What’s the Worst Thing You Can Have on a Boat?

April 28-29, 2014:

I like to just ask it that way.  See what people say.  Most kind of look at you funny, scrunch up their brow (Yes, scrunch – how do you think a “scrunchy” gets that way?)

Stephanie

Rockin’ it!

and either ask “What exactly do you mean by that?” or start thinking on the possibilities.  But, ask several cruisers that question, and I’ll bet you get several different answers:

A fire perhaps?

Fire

Just tragic … 

Lightning?

LIghtning

That would also fall into the category of ‘Suck’

Phillip tried several of these when I first asked him, and then – to my pleasant surprise – threw out a wild guess of:

A nagging woman?”

Lion

Nice try, but …

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It is a fun question because it can spark so many different answers (as well as interesting follow-up questions – Do you mean to happen TO the boat?  Or be ON the boat?, etc.) – and it usually leads to some really interesting tales at sea.  I believe I would have answered that question the same way before we ventured off to the Keys, but I certainly did not expect to experience my particular brand of “worst thing” on this trip!  But, that’s the thing about sailing you have to constantly expect the unexpected.  So, where were we?

Ahhh … yes.  The busted First Mate.  Perhaps not the worst thing to have on a boat, but it’s definitely up there in the list of not-so-good things.  So, we were heading across the Gulf from Key West to Ft. Myers, and I was icing the knee and arm, hoping for immaculate recovery.

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Pretty.  The swelling really makes my bi’s and tri’s look huge, though, doesn’t it?  Like a body-builder.  Think I’ll sign up for it next year!

Lift

Hell yeah!

Thankfully, once we took the ice off, the swelling had gone down some and, while the arm hurt, it was mostly numb and mostly purple, but seemingly fully-functional, so that gave me some relief.  The knee, however, was the real cause for concern.  It was king of popping and clicking when I bent and straightened it and causing some pain when lowering and raising while weight-bearing.  Knees are just such complicated joints.  One little strain or tear and it just doesn’t function correctly.  I figured there was some soft-tissue injury for sure, but I just decided to really baby it and see how things went.  Thankfully, it was a gorgeous sailing day.

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We were on a perfect broad reach with 10-12 knots of wind most of the day.  Otto was holding, so we kicked back, cracked open a few books (and the Kindle) and spent a leisurely afternoon sailing and reading.  I was digging into the second of what I called the “Dragon Lady” books.  I had read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on the way down to the Keys, and now I was tearing through the second in the series – The Girl Who Played with Fire.  Both very good reads – elaborate, intriguing plots and characters that keep you invested to the very end.  We polished off the blue cheese gnocchi that we saved from 7 Fish the night before,

Gnocchi

and also dug into Phillip’s ham salad that we had made before leaving Key West.

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Yum!

Other than the potentially-permanent limp, we enjoyed an exquisite afternoon/evening of sailing.

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There is just nothing like watching the sun set on the edge of a vast, blue horizon.  There are no buildings or signs or structures to block it.  You can watch every single pink inch as it drops out of the sky.  Just proof that – more often than not – real life is better than the movies.  But we love movies too …

Uh-oh, guess what day it is??  Guess!!

Camel

Mmmhhh-hmmm, that’s right.  It’s MOVIE DAY!   Or movie time, I guess.  Since we had such a steady sail going, such great weather and a perfect heading holding, we decided to crank up the laptop and put on a movie.  (And, yes, much to Phillip’s chagrin, I do the whole “Movie Day” camel bit EVERY time we put on a movie on the boat.  Every … time … )  By the way, if you think about it – a camel.  Also another strong contender for “worst thing you can have on a boat.”  Can you just imagine …

We decided to put on Leonardo DiCaprio’s J. Edgar Hoover that night.

Hoover pic

Trailer HERE.

Another captivating performance by DiCaprio (that man is such a chameleon), and a riveting look at the development of the FBI’s internal database.  It was a little slow, though, and after the morning scare, my body’s attempts at recovery, gnocchi, salad and a soothing day of sailing, I hate to say it, but this crew was starting to nod off.  That changed, though, about half-way through the movie, when we started to hear the beginning rumblings of a massive thunder-storm behind us.  We had just been joking, too, when we began the movie that “movie night” on the old Plaintiff’s Rest seems just a bit cursed.  You may recall the last time we tried to kick back and watch a movie in the cockpit and Armageddon struck – the winds jumped from 9 to 15 to 25 in all of 10 minutes, we battled another flailing halyard, broke out the Frankenstein-assembled butterfly net on a stick (a.k.a. a gaff) and eventually lost the halyard up the mast altogether.

And, now – we put on a movie and what?  Thunder??  Cursed, I tell ya.  Cursed!!  It’s funny how on the boat, though, when either of us hears that first guttural rumble in the distance, you kind of ignore it at first.  I mean, you heard it, you’re sure the other crew members heard it, but it’s like you don’t want to be the first to acknowledge it – as if you’ll bring thunder to life by mentioning it?  You usually kind of wait until you hear one more, and then you exchange that “look” with your fellow crew of — you heard that, right?  We both heard it.  We both knew what it was.  After a few rumblings, we paused the movie to look around the boat and – sure enough – a big, billowy cumulus thunderhead lurked behind us off the starboard stern and we watched as a vicious streak of lightning blazed through it.  It was pretty far off in the distance, so it didn’t worry us too much, but just as we were looking out past our stern, a huge bolt raced through a cloud that was just off our mid-ship, maybe a mile or so out.  That concerned us.

