Days Cruising: 100
Nautical Miles Traveled: 1710 (approx)
Diesel Fuel Used: 103 gals
Diesel Fuel Burn: 0.47 gal per hour (includes many hours of low power motor sailing)
Dinghy Gasoline Used: 14 gals (approx)
Water Consumed: 341 gals plus 24 gals bottled drinking water
Average Water Consumption: 3.6 gal per day (total for both crew)
Fuel (incl. dinghy gas): $562
Water (incl. bottled): $74
Food and Beverages: $2,400 (approx)
Meals Ashore: $1,047
Marina Dockage: $306
Mooring Buoys: $299
Governmental Fees: $327
Repairs: $106 (does not include battery replacement)
Grand Total: $6,263
We came home having spent 76% of our budget (adjusted for the actual 100 day duration). That surprised me, since you tend to spend more than you budget, but you will see how the actual and budget compared in the following detail.
Fuel: We spent just over twice what I budgeted, simply because fuel prices went up over 20% since we left and because I grossly underestimated how much motoring you need to do if you want to get somewhere and the wind is not favorable.
Water: We only spent 33% of our budget. Water was not cheaper than we expected, but we used a lot less then we figured and did find a few places where we could get water at no cost. It's a good thing we did not count on catching rain water for our tanks, because it rained only once of significance during the first 90 days or so.
Food and Beverages: We spent 114% of our budget here. The beverage part was a higher percentage than we care to admit, but we did entertain a lot. Had we not stocked up on so much at US prices, we would have spent even more on food, wine, and diet coke. On the other hand, we could have eaten cheaper by using up the pasta, rice, and canned goods we provisioned instead of buying fresh fruits and vegetables at Bahamian prices. We elected to spend more and eat fresher food. I did attempt to subtract the value of the food we brought back with us since that will be eaten at some future time.
Meals Ashore: We ate out more often than I expected, but spent less per meal, so we came in at 86% of budget. To be candid, we did not have many options for fine dining, and the few we had, we skipped.
Entertainment: This included Happy Hour drinks ashore, visiting the Atlantis aquarium, and many miscellaneous expenses that we felt were, frankly, entertaining. We had expected more opportunities for this category of expense, so we only came in at 61%.
Marina Dockage: After getting stuck at Bimini for five nights at a marina (even though it was pretty cheap), we thought we might be in for a shock. As it turns out, we only spent 31% of budget. Every few weeks I would ask Diane if she would prefer that we go into a marina instead of hang on our anchor or a mooring ball, and her answer was always no. We really didn't miss it, plus if you depend upon a nice breeze for comfort, staying in a marina is often a problem.
Mooring Buoys: Mooring fees were not cheaper than we expected, but we did choose them less often than we figured, so we only spent 45% of budget.
Governmental Fees: We knew it would cost $300 for a boat of our size to enter the Bahamas, so it was tough to miss by much on this one. We came in at 100% here.
Repairs: We had very little go wrong with the boat so we came in at 32% of a small budget allowance. We did not include the house battery bank replacement since that is a capital expense that we would have needed to do anyway.
Transportation: I suppose we expected to hire a tour guide and car to explore some of the islands, but that never happened, so we spent just 24% in this category.
Laundry: Doing laundry was pretty expensive, but we did wash a lot of our daily wear in a bucket every other day, so we came in at just 79% here.
Misc.: This wasn't a big category, but you need something for expenses that are not otherwise categorized. We spent 94% here.
Cruising budgets vary widely with the cruisers, their financial resources, their goals and expectations, and the length of cruise. These were just the direct expenses for our 100 day adventure; they do not include the boat upgrades we made prior to the cruise. If you were cruising year after year, you would need to account for replacement of items that wear out (sails, lines, canvas, gear, etc.) and that can add up over time.
We both really enjoyed the cruise. It made us closer as a couple as we relied on each other for the safety elements as well as companionship. It really is different than living together in a home on shore.
Our expectations were not quite met in some ways (like being able to anchor off a deserted, beautiful beach every other night), but were exceeded in other ways (like all the wonderful people we met along the way). We tried to enjoy every place we visited, but our preferences ran more to the isolated and gorgeous spots rather than the populated ones. Frankly, I think we both liked the contrasts; we thoroughly enjoyed the remote places, but did like luxuriating in a fresh water swimming pool and real shower once in a while.
It is too soon to talk about when we would be able to go cruising again, but it would be unlikely we would try to retrace our same path. Based on our feelings right now, if we were to plan another 100 day cruise for next year, it would likely not include Bimini, the Abacos, Nassau, and Eleuthera. It's not that these places weren't worth visiting; we just don't feel the need to go back real soon at this point. Cruising the Exumas again and venturing out to the far Bahamas would be the next likely agenda.
[Photo: Dad's fish. It doesn't smell as good as my dry cat food.]
I am not looking forward to the cross back to the states. I was told it was going to be decent seas and wind. Hey, little wind, big seas, so I spent 13 hours in my carrier. No one was happy. But when we arrived I got a few extra snacks. We rafted up to two nice gentlemen and I got a lot of attention and deck time.
On to Key Largo and visiting friends, I got to eat grass ashore. I had to be careful because there were very large iguanas lurking about. Dad bought a furminator for me and I have lost 4 pounds in hair. It is really hot here being rafted up in the canal so I look forward to sailing out tomorrow to Key West and another place mom and dad have talked a great deal about, the Dry Tortugas. I need to check with my friend Maggie about this place they are talking about.
After giving some thought to future plans we have decided to start our trip back home and I am looking forward to my air conditioned home and daily Brentwood Court excursions.
