I’m trying to think back on each and every one of them. How can they have slipped by so quickly? Sure, I spent some sleeping (not many, though), but the rest were spent gloriously lounging in the cockpit watching the water go by, devouring books (devouring food!), and counting a billion stars. While you’re out there, and it’s sometimes a little rough and uncomfortable, you can catch yourself wishing the time away. But, once the voyage is behind you—that incredible experience is tucked away merely as a memory in your mind—you want every hour back. All 96 of them. Photos and video from our Gulf-crossing for you all below!
Phillip and I have crossed the Gulf now, on a five-day, four-night non-stop run, three times on our boat. It is always a passage we plan well in advance for, watching weather windows religiously as well as re-checking and double-checking all of the systems on the boat before we leave, because the Gulf is no freaking joke. Having crossed the Atlantic twice now, Phillip and I always readily agree the Gulf is still one of the most gnarly bodies of water we have ever crossed. Although the Bay of Biscay is now right up there with it! But, the Gulf never fails to throw a challenge at us. It certainly did this time, right out of the gate.
Now that I’ve shared the turmoil we were dealing with in the days before we left when Auto would turn notto, you know it was a stressful time for us for sure, wondering whether we were going to be able to leave or not and—if we did—whether the systems would perform consistently. But, that’s a risk that is always present in offshore sailing. Once everything is working as best as it can, the chance of something going wrong is no reason not to leave. Once our auto-pilot, Lord Nelson, was cleaned and calibrated and performing perfectly and our GPS was restored after a B&G update, our boat was once again back in high-caliber condition, ready to romp. While it was stressful dealing with these hiccups in the days before we left, Phillip and I were still grateful all the pieces came together right before a decent weather window opened up.
And, I say ‘decent’ because the Gulf rarely offers five full straight days of perfect weather. You’re usually going to get into some kind of stuff (think 4-6 foot seas and winds of 20+) somewhere along the journey for some stretch of time. It’s often just deciding whether you want it on the front end or the back end. And, there’s often an equally good chance of wind shifting on to your nose, or dying altogether. The Gulf is like a variety show. You never know what it’s truly going to feel like until you get waaaay the heck out there and, by then, you’re already there. No turning back. Just sit down, buckle in, and endure the show.
In the last weeks of April when we were planning to shove off, Phillip and I were looking at a stretch of nice winds in the Gulf. In the high teens and mid-twenties, mind you, but on the stern. Downwind sailing is my favorite kind of sailing. We were planning to let a front pass through Pensacola, bringing some rain and storms, then ride the back end of that out into the Gulf with some great north wind pushing us out. While we knew the seas would be a bit kicked up from the storm, on PassageWeather.com it looked like once we got about five or six hours off the coast, they would start to lay down. Looked like …
I’m not going to lie, our first day on passage was pretty intense. I’m confident we were bucking our way through steady 7-footers with the occasional 9 or 10-foot wave that would send us careening. I recall many times Phillip and I would be talking and we both would stop mid-sentence when we saw a monster building on the stern that blocked out the sun. Not a word would be spoken until we watched the mighty wave pick up our seemingly light-as-a-feather boat and shove her stern hard over, the bow lunging the opposite direction in response. Phillip and I would hold our breath as our horizon spun 90 degrees and Lord Nelson squealed out trying to get the boat back on course. I am grateful to say, even with some of the biggest following waves he’s steered in yet, Lord Nelson held every time. No matter how hard we were shoved and tossed, he would emit his mighty whiiieeerrrrr and bring us back on course. When Phillip and I would regain our breath after these moments and continue where we’d left off, it always included a sentiment to Lord Nelson. He worked so hard below-decks during that passage, steering us all 96 hours across the Gulf.
Thankfully those rough seas only lasted the first 24-or-so hours. Well into our second day, the Gulf laid down to 3-5 footers with following winds in the upper teens and Phillip and I were glad we left when we did (even with the bumpy start) because the winds pushed us comfortably the next two days and the boat practically sailed herself most of the way down to the Keys. We had to motor for 20-or-so hours the last stretch when the winds laid down but with all of the attention we had given Westie (our 30 hp Westerbeke diesel engine) this past summer, we knew he was eager for the spotlight and ready to run as long as we needed him. And, he certainly did, without a hiccup.
Honestly, the best part about our last voyage across the Gulf was the immense feeling of pride it gave Phillip and me in our capable, comfortable boat. The phrase “dialed in” I don’t even believe can do it justice. Plaintiff’s Rest was not just dialed in, she was performing the best we had ever seen her, while setting her own personal record (a speed of 10.2 kts surfing down a wave), while crossing one of the toughest bodies of water in some of the biggest seas we’ve sailed her in. Through all of that, it was like she was telling us it was … easy. All of the work we had put into her—replacing the rigging, reinforcing the mast, the rudder, the keel, all of that engine work, digging out rot anywhere we saw it, and repairing everything we knew was an issue as soon as we could—had made her so incredibly capable and strong. And yet so simple and comfortable.
While there were, of course, dolphins—which make us (me) squeal uncontrollably, still, every time—and there was phosphorescence at night, brilliant turquoise horizons, shooting stars, the joy of peeling off foul foulies, and all of the things that make offshore sailing so mind-altering for us (no fish though, those wily bastards!), I think the best part about this voyage, for me and Phillip, was the ease and comfort of it. Not because the sea state and winds made it easy or comfortable—they did not—but because the boat did.
Reason No. 1: My GoPro Broke Our First Day in the Bahamas.
Why is that a good thing? Because it was the universe telling me to just live in the moment—to see, taste, and feel it, rather than film it. Ahoy crew! Now that Phillip and I have completed our Bahamas cruise and tucked in safe for hurricane season, I’m excited to share all of the fun stories and photos from our incredible Bahamas voyage with you all here on the blog. I decided—as a fitting birthday tribute (this little sailor turned a proud 37 on May 28th : )—to first share the 37 highs and lows that Phillip and I have agreed made this last voyage to the Bahamas our best trip yet. The reasons might surprise you. Remember: it’s usually not the cocktails and sunsets you remember the most.
No. 2: We Had a Great Send-Off
Our friends in Pensacola are keepers, I will tell you that. Brandon made (try to wrap your head around this) bacon-wrapped, beer-battered onion rings along with a massive rack of ribs, well mainly just as a Saturday BBQ—that man loves to grill—but Phillip and I commandeered it as our “send-off feast” and it was incredible! Our buddy (and original boat broker, who helped us find our Niagara 35), Kevin, also brought us a nice bottle of champagne (complete with its own boat bubble packing!), and we had one rip-roaring last hoorah at our favorite Ft. McRee anchorage before leaving. Yes, those glasses do say “Party Rock!”
