January 18, 2014 – Apres Skis and Plans for the Keys

Is there anything better?  You spend the day out on the slopes, wind-whipped, frigid-fingered and you stomp in, pop your boots loose and feel the blood finally flow back to your feet as you pick out a spot by the fire.  You’re exhausted, but in the best kind of way – from pounding down powder-packed bulkheads, sculpted moguls and slick fairways.  The sweat on your back starts to cool as you peel off a few layers, and you’re trying to decide between the irish coffee or the hot buttered rum.  This is it, baby.  Apres skis!


Even better when they’re served on a 12″ slab of ice at the famous Ice Bar at Uley’s Cabin.

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We took off the end of January for our annual ski trip.  This time to Crested Butte, and this time I was bound and determined – no injuries.  Last year (my first year skiing) enlightened – and addicted – me to this stimulating, scintillating sport, but also sent me home with a wicked MCL injury.  You may recall the removal of the spawn of Satan from my left knee.  I had a healthy respect for the slopes after that, but I was excited to get back out there and build on last year’s progress.  We had been training for weeks (“Work those quads!”) and we were ready for some snow.


It was wild, though, because the day before we were set to fly out, the wind was blowing at the beach and we hit it hard, tearing up some serious surf in the Gulf.


Okay, serious for me – it was only my second time to kite in the Gulf, and the waves were doing a number on me.  Some fun videos here: a little bit of crash and burn, and a little bit of gas and go.  Slowly but surely, I’m going to conquer that Gulf!  But, the waves that crash me are like ripples to Phillip!  Little speed bumps to hop over.


Video here.

We made a day of it out there in the sand and surf, thinking how crazy it was while we were watching the sun set during the drive home that, before it rose again, we would be hopping on a plane out West to go play in the snow. 


Might as well.  Life is short, right?  Do it while you can.  Crested Butte was certainly the place to.  It had dumped the week before so there was a sufficient base and we came just in time for a week of beautiful blue skies and mild temps.  We couldn’t have hand-picked better ski conditions.

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Out of the five days we had to ski, Phillip and I each devoted one day to a group lesson and it was well worth it.  As is with most awesome outdoor sports, Phillip is a natural and has been doing it longer.  He was definitely in a skill level above me, but I lucked out.  No one else signed up that day for an advanced lesson, so I got a private one for the price of a group ($130 for the day).  Dirt cheap, particularly for the level of instruction I got.  “His name was Joseph Norman Pierre Dumas,” she said dreamily, staring softly out at the setting sun.  Seriously, that was his name, he was quite French (with plenty of wine and food knowledge to back it up – as a child, he worked in his parents’ restaurant in Quebec), he had been skiing 64 of the 68 years of his eventful life and had spent the last 38 as an instructor.  Everyone on the mountain knew him.  He was a total celebrity and was stopped everywhere we went with a “Hey Norman!  Looking good man!  Thanks again!”  It seemed he had taught everyone on the mountain to ski, as well as their kids and their kids’ kids.  It was probably one of my favorite days skiing – ever.  Norman really polished me up, took me down tons of hidden, tucked-away trails and had me roaring down double blacks by the day’s end.  It was an amazing day.  For Phillip, too.  He and a friend took the expert course and they, too, were the only ones in the class, meaning, essentially a private lesson for the cost of group.  Their instructor took them up to the top of the mountain and they navigated their way down some seriously treacherous terrain.


The “Funnel,” in particular, was quite a knotch on their ski belts.


Their harrowing journey down that death-defying stretch was lived and relived – more bold and brazen with each re-telling – over bottle after bottle of wine that night at dinner.  “Lesson Day” definitely went down as one for the books.  But, the entire week was incredible.  We had a beautiful condo at Crested Butte, where we kicked back each night and cooked up some serious feasts.

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Our roommate’s rich, bacon-drenched cassoulet took the trophy for best home-cooked dish.


