Note the new dinghy and engine trailing astern. Some will care to note the 4 large solar panels. They have provided all the electrical power we consume with our refrigerator/freezer, fans, instruments, lights, stereo, laptop, etc.
If it gets cloudy for two days in a row, then we have to run the engine to let the high-output alternator recharge the batteries. Not a preferred method, but a backup.
[Photo: one small portion of Boot Key Harbor, Marathon.]
[Note: I made a change to the way I was composing this blog and found an embarrassing number of errors. They are not all typos; this keyboard has been fluky for a while now and when I type certain character sequences too fast, it goes crazy.]
[Kate: Thanks for the comment on our last post and the wll wishes.]
Right after our last post, we went back to the dinghy and motored around to the rear of the Winn-Dixie grocery store where we got some a few provisions, including some fish that I somehow managed not to catch for myself along the way. We got back to the boat, relaxed, and prepared dinner. The dolphin (or Mahi-Mahi as the Hawaiian name goes) was not the freshest but it was quite tasty when pan seared with a Cajun rub. After dinner, we made our next two days' passage plan.
An hour before sunset, we took Clyde for his first ride in the new dinghy. We landed at the Esplanade dinghy dock and he set off in his harness and leash with Diane in tow. The first half of the walk went well because there were few people. Then as we tried to complete a full circuit, the traffic increased and he got temperamental. We reversed our tracks and all went pretty well.
As it stands now, we plan to leave very early tomorrow to make it to Cape Sable by nightfall. The winds are expected to be light, so barring a thunderstorm, we will have no wind to sail with and little breeze Tuesday night. The next day should be long as well as we hope to make Marathon in the Keys by Wednesday sunset.
Tues 1 Jun 10
Hah! Light winds they said? We spent over 8 hours motoring directly into 2-4 foot waves that made for a wet, slow, uncomfortable ride. Axiom number one in sailing that the wind direction is always coming from your intended destination. Axiom two is if the wind is behind you, it must be too light to do any good. We had the former. But let me start at the beginning.
The night was quite pleasant, although I still slept in the main saloon with the fan running for the first half of the night. Knowing we wanted to awaken early, I slept fitfully after about 0200. At 0500, Diane snuggled up for a short while until we arose near 0600. It took but 10 minutes to prepare to get underway so we were off in the pre-dawn twilight of another beautiful morning.
Amazingly, we had ridden the tidal flood current into our anchorage and then got to ride the ebb current back out; that is rare. Once past the shoals at the edge of the pass, we turned south and were able to motorsail to good advantage for a short while. Then, our course to the destination and the wind direction just wouldn't work together, so we furled the sail and purely motored.
I was trolling the lure again when the "clicker" on the reel let us know something was hooked. I slowed the boat and asked Diane to turn back toward the fish so I could reel it in better. It was a Spanish mackerel (the only type of fish I have caught trolling in the Gulf), but it was not hooked in the jaw, but rather snagged on its side. I filleted it quickly and we cleaned the cockpit and resumed our course.
The wind direction had been forecast correctly, but the strength was much stronger and building. Before long we had the waves I mentioned earlier and we were hobby-horsing like crazy. 2-4 foot waves are not bad, but when they come 2-3 seconds apart, that is crazy. We were slow to secure things for shipping water across the deck, so we got some down below in the galley. Diane was not pleased, but we buttoned up better and carried on.
At one point, the average speed was so slow (each wave knocks out some momentum) and the ride so uncomfortable, that I elected to turn 45 degrees off course to port (closer to land) and put out about 1/3 of the foresail. This had several effects: it let us take the waves on an angle which is less stressful on the boat and crew, the sail acted to steady the boat, and it added almost two kts to our forward speed, which kept our progress decent even with us turning off course (VMG to the sailors).
After the immediate improvement and then a few hours of further improvement as we got closer to land, we decided conditions warranted turning directly back to our destination and motoring the rest of the way. By the way, Cape Sable was no longer our destination, but rather Little Shark River. I am typing this while Diane is minding the helm, so more later...