No. 3: We Had Two Captains Aboard
Double the knowledge, experience, and credentials; double the ease of cruising. Nuff said. With both of us now equally capable of steering, navigating, AND docking, Phillip and I both felt an increased sense of confidence when we left the dock in April.
No. 4: We Had Plenty of Wine
No. 5: We Had Plenty of Storage Space for Said Wine
No. 6: We Scored on Salsa!
Yes, salsa is serious on our boat. I always prefer it at room temp (and, yes, I have eaten a whole jar in one sitting to enjoy the full-warm goodness before it went into the flavor-sucking hole that is the fridge. We also always try to reduce foods we bring on the boat that have to be refrigerated, so when we found these perfect single-serving sized cans at Wal-Mart that taste like they were just chopped on a beach-side salsa stand, we were stoked! These guys made for a wonderfully-tasty treat often on Plaintiff’s Rest and we were able to reduce trash by throwing the cans overboard when we were underway offshore! Win-win. What do you say? “Arriba!!”
No. 7: We Got Lucky (on a Weather-Window)
While Phillip and I both often readily agree it is rare to find a perfect “good” downwind five-day weather window across the Gulf, we did find a rather peachy four-day one that suited us just fine. While our first day out of the gate was a bit sporty, I’m excited to tell you in a future post how well our baby girl performed in 20 knots of wind (albeit on the stern—my favorite kind) and 6-8 (sometimes 10) foot seas. It was a romp. Whew!
No. 8: Despite a Last-Minute Breakdown, Lord Nelson Held the Entire Time
This is my next story coming up on the blog: Auto Turn Notto: The Problem That Almost Prevented Our Departure. It’s quite an interesting saga. It never ceases to amaze me how often massive problems (the auto-pilot is not working) are caused by the tiniest of conditions (a bolt is not tightened or a connection is loose, for example). But, Phillip and I certainly learned a ton about our hydraulic auto-pilot in the process, and we hope you will too. After solving this problem—we *hope*—we now have Lord Nelson running in a condition that will last us ten more years of cruising. That was our hope when he had Brandon with Perdido Sailor help us install him during our extended stay in the shipyard back in 2016.
No. 9: We Left Under the Most Beautiful Sunrise I Have Ever Photographed
No. 10: We Had Another Successful, Safe Gulf-Crossing
Crossing the Gulf of Mexico is no friggin’ joke. Phillip and I have told many, many cruisers that, despite our multiple Atlantic-Ocean crossings, the Gulf still ranks as one of the most gnarly bodies of water we have crossed, often packing the worst punch. We have spent too many a day and night bashing and crashing across the Gulf. So, anytime we have a successful, no damage, no injuries crossing of the Gulf of Mexico, we will happily and unapologetically celebrate it. Ahhhh ...
No. 11: We Were Only in Foulies for One Day
Previous Gulf-Crossings, particularly those undertaken in November or December have seen us in stinky, sweaty fouls for days. Yuck! Phillip and I were thrilled this time, leaving later in the year (April), to start pulling off those foul (in many ways) layers, just north of Tampa!
No. 12: We Got in a Massive Fight in Bimini
Doesn’t sound like a good thing, does it? Well it’s not when you’re in the thick of it. But, if you come out stronger and closer on the other side, it’s worth it. Couples have to fight occasionally to let the steam out and regroup. I had made a stupid error in my lat-lon navigation trying to help Phillip (who was holding the helm at the time) into the entrance to Bimini (bad on me) but Phillip responded with a comment that cut me to the core (bad on him). And, it doesn’t need to be repeated. It wasn’t an expletive, just hurtful. But, the upside was my response. While I usually swallow that hurt down, trying not to “rock the boat” so to speak, I knew Phillip and I had many tight-quarter days ahead on the boat, so I spoke up and let it out so we could vent and heal and it was the right decision. I’m getting better at this adult stuff, I’m telling you!
No. 13: We Got Stuck in Bimini
Again, doesn’t sound like a good thing, right? For Phillip and I—who really like to stay on the move when we’re cruising, staying usually only 2-3 days in one place before moving onto the next—a forced five-day stay in one place can be a bit of a bugger. Buuuuttt, that is only true when there’s no wind there or no good place to kite. If it’s blowing like stink for days and we have the ability to kite, Phillip and I are happy to park it and get on that wind. We spent three glorious days in a row kiting the snot out of 20-25+ winds in Bimini. It was awesome!
No. 14: We Failed (Initially) at Fishing …
Shouldn’t sound like a good thing, either? No “fish on” to shout about. For the first week of our cruising, when we were doing most of our offshore voyaging and expecting to catch most of our fish, Phillip and I didn’t catch a damn thing. Those crafty fish stole lure after lure, laughing at us the entire time. But, it was this extended fish failure that made our first catch that much sweeter.
No. 15: Then We Caught Our Biggest Mahi Ever!
It was glorious. That beautiful bounty of the sea fed us six times over, three filets a piece. I’m not kidding. Neptune rewarded our initial failed attempts in droves.
No. 16: The Weather Forced Us to a New Place
Morgan’s Bluff! Have any of you been there? While Phillip and I were not sure whether we were going to stop in Andros this year, as the Exumas were certainly calling (and while I would not call it a “schedule” per se, as commuter cruisers, we do have limited time and have to make destination decisions accordingly), the weather made the decision for us. Coming into the Northwest Providence Channel, the wind turned more southeast than we anticipated and began building to 18 and upwards—not a comfortable wind speed on the nose on our boat. So, it was either beat into that all the way to the Exumas or tuck in at Morgan’s Bluff, a place we knew nothing about but that brought us one of our most memorable moments of the entire trip:
No. 17: We Ate Our First Dilly (It’s Kind of a Big Dilly-yo)
This was such an unexpected and eye-opening experience. While Morgan’s Bluff does not have much to offer if you just dinghy to shore—a pretty beach and one little bar—Phillip and I were lucky enough to find a local to hire to drive us around the entire island and give us a three-hour tour (that, thankfully, did not leave us shipwrecked!). Kanendra, the dock master there at Morgan’s Bluff, along with her daughter, Diamond, took us around and showed us the cave where Captain Morgan allegedly hid his treasures, the blue hole (where the limestone core has fallen through and you can dive straight through to the ocean), the cute little resort bungalows you can rent, along with the extensive devastation that still exists from Hurricane Matthew. It was enlightening and incredibly interesting. And, Diamond, herself, a child of only eight, was adamant about sharing a particular experience with us—eating our first dilly fruit. Diamond picked this one herself and Phillip and I ate it right on the stop, getting all sticky in the process. It was the sweetest fruit I believe I’ve ever eaten and an awesome moment!