Light

Okay, that image is *ahem* … borrowed, but I did try to capture a bolt or two while we were out there.  It’s just so hard to click fast enough to capture the light.  Here’s Phillip looking out, though, on the the only-intermittent darkness.

Dark

We kept watching the movie a bit longer, but the periodic rumbles and bolts were far too distracting.  We decided to turn the movie off for a bit and sit up on the deck to watch the lightning.  It was still a good ways off, but it was hard to tell which way the storm was moving – particularly the stack of clouds on our midship.  While the storm was kind of frightening, it was also invigorating.  The adrenaline woke us both up, and the sight was just breathtaking.  To get to watch lightning streak through the sky like that, time and again, really is stunning.  Thankfully, though, the mid-ship storm rolled past us at a safe distance.  While it’s not at the top of my list, lightning is definitely something I never want to see on the boat.

We finished the movie and transitioned into our now pretty-routine pattern of “night shifts.”  Aside from the occasional tricky ladder shuffle with my bum knee, the night went smoothly.  We cruised right along on our same broad reach under a thick blanket of stars and sailed right through to sunrise.

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Looks about like sunset, huh?  But, that’s one of the great things about life on the boat – you start to rise and set with the sun.  It was a rare day on the trip that we didn’t see both the sunrise and sunset, which is a really reassuring sign that you are truly enjoying every minute of every day.  We boiled up a nice pot of coffee and enjoyed the cruise toward Ft. Myers.

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A visual inspection proved not much had changed since the day before … my arm and leg were still looking … ummm … pretty.

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We had made such great time during the night, though, that we decided – instead of stopping at Ft. Myers Beach again, where spent an incredible few days before making the jump to Key West, to go ahead and motor on up into the ICW by Sanibel Island to check out the area around Cayo Costa Key that our buddy Johnny Walker had told us about.

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And, THAT’S when we experienced the worst thing think you can have on a boat.  Phillip headed down below to re-fill his coffee mug and re-up on the sunscreen (a regular routine on the boat) and fiddle around with a few things.  I was a bit of a slow-mover that day, so I didn’t get off my keister to investigate, but I heard him pull the cover back on the engine.  Not too abnormal of a thing to do when we find ourselves motoring for a while.  It’s always good to pull the cover back every couple of hours and make sure you don’t have any drips or fluids or water leaking out of the engine.  So, that wasn’t too out of the ordinary.  But, with the engine hatch still back, Phillip took a few steps up the companionway ladder and started looking around intently, as if he was trying to figure out exactly where we were, just how far we were from land.  That’s when my brow scrunched.

“What?  What, is it?” I asked him.  And, after a few solid seconds of silence, he finally let out a rough breath and responded.

“Well, we’ve got somewhat of a leak.”

SOMEWHAT?!?  You either have a leak or you don’t.  He confirmed what I feared was true.  We had sea water coming into the boat.  Now, THAT, my friends is the worst thing I think you can have on a boat.  A LEAK.

“I’m Okay!” … sort of (Viewer Discretion Advised)

April 28, 2014:

The first thing I remember seeing after the fall was the big, white meat of my arm.  Between the time I hit, opened my eyes and blinked several times at it, it had grown twice the size.  I knew it had hit, something, and I knew it hurt, but to see it so swollen, so suddenly, just mesmerized me.  I really thought it might be broken.  In all of the wild antics of my youth – gymnastics, barrel racing, cheerleading, jello wrestling and other numerous, countless stupid decisions in college – I had yet to break a bone (knock on wood) and I was thinking this might be the end of that lucky streak.  I clenched my first a time or two and rolled my wrist and, while my entire forearm was numb and throbbing, everything seemed to be working fine, so I decided the bones were at least intact.

“I’m okay … I think,” I said.  “I, … I think I’m okay.”

I heard Phillip set the auto-pilot so he could come on deck to check on me and I noticed the main halyard (that bleepin’ thing) was now dangling at about his waist-level on the deck.  Before thinking about how it got there, I grabbed it (that bleepin’ thing) and began to surmise that I must have pulled it down, at least in part, during my fall because it was now so much lower.  But, I couldn’t recall exactly, grabbing it or letting it go.  But that got me thinking about the fall.  Why had I fallen?  What had snapped?

As if hearing my thoughts, Phillip said “the lazy jack snapped,” as he stepped up on deck.  I didn’t even look up (assuming I even could turn around to see it), I knew exactly what he meant.  We had busted the lazy jack line for the stack pack on the starboard side during our passage to Port St. Joe.

Pack2

That time it was because of rough wind and weather that had caused the sail to put too much force on the starboard lazy jack line, causing the rivet on the spreader to rip clean off.

Spreader

And, what we gathered from that incident was that the lazy jack lines are not intended to hold extensive weight.  We have since learned (from our trusty rigger, Rick Zern) that this design is intentional so that the rivet for the lazy jack line will fail before excessive strain is placed on the spreader.  Makes sense.  But, clearly this riveting (no pun intended) fact somehow escaped me as I was doing my circus act up on the boom, reaching with all my might, one strained, out-stretched hand to the halyard, the other with a mighty death-grip on the port-side lazy jack line.

Line3

And, then SNAP!  I’d done ripped the one on the port-side off, too, and suffered a mighty fall as a result.

Spreader2

Dad-burnit!