But, we also enjoyed the local eateries in Crested’s historic downtown villa.  Fine French cuisine at Soupcon (recommended by Norman himself with bunched fingers and a purse of his lips: Izz pricey, but divine”) and the best, melty, cheesy, greasy-finger pizza you ever put in your mouth at Secret Stash.  In all, it was an awesome week on the snow, and we both came home with all ligaments, tendons and soft tissues in their rightful places, still connected and fully-intact — no small miracle considering some of the terrain we traversed.

Some more fun home videos for you (with the low-budget quality to prove it – I have GOT to get me a GoPro):

Annie says stupid things and “Phillip says Ouch!

A fan favorite: “A little ugly, but I made it down.”

And, a little gem I like to call Nope, not me.  Not me either.”  It was our first day out there, just warming up and easing back into it, and this was the first black bulkhead we encountered, so Phillip filmed me coming down it (probably because those first few days, he was always way ahead of me, miles down the slope, waiting for me to traverse my way down, nice big loops, even the old snow plow if necessary.  Like I said, I was not coming home with an injury this year.  When I watched this clip the first time, I was like “Gees, I look good.  Look at me zipping down that hill.”  And then … zoom, there he went right past Phillip.  Nope not me.  So, then the next guy comes down, a little slower, and I was like “Oh, there I am.  I look pretty good.”  And, there he went too, right past Phillip.  Finally, I see me.  Way up at the top, making the most ridiculous, slow traverses back and forth across the bulkhead.  Skiing slower than Betty White.  All I can say is … no injuries.  And, I came a long way by week’s end:


Video here.  (And yet, again, Phillip manages to film skiers right in front of me that zip by and make it all look so GD easy).  But, this was a significant headwall from the top of the North Face, for me at least.


I mean, I don’t know if you know this, but …


With our fill of winter sports for the year, we started to talk during the flight home of sunny skies and sailing plans for the spring.  We had initially planned to take two or so weeks back in November and travel to the Keys, but that’s the thing about plans.  They often change.  So, we headed West instead over Thanksgiving– and made a great trip of it.  But, now — apres ski –we had our sights set South.  We started looking at some real options for the Keys.

We talked initially about making a straight run for it.  Go straight across the Gulf and get the long, tiresome passage behind us so we could spend the rest of the time relaxing and recuperating in the Keys before picking and plotting our way back up the West Coast.  On the other hand, we also considered taking our time sailing down the West Coast, stopping in at some old and new haunts, like Appalachicola, perhaps, or Port St. Joe.  Clearwater was also a lot of fun or we could trying stopping in at Tampa this time, before making the jump to the Keys.  We started looking at anchorages and depths around the Keys as well, both on the Gulf side and along the Atlantic.  There are ton of options and lot of different areas and spots we needed to research before making any final decisions.  We decided to to plan to head out some time in late March or early April and make the trip there and back in approximately four weeks – give or take a bit (as always) for the weather.  The only real requirement is that we be down in the Keys for a certain big day that is coming up for Phillip.  I’ll give you a hint – it involves a landmark smaller than a mountain and his geographical juxtaposition to it.  It’s in April and Phillip wants to be out in blue waters, on his 35′ Niagara, to celebrate it.  Definitely a goal worth fulfilling in my opinion.

While the trip planning was fun, as is always the case when you own a sailboat, we knew we had several projects and repairs we wanted to accomplish on the boat to make sure she was ready for the passage.  We started making a list:

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Then, we started ordering parts, getting quotes, checking prices and – more importantly – checking the kitty.

November 9, 2013 – “When Are You Going to the Islands?”

Isn’t that what you’re all thinking?  At least that’s what I get asked three times a week.  (Yes, I’m talking to you Bleeke!)  Soon, people.  Soon.  Stick with me.  But, I’ll tell you, even when we do get there, it’s not going to be any more beautiful than this:

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And, when we cook up a meal in the galley off the coast of some remote island in the Keys or Bahamas, it’s still going to look like this:

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Adventure is relative and can be found anywhere.  Usually, it’s the act of getting there that’s the real “journey,” not the destination itself.

But, you want to see us on a passage.  I get it.  So do we, minus the transmission fluid catch this time.  Although I’m sure you want to see some equally entertaining minor disaster occur that we have to resolve in true MacGyver fashion with bubble gum, nail polish and sheep shears (all of which we keep on the boat for just such an occasion).


