Monday, May 02, 2011

Ten days on the boat ...

We made our first trip back to Alizee on Tuesday, April 19, and spent ten days doing some boat work, sailing and fishing.  We are convinced our decision to get a berth in St. Pete was the absolutely right thing to do.  The weather is wonderful, the sailing spectacular, the fishing good and the atmosphere just what a sailor would hope for.  We've heard a couple of places that Tampa Bay with its enormous Sky Bridge is like the San Francisco of the Gulf Coast.  As one who sailed San Francisco Bay and sailed under and watched many a sunset through the Golden Gate Bridge, there really isn't that much of a comparison, but then again one doesn't have to put on foulies to sail Tampa Bay in 15-20 knots, and you would never characterize it as a place where summer is "the coldest winter" you've ever experienced.

Our first morning aboard Alizee had us up and busy, washing down the hull and straightening things out down below.  Rob Mundell, our sailmaker from Port Orange on the east coast met us at 1100 to deliver our long-overdue new cruising spinnaker and, as a favor, to check out our mast head and our two roller furl headsails.  Using our windlass for power, I saved him from having to pull himself up the mast with a block and tackle.  He inspected the foresail fittings, shot a bit of lubricant into the masthead wind sensor, and then check out the roller furling gear on the way down.  By this time it was clearly time for lunch, so we sauntered up to our new favorite breakfast and lunch spot, the Bayboro Cafe, right at the entrance to the marina.

By 1330, we had rigged the spinnaker and left the dock to test it out.  One of the nicest things about the Harborage Marina is that we can be raising the sails within five minutes of leaving the dock and under sail in ten minutes.  With light winds, we couldn't really give the spinnaker a full try out, but even in two knots we moved along.  The wind finally picked up to perhaps eight knots, and we had some nice spinnaker sailing.  Rob loved playing with the lines and adjusting the sails, Pen loved that Rob did virtually everything she otherwise would have done and I enjoyed having another crew member while we sailed along.  The afternoon sail turned out to be about four-and-a-half hours in duration, so we were late getting back and I had to reschedule with Ron of Everafter Marine to run a new coaxial cable for our Sirius Weather system.

Thursday, April 21, we did more boat work, cleaning out and remounting the exterior fixture on the head vent, replacing a half inch fresh water hose under the galley sink and changing the oil and filter on the engine.  These tasks took much of the day, involving also two trips to West Marine and a bit of last minute provisioning ... we'd done most of it when we first arrived, Tuesday afternoon, but it seems we're always coming up short on some item.  In fact, we may have been better provisioning for a month or more cruise than for just ten days, for the next morning I found myself making one last trip down to the grocery before we could depart for our planned six-day cruise.

Our little cruise route
Day one in red, two in black, three in green, four (fishing) a dotted line, five in orange, six in blue

A little after noon on Friday, we pulled out of the marina, hoisted the main and once past the Coast Guard station in the harbor entrance decided to raise the spinnaker.  We had a time getting it up, for we had gotten several twists in it on our last dousing with Rob, but Penelope has a good handle on the spinnaker and once the twists were gone it flew nicely.  The wind was quite light and the main appeared to be blocking the spinnaker, so we dropped it and coasted along down Tampa Bay making for the Sunshine Bridge for about three hours in six knots of wind out of the northwest.  When the wind shifted to the west, we dropped the spinnaker and raised all sails to tack to the bridge, going through it at about 1800.

Our initial plan had been to go under the bridge and turn west and thence north to Boca Ciega inlet and spend the night in Boca Ciega Bay (by car this would have been less than thirty minutes from the marina), but our late start coupled with light winds and the westerly shift of the wind meant we needed to find an alternative anchorage.  We decided to go to Egmont Key, which lies on a north-south axis about four nautical miles southwest of the Sunshine Bridge (the red line traces our first day's route on the map), and after a tacking south of Egmont we turned back northwest and arrived at the anchorage just at sunset.  We were met with a cacophony of birds, literally thousands settling in for the night a creating a mighty racket.  Some cruisers had mention this in notations about the anchorage on Active Captain, and most of them felt the noise of the birds intrusive, while we actually enjoyed it.  We cooked up a rack of lamb on the grill and watched the gulls attack the fat trimmings that we threw overboard.  Both they and we had a marvelous dinner!

About an hour after midnight, I was awakened by the feel of the keel hitting bottom.  Gaining consciousness, I realized the wind was blowing pretty hard and clambered out of bed to check out the situation.  The wind had clocked all the way around to the east and we were being pushed on to the lee shore.  Indeed we were abeam of the wind, so we need to move before we were aground.  I roused Pen and we raised anchor in the moonless night and pulled away from danger.  It took us a couple of tries to re-anchor, and by the time we were settled in, two power vessels that were also anchored had decided to leave the anchorage entirely.  I suppose their local knowledge and their speed underway would lead them to better spots quickly, but there was no way I was going to try and find another spot at 0200 on a very dark and windy night.  So, we settled in for the rest of the night in roily waters, me taking anchor watch for a while to be sure we were in solid.  It reminded us both of nights we'd experienced in Cat Island and Eleuthera in the Bahamas last year.

