Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Frazers Hog Cay to Nassau

The weather forecast for this morning was still the same. Stiff winds until around 0700 then they should subside, and start clocking around to the east. There was a trough moving through and the wind was supposed to be fairly calm in the center of the trough. The idea was we would move south along with the trough to try to stay in the calm area.

Lone Palm was ready to head out right behind us. A couple of other sailboats were going to make the run to Nassau, as well. While we had originally planned on bypassing Nassau, and clearing in at Morgan's Bluff in Andros, this would require backtracking. Not willing to do that we decided to just push on to Nassau and clear customs at the government dock there.

As we moved out into open water the seas continued to build. Initially they were coming from behind us and the ride was pretty good. As we progressed further south, however, they started coming from the east, and hitting us broadside. That, in addition to many squalls kicking up the winds, made for a most miserable ride. To add to the discomfort it was pouring rain necessitating closing all windows and doors. This resulted in it becoming quite warm and stuffy inside.

Poor Duke was miserable. He could not find a comfortable place on the boat anywhere. As much as he hates to be wet he went out on the bow in the pouring rain to lay on the cushion up there. We were pitching around pretty good and I was afraid he would fall overboard so I made him come inside. It made my heart ache to see how miserable he was. Heck, Paula and I were pretty miserable, too!

It took us slightly over 7 hours to get to Nassau.  It was a welcome sight to see the towers of Atlantis in the distance, once the rain stopped. An hour later we were entering the harbor and calm waters. It felt wonderful.

We called the marina we had decided on staying at to see if they had space for us. They did. It is a bit of a run down place, and difficult to find, but the cheapest thing in Nassau, by far. But, they said we could not clear customs there (I don't know why, since customs goes to the marina next door).  We called customs directly to confirm this. They asked where we were located and we said just passing the cruise ship docks. They directed us to come to the customs dock there and they would clear us in.

The customs dock is a large concrete dock primarily for commercial vessels. We had to get out our big ball fenders to protect from the rough concrete. There is no one to help you tie up, you are on your own. Thankfully, our boat is tall enough that I did not need a ladder to get off here.

I entered the customs building and was directed to an office down the hall. There I met a very nice customs officer who would be clearing me in. He started to give me the forms to fill out, but I indicated I had already printed them off from the web site and had them filled out. He was pleased that we could get right to business.

Everything was going smoothly until we got to the list of weapons aboard. We had four pistols, but they only allow three weapons. I was unaware of this law. The officer tried to let me slide by, but his supervisor was in the room and said "the law is the law!". So, that was that. They said they would detain one weapon and gave me the option of choosing which one. Since we would have to return here to pick it up on our way out of the country (which we may choose not to do) I picked Paula's revolver, as it was the least expensive of the bunch. So they took it, and all the rounds for it, and gave me a receipt. Then it was on to immigrations which went smoothly.

An hour later I was cleared in, had my cruising and fishing permits, and we were on our way. We called TPA Marina for instructions on how to get to their marina and it sounded easy enough. However, upon rounding the mailboat docks I could not see TPA. Calling them on the radio elicited no response. As we idled around the harbor we were hailed by another marina. They told us we were getting close to shallow water and needed to turn around. We did so. Then called TPA on the cell phone to get directions. They came out to the dock to direct us in. The first slip they tried to put us into was far too small, and in an area we would never be able to maneuver into the slip. They finally decided to put us into the slip along with the owners 70' Burger motor yacht. They pulled it back a few feet and we tied up in front of it. The bow is sticking out past the dock by 20' but that's okay. We get off from the boarding gates about 15' forward from the stern.

They only had 30 amp power available, which is fine with us. We have been living off the grid for the last 2-1/2 months so 30 amp power was a luxury. That's enough to run two air conditioners, or the water heater, or to bake and use the cooktop. We are in hog heaven here. Plus, it is only $1/ft per night, which is much better than the $3-$4/ft per night from most of the marinas in Nassau.

It feels good to be tied up at a dock again. The weather is supposed to be crappy until Saturday, so we we will be here for a while.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Frazers Hog Cay

When we got up the next morning the wind was blowing pretty good, but the anchorage was calm. There was quite a current flowing, though. I needed to dive under the boat to check the port prop, but decided it would be best to wait until slack tide.

We could see the docks for the Berry Islands Club, and a couple of mooring balls there. Apparently, the club is now closed. So no fuel, no power, and the restaurant is shut down, too. The wind was still kicking pretty good and was forecast to do so at least until later tomorrow. So it looked like we would be here until then, at least.

After breakfast (thanks, Paula!) the current had lessened considerably. This look like as good a time as any to get under the boat to check things out. I got my mask, snorkel, and fins on and hopped in the gin clear water. Yikes! It was a bit cool at 75 degrees.  As soon as I ducked under the boat I could see the problem. We had passed over several large mats of Sargasso grass and one had wrapped around the port shaft and prop. A few minutes later I had all of it pulled off and hope that would solve the problem.

 For the rest of the morning we had a leisurely day at anchor. It was nice to just relax and not worry about getting to our next destination.

In the early afternoon we noticed that a small sailboat had tied up to the Berry Islands Club dock and strolled up the dock. Not long after, a yellow hulled sport fishing boat, Hip-Nautic, tied up just in front of the sailboat. A short while later a  woman came on the VHF calling for the police. She said someone had just broken into "Island House" which was apparently the main building for the closed Berry Islands Club. The owner of the club responded that he was heading over there and would meet the police there. Once he arrived the suspects apparently entered the building again, at which time he threatened them with "Mr Mossberg" (shotgun) and they departed, post haste. We saw them running down the dock and hopping into the boat. They pulled away and headed out to sea.

In the meantime the small sailboat left the dock and anchored near us. He called across to me and asked if I was aware of what was going on. I said yes, but it would be easier to chat on the radio. He called back that he did not want to do that as everyone would hear. He proceeded to tell me the story of them trying to walk up to town and encountering the suspects. They told him they needed to purchase some diesel as their fuel tank was almost empty. The sail boaters decided these guys (native Bahamians) were decidedly flaky and cast off from the dock to get away from them.

There was lots of radio chatter all afternoon as the local land owners tried to track down the bad guys. The police did not arrive for almost two hours. Someone ashore called to any anchored boats to let them know which direction the yellow boat was going. I responded that I had eyes on them and would track them as long as they were in sight. They eventually disappeared behind another island and everything settled down.

Jeff and Belinda from Lone Palm stopped by late in the afternoon. They came aboard and we talked about weather forecasts and plans to depart tomorrow.  They had no cell phone service so we used my phone to get weather forecasts. It looked the wind would start to subside around 7am tomorrow. So the plans were to get underway in the morning. They headed back to their boat to get the dinghy loaded before it got too dark.

Sorry, no pictures today.


Sunday, January 10, 2016

North Cat Cay to Frazers Hog Cay, Bahamas

The wind picked up during the night, and was blowing 30+ knots. It woke me up around 0200 and I came up to check on the anchor. Especially since this is a new anchor to us I wanted to be sure that it was holding well.

As I came up I could see lightning flashes off in the distance. I checked the weather radar on my phone and could see a line of thunderstorms approaching from the north. But they were quite a ways off. The anchor was holding fine, but I let out more chain to be safe, and I went back to bed.

Around 0500 loud thunder woke me up. I came up to the pilothouse and it was raining pretty heavily, with lots of lightning around. No sooner had I gotten up the stairs we were slammed with 50 mph winds and pounding rain. I was thankful I had let out more chain on the anchor rode when I was up earlier. Nevertheless, I decided to start the engines, just in case.

Just as I was ready to put the engines in gear to ease the strain on the anchor the wind died as suddenly as it had come up. It was starting to get light so we prepared to get underway. We had an 80 mile trek to make today, across the Grand Bahama Bank. This is a large expanse of relatively shallow water, 12-15', with a mostly sandy bottom. Pretty much featureless, no land in sight, and no place to go if the weather gets nasty.

We got the anchor up by 0730 and headed east. Looking ahead it appeared we might not have the best day for getting across the banks.

Thunderstorms ahead
The day actually started off pretty well, even though the conditions looked bad. Throughout the day we passed through several thunderstorms but they generally did not last long. Seas did not get too uncomfortable.

Around 1500 something happened and the engines sounded strange. Then I noticed the port engine was not running smoothly. I pulled the throttle back and shut the engine down. We continued ahead on one engine while I went to the engine room to see if I could find the problem. I checked oil, coolant, and transmission fluid levels and all were okay. I could find nothing amiss on the engine. Back up to the pilothouse and started it back up. It sounded fine. I put it in gear then slowly increased the throttle. At first it seemed fine, but then Paula and I both noticed a vibration that was not there before. Rats!

