I woke to find a friend on our stern line the next morning.
He didn’t even move as we rustled around in the cockpit and readied the boat for another passage. He just watched us inquisitively and minded his own business. I almost hated to shoo him away when we were ready to leave. But, we were ready to leave! We were heading back out into the Gulf that morning to make the approximate 100 mile (24 hour) run to Charlotte Harbor to meet up with our friend Johnny and his son, who were anchored out in Cayo Costa. That was the plan anyway.
We waved at the rising sun and made our way back out into the Gulf.
Now, when we came in the previous day, we unfortunately ran aground on the shoaling around the little island just after the bridge.
Right around here we believe:
After talking with the dockmaster at the marina, we decided to take the longer route this time, around the little island, where the channel is deeper.
There will be no running aground today, thank you!
We had one of the best sails yet of the trip that morning.
“Hoist them sails there, Mate!”
“You got it, Cap’n!”
The water around Clearwater really is the most brilliant green. Like torqouise but not so blue. This is the closest replica I could find:
They call it #00ff83. It’s 0% red, 100% green and 51.4% blue. But, I’ll tell you, it’s heaven. The most beautiful sight to see under the hull of your boat.
It was just gorgeous. And, we had a great east wind, right on our port bow, around 10 knots. As the Captain would say, “We were cooking!” It was a great sailing day.
And, for my fellow sailing blogger on the Sundowner – this one’s for you Dani!
Rockin’ the selfie!
We did get backwinded at one point, though, when we were messing with the sails and it turned us around. No problem, really, to turn a circle and get back on track, but we did have the trolling line out when it happened, and it got caught on the rudder. But, that wasn’t a problem either. The Captain jumped right in for a nice swim in the Gulf and got her untangled.
Ahhh! Nice and refreshing!
It was like nothing could get us down. I couldn’t help but keep singing, “Ain’t nothing gonna break-a-my stride. Nobody gonna hold me down!”
THEY DID-UHHNT!! Relive this lovely 80’s leotard and sparkly gloves rendition HERE.
But, what we didn’t expect was rain. No, not that kind. The skies were clear, the sun was out, the conditions were ideal. And, yet, it still rained. The winds started to kick up, so we decided to reef the Jenny in a bit. As we were winding her in, we heard a loud POP from above and then it rained … Ball bearings … All over the boat.
I scrambled back to the cockpit to see for myself. We’d both been holding that damn trolling line all day waiting for a nibble — with no return. But, Phillip was right. There was definitely something on the end of that line this time. As he started to reel it in, I gathered up our official “fish kill” kit (the gaff, fish gloves, trash bags, filet knife and, of course, the actual “fish kill” – rubbing alcohol in a spritzer). Phillip said he didn’t think the fish was that big as he was pulling it in. Apparently it wasn’t fighting too hard. But, this time, he was wrong. SO wrong.
That thing was friggin’ HUGE!
I mean, the girth of it. She looked pregnant! I got the gaff in her and held her up over the stern while Phillip pulled the hook out. But, it made me nervous when he did because that thing started flopping and flailing, with only my hook to keep her from being our dinner!
And, I know you’re checking out my fine derriere in those Gorton’s fisherman pants. I know how good it looks. Don’t hate.
But, I’m telling you that thing was heavy. My biceps were burning trying to hold that thing up! Phillip broke out the “fish kill” and tried to spray her gills. I had used an old miniature hairspray bottle to make it (ladies – you know what I’m talking about):
The darn thing wouldn’t spray at first, but Phillip had it upside down (he doesn’t use hair spray … that often).
He was squeezing and pressing and cursing that stupid little bottle until it finally choked up some alcohol and coughed a little cloud on the fish’s gills, which only seemed to piss her off more. She started flailing around again and beating the side of the boat. My arms were shaking and starting to droop. Phillip finally took the cap off the fish kill bottle, and just started throwing the alcohol on her like a damn baptism but – nothing. She was still as lively as ever. We decided to just bag her and tag her. Phillip got a bag over the stern rail and up around her and we got her in the cockpit floor.
