10,000 Bluewater Miles

Ten.  Thousand.  I almost can’t believe it myself, but that’s my number.  10,025 to be exact.  I’ve been keeping track and when Phillip and I sailed our gallant Niagara 35 back into the Pensacola Pass on our recent return from the Bahamas, it was not only a fantastic feat successfully completing another offshore voyage, it was also a pretty cool milestone for this little sailor, who began sailing only five short years ago.  

Headed off on my very first offshore voyage: April, 2013

Captain Annie at the helm, returning from the Bahamas: April, 2018

Ten thousand … This calls for a ditty, no?

Five years, 5oo HaveWind posts, and one captain’s license later, and I dare say I just might call this little gal a bluewater sailor.

When Phillip first planted the seed, “I’m going to buy a boat and cruise around the world,” I immediately, without hesitation, heartily agreed!  “Not without me!” was my creed.

Our very first photo at the cockpit together during our first voyage.

So, we started boat-shopping and, little did I know, the many, many new, exotic places I would go!  In the bilge, in the fridge, “Get down in the engine room,” he said.

     

So down I went, bumping my knees, my knuckles, my head.  On that boat, I’ve cursed, and sweated, and bled.  There are so many, many things, you see, that have to be fixed, cleaned, fixed again, and re-bed.

 

But the good news is, as long as her hull, keel, and rigging are sound, you can work on her while you sail her anywhere, as long as you don’t run aground!  Because the worst, absolute worst, thing you can do to a boat, is to leave her sitting stagnant, unkept and going nowhere, just sitting afloat.

Not our boat, oh no!  Our beautiful Niagara, with her magnificent thirty-five feet.  She’s often cast-off, sailing away, on a gentleman’s (or perhaps not-so-gentle) beat.

That wise, seasoned boat has taught Phillip and I so much about both her and the sea.  Because out there, and you may not believe me, but she feels really rather small to me.  The time that she grows, seems unwieldy and impossible to stop, is only when we are approaching a treacherous dock.

But out there, in bluewater, while romping and running, she seems so agile and nimble.  Like a horse at the derby, impossibly stunning.

That’s where she and her crew love most to be — moving, gliding, slipping under sunsets at sea.

 

My heart and courage exposed, this amazing man and boat have challenged me, to push myself, try harder, learn more, travel further, set myself free!

So I did.  I changed my career, my address, my focus, all so I could head out to sea.  And the rewards have been limitless: Cuba, the Bahamas, Mexico, France, the Florida Keys!

 

All connected by big, brimming, bodies of blue, just waiting to challenge and test you, too.  Each passage, each mile, will teach you something new.

Forty-six hundred of them took Phillip and I all the way across the Atlantic, with a hearty, hilarious French Captain named Yannick.

But the Gulf of Mexico, never to be out-done, over and above the Atlantic, has, thus far, won.  The Gulf has handed us our most trying times, tossing and bashing us to windward, threatening to snap lines.

Thankfully the storms and rough seas generally do not last.  You just have to ride it out, get the boat comfortable, and usually in twenty-four hours or less, it will pass.

And soon you’ll find yourself motoring without a lick of wind, albeit across the most beautiful glass you’ve ever seen.

And you’ll make the mistake of asking Mother Nature to blow.  Just a little.  Like ten to fifteen.

Or seven and a quarter, perhaps, just enough so we can be #spinning!

While a perfect passage (in our world, a nice downwind run), from shore to shore is admittedly rare, the toying, tempting promise of it is what makes us accept the dare.

Because when you get there, no matter how near or far your “dream there” might be, it’s an incredibly cool feeling to have the honor to say: “We sailed here, you see.”

And for Phillip and I, I believe one of our most memorable offshore voyages will forever be: Cuba.  Because it was a trying, eye-opening, exceedingly-thrilling passage where we bypassed the Keys.  And Phillip and I both felt great pride in telling people: “We sailed six hundred nautical miles, here to be.”

Hope you all have enjoyed this little sailor’s first 10,000 nautical miles here at HaveWind.  Here’s to the next ten!  Cheers!

That’s a Wrap! Boat Leather Pics & Video

August, 2014:

To a certain degree, every passage is a shake-down passage.  I mean, it’s rare cruisers pull up to a dock or anchorage after a trying-but-successful passage and say, “Yep, we did everything exactly right.  All of our equipment worked just as we intended and we executed everything with unquestionable precision and skill.”  Please.  If you know cruisers like that, unfriend them.  Nothing ever goes exactly as planned.  There’s always something to learn or take away from a passage.  That’s the beauty of sailing.  It’s all about shaking–shaking things up, shaking them down, keeping the dust and cobwebs off.  There are a million things we learned during our trip last year to the Keys.  We’ve forgotten half of them by now, but most of the important lessons stuck.  There were also many things we learned we wanted to do to the boat to better prepare it for our next BIG trip.  We started keeping a running tally as we were going and then prioritizing–which projects were musts, and which were luxuries.  One of our higher-up items on the list was replacing the old leather cover on our steering wheel.

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Yeah, that ratty thing.

While a leather steering wheel cover for the boat may sound like a luxury, we consider it a necessity.  If the auto-pilot will not hold and you’re forced to hold that thing for hours on end, anything that keeps your hands comfortable and less prone to cramp and ache while you’re doing it is anything but a luxury.  Our leather cover had served us well since we bought the boat in 2013, but had suffered a few holes and missing chunks over the years.

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And, if I had to hear Phillip gripe one more time about this flap, I was going to rip it off and throw it overboard.