At this point all I could do is to reduce throttle slightly to ease the vibration. I was hoping that we had just picked up some trash or something around the prop. The weather had deteriorated to the point I did not want to attempt diving under the boat. It would have to wait until we got anchored somewhere.

Our plans had been to make it to Morgan's Bluff on Andros Island, and clear customs there. But it was getting late and it would be after dark by the time we arrived. We were trying to decide on an alternative when we got hailed on the radio. It was Lone Palm, a boat out of Houston. They were in Marathon at the same time we were. They had heard us on the radio earlier in the day and hailed us. We had told each other of our plans. They were going to Chub Cay, while we were heading in a different direction. They were moving faster than we were and had already arrived at their anchorage. They were calling to check on us as it was getting late.

Belinda, on Lone Palm, informed us that they had anchored just north of the Berry Islands Club, off Frazers Hog Cay. This was just a few miles closer than Morgan's Bluff. She said that they were well protected there from the increasing winds and it was calm. Sounded good to us and we decided to head that way.

Rainbow leading us to our anchorage at Frazers Hog Cay


We arrived at Frazers Hog Cay at dusk, and had to make our way up the narrow channel in the dark. We navigated past a couple of sailboats and up to where Lone Palm was anchored. We stopped a few hundred feet short of them and dropped the hook. It was 1830.

We were bushed. A quick drink, light supper, and we hit the sack!

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Rodriguez Key to North Cat Cay, Bahamas

Today is the day. No, really... it is!

We were up well before dawn and checked the weather forecast. It was not a perfect day for crossing, but it was good enough. We quickly got everything secured and I headed to the bow to get the anchor up. This is the view that greeted me...

Beautiful sunrise, and calm seas. Good omens, indeed!
We had the anchor up and were underway by 0630. It was going to be a long day so we needed the early start. We needed to get to Gun Cay cut well before dark. It is important to be able to visually pilot the boat through the shallow waters on the east side of the island.

Conditions heading out to the reef were markedly better than yesterday. We had perhaps a 1-2' chop, barely noticeable in a 60,000 lb boat. Our excitement grew as we neared the reef and we could see good conditions on the other side.

As we entered the open ocean we started picking up some larger swells, but they were well spaced out and caused no problems. An hour or so after passing through the reef our speed over ground started slowly climbing. We had entered the gulf stream and were getting a nice 2.5 knot push. Our normal cruise speed is about 7.3-7.5 knots. Now we were making 9.6-10 knots. Our time enroute had been cut by well over an hour, and we would be arriving at 1500 or so, rather than 1630.

The water color changed to a deep cobalt blue. Flying fish were springing up everywhere. We saw several large turtles, and lots of dolphins. This guy spent a bit of time checking us out!


All in all, we had a pretty uneventful trip. We did get slapped with a large wave from time to time, but the ride was tolerable, if not particularly comfortable. But it was much preferable to yesterday.

We passed quite a few cargo ships plying the gulf stream. I was happy that I had installed an AIS transponder to they could see me more readily. These big guys really clip along. It was comforting to know that I was showing up on their chart plotters and radars.

Land ho!  At 1400 we spotted land, and our push from the gulf stream was lessening. A while later we could see the lighthouse at Gun Cay cut, and headed straight for it. As we neared the island we could see large waves crashing along the rocky shore. Checking the chart plotter I saw that the channel ran very close to that shore.  I would need to be especially vigilant passing through there.

When we were about 5 miles from the island our phones dinged with a text alert. This surprised me as did no expect to have phone service until we purchased a SIM card from BTC, the Bahamas Telephone Co. The text was from T-Mobile welcoming us to the Bahamas, and informing us we had unlimited data and texts while in the Bahamas. Phone calls would be 20 cents/ minute. I was pleased as punch!  I did not have to buy a BTC SIM card and data plan, and my regular unlimited plan would work over here. Woo hoo!

As we entered the channel I disengaged the autopilot. I did not want malfunctions in these tight quarters. I hand steered through the area, with the rocky shore not more than 30-40 yards away. It was nerve racking watching those waves crashing so close to us. In addition, the current was raging through the cut and making to boat slow to react to my steering inputs. Although it only took 10-15 minutes or so to get through, it seemed much longer. But we are still in one piece.

We proceeded to the anchorage near the airport. There were three boats there already, a large catamaran trawler and two small sailboats. We nestled in with them and got the anchor down.

We had done it!  Finally completed our Bahamas crossing, the first step to our winter cruising grounds. It felt good to have accomplished this, and good to be in a nice calm anchorage. We hoisted the yellow quarantine flag, the promptly mixed up a sundowner. We took our drinks to the swim platform and dangled our feet in the beautiful, clear water.


Tomorrow we will begin the second of our three leg journey to the Exumas. Weather forecast looks good to cross the Grand Bahama Banks.

Friday, January 08, 2016

Taverneir Key to Rodriguez Key

Today is the day! We're crossing to the Bahamas!

Well, it was supposed to be the day, anyway. When we got up just before dawn the wind was blowing 20+ knots. I checked the marine weather report and there was a small craft advisory and forecast was for 20-25 knot winds with higher gusts. Not good conditions for crossing the Gulf Stream.

Where we were anchored was smooth as glass. We debated. Should we poke our nose out and see if the conditions were as bad as forecast. A prudent mariner would say no, let's stay put where we are safe and comfortable. But I was not in a prudent mood that morning. Too bad for us.

Calm waters at sunrise. At least, calm where we were anchored!


We agreed to give it a try. Pulled up the anchor and headed out. As we got out from the lee side of the island we started seeing the waves. At first they were not too bad. Then they got a lot worse, very quickly. We stuck it out for a little while, but it was darned uncomfortable. Just about the time we were going to give it up and turn around the seas eased somewhat. Just enough so that we thought we might be able to continue. I hoped that once we got through the reef and into deep water the waves would get more spaced out, and be tolerable. So we pressed on.

About 45 minutes after leaving the island we passed through the reef. That was our biggest mistake of the day. Rather than get better on the other side, it got significantly worse. The reef had been blocking the worst of the waves. Now we were getting tossed from side to side, and stuff in the boat was flying everywhere. The waves were so bad that it took several minutes before I find a good time between them to turn around. Then we had an hour ride back in. Rather than backtrack to Tavernier Key we decided to proceed on to Rodriguez Key. That would put us just a little closer to the Bahamas and we could make another crossing attempt tomorrow.

We had the anchor down by 0915. Then spent the next hour or so straightening up the mess. When done with that we thought we deserved a Bloody Mary. You know, just to calm the nerves. :)

Forecast is looking much better for tomorrow. So, now we know, TOMORROW is the day!

Later in the day I spoke with another boater that had pressed on and made the crossing. He said it was pretty miserable and said we made the right decision to turn back. He wished they had.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Marathon to Tavernier Key

We had planned on departing on Jan 8th but a weather window popped up a day earlier. This morning we had to hustle to get ready. Paula had to make a large grocery run and stop by the dive store to pick up the additional 100' of air hose and regulator we had ordered for her. I need to get the bikes back to the boat, go to the bank, stop by Home Depot for another gas can, then make a run to buy more gas for the dinghy. Fuel is much more expensive in the Bahamas so we're bringing extra.

 Once back to the boat I had to get the water collection tarp down and stowed.Then it was down to the engine room for prep there. Just as I finished Paula called to say she was ready to be picked up. I hopped in the dinghy and headed back to the marina. She had a huge dock cart of groceries, but no air hose. The dive store had been closed when she went by. I asked her to give them a call while I went up to the marina office to check for a package I was waiting on.

The package had not arrived yet, and we could not leave until it did. I walked back to the dinghy dock grumbling about the delay. Paula had contacted the dive store and they were going to dive over with our order. They arrived about 15 minutes later. Then I took Paula and groceries back to the boat so she could get the cold stuff in the fridge. Then back to the marina to await the package. As I walked in the office the mail truck was unloading. Perfect timing.

Back to the boat and we quickly got the dinghy hoisted and got underway. It was later than I liked (2pm) and we would not get to Rodriguez Key until 8:30 pm. I did not relish the idea of running through crab pots in the dark.

 The conditions were perfect for a run up Hawk Channel. Light winds and calm seas. The water was even more beautiful out here and we could see the white sandy bottom 20' down. There were crab pots but spaced out enough they were easy to dodge.

 The only problem to mar the day is the Furuno software on the primary navigation laptop was not communicating with the other Furuno electronics; GPS, depth, and heading. It was, at least, getting the radar input. I needed that for when we would be running after dark later. I'll have to give Furuno tech support a call tomorrow. The Furuno chart plotter is only backup, my primary chart plotter (Coastal Explorer) is working fine and is what drives the autopilot. So we can navigate just fine.


