In honor of my book release THIS WEEK, this is it — the s/v Tanglefoot from None Such Like It. The book is out now on Amazon and on discount this week only. Go get it for an even more intimate, first-hand feel for this comfortable, trusted coastal cruiser. Thank Mr. While You’re Down There for the literary entertainment and the tour! And, tell this little salty sailor “Au Revoir” at the end of the video as she embarks on her Atlantic crossing headed for France! Bon Voyage Video Annie!
CRACK! There went another. I’m telling you, I like to watch lightning. I think it’s beautiful. I’m not sure I ever need to see it again from the cockpit of a boat, though.
Big thunderheads seemed to loom over us every time we sailed away from the shore. We had the handheld electronics piled in the oven and Mitch, Phillip and I were curled up, tethered in in the cockpit and we watched as the storm in Apalachicola Bay thankfully (knock on teak!) skirted around us. Once the storm eased off a bit, so did we, and it was all smiles and “whews!” as we motored our way in to take some much-needed shore leave in Apalachicola.
We called ahead to see if we could get a slip at the Water Street Hotel. When Phillip and I sail to Apalachicola we usually try to snag a spot at the City Docks. You may recall the lone sign there that says “Call Chief Bobby Varnes for dockage.” But, the house batteries on Mitch’s boat appeared to be running low (although the eMeter was a little confusing). We just weren’t 100% confident in their capabilities, so we figured a nice, air-conditioned, rejuvenating night in a slip would be a welcomed reprieve for this tired crew. Also, Mitch has much less draft than we do (4’11”) so he can creep further up the river than we can in our Niagara (5’7″).
We made Mitch handle the docking strategy and tell us what lines to tie off in what order (again so he could practice coming in single-handed) and he did a pretty good job. He had everything planned out right, he’ll just have to work on which side is starboard and which side is port (but I goober those up all the time too, so … “No, the other starboard.”). In all, it was nice to see the boat tied up and secure with the longest offshore passage behind her.
Now it was off to the showers for this crew! See ya!
It seemed our marina shower luck had run, though. Back in Clearwater, we’d had hot water but no AC in the shower rooms. What did I call it? “It wasn’t a shower, I’d say it was more of a steam spray.” The minute you stepped out of the water stream you started sweating. Well, this time, in Apalachicola, we had nice, chilly AC in the shower rooms, but no hot water. I’d call this one an Arctic rinse. My lips were turning blue and my teeth were chattering by the time I got out of there. I’ve never been so thankful to step into the humid Florida air and feel beads of sweat start to form on my skin again. Ahhhh … nice and muggy. Once we were spruced up, it was time to hit the town.
Phillip and I love the old sleepy Florida feel of Apalachicola. It’s like it’s been frozen back in time. Everyone moves a little slower. They talk a little slower, too, and I kind of like it. We decided to go Up the Creek for dinner (literally).
[WARNING: Foodie pics coming. I hope you’re not already hungry.]
The grilled conch cakes we’d had there when Phillip and I were making our way back from the Florida Keys last year was, we decided (and it was very hard to make this decision but we finally settled on it) one of the best meals of our entire Keys trip. They are incredibly rich and drizzled with a honey lime sauce made from local Tupelo honey. Words simply cannot describe …
The boys got some fish dishes with fries that were good but not good enough that I can even recall them next to my conch cakes (oh, and a side of brussel sprouts – love me some greens!)
We had a good chat during dinner about the trip. Mitch confessed that his worries were finally starting to ease now that we had brought the boat on the other side of the Big Bend. This was definitely the home stretch of the trip and the Nonsuch was still intact and performing well. We decided to take our time motoring “the ditch” the next day over to Port St. Joe so Mitch could experience it. Phillip and I had often described it to him as a jaunt down the ole’ Mississip’, as if Huck Finn would pull up right next to you on his rickety raft. The Westerbeke was chugging along really well and departure from Port St. Joe on the other side of the ditch would give us a nice jumping off point to make the last overnight run to Pensacola. We came back down the creek after dinner to find Tanglefoot plugged in and chilled for the evening, and we all got a much-needed solid night of sleep on the boat.