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That thing drove him nuts.  Heck, it drove me nuts.  I’m one of those that can’t leave a scab or a wayward cuticle alone.  If it’s snagging and catching on things, or just bugging me in general, I’m going to pick it until it’s a big, infected bloody mess, but at least the flap is gone!  Take that flap!  Phillip had to watch me closely during the Keys trip to make sure I wasn’t tempted to rip this obstinate little piece off (because it would have caused the whole cover to unravel and fray).  Luckily, I didn’t.  This worn, ragged cover made it back home in, well, a couple of worn and ragged pieces, so it was high time we replaced it.

Thankfully, our previous owner, Jack, was meticulous in his care of the boat and he kept all of his receipts, manuals, instructions, etc.  While we weren’t surprised to find he kept the receipt from his purchase of the leather cover, we were surprised to find that he had bought it in 1992!

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So, that the ratty cover we were cursing had been on the boat for 22 years!  TWENTY-TWO?!  Do they make anything these days that lasts that long?  Other than diesel engines, I can’t think of much.  When it came to replacing it, we really had no reason to branch out.  We were pleased with the product and it had clearly proven its durability.  It was an easy decision.  Another Boat Leather steering wheel cover it would be.  Tom, with Boat Leather, even had Jack’s old records, so he already knew our wheel size, making the order a snap to refill.  Within minutes, our new Boat Leather cover was on its way, along with a detailed instruction guide to show us how to accomplish the specific herringbone stitch needed to secure it around our wheel.

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Tom has also published a very helpful video on his website which shows, in real time, his perfected method for installing the wheel cover.  Armed with our instructions, the new wheel cover and a thick needle, Phillip and I picked a sunny August day and set to it.

I have to admit, the first final RRRrrrrip! of the old leather cover off of the wheel felt good.  “Take that flap!”

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Our wheel sure was pretty underneath–all polished and shiny!

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We are the original gangstuhs.

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We didn’t let her breathe for long, though.  The next step was a thin layer of double-sided tape to hold the leather cover in place while you wrap it around the wheel.

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(That’s my pretty work face)

The Boat Leather cover comes pre-sized specifically to fit your steering wheel and, you can see here, it has holes pre-punched into the leather to make the stitching easier.

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Ahhh … the stitching.  That was definitely my favorite part!  The taping and wrapping was followed by about three hours of super-fun stitching.

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I’m smiling here because I didn’t yet know how much “fun” the stitching was going to be.  I felt like Forrest Gump experiencing all the different “directions of rain” in Vietnam.  We stitched backwards, sideways, upside down.

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It honestly wasn’t too bad, though.  A nice sunny day, some good Gordon Lightfoot playing in the background and I could have stitched all day.  Before we knew it, we had made it around full-circle and were putting the last stitch in!

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And, then she was done!

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Wheeeh-whoo!  Ain’t she a beaut?  One hot afternoon of stitching, and she was on there–a new Boat Leather steering wheel cover, ready to take us cruising another 20 years.  The Captain was obviously pleased with my stitchmanship.

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“Why thank you ma’am.”

And, the best part?  No more flap!  Our wheel is now soft and smooth and a true joy to hold.  We were so impressed with the product, we knew when we saw Boat Leather listed as one of the exhibitors at the Strictly Sail Miami show this past February, we were going to have to stop by the Boat Leather booth and tell Tom ourselves what an awesome job he has done putting out such a quality boat product for so many years.

Tom was incredibly humble and grateful and asked us only for one small favor in return … a live testimonial from yours truly for his soon to be updated website.

Me??  Have something to SAY about something?  Never!

I didn’t hesitate (although perhaps I should have–I could have planned my giddy teenage spiel a little better, but alas … it is done).  Tom clicked his phone on video and I took off, talking ninety miles a minute, raving about his twenty-year product, throwing in a blog mention and ending the whole thing with a wicked thumbs up.  YEEEAAAH!

Remember when I become famous, you saw it here first …

So, replacing the wheel cover?  Done.  Next time, we knock off another biggie of our Post-Keys Project list.  That’s right followers, it’s time to do some sol(ar) searching.  Join us!

 

Many thanks to the folks who make these posts a little more possible with PATREON.

The Mishap Recap

May 20, 2014:

So, this sailing stuff?  Nothing to it, right?  It’s just ropes (which we call “lines”) that control sails which make the boat move.  That’s pretty basic.  But, then, there’s also the engine, the batteries, the thru-hulls and sea cocks, the water tanks and pressure systems, the propane and solenoid, the steering wheel and rudder, not to mention all of the instruments, gauges and meters.

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Okay, maybe it can get a little complicated, but the good news is, when you get down to it, most of those complicated-sounding systems really are basic when you take the time to dissect and understand them.  Meaning, most of them can be fixed on the fly, as long as you have the right parts, or parts that “will do” (we call this improvising).

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During our trip to the Keys, we found most of the “issues” that occurred on the boat were operator error (sorry boat!) and most were fairly easy to fix once we figured out what had gone wrong.  We chalked these up to “lessons learned” and felt it may help other cruisers out there to pass them along.

1.   The Lazy Jack Snap!   Before the trip, we had a new stack pack put on for the main sail with a new set of lazy jacks attached to the spreaders to hold it up.

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The lines also cleated off at the boom, and our riggers had left some surplus in the lazy jack lines in case we needed to loosen them for any reason.  Good idea, we thought … at the time.  But, when the time came where loosening the lazy jacks would have actually been a good idea, thinking about the tension in the lazy jacks was one of the last things we were doing.  Unfortunately, during our first night offshore, when we were heading from Pensacola to Port St. Joe, we ran into some rough seas–winds in the high teens and rolling five-foot seas all night long.  Water was crashing over the bow, spraying us in the cockpit and the boat was beating into a steady southeast wind.  The sails were taut, full to the brim all night long, likely pressing hard on the new lazy jack lines, but we didn’t know it.  We heard plenty of cracks and bangs during the overnight passage, but it’s hard to tell–in the dark of night– if the sound you heard was just a normal ‘boat groan’ or something actually breaking.  You handle the boat the best you can and try not to worry about her too much (key word being ‘try‘).  But, sometimes you wake to find, in the rough winds of the night, that something did actually break.  For us, it was the lazy jack on the starboard side.

