Monday, April 18, 2011

Last leg to St. Petersburg ...

We escaped "spring break" weekend in Key West and started our crossing to Florida's west coast at, sailing a close reach out the channel and against the tidal current at a little over 4 knots.  Although the winds were NE, which precluded doing a quicker crossing to Marco Island, we had a good sail for eight hours toward Fort Myers.  As the sun began lowering in the west, Pen decided to cook clam linguini and went down below.  Perhaps ten minutes later our hand line snapped, and I pulled in a Yellow Jack while Pen pointed out forcefully that she had her hands tied cooking ... it was a bad time to catch fish.  Because jacks often carry ciguatera, a food borne illness caused by eating certain reef fish whose flesh is contaminated with toxins, I released it, turned back to be sure that the autopilot was holding course and then turned to reel in our pole line.  It had been pulled over, a sure sign that a fish had struck it as well, and as I reeled it in it was clear we had another fish.  This one was a Blue Runner, and I was not about to throw it back, so we stuck it in a large baggie and threw it in the freezer to deal with it later.

Cooking clam linguine turned out to be a pain, but we enjoyed it with some wine as we watched the sun set.  Then the wind shifted to NNE and we rolled in the Genoa and began motor sailing with the staysail and main still up.  Doing our shifts (three hours on and three hours off), we went through the night.  When the moon finally rose around 21:30, Pen was at the helm and she said it was an OMG moon rising.  When I did the midnight to 03:00 shift, it seemed as bright as day, and you could barely see stars out.



After sunrise, Pen went below to catch needed sleep while I took the helm.  Around 08:00 the wind began shifting eastward a bit and I decided to roll out the Genoa.  It looked like we were right on course to reach Fort Myers Beach at about 13:00, are estimated time of arrival.  Suddenly all hell seemed to break loose.  Crash!! The cotter pin holding the pinion at the foot of the forestay (on to which the Genoa is rolled up) pulled out and the pinion slipped out releasing the foot of the forestay and Genoa roller furler.  With the Genoa out, the wind pulled the whole thing up and over the bow pulpit in a deafening screech of metal on metal.  I yelled down to Pen to come topside, but awakened by the grinding and crashing, she was already on her way.

The forestay, roller furler and Genoa were flying almost horizontal to the water off the port side, being held by the top by the Genoa halyard and forestay pinion and at the bottom by the roller furling line which was held on to the boat about two-thirds of the way back on the starboard side by a stop knot caught in a furling block.  Pen took the helm while I moved forward to assess the situation and see what I could do to get the sail and forestay under control and back on the boat.  At first she turned the boat into the wind, which was blowing at between 17 and 20 knots, but it was quickly clear that this just put more wind on the Genoa.  While I tried my best to slowly pull the sail in with the furling line, Pen experimented and finally found a downwind heading that took the pressure off the Genoa as the mainsail blocked it.  I managed then to wrestle the forestay and Genoa into the port shroud and tie it off.  It was tenuous, but it held momentarily, long enough for Pen to grab our camera and take a couple of photos of me wrestling it and tying it down.

Without the forestay, of course, and with the mainsail up, a lot of pressure is on the mast and remaining shrouds, so the next step was to drop the main and take in the staysail, which we rushed to do with the Genoa and forestay temporarily secured.  I'm glad we have a fixed staysail, for that inner forestay certainly played an important roll in keeping the mast securely in place.  Once that was accomplished, I went forward and tried to lower the Genoa, but it was jammed at the top of the mast, and I could not see the problem.  Consequently, I tied the Genoa and forestay more securely amidship, and we tried to motoring a bit on our original course.  It became evident very quickly that any forward gain on a course with the wind off our bow was going to simply catch the Genoa.  The sail had to come down.

After a bit of investigating and puzzling over the situation, I saw that our spinnaker halyard had been caught by the forestay when it broke loose and pulled into a position which pinched the Genoa halyard.  From deck I was able to free the spinnaker halyard and get it out of the way, and then I could start to pull down the Genoa.  Gradually, I got the Genoa down, over the life lines, between the shrouds and on deck.  Pen and I then stretched it out and flaked it as best we could along the gunwale from the bow back to the cockpit, tying it to the stanchions with one of our preventer lines.  Then together, we manhandled the roller furler and forestay up to the bow and over the pulpit, it slipping only once right down on to Pen's foot.  We were lucky she didn't break a bone nor cut her foot, but she surely yelped loudly.

We managed to tied the forestay and roller furler to the staysail, but realized after we had it secured that the foot of the forestay would inevitably be gouging the fiberglass at the bow.  This was not the solution.  Somewhere I dredged up a memory of a forestay roller furler being pulled between the cross pieces on a pulpit, and I suggested we try that.  It worked and we got it tied off nicely and finally managed to get under way again to our destination.  All in all, it had taken us only about and hour and a half to bring things back in order and get under way, but we were exhausted and frankly it seemed like an entire morning.

