The Crossing ( This should have posted before the one that follows!)
23 February 2018
February 5, 2018
Dropped mooring ball C17 at Marathon City Marina and headed out at 7:07 A. M. Motored out Boot Key Harbor just long enough to see that we had good wind to sail. Put out full sails, and for the next nine hours we had great sailing. As the wind slacked, we cranked the engine and motor sailed, then finally took in the sails completely. About 6:00 P. M. seas began to build and JR made a course change to try and get us past the Gulf Stream earlier than previously planned. He had checked NOAA weather, and the forecast was for winds at 15 - 20, and seas 4-6 and building to 5-7. The 5-7 foot seas didn't sound appealing for an overnight trip.
Not longer at all after that, Johnny was ready to get some sleep in the cockpit while I stood watch, but just before he lay down, he heard a disturbances that concerned him, as well it should have. Turned out to be the auto pilot drive unit, about the worst thing besides taking on water or being dismasted that could happen. This meant that one of us would have to steer manually for the remainder of the trip, approximately 17 hours. I knew we had a spare on board, so we could change it once we reached Havana, but we're so accustomed to being able to set our course and having the auto pilot do the steering that the prospect of not having it was honestly overwhelming. As Captain sat at the wheel, I knew he was thinking about that spare auto pilot drive. It wasn't long before he asked if I remembered where we had stored it. And, as they say, to make a long story short...in less than an hour we had the spare drive installed. To those unfamiliar with sailboats, just let me say that no repairs are ever simple, and they're always in tight quarters. This was no exception. JR had to literally lie down with his head upside down in a tiny compartment, with only a headlight, and make this exchange. All of this while, for the first time, I maintained our course manually in fairly rough seas. When the ordeal was over, we were both practically giddy with relief!
The remainder the of the night consisted of each of us taking turns standing watch while the other slept. Most folks who do overnight or longer passages have fixed lengths of time for watches, but we haven't yet managed to come up with a system that suits us, so we end up taking turns on an as needed basis, with the person not on watch sleeping in the cockpit. It's not optimum, and we hope to do a little better on our next crossing, but for this time it worked pretty well.
Our arrival at Marina Hemingway in Havana went much as expected. Going through Customs proved to be fairly cursory, with the only difficulty being our lack of Spanish, and the lack of experience of the Customs official who obviously was very new to her job. Nonetheless, we were soon docked securely after first being directed to the wrong spot. We were treated most courteously at every stage of this process, even though some of it was a bit puzzling, such as being boarded by two veterinarians to inspect our fresh food supply. Welcome to Cuba!
Images of Cuba
23 February 2018
Although our stay in Cuba is not a lengthy one, I believe I could literally write a book of just our daily observations and interactions. Perhaps the best way to recount them is by topic, rather than a daily itinerary. So, here goes!
The Buildings - A Study in Contrasts
Much of the fascinating colonial architecture is still here, though in various states of disrepair. Some restoration has been accomplished, much with UNESCO investment, with continuing efforts underway. This is taking place primarily in public buildings, though we also saw scattered evidence of reconstruction in residential areas. Many of the construction methods can be generously labeled outdated. For example, we witnessed scenes of cement blocks being pulled by hand (sometimes without any sort of pulley) one at a time by a rope to the second story of a building under repair or construction. Everywhere you look, there are crumbling walls and piles of ruble. I think most Americans would find living conditions, but after just a few days here, I've come to appreciate the adaptability of the people to their circumstances. Homes are set so close to the sidewalk that you often feel as if you are intruding into people's living space when passing by, though the Cubans seemed unfazed by this.
The Streets - Oh, the Streets!
While some of the streets and highways are more than adequate, many areas are "challenging." In Havana, the challenge can frequently take the form of streets being dug up to make sewer repairs, (easily detected with your nose!), while farther out from the city, roads may have numerous potholes, and in the more rural areas, roads are not paved at all. We even braved the traffic and rode our bicycles on the streets quite a lot!
Transportation - la Maquina! Our Favorite Way to Get Around Havana!
These are the cars everyone associates with Cuba, the ones made in the USA in the fifties. Some are privately owned, but many are owned by individuals who lease them to drivers who are responsible for their maintenance and operation. One day on a trip into the city, our driver pulled into a side street rather suddenly and hopped out of the car. When he opened the hood, it was evident that the radiator had overheated. Johnny never was quite sure how the driver first detected this problem because none of the gauges in the dash were operational. Johnny got out of the taxi when Raul was trying to make the repair and got a good look under the hood. The engine had been replaced with a diesel (not at all uncommon), and the water hose was actually a series of hoses held together with a multitude of clamps. Raul simply tightened a clamp, and we were again on our way. But cars broken down on the side of the road are an all too common occurrence. Though the vintage cars are easily recognizable by anyone with memories of that era, most have ""interesting" modifications, and the interior upholstery is quite eclectic, with the preference seeming to be floral tapestry. I never tired of looking at the varied modes of transportation. We saw modern buses and not so modern buses; imported automobiles and trucks; motor scooters of every variety, including many with sidecars; very old tractors pulling trailers loaded with both goods and people; bicycles and tricycles with very inventive adaptations for passengers and goods; horse drawn conveyances of every description, all of which were constructed of salvaged materials; carts drawn by oxen; and out in the country side, many men on horseback. There appear to be few if any safety regulations, but we did not see a single traffic accident of any kind during our travels.
