Back at Sea! Me, Phillip and the Mackerel Makes Three!

Yep, a mackerel!  Which we originally thought was a wahoo, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

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Back it up.  Rewind.  Bzzzwwwhooop.

April 22, 2014:

We woke to a beautiful sunrise on our last morning in Ft. Myers Beach.  While we love being on anchor (or on the ball, or at a marina, or however we find ourselves stopped and secure for the time being), what we really love is sailing.  Getting that boat going!  She loves it too.  It’s what she was built for.  We brewed our coffee, filled our mugs and tossed our line off of the ball.  We were going to do some sailing today kids!

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See how we smile?  Like Donna Summers at a disco!  Just doing what we love!

We expected about a 30-hour passage to Key West.  We left Ft. Myers Beach around 8:00 a.m., and we expected to arrive in Key West around mid- to late-morning the following day.  While there is a mooring field near Key West, the Captain had booked us a few nights at the A&B Marina in Key West Bight.  He figured since it was our first time there by boat, and the expected highlight of the trip, might as well splurge a little, huh?  Go big or go home!  Isn’t he great?  He called the marina that morning to confirm our reservation and learned then that we were going to have to back in to our boat slip.  *Gulp*  I’ll save that nugget of a story for another day!

For the time being, we were thrilled to find that the motor cranked that morning on the first turn, using the engine battery.  After the issues we’d had the night before with the dead starting battery and the engine overheating, we were incredibly pleased to see everything charged and running so well.  After we got to thinking about the overheating a bit, we figured it might have been one of those freaky amoeba-like snails we’d seen swimming around in Ft. Myers Beach.  Have you guys ever seen these?

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They’re hard to capture on film but I kept trying.  They look like some strange slimy Darwinian organism that hasn’t quite evolved yet.  I imagine it’s what a conch looks like once it’s spilled out of its shell, and they swim by flapping their wing-like … things.

Some riveting “flapping footage” for you:

Some were tan and spotted, others black and splotchy.   They were just so weird.  Phillip first spotted them when he spent a solid three hours changing the oil of outboard on the dinghy.  You remember the day the car wouldn’t start

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Yeah – he got up close and personal with the water that morning and said he saw like fifteen of them swim, or flap, by – whatever it is they do.  With so many of them in the water, we started to think perhaps one of them weird snail things got sucked up against our raw water intake through-hole the night before, causing it to clog and the engine to overheat.  It was totally possible, likely probable.  I have to say I derived a small bit of pleasure imagining the little snail turd, panic-stricken, stuck up against our hull, unable to flap away.  Serves him right trying to screw with our boat!

But, we watched the engine temp closely that morning and found she was holding just fine, so whatever had happened, we figured it was a fluke and counted our lucky stars.  We made our way out of the mooring field and headed out to sea!  (Or the Gulf … same thing … to me, anyway.  Whenever we head out to go sailing, anywhere, we go to the SEA!!)

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It was nice this time to have a boat buddy along for the passage – our friend Johnny Walker and his son, Jeremy, on Johnny’s 38′ Morgan, s/v Windwalker.  They were making the passage as well from Ft. Myers Beach to Key West.

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There’s the Walker – coming under the Matanza’s Bridge!

It was a gorgeous morning.  Blue waters, a bright sky and big billowing sails.

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Yeah … billowing.  Unfortunately, the wind was a little lackluster that morning, so we had to motor for a few hours, but we were thankful to see the engine purring right along, running just fine.  It was right around noon, though, that the wind kicked in, and we found ourselves on a perfect beam reach for the afternoon.

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There’s Johnny up ahead!

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All you could see was beautiful blue water to the edge of every horizon.

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It felt incredible to be back out in the Gulf!  Otto (our auto-pilot) was holding great, we were making good time and the sea state was perfect.  We tossed out our fishing line a little after noon and kicked back to enjoy the sail.  Around 2:00 p.m. Phillip decided to cook up our “big meal” for the day – broccoli and beef stir-fry – as we figured if you’re going to eat a big meal and get sleepy, better to do it during daylight hours so we would be refreshed and ready to hold our respective shifts that night.

