April 17, 2014 – Keys Log, Day 15:
It was around 4:30 in the morning. Phillip had been holding the helm hour upon hour as we beat our way through the Gulf. It was shocking to see the wind hold so steady. We glared at the instruments like you would your mom telling your prom date how cute it was when you used to run around the neighborhood naked. Please say something different. Please! But, no. The wind instrument registered 25+ for hours, upon hours, upon hours. Sometimes, it would fall down to the low twenties, or even 19 (oooh!), and we would start to get excited. We’ll take 19. But then it would crank right back up to the upper 20’s again and hold steady for hours, upon hours, upon hours. It was a very rough night. I think I might have fallen asleep for two minutes – twice – out of sheer exhaustion, but then a loud crack on a wave and my head would bang against the companionway and I was up again. Phillip never shut his eyes. Not once. All night long he held that wheel.
After battling these conditions for 4-5 hours, we had decided a little after midnight to pull out of the Gulf and take cover in Charlotte Harbor. It was clear the wind was not going to let up. We had wanted to make it from Tampa Bay to Ft. Myers in roughly 24 hours to beat the “numerous thunderstorms” that were set to come in later that afternoon, but with the horrendous night we were having, it just wasn’t looking feasible. And, we had both been up for about 20 hours straight at that point. We were beat.
But, just when you think things are going to get a little easier, in sailing it seems that’s just about the time they get a little harder – always pushing you to your limits. Here we were, 4:30 a.m., and we were coming into a new harbor at night, in 3-4 waves and 25+ mph winds. We had made our way out of Charlotte Harbor one time before, during the Gulf Crossing when we brought the boat back from Punta Gorda.
Man, look at us. There’s Mitch. “Hey Mitch!” And, my God, we still have the dinghy! That seems like forever ago …
But, when we made our way through Charlotte Harbor that time, it was in broad daylight and much calmer conditions. We certainly wouldn’t call this a pass we were truly “familiar with,” and we were coming in at night.
Phillip gave me the wheel (for the first time since 9:00 p.m.) so he could check the charts to make sure there weren’t any shoals or other hazards.
It seems there are always hazards. I guess we just prefer to call them “adventures.” There were a couple of areas where we had to go outside of the markers to avoid the shoals, but I’m thrilled to say we made our way safely into Charlotte Harbor, at night, and left the tumultuous waters of the Gulf behind us. We pulled into the Pass just as the sun was coming up.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so thankful to see warm rays of sun on Phillip’s face. The Captain really stepped up that night and brought us in safe. We were both so grateful. The sun was out, the horizon was visible and we were intact – me, Phillip, the boat and everything on it. We had made it through that harrowing night.
And, we could see land on the horizon. Yippeee!
We pulled into the harbor and found the first place with a decent swing radius off the ICW to drop anchor and get some rest.
It was around 8:30 a.m. by then and we had both been going about 26+ hours. I don’t even remember crawling into the vberth and shutting my eyes. In fact, I’m not even sure how I got into bed. (That’s not the first time that’s happened, though, and I’m sure it won’t be the last).
But, it was a short reprieve. We hadn’t been asleep an hour – at most – and the Captain sprang back into action. He was up, walking around on the deck, making sounds that sounded all too much like he was readying the boat. I was cursing him from the vberth below. But, I finally roused and asked him what the plan was. “We’re going,” he said. “It’s beautiful out here. Not a cloud in the sky. We can make it to Ft. Myers today.”
That man … He’s got a sailor’s heart, no doubt. But, his enthusiasm was infectious. I started nodding my head slowly, then with a little more vigor, like a slow standing clap. You’re damn right we can! Our plan had been to make it to Ft. Myers that day and, after the horrendous night we had had in the Gulf, and we were now here, safe in the ICW, just a 5-6 hour motor away from our goal, then by gollie, let’s do it. Let’s get to Ft. Myers today! I started readying the boat with him.
And, if there is anything out there like “sea karma” or “gulf good will,” we had certainly earned ours. It was a beautiful motor day. Phillip was right, the sun was shining, the sights were superb along the ICW – Cayo Costa, Cabbage Key, all of the state parks along the way. We had definitely earned some favors from the Sea Gods (if there is such a thing). We tied on some swimwear and let our hair down. It was a glorious day on the boat!
This way Cap’n!
We let the solar shower warm on the deck during the day and enjoyed a luxurious cockpit shower in the afternoon. It’s amazing how much you can take for granted the feeling of just being clean. That is one of the things I truly love about sailing. How much it makes you appreciate the little things – a hot shower, a warm bed, a hearty home-cooked meal. Many of the things that, in all the hustle and bustle of a stressful day-to-day life on land, just seem like an afterthought, feel like a lavish treat when you’re out on the boat. It doesn’t take much, a good book perhaps, a warm cup of coffee, and you’ll find yourself warmed from head to toe with complete contentment.
We made easy way along the ICW that day through Pine Island Sound,
over to San Carlos Bay, by Sanibel Island,
and under the Sanibel Causeway Bridge to Ft. Myers Beach.
We were really excited to see the Beach in the distance. We had made it! The same day we had expected to – which was shocking considering the night we’d had. It was strange how the howling winds and treacherous seas of the Gulf now seemed a million miles away. Nothing could phase us here in Ft. Myers!
Do I really do that? Make that stupid face and thumb-point to landfall behind me?
Apparently … I certainly felt the need in St. Pete.
Well, let’s just throw in a self-serving selfie while we’re at it:
Needless to say, we were thrilled to be coming into Ft. Myers Beach. We even spotted a Pensacola boat headed in with us.
“Look Captain. He’s from P’Cola!”
How fortuitous. Take us on in Pensacola!
When we made it to the Matanzas Pass Bridge, we saw this massive pirate-looking ship just in front of the bridge – its mast easily too tall to get under:
And, there were these guys, way up in the rigging, doing some repairs or something I guess. But, they were dangling there, hundreds of feet from the ground (okay, I don’t know – maybe 70 feet – some courageous number I’m sure):
It was wild. We learned later that the boat was used for filming some of the scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean. You’re telling me Johnny Depp’s been on this boat? This … very … boat?
Mmmm Hmmmm … I would hurt him …
But, back to Phillip. And, the boat. We made our way nicely under the bridge and snagged a mooring ball in the Matanzas Harbor Mooring Field. Operated by the Town of Ft. Myers Beach and again, great rates – $15/day – includes dingy dock, restrooms, shower, laundry, pump-out, you name it. That place rocked!
And, I feel thankful now that we had really paid our dues the night before, fighting and leaping our way across the Gulf, because I think we ranked up just enough good will to save us from this one last catastrophe — a storm … of biblical proportions.
We made it to our mooring ball with ease and hooked up. Ahhh … Nothing to it. We’re experts on the ball now. I stepped up into the cockpit to snap a few shots to capture our new “home” for the next few days, and I’m glad now that I did. Because this is what we saw come over the horizon:
You see the Matanzas Bridge there?
Good, because do you see it now?
The rain came in sheets. Torrential, hard-hitting sheets. Not ten minutes after we had hooked up. Phillip ran up topside to get some our clothes and things off the “line” (the lifelines) and he came back soaked in seconds.
The sky grew an ominous boding grey,
And, rain buried the boats around us.
The wind was blowing 38 mph, with gusts of 42. It was intense and immediate. Frightening but thrilling at the same time. I really felt like I was going to start seeing animals, paired in twos, running along the shore to safety. And, while the thought didn’t strike me until the storm had passed, I can only wonder now what we would have done if that storm had hit 15 minutes earlier …