Food - Always a Favorite Experience!
When we're cruising, we provision well so that we always have the option of preparing our meals aboard, but we also enjoy eating out and trying new things. Cuba has been no exception. We've tried to eat mostly local rather than in tourist spots, but eating local means that we've had all of the chicken legs and beans & rice we desire for at least one lifetime 😊 One of our favorite experiences here has been shopping in the fresh food markets. Lots of fresh vegetables and meat. The conditions are definitely not Kroger, but if you are willing to put that aside, prices are reasonable, and the chance to try new to us fruits and vegetables has been intriguing.
Sights and Sounds
Though we spent most of out time street-walking, people-watching, and Mojito consuming in Havana, we did take time for some museums and other sights. We spent the better part of a day in the Museum of the Revolution. Quite eye-opening, to say the least. I confess to being far too ignorant of Cuban history and the role of the United States in that history. So, I now intend to go home and try to become more enlightened. What I can say is that the Cubans whom we met had nothing but positive attitudes toward us as Americans, and many spoke of a desire to go to the US.
Because I don't speak or read Spanish, Johnny has been spared my usual forays into bookstores during our time in Cuba. However, I have not been spared his compulsion to visit any nearby forts. I have to admit that the aquatic archeological displays and models of the older ships in the one we visited were interesting, and the views from the top were worth the time.
Other points of interest for us in foreign countries are churches and cathedrals. In Havana we visited the church and convent of St. Francis of Assisi. The building has been maintained as a cultural artifact, but religious services are no longer held there. Standing where the altar formerly stood and seeing that it had been replaced with a stage for musical performances grieved my heart. In other areas of the city we did see a few churches where services are still held, but we also saw many that are literally only the shell of the original building.
On an expedition about which I'll write later, we walked to the statue known as Christ of Havana, which overlooks Havana harbor and city. It's most impressive from any vantage point and is described with pride as an artistic treasure in tourist information.
I think I'll stop for this time and write about the people in a separate entry. I'm saving the best for last!
Learning as We Go
08 January 2018 | C Quarters Marina, Carrabelle, Florida
Doris Ross/Chilly and overcast
If you've been keeping up with us on Facebook, (Aboard 'Bout Time) you know that we are back on board after spending three weeks in Kentucky for Christmas with our family. And you also know that we're not making great progress getting to south Florida and warmer weather. Of all the things we have learned while cruising, at the top of the list is, "Do Not Have a Schedule!" With our only set date for this trip being February 8, 2018 to leave Florida for Cuba, we felt no time pressure, but the weather has once again shown us who's boss. We should still be okay on time, but it might not be the leisurely trip down the west coast of Florida that we had hoped for.
Another item on the list of lessons learned would be, "Just because there's a guy from the marina standing on the dock to catch a line when you're docking, it doesn't mean that he's going to be as careful as he should." That was an expensive lesson learned a couple of days ago when I relied upon someone else to keep our aft mounted solar panels away for the pilings used to tie the boat up. I should have hopped off the boat as I usually do to handle that job myself. My daddy always said "Bought sense is the best kind." Buying a new solar panel should give me my money's worth!
Maybe not exactly on that list, but suddenly a frequent topic of conversation since we left home this year is the fact that five years have passed since our first cruise, and our bodies are feeling those years. Boating, and sailing in particular, can be quite physically challenging. We believe that we have several more years to enjoy this part of our lives, but we recognize the need to be realistic in our expectation of ourselves and each other. The good news is that we're both in excellent health, and we believe that staying active is one of the keys to maintaining that.
A corollary to the above is accepting that we just might not be able to squeeze everything we once did into a day, week, or month. We have often set unrealistic expectations for what we could accomplish, and somehow we usually managed to meet those expectations, but we are learning that sometimes pushing too hard results in diminished returns in enjoyment of the things we do.
Enough about us...back to travel! While we were home for Christmas, we connected with the gentleman who literally co-wrote the best cruising guide to Cuba. He is working with us to be sure that we follow all of the current guidelines for travel by boat and that we make the most of our allotted two weeks in the country. We're reading all we can to prepare for this adventure. We met a couple last week in Apalachicola who visited Cuba last year, and while they did not travel by boat, they had lots of great info to share including the name of a restaurant her cousin owns. We expect it to be a most enjoyable, exciting visit.