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Kind of a bummer.  But, we figured they must call it a “lazy” jack for a reason, right?  It must be the lazy way.  Surely people have been raising and lowering their sails for centuries without these “lazy lines” to help.  I mean, you have to ask yourself–What Would Columbus Do?  (Back in 1492).  He’d flank that sail the old-fashioned way, and keep on a-keepin’ on.  So, that’s what we did.  Until we got a little lazy …

Next leg of the trip, Phillip had the great idea to re-raise our busted lazy jack line with the topping lift for the spinnaker pole.

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You see?  Improvising.  Once you know how the systems work, you can then use them in all the wrong ways to achieve whatever result you’d like.  It’s a product liability defense lawyer’s dream!   So, what did we learn?  Be sure to check the tension in your lazy jack lines when your sails are full.  If they’re too tight, the wind in the main can bust the line.  And, if something breaks, don’t mourn.  Look around!  You may find something else on the boat that can serve its purpose.

 

2.  A Spun-Out Jenny  Much like the suicidal strung-out version in Forrest Gump,

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just outside of Tamp Bay, we found our Jenny, too, was busted.  During a fairly mundane furling of the Jenny, you might recall the pop we heard, followed by a clattering rainfall of ball bearings on the deck.  Sadly, the spinning halyard for our Jenny broke in two while we were cranking her in.  One half remained at the top of the mast, and the other came barreling down the forestay, flogging our Jenny and letting her pile down in a useless heap on the foredeck.

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DOH!

Why did this happen?  After some serious research, troubleshooting and second opinions, we decided it was caused by pulling the halyard up too tight at the mast, causing the shackle to pull into the throat at the mast and putting tension on the bottom top part of the halyard, which should be allowed to spin freely.  A thorough review of the manual for the furling system was quite helpful in this regard (as most manuals are).  I’ve said it plenty of times but have no qualms repeating it.  Keep all manuals in a single, organized location and refer to them often.  It’s amazing what you can learn from … I don’t know … the folks who built and designed whatever Godforsaken contraption you are cursing at the moment.  We had dropped our Jenny prior to the trip to have the UV cover re-(re-)stitched and figured we must have pulled the halyard just a tad too high when we raised the Jenny back up.

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Back then, we were also furling our Jenny in using the large winches in the cockpit.  It was easier that way, but it was also deceiving because the winch is so powerful.  If there is an inordinate amount of tension in the line, pulling by hand you’re going to feel it.  Pulling by winch, you may not, and you’ll power right through it, likely breaking something in the process.  I think there’s some appropriate saying I could insert here about a cannon and a mosquito.  However, I believe a more vivid example (sorry Confucius) would be a surgeon who operates not with his hands but with a remote-operated backhoe.  Are you going to let him in your abdomen?  There is simply no substitute for the human touch.  How does it feel?  How hard is it to pull?  Conway Twitty would agree.  Don’t be shy.  Sing it with me!  “I want a man with the slooow hands … “

Luckily, we were able to get the Jenny repaired in St. Pete by a talented and resourceful rigger, who ended up having the exact halyard we needed (which had been discontinued) in his self-proclaimed “Sanford & Son boat part yard” (a.k.a. his shop).  And, what did we learn?  Don’t tighten the Jenny halyard too much.  Refer to your manuals.  And, when feasible, opt for the “slow hand” over the powerful pull.

 

3.  Never Let Go of the Halyard!  Have I said that one before, too?  Then why the hell do we keep letting go of it?  I’m not sure exactly.  All I can say is when you’re up on the deck, riding your boat-of-a-bull as it’s bucking over waves and focusing all of your mental energy on the simple task of staying on the boat, you just kind of forget about that little thing that’s in your hand–the all-important halyard.  I guess think of it like this–have you ever accidentally poured a glass of something on yourself when you turned your hand to look at your watch?  Why did you do that?  (Because you’re brilliant like me, of course!)  And, also, because your brain just kind of forgot you had a glass in your hand.  Well, same thing can happen with the halyard.  When it comes to you grabbing something to keep your scrawny arse on the boat in the middle of pounding seas, your brain just kind of checks out of the whole halyard-holding process and forgets about it.  And, then …  You let go!  Of the halyard!  And, the minute you do and see that halyard start swinging around, you curse yourself!  Stupid brain!  Why did you let go of that?!  It just happens.  All told, we’ve done it four times, three of which required Little Miss First Mate to ascend the mast to retrieve it:

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Once in Carrabelle (when we first dropped the Jenny to re-stitch the UV cover and pulled the halyard back up afterward, thinking it would magically drop back down when we needed it to–turns out we were wrong).  Up you go, Annie.

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Once in St. Pete (when the Jenny halyard busted, it left half of a mangled halyard at the top of the mast, which again would not magically come down with a little (or lot of) shaking).  Up you go, Annie.

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Once mid-sea, on our way into Clearwater when we accidentally let go of the main halyard while trying to raise the sail at night and it snaked its way all the way up the backstay to the top of the mast.  Up you go, Annie.

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And, the fourth time?  Well, that retrieval was more of a fall than a climb, but I did get it back!  Unfortunately, I busted the lazy jack line on the port-side (and a bit of my arm and knee) in the process.

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Moral of that story?  Never let go of the halyard.  But, if you do, don’t be a hero trying to retrieve it.  I guess the best advice would be to not do dumb things.  But, we are human, and I am a blonde, so … it’s just going to happen.  To lessen the frequency, we did come up with a better main halyard-rigging system in which we never un-clip the halyard from the main sail.  We just re-route it down and back up to maintain the tension when the sail is down.

