April 17-23, 2013 – The Crossing: Chapter Four – Good, Quality People

I would like to say we woke Saturday morning to the peaceful sounds of birds and water gently lapping the hull, but that’s just not how it happened. Phillip and I had the pleasure of waking to his Dad hovering over us in the V-berth snapping photos at 6:00 a.m. like the paparazzi proclaiming, “Awww … your first night in the little bed. How was it?”   Was? … We’re still kind of sleeping in it. So …

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He had the best of intentions, but we were really waking up to a photo shoot at the crack of dawn. Thankfully, Phillip knew just how to handle him:

Phillip: Yeah, Dad, it’s great back here. Let me show you. Take that door, there. Yeah, unlatch it.

Paul (with excitement): Oh, neat. Here?

Phillip: Yep, right there. Now pull it toward you.

Paul: Like this?

Phillip (with patience): Mmm-hmmm. Just like that. Now step back behind it.

Paul: Okay.

Phillip: Keep pulling it until it shuts.

Paul (muffled from the other side of the door): Oh, I see what you’re doing …

Phillip: Yep. We’ll see you in a bit Dad.

I swear I could hear Paul’s shoulders slump like he was the last kid picked in P.E. class. (Which by the way – never happened to me – you never get picked last with a name like this):

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BOOM!

But, Paul did the right thing waking us up. Whether we were going to head out that day or stay and ready the boat for the passage, we had a lot to do. We got up, made some coffee and enjoyed the sunrise while we checked the weather.

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Around that time, we ran into a fellow docked there in Clearwater who, like us, had just bought a boat down in Punta Gorda and was sailing it back to Pensacola. His was a 32-foot Seaward Unlimited. A beautiful boat:

Seaward

The Bottom Line. And, it just so happened Phillip knew one of his crew. They were former neighbors in Pensacola. So we chatted them up and talked about our plans for crossing the Gulf. They were interested in buddying up and making the passage together. Having another boat make a passage with you (especially one like this) is always a good idea. So, we agreed to stay and wait out the worst of the storm in Clearwater on Saturday and head out with them first thing Sunday morning to cross the Gulf.

We started readying the boat for the expected 20 knot winds and 4-6 foot seas. Phillip got Jack, the former owner, on the phone and asked him about the storm sail (a smaller sail that is used in heavy winds) and the dinghy, which was held up by davits on the back of the boat with the outboard engine attached to it. Jack told us how to rig the storm sail and told us he had strapped the outboard securely to the dinghy so we shouldn’t have a problem with it. We decided to spend the afternoon rigging up the storm sail.

Storm sail

Although it was the right thing to do, it was a futile endeavor because just as we were pulling the halyard to connect the storm sail, the line snapped and the sail fell in a loose heap on the deck. The halyard for the storm sail (which is a fancy way of saying, the rope) was so old and dry-rotted that it just broke right in two. So, we decided to forego the storm sail and just secure everything else as best we could for rough seas.

After a day of hard labor, we made our first sit-down gourmet dinner in the galley. Remember the shrimp feta pasta I told you about? (http://havewindwilltravel.com/2013/06/04/april-17-23-2013-the-crossing-chapter-two-sailors-delight/). And, when I say “we” made it, I actually mean Phillip,

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and I’m just taking full credit because that’s the kind of person I am. But, it was a grand meal, laden with heavy glasses of wine and tall tales at sea.

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Full of liquid courage, we decided to hit the town and see what good quality people were roaming the streets of Clearwater. And, let me just tell you, my friends, the streets were littered with performers and peddlers of every kind of “ware” (and “wear”) you could imagine. Words will never do it justice. No, only a cheesy, finely-narrated slideshow will do.

There was a man on stilts making balloon animals (at least I think it was a man):

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And please take note of the classy clientele in this photo, because unlike others, these ladies at least dressed for the occasion:

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There was a woman getting an ass tattoo right there in the open:

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And I normally wouldn’t say anything if Thelma here wanted to ink herself in front of a crowd.  More power to you! That is IF she were getting something cool tattooed on.  But no.  This chick was getting some rainbow kittens permanently impressed on her derriere.  Like, fifth grade, Lisa Frank, Trapper-Keeper kittens:

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Real classy.