It all made sense–now–as I lay in a crumpled heap on the deck.  But, what’s done is done.  At least I hadn’t broken anything, or so I thought.  As I started to stand, though, to re-secure the halyard, I discovered a new pain–my knee.  It seems it, too, had hit something and it, too, was already swollen.  Phillip frowned at me and laid a sturdy hand on my shoulder, which told me to sit tight for a minute. He secured the halyard then helped me to my feet so I could hobble back to the cockpit.  Like my arm, my knee was numb and throbbing, but it appeared to be working.  Phillip seemed to be comforted, slightly, by the fact that I was somewhat satisfactorily mobile, but I hated to see such a look of worry and anger on his face.  While I had managed to get that bleepin’ halyard down, it was at a serious cost, and it was clear the Captain was not impressed with my … heroism.

We set me down in the cockpit for a good once-over (I warn you, this is not pretty):

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The arm had developed some gnarly purple streaks where (I can only assume) it sheared down the lifelines on the way to the deck.

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It was fat and painful, but, like I said–working.

The knee had developed this very strange ping-pong ball-shaped lump on the left side of my kneecap:

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I wasn’t sure what to even make of that.  Why the perfect round lump?  Why swelling in such an isolated spot?  I had injured my knee before–well, this knee (the left) actually, years and years ago.  I tore my ACL while tumbling in high school and had it surgically repaired back in 2000.  But, just last year, I sprained the MCL in my right knee during my first attempt at skiing.  It had swollen then, too, almost instantly, but it was a global swelling of the whole knee–not just a perfectly segregated ping-pong ball lump–and it required a massive needle and surgical suction for that swelling to eventually dissipate.  (You may recall the removal of the spawn of Satan from my knee!).  This lump was strange …   We did all we knew to do at the time–ice everything and see what developed.

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As I sat there, looking back on it, I can’t promise I wouldn’t jump back up on that boom to try and retrieve a swinging halyard–it is such a monstrous chore to retrieve it once it inches its way out of your reach–but I guess the best I can say is I hope to never let go of the halyard again.  We already knew this lesson, we’d learned it several times, but it just happens, sometimes as a result of rocking waves or other hazards, but other times just as a result of a senseless human error (it’s entirely possible to just accidentally let go of something).  I mean, you have hands to hold things, but they’re human hands, so they err.  I am hopeful, at least, that we have now sufficiently modified our halyard-shackling procedure to eliminate the frequency of the latter.

We always secure our halyard away from the mast while at anchorage or the marina so as not to be “that guy” at the party.

ThatGuy_Party

Yes, that one.  If the sun’s just starting to set at the anchorage, folks are just starting in on their second cocktail or dinner,  kicked back in the cockpit for a quiet evening on the hook and you’re the one whose halyard is banging, trust me, you are that guy.

Murray

And, to make sure my internet scouring for the perfect “that guy” images does not go to waste, do know that there are various websites on the web devoted entirely to helping you NOT be “that guy”:

1) “Avoid Being that Guy (or Girl) at a Party” (you gotta love Wikihow’s gender equality – no one wants to be “that girl” either); and

2) “Office Holiday Party – Making a Good Impression

Rather, we like to come to the party real quiet-like, nice and smooth and subtle.  The svelte gentlemen in the black attire, if you will, the guy that everybody likes.

Bond

Yeah, that guy.  So, when we drop our main sail before dropping the hook, we have made a habit of securing the main halyard to one of the lazy jacks that holds up the stack pack.  Here:

Stack

After this incident, we decided to snap the shackle back to the sail before leaving the dock or anchorage, but we found this occasionally allows the sail to start bouncing up a bit, particularly in rough seas, putting slack in the main halyard line which may cause it, if the wind is on your stern, to get wrapped around one of the arms of the spreader.  Recall, this is exactly the incident that caused me to climb up on the boom in the first place.  And, this is true even with the stack pack zipped closed as the rocking and bouncing of the boat can cause the sail to inch the zipper open and try to climb.  This does not happen often, however, so we chose the lesser of two evils–that is, securing the main halyard to the sail before leaving the dock/anchorage so that we are not doing it up on the deck, while underway, potentially in rough seas.

But, we have since learned an even better trick from a trusted boating friend and the knowledgeable fellow that did our bottom job back in May of last year (thank you Bottom-Job Brandon with Perdido Sailor).  We still remove the shackle from the stack-pack line and attach it to the main sail prior to leaving the dock/anchorage, but we now bring the line down and wrap it around the winch on the port-side of the mast so that the tension is pulling the sail down (not up) to prohibit any slack from forming in the line.

Slack

See?  In sailing, you learn something new every day.  And, trust me, you will find a way–every day–to do something you’ve been doing for years in just a little better way.  It’s all about getting out there and doing it, making mistakes and learning, but continuing to do it.  A fine example is our stack-pack lazy-jack fix!  If you recall, when the lazy-jack line on the starboard side busted, the Captain came up with an ingenuous way to raise it back up using a somewhat-of-a spare line (the staysail halyard), so that we still had a functioning stack pack for the remainder of our trip to the Keys:

Halyard

He’s kind of smart like that sometimes!

But, since we had had to improvise and rig up a busted lazy-jack line before, we now knew how to do it again.  With another somewhat-of-a spare line on the port-side–this time, the topping lift for the spinnaker.  But, as it seemed we were running out of “spare” lines to hoist broken things, we vowed – “no more lazy-jack snaps!” – for the rest of the trip and hoped it would stick.  For the time being, I was numb but not broken.  We decided to hold the ice on for the first hour or so to attack the swelling, then we would remove it and have me move about a bit later in the day to assess the real damage.  I was sure there was going to be some (potentially severe) soft-tissue injury to my knee–and what an annoyance on a boat!–when it’s always up and down the companionway, kneel down here, squat there.  I couldn’t imagine losing the full function of such a crucial joint.  I was nervous and anxious about my limbs and my ability to fulfill my duties as First Mate for the remainder of the trip.  I mean, we had just left the Keys.  We still had 500 nautical miles to sail …

But, what’s done is done.  I had fallen, and I couldn’t change that.  And, we were still on the best sailing voyage of our lives.  I laid back on the ice, the Captain handled the sails and we set out for a beautiful day of sailing across the Gulf.