Smiling and carrying on like two kids on Christmas morning. “We caught us a fish!” We whipped out a measuring tape to see how long she was – 25″. I mean … I can easily say that’s the biggest fish I’ve ever caught – with a friggin’ hand line! Thankfully, Phillip had the wherewithal to think to look it up to make sure she was legal. Turns out she was a red fish, a red drum to be exact. You could tell by the black dot near her tail fin.
And, wouldn’t you know it – legal limit is no more than 27″. She was perfect! The regs said, too, that you can’t filet the fish until you return (in case they need to verify the size). So, we bagged that shit up like the mafia and stuffed her in the fridge!
Phillip kept saying: “I told you we were going to catch a red fish! Did I not tell you??” He was stoked. It was that red fish rouser, I’m telling you.
The golden spoon gets ’em e’ry time!
And, I have never seen Phillip haul ass so fast back to the dock. We cranked the engine, dropped the sails and pointed that ship right home. Rather than make a bloody scene at the dock, we decided to haul our catch up to the condo and take care of things in the tub. Phillip stepped on the scale to weigh her and we were shocked.
20.2 pounds! Like I said … HUGE!
Sad thing was, though, even after the traumatic hoist out of the sea, the exorcist-style alcohol splashing on the back of the boat, and the hour spent in the fridge, that fish was still flopping.
I couldn’t believe it. It was time to take care of business. Phillip got the big serrated knife out and set to it.
I’ll tell you, fish are hard little bastards to kill. We were seriously trying to do it – quick and easy – poor guy, but I hate to say … it took a while! And, the bathroom looked like a scene straight out of Very Bad Things.
Finally, though, we got it done and set about to cleaning and fileting her. Funny, neither of us really knew how to do it. We were Googling and watching Youtube videos in the kitchen. Each of us with a filet knife in hand, watching the other’s progress.
We had no idea what we were doing, but we knew were about to have some fish that night! Sadly, we learned after we had cut the meat from the bones that you should try and trim off as much of the dark red meat near the backbone as you can because it’s not as tender and flavorful.
They say the dark red meat is a sign of an older fish – ours was apparently getting on up there because she had a good bit. So, we had to go back and trim her again to try and get as much of that off as we could. But, when it was all said and done, we ended up with a pan full of fresh (not-so-red) fish meat. Seven pounds total.
Which, if you think of what that would cost at the store, that was a pretty good cash crop to pull out of the water! We didn’t waste any time cashing in, either, we started cooking her right up – three filets a piece! We’d had a big day!
And, perhaps it was all the work of it, all the waiting, the effort, the labor, the reward – perhaps – but I think it was just the freshness of the fish. Either way, Phillip and I both agreed it was the best damn fish either of us had ever eaten. I mean, she had just been swimming out in the bay a few hours before, and now she was buttered and browned and lying right there on our plates ready to be devoured.
Over a bed of savory grits and piled up with roasted carrots. Oh shit! It was definitely a meal we will never forget. And, she was even good the next night too!
With sauteed spinach and roasted parsnips. And, the lunch the day after that, too. We were happy to eat red fish for a week. We caught that shit, baby!
Every time we’ve gone out on the boat since, we throw a line over the back hoping to catch dinner. The boat is now always stocked with a filet knife, bags, lemon and a much stronger spray bottle of “fish kill.” We are ready! Catching a fish that will feed us for a week is a great way to supplement the food budget on our next big passage. It’s all about getting ready for that trip. Stay tuned! Next time – our plans for the Keys!
So, we returned from NOLA to find our first five coats had set in nicely. As my Alabama kin would say — that wood was looking “right.”
With only “five coats to go!” we set to it. Usually putting a coat on the items in the guest bedroom (the grate, table, drink-holder and stairs) in the morning, and a coat on the boat (eyebrows, handrails, stern rail and companionway) in the afternoon. We had so many different items – each on a different ‘coat,’ I had to come up with a highly-technical check-off system to keep up with them.