No. 18: We Did Sooooo Much Sailing
This surprised even us: Phillip and I sailed so much, we started to run low on battery power because we hadn’t cranked the engine in a while sailing almost the entire way from anchorage to anchorage. We were very lucky, both across the Gulf and the Stream, and with almost every island hop, to have steady winds on our stern that just pushed us along. It was incredible. Phillip and I did some of our favorite sailing, ever on our boat, on this last trip.
No. 19: We Reefed Right!
This was a little trick we learned from Andy Schell and Mia at 59-North. You wrap the reef line once around the boom and then tie it to allow the reef line to cinch the sail alll the way down to the boom to get a flatter, more effective reef. The days we did have to sail to windward in winds that require us to reef (generally 15 kts and up), this trick helped us put a tighter reef in and sail more comfortably to weather.
No. 20: Two Weeks In, We Still Had Enough Wine!
No. 21: We Studied the Charts and GRIBS Together
I realize only now—with six years of cruising and a Captain’s License under my belt—how little help I was during mine and Phillip’s first cruising years. Sure, I was a hard worker. I crawled down into holes to try and fix things. I cooked. I cleaned. I got greasy and helped where I could. But, I never pushed myself to get knowledgeable enough about the more difficult things, like navigation, weather-watching, and making wise passage decisions. Now that I have, Phillip and I enjoy checking the weather together (that is an every morning and every afternoon event and conversation we have when we’re cruising), studying the charts, and deciding “Where to next?” together and we then share the roles navigating in. At least this way if we run-aground, we can share the blame! Let’s hope that never happens … although I’m sure it will again someday.
No. 22: We Were Exceedingly Impressed With Our Boat
She never ceased to amaze and impress us. Granted, Phillip and I put a lot of time and money into her and try our best to be very diligent, pro-active boat owners, but that does not mean you’re going to have a boat that performs 100% of the time. I’ll say our baby girl did everything we asked of her (which was often to run hard for 24 hours-plus under sail, engine, or both, with Lord Nelson doing all the steering) about 95% of the time. She was just a beast out there—moving comfortably in all types of weather, practically sailing herself all over the Bahamas. Pretty much every system worked, every bit of the time. While this is a HUGE reason we always strive for less, more simplistic systems on our boat, it was clear to Phillip and I, those choices (and the work they required) were totally worth it. I am immensely proud to say our boat is “dialed in.”
No. 23: We Made It to the Exumas!
That, in and of itself, was an accomplishment, as we were not sure our time allotment would allow it. We were not able to make it to the Exumas last year when we did the Abacos—although our diversion to the Berries brought us a fantastic encounter with new friends and an amazing experience that was the subject of my latest article in SAIL Magazine—Phillip and I both still had a desire to see and experience for ourselves the breathtaking beauty so many have told us is unique only to the Exumas. And, boy were they right. Photos just can’t capture it, but they can try!
No. 24: I Was Published Underway!
This was such a treat! To have an article of mine, “People With Gusto: the people you meet when cruising”—ironically about the Berry Islands in the Bahamas—come out in the latest SAIL Magazine while Phillip and I were sailing to the Bahamas. It was fun to be a bit of celebrity in certain marinas along the way where people had seen the article. Thanks again to Peter Nielson and the SAIL Magazine crew for running my piece!
No. 25: We Met The Amazing Jessie (from Jessie & Kate)
Speaking of meeting amazing people while cruising, we were lucky enough to cross paths with this inspiring young sailor/photographer: Jessie from Cruising Outpost’s “Jessie & Kate on a Boat” series. Leave a comment below if you enjoyed their articles in Cruising Outpost. Jessie was such a warm, candid person and so fun and interesting to talk to. You can imagine she and I immediately meshed and scurried to the corner to chatter like schoolgirls. I’ll admit to a little girl-crush on her; I’m not scared. Jessie is phenomenal. She and her husband, Luke, came into Bimini on the way back from their Atlantic-Circle honeymoon. I mean … damn. Reminds of the amazing Pam Wall. I am so inspired by these hearty sailing ladies! Keep it up salty gals!! You can follow Jessie’s continued adventures on Instagram at www.instagram.com/jessiebrave/.
No. 26: We Were Able to Scrub Our Own Bottom
Many thanks to Mantus on this one! When Phillip and I learned they had designed a smaller, more portable scuba set-up, we snagged one so we could use it during our cruising to dive a really cool reef that might be perhaps a little too deep for repeated snorkel dives and also to scrub our own bottom. This saves us about $100/month if we can do our bottom ourselves, so it has proven well-worth the investment for us. Plus, it’s convenient to have a little scuba set-up just for fun on the boat.
No. 26: We Got to Dive This!
No. 27: We Got to Cheers Everyday to Views Like This!
No. 28: We Got to Wake Every Morning to Views Like This!
No. 29: We Got To Swim Everyday In Waters Like This
No. 30: We Got to Swim With Friendly Guys Like This
No. 31: We Got to Eat Food Like This
No. 32: We Got to Walk Beaches as Amazing as This
No. 33: We Got to Harvest Our Own Conch
No. 34: We Got to Snorkel Pretty Much Every Day
No. 35: We Got to Spend an Entire Vacation With Our Best Friend
No. 36: We Had a Life-Changing Swim With a Turtle
I’m proud to say because I was IN the moment, not filming it, I don’t have an image, but I don’t need one. My words and memory will do it justice, just you wait. I named him Rasta because he was so chiiiilllll.
Hey Crew! My first ever offshore boat tour! This was such a spur-of-the-moment, whirl-wind and might I say WINDY fun trip. I got invited last minute to join a yacht delivery crew taking this very nice 2013 Leopard 48 from Pensacola to Naples, FL. It was a fortuitous union of talents, good sailing sense and great senses of humor among the crew to make for one very memorable trip and a bumpy offshore tour for you! Video Annie is addicted to offshore voyaging. Are you? Let us get you booked on s/v Libra — email@example.com
Also, specifically for our NEW followers and subscribers, Phillip recommended I make a short video outlining ALL of the very cool things we have going on at HaveWind, so you can be sure to get the full benefit of following along, from free books and blogs, to movies and videos, as well as voyage opportunities and giveaways. If you feel like you’ve got the HaveWind groove, no need to watch (just click it open and give it a quick thumbs up for the YouTube love – ha!). It will just now reside on the front page of the website for new subscribers because HaveWind is certainly growing! Hooray!!