Well, well, well, the big day has finally arrived. Dad actually caught a fish I came up to take a look at it and quickly dismissed it as something to throw back, but he was pretty intent about keeping it for the two mouthfuls it would provide for dinner.
Today was even better, I suppose. Dad was quite excited that he caught 2, yes two fish today. I just sat on the deck and watched as the two of them were gleefully working around the deck getting the two fish aboard. Me, I prefer my tuna in a can. I think I will take on a Garfield attitude.
My trip is winding down and they tell me only one more night aboard this floating motel. Cheap floating motel. I dream of my AC home, chasing all the geckos that now have grown tails since I have left and visiting with Uncle Harry. I hope it will be awhile before their next excursion. Are there any non boaters out there who want to adopt me?
We have turned into Ponce inlet and I am sitting up in the cabin and enjoying the leisurely ride. When all of a sudden I detect a familiar scent. My dreams are coming true and I smell the scents of home. I start to meow to let mom and dad know I am know I am getting the smell of familiar territory. They of course, have been watching me to see if I knew I was near home. Humans have a lot to learn about cats' instincts. Hello, did they think that I would not recognize where I was? I waited patiently while they tied up my boat. I had dad escort me off the boat and back to the land of Brentwood Court. I rubbed every stone, bush and tree I could before I went into the house. Once inside I visited all my favorite spots. I was finally back at home.
I had a wonderful learning experience. I guess since I was such a good trooper they will take me with them on their next excursion but for the time being I am happy to be home and to end my great adventure.
I thank all of you who having been thinking of my well being and sending those great emails.
Clyde (the cat)
[Photo: rafted to R's at Key Largo]
Day 94: Fri 13 Jun 08
Lat: N 24° 53' Lon: W 080° 41'
The Boy Scout Sea Base is much busier than it was in March. I was able to get ashore with no one challenging me, so I just sat there in the shade and connected to the Internet as I had before. Before I left to get back into the dinghy, I went to John's office where a co-worker told me he was gone until about 1700.
Back at Diva Di, it was warm but with a modest breeze. Diane elected to sit on the foredeck in the shade of the wind scoop yet in line with the breeze. She said it was quite delightful. I debated trying to fish from the dinghy, but sitting in the sun did not appeal to me, so I read a while.
We both took short naps around 1700 and awoke by 1800 to get ready for a night out with John. We had arranged to meet him ashore close to 1900, but we got there a little early and had some time on the pier watching some of "his" boats and crews go out.
Our invitation was to the Lorelei Restaurant where we had been just a few days earlier with our other friends. John had never been there, so we joked how we were glad to give him a tour of some of the Keysie places. It was packed and had a jazz band playing when we arrived. Luckily, a table opened up in a good spot and we grabbed it.
I was no longer in the mood for all the seafood dishes I had enjoyed for three months, so I ordered a medium-rare cheeseburger and it was fabulous. Diane must have been in a similar mood, and her Philly cheese steak was great, too. John's fish sandwich did not look as overdone as the ones many of our group had during the last visit, and he was very happy.
It bears mentioning that after a while, our waiter had to apologize and admit that our food order had been lost. He took the order again and said it would only be a short while. Our delicious food did come soon after and when he presented the check a while later, he only charged us for the drinks. I guess they would rather do something like that than take the chance you will remember how long your food order took and not come back. So, it was a fabulous dining experience and only half the price. I left a generous tip and off we went.
Both of us hit the sack early so as to be well rested for the long passage tomorrow.
Day 95: Sat 14 Jun 08
Lat: N 24° 51' Lon: W 080° 44'
It rained a few times during the night, which necessitated taking the screens out and closing the three overhead hatches. Other than that, it was a peaceful night. The last time we were in this spot, it was blowing over 20 kts and we were upwind of the power lines. This was a wonderful experience by comparison.
With the winds light and generally behind us as we traveled west and north towards Little Shark River, we decided to do the bare minimum to get underway by 0700, and then finish up along the way.
I rigged the spinnaker and it was a great choice for the winds we had during the first four hours or so. The wind was not in the direction forecast, so when we had to turn onto a more northerly course, the spinnaker was no longer effective. It took a few minutes to get that down and stowed, and then we unfurled the Genoa.
Along the way, we were following the marks for the so-called Yacht Channel. If my memory serves, it is the easternmost "path" one can take a cruising size boat from the keys to the western mainland. The charts I have exaggerate the actual water depths by quite a bit in the lower section of the channel. The tidal height prediction had us 1 ft over chart datum, and we should have been registering about 7 ft of depth. Instead, we were registering barely 5 ft of depth. I really did think we might go aground doing 5 kts with the spinnaker up, and that would not be good. Fortunately, we skimmed by after an hour of mild anxiety and got into deeper water where it seemed to match the charts.
We made good speed for quite a while until the wind got light in advance of some dark clouds ahead. That's not usually a good sign. At the first touch of cool air, we knew the thunderstorm in the vicinity was getting ready to deliver some strong winds, so we quickly furled the Genoa down to about 30 per cent of full. In just a few minutes, it was blowing 25 kts with higher gusts and the boat was heeled over pretty well.
With plenty of room to leeward (downwind) and better water depths, I elected to run off before the wind. That took the apparent wind strength way down and it was pretty comfortable, despite the now driving rain. Diane had acted without prompting to get our inflatable life jackets and tethers at the first hint of the storm, so we were securely in place in the cockpit. Clyde was also secure down below.