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And, thanks to the Captain’s spiffy fix of the lazy jack line on the starboard side, we knew just how to fix the one I’d busted on port.  This time with the halyard for the spinnaker.

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Although I will say we were running out of spare lines to use to hold up our lazy jacks.  It’s a good thing we were headed home by then.

 

4.  Book Swap Mojo.  One final lesson–not so much related to rigging as reading–but just as valuable.  The Book Swap Mojo phenomenon.  If you uncover a great book at one of the free marina book swaps,

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be sure to give it back to another free marina book swap down the line when you finish reading it.  If not, the Book Swap Gods will learn of your insidious hoarding and leave you with wretched book crumbs like this at every marina book swap to come.

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Read it.  Enjoy it.  Then give it back.

 

While we learned plenty of lessons on the trip, these were just a few that stood out for us, particularly because of the valuable insight they provided in terms of rigging and equipment failure, and how to (try to) avoid them, overcome them, or improvise around them if we, or other sailors, found ourselves in the same predicament in the future.  But, the biggest lesson learned?  Mishaps are just going to happen.  No matter how cautious you are.  No matter how much care you take to try to prevent against them.  Things are going to break.  Things will have to be repaired.  Things are going to slow you down and hold you back.  So, what do you do?  Keep sailing, of course.  Keep getting out there and bumping into things.

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And, in my case, keep writing about them.  You never know when you might just have enough colorful tales and Conway Twitty bits to cobble them all into, I don’t know, say–a BOOK.  One that might be coming out real soon.  Big things are happening over here, followers.  Be excited …

 

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It’s Weird to Be Back

May 14, 2014:

Isn’t it funny how quickly you acclimate?  Thirty some-odd years living on land, but after only six measly weeks living on a boat during our trip to the Keys it seemed our bodies and minds had converted wholeheartedly to cruising.  Our first day back on dry land, we were doing and experiencing some mighty strange things as official land lubbers.  Any of you familiar with these phenomenon?

1.  The Sink Pump:  You walk up to the kitchen sink, hold your hands under the faucet and start pumping your foot on the floor thinking water is going to magically come out.

2.  The Drawer Jam:  You just about break every finger trying to jam it into a hole in the face of the drawer, that is not there mind you, to unclip the little hickie-doo that keeps it shut.

3.  Elf Syndrome:  Have you ever been back to your old elementary school or perhaps the house you grew up in?  Some place you only knew as a child that you remember as being huge, vast and tall?  But, then, when you return as an adult it feels so tiny, claustrophobic even.  Well, reverse that.  After being packed tight in the little cabin of the boat for so long, sucking in to slide by one another to get to the sink, the condo felt e-NOR-mous!  And, I was tiny!  I mean, I could do a handstand in the living room.  A handstand!  I’d never realized that before but was somehow mesmerized by it now.

4.  Decision Fatigue:  With seemingly endless possibilities, it felt exhausting trying to decide what to wear in the morning.  There were so many options, so many colors and combos and shoes!  Where I was once torn between the flip-flops or the deck shoes, I now had heels, boots, flats and more flops (and I kind of hated it).  The same applied when it came time to decide what to eat, what to watch, where to go.  It was exhausting.

5.  OCB:  Obsessive, compulsive battery disorder–the inexplicable and irrational need to find and check some non-existent battery meter in your home, apartment or condo (none of which run on batteries) to make sure you have enough “juice” left.

6.  Shower Legs:  It’s that dizzying feeling you get in the shower after being on a long, rolly passage.  You don’t quite have your land legs back and if you close your eyes, you have to put your hand on the shower stall wall just to stay upright.  To re-create, bend over, put your head on an imaginary bat, spin around twelve times, stand up and close your eyes.  You’ll find yourself reaching for the stall wall in no time.

7.  Road Risk:  The opposite of road rage.  Somehow the need to zip in and out of traffic, peel out, brake hard and honk at indecisive drivers, doesn’t have quite the same appeal.  In fact, you feel you’ve become that slow old-lady driver you used to curse and shake your first at as you now gingerly put on your blinker and slow three blocks in advance before making that soft, steady turn onto Mayberry Lane.  You may have beat through storms in blue waters, but it didn’t feel near as dangerous as getting behind the wheel of a car.  Driving is scary.

8.  Duck Disorder:  The persistent urge to duck before stepping through any doorframe, albeit one with three feet of clearance over your head.  I was even ducking to get into the shower and when reaching into the fridge.

9.  Pot Disenchantment:  You pour water in the white plastic basin in the back, put a filter and coffee in it and you push a button.  Where’s the magic?  I missed filling up the kettle with the foot pump, turning on the burner on the stove and hearing that sweet fwoof sound when the gas lit.  And, I mean, it’s a kettle.  It’s like old-timey tea days.  It whistles.  How fun is that?  Sorry Mr. Coffee, a button-push and a drizzle just aren’t going to cut it anymore.

10.  Connection Anxiety:  Once folks know you’re back, all of a sudden they need to hear from you, like they’ve never needed to hear from you before, certainly not in the last six weeks when you were out, on that beautiful boat, crossing crystal-green waters in silence.  And, everything is urgent.  People expect you to respond to their emails immediately, text them back all the time.  If you don’t, they’ll call you, at anytime of the day, without warning and usually without a real need.  Just … you know … to tell you they’re driving to the grocery store.  They ask you what you’re doing.  You tell them you just left the grocery store and then an awkward silence ensues.  Your face contorts in mild disgust when you realize this is why they called you.  They want to talk about nothing.  This is what they do.

While these strange phenomenon had us chuckling at ourselves and shaking our heads, we did take advantage of our time back ashore to debrief and look back on our close calls, the lessons we learned and things we could have done better.  Stay tuned next time for our Mishap Recap.

 

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Back in Blue Waters

May 13, 2014:

We woke to a hand-painted pastel sky after our night of UN-rest on the Plaintiff’s Rest.  

