Monday, April 25, 2016

Sailing for a week ...

It is said that Charlotte Harbor in Southwest Florida offers some of the best sailing anywhere. With 120 square miles of cruising waters in the harbor (in my mind a bay), and access to the Gulf as well as inland passages south to Fort Myers and north to Tampa Bay, one can find lots of adventures on these waters.  And for this past week, that's what we did on Alizee.

After getting getting some running rigging work done the beginning of April, the first mate and I provisioned for a week on the 16th and 17th, and set sail on Monday the 18th to rendezvous with friends in the Dolphins Sailing Club at Pelican Bay at the western mouth of Charlotte Harbor. This little pod of Dolphins had come down from Tampa Bay, some on their way just as far as Fort Myers, some going on to the 10,000 Islands, and a couple of boats headed off for two months in the Bahamas. Because most of the Dolphins' cruises are in the Tampa Bay area or northward (only one or two a year getting down to Charlotte Harbor), this was a real treat for us.

We arrived in Pelican Bay at 14:30, anchored.  Pelican Bay has become one of our favorite spots (as it has for many other local boaters). It offers a calm and safe anchorage, is protected from truly heavy winds, has wonderful shorelines to explore, is the gateway to Cayo Costa State Park, and more. Of course to explore the area one needs there dinghy in the water, so once anchored, I lowered ours, I pumped her up good, washed and let her dry, and applied a good coating of 303 Aerospace. Truth is, the hypalon tubes are almost worn out, there are lots of tiny leaks that I can barely keep up with, so we may have to replace her this summer.

I dinghied over to Mikani Koa, an Island Packet 31 belonging to Mike Palaez, a Dolphin anchored close by whom we had not met. We had a nice conversation, which ended only because the Dolphin pod leaders for this trip, Bob and Sandy MacNeill, dinghied over and introduced themselves. Apparently, happy hour was to be held at 17:00 on Celestial, a trawler captained by an old Dolphin friend, Steve Cardiff. When the time came, we renewed acquaintances with Joe and Kathy Mansir, of the Island Packet 37 Halcyon, and met new Dolphin members Mike and Jane Kyot sailing Alors and bound with the MacNeills for the Bahamas.







Tuesday morning found the pod heading southward down the inland passage (the ICW).  The plan was to anchor off St. James City and dinghy into Woody's (a well-know bar/restaurant on a local canal) for lunch. We had a nice sail for half the trip southward, until the channel changed and the wind came head on.  Along the way, we caught 5 Spanish Mackerel on our hand line, throwing two of them back as too small and keeping and filleting the others. Meanwhile, before we got to St. James City, the pod's plans changed and everyone moved on to Fort Myers Beach, which has a large protected mooring field. We elected to anchor out in San Carlos Bay, and we didn't go in to the mooring field for the evening happy hour with the group.  So rather than being surrounded by other boats and a shoreline, we were rewarded with a beautiful sunset (going down over the bridge from Fort Myers to Sanibel Island).



At 07:00 Wednesday, we were up. The bay was roily, which we did not remember from two previous stays, so after coffee, we weighed anchor and motored south about a mile to anchor just outside the Fort Myers Beach channel and entry.  The rest of the morning we relaxed with coffee, I cut off the worn end and then whipped our snubber line, and at 11:30 we dinghied into the dinghy dock under the Mantanza's Pass Bridge, which connects Estero Island (Fort Myers Beach) with San Carlos Island and the mainland, to meet up with the pod for lunch.  Lunch at the Salty Crab was fairly pedestrian, but it was nice to get together with everyone, and Mike Palaez and I spotted a good photo op just away from the dinghy dock.  When we left, we told Mike that we were leaving early in the morning to sail north in the Gulf to Boca Grande Pass, thence into Charlotte Harbor.  We weren't sure we'd make it into Pelican Bay, as the tides were high at about noon, but if not we'd anchor at Useppa Island nearby on the ICW.



