Back in Blue Waters

May 13, 2014:

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

IMG_1431   IMG_1433

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

IMG_1434   IMG_1437   IMG_1435

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

0005150000993_A

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

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

IMG_1451   IMG_1454       IMG_1455     IMG_1450  IMG_1460 IMG_1462   IMG_1466   IMG_1448 IMG_1440   IMG_1441

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

IMG_1472      IMG_1469   IMG_1468   IMG_1471

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

IMG_1482   IMG_1476  IMG_1478

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

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

IMG_1497   IMG_1505

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

IMG_1510   IMG_1511   IMG_1514

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

img_7676     img_1473

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

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

IMG_7667 IMG_7736 IMG_7722 IMG_7832 IMG_7781 IMG_7896 IMG_8004 IMG_8221 IMG_8177 IMG_8173 Turd IMG_8347 IMG_8453 IMG_8421 IMG_8493 IMG_8484 IMG_9113 IMG_9116IMG_8844 IMG_8900 IMG_8918 IMG_9007 IMG_9010 IMG_9048 IMG_9077 IMG_8801 IMG_9206 IMG_9254 IMG_9367 IMG_9442 photo (80) IMG_9730 IMG_9805 IMG_0034 IMG_0063 IMG_0327 IMG_0347 IMG_0663 IMG_0758 IMG_0724 IMG_0939 IMG_0983 IMG_1175 IMG_1159 IMG_1427

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

IMG_3206 IMG_3200  IMG_5391   IMG_4584 IMG_4591 IMG_4420 IMG_1875 IMG_1699 IMG_4373 IMG_3839 IMG_3779   IMG_2514   IMG_4393 IMG_5543 IMG_3586   IMG_3235 IMG_2553   IMG_5557 IMG_5374 IMG_5553 IMG_5919 IMG_5687 IMG_6843 IMG_1911 IMG_1850 IMG_2812 IMG_6452 IMG_6976 IMG_6985

 

 

 

Like the blog?  Show some love!

patreon

Bombs Over Baghdad!

May 5, 2014:

Shrimpers.  That’s what they were.  Those strange looking UFO ships out on the water.

IMG_0677

They were huge shrimping vessels with massive football stadium-like lights flooding the deck.  No red or green for port or starboard, so you couldn’t tell which way they were going (or coming!), only that they were getting closer and closer and closer.  Super annoying when you’re cruising at night and not sure if the shrimp boat is going to come across your bow or cut behind your stern.  And, what was worse, when they finally passed us about 100 yards off of our port stern, it looked like there was no one on deck or at the helm.  They were probably all below playing poker and smoking cigars or something, just trudging blind across the Gulf, blissfully unaware of any other potential vessels in their path!  Stinking shrimpers!  We were cursing them all night.  We probably “encountered” four or five of their “kind” that night and had to stay on constant watch.

Sadly, too, there wasn’t much wind that night.  We had to motor until about 1:00 a.m. when the winds finally picked up to about 3 knots.  It wasn’t much, but it was the most we’d seen in 12 hours, so it was enough for us to throw out the sails.  I will say the Hinterhoeller is an exceptional lightwind boat.  Favorable seas and any breeze 3 knots or greater and we can usually achieve hull speed about 2 knots less than the wind, if not more.  So, if it’s blowing 5 knots and we’re not beating into big waves, we can usually make around 3 knots, which is great.  A typical wind of 7-8 knots, and we’re often making 5, easy.  Like I said, an incredible vessel that still never ceases to amaze us.  Thankfully, with a light 3 knots of wind that night, we were able to finally kill the engine for a bit and sail!  Until about 4:30 a.m., when the wind died out again and we had to crank back up.  Dag nabbit!  But, we did cruise right on into a beautiful sunrise over the Gulf.

IMG_0680   IMG_0684    IMG_0685

May 6, 2014:

And, have you ever had one of those perfect Saturday mornings where you wake up, lounge around in your PJs, make a big weekend-morning breakfast like french toast, or pancakes, and then fall back asleep till like 10:00 a.m.?  Ahhh …  Isn’t that the best?  Well, this morning was kind of like that.  We watched the sun rise, made some piping hot coffee, sipped it, devoured two heaping bowls of steaming oatmeal with raisins and brown sugar and then …

IMG_0682

took a nap!  The morning chill was still in the air and we were both a little tired from the two-hour shifts the night before, so we eased into the day nice and slow like, taking turns napping in the cockpit.  But, the sun finally started to ease up and so did we.  It was a gorgeous day out in the Gulf.

IMG_0720   IMG_0724

Unlike the crystal green waters we had encountered around Clearwater and Tampa Bay, the waters here were a deep, rich royal blue,

IMG_0718    IMG_0719

and just as stunning in their own way.  We even had a sea turtle come and visit us!

IMG_0715   IMG_0715

I know, looks kind of like a grainy alien photo, but I promise, it’s a turtle.  I finished a fun, quick suspense read that morning – Lee Child’s 61 Hours – and the joke was we had been motoring about that long, too.  61 hours, huh?  Not quite that long, but it felt like it.  About 12 hours the day and night before, and add another 6 or so since we’d cranked around 4:30 that morning.  So, 18 hours so far, which is a long time to keep that engine going.  We decided to turn her off and bob for a bit so we could let her cool and check the oil.

