With the difficult and time-consuming job of replacing the stem fitting (it supports the mast, so pretty important) done as of yesterday, we can now look forward to the relatively simple tasks of washing and waxing and polishing stainless steel tubing.
Diane has done a terrific job provisioning the boat and while we are cognizant of the effects of too much weight in the boat, the fact is that she will be our home for 6 months and we are not planning to 'rough it' for that amount of time.
One interesting note is that the first part of our journey will take us across Florida along the Okeechobee Waterway where a brige has a maximum clearance of about 49 ft. The actual clearance varies with the level of the water in that portion of the waterway (between two locks) and it is showing as 50.68 ft today (the Corps of Engineers publishes daily figures on its web site). I just measured the clearance we need to clear our masthead gear and it is 50.8 ft) It appears we can heel the boat a little with our dinghy hoisted off to one side and that will allow us to squeak through with the VHF antenna tinking the bridge (the antenna is flexible, so no worries there, we hope).
Less water means more height clearance, but also less depth for us to travel in. We need 5 ft of depth to have a few inches of clearance for our keel and rudder, and the shallowest known spot along the route has 6.7 ft, so we are good so far.
We are very excited for this adventure and hope you will enjoy following along. Our last post had a comment by our good friends, Kate and Dave, and their wish of 'brown voyage' was either a typo or a very clever play on the brown water we will find ourselves in much of the time in the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway).
Until next time.
We are starting to remind our friends to follow us on our blog, so this post is to make sure that if they check here, they realize the blog is still active.
Getting the boat ready has taken more time than I want to spend, but it will all be worth it. We are both looking forward very much to this 6 month adventure. The only goals are to be safe, healthy and enjoy ourselves. If we can get to enjoy Maine, which many friends have strongly suggested we do, while not pacing ourselves too quickly, that's great. If we don't make it there but have a great time at the places we visit, then it will have been a wonderful cruise.
Day 16 - Sat 12 Jun 10
We both awoke to a comfortable morning; however, the wind had died to near nothing. Diane was eager to get this passage over with, so we made the last minute preparations, turned on the navigation lights, weighed the anchor, and got underway before dawn. The sun rose in great majesty after we were several miles north of the fort.
We had some excitement as Diane spied several bottlenose dolphins coming toward us from ahead. Once we converged, they turned around and were playing and leaping in our bow and stern wakes. With water so clear, you could see them even as they dashed beneath the keel from one side to the other. Why they want to get close to a churning propeller I don't know, but I have never heard of a dolphin being struck by a boat; they just must be smart and agile. Fifteen minutes later, they were gone, but we thanked them for the diversion.
Right now it is 0930; I am below typing to break the monotony and Diane has the helm. With no sails up, our autopilot keeps a good course. I mention "no sails up" because the wind is light and from the northeast, not the east to southeast that was forecast. If the wind does not shift to at least east, we can't use the sails. I am confident we have enough fuel to make it home, but I was sure hoping for some wind assistance. We have learned what it is like to have a trawler (slow powerboat) and live with the incessant drone of the diesel engine. We all (including Clyde) really dislike motoring.
The winds stayed "on the nose" for much of the daylight hours. We had several more dolphin encounters along the way - always exciting. I am not sure what people do when crossing oceans, but this was very boring. Diane had started me on an interesting novel, however, so it wasn't too bad.
Before dusk, we carefully transferred all 10 gallons of diesel from the jugs to the main tank and secured the cockpit for night running. Our inflatable life jackets with harnessed were on since we left, but now we were very diligent about using our tethers to keep us attached to the boat at all times except when down below.
The plan was for me to try to nap for an hour or so at dusk, so that I could resume my helm watch when it got really dark. Unfortunately, when I was down below emptying the holding tank (we were 60 miles offshore), the autopilot suddenly stopped working. I had Diane hand steer for almost half an hour while I fiddled around with the electrical connections. I got it working and that sure made me feel good- hand steering for hour after hour is really draining.
I didn't get much rest before taking the helm again, but I felt alert. We started getting wind from the ENE that built to about 15 kts and I put out a partially furled foresail to help the engine. We went from 5.4 to 6.6 kts and that would last all through the night and until we got home. My realistic estimate for time en route was 30 hours; my optimistic estimate was 24 hours, and we did it is 25 hours and 15 minutes.
