Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Conch Republic

Why are these people smiling?

"We are the people, our parents warned us about...."

Monday, 12/21 off we go even before the sun has reported for work. Scratch that there is no work out here. We are up and going bright and early, making it out of Longboat Pass by 0730 and pointing our way south for the Keys. The weather forecast is perfect for us, 10-15k winds, ENE with moderate, read 2', seas. The first 18 hours are just perfect, the sun is shining, the wind is off our port beam (that's at a 90* angle to our left) and we are sailing along at a comfortable 6-7kts of boat speed. Breakfast, lunch and dinner under sail life is good. Sunset is great and we are into the night crossing at least this time around there is no fog and the moon is providing a good amount of light and then there are the stars, beautiful.

All this is before we pass Sanibel Island and leave US waters for international waters and the area of the charts which simply states, "Here there be dragons". It's deep and dark and of course the wind picks up along with the seas, so much for weather forecasts. N, NE winds replace our ideal and pick up to 20-25k with following seas of 6'. For those that have heard the saying, fair winds and following seas, it is really not a blessing but a bit of a curse. Following seas mean that big, nasty roiling bodies of ocean come crashing into you from behind, making things very uncomfortable. After reefing (reducing) all of our sails around 0200 on the 22nd, we were still surfing down waves making a good 7-7.5k (for Boto under reduced sail this is fast) finally we bring in the head sail completely using a reefed main only and still make 6-7k of boat speed and still we rock-n-roll. By 0500 things are getting a bit tiring as the rough seas and gusty winds have made sleeping difficult, at best we've each caught a brief puppy nap (no cat naps on Boto). By 0700 we've given in and cranked up the engine hoping to flatten out the ride a bit and give us some more speed as we've dropped below 5k.
Sunrise shows us that the large waves we caught glimpses off during the night were not our imagination, while 6' is not huge, when you are in the trough between two 6'+ waves you feel small, especially when they are occurring every 5 seconds or less. By noon of the 22nd things are looking up, we make sight of land and by 1300 we've made it to the outer sea buoy marking the channel into Key West. We've both been to Key West before as we're sure have many of you out there, but arriving via the water on a small boat is kinda exciting.

The trip down has been great, wind and waves aside and we make it to our anchorage off of Fleming Key without incident. We actually get a great dolphin show on our way in, imagine we get to see all the dolphins we can take in without having to fork over money to the dolphin tours, we also get our fill of sunrises and sunsets without having to sign up for the tour. Grab a boat and go see for yourself.
Mija and Chula have decided Key West is their favorite stop so far, especially as our first landfall on the 22nd was to grab a bite to eat at the Schooner Bar before getting some sleep and they were both welcomed to come in and have a seat. Of course they got to share in the burgers and fries but not the beer, there are limits after all. Christmas in Key West we've decided should be fun. Of course from there we decided that New Years in Key West should be even better, so here we are enjoying some time on the hook in the Southern Most city of the Union. Of course the Conch Republic views itself differently.

We've met a number of great folks, other cruisers as well as some of the locals all have been very eager to help and share a story. It's somehow reassuring to have a beer and a conversation with a 19th century pirate (not a make believe pirate, but a pirate) not to mention the angel (complete with wings) to his right.

It's a little chilly now as the coldfronts continue to roll through and the high winds continue to rock us to sleep, but for now life at the end of the line is comfortable. Sunrise, ah!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Where to Next?

Clearwater Florida to Longboat Key, a very short distance but all the difference in the world. After a beautiful sail down the coast we made our way into the Longboat Pass, navigating between ambiguous markers; there is actually a sign halfway through the channel that states, "Shallow Water", most reassuring. We made it around Jewfish Key without going aground unlike our friends on the Cat "Kitty Wake", they went aground just outside the channel, but Jeff was able to jump over and push her off, ah one of the benefits of a Cat. We made it into the anchorage between Long Beach and Jewfish, oh yeah we went aground twice (see the picture, at low tide, with the birds on it!), but made it off and began our five day stay in a wonderful little anchorage. With shore just a couple of hundred yards away the dink came in handy as did the smaller engine, and the girls just loved going for their daily walks/runs along the beach; which means lots of sand and saltwater (on land and in the boat!)

