big ass barge was coming up on us with that blinding light.  We felt like those teenagers who got caught fooling around in the backseat in the parking lot when the cop comes up and shines a blinding light through the window.  But, turns out, it was just the moon.  It was shocking how clearly we could see everything.  I could hold up my hand and see every wrinkle (yes, my hands have wrinkles – they work hard) in the middle of the night.  And, it was a little cool so we were wearing our fleeces.  We huddled up with some mugs of hot tea and just sat, letting the sound of the wind blowing through the sails entertain us.  No incessant chatter, no small talk, and especially no freaking Delilah.

We neared Pensacola Pass around 4:00 a.m. and I tell you (aside from the time I jumped off without a line) I’ve never seen Phillip’s eyes light up like that.  He looked like a little boy about to get a big cotton candy at the fair, sticky little fingers outstretched, hopping on one toe.  He was finally home.  Finally in waters he recognized.  I’ll never forget his face when he saw the Pensacola Lighthouse.  And, it really was neat to think this was the same lighthouse that had been bringing sailors into the Pensacola Pass for centuries.

Pensacola Lighthouse

http://www.pensacolalighthouse.org/index/history/early-history.  That’s right.  That life-saving beacon was built in 1824 (for a smooth $5,000 too!) and has been spinning ever since.  Phillip and I took the tour a while back and really enjoyed it.  The history and building are breath-taking.

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With the lighthouse guiding us, we came into the Pass and started making our way home, having agreed that would forever be the best sail of our lives.  Everything had been so perfect.  Apparently too perfect.  We finally had to pull off of our tack, that beautiful, glorious 16-hour tack, and crank the engine.  Yes, the engine.  The root of all evil!   But it was the first time we’d had to crank it in about a 20-hour passage so all-told, it was worth it for that perfect sail.  But, we had to have the engine to maneuver our way toward the pier.  I went down to check on our catch bin and unfortunately she was filling up quickly.  I know, the damn transmission again – could it BE anything else??  If you recall, in order to dump the “caught” fluid back into the transmission, we had to kill the engine and let her cool for about 10 minutes before I could touch the bolt to the transmission chamber to pour the fluid back in.  Unfortunately, though, we really didn’t have ten minutes of sea to be a-floating through aimlessly.  The wind was not working in our favor in the Bay and we needed the engine to keep us on track toward the entrance to the pier.  We had to have a motor running, but our bin was filling fast.  I was watching it rise to the top, clocking the speed of the drops, and trying to guess how much time we had left.

I hollered up to Phillip, “I think we’ve got about five minutes left on this bottle.”

Phillip hollered back, “We’ve got about ten minutes left to go.”

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May 25, 2013 – The Crossing Finale – Not Very PC

Like Phillip told me, apparently watching others dock is highly entertaining, particularly couples and particularly mouthy ones.  It’s now a favorite past-time for Phillip and I.  If Phillip and I are kicked back in the cockpit at the marina and we see some big troller coming in and hear the Captain shout “Now Linda, I need you to tie the springer line first this time!” (emphasis on first) our ears perk and we elbow each other and silently nod toward the troller because we know we’re about to get a show.

First off, trollers are huge.  They need lines running from every direction to hold them in place.

TieUp

Second, we know we’ve got a couple, a highly vocal Captain and a poor ‘Linda’ somewhere who’s scrambling for lines.  We also know this is not the first time they’ve docked together because apparently old Linda didn’t tie the right line first last time and the Captain was displeased.  He then shouted “And make sure to do a cleat hitch, remember!” (emphasis on MEM).  Poor, poor Linda.  A cleat hitch isn’t hard.  It’s just around a couple of times, some swoop loops on each end and pull tight (or that’s how I’ve programmed it into my mind anyway – real technical Annie speak for you), but here ‘tis:

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cleat_hitch

Sadly, though, it seems our dear friend Linda had been struggling with it.  Poor, poor Linda.  Phillip and I smiled slyly at each other.  Oh yeah, this scenario is fraught with potential.  We are definitely watching and standing ready to hop up and grab a line if Linda botches it.