While floating about two or three boats went by, but no one hailed us to see if we were in trouble.  The only help we got was spiritual, and it was given freely and for almost an hour by a pod of curious dolphins who found us.  Once underway, they cavorted and swam with us for ever so long, and we were thrilled at their company for it was a sure sign that Neptune was on our side this time.  And, amazingly, we were only about two hours off our ETA when we dropped anchor in San Carlos Bay.  Once anchored, I called a couple of marinas and finally found one willing to help us out with repairs the next day: Olsen's Marine Service.

Olsen's Marine put us in their haul out slip, reattached the forestay with a replacement pinion, and help us sort out things and we were out of there within an hour and a half.  Since it was barely noon, we took the time to motor through the Fort Myers Beach mooring field ... we don't do too well with moorings, but one of these days we'll work it out ... and I almost put us hard aground again on a shoal.  Thankfully, I was able to rock Alizee off and back into the channel in just a couple of moments.  At any rate, we decided to go and anchor out again in San Carlos Bay and leave the next morning for Boca Grande Pass, the inlet into Charlotte Harbor.

The sail up to Charlotte Harbor was uneventful and easy.  No fish to be caught, lots of lobster pots to watch out for, and light winds that led us to motor sail the last portion.  The inlet is wide and deep and we went through easily, aiming to anchor in Pelican Bay, just to the south of the inlet off the ICW.  When we got within sight of the bay and could see into it, we discovered there were already a number of boats anchored there.  As I looked again at the charts, I decided that since it already seemed crowded in there and the entrance depths were not much over the 5' that we draw, and since there was another sailboat anchored just off the northwest shore of Cayo Costa (the key in which Pelican Bay lives), why not just anchor a bit above that boat.  There was lots of room.  Well, it turned out to be a great spot.  We anchored just off the beach along the inside of Cayo Costa, where lots of birds were searching for dinner.  There was virtually no current nor were there many boat, despite the fact that the ICW ran north-south just 500 meters to the east of us.

This anchorage like so many others was so peaceful that we simply laid back and enjoyed our life, and as with so many other late afternoons and evenings, we pulled out our books and read.  Pen found herself particularly engrossed by Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand, author of Seabiscuit.  It's the story of Louie Zamperini, a juvenile delinquent-turned-Olympic runner-turned-Army hero, and it is truly captivating.  I think I lost her to it for several afternoons.  Meanwhile, I worked my way first through The Rebel, the first novel in a trilogy about the American Civil War by Bernard Cornwell, who is best known for his series several novels following the life of British soldier Richard Sharpe in India and through the Napoleonic wars (it was a very successful PBS series, too).  It was quite good, but even better was True History of the Kelly Gang: A Novel by Peter Carey.  Set in 19th Century Australia, it is a wonderfully told story of the people in this criminal colony of Great Britain. We also read Frank Howard Mosher's novel A Stranger in the Kingdom, a wonderful tale of racism and murder as told through the eyes of a young thirteen year-old boy in Kingdom County, Vermont, an old-fashioned rural community.  This was my favorite, but all these novels are a step above the popular pulp fiction you see in airport news stands.

On March 24th, we hoisted our newly repaired Genoa and had a nice short sail (perhaps three hours) part way up Charlotte Harbor to the Burnt Store Marina, where we had made a reservation the day before.  Here we found a really nice, welcoming marina crew, did our laundry, showered and generally rejuvenated ourselves and ended up having dinner at the outside bar of the marina restaurant and listening to locals do karaoke.  Louis, maybe 85 years old, who sat next to us at the bar, was the first singer up and had a ball singing Old Man River and later a couple of more songs.  But he was the best, and those that followed convinced us to go back to the boat after we finished eating and have a drink in the cockpit.  Unfortunately, we missed Louis when he joined a group of three or four other octogenarians reprized the Soggy Mountain Boys (from "Brother Where Art Thou") doing In the Jailhouse Now.

Next morning we left the marina and sailed up Charlotte Harbor to Punta Gorda.  It is really a bit of a misnomer to call this body of water a harbor, for it is really a good sized bay.  It's a full day's sail from the inlet to Punta Gorda where the Peace River begins.  We had a light wind largely behind us sailing north, but it was very light and coasted for the first couple of hours until it picked up about a third of the way along our route.  Then we had a nice sail the rest of the way.  A local sailor in a 30' sloop was out shaking his sails out before a regatta the next day, and he came along side and sailed with us for a couple of tacks near Punta Gorda.  He invited us to join the Leukemia Regatta party at a local yacht club the next afternoon, if we were still around, and told us where to anchor if we wanted to watch it.

We anchored off Fishermens Village, a local heritage site in Punta Gorda, and had a pleasant evening.  In the morning we weighed anchor around 10:00, and the boats in the regatta were mulling about awaiting a start.  Apparently they were to have started at 10:00, but because of light winds did not get underway until almost 11:00, just after we passed by the starting point.  I took us away from the course, keeping on our tack as long as I could before tacking back across the bay, and our second tack brought us just below the mark where the racers were turning back.  It was fun to watch them make the mark, turn round it and then pop their spinnakers.