The next morning, though, I found myself facing a kind of peril I have never encountered in all of my cruising: Killer Bees! I kid you not. Around 6:00 a.m., I stepped out of the boat to stretch my legs and make a little trip to the ladies room (so as not to wake the boys on the boat) and as I was walking along the sidewalk along the dock behind Water Street Hotel, about every five or so feet on my path there was a bee sitting on the sidewalk. At first it didn’t bother me, there was just one. As I walked by he started to buzz around so I walked a little quicker, but then I encountered another and another and another. By the time I got to the restrooms I was flailing and swatting and batting them away. I jiggled on the handle but it was locked and I felt like I already had a swarm on me. Screw the bathroom! I decided to run. I was jumping and sprinting and yelping all the way back to the boat and (seriously) hitting a bee with every arm stroke. Those things were on me! The boys got a big laugh about it but I saw them swatting and yelping a little too when they made their own trek to the men’s room. The bees in Apalachicola are no joke.
We decided to head over to Cafe Con Leche for breakfast. It’s a quaint little shop Phillip and I had stumbled upon last time but didn’t have the chance to eat breakfast there. They have books and magazines and local art and fresh homemade arepas (baked corn cakes stuffed with all kind of goodies–peppers, ground beef, cheese, etc.–you pick). Phillip and I split the Picadilly arepa and it was scrumptious.
Mitch turned his nose up at the arepa (mistake) and got a plain old ham croissant. You can get those anywhere, Buddy! Boring!
We walked around Apalachicola poking in all of the quirky little shops and B&Bs.
What are you looking at?
Mitch was huffing and puffing everywhere–hot as a pregnant cow. He was cracking Phillip and I up flinging every door open with an overly-dramatic sigh and a gulp of the AC. That man is not meant to cross deserts. We found some diesel engine oil at the marina by the City Docks so we stocked up on that as well as transmission fluid to replenish our leaking fluids before motoring the ditch over to Port St. Joe that day. Like clockwork, the storms started brewing on the horizon the minute we started to think about tossing the lines. I swear those storms were chasing us!
We hunkered down in the boat to let the rains pass. While they look pretty intimidating, the summer storms were usually intense but very brief. They would rumble and flash and dump some rain and then the skies would clear. We spent the stormy hour battened down in the boat replenishing the fluids.
Yes, that’s my “work suit.”
It didn’t take long for the storms to pass and the clouds to part. We had put over a half-quart of oil in the engine and, while she didn’t emit the monstrous “black blob” that had shot out of her the last time we cranked, there was still a little bit of black discharge that floated behind her this time. It was probably a product of us running her harder than she’s been ran in quite some time, but she really was performing like a champ. Captain Mitch handled the de-docking plan and managed to get all of his ports and starboards straight this time as we tossed the lines and started puttering up the ditch to Port St. Joe.
Cute little house boats docked along the river.
And the not-so-cute …
The storms stayed on our horizon but never did anything more than sputter and sprinkle on us as we enjoyed a nice, easy day motoring the ditch over to Port St. Joe.
Phillip and I (totally exploiting our role as crew) started talking up Joe Mama’s Pizza and the big, lavish Italian dinner we were hoping for once we got to Port St. Joe. They have great wine flights there, incredible sauceless chicken wings, a HUGE family size salad (made table-side) and decadent thin-crust pizza. Aren’t you hungry now? We love Joe Mama’s! Mitch really didn’t have a choice in the matter.
We stopped in first at the fuel dock at Port St. Joe to fuel up for the last leg of the trip and, I have to say, Mitch’s docking skills really were improving. He did the whole thing–docking and de-docking at the fuel dock–on his own. Phillip and I could tell he was really getting a feel for his Nonsuch, which is a fun thing to watch. Now, did he bump a piling or two when slipping up next to his dock for the night? Sure, but who hasn’t? You have to get a feel for that too, because it’s just going to happen.
Once we were docked, our first mission was to make a Piggly Wiggly run to get some provisions for the last passage of the trip.
Mitch was killing us over this Arizona Green Tea.
Yeah, that stuff.
He had brought two gallons of the stuff for the trip (that and eighteen, give or take, single serviecs of Gatorade–the man cringes at water). Mitch had burned through his two green gallons early on in the trip and now needed more. He meandered the Piggly aisles back and forth with no success and finally enlisted one of the fine red shirt-clad Piggly people to help him on his hunt. When she couldn’t find it in thirty seconds, however, he enlisted yet another. I swear, Mitch had two little red helpers following him all over the store looking for his beloved tea.