Sunset underway to Key Largo

It was a bit nerve racking running after dark with crab pots everywhere. I have a big spotlight mounted high overhead on the hardtop and kept it pointed far out ahead. I stood on the bow to allow me to see the pot floats sooner. After two hours I had had enough and decided to stop at Tavernier Key rather than push on to Rodriguez.

It was pitch black as we rounded the tip of the island. Radar showed one other large boat anchored back here. We continued past the boat and had the anchor down in 8' by 8pm. Time for a well deserved adult libation and then off to bed!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon FL

This is going to ba a short post, for now. We have been enjoying our visit here so much that I've neglected the blog. I'll spend more time soon covering the details.

We arrived expecting to spend a week here. At the end of that first week we decided to stay for another month. Great place to spend the holidays. It also allowed us to have a place to ship all the things we ordered from Amazon. There was quite a list of stuff we realized we needed after the last month aboard.

More to follow, stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Cape Sable to Marathon

We were up just before dawn. During the night a sailboat had arrived and anchored about ¼ mile away.  The swells had died off during the night, too. It looked like it was going to a great day to go the final 32 miles to Marathon.

As soon as it was light we got the anchor up and headed south.  I expected this to be an easy run across open water. And the water was beautiful, clear blue, with a white sandy bottom. For as far as the eye could see. Then, we saw them… crab trap floats. THOUSANDS of them! For as far as the eye could see! They were placed so close together we were having a hard time getting around one without running into the next.

I figured once we got a few miles offshore they would start petering out. No such luck. They were like that for the next  30+ miles!  There were times all we could do is take the engines out of gear and coast through them, fingers crossed they did not snag on props or rudders. It was nerve racking, to say the least.

As we neared the Seven Mile Bridge in Marathon the crab traps finally stopped. Only to be replaced by a very big, very fast, boat heading directly for us. Of course, he was throwing a huge wake. Did he slow down? Not a chance. Paula was scurrying around trying to get stuff off the counters before the wake hit. What a welcome to Marathon.

We passed under the bridge, then turned east for the channel into Boot Key Harbor. We were hoping to get a mooring ball from the city marina there. This is peak season, and the moorings are very popular. They are very reasonably priced, and this is the cheapest place you can stay in the Keys. Boats from all over the east coast come to spend the winter here. The moorings are first come, first served so I did not have high hopes we would score one.

We called the marina on the VHF as we approached the mooring field. There were hundreds of boats here!  They only have a dozen or so mooring balls for boats our size, but I had my fingers crossed. YES!! They had one mooring left that would handle our boat. How lucky can we get!?  It was at the far west end of the mooring field, so we would have a long ride into the dinghy dock. But at least we had a spot to stay in the harbor.

Boot Key City Marina is a great place to spend the winter.  The harbor is surrounded on all sides by land so is well protected. The moorings are well designed and inspected every 120 days, so you know you are secure in a blow. The whole area is geared for cruisers, and everything you could want is within a short distance.

On our first visit to the marina office to fill out paperwork and pay for our mooring, we were handed the cruisers welcome kit. This consisted of a very large insulated bag (for toting ice or refrigerated grocery items) filled with maps, brochures, yacht services guides, dining coupons, etc.  They have two huge dinghy docks, with separate areas for hard and soft dinghys. They can accommodate dozens of dinks at once. There is a large community area with free wifi, several TV viewing areas, a large book exchange, and tables along a wall with AC outlets for using laptops, tablets, etc.

In a separate building they showers and laundry. The showers are individual rooms accessed with a key card (like at hotel) they issue when you check in. There are about 20 of these rooms so you almost never have to wait. Laundry is a bit expensive, though, at $3/load each for washer and dryer.


All in all, a very nice place. We are excited to be here.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Indian Key to Cape Sable

We spent two nights in the Everglades.  Beautiful area, but very primitive. No cell phone service, no internet, no over the air TV. Even the satellite TV was acting up so we had no contact with the outside world.

After our second night we debated on whether to stay another day. But the weather was looking good to continue south, so we decided to take advantage of it. This was going to be another offshore run so we wanted calm seas. We could make Marathon today, but that would be a long 80 mile run. Cape Sable looked like a better option.

Cape Sable would be about a six hour run, and we would arrive mid-afternoon. That is just the kind of day we like. Anchor down early enough to get everything secured for the night, and have time to have a  sundowner and watch the sunset.

The run down the coast was uneventful. The seas weren’t calm, but only 1-2’. Easy, comfortable ride. As we approached Cape Sable there were no other boats here. The anchorage is in open water, you just drop the hook about a 100 yards or so off the beach. We did experience some swells coming in from the gulf, but the east wind kept that to a minimum. It was just enough to gently rock us to sleep.

The bugs were a serious problem here, though. Mosquitoes and biting flies swarmed in the boat. We  ended up having to close the boat up and spent the next couple of hours killing bugs.  It was even worse on the beach. The beach here is supposed to be one of the best for shelling. Duke and I went to have a look. Sure enough, the beach was thick with beautiful shells. I collected a few for Paula, but the bugs drove me off the beach within a few minutes. Duke quickly took care of business and ran back to the boat. He was ready to get out of there, too!


Back at the boat we fixed dinner, read for a while, then went to bed around 2000 hours. I was looking forward to our final crossing to the Keys tomorrow. As I drifted off to sleep I could hear the buzzing of thousands of mosquitoes. I had just one thought… thank heavens for good screens!!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Ft Myers to Indian Key

I was up at 0530 to start getting the boat ready for our departure. Since we were going to have to run offshore I wanted to get going before the wind picked up. About 0630 I heard the generator on Stylist start up, so I knew Bob & Gail would be departing early, too. I called down to Paula to let her know what time it was, as we needed to get underway.

Stylist was the first to depart, and we waved goodbye to our new friends. We had become quite close over the last 2-1/2 weeks, and were going to miss them. We got underway a few minutes later and departed the mooring field at 0700. As we entered the Gulf and turned south Bob called on the radio with a final farewell.

Paula loves bagels, and I found blueberry bagels at Publix yesterday. So bagels with cream cheese for breakfast. I can see there is no way I will be losing any weight living aboard. Heck, I have put on 5 lbs. since we left on Nov. 3rd!

The seas were not bad at all so we continued further offshore to maintain a straight line course for Cape Romano Shoals. At that point we would turn east towards the Everglades and find an anchorage for the night. That would be a 62 nautical mile run, so would take us about 8-9 hours.

As we got further offshore the wind started picking up, and the waves got bigger. I decided it would be worth it to run closer to shore to stay in calmer waters. It would add a bit of time to our transit, but would be much more comfortable. We noticed other boats traveling south were doing the same.

While passing Marco Island we saw this parasail operation. We've seen similar parasails in the Pensacola area.



As we approached Cape Romano shoals I decided it would be best to pilot the boat from the up on the bridge. It is much easier to see changes in the water depth from up there. Shoals like these are notorious for changing constantly. The path I chose on the chart showed at least 12' all the way through. The reality was that if I had followed that path we would have run aground. I was able to zig zag through the sand bars only saw less than 12' one time.

After passing the shoal area we had a straight shot at our planned anchorage inside Indian Key Pass. This would put us in the Everglades National Park. We arrived at Indian Key Pass at 1500, and moved inland to Russell Pass where we dropped the anchor at 1530. Very secluded, in the middle of the mangroves, no other boats in sight. When passing Indian Key we saw hundreds of white pelicans sitting on the sand bar.





I lowered the dinghy so I could take Duke to shore. He has been holding it since around 1300 yesterday. But it was impossible to get through the thick growth of mangroves to get to shore. I am not even sure there was a shore. It just looked like a mass of mangrove roots. I thought I may have to go all the way back to the Gulf to locate a beach for him. But on the way there I finally saw a large shell bank. Perfect. I eased up to it, Duke hopped off, and took care of business. Five minutes later he was back aboard and headed to the big boat.

I bought a box of fried chicken at Publix yesterday, as well as a tub of potato salad. So that is what is for dinner tonight. Nice not to have to cook!

We had a beautiful sunset tonight. I am looking forward to star gazing tonight as we should have really dark skies.



Friday, November 27, 2015

Cape Haze to Ft Myers Beach

I was up at 0430 so I could get the boat ready to leave as soon as we had any light. Paula was up at 0600. As first light crept in at 0645 we pulled in the anchor and got underway. Stylist left about 15 minutes later.

The wind was light, as we hoped. But it was forecast to climb to 20-25 knots today. We just hoped that did not happen until we got across Charlotte Harbor.

