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.
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!
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:
(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.
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,
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!!
We made it to Red Fish Point in record time and prepared to drop the hook.
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.
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.
After our racy rendezvous with the Sundowner crew in NOLA we were itching to get back out on our boat. Now that we had our slick solar panels installed and (presumably) working, it was time to take them out for a test run, and what better time than the Pensacola Blue Angels Homecoming Show in November! Several of our boat buddies were planning to get out for it, too, so it was quickly decided we would all get together for a massive raft-up. We were five-deep at the Fort baby!
From left to right:
1. s/v Edelweiss, a well-kept 34′ Sabre, is often packed to the brim with the Armanis — two veterinarians with (now) three little ones in tow. Did anyone call for a doctor?
2. s/v WindWalker, a 38′ Morgan, belongs to our trusted diesel engine mechanic, Johnny Walker (yes, that’s really his name, feel free to make all the associated Jim Bean, Jack Daniels jokes you’d like – he’s used to it), and his beautiful wife, Cindy. (While this is my absolute favorite picture of Johnny and Cindy, don’t doubt it, rain, shine or cold – these two are always smiling!)
3. 5 O’Clock, a 45′ Gulfstar, being the largest boat in the bunch often plays the role of “mothership” and is Captained by the only and only (you know this guy, he’s practically a celebrity in our world), Bottom-Job Brandon! His rocking wife Christine and their (now) two little salty sailors round out the Hall crew.
4. s/v Plaintiff’s Rest and it’s fine-looking crew need no introduction, really. Admit it, it’s only the best-looking boat in the bunch.
5. And, last but certainly not least, s/v Pan Dragon, a classic 36′ Pearson, is the pride and joy of our Broker-turned-Boat Buddy, Kevin, along with his incredibly entertaining wife, Laura, and their (now) two little ones seen here doing what they love to do — just “hang around” on the boat.
I will say Phillip and I are exceptionally lucky to have fallen into such a fine group of sailing comrades when we purchased our boat back in 2013. All of these Captains are sharp, talented sailors, each with a different area of expertise and each having proven their willingness time and again to help us out when we’ve found ourselves faced with a difficult boat project, and vice versa. It’s also great to see the lot of them (which with all of the “nows” you might have recognized has recently grown – three new additions in 2015 alone!) get their boats out just about every weekend they are able with the whole crawling/cradle crew in tow. I wouldn’t trust myself to keep a potted plant alive on the boat and here they bring their actual living, breathing, arms-and-legs munchkins aboard and show us all it can (and should) be done. Families can cruise too. They’re really impressive.
Having all five of us lined up for this phenomenal weekend was a pretty epic feat. But, when the Blue Angels come home, folks in Pensacola tend to get together for the event. And, because the Blue Angels fly over their home base, the Pensacola Naval Air Station, for the homecoming show, we knew we would be right under the flight path anchored out near Ft. McRae.
Here comes one now! Zzzwweeehhhhh!
See? They flew right over us! I kept trying to snap a cool shot of them coming by the boat but they kept breaking up, zipping around, looping and coming out of nowhere. Those suckers are fast! (And loud.)
After about 84 missed shots (give or take), I finally caught them right where I wanted them. Just overhead. Check out the money shot! BOOM.
Hull No. 193, baby! That’s us! It looks like they’re only 20 feet above our mast. While I can assure you, they are much higher, it doesn’t sound or feel like it when you’re watching them zip overhead. Zwweeehhhh!!
(Thank (and like) the Blue Angels Facebook team for the wicked pics!)
The show was jaw-dropping. “Hold on to your drink, Cap’n!”
First Mate rockin’ the rubbers!
They even put on an evening show (which they had not done in years) at the Naval Air Station. We could catch glimpses of it (and hear the roar of the flaming big rig) from our boats.
In all, it was an incredible weekend spent out on the boat with an amazing group of friends.
And, best of all, the solar panels performed beautifully. While we felt good about the Velcro adhesion, just to be safe I had taken some time back at the dock to manually stitch the panels on through their corner grommets with some green sail twine.
You can see it on the corners here:
Those flat little panels were expensive! While it was highly unlikely, I wasn’t going to risk them flying off in some heavy winds. They also proved extremely productive during our weekend out, pumping in (just about as we had expected) approximately 8 amps/hour.
It was truly gratifying to watch our amp hours go DOWN during the day. We were definitely pleased with the input and thrilled with the results of a long and tedious project. Life was good … for a brief moment. I swear that dern boat likes to toy with us sometimes. Right when you think everything is running smoothly and everything about boating is awesome, the boat likes to throw a little wrench in things just to, you know, keep you guessing. After our amazing weekend out on the boat, we woke Sunday to an awe-inspiring sky, sipped on coffee and decided we would ease the anchor up about mid-morning to enjoy a beautiful sail home.
That was the plan anyway, until we tried to crank the engine and ——— Nothing, nada, flat line. We couldn’t even get a click to turn the glow plugs on. Our starting battery was completely dead. The boat seemed to think it was funny.
It’s not funny, boat.
Luckily, on our boat, we can flip a switch to combine the house batteries with the starting battery, in situations like this, to pull from the house bank in order to crank the engine. It’s not really good for the house batteries because they’re intended primarily for deep cycle use, but if you’ve got to crank, you’ve got to crank. So, that’s what we did, and she started right up, which was a good sign. That meant it wasn’t an engine problem just a battery problem, but it was still baffling. What gives, boat?
Thankfully, we had a whole host of boat friends nearby to help us run through some things and troubleshoot. Assuming our starting battery was still good (which, being only a year old, it was pretty safe to assume it was) the primary difference was the solar panels. Once installed, they were essentially “on” all the time. Meaning, any time they panels were in the sunlight, they were pumping in juice. While the MPPT charge controllers regulate the influx of power to make sure the house batteries do not get overwhelmed by the solar input, one option kicked around the group was the possibility that the solar input may have overwhelmed the alternator and caused it not to re-charge the starting battery while we were motoring over to the Fort on Friday.
Back home, we took the starting battery the following week to several different Auto Zone type places to have it tested, and each time it passed with flying colors. The battery was good. That left the panels. We decided to install switches under the aft locker next to the MPPT charge controllers to allow us to turn the panels off when we were running under engine power so as not to confuse the alternator and allow our starting battery to re-charge.
It was a pretty simple job and (we hoped) would be a pretty easy fix to our crank problem. The next couple of times she cranked fine, and we were sure to turn the panels off when we were under motor and turn them back on again once we killed the engine if we wanted solar input. Life was good again. Until …
Yes, again. Such are the joys of owning a boat. Seemingly randomly, after several times cranking without incident, the minute we had some family in town and invited them out on the boat for a beautiful, brisk day sail, she wouldn’t crank. It was clear we
had a serious boat battery mystery to solve. And, I swear the boat thought it was funny.
It’s not funny, boat.
Captain Sherlock and I were hot on the case. It simply had to be “elementary.”
Many thanks to the patrons who help make these posts just a little more possible through PATREON.
Work, work and more work. It had been one chore after another for weeks. You’re probably sick of it, too. I know we were. But I’m thrilled to say we finally made our way through that damn list. Just one item left, and it was scheduled. Who needs a list? We chunked it and planned a three-day Mardi Gras Lollapalooza. We were going to catch the parades in downtown Pensacola on Friday night, then sail over on Saturday to Pensacola Beach and anchor out behind Paradise Inn to catch the parade on the beach Sunday. It was time for some beads, people. Time for some beads!!
So, the list. Let me walk you through it and you can marvel in the vast breadth of our accomplishments. I say that because these last few items weren’t really much work on our part at all. But you can marvel, nonetheless, if you’d like.