You know what they say — “Diesels love oil like a sailor loves rum.”  (And, by “they” I mean Captain Ronnaturally)

IMG_0726    IMG_0728

There you go girl …  Drink up!

The wind was still mocking us, gracing by our boat at a light 0.5 to 1.3 knots.  1.3??  Look out!  It’s getting gusty up here!!  It was amazing to see the waters of the Gulf, which we have seen many times brimming with 3 foot, 4 foot, even 6 foot waves, look like solid … glass.

IMG_0749   IMG_0734   IMG_0729

There would be no sailing for this vessel anytime soon.  So, we cranked back up and decided to heat up some of our broccoli-less broccoli crappola (also known as sweet potato chili),

IMG_0744   IMG_0745

and throw together a great cucumber, tomato and feta salad for lunch.

IMG_0741 IMG_0742 IMG_0746

This salad is great because it’s super easy.  It’s literally cucumber, tomato, a little bit of olive oil, salt, pepper and feta.  A great way to throw together some random vegetables you may have on the boat or some feta that needs to be eaten.  With water like glass, a nice lunch spread laid out before us, and nothing but easy motoring to do, we thought we were in for an tranquil day.  But, that’s when it struck …

You might recall me asking you all, in jest — What’s the Worst Thing You Can Have On a Boat?  And, no, it was not the “busted mate”

IMG_9958

(although that was close).  For us, it was the LEAK!

IMG_0061

Our stupid dripping dripless.  That was the worst thing we’d had on the boat … up unto that point at least.  But recall we ran through some possibilities then – fire, lightning, etc.  Now, it seemed we were about to have something new.  Phillip and I had just curled up in the cockpit with our chili and salad and were ready to kick back for a relaxing lunch when

>> BOOM <<

Out of nowhere, with nothing out of ordinary in sight.  We both jolted upright and starting looking around.  And then again

>> BOOM <<

It sounded like bombs were exploding over head.  I’ll never forget how quickly Phillip put his bowl down and jumped behind the helm, scanning the horizon.  In military mode.  Of all the things that we could expect to happen on the boat.  A bomb?!?  You have got to be kidding me.  When another BOOM came with no sign of an explosion or threat near our boat, we started to run through the possibilities.  Phillip said he knew they often used the northern part of the Gulf as a testing zone for bombs and other detonation devices.  They would fly out of Tyndall or Eglin Air Force Base and drop in the designated zones.  Tyndall AFB is just south of Panama City.

1

Assuming they had a drop zone about … yay … big (give or take)

2

and assuming our projected path of about … here’ish (I know, real technical stuff),

3

it was wholly probable that we were either in their testing zone or at least close enough to hear it.  While Phillip knew they often did testing in this area of the Gulf, he said they usually issued some notice or warning to mariners over the radio to advise of the bombings.  If they were bombing anywhere near us, he would have expected to have heard an advisory go out over the radio or to have seen marine vessels or air support checking to make sure the testing zone was clear.  He clicked on the radio and listened for any advisories, but we didn’t hear anything.  Either the testing was occurring much too far away to constitute any potential threat to us (although I can assure you it did not sound like it), or the ole’ Rest had gone rogue and done slipped through their barriers!  Flanking them on the inside!  We didn’t see any action on the horizon or hear any advisories on the radio, so we figured we were at a safe enough distance, but that didn’t stop us from standing up and doing a 360 every time another bomb went off!  BOOM!

It was the wildest thing.  As cruisers, you prepare for a lot of contingencies when you start doing overnight passages and Gulf crossings – you pack spares for every single piece of equipment, and then spares for those spares, you have a ditch bag handy and rehearse man-overboard drills, you keep a knife, a flashlight and a gaff near the cockpit in case someone or some thing goes overboard – all kinds of safety precautions.  But, a bomb plan??  I can tell you we certainly did NOT have that.  But, like I said, they seemed to be no real threat, so we let the bombs drop all around us all afternoon while we continued to motor toward Carrabelle.  As the sun started the drop, the wind laid down even more (it was blowing — if you can even qualify it as “blowing” — between 0.3 and 0.5 knots) and the water began to look like a smooth satin sheet laid out before us.

IMG_0729   IMG_0750

Eventually the two became one and there was no discernible horizon.

IMG_0782   IMG_0783

It was incredibly beautiful and humbling, to know that a body of water so dangerous and deadly at times could lay down and  spread out like a smooth silk path for our passage.  Even more awe-inspiring was the friend who joined us for dinner.  A tiny, lone sparrow flitted around our boat twice before finally coming to a shaky halt on a lifeline and heaving little pants of exhaustion from his overwhelming flight.

IMG_0785   IMG_0787   IMG_0788

Where did he come from?  Where was he going?  How did he make it all the way to our boat, more than a hundred miles offshore, in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico?  We didn’t know, but we didn’t need to.  He was welcome regardless.  He closed his beady little eyes and stayed right with us until the sun set and we could no longer make him out.