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“Annie, Are You Okay??”

April 28, 2014:

It was time to say goodbye to the Keys.  While we certainly enjoyed our time on that quirky little island (and the breathtaking ferry over to the Dry Tortugas), it was time to give our livers – and pocketbooks – a break and start making our way back north toward Pensacola.  After a week on dry land, though, we were ready to make another passage, ready to find ourselves back out in the middle of the Gulf with nothing on the horizon but blue sky meeting bluer water, water gently lapping the hull, the sun warming our skin as we read on the deck all afternoon, and, yes, even the night shifts, sailing that beautiful boat under a smattering of stars.  It was time to make way!

We woke early and started readying the boat for passage.  We tossed the lines first thing and headed out (literally, bow first from our stern-in slip at the A&B Marina – which was much easier exiting than entering, I can assure you).  We made coffee on the boat for the first time since we had docked in Key West, and we promptly decided the Cuban Coffee Queen Hut had “nothing on us!”  There’s just something about making your own coffee on the boat in the french press, and sipping that first warm mug while you’re starting out on a long passage.

coffee

We waved goodbye to Sunset Key as we made our way out of Key West Bight.

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KWB

We had a bit of a scare when a pretty intimidating law enforcement vessel started motoring right toward us.

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Phillip and I watched them with furrowed brows likely thinking the same thing – “Is that Y valve in the head turned the right way?”  We had heard they keep a pretty close eye on regulation compliance in the Keys and the Coast Guard guys won’t hesitate to come aboard for an inspection.  We were sure it was, but it’s one of those things if you ask yourself twice – “Are you really sure?” – that you start to second guess.  Thankfully, though, The Law motored on behind us and continued on their way.  Whew!  Disaster avoided … or so we thought.  But the adventures that day were just beginning.

You ever have one of those days that starts out perfectly normal, you begin your typical routine, you go about your business – completely unaware that this day is probably going to stick out in your mind for the rest of your meager existence.  Everything seems to routine, so mundane and then BAM!  It happens.  Whatever it is – a car accident, a fire, an unexpected encounter, you win the lottery (let’s all hope!) – but, whatever it is, it’s something that makes that day stand out among the hundreds of bland, uniform days that preceded it.  I guess being on this trip – a daily adventure – sort of changes that equation (in that every single ONE of our days on this trip held something new, something that will probably stick out in my mind for decades to come) but, still, I thought we were just going to get underway and make passage back to Ft. Myers.  I thought maybe we would see a shark, perhaps run into some weather, some “adventure” I was mentally prepared for – but not this …

My day started something like this,

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but that’s not how it ended.

We were motoring through the channel out of Key West Bight.  It was a beautiful morning, around 9:00 a.m., not too hot yet, a light breeze coming in.  We were ready to do some sailing!  We decided to raise the main while we were making our way out of the channel so we could throw the Jenny out as soon as we made our way out and catch the wind.

KW

I hopped up on the deck to attach the main halyard (the line that raises the main sail) to the sail.  We always detach it from the sail and clip it away from the mast so that it does not bang when we’re in the marina or on the hook.  (But, I’ll tell you – as a direct result of this very incident – we have since formed the habit of connecting the halyard BEFORE we leave the dock so that we are not doing it underway.)  But, that is now.  This was then.  This is how lessons are learned.

I loosened the halyard and hopped up on the deck to connect it.  Unfortunately, the wind was on our stern so it caught the slack in the halyard and blew it around one of the spreaders.  For those of you who are sailing newbies – just imagine an important line is caught on some of that stuff up there on the mast, so we can’t pull it to raise our sail.  And, the wind is on our stern, so it’s holding the halyard firmly in it’s ‘caught’ position.  I let out more slack and embarked in an ancient rope-whipping dance (do recall my country roots),

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that thankfully freed the halyard.  You would think the hard part is over, but I’ve got to move quickly to get the slack pulled out so the line remains free and untangled so we can raise the main.  So, I’m now holding the shackled end of the halyard in one hand, and holding the slack taught down the mast in the other.  Basically pulling against myself to keep tension in the line so it stays flush on the mast and cannot snag on anything.  A fine practice, if you’re standing on the deck, doing nothing other than holding the line, but I get the brilliant idea that I can go ahead and climb the step up the mast and hook the shackle whilst holding both ends of the halyard taught in 2-3 foot waves.  Looking back on it now, that’s probably a three-handed job, and I’ve only got two, so … 

As I’m stepping up the mast, a light wave rocks the boat and I have to grip or I’m going to fall.  My body takes over instinctively (I guess) and lets go of the bleepin’ halyard so I can grap a cleat on the mast to avoid falling.  To avoid falling … yes that was the plan, initially.  But, now you know I’ve committed the ultimate sin.

I LET GO OF THAT DAD-BURN HALYARD!!