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The oldies-but-goodies mixed tape soundtrack of Island Time kept playing through my mind as I put on the kettle for coffee.  “You can’t hiiii-iiide your lying eyes,” as I lit the stove.  “And your smiii-iiille is a thin disguise,” as I pulled out the french press.  Phillip and I felt a little bittersweet to be leaving.  We’d had such a good time in Port St. Joe (twice on this trip!), but we were excited about our last passage.  We kept humming old tunes while we readied the boat, shoved off and headed back out into St. Joseph Bay.

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And, it felt as if the Gulf was calling us back, pulling us out of the bay, back out into blue waters and then gently pushing us home.  The wind was light most of the day, on our stern, but with the following seas we averaged 6.0-6.5 knots most of the day.  Phillip calls it “cooking with Crisco” and it makes me smile every time because I haven’t seen that white lard stuff in years.  It was kind of like a childhood friend growing up.  I remember that nostalgic blue cardboard can with the plastic lid.

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We used to keep it up on the top shelf back home in New Mexico, and my brother and I had to climb on the counter to get it down.  Two scoops of that in the ole’ Fry Daddy and you were ready to fry up anything!  We used to drop in gobs of pancake batter in and let them fry up.  Maybe they call that a funnel cake, I don’t know.  My brother and I called them fry cakes and drizzled them with Hershey’s syrup.   Very un-Paleo.

With the favorable conditions, Phillip and I spent the entire day on a beautiful run, holding the wheel just for sport, spotting dolphins and shrimp boats, munching on fresh, non-fry cake snacks and soaking up every last bit of the denim-blue horizon on our way back to Pensacola.

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We had to motor for just a few hours in the afternoon, but the wind kicked back up around dusk so that we could sail through an exquisite sunset.  It was a bit bittersweet knowing it would be the last time on this trip that we would watch it set on the Gulf.  There’s just something about seeing the vast reach of the sun, when she’s uninhibited and stretching as far as your neck can turn.  It’s like being in an IMAX.

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Phillip took the first night shift and apparently tried to sneak some lady flying friend aboard while I was asleep, but I wasn’t having it.

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“You best find your way off this boat, you hussey!”

We barely had enough time to get two shifts in before the lights of the Pensacola Pass starting to blink on the horizon soon after midnight.  It’s always neat to see that great big lighthouse flash on the horizon, still guiding us in the way it’s done for hundreds of boats before us for hundreds of years.  Kind of makes you want to put down all of your little mobile gadgets and just marvel at the timelessness of it.  While we normally don’t like to come into a Pass at night, this was our Pass, our bay, one we’ve sailed through dozens of times.  This was home.  Even at night, under a puffy moonlit sky, it looked and felt familiar.

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I think my feet first landed on the dock around 2:30 a.m. when I hopped off to tie the first line.  Pensacola.  We had made it back.

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I actually couldn’t believe we’d been gone so long.  Six weeks may seem like a long time to head out on a sailboat, when you’re back at home, planning, plotting and trying to block off the time to do it.  But, when you actually set off to do it … six weeks zips by in the blink of an eye.  It seemed like maybe last week, I’d tossed the last line into the cockpit and we headed out the Pensacola Pass on our way, for the first time, to the Florida Keys.

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But, it wasn’t last week, or the week before.  It was April 3rd, almost six weeks prior.  Sure work was calling.  Sure we had lives to get back to.  But, did we also want to keep going?  Keep cruising?  Of course!  This trip had only solidified what we already knew.  We want to do this.  We love to do this.  We love the work, we love the play, we love the chilly nights on passage, we love the hot bakes on the deck in the sun.  We love it all.  Any time we leave, we’re always going to want to go further and longer.  But, we had certainly gone far and long this time.  All the way to the Keys and back–our first year after buying the boat.  That may seem pretty small time for some, but it seemed like kind of a big deal to us.  While we were glad to be back, big, huge beating chunks of us wanted to stay out there.

After a wobbly walk back to the condo and a quick, dizzying shower, we laid in bed that night replaying a spliced reel of images from the trip.

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For me, having stepped onto a sailboat for the first time only a year prior and just now really learning what it takes to sail and be a capable cruiser and for Phillip, having finally realized his dream of owning his own sailboat and finding a fun, rough-and-tumble mate to sail with him, we were both kind of puffed up by the fact that we had actually sailed our boat, just the two of us, all the way down to the Florida Keys and back within the first year of buying her.  Our minds started to wander to all of the places we wanted to take her next time and all of the things we wanted to do to her to ready her for the next, further-longer trip.  There’s so much more in store for the crew of the Plaintiff’s Rest.  We’re excited to show you everything we’ve done since the invigorating trip to the Keys, the lessons we’ve learned and the places we’ve been since.  We’ll tell you some stories along the way.  And, some truths too.  Stay tuned!

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How To Make Friends at a Marina

May 11, 2014 (Mother’s Day!):

There are two ways, either 1) cook up a savory dinner on the community grill, open a box of wine and invite everyone to share it, or 2) play the best loud music, open a box of wine, and invite everyone to share it.  It’s doesn’t take much really.

Our second day at the Port St. Joe Marina, we headed back to the Piggly Wiggly to provision up.  Since we’re the roughneck, backpack-sporting cruiser type, I’m sure we do come across as ominous thieves.  Or, Phillip does at least, because the Piggly Wiggle backpack Nazi confiscated his backpack–again–the minute we walked through the door.

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Why do I document these things you might ask.  Because I find them hilarious.

Another hilarious quality of the Pig–the full spectrum, scope and line of official “Larry the Cable Guy” processed products.  Let’s see, you’ve got your …

Larry the Cable Guy Hamburger Dinner (just add burger!).

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Larry the Cable Guy Cheesy Tuna Dinner (when you want the other white meat).