As of now, we plan to return to the states from Cuba via the Bahamas. We'll visit familiar places and see many old friends there. Just sitting here at the dock on a cloudy, chilly day and thinking about the beautiful water and beaches there makes me smile really big😍
There's a load of laundry drying that I need to go check on,then the soup Capt'n made for lunch, then a book to settle in with, and later the college national championship game to watch at a local hangout. Such is this life we love!
We Wish You a Merry Christmas
06 December 2017 | Panama City
After over a week off of 'Bout Time, we were ready to be back aboard. We had enjoyed our time with family and friends in Mississippi for Thanksgiving, but it was time to head east. When we leave Mobile, Alabama at the end of the river portion of our journey, we always debate the option of heading straight from near there to the west coast of Florida versus taking the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway over to Apalachicola and jumping off from there. Two factors weigh into our decision; first, of course, is weather - always the main determining factor - and then, our reluctance to miss stopping over for a few days in Apalachicola, our favorite Gulf Coast town. When we left Sundowner Marina on Dog River on November 29, wind was not favorable, so we headed east motoring on the GIWW, keeping open the options of crossing either from Pensacola or going on to Apalachicola.
Something we enjoy when cruising is managing to visit with friends along the way. This isn't easy because our schedule is often unpredictable, but when it can happen, it's always a treat. This time we were able to get in touch with one of Johnny's high school classmates who has a condo at Orange Beach and arrange a visit. We were staying at Bear Point Marina, and Jan came there to join us for cockpit cocktails and a tour of our home away from home. Then she took us to one of her favorite local restaurants where we spent the next couple of hours catching up on the years since her visit to our home in Kentucky many years ago. Any classmates reading this can be assured you were included in our topics of conversation :-)
Motoring on the GIWW is not what one would call exciting, but we see some beautiful scenery along the way, find lots of good anchorages, and as always, enjoy beautiful sunrises and sunsets. About the only variable affecting our travel is the frequent occurrence of heavy morning fog that can keep us on anchor an hour or more beyond our usual departure time. That happened two of our four mornings this trip.
The last day of our approach to Apalachicola was quite long, and we knew we'd be arriving after dark. For safety reasons, we do our best to avoid entering a port after dark. What our charts show and what occurs in reality can be markedly different, and suddenly approaching an unlighted buoy that has moved in the last big blow creates a most unwelcome encounter. However, having been to this harbor several times, we felt safe with an after dark approach. With the help of a strong light, I was able to stand on the bow and locate the needed markers, which were all as indicated on the chart. We had reserved a slip at a nearby marina and soon were safely docked. The only concern was the depth at the dock and changing tides. After realizing that we would be on bottom at low tide, we moved to a floating dock and once again secured the lines.
One of the best things about returning to favorite places is knowing where the good food can be found, and in Apalachicola that means oysters. We walked over to one of our favorites, the Owl Tap Room, and enjoyed some on the half shell, along with a delicious appetizer of crusted goat cheese with an artichoke topping. And as if that weren't good enough, we topped it of by sharing a pecan tartlet topped with ice cream and fudge!
Sunday brought a perfect mixture of activity and relaxation. We got up early in order to walk to Trinity Episcopal Church for the 8:00 A. M. service, Rite 1, just like home. The 175 year old building is a treasure, and the activities of the parish indicate much community involvement. After the service, we walked for almost two hours admiring the lovely homes in the historic residential district. I selected a few small cottages that I told the Captain would do nicely when we finally give up our wandering ways! All,of that walking worked up an appetite, and we headed back to the waterfront where we shared a first for us - an oyster and Gouda omelet. With sliced fresh tomatoes and grits loaded with butter, we were more than satisfied.
We returned to the boat to change into cooler clothes and get our computers so that we could catch up on a few necessary tasks. A few shops were open, and we browsed a bit, finding a few stocking stuffers to aid in our lagging Christmas shopping. And Johnny managed to find a fellow frying freshly caught mullet out on the sidewalk. And, he turned out to be from Lake Barkley, just a few miles from our home. He and his wife had headed south on their boat a few years ago, and when the got to Apalachicola, they never left. It's just that kind of place.
