Fri 6 Apr 2012
Docked at Roland Martin Marina, Clewiston, FL
The evening was very comfortable with the nice breeze and we had no trouble getting up well before 0600. The bridge opened for us on demand and we motored on east in just the light of the full moon setting in the west. It was almost magical with the still water and the moonlight reflections. That part of the canal (it isn't really a river anymore) is very pretty and we enjoyed that part very much.
After the sun was up for a few hours, the wind started to build enough from astern that we could put out the headsail and gain an extra bit of speed, not to mention make us feel like we were actually in a sailboat rather than a very slow powerboat with an expensive array of spars, sails, and rigging. The wind direction was a bit shifty, but we were able to motor-sail almost the entire remained of the trip. In fact, we even shut off the engine at one point near the end because the wind alone would let us average about 4.6 kts.
During the early portion of this day's cruise, I was admiring the scenery and solitude on the water when suddenly the auto-pilot made a few quick and unnecessary corrections. In another few seconds, the wheel spun hard to port so I disengaged the auto-pilot and resumed course. As I pondered that, I spied Diane exiting the aft cabin with the hand-held vacuum cleaner. It turns out she used the motor right over the spot where the fluxgate compass is located and that tells the auto-pilot what our current heading is. Put ferrous metal, or worse, an electro-magnetic field close to it and the results are not good. Fortunately, it was a transient problem and we'll be on notice from now on.
We arrived at the Ortona Lock and were informed that we would be lifted 8 feet. Once in the lock and against the wall with our fenders out, we grabbed the hanging lines and each took a turn around the bow (Diane) and stern (Duane) cleats. As the water rushed in it raced along the opposite lock wall and then curled around to hit us from the stern. When that happened, it took almost all my strength to keep the stern from pushing away from the wall and having the bow turn into the wall. It took a while for me to realize that I had left the rudder hard to port (left), and when the rushing water hit that large angled surface, it was forcing the stern away from the wall. Once I adjusted the rudder angle, it was a piece of cake. Hopefully, that is the only time I need to learn that lesson.
Our new VHF radio gave a special weather alert (first time we experienced that), and it told of severe thunderstorms marching across the state. We could see what looked to be the front, and I concluded we would almost certainly miss the really bad weather. I was right, but at one point a little storm cloud packed strong wind and a heavy downpour, but it was just ahead of and moving left to right. I could see the heavy rain just a few hundred yards ahead of us so I just throttled back to idle and our speed dropped enough to let the mini-storm pass ahead of us.
After passing through the Moore Haven lock, the canal towards Clewiston turns SE and you are basically in a ditch between the high dike on your right and the grassy marsh to your left (the edge of the shallow lake). It was boring, as we were forewarned, but we did enjoy some pure sailing along that stretch due to the new angle of our course with the wind direction.
Our plan was to tie up bow and stern to these "dolphin" pilings parallel to the canal edge, that are used to tie up commercial traffic from time to time. When we got there, we realized that the cleats were perhaps 15+ feet above the water and impossible to reach from our boat. That plus the challenge of having to maneuver the boat in a strong, gusty wind made Plan A not so prudent. We then hailed Roland Martin marina and they had room for us.
Getting into the marina is interesting in that there is a narrow lock (generally kept open) to navigate. It was an easy short distance from there, but the wind off the dock made getting us in a challenge for the dock master. Once safely tied up, I checked us in and we came back aboard to get the air conditioning going. It is a failing of many sailboats (especially modern ones) that we don't have adequate ventilation options when the wind is on the beam (side).
Diane alerted me to the probable arrival of our friends (much shouting above the wind noise) and I jumped out to assist. It was all we both could do to haul them into the dock. It might have been better to try to use engine power and appropriate spring lines, but we let the dock master call the shots. With David and Patty's boat tied up, Bob and Mary made their approach and with three of us helping, all went much easier.
Diane fixed us a beverage to take to the pool where we read for a bit in the bright sun. It would have been brutally hot except for the strong wind, and the unheated pool was very refreshing. At 1730 we strolled up the dock for happy hour aboard Two if by Sea, David and Patty's Catalina 36 (just one year older than ours). Before that I had prepped for the dinner meal since we knew that it might be after 1900 before we got back to the boat and we don't prefer to eat too late.