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Larry the Cable Guy Beer Bread (“just add beer & butter”).

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A full array of Larry the Cable Guy Seasonings.

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And, let us not forget, the variety of Larry the Cable Guy “Tater Chips” (TM)–Barbeque Rib and “Pass the Dang Ketchup.”

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Mmmm-Mmmm good!

After an appetizing stroll through the Wiggly market, we headed back over to our favorite lunch spot in PSJ–Peppers Mexican Grill–home of the “Clean Plate Club,” where Phillip and I filled up to the gills last time on their $12 burrito that comes with an endless supply of chips and salsa.  This time we opted for the monstrous taco salad and carne tacos, complete (as always) with an endless supply of hot, homemade chips and salsa.

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De-lish!  But, also super filling.  We had to walk about two miles just to feel normal again.  Port St. Joe is certainly not a bad place to do it though, with plenty of picturesque, scenic walking trails and coves.

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You are here.

We perused the docks,

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met the infamous PSJ local, Larry, who gave us the infamous “If you’re bumping into things … ” line (a real character),

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got invited to tour some pretty sweet new boats–a 2013 Seaward Unlimited–

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and checked out the marina grill situation to scope out our prospects for dinner.

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We decided the grill was a-go, so we hauled all of our fixins and a box of wine over to the grill to set up shop and cook up a fine pork tenderloin with roasted broccoli for dinner.

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But, when you get a slab of meat like this going on the community grill at a marina full of hungry old salts, I’ll tell you what happens …

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you start making friends.  Real fast.

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“Mmmm … what ya’ll cooking up there?”  They seemed to come from everywhere.  All walks of life.  All different kinds of boats and cruising backgrounds.  I had to make several trips back to the boat to get more wine and food and we ended up piece-mealing the pork out and sharing with everyone.  We had a great time mixing with the locals, though.  And, I have to say, the older the couple, the more hilarious they seemed to be.  I spent most of the evening chatting with this one couple, I can’t quite recall their names–something like Edna and Burt–who’d been cruising together for something like 20 years.  Edna would say of Burt, “Awww, hell.  I don’t think he can tell the difference between my boobs and my stern at this point.”  But, then she’d lean over to me and whisper, “to be fair, there ain’t much difference, but, I’m never fair to Burt!”  I loved those old coons.

Phillip and I thought we were the real showmen of the marina.  Cooking up a fine feast, feeding everyone and sharing tall tales from our mis-adventures as the sun set on the friendly folk of the marina.

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But, we were amateurs.  Earlier that day a fleet of trawlers had pulled in, the leader of the pack, s/v Island Time, having docked right behind us, stern to stern.

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We could hear their rockin’ 70s classics blaring out eight boats back as we packed up our fixins at the grill and started making our way back to our boat.  Having shut the community dinner down around 9:00 p.m., we had every intention to go straight back to the boat for a good night’s rest as we planned to get up early the next morning and head out from Port St. Joe to make the 24-hour run home to Pensacola.  But, it soon became clear that was not going to happen.  “You are a dancing queen!” thumped through the cabin of our boat, and Phillip and I joked that it was now the s/v Plaintiff’s UN-Rest.

A raspy female voice broke through the music and laughter, shouting at us through our companionway.  “We’re not going to get any quieter, so y’all just better come join us!”  It was our last night in Port St. Joe, our last night to be docked in foreign waters, and our last night on the trip.  Our last night!  And, we were planning to rest?  “Screw it,” we said, grabbed a half-full box of wine, two glasses and headed over.  And, these folks …  If I thought Edna and Burt were entertaining, the Island Time crew blew them right the heck out of the water.  They danced and sang, danced and sang, belting out every lyric to every song that poured out of the speakers.  They had an awesome mixtape station going, too–the BEST kind of oldies–like Lying Eyes (Eagles), Dancing Queen (ABBA), I’d Really Love to See You Tonight (Mix), Baby Come Back (Player), Sail On (Commodores), I Can’t Go For That (Hall & Oates), I Can’t Tell You Why (Eagles), I Wanna Know What Love Is (Foreigner), It Must Have Been Love (Roxie), Total Eclipse of the Heart (Bonnie Tyler).  You see what I mean?  The good damn stuff!

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If you can’t beat ’em (or sleep through it!), might as well join ’em.  There’s the Plaintiff’s Rest there!

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And, they kept passing around this microphone, with a long dangling cord, that should have been plugged into something (probably a Singalodeon from the 80’s),

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but it wasn’t.  They just wadded up the cord, wire-tied it and sang into it any way, at the top of their lungs.  One of the gals told us “It’s a wireless!” with a “Get it?” smile and nod.

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Those “oldies but goodies” sure showed us how to friggin party.  I can only hope I’m half as a bad-ass as they are at that age, pulling my massive trawler up to the marina, breaking out the “wireless mic” and inviting everybody in the damn place over to a fully-stocked open bar and a full-out oldies dance party.  I snuck some from our cockpit when I went back for another box of wine.  You can see Phillip sitting on their boat, cracking up at the sight of it.

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But, it only makes you want to go over, step aboard and find yourself the full breadth of it–on their boat, surrounded by incredible, fun-loving folks who could give a damn about what anyone else thought.  They gave us yet another wildly-entertaining Keys Trip tale to tell and made our last night truly unforgettable.  Thank you Island Time!  

Sing it with me now–“You are a Dancing Queen!  Young and sweet, only se-ven-teeeeen!”

Sax Sultan in the Beer Garden

May 10, 2014:

After the horrendous slam-a-ground just outside of the Port St. Joe bridge and the heroic motoring of our boat to get us off the shoal and bring us safely to port, the Captain, the boat and I were all ready to kick back and relax.  For the crew, it was shower, then shrimp, then a cocktail or two.