Leaving them behind we continued south down Charlotte Harbor making four or five tacks and arriving north of the inlet as the sun was beginning to go down.  Our plan was to go up the ICW the next day, so we proceeded a couple of miles north of the inlet along the ICW to an anchorage in Peekins Ranch Cove, which was not marked as an anchorage on any of our guides but which I could see from the charts would have the right depth and some protection.  Except for a handful of lobster pots, it was just fine and we got the hook down just before the sun set, and it was a very pretty one at that.

Morning brought some good winds, and we decided that rather than having to go through bridges up the ICW to Venice, why not just motor back down the couple of miles to the Boca Grande Inlet and sail outside up to the Venice Inlet.  Since there was only one anchorage shown near the Venice Inlet, and not a very good one according to ratings on ActiveCaptain.com, the on-line interactive cruising guide, I called ahead and made a reservation at the Crow's Nest Marina.  Just inside the inlet, it boasted a first-rate restaurant, and we thought that would be nice to try.

So, we motored south for 45 minutes, raised the sails and in a brisk 20 knot wind made way to and out the inlet.  Turning north the wind fell behind us, and we sailed our course to the Venice Inlet wing on wing.  It was another day where I wish we had our spinnaker, especially because sailing wing on wing demands the helm person's attention.  You don't want the wind to get behind the mainsail and cause a gybe, and you want to keep the Genoa on the other side filled.  We helped control the mainsail by employing a gybe-preventer line attached to the mast and down to the deck forward of the sail, but we don't have a reaching pole to hold out the Genoa, so it required our attention to keep it filled.  I must say, though, this was the longest wing-on-wing run I've ever sailed - almost four hours - in which the autopilot held virtually the entire time and the sails remained in position once set.

Only one incident occurred during the sail, one that could have been very serious, but turned out to be just a close call.  One other sailboat was out on the water with us.  A ketch-rigged cruiser, it was actually about a half-mile off our port when we turned north, but a third of the way along our route its skipper crossed our stern and put himself approximately a half-mile off our starboard.  We were on a starboard tack, wing-on-wing, meaning that our mainsail was on the port side of the boat and the wind, ever so slightly coming from the starboard stern.  We were also downwind from the ketch, since it was now off our starboard side.  This simply meant we had the right of way should he want to cross our line of travel again, and with only two boats in sight on the sea, we watched him less and kept our eye out for lobster pots, which were almost everywhere.

At one point I looked up and saw that the ketch had closed its distance to us and seemed to be heading to cross our line.  I took note, and then went back to looking for lobster pots.  It seemed only a moment or two later and I saw the ketch closing on our starboard side in a direction that looked like he wanted to cross our bow.  Still feeling sure that he knew where we were, I didn't try to raise him on his VHF radio, and watched him.  But suddenly he seemed to veer closer to us, sailing a port-broad reach and picking up speed.  No time for radios now.  I had waited too long, so I yelled as loud as I could at the captain, who leaped out of his seat on the port side of his boat, looked ashen faced at us, realized he would hit me if he did not take action and turned just enough to pass our bow, oh with perhaps ten foot clearance, maybe less.  As he turned port and came down our port side, he said to me sheepishly: "My autopilot malfunctioned."  To which I replied: "I think your real pilot failed."  He gave no apology at all. 

The experience reinforced for me the old adage that one should never ever trust that the skipper of another boat is paying attention to what they are doing.  I should have tried raising him on the VHF radio long before he got within hailing distance of Alizee (assuming he had his radio on, which legally he is supposed to), and then if I could not reach him via the VHF, I should have adjusted my course to avoid him.  But I was so nicely set wing on wing and had the legal right of way ... well, if he'd hit me, in the end, it would have been almost as much my fault as his.  One may have the right of way and still be mashed, and who's fault is that?  This says it all:

         "This is the grave of Mike O'Day
         Who died maintaining his right of way,
         His right was clear, his will was strong,
         But he's just as dead, as if he'd been wrong."

When we reached the Venice inlet, the ketch, which had headed far out to our port side after the near miss, now closed in and came in the inlet perhaps 500 meters behind us.  We slowed, radioed the marina and got instructions, and turned into our berth there.  I was so busy bringing us in to the berth that I didn't see where the ketch went, but if he had planned to come to the Crow's Nest Marina, he changed his mind when he saw us go in.

The Crow's Nest turned out to be a wonderful spot.  Despite a strong tidal current, we got in easily, and later were complimented by some other sailors who had had to make a couple of tries to get in to their berth. We took showers, and I tried to get us a reservation at the restaurant but was told we could not get one and would have to sign the waiting list.  The hostess suggested that, if we were on a boat, we could sign up an hour before we wanted to eat, take the paging vibrator to the boat and wait.  That sounded good, so about two hours later I went up and got it, walked back to the boat, and before I even got there it was vibrating.  I went back: "hey, you said we had an hour's wait."  The hostess replied that "a table just opened up," and I responded: "well, we were just pouring cocktails on our boat and we'd like the hour.  Can you do that?"  So, we got our hour, and when we finally got paged, we found ourselves seated in a window seat overlooking the marina and the Venice Inlet, and we had probably the best meal of the trip.  The Crow's Nest Restaurant was truly first rate, with white linen, truly professional staff giving excellent service and wonderful food.