Within minutes of leaving the anchorage we had a swing bridge to go through. There was only 9' clearance so he had to open. But they were building a newer, somewhat higher swing bridge parallel to the old on. That one had a bit over 25' of clearance. The bridge tender asked the minimum clearance I required. I answered that I could lower the big VHF antennas and get it down to 24' 10". He replied they would not open the new bridge as I could fit under it. We had a few very tense moments as I eased up to it to see if the mast would clear it. We did, with only a few inches to spare. This was nerve racking and I was glad I would not have to repeat it today. The only other bridge we had to go under today was a fixed bridge with 26' clearance, so I knew I could get under that one.

We proceeded down the ICW and arrived at Charlotte Harbor in short order. The wind was up to 10-15 knots out of the NE, and the harbor has 12 miles of fetch in that direction. It was a bit choppy, but not too bad... yet.

Paula decided to make breakfast before it got too bad. Sausage biscuits. She got the oven going for the biscuits and started frying the sausage. As we pushed further in the open waters of the harbor, we moved out of the protection of the northern shore and got exposed to the full 12 mile fetch. Things started getting exciting. We were taking 3-4' seas right on the beam; the worst possible direction. The boat was rolling side to side pretty good now. Paula complained that the pan with biscuits was sliding side to side in the oven. Bless her heart, she toughed it out and shortly we had delicious homemade biscuits with spicy pork sausage patties. Greasy goodness!!

We reached the midway point and thought we were seeing the worst of it. It was uncomfortable but we only had to tolerate it for another 30 minutes or so. As we neared the other side of the harbor the water started to get shallower. That caused the waves to get much steeper, and to start breaking. Now we were REALLY rolling. Bob on Stylist called to say that they had just rolled almost 30 degrees. We were both ready to get out of this. We finally entered the channel behind a shoal and the seas instantly dropped to nothing.

We arrived in Ft. Myers Beach around 1230 and proceeded to Snook Bight Marina to take on fuel and water. We had to pass through the mooring field where we planned to spend the night, then down a long narrow channel. No wake, of course. It took us a while to get down to the marina. Once there it was a madhouse. They do pontoon boat rentals, and this being a holiday for most folks there were pontoon boats all over the place. None with an experienced operator. It took me several attempts to pull into the fuel dock as pontoon boats kept zipping past between the dock and me. The strong wind was pushing me towards the dock and it was difficult to keep from running into these nut cases buzzing around me.

Once we finally made it to the dock we took on 433 gallons of fuel and 70 gallons of water. Paula took the trash out and took Duke for a walk while I fueled. Once we were done I had the task of getting the boat off the dock. No easy feat getting a 60,000 lb. boat pinned to the dock by a 30 knot wind, with pontoon boats moored two feet in front of and behind me. I had the dock hand move my bow line to a cleat about midway back to the stern, then cast off the stern line. I put the rudders hard to port and powered ahead. The bow pulpit was over the pontoon boat as the stern swung out in the channel. Once out far enough I put it in reverse and the dock hand cast off the bow line. I reversed hard and pulled away from the dock. Whew, glad that's over!

We went back to the mooring field and were told the just pick a ball then call and let them know which we tied to. #54 was on the edge of the field and easy to get to so we grabbed that one. Once tied up the current and wind were going in opposite directions, which caused the boat to sit sideways and sometimes swing over the top of the mooring ball. It did not settle down until the current reversed later that afternoon.

Bob & Gail arrived a short while later and took the mooring ball next to us. Bob lowered his dink and kindly offered to take us where ever we needed to go so we did not have to lower ours. So Bob & I took off to go the office of the Matanzas Inn, which managed the mooring field. We paid the $16 fee for one night and asked for directions to a grocery store.  Bob and  I both had a list of a few things the ladies needed.

Penny, the manager, informed us there were two grocery stores accessible by boat. The first was Top's nearby, the other was Publix back down at Snook Bight Marina. I wish I had known the Publix was there; Paula could have made a grocery run while I fueled the boat. Top's is only accessible down a canal through the mangroves. We tried to find it but couldn't. So we made the long, slow run back to the marina. It was a wet ride, too.

When we got to the marina we asked where the Publix was located. In our parking lot was the answer. Sure enough, as soon as stepped out the front door there it was. This was the shortest walk to a grocery store yet!  We got everything on our list, plus a few extra goodies. Back in the dink for the long, wet ride back to the boat. All told we had been gone 2-1/2 hours, most of that putt-putting through the no wake zones.

We would be going our separate ways tomorrow, so Bob & Gail invited us over for our "last supper". Gail cooked a wonderful meal, and we sat on the back deck laughing and chatting until we all decided we had had enough to drink. It was time for Bob to ferry us home while he still could.

Tomorrow we have to start running offshore the rest of the way to the Keys, about 125 miles. The ICW turns inland at Ft. Myers, and there is no protected channels from here on. We'll just have to pick our weather windows.



Thursday, November 26, 2015

Sarasota to Cape Haze

We left Sarasota at daybreak this morning. We hoped to make it all the way to Ft. Myers Beach, which would be a 10-11 hour run.

This was another day of many drawbridges and no wake zones. Since it was a holiday (Thanksgiving) we thought there would be few boats on the water. Wrong again. This was just the start of a four-day extended weekend and the crazies were out in force.

At one point we were in a very narrow section of the ICW. A small trawler yacht was approaching at his best speed, throwing a pretty good wake. He was in the middle of the channel and not giving way so I had to ease to the side of the channel to avoid him. He kept creeping over more to my side and I couldn't get any further over. I had less than 1' below the keel at this point. He blasted past me only about 6' away. I called him on the radio to complain but his only response was "it's pretty skinny in here". No kidding.

The wind was really starting to pick up, and the Coast Guard came on the radio to announce a small craft warning, with expected winds of up to 30-35 knots from the northeast. We had a large body of water to cross this afternoon, Charlotte Harbor, and would be exposed to some big waves. We decided to find a place to stop for the night just before the open water and leave at daybreak. Hopefully, the wind would not pick up too much before we got across.

There was a small lagoon located about 30 minutes before Charlotte Harbor that looked like a perfect anchorage, so we were headed there. Reviews on ActiveCaptain said there was 9' throughout the lagoon and room for several boats.

About an hour before we would arrive at Cape Haze and the anchorage there, we had a minor disaster. The wind had picked up and we were now getting gusts to 40 mph.  When one of these gust would slam against us the boat would heel over about 20 degrees and get pushed several feet sideways. In open water this is not an issue, but it was happening while we were in a very narrow channel. We had just passed another trawler that was hogging the center of the channel and forced us over to the very edge. As we approached a day marker (nav aid mounted on a big piling) a big gust hit us, heeling us way over. It literally pushed us into the day marker. It slammed into the boat about 10' from the bow and scraped all the way to the stern.

Once we got our hearts out of our throats we assessed the damage. We now have a very large crack in the fiberglass near the bow, and a very large and deep gouge running down the side of the boat. In addition, it ripped off the winch electrical control box on the davit for lowering the dinghy. It was dangling by its wires. Fortunately, the winch still works so we can lower the dinghy. I have the control box held in place with bungee cords for now. We will have to find a boat yard to get the fiberglass repaired. I am no good at it.

Considering how hard the wind was blowing there was no way I was going to attempt to cross Charlotte Harbor. When we arrived at the Cape Haze location around 1100 I promptly turned left off the ICW into the lagoon. It was surrounded by very nice homes, and nice high trees that would help to block some of the wind. There was room for perhaps three boats here. Stylist had arrived just before me and was already anchored. I moved past him and dropped the hook. We spent the afternoon listening to the wind howl overhead.

We had a nice Thanksgiving supper of steak, baked potato, and grilled zucchini. We were in bed by 1930 so we could be up for a early departure to hopefully get across the open water before the wind kicked up.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Tarpon Springs to Sarasota

As soon as we got into the main channel in the Anclote River I headed downstream to get back to the ICW. The wind was blowing 30 knots and it was rough as the dickens when we reached the open sound. But if we could just get down to Dunedin we would be in protected waters. It was about an hour ride, but we made it. As soon as we passed under the Dunedin bridge everything got better.

From then on, it was one bridge after another. I had no idea we would have to go through almost a dozen bridges today. Between the bridges and no wake zones it was taking us twice as long to get to Sarasota than expected. Then there was the bridge tender that told us his bridge was broken and he could not open for me. But the repair guy was there and working on it. Thankfully, they were able to open one side of the span about 15 minutes later, and I squeezed through. Then another bridge that informed us he only opened on the half hour and we had just missed the last opening. So another half hour wait there.

Then there were the many, many manatee no wake zones. We never saw any manatees but had to run at idle speed nonetheless.

I thought that since this was a weekday we would not have the hordes of crazy boaters to contend with. I was only partially correct. There were fewer of them, but still too many. These guys never slow down and blast past us mere feet away, often throwing huge wakes. It can be unnerving, and sometimes downright dangerous.

