Saturday, February 25, 2012

Eight days on the water...

"...They didn't think much of the ocean:
The waves they were piddlin' and small,
No wrecks and no one got drownded,
Fact, nothing to laugh at at all" ...                                (from The Lion and Albert, with apologies to Stanley Holloway)
... 'Cept some of us went and got grounded,
and promptly were laughed at by all.

We joined the NUDE Cruise ("Nautically United Dolphin Event") for a week on the water beginning with a Valentine's Day dinner and dance at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club "Pass-a-Grille" docks and clubhouse in St. Pete Beach.  We arrived at Alizee on 13 February, provisioned for the week and tidied up, and then had a very nice dinner and exuberant evening conversation with Jeff and Susan Grant on their boat Ohana.  As a result, we slept in longer than we'd planned on Valentine's Day, and finally left the dock to motor (winds on the head) south and west to Pass-a-Grille.

It was quite a crowd, with perhaps seven of the Dolphins Cruising Club arriving in their boats and three times as many appearing by land for the dinner-dance.  We're still getting to know members of the Dolphins, but they are a friendly and fun group, and most of them long-time sailors.  We were sorry that Rose and John Worlein, with whom we sat at dinner, had come by car and were not going on the NUDE cruise.

Wednesday morning we awakened at 07:30, had coffee, warped Alizee around at the dock and headed out to the Pass-a-Grille Channel to the North Channel inlet on to the Gulf.  With a calm sea and very light south winds in our face, we motored for five hours at 5.5 knots down to the Big Sarasota Pass Inlet.  Subject to shoaling, we had avoided this in the past, but going with the Dolphins is getting us local knowledge and helping us explore new spots.  We know now that the Sarasota Yacht Club effectively maintains the buoys where shoaling is a problem.

Once in the pass, we anchored in Otter Key, along with, by my count, six other boats.  A couple of other boats in our group tied up at the Sarasota Yacht Club, perhaps a half-mile away.  This was a nice little anchorage, and we decided to participate in the communal dinner being hosted by the catamaran Dragonfly and another boat.  I cooked a Thai chicken stir-fry with rice to share, and we dinghied over at 18:00 for the festivities.  It was fun, but we were really weary after two nights of partying already, so we left early and fell asleep while the group sang songs into the evening.  The next morning we were happy to have slept.

On 16 February, we arose at 08:30 and in fifteen minutes with a fresh thermos of coffee, we weighed anchor.  Penelope smashed her right index finger trying to get a kink out of the anchor and shackle, and dripping blood on the foredeck asked very pointedly: "Who said this was fun?"  I finished bringing up the anchor, and we motored yet again into the wind out Big Sarasota Pass and south through waters infested with crab pots to Stump Pass.  This was another pass with a shoaling problem.  We had GPS coordinates for the outer marker, which proved to be very wrong, but we kept in touch by VHS with those ahead, who relayed information on the shoals and depths back to us.  The actually directions from the inlet at Stump Pass into the ICW seemed very unclear to me, but Judy and Doug Clapp on the Island Packet 38 Purpose were great in getting me pointed in the right direction once we found our way through the pass.  Even so, we almost went aground, cutting the corner too tight on to the ICW, but I back us right off.

About a nautical mile north of Stump Pass is the Tom Adams Bridge on the ICW, and just south and east of it is a nice anchorage beside Englewood Beach.  We arrived after 6.8 hours motoring, and while everyone else prepared to go off to a restaurant ashore for dinner, we decided to cook aboard and spend a quiet evening.  We gave our apologies to Gene Weatherup on Shenandoah, a custom 50 foot ketch, when he came by to tell us the evening plan.  So while they dinghied off to enjoy dinner ashore, we pan fried some lamb chops, baked a couple of potatoes and cooked up zucchini and garlic (a dish we call "O.C. Squash" after my father Otho Clinton, who first made it in our family).  A lovely, romantic evening!

Friday morning saw us out of our berth at 07:30 and having coffee in the cockpit.  The anchorage was busy, with kayaks, fisherman passing by and even a women's sculling team on the water.  Other Dolphin cruisers were also arising, and at 08:30 we weighed anchor and headed west to the Tom Adams Bridge and ICW, following Robert and Gail Weir on their Endeavor 37 Ms Roxy.  As we started turning south on the ICW, I noticed Ms Roxy slow and stop.  I started to come along their starboard side, when Gail waved at us in a way that I interpreted meaning go around to their port.  Alas, we eased right into a shoal, from which I quickly backed away.  They must be aground in a high spot on the waterway, I thought, so I set out to make a wider turn around them, and this time went hard aground.  Clearly, Gail didn't mean for us to go port; she was trying to wave us away entirely, for they were hard aground, too.  Naturally, this was my fault - the captain can't blame anyone else for his stupidities - and I should have been watching my chart and the ICW channel markers.  Turns out we'd crossed the channel completely.