“Read all about it!” Hey HaveWind followers. I hope you’ve got a BIG cup of coffee in hand, because there is enough awesome cruising content here to keep you entertained for hours. If only you had more hours, right? I wanted to share with you all the “Patron’s Extras” I’ve been putting together each week for my Patrons which includes an up-to-date newsletter covering our sailing, boat projects and cruising activities for the week, a Cuba Prep update (only 37 days to go, Holy Schnikes Batman!), offshore voyage opportunities, a sneak peek of each Friday’s video and TONS of footage from our everyday adventures, big and small. Become a Patron if you’d like to receive these “Extras” hot off the press! Or wait for them each month here. Either way, kick back, enjoy your java and BINGE!
CYBER MONDAY DEAL – Hard Copy Keys to the Kingdom — $20.00 $15.00
Alright kids, the Keys manuscript is in the hands of my trusted graphic design gal so she can work her magic and make it all one-click uploadable to Amazon and Kindle (because I would totally botch that for sure). I should have it back within the week and will have hard copies in-hand very soon. Like I said, I’m looking at a Dec. 11th release date. Clear your entire day! Cyber Monday deal is $15 (marked down from $20) for a hard copy signed book. I will handle shipping and mail to you anywhere in the U.S. Email me your address and inscription request and consider it done. In the meantime, let’s get back to Mitch’s Nonsuch saga shall we? If you’re not caught up, start from the beginning (Chapter One), or get a little refresher of the last segment (Chapter Seven).
Now, where was I? Let’s see …
“So, is there like a lot of sailing in it?” Mitch asked. I was pitching my new book to the boys while we were making our way out of Clearwater and back across the Gulf.
“Yesss,” I said, an eye roll followed by a somewhat indignant huff. “I told you. It’s a lot like Salt of a Sailor, in that it covers a particular passage on the boat but has flashbacks to stories from my past, except this book will cover mine and Phillip’s trip to the Keys last year. Keys to the Kingdom, get it?”
“Okay, but not too many old stories, right?” Mitch asked.
Why do I always get that?
In all, they were pretty receptive. Both Mitch and Phillip liked the idea of the two plot lines as long as the sailing plot was bigger! It was pretty calm in the Gulf so I spent the morning hunkered over my laptop writing. Nice view from the office, huh? Yes, this is where most of the initial framework for my new book was created─on the Nonsuch trip with this brilliant, blue-water view. You gotta love my new work environment.
Sadly we were still motoring because the wind wasn’t blowing hard enough to disturb a dandelion, which is not the ideal situation because we love to sail but it’s still acceptable when your engine is running like a champ and you’re chugging across crystal blue waters. But, because the engine was doing all of the work, we definitely wanted to keep an eye on it. Phillip had spotted a spot (no pun intended) of pink on the oil pad underneath the engine (the “engine diaper” I like to call it as it catches all of the engine’s crap) but we couldn’t recall if it was there when we first started out back in Ft. Myers or if this was in fact a new spot. For that reason, Phillip had left the engine access open while we motored that day in order to keep an eye on it.
After a few hours of motoring, he decided the drop was new. I almost couldn’t believe it. The parallels were a little too uncanny. Here we were, the three of us, traveling once again across the Gulf together in another 1985 boat, another Hinterhoeller, and we had another transmission leak? It was starting to get creepy. The thought ran through my head to check and make sure we had saved some extra Dasani water bottles in case I needed to whip up another duct tape fluid-catching contraption (patent pending). Such measures didn’t seem necessary (yet) as we were only getting one drop of hot pink transmission fluid about once every two minutes. Not a huge amount but certainly something we wanted to keep an eye on in case it increased. It was coming out from under the shifter arm just like it had in our boat, probably because we were working the transmission much harder than she had been run in a while and that same ninety-seven cent gasket on the arm was giving out. The good news was we could confidently tell Mitch we knew exactly what was happening and it was a super easy fix. Ahhhh … the benefits of been-there-done-that syndrome.
Later in the afternoon we decided to make the chicken tiki masala for dinner. This would be the infamous dish that gave Mitch such fits during the provisioning phase of this saga:
“What’s naan?” he had asked, claiming he had inquired the same of three different clerks in Publix yet they responded they’d never heard of none such like it, which is why Phillip and I ended up providing the Naan for the passage and making it for Mitch on this night. Turns out, Mitch loved it.
“This Naan is great,” he mumbled between bites. “Where do you get this stuff?”
“Publix,” we replied.
It was over this dinner, though, that Mitch really regaled us. Friends, I hope I can only begin to capture this for you─the wondrous world of Nonsuch videos that are out there on YouTube. (YouTube, what is this Tube of You of which you speak? Don’t know─HERE is a good place to start.) As we were about to set into our second night passage, Mitch got to talking about this whole Gulf crossing we were doing and some of the fears that had gripped him our first night out in open waters. And, as funny as it sounded, he told us one thing that made him feel better about the boat were some of the clips that had come to mind from the many Nonsuch videos he had watched while shopping for his boat. Now, while I mentioned the boat porn and the many hours friends who are shopping for a boat spend scrolling through boat listings, boat write-ups, boat reviews, etc., the one thing I did not think of (I guess just because Phillip and I didn’t do it when we were shopping for our boat), were YouTube videos about boats. Frankly, before Mitch and the Nonsuch (and that was a measly five months ago – times they are a-changin), I didn’t know they had YouTube videos on boats. Apparently Mitch’s variety of internet scouring involved videos because while on the hunt for any and all Nonsuch information, he had stumbled across a treasure trove of Nonsuch video classics, and he started re-enacting them for Phillip and I as we motored into the evening:
“Nonsuches never foul,” he said, waving his finger at us in this haughty regatta announcer voice. “They might make slight indiscretions,” he said with an exaggerated shoulder shrug, but they never foul.”
“Come on. Really Mitch? They really say that?” I wasn’t quite buying it. Mitch claimed, however, this was pretty close to the actual video transcript (and it turned out he was right).
“Nonsuches love to sail. They’re so easy to handle and light to the touch,” he continued now in a bit of a enamored infomercial viewer. “It’s like they’re always anxious to get underway.”
I tell you folks, the things I do for you. When we returned, I found these sacred videos for you and─while Mitch was right about the “Nonsuches love to this and that” quotes─the one thing he failed to mention about these videos is that while they were, yes, a version of boat porn, they practically qualify, however, as actual, soft-core seventies porn themselves. I kid you not. It’s like Joey Tribbiani and “grandma’s chicken salad.”
Virtually everything the narrator said seemed to have a sexual undertone. “There’s always room for jello.” Perhaps we were just acting like fifth graders when Phillip and I finally found these videos on our own and found ourselves snickering and doubled over just about every two seconds. But, see what you think. Here are some I-kid-you-not actual excerpts:
Looks like a cat boat, moves like a leopard.
She makes you feel at home just thinking about her.
Everything is easy. It’s like she was anxious to get underway.
When Nonsuch meets Nonsuch a kind of happy magic happens.
