Wednesday, December 29, 2010

We Made It! Hello, Florida Keys!

We're in Marathon!!! 
It's been a while since the last update, so this will be a long one.  Be prepared.

When last we left our intrepid adventurers, we had arrived in Tarpon Springs.  Yay!  That was the night of the lunar eclipse.  No, we didn't stay up to watch it.  I think I went to bed around 8:00.  But we did set the alarm for 3:00 to see the progress.  It was pretty cool!  Very dark and red.  Neato!

Got up early and left before sunrise.  The moon was setting, and the sun was rising behind us. 

Moon setting over Anclote Key
 As excited as we were to get to the ICW, we decided to ignore it and run outside on the Gulf.  Theoretically this would save us some miles and a ton of times on bridges (being tall-masted, we would have to have 10 of them raised for us that day).  Well, the plan worked like a dream, and we had an amazing day!  We managed to motorsail a little bit.  It was nice and calm on the outside.  Calm and gorgeous!

We ended up 65 miles down the ICW from where we started.  Heck yeah!  We went through the Longboat Key Pass, under a bridge.  We anchored in a calm, secure place.  Very nice.
The next day, Trevor and I decided to try running outside.  The forecast was for a west wind at 15 knots.  It would be on our beam, which means super fast sailing.  But it could be rough.  So we headed out (yep, at sunrise).  We had to go back out through the bridge we came in the night before.  Well, there was a hellacious current rolling through there with the outgoing tide.  So we were heading in at a normal angle of attack when we were suddenly being pushed very quickly toward the bridge!  Just before disaster, I turned the boat around and got out of there.  We turned back around and tried again, this time at a more conservative angle.  We were going with the current, aiming right for the middle.  But the current pushed us again!  Oh no!  So I told Trevor to hammer the throttle down, and we powered through the bridge.  It was a little more exciting than we like our mornings, but we made it through unscathed.  So we headed out to the channel, ready for awesome sailing.  But the wind was coming out of the southeast.  What direction were we heading?  Southeast, of course!  We thought maybe it would turn west, like it was forecast to do.  But it didn't.  We had a headwind all morning.  The plan was to re-enter the ICW at Venice Pass, whatever the weather.  So we did that.
Venice is crazy beautiful!  I couldn't believe it.  Aqua-blue water in the canals, cute houses everywhere, and people that just seemed happy to be there.  But then we came to a bridge.  We had to wait 15 minutes for it to open, no big deal.  We went through and headed to the next bridge.  That bridge was close.  And scheduled to open 10 minutes later.  So we waited just upstream from it, but the tide was pushing us closer and closer.  Opening time came, and the bridge was still closed.  I put the boat in reverse and ended up sideways in the canal.  Just at that time, the bridge opened, so we headed through.  Luckily, there was no traffic there at the time, so we were fine.  We chugged down to the next bridge.  Hauled ass down to the next bridge, actually, since we had a rockin' current moving us down there.  But this one was a call-to-open bridge, so we didn't have a problem except a traffic jam caused by a water-cop.  We ended the day at Cape Haze Marina.  Best showers of the trip!  They were amazing!
We left a little later the next morning so the guys could shower (the showers closed at 5pm, how weird is that?), and we loaded up on ice (free!).  We stopped about 10 miles down for some fuel.  Then we hauled up the sails in hopes of gaining a little extra speed.  We were going about 6.3, which wasn't bad.  Then we came across where Charlotte Harbor opens on the Gulf, and the breeze was a little stiffer.  I looked at the GPS, and we were going 7.8!  Even after we passed it, we were averaging 7.5!  Oh yeah, we could get used to this.  All day, we had a strong breeze.  I don't know that we dropped below 6.5.  So we were happy.  My steering arm got a good work out in some choppy water.  We encountered a ton of inconsiderate boaters, going fast past us and kicking up a wicked wake that would rock us something fierce.  But we made it through the day.  We ended up in Fort Myers Beach, on a mooring ball!  Mooring balls are awesome, because you don't have to worry about the anchor slipping or anything like that.  And it was only $13 a night, considerably cheaper than a marina.  If we had extra time, we all agreed we would have loved to spend a few days there, at least.
Mooring area in Fort Myers Beach

Off Our Rocker on the mooring ball

Sunset in Fort Myers Beach
The next day was Christmas Eve.  Trevor and I left early (sunrise? why, yes) and raised our jib.  We were booking it!  We were averaging at least 7 mph, so we were happy.  When we slowed down to 6.7, we thought it might be a good idea to raise the main sail, too.  This was overly ambitious.  The wind picked up, and the waves got choppier.  The boat leaned, and we had to fight to keep on a heading.  After about 10 minutes, we dropped the mainsail back down.  Ah, that's better.  We continued to speed down the coast (we had reached the end of that portion of the ICW, so it was open water the rest of the way), past Naples and on to Marco Island.  It was only 1:30.  We had made amazing time!  It seemed way too early to stop, but it was a long, bumpy, and treacherous way around Cape Romano and the Cape Romano Shoal.  So we took the inland route through the Big Marco River.  It looked intimidatingly shallow on the chart, but Dad's guidebook said it was okay.  And the tide was coming in, so there was no better time to try.  We got through without incident, and it was a really pretty run through mangroves. 

