April 7, 2014 – Keys Log: Day 5 – Goodbye Gorton

They say for a sailor, wind is more valuable than money.  If that’s true, we were filthy, stinking rich when we woke that morning.  It was blowing 20-25 knots and gusting in the 30s!  If we wanted kiting wind, we certainly got it.  It was time, finally to bust out the kites!  Phillip and I quickly donned our kiting gear and got out there!

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First suit sighting of the trip!  Finally!

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And … then we cover her right back up!  That water was still a little cold, though.  There is one thing I do not like to be when I kite, and that is chilly!

Once we were geared up, we headed over to the cove we’d sighted the day before and pumped up!

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Phillip took a spin first to see what the conditions were like.  He is by far the expert and can usually give a pretty good assessment of whether the wind or conditions are too much for me.

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Once we got the kite pumped up and launched, we had a few lookie-loos stop by to see what we were doing.  I always get a kick out of what people think about kiting – some examples:

Onlooker says: “Man, I can’t believe you guys are doing that in this wind!”

We think:  Well, you kind of NEED wind to kite.  We wouldn’t be out here if it wasn’t.

Onlooker says:  “I bet you have to be SO strong to not blow away!”

We think:  Not really, any lightweight can learn to kite.  It’s just about how you fly it. 

But, I understand why they’re often so taken and intrigued by it.  It is a pretty novel act to watch – powering yourself across the water with a kite.  And, Phillip certainly makes it look easy.

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Video HERE.  (But he always does!)  I was chomping at the bit to get out there, but I stood by on the shore, like a faithful kite groupie, snapping pics and footage and fielding questions from the peanut gallery.  We had two guys keep coming out in shifts, one then the other, to check us out.  Once I struck up a conversation with them, they told me they ran the local tavern there and were taking turns leaving the bar one-manned so the other could come out and watch Phillip kite.  They were really captivated by it.  We also had a gal from the Gulf County Visitor’s Center, which was right down the road, stop by to snap some pictures.  Phillip seems to attract onlookers like the paparazzi.  I sometimes feel like his big-shot manager on the shore – “No pictures, please!”  But, the Gulf County gal, Kelli, got there just as Phillip was coming in to deliver the bad news.  It was really picking up out there – blowing probably 28-30 knots – and Phillip said it was probably too much for me.  He could barely hold down the 9 meter kite (our smallest).  Unlike money, sometimes the wind is just too much.  But, my time would come.

I told the gal from the Visitor’s Center that I had some footage and pictures I could send her as I helped Phillip pack up the gear.  She was grateful and told us to stop on by the visitor’s center while we were there for some freebies and good info on the area.  We’re always game for good local info and anything free.  So, after we got all the kite gear cleaned up, we set out to find the visitor’s center.  And, find it we did!  They had a great facility there.

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Our newest kite groupie – Kelli!

The gals there were really nice and invited us in for a tour of the facility.  They told us about the annual scallop festival they host where they send several travel writers out for a day of scalloping in the St. Joseph Bay so they can do a write-up on the festival and the area.  Guess who will be coming back in September!  Sweet!  They also gave us some free samples of Tupelo honey which is made right there in Gulf County.  Sweet-ER!

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In all, the gals there were very nice and gave us some good tips about motoring the ditch through Lake Wimico, some good anchorages near Carabelle and some lagoons to look out for.

We thanked them for the info, left the facility to stroll around town a bit and stumbled upon The Thirsty Goat.  They had some awesome t-shirts there.  Thirsty?  Get your goat on at The Thirsty Goat.  Ummm … yes, please!  I snagged one and slipped it on.  And, it was some kind of stroke of luck because I had it on when we made to the next stop on our impromptu pub crawl – The Haughty Heron.  

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I didn’t even think about the fact that I was wearing the competitor’s logo proudly as I strolled around the place, eyeing their t-shirts and almost wishing I’d saved my one “bar shirt buy” for this place!

Haughty or Naughty?  “Naughty!  And, do you have that in a small?”

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But, the cool thing was when the guys came out from the back to help us out and offer a drink, they turned out to be the very same oglers from the kiting cove.  THESE were the two blokes who were taking shifts at the tavern to come out and check us out!  Recognizing us as the local kiters and spotting my Goat shirt, the owner, Blake, quickly said he wouldn’t stand for it.  He hooked me up quick with a good ‘goat cover’ – one of his own Haughty Heron shirts – for free!

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He also poured us two free glasses of Healdsburg Ranches merlot to try.

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I’ve told you our position on freebies …

In all, it was a very “fruitful” venture.  We didn’t even mind that it started dumping buckets as we were walking back to the boat and we got totally, completely head-to-toe soaked.  (It certainly didn’t hurt that our ‘spirits’ were nice and high by then … we were literally singing in the rain!).  We made a make-shift drying line in the cockpit to hang up our sopping threads and tucked in for the night.

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And, friends, while the day was done, I had one more deed yet to do, and I feel I have to share it with you.  It’s certainly is a significant milestone in my sailing career and easily a very blog-worthy event as I feel these guys have sort of developed into their own character on the blog over the course of this past year.  You’ve seen them time and again, keeping me warm and dry and highly visible in fashionable raincoat yellow.  Yes, that’s right, the Gorton’s Fisherman Pants.

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The ones, actually, that came with the boat.  Plaintiff’s Rest’s previous owner had left them for us, knowing, probably, what a true sailing asset they were.