It seems the good folks of Panama City felt the same about Phillip and I that day, and they, too, were definitely watching.  Thankfully, they were also ready and willing to lend a hand.  As the boat lurched into the slip, an old salt came running down the other side of the dock (apparently the side I should have jumped off on) and had Phillip throw him the stern line.  He told me to jump back on the boat and toss him the bow line, which I did.  I then jumped off, this time with a springer line in hand, and got us nice and secure.  Whew!  No crashed boat, no dock wreckage, and Phillip’s eyes finally returned to normal after an hour or so.  Well, technically after a drink or three.

Having played the role of Let-Down Linda for the day and justifiably displeasing the Captain, as soon as we were showered up and back on the boat, I promptly threw him together a stiff drink.  That always helps!

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Here you go Cap’n.

Dress

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Whew.  He smiles.  All better.  

And yes, people, I was wearing a dress.  You can see a little white fluffy sliver of it in the first pic.  I mean, I only jumped off the boat without a line – no damage was done – it warranted a remorseful drink only, not a full-frontal apology, okay?

After drinks on the boat, we set off and and started foraging for drinks on the street.

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Downtown PC was quaint and lively with fun little quirky bars scattered about.  We decided on a place , that being The Place (http://www.theplacerestaurant.net/4543.html)and popped in for a swig.

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The old-timey bar was great (and well-stocked!).  Our bellies full of fine liquor and our “spirits” high, we stumbled on back to the marina to stock up on transmission fluid and hunker down for the night.  Phillip played the domestic role this time and whipped us up an amazing batch of shrimp feta pasta.

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Don’t crowd the onions!

This dish has definitely become a favorite for us on the boat.  The ingredients are fresh and easy:

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Onion, parsley, garlic and shrimp.

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Oh, and butter of course.  That salty, yellow bounty of the gods.  Butter just makes everything better.    

Tossed with fresh tomatoes and pasta.  Super simple and easy to throw together at sea.  (Recipe here: http://havewindwilltravel.com/2013/06/04/april-17-23-2013-the-crossing-chapter-two-sailors-delight/).

And, as it always seems is the case at marinas, we had some front-row seating to some real entertainment while we were making dinner.  While we definitely prefer to anchor out as opposed to docking at a marina (for one, it’s cheaper – the nightly rate on the boat is … ummm … FREE) it is fun sometimes to stay at the marina and watch all the “crazies.”  They’re everywhere.  And, marinas seem to attract a very unique breed of them.  Drifters, so to speak.

While Phillip and I were putting the finishing touches on dinner and setting the table up in the cockpit, we noticed the guy next to us was working on a real project boat.  It was dusty and chalky with tools and buckets and hammers lying everywhere.  A real mess of a boat.  It looked something like this:

Project boat

And he was coated with dirt and paint splatters, sweating and sanding away on the deck.  Then, out of nowhere, we see this woman walking toward his boat.  Well, I take that back we heard her first, very distinct heel clicks coming all the way down the dock.  And, these were some serious heels, wedges I guess you would call them, about yay high:

High wedges

Yeah, the crazy kind, that crazy people wear.

Lady Gag in wedges

And when she finally came into view and we could take her in, she looked something like this:

Fox 1

Yeah … a real fox.  And, paint-splatter guy looked something like this:

Marina guy (2)

 I know, right?  This scenario was fraught with potential.  We were definitely watching.  Phillip and I slouched down a bit in our cockpit and eyed them furiously over the rims of our rum drinks.  Miss Fox walked right up to his boat, gave him a knowing nod and held her hand out for assistance.  Dirty Dude helped her into the cockpit, no words having been exchanged yet that we could tell, and she turned around and made her way backwards down the steps in the companionway.  Granted, I think that’s the only way you can take steps like that

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in heels like those.

Once she was down below, Dude put his hand in his pocket, pulled out something that I can only describe as “folding money,” fondled it for a minute, then shoved it back in his pocket and followed her down.  Phillip and I shared an excited “inquiring minds want to know” look and kept our eyes on them.  They stayed down for all of 3.5 minutes, give or take, and then she came back up solo (not a smudge of makeup out of place) stepped off his boat and clicked her heels right on down the dock.  Dirty Dude came back up about a minute after, big grin on his face, chugging down some Gatorade and then he set back to work on this boat, like nothing ever happened.  Phillip and I poured over the possibilities.  Was she a hooker, a prostitute?  His dealer, his daughter?  Who the heck knows.  Marinas are so entertaining.  Hell, sailors are entertaining.  This one, in particular, was not very PC.