The meal was exceptionally good, I must say, and we relished it in the cockpit with just a delightful breeze. We looked at each other and said jokingly, "let's cross the lake now," since the fierce wind had moderated so much. I took Clyde for a stroll along the somewhat rickety docks but he was not comfortable enough to go far, so that was fine.
A word about Roland Martin's marina for those traveling in our wake; it grew from just a tiny bait shack many years ago to what it is today. From our brief inspection, there is a nicely constructed and maintained restaurant and shop, plus a very large Tiki bar. What they seem to not maintain too well are the docks and the bathrooms/showers. The ambience from our dock is not good since across the very narrow canal is the Army Corps of Engineers depot with all their construction equipment and materials.
Still, we are likely here for another full day as the winds are blowing hard from the direction we need to travel for 27 miles across the lake and it would be extremely uncomfortable for 6 hours or so. Sunday's forecast is for the wind to be less (although not a lot less), so I am pretty sure we are not going Sat.
Thu 5 Apr 2012
La Belle, FL
A brief storm rolled through in the wee hours and while it caused no grief, it blew a lot of tree debris onto the boat that will require a quick rinse off later.
The pre-dawn was great with another Clyde stroll. He is definitely enjoying all the new sights and smells, but when the daughter clomped out of the upper barn in her riding apparel, it spooked him into running away. I chatted with her for no more than 15 seconds and he was out of sight. I decided to stroll in the general direction of our boat and sure enough he was sitting on the side deck staring over at me.
Diane had the coffee ready and I set about washing off the deck and then we folded, bagged, and stowed the bicycles. It is a very workable system and we don't regret getting them. Now, loading them into and off of a dinghy will be a whole different challenge, of course.
We decided to take advantage of the laundry here (far better machines than we have in our house!) for one of our crew gets everything pretty sweaty and smelly in a hurry, while the other crew maintains her diva-like perfection. ;-)
We checked in by cell phone with David and Patty Power, who we met in Punta Gorda through mutual friends (John and Marilyn), and they are making a much longer trip today but heading for the same place, La Belle. We might be in their company for 2-3 nights and then they turn south to the Bahamas and we head north to Maine.
The cruise along the river was delightful with some strong beat music playing so Diane could do her improvised Jazzercise routine in the cockpit. I did some stretching and had a minor workout with the small weights she brought.
We passed a small sailboat underway and despite us running the engine at a fuel-sipping power setting, we pulled away from them pretty well. It was fun to use the strong, but fluky winds to give us an extra knot of speed. The problem was that the tall trees lining the river create wind shadows and swirls, but it was still all good.
As we approached the town of La Belle, our day's destination, we came alongside a short dock where we thought we might stay for the night (it was cheap - $18 for our size boat) and the wind was a bit strong to try the special anchoring gyrations required at the free city dock. Anyway, as we went to hail this man at the dock, he yelled that the PWC (personal watercraft - Ski-Doo type) just downstream of us was stranded. We readied a line and came carefully alongside to see if he was OK, and he was but a tow was needed.
We made another pass going upwind and he secured the line and we towed him slowly back to the loading ramp where we watched the man get ashore safely. He was about 55-60 years old and really appreciative of the help. It was gratifying to have helped him. Diane performed very well, as expected, and only later did I mention to her that we were in a precarious position. With the wind blowing hard down the river toward the bridge only a hundred yards downwind of us, it that towline somehow fouled our propeller, we would have almost certainly hit the bridge before we could have any hope of deploying the headsail and trying to sail upwind to safety.
With the man safe shore, we went back to the cheap dock and that same sailor who alerted us helped with the dock lines when we tied up. We met him and another live aboard - a woman in a cute houseboat.
Diane proceeded to make some advance dinner preparations and I got the boat squared away. I mixed a beverage and walked down to Cookie's houseboat with a gift beer and we had a nice chat until Diane arrived. As with many cruisers, especially ones with lots of miles under the keel, her life story was very interesting. Living alone after losing her longtime partner last year is tough for her, but she gets by.