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It was time to say goodbye, though.  They were huge and clunky and completely cumbersome to begin with, but I used them all the same because they served their purpose.  But now, they had started to flake and crumble and leave little yellow flakes everywhere I went on the boat.  We were also coming into summer and they were an extremely hot, constricting foul weather cover.  We had picked up some new Frogg Toggs at Port St. Joe, and I had to retire the Gorton’s pants.

So, put on some nostalgic, sentimental song – I recommend Joe Crocker’s raspy theme song to the Wonder Years – With a Little Help From my Friends – as you scroll wistfully through these photos.  They certainly were friends to me, and we hated to see them go.

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We’ll miss you Gorton’s!

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April 6, 2014 – Keys Log: Day 4 – Clean Plate Club

I heard a light little shuffle up on the deck, a gentle swish of a bag and then the warm scent of fresh-baked muffins filled the cabin …  Okay, they weren’t fresh-baked, they were wrapped, but the gesture felt the same.  We woke on Sunday morning to find the Sunday paper and the two darling little banana nut muffins laid lovingly on the deck of our boat by the friendly staff at Port St. Joe Marina.

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When they say they are the “friendliest marina in all of Florida,” I have to say … I believe them!  We sat and read the paper, and drank coffee and nibbled on muffins all morning.  After two nights in a row of two-hour shifts at the helm, a nice, leisurely morning on the boat was just what we needed.

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Yes, we took pictures of it.  We’re just that devoted to the blog … 

Around noon, or even a little after, we finally ventured out to see what the ole’ town of Port St. Joe had to offer.  We were thrilled to find beautiful, breezy walking paths around the marina,

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a potentially perfect cove for kite-boarding,

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a quaint little downtown strip with several quirky bars, unique restaurants and other delightfully tacky establishments.  Definitely our kind of place!

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Now, I don’t know about you fellow cruisers, but when Phillip and I eat out on our sailing ventures, we like to try and scout out the little local places that offer food we can’t really replicate on the boat.  Something unique to that area, or unique altogether that we haven’t had in a while – like some great middle eastern food, or a decadent french meal, or some funky little taco hut that has a line around the corner.  Not knowing at all what we were in the mood for, we stumbled upon this colorful little Mexican place – Peppers – and decided it was definitely worth a go.

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And boy, was it!  A hot basket of chips and salsa hit the table as soon as we did, and didn’t stop coming the whole time we were there.  A hot, piping basket even came out with the check that Phillip and I tried to wave off, but that we actually ended up putting a pretty serious dent in anyway.  We split the “California Burrito,” which was about the size of my right calf (yes, the right one – it’s a little bigger than the left).

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It was bursting with flavorful beans, rice, corn, chicken, cheese.  You name it.  A perfect combination of savory flavors and crisp greens, and it was doused in this addictive queso.  It was awesome!

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Clean Plate Club!  We are card-carrying members.

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We made a few more stops on the way home to provision up (milk, cereal, coffee and the like) and scoped out a few more eateries for the next day’s outing.  We saw a pizza place that some folks at the marina had been telling us about – Joe Mama’s Pizza – but found it was closed Sunday and Monday, and we were planning to leave on Tuesday.  Bullocks!  But, in all, we congratulated ourselves on such a fortuitous stop.  We had never been to Port St. Joe by boat and we were thrilled we’d landed here.  Everything was within walking distance of the boat – bars, restaurants, the Piggly Wiggly.  Whatever you needed.  And, while a storm brewing in the Gulf is bad news for sailing, it certainly was promising for some awesome kiting in the St. Joseph Bay.  We kept an eye on the wind, hoping the storm would bring us some great conditions for kiting while we were there.

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On our way back to the boat, we met some great fellow cruisers that were docked up right next to us – David and Mary Lucas on Liza.  David and Mary were headed down the west coast of Florida to make the cut through the Okeechobee.  We invited them over for sundowners, shared some tall boat tales (although our harrowing dinghy debacle seemed to take the cake – as it often does), cooked up a great grilled chicken salad for dinner and called it a night.

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April 5, 2014 – Keys Log: Day 3 – Don’t Mind the Weather

It’s funny how things tend to work themselves out when you’re sailing.  We had a follower tell us a while back (and rightfully so) that the most dangerous thing you can have on a boat is a schedule.  While time is decidedly always an issue – if only we all had an infinite supply we could go anywhere we want and stay six months – but the weather and wind and the sun also play a role in where you end up by boat.  It’s often a place you didn’t expect to go; rather, it’s a place you chose when you thought the weather wasn’t “working with you,” but once you get there, you often decide it is most definitely a place at which you’re glad to have ended up.  And, then you start to wonder whether the weather had it in mind all along …

So, the wind, in our minds, had not been “working with us” since we started off on this venture.  It was directly out of the southeast, dead on our nose, for the entire first night and day of the trip.  For that reason, we didn’t make near as much ground as we would have liked toward Clearwater, and with a known storm coming into the Gulf in the next day or two, we decided to pull out and head into Port St. Joe.

Log book:

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We had never been there before by boat, but we had heard great things.  It wasn’t originally in the plans for us, but, that’s the thing about plans.  But, as soon as we changed our heading toward St. Joseph Bay, we found ourselves on a perfect beam reach, making great headway, and doing some of our best sailing of the trip yet – right into the black abyss.

