Beautiful Sailing; Perplexing Engine
02 February 2013 | Smokehouse Bay, Marco Island, Florida
Debbie & Kevin
On Monday, January 14th, we departed from Gulfport at around 8 AM, transited 5 opening bridges, to our furthest northerly destination for this trip along Florida's Gulf Coast, arriving at about 1 PM for our first time at Caladesi Island State Park. On our way to the beach we got to observe a gopher tortoise. Our afternoon beach walk led us to finding the single largest, prettiest shark tooth yet. We were 1 of 4 boats in the marina slips for the night - one couple was from Maine and another from Vermont. The two of us had the beach chairs to ourselves as we watched the sunset over the Gulf of Mexico.
During the previous day's passage the engine blower motor died, and Kevin swapped it for our onboard spare. Tuesday morning we walked the park's nature trail before departing about 1 PM, transiting 1 opening bridge. We concluded the day's passage as the only boat anchored just off waterway mile 130. A pod of dolphin, staying near the water surface provided us with evening fascination. Not to our fascination, however, the engine suddenly dropped RPMs, after running perfectly for many hours at full load, until at low idle, ie. when awaiting a bridge opening or dropping anchor. In attempt to solve the issue Kevin replaced the rotor and distributor cap, lubed the distributor, relocated the coil further from the heat of the engine, and replaced the spark plugs.
Wednesday morning we hauled anchor and transited 1 opening bridge before dropping the hook near the convenient grocery store dock at the Welch Causeway Bridge, during which time the engine idling issue resurfaced. After some provisioning and swapping out the coil, we transited 4 more opening bridges, concluding that day's passage anchored in Boca Ciega Bay near Gulfport among the many anchored there.
Thursday in between some rain showers, we moved to an anchorage on the other side of the waterway for better wind protection, anchoring for our first time there, where Grace was one of three for the night. A cold front was passing through, leading us to turn on the cabin heater for a few minutes to take off the morning chill...our first time for that and putting on long pants and sleeves in quite some time.
Friday we transited 4 opening bridges, crossed the mouth of Tampa Bay, and dropped the hook near downtown Sarasota among the many anchored there. We stayed there through Monday night, utilizing the public buses to replenish our spares at the West Marine and auto parts stores. We walked through areas of the city we had not explored when we were there previously, including historic Burns Court, the Botanical Garden, and enjoyed a live musical cabaret theater performance at one of the many to choose from in the artsy community, and toured the Ringling Art Museum and estate grounds.
Tuesday we transited 9 opening bridges, and while awaiting 1 opening were entertained by a bagpiper at the nearby park, concluding the day's passage as the only boat anchored in Cape Haze. Again the engine idle issue reared its head...another coil swap and timing adjustment were done.
Wednesday we transited 1 opening bridge, and were one of three anchored for the night near Useppa Island, after relaxing in the cockpit during the warm afternoon.
Thursday morning we dinghied to Cabbage Key, walked around the island nature trail, and climbed to the top of the water tower where the surrounding islands were in view from the observation deck. After lunch at the Inn, we hauled anchor and relished an afternoon sail during our first time voyaging into Charlotte Harbor. We were the only boat anchored for the night, and got to listen to a Loon at sunset.
Friday we sailed for several hours out of Charlotte Harbor, starting the engine shortly before dropping the hook for a shore excursion to wander around Boca Grande for our first time. Following lunch in town, a nearby stroll on the beach quickly netted a find of 14 tiny shark teeth. Once back aboard Grace we moved to the nearby anchorage in Pelican Bay where we were in the company of about 30 boats (not the same ones) each night through Sunday night. At sunset on both Friday and Saturday evening the anchorage was serenaded by a bagpiper, complete with kilt, on the catamaran sailboat anchored in front of Grace (we believe the same one we captured on video when we were there two years ago). During two days of beach and trail walks at Cayo Costa State Park we found 10 and 3 (respectively) of the smallest shark teeth yet.
Monday morning we departed, motorsailing until shortly before dropping the hook near JN Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge for afternoon dinghy exploration, and then continuing on another few miles to anchor as one of four boats in Glover Bight.
Once south of Fort Myers Beach, we were able to sail slowly on Tuesday, tacking and tacking, until the wind finally diminished. Once we motored up, the wind picked up directly on our nose, and we began pounding into increasing wave heights, eventually having to let out some of the genoa and motor-sail, tacking to make any headway towards our first time Naples, where we dropped the hook in a residential canal as one of eventually three boats anchored for the night. Once again the engine issue popped up.
After replacing part of the fuel line, which resulted in the engine running lousy at anchor, Wednesday morning we called for a tow to a mooring ball at Naples City. The tow boat captain was quite amenable, and prompt in his arrival and moving us along; however, as we approached the mooring field the tow boat captain switched the tow bridle from a stern tow to a side along tow and then the tow bridle got caught in the engine prop of the tow boat near both a sand bar and marker piling; so, when he had to turn off his engines we dropped an anchor just as a commercial tug boat pushing a barge was approaching. Other than the loss of his tow bridle, all was unscathed...phew! Once Grace was secured for our first time to a mooring ball in Naples, while Debbie started working on the laundry, Kevin worked on the carburetor, discovering some debris in the float valve that was likely caused from that morning's changeover; he used the marina's courtesy bike to get replacement fuel line parts at the local hardware store. We wound down the day with a stroll into town for an early-bird dinner. Thursday after Kevin reinstalled the carburetor and had a successful engine run at the mooring and then some rain showers passed, we wandered about town and visited the Depot Museum. Yesterday we utilized the water taxi and public bus to go to the Collier County Museum, followed by lunch and provisioning. At dusk we picked up the water taxi again and enjoyed the tour through the canals of the city.
Today after pulling into the service dock, we departed about noon. After our 3 PM arrival as one of two boats anchoring for our first time in Smokehouse Bay in Marco, we did more provisioning using the very convenient dinghy dock at the nearby grocery store. The engine issue still persisted at the end of today's passage...
During this period of time we have seen many dolphin and feathered friends (including 2 bald eagles), as well as spectacular sunsets. The osprey are building their nests.