Well, our decision was half right. I had elected not to enter the anchorage at the mouth of the river, but rather to stand offshore one mile to help avoid the nasty bugs. We anchored and before we could do much of anything we had biting flies coming several per minute. They are very slow to react so it is not unusual to have a 90% kill ratio, but after we killed 20 we decided to move. We are now anchored three nm from the nearest shore and a little closer to our next stop, Marathon.
It was a grueling day at times, but overall not too bad. Getting water below was the part that made Diane the most upset, but overall she handled the day well. We are now sitting below with a nice breeze funneling through the boat and sipping the first of several cold ones. It was a 12-hour day today and while it was not strenuous, it sure is taxing.
If you are wondering why we haven't exclaimed what a wonderful cruise we are having, that is because we are still sorting through the almost inevitable problems that happen. We surely enjoyed our time with our club friends the first night, and were glad to celebrate the new dinghy/engine despite the unexpected expense. The evening in Smokehouse Bay, Marco, was very pleasant. We look forward to getting some things sorted out in Marathon and plan to spend tomorrow and Thursday nights there.
Wed 2 Jun 10
The evening was a mixture of bliss and challenges. As expected, the wind and seas lay down (went light and calm) and boat gently rocked all night log, so that was the bliss part. We were awakened near 0200 by a boom of thunder and I quickly roused to investigate. All I could see for several minutes was cloud-to-could lightning and the timing between flash and bang indicated a two mile distance and increasing to the north.
Once that was past, we got a gentle rain at first that we loved for both the sound of it and the washing off of the accumulated salt. Following that, however, was a torrential rain that made me realize we had not pulled the drain plug on the new dinghy. I quickly estimated that the water weight in the dinghy could get significant if I did nothing, so this as the challenge part.
I was out in the relatively cold rain lying on the swim platform reaching under the dinghy to get to the plug. I managed to do that with swift success, but as I was doing it I thought that a silly slip and I could be in the water with Diane still snug in her berth. The chilly rain cooled me down to where I could regain sleep comfortably and we both enjoyed the rest until about 0600.
It was an eerie silence that greeted us when we went topside just before dawn. It was something to savor, and we did until we weighed anchor and got underway shortly after. The wind forecast was for southerly breezes up to 10 kts. That prevented us from using any sails until quite long into the passage when the wind shifted to the southeast for a while. It was a boring passage under motor alone, but at least if the wind was not going to help us, it was almost calm. The sea had leftover swells from storms in the night, but was otherwise flat for the longest time.
At one point, after the Keys were in sight, I noted that the depth sounder readings were about 2 feet shallower than the charts indicated. Not knowing it a shoal had built up and not wanting to plow into it, I slowed to 3.5 kts and watched the depth sounder hover near 8 ft for almost an hour. I finally decided to trust that the bottom would not suddenly rise up too fast for me to react and resumed making 5.5 kts.
About the time we neared the widely-spaced navigation markers approaching the keys and warning of shoal banks, the wind picked up and we could motorsail to good advantage. Even with the engine on, it was nice to have the sail full and drawing well.
Before long we were under the Seven Mile Bridge and turning for Boot Key Harbor. We took on diesel, gasoline, and water at Marathon Marina and continued in to pick up a mooring ball. The person on the radio and at the desk was the same one we saw two years ago on our way to the Bahamas. I recognized her and she did us, even remembering our temporarily lost dinghy episode. You really need to go through life treating others well because you are bound to see many of them again, especially in the cruising world.
We got to the check-in desk well prepared to use the new shower/bathroom facilities; it was wonderful. They have added an additional dinghy dock and wonderful laundry facilities, too. Cooling down after the dinghy ride in the blazing sun required a cool beverage and sitting in front of a fan below. Even Diane needed a fan and that is unusual.
For dinner I prepared the mackerel I had caught the other day in the same Cajun style as the dolphin. It was really quite delicious. After cleaning up, we took Clyde in the dinghy to the marina dock and strolled the short distance to the local park. There were far too many people enjoying the park for Clyde to get comfortable; in close quarters he is fine with strangers, but in public places he gets quite skittish.