Not long after, David and Patty arrived and we waited an appropriate amount of time to call their cell phone. Before long, they and the other couple (Bob and Mary on an Irwin 37) walked to our location for a visit. It was what you expect when 3 cruising couples get together; we talked about the day's challenges and the plans for tomorrow, the weather, and past cruising adventures. It was a delightful visit and they left to trek back to their boats.
Duane was eager by then to sample the pool up the hill from the dock, so armed with a newspaper and a beverage, I trundled off. It turns out that it is hard to read a newspaper in over 15 knots of wind, so I was just alone with my thoughts about how blessed we are to be enjoying this adventure.
Dinner was a simple one and we expect it to be and early evening. The bascule (draw) bridge just a few hundred yards down from us will not open between 0700-0900, so we decided it is better for your schedule to be underway before 0700.
Wed 4 Apr 2012
Docked at Rialto Harbor, Alva, FL
Surprisingly, Diane wanted to run the A/C last night and Duane didn't. My solution was to put in the screens and keep the hatches open, but use the A/C to chill the boat and then turn it off. The evening air cooled down and we were very comfortable all night.
Sleeping in until 0600, I dared not open the hatch boards until my coffee was ready and I could watch Clyde "like a hawk." The boat is less than a foot from the dock and he could easily jump ashore and disappear (at least that is Diane's fear). With coffee mug in hand, I got Clyde in my other arm and put us both inside the fenced tennis court. We did a number of laps (not together) and when there was just enough light for me to see him adequately, I opened the gate and we strolled some of the beautiful grounds.
Diane was up when we returned and we started our morning routines. One chore that I was not looking forward to was getting all the dive gear out to go under the boat to see if there was something clogging the galley sink drain. It was quite a nuisance with a sink that took all night to drain. I decided instead to see if removing the cabinetry and hose would allow me to run a metal "snake" from the top and chose that route. A half hour later the drain was running clear at the sacrifice of a metal coat hanger.
Next we lowered the dinghy off the davits and took off on plane (at high speed) down river about a mile to Hickey Creek. It reminded us of Shell Creek in Charlotte County back home with the canopy of old trees covered in Spanish moss. The water was so still that the reflections of the trees on the water's surface were incredible, and of course our photos won't be nearly as good as the real thing. After travelling upstream for about half an hour, we turned back and I asked Diane to get some practice at the tiller of the outboard. It took a little bit to regain her forgotten skills, but she did great most of the way back.
After hoisting and securing the dinghy (you must realize by now that almost nothing is particularly easy or quick when boating), we had a light lunch and then made our first effort using the new folding bicycles from our boat. It took less than 5 minutes from first poking into the aft cabin to drag out the bikes bags, to having them on the dock and assembled.
The next adventure began when the bicycle tires needed a little air. Out came the compact hand pump and then the frustration started. You need to apply enough pressure on the pump to depress the little valve in the valve stem of the tube. Well, when you press enough to depress the valve, the stem pushes inside the rim and you are completely stuck. It finally took holding the valves stem with needle-nose pliers to get some air into the tire.
We rode on the mostly flat roads surrounding the farm (yes, it is not only a "marina" but a working horse farm where the wife trains horses for pulling carriages in competition). There were quite a few little farms with horses and cattle and many nice working family homes. Our ride took us to the intersection of their road and Rte. 80, where there is a small convenience store that our proprietor, Bus Hamilton, said serves great pizza and parmigiana dinners. We decided to ride our bikes back for dinner that night.
After the ride we went to the very nice pool and relaxed with a book and some conversation with other boaters. Back at our boat, we discovered that all five 3-liter bags of Chardonnay wine were bad. We are not connoisseurs of fine wines, but we can tell if something tastes bad because it is just cheap wine or if it is turning to vinegar. This was the latter. Sadly, it is not the first time that we have purchased a box (bag) wine that has been bad. We did not learn our lesson to sample from each bag (theoretically the pouring valve seals well after such a taste) before leaving home. So, all 15 liters of wine went down the drain.