On Thursday, 21 April, we were awake at 03:30.  The roily waters were a bit much for us, but we'd gone to bed at 21:00 so were pretty rested.  Since it was a full moon with cloudless skies, we decided to weigh anchor, and departed the anchorage at about 04:30.  With a east wind of 12-14 knots we were under sail heading south to go around the shoal that juts out a couple of miles from Sanibel Island.  When we turned west, of course, that put the breeze right on our stern, and the roily seas made it impossible to keep on a good course wing-on-wing.  So, we dropped sails, fired up the "iron jenny" and moved ahead at 6 knots over ground to get into position to turn northward and capture the wind again.  It took about two hours, during which we saw the moon set and sun rise within 20 minutes of eachother, and during which I fought off a bit of mal de mer. But once we turned north, we got a lovely sail all the way into Charlotte Harbor, thence after a tack into Pelican Bay almost all the way to the spot we anchored.  Mike, who left two hours after we did and came up the ICW, appeared 10 minutes behind us. (We had a bit of a problem with our radio transmitter in the cockpit, which we discovered while trying to keep in contact with Mike.  Have to get that sorted out in the next weeks.  Also see that the Sunbrella cover on our Genoa sail needs replacing.) Turns out the trip was fairly fast (we probably averaged 5.5 knots), and we arrived at Pelican Bay at high tide: noon. We progged about in the afternoon, read (which we do all the time when on the water), and had Mike over for happy hour at 17:00.

We decided to spend all day Thrusday at anchor, and the day was another one of reading, napping, progging about. Around 16:00, we took our fishing poles and tried our luck in the shallow grassy waters along the mangrove shoreline; lots of sea trout and other fish, but we had no luck. So, we went into the so-called Manatee hole nearby and after sitting quietly for a half-hour were rewarded by Manatee come to investigate us and appearing here and there all over the area. When we returned to our boat, Mike hailed us to come over, where we met another old Dolphin acquaintance, Chris McDonell and his sailing buddy Dennis.

One of the things we do especially well when were cruising is to eat and eat well. Our menu for this trip included filet mignon with potatoes and green beans (Monday dinner), "mom's" spaghetti (Tuesday dinner), fresh fried mackerel for breakfasts (twice -- once with scrambled eggs and peppers and mushrooms), Empress Chile dogs for one lunch and then again for a dinner (because we'd snacked too much at happy hour), and a wonderful Belgian-style rabbit stew with potatoes, peas and mushrooms.  When we can we prepare meals at home and freeze them for the trip, and we've gotten pretty good at it all.

Friday, we weighed anchor and departed for home at 10:30. We had a great sail back to Burnt Store, and put the boat away (washed, canvased, cleaned, and packed up) by 15:00. We have a bit more rigging work to be done in the next two weeks, after which it may be too damned hot to enjoy sailing, but this week was perfect!!





Saturday, April 09, 2016

Another night on the hook ...

We managed to slip away from the house and sail over to Pelican Bay on Monday, March 22nd. The wind was light, and we only rolled out the Genoa as we got out of the marina at 12:10.  Half way across, I wished we had brought the spinnaker on deck, but we were both too relaxed to do it at that point. So, at 16:00 about a mile out from Pelican Bay, we turned on the "iron genny" and motored in to anchor. We had to push our way through 5' of water in the entrance channel, as it was not high tide. But we managed and anchored at 16:45 in 9' feet of water east of the bulk of the other boats there ... and there were quite a few.

A bit of reading led to cocktail hour.  We talked about doing a U.S. Virgin Islands charter trip, sailing from St. Thomas to the Spanish Virgins, then to St. Croix, St. John and back.  About two weeks. Called sister Patricia, and she said she'd be up for it, so next year about this time is when we'll try to do it.  Now, I have to remember to schedule it!

A nice simple dinner of filets, baked potatoes and asparagus, along with a bottle of good red wine, and we were ready for a good night's sleep.  In the morning we arose, read, had gruel for breakfast, and at 10:00 raised the main, sailed off anchor, rolled out the Genoa and beat our way out of Pelican Bay.  We had a nice 12-14 knot wind from the SSE and managed a good sail back to Burnt Store Marina, arriving at 15:15.  After washing Alizee down, we were home by 16:30.  A nice brief escape.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Two days with great winds and flat seas ...