As the storm moved to our west, we were able to steer more and more back to the north to get back onto our original course. Within a half hour, I was able to unfurl all of the Genoa so we were back to full sail making about 5.5 kts. When the storm passed and things settled down completely, the wind almost died. Only one half hour after the storm passed us, it was dead calm. We struck the sails and motored the last 4 nm to Little Shark River.
It looks the same as when we were here three months ago, except very calm. Last time we were stuck here for four nights while the wind howled and seas kicked up outside. This time, we had about a dozen biting flied descend on us within 10 minutes of anchoring. Fortunately, they are easy to kill with a swatter.
I made an early dinner of chicken fajitas with all the good stuff Diane had recently provisioned and it turned out great. The problem was that as I was finishing the cooking, I was attacked by a half dozen mosquitoes. Diane and I were both in the small galley swatting while I put the final touches on the food.
That assault was enough for me and my obvious annoyance disrupted Diane's enjoyment of dinner. I ate my food way too quickly and started preparing to weigh anchor and get offshore away from these bugs. When Diane was through, also too quickly thanks to me, we got underway and went one nm offshore to anchor in only 7 ft of water. While underway, I killed close to ten biting flies in the cockpit.
Now at anchor for almost one half hour, we have seen no more biting flies, two mosquitoes, and a dozen annoying flies that are very hard to kill. Our hope is that as we dwindle their numbers, no new ones will take their place this far off land.
It has proven to be a good decision as of 2200; the only bugs on the boat seem to be stowaways from when we went inside the river. Diane and I played a short game, and then spent time with Clyde on deck in the nice breeze. The sunset was very pretty.
At 2100, I spoke with John from Invictus on the SSB radio. We are not in cell phone range here, for sure. After a little reading, it will be an early night for me.
Day 96: Sun 15 Jun 08
Lat: N 25° 20' Lon: W 081° 09'
It proved to be a good choice staying well offshore. We had a mostly bug free night except for a few mosquitoes that most probably were aboard and hiding from when we were inside the river entrance briefly. The breeze was comfortable and almost cool.
The winds for today are forecast to be light and diminishing later. So, we left early and enjoyed good sailing winds for a few hours. As they diminished, the sensible choice was to motor-sail for a while, but then the winds were so light as to be useless, so we furled the sails and just motored.
I trolled a silver spoon with a treble hook along the way and caught a 17 inch long Spanish mackerel. I dispatched it humanely with a shot of alcohol to the gills, and then filleted it immediately upon bringing it into the cockpit. It doesn't yield a lot of meat, but it was the first fish I caught on this cruise, so that was pretty momentous. Actually, Diane has claim to catching the fish in the sense that I asked her to reel in the line when it looked suspiciously taught, and there was a fish on it.
Our destination was Indian Key in the Ten Thousand Islands of SW Florida. This is not to be confused with the Indian Key we just left in the Keys a few days ago. The guide book said it was not to be missed and that snorkel, mask, and fins for underwater exploration were a must. We took our gear and cruised around the small key, noting that we hit bottom with the dinghy engine (well protected against propeller damage, thankfully) before we could see the bottom. How you can enjoy snorkeling in less than two feet of visibility is beyond our understanding, so we abandoned that idea.
We did see a few dolphin hunting in the shoals, several ospreys, and a bald eagle. The fact that we can see all of them almost any day from our house takes some of the magic out of it. This area is pretty amazing in that there are many hundreds, if not thousands, of little islands (most without names) and they are completely natural. Recent hurricanes have obviously left a mark, but not so much as in many other places.
We came back to Diva Di to get in the shade and hopefully enjoy some cooling breeze. It is not a comfortable time in much of the eastern USA from reports I keep getting; too darn hot.
We passed the time with some reading, game playing, consultation of the cruising guide book and navigation charts, and then it was time for dinner. I sautéed the fresh fish lightly in butter and served it as an appetizer. It was very good, but mackerel would not be our fish of choice. The balance of the meal was the leftover chicken fajitas from last night.
Thanks to the current, our boat is lying cross ways to what little breeze there is. We could make an adjustment of our boat's heading by using a little trick involving the anchor rode, some line, and a winch, but it would only be right until the current changed and then it would require changing it. I guess we'll tough it out as it is.
We debated three options for tomorrow: try to brave the very shallow water through the Big Marco River passage just for the challenge of doing it; go out of our way to the SW to go in "deep" water all the way around the Cape Romano shoals; or try to pick our way through the many narrow channels which are deep enough but hard to find. We have elected the latter. We will do it on a half rising tide, and since it is all sand, any mistakes will be minor.
Right around sunset at 2012, we noted lightning in the area and dark clouds. It looked like it could be coming our way, so we got prepared to bring everything down below that we didn't want to get wet. As it got closer, the air suddenly turned very cool, which was refreshing. The wind increased a lot and the waves increased a little, but neither was any problem. We were grateful for the temporary cool air, but when we had to close the hatches as the rain sprinkled in, it became stifling inside. Fortunately, the sprinkles lasted just a short while and we could open up the boat again.
Getting to sleep was not easy at my normal bedtime of 2130 or so. I stayed sitting in the one settee with the small fan blowing on me while I read a novel. Staying up late and having a nightcap beverage made me tired enough to fall asleep rather quickly close to 2300 when I finally closed my eyes.
Day 97: Mon 16 Jun 08
Lat: N 25° 48' Lon: W 081° 28'
Only through the usage of the powerful fan was I able to sleep. Diane elected to stay in the v-berth where she was not very comfortable due to the temperature. I don't think I mentioned this before, but in most boats the water temperature plays a big role in the cabin temperature. Right now the water is at 84F, so the interior of the boat will never get very cool, even when the cold air of a passing thunderstorm blows through as it did last night.