Phillip and I could not stop chuckling about it as we plated up dinner.

Table for two please?

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This place was super fancy.  We had to make reservations well in advance.  I mean, it was dinner

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AND a foxy show.

We were ready for a relaxing evening after the passage from Carrabelle and we knew we needed a good night’s sleep before we made the last 24-hour run to Pensacola.  We settled into the cockpit, devoured the shrimp pasta and toasted the sunset before calling it a night.

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May 25, 2013 (yes, still!) – The Crossing Finale – Total Domestication

Once we got the “recycle” system in place, we could finally take a breath and kick back and enjoy the passage, intermittently at least.  The drip was pretty steady and Dasani bottles just aren’t that big,so they were filling pretty fast.  And I’ll tell you one thing duct tape adhesive does not like.  That’s heat.  The hotter it got down there near the engine, the gummier and gooier and less ‘adhesive’ our adhesive.  And, the more I kept sticking pieces in the same place, the less they stuck.  So, the catch-bin needed constant monitoring when the engine was running.  About every thirty minutes or so we had to cut the engine to let her cool, so I could pull out the Dasani bottle and check the level.

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Yep, she’s full!

Then pour the ‘caught’ fluid back in the transmission and pull the dipstick to make sure she was nice and coated.

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Yep, all pink!

Then tape a new, empty catch bottle back up and start the whole process again.  And, I guess because the engine just happened to be in the kitchen (well, under the sink) that job fell on me.  That’s right, Phillip had me right where he wanted me, cooking, cleaning and fluid-catching in the kitchen.

“Make sure you change the oil down there too, honey, before you start dinner.”

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“Yes, dear!”

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Yep.  Phillip had me all domesticated right and proper, handling all of my domestic obligations in the kitchen, including engine duty, like a real ladies maid.  Emily Post would be super proud!

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Screw Emily Post.  We all know what Annie really does in the kitchen …

drinks

That’s right, make sure the wet bar is fully stocked and throw a rum drink together, stat!  In all of my checking and changing and taping and sticking, I still found time to throw us together some hearty sea drinks.

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We have actually named this particular drink the Oh Shiiiiit! (yes, with five “i”s) in honor of Phillip’s knee-jerk, expletive reaction when he had his first sip.

For those 14 and over (at least that’s when I started) – mix as follows:

1.5 ounces Malibu Coconut rum

1 ounce dark Meyer’s rum

1 ounce pineapple juice

0.5 ounce orange juice

And a splash of Coco Lopez (optional – it makes it a little heavier but gives it that real island flavor)

Drink responsibly.

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Trust me, we did.  Only one (each).  Captain’s orders while on passage.  And, always with food (everyone needs a good soaker layer).  What do you think goes best with rum drinks??

Chips and salsa.  Of course!

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Complete with fancy salsa clip bowl, too, perfectly suited for a sloshing, sailing, salsa feast!

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And yet I still manage to miss my mouth.

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It’s a real talent.  But, you know, if you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to want a glass of milk to go with it.  Turns out if you give a sailor some chips and salsa, he, too, is going to want a sammich to go with it.

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Yum!  Now save those Dasani bottles!”

The wind even started to pick up after lunch and we were finally able to kill the engine.  My God what a glorious feeling.  She sputters and rattles to a stop and then it’s just quiet.  So … quiet.  All you can hear is the wind whistling through the sails and the splash of the water on the hull as the boat moves through the Gulf.  We had a great sail that afternoon.  The wind was blowing around 12-15 mph, more south, southeast now, which helped ease us around Cape San Blas

Carrabelle to PC Revised

mostly on a broad reach.  (No, that’s not when a hooker goes for your wallet.  It’s an official sailing term, but I’ll save that little nugget for another day).

But, as the wind always does, she started to really blow (I told you she was a bitch!).  She picked up to about 18 to 20 as we sailed into the night.  The sea state was 3 to 4 foot waves, and the boat was cooking.  We were doing about 6.5 knots all night, with spurts of 7 and 7.5, particularly while I was holding the wheel.  I couldn’t imagine you could get tired holding the wheel of a sailboat, but it took some real muscle to hold our course.