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The wind has a wicked sense of humor.  But it was like she was congratulating us on such a wise decision.  We were sailing along so fast, we were going to reach Port St. Joe before sunrise, and – as many of you fellow cruisers I’m sure follow the same rule – on the ole’ Rest our goal is never to come into a new Pass at night, so we actually had to turn around and sail back out into the Gulf for a bit to make sure we didn’t beat the sun in.

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It was a strange feeling to have worked so hard to make way forward for a day and a half, only to now turn around 180 degrees and sail for a few hours at 5.5 knots in the opposite direction.  Like I said … funny how things work out.

But after an hour or two of sailing back out, we finally turned around again, and sailed back in to St. Joseph Bay right around sunrise.  The fog was still so heavy we struggled to find even the flashing bouys.  Markers you would typically see miles out would now only reveal themselves at about 100 yards.

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I sat up at the bow and squinted through the mist to try and find them.

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“There’s one!”

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As the sun finally started to creep up and melt away some of the fog, we caught our first glimpse of land on the horizon and it turned out to be a beautiful morning.

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Thankfully the inlet into St. Joseph Bay was an easy one and we made it into the marina and docked up without issue.

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Between you, me and the fencepost (well, and all followers of this blog, I guess) I still get a little nervous every time we pull up to a dock because you just never know what’s going to happen.  I have failed to lasso a stern pole, jumped off the boat without a line, and a-many other docking mishaps I have failed to mention on this blog that still cause me a little heartburn when we start pulling our big beauty out of the open blue and up next to treacherous pilings and other fiberglass beasts.  A little tip – I always call ahead to the marina (despite the occasional eyeroll from the Captain) and ask them every time to send out a dock-hand (I’m assuming that’s a sufficient title) to help catch a line.  I mean, it’s a big, expensive boat, our most prized possession, I’m not ashamed to ask for eight hands on deck to help save her.  The marina at Port St. Joe has a reputation for being the “friendliest marina in all of Florida,” and I’ll say I have to believe it.  They sent a young chap right out who proved to be an excellent line-catcher and he helped us get tied up and gave us a quick tour of the facilities.  I can’t say enough good things about the folks at the Port St. Joe Marina.  They all went above and beyond.

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Plug that baby in!!

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The Captain … always doing a double-check.  (Rum drink in hand … )

Once the boat was secure, we set out to check out the marina office and get checked in.

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Even the pets at Port St. Joe are friendly.  We had a lovable white lab welcome us right in with a soft pant and a smile.  (To my good friend Anna – he reminded me of Tugg!!)

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The dockside bar there at the marina, looked the perfect place to try out the local Port St. Joe cuisine, so we settled in for some fine oysters and fish tacos.

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Yum!

The folks at the marina office gave us a great welcome packet with maps and flyers and coupons and told us we would have a paper delivered to the boat every morning, with free muffins on Sunday.  I mean, who doesn’t like muffins?  (Especially free ones!).  The book swap was excellent, too.  I had blazed through The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and I was looking for some new material.  I scarfed up another Jack Reacher saga and a James Patterson,

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and Phillip found a Hemingway novel he’d been meaning to read for a while – The Paris Wife.

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We were definitely pleased to be in this Port.  Great food, excellent facilities and our boat was nice and secure.  We were plenty happy to spend a day or three here to wait out the weather.

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While we hadn’t planned it, it all seemed to work out.  Like I said, perhaps the weather had it in mind for us all along.

April 4, 2014 – Keys Log: Day 2 – Into the Black Abyss

It laid limp and lifeless, strewn across the deck in a sad display of failure.

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Our busted lazy jack.  After inspection, we found the eyelet on the starboard spreader that the lazy jack was shackled to had detached entirely.  Never to be seen

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Humph!  Well, it’s just a lazy jack.  People have been raising and lowering their mains the UN-lazy way for thousands of years, so we figured we would just wing it.  As long as we could secure the fallen line and get our sail up and back in the stack pack manually and zip her open and closed for UV protection, we were fine.  But, it was little bit of a morale blow.  It’s like you know things on the boat are going to break when you undertake a passage like this, but you hate to see it actually happen.  For me, the boat tends to become an extension of me.  It pains me to hear her groan and flex under strain, and seeing things on her rip, shear and break gives me a bit of a sinking, sickening feeling.  I couldn’t resist the urge to lovingly pat the dodger and say “Sorry girl.”  It wouldn’t be the first time I would do that, and certainly not the last, on this trip.  A hard passage sometimes just can’t be avoided – that’s kind of the whole point of going offshore, but, damage to the boat is never easy to swallow – particularly on Day One of the trip.

But, we chalked it up.  It’s just part of it.  We were still on passage and needed to focus on the course, the weather and the hourly log entries.  We secured the lazy jack lines and hunkered back in the cockpit, thankful for sunlight and visibility.

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Yes, more sailing selfies!  Phillip’s not much of a photographer and I’m a bit of a fanatic, anal retentive blog-documenter, HENCE – the perfect solution – selfies!  Thank you “flip-around-option” on the iPhone.  And, to quote my fellow cruising buddy Dani – “Without my quality selfies – it would be Phillip and Plaintiff’s Rest, followed solely by the paparazzi.”  