IMG_0752   IMG_0754   IMG_0757   IMG_0761   IMG_0762   IMG_0764

It was Phillip, the bird and I, motoring into another night on the Gulf, with Carrabelle awaiting us, on the other side of the sunrise.

IMG_0780     IMG_0766           IMG_0772     IMG_0781

Close Encounters of the Gulf Kind

May 4-5, 2014:

With 4-6 foot seas, a steady 17-20 knots of wind pushing us in, and our bow doing a nice ‘figure eight‘ motion in and around the Venice inlet, we made our way in.  The Captain did a phenomenal job holding a steady line and making his way between the two rocky jetties on either side.  No small feat considering the boat that had traversed before us, ended up like this.

IMG_0562     IMG_0562

Shaken and stirred, and most definitely ON THE ROCKS!  That is such a terrible sight to see.  I kept imagining the keel digging in between rocks with each passing swell, with paint and flecks of fiberglass grinding off.  Uhhhh …  Still makes me cringe just thinking about it.  Thankfully, we passed through the inlet unscathed and got our boat safely docked back in the slip at Venice.  While we had been excited to head out that day and we would have loved to have made the passage to Clearwater that night instead of coming back to Venice, the rough sea state and boat beating on the rocks of the inlet made us incredibly thankful to have our boat safe and secure.  One more day wasn’t really too much to give up, particularly when it meant the difference between a rough and potentially treacherous passage across the Gulf as opposed to a predicted smooth one.  Schedules are a sailor’s worst enemy.  So, having docked our boat once more and resigned to staying another night, we did what any good mariners would do, and went to see what the status was with the boat on the rocks!  And, I have to tell you … it was not pretty.

IMG_0594     IMG_0577

While I’m sure the keel was stuck, the hull on the side was also in contact with the rocks, beating against them with each mild wake and letting out a gut-wrenching, nails-on-the-chalkboard kind of metallic groan when it did.

IMG_0580     IMG_0579

There was a pretty good group gathered on the shore watching this poor sailor, but there was little that could be done.  Nobody seemed to know much and the guess was that he lost his steering or engine power somehow as he was coming in.  Of all the luck …   But, it seemed the worst of it wasn’t over for this poor bloke, because soon Sheriff Willingham showed up!

IMG_0589

Or, at least that’s what I assume his name was.  He looked like a Willingham.  He seemed to keep asking the pitiful Captain for his “papers” – for towing I assume, but perhaps registration, insurance, who knows?  And, everyone was just gathered around staring at his guy.  I felt so bad, I stood there and not only stared, but filmed the whole thing too!

See, once again, I almost could have gotten myself arrested trying to capture this tale!  Such a dangerous sport, this blogging!

It was a beautiful afternoon in Venice, though, with lots of entertainment at the jetty.

IMG_0631    IMG_0630    IMG_0629    IMG_0628

We even got to see one of those weird pre-evolution snail-like things I’ve been going on and on about up close and personal!  A nice, young bloke (a.k.a, your average pre-teen American redneck boy) fished one out of the water in his baseball cap and showed it to the crowd.

IMG_0582

It was a little shy at first (all closed up),

IMG_0582

until another nice young dame (a.k.a. your average pre-teen American redneck gal) fished it right out of his hat and started rolling it around in her hands telling the crowd — “It’s a conch.  I’ve seen ’em before.”

IMG_0584   IMG_0585

Mmmhhh-Hmmmm … a conch without its shell.  That little snail thought so highly of her characterization that he peed purple all over hands.

IMG_0587     IMG_0587

Nice.  Then she proceeded to shriek and scream and sling it all over the crowd, including Phillip and his perfectly white shirt.  Even nicer.

In all, it was a great “show” at the Venice jetty that afternoon.  After taking in the show, Phillip and I finally sauntered back to our boat and were sipping cocktails in the cockpit when we saw the tow boat coming to get the struggling sailboat off of the rocks.

IMG_0604   IMG_0605   IMG_0612   IMG_0613   IMG_0598    IMG_0597

I’m sure it was a bad day for that fella, but, Phillip and I both acknowledged as we watched him pass by, that it’s happened to others before him and it will happen to others after.  While we certainly hope it never happens to us, seeing it in person was a good reminder that it is entirely possible.  Something can always go wrong with the boat, and it’s just as likely to happen when you’re coming in to a rocky inlet as when you’re in the middle of the Gulf, a safe distance from any rocks, docks or other detrimental obstacles for the boat.  It is totally possible that could have been us out there on the rocks.  Thankfully it wasn’t, and hopefully it never will be (knock on wood), but it was nice to see he was still afloat, being safely towed to a dock and that, aside from a costly bottom job repair, he and the boat were both going to survive it.  At the very least, he could be thankful for that and admire the gorgeous sunset that was falling over the inlet.

