Monday, November 30, 2015
Saturday, November 28, 2015
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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! :)