The ICW channel in many places here is very narrow, with depths on either side of less than 1'. You can be running in 10' and look over to the edge of the channel a few feet away and see the shallow water. It makes it difficult to pass another large boat. If your attention wavers for only a moment you can find yourself aground. In some areas the shoaling extends into the channel and you have to try to go around it... if you have the room.

In the end we finally made it into Sarasota without any drama, arriving just before sunset. We had called ahead to Marina Jacks, a downtown marina, and reserved a mooring ball. This was the least expensive way to stay here. At only $25/night it was much cheaper than staying in a slip at $140/night.  A short dinghy ride to the dinghy dock, less than 5 minutes away, gave us access to all marina services and to downtown Sarasota.

It was getting dark so we decided to wait until tomorrow to launch the dink and go exploring.

We spent three days in Sarasota, arriving Monday and leaving on Thanksgiving Day. We had intended on staying until Friday and paid for four nights. One of the marina restaurants was putting on a buffet with all the traditional Thanksgiving fare. It would be nice to have some of our favorites without the hassle of cooking and cleaning up. But, by Wednesday evening, we were ready to move on. We informed the marina we would be leaving a day early and requested a refund for the last night. No go. We were told they do not do that. Oh well, live and learn. From now on we will just pay day by day.

We had a very nice stay here, though. The marina staff were very friendly, courteous, and helpful. The facility was second to none. Paula did laundry, I refilled our water jugs with the best water we've found since Ft Walton. Almost as good as what we get back home. I have a TDS tester we use every time we fill with water. If it reads too high, we just wait until our next stop. Hammond is our benchmark with a reading of 003 TDS. That is about as good as it gets. Anything less than 050 is bottled water quality. Normal tap water can get up to 250, but we have seen it as high as 600. Anything over 500 and the EPA recommends it be tested for contaminants. We won't drink anything that tests over 250. The water we got in Carabelle was 220, and tastes noticeably worse than the 030 Ft Walton water, or 038 Sarasota water.

There was a Publix grocery store a little over a mile away and Bob and I walked over to pick up a few things. He brought his backpack, and I was just going to lug the stuff back in the plastic grovery bags. However, once we got in the store and saw how inexpensive everything was (compared to what we had been seeing in the little towns) we started loading up. We quickly realized there was no way we were going to be able to carry all this stuff back. Bob noticed they were selling some large collapsible carts for toting groceries home. He purchase one and filled the bottom with 12-packs of beer. Then we filled the top half with our groceries, and off we went. We took turns pulling it as it was quite heavy.

When we got back to the boat I was unloading groceries when Paula asked if I had picked up the Triple Sec on the list she had given me. I told her no, the store only carried wine and beer, no spirits. We looked on Google maps to locate a liquor store, only to find out that Publix did carry spirits, but in a package liquor store attached to the grocery store. Bob and I were standing literally 20' from the entrance to the liquor store and never noticed it. So off we go again on another 2-1/2 mile round trip. This time I brought our own collapsible cart with me.

The liquor store was small, but well stocked. As at the grocery store, the prices were much cheaper than we had been seeing. So I stocked up on everything we could want. Prices were certainly less expensive than what we would see once in the Keys. My little cart was bulging when we left. Patrons entering the store looked at the cart and said "I want to come YOUR party!".

The little wheels on the cart were bending and squealing, but we made it back. Paula laughed when she saw the cart as we approached in Bob's dinghy. Of course, the first thing she asked was "Did you get the Triple Sec?". And you know what... I forgot to!!


Sunday, November 22, 2015

Cedar Key to Tarpon Springs

We were up early and underway at first light. It was raining, and quite windy. This was going to be long day, at least 10-11 hours, as it was 66 miles to Tarpon Springs.

We headed offshore and found that we were going to have following seas, and a bit larger than we like. It was likely to get worse, too, as we were going to be running about 20 miles offshore. That was the shortest route. So Paula started fastening everything down, or putting it on the floor before it fell there. An hour or so later the seas had definitely kicked up, as did the wind. We settled in for a long, uncomfortable day.

The water was beautiful, clear and blue. We had many dolphins visit us during the day, to frolic off the bow.  We could actually hear them squeaking and clicking. Duke could too but he could not figure out where the sound was coming from. He does stick his head out over the cap rail, but never thinks to look down.

The boat settled in a rhythm that was not totally uncomfortable. An occasional big wave would come through and roll us heavily, then we would return to the normal side to side motion. It was never even close to unsafe, but it did get uncomfortable from time to time.

Then we started running into the crab traps again. I could not believe the crabbers were coming 20 miles offshore to place the traps. There were hundreds of them and we had to keep a very sharp eye out to avoid running over one. They were very difficult to see in the big seas, and we very nearly ran over some several times.

Once we were a couple of hours from Tarpon Springs the shoreline started angling out toward us. As our distance offshore lessened the seas started dropping. By the time we had the big power plant at Tarpon Springs in sight, the seas were minimal. But, the wind was howling!

We had planned on staying in a marina that night, as there is really no place to anchor near Tarpon Springs. Its too shallow. We made reservations but by the time we started up the river the tide was falling quickly. The marina approach has only 4' at low tide, and we need 5'.  We decided to anchor just off the channel to wait for the tide to start coming back in. We would have enough water around 1900 to get in. But the marina said they closed at 1700 and they did not allow boats to arrive after hours. That sucks.

The only possible anchorage was in the power plant cooling canal. It was very small, and there were already four small sailboats permanently moored there. On top of that, there was a public boat launch there and the lagoon was teeming with small boats coming and going. I ended up anchoring just off the channel at the mouth of the cooling canal. I had 10' of depth so thought I was good. M/V Stylist arrived a short while later and managed to squeeze in the middle of the sailboats. It was far less than perfect but was our only option.

We had hoped to visit the town as it is a thriving Greek community. Tarpon Springs is renowned for its Greek restaurants. A large population of Greeks are involved in sponge harvesting. Since we were anchored in less than optimal conditions we decided it would be best if we stayed aboard. We had dinner and went to bed.

Around 0100 I got up and looked out our stateroom window. I could see that we were pointed in the opposite direction now, which meant the tidal current was going out. I came up to the pilothouse to check the depth, and still showed 1.5' below the keel. Obviously not thinking clearly at that time of night, I went back to bed. About 15 minutes later Bob was calling me on the radio. I ran upstairs to answer, and he informed me I appeared to be on the bank. I looked out and could see I was still 30' from the rivers edge. But when I checked the depth below the keel it now showed 0'. Uh oh.

I ran to the bow to pull in some anchor line in an attempt to pull the boat to deeper water. That didn't work, the boat was firmly stuck on the bottom. The anchor came loose pretty easily in the soft mud and I pulled it up to the bow. I went back inside and started the engines. I eased them into gear and watched to see if we moved at all. We didn't. I gave it a bit of throttle but no joy. We were stuck. I turned the engines off. The tide was falling, and had 3' to go. I know that we would be leaning way over by the time the tide was fully out. I could already feel the deck tilting beneath my feet.

I rushed around to get everything secured, and placed on the floor on the port side. By 0300 we were leaning to port almost 30 degrees. It was very difficult to to walk. I encouraged Paula to just stay in bed. She had to turn sideways so she could let her feet rest on the wall to keep her from falling out of bed. At one point the high water alarm went off. I was pretty sure it was just because of the severe tilt, but I had to check it out anyway. We have three compartments with alarms and I had to move through the boat to check them all. Two are below in the engine room. It was nearly impossible to move about. The stairs down to the staterooms were almost vertical. I did confirm there was no water coming in and just turned the breaker off to silence the alarm

Duke was totally freaked out, panting and whining. Poor guy just did not understand what was going on. I sat on the couch with him and he laid down in my lap. After a while he finally fell asleep, and so did I.

I awoke at 0430. Low tide was at 0415 so it was on the way back up. I could already hear the boat creaking and groaning as it started to right itself. By 0600 we were almost level again. A sponge boat came by, throwing a large wake. I could feel the boat bumping on the bottom. I started the engines and put them in gear. It looked like we moved forward a few inches so I gave it a bit more throttle. We ever so slowly started moving forward, and in short order were in deep water.

I was maneuvering to get lined up to enter the channel when I ran aground again!!  I could feel the bow rise up as we bumped against the shoal area. I could not go forward, so I went in reverse. The boat slowly slid off again. I made a hard right, then left, and we were back in the river. Let's get the heck out of here!!




Saturday, November 21, 2015

Steinhatchee to Cedar Key

It was a gray and dismal day when the sun rose this morning. Heavy overcast, windy, and forecast for rain. We had the anchor up shortly after sunrise at 0707 and were underway for Cedar Keys.

