Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving on the water ...

What to do for Thanksgiving.  With just a couple of exceptions, I have always spent Thanksgiving with family of some sort somewhere.  This year, however, neither Penelope or I wanted to fly off somewhere for the holiday - our children live in Colorado and California - so we thought we might sponsor a Thanksgiving cruise with the Dolphins.  It was a good idea, but since we are so new to the club and really don't know the ropes, we finally withdrew the plan.  Nevertheless, what to do for Thanksgiving still remained the question, so we finally decided to invite Penelope's sister Pat to join us for a week on Alizee and then arranged to meet Penelope's daughter's father David and his friend Melissa for a Thanksgiving celebration mid-week.

On Saturday, 20 November, we drove over to St. Pete, taking two cars since I planned to stay aboard the boat for another week to do some boat chores and then go to the St. Pete Strictly Sail show (Penelope would drive back and join me for that).   On arrival we filled out our week's provisions to supplement what we'd brought from home and stowed everything.  It was a bit warm in the boat, so I turned on the AC and, low and behold, it ran just a little and then shut down.  The error message indicated it wasn't getting enough water.  The sea strainer was clogged.  And I didn't have a spanner wrench to open it up.  And it was cocktail hour.  The saving grace was that the temperature was splendidly cool outside, and with open hatches and lights Alizee soon cooled off and we fixed a nice chicken-cashew stir fry.

We started our cruise the next morning, after taking off sail covers, bringing the spinnaker up on deck and having breakfast at the Bayboro Cafe.  I also made a quick trip to West Marine for engine coolant, topping it off before we left our berth.  By 1100 we were out of the slip with our first stop the pump-out station, which the marina had repaired since we were last here.  By 1200 we had the spinnaker up in light air and sailed to Egmont Key on the east side of south Tampa Bay.  On our way a power boat cut across our stern just as we were going under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, taking our trailing fishing lure with him and damn near taking the pole.  He ignored passengers in his boat yelling at him that he was about to take our pole, too.

At Egmont Key a minor mutiny was threatened because the Captain keeps taking so many photographs, which explains why there are not many of this trip.  Then it rained most of the night, the shower sump strainer got completely clogged and we consumed Penelope's excellent clam linguini for dinner.

Tuesday morning we arose to a day which clearly will be in the running for the Dolphin's annual "inconvenient floundering folly" or WIFF award.  Since we were awarded this just a couple of months ago for adventures experienced in early 2011, I'm trusting the events described here will not earn it for us again.  We'll see.

We weighed anchor and I went forward to raise the spinnaker for another light-air day.  We had pulled it down easily the night before, so it was just a matter of hooking up the halyard, raising up the sock, attaching the tack and making sure no lines were tangled.  I discovered that the sheets needed to be taken off and reattached to the clew so the sail would come out of the sock properly.  So I did that, checked to be sure the lines were all led properly again, and then raised the sock.  Whoops!  Half way up it was plain that the spinnaker was badly twisted.  I looked like a "Mae West" parachute opening, with a big twist in the middle.  I couldn't even bring the sock back down once the breeze caught it, and I had to lower the halyard and pull in the sail at the same time on deck.

How to get the twist out?  Well, Pat was at the helm and unsure how to keep a course at idle speed.  Penelope was trying to help me sort out the sail but decided she'd better take the helm.  Pat then tried walking the sail head back toward the stern so I could get the twist out.  That was working it seemed and I was trying to redo the sheets on the clew, when suddenly the sheet was being pulled from my hand.  It appeared Pat was trying to winch it in.  I asked her not to, and she stopped, and when I pulled on it to get some working line the whole sheet suddenly sprang toward me.  She had not been pulling on it, but it had gone overboard, gotten wrapped in the prop and then sheared off.  I had half the sheet which on one end now was grossly cut.  The other half was partly wrapped around the prop and trailing 20 feet or so behind the boat.