“So,” he says. “Are you going to the regatta?” “You bet,” she says. “Want to go together?” she asks. “Sure. My Nonsuch or yours?” “Mine, but I’ll race you home for privilege.” (What does that even mean?? Who’s privilege?)
Like a dolphin ballet.
Just as much fun to do as to see. (Translation — you can just watch, that’s okay.)
There’s a kind of silent bugle blowing when Nonsuches come together.
It’s the call of the wind and the sea, and just a hint of champagne.
Come on in Nonsuch, there’s always room for one more.
When Nonsuches race, they race in a civilized manner. It is very unsuch to protest.
While Nonsuches might occasionally commit slight indiscretions, they never (ever!) foul.
And please, do not underappreciate s/v Rainbow Rita’s rocking poof ‘do or Nonsuch Ned’s seventies porn stache as well.
For your viewing pleasure, straight from HaveWindWillTravel vault, I give you — The Nonsuch Navy, Parts One and Two. Enjoy:
Good stuff, right? The three of us spent the last minutes of daylight, watching the sun drop out of a feathered pastel sky, repeating the Nonsuch mantras back and forth as we continued our way across the Gulf.
Our favorite quote: “We also call her Nonsuch because there isn’t anything like her or the people who sail her.” (That about sums up Mitch and his boat. One of a kind.)
Thanks to my Patrons who help me share the journey. Get inspired. Get on board.
Judging by its cover, is this is a book you would like to read?
While I had a fantastic time writing the entertaining tale of our first Gulf adventure in Salt of a Sailor, I had many friends and followers tell me they wanted to know more of the story─more about me. How does a young lawyer come to quit her job, leave her home, her husband, her former life to what? Jump on a sailboat and travel the world? Well, it’s not quick. It’s not easy. But, turns out, it was my biggest adventure of all.
We are just a few weeks out from the release date now and I cannot WAIT for you all to get a glimpse of her. What do you think of the cover art?
I had a great time writing it, a horrible time editing it (I hate editing!) and I’m ready to share a part of the book now with you. I will be sending out a FREE PREVIEW of Keys to the Kingdom (the first four chapters) to all of my followers via the blog next week. If you can’t wait that long (I mean, really, who can?) jump on Patreon to get your Patrons-first copy this Friday. You don’t want to miss this! Sign up today!
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.
Thanks to my Patrons who help me share the journey. Get inspired. Get on board.
Lightning is beautiful. It really is. When it’s far away and you can just watch it and wonder about the illusive static forces that are causing such shocking white streaks in the sky.
Just wondering how it occurs is fun. Wondering whether it’s going to come right up over your boat, however, is not. When I turned in for my first sleep shift around 10:00 p.m. our first night on passage from Ft. Myers to Clearwater on s/v Tanglefoot, the lightning storm was just that: beautiful and far away. Mid-way through my 2:00 a.m. shift at the helm, it started clocking around our port side and getting closer.
Mitch cracked me up when he finished his 12-2 shift and woke me at 2:00 a.m. I guess having sailed with Phillip for so long there are just some routines, some mutual unspoken courtesies that we fell into that Mitch apparently wasn’t privy to. But I guess that’s our fault. This was his first offshore passage with solo night shifts and we didn’t tell him. When Phillip or I are approaching a shift change, we generally go rouse the man coming on about ten minutes before our shift is over to give him time to wake up, get some water, brush his teeth. Whatever it is he feels he needs to do feel fresh and alert for his shift. Then we usually sit together for a bit, discuss the conditions, give a report of any notable events, sightings or observations and fill out the cruising log together (the time for which usually corresponds with the shift change). In general, we just have a routine of helping ease one another from dead sleep to alert watchman. It’s not anything Phillip and I talked about or planned out, it was just a pattern we flowed into.
But Mitch? He shook me awake on the starboard settee at 2:00 a.m. sharp, said “Annie, it’s your shift,” and started stripping gear off and heading back to the vberth. “Auto’s on. All’s clear right now. Holler if you need me,” he said on his way back. I blinked a couple of times trying to rouse myself quickly.
“Phillip’s on next, though,” Mitch was sure to remind me.
Thanks buddy, because I might have forgotten that part. But man I wish Mitch had the shift after me. I would have loved to have woken him in the same fashion: “Hey, buddy! Snap to. The helm’s unmanned. Get up there.” Now, to be fair, Mitch had not been indoctrinated in our slow-and-smooth method (patent pending) for shift changes and, technically, he had every right. It was my shift. My turn to hold watch. I needed to get up there. But … I was going to educate him next time. I like my ten minutes. I need it to clear my sleep fog. But, it was a minor transgression. Mitch had held his first solo shift─without complaint─and had done a good job of it.
It didn’t take me long, though, to ease into the atmosphere in the cockpit. It was so crisp in the Gulf, the moon lighting every little chop on the water, like the water was prickling with energy. The stars were so clear against the black sky. When you’re out on the water they don’t have to compete with any man-made light. It’s like everything is clicked into high definition. A view that was once hazy is wiped crystal clean and you can see, now, that all of the stars you could see on land actually have fifteen equally bright stars between them and five more little sparkling ones between each of those. It seems impossible to find a patch of pure black. I wish we could have dropped the bimini during the night but we still had the lightning storm on our stern, although it was far off in the distance─just a mesmerizing natural wonder to watch and wonder about. I hated that we were still motoring but the wind was still so light─blowing maybe five knots─right on our nose. The motor on the Nonsuch was chugging right along, though, impressing us all. And Mitch was blessed with a linear-drive AutoHelm 6000 on the Nonsuch. That thing held in twice the weather as the little wheel-pilot AutoHelm 3000 Phillip and I have on our Niagara. We had already been talking about upgrading our auto pilot for the past year but this trip on Mitch’s boat served as a stark awakening that we needed to stop talking and do it already. The autopilot on the Nonsuch was our champion on the trip. With the autopilot and the Westerbeke purring right along, the first hour of my shift was pretty easy.
Around 3:00 a.m., though, the beautiful, bewildering lightning storm that had stayed on our stern all night now started to drift over to my port side. Every once in a while I would see a crack of lightning out of my peripheral on the left, then every once in a while became every few minutes. With only the iron sail pushing us along, we had pretty much free reign over what direction we wanted to go. I picked the one that would take us away from the lightning storm. I clocked us over about thirty degrees east to try and head away from it. I hated to take us off course but if there was a lightning storm on our previous heading, an earlier arrival time was a sacrifice I was more than willing to make to avoid a storm. When I roused Phillip around 3:45 a.m.─yes, with the obligatory ten-minute wake-up routine─I let him know the status and he remained on my east heading as I fell back into the dead zone.