You may have noticed the dinghy on there, too. Since we had already turned the condo into a full-scale painting studio, we decided to go ahead and put a few coats on the dinghy transom and floorboards while we were at it. Not quite fifty, but a few shades of gray.
We were making good progress and were all set to put on the last coat on on New Years Day with grand plans of taking the ole’ Rest out that weekend to drop the hook. She’d been grounded too long! We had some friends over New Year’s Eve for a fun Pinot tasting (Letitia, 2009 and 10) and an exquisite middle-eastern meal of rosemary lamb chops, tabouleh, homemade bread and grape leaves with tzatziki sauce.
After such grand consumption, you’d think we would have trouble peeling ourselves out of bed the next morning to go work on the boat, but nothing could be further from the truth. This was it! Last coat day! The last time we would have to put on those stupid vinyl gloves, mix up a batch of varnish and get out in the cold to crawl on hands and knees and painstakingly stroking every nook and cranny of those damn handrails! We practically skipped to the boat! While the weather that day certainly wasn’t bright and sunny, it at least looked like it would stay dry long enough for us to get the last coat on. Just some tiny little flecks of green that were sure to pass us over.
Plus, we had the day off for the holiday and this was the last coat! I hate to say we got a little eager. We whipped up what we thought would be our last batch of varnish and set to it. And, wouldn’t you know, one of those menacing little green flecks (it had to be just one!) must have circled around like a hawk and decided to shit right on us. Not Pensacola, mind you, not even the whole downtown area, I swear it was just our marina, just our boat. At least that’s what it felt like anyway. And, it was just like ten minutes of rain – the whole day. But, it came right when we were finishing the “last” coat. We tried to blow the drops off, hover over the handrails to protect them with no luck, so we finally just started brushing the drops into the coat hoping it wouldn’t make too much of a difference. But, the clouds parted, the rain dried up and we could see the coat – our last coat! – drying a milky, swirly white. Bollucks! Phillip started to research it a bit, and some bloggers and boaters said we would probably have to sand down 3-4 coats and start over. 3-4 coats?!? Not to mention the fact that we were a little bit tired of this varnish project, that would put us well past the weekend and ruin our plans for a nice weekend outing. Needless to say, we were not pleased that day. Not pleased at all.
But, I’m happy to say, I went back to the boat the next day – determined! Apparently, the water in the last coat had dissipated because the milkiness was gone. There were some drops that had to be sanded, but it just took a light rubbing (certainly not enough to even shave the alleged “last” coat off) and she was ready to go. I slapped one more coat on (I’d count it as the eleventh) and she dried, slick and shiny, wet as glass. It was time for the big reveal!
We started to pull the tape back and I wish I could tell you it was a grand revealing, like snapping a crisp white sheet back with cameras flashing and resounding applause. But, it was not. It was cold, getting late in the day, we were shivering and wiping snotsicles, and the tape started tearing and flaking apart, leaving little slivers everywhere and adhesive residue (like when you’re trying to scrape a price tag off a picture frame). It was such a mess. And, the worst part was – the tape (I guess because it had been on there so long (about two weeks now)) started pulling off flecks of paint on the portlight frames.
And, some varnish had seeped through the tape at the base of each handrail, so there were little schooner gold puddles around each handrail post. Stupid tape! Like I said – not a grand reveal. But, it was done. The wood was fully-coated and the tape was (mostly) off.
The best part was, we were still on for a weekend sail. So, the hand reel. (And, I’ll have you know, I tried every way under the sun to name this post “Wad & Wheel,” thinking how clever!? What a great fishing analogy. But, what’s the wad? The wad of crappy blue tape we collected after the disappointing reveal? I certainly considered it … ) Since we were starting to formulate our plans for the big trip to the Keys this spring, one thing we had been wanting to do was put together a hand reel to throw over the back of the boat during passages to try and catch our own dinners. The more self-sustaining a cruiser is, the longer he stays out there, am I right? Teach a man to fish …
We had purchased this book back when we bought the boat, finding the little promo on the cover to be true – it seemed among cruisers this was “The definitive book!” on fishing.