Monday, March 7th, we awakened to a beautiful spring morning and by 11:00 hours we had loaded a couple of meals aboard Alizee and were ready to leave the slip.  Even with winds gusting 14 knots out of the east (to our stern), we easily let the lines go and motored out of Burnt Store Marina.  Just past the outer channel marker, we turned into the wind, raised the main and put out the genoa (with one reef).

What a gorgeous breeze ... we headed north on a broad reach, often reaching 6.5 knots over ground. Along the way, we threw out a hand line with a #10 planer and gold  spoon.  Although we hadn't caught anything our last couple of times out, I thought perhaps the water was warming and we might catch something this trip.  And, indeed, we pulled in a lovely 14-15" Spanish Mackerel, which Penelope filleted and put on ice.

By 13:00, we were in the Myaka River and dropped anchor amidst a sea of crab pots to have lunch. We didn't stay much longer than 45 minutes, and set sail on a close reach in a southerly direction back into Charlotte Harbor. We sailed about three miles south, then tacked back across the harbor toward Punta Gorda. Although the winds were to much on our head to get directly to our anchorage for the night just north of Gilchrist Park and Fisherman's Village, we got within about a half-mile before dropping sails and motoring in to drop anchor at 15:45.
We love sitting at anchor. We read, watch the birds, other boats, solve world problems (though nobody cares), manage to toast the setting sun (and Monday night's sunset was truly lovely), and always fix a comfort meal of some sort.  As with our last couple of sailing trips, we brought a prepared meal, "Mom's Spaghetti and Meatballs", which is one of Penelope's best recipes.  Truly a yummy treat for day's end.  Indeed, by 21:00 we were tucked in our bunk and gently rocked to sleep.



Tuesday at 07:30 saw the boat boy (me) up and making coffee (which I made a little too strong this day), and soon we were both nestled in the cockpit in the morning sun busy reading our books.  Penelope prepared some gruel (oats with raisins and nuts) for breakfast, which is always a good way to start a sailing day.  Can't quite remember as I write this, but I think we raised the main, weighed anchor at around 10:30, and sailed off the anchor on a broad reach.
The winds were unexpected.  Predictions had been for gusts of 14-16 knots, but we had gusts from 25-30+ knots and a steady 20-22 knot breeze. Fortunately, we'd put a reef in the main as well as in the genoa, and Alizee handled the weather beautifully, even when we turn south and from a broad to a beam and finally a close reach.  There were three or four other sail boats going in the same direction from the Isles Yacht Club in Punta Gorda, but they ran only reefed genoas, and one only its double-reefed main (it had to be motoring).  Indeed, they rolled up their genoas for most of the trip south, and I had to rest mightily the urge to go on the radio and ask why anyone would motor their perfectly good sailboat on a day with such great wind!  For the life of me, I'll never understand it!







We had to overshoot the Burnt Store Marina channel by a couple of miles to lay a course to it, but nevertheless, we were in the slip by 15:00 hours, and in 45 minutes washed Alizee down, put everything away, packed up and were headed to the parking lot.

It was a great two days, and it lingered. On Wednesday, Penelope had an early-morning appointment, so we postponed our final treat of the sailing trip to this morning: a fresh fried Spanish Mackerel breakfast!


Friday, March 04, 2016

Snatching a bit of wind here and there ...

We're making a concerted effort to get on the water this winter.  We sailed over to Pelican Bay for a night a week ago, celebrating the end of February, and this coming Monday and Tuesday we're going out for a night to celebrate the beginning of March.  If the weather and we don't allow our land life to interfere, we're planning 3-4 days staring March 16th and then the 21st through the 25th. So, we've been slipping down to the Alizee whenever convenient to do some cleaning and a few little maintenance chores, such as patching a couple of leaks in the dinghy, sealing the cap-rail teak, etc.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Three days of sailing, two days of sitting ...

Back on the water at last!  We took the five days starting Monday, January 25th to get back on Alizee and enjoy some time away from land life.  We left the slip at Burnt Store Marina at 12:50 and were under sail in twenty minutes.  A light NW breeze got us on course to Pelican Bay at about 3.5 knots, but by 1400 the wind had fallen off.  Soon we were motoring into our anchorage and by 1615 we were securely snugged in for the evening.  But in the process of anchoring, we discovered that mice had been attempting to nest in the rope locker at the bow.  James cleaned it out, and we'll put mouse traps in the locker once we're back.