We finally awakened and made coffee at 0900 on Saturday morning.  The wind had died down to a reasonable ten knots, Pen decided to continue scraping away at remnants of Cetol we've been removing from the exterior teak (her new favorite activity on Alizee it seems), and I caught up the log book and checked over charts and mileage for the next couple of days of our trip.  Finally, we weighed anchor and made sail for Boca Ciega Inlet, thence up to the ICW, through the Structure C Bascule Bridge, and into Boca Ciega Bay to anchor just off the extant but extinct "casino" at the town of Gulfport (black line on the map).  It was an easy sail, and fortunately not a long one.  We anchored shortly after 1300, took the dinghy ashore and had a great late lunch at O'Maddy's, clearly the most popular place in town.  Then we took a walk up Gulfport's quaint main street, where residences have been converted into art shops, cafes and restaurants.  We bought a bag of ice at a small convenience store and hustled back to the dinghy and to Alizee before it started to melt.  Then we sat down to cocktails and set about grilling some baby-back ribs, which as almost always were excellent!  A nice sunset, and a nice night.

On Easter Sunday morning we motored quietly up the ICW and out into the Gulf at John's Pass.  No one was on the water, a truly unique experience, and the ride up through three bascule bridges that all opened on demand for us was one of the most quiet, peaceful and beautiful rides we've had on the ICW anywhere.  It is a picturesque area.  Once on the Gulf we set the spinnaker and headed north under warm and pleasant skies and light winds to the Clearwater Inlet (green line on the map).  There we rejoined the ICW and turned north to anchor outside the municipal harbor at the town of Dunedin (a bit of Scotland in Florida).  We caught a Blue Runner along the way and so dined on sushi followed by clam linguini.  And, we talked with David, father of Pen's daughter Erin, on the phone and finalized our plans to go fishing with him and his friend Melissa the next day.

At 0930 David and Melissa arrived in the anchorage in their fast little fishing boat.  Zoom, zoom!!  We headed north to Hurricane pass at 25 mph, a far cry from our pokey speeds on Alizee.  At the Hurricane Pass inlet (one I probably wouldn't take because of shallow water), we headed out about 10 miles to Veteran's Reef, a fishing haven created by sinking concrete blocks and such into 40 feet of water (dotted line on the map).  We dropped anchor and bobbed about while getting fishing lines baited.  David had poles for us all, and we dropped the lines over with shrimp as bait and started hauling in Grunts, Grouper, Hogfish and bait fish.  During the course of the few hours at the reef, David hooked a couple of King Mackerel using a live Sailor's Choice as bait.   We all saw one four-foot guy jump high out of the water as he ran away with David's hook and the Sailor's Choice.  But Pen caught the biggest of the day, an enormous Blue Runner, which we took back to the boat with us along with a couple of Grunts.

After David and Melissa dropped us off at the boat at about 1630, Pen fileted the Blue Runner while I made sushi rice and then we cleaned up a bit.  They then drove down to Dunedin's municipal marina from the marina at Hurricane Pass, where they left their boat, and we dinghied in and met them at the Bon Appetite Restaurant and Cafe where we had a great selection of tapas.  A thunderstorm drove us into the bar for about thirty minutes, where we shared a bottle of wine, and then when the rained passed we all climbed into the dinghy and went out to Alizee for Blue Runner sushi rolls and sashimi.  They had been using Blue Runners for bait, and I think we convinced them not to do that in the future!  It was a great day and lots of fun!

Tuesday morning we were up by 0900 and thought at first we'd just motor down the ICW to our earlier anchorage at Gulfport, but the wind seemed so nice that we settled on going outside into the Gulf and back down through John's Pass.  We found a shoal that extended some twenty feet into the channel whilst turning off the ICW to the Clearwater Inlet, but quickly dropping the mainsail and backing down got us off.  Once we raised the mainsail again, we went out the inlet and found a nice 8-10 knot breeze that put us on a nice reach to a point about twelve miles off shore, and after a tack back in the direction of John's Pass, another beautiful reach in to the pass.  We coasted along at four knots average, lost a very big fish (we'd like to think a King Mackerel), and then found our way down through the ICW and Treasure Island Bascule Bridge to Boca Ciega Bay and Gulfport where we anchored and cooked up a nice turkey pasta dinner.

In the morning after looking over weather information which all indicated 10 to 15 knot winds, we decided to go out the Boca Ciega Inlet to the Gulf and then sail southwest to the main shipping channel into Tampa Bay, turn east along the shipping channel to the Sky Bridge, thence north and under the bridge to our marina at St. Pete.  We counted on a brisk and invigorating sail as we motor-sailed out of the bay and down through the Structure C bascule bridge.  We passed through the bridge with three other sailboats, one of them Bachue, a Hanse 54 which the skipper Tito Vargas was single-handing over the same route we'd chosen.  He was taking his vessel around to St. Pete for the Friday morning start of the 2011 Regata del Sol al Sol from St. Pete some 455 nautical miles to Isla Mujeres, Mexico (as I write this on Monday, most of the competitors in the race have crossed the finish line already).