We had to run about four miles offshore to stay in water over 10' deep. So we were a bit exposed to the 20 knots northeast wind. It was bumpy for the first few hours but by 1015 it had laid down and was a smooth ride. So smooth, in fact, that we considered pushing on further than Cedar Keys. Unfortunately, there was no place to anchor until we got to Tarpon Springs, and that was just too far for a one day run.

We dropped anchor at 1320 in the north channel to Cedar Key. We were in the middle of nowhere, and very exposed to the wind. But the channel was too narrow, twisty, and shallow for us to get in any closer. Fortunately, the wind was not strong and the water was calm.

We launched the dinghy and headed into town. It was quite a ways, and difficult to follow the channel. Bob and Gail left about 15 minutes before us, and told us later they got lost twice on the way in. I found my way to town okay, but it was tricky finding how to get in. The only way in to the little harbor there is under a very small bridge, that is only about 20' wide, and 8' above the water. It is so small that you really can't see it until you are on top of it. I got lucky and noticed a small boat disappearing around a corner. When I got closer I could see that corner was the bridge opening. It made a 90 degree turn just as you entered it.

We tied up at the public dinghy dock (only room for three boats) and walked into town to find Bob and Gail. We tried calling their cell phones, but got no answer.

It was a cute little town, and it was hoppin'!  Music blasting from multiple bars and restaurants on the waterfront. As we got a few blocks away from the waterfront it got much quieter.

This is the only picture I got of the town... the happy fisherman.

 
Our goal was to find Tony's Seafood Restaurant so we could have a bowl of his world famous clam chowder. A quick search on Google maps and we knew where to go. As we approached the restaurant Bob walked out with his phone in his hand, trying to call us. He said there was no signal in the building.

We joined them at their table and placed our order for chowder and our entrees. They had already started in on their chowder. It took quite a while, but our entrees finally appeared. But no chowder. Once I saw the size of the seafood platter I had ordered I didn't care about not getting the chowder. But Bob was having none of that; he said that was the whole purpose for coming here.  He called server over and asked her where our chowder was. She apologized profusely, and said she would get the bowls out right away. I told her to cut the order down to just one bowl, as both Paula and I had more than we could eat already.

The chowder arrived, and definitely lived up to its reputation. Best chowder I have had since visiting Seattle. They sell it by the can so we bought some to have on Thanksgiving.

We finished our meal and started back to the dinghy dock. Paula found a liquor store on the way back so we all had to detour into there. Prices weren't too bad so we bought a bottle of vodka, and tequila.

The weather was starting to look nasty, with a line of dark clouds approaching. We decided to pick up the pace so we could get back before it hit. We hopped in the dinks and headed out. As Bob passed under the little bridge he turned left. That was the wrong way. I hollered at him and pointed to the west, then took off that way. He turned and followed.

We made it back to the boat without getting wet. I even had time to take Duke for his afternoon beach constitutional. Then back to the boat for a relaxing afternoon. It was very quiet and peaceful here. We kept hearing big splashes, and would occasionally catch something out of the corner of our eye. It looked like a very big fish. Finally I was looking in the right direction, at the right time. It was big 5-6' sharks!!  I did not recognize what kind. I had seen spinner sharks jump, but these were definitely not spinner sharks. We heard them all night long.





Friday, November 20, 2015

Carabelle to Steinhatchee

We weren't planning on leaving until this afternoon, so we slept late. Especially after being kept up by the racket from the bar. It was almost 0800 before we dragged ourselves from bed.

Since we made a grocery run yesterday, we had the fixins' for a really good breakfast. Pork sausage, fried egg, and cheese on english muffin breakfast sandwich. We have not eaten this unhealthy in a very long time. And it felt, and tasted, GREAT!  I can see boat living is not going to be good for my waistline.

Bob called a short while later to talk about the weather forecast. It was supposed to be windy this morning, then lay down in the afternoon. But the winds seemed pretty calm right now. Bob wanted to leave now; I wanted to wait until the forecast drop in the wind. I hopped in the dink and went to his boat to discuss it. We finally agreed to leave now and head to Alligator Harbor. If the wind was calmer than forecast then we would continue on to at least Steinhatchee.

By the time I got back to Microship, got the dinghy put up on the boat deck, and got engines warmed up and anchor up, it was 1120. We headed down the river and out into the bay. As we turned east behind Dog Island, the seas were calm. This was looking good. By the time we cleared the east end of the island, it was getting a little rolly. But still not too bad. The decision was made to go for it.

As we headed out through the cut through the reef the seas started ramping up a bit more, but still tolerable. We did decide to limit the crossing to just Steinhatchee, though. As it was, it would be well after dark when we arrived. The number of crab trap floats in that area are legend, and I was not looking forward to trying to dodge what I could not see.

As the afternoon progressed the seas got bigger. We never got truly uncomfortable, but we did have to secure things to keep them from being thrown to the floor. Just before it got dark we started seeing lots of crab floats. This was unexpected, as we were still many miles from shore. I decided it was best if I turned on the spotlight and just left it on. I can't begin to count how many floats we dodged over the next few hours. Some were really close calls. In fact, I am not completely sure we made it though unscathed. There were more than a few big thumps against the bottom. I will have to wait for warmer and clearer water so I can dive under the boat to check the shafts for ropes.

Stylist is a much faster boat than us and arrived 45 minutes before we did. Bob called to say the area was thick with crab pots, and be on the lookout for them. We anchored about 3/4 mile away from Stylist, in a bit shallower water. Anchor down at 2110, after a 10 hour run. We were bushed. A little Scotch to unwind, and to celebrate a successful crossing, and then off to bed.



Thursday, November 19, 2015

Apalachicola to Carabelle

We were up about an hour before dawn and started getting the boat ready to move. We have been at Saul Creek for a week now and are really looking forward to getting on the move again. Even if we can get only as far as Carabelle.

Sunrise was at 0707, so I started the engines at 0645. It was only 4-1/2 hours to Carabelle but we wanted to get an early start while the wind was calm. We had the anchor up by 0700 and were on our way. Stylist left about 30 minutes later.

As we passed through Apalachicola we could see all the other cruising boats stacked up waiting for a good weather window to continue. There is limited space in Carabelle to anchor out so I was glad to have a chance to get there early. As we entered the bay I saw Stylist on the AIS just pulling into the river.

The wind was calm, and seas flat. Perfect day to make the run. Shortly after we passed through Apalachicola we started hearing all the other boats on the radio as they were getting underway. We had a smooth ride until we got to the pass between St George Island and Dog Island. The big swells from the gulf were rolling through there. I could see huge breaking waves on the other side. We rolled heavily in the beam seas, but it only lasted the 20 minutes or so it took us to cross over to behind Dog Island. I radioed back to let others know to be ready for this. Some of the boats were planning on pushing further past Carabelle, but when they heard the size of the swells they decided anchoring in Carabelle was the better option.

We arrived at the Carabelle River around 1130, and headed up river. Twenty minutes later we had the anchor down near the center of town. An hour later the other boats started arriving and were scrambling to anchor in the two remaining spots. The others ended up having to pay to stay in a marina.

Our friends on Stylist already had reservations to stay at Moorings Marina. They needed water and fuel, and needed to pump out. This worked out nicely for us, as we were able to dinghy in to tie up behind them. We topped off all of our water jugs, made a grocery run to the IGA across the street, and did laundry at the marina. I then walked from one end of town to the other to go the the sole liquor store. Only to buy the most expensive bottle of cheap vodka I have ever purchased. I think our liquor re-provisioning will have to wait until we can buy at more sane prices.

We spent a pleasant evening with Bob & Gail, and they fixed dinner for us. We got home late and went straight to bed. We were serenaded to sleep by the live music from the eclectic local bar about 50 yards from us. Then the music ended a 0100 and the redneck brawls began. That lasted until around 0300, and it was finally quiet.

The weather looks like we might be able to leave tomorrow afternoon and make a short run to Alligator Harbor. We can stage there for the crossing to Steinhatchee or Cedar Keys.


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

So much for monotony!

We ended up staying at Saul Creek for another two days. But it was anything but boring! The wind speed climbed even higher, and changed direction. For the worst. We had been well protected from the north wind, but were now getting blasted by an east wind. As the section of creek we were anchored in was oriented east-west, we were open to the full force of the wind.

We were swinging from bank to bank in the wind. M/V Stylist was doing the same. Sometimes we would get within 30-40' feet of each other. I finally decided the safest thing to do was to pull up the anchor and move a bit further away. I made the mistake of thinking I could let out a little extra chain when we re-anchored, since Stylist was now further away.

During the night the wind got even stronger. I could hear the aluminum framework on the bridge thrumming as it vibrated in the wind. This usually happens once the wind is around 40 mph. But the anchor seemed to be holding well, as it always does. We went to bed and slept pretty well.