IMG_0601   IMG_0607    IMG_0609    IMG_0611    IMG_0617    IMG_0619    IMG_0616

Phillip and I enjoyed another dinner at the Crow’s Nest Tavern that night and talked of the next day’s passage.  Because of our failed start that day and our extra night in Venice, we were technically one day behind schedule (if we even wanted to admit we had such a thing on this trip).  So, I decided to pitch another idea …

Instead of making the passage tomorrow to Clearwater to stay the night and then make the big jump across the Gulf to Carrabelle,

Map2     Map3

what if we left out of Venice tomorrow and headed straight for Carrabelle?

Trip

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Phillip said.

Willis

It was certainly worth a thought.  The weather prediction was great.  The seas were supposed to lay down.  We were expecting a nice 10 knot breeze out of the North or Northwest.  So, rather than the approximate 16-18 hour trip we were planning to Clearwater, why not try to make the approximate 40-hour trip all the way to Carrabelle.  Go ahead and make the big leap?  Why not?  We had made about a 44-hour trip from Pensacola to Port St. Joe our first passage out of the gate on this trip and, while that was tiring, it was certainly doable.  So … we decided to go for it.  It was Carrabelle or bust!

May 5, 2014:

The next morning, we readied the boat (again), checked the fluids and headed out around 10:00 a.m.

See ya!

IMG_0632

The seas were in much better shape this time.  Whew!  Unfortunately, the wind was right on our nose, so we had to motor quite a bit throughout the day, but we spent a beautiful day out in the Gulf.  Man, what a difference a day makes.

IMG_0635    IMG_0638    IMG_0637

We even had a whole fleet of fun little mammals come and visit us at the bow!!!  They swam with us for about 10 minutes, flipping and flicking and rolling around up there.  It’s true!  That’s no …

-Dolphin-Tale-dolphin-tale-26289717-333-500

I snapped a whole roll of them!  (And, by roll, I mean approximately 34 iPhone pics – give or take).  Notice the occasional thumbs and fingers in the shot.  Very artistic …

IMG_0640   IMG_0639   IMG_0643   IMG_0646   IMG_0654

But, it was rocking and rolling and if there’s one thing I do NOT want to drop while up at the bow … it’s my phone.  So, grip it or lose it.  I did manage to get some fun footage though:

And, lookie there!  A real … 

IMG_0641

With the wind on our nose, we had to motor most of the morning.  Around mid-afternoon, we decided to try and do some sailing, if at the very least, to give the engine a break.  The tacks we had to make were so wide, though, that we were sure we were losing ground.  We did some research and calculations of our velocity made good (VMG) to try and determine what speed we were actually making along our rhumb line.  A little sailing knowledge for you:

y

So, let’s say (just to make it easy), your heading is 90 degrees, dead east, but the wind is coming directly on your nose, so to make way along your heading, you have to tack back and forth into the wind.  Let’s assume, when you tack, the highest point at which you can hold the wind is 50 degrees off your course, either 40 degrees ENE or 140 degrees SSE.

image

VMG is the speed you’re actually traveling along your rhumb line (90 degrees) by tacking back and forth at 40 degrees and 150 degrees.  You can use a VMG chart to determine what speed you are actually making along the 90 degree axis by using the speed you are making along the tack lines (the 40 and 140).

y2

If you find that the speed you’re making along your rhumb line (using the VMG table) by tacking back and forth is less than the speed you are making just motoring directly into the wind, then it may be best just to continue motoring.  We found this to be true in our case.  We were doing about 4 knots motoring into the wind and on tack (about 50 degrees off), we were only achieving about 3.5 knots, where according to the table we would have to reach 6.2 knots on tack to achieve VMG.  So, we decided to continue motoring, but we did enjoy learning the VMG tables and working the calculations.  I mean – don’t you feel just a little bit smarter now?

STar

You can thank me later.  It never hurts to learn something new, and one of the great things about sailing is that you always seem to learn something new – every passage, every docking, every trip.  We cranked back up and continued pumping on into the evening.

IMG_0654   IMG_0656 IMG_0657   IMG_0660

We made coffee right around dusk and curled up in the cockpit to enjoy the sunset.

IMG_0663   IMG_0665   IMG_0667   IMG_0668    IMG_0670

There she goes!

IMG_0671    IMG_0672    IMG_0673

There’s something so freeing about watching that bright pink ball sink beneath the horizon.  Sometimes it can give you a little chill because you know you’re about to be faced with darkness, unable to see the horizon and barreling forward into the unknown for hours on end.  But, a big part of that is also exhilarating.  You’re about to forge into the darkness, with no horizon in sight, trudging for hours on end into the great unknown.  It’s equally exciting and spine-tingling.  And, this night was no different.  While we have experienced quite a bit in the middle of the Gulf, we faced something that night that we had not yet seen before.

An eerie glow in the Gulf …

IMG_0678

Was it another ship?  A wayward, bobbing booey?  Some mysterious glowing trajectory from a passing UFO …  ??

CloseEncounters

Who knows.  But, it kept inching toward us seemingly oblivious to anything in its path …

IMG_0676    IMG_0677

“Annie, Are You Okay??”