Our first evening on the hook ... seems like it's been forever, and in fact it has!!  This is testified to by the fact that James could not blow the conch horn effectively at sunset ... nor could Penelope ... only one decent little "toot" was managed after numerous attempts at puckering and blowing.  Cocktails followed by a dinner of Empress chili and Mazza salad and a nice conversation on the phone with Tony and Lin Kay, who James always wants to call when we get on the boat and he has an after-dinner drink of Ricard.

Tuesday were arose at 0800, and relaxed with books while awaiting the tide to rise and permit a passage through Pelican Bay's entrance.  James decided to straighten up the rope lockers in the cockpit, and we discovered that mice had been nesting in each one, so the task became one of cleaning out as well as straightening.  We are going to have to put copper wool in the drain holes of each locker.  Mice, birds!!  What a pain in the rear.

We weighed anchor at 1100 and had a foot to spare while going through the bay entrance.  Got a nice SE wind of 10-12 knots and got 3/4's of the way back toward Burnt Store Marina before we had to tack. Then on our second tack back to the north, the wind died and we motored north to the Myaka River to spend our second night.  James through out a trolling line for the trip, but got no bites -- the water's a bit cold so the fish are likely headed into the shallower shore waters -- so we just had to suffer with a lamb chop dinner.

Motoring is not our favorite way of moving across the water, but it does have the benefit of letting us charge all our electronic toys by using the inverter as well as the 12-volt charging outlet, so when we anchored in the Myaka at 1600, everything was charged up.  The weather predictions pointed to a front coming through with possible lightning, so that night we put all our electrical devices in the range oven, so if Alizee were struck with a bolt, they might survive, the oven acting as a Faraday cage.

We got no lightning, but we did wake up to roily conditions.  We love the Myaka River and our evening was incredibly nice as we floated on milky waters, but we always forget that the combination of the river current, tides and winds often leads to a rocky ride.  Up at 0730, and knowing that weather was headed our way by noon, we decided to weigh anchor and motor over to the anchorage just north of Gilchrist Park in Punta Gorda.  We arrived and anchored by 1000, and the rain started almost immediately.  James made a bacon/egg/pancake "brunch" and we settled in for a rainy and windy day, which by the end of it we each had finished books and were starting new ones. Dinner was spaghetti and meatballs, and James managed to log on to Amazon and download the book Dead Wake to his Kindle.  We continued reading!

We had hoped Thursday would bring a break in the rain, but alas, the front continued storming through all day and into the evening. The waters got a bit roily because the wind was out of the northwest and blowing across Charlotte Harbor, but by now we had our sea legs.  It reminded us fondly of waiting through storms in the Bahamas at places like Sail Cay and Eleuthra. Penelope put it perfectly: "This is really like cruising."  But despite the rain and wind, we were very comfortable, and Penelope cooked a great dinner: Filet Mignon (from d'Artagnan), baked potato, brussel sprouts, mushrooms -- a real feast!!

At the start of the evening, I inflated the dinghy, which when soft and hanging on the davits is able to swing side to side when it's windy.  Clearly there was a leak I had not found and patched earlier, in December.  Around 0400, enough air had leaked out again to cause the dinghy to swing, and the first thing I did on Friday morning was to inflate it again.  But I found the leak this time and will fix it once back at the marina.

Alas, Friday was our return trip day.  We left anchor at 0930, and motor-sailed with just the Genoa out of the anchorage with a nice NNE 10-knot breeze.  Although the breeze softened, we were able to sail from outside the anchorage to about one-mile north of Burnt Store Marina, at which point the wind died completely.  We docked at 1330, put on the canvas, fenders, turned on shore power and inflated and raised a new bird-control balloon called the "Evil Eye" up to just below the top of the mast.  We'll see if it keeps the birds from landing on the mast and covering the deck with poop.  We were home by 1500, and so ended our first short sail week of the new year.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

An Aborted Christmas Cruise ...