I’ll tell you, there is never a shortage of stories when it comes to Mitch. He is walking entertainment. Sadly, the red broads came back empty-handed and Mitch had to make do with just the Gatorade. Sorry Buddy.
After our store run, we spruced up for a night on the St. Joe town!
Aren’t they dashing?
For Phillip and I, that usually kicks off with a pre-dinner drink (or three) at the Haughty Heron.
I think he’s trying to pat his head and rub his stomach there. Not sure.
It was fun to chat with the owner there–Wade, I believe it is–because he said he remembered Phillip and I from when we came through on our way down to the Keys last year. Probably because we had spent a couple of days kiting in the cove at Port St. Joe and drew a pretty good gathering of lookie-loos! Kiting tends to do that.
The Heron folks were great, though, and even gave us a drink on the house. Then there was no stopping us. Phillip and I had pretty much forged the deal while we were motoring the ditch that day. We had been craving those succulent chicken wings, that tangy salad dressing and the cheesy, meaty goodness of a perfectly-cooked thin crust pizza all afternoon. We didn’t even let Mitch vote. It was Joe Mama’s or bust.
I know. Yum, right?
We ordered the “La Roma” pizza–pecan pesto sauce, pancetta, tomatoes, basil and two eggs baked on top. It reminded us of John Besh’s restaurant, Domenica, in New Orleans. Just great quality dough cooked in a stone oven. So good.
Our server was quite the character, too … Get this.
She was making small talk with us while dropping some linens and plates down, moving pretty quickly, obviously trying (as a good server should) to get us drinks, then appetizers, then the main course. We weren’t having it, though. This was a highlight of the trip for us. We were going to do it like the Europeans: nice and slow. We told her we were happy for her to take her time with our dinner.
“We want to enjoy the AC in here,” Phillip explained. “Because ours is out.”
“Oh, in the truck or the trailer?” she asked. A good ole’ country girl.
“Neither. The boat!” we all said heartily. I’m not sure what that makes us, but we got a pretty good laugh out of her. Dinner was such a treat. While we don’t want a lavish fine-dining experience every night, the occasional splurge is worth it. Especially after a couple of salty, tiring days at sea. We definitely indulged and it was great of Mitch to treat the crew. Thanks Buddy!
I don’t recall much about the walk back. There were lots of replays of the Arizona tea fiasco and the lack of AC in the truck/trailer, I know that. I know there was some bumping of elbows and backsides as we all brushed our teeth as quickly as we could over the kitchen sink and scrambled to our respective bunks. And I also know the crew slept nice and soundly that night. Maybe a little too soundly …
“No more two bottles of wine for you guys!” Mitch croaked when we woke the next morning. “Phillip snored all night.”
Phillip just smiled and rolled over, which made me smile too. It had been a fun couple of days ashore. But, the Gulf was calling us back. It was time that day to ready the boat and head offshore again to make our last twenty-four hour run from Port St. Joe to Pensacola. We woke to a crisp sunrise and, for the time being, clear skies. The coffee was brewed, the beds were made and the crew of s/v Tanglefoot prepared to make way.
Thanks to my Patrons who help me share the journey. Get inspired. Get on board.
“At first there was none such. Then there was one such.” This such. Mitch’s Nonsuch. I hope you all enjoyed the retro soft-core seventies Nonsuch videos last time. They certainly had us rolling during our tiki masala dinner while we were making our way across the Gulf from Clearwater to Apalachicola.
Everything seemed to be chugging along just fine (and I do say chugging because we were still motoring, twelve hours hard at it) until we noticed the transmission fluid leak. It was almost uncanny the things that were repeating themselves from mine and Phillip’s trek across the Gulf in our own Hinterhoeller the previous year. The leak seemed to be minimal (one drip every two minutes) so we weren’t too concerned, but Phllip (prudent as always) decided to kill the engine before the sun officially set to let it cool and check the transmission fluid level one last time before we motored through the night.
And it’s a good thing we did, because you know where it was at?
The bottom of the stick.
There was just one tiny little pink drop at the base of it. *gulp* We dug out the transmission fluid to top her off. She downed a quarter of a quart and insisted we keep the bottle tipped up. In all, we put a half-quart in and were shocked she took that much. Thank goodness we had kept an eye on her. We cranked her back up and put her under load to monitor again. Still one drip every two minutes. I tried to mentally calculate the minute-drip-math but I’m afraid to say I don’t know how many “drips” are in a quart of transmission fluid. I tried to Google it but … alas. In all, we felt a half-quart would at least get us the rest of the way across the Gulf to Apalachicola where we could top off again or repair if necessary. That pink nectar’s important!