I tried raising Robert on the radio, but his transmission was weak.  (I found out later that his handheld VHF wasn't working well and his regular VHF is inside the cabin and hard to reach.)  But, other Dolphins were now coming out from the anchorage and I raised Gene and Jo Weatherup on Shenandoah.  "How'd you get way out there?" he asked incredulously.

Gene's boat carries a three-foot draft, perfect for the shallow waters of the Florida gulf coast, and he said he'd get a line from his bow to our stern and help us off.  On the second try, Jo successfully got me a line, I tied it off and with Gene's help backed Alizee off and into the ICW channel.  Gene then went over to Ms Roxy where Jo through Gail a line on the bow and pulled them off as well.

It was quite the little grounding party and not what any of us had expected to start the day, but as someone said over the radio: "It's all in a day of sailing."  Apparently so, for as we all motored south in a group toward Stump Pass, we overheard a call on the radio between Bill and Carol Pickering on Lanie Rowe and Burrell and Norma Wood on Sitrep that one of them had gone aground going into the Stump Pass Marina for fuel.  Fortunately, the tide was rising and they were soon free.

Our group of six sailboats and a trawler passed through the Boca Grande Causeway swing bridge and the ICW gradually widened out into Charlotte Harbor.  As soon as the depths reached seven feet, Penelope and I decided to get in a little sailing.  We had wind from the south, so we hoisted the main, rolled out the Genoa and set an easterly course across the lower part of Charlotte Harbor (the second largest estuary in Florida, covering 12,653 square kilometers).  After an hour, we tacked back to a westerly course and continued our way to the entrance of Pelican Bay, where some of our group were anchoring for the night.  This is a favored anchorage for locals but one that we had not tried before because of reportedly very shallow depths at the entrance.  But knowing others in our group made it, we followed their advise and, with the tide about a foot above mean water, found the proper entry into what is a very nice, large anchorage.  (Two days later, we revisited the anchorage on our own, and the tides were lower.  We got in fine, but getting out the next morning we grazed our keel for 200 meters in five feet of water ... Alizee draws five feet.)

That evening we were all meeting at the Cabbage Key restaurant for dinner, about a two-mile dinghy ride for those of us anchored in Pelican Bay.  At 17:00, our four dinghies with twelve people set out for the ride on fortunately very calm waters.  At the restaurant we rendezvoused with another twelve Dolphins who had docked at the restaurant for the night, where we had cocktails and enjoyed a nice meal together.  We toasted Bill Pickering for organizing the event, tried playing the broken down piano in the bar and finally set off around 2100 for our boats.  While a bit of moon lit the way for us, I was still thinking it would have been much smarter to have anchored just across the ICW from Cabbage Key by Useppa Island.  Nonetheless, we made it safely back to our bunks for the night and enjoyed a peaceful night.

Saturday, 18 February, the Dolphins began going their separate ways.  At Cabbage Key, some of the boats went a bit further south to Captiva.  From Pelican Bay, Purpose set off for Sarasota Bay and Shenandoah along with Wings and Whiskey Talk motored off to Matlacha, where Gene Weatherup had arranged an evening with a local friend of his.  Matlacha is historic fishing town and now somewhat artsy spot, and we intended to follow and join them, but another opportunity arose so that didn't work out.

Four years ago, sailing in the British Virgins, I met Joe Higgins from Buffalo, New York, who was there with his buddy Mike Layman and their wives.  We had a good evening at Oceans7 Beach Club in Great Harbour on Peter Island.  It was early January and stormy, and the next day they sailed off.  But we had exchanged emails and sort of kept in touch.  When Facebook came along, we reconnected again through this new medium, and I discovered that we shared the same views politically, each played musical instruments and, more important for this story, that Joe had bought a townhouse in Fort Meyers and had found a little music gig on the south end of Charlotte Harbor.  When Penelope and I brought Alizee around from Daytona Beach to St. Petersburg, I thought it would be nice to connect with Joe and maybe even play some music together.

So, it turns out Joe was playing Saturday from 15:00-19:00 at a little fish place called the Coast Connection at Knights Landing, Bokeelia, on the north end of Pine Island.  I called him and he said to come on in, so just a two-hour motor away from Pelican Bay, we decided to go over and anchor just outside the Shell Pass Inlet (I called it Jug Creek on Active Captain).  It was a nice calm day with continuing light winds from the south, which were predicted to continue for another day, so we agreed if things worked out, we could just spend the night and not go on to Matlacha.

We dinghied in with my short-keyboard Yamaha piano about 1400, and I set it up in the musician's corner.  This is a great piece of "old Florida," with an incredible down-home feeling to it.  Bring your own beer or wine in your own container, buy a good fresh seafood meal or a burger or dog, and enjoy an afternoon/evening of music.  Joe appeared around 14:30 with his wife Cathy.  He set up his sound system and got we got settled.  I told him as long as he gave me the key for tunes, I thought I could follow and we began to play.  Wow!  What a great gig.  A patron sat in on the spoons, another fellow brought in a guitar and played in the background, another brought a set of harmonicas and the owner sat in for a bit on the washboard and played bottles.  Eclectic and magnificent.  To say we all had a wonderful time is understating it, and I'm plotting already to join him again as soon as possible.  Too bad we live three hours away.

