April 11, 2014 – Keys Log: Day 9 – For a Good Ride, Call Johnny N

I will say, it took some time for both of us to come “down” from the epic mid-sea mast climb.  That was something else.  But, aside from the busted steaming light and lost gaff, we did have one good thing to come out of it.  As we were detaching lines from my bosun’s chair and hooking everything back up, Phillip started looking at our busted lazy jack – the one of the starboard side that had snapped during our first night on passage.

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And, he hatched the brilliant idea to raise it back up with staysail halyard.  That pulled it back up pretty much exactly where it had been previously attached to the eyelet on the spreader.

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The Captain’s real smart like that sometimes.  

But, that’s one thing I have really learned to love about sailing.  It’s all about improvising — learning your systems and, when something doesn’t work quite right or fails, knowing how to accomplish the same result using another system or a different method.  Phillip read a story to me a long time ago by Cap’n Frank Papy from Sailing: Impressions, Ideas, Deeds that has always stuck with me.  Apparently the guy was sailing a beat-up, broke-down, falling-apart boat from Jamaica to Ft. Lauderdale that was leaking from every orifice (think floating floorboards) and just when he was about to throw up his hands and throw in the towel, he thought about the engine.  It’s constantly sucking raw water in to cool the engine, and then pumping it out – virtually a water-sucking machine, when you really think about it.  So, Cap’n Papy closed the seacock, detached the raw water hose and ran it straight into his flooded bilge to both cool his engine and pump out the bilge.  Blows my mind.  And, while I know our lazy jack repair is decidedly “small-time” in comparison to Papy’s heroic hail-mary, it still reminds me that sailing is all about improvising, and it’s an incredibly rewarding and exciting challenge.

So, with our lazy jack back in action, and our sights set on Clearwater, we settled back in the cockpit for a nice morning sail.

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And, I’ll tell you – they must call it Clearwater for a reason.  That was the most crystal green water we had seen on the trip!


That is, until we handled our business …


But – good to know it’s all working correctly.  That all systems are “a go,” am I right?

We even caught our first fish (plural) of the trip.  Scared us both to death when the hand line popped fiercely over the rail.  Both of us jerked up from our books, looking around wildly, thinking What the hell just happened?  I’ll tell you, when something snaps loudly on the boat, it’s hard not to think the worst.  What crucial piece of equipment just failed?  It had happened to us during our last Gulf Crossing when the bolts on the dinghy davit bracket began to shear and pop off.  Typically, a loud, unexpected pop in the cockpit is not a good thing …   So, needless to say, we were both relieved when we found it was just the trolling line.  Whew!  Just a fish on!  Reel her in!

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It was a decent little king mackerel.  We caught two that morning.  But, they were pretty small – probably not worth the mess of cleaning – so we threw them back.  We made our way into Clearwater Pass around 1:30 p.m. and started to ease our way in.  Now, as most of you may be, we (well, Phillip, actually – he’s the primary helmsman) is an avid user of Active Captain, and he had seen on there that there was some shoaling in the channel after you come under the bridge.  Knowing that, he made a wide turn to try to avoid it and unfortunately (we think) he found the shoaling on the other side.  The boat lurched to a stop and we knew immediately we’d run aground.  I hate that feeling!  There’s no mistaking it.  But, Phillip was quick to act.  He threw it in reverse, had me hang way over the portside lifelines to lean the boat over and we were able to ease off pretty quickly.  Thank goodness!  And, it was a good lesson in how to respond quickly to get the boat moving again.  A lesson that would come in mighty handy later.

Needless to say, after that small scare, I was all nerves and eager to get our boat docked up securely and settled in for the night.  Now, the last time we pulled into Clearwater when we first bought the boat and were bringing her back from Punta Gorda, FL, we had 20-knot winds on our stern and two corn-fed Larry-the-Cable guys holding our bow off the dock.


Yeah, it gave me heartburn too, Larry.

We were not in any kind of mood to repeat that scene this time.   So, I was thrilled to see when we pulled up to the fuel dock that they had courtesy lines, already pre-set at just the right length and ready to toss to you for tying up, which was awesome.  No docking debacles today!  We eased on in, filled up, docked up and gave that boat a good scrub-down!  She was in sure need of it.


As were we.  We showered up, dressed up, made a few cocktails to-go, and decided to hit the town!


We ventured out and reminisced on some of the finer establishments and questionable joints we had stumbled upon last time we were here.  You may remember this little greasy spoon we ate at last time where I bought my delightfully tacky big-boob t-shirt to memorialize the visit.


Ahhh … the memories!

We decided to try a new place for dinner, though, so we checked the old Trip Advisor to see what the locals were rating “the best.”  One of the top hits was this little middle eastern place called Mana Mana.  We certainly hadn’t had any good middle eastern food yet on this trip and probably wouldn’t for a while, so Mana Mana was right up our alley.  We began walking to town and hailed a taxi on the way.  And, it was a good thing, because the restaurant turned out to be about five or six miles away and we were already pretty beat by then.  We’d certainly worked up an appetite, though.  Phillip and I ate ourselves absolutely sick!  Mana Mana turned out to be a little hole-in-the-wall looking place, with a concession stand order board, walk-up counter, and just a handful of tables scattered about.

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We were a little skeptical at first, but when we started to smell the food and see what he was dishing up, we knew we were in for a real treat.  The guy running the place was really great, too.  A true small-business owner.  He made all of the food himself, was eager to serve us up some of his own authentic Israeli Middle Eastern specialties and even bring us a few extra treats and sides that we didn’t even order.  And, the food was incredible.  I got the falafel – perfectly seasoned chick-peas balls smothered in tahini sauce.


Phillip ordered the shawarma beef, which was equally delicious.


Both dishes were amazing.  Within ten minutes, Phillip and I had eaten every last morsel on our plates.


The Clean Plate Club strikes again!


We were both satiated.  Probably a little too full, but it was totally worth it.  And, it turned out, rather than a cab, we had managed to score a personal driver for the evening.  We found while we were checking out that our cabbie had decided to eat at Mana Mana as well and he was sitting there waiting on us to finish to drive us back home.  And, it’s a darn good thing, too, because I don’t think Phillip and I could have walked more than a few steps.  We were stuffed!

“Want a ride back?” says the cabbie.


“Don’t mind if I do!” the Captain replies.


Johnny N they call him.


We decided the “N” was for Nitro!  Yeah buddy!

We had Johnny N take us to the CVS by the marina so we could stock up on supplies – water, milk, coffee, OJ, paper towels.  Just a few basics.  We savored the last burning embers of the sunset on the way back to the boat,

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and then crashed hard.  After a mid-sea mast climb, two fish on the line, an inadvertent run aground and a big, filling middle eastern feast, the Captain and I were beyond exhausted.  The plan was to jump out the next morning back into the Gulf and make our way down to Charlotte Harbor.  Our buddy who was sailing with his son down to the Keys was anchored around there at Cayo Costa, and we were hoping to catch up with him to make the jump to the Keys together.  That was the plan anyway.  Almost a meaningless term on a sailboat …