The canvas and isinglass. We wanted to have a canvas guy come and take a look at the dodger and bimini to assess how much life we had in them and estimate replacing the canvas. We guessed our canvas was about ten years old and, unfortunately, the glass in the dodger was getting a little foggy and cracked in places. Sometimes we would come to the boat and find two new cracks had popped up overnight. They couldn’t be stopped. We knew something was going to have to be replaced soon.
Based on recommendation from our Broker-turned-Buddy, Kevin, we decided to give Tony with Coastal Canvas a call, and he was top-notch. Came out when he said he would and even saved us a few bucks. Told us we only needed to replace the isinglass in the dodger, but that the canvas was still in good shape. So, we had him swap out the glass, and it was like putting on glasses for the first time and you’re overwhelmed at the sight of all the leaves! Everything was so crisp and clear.
You may notice the missing bimini in this photo. Tony did such a good job on the glass that we followed his recommendation for the bimini. He believed the canvas needed to be redone, and we worked with him on rearranging the bimini frame to give us a bigger window in it for the helmsman to see the wind vane at the top of the mast. Even during our blistery winter, Tony came out several times to take measurements, make adjustments and install our new bimini.
Cross that off.
The gasket on the coolant system, luckily, was an easy chore. Just the removal of one hose on the coolant system, a bucket to catch the coolant that drained out, then scrape off the old gasket and glue, slap on a new gasket and glue and she was good as new.
Done and done. What’s next?
The dorade box. That damn thing.
Yeah, there she is. She had been loose for a while and several months back, she unfortunately took a tumble when the Jenny sheet somehow wedged itself up under the loose corner and ripped her right up off the deck when we tacked.
See? No box. Luckily, when she took the tumble, we saw it and were able to catch her before she made her way overboard. But, until we got her remounted properly, we had been taking her off every time we sailed (so the Jenny sheet wouldn’t knock her overboard again) and putting her back on once we were at anchor. A bit of a chore and a burdensome box to keep up with. So it was time to re-mount her. Now, I’ll say, we tried, the first time, to do it right. Waited for a good weather window. Pulled her up and cleaned off all of the old sealant and re-bedded her with some 4,000. A couple of the screws had a little trouble biting, but we figured the 4,000 would hold her. I’m sure I’m going to get some commentary from the Peanut Gallery here about butyl. Well, just wait. Unfortunately, she wiggled her way loose, again, and Jenny threatened her once again. She gets real territorial up there at the foredeck. So, the second time we didn’t fool around. It was 5,200 or bust. Now, we know what they say: “That stuff is permanent. You’ll never get it off.” Well, we don’t want her to come off. A shot of some 5,200 around the screws and we stuck her down. She’s not going anywhere. Take that Jenny!
With that little project done, we only had one more item left on the list.
The hydraulic back stay. Our previous owner had installed a hydraulic adjuster on the back stay to make fine-tune adjustments to the mast when racing. He sailed our Niagara in the single-handed Mackinac race and had really pimped the boat out with some serious racing capabilities, the hydraulic back stay being one.
As you know, we’re not racers; we’re cruisers. More sunsets and cocktails than buried rails and big victories. So, the hydraulic adjuster hadn’t been used in years. She no longer worked and would occasionally leak a little fluid at the base. Wanting the boat to be primed for the Keys, we scheduled the riggers to come check it out the following week to see if she could be repaired or whatever options might be available. So, in our eyes, the list was done. It had been about a solid month of boat chores, and it was time for some boat fun. Our Mardi Gras Palooza began.
On Friday night, we caught up with some marina neighbors-turned-friends — Dick and Cindy on Forever Young — and, after a hearty fill of fine wining and dining at Carmen’s Lunch Bar al fresco, we were seated like royalty for the parade to roll through. We didn’t even have to get out of our chairs if we wanted. But, we of course wanted! Beads is what we wanted!
And, any other grungy, recycled Mardi Gras throws they wanted to toss at us. I think – in addition to all the beads – I caught a kids-size Mardi Gras 2008 shirt, a busted-up Nerf football, a moonpie, and a tomahawk. Yes, a tomahawk. It was a wild night. But, we got up early, stocked the boat, enjoyed a great sail over to Pensacola Beach and dropped the hook right around sunset.
We cooked up another feast on the boat, gorged and called it a night. We had a big day ahead. Lollapalooza Day 3 started with mimosas on the foredeck.
Followed by hurricanes and a little uking in the cockpit.
And then two tickets to crazy town. I can’t even begin to express to you the … quality … of people we encountered at the beach. There were tailgaters, hipsters, Krewe members, kids on leashes, gangsters, bikers, trannies, questionable trannies, Navy boys, you name it. While the parades were fun, the people were the real entertainment!
We caught another neck-full of beads and useless stuffed animals and loved every minute of it. The Mardi Gras mini-vacay was just what we needed. The next time we drop that anchor it will be on the first stop to the Keys. Only a few weeks now kids. Stay tuned!!
A night of Sexual Chocolate behind us, we woke refreshed and ready on Saturday for our friend’s primo birthday party at the Hampton Inn. Being the cool kids that we are, we dinghied in (yes, in our party clothes – my dresses tend to go where I go), Dom Perignon in hand, and got ready to rock that shit.
And, then the party ensued. Without further adieu, I give you:
Evolution of a Party
For a party, you usually try to arrive “fashionably late” or at a time when there are least a few more people there than you.
Well, unless you count the wait staff, we botched that plan. But, we were already there, so …
Then you get a lay of the land. Scope out the venue, find the bathrooms and – more importantly, check out the wet bar and the food spread.
This is important because typically even the dullest of parties can be made worthwhile with free booze and finger foods. Next, people start filtering in. Some you haven’t seen in a while. You make nice, make small talk, make eyes at the wait staff to see if it’s socially acceptable to get a drink, yet, and fill your little plastic plate.
Things are a little formal at first. People start munching celery sticks and strategically leaving purses and jackets on chairs for seating. You make your rounds and chat politely with the fellow party-goers.
Ha ha ha. You’re so funny Bob!
Then the birthday girl comes out …
Man, fifty does NOT look good on Cindy. I’m totally kidding – she’s the blonde babe behind him, looking appropriately frightened by the deejay-in-drag who rocked that Tina Turner number. I can tell you there were many parts of him that kept on “Rollin’! Rollin’!”
Here’s Cindy. Anything but a drag! Happy B’day babe!
But the booze hasn’t quite kicked in. You still can’t decide whether you want to politely finish the glass-in-hand while making your way out the door and home to the couch to binge on Game of Thrones or — stay. You never know, things could heat up … Then, some music starts playing, some gals you thought were incapable of any dance move beyond the jitterbug start fist-pumping their way to the floor, and the waiter comes by with another round of drinks. Eyeing the ladies, you pick up a glass and tell yourself – Well, the booze IS free. You decide to stick around and that’s when … the lights dim and things start to get blurry.
You fill your drink – again – and find your way to the dance floor. Then you find your way ON TO the dance floor. Then you find your arms in the air, your hips moving about and your body doing things it normally only does when you’re home alone in front of the mirror.
Then things start to get real crazy. People you don’t know that well start dancing up on you, dancing up on everyone, and then someone gets the brilliant idea to start a ‘dance train.’
It feels a little awkward at first, but you think – What the heck? Let’s all get a little friendly! Grab a friend!
“You! Yeah you! Get in here!”
Things continue to escalate …
Is that chick twerking?!? I don’t know, but I’m going to find out!
You make an executive decision to stay fully committed to this party. Like it’s 1999. All night long, baby. All night long. Someone then has the bright idea to take this party to the ‘next level.’ You down your drink and wholeheartedly agree. Let’s all walk to the Shaker!! And, that’s where the party really ensues.