We killed the engine, raised the main and genoa, and stowed the spinnaker and remaining lines.  But the wind was almost non-existant, perhaps 3-4 knots at best.  We were drifting across the main shipping channel, which took an hour to cross completely.  Once across we sought some shallow water and dropped the anchor in 12 feet.  Penelope wanted to go overboard and see if she could get the line off the prop.  The water at 66 degrees or so was much colder than she anticipated, but she gave it a valiant try.  Problem, of course, is our knife was not up to the job, the line was too hard to cut away and with the swell (very little but seemingly a lot when diving the boat) and without the lungs of a 20-year old, Penelope couldn't do it.  She finally cut the trailing line off as close in as possible, and we decided to raise anchor and try sailing up to Boca Ciega inlet.  We knew we'd need to have someone dive the boat to get the line off, and I wish I'd rushed out and bought the hooknife that Guillermo Cintron had used just a month before on the club cruise to Cayo Costa.

Our luck changed.  We motored slowly with hopes that the line was too short now to seize up the prop, and then the wind began to pick up.  I plotted a course that best took advantage of the wind and we killed the engine.  I decided that if we could get to John's Pass, we'd only have one bridge to go through and very little distance to motor to an anchorage, and the wind now cooperated.  We arrived at Johns Pass at 1530, four hours after crossing the shipping channel, pulled in the Genoa and motor-sailed through the bridge.  I double checked the charts and headed into an anchorage that lies outside the channel across perhaps 15 meters of 5-foot deep water.  I figured, even if we went aground going in, the tied was rising and while we waited for it, I could take my turn at diving the prop.

Of course, we went aground, dropped the mainsail, and dropped the anchor.  I went overboard to try and cut away the line, but like Penelope, without the lungs of a 2-year old and without a hooknife, I had no chance.  But, as every American sailor knows, this is why you have BoatUS insurance, the triple-A for boaters.  I radioed BoatUS and then over the telephone told them we needed a diver to clear our prop.  It appeared we wouldn't get help until the next morning, which meant we might be late for our dinner with David and Melissa, but when I came up on deck Penelope and Pat pointed to a BoatUS boat anchored with folks fishing on it just 1000 meters away.  It had come by us and they had waved at us while I was on the phone with the dispatcher.  About ten minutes later, I got a radio call from the boat's captain: "Are you the one's needed a diver, and are you aground?"

"Yessir," I replied.  And he said he'd be over soon and unground us.  "I also think I can have a diver for you, too," he added.

So, twenty minutes later he arrived with his girlfriend and her son aboard.  They passed Penelope a line to attach to the bow cleat and easily pulled us off.  I told him where I was headed when we hit bottom, and he said "you were just a hundred feet south of where you would have been fine."  He towed us into the anchorage, while I plotted the course on my chart, we anchored, he tied up along side us and we waited for the diver to arrive.  The diver, a young 20-year old who seemed fearless and very professional, arrived around 1730, and after about six free-dives with a good knife, he managed to remove the line from the prop.   While the diver was working, BoatUS regulations required the BoatUS captain hold our engine keys, and we were all so eager to have done with the thing that he left with them and had to make a trip back.  But all ended well.

Wednesday, 23 November, we arose at 0700, made coffee, weighed anchor and were on our way north up the ICW to Dunedin by 0800.  We wanted to get into the anchorage outside the Bon Appetit restaurant before low tide that afternoon.  As we motored north it was increasingly evident that the weather prediction for a cold front moving through was accurate, and we dropped anchor in Dunedin just as the rain began at 1130.  As the front moved through, we relaxed, read and all finally had showers.  At 1700 cocktails called to us, and at 1745 we were in the dinghy heading ashore to meet David and Melissa who hailed us from the municipal dock.