We began checking a variety of weather sources, hoping to keep with our plan to go over to nearby Dog Island Monday afternoon and leave from there early Tuesday for an overnight passage to Clearwater Beach. From there we would move on to the Tampa Bay area where we would leave the boat in a marina and rent a car for the drive home to enjoy the holidays. BUT, once again, weather dictated differently. Without too many boring details, I'll try to summarize. Winds were forecast to be out of the south and southeast at 10-15. The direction was opposite of what we needed for sailing, and motoring into wind and waves for 36+ hours is never fun. That was to be followed by a front predicted to bring even less desirable conditions. So, though disappointed, our better judgement told us to revise our plans if we were going to get home in time to enjoy our visit with children and grandchildren. Because no rental cars are available in Apalachicola, we knew we would have to return to Panama City. The silver lining turned up when after learning of our change in plans, Nicole, our daughter, called to tell us that her husband would be traveling to the panhandle on business Monday and Tuesday and could pick us up Wednesday. From their home near Nashville, we would prevail Josh or Jenny to retrieve us.
We filled up with fuel and backtracked. We knew of a small community dock about 20 miles west, and timing would be right to spend the night there. Panama City would be an easy ride from there.
We arrived at our chosen marina in the early afternoon with plenty of time to give the boat on good cleaning. It's always good to return to a clean, orderly home. With that chore completed, we enjoyed hot showers, courtesy of shore power, and a hearty dinner. Our usual rounds of Dominoes followed, and in fairness, I have to report that Captain prevailed 3 to 2.
I hope that all of you are blessed with time to be with family and friends during this special time of the year. May you seek peace in the midst of the many activities and find time to reflect on the good things in your life and perhaps find ways to share that goodness with others. Merry Christmas, and may "God bless us every one!"
Southbound and down!
20 November 2017 | Off 'Bout Time in Bay Springs, MS
Southbound and down...but first you have to go north!
Let's start with a quick geography lesson. The Tennessee River flows south from its source in Tennessee down into northern Alabama, then it makes a turn and begins flowing north, back into Tennessee and eventually Kentucky before joining the Ohio near Paducah. Check it out in an atlas... They do still publish those, don't they? So, when we leave our home port of Aurora, we must go upstream for 204 miles until we reach the lock that takes us into Pickwick Lake. This is where the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway begins with a manmade canal connecting the two rivers. As the crow flies, it's about 300 miles from Pickwick Lake to mile 0 in Mobile, Alabama, but because of the winding way of the rivers, by boat we travel the 450 miles.
This year we actually headed out under sail and enjoyed several hours of good sailing, but for remainder of the trip we must use our little diesel. Our speed varies from 4 mph near Pickwick Dam where we run against a strong current, to 8 mph in places where we move with the downstream current. Most of the time we move at about 6 mph. You'd be surprised just how much you can observe at that gentle pace. This year we encountered numerous herons and egrets, several Bald Eagles, two alligators, and about six deer. We also enjoy the variety of dwellings along the way, everything from rustic hunting and fishing camps to huge mansions. This year our weather was on the cool side, with about an equal mix of sunshine and clouds, but we only had two days that kept us in our longjohns all day.
Having completed numerous trips up and down this route, we enjoy the contrast of familiar experiences with new ones. We choose some new anchorages to explore and continue to return to previous favorites. And meeting new people always adds to the uniqueness of each excursion. This year's trip included a stop at our two favorite marinas along the route, Clifton Marina in Cliftton, TN and Kingfisher Bay Marina at Demopolis, AL. Clifton is our favorite because of the friendly hospitality of the folks who own and operate it, and we enjoy the new, convenient facilities at KBM. When living on a boat, nice showers and laundry are always a welcome treat. We prepare most of our meals on board, but when our travel coincides with the schedule at Bobby's Fish Camp, we make a point of partaking of some of their delicious catfish, and this year we were lucky to be close enough on a Sunday afternoon to make a stop.
Little did we know that shortly after leaving Bobby's with satisfied appetites we would encounter the only significant delay of this trip. We eased through Coffeeville Lock, the last of thirteen locks that must be navigated on this route. With sundown coming on us, we began watching the river banks for a suitable anchorage. While we prefer to get off the river into a creek or behind an island to anchor, there are times when that isn't possible, and we have learned to look for straight stretches behind either the red or green buoys that are safely out of the way of the tows with barges that ply the river twenty-four hours a day. We found such a spot and inquired of an oncoming tow captain as to the suitability of the site we were considering. He said he thought we should be safe, so we dropped the main anchor and also put out a stern anchor just to keep us in the best position. As I dropped the main anchor off the bow and the boat drifted back, there was a decided stop as the anchor set. We looked at each other and commented that getting it up the following morning might be difficult, depending upon what it had caught. But as it was almost dark, we chose to stay put for the night and deal with it in due time, Little did we know how accurate our misgivings would prove!
