May 2-4, 2014:
While they were certainly barreling into the slip, it turned out the “Coming in Hot!” boys didn’t really need our help. About half-way into the slip, the skipper threw it in reverse full throttle and nudged right up to a piling on the starboard side with just the slightest ‘squeak’ and they were in. It was incredibly impressive. He handled that 30′ sailboat like it was a Sea Doo. They offered their thanks and waved us off, and Phillip and I set back to our main mission – DINNER. It was our second night in Venice, and after hob-knobbing and indulging ourselves the night before in the fine-dining atmosphere on the second floor of the Crow’s Nest Marina restaurant …
we decided to get back to our roots this time and slum it with the rest of the salty sailors on the bottom floor of the restaurant – the Tavern. And, what an experience …
They had this guy there playing live music. He appeared to have a little Middle-Eastern influence and just the slightest hint of a lisp. Strange combination, I know, but it gave his vocals this raspy, soulful quality. And, the guitar he was playing had like six strings on each side – a total of 12 – and he seemed to use every single finger on both hands to pluck each one of them. He was captivating. Here – see for yourself:
Good stuff, right? He was awesome. And, in between sets, he liked to play trivia with the audience – real old school music history stuff. Like, who wrote the first version of that song? What band did he originally play with? Way beyond my time, but several folks would call out answers and he would rip them a new one if they were wrong – all in good fun. He was quite entertaining. But, he didn’t turn out to be the actual entertainment. I hope you noticed in the video, the guy that was sitting with his back right next to us. The one the nice waitress had to ask “Sir, could you please scoot your chair forward so we can get by with the food?” If not – watch it again. Because, THIS guy was truly entertaining.
You’ll notice his clapping off-beat at the beginning of the video (when it’s not really a “clapping” kind of song if you know what I mean). We’d been watching him since we sat down. A real, attention-seeking fellow, that man, on the verge of belligerence. First, he tried to hit on a gal sitting next to him (who was with a male companion might I add) and that didn’t pan out. He then tried to guess one of the trivia questions, which also didn’t pan out. And, just when he had finally quieted for a moment, the waitress came by and kindly asked him to scoot his chair forward, stirring the nest all over again. He was offended … to the core. After she walked by, he threw his hands up in disgust and loudly protested. “What am I supposed to do, Gary? Sit like this??” he practically shouted to the guy sitting two feet from him as he scooched his beanpole chest all the way up to the table and hunkered over his food in a dramatic over-exaggeration. “I mean, what does she expect?” Wow. He repeated his scooch and hunker-down show every time the waitress came by and loudly pushed his chair back out in rebellion after she’d passed back by, his arms folded over his chest in a snooty pout. It was the adult equivalent of a tantrum, and … to our pleasant surprise – wildly entertaining. Don’t you just love people??
In any event, we thoroughly enjoyed the soulful music, rustic atmosphere and “live entertainment” at the Crow’s Nest Tavern that night. We ordered up a raw dozen, some rich escargot, a delicious bahn mi sandwich and an insanely-huge piece of Oreo cheesecake.
De-lish! Needless to say, we didn’t last long after that meal …
May 3, 2014:
We woke the next morning to another Lion King quality sunrise. NaaaaaaaasuhWHENya … Okay, I won’t go through it again. But, it was gorgeous coming up over Bird Island.
This time it was Phillip’s turn to take the sunrise session and get his African chant on while he paddled the coves and inlets around the marina.
We had been watching the storm in the Gulf, and it appeared the sea state was going to lay down enough to let us head out tomorrow for Clearwater. So, with a passage on the horizon, we set our sights on provisioning the boat. We had a good bit of hearty root vegetables on the boat (sweet potatoes, carrots, onions, etc.) that needed eating, so we decided to make a big pot of sweet potato chili. (It also rained most of the morning, so what better way to pass the time than cook up a big pot of soup!) We tried this recipe initially before we even got our boat, when we were just cooking out of galley cookbooks for fun – only dreaming of what we would actually make when we were on an actual passage, in our actual BOAT! And, we first made it on passage when we were sailing the boat back from Punta Gorda, FL where we purchased it in April, 2013. There we go!