After checking the chart and the weather and making some calculations, we decided at the rate we were going with the southeast wind dead on us, we weren’t going to make it to Clearwater, even on a straight haul, for another two and a half days.  And, we were both a little tired from the rough night already.  Plus, we were expecting a storm to come into Clearwater on Monday or Tuesday and we certainly didn’t want to be crossing the Gulf in that, or sitting in Clearwater waiting it out.  We had always wanted to check out Port St. Joe (we’d heard great things!), so we made an executive decision to pull out of the Gulf and take refuge in Port St. Joe to wait out the weather.  We set our course and noted the 53 nautical miles to go.

We had a great sail on Friday.  It was nice wind and weather most of the day and Otto was doing all the work.  Phillip and I took turns taking naps, reading, writing (the blog AND the log) and munching on turkey and manchego sandwiches.

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Late that afternoon, Phillip and I were both stretched out in the cockpit, deep in our own literary worlds, when we were startled by a jolting, nearby “Pffft!”  Phillip and I eyed each other quickly and leaned up.  “Dolphins,” Phillip said.  I figured as much but couldn’t get my brain to process fast enough to get the word out.  Dolphins! was right.  Not a second later, we heard another “Pfft!” right by the stern.  I looked over and saw three dolphins popping their fins out of the water in unison.  “Three!” I squealed, finding myself capable of only mono-syllable words and giddy girl noises.  I scrambled for my phone to snap some shots.

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Having missed the chance to document the last few dolphin sightings for a phone tragically left down below, I wasn’t going to miss this chance.  I started making my way to the foredeck snapping a few shots along the way of what now appeared to be an eight-to-ten member dolphin squad.  I got some great footage: Video HERE.

After a few minutes, eighteen pictures, approximately six squeals, and two videos later, the dolphins finally swam away — headed off to, I hope, intoxicate some other sailing vessel with their slick, sultry dance.  Phillip and I plopped down in the cockpit breathing big sighs of contentment from their visit and let our thoughts lingered toward dinner.  Ahhh … our freezer food.

Before we left Pensacola, we had made two hearty meals that we had frozen in gallon ziploc freezer bags for the passage, beef and pork bolognese and chicken and sausage gumbo.  We had both decided the night before that the sea state was too rough to try to heat up anything down below.  With five-foot waves, any movement down below is timed and orchestrated with the severe rocking of the boat.  After you’ve been on the boat long enough, you can sense a heavy heeling coming and when it occurs, you know you have a one-to-two second window of opportunity to hop up fast and make the quick three steps to the next handhold and then wait again for the next break in motion.  You just get used to it.  Needless to say, the thought of doing anything down below, least of all boiling a big pot of water to heat up dinner, was easily nixed.  Nope.  It was turkey sandwiches, Cheez-its, grapes, chips and Pretzel Crisps the first night.  Anything that could be easily grabbed and eaten by hand.  Toddler food, pretty much.  But, the sea had calmed down to about two-to-three foot waves  by Friday afternoon and we decided it would be best to go ahead and eat our heartiest meal early in the afternoon in case the expected urge for a post-dinner nap struck us we could go ahead and get it out of the way before nightfall.  So, around 2:00 p.m., we set to heating up the first of our frozen bagged meals – the beef and pork bolognese – which was a little bit of an adventure.  I started a pot of boiling water and fumbled around with our pot clamps a bit, trying to get them to hold the boiling pot in place, but our fancy schmancy All-Clad pot was too big to allow the clamps to get a good foot-hold on it, which meant gimbling the stove (allowing it to tip freely with the boat), was not going to be an option.  So, I decided to stand by and keep an eye on it and hold the bags up by hand.

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Not too much work.  Especially considering the reward.  Once the bolognese was sufficently heated, we dumped it into cereal bowls and set to it.

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Yum!

A nice hearty meal under our belts and exactly what we thought would happen, happened, we took turns taking nice leisurely naps in the sun.  Knowing we had a full night of two-hours shifts ahead, there was no need for apology or explanation.  When one of us got sleepy, we told the other “I’m going to shut my eyes for a bit” and that was that.  “Sleep while you can” was the rule.  If you felt it coming on and the conditions were calm, sleep was the best thing you could do for yourself.  So, shut your eyes and get some!

And, it was a good thing we did, because the second night was even more exhausting as the first.  Heavy – and I mean HEAVY – fog set in.  Visibility was approximately 30 feet around the boat, at best.  It was like driving your most prized possession through the pitched-black knowing full-well it may crash any second into something completely devastating.

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We couldn’t see ANYthing.  It was onward and forward into the black abyss with 25 feet, at least, of the most precious fiberglass, wood and steel charging in front of you.  It was actually a good thing we were offshore because we knew we were nowhere near land and that ship traffic was unlikely, but you still have a fear that something’s going to come barreling through the mist and appear right in front of you at any minute.  As a direct result of All is Lost, I now have a completely irrational fear of spontaneous hull breach by random bobbing shipping container.  Thank you Robert Redford!  I felt like I was easing my way into a busy intersection blindfolded, just waiting to hear the screech and crunch of the crash.  The fog was absolutely horrid!

April 3, 2014 – Keys Log Day 1: Lazy Jack Snap!

Clearwater by Sunday morning was going to be a two-day, three-night haul.  The longest Phillip and I had ever undertaken together, but we were excited about it.  Invigorated by the challenge and adventure of it.  But, it was early in the trip – we were still feeding happily on excitement, adrenaline and the thrill of taking sailing selfies!

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Look at me!  I’m headed out to SEA!