Our plans changed the next day because a weather system came in that night with lots of rain ... we had to hop up and close up the boat, but still got pretty wet.  Since the chance of more rain during the day was 90% according to the forecasts, we decided to stay put for another night.  As it turned out, the rain held off until around 18:00, but once our decision was made that was the end of it.  We chatted up neighbors on Manatee, a Gozzard 36 to our starboard, and invited them over for cocktails around sunset.  Then we took two of the free bicycles at the marina (very worn out, but free bicycles) and rode a couple of miles to downtown Venice where we had lunch at a local eatery and then returned to spend the afternoon reading.

By 18:00 the rain was starting and we wondered if our new friends Rod and Evilene Crist would still come over.  Indeed, they did and we discovered we enjoyed each other very much.  They are perhaps a bit younger than we are, but not much I think.  Evilene is French and met and married Rod while he was stationed there in the military.  As we talked the rain did not seem to be wanting to let up, but indeed was worse, so we finally asked them to stay and share our dinner.  I had a meal already to go, and after a little arm twisting they agreed.  It was such a fun evening, and they finally managed to slip back to their boat in a brief lull in the storm around 21:30.  The next day, they went on south, heading to the Bahamas for a brief cruise there, and we headed north.  We'll be seeing them when they return from their trip, and we may be joining them in the Dolphin Cruising Club of Tampa Bay, about which they told us.

Our trip up the next morning after the storm had passed took us through Sarasota and across Sarasota Bay.  The ICW between Venice and Sarasota was very picturesque, and we took almost two hours to drift pleasantly across Sarasota Bay in hardly any wind at all.  We'd aimed to anchor at Longboat Pass, but tried three times to drop our CQR and hit grass each time.  There were already a dozen boats there, so perhaps if it had not been so crowded we would have found a spot without grass.  Rather than keep trying, since it was crowded, we decided to go north to Cortez Bridge, just a couple of nautical miles away.  Rod and Evilene had told us they like to
anchor to the southeast side of the bridge, so we found our way into that anchorage and hooked on the first try.  It seems there were four or five derelict boats that were being salvaged there, and soon after we anchored two fellows in a small power boat pulled up the anchors on a trawler and sailboat that were anchored together and towed them over to another spot where other derelicts had been anchored.  That opened up a nice shoreline view for us, for which we were grateful.  We also had a very picturesque view of an old boat house and dock with a derelict sunk next to it, really one of the nicest views we saw on the trip during the late hours of the day.

On our last day of the trip, we departed Cortez Bridge with winds at 20 knots and building.  We had two bridges to go through, and had to wait for each of them for several minutes in the wind.  Not pleasant.  Then we followed the final portion of the ICW into Tampa Bay and had a romping sail at 7+ knots with just the Genoa out in now almost 25 knots under the famous Sky Bridge and on to our marina at St. Petersburg.  We motored in the channel to the marina at barely 4 knots, and they tied us up on a side tie.  They felt wind was too much to get into our slip, and I was fine with that.  Pen's first husband, David, father of her daughter Erin, came over with his friend Melissa and we had dinner at the nearby Fish Tales, a nice welcome to our new boat home.

It stormed that night, with winds as high as 40 knots, and we were damned happy to be securely tied up at a dock rather than at anchor.  Meanwhile, I looked at the slip we had originally leased, saw some other open ones and asked the harbor master if we could change our assignment.  He said sure, just pick out the slip you want.  So, the next morning we chose a slip (C-26 at the Harborage Marina), took Alizee around to the pump out station and then brought her into her new berth.  We spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon washing her down, cleaning out and storing jerry cans and getting things ready to leave for home.  Pen's sisters Patricia and Vicki drove over from Deland to pick us up - Vicki had come down from Ohio and sat our cats while we were on the trip.  We took them to dinner, also at Fish Tales, and then we loaded our stuff in the trunk of Pen's car and drove home.  It took 28 days to sail around Florida and the Keys and two and a half hours to drive back.  You gotta love it!

Well, we'll be heading back soon ... actually tomorrow, since it's taken me so long to get this posting done ... and we'll stay for about ten days, doing a little boat work and getting some more sailing in.  So look for the next blog post in a couple of weeks.

All the trip photos

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Down through the Keys...

After a pretty nice trip down through the ICW from Daytona Beach, we arrived in No Name Harbor on Key Biscayne, just below Miami, on March 10th and spent a very nice evening.  The next morning, we arose for morning coffee and around 0900 weighed anchor and began our journey down into the Florida Keys.  Our route initially was almost east, and had we continued that path we would have found ourselves in Bimini and the Bahamas.  I think that would have suited me just fine, but that trip won't be done again for a while.  So, once we passed the Cape Florida Lighthouse on Key Biscayne and
Stiltsville, a cluster of houses built on stilts in very shallow water in Biscayne National Park (hurricane Andrew in 1993 reduced the number from twenty to a mere handful today), we turned south into what is called Hawk Channel.