While the chili was a hit amongst the crew initially, we did receive some complaints later from one disgruntled crew member — the infamous Mitch. (Let me just say I spared you some of the more disgusting details about our initial crossing) and suffice it to say that the man thoroughly enjoyed the chili going in — not so much coming out. And, when I was faced with the remnants he had left for me in the head, he boldly blamed the “Broccoli Crappola” we had fed him for dinner …
It was sweet potato chili.
Not a single stalk, leaf or floret of broccoli in it.
But, to this day, the Captain and I still lovingly call our sweet potato chili “Broccoli Crappola” in memoriam. Ahhh … Mitch. You gotta love that man. Since we had all the necessary ingredients already,
we went ahead and made a big batch of it for easy re-heat during passage.
This chili is great because the ingredients for it (basically carrots, sweet potato, onions, black beans, chopped tomatoes) are incredibly hearty and will hold until you’re ready to make it. It’s easy, cheap, delicious and filling. What more do you need on a boat? Recipe here. And, since we’d made a huge batch, there was plenty for us to have a bowl that day for lunch.
Did I mention the cheap part? Venice was certainly burning a hole in our budget …
In the afternoon, we headed over to the marina to do some laundry and clean up and – of all the people – guess who we ran into? Yep! The “Coming in Hot!” boys. As you recall, they were occupying the slip right next to us, so we, of course, as a result of natural marina curiosity, had watched them emerge from their boat around 10:30 that morning, stretch and moan and scratch some things, and head to shore. We recognized them when we came into the laundry area and struck up a conversation. And – it’s always fascinating the kind of people you meet when you travel. So the Captain was in his mid to late thirties, a tech guy, who was on a two-year sabbatical, traveling the world. He had been to the UK, India, Thailand, you name it. He met his soon-to-become First Mate, Will, while riding a train in India. They became fast friends and decided to travel the world together. Their first plan was to buy a bus and convert it into a hostel but they claimed they “got drunk one night and bought a sailboat instead.” And, here they were. In Venice, FL. Not an ounce of sailing knowledge between them and they were just figuring it out as they went. Sure explains the “Coming in Hot!” bit and the dilapidated boat. But, they had an infectious sense of adventure and infinite charisma. Great, great guys. We chatted with them for a while and decided to have a drink or three at the tavern while our clothes were spinning. A quick clean-up and an inspection of the arm confirmed what I already knew – it was still attached and still looked … awesome. It had graduated from elephantitis to jaundice with a nice yellow hue and still maintained a distinct “squishy” feel throughout. … Nice.
They were airing the Kentucky Derby at the Tavern and offering themed drinks (mint juleps and Pim’s cups), Derby swag giveaway and a big prize for the lucky customer who guessed the winning horse.
It was a fun atmosphere and we had no problem plopping down for some cocktails, calamari, a sensational burger and quesadillas. Yum!
With the laundry taken care of, and a big pot of chili ready for passage the next day, we curled up for a quiet movie night on the boat and made a list of the non-perishables (milk, OJ, eggs, creamer and the like) that we would need to pick up in the morning before heading out to Clearwater. We figured it would be about an 15-18-hour passage (approximately 70 nautical miles assuming an average 4-or-so knot speed), so we planned to leave early in the afternoon in hopes of making it to Clearwater the following morning. Like I said, we always try to plan to come into pass in the daylight – even if we’ve been through that pass before. Even familiar passages are more treacherous at night.
May 4, 2014:
Another beautiful sunrise in Venice. No surprise there. (No Lion King chants this time – lucky you).
A brisk morning walk around the docks revealed plenty more of those weird snail-like evolutionary creatures that we had come across in Ft. Myers.