Once we were puttering back along again at five knots, talk turned once again to the divvying up of our night shifts. It was decided the two-hour shift formula we followed last time spanned too early into the evening and too late into the morning. I mean, none of us were really ready to hit the sack by 8:00 p.m. and none of us (well, aside from Mitch that once) were sleeping in until 8:00 a.m. Shorter shifts are always preferred. Unlike last time, there were three of us now. More hands to do the labor so we decided to ease up a bit. We settled on 1.5 hour shifts beginning at 9:30 p.m. I also decided to deal Phillip a better hand and take on the “shit shifts” this time (the two that fall right in the middle of the night). Yes, this gave Mitch another gravy shift, a second time in a row, but he played the age card and called it.
Yes Mitch played that card, not us. He played it often. “You guys have to remember I’m an old guy,” he would say as he handed me a screwdriver and sent me down into a cubby, or picked up some pillows leaving Phillip to lug two bags of ice. The funny thing is, though. He’s not. Not at all in my opinion. I can’t remember the exact number, but he’s like 58 years young or someting like that. But, he still gets out and kitesurfs for crying out loud. He paddles. He sails. He rides a Harley (or whatever kind of bike – it’s like Coke, they’re all Harleys to me). And, now he owns a boat and sails. He’s easily the coolest 58-year-old I know (although we’re meeting more and more folks that are even older and even more active than him the more we cruise). But, he kind of drives me nuts when he says that. Here it is. For the record. You’re only old if you say you are, Mitch. So stop saying it!
Rant aside, while my lawyer self was sure his use of the age card was some form of reverse age discrimination, I let it go. Night sailing can really be an incredible experience and we had agree to make this trip with Mitch for two reasons: 1) to help him get his new boat home safe (sure), but 2) to get some more offshore experience and have another adventure! Night sailing certainly falls in that category. So, it was decided:
9:30 – 11 Mitch
11 – 12:30Annie
12:30 – 2Phillip
2 – 3:30Mitch
3:30 – 5Annie
5 – 6:30Phillip
And, I have to say I’m actually so glad I decided to take on two middle-of-the-night shifts that night because they were some of my most memorable shifts I have ever held at the helm of a sailboat. There was once again a gnarly thunder storm behind us, stretching the entire expanse of our horizon. It looked very far off, when it was just black billowing clouds. But when an electric white bolt would break through and shoot out in five different directions, it looked very close. Too close. It was beautiful but still a little frightening and also thrilling.
One thing I do love about Mitch’s boat is the ease with which you can drop the bimini. While I suppose we could make this modification on our boat, we now have the solar panels mounted up there so that’s now out of the question. And, while I love solar power (I’ve even thought about adding more on the dodger), it was cool to be able, with just a few snaps and maneuvers, to drop the bimini and literally have nothing between you and the stars. Mitch has a huge bimini, too. Because the Nonsuch has a huge cockpit. I’ll have to check the videos again but I’m sure no matter how many you’ve got in there, “there’s always room for one more.” So, dropping it really makes a drastic difference─like stepping out from a tent into the night air.
With the bimini down, the motor performing perfectly (knock on teak) and auto-pilot doing all the work my only real job was to monitor the instruments and the horizon. Seriously. Sometimes it is that easy. Sometimes. You pay for those times when it’s not at all easy. When you’re man-handling a weather-heavy helm in twenty-knot winds, crashing through waves, listening for things that might break, snap, pop, tear. Some nights are like that, which is why I had no guilt in savoring the night that I was having.
The coaming around the cockpit in the Nonsuch has this wide, fat strip of teak on it that feels like it was meant to touch the soles of barefeet. Even tethered in, I could step up on it, holding onto the sail for support and walk (and dance) along it with an unfettered 360-degree view of our horizon. Yes, I said dance. There is often dancing involved in my night shifts. I usually pop a head phone in one ear for some tunes and leave the other tuned to the boat and sails, and I found the perfect accompaniment to my starlit stage that night: Lorde’s A World Alone. Go on, let it play in the background … you have my blessing.
