Magic Eraser rocks. It does! The last few hours we were underway toward Clearwater I busted one of those magical white blocks out and went to town on the cabin of Mitch’s Nonsuch. The interior really was in such great shape. Was it moldy, dirty and grimy? Yes! But did the Magic Eraser fix all of that? Of course!
And maybe I’m a little partial to Mr. Clean because of the resemblance …
A little elbow grease and some magic, though, and the Nonsuch looked like a completely different boat down below. We had spent most of our time during this initial passage inspecting and learning the systems, hoisting the sail for the first time, trying the reefing lines, checking the fluids of the engine, etc., but once we felt all of the primary systems were running fine, it felt nice to finally get in there and do some cosmetic work. While you always want your boat to run and perform well, making her look good is always high on the list as well. I wiped just about every surface with Clorox wipes and came back with the Magic Eraser for the stuck-on stains.
I was making good progress until I made it to the head. The floor there was thoroughly stained ….
but it was no match for the eraser!
I was also excited to find the holding tank was backing up into the bowl. Yippee! It appeared the joker valve on the head was failing and allowing about three inches of holding tank goodness to eek back into the bowl and slosh around for the ride. I dumped a little bleach in and that seemed to help but the crew was greeted with a little pond of bleached sewage every time they lifted the lid. Overall, though, the boat was cleaning up extraordinarily well. Mitch had found a real gem. With still unfavorable wind (light and right on our nose) we were still motoring, though, which made the clean-up job a bit of a sweaty endeavor in the stuffy cabin. I was definitely looking forward to a nice, refreshing shower in Clearwater.
After all of the motoring we had been doing, we definitely needed some fuel so we pointed Mitch in toward the fuel dock at Clearwater. Only his second time docking and, I have to say, he did a pretty good job. The man loves that throttle though. I don’t think he realizes how fast he’s really going because he tends to barrel in. It was clear the team was going to have to work on this. And we tried! When Mitch was making his way from the fuel dock into the transient slip for the night, Phillip kept trying to ease him back: “Slower, buddy. Slower than that.” Mitch was flying into the slip with Phillip and I trying to catch pilings to slow us down. “Mitch!” Phillip shouted back to the cockpit and Mitch hollered back: “I’m not giving her any gas!” [Insert frown here.]
Thankfully, we had a few dock hands come up to help us and they held the bow off the dock but I’ll have to give Mitch a B- on that one. When we got her tied off and secure, Phillip walked back to the cockpit, looked at Mitch, pointed to the shifter and said: “Neutral. Reverse.” It’s easy to forget, though, if you don’t drive a sailboat often. It’s not like a car where you can just step on the brakes, but you do have options. If you’re going too fast, even in idle, you can throw it in neutral to slow her down or reverse and throttle her a little if you need to really need to put the brakes on. After a docking lesson or two and a few gentle reminders from Phillip, Mitch started to do this on his own. It just takes a little time to train your brain. Once we got the boat buttoned up and gave the boat a good rinse down, the crew immediately set their sights on a shower. I was coated in salt, sweat and Magic Eraser filth. It was still a steam bath outside and we were all sweltering walking toward the shower, dreaming of that first icy drench. However, the swelter outside could in no way compare to the sauna inside.
The AC was out in the women’s bathroom and it felt like a muggy 100 degrees in there. I had to kick and flail out of each sticky scrap of clothing I had on. While the water was cool, the minute I stepped out of the stream, I started sweating again. I mean the very minute. The thought of dressing in there seemed absurd. Whatever I did in there─I’m not sure you could call it a shower. Maybe a sauna rinse? A steam spray?─I was nowhere near clean when I came out, my clothes wet and sticking to every part of my body, my face completely beaded up and dripping. Only because I didn’t think a nude streak to the boat would have been appropriate did I dress in there. Mid-June, in the middle of Florida, and it was cooler outside than it was in that blasted shower room. I was at least soothed by the discovery that the men’s bathroom suffered from the same AC dilemma. We all had a good time regaling our individual streak contemplations and sweaty dressing struggles. Funny, each of us decided to brush our teeth and hair (well, those that had hair) and do all of that post-shower potions-and-lotions stuff back on the boat. I swear, the minute you stepped out of the stream, you could not get out of there fast enough. We all bolted back to the boat.