Back at Diva Di, we read in the cockpit until it was dark, and then went to bed with both of us pretty tired.
Thu 3 Jun 10
Sleeping through the night almost happened, except that the fabric wind scoop over the forward hatch came loose and was flapping madly in the light breeze. I got up to fix that and then slept soundly until just after dawn - a rarity to sleep so late.
This morning's tasks are to go up the mast to check and fix the anchor light, retape the spreader boots, and retrieve the spreader halyard that got away when the shackle broke the other day. It is 0740 now and the sun is already very hot, although the air temperature of 76F is pleasant.
It is now almost 1100 and we have accomplished quite a bit. While Diane did the housekeeping below, I polished some marks off the hull, cleaned the new dinghy which I got filthy wearing the wrong footwear inside, and sorted out how to affix the lifting harness for the new engine. Before the day wore on, I wanted to get up the mast, so I readied the gear, briefed Diane on the procedures, and up I went.
A now-departed sailor friend sold me a piece of gear that proved invaluable today - a 4:1 winch gearbox. It allowed Diane to get the extra mechanical advantage she needed to grind my considerable bulk up 44 feet off the deck. It took almost 30 minutes to do with me helping to pull myself up somewhat and frequent short breaks, including a few tasks along the way. I have photos to prove we did it!
I had two minor jobs and two important jobs. The spreader boots got retaped and the errant spreader halyard was retrieved. I inspected all the rigging as I went up looking for any signs of impending trouble and found none. When I got to the top I discovered that the LED anchor light doesn't really seat securely in the socket. It seems to catch, but the right wiggling can set it loose, which is how I found it. I secured it as best I could, tested that it worked, and I hope it will last either three more years that way, or until I get a better perch aloft so I can see what I am doing to make a better fix.
Diane has earned a great reward, so I am taking her our to dinner and she can have any kind of fish sandwish she wants! ;-)
[posted 3 Jun 10 1200]
Sun 30 May 10
The evening was amazingly comfortable in that I, the perennial human furnace, was not too warm to sleep without a fan. Diane, surprisingly, felt too warm and moved to the main saloon. Maybe that was just to get away from me. In any event, the pre-dawn was beautiful with almost cool temperatures and a gentle breeze. I even enjoyed a cup of coffee vic my standard iced tea first thing in the morning.
Despite Diane's warmth of the previous evening, her mood needed some defrosting. Apprently she was concerned about our dinghy and engine situation. I am determine to rise above these challenges and carry on, and I finally convinced her to do the same.
The young owner of the inflatable boat shop called as promised and collected us at the dinghy dock. We rode with him to his store where we found out he left his young family on (thankfully nearby) Sanibel during a 4-day vacation to help us out. During the whole sequence of events, we made it plain to him that we appreciated what he was doing and asked him to be sure the deal was worth his extra trouble. We believe he was gneuine in his desire to help us out and was fair; he certainly went above and beyond.
It was a long four hours, but in the end we were the proud owners of a new Achilles hypalon
RIB and 9.9 HP Suzuki 4-stroke outboard engine. The sad fact was that despite the ministrations of a good mechanic, the used Johnson we had was not running reliably at all. It would be heartbreaking to spring for a new dinghy only to have the engine become the weak link. The details of what Claude, owner of Suncoast Inflatables, did for us are too much for this blog, but he was great.
Non-boaters reading this are verry bored by now, but I must mntion that the new dinghy, supposedly within inches of the same total lenght, is so superior to what we used to have. We need to break in the engine for 10 hours, but so far it is a joy to start and run. The sharp reader might wonder what we did with our former dinghy and engine. Well, Claude took them back to his shop to store for us until we decide exactly what to do with them. We didn't even try to get a receipt showing he had taken possession, but we have no concern with that.
We have dear friends, Dan and Sharon, in the Exumas (Bahamas) right now and one post from their blog hit home with me then, and especially today. When you work hard to make dreams come true, you sometimes do things you wouldn't otherwise do just to keep the dream alive. Taking funds that we hoped not to touch for a while to make this purchase is an investment in continuing our dream. We may have to eat catfood in our elder years, but we are doing this now while we can!
