The Thing That Scares Me Most About Cruising

What do you think I’m going to say?  What would you say, those of you out there cruising?  I’m really curious, so please share.  For me, it’s docking.  Yes, dammit, still docking.  Granted, with practice I am getting better and I am intensely pushing myself to be brave and try and just say “It’s okay if you bump something, we can fix it.”  Those things are easy to say, but not so easy to act out in real life.  I hate that I get all jittery and panicked.  My hands and leg muscles shake.  My eyes become stupid huge saucers.  It’s like I’m having a mini-heart attack.  Why?!

I really am just venting here because it irritates me that I get myself all worked up into such a state of terror at the sight of pilings, piers and other boats.  A part of it is the thought of damaging our Niagara because that would royally suck.  But a bigger part (I believe) is damaging someone else’s boat.  Wrecking my dreams is one thing, but wrecking another’s by plowing a huge hole in their stern makes me sick to my stomach.

Then there’s the thought of disappointing Phillip.  I know this is all internal because he is immensely proud of me and I am a very lucky gal because he tells me this often, but that doesn’t mean a huge part of everything I do is still intended to impress him.  The thought of me turning to starboard when he says “Turn to port!” and crashing our bow into concrete makes me feel so embarrassed and sad for him.  What a crappy mate he has!  And, why would I turn to starboard when he says port?  Because I am literally in that moment an absolute nervous wreck.  Port is starboard.  Forward is reverse.  I’m panicked, remember?  A babbling idiot.  It really is quite embarrassing.  And almost inexplicable.  I’ve been in some pretty gnarly stuff out in the Gulf and the Atlantic—winds of 43 on the nose, 15-foot seas—but it has never made me feel like docking does.  This instant on-set, heart-pounding dread.

Many of you may have already seen this candid, unedited video we posted to Facebook of my first de-docking that—in my mind—didn’t go so well.  But, as Phillip says: “If we didn’t hit anything and nothing’s broke, it went well.”  But I had not yet published it on the blog, so I wanted to share it here, as well as a few other docking incidences we’ve racked up in the last couple of weeks while putting me more on the helm as I believe each one is a lesson and a confidence builder.

Here is my first (very scary, very harrowing, shockingly near-miss) de-docking out of Key West:

Undeterred, we continued to put Annie on the helm and let her try her hand at docking against the fuel dock in Venice in some rather calm conditions.  Thank goodness!  The winds were light and I had a moderate tide pushing against the boat and keeping my speed down along with some great instruction from Phillip about making sure to err away from the dock because the wind would easily and quickly push me toward it.  (Oh, and some fantastic dock hands that helped us as well.  I will never be ashamed to ask for hands on the dock to help grab lines.  “Save my baby!”):

So, Annie did good there.  We didn’t hit anything and nothing got broke.  Gold star.  But, our next docking opportunity was a very telling one.  A thankfully-successful, but rather-difficult docking by Phillip.  The winds were blowing about 15 kts with a very strong current pushing in the same direction.  Phillip still wanted me to try it because “You’re going to have to dock in these conditions someday.”  While that is most definitely true, I was a little reluctant but was willing to try because Phillip is right (and, remember, I still want to impress him).  After about a ten-minute discussion with the dock hand talking us through all of the dangers, the conditions to pay attention to, the best approach and how quickly the boat could get sideways in the slip if I “undershot it” (which I wasn’t quite sure what that even meant), I was—needless to say—more than nervous.  But, I was still going to do it right?  Right, let’s go.

You’ll see, however, in the video, that just backing off the fuel dock, I’m completely petrified, shaking hands and legs, not sure which way to even turn the wheel to control the stern in reverse.  I throw it all the way over hard to port then back to starboard, then back to port again.  I’m a mess.  Phillip was initially on deck, but when he made his way back to the helm, he could see the terror in my eyes and the lack of focus and confidence to truly handle this docking, so he took the wheel.  And nailed it!

Five thousand gold stars for Phillip.  Another successful docking!  We didn’t hit anything and nothing got broke.  Again!  So, I should now be all rainbows and sunshine, right?

I’m not.  I’m pissed.  Furious.  In a fuming cloud of funk.

Why?  The answer is embarrassingly stupid.  It’s not because I got too nervous to do it.  This was a very tricky docking situation with winds and current pushing in the same direction, up against the pier in a narrow, short finger-piered slip.  While I will have to handle those conditions someday, I know I am not yet experienced enough to handle that one confidently just yet.  Giving up the wheel wasn’t the issue.  I was totally comfortable with that.  I’m infuriated because we’re docked, everything’s fine, and I’m the only one who’s all Petrified Patty about it.  It is only my heart that is beating through the bones of my chest.  Only my hands that are shaking like a junkie in detox.  I’m the only one who’s freaked out.  Me.  Annie.  Everyone else is all: “Great, we’re here.”  “Good job Captain.”  “Where did you guys come in from?”  And I want to scream: “From the fuel dock just over there and we almost crashed!  Didn’t you see?!  I can’t just chit-chat with you right now!”  I hate that I’m a nervous, frustrated wreck and I’m so mad at myself about it.  But that is what I feel in the moment, when we have a hairy docking—even a successful one—and it takes me a while to calm down.

Perhaps this is just a personal venting, or perhaps many of you feel this way.  Do you?

All I can say is: It’s frustrating and embarrassing, but I’m working on it.  Annie Raw.  Out.

Chapter Seven: “Slow Down Buddy. Slower Than That.”

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!  

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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.  

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I was making good progress until I made it to the head.  The floor there was thoroughly stained ….

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but it was no match for the eraser!

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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.  

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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.  

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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.

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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.  

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We decided this time to saunter over to Frenchy’s Saltwater Cafe for dinner and even opted for the early bird special, without shame.  

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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.  

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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.  

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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.  

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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.  

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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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Thanks to my Patrons who help me share the journey.  Get inspired.  Get on board.

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Bon Buffett Voyage – Day One: A Shoddy Shifter

April 21, 2015:

Last year, we spent the Captain’s birthday pillaging the shops of Duval Street, searching for “zee best key lime pie on zee island!”  We were smack-dab, mid-way through our 2014 trip to the Florida Keys and celebrating both the journey and Phillip’s momentous event on the colorful streets of Key West.