I captured some more fascinating footage for you of their signature flap-swim stroke:
You’re welcome. And, you’ll be glad to know I spared you the Australian-accented nature documentary commentary that Phillip had to endure during the first three filmings: “The snail flaps furiously through the treacherous waters as the sun rises over head … ”
We decided to get another advantageous use out of the free bike rentals at the marina to make our run to the store. Venice was a very clean, friendly, accommodating marina, but a little on the pricey side, so we were trying to limit our last Venice adventures to free bike rides and chili bowls. Another picturesque cruise through downtown Venice, though. The tree-lined streets are perfect for biking of a leisurely stroll.
And, there was a Publix right in the heart of downtown – just a quick bike ride from the boat.
Good thing we had baskets on the front for the groceries!
And, I didn’t crash!! (this time). Funny thing was, when we came back to the boat, it seemed we had somehow missed the invite for the party!
There were boats, dinghies, floaties, redneck yachts and coolers all around our boat!
Apparently, Saturdays at Snake Island can get pretty wild! While we would have loved to have hung around with the redneck crew, we had a Gulf passage calling us. It was around 1:00 pm, and we were hoping to get underway before 2:00pm to ensure a morning entry into Clearwater.
We packed the boat, checked the weather one more time, and headed out!
We were expecting 10-15 mph winds out of the NNE, and a 2-4 ft sea state, which would have been a little rough but bearable. When we made our way out of the inlet, however,
we were faced with NW winds (the exact direction we were going) of 17-20 mph and swells of 4-5 ft. It was a very rough sea state.
Some swells appeared to be about six feet. The boat would heel back and climb over them and the wave would swallow the horizon behind the boat as we barreled down it.
We were averaging 0.5 to 1.7 kts – the epitome of beating to windward. After about three hours of this we had collectively decided we were miserable. We were barely making way beating into the wind in a sea state that was working against us too. The forecast was off. It could improve, but it was anybody’s guess as to when. If we continued to ride it out, we could end up stuck in miserable conditions for 24 more hours just to make it to Clearwater tomorrow. We had learned that patience in timing passages makes all the difference. There was no need for us to rush to Clearwater, particularly not in this horrendous fashion. We decided to wait 30 minutes or so and if nothing changed to turn back and wait for better conditions. And, as you can likely guess … nothing changed. Just thirty more minutes of making 0.7 knots into the wind. Having covered approximately 6 miles of our estimated 70-mile trip over the course of four hours, we decided to call it. We hadn’t even made it far enough away from shore to lose sight of it, so turning back wasn’t too much of a stretch. And, the minute we turned around, it seemed the entire weather system changed. It’s amazing how forceful and threatening the wind can feel when it’s coming on your nose only to have it turn into a light breeze when it’s coming on your stern. We now had big, beautiful following seas and were averaging 5.5 knots easy back to shore. While the six miles out took us four hours to cover, coming back only took an hour and a half. But, the seas were still kicked up, 4-5 foot swells had the boat rocking and rolling toward the inlet. And, you remember what I said about the inlet at Venice — very narrow:
And, very rocky:
The bow of the boat was swaying and rolling in an elegant motion, but only briefing passing at times the mark for the entry of the inlet. Imagine finding a sight for your target in the scope of your rifle, then trying to hit it while making a figure 8 with the barrel of your gun. Phillip and I both tensed when we realized how tricky it was going to be to steer the boat in between those two severely rocky shoals. The only good news was the closer we got, the wider the inlet seemed, but that also meant we were closer. Closer to the rocks and the jetty and the waves crashing on shore. And, just as we were nearing the entry, we saw another sailboat pitching and bouncing on the rocky shore. We weren’t sure at first if it was on the rocky shoal or just extremely close, but as we neared the inlet, we could tell. The boat had run hard aground on the rocks, the hull smashing into them again with every incoming wave.
“As if I need a visual reminder of what could happen if we don’t get this right,” Phillip said in solace, shaking his head and staring ahead, trying to keep the “figure 8” motion of our bow within the realms of the rocky inlet.