Now the municipal dock at Dunedin does not have ladders and the tide can be two plus feet.  So I decided to drop off Pat and Penelope at the ladder on the restaurant's private dock.  They had made it clear to us on an earlier trip that we were not to tie up there, but I thought the ladder would be safer for Pat and Penelope and then I'd go around to the municipal dock to tie up the dinghy.  As Pat was climbing the ladder, out comes a young manager very much in heat over our outlandish transgression. "Can't you read the sign that says private?" he screamed at us.  "You can't be on this dock!!!"  He was red faced and apoplectic, I'm sure not able to hear my explanation.  Since Pat was on the dock now, I simply responded, she's not getting back down the ladder, and Penelope and I cast off and went to the municipal dock, where David met us and helped us tie up.  A passerby said it all to the young restaurant manager: "Oh for God's sake, it's Thanksgiving!"

Turns out the young fellow is the son of the owner and clearly more afraid of his father than being tactful with customers at the restaurant.   Ironically, they advertise on their web site their outdoor eating area as "the marina cafe" and have a photo showing small boats tied to their dock.  But apparently they no longer carry liability insurance, so their dock is only available to the owner.  Sadly, not very friendly to boaters.

We nevertheless had a wonderful dinner at Bon Appetit, feasting on rack of lamb and taking lots of doggy boxes of food back with us to Alizee.

Thanksgiving Day, we anticipated a wonderful day of sailing.  Following the cold front, we expected two or three days of good east winds and flat seas in the gulf.  We raised our main, weighed anchor and sailed out of the Dunedin anchorage in 12-15 knots of wind.  In order to get onto the gulf as quickly as possible, we motor-sailed to Clearwater Pass and were out on the gulf by 11:00.  We had to sail wast on starboard broad reach for about three nautical miles, which was a bit unpleasant because the swells were coming from the west, but when we tacked we fell onto a perfect port beam reach course for Johns Pass and had a wonderful smooth sail at hull speed (6.8 knots) all the way to the pass channel.  Along the way Patricia was thrilled that seven or eight dolphins joined us is a pod, three of them staying with us for easily 15 minutes.  That made up for losing yet another gold spoon to a mackerel.  I know I should be using steel leader, but the damned fish can see it as well.

By 1515 we were anchored in our newly found anchorage 1000 meters east of flashing red marker #6 inside Johns Pass.  We discovered when leaving the anchorage the day before that perhaps the best depth in and out is just to the north of the marker, although the BoatUS captain guided us in the first time just south of the marker.  Almost nobody was on the water Thanksgiving Day, on the gulf or the ICW, and we were the only boat in the anchorage.  But for a couple of kids on skidoos for a hour or so, it was truly the most peaceful spot in the world.  We called our families to wish them a happy holiday, and Pat treated us to a Thanksgiving dinner of "mom's spaghetti with meatballs" and a special family salad.  As the sun went down, the birds took over on the nearby shoals, and then it turned out to be a windy night and a bit cold, however the 15-20 knot east wind was still not sufficiently strong enough to overcome the tidal current.

Friday morning we had to wait for the tide to come in before we could leave the anchorage.  Finally, at noon, after lounging about reading and having breakfast, we weighed anchor and went through Johns Pass to the gulf.  We found a wonderful port beam reach just outside the inlet which took us south to a near shore pass across the shipping channel, thence southeast across south Tampa Bay to the Manatee River.  We maintained hull speed with all sails out past the shipping channel, then the wind shifted and rolled in the staysail and sailed close to the wind.  By 1630 we were anchored in the Manatee anchorage, a second marvelous sailing day done, which we celebrated that evening with a glorious sunset that illuminated the shoreline and barbecued rib-eyes and baked potatoes.

At 0930 Saturday we raised the main and drifted lazily out the Manatee River channel.  Along the way, the head "crapped out" when trying to flush it.  Yuck!  Since we were going to heel on this our last sail back to the marina, Pen and Pat courageously bailed out the toilet with a bucket, leaving the bucket in the head in case anyone needed it along the way.  It was a good thing they bailed the head, because the wind picked up to 20 plus knots and we sailed the whole way to the marina entrance on either a beam or close reach, our speed over ground reaching 8.6 knots at one point and maintaining 7-8 knots much of the way.  We were at the dock and tied off by 1300, making the trip in three-and-a-half hours.  Along the way we enjoyed left-over steak sandwiches.