Funny, though. You’re going to laugh at this. You may not have known this (but I’m sure you could have guessed). I am notorious for belting out the wrong lyrics to songs. I sing what I think I hear which is often not at all what the artist intended. It’s like the “pour some shook-up ramen” syndrome or something. Seriously, check out this bit. What I did think Toto said in their famous Hold the Line song? [Some raw footage from one of our night sails where I show off my infamous lyric-bending talents]:
Golden eye! Yep. That’s what I sing anyway. And, on Lorde’s song? I thought she said “Raise a glass cause I’m not done sailing.” I did. Seriously. You may think that’s strange. Why would Lorde bust out all of a sudden with a lyric about sailing when that’s not at all what the song’s about. Silly you. You assume I know what the song is actually about. Again, that would require the ability to hear actual lyrics─a talent I clearly do not posess. I like the sailing lyric. I’ve determined to keep it and I like the song for sailing now for that very reason. I played it 16.5 times during my shfits that night, standing up on tiptoes on the coaming, breathing in the cool night air and belting it out. “Cause I’m not done sailing!” The music seemed to beat in my chest, my rib cage thudding with the drum. It was a perfect, crisp night and the lightning, while frightening, was still beautiful. I wondered what it would feel like if a bolt zipped all the way across the sky and just pricked me. Not enough to stop my heart or anything but just enough to give me a little zap. These are the kinds of wondrous things I pondered during that shift. Night sailing can sometimes be like that.
Sadly, during my 3:30 shift, it was not so serene. Clouds eased in around us and the stars faded to blackness. The motor was still pumping along [insert groan here]. I hate to see her work that hard. But with zip wind, there was no other choice. At least it wasn’t storming on us. For whatever reason, I found this shift paired better with some Simon & Garfunkle, Crimson and Clover and I sang that one “over and over!” to help bide the time. I hate to say I was glad to hand the helm over the Phillip at 5 but I was. I know, I know, we’re supposed to be on this big adventure, soaking up every second, savoring every minute, but I was just tired that night. I savor sleep too, you know?
Well, I didn’t get to that night. Just about the time I had dozed back off─around 5:30 I’d say─I heard Phillip hollering down to me. I roused kind of quickly, because it just wasn’t like Phillip to wake me unless he needed to. “Go wake Mitch,” he said as I popped my head up the companionway. “The wind’s picking up and I want to raise the sail.” Again I hate to say it (man, sometimes I’m a terrible sailor) but a HUGE part of me wanted to just politely decline. “No thanks. I don’t think we should raise that big ass sail right now in the dark. Let’s just keep on motoring and sleep.” My sleepy self said that, internally. But, it was just for a quick minute. Once I started to get moving and get some night air in my lungs, I knew it was a great idea. Phillip was right. The wind had kicked up. It was blowing ten, maybe twelve, right on our stern. Perfect for the big ass sail! And, it was certainly time to give our engine and needed break. “Raise your glass cause I’m not done sailing!” said Tanglefoot.
After the act of Congress it took to get Mitch up, we were soon all three top-side getting ready to hoist the sail, for the first time in seventeen hours. I was at the mast again helping pull the halyard down. While I could muscle it about 75% of the way up, I was useless the last twenty-five. There was just nothing I could do but watch as that halyard stretched as taut as thread (it seemed) and yelped out with every crank on the winch. Phillip had already told Mitch one of the first things he should do after we brought the boat back was have a strong track put in to make raising the main easier, he said it again. “You have got to get a strong track Mitch,” as he cranked again and again on the winch, each round ending in a wicked squeal from the halyard. But, we did finally get it up and clocked it out to starboard to catch the wind.
The belly of the sail stretched and pulled taut when she found the wind. I have mentioned that is one big ass sail, am I right? Boy is it. It’s like hoisting a barn door up into the wind. This was our first time to sail downwind on the Nonsuch and, man, does she like to be pushed!
“I’m gonna wake your asses up to do some sailing!” Phillip hollered when we had the sail full and were finally moving along by the power of the wind. Mitch was fiddling with the choker and watching the body of the sail. If you’re not familiar with a cat rig, wishbone boom (believe me, at the time, I sure wasn’t), the choker moves the boom forward or aft to stretch the sail or give it some bag. It pretty much operates like the outhaul.
As I mentioned, this was our first time sailing downwind, so the boys were really wanting to fiddle with the sails and see what responses they could get from the boat by making tweaks here and there. [Daytime pictures here for fun but know that we were still in the early-hours dark.]