But, you know where we were guaranteed to have AC? On Tanglefoot! Mitch was blessed with such amenities. Although he about froze me out our first night on the boat before we left Ft. Myers, now I wanted to freeze. I welcomed it. I would have savored every shiver. We all huddled up in the cool boat, changed out of the clean-but-now-sweaty clothes we had just put on, got into some fresh dry clothes and cranked the AC up. Mitch even sat in front of the vent by the nav station with a fan directing the blow at each of us intermittently like an oscillating fan. It was only around 5:00 p.m., though, and the crew was absolutely beat.
Two-hour nights shifts always seems exhausting the first night but your body just has to adjust. After the second night of two hours on, two hours off, I usually feel like I’ve acclimated a bit and I’m not near as tired on the third day. But that second day is always a killer. We were trying to stay awake because we knew a “nap” would turn into a near-coma. We wanted to at least stay up long enough to get some dinner and then really get a good night’s rest that evening so we could sail out of Clearwater fresh at first light and make it to either Apalachicola or─if things were going really well─all the way back to Pensacola in one passage. We knew this was the “real jaunt.” The passage from Ft. Myers to Clearwater had been a pretty much parallel to shore. And, once we got to the Apalachicola area, the rest of the trip would also be, pretty much, a hug of the shore. This passage, however─from Clearwater to Apalachicola─would be the true Gulf crossing. This is where we would find ourselves on our longest leg of the trip and the furthest from shore. Let’s just say if Mother Nature sensed any opportune time to jack us around, this would be it. And, this is the exact time, last time─when Phillip, Mitch and I were bringing our boat back from Punta Gorda, FL to Pensacola─that she decided to really see what we were made of. The last time the three of us made this passage we found ourselves in the middle of the night, in the middle of the Gulf, sawing our dinghy off the davits in 4-6 foot seas that had sheared every bolt we had left to hold her. If there was any part of this trip to really be concerned about, this was it.
We checked the weather, for the forty-fourth time that day. The winds promised to be variable and light. Kind of annoying. It might mean more boring motoring. If that prediction held. And the sea-state looked to be calm. It definitely appeared to be a good window. We deemed it safe to go and decided we would leave the next morning as soon as we woke. But, we needed a good night’s rest. Our eyes were drooping we decided to venture out for an “adventure dinner” to wake ourselves up. It was fun seeing the old “big boobs diner” we had eaten at the first time Phillip, Mitch and I stopped in Clearwater when we were bringing our Niagara home back in 2013.
We decided this time to saunter over to Frenchy’s Saltwater Cafe for dinner and even opted for the early bird special, without shame.
I could tell I was tired when the only thing I felt after two stout rum drinks was sleepy. Exhaustion is a total buzzkill. We ambled back to the boat and cuddled up in our frozen palace to get a solid night’s rest before shoving back out into the Gulf the next day.
“Mitch,” I said shaking his shoulder a bit. Phillip and I had snoozed through the alarm twice before finally rolling out of bed and Mitch hadn’t yet moved. After his first night holding solo shifts on an offshore passage, I’m sure that was the most tired he can remember feeling. And, we’ll be nice and say that’s a testament to his state of exhaustion not his memory. “Mitch!” I shouted giving him a solid shove. He finally flinched to with a snort and looked at me in total shock, as if he didn’t know where he was, who I was and why the hell I was shoving him awake. I stood there with a raised eyebrow for a minute and he finally decided to check back into reality and started rustling out of bed. He said he couldn’t even remember laying down the night before. We had all just about felt that way. But after a good ten hours of sleep we were all feeling pretty rested and ready to get underway. We readied the Nonsuch and started talking about a plan to de-dock. Again, we made Mitch make all the decisions and simply tell us what lines to release when. Now, I’ll give him a solid A on the plan but a B on the execution. As soon as he put the boat in reverse and started to throttle her up, instantly the stern started kicking over to port. Sharp too. I was on the port side and pushing with all of my might near the beam but her stern continued to pivot around.