Birthday girl takes the stage.
“Move aside groupies! Fifty’s the new twenty baby!”
You snap plenty of blurry, drunken pictures to be sure you fully document the debauchery.
Then you start to make bad decisions …
Yes, the shot-ski. A long, ski plank with four holsters for shot glasses, the downing of which must be highly coordinated and communicated or total chaos will result. You can tell these four rocket scientists were up for the task.
I love to see the concentration on each of our faces – eyeing our individual shots, each with a tentative hand reaching for it, deciding whether we’re going to be a team player, or just make sure our own goes down smoothly – to hell with the rest of ’em. We’re clearly thinking way too hard, particularly in our inebriated state. But here we go:
Phillip gets a jump on us.
We all dive in. Except Grabby Gabbie on the end there who decides to grab hers and knock it back the old-fashioned way. Looking back on it – probably a wise decision, but not near as fun as going whole-hog.
But, you see, the problem with making a so-called bad decision that involves alcohol intake is that it only leads to even bad-ER decisions …
Like, stealing the Hampton Inn golf cart!
Go, go Speed Racer!
Ha. I’m kidding. I only made it about ten feet, grandma-speed before Jack-be-Nimble Hampton dude jumped in and stopped me. Doh! Albeit golf cart-less, I’m happy to report Phillip and I made it safely back to the dinghy and, even more importantly, back to the boat and called it a night. I’m not aware of any rowing-while-intoxicated ordinances, so I think we’re safe.
Thankfully, we woke up the next morning with most of our wits and faculties about us and were able to row back to shore to walk off our hangover at the beach, take in some picturesque sights and scrumptious fish tacos at Red Fish Blue Fish and enjoy a beautiful sunny sail home.
In all, it was a great weekend at the beach, and a much-needed break from all the work and projects we had been doing on the boat. But, with a beach getaway under our belts and finally a hope that spring was coming, we were ready to get back to it and tackle the rest of the items on the Keys list.
So, we returned from NOLA to find our first five coats had set in nicely. As my Alabama kin would say — that wood was looking “right.”
With only “five coats to go!” we set to it. Usually putting a coat on the items in the guest bedroom (the grate, table, drink-holder and stairs) in the morning, and a coat on the boat (eyebrows, handrails, stern rail and companionway) in the afternoon. We had so many different items – each on a different ‘coat,’ I had to come up with a highly-technical check-off system to keep up with them.
You may have noticed the dinghy on there, too. Since we had already turned the condo into a full-scale painting studio, we decided to go ahead and put a few coats on the dinghy transom and floorboards while we were at it. Not quite fifty, but a few shades of gray.
We were making good progress and were all set to put on the last coat on on New Years Day with grand plans of taking the ole’ Rest out that weekend to drop the hook. She’d been grounded too long! We had some friends over New Year’s Eve for a fun Pinot tasting (Letitia, 2009 and 10) and an exquisite middle-eastern meal of rosemary lamb chops, tabouleh, homemade bread and grape leaves with tzatziki sauce.
After such grand consumption, you’d think we would have trouble peeling ourselves out of bed the next morning to go work on the boat, but nothing could be further from the truth. This was it! Last coat day! The last time we would have to put on those stupid vinyl gloves, mix up a batch of varnish and get out in the cold to crawl on hands and knees and painstakingly stroking every nook and cranny of those damn handrails! We practically skipped to the boat! While the weather that day certainly wasn’t bright and sunny, it at least looked like it would stay dry long enough for us to get the last coat on. Just some tiny little flecks of green that were sure to pass us over.
Plus, we had the day off for the holiday and this was the last coat! I hate to say we got a little eager. We whipped up what we thought would be our last batch of varnish and set to it. And, wouldn’t you know, one of those menacing little green flecks (it had to be just one!) must have circled around like a hawk and decided to shit right on us. Not Pensacola, mind you, not even the whole downtown area, I swear it was just our marina, just our boat. At least that’s what it felt like anyway. And, it was just like ten minutes of rain – the whole day. But, it came right when we were finishing the “last” coat. We tried to blow the drops off, hover over the handrails to protect them with no luck, so we finally just started brushing the drops into the coat hoping it wouldn’t make too much of a difference. But, the clouds parted, the rain dried up and we could see the coat – our last coat! – drying a milky, swirly white. Bollucks! Phillip started to research it a bit, and some bloggers and boaters said we would probably have to sand down 3-4 coats and start over. 3-4 coats?!? Not to mention the fact that we were a little bit tired of this varnish project, that would put us well past the weekend and ruin our plans for a nice weekend outing. Needless to say, we were not pleased that day. Not pleased at all.
But, I’m happy to say, I went back to the boat the next day – determined! Apparently, the water in the last coat had dissipated because the milkiness was gone. There were some drops that had to be sanded, but it just took a light rubbing (certainly not enough to even shave the alleged “last” coat off) and she was ready to go. I slapped one more coat on (I’d count it as the eleventh) and she dried, slick and shiny, wet as glass. It was time for the big reveal!
We started to pull the tape back and I wish I could tell you it was a grand revealing, like snapping a crisp white sheet back with cameras flashing and resounding applause. But, it was not. It was cold, getting late in the day, we were shivering and wiping snotsicles, and the tape started tearing and flaking apart, leaving little slivers everywhere and adhesive residue (like when you’re trying to scrape a price tag off a picture frame). It was such a mess. And, the worst part was – the tape (I guess because it had been on there so long (about two weeks now)) started pulling off flecks of paint on the portlight frames.
And, some varnish had seeped through the tape at the base of each handrail, so there were little schooner gold puddles around each handrail post. Stupid tape! Like I said – not a grand reveal. But, it was done. The wood was fully-coated and the tape was (mostly) off.
The best part was, we were still on for a weekend sail. So, the hand reel. (And, I’ll have you know, I tried every way under the sun to name this post “Wad & Wheel,” thinking how clever!? What a great fishing analogy. But, what’s the wad? The wad of crappy blue tape we collected after the disappointing reveal? I certainly considered it … ) Since we were starting to formulate our plans for the big trip to the Keys this spring, one thing we had been wanting to do was put together a hand reel to throw over the back of the boat during passages to try and catch our own dinners. The more self-sustaining a cruiser is, the longer he stays out there, am I right? Teach a man to fish …
We had purchased this book back when we bought the boat, finding the little promo on the cover to be true – it seemed among cruisers this was “The definitive book!” on fishing.
Now it was time to put it in action. We looted the local bait & tackle shops and sporting good stores and put us together a fine tackle collection.
We put together a hand wheel, a yo-yo they call it, to fish off the boat at anchor, and a trolling hand reel to throw off the back of the boat during passage.
The book advised of using some kind of stretchy tubing as an indicator for when you have a fish on. Phillip got smart and bought some cheap exercise stretch bands from Wal-Mart that worked perfectly. Our broker/boat buddy, Kevin, had also told us one of the best ways to kill a fighting, flopping fish (to save the mess and potential damage of a bloody, beat-down in the cockpit) was with a spray bottle of alcohol. Apparently you spritz the fish’s gills with alcohol and rumor has it they go limp. While we have plenty of alcohol on the boat, I wasn’t about to see us waste the ‘good stuff’ on a stinking fish. So, I rigged us up a petite little spritzer of rubbing alcohol to do the trick – a fine concoction we like to call “Fish Kill.”