As our good fortune would have it, the winds did not stay at 10 to 15 knots.  Rather as we put Alizee on the trail of Bachue, who pulled easily ahead of us, the winds began to build quickly, and we found ourselves in 30 knots with gusts to 35 before we reached the shipping channel some six miles from the Boca Ciega inlet.  We tacked and I found it almost impossible to control Alizee with our full sails out, so we reefed the Genoa and the main and still found control difficult.  I would have continued had we been in clear waters, but the shipping channel has a series of shallow shoals which would have been on our lee side going down it, so I decided rather than risk slipping into one of them and fighting another couple of hours of 30 knot winds to the Sky Bridge, we would just turn around and take a fast downwind sail back to the inlet.  (Our route for this day is in blue on the map.)  Once back to the inlet, we took in the Genoa, left out the staysail, and with minimal motor power (only to get under the Structure E bascule bridge), we sailed along the ICW to Tampa Bay and then up to Bayboro Harbor and our marina in 20 knots of wind.  Feeling just a bit abashed at turning back from our outside sail (it's the first time we've ever turned back), wouldn't you know it, we fouled our prop with an old piece of three-strand line that was floating in the harbor.  Fortunately, it didn't completely foul the prop and we were able to dock under power.  Once in our slip I cut off 30 feet of the line and left the rest for our diver who cleans the bottom to remove.

Thursday, April 28, was a workday on Alizee.  We'd been gone for six days, used the engine only 13.1 hours in the course of the trip, and had some great sailing as well as a few scares.  Now we had to clean up: laundry to be done, washing down the boat, drying out and furling the sails properly, putting on the sail cover, stowing the spinnaker down below, etc.  We made a run to the grocery for a couple of essentials and stopped at West Marine and picked up two new dock lines as well as some fishing lures and Gulp.  I had ordered a repair kit for our BottomSider cockpit cushions, and I spent a couple of hours gluing cuts in them and applying the vinyl patch coating over the cuts.  At lunch time we took our dinghy Bertha around through the canal to Fish Tales, where we had the lobster salad special and a couple of Anchor Steam beers (on tap, just like SF Bay), and we progued up the canal after lunch and got pretty up close and personal with a couple of Blue Herons and Egrets.

During the course of the day at 1430, perhaps it was when the Captain put his feet up and relaxed so the First Mate could swab the salon sole, Rob Mundell called.  "Hey, would you be interested in taking a crew spot in the Regatta Sol al Sol tomorrow?  One of our crew, coming down from Chicago, has bailed out on us and I thought of you."  Damn, spit!!  Me without my passport, me exhausted with my feet up and thinking of work yet undone on Alizee, me with the electronics guy coming the next morning to run a new cable.  "Geeze, Rob, would I love to, yes, but can I do it.  Damn, spit!  No, I can't."

Now, I can hear all my sailor friends out there (yes, you Rob Woltring, Keith Rarick, Tony Shaffer, Steve Waterloo, John McCartney, Mike Pernitzke, Charles Hodgkins, Steve Katzaroff, and more) saying: "What!?!?  You didn't race across the state, get your passport, throw something in a bag and go?!?!  What we're you thinking????"  In answer to which I guess I can say nothing, but the grilled steak dinner we had that night was pretty damned good!

Maybe in response to my declining the offer to crew on Twilight, a Lafitte 44, Captain Bligh (my alter ego at times) awakened us in the morning with to small cups, two brushes and a quart of Spotless Stainless cleaner.  "Arghh, all hands on deck!  Just a half-a-cup of coffee, maties, then to work!"  And there we were brushing on the cleaner gell and, after it sat for thirty minutes, washing it off from the bow to the stern.  "And what's for breakfast," he growled.  "Gruel," said the first mate.  Work, work, work!  "And what's for lunch," said Bligh.  "Tuna friggin' fish," retorted the first mate.  Work, work, work!

A break came only when Ron from Everafter Marina appeared to run the new Sirius Weather system coaxial cable (the old one gouged by a fishing pole holder on the rail), and the first mate went into hiding for the duration of that, while Bligh got his comeuppance and had to tear apart cabinetry to find the path of the old cable and help pull the new one.

So this was the story of our six-day cruise.  On Saturday morning we arose, packed up what we wanted to take with us, adjust the lines on Alizee and hit the highway for our land base, leaving Bligh in the bilge to arise another day.


Blogger GW said...

James, I enjoyed reading this post. That area sure seems leaps and bounds better for sailing than over here. If I were retired, I'd follow your example and bring Serenity over, but the 3 hour drive back and forth for short stays just wouldn't work out.

How did you like the Spotless Stainless? I bought some over at the St. Pete show in Dec, but haven't used it yet. Any tips?

4:25 AM  
Blogger tw said...

Grrr! Deeply, deeply envious - as an erstwhile keen sailor, boatbuilder and lover of jazz piano myself, I feel that you have covered all the major food groups...
Have a browse through next time the weather is foul or the wind capricious.
I enjoyed reading your blog

5:14 PM  

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