I was still at the mast from having helped raised the sail and while I started to see it happen, it just happened before I could even get a word out. Mitch is cranking in on the choker. Phillip was talking to him about it, both of them watching the belly of the sail. We had it full out to starboard to catch the wind coming over the port stern. The sail started to luff a little, the boom started to creep toward the center of the boat and then … WHA-BOOM!
In a boat with a sail this big:
Can you imagine? It snapped to port with a thunderous clang. Thankfully the boys had ducked so we didn’t lose any heads but we did suffer one casualty–the outboard on the stern rail. Or, the PVC extender arm on the tiller at least, and the sail caught the choker on the way over and yanked it out, too.
Now you see it:
Now you don’t:
Mitch said he was sure Phillip was just trying to make sure he took out Mitch’s outboard on this trip since Phillip and I had lost ours the last time the three of us sailed across the Gulf together. A good theory, but just a theory. Phillip said he was just focusing on the choker and accidentally let the boat point a little too far to port and then BOOM. First downwind lesson learned: Nonsuches do not like the accidental jibe.
After that thunderous wake-up call, we finally got the sail settled back over to starboard and settled in for a nice downwind run. We were just a few hours outside of the East Pass and the crew was excited to make landfall.
Thanks to my Patrons who help me share the journey. Get inspired. Get on board.
Magic Eraser rocks. It does! The last few hours we were underway toward Clearwater I busted one of those magical white blocks out and went to town on the cabin of Mitch’s Nonsuch. The interior really was in such great shape. Was it moldy, dirty and grimy? Yes! But did the Magic Eraser fix all of that? Of course!
And maybe I’m a little partial to Mr. Clean because of the resemblance …
A little elbow grease and some magic, though, and the Nonsuch looked like a completely different boat down below. We had spent most of our time during this initial passage inspecting and learning the systems, hoisting the sail for the first time, trying the reefing lines, checking the fluids of the engine, etc., but once we felt all of the primary systems were running fine, it felt nice to finally get in there and do some cosmetic work. While you always want your boat to run and perform well, making her look good is always high on the list as well. I wiped just about every surface with Clorox wipes and came back with the Magic Eraser for the stuck-on stains.
I was making good progress until I made it to the head. The floor there was thoroughly stained ….
but it was no match for the eraser!
I was also excited to find the holding tank was backing up into the bowl. Yippee! It appeared the joker valve on the head was failing and allowing about three inches of holding tank goodness to eek back into the bowl and slosh around for the ride. I dumped a little bleach in and that seemed to help but the crew was greeted with a little pond of bleached sewage every time they lifted the lid. Overall, though, the boat was cleaning up extraordinarily well. Mitch had found a real gem. With still unfavorable wind (light and right on our nose) we were still motoring, though, which made the clean-up job a bit of a sweaty endeavor in the stuffy cabin. I was definitely looking forward to a nice, refreshing shower in Clearwater.
After all of the motoring we had been doing, we definitely needed some fuel so we pointed Mitch in toward the fuel dock at Clearwater. Only his second time docking and, I have to say, he did a pretty good job. The man loves that throttle though. I don’t think he realizes how fast he’s really going because he tends to barrel in. It was clear the team was going to have to work on this. And we tried! When Mitch was making his way from the fuel dock into the transient slip for the night, Phillip kept trying to ease him back: “Slower, buddy. Slower than that.” Mitch was flying into the slip with Phillip and I trying to catch pilings to slow us down. “Mitch!” Phillip shouted back to the cockpit and Mitch hollered back: “I’m not giving her any gas!” [Insert frown here.]
Thankfully, we had a few dock hands come up to help us and they held the bow off the dock but I’ll have to give Mitch a B- on that one. When we got her tied off and secure, Phillip walked back to the cockpit, looked at Mitch, pointed to the shifter and said: “Neutral. Reverse.” It’s easy to forget, though, if you don’t drive a sailboat often. It’s not like a car where you can just step on the brakes, but you do have options. If you’re going too fast, even in idle, you can throw it in neutral to slow her down or reverse and throttle her a little if you need to really need to put the brakes on. After a docking lesson or two and a few gentle reminders from Phillip, Mitch started to do this on his own. It just takes a little time to train your brain. Once we got the boat buttoned up and gave the boat a good rinse down, the crew immediately set their sights on a shower. I was coated in salt, sweat and Magic Eraser filth. It was still a steam bath outside and we were all sweltering walking toward the shower, dreaming of that first icy drench. However, the swelter outside could in no way compare to the sauna inside.