Hawk Channel is the body of water between the Florida Keys on the west and off-shore reefs on the east, beyond which lies the Atlantic.  It varies in width from one quarter mile up to two miles at some points, and has an average depth of 15-20 feet.  Channel markers appear about every mile or so, making it rather easy to navigate, and with a chart plotter it is no problem at all.  We had a lovely downwind sail once we turned south, catching our first fish, a Southern Sennett, along the way.  By mid-afternoon we found the narrow channel into Caesar's Creek, at the
bottom of Elliot Key and sought out a place to anchor.  This is part of the Biscayne National Park, and we were the only boat to anchor there this night.  The mangroves were deliciously beautiful and in trying to get close to them we found the water shallowed out very quickly.  We actually pulled up anchor and moved a bit further out so we wouldn't go aground if we swung on the anchor.  The tidal current was very strong, but Alizee held her spot and we had a wonderful, peaceful night. 



The next day we motored out the narrow channel to Hawk Channel and turned south again to Rodriguez Key next to Key Largo.  The wind was lighter than the day before and out of the north east, making it another wonderful downwind sail on the genoa.  We had ordered a new spinnaker six weeks before we left, and it was promised us, but it did not arrive before we left nor did it appear while we were headed down the ICW.  To say I was irritated is truly understating my feelings.  I could have strangled the sail maker, despite the fact that I like him very much.  Anyway, the day was absolutely perfect for it, and we were quite jealous of another cruiser who was flying one.  As our trip went on, we could have flown the spinnaker several other times, which continued to be a frustration.  We finally heard from our sail maker as we were leaving Fort Meyers Beach on March 23rd, and we finally arranged for him to bring it to us in St. Petersburg.  That turned out not to quite work out, because a nasty storm system came through the day he was to drive over with it, so to date we still don't have the spinnaker.  If all works well, he'll deliver it to us in St. Petersburg on April 20th.

Griping aside, we anchored in good water on the northwest side of Rodriguez Key around 13:00, and I persuaded Penelope that we should take a dinghy ride into Lake Largo to find Calypso, a Cuban/Spanish restaurant recommended by our sailing friend Robyn Joiner. It turned out to be one hell of a long ride - probably two or three miles as we took a circular route in order not to be going right into the wind - and when we got into Lake Largo the first thing we saw as a Tiki Bar with no name.  We tied up, went in, ordered a beer and discovered we were at the Pilot House.  I asked where the Calypso was located and walked down to it, but we ended up eating lunch at the Pilot House anyway, since all the good specialties at the Calypso were on the dinner menu only.  Too bad.  After we ate, we took a fruitless though healthful mile plus long walk looking for a small grocery. Alas, the Keys are not the Bahamas where small stores are almost everywhere and the supermarket was another four miles round trip, so we returned to the dinghy for the long downwind ride to Alizee empty handed.  

For our third sailing day in the Keys, we decided to go under the Channel Five Bridge just south of Islamorada on Lower Matecumbe Key and follow the ICW route on the Florida Bay side of the Keys.  The water was 7' deep well outside the ICW channel, so we could sail the whole way and not be restricted to the narrow ICW channel.  Because we were late leaving Rodriguez Key, we decided to spend another night on the hook at Jewfish Key, just below the Channel Five Bridge on the west side.

The next morning, our fourth in the Keys, we took a a wonderful light air sail, coasting our way south to Vaca Key, the location of one of the Key's largest communities, Marathon.  Here is located Boot Key Harbor, which is home to over 250 moorings which are generally all occupied with boats anchoring wherever there is a bit of space left over.  It seems like a KOA campground for boaters to us, and we made a pretty early decision not to join the throngs of boaters already there.

Perhaps if we were up for a party and meeting lots of cruisers, we would have, but since we were not on the east side of Vaca Key in Hawk Channel, where we would have had to have been to easily get into the harbor, we decided to find a marina on the west side.  This turned out to be a lucky move, for we found a sweet little marina, the Black Fin, which was just a half-mile walk to Marathon's Publix grocery and was extremely peaceful.




We ended up spending two nights at the Black Fin, did our grocery shopping, showered twice (always a treat), and did laundry.  And on our first night, after showering and relaxing a bit, we took a $5 taxi ride down to the Sunset Grille and Rawbar at Seven Mile Bridge on lower end of Marathon.  Here they boast the best sunsets on the key, and we have to concur it was pretty nice.  There was a great local folk singer doing his thing in the bar, a happy crowd of people, and George, an old cruiser who pretty much had made Boot Harbor his home, sitting out front weaving all sorts of things out of palm fronds.  He gave Pen a fish on the end of a pole, which hangs proudly now in her berth on Alizee.

Our time at the Black Fin brought us some very sad news, though.  Our dear friend Neil Cowan, who had been fighting lung cancer for over a year, died.  It was really devastating, and we found ourselves thinking about him and Ruth constantly, remembering with tears in our eyes our race to get to Georgetown in the Bahamas last year to spend a week with them at the Emerald Bay marina and resort area, the week we spent with them at their house in Glen Cove, Long Island the end of summer in 2009, and all the other future plans we'd talked about.  We'd been talking with Neil on the phone whenever we got a chance, and while he knew it was coming and we knew it, too, it was such a painful experience for us.  When we left Vaca Key on March 15th, we took only three hours or so sail in light air to Horseshoe Keys, located in the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge.