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Thank goodness I’d been hitting the gym!  Ain’t that right, Sonnie??

We decided to reef the Jenny in (that is, roll her back up a bit so there’s not so much sail exposed to catch the wind) about half-way through the night.  In all, it was a bit of a rough sail, but nothing like the initial Crossing from Punta Gorda so we weathered it fine.  Phillip even fell asleep a couple of times, this time withOUT one eye open, but still right next to me in the cockpit.  I was thrilled to see him sleeping, finally, but pissed that he’d left the radio on the freaking Delilah show.  Don’t act like you don’t know who I’m talking about.  All you closet 94.1 fans.  That all-time lover of love.

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De-liiiiiiii-luuuuuhhh!!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9v2-q_byiY

All.  Freaking.  Night.  Long.  Okay, for just like an hour and half, but it was the longest hour and a half of my life.  But, with Delilah in our corner and all her sappy love song dedications to keep us entertained, we made it through the night.  Having fought the wind all night, we were pretty beat the next morning.  While trucking on to Port St. Joe was an option, we decided to set our sights for Panama City and stay a night at the marina to get a good, not-so-Eagle-eye, night’s rest.  The wind turned right on our nose as we were coming into the pass so we had to do some motoring into Panama City, which meant more engine work for Annie.  But we pulled into the pass around 9:00 a.m. and got ready to dock her.

Now, I really was nervous this time.  This was only our fourth time docking our boat.  The first time was in Clearwater.  The wind was blowing around 25 mph off our stern then and I missed the stern pole but luckily we had two corn-fed hosses holding us off the dock.  The second time was in the Carrabelle River.  The water was glass and we had Mitch.  The third time I’m not sure you would really even call it a “docking,” per se.  That was when the engine cut out in the River and we had to throw out an anchor and throw the Catamaran guy a line and he walked us around to a dock.  That doesn’t really count.  This time was going to be a true ‘docking,’ and it was just Phillip and I.  No Mitch, no hosses, no corn (if that would help).  Let me just tell you, docking is super stressful.  Phillip has told me before, if you really want some entertainment, watch a couple try to anchor or dock.  There’s usually tons of shouting involved, finger-pointing, perhaps some dock or boat wreckage, all sorts of excitement.  That’s because it’s stressful!  One wrong move, one missed cleat and your boat, your beautiful, glossy, water-tight boat goes crashing into the dock or worse, the million dollar yacht next to it.  Not something you want to screw up.  I think this little gem pretty much sums it up:

Docking Flowsheet

Very informative.  But, there we were, our first time docking together.  Phillip had given me the best instruction he could.  “Watch the wind to see which way it’s pushing the boat and catch a cleat on the leeward side.”  Yes, that’s the best instruction Phillip could give.  He can sometimes be a little ‘stern’ when he’s barking orders from the stern.  But, he’s stressed.  I get it.  He’s driving the boat in.  He needs a first mate that just knows what to do, not one that requires hand-holding.  Thankfully he has that now, but I’m here to tell you he did not have that then.  I couldn’t tell for the life of me which way the wind was pushing the boat, if there even was wind, and I had no clue which side was leeward.  Leeward?  Really?  I had barely wrapped my heard around port and starboard at that point.

I was freaked.  Phillip had the wheel and I had about three lines tied to different cleats all over the damn boat, ready to tie her any which way.  Phillip started to pull her into the slip and I, ready as ever, Little Mate that Could, jumped off the boat prepared to tie anything.  Tie … anything.  TIE.  Damnit!  I had jumped off the boat without a line in hand.  Brilliant!  I stood on the dock knowing I had just royally screwed up.  Phillip shouted “Okay, now tie that bow line on the … ” but as the words came out of his mouth he looked up and saw my empty, useless hands, holding not a dock line, a beautiful, woven, boat-saving dock line, but rather, merely held up, empty, in the most apologetic of shrugs.  I guess Phillip needed to check the flowsheet to see what to do when:  Mate stands helpless as boat drifts off.

All I could see were the whites of Phillip’s eyes as I stood there helpless, useless, while the boat continued her steady, forward creep toward the dock.