We had a great sail out into the Gulf.  The tide was coming out at the Pass and, even with a strong southeast wind pushing against us, it pretty much gushed us out of the pinchpoint at 4 knots.  We motored through to be sure to stay in the channel, but once we were safely out, we cut the engine and clocked over southeast.

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It was around dusk at that time, and I learned another of many important lessons in sailing.  Don’t try to eat light when you’re sailing.  “Oh, I’ll have the salad greens with the low-fat dressing, please.”  No.  That’s not going to cut it darlin’.  We had been working on the boat all morning, packing up the last of the provisions, re-tying the Jerry cans and the anchor, running the solar lights, packing more provisions, filling the water tanks, etc.  A lot of up and down the companionway stairs, hauling heavy items here and there, in general, some hard work.  And, allst I had was a bowl of cereal and a little salad under my belt.  Probably around 600 calories … total, and I’d probably burned about 2,469.82 calories, approximately, by that time.  I was starting to feel a little pekish and convincing myself it was not seasickness.  I’ve crossed the Gulf before, in 4 to 6 foot seas.  I don’t GET seasick.  But, I just felt weak, a little queasy, a little weird.  Then Phillip mentioned the idea of dinner and it sounded like some grand revelation.  Food??  Why yes, yes I would like dinner!  And, let me tell you, I ate my friends.  I started inhaling and choking down my fair share and thensome of the tuna salad we had brought for dinner while Phillip eyed me suspiciously as I shoved heaping forkful after heaping forkful clumsily into my mouth.  And, he told me I needed to eat more.  “You need to eat before you’re hungry,” he said.  And, he was right.  I should have stock-piled some energy hours ago.  But, I wasn’t going to let this happen again.  I started eating!  A handful of almonds, three handfuls of pretzel crisps, followed by chocolate-covered pretzels, peanut butter Chex, trail mix, some snap pea crisps, some more almonds, before I finally just gave it up and inhaled a calorie-dense protein bar – much like the kind boxers scarf when they’re trying to get to the next weight class.  I was ravenous, carnivorous, OM-nivorous.  Eating anything in sight with unabashed abandon.

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But, within minutes, I felt better. Much better.  Food.  Who knew?  Ladies – it doesn’t matter if you’ll be slipping into a bikini later, if you’re sailing, you’re burning it off.  Eat early and eat often.

Unfortunately, the wind was right on our nose all evening and into the night.  We were taking long tacks back and forth, trying to make our way upwind but not making much ground.  While underway, we entered our coordinates, as well as our heading, speed, the sea state, weather and other note-worthy items, in the log book.

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The afternoon sail was nice, albeit not very productive, i.e. we didn’t make much ground toward Clearwater, but it was a comfortable sail.  After the sun dropped down, we donned our safety gear and settled in for the evening.

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Later in the evening, the wind picked up to 15 knots, and we put the first reef in the main, followed by the second, followed by a reef in the Jenny.  The sea state was probably 4 to 5 foot waves, thoughout the night, which made for some rough wave jumps and crashes on the boat, all of which sound entirely manageable in the cockpit but horrific down below.  When we started taking our two-hour shifts, it was hard to close your eyes and try to get some sleep when each wave sounds like the hull is cracking in half.  It’s not, and some part of you deep down knows that, but another small part also asks “Are you sure?  Was that a crack?  Maybe I should get up and check … ”   

That first night was pretty rough.  We rode waves up and down, crashing water over the bow, and occasionally spraying us in the cockpit, and took turns getting fitful, disjointed pockets of sleep.  But, the true champion that night was Otto — our auto pilot.  That guy.  I mean.  Damn!  He held through howling 15 knot winds and rolling 5 foot seas.  He held much more than I ever thought he was capable of.  He would, of course, on occasion, lose his ability to grip the wheel.  It would spin freely under his belt, his motor screeching out trying to stop it, and then he would follow up with a cackling cascade of beeps to let you know he was losing it.  As much as you wanted to curse him.  (Okay, I did often – “Damn you Otto!”), you really couldn’t.  He held the wheel probably 80% of the night.  I mean, a little slippage was allowed.  But, the problem was, if you weren’t at the wheel the moment he slipped, by the time you jumped back there, clipped in, got your bearings and turned Otto off it was sometimes too late.  He’d fallen too far off course and you were in a jam, having to turn the boat around in a large circle and catch the wind with a forceful pop around the backside.  Needless to say, it was a long night, and was certainly hard on the boat.

We woke the next morning to find out just how much.  Phillip was holding the sunrise shift and when I started to blink to, thankful to see light pouring in through the windows, Phillip heard me stir, and shouted down to me, “I’ve got bad news.”  Oh-no, I thought.  That’s just what we need.  I scrambled up the companionway to see what he was referring to.  And, there it was, the remains of our lazy jack lines (on our new stack pack) strewn haplessly across the deck.  The eyelet on the spreader that held them up had snapped clean off.

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Well, they must be called lazy jacks for a reason.  Perhaps we could handle the not-so-lazy route for the rest of the trip.  In all, considering the night we had, it seemed a minor loss, really.  One day down and only one piece of (lazy-slash-luxury) equipment down.  We shrugged our shoulders and continued south.  What do you have in store for us Day Two?

April 3, 2014 – Shoving Off!