One of the marinas on the Big Marco River

Birds and mangroves in the Big Marco River

On the other side. You know what's down there? The Florida Keys!

The other side of Marco Island (see the buildings way off in the distance?)
We went 5 or 10 more miles to anchor near Panther Key in the Ten Thousand Islands.  Great anchorage, pretty and well-protected.  We slept well. 
And we knocked a day off our trip by going so fast, and by eliminating the dreadful trudge around the Cape Romano Shoal.  So now we were only 2 days away from Marathon!  But weather was moving in.  We had one day to get somewhere to hunker down. 
Christmas morning dawned calm and beautiful.  We left (you know when we left, sunrise) early and ran to Little Shark River in the Everglades National Park.  The day started a little breezy, then the wind died, and then the wind came up again at the end of the day.  In our faces.  It ended up choppy, but we made it into the river fine.  We rafted up with Mom and Dad, them with a bow anchor and us with a stern anchor to hold against the reversing currents. 
Just as I was dropping off to sleep, I heard a thunk.  Weird.  Then Trevor was outside, and so was Dad.  So I got up to check it out.  Our anchor had apparently slipped in the wicked strong current.  But we were holding, so we all went back to bed.  None of us slept well that night.  In the morning, our anchor came right up when we tried to pull the slack out of the line (not good).  The current was rolling back in, so we were holding fine on Dad's anchor.  Dad and Trevor got in the dinghy and took our stern anchor out as far as they could to try and reset it.  When the current went back out again, it kinda held.  Enough to keep us from careening back out to the Gulf (those currents were crazy strong).  But when the current reversed again, we knew we had to come up with a better plan.  We discussed moving the boat, using only Dad's anchor, and tying up to the mangroves that lined the river.  We finally decided to put a longer rope and a chain on our anchor.  They dinghied the anchor back out and dropped it.  This time it held.  We slept well that night.
The next morning we still had strong winds and rough seas, so we were going to sit it out where we were.  But it occured to us that with a 5+ mph current coming in, a boat that tops out at 6 mph under motor power might not make it out if the current was not in our favor.  So we plotted again.  Should we run to East Cape and get a jump on tomorrow?  Should we run to Marathon?  Should we move closer to the mouth of the river?  Trevor and I took a dinghy ride to the mouth of the river to ascertain conditions outside and inside.  It was bumpy on the bay. We didn't want to get beat up for 3 hours for an anchorage that might not be protected, so moving to East Cape wasn't happening.  We did notice, however, that the current in that part of the river was considerably less than where we were anchored.  And the trees looked like they would give us better protection from the wind.  So we moved about a mile downriver.  Success!  Less current, less wind, more comfort.  We slept well again.
Yesterday we were up before the sun and making a run for Marathon.  The weather finally sounded good enough for us to go.  The bay was choppy, and on our beam, so it was a bumpy ride until we turned south.  We pulled up a sail, and we were moving!  Throughout the day, the wind dropped.  The waves dropped with it, so that was good, but the sails drooped, and that was not good.  At last we spotted land! And then the 7-Mile Bridge!  Huzzah!  Because the bridge is so big, you can see it from a long way off.  It takes forever to get there!  Just when we were getting close, our engine sounded rough and started spitting black crud out of the exhaust.  Nooooooo!  We added oil, and that seemed to help for a little while.  Then it spit out black crud again.  Why, little Yanmar engine, why???  The oil was fine, so that wasn't the problem.  We ran it at a lower speed, and that helped.  Then we made it under the 7-Mile Bridge! 

Once we passed through it, we were in the Atlantic!  Hello, Atlantic Ocean!  We turned east, and the wind was strong on our beam.  So we raised both sails, and flew toward our final destination!  Getting into the canal was a bit tricky, but we made it in.  And my brothers were waving from the dock!  Dave passed me a daiquiri as soon as I stepped off the boat.  Life, my friends, is good.
It's been almost two months, and we've finally made it to Marathon.  We were only a day late on our deadline, which is pretty good, especially considering the uncooperate weather and never-ending engine trouble we've had.  We are so happy to be here! 
We've got fishing to do, a warm pool to swim in, crab pots in the water, and kids everywhere (though it's blissfully quiet right now; they went to Key West).  Good times!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Tarpon Springs at Long Last!