We made a total recon of the area and even managed a 12 mile round trip to the grocery store on our bikes, ouch. A nice break from the day to day travels. Yup even sailing gets to you every day, well not really.
On Saturday, December 19th, Vicky's cousin Joel made the trip up from Venice Beach to have lunch with us and spend the afternoon catching up after 10 years. We were pleasantly surprised by the goodies Joel brought with him. A bag full of fresh Florida oranges, grapefruit and limes, a concoction of granola, oatmeal and almond milk (nummy) plus a small, adorable Christmas tree! We didn't have any decorations so it was fun to light it up at night to put us in the Christmas mood! We also went for a ride in his car to get diesel for the boat. We haven't been in a car (other than one taxi) since we left Texas so that was a BIG treat!
That morning Vicky was up on the deck when she started yelling, "Ed, it is a huge squishy walrus looking thing! Come quick!". The area is a protected area for manatees so this was the first of many we saw. They escaped before the camera could be retrieved but they are spectacular!

For those of you wondering what our boat looks like...here it is behind us nestled nicely in Long Beach key.Well, the rip tides and surge have now diminished to a manageable size so we will make our way on Monday, Dec. 21st to Key West. We were going to stop in Charlotte Harbor for a day. On Cabbage Key you can go to the restaurant to get a cheeseburger that is the inspiration for Jimmy Buffet's song 'Cheeseburger in Paradise'. It looks like the weather may deteriorate again so we have decided to make the 30 hour trip straight to the Keys while the weather looks good!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Finally, It's 80*

Yes, we are in Clearwater, FL and today it is 80, from here it gets cold again, but for now this is paradise. Our trip here reminds us that no amount of planning can insure that the plan will go accordingly. With the weather forecast in hand and the tanks all topped off we planned an early departure Sunday to arrive in Clearwater early Monday. Fog was not mentioned nor was it predicted. Oh well that is what radar is for, just follow the little green and red thingys marking the channel; let's see It's Red Right Return? So heading out we keep the Greenies to Starboard, oops ran aground, back off back off, we're floating again. Well lets reverse that and try it the other way. Ooops, we're aground, very aground. Rev the engine forward, rev the engine reverse Nadda, Zip, time to call for a tow. Oh at this time visibility is NILL. Get out the bell, the whistle, call out on the radio, whats that, nothing just a gull, but that is a rather large fishing boat emerging from the fog, Hi. Rusty from Towboat never made it out so we were left to our own designs, with some help from a few wakes we finally were afloat again, but lost in the fog. Finally the fearless crew got it together and off we go in the right direction, hey look another very large fishing boat that doesn't care it if gets a nick in the hull from a glass boat, hard to port.
Ok, there's the channel to the Gulf of Mexico, we're home free, wait what is that, just some locales in a little row boat anchored in the middle of the channel fishing. WE exchanged pleasantries, something about tools. I'm sure that Darwin will take care of the situation in time.
In to the Gulf to begin the 150nm trek SE, oh yeah more fog; in fact to make this short, FOG the entire trip, at least it'll be dark too. Nothing like disturbing a sleeping pelican in the middle of the gulf as it yells at you and begins flapping its enormous wings and running on the water, you can't see it but you hear it then see the wake it created and wonder what the hell is that.
Finally arrive Monday afternoon with the Clearwater Pass clearly in sight and then, it just disappeared behind a fog bank. Let us repeat that, ikt was there one nano-second and the next it was gone. What to do, circle call on the radio get the whistle.
Finally into the channel and running for the marina, land. Wait what's that, it's a manta ray showing off; it too can fly, just watch it leap into the air roll over and crash back into the sea, cool, get the camera forget about running into the jetty that's too cool. Well, no pic's but we made it into the marina and had a great nights rest. Now for cleaning and more planning for the next leg. Hey did we tell you about the flying manta ray?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Finally, warm weather??????

Where to begin, we have been remiss. Although we have planned out a rather Hi-tech (:)) solution to allow us to pick up WiFi everywhere on the planet; ok it's just a big antenna, we are learning just how tough it is to get "connected". New Orleans we had a so-so connection at the Southern Yacht Club (not what ya might think), Pensacola was a good connection, but we were there three days waiting out weather, one day/night of gail force, so we basically ate, slept and watched "LOST", etc.... So here we are in Apalachicola, waiting out weather, again, with an Excellent connection. Oh yes, keep in mind that connections first and foremost should and need to be FREE. So here we are.

Our three days in New Orleans were lots of fun, but it was time to get off land again and we headed back to the ICW and a nice anchorage at Rabbit Island, talk about remote.
From there we made our way, Thanksgiving Day to Gulfport, MS. That is we decided against going to Biloxi, MS because of the 20-25k winds and 6' waves. Things just kept building, so we ducked into Gulfport where we cooked up our feast which was acquired while in New Orleans.