April 28, 2014:

It was time to say goodbye to the Keys.  While we certainly enjoyed our time on that quirky little island (and the breathtaking ferry over to the Dry Tortugas), it was time to give our livers – and pocketbooks – a break and start making our way back north toward Pensacola.  After a week on dry land, though, we were ready to make another passage, ready to find ourselves back out in the middle of the Gulf with nothing on the horizon but blue sky meeting bluer water, water gently lapping the hull, the sun warming our skin as we read on the deck all afternoon, and, yes, even the night shifts, sailing that beautiful boat under a smattering of stars.  It was time to make way!

We woke early and started readying the boat for passage.  We tossed the lines first thing and headed out (literally, bow first from our stern-in slip at the A&B Marina – which was much easier exiting than entering, I can assure you).  We made coffee on the boat for the first time since we had docked in Key West, and we promptly decided the Cuban Coffee Queen Hut had “nothing on us!”  There’s just something about making your own coffee on the boat in the french press, and sipping that first warm mug while you’re starting out on a long passage.

coffee

We waved goodbye to Sunset Key as we made our way out of Key West Bight.

IMG_9955

 

KWB

We had a bit of a scare when a pretty intimidating law enforcement vessel started motoring right toward us.

IMG_9957    IMG_9957

Phillip and I watched them with furrowed brows likely thinking the same thing – “Is that Y valve in the head turned the right way?”  We had heard they keep a pretty close eye on regulation compliance in the Keys and the Coast Guard guys won’t hesitate to come aboard for an inspection.  We were sure it was, but it’s one of those things if you ask yourself twice – “Are you really sure?” – that you start to second guess.  Thankfully, though, The Law motored on behind us and continued on their way.  Whew!  Disaster avoided … or so we thought.  But the adventures that day were just beginning.

You ever have one of those days that starts out perfectly normal, you begin your typical routine, you go about your business – completely unaware that this day is probably going to stick out in your mind for the rest of your meager existence.  Everything seems to routine, so mundane and then BAM!  It happens.  Whatever it is – a car accident, a fire, an unexpected encounter, you win the lottery (let’s all hope!) – but, whatever it is, it’s something that makes that day stand out among the hundreds of bland, uniform days that preceded it.  I guess being on this trip – a daily adventure – sort of changes that equation (in that every single ONE of our days on this trip held something new, something that will probably stick out in my mind for decades to come) but, still, I thought we were just going to get underway and make passage back to Ft. Myers.  I thought maybe we would see a shark, perhaps run into some weather, some “adventure” I was mentally prepared for – but not this …

My day started something like this,

IMG_9208

but that’s not how it ended.

We were motoring through the channel out of Key West Bight.  It was a beautiful morning, around 9:00 a.m., not too hot yet, a light breeze coming in.  We were ready to do some sailing!  We decided to raise the main while we were making our way out of the channel so we could throw the Jenny out as soon as we made our way out and catch the wind.

KW

I hopped up on the deck to attach the main halyard (the line that raises the main sail) to the sail.  We always detach it from the sail and clip it away from the mast so that it does not bang when we’re in the marina or on the hook.  (But, I’ll tell you – as a direct result of this very incident – we have since formed the habit of connecting the halyard BEFORE we leave the dock so that we are not doing it underway.)  But, that is now.  This was then.  This is how lessons are learned.

I loosened the halyard and hopped up on the deck to connect it.  Unfortunately, the wind was on our stern so it caught the slack in the halyard and blew it around one of the spreaders.  For those of you who are sailing newbies – just imagine an important line is caught on some of that stuff up there on the mast, so we can’t pull it to raise our sail.  And, the wind is on our stern, so it’s holding the halyard firmly in it’s ‘caught’ position.  I let out more slack and embarked in an ancient rope-whipping dance (do recall my country roots),

BigMom's    IMG-20120512-00903

that thankfully freed the halyard.  You would think the hard part is over, but I’ve got to move quickly to get the slack pulled out so the line remains free and untangled so we can raise the main.  So, I’m now holding the shackled end of the halyard in one hand, and holding the slack taught down the mast in the other.  Basically pulling against myself to keep tension in the line so it stays flush on the mast and cannot snag on anything.  A fine practice, if you’re standing on the deck, doing nothing other than holding the line, but I get the brilliant idea that I can go ahead and climb the step up the mast and hook the shackle whilst holding both ends of the halyard taught in 2-3 foot waves.  Looking back on it now, that’s probably a three-handed job, and I’ve only got two, so … 

As I’m stepping up the mast, a light wave rocks the boat and I have to grip or I’m going to fall.  My body takes over instinctively (I guess) and lets go of the bleepin’ halyard so I can grap a cleat on the mast to avoid falling.  To avoid falling … yes that was the plan, initially.  But, now you know I’ve committed the ultimate sin.

I LET GO OF THAT DAD-BURN HALYARD!!