Enough philosophy. I am typing the last few paragraphs sitting by the pool at the Matanzas Inn with an adult beverage and my admiral is smiling. That is worth a lot. As often happens, we had interesting conversation with multiple people at the pool.
After the pool session and before going back to Diva Di, we walked few blocks to the Lighthouse Tiki Bar for a beer and some music. The band was quite good, and our conversation with the bartender was interesting. He is 39 and heading back to Chigago after trying for six years to mak it down here in Florida. He has a great business idea and spirit, so we wish him well.
Cleaning up at the boat took little time and then we went back ashore to the Matanzas Inn for dinner with a 2-for-1 coupon. Both our meals were quite good!
We took the dinghy back to Diva Di - outboard engine starting on the first pull - and spent an hour of quality deck time with Clyde before bed. The plan is to leave tomorrow early and make it to Marco's Smokehouse Bay for another night. Then it will likely be two days before we can get to the Keys proper, maybe Marathon's Boot Key Harbor or Bahia Honda.
Mon 31 May 10
Last night was warm, so I elected to sleep in the main saloon again with the quiet, but effective, fan keeping me comfortable. It was another beautiful morning, but I suspected it would be a hot one with little breeze. We left at 0715 and motored out to the Gulf of Mexico for the straight run down to Marco. For several hours, we were able to use the foresail to some advantage, but the wind was mostly from the direction were were heading (all too common for sailors), so we furled the sail and just continued on with the engine. Motoring from spot to spot is not why we bought a sailboat, but when you are trying to get to a particular place on a particular day, that is what you do.
I have been trolling a shiny silver spoon lure since w got into the gulf with no luck so far. The sea has been calm except for the wakes of passing large cruising vessels and sportfishers. The wind teased us a few times but was always from an angle where we couldn't sail to our destination.
We entered Capri Pass at Marcoo Island and took the first turn off the channel to starboard to work our way past the unfamiliar waters of Collier Bay and then into Smokehouse Bay. Some of our PGI friends recommended this area so are giving it a try.
At anchor in a gentle, but vital, breeze, we are relaxing with a cool beverage and making plans to go ashore. I had mentioned to Diane that there were numerous shops and galleries just adjacent to the nearby marina and she perked up a little until she realized that this is Memorial Day and all the shops will be closed. She made some less-than-complimentary remarks about how I always manage to time our arrival when there is no opportunity to shop. That has not been my plan, but it certainly works for me.
A bit bored from the 5.5 hours of motoring, I leapt to the task of lowering the dinghy and cleaning it out. It's like a new car in that you can't stand to see it less than pristine for some indeterminate time. I opend the fuel tank vent, primed the fuel line bulb, pulled out the choke and pulled the starting cord once. It started and ran fine, and when the choke was pushed in two seconds later, it idled so quietly I had to do a double-take to ensure it had not stalled.
We are now ashore at a posh place called The Esplanade. Everything but the bars and restaurants are closed, but we will walk to see if the grocery store is open for us to pick up a few items.
It's hard to say when the next post will be made.
Fri 28 May 10
The big day finally arrived. There were so many setbacks leading up to this cruise that we were a bit surprised to be shoving off today. We said goodbye to our near neighbors and slipped the dock lines a little after 0900 under gorgeous blue skies. The forecast wind, meager though it was, did not appear until later in our passage, so we motored most of the 18 nm to Pelican Bay.
Inside the large anchorage, we spotted a few of the boats from our club and set the anchor. It is Friday before Memorial Day weekend, when this anchorage typically gets well over 100 boats, but right now there are only several dozen.
Shortly after arrival, several good friends come over to visit in their dinghies. They learn and our dinghy is still temporarily unusable while we allow the glue to cure all three recommended days. We learn that they are headed to a special place on the island and we are invited along on their boats.