Our routine on the river is to get up early,usually just before sunrise, and have our coffee and weigh anchor as soon as we have good light. On this particular morning, we were looking forward to putting lots of miles behind us since we had no locks to clear. I went forward and began to raise the anchor. The power windlass smoothly retrieved the chain until it suddenly stopped and the bow of the boat tipped down. I glanced back at JR and motioned for him to ease forward. When I tried the winch again, I got the same result. This began our efforts to maneuver the boat in such a way as to free the anchor from whatever lurked below in the murky river water. We even managed to back the boat and turn up the stern upstream against the current, no small feat with our little engine. All of this was to no avail. The captain was just before cutting the chain, which would have resulted in the loss of our main anchor and most of our seventy-five feet of chain - no small investment - when the first mate suggested calling our towing insurance company. Bingo! Although they do not cover the cost of a diver per se, they do cover the cost of getting a diver to us. We were put in touch with their service provider in Moblie and arrangements began. At first we thought they could get to us that same day, but turned out it would be the next morning. Who were we to argue?!! So, we did a few boat chores and basically had a lazy day reading and relaxing. Weather was beautiful, and there are worse ways to spend a day.
The next morning we were contacted by the diver saying they would bring the boat to a ramp above the lock and launch from there. Radio transmissions and our observations from aboard 'BT told us that locking through could take a while since the large commercial loads have priority. Finally at 11:15 Mark and Don arrived. They secured their boat to ours and immediately set about preparing for the dive. Just a very few minutes after entering the water, the diver gave instructions to slowly bring the chain up. There were alternating orders to "Bring it up" and "All stop!" And in just twelve minutes, Don had freed all,of the chain and the anchor from what we would later be told was a massive tree root ball wider than he was tall. No wonder we couldn't pull free!
We signed the necessary paperwork, thanked them profusely, and headed on our way, a bit wiser in the ways of river anchoring.
Folks always ask us how long the river trip takes, and we always answer, "As long as it takes." There are far too many variables to give an unqualified answer. This year we left our home marina on October 25 and arrived in Mobile on November 16, but along the way we spent six days off the boat visiting family in Mississippi. And as I type this, I'm sitting in the little public library in Bay Springs, MS, again here for a holiday visit and family reunion. The actual number of days spent traveling on the river this time was seventeen, at least five of which were essentially half days or less by choice. So we've calculated that if we traveled all day straight through, it would probably take twelve days downstream, but the likelihood of ever having a reason to do that is slim to none.
We plan to return to 'BT Sunday and resume in our journey. Our plans are a bit indefinite right now, so follow us on Facebook if you're interested. With a definite lack of access to Internet, it's much easier to do quick updates that way.
22 March 2016
Catching Up, March 22
After leaving the newness of the Okeechobee, we returned to the more familiar waters along the west coast of Florida. On our three previous trips along this coast, we had found several spots which we looked forward to seeing again. Boca Grande ranked high on this list. We remembered fondly our first stay there in early 2013, and we found very little had changed, except our feeling of having discovered someplace special. The beach still beckoned invitingly, the shops still flaunted charming window displays, and the restaurants still exuded tantalizing aromas. But our sense of discovery had vanished. I bought a few cute garments, we ate some delicious oysters, and we generally enjoyed the day, but heading back to the dinghy, we agreed that we had no desire to linger. Had it been the weekend, we would have stayed for church services but there just wasn't enough to keep us here four more days. The one thing we did find just as alluring as before was the extremely well stocked local hardware, always one of our "must visit" places no matter where we stop, and we rarely leave empty handed.
Strong winds out of the east had made for a rocking anchorage the previous night, and our bumpy dingy ride back to 'BT indicated that we would have more of the same if not greater for the coming night. Hoisting our dinghy and it's small outboard motor can prove challenging in rough water, so my ever savy Captain decided that we would weigh anchor and move into the calm water of the nearby bayou in order to raise the dinghy. After accomplishing that task, the same ever savy Captain checked out the wind and decided we would take our chances finding a spot to drop the hook farther in on the bayou. This was not exactly kosher as they say, but there were no signs specifically prohibiting it, so we followed our usual philosophy that says forgiveness is easier than permission. We anchored bow and stern near the docks of two seemingly unoccupied houses and settled in. These are the times that I can only go to sleep because we set an anchor alarm that sounds loudly if we drift more than a specific distance. We both slept fitfully and awoke quite early and got underway as soon as it was light enough to do so.
We were rewarded with great winds for sailing out of Charlotte Harbor and once out in the Gulf, headed toward our next port, Venice.
Another repeat port of call, Venice sits conveniently close to both the Gulf of Mexico and the GIWW (Gulf Intracoastal Water Way, equivalent to the ICW) making it a great stopover. Fuel and water are readily available at the Crow's Nest Marina, and the adjacent restaurant offers a tasty menu. Because Captain has a medication that has to be delivered to us once a month via Fed Ex overnight delivery, we need to be in one spot long enough for this to happen. The availability of loaner bicycles as well as clean showers and laundry facilities made this a good place for that.