So, we had tackled the ‘tackle,’ but I’ll say the bait was baffling. Do you have any idea how many friggin’ aisles of bait, lures, hooks, doo-dads, ‘Gulps’ and whirley-gigs they’ve got at the sporting goods store?? I just can’t believe that if some of those work better than others, why are there thousands to choose from. I think it’s all a fugasi, fagazy, whatever. A total fake. No one knows what lure is going to work best. Like Skinny Matthew so eloquently put it in Wolf on Wallstreet — it’s fairy dust!
Mark Hanna: Nobody knows if a stock is going to go up, down, sideways or in circles. You know what a fugasi is? Jordan Belfort: Fugazy, it’s a fake. Mark Hanna: Fugazy, fugasi, it’s a wazi it’s a woozy, it’s [makes a flittering sound] fairy dust.
But, we bought a few sparkly ones, some for mahi mahi, some for tuna, even a self-proclaimed “Red Fish Rouser!”, threw them in the tackle box and headed out for the weekend.
And, it was then, out in the sun, with the water glistening on it, that we really got to admire the wood.
It did look pretty effin’ awesome. Definitely worth all the work. I spent the day (again) crawling around on hands and knees on the deck scraping the last bits of tape, adhesive and varnish from around the handrail posts.
Quite a chore, but nice to do under sun and sail, and – again – definitely worth the work. The wood looked great!
We dropped anchor and immediately dropped the hand reel line to see if we could get any bites.
Nothing that night, but fishing was definitely fun at sunset, cocktails in hand. We decided the next day was going to be our day. We were going to get under sail early, stick our nose out in the Gulf and drop our trolling line. We were going to ‘rouse’ them red fish yet. Phillip would not shut up about it! “I’munna catch me a red fish damnit!”
We got up early, got everything rigged and headed out toward the Gulf. We threw the trolling line off the back and stared at it.
Both of us. In silence. Each of us grabbing it every few minutes and holding it in our hand to feel a ‘nibble.’ But, nothing. Nada, zip, zilch. We even sailed back and forth, several times, through churned-up, “fish frenzy” waters, dolphins circling and jumping everywhere, birds flying about and diving into the choppy waters. I mean, we were traveling right through huge pockets of fish. We were practically hitting them with our hull! Parting the red fish seas! But, nothing. We kept the line out and checked it a few times but we both finally kind of gave up on it, and just enjoyed the sail home.
We were both curled up reading, Phillip at the helm, me up on the foredeck, having forgotten almost entirely about the trolling line, just sailing across the bay, about 20 minutes from the marina, when Phillip looked back and saw the tubing stretched taut. He leapt up to the stern rail, grabbed the line in his hands and shouted up to me.
With that succulent bird basking before us, it didn’t take long before plates started clanging, corks were popping and knives were pulled from their sheaths. Yes, we keep them in sheaths. We’re sailors, remember?
See? She is totally a sailor. … Totally.
I whipped my sea-gull carver out of its holster and went to town on that turkey.
I severed every single morsel I could off of her while the crew hauled the patio table in from the balcony (very classy) and set us a royal feast.
We snapped a few fun shots on the deck and toasted the sunset while the last of the Thanksgiving goodies were baking.
And, I can assure you none of us was donning anything that could be remotely considered a “skinny jean” for this meal. Calories don’t count on Thanksgiving – or so I’ve been told. Only stretchy pants and elastic waistlines would do for this crew. And, if what they say about turkey is true, it certainly worked on Phillip and I:
Within fifteen minutes of dinner, we were out. (Although, it seems the turkey myth has been busted! Apparently, they now believe it’s actually a combination of booze, bad conversation and boatloads of carbs. Well, we had all of that too, so … who’s to say). We were sleeping soundly, with little wishbones and sweet potatoes dancing in our heads. And, John Besh. He was definitely dancing through mine. It was a great meal, spent with a great group and was a nice change of pace from the quiet little dinners Phillip and I had been cooking up on the boat during the voyage. But, we were – as always – ready to get back on her. We spent one more night on the pull-out at the condo, ran eight more loads of laundry (including the curtains) and started readying the boat the next morning for the last leg of our Thanksgiving Voyage.
We waved goodbye to our sail groupies, tossed the lines and headed back out toward Wolf Bay.
Dinghy in tow.
The wind was blowing about 25 knots that day, though, and it was some tight maneuvering through the ICW, so we couldn’t raise the sails for the day’s jaunt. We had to motor, but I shot some Pulitzer-worthy footage of us braving the wind and weather that day.
The sun was out, though, which meant the temp was decidedly tolerable, and we weren’t suffering from frozen phalanges and snotsicles. This time. We motored from The Wharf back to Fort McRae and decided to drop anchor at one of our typical haunts, Red Fish Point (just west of Fort McRae), to enjoy one more peaceful night on the hook.
We curled up with some books and a few choice cocktails and took in our last sunset of the trip.
Great view of the pink horizon from inside the boat:
Although we had been out there ten days, it seemed to fly by. I couldn’t believe the trip was coming to an end. Getting a bit sentimental, I even made Phillip suffer through a shamefully embarrassing “selfie” to memorialize the event.
A picture taken of yourself that is planned to be uploaded to Facebook, Myspace or any other sort of social media networking website. You can usually see the person’s arm holding out the camera, [or a shadow of the camera itself] in which case you can clearly tell that this person does not have any friends to take pictures of them so they resort to find internet friends on whose pages they can post pictures of themselves, taken by themselves.
Ouch. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that doesn’t apply to us. All evidence to the contrary (i.e., me, posting a selfie on the blog), we do have a few real friends. But, the term was apparently awarded the high honor of word of the year in 2013, with the best selfie shot going to this chick:
Who totally earned it with that heroic display. Click!
It even appears our esteemed president finds himself in the ‘selfie’ mood on occasion.
Perhaps Nelson Mandela’s memorial service was not the right occasion (even Jon Stewart says tssk, tssk), but if the president does it, then I don’t feel so bad about it.
After our selfie shoot wrapped and the sun set, I got creative and baked us up one last Thanksgiving treat – some fresh homemade pumpkin bread.
A box mix is still considered homemade, right??
It was delicious regardless and we savored the setting, the silence of the evening and the sanctuary of our last night on the boat. And, as it usually happens, the best is somehow inexplicably saved for last. The very last day of our 10-day ‘voyage’ turned out to be the best sail we’d had since the last leg of the Gulf Crossing. And, I’ll bet when I start to say “another great day of sailing on the Plaintiff’s Rest … ” many of you glaze over and check out, and while I get it. I do. At the same time, I hate it for you. I know it’s just because you don’t know how freeing sailing really is. I hope, with this blog, and my meager words, over time, I can change that. I can give you a glimpse of what sailing means to us. At the very least, I can try to take you along with us, transport you, plant you right there in the cockpit beside us, one hand gripped tight around the Jenny sheet, the other wiping a splash of salt water from your face, as you watch the sails pull taut and get that roller coaster feeling in your gut when the boat heels over. Hold on to your drinks kids, we’ve got plenty in store.
After some serious Annie muscle, what I believe to be a minor rotator cuff injury, and — Phillip’s infinitely better idea — a little patience (turns out we had flooded it), the outboard finally cranked. It seems even when you buy a brand new one, outboards are just finicky critters that you have to baby about. Go figure. But, chilled to the bone, we puttered on back to our boat and hunkered down with Mr. Heater.
Aside from the oven, engine and long johns, it is the only heat source on the boat and this little guy cranks out some serious heat. As chilly as it got during that trip, I never found myself cold on the boat with this little heat machine running. We cooked up a feast (lamb chops, sauteed mushrooms and kale salad), set a kerosene-lit table for two and curled up for another night at Fort McRae.
