Saturday, May 31, 2014

Alizee goes back to St. Pete for the summer

Most everyone knows that it's hurricane season in Florida between the beginning of June and end of October.  While we love having Alizee with us on Charlotte Harbor, our tie up at the yacht club is not a very safe one in the face of potential tropical storms, much less a dreaded hurricane.  Therefore, we decided to sail Alizee back up to St. Petersburg and put her in her summer berth at the Harborage Marina.  This is anywhere from a three to five-day trip, and it takes a bit of planning.  Additionally, it's pretty hot down here now, so Penelope urged me to find somebody else to help me take the boat north.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned the trip north to Al Hedstrom - Captain Al, as he's known - who sings lead and plays guitar in the Coast Connection blues/rock/bluegrass/country band that I played with during the winter months.  He spends most of his time on the water as a fishing guide out of Ft. Myers, but that didn't stop him from saying he'd love to go with me on a little sailing trip and the last week of May would be perfect before he packs up to head for the Minnesota boundary waters and his summer work chasing wall eyes, etc.

Starting in late April, I started getting some maintenance work done on Alizee, in order to have it all done by the trip: fixing the head and replacing clogged sanitation hoses; trouble-shooting the dinghy engine; putting a couple of coats of varnish on the cockpit coaming and hatch covers, and doing a service on the auxiliary Yanmar engine.  Then, for three days before, I did a basic cleaning job on Alizee and then, with a lot of help from Penelope, got her provisioned for the trip.  We also had Al over for dinner and what one optimistically might call a bit of a captain's meeting.

On 26 May, Al drove to our house and picked me up.  By 0900 we were pretty much loaded aboard Alizee, and we left the dock at 0915, motored out onto Charlotte Harbor and got the spinnaker up and flying by about 1000.  We had a slow, very light-wind sail down the harbor (well at times we seemed to be losing ground), and then at about 1400 the southerly wind shifted and a west wind of about 14 knots appeared.  We put up the mainsail and had a nice ride at about 5 knots speed over ground (SOG) down to an anchorage north of Matlacha.  The anchor was dropped at 1700, and we settled in for our first night.  Al brought home-made enchiladas for dinner, and then he got out his guitar and me my little Yamaha keyboard, and we played music until 2300 or so.

Down Charlotte Harbor to Matalacha.

Next morning we weighed anchor at 0710, put the spinnaker up and were underway in a light 5-6 knot morning east breeze at 2.5 knots SOG.  Al had what would become his typical breakfast of oatmeal with bananas, strawberries and dried fruits, while I made up a scrambled egg stir fry of peppers and onions.  (I forgot the mushrooms, damn it!)  The wind pretty much died by 1030, and we motor-sailed out the swash channel (a narrow channel through which the tide flows), just at Boca Grande inlet on to the Gulf of Mexico. Once out, we continued motor sailing in order to make the 30 miles to the Venice inlet.  Al had his typical lunch, a salad, and I had a chicken sandwich, we caught a Spanish Mackeral each and released them because Al had brought a bunch of Mangrove Snapper filets - we didn't need more fish, but the entertainment was just fine.
                                                                           Captain Al on the Gulf.

Unfortunately, we snagged the spinnaker on the forestay while trying to tack it and what was initially a very small tear in one   panel ripped all the way across the sail.  So we took it down and bagged it (we dropped it off at the sail loft in St. Pete for repairs after we arrived).  A nice wind came up thanks to thunder storms moving up inland along the coast to our east, and we got some good sailing up to the Venice jetty.  There we dropped sails, motored into the Venice Yacht Club to spend the night, took showers and headed to the bar for a couple of drinks (very small pours, indeed).  We met an older couple from the Bradenton YC at the bar, then returned to have real drinks on Alizee and to cook dinner.

As we were just sitting down in the cockpit, Al noticed a family in a jet-ski boat who appeared to be sinking. They were just 25 meters from us, and the father was bailing frantically while two little girls got into life-vests and a young boy perhaps 17 or 18 tried to help his dad.  Finally, the boy got in the water with a line and swam to the ladder at the end of the dock beside our stern tie.  I helped him up the ladder, they pulled the sinking craft over, got the girls on the dock and dad kept bailing.

L-R: SeaTwo guy checking bottom of boat, Miguel with boat hook in boat, Antonio with pump, and Izzy looking on.

Antonio Cassariano, the father, assumed that drain plugs had not be put back in from the day before, so Miguel (the boy) tried to dive the stern of the craft to see.  I loaned him my snorkeling mask, but he still couldn't see it. Eventually, they reached SeaTow, and their representative brought a couple of pumps to get the water out faster than it was coming in. The probably was that the exhaust pipe had come lose, and water was pouring in through the whole.  At long last, the SeaTow fellow got a towel stuffed in sufficiently to stem the incoming flow and they finally pulled the boat around to a ramp and saved it.
                                                                                                               Front-back: Antonio & Miguel                                                                                                                                Vanilla and Izzy with their Dad.

The girls, Isadora (Izzy) and Antonella (Vanilla), got over their initial fears and had a good time with the adventure in the end. Meantime, Miguel and Antonio dropped my diving mask while trying to hand it from one to the other, and splash ... it went to the bottom.  Antonio, it turned out, is chef-owner of Cassariano's Italian Restaurant in Venice (very upscale), and said we had to come to dinner, which we said we'd be happy to do, perhaps on our way back down after dropping off Alizee in St. Pete.