There were just crazy people everywhere. Some were talking to themselves.  Some were imitating the statues:

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I’d watch out for this one. I’m pretty sure she’s beyond help.

Some were apparently even dropping their panties.

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Yep. It was a wild night in Clearwater. But, the finale performance for the night was a really cool one. This guy sets up a couple five-gallon drums and beats the hell out of them.

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Drummer

He wowed us all with his self-proclaimed (although I think it’s worthy) “world-famous” one-handed drum roll. Check it: http://youtu.be/a3IsqXpztnA. Phillip was definitely impressed:

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Even Mitch was mesmerized.

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Although I’m not sure you can see him in that pic. He looks just like another character we all know and love who likes to blend into the crowd:

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Minus the hat I guess.  Otherwise … a spittin’ image.

In all, we had a great time checking out the town and watching all the “crazies” that came out FOR the show but who, in actuality, WERE the show. We got back to the boat around 9:30 p.m. and crashed. We woke the next morning all business. The boat was buttoned down and ready.  All we needed was a good breakfast before we got under sail. We hit up the local greasy spoon for one last rendezvous with our sail groupies and, unexpectedly, one last crazy!  Our waitress.  What a sight?!? This woman (again, I presume she was a woman) weighed about 89.4 pounds soaking wet and looked like a pile of toothpicks glued together.  There were all kinds of tacky t-shirts and things hanging on the wall and she repeatedly told us:

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“Now all of this crap …

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is for sale!”

And, for her, “sale” had two syllables, and a “y.”  I, naturally, bought a tacky t-shirt to memorialize the occasion. Who wouldn’t? Phillip and I now lovingly call it my “big boobs shirt” because it’s graced with their infamous logo:

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Phillip and I checked the sea state one more time,

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then it was back to the boat and time to get under way. We checked in with the Bottom Line guys and they were ready to pull out too. We picked a haling channel to go to if we needed to talk via radio, decided our next stop would be Apalachicola, an approximate 28-hour passage (138 nautical miles) from Clearwater, and set off.  We had a great morning sail.

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The sun was peeking through the clouds, we had some strong, but steady, northeast winds, and we could see Bottom Line in the distance.

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That was, until, the squalls began . . .

April 17-23, 2013 – The Crossing: Chapter One – Sail Groupies and Sardines

So the boat, while ours, was still down in Punta Gorda, with only one way home: across the Gulf of Mexico. The plan was to drive down on the 17th, a Wednesday, set sail on Thursday morning and, over the course of the next five days, sail her back to her new home port in Pensacola. Our first planned stop was Clearwater. That was an excepted 24 hour run from Punta Gorda (Port Charlotte on the map). Then we planned to make the big crossing from Clearwater to Panama City.

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(NOAA chart for all you sailing aficionados: http://www.charts.noaa.gov/OnLineViewer/411.shtml).

As you can see, the crossing from Clearwater to Panama City (218  nautical miles total, the majority of which would be spent 100-150 miles offshore – hence the name: The Crossing) was going to be the real beast of the trip. “The hair on the dog” as my Dad would say. Assuming good weather and good speed, The Crossing was expected to take about 48 hours. Yes, you read that right. 48 hours. That’s a day and a half of sailing or motoring, someone always at the helm and another always on watch, i.e., awake, alert and ready to assist as needed in the cockpit or up on deck). That translates to just a few hours’ sleep for each of us over a 48-hour period. In other words, not much. There were also a lot of firsts involved. Our first time on this boat, our first time using the systems and learning the lines and rigging, our first time together as a crew, our first time crossing the Gulf and, not to mention, my first time, ever, making a passage like this on a sailboat. My primary goal was to learn quickly and perform well so I could become a dependable member of the team. Survival was a close second and enjoyment was never a concern. Adrenaline pumped through me daily, jumping and snapping like a dog on a tight leash, eager to feast on the adventure. I was going to throw lines, raise sails and hold the helm with the best of them. Eat salt for breakfast, lunch a dinner. I imagined myself a real sailor.

Avid sailor

Of course, in my mind, I was going to look like this:

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while doing ALL of that.    . . . Totally do-able.