I couldn’t believe it had actually happened until I saw it swinging playfully in front of me, taunting me, just out of reach.  As you recall, we have only let go of the halyard a couple of times on the boat, but each time required a monstrous chore to retrieve it – climbing the 50′ mast.  The first time, we were at the marina back in Carrabelle and we raised the halyard on the Jenny back up the mast not knowing it wouldn’t come back down with just a wiggle and a shake.  A rookie mistake – but it meant a mast-climb (thankfully secure at the marina, though) for me.  The second time was when we were making the passage from Dog Island to Clearwater on our way down to the Keys (you remember the attempt at the butterfly-net retrieval?).  Since we were underway, that time meant another mast-climb for yours truly, only this time mid-sea.  That climb was one of the scariest moments, so far, on the trip for me, and I was damn sure I wasn’t going to let that happen again.  I was going to get that halyard!  Nothing was going to stop me!

It was swinging around just out of reach, I didn’t even think the Captain knew what had happened yet, and I thought if I could retrieve it and snap it on the sail before he even knew — even better.  I jumped up on top of the boom.

Yes, the boom.  I told you — I was going to GET THAT HALYARD!

And, up there, I was eye-level with it.  I had a fighting chance!  I just needed it to swing my direction (in those random, bouncy 2-3 foot waves – it could happen!).  It came so close several times, and I almost had it.  Phillip had seen me up there by now, but all he could belt out was a forceful, “Annniiee” followed by a stern “be careful!”

I will try my best to depict this with my rudimentary sketch skills, so bear with me, but it at least helps you visualize.  Here I am, up on the boom, going for that bleepin’ halyard!

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I was standing on the main sail, holding daintily onto one of the port-side lazy-jack lines that holds the stack-pack up, just for balance.  After we had snapped the one on the starboard side clean off the spreader during our first rough night into Port St. Joe, I knew it didn’t take much to rip one off, so I was just using it for balance.  I was, I swear.  Until …

Until the halyard came swinging toward me.  Finally!  There it was!  I could reach it!  I stretched a hand out toward it …

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and then SNAP!

With the halyard in sight, my fingers finally feeling the threads on it, I am sure my dainty little hold and light pull on the lazy jack line became a full-on death grip and full-weight dependent tug.  Just as I clinched my hand around the main halyard shackle, I heard a loud SNAP!, I can’t remember what I saw or how my body reacted, but I felt a sickening thud, and the next thing I remember, I’m raising myself from a crumpled position on the starboard deck (between the cabin and the lifelines) with the main halyard in my right hand.  Phillip stepped out from the behind the bimini with a horrific look on his face, his voice commanding, “Annie, are you okay?”

“I, I … ” I couldn’t really form a complete sentence.  I didn’t know how, or what to say if I even could.

ANNIE, ARE YOU OKAY?” Phillip persisted, his voice now a stern shout.

“I don’t know,” I told him.  Because I didn’t.

Zeee BEST Key Lime Pie on zee Island

April 27, 2014:

I’m not sure why I kept saying it like that, but I did.  “Zee best, Phillip.  We must find zee best!”  It just seemed to give it a little more urgency with a thick Italian accent.  We had went on the hunt for the “zee best” key lime pie on the island the night of the Captain’s Big Four-Oh celebration, but I’m sad to say we didn’t find it.  Not that night (although we tried more pies than I can remember, and it seemed more pie made it on my dress and shoes than in my mouth – or so we discovered the next morning), but none of them really blew us away, so we were back on the hunt.  I mean, this was our last day on the island.  Our last chance!  Tomorrow, we would be tossing the lines and heading out (literally, heading out as we were sterned in at the slip at A&B Marina) and sailing back across the Gulf to begin our journey back up to Pensacola.

But, we had made it a long way.  While one of our original sail plans was to make the jump from the West Coast of Florida straight to the Dry Tortugas before heading over to Key West and then back north toward Pensacola,

Tortugas

such is the nature of “plans,” that’s all they are until they come to fruition.  And, it seems in sailing, they often do not, which actually is what makes it so much fun.  Every day seems to hold a new, unexpected adventure.  Instead of sailing straight to the Dry Tortugas, though, we had made the jump from Ft. Myers beach straight to Key West,

Map 1

and then took a ferry over to the Dry Tortugas and back.

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Although we will definitely make the trip to Garden Key by sailboat next time, the ferry ride over and back was still a great way to experience the islands.  But, having rounded the proverbial “corner” of our trip, tomorrow marked the day that we would get the boat back out there and turn her north.

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So, this was it.  Our last day to mozey around the quirky little backroads of Key West and explore.  We set off early in the morning and deemed the hunt for “zee best” key lime pie on the island our mission.  The day started out, as many on the island had, with a stout shot of Cuban coffee at the Cuban Coffee Queen hut.

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Then it was off on foot!  To see and experience anything and everything we could!

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We walked for miles.  Okay, maybe two.  But, that’s still plural.  Starting to feel the first hunger pangs of the morning, we knew we had a big decision to make.  Where to eat.  Seriously, it was a tough one.  Do we take a chance on one of the many new places we had seen on our epic hike, or do we eat again at one of the places we already knew we loved?  We often face this dilemma when we travel to places we’ve been before.  NOLA is a prime example.  Things start to get dicey when we’re trying to decide whether to eat at Domenica or MiLa again (knowing every dish will be exquisite, savory, heaven on our pallets!), or do we venture off to that new little eatery that just opened in the Marigny that everyone’s raving about?  Decisions, decisions … 

We decided, for lunch, to go back to the place we had deemed our favorite restaurant in Key West – Paseo’s!  That little converted gas station that cranks out bowl after bowl of the sauciest, cheesiest Cuban wonders.