This could not have been a more perfect place to have been at the time.  I felt like I could see Neil in the clouds passing over and Pen captured this same feeling in a poem she wrote.  We could feel his spirit in the great white herons along the shore of Horseshoe Key, the ospreys hunting their dinners, the kingfishers, the manta rays in the shallow waters close to shore and the myriads of little white butterflies flitting about the mangroves.  We anchored and took the dinghy in and spent at least an hour exploring the shoreline and getting a close-up view of the life there.  We tried fishing and caught one tiny little fish, maybe a snapper or grunt ... I couldn't tell, which we threw back to live a longer life.  The little fish just nibbled away our squid bait as fast as we could get it on the hook.  Except for the Southern Sennett, we were not doing too well with our fishing.  We need to learn the techniques for Florida waters, I think.  Anyway, we loved Horseshoe Key so much and found it so peaceful that we decided to spend the next day at anchor there and another quiet night.  We were the only boat there, except for a couple of fishermen in small boats who stayed away from us.  It is a spot and an experience I know neither one of us will ever forget.

We left Horseshoe Key with some regret and wound our way through an unmarked channel to Florida Bay.  Here we turned south, winding our way through lobster pots (they were absolutely everywhere on the Florida Bay side of the Keys), and caught two fish along the way.  The first was a Blue Runner, which makes for wonderful sushi, and the next was a Crevalle Jack, a fighter on the hook but not the best eating.  Since we aren't big fish eaters, we threw it back.  But we had our Blue Runner, and so not long after we anchored at our next spot beside Tarpon Belly Key, still in the Great White Heron refuge, I made up some sushi rice and we enjoyed this wonderful treat as our appetizer that evening.

Tarpon Belly Key was a beautiful little key, but Cudjoe Channel, in which is is located, is easily accessible by small power boats from the settled area on Cudjoe Key and Summerland Key through which the Overseas Highway (U.S. Route 1) runs.  So we saw lots of day trippers as well as fishermen during the daytime hours.  Once the sun started setting, though, they all skedaddled for home and we were all by ourselves and that's when the place came alive.  Dozens of great white herons appeared in the mangroves, ospreys flew out to catch dinner for their nestlings, and the place was transformed.  When we awakened the next morning, some early bird fishermen were already about, but we weighed anchor and moved on before many more appeared.

Our next destination was Key West.  We had already decided that we'd take a slip at a marina there, so that we could spend time in the historic town and really see it and also so we could avoid what everyone said was a long and sometimes damp dinghy ride from the anchorages to the town.  We had a good sail and were joined by some dolphins part way.  It was a nice downwind coast until we hit the southwest channel into Key West and turned east, and then we had a beam reach all the way into the harbor, managing to hit over 7 knots, probably because the tide was with us.

As we neared the end of the channel, a couple of gaff rigged schooners carrying paying sightseers sailed by us, para-sails floated along pulled by power boats, and a massive Disney cruise ship dropped its lines, turned around and headed out toward the Caribbean.  Because of the ship traffic and not really having local knowledge of the waters and winds in the harbor, we lowered our sails and motored into our marina berth.

The Conch Harbor Marina is located in the heart of the historic port of Key West.  Originally named Cayo Hueso by the Spanish (Cayo is also thought to be the origin of the words "Cay" and "Key"), it was claimed by naval officer Matthew C. Perry in 1822 and within a year was the site of a custom house and a naval depot.  Over the past 190 years, Key West metamorphosed several times, hosting a variety of maritime activities, attracting a wide array of colorful figures from Hemingway to President Harry S. Truman and ultimately becoming a tourist-driven community.  The historic port walk starts at the Conch Harbor Marina and winds its way past waterfront restaurants and bars, shops, the docks for schooners taking out tourists and eventually around to Mallory Square, where tourists (and maybe a few confused locals) gather each night to watch the sunset.

After getting tied up, a DJ at the pool-restaurant at the head of the marina pier cranked up his rap so loud we found it really uncomfortable to sit out in the cockpit, so we gathered up things to take a shower.  Turns out we had to walk through the restaurant and hordes of 20- and 30-somethings debauching in the pool and at the bar.  I guess we're just not quite used to such overt public displays of affection.  Damn, getting old is weird.  Nevertheless, we discovered that at 18:00 the music would be finished, probably because there is another expensive restaurant right on the landing above the pool that had outdoor dinner seating.

Showers revived us, and we decided to walk down the historic waterfront and explore a bit.  Talk about crowded.  Wow!  It reminded me of Pier 39 and the Fisherman's Wharf area in San Francisco at the height of tourist season ... a place to be avoided for sure.  We finished our walk and sat in Alizee's cockpit with a drink, watched the pelicans assembling on the marina's dock posts and admired an enormous private motor yacht off our port stern.  The pelicans suddenly all flew off their posts and behind a charter fishing boat that was coming in to tie up down our pier near the pool-restaurant.  Since we were hungry we decided to go on back to eat dinner at Turtle Krall's, just a hundred yards down the historic boardwalk, but we stopped short at the fishing boat to watch the pelicans being fed the waste as a boat hand deftly fileted the catch for the paying customers.  It was a sight, indeed, and Pen truly admired how fast those fish were fileted.