But, of course, right when we decide to cook something we brought, we find food from the sea!  (See, again with SEA!).  We had a fish on the line!!  Who knows how long he’d been on there.  The stretchy band we used as our “indicator” had broke clean off and the line had been taut for, likely, quite some time.  Phillip was occupied with lunch below so I started to reel him in.

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Yes, it took that long …

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But we finally got him up to the boat, and MAN, what a beast!

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It took a team effort to get him hauled in to the cockpit, but we got him in there.  We bagged him up mafia style, but I swear he kept trying to eat his way out and nab Phillip’s toes!  Chomp, chomp!

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He had some wicked teeth!

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That’s actually what helped us identify him.  We looked through the fisherman’s guide to try and find some identifying characteristics to determine what he was.

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The spotting on his back and body looked kind of like a wahoo, but his teeth and upper dorsal fin gave him away.

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We had caught ourselves a king mackerel!

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A thirty-seven incher, too!

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How’s that for royalty!?  But, then the fun began … Guess whose job it is to clean the fish we catch on the boat.  Go on.  Guess!  That’s right … it’s the First Mate’s.  I busted out my fileting tools and set to it.

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While the Captain …

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Well, he was hungry.  And, to be fair, he had cooked us up an awesome lunch.

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One of our go-tos on the boat.  Broccoli and beef stir-fry.  Recipe HERE.

To be honest, though, I’m not sure how he could find the scene in the cockpit very appetizing …

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It was a bloody mess.  (No British accent intended).

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But, it seemed I was getting better at it.  I carved off some pretty sweet looking filets.

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Trying hard to get every last morsel of meat off.

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If I had to guess, I’d say we carved off about 9 one-pound filets total.  Quite a bit of fish.

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Yum!

But, also quite a bit of work.  From the time of the catch-and-bag, then the gut-and-clean to the dreaded wash-and-scrub of the cockpit, the whole fish debacle turned into about a three-hour chore.  But, I mean … what else are we doing, right?  It seemed our buddies on the Windwalker smelled the blood, sweat and toil and they ventured over to have a look at our spoils.

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That Morgan sure looked great glistening in the afternoon sun.

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And I sure wish we could share the pictures they took of us while we were underway, but let’s just say I don’t have them yet … (Jeremy – you know who you are, and what you have not yet done!).

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In all honesty, though, it was a great day sail.  A lot of fun with the big fish catch and nice to have boat buddies sailing along beside us.  After the big meal and the boat chores were done, we settled in for a nice evening of leisurely reading as the sun dropped down in the sky.

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We were still on a perfect heading easing into the night.  Our bellies were full.  Our hands were finally clean (albeit still tainted just a bit with that distinct fishy smell).  But our hearts were content.  We were really out there.  Sailing across the Gulf.

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When the sun rose again, we would finally be there — the Florida Keys!

“Way to Work the Hydro Foil!”

April 16, 2014

The wind was pumping when we headed out into Tampa Bay the next morning.

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19.6 nautical mph.  We motored out, nose into the wind, and as we were headed out into the bay, I swore to Phillip I could see a kite on the horizon.

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Just the tiniest blip.  See it there:

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But, this guy was flyyyy-ing!  Well, more than the kite.  He was zipping across the water, at alarming speeds, with almost no wake.  Phillip and I kept watching him zip back and forth, until he finally came up on us, and we could see that he was on a hydrofoil.

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I don’t know if you all have seen these yet.  They kind of blew my mind when folks first started telling me about them.  “So, you’re kiteboarding, but your board is not really touching the water??”  I really couldn’t wrap my mind around it until I saw it in person, but that’s what it is.  There’s a lower fin, the foil, that pushes water upwards, like an airplane wing, to literally lift the board up out of the water.

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See?  Pretty bad ass if you ask me.  That Bernoulli guy really knew what he was talking about.  But, in the water, less surface contact means less friction and more speed.  I believe the hydrofoil was initially designed for the America’s Cup vessels, but don’t quote me on that.  It is really insane to think these tiny fins have enough power to lift those monster racing yachts out of the water, but they do.  Water is an incredibly powerful force.