Well folks, this is it.  April 3rd.  Shove-off day.  Departure day.  THE day.  And, we were ready.  Beyond ready.  All the trips to the stores, the packing and inventorying of the boat, the freezer meals, everything was ready.  All we needed to do now was fill the water tanks and check the weather.  We had been watching the weather for weeks now trying to plan our departure date.  Every time Phillip would click his phone to life and start scrolling through the NOAA reports, that song would pop into my head “I can gather all the news I need … “  And, yes, I do sing that every time Phillip checks the weather.  And, yes, he still puts up with me.  I’m kind of the only first mate he’s got, so …

The weather still looked pretty good on Thursday to make the jump to Clearwater.  We were expecting some potential storms on Friday night and Saturday but the highest sea state prediction was 3-5 feet:

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Assuming that was more THREE than FIVE, it would make good weather for the trip.  So, we made the decision.  We were leaving today.

The weekend before we had taken the boat out for a test sail to make sure the Jenny un-furled fine (remember, we had taken it down the week before to have the UV cover on it re-stitched) and, while we were making our way out, we topped off the fuel tank on the boat (it holds 30 gallons, but we tend to sail a LOT so we only had to put in about six gallons this go round – whew!).  We filled two 5 gallon jerry cans of diesel to strap down on the deck (just as back-up), filled two 1.5 gallon cans for the outboard on the dinghy, pumped out (very important) and filled the water tanks.  So, everything on the boat that needed to emptied was emptied and everything that needed to be filled was, well, you get it.

But, speaking of filling, let me talk a bit about the water on our boat.  I get a TON of questions about water: “How much water can you take on the boat?”  “Can you make water on the boat?”  “Do you have enough water?”  The answers, respectively, are plenty, no and yes.  We have two forty-gallon water tanks on the boat, on one each side, that we fill from the hose.  But, the previous owner of our boat did a great job building a water shelf in one of the large lockers under the vberth:

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We have 8 large gallon jugs of water and a flat (24 bottles) of bottled water stored in there as well as another flat of bottles scattered in various cubbies throughout the boat.   Phillip also had a great idea to fill the solar shower (which holds 5 gallons) with water just as a back-up for the initial passage.  And, that way the first time we used the solar shower, it would already be full.  Kudos Cap’n.

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So, with plenty of food, fuel, water and WINE, we were fully-stocked and ready to go.   We both spent some time the last day calling loved ones to give them a hearty farewell and tell them, re-assure them, and tell them again, our departure date, travel plans and the status of our safety gear and rations.  I can’t tell you how many times friends and family asked me about our life-vest situation – hence the reason for my last post.  But, this fun, feeble attempt still failed to reassure the masses.  So, we provided friends and family with a detailed sail plan and made them all promise that they could only worry, panic or – most importantly – contact the Coast Guard if and ONLY IF they did not hear from us by Sunday evening.  We planned to make it to Clearwater early Sunday morning, so if no one had heard from us by Sunday night, it was likely time to fret.  But, not a second before!

Despite this harsh mandate and strictly enforced ‘cross-your-heart-and-hope-to-die’ NO rescue efforts until Monday, I still received many of the like in the mail from concerned loved ones:

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Note the entry at the bottom:

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You see?  It was Clearwater by Sunday or at least some kind of heroic, satellite phone, mid-Gulf check-in or they would be calling in the dogs!  The concern, though, was well-intended and heart-warming.  (I heart you Dottie!).

But, we weren’t worried, or afraid.  We were cautious, sure, and hopeful that we would be greeted with fair winds and forgiving weather and that nothing bad would happen to the boat or to either of us, but there was always going to be the possibility that it could. That’s a given.  Something bad can happen at any time, whether you’re crossing the Gulf on a sailboat or crossing the street.  Crossing anyway is the adventure, and that’s what we were after.  We were excited to get to the Keys, but the destination was not the real goal; it was the journey.  We had both worked really hard to get to this point.  To get out there.  To cross over.

We tossed the lines and sailed out into the Gulf.

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That’s really us!  Thanks to our good friend Kevin who was anchored nearby and took the shot!  Plaintiff’s Rest is headed south, baby!

April 2, 2014 – We Need to Buy Stock in Publix

Now that we had all of the NON-perishables packed on the boat, it was time to make the last final run to Publix for the perishables.

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And, I say “final” because we took quite a beating at Publix in the week before our trip. We had made about three trips already for non-perishables and our freezer food, but this last one was a mighty trip.  I thought we might perish!  The receipt was almost as long as my legs.

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Yes, legs.  Plural.  One stacked on top of the other.

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Ouch!  We need to buy stock in Publix.  But, we got all of those goodies packed on the boat, so our boat was finally provisioned.  We had even stocked up on our ‘specialty’ items.  I say that because while we knew we would be stopping often during the trip to re-stock and re-provision, there are some things that you can’t find just anywhere.  Take that Publix!  We had a few of these, mostly special spices, sauces, novel ingredients and, of course, certain types of liquor and wine.  So those we had to plan to pack enough for a month.  And, as much as we try to avoid glass on the boat, unfortunately, most of these items are glass because, well, they’re not really sailboat items – hence the term, “specialty.”  Which means they get special treatment.  Every glass item on the ole’ Rest was lovingly wrapped in bubble wrap for stowage:

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A particularly supple specialty item on our list was, of course, none other than WINE.  I can tell you many a-cabinet and cubby on the Plaintiff’s Rest are chalk full of wine.  Our bottles had over-flowed the liquor cabinet and spilled into the cubbies in the table.   We had also sampled many boxed wines to try and find a good one that we liked for cruising, but I’ll tell you – we struggled.  I don’t really think we’re wine snobs in any sense of the term, we love a good $8.99 value wine just as much as the next bloke, but it just seemed the particular $8.99’s we liked came in glass bottles.  Until … we tried this boxed granache – Vina Borgia from the Aragon Wine Market.  It’s a great table red that pairs well with food but is easy for sipping on its own.  Just a versatile, filling wine that has worked really well for us.  So, three it was, and we shoved them under the sink.