Eventually, as the pelicans drifted away, we moseyed on down to Turtle Krall's, which was well recommended in our cruising guide.  Outside on the waterfront dock perhaps 60 or more dinghies were tied up, which was a good sign that other cruisers were afoot, either here at TK's or next door at the Half Shell Raw Bar, also highly recommended (and it turns out, operated by the same folks that run TK's.  Well, the food was okay, but nothing to write home about (so I won't describe it), and their band was almost as loud as the pool DJ, but still making every tune they played a rap tune.  After dinner we simply decided to retreat back to the comfort of Alizee, where we sat in the cockpit with a drink, watched the sunset and life slow down, and admired (and puzzled) the fact that the luxury yacht crew was still washing down the boat well after sunset (turns out the owners arrived at o-dark-thirty and the yacht was gone when we awakened.

In the morning we wandered over to Pepe's Cafe, which boasts that it is the oldest continuously operating cafe in Key West.  Boy did they live up to their reputation as having the best breakfasts in town.  Crowded it was, so we snagged two seats at the bar and supped on Bloody Mary's until it was clear our wait for a table was futile.  So, we ordered at the bar, and since it was almost noon, we had BLT's which were the best either of us had ever eaten.  If you ever find yourself in Key West, then eat here!  Period!  The best!  And, then, if you want a second meal at dinner time, go across the street to B.O.'s Fish Wagon, a dumpy looking little on the corner of Caroline and William streets.  We had a first-rate fried fish dinner there in the evening, and rate it also as a must-eat place.

Although this will sound tres touristy, we had a great afternoon taking the two-plus hour historic "train" tour of Key West.  The city is home to street after street of wonderful historic buildings representing almost any style of architecture you could imagine.  We saw Hemingway's house, past by Harry Truman's summer "white house" and saw a number of little spots we thought would be fun to visit again.  We also discovered why Key West seemed so damned crowded.  Spring Break!  Key West's best known avenue, Duval Street, was mobbed with dare I say thousands of party-animals, some literally climbing lamp posts, others pub-crawling and holding a late-St. Patrick's Day celebration.  Noisy, raucous, smokey (seems like everyone was smoking) and happy crowds filled Duval Street all day and well into the night (although we weren't there to see it after dark).



After our train ride, we walked through Mallory Square, had a cocktail at a hotel bar overlooking the anchorages to the west, and eventually found our way to the fish wagon and then home.  We decided that was enough, and laid our plans to get up the next morning, pump out the head, go out and anchor for a couple of hours in the anchorage, barbecue some chicken thighs for our crossing to west Florida and then leave sometime mid-afternoon.  All was accomplished as planned, and we departed the anchorage and Key West at 14:00 on March 20th.


Next post: "Last Leg to St. Petersburg..."

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Saturday, April 09, 2011

Daytona Beach to Biscayne Bay...

We are back in Deland after our almost month-long cruise from Daytona Beach to our new berth at the Harborage Marina in Bayboro Harbor, St. Petersburg.  We found it pretty easy to post short comments on our "geo-tracking" blog Sailing Alizee, but we didn't get to share as many adventures as we'd have liked to.  So here is the first of three posts about our trip, filling in what we didn't have the energy or time to put down before.

We left Halifax Harbor on March 3rd, well supplied with provisions.  Sufficient wine, beer, rum, gin and miscellaneous liquors to keep an army squiffy for a month.  Frozen meats to last us through the month, and loads of canned and dried foodstuffs.  Turns out we've learned pretty well what to and what not to take and what will last.  Alizee has a great freezer and refrigerator, which makes things much easier, but fresh vegetables are always a problem, and we love to cook with fresh things.  Nonetheless, we only had to stop once on the trip to restock our fresh things, which we did in Marathon, about half-way through the trip. 
Our first destination was the anchorage just southeast of the railroad bridge at Titusville, where we had stayed on our last trip down the ICW.  Along the way we had a bit of weather, and got a lovely video of Alizee motor-sailing with the staysail (we'd just pulled in the Genoa during a squall).  Dean Lucko aboard Rich Jadczak's Pomalu, a 35' Island Packet Cat, took it with his I-Phone and emailed to us a day or two later.  They were on a fast trip delivering Rich's boat to the west coast of Florida, and Dean kept in touch with us along the way ... they made it two weeks before we did.

video 
We had a nice night at anchor and the next day continued south to a new anchorage for us just northwest of the causeway bridge at Eau Gallie.  We had a threat or two of thunderstorms along the way, but never really got any weather. 

The ICW can be a slog, for one must mostly motor sail but it's a busy place with occasional interesting things to see.  We passed a number of cruisers in trawlers and sailboats heading north along with myriads of small fishing skiffs and the occasional sport fisher, either heading to their favorite fishing ground along the ICW or toward one of the few inlets along the way that will take you out to the Atlantic.  We saw ospreys nesting on the markers and lots of dolphins, who were generally feeding and ignored us, though a couple of times they'd come a swim along with Alizee.  