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Yeah, that place.  We definitely had to do that one again.  While we would have loved to bask under the misters outside, this time the place was pretty packed (a good sign for one of the many little eateries in Key West) so we plopped down at the bar inside and lavished in a little AC while we were putting in our order.

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You heard the monkey.  “Stop staring at my banana!”

Monkey

Love that place …   Phillip got the hot pressed Cuban sandwich again,

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which was excellent, just like last time, but (in a rare, glimmer or good-ordering luck) my pick was way better!  I decided to get really wild with it this time and order up the West Carribean bowl.

Goods

Uhhh-huh.  That one.

And, it did not disappoint.  That was probably the best meal of the trip for me.  Flavorful beans and rice covered with homemade salsa, layers of melty cheese, sour cream, fresh cilantro and pickled jalapenos, with a big succulent, roasted chicken thigh laid on top.

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Tortilla rounds for dipping and eating.  Every bite was cheesy and savory.  The perfect balance of mexican/carribean flavors.

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Yum.  But, it was HUGE.  If we had to do it over again, Phillip and I both agreed we could have easily shared the bowl, which means our favorite restaurant on the island (and ultimately our favorite meal of the trip) was also the cheapest.  (Although the Captain is not too keen on my use of that word – I guess mostly when I’m referring to wine – “Wow, this wine is really good, Phillip, and so cheap!”).  I’ll say it was the most economical.  We could stuff ourselves to the gills for only $6 a piece!!  I can assure you we paid more than that for each glass of wine we had at the fancier places.  But, it’s all about the experience you’re craving at the time.  We were in the mood for a cheesy pile of Cuban goodness in a rooster-pecking, misty gas station that day, so Paseo’s was the perfect choice.  After lunch, it was time to fulfill our ultimate mission that day … that’s right.  Say it.  With the accent.

“Zee BEST key lime pie on zee island!”

We set off.  We tried a bite here, a bite there,

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and they were all good.  Each one a little different.  Some a little more tangy, some a little sweeter.  Some with meringue, some with lime shavings, some plain.  But, we hadn’t felt like we had quite found the BEST piece piece when we stumbled upon this little gem.

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Kermit’s Key West Lime Shop, where they offered:

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Not just key lime pie, but frozen chocolate-dipped key lime pie on a stick??  Could this be it?  

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And, not only did they promise it was the best key lime pie on the island, no, no.  This was boasted as one of the “10 best desserts in America!”

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You can’t be serious.  But, they were.  Phillip didn’t hesitate.  “We’ll take it.  One frozen chocolate-dipped key lime pie, please.”  The key lime shop boy held up a frosty piece of pie and we both eyed it intently, the air swirling around it like dry ice, and the first few little droplets of sweat forming on the chocolate.  Phillip held it out to me, “ladies first,” and I took my first chilly bite.  Frozen, the lime seemed to take on a bolder, richer flavor that paired perfectly with the decadent dark chocolate coating.

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It was easily, hands down, the undisputed holder of the title Zee BEST key lime pie on zee island.  We had found it!  Frozen, dipped in chocolate, and waiting for us in this quirky little key lime shop right near the marina.  But, that was just the beginning.

More

Yes, there’s more.  After we moaned and mmmmhhhh‘ed through our first few bites, knowing we had found it – zee best! – the shop boy told us (perhaps because we were making a bit of a scene in the store) that there was a “little veranda out back” where we could enjoy our pie.  We looked up at the boy with chocolate-covered faces and then looked back at each other.  A veranda?  Sounds great.  Let’s check it out.  

There, tucked behind the shop (completely hidden from the street) was the perfect little shaded terrace where one could sit daintily at the rod iron bistro style tables, overlooking the coy pond and waterfall and nibble on the frozen decadent treat that had been deemed one of the 10 best desserts in America.

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Yes, this, is where we ate “zee best” key lime pie on the island.  And, the pond was filled with beautiful Chinese fish.

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I just noticed the whopping pie-on-a-stick in this shot when I sat down to write this blog, and I had to laugh.  Trying to get all artsy with it.  Nice try, Captain!

I sat and watched the fish tool around in the little pond while the Captain ate most of the pie.

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We found a poster on the wall, too, with each of their head shots and names – Darth Vader, Carrot Top, Cagney and Lacey …

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Our hunt for the best key lime pie had lead us to the coolest little place!  This was one incredibly happy First Mate!

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But, the leisurely strolls through the streets of Key West had to be balanced with the work we knew we needed to get done to ready the boat and crew for the passage tomorrow.  We headed over to Fausto’s to provision up for the trip.  Our buddy Postal Bob had recommended it as the best stop on the island for food, provisions and supplies, and he was right.  We stocked up, and headed back to the boat to wash clothes at the marina laundry, fill the water tanks, and make some easy, filling food for the passage.  We decided this time to make a hearty ham salad.

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Diced ham, cheese, tomatoes and celery, tossed in a light Italian dressing.

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Hey, check it out!  I’m cooking and blogging!

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Bringing you only “zee best” of zee Plaintiff’s Rest!

Funny

Once we finished our chores, we cleaned and got ready to head out for our last night on the town.  We’d spent the afternoon whipping up some goodies for tomorrow, so we felt it was high time we whip up some goodies for to-DAY.

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Oh yeah.  That’s happening.  “Hey, Annie.  You want an Oh Shit?”

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“Yes, please!

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A little coconut rum, a little dark rum, some pineapple and just a splash of OJ and it’ll make you say “Oohh Shiiiiit!”  We love that drink!