It would be wrong to conclude that we are miserable, but in the interest of candor, we are not having much fun right now. We have just come from a few months of clear water, blue skies, nice winds, and interesting things to do and see. For the past few days we have had none of that, so are just making miles to get back home. I am sure if we had good sailing weather and comfortable temperatures, it would be a lot different.
The weather forecast for today is mostly cloudy, very light winds, hot, humid, and a good chance of thunderstorms. None of that was surprising as it is pretty much like yesterday. We left with both sails up and the engine at low speed (motor sailing) to help us make acceptable progress.
As I noted yesterday, we used the chart to attempt to thread our way through some deeper channels in the Cape Romano shoals to avoid having to go far south out of our way. I don't know if the charted shoals were really closed on either side of us, but I can attest that the deeper water sure was. I saved the GPS tracks in the chartplotter to use again; hopefully storms won't alter it for the worse.
Once clear of the shoals, we turned NNW which put the light wind right behind us and made the sails useless. We furled them and motored on north past all the high-rise condos which Marco Island sports. It is quite a contrast to the primitive feeling of the adjacent Ten Thousand Islands area. As we came abeam the center of Marco, we could see all the beachgoers beating the heat.
Just to the south, however, was a line of dark clouds and the obvious curtain of heavy rain below them. We prepared the boat by bringing everything below, closing the hatches, and putting the companionway hatch boards in place with Diane and Clyde below. There was a freshening, cool breeze building from astern, so I unfurled about 30 per cent of the Genoa headsail and turned off the engine. We started out making 4.5 kts, which was plenty.
Staying on our course just one mile off the beach, we watched the heavy rain obscure one building after another as the storm marched up the coast. I am sure most people were welcoming the rain, as long as no lightning damage was done (we saw/heard practically no evidence of lightning).
We got a tiny sprinkle for a few minutes from the fringes, but all the heavy stuff missed us by perhaps a half mile. We could see sun and white cumulus clouds behind that storm cell and thought we had dodged it all. We were still getting a decent and comfortable speed from Genoa once I unfurled it all the way.
It was only 10 minutes later that the skies darkened again in the same area and we saw another wall of rain coming. This time, though, it was going to envelope us.
Diane gave me my foul-weather jacket and buttoned up below. She turned on our navigation lights, and I furled the Genoa back to about 30 per cent. When it finally hit us, the rain came first as the wind slowly built up. Because we were going in the same direction as the wind, it didn't feel all that strong, but was at least 20 kts of true wind speed. After 10 minutes or so, the wind strengthened to over 30 kts for a bit and the rain was so hard that visibility was greatly reduced.
Before the storm hit, I had concluded what compass course to steer to stay in safe water if I lost the GPS. To my dismay, the next instrument scan showed the depth sounder indicating 4 ft, then it went off soundings (no display). I can only assume millions of pulses from the pounding rain drops were confusing the device, as we were certainly in deep water.
Sensing the storm was diminishing, I turned back onto course to Capri Pass. The storm went from attention-getting to nothing within a minute and I needed to turn on the engine and furl the useless sail as the wind died. The timing was good in that we had clear weather for the unfamiliar pass, but it is so well marked and deep that it would not have been a problem, anyway.
We motored past all the condos and single homes, but I must say it was a pretty sight. We had asked the Tow BoatUS captain for local knowledge over the radio earlier to avoid surprises. That is a great resource a lot of mariners don't tap. These captains know their waters and are usually very eager to help you stay safe and comfortable. His advice was to go up the Big Marco River and anchor opposite the Snook Inn, so that's what we did. It is a nice place to be as long as the nearby mangroves don't yield a horde of mosquitoes tonight.
We hope the Snook Inn is air conditioned. What I suggested half-jokingly to Diane was that we go ashore soon (1400) and nurse a drink or two until 1800, then have dinner until 2200 - the point being to stay in the air conditioning as long as possible.
We are getting another storm in the area which is close but not likely to hit us directly. Right now, it is offering some cool air, but we know that won't last long. Soon after it passes, we will clean up and go ashore. I will take the laptop to see if I can find an unsecured Wi-Fi connection somewhere.
Well, we are back from our excursion ashore. We successfully got rid of two bags of trash, had happy hour drinks, and ate dinner. We were unsuccessful in connecting to the Internet. We went ashore to the Snook Inn, docked the dinghy, and deposited trash in their dumpster. We tried to go into the air conditioning, but the bar was outdoors only, so there we sat in moderately comfortable conditions.
We did enjoy talking with this one younger guy who is in the construction trade, so we compared notes about our respective communities, traded tales about visiting the Abacos, and discussed other topics. He suggested that the food at the Snook Inn was mediocre, and that we should dinghy around to the Dolphin Tiki.
Once there, we sat in the open air, as that was all they had. Fortunately, there was a bit of a breeze blowing, and they had large fans augmenting it; we were comfortable enough. We had one drink each, plus three tasty appetizers which filled us up, for a grand total of $21. We ran aground in the dinghy going back and when I looked down, I could not see the bottom in less than 12 inches of water! I need to stop trusting my eyes, as they are calibrated for clear water.
I rowed us off the shoal for a hundred feet, got the engine back in play, and we got back to Diva Di without any further problems. Diane is resting with the large fan blowing on her and I am typing this with the small fan on me. Unless the wind picks up, we are in for another hot night.
Day 98: Tue 17 Jun 08
Lat: N 25° 58' Lon: W 081° 44'
I have to give Diane a lot of credit. We were both pretty miserable for a number of hours, but she didn't complain. I was probably more affected and annoyed than she was, but I did complain. To contrast all the good things cruising can be, here is just a short sample of the bad stuff (depending on your cruising grounds, climate, and your boat, of course).