The AC was out in the women’s bathroom and it felt like a muggy 100 degrees in there. I had to kick and flail out of each sticky scrap of clothing I had on. While the water was cool, the minute I stepped out of the stream, I started sweating again. I mean the very minute. The thought of dressing in there seemed absurd. Whatever I did in there─I’m not sure you could call it a shower. Maybe a sauna rinse? A steam spray?─I was nowhere near clean when I came out, my clothes wet and sticking to every part of my body, my face completely beaded up and dripping. Only because I didn’t think a nude streak to the boat would have been appropriate did I dress in there. Mid-June, in the middle of Florida, and it was cooler outside than it was in that blasted shower room. I was at least soothed by the discovery that the men’s bathroom suffered from the same AC dilemma. We all had a good time regaling our individual streak contemplations and sweaty dressing struggles. Funny, each of us decided to brush our teeth and hair (well, those that had hair) and do all of that post-shower potions-and-lotions stuff back on the boat. I swear, the minute you stepped out of the stream, you could not get out of there fast enough. We all bolted back to the boat.
But, you know where we were guaranteed to have AC? On Tanglefoot! Mitch was blessed with such amenities. Although he about froze me out our first night on the boat before we left Ft. Myers, now I wanted to freeze. I welcomed it. I would have savored every shiver. We all huddled up in the cool boat, changed out of the clean-but-now-sweaty clothes we had just put on, got into some fresh dry clothes and cranked the AC up. Mitch even sat in front of the vent by the nav station with a fan directing the blow at each of us intermittently like an oscillating fan. It was only around 5:00 p.m., though, and the crew was absolutely beat.
Two-hour nights shifts always seems exhausting the first night but your body just has to adjust. After the second night of two hours on, two hours off, I usually feel like I’ve acclimated a bit and I’m not near as tired on the third day. But that second day is always a killer. We were trying to stay awake because we knew a “nap” would turn into a near-coma. We wanted to at least stay up long enough to get some dinner and then really get a good night’s rest that evening so we could sail out of Clearwater fresh at first light and make it to either Apalachicola or─if things were going really well─all the way back to Pensacola in one passage. We knew this was the “real jaunt.” The passage from Ft. Myers to Clearwater had been a pretty much parallel to shore. And, once we got to the Apalachicola area, the rest of the trip would also be, pretty much, a hug of the shore. This passage, however─from Clearwater to Apalachicola─would be the true Gulf crossing. This is where we would find ourselves on our longest leg of the trip and the furthest from shore. Let’s just say if Mother Nature sensed any opportune time to jack us around, this would be it. And, this is the exact time, last time─when Phillip, Mitch and I were bringing our boat back from Punta Gorda, FL to Pensacola─that she decided to really see what we were made of. The last time the three of us made this passage we found ourselves in the middle of the night, in the middle of the Gulf, sawing our dinghy off the davits in 4-6 foot seas that had sheared every bolt we had left to hold her. If there was any part of this trip to really be concerned about, this was it.
We checked the weather, for the forty-fourth time that day. The winds promised to be variable and light. Kind of annoying. It might mean more boring motoring. If that prediction held. And the sea-state looked to be calm. It definitely appeared to be a good window. We deemed it safe to go and decided we would leave the next morning as soon as we woke. But, we needed a good night’s rest. Our eyes were drooping we decided to venture out for an “adventure dinner” to wake ourselves up. It was fun seeing the old “big boobs diner” we had eaten at the first time Phillip, Mitch and I stopped in Clearwater when we were bringing our Niagara home back in 2013.
We decided this time to saunter over to Frenchy’s Saltwater Cafe for dinner and even opted for the early bird special, without shame.
I could tell I was tired when the only thing I felt after two stout rum drinks was sleepy. Exhaustion is a total buzzkill. We ambled back to the boat and cuddled up in our frozen palace to get a solid night’s rest before shoving back out into the Gulf the next day.