I’ll see what I can come up with.

Trust me, we were ready to get back out there, too.  With the summer pretty much behind us and all of our major boat chores done, the rubber gloves finally came off,


and we set down to plan our trip.  Which we, of course, had to do over wine and dinner – a whole roasted snapper, anyone?

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Between work, family and my obligatory appearances on the rodeo clown circuit, we had about two weeks to work with in November.  Yes, we do plan to go longer and further later, but that will have to come later.  All evidence to the contrary, we do have to work.  I can’t stress to you enough how expensive boats can be.  Now, let me remind you how far the actual Keys are:

To the Keys

I think even MacGyver’s scruffy eyebrows raised with that one.  It’s about a four-day passage offshore, if made straight.  That’s 96 hours of solid sailing, which means someone always at the wheel, even with auto-pilot, you still need to keep a lookout and stay close to the helm, particularly at night.  This means, for four days, you only get to sleep in one-to-two hour snatches.  It’s fun, don’t get me wrong.  There’s a certain sense of freedom, adventure and accomplishment when you finish a passage, but it is also a very tiring stint at sea, even in the best of conditions, exhausting and harrowing in the worst.  If we made the four-day passage straight to the Keys, we would need a day or two to rest and recover and that would leave us about one day to enjoy the Keys before we had to start meandering back, two or three, perhaps, if wanted to make another four-day epic passage back across the Gulf.  But that would put us on a tight schedule, and we learned the hard way during The Crossing that you can never be on a tight schedule when sailing.  You have to build in a cushion for the weather.  It’s just part of it.  We hated to push the Keys trip back, but it had to be done.  Trying to squeeze it into the tight travel window we had this winter was not going to allow us the time we wanted to truly enjoy the Keys.  Plus, there were plenty of places we wanted to cruise locally and enjoy.  We decided we would make the trip to the Keys in the spring (after skiing season – of course – that’s a must!) and stick around these parts in November.

Phillip and I decided to head East to Carrabelle.


That’s about a two-day passage straight.  Forty-eight hours, assuming a good weather window.  If you recall, our boat spent some time over in Carrabelle when the transmission went out, and we really enjoyed poking around the sleepy little mariner towns around there, which feel like they’ve been preserved in time, when sea-faring sailors roamed the streets, rum bottle in hand.  We wanted to head back and spend a couple of days immersing ourselves with the old salts and eating some of the best fresh oysters I have ever let slither down my throat.


We then wanted to take our time heading back inshore, protected along the Intracoastal Waterway (as much as we could … we would have to pop out into the Gulf for several stretches where our mast height (50 feet) won’t allow us under the bridges).  We pulled out the charts–and the snapper–and started plotting our passage.


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And, what meal is complete without fresh homemade bread and salad?  … None we know of.

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The plan was to hope for good weather, so we could head straight for Carrabelle, spend a night or two there boozing with the locals, then mozey our way back to Apalachicola for some local fare, another night or two to booze again and get our fill of fresh oysters.  Then, we thought we would check out Port St. Joe, a great littler marina there, Cape San Blas (lots of cool anchorages there, too), head back to Panama City in hopes of catching another sighting of our Lady Legs-a-Lot (you remember those heels!), then make the twenty-four passage offshore back to Pensacola.

November trip

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Even with a few extra days’ cushion for potential bad weather, this trip, even taken leisurely, would still easily fill two weeks.  We planned to leave November 15th and return on the 29th.  This was going to be a significant passage for the two of us – heading offshore for a four-day passage.  While I may have proven some creative gumption and gusto in surviving the dinghy debacle and transmission fiasco during The Crossing, this was going to be my first true offshore voyage as First Mate.  I started glossing over our old sailing books again, working expletives back into my everyday conversation, upping my rum tolerance and practicing my knot-tying skills on empty wine bottles.  Oh, and watching weekend-long MacGyver marathons.  That helps too.

A two-week passage in the blistering winter?  Done.  I was packing all my gear.


Aside from the mullet, MacGyver ain’t got nothing on me!