I looked over at Phillip on starboard but he’d already let off the bow line per Mitch’s instruction and didn’t have any way to control the nose of the boat. The further she kept turning, I watched with clenched teeth as the finger dock we had been using to get on and off the boat on the port side began to jut in through the lifelines. I scrambled toward it, braced my back against the cabin top and tried to push it out with my feet.
It was inching out but not fast enough. As the boat continued to move backward, the finger pier made contact with the stanchion post and I was afraid she was going to snap it over like a weed, ripping a hole in the deck in the process. I hate docking. Have I said that before? Well … And de-docking too. It’s always so stressful to watch your precious boat inch closer and closer to sure peril. But! Mitch saved us! With some instruction from Phillip but still─he did the right thing at the right time. Mitch threw her in forward, gassed her up and steered her right back into the slip. I was so glad to see the finger pier ease out from the lifelines and back away from the boat. Lesson to be learned here: check the rudder before you begin backing out. Mitch forgot to make sure it was lined up straight before backing out. Again, an easy mistake to make that could have cost him hundreds in damage. I don’t man the helm often and I can’t say I would remember to do that every time. Sailing. No one said it was easy.
Once we got the boat secure again, Phillip headed back in the cockpit to help Mitch re-group. I was still up on deck tying a line when Phillip so Mitch probably didn’t think I could hear. “Do you think I can handle this boat, Phillip?” Mitch asked and my ears perked up. I did feel for him. After a scary experience like that, you start to doubt yourself. “Of course,” Phillip immediately responded, which you may think sounds like he was placating Mitch but he wouldn’t. It was the truth. He could. Like any new boat owner, Mitch just needed to make the important mistakes while help was around. With the simple fix of lining up the rudder before backing out, Mitch handled the second attempt flawlessly. Seriously, Phillip and I let off the lines and he slipped out without any assistance. Even after that heart-pumping first attempt. I would have congratulated him but he didn’t even relish in the moment. He was all business. The minute he eased her out, Mitch clocked her around, put her in forward and started heading toward the channel. Phillip and I watched him silently for a minute like proud parents. He was doing it all by himself.
But as soon as we were all smiles and cheer for him he had us cracking up again with one of his Mitch’isms. He was watching the GPS trying to steer his way out of the channel and I’m sure he was a little shook up from our docking debacle and the whole adventure in general but he kept weaving back and forth in the narrow channel. We let it slide a time or two but after a few back-and-forths we had to ask. “What’s going on buddy?” I hollered from the deck. Mitch was quiet at first. Then he started muttering a little and finally said, “Oh, now I get it. I’m the long line.” Phillip and I exchanged a raised-eyebrow look. “You’re what?” I asked. “The long line,” Mitch repeated. “I couldn’t tell on the GPS which line was the heading or me. But, I get it now. I’m the long line.”
Mitch. He’s like a gray blonde sometimes, and so cute about it. We still joke about the long line.
But, as tired as we had been the night before, it was (and is always) so invigorating to get back out in blue water. Nothing but a blue horizon in every direction. Water meets sky and that’s it.
It’s stunning, mesmerizing. Some may find it frightening to not see shore, to not─without the assistance of charts, a compass or (nowadays) a GPS─know which way will lead you back home. Some fear this detachment. We love it. Phillip and I sat on the deck all morning just staring at the blue infinity stretched out before us. It felt so good to be back out in the Gulf. It was strange to think it was the same body of water that had rocked and tossed us last time, submerged and swallowed our dinghy because it now looked so calm. Big thunderheads began to build on our stern again in the afternoon but we motored on, ready for whatever adventure she had in store.
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