Yesterday turned out to be a cold, damp day.  So we didn't go swim with the manatees.  We fueled up the boat, took showers, and got ready to go.  We left Crystal River.  We anchored outside of the channel that leads to the Crystal River power plant.  There's a jetty on the north side of the channel that blocked any waves headed our way.  So we had a breezy night, but felt pretty secure.  After the wind died around 10:00, we slept like babies.
Got up before the sun this morning.  We were ready to make the final run to Tarpon Springs.  Pulled up anchor and headed out.  Pulled up the sails, and the GPS told us we were going 7.4 mph!  Oh boy!  We turned south and tried to use our whisker pole to keep the jib out (otherwise it flopped around).  At one point, we had to turn more west to avoid shallows.  This put us at a different angle to the wind.  Apparently it put too much strain on the whisker pole, and one of the end fittings snapped.  Couldn't believe it.  But we managed to sail just fine the rest of the day without it.  It would have been nice to use it the last part of the day.  The wind slacked off and wasn't enough to keep the jib full.  It just dangled there all sad until we took it down.  We averaged 7 mph for most of the day.  We were psyched!  We estimated it would take about 11 hours to get here, but it only took us 9!  How awesome is that!?
There is one drawback to going so fast.  Hard to believe, I know.  Remember when we were towed into St. Marks, and the wake rode up our transom, over the drain holes, and right into the cockpit?  Well, with the following sea and high speed today, the same thing happened.  We were going too fast!  We never had more than an inch or so, and we were happy to put up with that for the speeds we were getting. 
And we had dolphins!  So many dolphins!
The final leg of the Gulf crossing is complete.  The next 150 miles will be ICW, which means protection.  If we can average 52 miles a day until Dec 27, we can still make it to Marathon on time for Christmas in the Keys.  We can do it!
We're so happy to finally be here!  We left Apalachicola 2 weeks ago, expecting to be here in 4 days.  We never imagined it would take so long.  Engine trouble and uncooperative weather have delayed us 10 days.  But hey, we have stories.  And memories are made of the times that went wrong, not the uneventful ones.  I wouldn't mind if the next week were uneventful, though.  I'd love nothing more than to bore you to tears.
Cheers!  Southbound tomorrow!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Wow, There Are a Lot of Parts in that Engine!