We joined Bob and Francis from Punta Gorda on their boat for a quick drink and some nibbles, and after we left the boat to bicycle down to the store for dinner, some conversation by Bus prompted them to join us, being chauffeured by Bus. It was about what we expected, poor atmosphere and almost non-existent service, but the food was very good.
After safely biking back to the boat, Clyde and I took a long stroll around the property during which he was interested and frightened by the one-horse carriage being driven around by Bus's wife, Jennifer. The mosquitos made their first real appearance since our arrival and we buttoned up the hatches and then went below.
My new smart phone appears to be malfunctioning. I saw there were 3 voxmail messages, but when you press any key to enter a password or make a menu selection, it is as if the tone was never sent. This is the same problem I had the other day so it is a serious issue. It is a shame to let a technological failure put a damper on an otherwise great day, so I am letting it go until tomorrow.
Several games of Mah Jhongg later and it was time for bed.
Tue 3 Apr 2012
Docked at Rialto Harbor, Alva, FL
We enjoyed an incredibly comfortable sleep and I even stayed in my berth until almost 0600. The coffee was delicious as the sun rose a bit later and we departed the anchorage at 0845. The cruise up the Caloosahatchee (hatchee meaning river in the Calusa Indian language, so it would be improper to say Caloosahatchee River) was very nice as the expensive condos gave way to the individual and sometimes quite eclectic homes up river. We passed under many bridges of fixed height with a clearance (related to the current tidal height) of about 55 ft. From the cockpit, it looks like your mast will hit the bridge, but it always cleared. Nonetheless, you have a bit of "pucker factor" every time.
After almost 4 hours of comfortable travel, we came upon our first real lock. We were extremely fortunate to arrive at the lock just 2 minutes before the newly restricted scheduled opening at 1300. We motored slowly into the lock behind a larger trawler and grabbed the lines the tender threw down to us. We fasten them on the bow and stern cleats and awaited the opening. To say it was anti-climactic is an understatement. We rose almost 2 feet and then the other side of the lock opened. We moved off easily enough and then heard the trawler hail the same "marina" we were headed for. It is not a marina in the true sense, but a number of wooden docks in an alcove along the river.
Once safely tied up, we had another first - we connected our power line to the dock to run the onboard air conditioning unit. We had never used it before other than to test it annually and with this unprecedented early heat, it was very welcome. After meeting the proprietor, Bus Hamilton, we set off to do some boat-keeping chores and then hit the shoreside shower. While Diane tended to Clyde in preparation for a harnessed shoreside excursion (whether he liked it or not), Duane did the social thing and wound up with a plan for 3 coupes sharing a wood-fired grill at 1830 with a "bring your own everything" arrangement.
While Diane read, Duane went to the pool with a beverage and a book, where he met a nice couple who just happened upon this wonderful place while moving their new-to-them trawler from the east coast of Florida to the Gulf coast, where they will bring their boat to Tennessee. After a nice nap in the A/C, we both prepared the food we wanted to cook on the grill, and then Duane went over to help with the minor setup near the grill.
The pre-dinner chat was great and the somewhat chaotic dance around the grill all worked out and we were enjoying our food in short order. We were joined by the Tennessee-based couple and had 8 happy people around the table. That one of the couples lives only one-half mile from our home was not a terrific surprise. It can't be said enough that one of the most enjoyable things about cruising is the people you meet along the way.
The Tennessee couple had their well-behaved two-year old Dachshund with them, and after finding out that the dog co-exists nicely with their cat, I strolled the short distance back to the boat and brought Clyde with me. He sat on my lap with no discernible anxiety next to the dog, which Clyde outweighed by 4 pounds. Diane said to put Clyde down as he was behaving and she would watch him. That worked well for about 15 minutes until he decided that maybe there was someplace he would rather be than with us. After a successful game of Cat and Diane, Clyde was back on our boat and she returned to the party.
Shortly after sunset, the group feared the arrival of the biting insects (turned out to be not too bad) and we all cleared out to our boats. As Diane and I enjoyed the beautiful ambience in our cockpit, I was very gratified to hear how much Diane liked it here and was so glad we decided to stop.