You try to fall asleep with a fan blowing on you while the interior temperature is 87F with high humidity. You finally get to sleep and are awakened by light rain coming in through the hatches overhead. You wait a bit to see how bad it is, then realize you must close the hatches. You then take out the screens which are held in place by up to eight clips (we typically use just four); this is never really easy but certainly much harder in the middle of the night. You then close the hatch and start stagnating even faster.
After a while, you open the hatch to find the drizzle has stopped. You cannot just leave the opening without a screen or the mosquitoes will invade in minutes, so you put the screens back in (they are harder to put in than take out) and try to fall back asleep. Now, repeat this at least three times and you know what last night was like. This is not a rant; just the facts, ma'am.
The only good thing about the wind being absent was the calm water. We had no boat motion that we noticed until the fishing boats in the early morning gave a few gentle wakes to rock the boat. We slept later than usual thanks to the restless night and finally got underway at 0740.
I had steeled myself for the notion that the engine would be running for the entire passage, and that proved true. We made good time with the slight breeze from the SW helping to boost our speed by a little more than 1 kt. By 1400, we were on a mooring ball in Matanzas Pass, near Ft. Myers beach.
Along the way, we did have three exciting moments. First and second, I landed two Spanish mackerels, about one hour apart. Third, I hooked a Cobia. Now, I must explain that a cobia is a somewhat large fish common to these waters. A Cobia, however, is a brand of small fishing/sport boat. That was what I hooked.
I was keeping a good lookout, and spied this small (24 ft?) boat on a collision course off the starboard quarter. Finally, he turned to port to miss our stern, but he cut way too close and snagged the trolling lure and line I had out. He had just whizzed by when the fishing reel started screaming and line was peeling off incredibly fast. Diane and I both knew what had happened, but were unsure what to do. Within a few seconds, the line stopped peeling and the Cobia had turned and stopped about 100 yards astern of us.
I tried to hail him on the VHF radio, but he must not have had his radio on or been paying attention, which is quite common. He was not in distress, so we did not stop, but we assume he had my heavy monofilament fishing line wrapped around his single outboard propeller. As we continued sailing, we watched the operator (a fifty-something guy) go over the side and swim to the engine. They were dead in the water for a while, but just before we were out of sight, they were back underway, at least an hour later.
Perhaps he will learn his lesson not to cut so close to other boats, especially at high speed. I hope he also learns not to have people sitting up on the bow with their feet dangling overboard, especially while he runs at high speed. One slip and someone could be dead.
I tied a new lure on the line and trolled some more with no success. When we got within 20 minutes of the channel to the mooring field, I filleted the two fish so that we could discard the remains outside the harbor.
The harbor was much less crowded than the only other time we visited, in March of 2005. It is almost like other people have figured out that Florida is uncomfortably hot and humid in summer. I tried three different ways to contact the authorities managing the mooring field with no success.
After a few hours of relaxation, we went ashore to the Matanzas Inn. I tried to connect to the Internet but got no signal. At this point, it looks like my next posting and email check will be after we get home. That should be in three days.
We listened to the surprisingly good duo of keyboard/guitarist/singers for a while with out happy hour beverages. The lead singer came over and we chatted a while during their break. He and his wife, plus another couple (all late fifty-somethings) on a different boat, decided to put together a two-man band and have been doing pretty well for themselves here. They sounded quite good and we were sorry to have to leave to go below to eat in the restaurant.
Our food at the Inn was very good, and we sure enjoyed the air conditioning. At 2030, we dinghied back to Diva Di where Clyde greeted us enthusiastically. It does not seem nearly as uncomfortably hot right now as the previous two or three nights. You'll know more when I resume this in the morning.
Day 99: Wed 18 Jun 08
Lat: N 26° 27' Lon: W 081° 57'
Well, Diane and I agreed that last night was noticeably better than the previous night, but we did have to get up twice for the 'rain/close the hatches/open the hatches' drill. The latter rain shower was quite heavy and required a lot of bailing of the dinghy. We are not complaining, mind you, as we need lots of rain here!
We decided to get underway as quickly as possible and take care of business later. That means Diane helps me get underway, and then she toils below straightening things up, getting breakfast/juice/pills for us, etc. while I navigate along our route. As long as it is not rough, that works pretty well.
So, by 0700, we were motoring in the calm water out towards the new Sanibel Bridge. We were happy to find enough wind to sail once we got out into open water, and were able to sail for quite a bit of the day. The new bridge is a fixed bridge with sufficient height for any craft that should be plying these waters. Neither sailor nor motorist needs to wait for a draw bridge to open now.
We elected to take the ICW north from here, just for the sake of doing it. Despite the many course changes needed as you move along the often narrow channel, it was possible for us to sail almost all the way, which is rare. Every course change or wind shift does require an adjustment to both sails, which is sometimes a bother. I don't mind doing it myself, but our boat is not set up well for the helmsman to make sail trim changes. Diane was a good sport and did most of them.
When we got abeam North Captiva, Diane spied some curious activity in the water off to our starboard quarter. We saw large rounded lobes and humps appear above the surface and then gently tumble back under. We were so curious, I immediately checked the chart to see that there was sufficient water depth outside the channel and we turned around to get closer.
I don't know if being very quiet under sail alone made a difference, but as we got closer, we could see it was two manatees in close contact. One had some scars on it (probably from boat propellers) and we thought it might be one manatee trying to help an injured partner. Only after observing for a few more minutes did we reach the conclusion they were mating. Diane took a few photographs, and we will research their native mating habits when we get home. All in all, that was a very cool experience.