I couldn’t believe it had actually happened until I saw it swinging playfully in front of me, taunting me, just out of reach.  As you recall, we have only let go of the halyard a couple of times on the boat, but each time required a monstrous chore to retrieve it – climbing the 50′ mast.  The first time, we were at the marina back in Carrabelle and we raised the halyard on the Jenny back up the mast not knowing it wouldn’t come back down with just a wiggle and a shake.  A rookie mistake – but it meant a mast-climb (thankfully secure at the marina, though) for me.  The second time was when we were making the passage from Dog Island to Clearwater on our way down to the Keys (you remember the attempt at the butterfly-net retrieval?).  Since we were underway, that time meant another mast-climb for yours truly, only this time mid-sea.  That climb was one of the scariest moments, so far, on the trip for me, and I was damn sure I wasn’t going to let that happen again.  I was going to get that halyard!  Nothing was going to stop me!

It was swinging around just out of reach, I didn’t even think the Captain knew what had happened yet, and I thought if I could retrieve it and snap it on the sail before he even knew — even better.  I jumped up on top of the boom.

Yes, the boom.  I told you — I was going to GET THAT HALYARD!

And, up there, I was eye-level with it.  I had a fighting chance!  I just needed it to swing my direction (in those random, bouncy 2-3 foot waves – it could happen!).  It came so close several times, and I almost had it.  Phillip had seen me up there by now, but all he could belt out was a forceful, “Annniiee” followed by a stern “be careful!”

I will try my best to depict this with my rudimentary sketch skills, so bear with me, but it at least helps you visualize.  Here I am, up on the boom, going for that bleepin’ halyard!

photo (2)

I was standing on the main sail, holding daintily onto one of the port-side lazy-jack lines that holds the stack-pack up, just for balance.  After we had snapped the one on the starboard side clean off the spreader during our first rough night into Port St. Joe, I knew it didn’t take much to rip one off, so I was just using it for balance.  I was, I swear.  Until …

Until the halyard came swinging toward me.  Finally!  There it was!  I could reach it!  I stretched a hand out toward it …

Pic

and then SNAP!

With the halyard in sight, my fingers finally feeling the threads on it, I am sure my dainty little hold and light pull on the lazy jack line became a full-on death grip and full-weight dependent tug.  Just as I clinched my hand around the main halyard shackle, I heard a loud SNAP!, I can’t remember what I saw or how my body reacted, but I felt a sickening thud, and the next thing I remember, I’m raising myself from a crumpled position on the starboard deck (between the cabin and the lifelines) with the main halyard in my right hand.  Phillip stepped out from the behind the bimini with a horrific look on his face, his voice commanding, “Annie, are you okay?”

“I, I … ” I couldn’t really form a complete sentence.  I didn’t know how, or what to say if I even could.

ANNIE, ARE YOU OKAY?” Phillip persisted, his voice now a stern shout.

“I don’t know,” I told him.  Because I didn’t.

April 12, 2014 – Keys Log: Day 10 (Part One) – Rain On Our Parade

I woke to find a friend on our stern line the next morning.

IMG_8406

He didn’t even move as we rustled around in the cockpit and readied the boat for another passage.  He just watched us inquisitively and minded his own business.  I almost hated to shoo him away when we were ready to leave.  But, we were ready to leave!  We were heading back out into the Gulf that morning to make the approximate 100 mile (24 hour) run to Charlotte Harbor to meet up with our friend Johnny and his son, who were anchored out in Cayo Costa.  That was the plan anyway.

We waved at the rising sun and made our way back out into the Gulf.

IMG_8410

Now, when we came in the previous day, we unfortunately ran aground on the shoaling around the little island just after the bridge.

Map20

Right around here we believe:

Map21

After talking with the dockmaster at the marina, we decided to take the longer route this time, around the little island, where the channel is deeper.

Map22

There will be no running aground today, thank you!

We had one of the best sails yet of the trip that morning.

IMG_8414

“Hoist them sails there, Mate!”

IMG_8418

“You got it, Cap’n!”

The water around Clearwater really is the most brilliant green.  Like torqouise but not so blue.  This is the closest replica I could find:

Hex

They call it #00ff83.  It’s 0% red, 100% green and 51.4% blue.  But, I’ll tell you, it’s heaven.  The most beautiful sight to see under the hull of your boat.

IMG_8417

It was just gorgeous.    And, we had a great east wind, right on our port bow, around 10 knots.  As the Captain would say, “We were cooking!”  It was a great sailing day.

IMG_8435    IMG_8424  IMG_8442   IMG_8431   IMG_8436   IMG_8432   IMG_8428   IMG_8421   IMG_8409

And, for my fellow sailing blogger on the Sundowner – this one’s for you Dani!

IMG_8412

 

Rockin’ the selfie!

We did get backwinded at one point, though, when we were messing with the sails and it turned us around.  No problem, really, to turn a circle and get back on track, but we did have the trolling line out when it happened, and it got caught on the rudder.  But, that wasn’t a problem either.  The Captain jumped right in for a nice swim in the Gulf and got her untangled.

IMG_8446   IMG_8456   IMG_8454   IMG_8450   IMG_8451

AOK!

IMG_8453

Ahhh!  Nice and refreshing!

IMG_8458

It was like nothing could get us down.  I couldn’t help but keep singing, “Ain’t nothing gonna break-a-my stride.  Nobody gonna hold me down!”