May 25, 2013 – The Crossing Finale – Duct Tape and Dasani

There we were, with fluid dripping out of our brand new transmission like a leaky faucet and we were two hours from Carrabelle, two hours from Apalachicola, at least two hours from any port. It was like a geographical oddity.

Geo Oddity

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tw_YryVgLOg

We were two hours from anywhere!

And with only a half-quart of transmission fluid to go on. Having run her completely out of transmission fluid the last time, did we think to pick up more to have on board in case we needed to add more to the new transmission. Of course not! That would be way too effin smart. Nope, this was the same half-quart the infamous Mitch tried to hand us when we were topping off the fluids the morning she locked up in the Carrabelle River (You remember the Irony! http://havewindwilltravel.com/2013/07/29/april-29-2013-oh-the-irony/). I’ll bet his greasy fingerprints were still on it. I can just see Mitch now, leaned back, fingers steepled, his body racked with the bellowing “Muuuu-ha-haaaa” laugh of an evil villain.

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Okay, so I couldn’t find a picture of Mitch arched back in “villain mode.” Every picture I have of him he looks so sweet and blue-eyed. Mr. Innocent. But I know better. That Mitch is an evil, dynamite-laying, mustache-twirling villain. Deep down. A real Boris, that man.

Boris

And I just have to point out the “irony” of this Boris-comparison because Mitch’s real-life “Natasha” is not nearly as … vertically inclined.

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You see. Gorgeous? Yes! Tall? … not so much. But, we love Michelle. You’ll see more of her soon, I can assure you.

But, Mitch and “Natasha” and all other evil transmission villains aside, we had really found ourselves in a bit of a pickle. Every drop of fluid that splashed to the bilge put us one drop further from home, and we had a long way to go. Let me put things in perspective for you. Here’s the trip we had yet to make to get our boat from Carrabelle to Pensacola:

Last Leg Revised

Yeah, that’s right. Quite a ways to go. And, the first leg of the passage, from Carrabelle to Panama City:

Carrabelle to PC Revised

is about 90 nautical miles, roughly a 22 to 24-hour trip.

Then the last leg, from Panama City to Pensacola:

to pensacola Revised

is another 24 hours, easy. Like I said. Quite. A ways. To go. Hence, the pickle. The transmission drip was kind of a big dill. (Mmm-hmmmm … that’s right. Pickle jokes. Man I’m on fire today!)

Remember, we had very little wind that morning. It might have been blowing 3 mph. Maybe. But it was blowing out of the southwest, right on our nose, so it certainly wasn’t working with us. We weren’t going to get anywhere sailing even if I jumped up on the deck myself and blew into the sails.

And I’ve got a mighty set of lungs!!

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Chill folks … That’s just me blowing up a rockin’ marshmallow number for Halloween last year. You remember ole’ Stay Puft??

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Damn that was a great costume!

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Okay, back to the tranny. Fortunately we still had cell reception so we called Mechan-Eric to see if he had any brilliant ideas. UN-fortunately, he didn’t answer his phone and we had to leave a message. You can just imagine the agony of the next few minutes while we watched little tiny pink drops fall to an untimely death in the bilge, one after the other, while I constantly checked my phone.

Slide to unlock. Click. No messages.

Tick, tock.

Click. No messages.

Drip, drop.

Then. Finally! My phone shimmied and vibrated on the nav station, like a happy little bee. Such a glorious sound. I clawed and clamored and clicked that thing open faster than I ever have before. It was Eric calling back with what he said was “good news.” If you recall, the guy we bought the new transmission from had bought it brand new for his own project boat, that he, as many men often do, couldn’t seem to find the time for. So, the transmission sat on a shelf for over a year. Eric said he had seen that happen before, when a new engine component sits for a while the little rubber gaskets inside dry-rot and have to be replaced. Eric was sure that was it, just a simple little 97-cent gasket. An easy fix. “Just keep pouring more fluid in and you can replace the gasket when you get home,” he said. “Good news, right?”

Wrong Eric. Very wrong. As you know, we didn’t have that much “more” to pour in. (Cue the evil Mitch laugh again).