Our night at the anchorage was wonderful and relaxing.  Instead of dinner we munched chips and salsa with cocktails and next morning relaxed.  A couple of days before, when the weather for Sunday looked to be bad, we'd booked a slip at the Burnt Store Marina on southwest Charlotte Harbor for that night, but now things looked completely different.  We'd have some winds, perhaps as much as twenty knots, but not a serious weather threat, so we decided to go back to Pelican Bay and cancelled the slip at Burnt Store.  With south winds, we had an hour plus sail close hauled back to the bay, slipped in by the shoals and anchored easily.  With most of the weekend boats gone from the anchorage, it felt like we were in the Bahamas.  We dinghied into the Cayo Costa state park docks and went for an hour's walk across the key to the Gulf side, where we got our feet wet and enjoyed being off the boat.  One the way back we picked up a bag of ice at the park gift shop.  Back aboard Alizee, I was pleased to see that our wind generator (now with new bearings and seats) was operating at peak efficiency.

On Monday, 20 February, we skimmed our keel across the Pelican Bay entrance and found the wind had shifted and was on our nose from the north.  Since it had been a bit stormy on Sunday, I decided the Gulf waters still would be stirred up and motoring into the wind offshore would be very unpleasant, so we went up the ICW.  Thinking we would only get as far as Venice, Penelope called ahead and reserved a slip for us at the Crow's Nest Marina.

Along the way, just north of the swing bridge, we saw Wings anchored in a lovely anchorage.  They were not listening to their radio and I don't think they saw us, but we made a note of the spot for a future time.  As we were coming on Stump Pass, we heard Gene on Shenandoah calling for BoatUS.  Oh dear, he'd drifted a bit to far north going off the ICW into the inlet and had gone aground.  We exchanged a couple of words on the VHF and motored on past him as he talked with BoatUS and awaited their assistance.  We wished we could have returned him the favor he had given us a couple of days earlier and pulled him off, but our draft wouldn't have allowed that.  All in a day's sailing.

As we motored northward, we had the advantage of a rising tide and made six knots or more with little difficulty.  Also to our advantage was the fact that this was Presidents' Day, a federal holiday, so all the bridges were opening "on demand," rather than by set times.  We breezed through a series of ICW bascule bridges and reached Venice at 1300.  We might as well push on, I thought, so Penelope cancelled our slip at the Crow's Nest and we reached the main anchorage in Sarasota at 16:10, motoring for just 7.8 hours.  And, soon after we dropped our anchor, we saw Shenandoah follow us into Sarasota Bay from the ICW.  After he'd gotten off the shoal at Stump Pass, Gene had gone outside and up to Venice, but I he must have found it messy out there and come in at Venice for the calmer ICW waters.

Tuesday morning we set off for the Manatee River.  The wind had clocked around and was now coming out of the east, so raising the main before weighing anchor, we ghosted our way westward out of the anchorage and then turned north up Sarasota Bay, sailing in a lovely 11-12 knot wind.  At the top of the bay we motor-sailed up to Jewfish Key at Longboat Pass, thence motored north through the Cortez and Anna Maria bridges and on to the anchorage on the Manatee.  A relaxing afternoon reading in the cockpit led to a first-rate steak dinner and a mellow evening.

22 February we arose at 0800 with the plan in mind to motor up river to the Twin Dolphin Marina for fuel and to pump out the head holding tank.  I put the coffee water on to boil and a couple of minutes later the fire went out, propane in the tank exhausted.  I pulled out the spare tank only to find it was empty, too.  How had I missed that?  Too much time ashore, I think.  Anyway, I put the kettle on the barbecue, which uses small propane cans, and finally got it boiling.  At least we'd have coffee on our way up river.

We arrived at the marina at 09:30, fueled up with diesel and, because the dock master couldn't get his pump out at the fuel dock to work, we moved to a second dock to use another pump out.  It worked but we ended up spending an hour at the marina, and as Penelope pointed out later, we had to dock twice, which is not her favorite activity.  Nevertheless, we departed, raised sails and with the winds now shifted so that they came out of the south again, we had a wonderful beam reach sail down the river and on to South Tampa Bay.  We turned north to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and sailed wing-on-wing all the way up to just outside our Harborage Marina, where we turned west and on to a beam reach into the turning basin to douse our sails.  We were in the slip at 15:00, a four-and-a-half-hour sail.

Penelope sent me off to get our propane jugs filled and by the time I returned, she had the boat washed down and pretty much cleaned up.  All that was left was to put on the sail covers, cook dinner, dump trash and on the morrow leave for home.  I'm already looking forward to the next cruise

More photos


Blogger Ginger & David said...

Living vicariously through your blog. Thanks for an entertaining peek at your life these days.
Ginger & David

6:50 PM  
Blogger Berto Garcia said...

Muy buen trabajo en el Blog les saludamos desde las Islas Canarias

2:42 PM  

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