The next day, we pulled anchor around noon and headed on over to Pirate’s Cove, which was about a 3-hour jaunt west:
We were able to sail for a couple of hours before we made it to the tighter parts of the ICW that require the motor and actually passed some friends on the way who were out kiting at Johnson’s Beach.
We made it to Pirate’s Cove around four-ish, secured the boat and settled in at the dock.
Instead of a cozy night in, we decided to get out and throw back a few with the locals at the Cove. Now, anytime we pull into an old salty harbor, we always expect the local riff raff to provide some mild form of amusement, but, what we got at the Cove was — aside from that random midget burlesque show we caught back in the spring — one of the most entertaining and bewildering nights of our lives. I swear to you – every bit of this is true. And, thanks to the Pirate’s Cove live webcam (I’m serious: www.piratescoveriffraff.com) and my phone – it was also documented in vivid detail by yours truly for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy:
We walked in around 6:30, I guess, looking for a drink and an outlet. The place was littered with a few run-down looking regulars. Hell, we probably looked like a couple of run-down regulars. Without saying a word to anyone, we started roaming the perimeter for a usable outlet so we could recharge our laptop and phones. Living on the boat, we had no qualms plugging in anywhere. Well, I say we, but Phillip is actually worse. I threw a shy smile to the bartender as I mozied around each wall, subtlely, or so I thought, looking for two available prong holes, while Phillip unabashedly started shimmying behind the soda machine and shaking the cords that ran from the back of the machine and the coffee pot, shouting loudly enough for anyone to hear, “Which one is this?,” as he shook it violently. “Trace it back. If it’s the coffee pot, unplug it.” I looked around suspiciously, thinking the electricity Nazis would surely come and kick us out, but Phillip, who was half bent over the soda machine by now, one leg kicked up in the air for balance, said “They don’t give a shit, unplug it.” So I did.
With the computer juicing up, probably coincidentally so I could memorialize this tale the next morning, we finally made our way to the bar. And, as it always seems to turn out, Phillip was right. They didn’t give a shit at all. They could have cared less whether we walked the perimeter five times, spat on the doorstep, barked and walked away. It was unlikely anything we did could interfere with their “atmosphere.”
We were at Pirates Cove, which I believe is technically in Josephine, Alabama, but by reading the haling ports on most of the dilapidated old boats in the slips there, I took it for a “place” all its own. The building itself was basically a pile of driftwood and sheet metal fastened together in some manner with rusty nails and caulk. I was actually surprised they had electricity at all.
The floorboards leading in and out of the main door were worn down at least an inch by foot traffic alone. Well, let me take that back, mammal traffic. They were at least four dogs roaming around at all times, one of whom was equal in weight and stature to a small pony with black, wart-like growths the size of baseballs formed at each of his elbows from years of laying on wooden floors. His name was Tiki, but the bartender repeatedly referred to him (yes, him) as a “needy bitch.”
Rick, the bartender, looked like the lead singer of the Grateful Dead—that Jerry character that I believe is since long gone. He kept pushing sweaty, wavy hair back from his face and stroking his white bushy beard. He wore a purplish luau-like shirt that buttoned down, although I don’t think it would have reached around the massive beach ball of a belly that protruded from his mid-section. It seemed to function more as a wearable handkerchief than anything as he would occasionally pull the tail end of it up to his face and blow his nose in it without ever missing a beat. But, for a bartender, he was exceptionally well-spoken and delightfully entertaining. Engaging each of us at the bar only when provoked and even then, only ever so lightly, with an interesting tale or observation. He was, by far, the best “soft-sell” barkeep I’ve ever encountered. He had greeted us with an appropriate “Hey guys,” when we walked in but had left us entirely alone while we walked the walls of his establishment suspiciously and fiddled with his drinking equipment, but it was as if he sensed it when we started to turn his way for a drink. His salutation then changed to “What’ll it be?”
You gotta love the live webcam. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I was able to refresh it throughout the night on my phone and capture these shots:
Here’s Rick – sporting his luau shirt-slash-hanky:
We ordered two rum runners and settled in on two of the sturdiest damn bar stools I’ve ever had the privilege of resting my rump on. They were made out of exactly four pieces of wood, two sides, a seat and a support bar/footrest about halfway down. Each piece was at least eight inches thick and the whole stool weighed about forty pounds, a design I personally believe was intended to prevent stool tippage and usage of stools as weapons as we later witnessed a 300-pound patron who went solely by the name ‘Bama’ teeter on one repeatedly but not fall over. Phillip and I wrestled two stools up to the bar just about the time Rick Garcia slid our drinks in front of us. He then let us be to soak up the banter that was already brewing up nicely and acclimate to the atmosphere.
There were two regulars seated next to us who had clearly had a few but their slurred small-talk was still incredibly entertaining. The man next to Phillip had a full, blonde seventies shag and liked to try to speak with an Australian accent (although they both attempted German and Brittish throughout the evening). His comrade to my right was a clean-shaven, crew-cut gentleman who I believe actually was German, or at least had mastered the accent far better than his “I’m okay, you’re okay” compadre.
As Phillip and I perused the pizza menu, I heard the Shag say “We need a really great toast, something like ‘To the Fuerher!’,” which appeared to please the German. They shouted the sentiment with raised glasses and downed their shots with fervor while Rick Garcia was already making them another round.
Intrigued by the Hitler exchange, I had missed the stringy pizza man that had snuck up on Phillip. He was holding a pizza box open as if it contained some illicit substances, looking back and forth quickly over each shoulder and speaking in low tones. I leaned in to get a better listen. “Now, you want to get the MaryAnn’s mess with extra artichoke and spinach. Always extra spinach,” he said to Phillip in a whisper. The kid was probably all of twenty-one, with a grungy toboggan hat slid to one side on his head, cheek bones jutting out from underneath it and bony prominences sticking up along the back of his neck like a rooster’s mane. As quickly as he had appeared, he slipped a quick peak over his shoulder, closed the lid to the pizza box and slinked away. I asked Phillip what had sparked that encounter and he responded with only a slow shake of the head and a long pull of his drink, but with a smile slowly stealing over his mouth. We knew then and there we were definitely staying. We were certainly not going to find any entertainment better or free-er than this.
The whole crew:
We followed the junkie’s advice and ordered the MaryAnn’s mess – extra spinach – and another round of “rummers.” The Shag and the German were debating again over some previous exchange they had had at that very same bar last week, the Shag apparently recalling it one way, and the German, another. As the Shag was clearly making up details, “Yes, yes, I recall, I was wearing my flannel shirt and sipping a bourbon, when – yes, that’s it, I can see it clearly now, I’m having a flashback to … ”
“Your other personality obviously,” the German pitched in, “because you don’t wear flannel and you sure as hell don’t sip bourbon.” That did me in. I couldn’t then hide the fact that I had been watching them unapologetically like a movie. Blissfully staring. But, I couldn’t help it. The German was sharp and witty and the Shag was a perfect stupefied surface for his comments to bounce off of. But, unfortunately, as it happens, laughing at an old drunk’s joke at a bar is like feeding a dog at the table.