And then there are the sunsets, like this one at our Eau Gallie anchorage, which are often spectacular.

The next couple of days saw the sun shining more brightly and the threat of thunderstorms pass on.  We were going to try and go outside on the Atlantic to miss the bridges, which become numerous below Jupiter, but the wind just never seemed to build sufficiently or shift to a favorable angle, and offshore swells and the period between them would have made it a choppy ride.  So we stayed inside and did our best to not let the bridge schedules upset us.  Sometimes we just coasted along, other times we sat and waited for openings, and once or twice we ran the engine hard, which served the purpose of blowing out any deposits building up as well as catching a couple of bridge openings on the fly.

You really have to plan how far you're going each day, especially if you're anchoring out, because anchorages along the ICW in southeast Florida are few.  On our way down from a nice anchorage behind a spoil island north of St. Lucie Inlet trying to reach Lake Worth, we got stuck without an anchorage at the PGA Bascule Bridge, which shut down because of hydraulic problems.  The bridge tender suggested that we try and get a slip at the Soverel Marina, just northwest of the bridge.  It was mid-afternoon, it was either that or backtrack several miles and through two bridges we'd already been through.  It turned out to be a nice break from anchoring.  We got showered, washed the boat down a bit, walked around and found a nice little outdoor bar on the ICW in which to eat, and the next day we were refreshed and ready to move on.

On another occasion, while waiting for a bridge to open on our way to anchor at Boca Lake in Boca Raton, Pen was at the helm slowly bringing Alizee from side to side in the ICW channel and stopping her from drifting with the current toward the bridge.  After 20 minutes our so of this, as it neared time for the bridge to open, she gave the helm to me, and I promptly put Alizee aground on a shoal to the northwest of the bridge.  Sadly, passing power boats leaving wakes behind simply pushed us more on to the muddy shoal, and I couldn't budge her out.  I had to tell the bridge tender we wouldn't make the opening, and then I pulled out my trusty Boat U.S. Captain's Card and called for help.  About an hour later, Boat U.S. appeared and the captain pulled us off the shoal.  But now the sun was starting to wane.  We had perhaps an hour of daylight left and two bridges to go through before reaching Lake Boca, which was a new spot to us and a bit tricky to get into.  The Boat U.S. captain suggested that he could tow us to the lake, which meant he could open the bridges off their schedules.  Since my coverage made it all free, I agreed, and we had a nice little ride all the way to the lake and a nice anchorage.  "Yes-siree," said Pen, "just give the captain the helm and he'll show you a good time aground."

Next day we continued south to Fort Lauderdale, where we anchored in Lake Sylvia, one of the nicest anchorages in southeast Florida.  Pen's nephew Tony, as it turned out, lives in an apartment with his wife Lynn that is just off the ICW and less than a mile dinghy ride through a couple of canals and a short jaunt along the ICW.  So for the first time on our trip we took Bertha, our dinghy, down from the davits and took a ride over to visit with them.  We all piled in their truck and drove over the ICW to one of their favorite eateries, where we enjoyed a nice meal. 


Lauderdale is, of course the place where every multimillionaire who wants to build a second, third or fourth mansion has landed.  The houses are obscene displays of profligate wealth, and naturally Penelope and I were just thrilled with the idea that the Republicans decided that these poor slaves to free enterprise should not have to pay more than 35% in income tax.  Really, what would they do?  This is the epitome of the trickle-down economic theory that conservatives love to tout.  I shudder to think of all the gardeners, housekeepers, boat boys, and other day laborers who would be out of work if the tax rate on the top 2% went up. But, I digress...

The ICW from here on through Miami and into Biscayne Bay is not much to talk about.  Lots of wealthy enclaves along its shores mixed up with high-rise condominiums.  We were joined at a bridge just outside Maule Lake, where we'd spent a night at anchorage a year ago on our way to the Bahamas, by a fellow in a little 27 foot Pearson, chugging along with an 9.6 Yamaha 4-stroke outboard.  (Hey, that's the motor on our dinghy!)  We chatted a bit while waiting for the bridge and found out he was taking his boat down from Palm Beach near Lake Worth to Coral Gables, where his family was going to meet him for a short vacation.  He was having problems with his Yamaha, which was hard to start at times, and I suggested he put in an ethanol treatment to stop the build up of plaque in the carburetor.  It had solved that problem for me, and he admitted he didn't think about the ethanol in gasoline these days.

While we were sailing along with him and yet a third small sailboat, we all got caught in a sudden thunderstorm while waiting for Venetian Causeway Bridge (right in the center of Miami).  Our friend threw out his anchor, while I decided to ride it out and get through the bridge on the opening.  The wind hit 40 knots, I was soaked through, and Pen battened herself down below, but I made it through the bridge and within about 30 minutes the storm passed and we found ourselves heading out on to Biscayne Bay and on our way to our final anchorage before heading into the Florida Keys, which is No Name Harbor.  We spent a couple of days here in 2010 waiting on weather to cross the Gulf Stream to Bimini in the Bahamas, and it brought back a lot of memories, plus one of the most beautiful sunsets we experienced this entire trip.

Next post ... "Down through the Keys"

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