“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.


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




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

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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,


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.


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),

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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 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!

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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 …


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.

You’za Fine Sailing Vessel, Won’t You BACK That Thing Up!

April 23, 2014:

Well, now you are familiar with our night shifts, and my goggle-wearing, Cookie Monster, dance party antics up in the cockpit in the middle of the night.  (But, really, does such behavior from me in any way surprise you?)


She’s just a tad cray … 

But, thankfully, our night passage from Ft. Myers Beach with Johnny to the Keys was our calmest yet.  No beating our way across the Gulf, no fighting for every inch of ground, no pulling out and making a risky night entrance into a difficult pass.  Thankfully, none of that!  It was a perfect night.  The wind held all evening and we were on an easy broad reach, averaging six knots, until daybreak.  The stars that night were mesmerizing.  There really was no need for dancing or snacking.  You could just sit and look out on the twinkling sky and think all night long – in complete contentment.  It was such a rewarding, peaceful passage, it almost felt unfair to have it followed by a breathtaking sunrise.


We were definitely in our element that morning, watching the sun creep up over every inch of the boat.

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Johnny was behind us – bringing up the rear!


We sailed until around 7:00 a.m. when the wind finally died out and we had to crank up.  But she cranked just fine and was running like Rocky Balboa that morning.


We were so proud of that engine!

That boat was cruising right along.  And, so were the dolphins!  We had a pack of them racing each other up at the bow as we were making our way in.

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I did attempt to take some fun footage, but I believe there was a bit of operator error.  It’s just a little blurry, and just a little upside down.  No big deal.  For your viewing pleasure – the dolphins are definitely worth it:

Johnny lead the way as we motored into the channel.

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It was about an hour and a half through the channel in to Key West Bight.



There she is!  The Bight!


We were going to be staying at the A&B Marina.


The only problem with the A&B Marina was that you had to back in.


See?  All of the boats are backed in.  It was a “stern-to” configuration.  There are no finger docks between the boats, nothing to space them apart other than the tie-up poles.  The boats are literally about two feet apart.  It was definitely going to be tight!

While the stern-to docking definitely has its perks (easy boarding and loading of supplies via the cockpit, easy access to power, easy leaving), it was definitely not going to be so easy coming.  We were going to have to make a backwards entry!  Yipes!


The A&B Marina even had a whole section on their website devoted to the stern-to approach and docking, complete with a diagram:


and video:

This was serious business.  Phillip dropped this little nugget on me somewhere between Ft. Myers and Key West and, I have to say, I was a little uneasy about it.  With my history of docking debacles, I get a little apprehensive when we’re about to attempt a bit of a hairy one (okay, attempt one at all).  But, I mean, I feel like I try really hard.  I jump around a lot and move real fast and squeal.  Like a …


But somehow it doesn’t qualify as very helpful for the whole docking process.  

In all seriousness, though, I am getting better.  But, it doesn’t mean my heart’s not racing the entire time (or that I’m not jumping a little and squealing – I still do that).  This time, though, I was determined.  I was going to nail it!  I was going to lasso those poles while Phillip backed her in.  No problem.  I grew up country remember?


I can lasso anything!



Unfortunately, despite the similarity in the name, I certainly wasn’t clad in fringe and leather, and didn’t look quite so badass in my lasso attempts.  Let’s just say I did try.  Very hard.  But those poles are like 50 feet out!  I’m not kidding.  Every slip at A&B is set up for an 80-foot yacht, if not bigger.  We seriously had to tie two dock lines together to make a springer that would reach those poles!  But, the Captain did an incredible job of backing her in.  It was his first time to do that, and I was able to hold on to the guide ropes and catch a pole later so that we could get her nice and secure.

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There she is!  The ole’ Rest, resting her tired lines at Key West!  What a treat!  We had made it all the way down there.  And she was easily the smallest boat in the marina, but she had, by far, the biggest heart!  She wasn’t shy at all.  It seemed she kicked back and inched her mast up just a little higher to fit in with the Big Dogs.  We were so proud of her!  We couldn’t wait to get out and explore — well, shower first, we HAD been at sea sailing, fishing, and what-not for a day and a half — but after that … we were going to take the Key by storm!