Finally the departure date came and it was time for us to head down to South Florida. Because we had to drive down and sail back, we needed a one-way ticket to Punta Gorda. Cue Phillip’s folks. They did us a real favor by driving us down, but they also wanted to make the passage with us vicariously by meeting up with us at several ports on the way back. Sort of like sailing groupies if you will. We were thrilled to have them on board.

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“Mary, you ready to go?”    “Why, yes, Annie, I believe so!”

It took some doing, but we finally got everything (recall the lengthy Provisions List) packed up in the rental and hit the road around 1:30 p.m. on the 17th.

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Now I want you to note several things in this picture. First, that we had a truck (not an SUV), which means we had to tarp everything down in the back in case it rained and watch it flap and bounce around and generally cause trouble the whole way down. Second, that our trusty second mate, Mitch, whom you see to my left here, is about 6’4” – on a good day. He’s definitely a tall drink of water. Now . . . why is that important? Because that truck Phillip’s dad had rented was about as big as the inside of a sardine can. It was tiny.

Phillip’s dad protested:

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But Mitch had to eat his knees (even in the front seat) the entire 9-hour trip. I’d feel sorry for him if he hadn’t been so damn vocal about it. It started the minute we climbed in, and it was enough to drive Phillip to drink!

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Me, too, for that matter. Look who’s reaching for a swig.   “Save me some!”

But we crammed in there tighter than a van full of illegal aliens crossing the border and started heading south. (Why, here we are getting out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nyrugCTk-xk&feature=fvwp&NR=1. Damn border patrol’s always after us!)

We finally made it down to St. Petersburg (an hour shy of Punta Gorda) around 9:00 p.m. and stopped for a feast at Mike’s Café. The chef there made us a special dish when he heard of our sailing endeavors:

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That, of course, didn’t last long with this group. We were famished. We finally made it to the hotel around midnight and crashed hard. The plan was to get up around sunrise, get to the boat, get it packed up and get under sail before noon. We probably fell asleep before our heads even hit the pillow. All we could think about was that boat and the open ocean. Our adventure was about to begin.

April 12, 2013 – Purchase and Pork; Planning and Provisions

No surprise here. We bought the boat. The closing, in and of itself, was quite uneventful. Just some signing of documents, exchange of papers and emails back and forth. But, our broker was excited (not in that I just made a sweet commission kind of way), but in a genuine, yet even more selfish, I just got another friend with a boat kind of way.) Through the boat-shopping process, we definitely made a friend out of Kevin, and it came out that he and Phillip shared an equal appreciation for all things pig.  Chops, ham, bacon, oh my!  He gave Phillip and I a great “Congrats on Closing!” gift:

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BBQ Bible note

In case you were wondering, we did try the chop recipe. The book calls them “Sweet and Garlicky Pork Chops” (page 191). We more appropriately named them Kick-ass Asian chops and gobbled them right up!

Asian chops

The BBQ Bible is fab – get you one: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/listing/2688835178385?r=1&cm_mmca2=pla&cm_mmc=GooglePLA-_-Book_15To24-_-Q000000633-_-2688835178385

So, with the closing behind us, we were now faced with the daunting task of planning the trip to sail the boat back from Punta Gorda to Pensacola. I, in my infant, virgin, sailing days (I reflect back on those now with affection and a little chuckle, thinking, “Awwww, Annie … tssk, tssk”) I thought it was going to be a glorious vacation. Beautiful, sunny days, the wind blowing through my hair, while I lay basking in the sun on the main deck, not a care in the world. What a grand excursion this would be, I thought. What should I wear? Which bathing suit should I bring? The sporty one? The string bikini? Decisions, decisions! It was like Legally Blonde sets sail!

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(In case you were wondering, to my surprise, it appears that has already happened: http://broadwaytour.net/legally-blonde-sets-sail-with-norwegian-cruise-lines. Yes, they made Legally Blonde into a musical. It was that good.)