Although I really was alert the whole time, I only got about 3 total hours off watch when I dozed in the cockpit with Diane at the helm. To say I am moving slowly today (Sun 1300) is an understatement. I will post more tomorrow, but this is the final post of underway activities. Thanks for joining us!
Day 15 - Fri 11 Jun 10
The ocean trawler got underway very silently in the predawn. The early morning sky was very pretty and I let Clyde come topside. Diane awoke right after dawn feeling better but not great. Weather permitting, tomorrow morning we start the long passage home. We have enjoyed many aspects of this cruise, but with the temperatures this hot, it will be nice to get back home to the air conditioning and our swimming pool.
Following a delicious breakfast, we dressed in our cleanest (least smelly) casual clothing and took the dinghy ashore to stroll around a bit. The beach was empty except for one swimmer, but the campgrounds were bustling with those who were vacating today. Inside the fort, we first hit the visitor center; it was air conditioned to a mighty cool and welcome temperature. I found myself reading the same material over again just to linger in the comfort.
We pressed on, however, and at least the self-guided walking tour kept us in the shade for the first portion. We had heard the excellent guided tour three years ago, courtesy of the ferry boat guide, but it was nice to stroll the fort at leisure in private. I also took a few more photos for this blog.
Next, we went back to the boat to change into swimwear for snorkeling the dilapidated iron framework from the old coal docks. Much coral have colonized the pilings and some of it is quite nice. There were tens of thousands of fish there, too, but 99.9% of them were less than 1.5 inches long. We swam through huge clouds of these tiny fish and the sensation was like driving through a torrential rainstorm; visibility of everything else was greatly obscured.
We did see one small nurse shark (maybe 5 feet long at most), a small grouper, and a medium-sized hogfish, and two queen conchs. Other than that it was pretty disappointing. We got back to the dinghy in time to change into dry shirts and then stroll over to the larger of the ferries for a deli sandwich lunch.
Back at Diva Di, we washed off the snorkeling gear knowing it was the last use of the cruise. This morning, we had cooked and otherwise prepared the meals we will have on the 24-30 hour passage home, so other than raising the dinghy onto the davits, we are ready to go. So far, the forecast 10 kt breeze from the southeast is only 3-5 kts, but at least they got the direction right.
Napping and typing took up a little time, but the winds are so light that the sun feels blazing hot. It was time to get back in the water and hang off the anchor rode at the bow in the shade. That was quite refreshing and just looking out over the fort and boats, and looking down into the water was very enjoyable, almost mesmerizing.
By 1700, the forecast wind had still not arrived, so we are hoping it will tomorrow. Even if it is too light to sail with, if it stays out of the east to southeast, it will keep the seas state calm and will not impede our motoring progress. There are many dangerous shoals (shallow spots) to our northeast, so we will head due north for about 5 miles and then be able to turn on a north-northeast course for home.
Near 1730, I dinghied over to New Hope with a beverage to see if they were interested in a chat; they were. We talked of this and that for an hour and I made my way back to Diva Di, whereupon I promptly went into the water and hung on the anchor rode in the shade. The crew on the boat next to us started a conversation and we chatted for a while, too. It is similar to land-based neighbors chatting from their front porches, but here we were all floating off our boats.
The bottom was very visible and I happened to see a five foot nurse shark swim by on the bottom just 15 feet below me. Within five minutes, I turned around to see a four foot barracuda just six feet off my left shoulder. He wasn't the biggest I have encountered, but surprising to turn around and see him so close.
After my cooling soak, I got back aboard to find Diane had reheated the crabmeat and rice dinner leftovers from two nights ago. It was delicious the second time, too.
We both had a short swim off the ladder after dinner and then I secured the dinghy on the davits for the passage home. Diane's intention is to get this unpleasant experience (24-30 hours underway) behind us as soon as possible. I think the part that bothers her most is traveling through the night, for the unease that night brings, and the fact that she will be required to alter her sleep pattern to stand watch. I truly believe this will be a piece of cake, but I will be prepared for whatever may occur.
Relaxing in the cockpit with a beverage, we were enjoying a decent southeast breeze, which we hooped would continue through the evening and next day. The tarpon were feeding as the light waned and then we enjoyed a nice, red sunset. Red sky at night - sailor's delight. There's scientific reasoning behind that, but I'll spare you.