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For the boat, it was a nice rinse down and a washing of anything on the boat that could fit into the machine. We were throwing linens, clothes, everything in the basket, with reckless abandon.

“This towel?”

“Sure.”

“The rug?”

“Why not.”

“The curtains?”

“Maybe next time.”

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By the time we got to the laundry room we had a heaping pile, but the facilities at the PSJ Marina are great–clean, always available, accessible and fully-functioning.  And, they certainly earned their “Florida’s Friendliest Marina” title by helping us cash in our wadded-up dollar bills for quarters for the machine.  Three loads later, everything on the boat, minus the curtains, was clean, pressed and fresh as a daisy.

Unfortunately, a full inspection of the boat revealed yet another casualty of the Keys trip–the overflow valve for our holding tank on the port side.  Like Larry said, “If you’re bumping into things, it just means you’re getting out there.”  Well, we had apparently bumped into something while we were out there, which ripped the black plastic cover off of our overflow head and left a small gouge in the side of the hull.

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Uggh.  Add that to the list.

For dinner, we knew exactly where we were going to go–Joe Mama’s Pizza!  But first, we wanted to get a pre-drink and pay a visit to our old pals at the Haughty Heron bar just behind the marina.  Last time we were there, they’d given us a free pour and a free Heron t-shirt!  Not that we were expecting the same treatment, but, much like feeding a stray dog, it certainly had us coming back!  We love the vibe in that bar, though.  Very laid back, great atmosphere and a great wine selection.

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And, on this night of all nights, the ‘tender told us they were going to have live music in the “Beer Garden out back” and that we should come back for it after dinner.  “The guy on the sax will blow your mind,” she said.  “It’s like he sings with it.”

Although it doesn’t take much to entertain us, particularly when we travel–we seem to find interesting sights, people and performances just about anywhere we go–but, a singing sax??  That was certainly a new one for us.  We were definitely in!  We finished our pre-dinner drinks at the Heron and told her we’d be back for the show.  Then it was off to Joe Mama’s for their famous wood-fired pizza and (my personal favorite) the HUGE family-size house salad, made table-side with all of the fixings.

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They claim it serves a family.  I’m inclined to think it would be just right for me a toddler.  We also got the sauce-less wings again, too, which we love and I tried the red wine flight.

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The Chilean Veramonte was the highlight, until the pizza Gods rained upon us with savory fennel sausage, melted mozarella and caramelized onions.  It was a glorious Italian bounty.

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We ate like kings, drank, rested and ate some more.

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Our bellies full and our bodies content, we made our way back to the Beer Garden outside the Haughty Heron for this promising sax show.  The Heron had built out an awesome deck area behind the bar complete with an amphitheater, palm tree landscaping, string lights and plenty of tables and chairs to sit and enjoy the free live music.

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And, the guy on the sax …   Let me just say, it reminded me of that Dusty Dinkleman character from that Ryan Reynolds classic — Just Friends.

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“Have you seen him play that guitar?  It’s like he has 15 fingers.  I can’t compete with this guy!”

Sorry Phillip.  But, the guy was a mad genius with the sax.  Whatever Dusty could do with his fingers, well, this guy could do with his mouth.

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He was incredible, as was the rest of the band (although I have to admit I didn’t notice them much).  Sorry again.  It was Latitude 29.  Check out some of their other covers and shows HERE.  I was like a tweenager at a One Direction concert, singing and filming and “whoo-hoo’ing.”  Seriously, I whoo-hoo’ed.

Several times.  We stayed till the sun fell, belting out the words (or whatever words came to mind) to every song, until they closed up shop.

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Great, GREAT night at the Beer Garden!  Thank you Haughty Heron (and the Sax Sultan from Lat 29) for putting on such an incredible show!

I Wouldn’t Use the Word ‘Run’

I wouldn’t.  It just doesn’t quite capture it.  Jumped.  Landed.  Struck.  Those are all more appropriate.  But, run?  No.  I wouldn’t say we ‘ran.’

May 10, 2014:

After a wild, peanut-shelling, hatty-hour hollerin’ night at Bowery Station, Phillip and I made our way back Up the Stairs for one final feast in Apalachicola.  The braised pork shank appetizer, fresh baked bread and wedge salad were divine.

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Not to mention the quaint, cozy view of the town from the upper deck.  For dinner, Phillip enjoyed a perfectly cooked filet and I, according to the waitress, “put down some duck” (Caribbean style with roasted red peppers and mango).

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She kept warning me when I ordered it how big of a dish it was.  “That’s really a lot of food, ma’am.”  Good, I thought.  Because I didn’t come here for just a little!  She seemed shocked when I cleaned the whole plate, so we got real crazy and ordered some dessert just for the hell of it!  “Yes, we’ll have the homemade peach ice cream, please.”

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In all, we thoroughly enjoyed our last night in that sleepy old Florida town.  We woke the next morning, bright and early,

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and readied the boat to motor “the ditch” back to Port St. Joe.

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I am thrilled to say it was one of our easiest “de-dockings” yet.  I am still prone to get a few heart palpitations when we pull up to docks and away from docks and near docks and around docks.  The whole process is just fraught with peril, but this time the river pushed us right off.  We waved a hearty goodbye to the friendly Blue Dolphin Crew anchored around us and watched Apalachicola shrink away in the distance as we headed up the channel.

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And, just as it was last time, the Ditch offered us up another beautiful motor day.  We eased along through old swamp-like pines, with Spanish Moss hanging the from the trees and birds swooping elegantly above the water.

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Rusty old bridges, worn-out shrimping boats and driftwood boathouses littering the banks make it feel like you’re trudging up the ole’ Mississipp.

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We even got to throw out the Jenny for a bit in Lake Wimico and do a little sailing.  Otherwise, it was just a leisurely cruise.  We read and wrote and enjoyed an incredibly peaceful five-hour motorsail over to Port St. Joe.