You’ll never shake him then. The Shag turned to me and widened his eyes, like a flower blooming before me. “Oh, what do we have here?” Oh boy, I thought. Here we go. But, he and the German both turned out to be incredibly smart and wildly entertaining. It was the fiftieth anniversary of JFK’s assassination and they both recalled, with vivid detail, where they were and what they were doing when they got the news. Although the Shag claimed it it must have been the memory of his other personality because he wasn’t actually that old. Rick Garcia piped in with an entirely inappropriate but perfectly-timed joke about someone who, legend had it, asked Jackie-O upon her return, “So, aside from that, how was your trip to Dallas, Jackie?” This quip garnered a roar of laughter from the bar-seated audience and was repeated, re-hashed and utterly used up by the time the night was over. The Shag would come back from the bathroom saying it smelt of copper and cat urine, to which we would all respond with “So, other than that, how was your trip to the men’s room, Shag?” The German griped about the piss-poor drink he had got on his last flight, and we would all respond with a “So other than that … ”
What we had failed to notice, however, during our bonding with the regulars was the bond that had been forming between the junkie with the pizza box and Bama, who had been stumbling in and out of the joint all night. Bama and the Junkie had somehow found each other in that sparse, dusty bar and were now hunkered together at a sagging picnic table behind us, one arm draped over the other’s shoulder as they belted out “on the cover of the Rolling Stone, the Rolling Stone, the Rolling Stone … ” Bama was a smooth baritone and the Junkie, a raspy alto, but they made a decent duet and us bar hounds raised our glasses and swayed a few times in honor of their harmony. This was entertaining, at first, buy they repeated this verse every nine and a half minutes, approximately, throughout the night and by the fourth rendition we all began a collective eye-roll when they would strike up.
Two drinks in, our pizza finally came, a heaping, melting mozzarella-covered miracle and Phillip and I dove in, dipping whole slices in ranch, wiping swaths of grease from our face and washing it down with rum drinks that seemed to get stronger by the pour. The Shag had hunkered down and was scribbling something on some receipt paper he had pulled from the register.
I figured he had fallen prey to his intoxicants and was reaching that head-hang stage where one finds himself capable of only mono-syllables and drool. But, mid-way through another “cover of the Rolling Stone” revival, he emerged with a snap, flipping his blond wig back mightily and shoving his receipt paper drawing before me. “Ahhh .. a Lyden original,” Rick Garcia said, eyeing the piece. The drawing was actually an incredible sketch of a woman’s face, exceptionally detailed and shadowed, particularly considering it was drawn with only a ball-point pen.
Original, I thought. Rick, ever the ‘reader,’ sensed my inquiry and responded, “He’s an artist. Won something up in Fairhope for painting that … what was it Lyden? The swan over a crack?”
The Shag, now known as Lyden, handed me a business card that boasted the incredible swan over the crack with his name and website on the back. He was indeed an artist.
And a handsome one at that, pre-shag:
I fumbled the card around a bit, trying not to utterly destroy it with the massive quantities of pizza grease that coated my every finger, while I watched Rick Garcia use his purple luau cloak to simultaneously wipe the grease from his own face and blow his nose single-handed. “It serves many a-purpose,” Rick said completely unapologetically as he continued splashing together another concoction for Bama and the junkie at the other end of the bar.
While they were momentarily silent, enthralled by watching the mammoth Tiki eat a piece of cheese, the German engaged Rick in yet another riveting topic: employee theft. “So, how did you stop them?” He was asking about the apparently many-preceding bartenders who had managed to, night after night, sneak a few key dollar bills from the register, to which Rick Garcia responded by merely pointing up toward the corner of the bar to a camera. “We filmed them,” he said. “It’s amazing how accountable people get when they know they’re being videotaped.” Phillip and I eyed the camera intently while Rick continued. “We just put it on a live web cam so we could watch from afar, and we haven’t had a thieving ‘keep since.”
“So, we’re live right now?” Phillip asked. “Well, live, in a sense,” Rick Garcia responded. “It refreshes every two minutes. Here, let me show you.” He started fumbling around with his phone trying to look up the website, grumbling to himself that his “smart phone” was in fact “retarded.” He looked up with a frown and told us, “It seems I don’t have enough lapband.” Lapband? Phillip and I shared a confused look. “Lapband. Band-lap. What is it?” Garcia asked. “Bandwidth?” Phillip and I said in unison. “Yeah, that. I’ve had the lapband too – didn’t seem to have enough of that either – but bandwidth, that’s it.”
Luckily, it turned out I did have enough “lapband” and I looked us up on the old riffraff webcam. The first image that came up was of Phillip and I, eyebrows raised, watching the junkie/Bama band in yet another encore of “the Rolling Stones … ” an event that had occurred two minutes earlier, and so, by our calculation, was then set to occur again in approximately seven minutes and thirty-four seconds, give or take. When we refreshed again, I was pointing vigorously at Rick Garcia, making, I’m sure, a refreshingly witty comeback to his Lapband mishap.
We continued to refresh the webcam throughout the night, reliving each moment, exactly two minutes later, and enjoying immensely the greasy pizza, recurrent Stones revivals and the engaging banter of the Shag, the German and Garcia.
After three hours at the bar and four rummers in, Phillip and I found ourselves immersed totally in their “atmosphere.” I watched intently as a new couple sauntered in, keeping their distance, initially, from our group. The woman wrestled a massive barstool into place and nudged her partner when she first noticed the mammoth Tiki, a sight that was now normalcy for us. The Bama/Junkie duet struck up again, and I watched the couple share the same look Phillip and I had shared only hours prior. Oh, we are definitely staying. I knew, in just a short amount of time, they would join us at the bar and, before long, feel we just as we do now – like part of the local riff raff.
Heeding Phillip’s shout for help, I scrambled out of the companionway hatch in my skivvies for a quick, chilly look-about, and he was right. We had definitely moved. The anchor light of the ‘nice and tight’ boat that had come up on us around sunset, which had once been inline with our cockpit, was now inline with our bow. Gulp. And, although it was dark, we could both make out the shoreline in the moonlight and it looked to be about ten feet closer than it had been when we had settled in for the night. Apparently, the 5:1 ratio we had dropped wasn’t enough.
You see the chart here where it says “too short – anchor may not hold.” They’re sugarcoating it. It should say, “you didn’t lay out enough rode, you dumbass – you’re screwed.” At least that’s how we felt. It was clear the boat was inching back toward the shore. We were going to have to pull the anchor up, motor forward and drop her back down. Snot was already freezing to my face, so I scrambled down below and started snatching every item of clothing I could find and throwing it on. I probably looked like a bag lady when I came up. I had on my long johns, Phillip’s t-shirt, leggings under pajama pants, a couple of scarves wrapped around my neck, a Christmas sweater, a tobaggan, my foul weather jacket and rain boots. But, I’m sure I made it look super sexy and smoking hot.
I refuse to believe I actually looked like this:
“Hey-haaay Cap’n! Let’s drop us an anchor!”
In the blistering cold, the black of night, we did it. We pulled the anchor up. Now, if you recall, Phillip has told me before that two of the most entertaining things you can watch a couple do are dock and anchor. Either is sure to be a catalyst for whatever tension might have been building between them during the trip. The process usually involves a lot of shouting, subtle (or not so subtle) insults and accusations and eventually name-calling. I am proud to say that Phillip and I have become pretty adept at it, and our process involves only hand-signals and code. Particularly after this trip, where we gained a good deal of anchor experience. Me, in particular, who works the bow. On our boat, we’ve got a windlass which pulls the anchor up by motor.
It’s a nice luxury to have since our rode is entirely chain, with the anchor alone weighing approximately thirty-five pounds. We also have a deck wash that hooks in at the bow and pulls in sea water to spray the mud off of the chain as the windlass hoists it up. From the first time he used it, Phillip always said “The deck wash is king!” And, while I agreed it was a handy little device to have when you’re pulling anchor, I wasn’t quite as enamored as he. Until, I had to learn the hard way (it seems that is the only way I truly learn) when the deck wash got clogged one time, and I had to hoist approximately 20-30 bucketfuls of seawater up to the bow to wash each link of that retarded chain off via bucket slosh, cursing it the entire time. Covered in sweat and my biceps and lower back screaming at me by the time I finished, I trudged back to the cockpit where Phillip made me reiterate it again. “The deck wash is king, right?”