Diane went to sleep early, while Clyde and I watched the sky grow dark and the brilliant stars appear. Eventually, he went below, I secured the hatch boards and drifted off to sleep.
Day 14 - Thu 10 Jun 10
I suppose it might say something about my personality, but I kept dreaming about our passage home. I was ruminating over various tactics for various wind and sea conditions and how to account for engine or sail plan failures. The end result was that I feel comfortable with the plan; now we just enjoy our days here until the weather is right to go home.
Following a nice breakfast, I dinghied ashore to use the lavatory, which is a composting design using no water or chemicals. The odor was surprisingly inoffensive, but I will advise others not to glance down the hole. Next, I met some campers who had their pre-teen sons there on a little fishing trip. They came over (almost 70 miles) from Key West on a 23 foot boat. Lots of folks do it; you just have to have adequate fuel, a working radio, reliable propulsion, and good weather.
I got back to Diva Di and Diane asked me about the weather posting. I had forgotten to look, so I went back. They had not posted today's forecast yet, but I did use the Iridium Satellite payphone there at $1.25 per minute to make an important call. When I got back to the boat, our friends from Marathon were in their dinghy and ready to go to Loggerhead Key.
Even though we are still breaking in the new engine, it has enough time on it to go wide open throttle for 10 seconds to get on plane, and then back off to a lesser power setting. We were zipping across almost dead flat water, which was changing hues with the depths and bottom condition. When we would approach a section that shallowed, it was like flying the dinghy across the highly visible bottom with the clear water seeming like air.
First stop was the pier near the lighthouse on the east side. There were several large tarpon feeding in that area. Next, we went to the west side where there is a coral reef called "Little Africa." It covers a wide area and has many beautiful corals, but very few fish. The one big event occurred when I did one of my frequent 360 degree turns to survey my surroundings and saw a 7-8 foot nurse shark just 10 feet away, between Diane and me. I stuck my head up long enough to get her attention and point and she got the message. We both agreed it was the highlight of that visit.
A visit to the Key was needed, so we found a place to beach the dinghies on the southwest side and then walked a ways to check out the various buildings there. While the place is a national treasure for the waters and marine life, the man-made structures are obviously in disrepair. It is a stark existence there for the volunteers that man the island much of the year, I am sure.
On the ride back, we saw a loggerhead turtle and many feeding fish. I can't say enough how beautiful the water and sea bottom looked as we cruised along.
Starved from snorkeling against a mild, but pervasive current all morning, we had a late lunch. It was incredibly still, which helped make for such a nice day of snorkeling and the smooth, fast ride on the dinghy. It also made for an incredibly hot day. Not long after lunch, we both went into the water to hang off the stern ladder and cool down. A quick fresh water rinse afterwards keeps the salt from making your skin itchy.
We did a few boat chores and then took a brief nap. For some reason, the rest of the afternoon seemed to disappear without much at all happening, but maybe that's how you know you are finally relaxing enough to call it cruising.
About 1800, our buddies from New Hope came over with their beverages and snacks to share and we had a nice visit for over an hour. It is always nice to get different people's opinions on things. I also got to try pickled okra for the first time and liked it.
It may not have been the most nutritional decision, but the snacks seemed to sate our hunger, so we skipped dinner. Diane was not feeling well; I suspected dehydration and encouraged her to drink more water. She went to bed very early in hopes it would help.
I listened to music in the cockpit and took in the amazing marine life around me. There were baitfish making surface disturbances that looked like raindrops, tarpon rolling in the middle of the anchorage, and blue runners leaping out of the water as they chased their prey. One kayak fisherman hooked up a tarpon that could have been 80 lbs and it pulled him all over the anchorage until he got it to the kayak and released it.
Another nature spectacle is the presence of the sooty terns. Each year large groups migrate to and from Africa. They leave in August and return for mating and nesting on nearby Bush Key (300 yards from Garden Key where we are) in February. They are not nearly as noisy this year as they were three years ago, but at that time we also had strong winds from the direction of their Key to carry the sound. The terns spend an amazing amount of time flying; it is reported that many hardly touch the ground except for brief periods.