I explained our half-quart dilemma and Eric must have been on fire that day, too, because he did have a brilliant idea. Catch it. Capture it. Find a way to save those little pink drops of gold and pour them back into the transmission. Reduce, reuse, right? I nodded slowly and gave Eric the old “mmm-huh” as my inner gears started spinning. I relayed the news to Phillip, who responded with a blank, mind-boggling stare. “Do what??”

Thankfully, for Phillip, for the boat and for that damn transmission, I grew up country.

Me and Patches (2)

That’s right. Country. As a child, I “summered” on my Grandma (aka “Big Mom’s”) farm. In Alabama.

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With cows.

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And dogs.

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And a four-wheeler!

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Man, farming’s exhausting …

ZZZZ

But, if there’s one thing I learned on the farm, if you can’t get there in mud boots or fix it with duct tape, it’s probably not worth it.

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So, my country instincts kicked in.

“Phillip, I’m going to need that Dasani bottle.”

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“And some duct tape.”

I cut the top off of the Dasani bottle and flipped it over to make a funnel into the bottle and taped it on.

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Real high-quality engineering. Then I taped her up under the shifter arm of the transmission where the drip was coming from.

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The drip was coming from the base of this bolt here and would then fall into the Dasani funnel:

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The fluid would then pool in the bottle and voila!

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We’ve now successfully “captured” the transmission fluid and can pour it back into the transmission as needed. See? Nothing to it. Just takes a little country ingenuity is all. … And some duct tape.

With the ability to recycle the fluid, we were then able to keep on trucking across the Gulf. We set our sights on Panama City and never looked back.

May 24, 2013 – The Crossing Finale – A Trail of Tears

We woke Thursday morning to the sound of gerbils.  Angry, evil, little warbley gerbils.  (Yes, that’s a word.  If it in any way conveyed the throat-rattling, turkey gobbler-like sound they made, it did it’s job.  It’s a word).  You might think gerbils are these cute, cuddly little creatures, all soft and innocent, but I’m here to tell you they’re not.

Evil Gerbils

They’re loud, mangy, annoying little boogers that woke us up at 5:15 on Thursday morning.  Or, whatever it was sure sounded like gerbils, at least how I would imagine they would sound, if four of them were stuffed in a sock together, all wrestling and rabid.  For your benefit, I tried to capture the lovely sound that morning so you could truly understand.  Listen very closely:

http://youtu.be/1J0GBY2HB4A

And I would apologize for the language, but it was early and they were annoying and we are sailors, so …   I make no excuses. 

Okay, so you have probably figured out by now that they weren’t gerbils.  They were birds.  Angry birds.

Angry Birds

I’ve since learned this particularly noisy breed tends to inhabit lots of marinas and they like to wake you up at four in the friggin’ morning with their warbley, sock-wrestling mating calls.  Effin gerbils!

And, just as an interesting aside (so you get the benefit of all my hard blogging work), every time I Googled for images of gerbils, Richard Gere kept popping up.  Yes.  The actor.  Richard Gere.  I mean, every time!  There were even pictures of him with gerbils. 

richard-gere-2 

I know … creepy, right?  Which is why I decided to look into it.  And, you gotta love Google because I found this little gem.  Enjoy:

http://urbanlegends.about.com/od/celebrities/a/richard_gere.htm

Gere

Richard … you old dog, you!  And, to add icing on this glorious cake (and this will be my last mention of ole’ Richard, I swear), Phillip got a big kick out of the fact that I had never heard this “gerbil rumor” before and had to conduct an independent investigation.  I guess my age is showing.  As several of you reminded me after my last post, I am, in fact, younger than MTV (http://www.cnn.com/SHOWBIZ/Music/9807/31/encore.mtv/).

So, the angry birds did deny us a nice, leisurely rousing that morning, but it wasn’t too much of a sacrifice as, if you recall, we had planned to wake up early and get under way before sunrise.  Gerbils, or birds or angry roosters, we were ready to jump out of the v-berth regardless and get our beautiful boat a-goin’.

We checked the fluids: gas, oil, coolant and transmission fluid (of course!).  Like I said, we will never again, until our little sailing hearts stop beating, NOT check the transmission fluid before we crank the engine.  Whether it’s been a half hour or four days, we want to see that dipstick coated in sweet, pink nectar before we’ll even thinking about turning the engine over.  So, with the fluids in check, we readied the sails and tossed the lines and headed out into the Carabelle River.  We puttered along (knowing full well this time which side of the river to stay on http://havewindwilltravel.com/2013/07/08/april-17-23-2013-the-crossing-chapter-seven-right-of-the-river/) and made it out into the Gulf right at sunrise.  And it was like she rose just for us:

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Or it seems that is how sailing can make you feel sometimes.  Like the world is spinning just for you.