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This year, when we learned Buffett was putting on a concert in Orange Beach, fortuitously on the very day of our dear Captain’s birth (April 24, 2015), we knew exactly how we would be spending it — on a Bon Buffett Voyage baby!

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Oh yeah.  Our sentiments as well Mr. Buffett.

As soon as the tickets went up for sale, we had three laptops open refreshing, clicking and ready to buy.  Thankfully, we were able to snag two tickets without much trouble in this general vicinity:

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(Yes, I do wear my hair in a high pony with a blue bow … sometimes.)

We planned to head out a couple of days before the 24th and stop at some of our favorite local anchorages along the way — Red Fish Point right outside of Ft. McRae, where we drop the hook often, and Ingram’s Bayou, where we holed up last winter during our Thanksgiving Voyage — before we made our way over to The Wharf for the Buffett concert.

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Very un-fortuitously, though, when we called The Wharf on the day we bought the tickets to reserve a slip the night of the concert, the lady on the phone just laughed at me, actually, it was more of a guffaw.  “You’re funny,” she said.  Apparently, the day the concert was simply announced, their slips filled up and a waiting list was started for us Johnny Come-Latelies.  But, we signed up, figuring we had nothing to lose.  As Number 93 on the Wharf Waiting List, though, it didn’t look like we had much to gain, either.  So, we made a back-up reservation at the Homeport Marina with a plan to either dinghy to the concert (which would be quite a dinghy haul) or just cab it.  That would also let us check out Jimmy’s sister, Lucy Buffett’s, place, Lulu’s at Homeport Marina.  Either way, we were sailing our boat west for the Captain’s b’day, and we were going to that concert.   “You’re Funny” Fran wasn’t going to stop us!

We also planned to finally install and sport our shiny new shifter arms for the trip!  We’ve had these flaking-away old rubber-coated ones for a while,

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And, it just so happened, the shiny new engraved set Phillip had ordered arrived in the mail day before we were set to head off on our voyage!

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We couldn’t wait.  We slapped those puppies on while we were provisioning and readying the boat for shove-off the next morning.  They slipped right on perfectly and sure spruced up the helm.  We were pimping now!

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Unfortunately, we weren’t pimping for very long.  The next morning we shoved off from the dock, smooth as silk, the Captain executing a perfect exit, but when the bow swung out and he tried to go forward, there was nothing perfect about it.  I was tying up the docklines at the bow, but I could tell something was definitely wrong when the boat started to loop around to do another circle.  I looked back at Phillip, and saw he was shifting and fidgeting with the new shifter arm for the transmission.

“I can’t … it’s … it won’t engage!” he shouted as I scrambled back to the cockpit.  The problem was clear.  Because of the unique location of the poles on our helm, we couldn’t push the shifter arm forward enough to actually engage the transmission into forward.

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I won’t share the expletives we did in that moment.  We tried to take the shifter arm off quickly, hoping we could adjust it but there was no adjusting to be done.  It fit in only one position only–the no-forward-for-you position.  There we were, out there, moving, with only neutral and reverse as options.  Thankfully, the wind was on our side and she was pushing the boat forward enough to allow Phillip to steer and slow us down as needed with reverse.  And, thankfully again (trust me, I realize how incredibly lucky we were that this worked out the way that it did), there was an open dock available just up the way.  Phillip said he could pull up next to it so we could dock and he could run back up to our apartment to grab the old shifter arms which he had also thankfully (yes, a third) saved in case we needed them as spares.

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I ran back up to the bow as we trudged forward with only neutral and reverse and re-tied the bow lines so we could use them to re-dock.  And, I know I’ve said it a hundred times, but docking is just not my favorite thing, particularly when it’s somewhere we’ve never docked before and the winds are pushing us unfavorably (not to mention when we’re in a bit of a panic because our freaking shifter arm won’t work and we, you know, can’t go forward).  I know the Captain is doing a lot (okay, pretty much everything) back there at the helm, but I can’t help but feel like a lone soldier up there on the deck, lines in hand, jumping off, scrambling to a cleat, strategically tying at just the right length and in just the right order, making sure our 15,000 pound boat neither touches the dock where there is no fender nor blows off out of line-tossing distance.  It’s just stressful, that’s all I can say.  My heart beats a thousand times a minute and I jump around like leprechaun on LSD.  Thankfully, though (for the fourth and final time) we were able to ease up to the dock and secure her safely while we swapped the shifter arms out.  Now — lesson of this little story?  Always jump around like a lit-up leprechaun when docking?  No (but good guess).  To the extent possible, always check newly-installed equipment to make sure it does what it’s supposed to do before you leave the dock.  You probably already knew that, but I’m happy to share our minor follies in case it helps some other poor sailor out there one day.

So, with our old very un-pimp shifter arms back in place and our first heart-pumping adventure of the trip under our belts (although it would be nowhere close to the last), we finally headed out into the bay to begin our Bon Buffett Voyage.  It was a pretty sporty sail that day, but our boat romped and played in the waves like it was just good elementary school fun.  “Tag, you’re it!” she’ll shout at the waves and romp away.  She loves the salty spray!

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Now, this might have been with a little help from the tide going out, but I don’t care.  At one point, we were making 8.3!!

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We made it to Red Fish Point in record time and prepared to drop the hook.

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Those gloves help me grip both the anchor chain AND my rum drink!  Both equally important.

The sun started to dip down just as we got her nice and secure for our first night of the voyage.

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We cheers-ed to the first night of the voyage and let some soft Buffett play in the background while we kept a look-out for a green flash on the horizon.

 

Thanks as always, to the many patrons who help make these posts just a little more possible through PATREON.

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They’re Coming in HOT!!

May 2, 2014:

Naaaaaaaaa-suhWENya!  WanaBEEzeewhen-aaahhhh!   Okay, you probably have no idea what I’m trying to replicate here (but if you do – five gold stars!).

We rose the next morning before sunrise.  The sky was choked at first with soft, billowing blue clouds, covering every inch of the space overhead with only one sliver of light growing in the east.  As the sun rose, the blue canopy began to dissipate and everything turned a fiery shade of pink.

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Now you’ll understand — Naaaaaaaaa-suhWENya!  WanaBEEzeewhen-aaahhhh!

I went for a sunrise paddle that morning – left before the sun rose, and watched it taint the sky as it climbed the horizon.  I felt like I was the center of the Circle of Life!  Everything seemed to open, bloom and awake around me and change from a dusky blue to a golden pink.