Since the head was out of commission, Penelope and Pat decided that it would be really uncomfortable to stay overnight and, perhaps worse, watch me disassemble and rebuild the head.  So they packed up their stuff and departed a day early for home.  I washed down the boat and turned to the dirty work of rebuilding the head, which I accomplished by 1700, after which I showered thoroughly, fixed a martini and called Penelope to celebrate completion of the job.  Despite the mishaps, though, it was a wonderful Thanksgiving cruise.  And it turned out to be with some of the family, too.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Dog Days in Cruising World ...

Selling Dog Days was very hard for me.  I loved that boat.  When Rochelle Dicker of Sausalito finally purchased her several months ago, I think I felt just the way Wally Bryant felt when he sold her to me a decade ago.  I wanted to stand on the dock and weep.  But Wally is happily sailing his C&C Landfall 38 Stella Blue on the west coast of Mexico, and I'm happily sailing my Cabo Rico 36 Alizee on the gulf coast of Florida.

Nevertheless, Dog Days has stayed in my heart and I was determined to celebrate her in some way in honor of her transition to yet another owner.  And here it is, my review of this "proper little yacht," just published in Cruising World (December 2011).  You can also read the article will be on the CW web site's  "classic plastic" page.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Ten days on the water...

We launched the beginning of a new cruising season with a ten-day jaunt with some members of the Dolphins Cruising Club of Tampa Bay.  While we've done some exploring of the Tampa Bay area, this was a chance to get the viewpoint of sailors who've sailed the area for a long time as well as do some nautical socializing.

We arrived at Alizee in the early afternoon Friday (28 Oct), transferred our bags of clothing, computers, books and miscellaneous provisions we brought from home to the boat.  Then we set out to finish our provisioning at the local Publix supermarket.  Turns out that the work of provisioning for a short cruise is almost as hard as doing it for one of two or three months, and we weren't done stowing everything until sunset.  And what a sunset it was.  They don't call this part of Florida the "sun coast" without good reason.  After a chicken stir-fry dinner, we sat back and enjoyed a night of rain in Alizee's cozy quarters.

At 1300 the next day, we left the slip and headed for an anchorage on the Manatee River at the south end of Tampa Bay.  For three hours we had a comfortable 4 knot downwind sail with just the Genoa, but at 1600 we rolled in the sail and motored into the anchorage on the north side of the river.  We were anchored by 1715, and no sooner than we had settled in fellow Dolphin Guillermo Cintron swam over from his boat Un Bel Di to say how nice Alizee looked and introduce himself.  Turns out he and his wife MaryAnn would be on the same cruise we were taking.

We also discovered that our anchoring spot was probably not the most favorable choice we could have made.  Free Spirit, a large motor sailboat, cranked up its generator, which was mounted above deck just under the boom and forward of their cockpit.  They left the hatch cover open to vent the diesel generator's exhaust and along with it the non-muffled sound of the infernal machine.  For the next two hours, right through the nicest part of the evening, we tolerated the racket, trying to remind ourselves that charging batteries was something every cruiser had to do at some point.  We barbecued a couple of rib-eyes, baked a couple of potatoes and made a nice salad, but around 2030, no sooner than we had finished eating, they started up the damned thing for another hour and a half.  I suppose we could have weighed anchor and moved further down the anchorage, but in the end we must have enjoyed bitching more about the inconsideration of these sailors than anything else.  Certainly they could have picked another time of the day to run their generator!

