Thanksgiving on the water ...
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.