Later, as we came abeam Useppa Island, we noted several nearby thunderstorms to our west. The VHF radio weather reports had mentioned numerous storms moving to the NE off the Gulf of Mexico, so we had to assume one of them would catch us. We prepared the boat for rain, but left the sails full for the time being. The larger of the two storms did not reach us, but the smaller one caught us in its fringe.
That sounds bad, but it was great. We got no rain from it, but the 24 kt winds allowed us to sail with just the mainsail making 7 to 8 kts dead downwind right along our course. The timing could not have been much better; as the storm passed to our south, we were altering course in a curve to the south and sailed into the clear skies right behind the storm.
Our destination for today was Matlacha (pronounced Mat-la-shay). Getting there is not hard, but the channel is narrow in spots and there is not much water depth outside the channel. My chartplotter had the most recent updates in it, but the channel marker positions were not nearly the same as the actual markers. I followed the real markers, of course, and all went well.
We got to the draw bridge and it opened as requested. When we were done anchoring to the immediate southeast of the bridge about 10 minutes later, we noted that the bridge was still not completely down. Some of these opening bridges are not in the best mechanical shape and experience problems from time to time.
Once settled at anchor, we tried to explain to Clyde that this will be his last night on the boat, but we don't think he is buying it. His attitude seems to be, "I'll believe it when I see it."
Diane took a little nap after reading for a while. I spent time writing the blog, entering the day's passage notes into the deck log, and doing some financial calculations for the cruise expenses. I will report more later for the benefit of would-be cruisers, but so far it looks like it was cheaper for us to be out cruising than to be home. Of course, that doesn't account for the fact that I have no income out here, a major consideration.
At 1800, we dinghied ashore to the locally-famous Bert's Bar. We have never been there before, by car or boat. It was a very interesting and enjoyable place with terrific pizza. We had no idea what food mood we were in when we entered, but then we saw this gorgeous pizza being served at the adjacent table and our minds were made up.
The entertainment was the local band, The Yard Dogs, which we have heard play in a few spots up in Punta Gorda. They have a special flavor of music that appeals to some, but certainly not all. I found them talented, funny, and entertaining, even if their music ran to the sophomoric side. In addition to that, Diane didn't care for the fact that they were peddling their CDs and paraphernalia way too aggressively.
We found that the evening temperatures were not quite as oppressive down below, although we did need to close up the boat quickly just after sunset when the mosquitoes came swarming.
Day 100: Thu 19 Jun 08
Lat: N 26° 37' Lon: W 082° 03'
I don't know if there is any significance in the cruise lasting exactly 100 days, but it sure is a nice round number.
We both slept much better last night thanks to the slightly cooler temperature. We did have several middle of the night rain drills, and the last one in the morning was a real downpour. Again, this is all very good for Florida as we need the rain so badly.
We got underway in the still air and mirror-flat water around 0830. Here is where I have to make an embarrassing admission. I ran us aground (in soft mud) just a few hundred yards north of the bridge. At least we had already gone through the bridge which opened for us. Imagine having the bridge tender stop traffic and open the often cantankerous mechanism only to find you were stuck short of the mark.
Anyway, I fully admit to having touched bottom on numerous occasions when I was feeling my way through a very shallow area, but I always: 1. expected it at any moment, 2. was going very slowly, 3. knew the bottom was soft, and 4. knew the tide was still rising rather than falling. This grounding did not embrace points 1 and 2 above.
Despite what I wrote the other day about the marks being different from the chart by a little bit and me choosing to use the marks rather than the chart, as I approached the first mark after the bridge, I followed the GPS track of where I had come through the previous day. That put me on the wrong side of the mark by 20 ft and it was enough to go aground. I have sometimes noted a slight offset in the recorded track from what we sailed the previous day when the unit has been turned off and back on the next day. That may have been it, but the fact was, we ran aground.
It was a soft, but noticeable and quick, deceleration from about 4 kts to zero. I tried to back off but did not move. I next put the helm hard to port and gave enough forward propeller thrust to start pivoting the boat on the broad, flat wing keel. It moved rather well for about 140 degrees, but then would not go further. I shut down the engine to avoid taking too much muddy water through the cooling system, and then contemplated our options.
I knew we had at least another foot of tidal rise to go, but floating off might take a while and subject us to the chuckles of passing fisherman in their little skiffs. Rather than just wait it out, I lowered the dinghy and took the secondary anchor out to deeper water. I tried to set it by hand once back on the boat and the rode did not seem to get taught as I pulled. That puzzled me as the bottom is mud and anything will grab there.
I did note after less than a minute of contemplation that the piling we had been adjacent to was now ahead of us. It took another second to realize we were floating again and moving slowly down current. My guess is that a combination of getting the weight of the dinghy and engine off the boat (200 lbs), the rapidly rising tide, and the slight pull of the anchor had us off the shallow spot in no time.
So, I got the secondary anchor secured back aboard, raised the dinghy on the davits, and off we were. It was a humbling experience. As I said, it is one thing to run aground while carefully exploring and being prepared for it, and entirely another thing to have it happen unexpectedly. Of course, after 100 days of some serious cruising, we've done well if that's the worst that has happened.
The remainder of our journey home was boring in that there was no wind for sailing. We motored home to the drone of the engine and arrived in our home canal system near noon. Diane and I had discussed whether Clyde would notice we were coming home. With none of the other places we visited did he show any interest until after dark. Then he would come up on deck to sniff the new smells and check things out. This time, he got up to stand on the cockpit seat and sniffed like crazy. When we were within 100 ft of our dock, he started meowing.