The boat next to us has two couples and two other guys and they were all jumping in the water and having a good time after a long hot day doing who knows what. It made me reflect on the various people here all enjoying this park: fisherman in 23 foot boats making the 70 mile trip in two hours and then living in tents on the grounds; campers with kayaks that came over on the commercial fast ferry; two young couples on a fast powerboat that don't know the difference between an anchor light and navigation lights; a couple on an ocean trawler that could probably make a transatlantic passage; and a bunch of us cruising sailors with various boats who take at least 12 hours to get here from the nearest civilization.
Diane stayed in the v-berth all night. Clyde and I enjoyed the early evening until he decided to join Diane below. I made my cockpit berth, closed the hatch boards, and settled in to sleep. There was very little breeze, but just enough to provide some comfort. As the night wore on, the breeze increased a little and it was very nice, indeed.
Day 13 - Wed 9 Jun 10
We awoke to the same comfortable conditions, except the wind is out of the east this morning. The thermometer inside the boat is registering only 81F, when I had never seen it below 85F on this cruise; that is a significant improvement.
After breakfast, I will be off to shore to register our boat with the Park Service and see what new rules there are since the last time we were here in 2007 with our friends Dan and Sharon.
Registering the boat and paying the $5 per person fee (valid up to 7 days) was quite simple. Meanwhile, Diane had Clyde ashore behind the campground area. I checked the posted weather forecasts and right now it looks like Sat would be a good time to start on the direct passage home of approximately 170 nm with the southeast winds at 10-15 kts.
Back at Diva Di, I was floating off the stern when a Park Ranger came by and without so much as a "Hi, how are you?" told us we had to move our boat because we were too close to the large mooring buoy where the Park Service cargo boat spends the day (she's alongside the dock at night). I am usually a little too eager to please the authorities, but I couldn't give in to this guy that easily. When I asked why we weren't told this by the Rangers when they came by yesterday, he had no answer. When I asked him how many feet I was away from the buoy that said to "stay away 200 feet," he said he had no idea but we were too close. I knew there was no winning this argument, so I told him we would move.
I dinghied over to the companion boat traveling with my buddy, since I knew he was leaving today. He agreed I could drop my anchor close aboard him and then when he leaves, we should be fine. Right now, however, the shifting light winds have our boats too close for comfort under normal circumstances. Fortunately, there is someone staying aboard his vessel the entire day.
Not long after that little "anchor dance," four of us took our two dinghies to various marker buoys on the southern flank of Garden Key to snorkel. Two of the three areas we tried had nice corals and abundant fish of many varieties, including ones you would love to have on your dinner table. We saw one large turtle (couldn't tell the species, but probably a loggerhead), and a number of large lobsters, too. It was a nice excursion that gave us another reason to be glad we came. We plan to snorkel Loggerhead Key before we leave.
After a nice lunch aboard Diva Di, the rest of the afternoon was pretty laid back, but with much going on around us. We watched the seaplane arrive and depart, both fast catamarans get underway, and a mega-yacht come into the anchorage and make several unsuccessful attempts to anchor. Diane kept up a running commentary, mostly about how we got chased away for being too close to the Park Service buoy, and here is this 100 foot yacht much closer. They decided to leave the anchorage for reasons unknown, and anchor about three-quarters of a mile from the fort.
There was a brief rain shower after a thunderstorm passed us to the east, but it wasn't enough to do much. Although no one wants the lightning close by, a nice shower once in a while is a real treat to wash off the accumulated salt and other stuff that accumulates. Since you are not near land, that "stuff" is (in our case) cat hair, Duane hair, and bird droppings.
We had been eating well on this cruise, but I managed to burn the bottom of the pizza last night. Regulating the temperature on our oven is not easy and apparently I failed to do it right. Oh well, one bad meal out of forty isn't too terrible to endure.
The night sky was almost as gorgeous as at Boca Grande Key. We were each resting in different locations at times, depending on what Clyde was doing, and Diane said she saw the most spectacular meteor she had ever seen. Later, Diane elected to sleep in the forward berth and I chose the cockpit.
The wind piped up for a bit due to a passing thunderstorm and we had some rain spitting at us for a while, enough to close the hatches. Diane said it was mostly comfortable, but warm for a bit during the night after the hatches were closed. I found the cockpit to be delightful for sleeping and only came below due to the brief rain.