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Pelicans were swimming and flying right along side of me.

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Hey whenyahhna.  Hey, heywhenyahhhna … 

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The water was rippled pink, purple and blue and the only sound I could hear was my paddle dipping in and out of the water.  (Well, other than the African Lion King chants I was wailing in my head).

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Hey whenyahhna.  Hey, heywhenyahhhna … 

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And then I emerged!

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“THE CIIIIRRRR-CUUULLL OF LIFE!!”

Okay, it wasn’t that dramatic in reality.  I just pulled up to the boat.

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Hello Beautiful!

But, it was an intensely serene sunrise paddle.  Such a beautiful area right around our boat to tool around in.

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I paddled around Bird Island.  I didn’t know – then- that the other was called Snake Island, but I’m glad, now, that I avoided it!  Since it was our first day in a new port, we decided to what any good adventurer would do … get out and explore!  We walked around the boat a bit and checked out the cool rock jetty (Venice Inlet) that leads out into the Gulf – knowing we would be headed out that way in just a few days.

Shot

We noticed it was both (1) very narrow:

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and (2) very rocky:

2

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A bit of a bad combination for entry and exit in a boat, particularly in rough seas.  The sea state was still kicked up with the storm rolling in to Clearwater, so we knew we would be hunkering down in Venice for at least a day or two.  But, I tell ya, it wasn’t a bad place to be!  We had the boat nice and secure at an excellent marina,

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and we had attracted some friends around the boat.

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And the jetty, inlet and Gulf waters were beautiful.  Lots of folks came out it seemed to eat lunch, sit and read, and just hang out around the jetty.  Excellent walking/meander grounds.

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But, like I said — we were ready to explore!  A little further than what was achievable on foot.  So, remember the free bike rental I mentioned at Crow’s Nest Marina for marina guests?

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Suh-weet!  We checked us out a free pair and set to it!

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The area around the jetty was really nice, and it was a perfect sunny day for a bike ride, so we decided to make a day of it.  We biked … all … over!

Biking2

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Adorable little condos and townhouses by Crow’s Nest.  Many of them had stairwells up to the roof where they had set up a little sunbathing area on top of their house!

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Quaint shaded streets and light traffic made for perfect neighborhood cruising among HUGE banyan trees.

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I almost crashed five times trying to look up at the Spanish Moss.  Well, I take that back, I almost crashed several times because I’m just well, accident prone, and I was shooting while biking, AND I’m a blonde.  So, I had a lot working against me.  But, I somehow managed to stay upright.  The biking was actually excellent exercise for the knee which still had a little pain and a pop, but was improving daily.  We found an excellent public beach access that appeared to be the perfect place to set up for kiting if we got some favorable winds while we were there.

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We actually met a kiter who was out there setting up that morning and chatted him up for a bit.

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He told us the thermal winds in that area were usually pretty steady, meaning you couldn’t trust the wind prediction.  It was always off.  Good to get the local wind scoop!

Wind scoop …

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Get it??

Pee

We rode our bikes all the way to town!

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Tis me!

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Annnd, I didn’t crash taking that shot either!  You’re welcome.

We found this awesome 1950’s throw-back trinket shop – Nifty Nic Nacs!

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So true …

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Take an old photo, put a funny caption on it and BOOM!  I just love these things!

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Apparently, the shopkeep didn’t LOVE my love of them, though.  He totally busted me for taking photos of his stuff.  Sorrryyy!  It’s just cause it’s such cool stuff!  The lengths I go to to capture our adventures for you all … I could have been arrested!

Having biked all morning, we set our sights on lunch.  A little research told us this Blue Island Bistro was the hot lunch spot in Venice, and boy were they right!

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Quaint little bistro atmosphere overlooking the hotel pool.

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A pile of hand-made shoestring onion rings, three chicken, avocado and lime salsa tacos and a piled-high pork & coleslaw sandwich later, and Phillip and I could barely walk, much less pedal!  It took us a while to roll out of our seats and ease back onto our bikes to make the trek back to the marina, but it was totally worth it.  That was a mighty tasty lunch!

We had good timing, too, because just as we made our way back to the boat, we got to see first-hand what that storm that was headed to Clearwater looked like.  Our marina was haunted with looming grey clouds and dark horizons.

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We hunkered down in the boat for a bit to wait for the storm to pass.

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I actually love being on the boat when a storm comes through.  Granted, I don’t want to be buried in a wicked thunderstorm, but it’s a neat feeling to be on your boat, on the water, out in the middle of a torrential downpour, but you’re dry and secure, watching it all first-hand.  It’s kind of like getting a cozy, front-row seat to some of Mother’s Nature’s most amazing displays.  And, our boat needed the rinse, so we were fine to let it pour, pour, pour!

I tell you one thing that rain didn’t clean, though, was the paddle board!  Remember the new “friend” we had made at the marina?  The one I thought was so cute because he was hanging on our dock line?  I had been snapping shots of him that morning, telling Phillip “Look, Phillip, we’ve got a little buddy!”  Awww … how cute!

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Well, he turned out to be a real shitty friend, that bird!  He used our paddle board as his own personal hunting perch and he SHAT all over it!

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That terd!  It took some serious industrial scrubbing to get it clean!

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But, we got it clean, and cleaned ourselves up as well.  The previous night, we had fine-dined at the swanky top floor of the Crow’s Nest Marina restaurant, so this time we decided to check out the casual, cozy tavern on the bottom floor.

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I required some serious industrial cleaning as well after the foul fowl discharge clean-up!  But, I think I turned out alright.  You can’t see the elephant arm at all!  We mozied around the marina a bit to check out this huge fishing boat that had pulled in for quick cover during the flash storm.

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And, just as we were walking the docks, checking the boat out, we saw this other sailboat come flying in.  The boat would easily qualify as a “work-in-progress.”  It had big, brown paint patches in places, no lifelines to speak of and a few buckets and board planks lying around on deck.  The boat made a quick u-turn near the fishing boat where we were standing and then started on a beeline back toward our boat – just hauling through the marina (which always makes you nervous).  It’s like watching a car up ahead on the interstate swerving and screeching around.  You’re either going to ease back and stay out of the way, or floor it when you pass them to make sure they don’t careen into you.  But, the problem was, we weren’t on the boat!  Meaning, we had no way of getting our boat out of harm’s way.  We both craned our necks up and watched with tight-lip frowns as the blazing boat made a quick turn into the slip right next to us (not on us, at least).  Whew!  It was clear they weren’t going to hit our boat, but they were still barreling into the slip, headed straight for the dock.  Phillip and I both started running toward their bow as one of the crew on the fishing boat shouted:

“THEY’RE COMING IN HOT!!”