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And, this time it was just Phillip and I.  Me and the captain, off on our first couples cruise.  I was feeling like one incredibly lucky gal.  I mean, could life really get any better?

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Perhaps just a little, with a warm mug of heavenly hazelnut coffee I suppose, but just a little.

We brewed up some coffee and enjoyed the sunrise, and the sail, and the feeling of finally having her back out there in blue waters, headed home.  There wasn’t much wind, so we were motoring most of the morning, but I could have spent all day in that cockpit, holding the helm, or curled up with a book (or my laptop!) just watching the water float by.  I was perfectly content.  But, that’s why I’m only the first mate and Phillip is the captain.  Thankfully, he had the wherewithal to think to check on the engine.  I mean, she had been sitting for a month, she just had a new transmission put in, and we had been running her for about an hour and a half.

Phillip gave me the helm and went down below to see how things were looking under the “hood,” which in our boat, is akin to looking under the sink.  In order to access the engine on the Niagara, this “L-shaped” piece that houses the sink pulls back to give access to the engine, like a-so:

Sinker (2)

In place:

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Pulled back:

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And, the cool part is the sink hoses are all long enough and run in a manner that doesn’t require any unhooking, etc. to pull the sink back.  You just pull it back, lean it gently against the table (we put a pillow in between to cushion it), do your business under the “hood,” then tilt her back down gently in place, and the sink is none the wiser.  It’s really quite handy and, unlike many other boats which require removal of covers, plates, hatches, screws, etc. to get to the engine, this little “flip-top” contraption makes for very easy access when you’re underway.  I tell you all of this because it was a feature we were about to become incredibly familiar with and incredibly thankful for.

As I held the wheel, I could hear Phillip down below pull the sink back, set it against the table and click on a flashlight to take a look at the engine.  I saw his light moving in and around the engine and I could hear him wiggling some things and tinkering around.  I wouldn’t have thought much of it had his silence not continued for just a little too long.  Minutes passed and he he didn’t pop his head up and give me a thumbs up, or say “Everything looks great,” or “Good to go,” or anything like that.  He was just quiet.  Too quiet.  I wanted to ask him how everything was going, but I knew he’d tell me when it was time, and a part of me didn’t want to know.  I was perfectly content to sit up there at the wheel, watching the water dance by, pretending we didn’t even have an engine, or fluids, or any of that.

Engine?  What engine?  I’m just sailing along up here.  Doop-de-doo:

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But, Phillip finally raised his head in the companionway and gave me the exact look I was fearing.  Something was wrong.  He told me to put on the auto-pilot and summoned me down.  I came down the stairs, and he handed me the flashlight without saying a word, which worried me even more.  Although after the initial leg of The Crossing, I was certainly far more familiar with the engine than I was before, I was no diesel mechanic.  If the problem was obvious enough for me to SEE with my naked eye, it was probably bad.  And … it was.  Underneath the engine and slithering on down to the bilge was a bright, pink trail of fluid.

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Phillip and I were hoping it was just some of that famous Westerbeke Red paint Mechan-Eric had sprayed on the transmission to make it match the rest of the engine.

Paint

No, big deal.  Just some paint.  Surely that’s it.  But, as it always seems, life can never be that simple.  Having run the old transmission slap out of fluid the last time, we were all too familiar with that pink viscous liquid to be pretty darn sure what was trickling out of our engine was more likely than not transmission fluid.  Phillip showed me what he had found during his wiggling and tinkering,

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The leak:

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Leaking (2)

Little red drops kept forming, one after the other, under the shifter arm, and falling to a grey grave below in the bilge.  There was no denying it.  Our brand new, bright red, painfully expensive transmission was leaking.  We were two hours from Carrabelle, twelve hours from our next stop, with little wind and only a half quart of transmission fluid to get us anywhere.  I felt like I could have cried too, a little red trail of tears right down to the bilge.