As fate would have it, our days and weeks got overloaded from August through early November with planning for, executing and mopping up after the War on the Peace Dragon Boat Festival -- James was the festival director and Penelope the assistant festival director and volunteer coordinator.  And, James's band All That Jazz continues to play Sundays in Venice as well as occasional other gigs.

So, we didn't get any sailing in.  But we promised ourselves that we would go out for Christmas week and let the wind take us wherever, so we spent a couple of weeks readying Alizee for the voyage, prepared provisions for the week and, on Monday Dec 21st, set off for Pelican Bay for our first overnight anchorage.  We had a beautiful sail under an east wind of 10-15 knots, sailing up Charlotte Harbor (northward from Burnt Store Marina) for about two hours, thence sailing south to a spot a mile east of BSM, where we turned west and had a nice downwind sail to the entrance of Pelican Bay.  We were anchored in eight to nine feet of water by 16:30, and settled in for a little reading, cocktails and finally a spaghetti and meatball dinner prepared by Penelope.

We had a great evening kibitzing and finishing off a bottle of wine, followed by a really nice night's sleep.  Next morning I arose to make our morning coffee, and (damn/spit!) discovered mouse droppings on the galley counters.  Then when we climbed into the cockpit I found even more.  Oh no! Shades of our rat infestation a couple of years back.  Well, we decided to put out a trap that night, but couldn't do much more at the moment.

We agreed we should sail all the way up Charlotte Harbor to a favorite anchorage of ours on the Myakka River.  We hoisted the mainsail, weighed anchor and motor-sailed our of Pelican Bay.  The batteries had gone from full charge to 3/4 charge over night, so following normal routine, I checked to see that the engine alternator was charging them.  Oh, oh!  No charge.  In fact the electronics we were using and the refrigerator were still drawing 4-5 amps from them.  Obviously, we had a problem.  I telephoned our mechanic, Smitty, and low and behold, he agreed to meet us at BSM around noon, so we cut our cruise short.  At least the sail from Pelican Bay to BSM was a gorgeous sail close hauled under 10-15 knots of southeast wind.

The rest of the story is one of maintenance, although we did stay on the boat one more night hoping a new alternator would be available for installation the next morning.  Alas, that didn't happen.  But, the mouse chewed his we off the boat (we think), exiting through the screened hatch covers we use to keep out mosquitoes and no-seeums.  So, we looking forward to trying again in January, particularly since we have a new alternator!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Move to a new marina ...

Poor Alizee has been virtually at a stand still for the past six months.  We had a great sail bringing her down from St. Pete in November, but low tides combined with the captain's music gig schedule eliminated virtually every opportunity we had to go sailing during the winter season (sad, indeed, because that is the best sailing season in Florida).  Then, when we finally got ready to set out for a sail, we discovered the heat exchanger had cracked, leaking coolant over the starter, and stray voltage fried the starter as well as voltage regulator.  Thus, lots of engine work, which also revealed fried wiring in the engine harness and problems with the raw-water-intake pump -- both replaced, along with the starter, voltage regulator and heat exchanger.

At last, on Monday, 18 May, we boarded Alizee, and prepared to take her out, away from our long-term dock at the Charlotte Harbor Yacht Club, and to a new berth at Burnt Store Marina (just 5 minutes from our home and having a regular year-round depth of 6 feet plus).  Friends Hermann and Jeri Schaller joined us for the voyage, which took about five hours.  Very light winds, perhaps get us up to 5 knots at one point, and we ended up motoring the last couple of nautical miles.  And, HOT!   It's not quite summer, but temps in the low 90s and a little humidity make it really miserable at times.

We took our time tying up Alizee, and went into the berth bow first after I failed a couple of times to back her in.  That's always a tough thing to do, and the little breeze we had kept sliding her away from the berth.  Too hot to put her to bed properly, so the next day, I went back down in the morning to straighten out the sails, put on the covers, make sure the lines were all adjusted correctly, and pick up some stuff we'd left aboard.

The first heat break we get, I want to go out for a night on the hook.  Hope it's soon, but it may not be for a while.