Good to the …

I know what you’re thinking, and you’re probably right, but be patient.  We’ll get there.

April 29, 2014:

While the run-aground in the ICW was certainly not fun (and quite embarrassing on my part) it, thankfully, was a very minor graze with a soft bottom and one that we were able to ease off of fairly quickly.  And, while I know I deserved some of the scoldings and finger-shaking I received as a result, I’m not sure I agree that it rose to the level of demotion from my position as First Mate as one of our followers opted for (you know who you are!).  But, I tell these tales so that hopefully some of you fellow cruisers can learn from our mistakes and, on the rare occasion, brilliant discoveries!  It’s all about getting out there and doing it – mistakes included.  But, assuming the demotion was in order, we’ll see if this little diddy can salvage me.  I call it – Redemption of the Selfie!

Selfie

So, still maintaining our slight trickle from the stuffing box around the propeller shaft, we motored our way into the Gasparilla Marina so we could have our leak inspected.  And, you would think, by now, with all of the docking debacles we’ve encountered, we would be pros at docking.  Well, we are better, but I’ll tell you, I’m just not sure anyone can actually call themselves a “pro.”  You just never know what kind of conditions you’re going to face with the wind, current, pilings, finger docks, etc.  There’s always some element to contend with that can turn your perfect entry into a … well, a cluster.  As we made our way into the marina and found the slip they had assigned us to, we knew we were going to be contending with some pilings.

Dock

I even called the dockmaster to see if he could send some guys over to help catch some lines (Captain decided not to be too embarrassed about it, knowing my knee was not 100%) but, unfortunately, they were all on the other side of the slips at the fuel dock (a good 10-minute walk from our slip on the other side).  So, it was the Captain and I, easing in …  While we would have loved for it to have played out something like this.

In3  Boat      Good

Voila!

Sadly, that’s NOT what happened.  After debating it a few times and exchanging a couple of confirmations (“midship first?  stern second?  then bow?”), we went for it.  The wind was coming across our starboard deck, so we had decided, as we were easing in, to put a loose midship line around the second piling to keep us from hitting the dock on the port side.  A grand idea at first …

In3 In

 

But how loose is is too loose?  Or, more importantly, not loose enough?  You’ve got to cleat to the boat it at some point or it has no purpose, so I lassoed the pole, pulled out about 8-10 feet, cleated it and hobbled back to the stern to try and catch the piling on the starboard stern.  Unfortunately, though, it seems my “8-10 feet” was not enough and as Phillip eased forward, the midship line pulled taut, causing the boat to … well …

In2 Bad

Like I said, a total cluster.  Thankfully, we were able to push off the port piling, back out and try again.  This time we decided to forego the midship line, catch the stern on the way in and then run up and tie off the bow.  Well, run, hobble, crawl – however I could make it happen.  So, we tried again.

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This time we caught the stern fine and start to ease forward.  But, do recall that other element I mentioned.  Ahhh, yes, a sailor’s best friend (or worst enemy at times).  THE WIND!

Wind

 

The wind was pushing our boat over to the dock on the port side and we had yet to tie a line to hold the bow off.  Without a friendly set of hands on the dock to catch a line, I tossed a pile of the starboard bowline onto the deck hoping it would stay put until I could get off to tie it.

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Thankfully, the pile landed solidly on the dock, and I took off to catch it!

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Here I come to save the DAAAYYY!”  Yes, that is what I sang to myself as I leaped.

Luckily the pile remained, I was able to grab it, tie it off and keep our boat off of the dock on the port side.

Done

Whew!  Have I mentioned before how much I hate docking – period – but particularly at new places??

With the boat secure, the Captain set to contacting the guys at the marina to have them come out and look at our leaking stuffing box.  A young guy came out pretty quickly, jumped down beneath the engine and started pulling and wiggling the stuffing box, as Phillip and I kind of stood there, hovering, exchanging worried looks.

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“You see something?”

He came up slowly, with a sullen look on his face, wiping the oil from his hands tediously, without saying a word.  I took this as a bad sign.  Like a doctor who’s about to dish out some really bad news.  He told us he tried to tighten the hose clamps but he thought the seals were going to have to be replaced.  Which meant … a haul-out.  A haul-out??  Mid-TRIP?!?  And, they’re so freaking expensive, too.  The haul-out alone can sometimes cost 3/4 of a grand, not to mention the labor and expenses that will follow repairing the seals.  And, anytime you haul-out, you always want to try and get as many “haul-out” requisite projects taken care of then to get the most of the hard-earned dollars you paid just to see your dripping keel, but that means more repairs, more time, more labor, MO MONEY.  That was some pretty bad news.  But, Guy No. 1 did say he wasn’t 100% sure and he was going to have his supervisor come out – the head mechanic at the marina – to have a look as well.  A second opinion?  Uhhh, yes please!  Send in Guy No. 2!

It was nearing the end of the day, so we decided to get cleaned up while we waited for the head honcho, John, to come out and check out our stuffing box.  The shower facilities at the marina were really nice, and they had a great Captain’s Lounge with TV, AC, books, wifi, coffee, etc.  We also saw they had a little restaurant, the Waterside Grill, which we decided would suit us fine for dinner.  After a long day-and-a-half of passage, we were ready to shell out a few dollars to kick back and let the friendly folks of Gasparilla bring us platters of fish & shrimp!  When I hit the showers, a ‘body check’ confirmed that, a day-and-a-half since “the fall,” and the arm and knee were still showing signs of a collision.

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I know, pretty right?  The knee still had a little pain when bending and a funny ‘pop’ upon extension but, otherwise, was functioning reasonably well.  The arm was functioning fine but was swollen to about twice its normal size and pretty hard to the touch.  Just weird … No broken bones, though, so no complaints here.  I’ll take functioning-but-weird any day.