Now, you all, who know me well, know I’m far more rough-and-tumble than frills-and-lace, but I simply had no idea how volatile sailing could really be. I didn’t know it was completely, and I mean utterly, inescapably, dependent on the weather. Hence the name of this fine editorial: Have Wind Will Travel. Translation: no wind means no sailing. Extreme wind means extremely rough sailing. Bad weather means bad sailing. On and on. And, I can assure you, sailing, while at times can be just what I envisioned, a pristine sunny day, the wind dancing through your hair while you lay, stretched out like a Brazilian supermodel on the deck (I don’t know about you , but I always look like a supermodel in my daydreams – always), the remaining 68.4% of the time, it’s work. Hard, manual labor. Up and down the companionway stairs, holding the helm against rolling waves, cleaning, scrubbing, cooking, adjusting the sails, coiling the lines, closing the hatches, opening the hatches, cleaning, scrubbing, cooking, folding, packing, docking, up and down the stairs. And, did I mention the cleaning? Scrubbing? And cooking? And, the HEAD, don’t even get me started …

You want me to clean the what?

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Yes. With tiny tissues and Clorox wipes. Get to it. (And no, I did not pack the bunny ears for this trip. But thanks for asking.)

I know now what hard work it can be, but I did not know that then. Yet I can assure you every ounce of exerted energy is worth it. There is nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, like being out there on the water. It is incomparable. But, while a hard worker and great cleaner/scrubber/ cooker, I was admittedly new to this whole sailing business, and Phillip knew he needed a good, trusty sailor (a.k.a., a “real salt”) or two to help us make the crossing. While many were interested – apparently, for some, crossing the Gulf in a sailboat is a real bucket list item – few could really take the time off to make the trip. It was going to be a 5-day passage, at least, longer if the weather did not behave (and, clever foreshadowing be damned, know that the weather, in no way, shape or form – behaved. She blew like a scorned mistress. That bitch!).

winds

But, we finally lined up a second mate. (You may be thinking the more talented, knowledgeable bloke is the Second Mate?? You’re darn right. I had already started this blog by then and deemed myself First Mate so … too bad). With our Second Mate, Mitch, whom I will give a raucous, Chaucer-worthy rendition of later, on board, we started planning for the trip. This was going to be quite the excursion. Getting settled into a boat for the first time while simultaneously planning a 5-day passage across the Gulf is kind of like … like packing for a … Or moving into a … No, it was just as it sounds, like moving into a boat, sailing it 150 miles off-shore then crossing the Gulf of Mexico in it. There is nothing I can compare it to. (And believe me, as a writer, I tried, first with a camper trailer trip cross-country, then in an RV on a safari … ). Nothing worked. Nothing could compare to prepping a boat for this passing. There’s sails, rigging, lines, an engine. The galley, stove, saloon and head (I mentioned the head). A life raft, flashlights, flares, emergency provisions. A radio, electronics, batteries, etc. And we had to make sure all of that worked, could be fixed, or could be done without, in the middle of the Gulf. For us, it was a new boat and a new crew, and we were going to give both a massive shake-down right out of the gate. We spent weeks trying to think of everything we were going to need. From paper towels and soap to flashlights and flares, and food. My God! We were going to have to stock a whole kitchen from scratch. It was daunting.

But, thankfully, it resulted in a finely-tuned, every-trusty Provisions List. We created this especially for the Gulf Crossing but we’ve vowed to run through it every time we leave the dock as it’s a great reminder of all the crap you’re going to need to make a passage on the boat (big or small):

https://docs.google.com/file/d/0BzpUUAS5f-I0Q2tSREpBMWJzZGc/edit?usp=sharing

As you can see, it was quite detailed, and thorough. And, I can assure you, we still forgot stuff. Plenty of stuff! But, we were definitely of the impression this was a work of art when we had finished it. We planned to drive down to Punta Gorda on a Wednesday (April 17th), set sail early Thursday morning and bring the boat into Pensacola late Monday night. That was the plan, anyway. It always starts with a plan …

March 8-10, 2013 – Road Trip: Part Three – The Hinterhoeller

Feeling refreshed from the coconut drinks in St. Pete, we headed down to Punta Gorda to check out the Hinterhoeller.