It seemed the Gulf just wanted to toy with us this time, though, because the lightning storm never fell on us. The crew woke to still waters and a stunning sunset off the starboard side.
Mitch seemed to be faring pretty well. Whatever queasiness had come over him the night before seemed to have subsided. We all had fun talking about the evening and the unique experiences we had during our solo night shifts. Mitch told us with the lightning storm threatening us from the stern and only the chugging engine capable of pushing us to safety, he admitted he was a little worried, a little scared. Which is justifiable. If the engine quit for whatever, a hundred totally possible reasons, we wouldn’t have been able to sail away from that storm with the light wind on our nose. The engine was our only ticket to safety and Mitch told us he just sat in the cockpit checking the engine temp and patting the the coaming saying: “Tanglefoot. You got this.”
It was cute. And totally understandable. But, Tanglefoot proved herself steady and true, chugging us right through the night, away from the storm and into a beautiful streaking sunrise. It had been a slightly frightening but also awe-inspiring first night on passage. The only bummer was the motoring but that engine, I’ll tell you, was solid as a rock. Never a hiccup, never an issue (that wasn’t a result of operator error). Thankfully, the breeze freshened up around 9:00 a.m. We hoisted that huge ass Nonsuch sail (again with the same halyard explosion threat but we did finally get her cranked up) and finally were able to sail without the engine.
There’s just something about moving through a vast body of blue water by the sheer power of the wind. It sparks a soothing at-oneness with the world around you. We all kicked back in solace and just appreciated what the boat was doing. I will say the ability to easily drop the bimini on the Nonsuch was nice. It makes you feel so open and connected with the salt air and sky.
Sadly, it didn’t last long. If I said the breeze was fresh around 9:00 a.m., it had grown a little stale and flat before noon. And, without the wind, it was scorching under the hot, overhead sun. We knew we were going to have to re-crank but Phillip wanted to check the fluids before we turned the engine over again. All told, she had been running a little over twenty-four hours straight through the night before we shut her down. Having experienced a rather unfortunate engine failure on our own boat due to lack of fluids after a solid thirty-hour run, Phillip and I were a little sensitive about the fluid situation. Again we made Mitch do most of the heavy lifting in checking all the fluids to be sure he knew how to access each one and identify issues. And, do recall all three─transmission, oil and coolant─are located in three separate areas on the boat. I’m not saying I could check them all in under five minutes but I will say it wouldn’t take me a damn hour! Oh, alright forty-five minutes but still.
Mitch did check them all himself, though, and assured us we were ready to re-crank and carry on. But, first things first. I did mention it was hot! We decided it was time for a quick dip. We dropped the sails and let the boat bob for a minute so we could go for a swim.
My God the water felt good. It was just the refresher we needed. And there must have been some strong current outside of Clearwater because we were still doing 1.8 knots with no sails and no engine. Mitch was struggling a bit to keep up with the boat so we threw him a line and all got a big laugh out of his “Tanglefoot!” re-enactment.
I was using the swim break to rinse our breakfast dishes and that current must have been stronger than I thought because when I looked back to make sure Mitch was still lassoed behind the boat, it seemed the water had sucked his britches clean off. We had a man overboard minus his drawers!
Oh, alright. He didn’t actually lose his britches. It sure looked like it, though, seeing him splash around in drawers the distinct color of bare bottom. And I wouldn’t have put it past him. After a quick, refreshing bathing-suit-clad dip, we piled back in the boat, cranked her up and set our sights on Clearwater. We were just a few hours out and this crew was ready for some shore leave!
Thanks to my Patrons who help me share the journey. Get inspired. Get on board.
AC on a boat … I’m still not sure that sits right with me. It just de-acclimates you. It took me a good ten minutes to thaw out topside after our first night on Tanglefoot. My toes prickled as I walked the deck, leaving my first dewey footprints on the boat.
Mitch must have slept about as soundly as I did because he wasn’t long behind me. 6:12 a.m. and the man is up, fiddling with things, looking again for his flashlight. I’ve never seen Mitch up so early but I’ve never seen him so excited either. He would ask me a question: “What was that last thing we needed from the store?” I would respond: “Trash bags. I already added it to the list.” And not five minutes later it had already slipped his mind: “Oh, here’s the list. What was that thing we needed?” He was like a kid with a new train set. He couldn’t wait to get the track all laid out and watch her go! But he would always forget the batteries.
Our plan that morning was to get the dinghy off the davits and secure her on the foredeck. We’d learned a hard and expensive lesson, the first time the three of us crossed the Gulf in our Niagara, in not securing our dinghy to the foredeck for offshore passages. There would be no clanging davits this trip, no hacking off of the dinghy mid-Gulf. Not again. While davits are a convenient, easy way to lower and raise a dinghy on a boat that’s cruising around in protected waters, they are not─in our opinion─secure enough to hold a dinghy for an offshore passage, no matter how heavy duty they may claim to be. The dinghy that came with the Nonsuch was an eight foot Walker Bay with a 2.5 hp outboard. Although an eight foot dinghy would generally seem plenty big enough for a 30-foot boat, for some reason, it still didn’t seem big enough for Mitch. But he got in there anyway, ass-up, and cleaned out the rainwater so we could flip her over on the deck.
I have to admit, at this point I was thoroughly impressed with Mitch. It had been an early rise, with some pretty hefty chores to conquer before 7:00 a.m. and Mitch was taking them all on with a smile, some light-hearted jokes and only the occasional “Okay, now hang on a minute.” So far, he was really stepping up … until it was time to check the fluids. I have said many times how glad I am that our Niagara is laid out and designed the way that it is─with the easy pull-back sink compartment that allows impressive access to the engine and all fluid check-points:
But when we began to tinker around the Nonsuch and locate all of her fluid bins, I was reminded yet again.
To check the fluids on Mitch’s boat, we had to access three different tight compartments. You have to remove the companionway stairs to access and check the transmission fluid.
The oil must be checked (not re-filled, though, mind you, just checked), by opening a storage compartment on the starboard side of the companionway stairs and then opening another access door in that compartment that allows you to reach the oil dipstick. But wait, there’s more! Once you’ve buttoned up all that mess, head up to the cockpit and the coolant bin is located down in the starboard lazarette. It can be checked (not filled) by leaning in upside down with a flashlight.
Filling it requires you─or your trained monkey─get all the way down in the lazarette and be sitting upright in order to pour coolant in.
I won’t say it was ridiculously inaccessible, but the fluid check-points were a bit tedious, particularly for a large man like Mitch. While he and Phillip were checking the fluids, I broke down all of our provisions (taking food and products out of their cardboard boxes and packaging) and took a load of trash up to the marina trash can. That whole process took about forty-five minutes and when I came back, Mitch was still checking the fluids. I’m sure he’ll get quicker at it over time. But─like I said─he did impress me by crawling into every tight hole, albeit it with some grunting, moaning and just a few more snaps: “Now, hang on a minute.” But he did it.