Speaking of bicycles, it is truly amazing now much groceries two people can carry using bicycle baskets and back packs! Let's just say that the "couple of miles" to Publix provided our exercise for that afternoon. Captain even made a run to the liquor store on a bike the next day while I caught up on laundry.
While in Venice, we enjoyed several long walks, both on the beach and in town. At the outset, I had silently vowed not to collect sea shells on this trip because I have so many at home. But we found varieties that I didn't have, so I yielded to temptation and collected a few. Our walks in town proved equally interesting as we read about local history, architecture, geography, culture, and botany. One quite interesting bit of history that we encountered concerned the Kentucky Military Institute which for years used Venice as it's winter campus. The institute went the way of many military prep schools during the Viet Nam War era and no longer exists. But we found information and memorabilia from the school in a building now used for retail and civic purposes. We are both such history buffs that we entertained ourselves for the better part of a morning reading about the school and viewing the displays. Then we topped of the morning with a delicious crab omelet at a sidewalk cafe. That's why we call this the good life!
Having received the package from Fed Ex, we left Venice, not sure exactly how many miles we could cover in the remaining daylight. Winds were favorable though seas were heavy, 4 - 6 foot seas with brief intervals. Once again, my pal Stugeron came to my rescue and I was able to enjoy the sail. A quick check of the charts yielded Longboat Pass as our best return to the GIWW, and access to Bradenton. Water in the pass was more than a bit choppy, and waiting for a drawbridge to lift got a little dicey, but soon we cleared and located the channel markers to guide us in the right direction. Two more draw bridges and we rested assured that we could reach our destination before dark.
We have previously stopped in the Bradenton area on two occasions, once anchoring out and once staying in a marina with friends. This time we again opted to anchor and selected a satisfactory spot in the Manatee River off deSota Point, the allure there being a state park nearby.
Saturday morning we lowered the dinghy and headed over to what we thought was a public dock near the state park. After securing the dinghy and making a less than graceful assent onto the dock ( we looked a bit like walruses rolling up on the dock after boosting ourselves from the dingy sides) we discovered the word PRIVATE painted in large letters on the dock. The adjacent house and property looked long vacant, so we again applied our forgiveness vs. permission philosophy and ducked through the woods to state park property.
The morning at the park was interesting as we learned more about early Spanish exploration in Florida and other areas. Say what you will about the motives behind the exploration and exploitation of theses newly discovered lands by Europeans, those men faced conditions and struggles few modern individuals could endure.
We were relieved to find our dinghy still secure at the dock and found it only slightly more difficult to descend from the dock than it had been to ascend. Back aboard 'BT we took another look at the cruising guides to decide whether or not to venture upriver to Bradenton proper. Weekend boat traffic was predictable heavy, and we eventually decided to have dinner on board and get a good night's rest I order to head out early the next morning.
March 13 - 16
Before turning west at Ft. Pierce, we talked about which of the west coast places we had visited before that we would like to revisit. High on Captain's list was Tarpon Springs. I think the primary lure there was the Greek meal he remembered from 2013. Recalling a very long, i. e. five mile, dinghy ride from our earlier anchorage to the town of Tarpon Springs, I called ahead to secure a slip at the city dock. During the day when we realized we couldn't make the entire distance in one day's run, we searched the charts for a good anchorage. A highly recommend one lay in the curve of a small island, honestly not much more than a sand bar with a few trees. What looked acceptable on paper failed to meet that criterion as we approached it, so we reevaluated our options. Heading south in 2013 we had anchored in a basin near a large power plant. JR remember it as noisy and bothered by strong current, so after briefly heading in that direction, we turned our attention to an anchorage just off nearby Anclote Key where we had anchored on our return north later in the same year. We had spent a restful night there before departing for our overnight Gulf crossing to Apalachicola. Choppy seas and gusting winds meant it would to be a calm night on anchor, but this location provided much more protection than the smaller key and no noise.
After coffee the next morning, we motored into the channel leading up the Anclote River to Tarpon Springs. First sight of the marina proved disappointing as the slips had free-standing poles for rather then finger piers for tying up. The biggest problem for us with this type of set up is that our large solar panels on the back of our boat can easily crash into those unforgiving pilings. I felt bad about not thinking to ask about the set up, but there really weren't many other options. The marina manager came out and helped us get on then we took time to secure the mooring lines. After that ordeal, we were ready for lunch! We remembered a good Greek restaurant nearby and were. to disappointed. Johnny is a calamari aficionado, and he was not disappointed. I enjoyed a deliciously fresh salad with amazing dressing. After that welcome break and refreshment, we were ready to spend time walking around. We needed a few grocery items, so that provide a direction for our rambling.