Pics from Phone 669

Hinterhoellers are Canadian-built with a reputation as solid, sea-worthy vessels.  We were looking at a 1985 Niagara that was primarily a one-owner.  The seller, Jack, had owned it since 1989 and you could just tell he loved that boat.  It was extremely well-cared for.  Polished and clean, organized and tidy.  She was most definitely Jack’s baby.  And, for good reason.  Jack had sailed the boat several times in the Mackinac race (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port_Huron_to_Mackinac_Boat_Race) from Lake Huron to Mackinac Island, MI (a 290-mile freshwater course) single-handedly.  As a result, just about every system on the boat was streamlined and rigged for quick, easy, single-handed use.  He and his wife were now retired and and, as tough as it was for them, after decades of wonderful sails on the boat (from quick weekend trips to month-long voyages) they were ready to retire from the cruising as well.  Jack greeted us with a bright smile and big paw handshakes and jumped right on the boat with us to tinker around.

The Hinterhoeller had a spacious cockpit with plenty of room to kickback and stretch out at the helm.   To use the old cockpit/living room analogy – where the others had felt like the stuffy, formal “sitting” room you keep at the front of the house for show, this one felt like the comfy den in the back with the old, grungy couches where everyone piles in on Saturdays to watch the game.  It was just so damn comfortable.

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We felt the same about the galley and saloon down below.

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(And, a fun little boat fact for those useless knowledge junkies out there – much to my surprise, turns out the word saloon originates not from the old swinging doors, whiskey-busting joints you see in old westerns, but from boats!!  It’s true – it has to be – it’s on the internet: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/saloon).

It also came with a hard bottom dinghy and a 15 horse-power, 2 stroke outboard.  A rare find, and a bonus that had our broker salivating like a kid in a candy store.

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Phillip and I felt the same (minus the salivating).  We were like teenagers with a crush, secretly doodling pictures of the boat in our Five Star spiral notebooks with little squiggles and hearts all around it.  It was all we could think about.  It was all we could talk about.  Looking back on it, it’s probably a good thing no one else made that trip with us, because they probably would have jumped right out of the Prius and hitchhiked home.  Phillip and I were enamored.  Images of the two of us with our hands on the wheel while the boat glided through crystal green waters filled our heads all the way to Daytona.

Pics from Phone 936

We still had one more boat to check out on this trip, the Tayana – a beast of a boat, but we both had a sneaking feeling we had already found ours.

March 8-10, 2013 – Road Trip: Part Deux – The Pacific Seacraft

Let’s see … where was I?  (With all the yard-selling, hog-tying and other Naan-sailing events I’ve been throwing in here, it’s easier than you think to forget).  Ahh, yes.  Day two of the Road Trip.  It was Saturday morning and we woke refreshed in St. Pete, ready to look at two old boats.  The 1990 Pacific Seacraft in St. Pete and the Hinterhoeller in Punta Gorda (another hour and a half haul). 

Pics from Phone 557

So, the 1990 Pacific Seacraft.  We were looking at this one to compare it to the 2000 model we had taken out for my first sail a few weeks back.  It must be true what they say – you always hold a bit of a soft spot for your first (that or a blissfully-skewed image at least) – because if the 2000 Seacraft was akin to my hot, high school boyfriend, the 1990 was the pot-bellied, balding version of him at the 20-year reunion.  Just not the same spark.  The 1990 also had not been well-maintained (think hair loss and weight gain for a boat), and it was all wood below so it felt very dark and constricted. 

Pics from Phone 584

We were interested but certainly not enamored.  Thankfully, we had a couple more to look at.  We also had a few hours to kill before we had to meet the broker in Punta Gorda, so we wandered around St. Pete a bit and stumbled onto a quaint little Farmer’s Market (http://www.saturdaymorningmarket.com/).  You’ll be thrilled to know I found it a complete happenstance that they called it the ‘Saturday Morning Market’ and we were there on a Saturday morning.  “Phillip, can you believe that?  What a coincidence!”  Phillip winced a bit from my wicked intelligence.  It is scary sometimes how smart I am.  Just scary.

But, we had a fantastic time toodling around that appropriately-named little place.  There was great art:

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Great food (we split a mouth-watering Margherita pizza):

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And great drink (cocunut water right out of a coconut!):

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(Yes, that’s Phillip and I.  We look that good.  It’s the coconut water.)

But, we had to pack it up and get back on the road.  The Hinterhoeller had certainly wooed our broker, and we were eager to lay eyes on her.  So, it was off to Punta Gorda for round two of the road trip boats.