Yes, the deck wash is king.
But, the only bad thing about the deck wash is that it sprays water everywhere. Particularly when the wind is howling and you’re spraying right into it, as we were that night. While my “bag lady” look was warm when dry, it was anything but when wet, and I got soaked. By the time we moved forward and re-dropped the anchor (100 feet plus this time, and nothing short of it!), I was frozen through. My fingers were barely functional and I couldn’t even feel my toes. I swore the next time we pulled anchor, I was busting out the Gorton’s fisherman outfit. Head to toe. And I did!
Misses Gorton ain’t got nothing on me! I rocked that number.
With our anchor secure, we woke the next morning to find the shore at a nice, safe distance.
With 100 feet+ out, and a clean swing radius, we felt good about the anchor and decided it was time to go toodling around in our dinghy to explore our anchorage. Now, while you all are familiar with our downtrodden dinghy that made it’s way back to us from the middle of the Gulf, while she was making that wayward trek, we had a very generous boat buddy, Bottom-Job Brandon, give us an inflatable dinghy we could use in the meantime. The thing is awesome. It packs down a little bigger than my stand-up paddleboard and fits nicely in the aft cabin on the boat for passage. Once we anchor, we break it out, put the floorboards in, air it up – and GO!!
Like Daffy Duck and the Abominable Snowman …
“I will love him and pet him and call him George.” And, for those of you with too much time on your hands – video HERE.
all summer long, Annie loved on the dinghy, rubbed on it, cleaned on it, fixed it up and made it her own.
We even got an outboard for her right before the November trip.
After some research and debate, we decided to go with a 3.5 horsepower, water-cooled Tohatsu. It weighs about 45 pounds and we lift it(by hand) from the dinghy up to a mounting board on the stern rail.
Outboards are not cheap and if dropped in the water, I’m sure they sink right to the bottom, either irretrievably so or, even if retrievable, they are likely forever ruined in the process regardless. So, you can just imagine our first nervous, wobbly-kneed hand-off from Phillip up at the stern, to me down bobbing in the dinghy. It was hairy and there were a lot of “You got it?” “You got it?” “You sure you got it?” ‘s that were exchanged back and forth – but thankfully we got her down safely and mounted firmly on the transom of the dinghy. I don’t think I’ve ever gripped anything so hard in my life. My knuckles were white and my fingers were gnarled tight around her. I was NOT going to be the one who dropped the engine. But, it’s now a fairly routine exchange and we manage it fairly easily, without all the nerves and tension. Still a death grip, though. The death grip is key.
With the sun just rising on our first morning of the trip, and our boat now securely anchored, Phillip hopped in the dinghy and fired her up for a morning ride.
We cruised on over to Fort McRae first and poked around. The fort is no longer standing, but there are some old barricade walls and tunnels to explore, and it does feel pretty empowering to stand up at the peak and look out onto the Gulf knowing this was one of three spots where massive barricades were erected so many years ago to protect Pensacola’s shores.
We then dinghy-ed back across the chilly waters to Sand Island to go exploring.
It really is gorgeous there. Pristine and untouched. We frolicked along without a care in the world. Like a goofy couple in a Kay Jeweler’s commercial. Hands clasped blissfully together, we skipped back to the dinghy and patted her gently as we nestled in. We both smiled warmly at the outboard and commented on how shiny and pretty she was and how well she was running that morning. How well she was running. She WAS running. Had been anyway. Phillip pulled the cord, had to have been 20 or 30 times, but she would not start. Refused to start, or even to try. That bitch! She had turned on us.
We sat in the dinghy looking out across the water at our boat, and I know what you’re probably all thinking. Stop your whining Nancy and row! Sure, we could row. Assuming the wind was light enough. But, we still had nine days to go on our trip and plenty of little inlets and places we wanted to explore — in our dinghy — and we bought an outboard for a reason. This was America dammit and we’d spent our hard-earned U.S. dollars on that foreign motor. I wasn’t having it. I shoved Phillip aside. Let me at her!
With Big Mom tended to and Alabama in our rear-view, Phillip and I set to planning our Thanksgiving voyage. Due to the rush trip to North Alabama for the funeral and the lost time from work, we both needed to put in a few days at the office to make up for it before we took off again, so we settled on a departure date of Wednesday, November 20th, which would still leave us 10 whole days at sea. Now, while a trip east to Carrabelle, Apalachicola and the like was still do-able, it would be a stretch as Carrabelle, alone, is a two-day passage, assuming good weather, and I can tell you what we did not have that week was good weather. A front was set to pass through, leaving us with 25-30 mph winds and a predicted 6-9 foot sea-state. Not something you want to jaunt out in just for fun. There were plenty of anchorages we had heard about on the western route, so we decided to stay protected along the ICW inshore and head west in search of (what else?) — women, whiskey and gold!
Here is an overview of our planned voyage:
We planned to head over to Fort McRae first for a couple of days on the hook, then ease in to Pirate’s Cove to dock up and hang out with the local riff raff for a day or two. From there, we would jump over to Ingram’s Bayou (a place many of our sailing buddies kept telling us was one of the most beautiful, pristine anchorages over that way) to drop anchor for a couple of quiet nights, before we made our way over to The Wharf in Orange Beach where we had reserved a slip for Thanksgiving. Phillip’s clan was also planning to rent a condo there for the holiday and we – as true cruisers tend to do – were planning to make full use of their facilities! There is nothing like a hot shower and a washer and dryer after seven days at sea!
All told, our trek out west was going to be about an 8-9 day trip and we had planned one last anchorage on the way back (likely Red Fish Point – just near Fort McRae) for one last night of solitude before heading back to the real world.
So, we set off on a brisk sunny Wednesday afternoon (Nov. 20th) and headed to our first stop — Fort McRae:
Now, we’ve been to Red Fish Point many times, so the passage across Pensacola Bay and through the little inlet by Sand Island was all too familiar territory. No sweat. We could make that sail with our eyes closed (assuming, of course, no other boats, bouys, or a shore). Stevie Wonder style!
But, we had never made the “uey” around the corner and into the inlet between Sand Island and Fort McRae.
And I’ll have you know I had to Google the word “uey” for the proper spelling. Urban Dictionary says:
Cab driver : “I’ll just bang(make a/take) a uey on the next stoplight”
Although I’m not sure that’s just a “New England” thing. I think ‘to bang is to make’ rings true just about anywhere.
We had a phenomenal sail over. But, I will say, we had not been out on the boat in weeks and I think just about any conditions would have been ‘phenomenal’ to us as we were just thrilled to finally have water moving across the hull. Although many may disagree, runny noses and chilly fingers just aren’t enough to make any sail UN-phenomenal in our book. But, apparently we were a little rusty. I’d love to say we executed the ‘uey’ around Sand Island perfectly and eased right on up into our anchorage by Fort McRae. But that’s just not how it happened. As we were making (banging I guess the New Englanders would say) the bend, the boat lurched forward and let out a slight groan. With my hands on the bimini bar, I could feel the soft, thud of the ground we hit below. And let me just say for the record – although I’m a little reluctant to admit it, we have done it a time or two now (run aground) – but it’s never a feeling you get comfortable with. It’s a sickening, discomforting movement of the boat and instantly identifiable as contact with the treacherous bottom below. Thankfully, for us, it was a soft, sandy bottom and Phillip had the sharp skipper skills to back us out, “bang out” a bigger loop and get us into Fort McRae with our keel in tact.