Later we took advantage of the ample fresh water at the dock and did some much needed cleaning of 'Bout Time. The showers at the marina provided that welcome clean feeling that only boaters and campers can truly appreciate. Afterwards we sat in the cockpit enjoying music from a nearby outdoor bar. Easy living at its finest.
Dense fog thwarted our plan to leave early Tuesday morning, so we relaxed with coffee in the cockpit and enjoyed the birds in the harbor. As soon a possible, we eased out of the slip without incident and headed back toward the gulf. When we stopped to,top off our fuel tank, folks were still talking about the fog. We thought they meant the earlier fog, but we soon learned that more fog had settled in just at the mouth of the river. It was without a doubt the thickest fog we've ever been caught in, and maneuvering in those conditions gave me new respect for our electronics. The fog persisted off and on throughout the day, slowing our progress substantially. When evening came, we had no option except to move toward shallower water and set the hook. This ended up being about six miles off shore, but with appropriate lighting on the boat, we felt reasonably safe. As it turned out, the only boats we heard were crabber running their traps early the next morning.
March 16 - 18
Better conditions prevailed the next day and we had a great sail to Cedar Key. I need to say here that both of us had pretty much fallen in love with Cedar Key on our first visit, and we had talked ever since about a return visit. Funny how those things go. Our first afternoon in town left us disappointed, as many of the businesses we remembered no longer existed. In their place we found empty storefronts.
Our favorite place to have clam chowder was still in business, and we enjoyed a late lunch before heading back to 'BT. We had hoped to celebrate St. Patrick's day at a truly one of a kind tiki bar that we discovered on our first visit. I called to talk to the owners whom we remembered fondly, only to reach an answering machine. I left a message, but no one returned my call. Another disappointment.
Back aboard 'BT we talked about our disappointment and weren't sure whether we even wanted to spend another day.
Thursday morning we decided that we would go ashore and I'd do laundry while John made the obligatory stop at the local hardware. After I started the washers, I walked a couple of doors down to the welcome center. I spent quite a while there talking to the lady at the desk, and she had reasonable explanations for some of the changes we had noticed. Feeling somewhat encouraged, I walked to the hardware to meet JR, and from there we went for a short walk waiting for the clothes to wash. We met two delightful ladies as we walked through a residential area. The first lady told us that the tiki bar has new owners, but that there would indeed be entertainment there for St. Patrick's day. That encouraged us a bit, and we continued our walk. The second lady was visiting from Texas at the home of her parents. What made us stop nearby was an osprey nest built on top of the chimney of their house! She told us about the mating pair that had set up housekeeping there and we told her about the ones back home on Egner's Ferry Bridge. Seldom do we not meet nice, friendly folks on these outings, no matter where we are. One of the many things that make our cruising life interesting.
After finishing the laundry, we took clean clothes back to 'BT, and while there I got a call from the new owner of the tiki bar. She assured us that there would be lots happening that night but couldn't be of help with transportation. Since it was farther out of town than we cared to walk at night, we began considering other options. We went back ashore, and after a stop at Kona Joe's for delicious iced coffee, we checked out the Island Hotel, in business since 1859. We love the atmosphere of places such as this one, and the menu offered several tempting dishes in addition to traditional corned beef and cabbage.
Back to 'BT for showers and cocktails. Fortunately, we were anchored near the dock, and all of the back and forth trips were easy in the dinghy. As we relaxed and donned our green shirts for the evening ashore, rain began to pour. It seemed that our St. Patrick's Day celebration would be a rather private one. Then, just as we began to think about preparing dinner, the rain stopped, so we took advantage of the break and dinghied ashore once more. Our meal at the hotel was delicious and made us glad that we had stayed at Cedar Key.
As we had walked around town quite a bit in two days, our conversations with locals and seasonal residents dispelled some of our earlier disappointment with the apparent economic changes in CK. We came to realize that not all of the changes were negative, and some of the positive ones were not readily apparent to a visitor. We left glad that we had taken time to explore this quiet little town again, and we look forward to returning.
March 18 This day gets its own separate entry!
On our trip south in November 2012, we had made a Gulf crossing from Apalachicola to Cedar Key. Many boaters had told us that a boat with our draft, 4.5 ft., would have trouble navigating the Big Bend area of the northwest Florida coast. After doing a little more homework, we discovered that with care, we could indeed go farther north, so we decided to head for the small town of Steinhatchee. We had heard from several fellow sailors that the channel up from the mouth of the river offered consistent depths sufficient for 'BT.
The day was clear, and we managed a little sailing and a good bit of motoring. As went well until suddenly Captain exclaimed, "S**t, we're fixing to run aground!" Mind you, this was more than three miles offshore. As we bumped, he checked the chart plotter and quickly realized his error. At first we assumed we could turn around and head back the way we came, but as unlikely as it my seem, that proved impossible. No matter which way we tried to move, we encountered less than 4 ft. of water. Knowing that we were on on outgoing tide only increased our anxiety.