When I got back to the boat, the head mechanic, John, was just leaving.  Thankfully, he left us with better news than Guy No. 1.  John said he thought it might could be adjusted, maneuvered somehow to sufficiently slow the leak to allow us to get home.  It would just depend on what kind of stuffing box it was.  So, THAT was our homework assignment.  We had to find out what kind of stuffing box we had on there.  Guy No. 1 had told us previously he could barely see the label on it from underneath the propeller shaft, but he couldn’t get a good enough angle to read the whole name.  We searched our bag of instruction manuals to see if there was one for the stuffing box.  (As I have advised before – always keep every instruction manual for every piece of equipment you install on the boat – you never know when they might come in handy).  Unfortunately, no dice.  We couldn’t find any paperwork on our stuffing box.  We had to lay eyes on the label.  But, the label was on the bottom of the stuffing box, facing down and there was only about a 2-3 inch gap between the label and the hull.

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We broke out the little mirror that we keep on the boat.

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I call this a mechanic’s mirror.  We use it to look underneath things we can’t get under, much like a mirror under a car.

Mirror

Super handy piece of equipment to have on a boat.  But, the problem was, this label was too far underneath the stuffing box for the mirror to allow a reflection.  The last thing you could see before the face of the mirror was lost under the transmission was just the tip of the label.  We needed a new plan, so I got to thinking …  I don’t know if you did this as a kid, but we used to make and buy those little boxed-mirror gadgets that allowed you to look around corners or over walls?

Nifty

Nifty!  Thankfully, though, my brother’s hair didn’t look like that.  Or this …

fty

But, we were HUGE Inspector Gadget fans!

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(Doo-bee-doo-bee-doop.  Inspector Gadget!  Doo-bee-doo-bee-doop.  Bum, bum.  Whoo hoo!   I know you’re singing along!  Click HERE to reminisce further).

And we all know Penny secretly rocked that show.

Penny

“I’ve got it Uncle Gadget!”

Okay, so I digress.  But, I did get a little Gagety with it.  I started thinking about those around-the-corner mirror devices and started looking around for another mirror.  While two mirrors would have worked fine, the first thing that caught my eye was my phone and that’s when it came to me.  The selfie app!  Now, not only could I view the image via the mirror function on the phone (a.k.a., the “selfie app”) but this way I could capture it via photo to confirm, show to Phillip and keep for our records.  I positioned the phone under the stuffing box, tilted just enough to provide a reflection on the mechanic’s mirror so I could see what the screen on the phone was capturing.

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I took a few (dozen) missed and blurred shots, but I was getting closer.

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There!  See?  You can almost see it there.  A few minor adjustments, taps on the cell phone screen to auto-adjust and BAM!

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I got it.  Good to the … LASDROP!  It was a Lasdrop stuffing box.  Now that we had a name, we could get some dinner at the Waterside Grill, relax and check back in with John in the morning to see about a solution for our leak.  See?  Good selfie training CAN be an important skill to have on the boat!  I know my fellow blogger Dani would agree.  Redemption of the Selfie!!

On that note, let’s end on a selfie montage, shall we?  Let this play in the background and enjoy …  All Byyyyy Myyy-seee–heee-eelllf:

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You’za Fine Sailing Vessel, Won’t You BACK That Thing Up!

April 23, 2014:

Well, now you are familiar with our night shifts, and my goggle-wearing, Cookie Monster, dance party antics up in the cockpit in the middle of the night.  (But, really, does such behavior from me in any way surprise you?)

Me

She’s just a tad cray … 

But, thankfully, our night passage from Ft. Myers Beach with Johnny to the Keys was our calmest yet.  No beating our way across the Gulf, no fighting for every inch of ground, no pulling out and making a risky night entrance into a difficult pass.  Thankfully, none of that!  It was a perfect night.  The wind held all evening and we were on an easy broad reach, averaging six knots, until daybreak.  The stars that night were mesmerizing.  There really was no need for dancing or snacking.  You could just sit and look out on the twinkling sky and think all night long – in complete contentment.  It was such a rewarding, peaceful passage, it almost felt unfair to have it followed by a breathtaking sunrise.

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We were definitely in our element that morning, watching the sun creep up over every inch of the boat.

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Johnny was behind us – bringing up the rear!

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We sailed until around 7:00 a.m. when the wind finally died out and we had to crank up.  But she cranked just fine and was running like Rocky Balboa that morning.

Rocky

We were so proud of that engine!

That boat was cruising right along.  And, so were the dolphins!  We had a pack of them racing each other up at the bow as we were making our way in.

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I did attempt to take some fun footage, but I believe there was a bit of operator error.  It’s just a little blurry, and just a little upside down.  No big deal.  For your viewing pleasure – the dolphins are definitely worth it:

Johnny lead the way as we motored into the channel.

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It was about an hour and a half through the channel in to Key West Bight.

KW

KWB

There she is!  The Bight!

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We were going to be staying at the A&B Marina.

Bight

The only problem with the A&B Marina was that you had to back in.

Bight

See?  All of the boats are backed in.  It was a “stern-to” configuration.  There are no finger docks between the boats, nothing to space them apart other than the tie-up poles.  The boats are literally about two feet apart.  It was definitely going to be tight!

While the stern-to docking definitely has its perks (easy boarding and loading of supplies via the cockpit, easy access to power, easy leaving), it was definitely not going to be so easy coming.  We were going to have to make a backwards entry!  Yipes!

Yipes

The A&B Marina even had a whole section on their website devoted to the stern-to approach and docking, complete with a diagram:

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and video:

This was serious business.  Phillip dropped this little nugget on me somewhere between Ft. Myers and Key West and, I have to say, I was a little uneasy about it.  With my history of docking debacles, I get a little apprehensive when we’re about to attempt a bit of a hairy one (okay, attempt one at all).  But, I mean, I feel like I try really hard.  I jump around a lot and move real fast and squeal.  Like a …

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But somehow it doesn’t qualify as very helpful for the whole docking process.  

In all seriousness, though, I am getting better.  But, it doesn’t mean my heart’s not racing the entire time (or that I’m not jumping a little and squealing – I still do that).  This time, though, I was determined.  I was going to nail it!  I was going to lasso those poles while Phillip backed her in.  No problem.  I grew up country remember?

Horse

I can lasso anything!