Now, I’ve heard some people refer to this anchorage as “party alley” because it’s usually chock full of sailboats, power boats, trollers and the like. Hence the “party.” But, we were hoping that on Thanksgiving it would be pretty sparse so we would have plenty of room to spread out. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. There were three other boats in there, a marker for some sunken hazard, a bouy and a tight shoreline that we had to deal with. Enter the infamous Swing Radius. Now, most of you are smart enough to make a pretty good guess as to what that is, but humor me for just a moment for the newbies.
Imagine your anchor as the center of the circle. The radius, then, is the distance from your anchor to the stern of your boat:
Using the radius, you can then plot out a hypothetical ‘circle’ your boat could occupy depending on which way the wind or tide pushes it. Now, with several “obstacles” around us – three other boats, an immovable marker for the sunken hazard, a bouy, and a nearby shore with outstretched shoal, we had to be sure we dropped enough anchor chain (known as “rode”) to hold our boat secure while not creating a swing radius so large it would allow us to strike the surrounding obstacles. We typically like a 7:1 ratio. Meaning, if we were in 7 feet of water, with 4 foot freeboard (distance from the water line to the deck), that’s 11 feet total depth, so 77 feet of rode.
Now, while getting the anchor set right is important, making sure we had a proper cocktail at sunset easily trumps it. So, with the tight parameters, we dropped about 55 feet of anchor chain (an approximate 5:1 ratio with our ten feet of total depth) and set to our evening ritual. A book and cocktail at sunset. Could there be anything better?
But then another boat pulled up nice and tight near us and set us both on edge. We started looking around, running and re-running our calculation of the swing radius and speculating, once again, as to the approximate distance to the shore.
With both of us being born fierce litigators and each a few drinks in and, thus, a little more ballsy to boot, Phillip and I embarked on an exhaustive debate about the swing radius. I made a rough calculation and explained to Phillip my educated guess as to the radius, to which he naturally responded:
With no one else on the boat with us, a riveting discussion ensued, in which I had to drop some serious geometry knowledge on Phillip that, if translated to a demonstrative aid, would look something like this:
Simple, right? I thought so. Or at least I was sure, in my eloquent, unslurred, precise and persuasive frame of mind, that it was. And, I told Phillip as much. To which he responded:
Fine by me! I had made my peace with it. I offered my best pitch – full of reason and geometry and gin – and my plight had fallen on deaf ears (or ogling eyes – although I consider them to be synonymous). I set about to “banging out” another drink or three and resting my weary mind while Phillip got up about every hour to try and make out the markers and shoreline in the dark of night as the wind began to howl over the boat. I kept a shoulder turned to him, pretending to be sleeping soundly (lah-tee-dah) as he was checking GPS coordinates on his phone, but I was wide awake and just as worried as he. The sounds and motions of the boat from below were incredibly deceiving. What could just as easily have been the wind and a smooth shift of the boat in the water sounded, in the v-berth, like the keel wedging into sand and the boat preparing to tip over. Neither of our weary minds were resting. Phillip made one last trek topside, and I heard him walk up toward the bow, my eyes following the sound of his footsteps in the dark. Then I heard them pound quick on the deck above as he scurried back to the hatch and shouted down to me:
Isn’t that what you’re all thinking? At least that’s what I get asked three times a week. (Yes, I’m talking to you Bleeke!) Soon, people. Soon. Stick with me. But, I’ll tell you, even when we do get there, it’s not going to be any more beautiful than this:
And, when we cook up a meal in the galley off the coast of some remote island in the Keys or Bahamas, it’s still going to look like this:
Adventure is relative and can be found anywhere. Usually, it’s the act of getting there that’s the real “journey,” not the destination itself.
But, you want to see us on a passage. I get it. So do we, minus the transmission fluid catch this time. Although I’m sure you want to see some equally entertaining minor disaster occur that we have to resolve in true MacGyver fashion with bubble gum, nail polish and sheep shears (all of which we keep on the boat for just such an occasion).
I’ll see what I can come up with.
Trust me, we were ready to get back out there, too. With the summer pretty much behind us and all of our major boat chores done, the rubber gloves finally came off,
and we set down to plan our trip. Which we, of course, had to do over wine and dinner – a whole roasted snapper, anyone?
Between work, family and my obligatory appearances on the rodeo clown circuit, we had about two weeks to work with in November. Yes, we do plan to go longer and further later, but that will have to come later. All evidence to the contrary, we do have to work. I can’t stress to you enough how expensive boats can be. Now, let me remind you how far the actual Keys are:
I think even MacGyver’s scruffy eyebrows raised with that one. It’s about a four-day passage offshore, if made straight. That’s 96 hours of solid sailing, which means someone always at the wheel, even with auto-pilot, you still need to keep a lookout and stay close to the helm, particularly at night. This means, for four days, you only get to sleep in one-to-two hour snatches. It’s fun, don’t get me wrong. There’s a certain sense of freedom, adventure and accomplishment when you finish a passage, but it is also a very tiring stint at sea, even in the best of conditions, exhausting and harrowing in the worst. If we made the four-day passage straight to the Keys, we would need a day or two to rest and recover and that would leave us about one day to enjoy the Keys before we had to start meandering back, two or three, perhaps, if wanted to make another four-day epic passage back across the Gulf. But that would put us on a tight schedule, and we learned the hard way during The Crossing that you can never be on a tight schedule when sailing. You have to build in a cushion for the weather. It’s just part of it. We hated to push the Keys trip back, but it had to be done. Trying to squeeze it into the tight travel window we had this winter was not going to allow us the time we wanted to truly enjoy the Keys. Plus, there were plenty of places we wanted to cruise locally and enjoy. We decided we would make the trip to the Keys in the spring (after skiing season – of course – that’s a must!) and stick around these parts in November.
Phillip and I decided to head East to Carrabelle.
That’s about a two-day passage straight. Forty-eight hours, assuming a good weather window. If you recall, our boat spent some time over in Carrabelle when the transmission went out, and we really enjoyed poking around the sleepy little mariner towns around there, which feel like they’ve been preserved in time, when sea-faring sailors roamed the streets, rum bottle in hand. We wanted to head back and spend a couple of days immersing ourselves with the old salts and eating some of the best fresh oysters I have ever let slither down my throat.
We then wanted to take our time heading back inshore, protected along the Intracoastal Waterway (as much as we could … we would have to pop out into the Gulf for several stretches where our mast height (50 feet) won’t allow us under the bridges). We pulled out the charts–and the snapper–and started plotting our passage.
And, what meal is complete without fresh homemade bread and salad? … None we know of.
The plan was to hope for good weather, so we could head straight for Carrabelle, spend a night or two there boozing with the locals, then mozey our way back to Apalachicola for some local fare, another night or two to booze again and get our fill of fresh oysters. Then, we thought we would check out Port St. Joe, a great littler marina there, Cape San Blas (lots of cool anchorages there, too), head back to Panama City in hopes of catching another sighting of our Lady Legs-a-Lot (you remember those heels!), then make the twenty-four passage offshore back to Pensacola.
Even with a few extra days’ cushion for potential bad weather, this trip, even taken leisurely, would still easily fill two weeks. We planned to leave November 15th and return on the 29th. This was going to be a significant passage for the two of us – heading offshore for a four-day passage. While I may have proven some creative gumption and gusto in surviving the dinghy debacle and transmission fiasco during The Crossing, this was going to be my first true offshore voyage as First Mate. I started glossing over our old sailing books again, working expletives back into my everyday conversation, upping my rum tolerance and practicing my knot-tying skills on empty wine bottles. Oh, and watching weekend-long MacGyver marathons. That helps too.
A two-week passage in the blistering winter? Done. I was packing all my gear.
Aside from the mullet, MacGyver ain’t got nothing on me!