After not too long, we got a radio call from a nearby fishing boat that offered to try and tow us to deeper water. Welcomed his offer, but on spite of his best efforts, it seemed he only caused our keel to dig deeper into the sand. We thanked him for his effort as we set free the line from his boat to ours.
We had no cell service, so calling TowBoatUS on the phone to inquire about the nearest service was out. I decided to try the VHF radio and immediately reached the nice lady at Steinhatchee. We soon were talking to her captain and agreeing that he would come put and try to free us. All this time, the tide continued to ebb, and now not only could we feel the keel aground, but also the irregular bumping of the rudder. This was not good. We both began to cringe with every bump as we imagined damage occurring.
It took longer than we anticipated for the tow boat to reach us, and we were greatly relieved to see him approaching from the horizon. He first tried the most obvious tactic of simply pulling our boat with his. Didn't budge. He tried maneuvering back and forth to create prop wash to add the wave action in hopes of lifting us out of the sand. Very little movement. No of this happened quickly, and time was not on our side. Evening was coming; high tide would not occur until after 11:00 P. M., and that it was only a 1.5 ft. change. As he continued to pull, we moved just enough to barely float, then suddenly we were hard aground again. There was so little water beneath us that is was seemingly impossible to get us off the hard sand bottom. He worked back and forth much that his tow line frayed and we had to disconnect. The next option involved using a halyard from our mast secured to his boat so that he could try to heel us over, freeing our keel, and then we could motor out to slightly deeper water. Deeper water lay less than 50 yards from where we sat, so we knew if we could just get that far we'd be okay. He began to move off our port, and we slowly heeled. Johnny used all of our engine power to try and more forward. Heeling as far as was safe, our keel remained firmly stuck.
The tow boat captain then suggested that he tie up close along side of us and attempt to prop wash from that closer vantage point. The water was increasingly choppy, and as he attempted to get in position, the stern of his boat swung violently into our boat, shattering one of our port lights. I realized what had happened, but Captain John was so busy up on our deck that he didn't even know it. The futility of that option became obvious. The three of us decided to make one last attempt at having the tow boat tie off close to our bow and create prop wash while pulling as we used our engine to try and move forward. It didn't happen quickly, but finally we began to move and ever so,slowly our depth readings increased from less than 3 ft. to greater than 7 ft. At that point we felt safe having the return to port and arranged to meet him the next day to complete the paperwork.
Now we faced that challenge of entering an unknown channel after dark, with the addition of crab traps dotting the waters through which we had to navigate. We knew it would take a least two hours to reach Steinhatchee, so we talked eachnother down from the high level,of anxiety we had experienced for the past few hours and turned our attention to what lay ahead. The danger we had faced hadbeen far greater for 'Bout Time than for us. Given enough water, she's proven herself quite seaworthy even in tough conditions, but the pounding she took was far above the call of duty. We listened carefully for any signs of damage and checked the bilge for any leaks. No evident damage. Indescreiable relief.
I took my position on the bow armed with a spotlight with which to search for crab traps. Luckily we encountered only a few traps to dodge, and getting into the channel at Steinhatchee River was made fairly easy with the aid of a lighted marker. My spotlight then became our guide from one reflective marker to the next. The river has quite a few sharp twists and turns, but we took our time, and soon the red roof of Sea Hag Marina welcomed us. It was after 9:00 P. M., but they had told us where to dock, so we tired up and let out the breaths that it felt as if we had been holding for hours. I suppose this now ranks at the top of our list of "eventful" days on the water.
March 19 - 22
We had planned to stay at Steinhatchee for two days, but the issue of the shattered port light complicated those plans. The tow boat captain agreed to be responsible for the cost of repairs, but in such a small town, gettin the needed material didn't seem likely. Our thoughts turned to contacting Beneteau. That meant waiting until Monday, so we settled in for several days in this little river town. I must say that if we had to be stranded, this wasn't a bad place to be. The folks at Sea Hag Marina couldn't be more helpful, and we clocked about five miles a day just walking about the town and adjacent areas.
Monday there was bad news and good news. The bad news was that Beneteau in SC did not have a replacement in stock and would have to have it shipped from France. The good news was that late Monday Johnny met a fellow here at the marina who was refurbishing a power boat, and he had a piece of Lexan that would make a suitable substitute. The initial installation took place Tuesday, and as I type this, we are waiting for the final touches to complete the repair.
In one of those little twists that so often occur in this boat life, the weather outside here Saturday, Sunday and Momdaynwould have made it unlikely that we could have left before today no matter what, so the wait for,the repair hasn't caused any significant delay in our plans to be in Apalachicola by Easter. Funny how those things work out.