Once the fluids were checked, we headed out to make our store runs and grab those “last few items” we had jotted down while inventorying the boat the night before. The plan was ACE hardware for all that kind of trash bag-type stuff (cleaning brushes, sponges, shop towels, dust pan, hand-held broom, etc. along with propane), Publix for our perishable food items and West Marine for some back-up fuel filters. We had planned to grab our store goods and just eat breakfast back on the boat and go. I mean, why else had we hassled Mitch about buying all of that food the week before? But, it started to become comical when every store we pulled up to (ACE, Target, Publix) didn’t open until 8:00 a.m. It was just a few minutes after seven then so we deemed it a sign: Breakfast Break! We drove the main Ft. Myers strip a time or two looking for a Starbucks or Bagelheads or something easily recognizable as a standard commercial breakfast and, surprisingly, came up empty-handed. Our inability to find a Starbucks in a three-mile radius particularly surprised me. What kind of Americans are we? But each time we made a pass we kept eyeing this greasy-spoon diner with a packed-out parking lot and the savory scent of sausage enticing us in. “Marko’s Diner,” Mitch read the sign aloud as we pulled in. Being a traveler and an adventurer like us, Mitch loves to check out the local stuff when he’s in a new place. He wants to eat where the regulars eat, shop where they shop and do what they do. And, it always feels good to support local businesses, so Phillip and I were on board. “Marko’s it is,” we agreed.
I don’t know if she was in fact Mrs. Marko but this plump, vivacious, loud Greek woman clad in a shoulder-padded bedazzeled sweatshirt, her hair sprayed out on either side in sticky, jut-out wings was greeting customers the minute the bell on the door dinged. Most folks she greeted by name: “Hey Jim.” “Morning Claire.” But the newbies you could tell she spotted immediately and really put on a show for them.
“Well aren’t you a tall drink of water,” she said when Mitch walked in. “That’s what they tell me,” Mitch said running a hand through some pretend James Dean hair. That was all she needed to pull the rug out from under him. “Is it now? Well I’m glad you’re here Big-and-Tall. You made it just in time for the early bird senior special!” she said as she laughed, pulled one of many-a-pen from her hair and nudged her way by him with a pot of coffee in hand.
You have to love a woman who can hold her own, particularly a hefty, big-hearted Greek one. Mrs. Marko was great though, making sure us “out-a-towners” got good service, the whole schmorgas board (eggs, tomatoes, biscuits, grits, gravy) and hot piping coffee. It was just what we needed to fuel us up for the day. After our Marko’s feast, the store runs were quick and expertly executed. Three three of us took on ACE then the boys dropped me at Publix while they went to West Marine for the fuel filters. We were back on the boat and packed for passage by 10:00 a.m. With the fluids already checked, all we needed to do was crank and go! This was it. The big moment.
“Be sure to hold it 15-20 seconds,” Phillip said to Mitch as he got ready to warm the glow plugs and crank the engine. I was sitting next to Mitch and had to smile as he pushed the button in and started an actual, audible “one one-thousand, two one-thousand” count. He was so careful it was almost cute. But apparently cute wasn’t going to cut it. The engine tried to turn and sputtered a few times but would not crank. Mitch tried three times to no avail. Phillip was worried if he tried to crank one more time without the engine turning over we would pull too much raw water in and it would back up in the engine, so we took a moment to investigate. I had watched Mitch hold the glow plugs plenty long enough so I knew it wasn’t that. Phillip looked at the fuel filter which didn’t looked clogged or dirty and the fuel gage read three-quarters of a tank. Then he asked about the starting battery. Mitch had thought it was on, but it was clicked only to “house,” not “both.” Aha! Always takes a little time to learn a new boat. Once that adjustment was made and we gave it a bit more gas she fired right up. The crew let out a collective breath. For a moment, it had seemed our big adventure was about to putter out at the dock.
But she was running great now, purring actually. Mitch was a little anxious about backing out of the dock, but we told him to configure a plan (which lines would be released in what order) and we would execute it. We were there to help Mitch get the boat home, for sure, but we also wanted to let him get as much hands-on, solo-sailing experience as possible because he would essentially be handling the boat on his own once he got her back to Pensacola. So, as often as possible, we would have him do everything with us there merely to step in only if he was getting into some real trouble. Think of it like training wheels that don’t touch unless you start to tip over. Right out of the gate, Mitch got a great lesson in steering his boat in a tight marina.
We wanted to fuel up, pump out and fill the water tanks before jumping out into the Gulf so we planned to stop at the fuel docks. Of course, as luck would have it, there was a line and Mitch had to circle around a few times, back up, pull forward, turn around again. It was a great lesson in getting a feel for the boat’s reaction time. There was a good bit of “easy, gentle, wait for it, slow down!” as Mitch leaned a little too hard on the throttle but─with Phillip’s instruction─handled the whole three-time turn around and first fuel docking himself.
I set about filling the water tanks and handling the pumpout while the boys fueled her up. The water was no problem. While she did take on a good bit, we got the tanks filled to the brim and the caps secured back down. The waste, however … was causing some real issues.
“I need a hammer,” I told Phillip as he walked up on the deck to see what I was struggling with. I could not get the cap off. No matter how hard I turned and groaned and grunted. That one little sliver and a boat key was just not going to cut it. I was starting to imagine what this trip would look like if we started out with a mostly-full holding tank and no way to pump out. While I was sure they had checked the macerator during the survey/sea trial, I would rather not be the first one to actually try it out. What if it didn’t work? What would we do then? Things could get shitty. These were the thoughts that were running through my mind as I’m beating on the back end of the screwdriver, the head wedged into that stupid little sliver when the cap finally clicked free. My guess is the previous owner just never went on the boat (I envy the fact that men can easily piss overboard) or never pumped out at the dock because it felt like the waste cap had not moved in a decade. Luckily, though, she finally spun free and were able to pump out. Whew. While I was glad to help Mitch sail his boat back to Pensacola, I was secretly hoping that offer would in no way involve head repair or maintenance.
Finally, with all of our chores done, it was time to get out of the marina and get that boat moving. As we were making our way through the channel, another boat─Miller Time─came along side us and hollered over: “Is that Wade Alexander’s boat?” (The previous owner). “Yeah!” Mitch hollered back. “I just bought her!” he beamed. “Oh, congrats!” Miller Time shouted back. “Have a great trip.” It was clear Mitch was going to get a lot of looks with the cat rig (and that he was totally loving it already).