When we got up the next morning I noticed that Stylist was gone!  I knew they would not leave in the middle of the night unless something serious had happened. Bob had mentioned that if he had any problems with his anchor holding he was going to move further back in the creek. I was going to get the coffee going then hop in the dinghy to go look for him.

I walked on the back deck to get the dinghy ready, and got a real shock. The stern of Microship was up in the trees near the bank!!  The extra chain I had let out had allowed us to swing too close to the bank. Some of the trees had large branches that extended out 10-20' over the water. We had apparently been swinging under those branches for a while. They scratched up the back of the boat, ripped our flagstaff and mount right off (there goes the flag I rescued last week!), and picked up the spreader bar for hoisting the dinghy and dragged it across the cockpit. Then it rested on the opposite side, just rubbing up and down against the bulwarks and scratching the heck out of it. How the heck did we sleep through all this??

I winched in some chain and got us pulled out of the trees. Then I decided to get the anchor up and to move further back in the creek myself. As we went around the bend, there was Sylist. We went a short distance past them and dropped anchor.

I put Duke in the dinghy and went to see if I could find the flag. Perhaps it had gotten caught on one of the branches. No luck, the current had taken it. As I was returning Bob came out of his boat and motioned me over. I asked what happened that made him move in the night. He said they woke up and saw my anchor light through their stateroom window. The way we were anchored, that should not have been possible. He rushed up on deck, and found we were less than 20' from his boat. He decided he must be dragging his anchor, as we were barely moving. He was surprised to hear we ended up in the trees, as we were rock solid in the middle of the creek when they moved around 2030.

We ended up moving even further up the creek to stay out of the wind. But the wind is finally supposed to subside tomorrow, so we are planning to make the run to Carabelle at first light.


Monday, November 16, 2015

Saul Creek monotony

We're still stuck at Saul Creek. The wind has been blowing 20-25 knots since Friday. Today is Monday. The forecast says we might get a break Thursday, then high winds again Friday into at least next Wednesday.

This is a great place to ride it out. We barely feel the wind tucked in between the trees here. But the view is getting a bit monotonous. In addition, hunting season opened last Saturday so boats are zooming past all day. There is not a lot of room here so they pass within 20-30' without slowing. Constant wakes.

We have no cell phone signal here. Zero. Phone just says "No  service". Even with the signal amplifier turned on. The Verizon MiFi gets one bar of a 1X signal; the slowest connection possible, short of none. So just sufficient to do email, do blog updates (occasionally), and check weather reports.

I know it sounds like I am complaining, but I'm really not. This is a beautiful spot and I'm thankful to be here. It's relaxing, and the night sky is to die for. It just feels strange being so disconnected.

If anyone needs to contact us, email is the only way.

Paula and I did make a trip into Apalachicola Friday evening. It's about a 30 minute dinghy ride. We had to get our fix of some of the best raw oysters in the world. Boss Oyster restaurant has their own specially outfitted boat that harvests oysters every day. They are refrigerated immediately, on the boat, then brought to the restaurant. I have never tasted fresher, or saltier, oysters. Since we are going to be stuck here until at least Thursday we may have to make a repeat trip... or two!

It was well after dark by the time we finished eating and headed back. I had my MarineBeam spotlight so had no problem following the navigation markers home. But it was darn chilly!

The next day, Bob, on Stylist, mentioned he was having problems with their laptop. I decided to volunteer my services to fix it. It turned into a very pleasant afternoon visit. We returned to pick up Paula so we could all chat. Gail made a big pot of clam chowder for a mid afternoon snack. We ate, drank beer, and got to know each other. Bob ferried us home as it got dark.

So here we sit for the foreseeable future. I can think of worst spots to be!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Pearl Bayou to Saul Creek

We were up early, as usual, but Bob & Gail still managed to beat us out of the anchorage by 30 minutes. They were heading out at 0550, we followed at 0620. It was looking like another beautiful day.

As you head east from Panama City there is another long, narrow stretch of the ICW. It is very scenic, and we usually don't see any tows in this section. And we did not today, I am happy to say. We made good time, and passed the Gulf Outlet Canal by around 1215. This is the canal that leads down to Port St. Joe. On our normal cruises we would divert here to spend a night or two at the marina there. It is very nice, there are big grocery and sporting goods stores within two blocks. Better yet, one of our favorite Mexican restaurants is only about six blocks away. But we are on a mission to get down to the Keys, so no diversions this time.

We passed White City a short while later. There is not much here except a big highway bridge, and a public boat launch with a small park. There is room along a bulkhead for a couple of larger boats to tie up, for free. But it is very basic, no power or water. Still, I had considered stopping here for the night when I was planning the trip. However, it was only 1230 and I did not want to stop that early. We had plenty of time to make it to Apalachicola.

I checked the weather forecast to see if there was any chance we could make the crossing from Apalachicola or Carabelle to the west coast of Florida. The big bend area is too shallow to stay close to shore, so you just have to cut across over to Steinhatchee, Cedar Keys, or Tarpon Springs. Depends on how long you want to run.

The wind was forecast to start blowing Friday, 20-25 knots, and do that for the next several days. I decided we would anchor in Saul Creek, just off the Apalachicola River, about 5 miles north of Apalachicola. Great protection from wind. It is in the middle of the swamps, very isolated, and beautiful,

Bob abandoned his plan of staying at a marina in Apalachicola when friends staying there told him what they were paying. Since he would need to pay to stay for up to a week before the wind subsides, he opted to anchor out with us.

They arrived first and anchored at the mouth of the creek waiting on us. We arrived about 45 minutes later, at 1300. I eased past them and led them back to where the creek splits and is big enough for two boats to anchor. We were secure by 1320 and settled in for the duration.

Bob immediately launched their dinghy to head into Apalachicola. They wanted to go visit their friends, make a grocery and liquor store run, and check out the town. They had not returned by dark and I was concerned. They had never been here before and would be running down an unfamiliar river in a pitch black night. They finally made it back at 2100, more than a little tipsy. We had asked for some limes so they motored over to deliver them. They also brought a gift for Duke, a large box of Milk Bones. Duke approved!

They retired to their boat. I watched to be sure they made it aboard safely, then went to put the limes to good use. Dark & Stormy's, here I come! :)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Ft Walton to Pearl Bayou

After the fiasco at the Ft. Walton docks last night, we were well and truly happy to be underway this morning, and we left the dock at 0630. The winds were light enough that we considered going offshore at Destin to run outside to Panama City. But, the weather gods can be fickle, and I did not feel like getting beat up if the winds suddenly picked up.

As we entered Choctawhatchee Bay a small trawler blasted past us. It was the C-Dory 25’ trawler that had been at the docks with us last night. He had been awakened by the ruckus on the dock, too. There was a bit of a chop on the bay and he eventually had to slow down. The pounding was just too much for him. We hardly felt it, and I was glad we had stayed on the inside.

While it was overcast and cool this morning, it turned into a beautiful, sunny day later. It warmed up to around 70 degrees with a light breeze. It took us about 3-1/2 hours to get across Choctawhatchee Bay. By 1000 were entering the narrow ICW between Choctawhatchee Bay and West Bay near Panama City.

This section is quite narrow in places, and is often transited by tows (tugs pushing barges). It can be a bit harrowing when needing to pass them, especially in the many bends in the channel. We had a few tense moments when passing a tow with fully laden fuel barges. I was coming up on his stern as he was approaching a bend in the channel.  I called the tug captain on the radio and asked which side he would like me to pass him on, and did he want me to wait until we got through the turn ahead. He responded to come on ahead, pass him on his port (left) side. He was going to favor the outside of the bend (right side of the channel) so I would have plenty of room. He was doing 4.5 knots, and I was doing 6.5. As the tow was three barges long it was going to take me a while to creep past him.
All was well until I got about half way past him. Then he started to creep to the left and crowd me against the bank.  As anyone who has been around tows knows, these guys suck all the water out of the banks as they pass, and then it rushes back in. This was beginning to happen directly below me, and the depth dropped from 12’ to 7’ in a matter of seconds. We only need 5’, but in anything less than 7’ the boat gets squirrelly at cruising speeds. This is because the stern squats a bit at speed, and in less than 7’ the rudders get very close to the bottom. The flow of water over the rudders gets very turbulent, the net result is they become much less effective. What this meant for me now was the bow was veering off towards the barges!  I swung the wheel hard to the left and then we were veering towards the bank.  This nerve racking cycle went on for several agonizing minutes as I ever so slowly moved ahead of the tow. I swear I could hear that captain laughing as he watched me spinning the wheel from side to side. 