Now it was time to put it in action. We looted the local bait & tackle shops and sporting good stores and put us together a fine tackle collection.
We put together a hand wheel, a yo-yo they call it, to fish off the boat at anchor, and a trolling hand reel to throw off the back of the boat during passage.
The book advised of using some kind of stretchy tubing as an indicator for when you have a fish on. Phillip got smart and bought some cheap exercise stretch bands from Wal-Mart that worked perfectly. Our broker/boat buddy, Kevin, had also told us one of the best ways to kill a fighting, flopping fish (to save the mess and potential damage of a bloody, beat-down in the cockpit) was with a spray bottle of alcohol. Apparently you spritz the fish’s gills with alcohol and rumor has it they go limp. While we have plenty of alcohol on the boat, I wasn’t about to see us waste the ‘good stuff’ on a stinking fish. So, I rigged us up a petite little spritzer of rubbing alcohol to do the trick – a fine concoction we like to call “Fish Kill.”
So, we had tackled the ‘tackle,’ but I’ll say the bait was baffling. Do you have any idea how many friggin’ aisles of bait, lures, hooks, doo-dads, ‘Gulps’ and whirley-gigs they’ve got at the sporting goods store?? I just can’t believe that if some of those work better than others, why are there thousands to choose from. I think it’s all a fugasi, fagazy, whatever. A total fake. No one knows what lure is going to work best. Like Skinny Matthew so eloquently put it in Wolf on Wallstreet — it’s fairy dust!
Mark Hanna: Nobody knows if a stock is going to go up, down, sideways or in circles. You know what a fugasi is? Jordan Belfort: Fugazy, it’s a fake. Mark Hanna: Fugazy, fugasi, it’s a wazi it’s a woozy, it’s [makes a flittering sound] fairy dust.
But, we bought a few sparkly ones, some for mahi mahi, some for tuna, even a self-proclaimed “Red Fish Rouser!”, threw them in the tackle box and headed out for the weekend.
And, it was then, out in the sun, with the water glistening on it, that we really got to admire the wood.
It did look pretty effin’ awesome. Definitely worth all the work. I spent the day (again) crawling around on hands and knees on the deck scraping the last bits of tape, adhesive and varnish from around the handrail posts.
Quite a chore, but nice to do under sun and sail, and – again – definitely worth the work. The wood looked great!
We dropped anchor and immediately dropped the hand reel line to see if we could get any bites.
Nothing that night, but fishing was definitely fun at sunset, cocktails in hand. We decided the next day was going to be our day. We were going to get under sail early, stick our nose out in the Gulf and drop our trolling line. We were going to ‘rouse’ them red fish yet. Phillip would not shut up about it! “I’munna catch me a red fish damnit!”
We got up early, got everything rigged and headed out toward the Gulf. We threw the trolling line off the back and stared at it.
Both of us. In silence. Each of us grabbing it every few minutes and holding it in our hand to feel a ‘nibble.’ But, nothing. Nada, zip, zilch. We even sailed back and forth, several times, through churned-up, “fish frenzy” waters, dolphins circling and jumping everywhere, birds flying about and diving into the choppy waters. I mean, we were traveling right through huge pockets of fish. We were practically hitting them with our hull! Parting the red fish seas! But, nothing. We kept the line out and checked it a few times but we both finally kind of gave up on it, and just enjoyed the sail home.
We were both curled up reading, Phillip at the helm, me up on the foredeck, having forgotten almost entirely about the trolling line, just sailing across the bay, about 20 minutes from the marina, when Phillip looked back and saw the tubing stretched taut. He leapt up to the stern rail, grabbed the line in his hands and shouted up to me.