Whoa-NO …

Stride

THEY DID-UHHNT!!  Relive this lovely 80’s leotard and sparkly gloves rendition HERE.

But, what we didn’t expect was rain.  No, not that kind.  The skies were clear, the sun was out, the conditions were ideal.  And, yet, it still rained.  The winds started to kick up, so we decided to reef the Jenny in a bit.  As we were winding her in, we heard a loud POP from above and then it rained …  Ball bearings … All over the boat.

April 3, 2014 – Shoving Off!

Well folks, this is it.  April 3rd.  Shove-off day.  Departure day.  THE day.  And, we were ready.  Beyond ready.  All the trips to the stores, the packing and inventorying of the boat, the freezer meals, everything was ready.  All we needed to do now was fill the water tanks and check the weather.  We had been watching the weather for weeks now trying to plan our departure date.  Every time Phillip would click his phone to life and start scrolling through the NOAA reports, that song would pop into my head “I can gather all the news I need … “  And, yes, I do sing that every time Phillip checks the weather.  And, yes, he still puts up with me.  I’m kind of the only first mate he’s got, so …

The weather still looked pretty good on Thursday to make the jump to Clearwater.  We were expecting some potential storms on Friday night and Saturday but the highest sea state prediction was 3-5 feet:

photo 1   photo 2

Assuming that was more THREE than FIVE, it would make good weather for the trip.  So, we made the decision.  We were leaving today.

The weekend before we had taken the boat out for a test sail to make sure the Jenny un-furled fine (remember, we had taken it down the week before to have the UV cover on it re-stitched) and, while we were making our way out, we topped off the fuel tank on the boat (it holds 30 gallons, but we tend to sail a LOT so we only had to put in about six gallons this go round – whew!).  We filled two 5 gallon jerry cans of diesel to strap down on the deck (just as back-up), filled two 1.5 gallon cans for the outboard on the dinghy, pumped out (very important) and filled the water tanks.  So, everything on the boat that needed to emptied was emptied and everything that needed to be filled was, well, you get it.

But, speaking of filling, let me talk a bit about the water on our boat.  I get a TON of questions about water: “How much water can you take on the boat?”  “Can you make water on the boat?”  “Do you have enough water?”  The answers, respectively, are plenty, no and yes.  We have two forty-gallon water tanks on the boat, on one each side, that we fill from the hose.  But, the previous owner of our boat did a great job building a water shelf in one of the large lockers under the vberth:

IMG_7522

We have 8 large gallon jugs of water and a flat (24 bottles) of bottled water stored in there as well as another flat of bottles scattered in various cubbies throughout the boat.   Phillip also had a great idea to fill the solar shower (which holds 5 gallons) with water just as a back-up for the initial passage.  And, that way the first time we used the solar shower, it would already be full.  Kudos Cap’n.

photo (7)

So, with plenty of food, fuel, water and WINE, we were fully-stocked and ready to go.   We both spent some time the last day calling loved ones to give them a hearty farewell and tell them, re-assure them, and tell them again, our departure date, travel plans and the status of our safety gear and rations.  I can’t tell you how many times friends and family asked me about our life-vest situation – hence the reason for my last post.  But, this fun, feeble attempt still failed to reassure the masses.  So, we provided friends and family with a detailed sail plan and made them all promise that they could only worry, panic or – most importantly – contact the Coast Guard if and ONLY IF they did not hear from us by Sunday evening.  We planned to make it to Clearwater early Sunday morning, so if no one had heard from us by Sunday night, it was likely time to fret.  But, not a second before!

Despite this harsh mandate and strictly enforced ‘cross-your-heart-and-hope-to-die’ NO rescue efforts until Monday, I still received many of the like in the mail from concerned loved ones:

Postcard

Note the entry at the bottom:

Postcard2

You see?  It was Clearwater by Sunday or at least some kind of heroic, satellite phone, mid-Gulf check-in or they would be calling in the dogs!  The concern, though, was well-intended and heart-warming.  (I heart you Dottie!).

But, we weren’t worried, or afraid.  We were cautious, sure, and hopeful that we would be greeted with fair winds and forgiving weather and that nothing bad would happen to the boat or to either of us, but there was always going to be the possibility that it could. That’s a given.  Something bad can happen at any time, whether you’re crossing the Gulf on a sailboat or crossing the street.  Crossing anyway is the adventure, and that’s what we were after.  We were excited to get to the Keys, but the destination was not the real goal; it was the journey.  We had both worked really hard to get to this point.  To get out there.  To cross over.

We tossed the lines and sailed out into the Gulf.

IMG_7676  IMG_7667  

IMG_7697  IMG_7682  IMG_7680  IMG_7701   IMG_1473

That’s really us!  Thanks to our good friend Kevin who was anchored nearby and took the shot!  Plaintiff’s Rest is headed south, baby!

April 2, 2014 – We Need to Buy Stock in Publix

Now that we had all of the NON-perishables packed on the boat, it was time to make the last final run to Publix for the perishables.

