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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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