Fortunately, he let us get the boat secured at the dock before trying to go ashore. Even then, he did not try to jump, but let me carry him over the side. Our good friend and Diane's hair stylist, Sally, was visiting her brother's house next door and came running over to greet us. Our neighbors across the canal also rushed outside to welcome us back; it was nice.
Well, this blog is at a close. I will post some statistics in a few days to sum things up. Hope you enjoyed following our adventure. Make sure you follow your dreams as soon as you can; none of us is getting any younger.
Day 93: Thu 12 Jun 08
Lat: N 25° 05' Lon: W 080° 06'
The evening was warm, but tolerable with the fans. Dennis and Karen came down to the boat around 0700 to say one last goodbye. Around 0730, we slipped the lines rafting us to their boat, R's, and we left Port Largo.
Dennis had convinced me to try my hand trolling a ballyhoo baitfish at the 300 ft depths long the keys as we headed south. It took us about 10 nm out of our way, but we tried it. I did get something on the line after a few hours, but it went under the boat and the line got cut. I have no idea what it was. Further attempts yielded nothing.
The wind was light and we must have been in a foul current thanks to the Gulf Stream which runs nearby. We should have been doing about 5 kts but were only making about 3.2 kts. That's a big difference and added hours to our otherwise short trip. I even used the engine for a few hours to get us to our destination in a more reasonable time.
Only after I cut back into shore from the deep water did I start to see the boat speed increase. At first it was imperceptible, but when we were about 5 nm offshore, the speed increased to what I would have expected.
We arrived at Indian Key, off Lower Matecumbe, near 1500. We picked up a free mooring buoy supplied by the park system in Florida, and got set up for an overnight. We will drop the dinghy and go ashore in the morning.
It has been a partly cloudy day with the cloud cover increasing as it got later. Fortunately, the thunderstorms in the area did not come near us. It was not cool, by any means, but the oppressive heat of the past few days was gone. When we showered at the transom in the open air, it was refreshing for me and downright chilly for Diane.
After the nice shower, I started reading more of the cruising guide for this area and studying the charts to plan for tomorrow. At this point we are starting to think about skipping the Dry Tortugas after all. As a matter of fact, as I write this sentence several hours later, we have mutually decided that we are ready to start back home tomorrow.
The plan is to go ashore early tomorrow morning at Indian Key and explore. Afterwards, we will sail to the same anchorage on the northwest side of Lower Matecumbe Key where we visited our friend, John, on Invictus. Hopefully, Snoozer from nearby Marathon can join us for a dinner together Friday night.
On Saturday, we hope to cross the shallow Florida Bay to Shark River, where we got stuck for four nights in mid-March due to a strong cold front. From there, we plan to revisit the Ten Thousand Islands, Naples, and Ft. Myers, before heading slowly back to Punta Gorda. Our plans can change, but we're thinking that we will find interesting things to do once we are home and while we still have almost two weeks before Duane is due back at work.
Having come to this decision, we look back on recent times when some of our new cruising friends announced in the Abacos that they were "on their way home." At the time, we felt like we had lots of time left and could not bring ourselves to embrace the "cruise is almost over" concept. Now that we have come to that point ourselves, we can understand why they felt how they did and how their focus changed so evidently.
Back to the present, we had a treat for dinner tonight. Diane purchased some shrimp in Key Largo, and they were the first shrimp we have had in over two months. I sautéed some fresh onions, peppers and garlic in olive oil and then added the shrimp. That was served over a bed of Jambalaya-flavored rice and we both really loved it.
Tonight is much more comfortable with a nice breeze blowing through the cabin.
Day 94: Fri 13 Jun 08
Lat: N 24° 53' Lon: W 080° 41'
It's funny how the morning routine has changed throughout our cruise. In the beginning, Clyde was so eager to get a temporary respite from the interior of the boat that he made sure to get me out of my berth well before dawn so he could stroll topside. As of a few weeks ago, he doesn't seem to care. If I go up and call him to get his morning brushing, he will come; otherwise he does not.
When the SSB radio was the only source of weather forecast information, that 0630 broadcast was important. Now that I can get NOAA weather broadcasts repeated and updated throughout the day and night, I haven't listened to the SSB weather.
When we were in Boot Key Harbor, FL; George Town, Exumas; or the central portion of the Abacos, listening to the cruisers nets was pretty important if you wanted to know what was going on. Outside those areas during our cruise, there is no such thing.
This morning, after a lazy start, we dinghied ashore to the Indian Key Historic State Park. It started off poorly as we got to the very nice pier and saw a large sign stating that tying up or docking was prohibited and promised large fines. OK, so we spied this little dock 100 yards away and got to it. It sported a small sign saying "no docking." What kind of state park is this?
We tied up to a tree 20 feet from the little dock and waded ashore. We backtracked via a clear path to the dock and obtained the last brochure they had in a weather-resistant container. That's when we learned that we would be walking down paths which represented the streets of the small town which existed there in the early 1800s. As we walked, we saw small plaques with historical information, a few foundations, and a few other features, all in ruins.
It didn't take long to tour the entire key, so we were back at Diva Di by 0830. We hoisted the mainsail, then dropped the line off the mooring and sailed away without starting the engine; I love that. It was a fantastic sail down Hawk Channel for about five miles before we needed to turn north through the channel under the Channel Five bridge. The shoals have changed since the chart was last updated; we bumped lightly on the bottom where the chart said we should have had about 7 ft of water. It was only two light bumps in soft sand, so no harm done.