IMG_7511   IMG_7509    IMG_7510

And, I say “final” because we took quite a beating at Publix in the week before our trip. We had made about three trips already for non-perishables and our freezer food, but this last one was a mighty trip.  I thought we might perish!  The receipt was almost as long as my legs.

IMG_7514

Yes, legs.  Plural.  One stacked on top of the other.

IMG_7610

Ouch!  We need to buy stock in Publix.  But, we got all of those goodies packed on the boat, so our boat was finally provisioned.  We had even stocked up on our ‘specialty’ items.  I say that because while we knew we would be stopping often during the trip to re-stock and re-provision, there are some things that you can’t find just anywhere.  Take that Publix!  We had a few of these, mostly special spices, sauces, novel ingredients and, of course, certain types of liquor and wine.  So those we had to plan to pack enough for a month.  And, as much as we try to avoid glass on the boat, unfortunately, most of these items are glass because, well, they’re not really sailboat items – hence the term, “specialty.”  Which means they get special treatment.  Every glass item on the ole’ Rest was lovingly wrapped in bubble wrap for stowage:

photo 5 (8)     IMG_7616

A particularly supple specialty item on our list was, of course, none other than WINE.  I can tell you many a-cabinet and cubby on the Plaintiff’s Rest are chalk full of wine.  Our bottles had over-flowed the liquor cabinet and spilled into the cubbies in the table.   We had also sampled many boxed wines to try and find a good one that we liked for cruising, but I’ll tell you – we struggled.  I don’t really think we’re wine snobs in any sense of the term, we love a good $8.99 value wine just as much as the next bloke, but it just seemed the particular $8.99’s we liked came in glass bottles.  Until … we tried this boxed granache – Vina Borgia from the Aragon Wine Market.  It’s a great table red that pairs well with food but is easy for sipping on its own.  Just a versatile, filling wine that has worked really well for us.  So, three it was, and we shoved them under the sink.

photo (13)

If any of you all have come across a great boxed wine, please, by all means, let us hear about it!

So, the ever-dreaded perishables trip to Publix was done.  That was the last item on the list.  We were on the eve of the trip.  Now it was just watching the weather and making sure tomorrow, Thursday, was still a good day to jump out into the Gulf.   We saw a storm brewing in Arkansas that we had been keeping an eye on.  It was heading east and set to hit Pensacola on Saturday.  We knew if we were going to head out tomorrow, we had to make way east fast.  The easter the faster the better!  Every time Phillip checked the weather, I would squinch my eyes tight in my best ‘make a wish’ face and hope he wouldn’t say we were going to have to push the trip back a week.  I knew it was a stupid wish.  We wanted to be careful.  We wanted to leave when it was safe.  But, we also wanted to GO!  I opened one eye just a crack as he checked it one last time before we went to bed that night and hoped for the best.

April 1, 2014 – Provisioning the Boat’s No Joke!

No April Fools about it.  Provisioning is one serious chore!  We’re planning a 30-day trip on the boat.  That’s a good long while.  So, let’s talk about packing.  Before we started stuffing the boat full of supplies for the trip, we decided to inventory it first.  Get all of the old, obsolete items off before cramming it chalk full of new, needed items for the trip.  So began our Inventory Initiative.  We started with a detailed diagram of the boat.

photo_(12).JPG

Yes, I got a little graphic design-ey with it, but you have to make it fun somehow.  We then went threw each cabinet and locker on the boat, removed any unnecessary items and took note of the remaining space left for storage of the new items.  Then, when we started packing the non-perishables.

IMG_7528   IMG_7518 IMG_7532   IMG_7533

As we stuffed and filled each cubby, we decided to make a detailed inventory list (word-searchable) so we could easily find these items on the boat during the trip.  If you’re remotely interested – our detailed boat inventory here.

I imagined our highly-organized system playing out like this:

“Annie, where’s that little can of diced jalapenos we packed?”

Let me check the inventory.  Aha.  Locker number 15.  The fore portside cabinet.  Let me get it for you.”  

After our first few attempts, however, it actually played out more like this:

“Annie, where’s that little can of diced jalapenos?”

Uhhh ….  Hmmm … Let’s see.  Where’s the inventory?  Did we say on the inventory where we keep the inventory?  Oh, wait, there it is.  Let me check.  [scroll, scroll]  There it is, it’s in locker number 15.”

“Which one is that?”

“The … fore portside cabinet.”  

” …  Which one is that?”

[shuffle, head scratch, point]

“Aha.  There it is.  Thanks.”

So, not perfect, but we’re getting there, and at least there is a system.  That is – a WAY – to find everything on the boat, and as we use things that need to be replaced, we can jot them down on the “need” column of the inventory which will make re-provisioning during the trip fairly easy.  Or so I’m hoping – I’m sure we’ll have a few kinks to work out, but we’ve at least got a system in place.  I welcome any other methods you fellow cruisers have come up with.  How do you all make your list and check it twice?

I’m sure we’ll be hunting around on occasion for those damn diced jalapenos, but I’d rather be on a boat, in the Gulf, doing that than, well, just about anything else.  As long as we’re out there.  And, out there we will be.  Shove-off date is April 3, 2014.  We are two days and counting folks!