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Bringing you the very best, from the cockpit of the Plaintiff’s Rest!

Everything was great and wonderful and perfect, until all of a sudden it was not.  While we were protected from the weather in the channel (I’m assuming that’s why they call them “protected waters”), such was not the case when we came out under the bridge at Port St. Joe.  We were motoring the narrow channel and it was blowing about 15 mph right over our port bow.  With little protection from the South (only the thin sliver of Cape San Blas on the other side of the bay), the wind was picking up a lot of fetch across the bay and beating into us, bringing 2 foot seas along with it.  The wind and waves were pushing us around in the narrow channel and just as we were coming under the bridge and preparing to hang a left to come into Port St. Joe Marina, the boat made a wicked “WHAM!” sound and slammed aground.  Like I said, the word ‘RUN‘ would be incredibly deceiving in this situation.  We didn’t just ease up gently on the bottom and scooch up on the soft sand.  No, our boat lifted up on a wave and came crashing down on the ground underneath it.  I bolted upright and looked around, thinking we had actually collided with something.  We heard glass shatter below and looked down in the cabin to see that the globe from the lantern had popped off with the impact and busted into a hundred pieces on the cabin floor.

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Out of instinct, Phillip said, “What was that?”  Followed immediately by, “We’ve hit something.  We’ve hit the ground.  We’ve run aground,” as if his thought process was simply occurring out loud.  I looked behind us and in front of us and it looked like we were still between the channel markers.  Phillip revved up the engine to try and get us off, but we just kept hitting, over and over again.  The depth was reading 5.2 but it was hard to tell from the GPS which side the shoal was coming in from.  Meaning, we weren’t 100% sure which way we needed to go to get off of it.  Phillip thought it was on the starboard side, but the wind and waves were coming at us right over the port bow, pushing us back each time on the shoal.  We tried our boom trick, swinging the boom way over on the port side and having me hang off of it to try and list the boat to port to get off of the shoal, but it wasn’t working.  We could see the marina.  It was right there!  We were less than a half-mile away, but we were stuck.  Lodged on the bottom and beating it with every passing wave.

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Phillip swapped places with me on the boom and gave me the wheel with instructions to keep trying to motor off the shoal toward port.  He had pulled up the number for the marina on his phone in case we needed to call for a tow.  I pushed the throttle forward and heard our Westerbeke struggling mightily into the weather while Phillip dangled and bounced his entire body weight from the boom hoping he could free us.

“Now?” he would shout between bounces.  “Anything?”

“Not yet,” I would shout back.  “We’re still hitting!”  Ugh, it was such a sickening feeling.

Just as we were about to call it and make the call to the marina, I started to see depth on the GPS.  First 6.2 then 7.0, then a joyous 8.3.  Finally double digits and the boat stopped beating.  Phillip could feel it and he bounced around a little harder as the boat finally started to ease off.  I gunned it, pushed her hard to port, and we finally started moving forward.  Once we settled out and got our bearings, we looked back, and it was clear the heavy wind and waves on the port bow had pushed us just enough outside of the channel to hit bottom on the starboard side.

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It’s surprising, sometimes, how easily you can run aground when you don’t realize how much the weather is really pushing you.  Our takeaway from this experience was to ensure the next time we find ourselves in a narrow channel in rough conditions, we’ll make extra effort to look both forward and backward and make sure we’re staying between the channel markers from both the rear angle and ahead.  It’s easy to just look forward and think you’re staying in the channel because your path lines up with the markers ahead.  But, we learned to look backward as well to make sure you’re not slipping out.  It doesn’t take much of a “slip” to slam aground.  We have never felt such an impact in the boat, and we never want to feel that again.

Thankfully, though, our trusty gal got us off and brought us safely into the marina where we gathered our collective breath, thanked and praised her profusely, promised we would do everything in our power to never let that happen to her again and then we hugged her.  Or at least I did.  A big bear one, right around the mast. Once again, despite our undeniable efforts but inevitable shortcomings, she had brought us safely in to port.

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Thanks girl.

Hatty Hour’s Over

May 10, 2014:

We didn’t last long after the fun-loving Blue Dolphin Crew and their Roo showed us such a great time at the oyster warehouse and diner.  It was a few hazy steps back to our boat docked right in the heart of downtown Apalachicola followed by a solid, sound night’s sleep at the City Dock.  The sun creeped up over our sleepy little dock around 6:30 a.m. the next morning and made some exquisite silhouettes out of several of the Blue Dolphin boats that were anchored across from us in the Apalachicola River.

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“Morning Boat!”

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“Morning Apalachicola!”

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We made a tasty batch of coffee in the trusty French press on the boat and ventured out, two piping hot mugs in hand, to explore Apalachicola in the early morning light.  Not too exciting, you might be thinking.  That’s never the case.  Ambling around, we stumbled across this new quaint little hotel in the historic Bowery District.

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Phillip cracked the front door open, popped a shoulder and a coffee mug in and gave me a little head nod to follow.

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It looked like it was built out of all reclaimed wood and metal.  Old wavy sheet metal pieces lined the bottom of the hall under a thick piece of chair rail.  Little antique trinkets and pieces adorned the walls, re-purposed in creative ways.  After creaking over a few floorboards, Phillip and I stirred someone in a back office and he stepped out and welcomed us warmly.  It was actually the owner, Poloronis himself,

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and he eagerly gave us the grand tour.  They have four rooms, exquisitely decorated, each with a kitchenette, refrigerator and master bath.  And, most of the wood, countertops, furniture and decor are all reclaimed, refurbished pieces.  Just spectacular.  But, don’t take my word for it.  If pictures are worth a thousand words a piece, here’s like a-quarter-mil.  I give you the Riverwood Suites.  Enjoy!

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