It is after 2200 and time to post this.
Mon 2 Apr 2012
Anchored in Glover Bight off Tarpon Pointe Marina, Cape Coral, FL
It was indeed a very early bedtime for the mate, followed by the Captain after he read about half of a good historical accounting from WW II. The breeze died from one that moans in the rigging to one that just refreshes, especially considering that the hot daytime temps had moderated to mid-60s. There was nothing for a prudent skipper to fret about, so the night's sleep was as blissful as could be.
Going to bed so early left Duane wide awake at 0415, however, and with Clyde loving the pre-dawn hours, I arose and went on deck with the cat. Diane had me agree to a routine whereby I close the stateroom door (that makes it sound bigger than it is) and dress quietly in the main saloon. She had left the percolator and coffee makings out for me and so by 0440 I was enjoying a nice cup on the foredeck watching the stars.
If we needed or wanted to put some miles under the keel, I would have been ready to leave in the pre-dawn twilight, but there was no need to and Diane slept in until 0700. I was very patient, but it was clear by 0815 that the sun was going to turn the still atmosphere into a sauna (at least for me), so we had a quandary - motor south with no wind and at least enjoy the cooling effect of moving through the air in open water, or wait perhaps 3-4 hours for the forecast wind to fill in. We elected for the former, and while that seems strange for a sailor, the reality was that we would not have been able to effectively use the wind in the narrow and serpentine channels we needed to follow. Plus, once at the anchorage 4 hours later, we had that nice breeze to keep us cool in the otherwise very hot sun.
There was only one other boat in the anchorage, a large trawler, so we anchored at a fair distance and set about with various chores. Mine was to make two telephone calls - one to discuss a hospital bill, and one to find out why I could not get my new smartphone to enable the "hotspot" that would let my laptop connect to the Internet for email, etc. It was working fine just before we left, but after having untold difficulties trying to make calls, I suspect it might just be a signal that is too weak. I am not going to be one of those cruisers that "wants to get away from it all" and then tries his best to take it all with him. Having said that, it is pretty amazing that we went ashore in a large resort just outside the large city of Ft. Myers and the reception is horrible. Oh, well.
The evening was very nice with no bugs and a beautiful ambience. I stayed up later than the previous night with Clyde as my cockpit companion and Diane fast asleep.
Sun 1 Apr 2012
Anchored W side of Useppa Island, FL
We had many nice dinners with friends all week and even Sat night. My employer hosted a pizza party for my co-workers and me and it was a good send off. I surely hope all goes well at work in my absence. All the parties were both wonderful and tiring, but I wouldn't change a thing.
The weekend went about as expected, with Diane in full logistics mode moving us closer to our goal. Diane had a last-minute request to replace the faucet in the head (bathroom) and Dennis came to the rescue Sun morning with a special wrench and his able assistance. Yes, just an hour before our planned departure, we were ripping out an old faucet and installing a new one. That may not sound like a big job, but getting access to most things on a boat is difficult, at best. I am happy to report that the job was successful and we made quick work of closing up the house, cleaning up, grabbing the cat, and getting aboard.
More friends joined us at the dock to see us off and almost exactly noon we cast off the lines for this grand adventure. It started off in gorgeous weather, but no sailing wind, so the drone of the motor was ever-present. About two-thirds of the way to our destination, the wind direction and our course allowed us to sail and it was fabulous. We reached the west side of Useppa Island and set the anchor, where at 1830 we are swinging to a 10kt west wind that is just delightful.
I have to mention that we got an incredible aerial salute by our friend, Dan, who chased us down on Charlotte Harbor with his RV-7 aircraft and then proceeded to fly close aboard less than 30 feet over the water from both astern and ahead. It was the first time we knew what it felt like to be "strafed." ;-) He gave us a mini-air show with a few tight turns, loops and aileron rolls and then he was off.
As I write this, Clyde the cat is perched on "his" shelf in the main saloon. When Dennis was aboard earlier, he remarked that the mostly-full boat still had one bare shelf. I explained that was Clyde's shelf and he didn't seem surprised. I expect it will be an early bedtime as we have both been quite busy all weekend.