Lasso

Yee-haw!

Unfortunately, despite the similarity in the name, I certainly wasn’t clad in fringe and leather, and didn’t look quite so badass in my lasso attempts.  Let’s just say I did try.  Very hard.  But those poles are like 50 feet out!  I’m not kidding.  Every slip at A&B is set up for an 80-foot yacht, if not bigger.  We seriously had to tie two dock lines together to make a springer that would reach those poles!  But, the Captain did an incredible job of backing her in.  It was his first time to do that, and I was able to hold on to the guide ropes and catch a pole later so that we could get her nice and secure.

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There she is!  The ole’ Rest, resting her tired lines at Key West!  What a treat!  We had made it all the way down there.  And she was easily the smallest boat in the marina, but she had, by far, the biggest heart!  She wasn’t shy at all.  It seemed she kicked back and inched her mast up just a little higher to fit in with the Big Dogs.  We were so proud of her!  We couldn’t wait to get out and explore — well, shower first, we HAD been at sea sailing, fishing, and what-not for a day and a half — but after that … we were going to take the Key by storm!

Annie On the Ball!

April 13, 2014:

So, now you know our first night at a KEY was not the peaceful, dreamy stuff Sandals Beach Resort commercials are made of …

Sandals

Ahhh … bring me another cocktail Pedro.

But, we at least survived it.  Despite my horrific, vivid night-magination, I was thrilled to wake and find the pulpit on the bow had in fact NOT snapped off and the boat had NOT flipped over during the night, but we had spent an incredibly rough night at anchor.  Key or not, I don’t think we’ll be planning to drop the hook on that side of Egmont anytime soon.

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“I want my money back!”

As soon as one stray shard of morning light struck the deck, we pulled the anchor and high-tailed it!

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We set out across Tampa Bay at daybreak.

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But, it’s a biiiiiig bay.  We still had a long way to go to get to St. Pete.

Egmont2    St. Pete

We did enjoy coming under the SkyWay Bridge.

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Having both been to St. Pete by land, the bridge was sort of iconic for us – a true monument to how far south we had actually come by boat!

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And, I know the thing is like 8,000 miles high, give or take, but I swear, it still feels like we might hit.  I hate watching the mast go under bridges.  Because, I mean, really, what are you going to do at the moment of impact if it does hit?  I just squeeze my eyes tight and think short thoughts!

But, I’m happy to say we cleared her just fine!

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And, while we did have to motor that morning because the wind was dead on our nose and the bay was pretty chopped up, we did enjoy traversing new waters and were excited to see St. Pete come into view on the horizon.

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We called ahead to see if we could find a transient slip or a mooring ball, and luckily they had room for us in the mooring field in the Vinoy Basin.  We’d never snagged a mooring ball before and with all of the docking debacles we had suffered already, you can imagine what went through my mind …

Debacle

Certain disaster.  Likely ending with a mate overboard …   Grabbing a mooring ball is not always easy, and I can imagine in heavy winds or current (or with novice-slash-clumsy crew  *throat clearing*), it can be pretty darn difficult.  Proof:

How Not to Pick Up a Mooring Ball

Ball

But, I was ready.  I had gaff in hand, line all tied and secure.  I was going to GET THAT BALL!!

Woman

And, get it I did!  On the first try!  We snagged her right up and secured that boat in no time.

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And, man, what a great place to stop for repairs!  The Vinoy Basin was beautiful.

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It had its own dinghy dock, within rowing distance.

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And, we were within walking distance of all the facilities and the downtown strip!

IMG_8555  Vinoy

It is a city-maintained marina, so nice facilities – shower, laundry, and all of that.  And, at $14/night, we certainly weren’t putting a hurting on the cruising kitty.  The basin also offered decent protection from just about any wind direction.  Oh, and the dockmaster – real nice guy, can’t remember his name, though I’m sure it was Bill, or Billy, or Mack or Buddy – even came to pick us up in the famous Dock Mule!

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Awesome.  We were ready to get showered up and check out the town.  It was Sunday afternoon.   We weren’t going to be able to deal with our busted Jenny until tomorrow at best, so might as well enjoy it, am I right?

Sure Buddy, give us a ride.  Let’s see what this town of St. Pete is all about!

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April 9, 2014 – Keys Log: Day 7 – MOTORIN’!

WHAT’S YOUR PRICE FOR FLIGHT??  At least I think those are the lyrics.

Ranger

Feel free to test me (and jam to that oldie-but-a-goodie) here.  But, know that I don’t care either way, because that’s what I like to belt out.  “Finding Mr. Right!  Believe you will tonight!”  That’s the way I sing it.  And, the way I sung it that day.  We were “Motorin’!” down the ditch that day.  We had waited an extra day due to heavy winds and a kicked-up sea state out in the Gulf and while the winds had made for a good kite day for us yesterday, they made for a terrible night of unrest for us on the ole’ Rest.  They were blowing us hard against the dock, all night long, which meant lots of groaning and squeaking on the fenders.  It was a bit of a rough night for the boat.  While we had planned to leave at dawn, we ended up waiting a couple of hours for the wind to lie down.  She finally settled out some around 7:00 a.m., but we couldn’t wait much longer, we had a good 10 hours of motoring ahead of us if we were going to make it to Carabelle that night.  We neededst to go!

We sipped some coffee and readied the boat and I sat there contemplating the Gorton’s pants.  I just couldn’t bear to leave them hanging there so lonely on that pole,

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and I certainly couldn’t wad them up and throw them in the trash.  We’d been through so much together!  While they made an absolute mess now every time I put them on, Phillip made the excellent point that it would be good to have a back-up set of foul weather gear – albeit a messy one – shoved away in some locker on the boat in case we had a third mate aboard who found himself foul weather gear-less.  Good point!  (Although I needed no real excuse to keep them on the boat as a good luck charm alone, it feels better to do it under sensible pretenses).  Either way, we folded them up and shoved them in a vberth locker,

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and I felt much better about it.  There, there Gorton’s.  You’re still with us!