“Mitch,” I said shaking his shoulder a bit. Phillip and I had snoozed through the alarm twice before finally rolling out of bed and Mitch hadn’t yet moved. After his first night holding solo shifts on an offshore passage, I’m sure that was the most tired he can remember feeling. And, we’ll be nice and say that’s a testament to his state of exhaustion not his memory. “Mitch!” I shouted giving him a solid shove. He finally flinched to with a snort and looked at me in total shock, as if he didn’t know where he was, who I was and why the hell I was shoving him awake. I stood there with a raised eyebrow for a minute and he finally decided to check back into reality and started rustling out of bed. He said he couldn’t even remember laying down the night before. We had all just about felt that way. But after a good ten hours of sleep we were all feeling pretty rested and ready to get underway. We readied the Nonsuch and started talking about a plan to de-dock. Again, we made Mitch make all the decisions and simply tell us what lines to release when. Now, I’ll give him a solid A on the plan but a B on the execution. As soon as he put the boat in reverse and started to throttle her up, instantly the stern started kicking over to port. Sharp too. I was on the port side and pushing with all of my might near the beam but her stern continued to pivot around.
I looked over at Phillip on starboard but he’d already let off the bow line per Mitch’s instruction and didn’t have any way to control the nose of the boat. The further she kept turning, I watched with clenched teeth as the finger dock we had been using to get on and off the boat on the port side began to jut in through the lifelines. I scrambled toward it, braced my back against the cabin top and tried to push it out with my feet.
It was inching out but not fast enough. As the boat continued to move backward, the finger pier made contact with the stanchion post and I was afraid she was going to snap it over like a weed, ripping a hole in the deck in the process. I hate docking. Have I said that before? Well … And de-docking too. It’s always so stressful to watch your precious boat inch closer and closer to sure peril. But! Mitch saved us! With some instruction from Phillip but still─he did the right thing at the right time. Mitch threw her in forward, gassed her up and steered her right back into the slip. I was so glad to see the finger pier ease out from the lifelines and back away from the boat. Lesson to be learned here: check the rudder before you begin backing out. Mitch forgot to make sure it was lined up straight before backing out. Again, an easy mistake to make that could have cost him hundreds in damage. I don’t man the helm often and I can’t say I would remember to do that every time. Sailing. No one said it was easy.
Once we got the boat secure again, Phillip headed back in the cockpit to help Mitch re-group. I was still up on deck tying a line when Phillip so Mitch probably didn’t think I could hear. “Do you think I can handle this boat, Phillip?” Mitch asked and my ears perked up. I did feel for him. After a scary experience like that, you start to doubt yourself. “Of course,” Phillip immediately responded, which you may think sounds like he was placating Mitch but he wouldn’t. It was the truth. He could. Like any new boat owner, Mitch just needed to make the important mistakes while help was around. With the simple fix of lining up the rudder before backing out, Mitch handled the second attempt flawlessly. Seriously, Phillip and I let off the lines and he slipped out without any assistance. Even after that heart-pumping first attempt. I would have congratulated him but he didn’t even relish in the moment. He was all business. The minute he eased her out, Mitch clocked her around, put her in forward and started heading toward the channel. Phillip and I watched him silently for a minute like proud parents. He was doing it all by himself.
But as soon as we were all smiles and cheer for him he had us cracking up again with one of his Mitch’isms. He was watching the GPS trying to steer his way out of the channel and I’m sure he was a little shook up from our docking debacle and the whole adventure in general but he kept weaving back and forth in the narrow channel. We let it slide a time or two but after a few back-and-forths we had to ask. “What’s going on buddy?” I hollered from the deck. Mitch was quiet at first. Then he started muttering a little and finally said, “Oh, now I get it. I’m the long line.” Phillip and I exchanged a raised-eyebrow look. “You’re what?” I asked. “The long line,” Mitch repeated. “I couldn’t tell on the GPS which line was the heading or me. But, I get it now. I’m the long line.”
Mitch. He’s like a gray blonde sometimes, and so cute about it. We still joke about the long line.
But, as tired as we had been the night before, it was (and is always) so invigorating to get back out in blue water. Nothing but a blue horizon in every direction. Water meets sky and that’s it.
It’s stunning, mesmerizing. Some may find it frightening to not see shore, to not─without the assistance of charts, a compass or (nowadays) a GPS─know which way will lead you back home. Some fear this detachment. We love it. Phillip and I sat on the deck all morning just staring at the blue infinity stretched out before us. It felt so good to be back out in the Gulf. It was strange to think it was the same body of water that had rocked and tossed us last time, submerged and swallowed our dinghy because it now looked so calm. Big thunderheads began to build on our stern again in the afternoon but we motored on, ready for whatever adventure she had in store.
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