April 10, 2014 – Keys Log: Day 8 – Catching Butterflies

We were both a little disoriented when we woke on the boat behind Dog Island.  Having slept so soundly at anchor and waking to the alarm in pitch black, it was a little hard to tell if we were still dreaming or awake.  But, we finally eased on up after a few alarm snoozes to start readying the boat for passage and preparing to pull the anchor.  I slipped on my new Gorton’s – some, super trendy clown-pant Frogg Toggs – to try them out for the first time and got into my wader boots and foul weather jacket knowing I’d be doing some serious chain spraying.

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We had 150 feet of links lying out there in the mud that needed raising.  Before I even got down to 100 feet of chain, big chunks of grey clumpy mud were coming up in the links, and I knew this was not going to be a quick chore.  “I’ve got mud at 100 feet,” I hollered back to Phillip to let him know he could settle in.  We were going to be there a while!  We spent the next 20 minutes raising and rinsing the chain, hoping it was piling up as it should down below so we wouldn’t have such trouble dropping it next time.  We finally got her all up, though, and kicked back to enjoy some coffee as we motored out of the East Pass, watching the sun just start to peek up, an electric pink sliver on the horizon.  It felt good to be underway.

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Unfortunately, the wind was light in the early hours and we had to motor a bit, but we were enjoying watching land disappear on the horizon and seeing nothing but blue ahead.  The wind finally came around mid-morning, and we got a nice run, doing 4 knots, toward Clearwater.  Phillip and I curled up on the deck with a couple of page-turners and took turns napping in the sun.

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We brought the solar shower up onto the deck, too, so she could heat up and give us each a nice shower that afternoon.  After two days underway, we would certainly be in need of it.  In all, it was a beautiful day out on the water.  Our arrival time for Clearwater popped up about mid-day: 11:37 a.m. the next day.  It only registers our ETA 24 hours out.  Anything over 24 hours is designated only with bars, like a flat-line heart monitor, so it’s kind of exciting to see the arrival time pop up.  Only 24 hours now baby!  We weren’t in too much of a hurry, though.  The water had grown a deep, crystal blue around us and there wasn’t a single blip on the horizon.  We were still averaging 4 knots and enjoying the soft, soothing swells that we were rocking over.

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We heated up the frozen chicken and sausage gumbo Phillip had made for us before we left.

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We tried, again, to heat up the frozen bag in boiling water, but after we started to see a little gumbo leaking out into the water, we were sure some water had to be leaking IN to the gumbo, so I will say we will not be doing that again.  It will be a few hours’ thaw in the sink and then we’re plopping it into a pot to heat.  No need to risk tainting Phillip’s perfectly seasoned dishes just to spare a messy pot.   No sir! But, despite some suspected water intrusion, the gumbo turned out great.


And, it was the perfect, hearty treat while underway.  After dinner, we enjoyed a nice solar shower in the cockpit.  It was our first time using the solar shower.  We had found it on the boat when inventorying and we were excited to try it out.

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Other than the finicky spout, which would occasionally pop off, spouting water like a fire hose and causing a slight, soapy mad scramble to get her back on, it was one of the best showers we’ve ever had.


Of course, we can say that after two salty days at sea, while enjoying some free warm water from the sun.  Something about the fact that it’s been heated naturally makes it hard to beat.  Around dusk, we had some dolphins come by to congratulate us on the excellent passage we were making – naturally – 


and to bring us one of the most exquisite sunsets we’ve seen on passage.  The water rippled like smooth silk.  It felt like you could reach out and touch it and you wouldn’t get wet at all.  It was incredible.

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It wasn’t long after the sunset, though, that the wind started to die out.  We tried to keep her going under sail, but the Jenny kept luffing and our speed kept dropping.  The arrival time on the Garmin went blank again which was a sure sign – we were slowing down.  So, we decided to crank up the motor and motor-sail for a bit.  The batteries needed a little charging anyway.  We sat back and quickly decided to declare it … wait, let me let you guess.

Uh-oh … guess what day it is!  