(The next day, after letting Penelope know about this, we called Antonio on his personal cell, and told him we could come for dinner Friday right after they opened at 1630.  He readily agreed, and we assumed this would be payback for the lost mask.  And, indeed, it was.  Antonio is an amazing chef, and we had a truly wonderful  dinner - not inexpensive, but he gave us a nice gift certificate that easily covered for the lost diving mask.  And, at Penelope's suggestion I gave Antonio one of my "All that Jazz Quartet" cards, and he said he and Luca were thinking about starting a jazz evening.  In fact, a couple of days after we got home, he sent me an email asking if we'd be available in July, August, September and for more information on our group.  Maybe we'll get a gig or two, which would be lovely!)

... All in all, it was an exciting late afternoon and early evening and after everyone had gone, we had a snapper dinner (also by Al) and again played music in the cockpit until 2330.

The sun arose at 0630 on 27 May, we made coffee
and left the dock by 0730.  I was a bit queasy for half the trip, from all the alcohol that Al had forced down my gullet, but it passed in time.  Actually, we had a following sea, and I always get queasy with those. We had a light breeze from the east as we motored out the Venice inlet, and then with our main up and Genoa out, we motor-sailed up to Egmont Key, at the mouth of south Tampa Bay.  Despite the light winds we managed to make 4 knots SOG for the 31 miles, and anchored around 1830 at Egmont.  Lamb meatballs that Penelope and I had made ahead provided dinner, along with vegetable skewers that Al put together and I barbecued.  No music this night, but conversation still kept us up until 2330.

Thursday the 28th found us up and underway be 0700, on a starboard close reach to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge under 10-14 knots of SE wind.  We sailed up to and under the bridge in one tack, turned to a beam reach once under the bridge and picked up to 6 knots SOG all the way to slightly northeast of our destination in St. Pete.  Then, after we tacked to lay in a course to the marina, at 1130 hours, the winds simply died. We were becalmed for almost two hours, and then got a couple of knots speed to drift us over to the marina channel.  Engine on, sails down, docking lines and fenders rigged - we were met at the dock by my friend Jeff Grant.

                       On the way to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

We relaxed through the afternoon heat, ate spaghetti and meatballs (by Penelope) for dinner, played a little music and deferred boat work until the morning.  On Friday, we washed the boat down (Al doing most of it, which he said he liked doing and anyway felt like he was finally contributing to the trip), got the interior cleaned, packed up our stuff, took the spinnaker in the dinghy over to Advanced Sails and then dropped Bertha (the dinghy) off at the Harborage Marina Hi-and-Dry storage facility.  We stopped at Fish Tails for a cold beer, walked back, showered, finished packing the coolers, and Penelope picked us up at 1500.  We drove to Venice for our "thank-you" dinner at Cassariano's ... it was truly wonderful food ... and then headed back to pick-up Al's truck at our yacht club and get home.  It was a very fun trip home and a great week of sailing!  Can hardly wait to do it again ... well, the last week of October, we'll bring Alizee back down to Charlotte Harbor.

Monday, May 12, 2014

An almost perfect sail ...

It's starting to warm up here in Florida.  The snowbirds have almost all flown north.  Soon those of us who stay for the summers will be spending most of our time in the AC cooled indoors.  But the past three or four days have been lovely, short of 90 degrees with low humidity and, most important for sailors, with a nice 8-12 knot breeze.  We would have left the dock on Thursday morning, but we had already bought tickets for a Charlotte Stone Crabs (Class A Advanced) baseball game that night to join a couple of friends from the yacht club, so we didn't cast off until Friday morning.  (The game was great fun, with the best Philly Cheesesteaks and dollar beer, but the Bradenton Marauders trounced the Stone Crabs 8-2.)

We sailed about 21 nautical miles down Charlotte Harbor (which, if you don't know, is really a very large bay: 270 square miles) to a spot about two miles north of the historic fishing village of Matlacha, where we found a nice anchorage.  On the way south, we trolled and caught two nice Spanish Mackerel, which Penelope stowed for fileting later.  We caught a couple of other smaller fish, but released them.  We had a peaceful evening and night here, reading, relaxing and marveling at the wonderful conditions.  It was a little warm in the cabin, but we were able to stay on deck until dark (when the mosquitos started to appear); after that it cooled off nicely down below.

The next morning, Penelope fried up the Mackerel with a couple of over-easy eggs for breakfast, and we finally weighed anchor around 10:00 and sailed north with a southeast wind pushing us along nicely to the Myaka River, a little over 16 miles.  We anchored at 14:30, arriving earlier than we expected.  This anchorage was not as good a choice.  We probably should have gone another two miles up the river to an anchorage called Cattle Dock, where we'd stayed before, but that was closer to the mangroves and we wanted to be sure we weren't eaten by no-see-ums -- one of the reasons not to spend nights on the water during Florida's summers.  So, we tolerated the tidal changes and river currents that worked against a nice 14 knot wind to create a roily anchorage for the night.

Although we didn't get quite enough sleep, we finally awakened to a nice morning with a steady 10 knot breeze.  After a breakfast of apple sausage, mushrooms, red peppers and scrambled eggs -- one of our best! -- we set sail and headed back to our marina, about 10 miles.  We were at the dock just before noon, and spent a little over an hour packing up, cleaning up, and washing Alizee down.  First, however, Penelope caught a little chameleon and returned her to shore.  The little guy had hitched a ride for all three days, apparently getting on board via a dock line.  S/he had clung to mainsheet rigging and other lines for the bulk of the time we were out, and s/he drank some water Penelope left out and devoured a fly we trapped.