Just as we were getting ready to shove off, our dock-mate, “Skipper Bob” on the s/v Maverick, came out to lend a hand.  The wind was blowing hard off the the starboard bow and we were wedged in fairly tight between our two dock-mates, Maverick and Liza. With Bob’s help, we decided to let the bow off and back out around Liza then turn starboard and move forward.  A great plan, in theory, but it was blowing about 18 knots. Phillip started to back out and tried to push his stern out far enough to clear Liza behind him but the wind wasn’t letting him move very far.  He went back and forth a couple of times (the beginnings of an 82-point turn) and finally just scooched outside of Liza but when he started to move forward, the wind pushed hard on the boat broadside and sent her stern back toward the pilings.  Bob and I looked like a pair of dancing monkeys, me on the boat and him on the dock, running the length of the boat shoving the boat off of pilings.  It was a mighty struggle.  I stuck a foot out and gave one last mighty push and the stern missed the dock by just inches and Phillip was revving hard to miss Bob and Pat’s boat in front of us.  Bob was a huge help, though, and a good sport.  As we just squeezed by his dinghy, he hollered out “You should’ve swiped her!  We need a new one!  Safe travels you guys!”  It was a heart-pounding moment and certainly not the way you want to start a leisurely morning.  When I finally made it back to the cockpit, heaving and sweating, my heart still thumping mightily in my chest, Phillip scolded me for sacrificing my body for the boat.  Rightfully so.  It was a good lesson.  Unfortunately, it was also one that I would not really learn until later, but that’s well on down the line. For the moment, we were finally off the dock, our adrenaline subsiding and we enjoyed the sunrise as we headed out into the bay.

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The view was amazing when we came under the bridge to Port St. Joe.  A gorgeous sunrise, the slightest bit of fog on the water and pelicans everywhere, just skimming the water.

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Well, most were skimming.  One wasn’t so lucky.  As we turned in under the bridge to Port St. Joe, we heard a mighty thump up at the bow.  I had been staring off the starboard side, watching some pelicans glide above the water, and I was shocked to now see one, ten feet away, flapping and wrestling around on our foredeck.  A pelican!  Flopping around on the boat!?!  For whatever reason, perhaps he’d had one too many Sailor Jerry’s at the old Pelican’s Perch the night before, or he was just the local pelican idiot, he had flown right into our Jenny sheet, and the more he squirmed and flung those big, clumsy wings of his around, the more tangled up he got.  The sheet was wrapped around his neck at one point.  I thought I might have to go rescue him and actually got a little excited thinking about it.  Man-handling a real, live pelican?  I mean, could it get any better?  Phillip and I watched him a moment or two longer in astonishment, exchanging a few lame guesses as to what in the hell had driven him right into our boat.  I remember Phillip saying at one point, “Is he retarded?”  Good question.  How do you know if a pelican is?  He finally flapped himself free of the Jenny line, though, and then waddled and snaggled his way through the lifelines and took off from the starboard bow.  I watched him fly for just a bit and then he quickly plopped down in the water, shook his head a hard time or two and just sat there for a bit.  Trying to get his bearings I would imagine.  Big dumb bird.  That was wild.

Once we’d shaken that image out of our mind, we sat back and enjoyed watching the sun come up over the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (“the ditch”).  It was incredible.  Big, rusty shrimp boats lining the docks, fog dissipating on the horizon, jagged tree stumps lining the shore.  I felt like we were making our way right down the ole’ Mississipp’ and that Huck Finn would pass by on his raft at any moment.  It was such a surreal feeling.

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We made a pot of piping oatmeal and savored our morning in the ditch.

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Lake Wimico was gorgeous too and we made a nice, easy day of it motoring over to Apalachicola.  We needed to fuel up for the planned Gulf Crossing tomorrow, so we stopped into the fuel dock just before Apalachicola Bridge and suffered our second docking debacle of the day.  I’m starting to think I’ve got some kind of horrendous docking curse.  The current was really working against us, pushing us right along the dock, so it was crucial we get a line on –and fast.  I called ahead to let them know we were coming (like I said, I’m not afraid to ask for an extra hand to save our boat!), and I threw the guy the bow line as we were coming in. It landed at his feet and before he could get down to it (sadly he did not move at the pace I do when we’re docking – that of a mad jackrabbit), and I watched in horror as it snaked slowly away from his feet and into the water.  I’m sure I didn’t hide my distaste very well …   But, perhaps I should have taken a lesson from him.  Phillip always says “Smooth is fast.”  As I scrambled wildly to pull the line back up before it made its way back to the prop, I slipped nicely on the wet foredeck and found the only thing that saved me from going overboard was the fat welp I had just created on my chin when it wedged against the lifeline.  Smooth Annie.  But, at least we knew the lifelines we had re-tied during our Keys preparations were working.

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They certainly kept my sorry self on the boat that day, and it wouldn’t be the first time we would test them on this trip.  We finally got the boat secure at the fuel dock, though, and set about fueling her up.  If I haven’t expressed it quite clearly enough – I hate docking!  Something always seems to go awry and put our boat in grave danger.  It’s like watching your dog cross a busy street alone.  It’s just unnerving sometimes.

But, alas, we gassed up and made our way out into Apalachicola Bay.  It was a gorgeous day and we had favorable wind.  While our morning motoring was fun, we have a sailboat for a reason.  We like to sail!  I didn’t hesitate to jump up on the deck and ready our sails!

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And, we were thrilled to see some guys out oystering in the St. George Sound.  When we ordered oysters in Port St. Joe, we had been told they came from Texas, because the local supply was low, so we were glad to see them out there harvesting.  They said the oysters were coming back.  Good!  Cause we like to eat ’em!

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The wind picked up that afternoon, a steady northeast around 14 knots, and we actually did some of the best sailing yet on our trip.  We were heeled over, averaging 6.5, sometimes 7 knots most of the way.  That was the fastest we had gone the entire trip and it felt great!  I was curled up and leaning over the coaming on the windward side — pretty much the equivalent of a dog sticking his head out of the car window — watching the hull cut through the water.  We were sailing baby!

We made it over to Dog Island around dusk and got ready to drop the hook.  We had covered a lot of ground that day!

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Log book:

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We struggled a bit with the anchor chain.  As part of our preparations for the trip to the Keys, we had pulled it all out at the dock to (a) check the length and (b) remark the 25-foot indicators.  Regarding the length, 200 feet was our belief, but we wanted to verify that and make sure the end was secured to the boat.  I certainly did not want to be the one to send the entire thing out and overboard because we’d never eye-balled the end. “Did you get the anchor out?” calls the Captain from the cockpit.  “Yep, just fine.  She’s all OUT!”  DOH!  So, we pulled her out for a look-see:

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And do know that the entire time we were hoisting chain along the dock, I couldn’t help but shake the song “Back on the chain gang!” from my head.