Once we made it out of the channel Phillip decided it was high time we threw up this big ass sail on the Nonsuch. I stationed myself at the mast, pulling the halyard manually, while Phillip set up on the winch and Mitch held the wheel. While it was difficult to pull by hand at first, it was moving along until we got to the reef points. Unfortunately, the last time the boat had been sailed─on the survey/sea-trial─they had practiced reefing her to make sure all the lines worked properly. Recall Mitch’s eloquent description about the monkey and the football. That meant the sail was still reefed as we were trying to raise her which always makes it tougher. Our first time raising the sail, we got a crash course on the reefing lines, which one was reef one and reef two as well as their particular hang-up and pinch points. Once we got all the reefing lines loosened, though, we still had another three or four feet to go to fully raise the sail. That’s when the real fun began.
I was working the halyard at the mast while Phillip was cranking on the winch back in the cockpit, but I had done all I could do on my end. The rest of the sail just had to be muscled up using the winch and─my God─that thing shrieked and cried with every turn. I watched as the halyard grew tauter and visibly thinner before me. I gave it a light tug a time or two to see if it still had some bend but after five or six cranks on the winch it wouldn’t budge at all. It was as tight as a steel cable and we still had another two or so feet to go at the top of the mast. I hollered to Phillip to keep cranking and the winch continued to wail. I didn’t dare touch the halyard after that, I thought just my light fingers on it and the whole thing might explode. I couldn’t stand the sight or sound of it anymore. I backed away from the mast and just stood near the cockpit, my hands ready to come up and protect my face if there was an all-out halyard explosion. Mitch was watching from the helm, staring at the top of the mast to see when the sail finally made it to the top. “Keep going,” he shouted to Phillip who looked to me topside for confirmation.
“It’s still got some bag in the bottom, but who cares? We’ve got plenty of sail up.” I was not in any way inclined to push the gear any more than necessary. I was literally afraid to go anywhere near the mast with that much tension on the halyard. We had squealed her to her limits. Phillip gave it just one more crank and said, “That’s good.” Mitch looked up through the bimini window and started to say something but I heard Phillip’s voice over whatever he tried to mutter out: “It’s good.”
Thank God, I thought. This may sound silly, but it’s the truth: raising that sail was frightening.
But it was now up and we were finally sailing! Motor sailing but that still counts. We were making 6.2 knots.
We were surprised the boat pointed as well as it did. I guess with the massive surface area of the sail that the wind has to travel around, it’s got more suction into the wind than you would think. I will say, though─just as Mitch had predicted─tacking the boat was astonishingly easy. What do you do? You turn the wheel. That is all. The sail handles the rest. Not that letting the Genny out on one side and cranking her in on the other is super exhausting, but it can be a bit of a chore in heavy winds or when you’re trying to kick back, eat grapes and read a book. On the Nonsuch, though? You just turn the wheel. That’s it. You could tell Mitch was getting a real kick out of that. He tacked far more than he needed to that morning just because he was having such a good time doing it. It was fun to watch him enjoy his new boat. We had a nice day motor sailing. The sea state was nice and smooth. It would have been perfect for sailing had the wind not been right on our nose. For that reason, we kept the iron sail going to make headway but even with the motor running, we were only making 3.8 knots trying to tack into a light headwind.
We were still debating whether to point toward Venice for a sooner stop or just push on through to Clearwater. With the motor running solid and the sail and rigging all fairly tested and proving seaworthy, the crew decided to just keep trucking to Clearwater. Everyone was in good spirits and enjoying the passage so far. We figured we might as well capitalize on our fresh morale and cover a good bit of a ground our first offshore passage. We dropped and secured the sail (a bit of a chore with the cat rig) and throttled her up to 5 knots. That put us on a heading to reach Clearwater the following afternoon so we divied up the night shifts:
Me: 8 p.m. ─ 10 p.m.
Phillip: 10 p.m. ─ 12 a.m
Mitch: 12 a.m. ─ 2 a.m.
Me:2 a.m. ─ 4 a.m.
Phillip:4 a.m. ─ 6 a.m.
Mitch:6 a.m. ─ 8 a.m.
With three of us, it was going to be nice to get at least one solid four-hour stint of sleep. The first and last shifts we called the “gravy shifts” because everyone is usually up with you during those times so you’re not alone at the helm. Phillip wanted to take the short straw this first leg of the trip and get his two-crap-shifts night over with right out of the gate. Looking back on it, it was a smart move─take the worst leg while we were all still fresh and excited on our first passage. But Phillip must have played us well, because Mitch and I happily signed up for one gravy shift and only one solo shift during the night. With that settled and entered into the log book (so there could be no debate later), we decided to put the bimini down and enjoy the sunset from the cockpit. We watched the sun turn into a hot pink ball on the horizon. I love when it does that. Blazes so bright you can hardly look at it but you can’t look away either, as it drops down beneath a denim blue horizon. She put on a stunning show.
Phillip and I cooked up a hot batch of red beans and rice and salad for dinner and dished out some hearty portions for the crew. We watched Mitch curiously, though, as he merely pushed a few beans around, ate a sprig or two of lettuce and then said he was full. We didn’t want to say it (because sometimes just saying it makes it happen) but we suspected Mitch was getting seasick. Recall during our first offshore passage with Mr. Roberts he got monstrously seasick and was put down for twelve hours after taking some allegedly non-drowsy Dramamine. Phillip and I were hoping, for our own sakes so we wouldn’t have to man the helm as much, that wasn’t happening this time. We didn’t want to say it, though. It’s like a jinx. We just asked: “You getting tired, buddy?”
“Yeah, tired.” Mitch said, seemingly thanking us for our courtesy pass and taking it straight to bed. “I’m just going to get some rest for my shift,” he said as he headed down the companionway stairs. Phillip and I were hoping we weren’t going to lose him again to seasickness, but if so I certainly wanted to be fueled up for a more trying, two-person only offshore trip. I grabbed his unfinished bowl of red beans and rice and scarfed it right up.
Phillip sat up with me during my first night shift. You see? Gravy. Phillip and I were breathing and basking in the feeling of being back out on blue waters with an unfettered horizon, crisp night air coming in. God it felt good. But, just as she starts to sense you getting all comfortable and cozy, she likes to remind you whose in charge. Right after the sun dipped we heard an ominous rumble behind us. Phillip and I turned around to look out from the stern and saw big, rolling thunderheads on our horizon.
We watched in silence for a moment more, expecting our suspicions to be confirmed. She rumbled a time or two again, then we saw it: a shocking white crack of lightning that branched out and traveled the sky. There was no denying it now. But there was no point in saying it aloud either. It was clear. We had a massive thunderstorm on our stern, chasing us into the Gulf.
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