Sunday morning we weighed anchor at 1015, rolled out the Genoa in a northeast wind of 15 knots and followed Un Bel Di across a short stretch of south Tampa Bay to the ICW above Anna Maria Island.  We caught up to Un Bel Di at the Anna Maria Bridge, pulled in the Genoa, let out the stay sail and twenty minutes later also went through the Cortez Bridge.  By 1230 we were anchored to the starboard of our cruise leader Bill Cullen's Catalina 350 Triumph, who soon dinghied over and joined us for a beer.  We fixed some lunch, relaxed for a couple of hours and while Penelope napped, I changed the element on our floor-pumped Seagull IV water filter system.  It was long overdue for a change, and the change in water flow was incredible. 

Cruises with groups always result in a lot of happy hours, and we joined in our first Dolphins happy hour at 1600 on Gene and Jo Weatherup's 47-foot Herreshoff Golden Ball Shenandoah.  A classic Herreshoff boat, she's a three-foot-draft centerboard ketch, and Gene and Jo keep her in wonderful condition.  Here we got to meet others on the cruise, including Joe and Kathy Mansir, MaryAnn Cintron, Bruce and Kris Holtman and Bill Cullen's wife Elaine.  By 1730 we were back on Alizee, but only for a short time since everyone reassembled on Triumph for a spaghetti dinner courtesy of the Tampa Sailing Squadron of which Bill is a member.

Next morning we had another heavy rain from 0630-0730, but my check of our Sirius weather radar made clear it would be gone by 1000 ... in fact, the last of the rain was gone by 0800, leaving behind the promise of good winds.  Around 0900 we saw Shenandoah and Halcyon, Joe and Kathy's 37-foot Island Packet, sail out of the anchorage and turn south on the ICW toward Sarasota.  A half-hour later, we followed Triumph to the Longboat Inlet, where a bascule bridge opened on demand to let us out on the gulf.  Then we turned south to head for Venice.  The winds started out at 15 knots but built as we moved south along the coast finally reaching a steady 20 knots with gusts to 28 knots.  Although the seas were flat, as the wind came from the land side of the gulf, it still was a rollicking sail on a broad reach.  Our top speed-over-ground (SOG) reaching at least 7.2 knots.  We average hull speed of 6.85 for the entire four-and-a-half hour sail.  Penelope took the helm most of the way, which is probably her favorite thing about sailing and we arrived at the Crow's Nest Marina just inside the Venice Inlet at 1400.

We had showers, napped and did some reading, but when 1600 rolled around, we decided to beg off the happy hour, which was being held at the Venice Yacht Club on Shenandoah.  We just weren't eager to walk from our marina to the yacht club a few blocks away, and we figured we'd see everyone at our group dinner at the Crow's Nest restaurant later that evening.  Unfortunately, the Weatherups and Mansirs, who took their boats to the yacht club, begged off dinner, and we were sorry to not have seen them since family matters led them to cut short their cruise with us and turn back to Tampa.

Tuesday (1 Nov) we left the marina at 0900 and headed off shore again.  We had a beautiful sail.  The wind settled in at 17 knots with gusts to 22 and came across our port beam.  We hit 7.6 knots SOG and simply had the best sail ever.  When we neared the Boca Grande Inlet, we followed a waypoint Bill had given us to lead us through the Swash Channel, which takes one very close to shore and into the inlet rather than going out three miles to the marked channel.  We found about seven feet of water at low tide, which was not a problem at all.  Then once in the inlet which opens on to Charlotte Harbor (really a large bay), we turned south down the ICW and had a lovely sail to a wonderful anchorage off Useppa Island and across from Cabbage Key.

Now our little fleet comprised just four boats.  We were first to arrive at the anchorage, followed by In the Groove, a Hunter 54, and then Triumph and Un Bel Di, a Canadian Sailcraft 33.  Soon we were on In the Groove, starting happy hour a bit early but knowing it was five o'clock somewhere.  Perhaps around 1800 we all finally decided that we would return to our boats for the evening, and Penelope and I charged up our barbecue and cooked up some lamb chops for dinner. 