That’s right.  Moooo-vie DAY!  Or night, I guess.  We booted up the laptop and hooked it in to the cockpit speakers and nestled in for a little something we like to call “Movie Night!” on the ole’ Rest.  Black Swan it was, and were in the thick of it when the main started flagging.  The wind was right on our stern and kept shifting the boom from one side to the other.  We took a brief intermission to drop the main, should be an easy chore, right?  Nothing to it in these light winds.  Ha.  Guess again.  All hell broke loose when we let go of the halyard.  Now, I’ve mentioned on this blog before how important it is that you never (EVER) let go of the halyard.  But, believe me, it happens.  It just does.  And, I’ll say “we” let go of the halyard because there’s no need to point fingers.  This wasn’t the first time and it certainly wouldn’t be the last, and it doesn’t really matter who does it, you both, somehow, have to get it back.

And, ours was swinging wildly back and forth, whipping around the boom, winding around the backstay, unwinding and swinging out freely again.  It soon became clear we weren’t going to be able to reach it on tiptoes and with outstretched hands alone.  Phillip got the gaff from the lazarette and started batting at it.  He was standing on his tiptoes on the coaming, stretching into the sky, and he almost had it several times but it would slip out of his reach every time.  For reasons that baffle us to this day, it was snapped shut initially, so that if we could get the hook of the gaff in it, we could conceivably pull it back down easily.  But it soon came swinging back around opened and it was clear we weren’t going to be able to get it with the gaff, there was nothing to ‘hook.’  Now, how in the world that thing closed itself initially, on its own, only to open back up again, on its own, baffles us to this day, but I’m here to tell you that’s what happened.  That’s when I came up with the brilliant idea of using the fishnet – which is about the equivalent of a big butterfly net – thinking the open end of the shackle would surely snag in the netting.  I duct-taped it to the gaff for added reach, which was helpful, but it made it very cumbersome and unwieldly.  Phillip was standing on the coaming on his tiptoes with me behind him bracing on the bimini and dodger in case he fell backward as he swatted and poked in the air – trying to snag it.  It wasn’t funny in the moment, really, but I’m sure if a nearby vessel had got a look at us, swinging and swatting – trying to catch all those imaginary butterflies, we would have given them a big, hearty laugh.  As Phillip gave it one last valiant swing, a wave rocked us, forcing him to leap down into the cockpit to save his footing and causing our Frankenstein butterfly contraption to bounce once on the deck and then slink off overboard.

I stared blankly at Phillip and asked, “Oh gees, is it gone?”  “No, we’ll circle back,” Phillip said.  “Find it!”  First rule on the sailboat, and I knew this, but knowing is different than actually doing.  If anything goes overboard (particularly a person), someone on board needs to immediately find the thing-slash-person in the water and shine a light on it if necessary or at least keep a watchful eye on it.  Do NOT look away, not even for a second.  Because you can lose a thing-slash-person in an instant in the great big sea.

You idiot, Annie I thought to myself.  Look overboard!  Find it!  Thankfully, Phillip had instructed me quickly – it wasn’t too far from the boat.  And, thankfully, it was floating and had some kind of reflective sheen to it so we could spot it easily with the flashlight.  Phillip turned us around so we could get it.  I got out our secondary gaff – the one for the fish, and headed up to the bow to snag it.  “Nothing else is going overboard tonight,” Phillip said.  “Hang on and be careful!”  He pulled us up right along side it and I made one valiant reach over the lifelines and nabbed it.  Whew!  With all of our gear, limbs and bodies intact, Phillip and I plopped down in the cockpit for a disheartened rendezvous.  It had been a hairy moment, and we were both glad to have survived it, but as we sat in the silence, our halyard wrapped around and banged loudly on the back-stay — as a reminder of failed efforts.


That’s it – wrapped around the back-stay:


I wanted to climb up on the boom and give it another go, but Phillip vetoed that plan.  He wasn’t going to let me climb up on the boom … this time.  Probably the right call that night, though, since it was dark.  We had already taken some substantial risks jumping around on tiptoes swatting at the damn thing and losing some equipment overboard in the process, but something just didn’t feel right about letting it flail about up there.  I mean, it is our main halyard.  But, the decision had been made.  We would deal with it in the daylight tomorrow.  We left her banging on the back-stay and motored on through the night toward Clearwater.  Having already suffered our own black swan moment, Movie Night was clearly over …

April 3, 2014 – Shoving Off!