We had a bit of concern as we approached the bridge. We were under sail heading for the marked center section when this 18 ft fishing boat came across our track from port to starboard. The lone occupant was not looking anywhere but straight ahead and his head covering must have eliminated any peripheral vision. I said to Diane in astonishment, "is this guy really going to cross right in front of us?"
Rather than sound the danger signal with the air horn, I asked Diane to go to the bow and yell to him. All she had to say was "Hey, buddy?!!" He glanced over, not looking as startled as he should have been, and then he advanced the throttles to get out of the way. I was fully prepared to duck clear of him, if needed, but his oblivious behavior needed to be challenged.
Just a short bit later, we dropped the sails and motored down the very shallow channel to the Boy Scout High Adventure Camp in Lower Matecumbe Key where our friend John, on Invictus, is the Sailing Director. We found another cruising boat there, but there was still plenty of room to anchor another boat.
Diane made a nice lunch and then she read up on deck in the nice breeze while I did some reading and writing in this blog. Our plan for tonight is to go out to dinner with John and perhaps Snoozer if he can get free. Then tomorrow, we expect to have a long day crossing Florida Bay on the way north.
I will be going ashore soon to post this and check email. Our route home may not afford any Internet access at all, or perhaps just once in about four days or so. Don't be concerned if you don't see another blog post for a while.
Day 92: Wed 11 Jun 08
Lat: N 25° 05' Lon: W 080° 06'
It was another warm night, but not too bad with the fans running. The forecast was for a high probability of rain yesterday and we got none. Today is forecast to be the same; we'll see.
We both had a few hours of boat chores to do today, so we got to them after Dennis and Karen left to work at their rental unit. Other than that, it was a day of rest, reading, and relaxation.
When our friends returned near 1700, we sat and chatted a bit in their air conditioned efficiency apartment, and later under the chickee while we made dinner plans. Their recommendation for our preferred eating style (good food, inexpensive, and casual) was a former Waffle House converted into a diner which serves Mexican specialties three nights a week. We were very pleased with the taste, portions, and price and enjoyed a great meal.
It was an early night for all, so after a short time under the chickee, we said our goodbyes, gave our thanks, and all hit the sack. Tomorrow we continue south and will not likely get another Internet connection for at least a few days.
Day 90: Mon 9 Jun 08
Lat: N 25° 27' Lon: W 080° 13'
Diane lay down for a nap a bit late in the afternoon and it wasn't long before Dennis was back from his toils and we needed to get ready for the evening. First, we had drinks under their chickee overlooking the water on the Atlantic side. With a gentle breeze blowing, as is typical, it is a delightful place to be.
Next, we drove down the Overseas Highway to the Lorelei restaurant. Our friends from home, Toby and Almut, were wrapping up their cruise and had anchored there earlier today. We had arranged via cell phone to meet there for dinner. Everyone else ordered a fish sandwich or seafood dish, but I was craving chicken wings. They were exceptionally good. After a nice visit, during which we really didn't get to trade cruising stories all that much, we said our goodbyes and headed back to Key Largo for a nightcap under the chickee.
Day 91: Tue 10 Jun 08
Lat: N 25° 27' Lon: W 080° 13'
It was a rather hot night for sleeping. When you are at anchor, usually the wind is blowing through the open hatches. At a dock, it would only be chance that the wind direction coincides with your boat's alignment. At least we had the fans to keep us comfortable.
Dennis and Karen have been leaving very early to work at their rental unit, and then have come back for breakfast before going back to work. When they came back at 0800, Diane had the laundry and shopping list ready. Dennis drove them all to the unit; Diane started laundry, and then took off in the van to get provisions. Meanwhile, I got out the hose, soap, and brushes and gave the boat a good exterior cleaning.
She arrived at the boat at 1110 with a lot of stuff to carry and stow, and then we rushed to pick up Dennis and Karen at the unit to go out for a quick bite of lunch. We ate at Mrs. Mac's and it is a great local, keysie kind of place. Back at the rental unit, Diane stayed to continue the laundry and help them with some of the cleaning chores while I took the van to finish getting supplies. I got everything on the list and returned to get Diane.
Once back at Diva Di, Diane stowed all the stuff while I attempted to get the air conditioner running for the first time in well over a year. We don't use it, so I just try to test it once a year. To make a long story short, it kept shutting down due to overheating, and I traced the problem to the cooling water flow but was not able to see a solution (more on that later).
I went out to the nearest gas station and got four jugs of diesel and gas filled up at very high US prices but still a lot cheaper than in the Bahamas. Once they were back at the dock, I drove to the rental unit to lend a hand with a few minor tasks for an hour or so until they called it quits for the day.
We found Diane lounging under the chickee and she made refreshing drinks for us all while Dennis felt the urge to tackle the AC issue. We both agreed the water flow seemed too low and too hot as it exited the condenser. When we shut off the unit, the water kept flowing (with the overboard discharge hose detached), which was very unexpected. We puzzled over that until Dennis figured out the pipe was below the waterline and what we had was a natural flow. It turns out the pump is not working. I may tackle that tomorrow if I have nothing else to do.
We assembled under the chickee with drinks and a few snacks. Gravity must have been working overtime because we never left, expect to get more ice. We were joined by one of their tenants, a pleasant young man who captains a dive boat just a few blocks away from here. What a great job and experience. He lives in the keys only a few blocks from work and gets to drive a boat for a living.
We don't know what time we broke up, but it was late. Using the fan allowed me to get to sleep comfortably. Diane was in the v-berth and said she was fine all night, too.