The "Tunnel of Love" used to be a narrow, winding water path under a canopy of mangroves, hence the tunnel moniker. Hurricane Charley in 2004 destroyed the canopy, and left a mess of broken branches in the path, so we wondered what we would see. It was still without any overhead cover to speak of, and there were many sharp branches to navigate around, but our dinghy captains did a great job of getting us through to the large lagoon at the other side.
Beaching the dinghies at the edge of the lagoon left a 100 yard stroll to the gorgeous blue-green water of the gulf. Nine of the twelve of us walked the beach in search of shells, while three of us lolled in the warm surf awaiting their return.
The trip back to the boats was uneventful, but with some urgency. There was talk of naps to be had and such. The big party on the rafted catamarans started at 1800, with us being chauffered the 100 feet from our boat. It was a delightful evening in all respects: food, drink, weather, and most of all, interesting conversations. One couple was from Australia and had purchased a 42 foot Manta to go cruising. Another couple was known to our friends from a Caribbean cruise and they were invited to join us. We love conversing with our friends, but it is the new people you meet that take the conversations to new topics.
Not long after a beautiful sunset near 2020, we were shuttled back to Diva Di where we got comfortable with Clyde, our boat cat, on the deck. Like many cats, Clyde enjoys the time after the sun has set more than the daytime. We was quite comfortable carefully roaming the decks in our sight in the calm anchorage. When a half hour had passed, he and we were ready to move back to the cockpit.
Diane read in the forward berth while I sat in the cockpit listening to music with my mp3 player and Clyde sniffed the night air. Sleep was wondrful in the breeze, but during the night the breeze simply stopped. I quickly became uncomfortably hot so I moved to the main saloon sette with a quiet, efficient fan blowing over me. That made it quite comfortable and sleep was again possible. I suspect there will be much of that over the next three weeks or so.
Sat 29 May 10
We got underway at 0820 and had to motor for four hours before we had any wind to put up a sail. Even then, we only got to sail for a half hour at 2.5-4 kts, which is pretty slow. Despite the near constant drone of the engine, it was a pleasant, warm day with blue skies and fair weather cumulus clouds.
Ft Myers Beach, specifically the Matanzas Pass mooring field, was our destination for today. We arrived and were settled on the mooring ball by 1400, then Duane put the dinghy in the water for the first time since the repair. After stepping into the dinghy at the aft corner where the repair was, I was mortified to see water leaking in. Even if it was less than 5% of the previous torrent, it was still a bad leak.
What happened next proved that it is possible for a husband and wife to have a civil conversation under what at the time is perceived to be extreme stress. I suppose some people can buy and live with used equipment like dinghies and engines, but we are not destined to, it seems. Anytime a problem arises, Diane points out that this would never have happened if we had bought a new dinghy and new engine. I believe that only postpones the inevitable, but the fact is that we are once again facing a major problem jeopardizing the cruise.
Rather than argue about it, I resolved to get the slowly leaking dinghy to shore and attempt to find a place in Ft Myers that would sell me a brand new dinghy in a reasonable amount of time. A bold move, but it gets worse. After putting the engine on the dinghy, which transpired with no mishap, amazingly, I primed the gas line and saw through the glass filter body that tiny water droplets were in the fuel. I was short on time, but did not want to mess up the engine with watery gas, so there was a half hour lost siphoning all the fuel from the tank into two plastic jugs and adding fresh fuel and oil. All this was done with Diane's important assistance and nary a harsh word was spoken.
I ran the engine for a full 10 minutes at 1/3 speed to ensure that the residual watery gas in the lines would not give me a problem. Everything seemed fine, so off I went to the Matanzas Inn to pay for the mooring ball and try my luck finding a store open on Memorial Day weekend. The young man behind the counter was a sailor living on a mooring ball and sympathetic to our plight. He recommended a particular dealer of inflatable boats and I made the call.
Miraculously, the phone was answered and it was the owner. The store was closed for the weekend, but we chatted about our situation for a long while and he agreed to call Sunday morning to arrange to pick us up and take us to the store. He has what seems to be a good dinghy choice for our needs (RIB, hypalon tubes, 9.2 feet long), so we will almost certainly do a deal tomorrow. I won't dwell on the amount of money we have spent on used dinghies and motors and repairs in the last six years. Had we just "bitten the bullet" and bought quality back then, perhaps we would have had six trouble-free years. At the least, Diane would not be able to point to my frugality as the source of our troubles.