I must say this is not our usual experience with passing tows. In situations like this the tug captain usually throttles back to allow us to get past him quicker, and reduce the chance of sucking us into the side of one of the barges.  Earlier in the day I heard other boats talking to the tug and this was what the captain offered to do. But they must have had a shift change, as the guy I talked to was not the same voice I heard earlier. But, all’s well that ends well. We made it past safely, and I only peed myself once. J

We finally exited the narrow ICW channel around 1300 and entered West Bay, just west of Panama City. As we entered open water we got a radio call from a boat coming up behind us. He kindly offered to give me a slow pass if I would throttle back to allow him to come around. This is always much appreciated, as it minimizes the wake these fast boats throw. I pulled back to idle and he came past us with very little wake. Once ahead he opened it up. When I saw the wake he left I was doubly happy of his considerate action.

That happiness was to be short lived, however. A large, fast moving blob appeared at the top of the radar screen, headed directly at us. It was about three miles away. I grabbed the binoculars and scanned the horizon. There!  A very large sport fishing boat, at least 50’, was heading right at us. Even at this distance I could see the tremendous wake he was throwing, at least 6’. This was not going to be pretty. I called repeatedly on the radio to request a slow pass, but no answer.  I warned Paula, cooking in the galley, to secure as much as she could as we only had a couple of minutes. I checked the chart and saw that depths outside the channel were increasing, so I started angling out to put as much distance between us as I could. He passed us about 50 yards away, never slowing. It was close enough that I could hear the high pitched whine of the engine turbo chargers. I turned directly away from the wake in an attempt to outrun it, but that was a wasted effort. At least it had dropped to only 3’ by the time it caught up to us. I made a hard u-turn so we could take it directly on the bow. I heard a couple of crashes from below, but not too bad. Its guys like this that gives sport fishers a bad rep.

As I looked astern for the sport fisher, I noticed that Bob and Gayle, on M/V Stylist, had caught up to us. They were still at the dock when we left this morning. But they cruise around ½ to ¾ knot faster than us so can cover a bit more ground each day. They passed us as we neared Panama City. We chatted on the radio and Bob said they were planning on staying in Smack Bayou. I warned him there was only room for 1-2 boats in there, and the entrance channel was very narrow. He said the guide book said how scenic it was and he was going to give it a try. I told him we were going about 30 minutes further to Pearl Bayou. It is much larger, room for at least a dozen boats, and easy to get into.
I had considered stopping for fuel in Panama City. Not that we needed any, but the two city marinas had the best prices we had seen since leaving Mississippi. I could probably squeeze in two hundred gallons. But I got an email from a fellow boater saying the best prices could be had at a fuel dock in Ft. Myers Beach. I have twice as much fuel as I need to get that far so just decided to wait.

As we passed Smack Bayou I saw Stylist heading in. He got right up to the narrow entrance channel then did a quick 180 and headed back out. He called me and said there were already two sailboats in there, and he felt the entrance channel was too narrow for his 50’ boat. He was going to proceed to Pearl Bayou and would meet me there.

We arrived at 1530, a few minutes after they did, and found it just as we remembered if from our last visit five years ago. There were only two sailboats here, one obviously derelict. But there was more than enough room and we dropped the hook a short distance from Stylist. This is a beautiful spot, surrounded by a thick forest of pines and oaks.  We often see bald eagles here. There is a recreation area at the entrance, but that is part of Tyndall Air Force Base, as is all the surrounding land. It is generally very quiet, but there is occasional jet traffic.


We watched a beautiful sunset, ate dinner, and went to bed. After all the racket from skate boarders and pissed off ex-husbands last night, we were looking forward to a quiet night at anchor, and a good nights sleep!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Ft. Walton



I was up at 0500 hours and getting the boat ready for first light departure. The free city docks in Ft. Walton are popular, and there are only six slips available, plus the T-head dock with room for two boats. I wanted to get there early so we could get a spot. Only 3-4 of the available spots are deep enough for our boat.

We were out of the anchorage by 0600 and cooked breakfast along the way. Fresh baked biscuits and scrambled eggs. I’m really spoiling Paula. Nothing new there, though!

We arrived in Ft. Walton an hour later, and it looked like a sailboat was already on the T-head dock, our preferred spot. But it turns out that it was just anchored a short distance away. There was quite a current flowing from astern, but we eased in and moved as far to the end as we could, so there would be room for someone to dock behind us. Got tied up, and called the City Manager’s office to let them know we would be staying the night, as required. The stay is free, but you can stay only one night. They then call the police department to alert them of your presence. They come down later and just chat, and make sure everything is okay.

I was happy to see the police regularly coming to the small park adjacent to the docks. I had read reports of vagrants hanging out there, and that turned out to be the case. They ran several off over multiple visits.

Paula walked to the nearby Publix to do a bit of grocery shopping while I did boat chores. When she got back we filled the water tank and sun shower bag. We tested the water and found 130 TDS, which is very good for tap water. So we also filled all of our empty water bottles. There is no power available on the docks, but that was not a problem. The solar panels are having no problem meeting our power needs, so the batteries don’t need charging. The new 12VDC refrigerator means we use very little power overnight, so the solar panels can replenish the batteries in a few hours each morning.

There were more than a dozen restaurants within a few blocks of the docks. We took the opportunity to get off the boat and have a meal out. Excellent Mexican fare, fish (amberjack right off the boat) tacos for me, and shrimp chimichurri tacos for Paula. 

There were two sailboats moored in the slips. They appeared to have been here for far more than one night. One was definitely a derelict boat, it had no mast, all the handrails were broken off, and the window frames were sealed with black duct tape. There was about three inches of barnacles growing on the hull. Much to our surprise, a youngish couple got off the boat a short while later and left.
Later that afternoon, another trawler arrived. M/V Stylist, a 50’ Carver, owned by a couple who hail from New Hampshire, but now live in Sebastian, FL. They had purchased the boat in July and brought it down the river system, through Mobile, and were on their way around FL to the Sebastian on the east side. Nice folks, we chatted about our respective cruising plans.

A short while after they arrived a young police officer came by to check on everyone. He acknowledged they had been made aware of our arrival that morning. He said that someone had called to complain about the derelict boats in the slips and asked if that had been us. I told him that when I was accepting someone’s hospitality, especially when it’s free, I was not about to complain about anything. He laughed, and said they had been trying to find out who owned the derelict boat next to us. It had been there for months. We mentioned we had seen a young couple get off the boat that morning. He gave us his card and asked we contact the police dept. should we see them again.
An hour or so later, while Bob (from Stylist) and I were chatting on the dock, the girl who got off the derelict boat that morning walked down the dock and boarded the boat. Paula saw her and immediately contacted the police. They were there within minutes and started questioning her. Little did we know what the consequences of this would be later tonight.

As it started getting dark we decided to splurge one more time, and walked up to a small pub a block away. The reviews on the food were good, and accurate. We had a great meal, and some good draft beer from a local craft brewery. Home by 1830, watched a little TV, and in bed by 2100.
I slept fine until a loud noise woke me at 0300. It kept repeating, so I came up to the deck to see what it was. There was band of several teenagers riding their skateboards up and down the boardwalk, and doing jumps over some tree roots that crossed it. Clackety, clackety, clack… THUMP!!  Over, and over, and over, all while they were snapping photos with their cell phones. This went on for over an hour. Finally, they left, and we had blissful silence again.

I was just drifting off when I heard loud voices, very close by. Lots of cursing and shouting. Again I got up to see what was going on. At first, I could not determine where the noise was coming from. I initially thought it was from a nearby condo. But then I heard a loud smack and someone cry out. It was on the other sailboat in the slips! We had seen an older gent board it this afternoon, but now I was hearing two men and a woman. It was a very small sailboat, perhaps 24’. It was bouncing around like crazy as they struggled inside. More smacks, and the woman cried out.  Next thing I know all kind of stuff is getting thrown off the boat; clothes, shoes, a purse, coats, etc. Then the young guy who got off the other sailboat this morning climbed off this other boat. He had an armload of sleeping bag, clothes, and pillows, and proceeded to throw them on the derelict boat. At this point I felt justified in calling the police. They had requested we contact them if anyone boarded the boat, after all.

I spoke with the dispatcher for several minutes, explaining the situation. She asked some questions and then said they would send someone down. The officer was there in no more than 5 minutes. The older woman on the sailboat rushed out and started screaming at the officer that it was all his fault. It turns out that the girl the police had questioned that afternoon had spilled the beans on the guy with her. So he could not return to the derelict boat and had to bunk on the other sailboat. The older woman was apparently his ex-wife living on the boat with another guy. What a soap opera!

We decided an early departure was called for and got the heck out of there. Now I remember why we prefer a quiet anchorage to a dock, even if free. As we left, the woman was standing on the dock looking at all her worldly belongings floating away.