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All out – 200 feet total.

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Yep.  Tied in.  Whew!  Now for the indicators:

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25 feet

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50 feet

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75 feet

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100 feet

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125 feet

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150 feet

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175 feet.  End of the line!

While the chain gang project was a good thing to do (you want to be sure), we believe, for whatever reason, our having pulled it all out and winched it back in at the dock, without tension, caused it to pile up on itself in some unfavorable way in the anchor locker, which made it a mighty struggle to heave it out, but we finally got 150 feet out and set right to what we do best at anchorage.  Making some cocktails to enjoy the sunset!

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I have to say – we love our stand-up ice tray on the boat.  It makes these huge, Mad Men-esque cubes that look like they were made to be drenched in fine whiskey.  Or rum … we usually choose the latter.

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Dog Island was a fantastic anchorage.  Pristine actually.  Beautiful white sand, an exquisite view of both the Gulf on one side and St. George Sound on the other.  There were just a few old wooden houses, mansions really, propped up on stilts overlooking both sides.  And, the sunset was just stunning.

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We savored the moment – and a few more cocktails – made dinner and called it a night.   If things went well — and from our past record “well” wasn’t usually how things progressed for us when crossing the Gulf — but, if they did, we were looking at a thirty-hour passage out of the East Pass to Clearwater.  Well or otherwise, we were eager to see what the Gulf had in store for us tomorrow.

April 5, 2014 – Keys Log: Day 3 – Don’t Mind the Weather

It’s funny how things tend to work themselves out when you’re sailing.  We had a follower tell us a while back (and rightfully so) that the most dangerous thing you can have on a boat is a schedule.  While time is decidedly always an issue – if only we all had an infinite supply we could go anywhere we want and stay six months – but the weather and wind and the sun also play a role in where you end up by boat.  It’s often a place you didn’t expect to go; rather, it’s a place you chose when you thought the weather wasn’t “working with you,” but once you get there, you often decide it is most definitely a place at which you’re glad to have ended up.  And, then you start to wonder whether the weather had it in mind all along …

So, the wind, in our minds, had not been “working with us” since we started off on this venture.  It was directly out of the southeast, dead on our nose, for the entire first night and day of the trip.  For that reason, we didn’t make near as much ground as we would have liked toward Clearwater, and with a known storm coming into the Gulf in the next day or two, we decided to pull out and head into Port St. Joe.

Log book:

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We had never been there before by boat, but we had heard great things.  It wasn’t originally in the plans for us, but, that’s the thing about plans.  But, as soon as we changed our heading toward St. Joseph Bay, we found ourselves on a perfect beam reach, making great headway, and doing some of our best sailing of the trip yet – right into the black abyss.

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The wind has a wicked sense of humor.  But it was like she was congratulating us on such a wise decision.  We were sailing along so fast, we were going to reach Port St. Joe before sunrise, and – as many of you fellow cruisers I’m sure follow the same rule – on the ole’ Rest our goal is never to come into a new Pass at night, so we actually had to turn around and sail back out into the Gulf for a bit to make sure we didn’t beat the sun in.

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It was a strange feeling to have worked so hard to make way forward for a day and a half, only to now turn around 180 degrees and sail for a few hours at 5.5 knots in the opposite direction.  Like I said … funny how things work out.

But after an hour or two of sailing back out, we finally turned around again, and sailed back in to St. Joseph Bay right around sunrise.  The fog was still so heavy we struggled to find even the flashing bouys.  Markers you would typically see miles out would now only reveal themselves at about 100 yards.

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I sat up at the bow and squinted through the mist to try and find them.

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“There’s one!”

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As the sun finally started to creep up and melt away some of the fog, we caught our first glimpse of land on the horizon and it turned out to be a beautiful morning.

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Thankfully the inlet into St. Joseph Bay was an easy one and we made it into the marina and docked up without issue.

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Between you, me and the fencepost (well, and all followers of this blog, I guess) I still get a little nervous every time we pull up to a dock because you just never know what’s going to happen.  I have failed to lasso a stern pole, jumped off the boat without a line, and a-many other docking mishaps I have failed to mention on this blog that still cause me a little heartburn when we start pulling our big beauty out of the open blue and up next to treacherous pilings and other fiberglass beasts.  A little tip – I always call ahead to the marina (despite the occasional eyeroll from the Captain) and ask them every time to send out a dock-hand (I’m assuming that’s a sufficient title) to help catch a line.  I mean, it’s a big, expensive boat, our most prized possession, I’m not ashamed to ask for eight hands on deck to help save her.  The marina at Port St. Joe has a reputation for being the “friendliest marina in all of Florida,” and I’ll say I have to believe it.  They sent a young chap right out who proved to be an excellent line-catcher and he helped us get tied up and gave us a quick tour of the facilities.  I can’t say enough good things about the folks at the Port St. Joe Marina.  They all went above and beyond.

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Plug that baby in!!

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The Captain … always doing a double-check.  (Rum drink in hand … )

Once the boat was secure, we set out to check out the marina office and get checked in.

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Even the pets at Port St. Joe are friendly.  We had a lovable white lab welcome us right in with a soft pant and a smile.  (To my good friend Anna – he reminded me of Tugg!!)

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The dockside bar there at the marina, looked the perfect place to try out the local Port St. Joe cuisine, so we settled in for some fine oysters and fish tacos.

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Yum!

The folks at the marina office gave us a great welcome packet with maps and flyers and coupons and told us we would have a paper delivered to the boat every morning, with free muffins on Sunday.  I mean, who doesn’t like muffins?  (Especially free ones!).  The book swap was excellent, too.  I had blazed through The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and I was looking for some new material.  I scarfed up another Jack Reacher saga and a James Patterson,

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and Phillip found a Hemingway novel he’d been meaning to read for a while – The Paris Wife.

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We were definitely pleased to be in this Port.  Great food, excellent facilities and our boat was nice and secure.  We were plenty happy to spend a day or three here to wait out the weather.

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While we hadn’t planned it, it all seemed to work out.  Like I said, perhaps the weather had it in mind for us all along.