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So, this kiteboarder was zipping through the waters of Tampa Bay on a hydrofoil, and he came right behind us.  I mean, right …

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behind …

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our boat.

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It was awesome.  Check out the video here:

After a collective sigh and a slow recovery of our jaws from the floor of the cockpit, we decided to finally do some sailing.  We pulled the main up to the first reef point to ease out of the Bay in the still steady 20 knot winds.  Strange, though, all morning the sun had this luminous circle around it.  It looked like some kind of reverse solar eclipse or something.

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The Captain and I were stumped.  If any of you followers know what phenomenon this is, please, do tell.  It felt like we were sailing in some sci-fi thriller.  I kept thinking I was going to look down from the sky and find us sailing through pitch black waters toward a golden crystal on the horizon known as the Isle of Vriptonia.  It was weird.

Thankfully, the sun circle eventually dissipated and the wind laid down as we made our way out of the pass, and we ended up having a great sailing day – steady 12-14 knot winds all afternoon through crystal green waters.

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We said goodbye to Egmont Key (no sweet dreams there!) and headed out into the Gulf!

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Nothing like our buddies on Laho (you guys rock!), but some great amateur sailing footage here:

You can tell, though, that we were moving!  We averaged 6 knots most of the day, thinking we would easily make it into Ft. Myers the next morning.  While we had a great time in St. Pete, heading out on the town every night, checking out the rooftop bars and fine dining, we were both excited to be back out in the open water.  Just the two of us and the boat, looking forward to a silky sunset and a serene night sail under the stars.

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Unfortunately, that’s not what we got.  The placid sunset was a deceptive omen.  The wind had been blowing a steady 8-9 knots most of the evening and it looked like it was going to hold true through the night.  So, after the sun dipped out of the sky, we decided to set up a movie on the laptop in the cockpit.  Now, you remember what happened to us the last time we tried to have Movie Night on the ole’ Rest.  Perhaps we should have taken it as a sign.  Like when you wash your car and it rains.  Because, it seems, when we set up for movie night on our boat, sh** tends to hit the fan.

It wasn’t ten minutes after we’d nestled in that the winds kicked up to 15 mph.  The boat heeled over and groaned, but we were fine.  Overpowered for a quiet evening sail, but still fine.  We paused the movie and decided to reef the sails a bit and that’s when total chaos ensued.  In a matter of five minutes, the wind went from 9 knots to 15 to TWENTY-FIVE.  We were trying to wrestle the sails down to the first reef but the Jenny was whipping and popping in the winds, and there was so much force on her, even luffing, she felt impossible to pull in.  After struggling with the sails for several minutes, we were turned every which way, and Phillip decided we had better crank the engine and drop the sails to get back on course.  The right call, but still a bit of a dangerous proposition in and of itself.  The wind had kicked up the sea state and we were beating into 3-4 foot waves.  It took both of us to muscle the Jenny in.  I then headed up to onto the deck to wrestle the main sail down into the stack pack, careful this time to fasten my safety harness and clip in everywhere I went.  And, it was a good call, there were several times a wave hit and I had to grab onto my harness for balance.  It was a bit of a Deadliest Catch moment but, thankfully we got the sails down and secure.

That was just the beginning though.  The wind definitely brought some rough seas, and we were beating into waves, bare poles, fighting our way through the Gulf.  The boat actually felt like it was leaping sometimes.  It would lunge over the top of a wave, but then come almost to a dead stop at the blunt face of the next one.  It’s hard to imagine a 35-foot, 16-ton vessel can be so agile, can move or be moved so easily, but out in the open Gulf, I assure you it can.  It’s incredibly humbling to be reminded of how absolutely tiny and fragile you are out there in the open water, no matter how big your yacht.

The sea was not our friend that night.  The sounds of the boat groaning and pounding into waves was deafening below, and there was no way either of us were going to be able to sleep in those conditions.  We both hunkered down and strapped in in the cockpit, our eyes glued to the instruments, pleading with the wind to ease off.  But, she wouldn’t.  She kept coming at us in swift torrents, holding a steady 25-28 knots for hours on end.  All we could do was hold our course, hold onto the boat and hold out until daylight.

This was Phillip in the eighth hour:

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