Wednesday we spent at anchor.  Some of our friends went into the restaurant at Cabbage Key for breakfast, while we ate on Alizee.  Shortly after noon we went into Cabbage Key, had fresh shrimp at the restaurant and then walked the nature trail and climbed up the water tower for a view.  It was great fun, and we especially enjoyed watching the turtles around the little marina and restaurant.  There are several rental cottages there, and we're already thinking about suggesting it to a friend or two who might want to come visit.

We returned to Alizee to make her presentable for  happy hour ... it was our turn.  It was also a bit of a farewell party for Guillermo and MaryAnn, for they were heading a bit further south for a couple of more days at Tween the Waters, while the rest of us were returning to Venice and then Tampa Bay.

We weighed anchor on Thursday (3 Nov) at 0920 and had a wonderful close-reach sail up the ICW to the inlet and Swash Channel.  Once through the channel, again without a problem, we sailed a couple of more hours until the wind died and shifted from the northeast to northwest.  We motor-sailed the rest of the way to Venice and docked for the night.  We had called ahead to the restaurant and booked a table for 1930, not knowing if the Cullens or Holtmans were coming to Venice.  Turns out they did stay at the marina as well, but our dinner plans didn't fit with their plans to spend the evening on In the Groove.  We had a wonderful dinner and celebrated our two-year wedding anniversary which was coming up just a couple of days later.

The next morning we bid farewell to the Holtmans who decided to sail off-shore back to St. Petersburg.  We worried about them all day, for the wind was west-northwest and rising, which meant the gulf sea would be roiling ... we talked to them later that evening by phone, and Kris confirmed that it was a horrific sail.  Meanwhile, the wind was pushing us hard on the marina's long dock, where we were side-tied.  They had booked all their slips for that day with another club, so we had no choice but to leave.  We managed to get off, but not easily, and at 1015 we motored up the ICW.  Triumph caught up with us just below Sarasota, and Bill told us he was continuing across Sarasota Bay to Longboat Key.  We decided we didn't want to motor into headwinds, so we peeled off and anchored for the day and enjoyed a wonderful sunset just off O'Leary's Tiki Bar near Marina Jacks' in west Sarasota Bay.

On Saturday we awakened to check the weather and to our sadness we discovered that Andy Rooney had died.  We both loved him and his years of commentaries on 60 Minutes.  Bummer. ... But the day looked good, and after adding a quart of oil to the engine, we weighed anchor and had a beautiful sail at 6.0+ knots in 12-14 knot NNE winds across Sarasota Bay and on up to Longboat Key.   From there we motored a couple of more miles to an anchorage on the SE side of Cortez Bridge, where we spent a comfortable afternoon and evening and cooked up a great mushroom spaghetti dinner.

The next morning we put a reef in the main and went north through the Cortez and Anna Maria bridges with the idea of sailing up to St. Pete, but when we got out of the ICW and into south Tampa Bay the winds were hitting 24 + knots and the bay waters were roiling up.  Since we didn't have to get back and because the weather looked like it would be much better on Monday, we diverted back to the Manatee River and anchored there again, this time a far piece from Free Spirit ... looks like they just live there.  Since we had the hook down by 1100 hours, we made ourselves a couple of Bloody Marys and spend the afternoon reading and relaxing.  Penelope made a great chili for brunch, and later that evening I cooked pork picatta for dinner.

November 7th ... HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!! ... we are very grateful for our happiness! 

We weighed anchor at 0800, sailed out into the bay in 12 knots, and then as the wind built to 17 to 20 knots (with no gusts), we closed hauled our way across the south bay and tacked back and right through the Sky Bridge.  In Tampa Bay proper the winds lightened to between 11 and 15 knots, and we made three long tacks across the bay to reach the channel into Harborage Marina.  On our arrival, after dousing sails, we went to the pump-out station only to discover that both pump out machines were not working.  Damn, spit!!  Alizee went back to her berth with a full holding tank, which we'll have to empty on our next cruise in a couple of weeks.  This left laundry, boat cleaning and a clam linguini dinner.  Our cruise was done.

More photos