This is a good time to talk about prejudices. We have discovered that the rest of the Automobile Addicted world looks down upon bike riders and heavens forbid, WALKERS. Our first night in New Orleans we went looking for a kitchen still open on a Sunday night at 6pm, the first stop was fruitless, however the gentleman at the bar just wanted to know, "what happened to your car". We explained we lived on a boat and were walking to no avail. Then there was the bartender that gave us a number of recommendations, until we finally got across that we were walking to which she replied, "You're Walking", as if we were diseased. Then there was the waiter in Pensecola, who looked at us with bug eyes when we asked him to suggest a grocery store within walking distance as, well, we were walking, he simply stated, "you're walking?". So yes, let it be known, Vicky and Ed are WALKERS (occasional bike riders, that is collapsible bikes much like in the circus and this too is looked upon in amazement, not just because of the funny bikes either).

Back to the feast, the standard, turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes and green beans along with a nice wine, followed by........ PUMPKIN PIE, yes we live large. We must point out that we arrived at the Gulfport Yacht Club about 2pm and were greeted by some folks who had already feasted and had retired to the Yacht Club bar to watch football, one of whom was kind enough to give us a ride to the store for a few things, oh yeah, and buy Ed a beer too.

Off we head on the 27th, our plan is to spend the next several days on the hook, so the girls got a very nice walk before we pushed off. Great weather from the 27th through 12/1 with stops at Dauphin Island, MS then onto Ft. McRae in Pensacola, FL. White sand beaches and sandy bottoms to anchor in, what a pleasure to pull anchor and not have stinky mud. The girls were able to run up and down the beach and chase the ball, Chula even went for an extended swim some 50' off the beach, but she came back!

The neighbors at Ft. McRae are fun but not to talkative, well not in english or any other language known to man, they chirp a lot. Oh yeah, the sunrises and sunsets continue to be GREAT. Then there are the private airshows by the Navy's Blue Angels, nothing like a fighter jet at 300' to wake you up. All things come to and end and for us the anchorage at Ft McRae is about to be over run by a gail force storm so we headed off to the Palafox Pier Marina where we were met by, Captain Ron, no kidding, Captain Ron is the harbor master, :). However, before we could get safely tied up on the dock and enjoy extended hot showers and do laundry and watch some internet TV, we had to deal with a couple of boat issues. As we hauled up the anchor that morning Vicky hollered out, "We've lost steerage"; think what would happen if your steering column in the car suddenly disconnected from the axle and you had to improvise a method of turning the wheels. For us that is the emergency tiller, a device which is attached to the top of the rudder and by which one can steer a boat. The catch is that now all of the force of the wind and water is on the tiller and the helmsmans arms and not the steering cables. Oh well, we needed something to do anyway. Oh, then we ran aground, that's where the boat that floats tries to walk on land. Oh well. Off we went and to the marina we sailed. Tied up, cleaned up and watered down (that's cocktail hour by the by).

After three days of Pensacola, and it is a nice town, we were off to Destin, FL with dolphins guiding us out of the way, a good omen, motorsailing into NW15k and calm seas. Dinner was a wonderful pint and a plate of Irish Bleu Chips (homemade potato chips smothered in bleu cheese, emmmmmmmm).

Next up, Panama City, FL and you guessed it, some work on the generator, that wonderful machine that gives us 120V electricity, when it works. Three days of mechanic work and bad weather, coupled with a not so bad time in an ok city, and the genset works....we have heat at anchor.

Allow us to digress a minute, as we are piling on the narrative. Back in Pensacola before the weather turned foul we tested one of our new toys, the WATER MAKER. That's right we make water. From your basic, nonmuddy, seawater we can produce 1.5gal per hour and is it good. We've had two runs so far and while it is not a necessity right now we will continue to supplement our fresh water from now on.

From Panama City we headed to anchor in St Joe Bay, there is nothing so rousing as the radio announcement stating that the "Crooked Island corridor is closed from 0700-1100 for missile testing" that is if you happen to be sailing through that corridor. Yes, our tax dollars at working, blowing up plankton. While we didn't see any missiles headed out to sea we did some some on shore explosions, better than the movies. Which brings us to Apalachicola, FL where we are currently tied up at the Scipipo Creek Marina, you guessed it waiting on weather. At least we are not alone, tomorrow the 13th there will be a half dozen boats setting out for the Tampa area and warmer weather, the report is 80*, we hope.

We've sailed a little, motored a lot and did a bit in-between, had our ups and downs and have had freezing weather on our tropical adventure, time to head this boat south. We hope to have some updates before Christmas and perhaps we'll make it to the Bahamas for New Years, for now it looks like Christmas in the Keys, bummer, :). Hope you all have a great holiday and we'll be in touch.