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Cheers!

We made our to-go drinks and began our last saunter along the streets of Key West.  We decided there was another place on the island that we had to frequent twice before we left -to pay a little tribute I suppose to the legend – Hemingway’s old haunt, Sloppy Joe’s.  We ordered up a couple of ‘Ritas – the Sloppy-Rita for me, and the straight Mara-Rita for the Captain.

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Good stuff!

But, that was just the beginning of our cocktail crawl.  It seems that’s what you do in the Keys.  Don’t worry – we packed spare livers.  We decided we wanted to fill our first stomach (we packed a few extra of those, too) at the Schooner Wharf Bar.  We had walked through the outdoor dining/live music area before and had vowed to come back one afternoon to try out the oysters and happy hour specials there.  Well, this was our last chance, so we nestled in at a little table for two and began one of our favorite hobbies — People Watching!

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And, friends, let me just tell you the scene did not disappoint.  They came from all walks of life.  From salty, scraggly sailors that looked like they’d just rowed in from Cuba to wide-eyed ritzy Mr. and Mrs. Howell-type tourists that seemed simultaneously appalled yet oddly excited by the loud, schooner scene.

Howell

Oh my!

Not only were the people great to watch, though (I know, I really should have titled this post “But wait!  There’s more!“) they put on quite the show, too.  There was this loud party of six next to us that looked like they’d been there for hours.  Three empty foamy pitchers and a dozen dirty Schooner Wharf solo-like cups were laid out on the table before them and they would intermittently bust out in song or raucous laughter, seemingly oblivious to the other patrons around them.  I was, of course, eyeing them closely (knowing they were likely going to provide a gold-mine of fodder for the blog – this is rich stuff, people!) and they did not disappoint.  One of the women clumsily scooted her chair back, burped visibly and started to stand up to stumble to the bathroom when she let out a high-pitched little “whoop!” and stepped back really quickly (showing more dexterity than I thought she was capable of her in condition).  I leaned around to try and see whatever it was that had caused her to jump back.  She stood there for a moment with her head cocked to one side looking at it, too, but I couldn’t quite see what it was yet.  The woman wobbled down to a crouch and scooped it up and started massaging whatever IT was in her hands.  I still couldn’t quite make it out, but she started walking towards us with it so I knew I would get a glimpse.

Turns out it was a bird.  Looked like a pigeon.  And, she was stroking and massaging its chest, saying “Awww, c’mon now biddy.  It wasn’t so bad.”  

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She had stepped on it.

You would think, birds being so agile and dexterous, this one could have managed to find its way out of the path of this inebriated broad, but perhaps he’d been nibbling too many beer-soaked oyster crackers that fell from that party’s table to get his hide in gear before she – “whoop!” – smashed his poor little pigeon pride.

I did feel bad for her, and the bird.  She seemed genuinely sorry about it, but she was holding him on his back and giving him little timed chest compressions as if she could revive him.  “C’mon now … ”  Bird CPR, if you will, except for the mouth-to-mouth, or beak, I suppose.  Yes, that’s what we saw — bird CPR.  (I’ll have you know that was another raging contender for title of this post as well – it’s so hard to choose!).  She sat him down near the fence, and the poor little guy kind of sat there with his head wobbling around on his pigeon shoulders and blinking his eyes.  He didn’t move much at first, but when she came back to check on him, I think he heard her King Kong footsteps and big squawk voice coming – “Here biddy!”

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because he sprouted his little pigeon feet and high-tailed it, wobbling his way through a hole in the fence and out for cover.  We were cheering him on quietly from behind.  “Go, go, GO!”  What a show!  I’m telling you, I really can’t make this stuff up …

After the pigeon show, the cocktails (yes, more) and oysters came and we settled back for a great afternoon of entertainment at the old Wharf Bar.

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Yum.  

The guy playing music was very entertaining as well.  He was a singer/song-writer with a very dry sense of humor.  He said one of the songs he wrote was inspired by a gal who used to wait tables there at the bar, and right before he began the number, which was aptly titled She Got a Butt, he said “I’m glad that ____ doesn’t work here anymore.”  I’ll let you fill in the blank.  He was a riot.  We had a great time listening to his music and knocking back a few cocktails and a raw dozen.

We had made dinner reservations that night at another restaurant a fellow cruiser at the marina had said was his favorite on the island – 7 Fish.  It was very good, excellent fish, but just not our favorite – particularly for the price point.  And, unfortunately, it was very dark in there – made it difficult, even, to see what you had ordered.

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We started out with some mushroom quesadillas that ended up being our favorite part of the meal.  Super moist and flavorful.

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I got the blue chesse gnocchi with snapper on top, and the gnocchi was a big hit.  That is so hard to do well (trust me, we’ve tried!).

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And Phillip got the thai snapper.

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Excellent meal, but – you see what I mean – hard to see!  Our bellies, hearts (and livers!) full, we mozied on back to the boat to enjoy our last night in the slip at Key West.  Tomorrow morning, we would be getting up early (sunrise, likely), to ready the boat and begin making our way back across the Gulf up toward Ft. Myers.  We were ready to get back out in blue waters!  We were ready to make another passage!  What we weren’t ready for, was another debacle on the boat, a fall that ended with a sickening thud.  I warn you followers – next time, viewer discretion may be advised …

Book Swap Mojo

April 26, 2014:

You might think the ferry ride back from the Dry Tortugas was a little disheartening, having to leave those idyllic islands behind, knowing we had kind of hit the mid-point of our trip, geographically, at least, but it really didn’t have that effect.  “So, we’ve got to take this ferry back to Key West where our sailboat and more adventures are waiting?”  Yeah, not really a downer in our opinion.  We returned invigorated, excited to get back to our boat and tell her how beautiful it was on Garden Key and how much she was going to love sailing there when we come back to the Dry Tortugas.  We were excited to see Key West coming up in the distance.

