Tuesday, June 05, 2012

You just never know what life will bring ... ending the Big Bend cruise

Six days after we departed St. George Sound, on April 26th, retracing our steps via Steinhatchee and Cedar Key, we finally were underway to Anclote Key.  We motored with all sails up for ten hours at six knots, reading, occasionally dodging crab pots and fishing - we caught a Blue Runner and another Spanish Mackerel.  About two hours north of Anclote Key and some five miles off shore, I looked up to see a bird flying along with us.  It didn't look like a seabird at all; rather, it appeared to be a fledgling Red Tail Hawk.  It made a couple of attempts to land on the top of our mast, each time not being able to find a perch.  It finally made one more attempt to land, this time flying around to the lee side of the boat (our starboard), where at last it found a perch on the pulpit.next to the mast.  Exhausted, the little guy seemed to immediately fall asleep and didn't budge for the next two plus hours.

When we finally reached Anclote Key, we very slowly brought in our sails, first rolling in the stay sail, then rolling in the Genoa.  Dropping the main, we feared, would startle the young hawk from its slumber, so we let it down very slowly and, since there was little wind by this time, decided to not put sail ties on it yet.  Then we had to get the anchor ready, find a spot and drop it.  Penelope went forward along the port side and prepared the anchor, while I slowly brought Alizee in as close to the shoreline of Dutchman Key (a key right adjacent to Anclote) as I thought was safe.  Once stopped in the water, Pen  dropped the anchor, and Alizee began to settle.  Our hope was that our hawk would stay the night on its perch, rebuilding its obviously sapped strength, but it was not to be.  For some reason, perhaps the nearby smell of land or the cry of another bird, he opened his eyes, looked around and then flew off toward the shore.

"Have a good life, little hawk," I cried after him, and then we watched him, perhaps only 200 yards from shore, dip toward the water. "Oh no," said Penelope, and then he ascended, but only for a couple of seconds, for he seemed almost to nose dive back into the water.  With our dinghy hung on its davits, we had no chance to race across and try and save him before his drenched feathers would pull him under.  He had no strength.  He drowned in perhaps two feet of water, and the both of us stared and cried at this hauntingly sad event.

The next day was a gorgeous one, not too hot and a very light breeze.  We decided to stay on anchor, take the dinghy down and go pay homage to our little hawk.  Of course, we knew we'd not see him, but it didn't stop us from hoping to see some sign.  After we traveled over the spot we thought he'd drowned, we spent a couple of hours making a very slow circumnavigation of Dutchman Key.  The 70 acre key is for sale, but one must wonder if it's got any water.  The trip around revealed an abundance of living creatures - ibis, ospreys, egrets, blue herons, kingfishers, cormorants, manna rays, sea trout and even a hammerhead shark.  It made us feel closer to our lost little hawk.

On Saturday, April 28th, we rigged our spinnaker, weighed anchor and went offshore with the spinnaker filling and the motor purring.  After four hours and fourteen nautical miles over ground, we were eight or nine miles offshore, and we made our turn toward John's Pass, pulling in the spinnaker and simply motoring.  We caught a good-sized King Mackerel, an oily fish which we decided to release, later we caught a Yellow Tail Snapper and another Spanish Mackerel and a school of dolphins joined us for a bit of the trip.  The last three or four hours the wind picked up and we redeployed the spinnaker and shut down the engine for a nice finish to the day.

The spinnaker came down just before we went through Johns Pass bridge, and we anchored in the little hole we'd found on the way up just as a rain storm found us and our newly poured cocktails.  What a peaceful night it was.

Sunday, our last day, we motored down the ICW with the mainsail up, getting through the bridges easily - although I mixed up the names of two of them, which I blamed on awakening too early and got a laugh out of a couple of bridge tenders - and as we neared the end of the ICW where it runs into Tampa Bay, the wind picked up and I pulled out the Genoa.  We had about four hours of sailing on the bay, not really wanting our trip to end, but finally dropped sails and drifted flawlessly into our slip at the Harborage Marina at 1430.  A boat wash down, cockpit scrub out, water tank top off, sail furling and covering and garbage dump followed our docking.  We had sushi for a late lunch, then steak and potatoes for dinner, before going to sleep for our last night aboard.  Next morning we were homeward bound.

Sadly, the weather has heated up, and we probably won't get out again until it cools down in late September or October.  Our fellow Dolphins on the Big Bend cruise actually didn't get home until the last week of May, and by June 1st, Doug and Judy Clapp had hauled out Purpose for the upcoming hurricane months at Sailor's Wharf Boat Yard.  In a day or so, I am going over to put our dinghy in dry storage for the summer and make sure Alizee is harnessed in for the summer months. 

Fair winds to all you sailors who are still out there in climes that are more conducive to summer sailing than Florida - such as my old home waters in San Francisco.  Jealousy is not a pretty thing.