Well folks, this is it.  April 3rd.  Shove-off day.  Departure day.  THE day.  And, we were ready.  Beyond ready.  All the trips to the stores, the packing and inventorying of the boat, the freezer meals, everything was ready.  All we needed to do now was fill the water tanks and check the weather.  We had been watching the weather for weeks now trying to plan our departure date.  Every time Phillip would click his phone to life and start scrolling through the NOAA reports, that song would pop into my head “I can gather all the news I need … “  And, yes, I do sing that every time Phillip checks the weather.  And, yes, he still puts up with me.  I’m kind of the only first mate he’s got, so …

The weather still looked pretty good on Thursday to make the jump to Clearwater.  We were expecting some potential storms on Friday night and Saturday but the highest sea state prediction was 3-5 feet:

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Assuming that was more THREE than FIVE, it would make good weather for the trip.  So, we made the decision.  We were leaving today.

The weekend before we had taken the boat out for a test sail to make sure the Jenny un-furled fine (remember, we had taken it down the week before to have the UV cover on it re-stitched) and, while we were making our way out, we topped off the fuel tank on the boat (it holds 30 gallons, but we tend to sail a LOT so we only had to put in about six gallons this go round – whew!).  We filled two 5 gallon jerry cans of diesel to strap down on the deck (just as back-up), filled two 1.5 gallon cans for the outboard on the dinghy, pumped out (very important) and filled the water tanks.  So, everything on the boat that needed to emptied was emptied and everything that needed to be filled was, well, you get it.

But, speaking of filling, let me talk a bit about the water on our boat.  I get a TON of questions about water: “How much water can you take on the boat?”  “Can you make water on the boat?”  “Do you have enough water?”  The answers, respectively, are plenty, no and yes.  We have two forty-gallon water tanks on the boat, on one each side, that we fill from the hose.  But, the previous owner of our boat did a great job building a water shelf in one of the large lockers under the vberth:


We have 8 large gallon jugs of water and a flat (24 bottles) of bottled water stored in there as well as another flat of bottles scattered in various cubbies throughout the boat.   Phillip also had a great idea to fill the solar shower (which holds 5 gallons) with water just as a back-up for the initial passage.  And, that way the first time we used the solar shower, it would already be full.  Kudos Cap’n.

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So, with plenty of food, fuel, water and WINE, we were fully-stocked and ready to go.   We both spent some time the last day calling loved ones to give them a hearty farewell and tell them, re-assure them, and tell them again, our departure date, travel plans and the status of our safety gear and rations.  I can’t tell you how many times friends and family asked me about our life-vest situation – hence the reason for my last post.  But, this fun, feeble attempt still failed to reassure the masses.  So, we provided friends and family with a detailed sail plan and made them all promise that they could only worry, panic or – most importantly – contact the Coast Guard if and ONLY IF they did not hear from us by Sunday evening.  We planned to make it to Clearwater early Sunday morning, so if no one had heard from us by Sunday night, it was likely time to fret.  But, not a second before!

Despite this harsh mandate and strictly enforced ‘cross-your-heart-and-hope-to-die’ NO rescue efforts until Monday, I still received many of the like in the mail from concerned loved ones:


Note the entry at the bottom:


You see?  It was Clearwater by Sunday or at least some kind of heroic, satellite phone, mid-Gulf check-in or they would be calling in the dogs!  The concern, though, was well-intended and heart-warming.  (I heart you Dottie!).

But, we weren’t worried, or afraid.  We were cautious, sure, and hopeful that we would be greeted with fair winds and forgiving weather and that nothing bad would happen to the boat or to either of us, but there was always going to be the possibility that it could. That’s a given.  Something bad can happen at any time, whether you’re crossing the Gulf on a sailboat or crossing the street.  Crossing anyway is the adventure, and that’s what we were after.  We were excited to get to the Keys, but the destination was not the real goal; it was the journey.  We had both worked really hard to get to this point.  To get out there.  To cross over.

We tossed the lines and sailed out into the Gulf.

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That’s really us!  Thanks to our good friend Kevin who was anchored nearby and took the shot!  Plaintiff’s Rest is headed south, baby!