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If any of you all have come across a great boxed wine, please, by all means, let us hear about it!

So, the ever-dreaded perishables trip to Publix was done.  That was the last item on the list.  We were on the eve of the trip.  Now it was just watching the weather and making sure tomorrow, Thursday, was still a good day to jump out into the Gulf.   We saw a storm brewing in Arkansas that we had been keeping an eye on.  It was heading east and set to hit Pensacola on Saturday.  We knew if we were going to head out tomorrow, we had to make way east fast.  The easter the faster the better!  Every time Phillip checked the weather, I would squinch my eyes tight in my best ‘make a wish’ face and hope he wouldn’t say we were going to have to push the trip back a week.  I knew it was a stupid wish.  We wanted to be careful.  We wanted to leave when it was safe.  But, we also wanted to GO!  I opened one eye just a crack as he checked it one last time before we went to bed that night and hoped for the best.

April 1, 2014 – Freezer Food

Yep.  Still April 1st.  Fooled you!  We were doing a lot those last few days.  5-6 trips to the boat a day.  5-6 trips to various stores – pharmacy, grocery, the dreaded West Marine.  Revising the inventory.  Last-minute follow-ups with the rigger, the canvas guy, fellow cruisers to talk about routes, anchorages and lessons learned in the Keys.  We were burning through every hour of daylight trying to get every last thing done.  One of which was the freezer food.  Several fellow cruisers had recommended we make some hearty meals before leaving that could be frozen and easily re-heated for the passage.  We were told to put them in gallon-size freezer bags, that way, all we had to do while underway was re-heat them in boiling water inside the bag (sort of a sailboat microwave if you will) and – voila! – a hearty meal while underway!  Thankfully, this lucky gal has quite the gourmet chef for a Captain, so he whipped up some of his famous beef and pork bolognase and chicken and sausage gumbo for freezing.

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Recipes here: Beef and pork bolognese and chicken and sausage gumbo.  But, I’ll tell you – I don’t know what kind of witch voodoo magic Phillip works in the kitchen, but his just turn out amazing every time.  I follow the recipes and even add a dash of this or that to try and give it my own personal touch, but whereas Phillip’s “touch” is a gentle stroke of the hair and a light cupping of the cheek, my “touch” is like a swift knock to the chin and a “here’s looking at ya!”  Just not quite the same.  But, give it a try all the same.  And, if any of you have other recipes you’ve made or different ways to pack and stow hearty meals for passage, we’re all ears!  We’re going to give this gallon freezer bag method a go and see how it works.  (Although between you, me and the fencepost, I’m a little concerned about boiling water while under way – we shall see … ).

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 And, there they sit.  Two servings lovingly packed in freezer bags for the passage.  We, of course, then had to stick up two or three notes around the condo demanding we “Don’t forget the freezer food!”  Those sticky notes were helpful, though, because we quickly started adding other items to it: “Pack the knives”  “Clean out the fridge”   “Take out the trash”  “Set the AC”  Anything that popped into our heads immediately went on the sticky notes that were tacked up all over.  The most important of which was on the door so we’d see it right on our way out.  There was just SO much to think about.  But, we were one day out.  Tomorrow was the last Publix run – the perishables – and then Thursday was the day.  Just one more day now!

April 1, 2014 – Provisioning the Boat’s No Joke!

No April Fools about it.  Provisioning is one serious chore!  We’re planning a 30-day trip on the boat.  That’s a good long while.  So, let’s talk about packing.  Before we started stuffing the boat full of supplies for the trip, we decided to inventory it first.  Get all of the old, obsolete items off before cramming it chalk full of new, needed items for the trip.  So began our Inventory Initiative.  We started with a detailed diagram of the boat.

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Yes, I got a little graphic design-ey with it, but you have to make it fun somehow.  We then went threw each cabinet and locker on the boat, removed any unnecessary items and took note of the remaining space left for storage of the new items.  Then, when we started packing the non-perishables.

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As we stuffed and filled each cubby, we decided to make a detailed inventory list (word-searchable) so we could easily find these items on the boat during the trip.  If you’re remotely interested – our detailed boat inventory here.

I imagined our highly-organized system playing out like this:

“Annie, where’s that little can of diced jalapenos we packed?”

Let me check the inventory.  Aha.  Locker number 15.  The fore portside cabinet.  Let me get it for you.”  

After our first few attempts, however, it actually played out more like this:

“Annie, where’s that little can of diced jalapenos?”

Uhhh ….  Hmmm … Let’s see.  Where’s the inventory?  Did we say on the inventory where we keep the inventory?  Oh, wait, there it is.  Let me check.  [scroll, scroll]  There it is, it’s in locker number 15.”

“Which one is that?”

“The … fore portside cabinet.”  

” …  Which one is that?”