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Phillip and I could both feel it, like a steady stream of electricity buzzing through us.  There were still so many places on the island to explore!  There was still so much to see and eat and do!  We were itching to get off that ferry to grab our next adventure by the collar and shake it!  This was our time!  And, we still had plenty of time that day.  The ferry returned from the Dry Tortugas around 4:00 p.m.  Uhhh-huhhh.  I know what you’re thinking.  Happy Hour.  That’s right.  We’ve still got time!  

We jumped in the shower quick to make it to Alonzo’s for the 50-cent oysters.  I brought The Paris Wife with me to the showers so I could make my tribute to the marina book swap on the way.  I finished The Paris Wife on the way to the Dry Tortugas, which was perfect, because it is a sad, poignant book.  The kind that sinks into your chest and begins to swell into an ache.  I found myself mad at Hemingway, hating him, but understanding him at the same time.  It certainly resonated.  So, it was good to shut that book and step off the ferry into crystal-green waters filled with shimmery fish clouds.  The feeling the book invokes is something you want to feel, but it’s also a feeling you want to balance with fresh air and beauty.  It was a day of closure it seemed, as Phillip finished In Our Time on the ferry-ride back.  He said it was really interesting reading it after The Paris Wife, where you saw Hemingway create it from his wife, Hadley’s, perspective, and he liked watching the evolution of Hemingway’s writing style from In Our Time, his first book, to his later masterpieces.  That one’s definitely on my list (as are many!)  But, since Phillip was reading it on the way back, I dug into my back-up book swap book – a juicy little Lee Childs thriller – 61 Hours.  I made it one third of the way through by the time we docked at Key West – certainly a fun, quick suspense read.

When we returned, I told Phillip I wanted to keep The Paris Wife and give it to a friend of mine back home who is an author, knowing she would appreciate the Hemingway haunt it had left me with, but he was quick to scold me.  “You can’t,” he said.  “You’ll ruin your book swap mojo.”

My what?!?

Yes, mojo, the Captain explained, in his infinite marina wisdom.  Apparently, there is some unspoken rule in the land of marina book swaps, that if you get a good book from a marina book swap, you’ve got to give it back at another marina to ensure your continued good book karma.  “Oh, alright!”  I supposed I could just tell my friend about The Paris Wife and she could get her own copy.  If that’s what it takes to nurture my mojo!

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So, I put it back, but, I think the marina sensed my flirt with thoughts of infidelity, because I was left with the Fabio, ripped abs romance novels, and this hot little western number:

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Whooo-pssshh!

Clearly my mojo was tainted.  I’m glad I had a Jack Reacher number and a few other alternatives to get me to the next marina, where I hoped to find less whips and abs.  (Not that there’s anything wrong with that).

Once showered, we headed to Alonzo’s Oyster Bar to enjoy another dozen 50-cent oysters and some crisp white wine in the shade.  The perfect treat after a long day in the sun.

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I love building the perfect bite on each cracker.  A fresh oyster, just the right amount of cocktail sauce, with a little horseradish mixed in, and a squeeze of lemon on top.  Follow that with a sip of chilled sauvignon blanc, repeat five times and that makes for a pretty darn happy hour for me!  While I was still mad at the man for his heartbreaking treatment of Hadley, I have to say, Hemingway certainly knew how to describe the taste:

Hem

After oysters, we headed back out on the street and found ourselves once again, drawn to the breath of the Hog!  Cliff Cody was belting out another Lady Gaga number at the Saloon, so we decided to stop in for a bit to check out the locals and let Cody serenade us through our first cold one(s).

Love the people-watching at Hog’s.  We knocked back one or two and then made our way over to the La Trattoria for a big, Italian dinner.  I mean, we’d been to the Dry Tortugas and back today.  We had snorkeled with sharks!  We had required first aid!  Certainly, we were entitled to a decadent, four course Italian meal?  We decided we were, and breezed right in.

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Table for two, please,” said the Captain.

We ordered up a great bottle of Montepulciano and the escargot.

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The wine had a great pepper finish that really cut through the richness of the escargot.  While it took me a couple of tries and several reiterations by the Captain for me to get the pronunciation of the wine right (had nothing to do with the alcohol intake I assure you), I finally nailed it!  Mon tae pul chee ahh noh.  And, I proudly showed off my Italian skills when I ordered our second bottle.  Teach me to pronounce wines, and you’re just asking for trouble …

It came just in time for our salad course – a homemade caeser with whole anchovies, fresh-grated parmesan and big crunchy, spiced croutons.  Superb!

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But, the dish that really stole the show was the canneloni.  Fresh canneloni, made in house, stuffed with ground veal and spinach and smothered in a baked tomato sauce.

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Press fingers to lips and “muah!”  Our big, Italian dinner was the perfect treat after a long, adventurous day.  We had been to the Dry Tortugas and back – a definite milestone on our trip.  But, we still had so much ahead.  We still had to sail our boat all the way back to Pensacola from the Keys.  If the trip back was anything as exciting as the trip down, we were in for an incredible adventure.  We had one more day in the Keys, then we would set off again, back out into the open Gulf, back on night shifts, back OUT THERE!