So, the arrangements for tomorrow were made and then I paid for two nights on the mooring. I made it back to Diva Di with some hope to salvage the cruise. After a bit of straightening up aboard, I elected to have a drink and type out todays's log. No doubt, it is a bit of cathartism.
Oh, boy. Sometimes you just have to wonder if it is meant to be.
We got the outboard engine back from the mechanic and he said it is running great. Diane suggests that I should actually try it on our dinghy so I mount the engine and launch the dinghy into our canal near high tide. No sooner did the dinghy enter the water that I noted a lot of water coming into the boat. I stared incredulously for a full five seconds, then hauled the dinghy back out onto the dock. I turned to Diane with a look of disgust and despair and then took the engine back off. Turning over the dinghy revealed that the glued seams that hold the rubber tubes to the hard fiberglass portion of the boat had simply come undone in one section. I simply could not believe this was happening!
This is where we had some good fortune. I called the local West Marine store where a guy works who does repairs on inflatable boats. he was working that day and called me right back. He said he could not make such a repair, but recommended a local company that could. Amazingly, the owner answered the phone at the shop on Sat afternoon and agreed to come down and pick up the boat with his trailer by 3pm! Even trying his best, he said he could not re-glue the seams until Tuesday and then it needed three days to cure before the dinghy could be used.
I have just checked with him (on Tuesday) and he said it is ready for gluing in the morning as afternoon temperatures are not conducive to quality work. He promises it will be ready by Friday. It is incredibly bad to have your dinghy fail at any time, but having it fail with just barely enough time to get it repaired before a cruise is still better than having the failure during the cruise.
Let's hope that is the end of the drama for a while.
My last post indicated that one of the last major tasks before the cruise was to check out the dinghy engine. Well, it is a good thing I did not let that go much longer. It started right away and then failed to idle properly as before, but the plan was to let it run and draw the gas from the tank, into which I had poured a generous amount of fuel conditioner. The hope was that jets in the carburetor controlling the idle might be cleaned.
Well, it stopped running after a short bit and then would not restart at all. Fortunately, I looked at the clear filter inline with the fuel hose and saw a murky emulsion of what I knew to be fuel and water, so my troubleshooting did not take too long. It was nearing the end of daylight, so I took the tank off to the garage. The next day after work I drained the tank into a clear container and got fresh gas for the tank.
I added the proper amount of 2-stroke oil, shook the tank, and then hooked up the tank to the motor. With the carburetor draining onto an absorbent rag, I squeezed the priming bulb until clean gas flowed out and then replaced the drain plug. The engine started right away, and ran just as before the water incident. I resolved at that time, after some impromptu and unpleasant "discussions" with Diane, that I would never hear the end of it if I didn't get the motor fixed by a professional, and very soon!
As of yesterday, the motor is at the local shop with a promise to be ready by Monday at the latest. Diane is quite right that having a very reliable dinghy is critical to the enjoyment and safety of a cruise.
Another unexpected chore was to track down a water intrusion problem. Despite being told that the forward hatch leaked and me never being able to confirm that, we did discover after a massive rainstorm that water can get past the windlass and drip into the bilge. The problem is that on the way to the bilge it hits a teak veneer panel at the foot of the v-berth and allows water to seep in.
I remedied that temporarily by affixing a plastic sheet behind the panel as a piece of "flashing" to allow the water to go directly to the bilge "without passing go or collecting $200". A proper fix will entail stopping or slowing the leak and then replacing the wooden panel which has started delaminating. I will add the plastic sheet to the new panel anyway as a precaution.
On a different front, the massive oil spill in the Gulf has spread to the point where some may be picked up by the ever-present Loop Current and brought quickly to the Keys. The repercussions go far beyond what it does to our little cruise, of course, but it will surely be sad for us to have to abandon the Dry Tortugas visit after waiting so long.