[shuffle, head scratch, point]

“Aha.  There it is.  Thanks.”

So, not perfect, but we’re getting there, and at least there is a system.  That is – a WAY – to find everything on the boat, and as we use things that need to be replaced, we can jot them down on the “need” column of the inventory which will make re-provisioning during the trip fairly easy.  Or so I’m hoping – I’m sure we’ll have a few kinks to work out, but we’ve at least got a system in place.  I welcome any other methods you fellow cruisers have come up with.  How do you all make your list and check it twice?

I’m sure we’ll be hunting around on occasion for those damn diced jalapenos, but I’d rather be on a boat, in the Gulf, doing that than, well, just about anything else.  As long as we’re out there.  And, out there we will be.  Shove-off date is April 3, 2014.  We are two days and counting folks!

March 28, 2014 – Safety Gear: “It’s Like a Biscuit Can – I’m Scared!”

This is it.  The final countdown.  We are about a week out, finishing up last-minute projects, finalizing the rigging and doing a double-check of the safety gear.  If you recall, when the rigger came, he certainly added to our project list, but I’m proud to say we’ve been diligently working through it (and bleeding out in the process) but we are finally done!  It’s been a working couple of weeks, but we have accomplished a lot.  Let’s run through it, shall we?  [Deep breath in … and on the exhale:]   Weeeeee ….

1)  Dropped the Jenny and took it to a local canvas guy to restitch the UV cover on it:

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Our boat-broker turned boat-buddy, Kevin, did have us over for a Sew Party last summer to restitch some parts of the UV cover, but we knew it was only a temporary fix.  Our rigger popped some of the stitches on it and recommended we get it fully re-sewn, with a zig-zag stitch, using Gore-tex thread.  So, off it went.

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(And this time we didn’t let go of the halyard!!)

2)  Had a new inner forestay put in for the stay sail:

The inner fore-stay is used to raise the storm/stay sail in case we need to put up a smaller sail in high winds.  If you recall, ours blew out during the Gulf Crossing in April of last year so we knew we were going to have to have a new one put in for this trip.

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We took some documented measurements of the turnbuckle so we could replicate the same tension when we attached the inner forestay ourselves.

3)  Re-tied the attachment points for the lifelines:

The lifelines on the boat are kind of like guard rails that keep you on deck (hence the name):

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Two wires running the length of the boat attach at four points at the bow and stern on both the port and starboard side:

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A gratuitous action shot of Phillip at the helm?  Sure, why not.  It’s my blog.

Each lifeline is attached in the same manner to both the stern rail and pulpit with Amsteel, low-stretch line:

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Our attachments points, as you can see, had faded from the classic Amsteel grey to white due to sun damage.  So, we bought a spool of Amsteel, cut off the old attachment points, and – after a few creative mishaps with the knot-tying and wrapping – finally came up with a reasonably simple knot-and-wrap method (patent pending) to hold the lines secure:

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Good as new.

5)  Had the rigger install turnbuckles to fill the hydraulic adjuster gap on the backstay:

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After some debate as to whether to have our broken hydraulic adjuster re-built or have it removed and the gap filled with a series of turnbuckles OR have a whole new back stay put in, we decided (as is often the case) to go with the most economic, yet still suitable, solution – have a series of turnbuckles put in to fill the gap where the hydraulic adjuster once was:

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Our rigger fitted a PVC pipe to slide over the turnbuckles for cover and chafe protection.  We’re still debating whether we like it covered or exposed, but this trip, I’m sure, will resolve that debate.

And, lastly, we 6) Changed the oil:

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The owner’s manual for the old Westerbeke recommends we change the oil approximately every 50 hours.  This was our second go-round with the self oil-change and the old pump canister.  It’s hard to estimate how much oil to put back in knowing the oil filter is filled with about 1/3 quart and the dipstick measuring extremely low readings initially, but I have to say we’re getting better at it.

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And, finally, on to the safety gear.  Yeah – the biscuit can – this is the real treat!  When we bought our boat, it had two inflatable life jackets on it, but, as you can imagine, they were a bit old and looked pretty worn.

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Last summer, we decided to break them out one day and see if they still worked.  I mean, you shouldn’t wait till you’re about to jump off the boat into the raging sea to check and make sure your life jacket inflates.  Soooo … we slipped them on and pulled the chord.  And, I give you — “It’s like a biscuit can — I’m scared!”

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Video here.

Yes, I was (still am?) afraid to open biscuit cans.  But, it’s a documented phobia … (Amathophobia) … I think

Well, turns out we were wise to check the old life jackets because they both leaked air at the manual blow-up valve.  They wouldn’t hold our heads above water for more than two minutes.  So, we splurged (I guess it doesn’t really count as a splurge if your life depends on it … ) and got some new ones.

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We also got some new jack lines (long nylon straps that run the length of the boat for clip-in when we have to go up on the deck during foul weather):

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Those puppies are important.  Think Robert Redford All is Lost if the boat goes one way and you go another.  Remember when he fell overboard?  And, why is it he remained securely fashioned to the boat (albeit dragging along underwater, but trust me you would prefer that as opposed to the boat leaving you behind in it’s wake!).

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Richard Foreman/Roadside Attractions/Lionsgate

Because he was clipped on – see?!?

So, with all of our last minute projects completed, our safety gear (and biscuit phobias) in check, all we had to do now was inventory the boat, pack it up and watch the weather.  Not long now!