What a day.
We were up before the sun today.  Trevor got up really early to get a jump on reinstalling the fuel tank.  So he was working on that, clanking and clunking around in the cockpit.  It was noisy, so I saw no point in staying in bed.  Besides, he needed coffee and moral support.  He hadn't quite gotten the tank back in yet; it's a really tight squeeze to get it through into the locker.  He asked if I remembered how he got it out in the first place.  I did.  I told him how he had it oriented when he got it out.  So he got it in position, but it still wouldn't go.  "You're not going to like it, but you're just going to have to give it a good shove. You yanked it out yesterday, so it'll take some force to get it back in."  So he shoved.  Hard.  And the tank went right in.  Yay!  First victory of the day! (Besides getting up before sunrise)
Then came hooking up the hoses, bolting the tank back down, and bleeding the lines.  Screwing the tank back down was actually pretty tricky.  You see, space is very scarce on a sailboat, so every little inch is functional.  This means really tight spaces for things sometimes (like forcing a fuel tank in, for example).  The bolt at the front of the tank was really hard (nearly impossible) to reach.  But Trevor finally managed (he's so handy).  Attaching the hoses and stuff actually went fairly well.  (Go Trevor!)  Then came bleeding the lines.
Bleeding air from the lines is kinda my specialty.  I think over the years (especially over the last few weeks), I've gotten pretty good at it.  But this morning, I couldn't get anything but bubbles in the lines.  Couldn't tell if we were getting fuel through anything at all.  So we pulled the copper pipe that attaches the fuel tank to the first filter off.  But with difficulties.  When Trevor turned the nut to take it off, the pipe turned and kinked.  Did you know copper pipe could kink?  We didn't.  We were bumfuzzled.  There was no choice but to cut it off, put the fitting back on, and flange the tip.  Except we don't have a flange tool.  So Trevor flared it with a screwdriver.  Hmmm, okay, we'll see. 
What followed was a series of attempts to figure out where the line wasn't working.  We attached hoses to random places, sometimes with a bulb pump to assist the fuel getting into the lines.  We tried a ton of stuff, some of which I remember what we did and why we did it, some of which fades into the general confusion of the morning.  Finally, we decided we were in over our heads.
Who you gonna call?  Bryce Jemison!  Of course.  Our hero from yesterday and all-around nice guy.
So we called him to see if he knew a mechanic.  He gave us a number, and we called.  The guy is on the other side of the state until Monday.  But he's the Yanmar dealer in the area (our engine is a Yanmar, btw), so he's the guy to talk to.  We made plans for him to come to the boat Monday morning.  We talked to Bryce again to keep him in the loop, and he said he might have another guy.  So he called the other guy for us.
And this afternoon, diesel mechanic extraordinaire Jan came to save the day!  He came strolling up with his little can of diesel and his tools, and we knew he meant business.  He pulled things apart, and pumped diesel from one end to the other.  There were parts we were afraid to even look at wrong, and he pulled out every little piece to make sure it was alright.  He finally figured out it was the fuel injector pump that wasn't working, and he took it to pieces.  And put it back together.  In the right order and everything!  And with no pieces left over.  This guy really knew his stuff.  After a couple of hours, he had the motor running again.  Hallelujah! 
And then it died again.  Crap!  Air in the line.  How is air getting in the line?  Oh, remember that copper pipe Trevor rigged?  Yep, that's the one.  Luckily, I remembered I wasn't comfortable with that fitting.  So we pulled it off and showed it to the mechanic.  "That's unacceptable."  (Yes, there was a definite "I told you so" look thrown at Trevor, but he took it well.  He's learning that I'm always right, slowly but surely.)  So we replaced the copper pipe with some rubber tubing with a bulb pump in the middle.  This will make bleeding the lines easier, and I'm all for that! 
So now the engine is running, the lines are clear, the tank is clean, the diesel is fresh, and the plumbing is sound.  We are in good shape!  The engine is running great!  We even learned some new and helpful things about the motor.  (A handy tip for starting it in the cold, for one.  Would have been nice to know for the last month and a half.) 
Tomorrow's forecast is calling for some pretty rockin' waves (3-5 feet, no thanks), so we probably won't be running for Tarpon Springs just yet.  The plan is to sleep in a little (yay!).  Then we might take the dinghy up the river a bit and swim with the manatees!  And then we're hoping to take the boats toward the mouth of the river to anchor for the night.  That way we're a couple of hours closer to our destination Monday. 
With the engine running better than it has in years, we might even get a little extra speed out of it.  Maybe not.  But it's worth dreaming.  And maybe we'll finally get back to the ICW.  Once back in more protected waters, we can run like hell down to Marathon.  Might even get there by the 27th.
Then it's Christmas in the Keys for the Magees (and the Dread Pirate Trevor)!

Friday, December 17, 2010

More Trying Times.

We ended up staying four nights in Steinhatchee.  It was long enough.
There were good things about Steinhatchee.  We had some excellent meals there.  We had lunch at Roy's on the advice of our cousin Alice.  Excellent seafood!  Trevor and I split a seafood platter, and we were too full to eat dinner that night.  The restaurant was a bit of a walk in strong winds, but worth it.  Down the road the other way was a place called Fiddler's.  They came and picked us up!  How awesome is that?  It was really cold the day we went there, and the restaurant was farther away than Roy's, so a ride to lunch was a very welcome treat.  And the food was amazing!  We had sandwiches on flat bread.  Between the four of us, we had grouper, softshell crab, shrimp, and prime rib.  They were all awesome!  But I think the winner was the prime rib sandwich.  If you ever get lost and end up in Steinhatchee, you should definitely make a trip to Fiddler's for lunch and get the prime rib sandwich.  They have a menu online, and their appetizers look crazy delicious.  We almost went back for dinner, but we hated to ask for a ride just to order a bunch of appetizers.  Next time, though.  (Not sure I want a next time, but the food will be a bright spot if there is one.)  Oh, and we had pizza our last night there for good luck. 
But there were less-than-awesome things, too.  Sea Hag marina wasn't great.  When we got there (after dark), they put us at the end of a pier with another boat.  There wasn't enough room there for both of us.  Our bow was hanging over the other boat's stern, and our stern was off the end of the dock.  We couldn't reach the electric plug-in either.  "This is our port in a storm?!" I was hungry and grumpy at the end of a long day, so I was not patient.  Luckily, they moved us to a more reasonable slip. The docks themselves aren't great, but they work.  We were fine tied up in crazy winds for a few days.  And the showers were terrible.  The women's at least.  My first attempt to shower ended in complete failure.  I let the water run and run but got no hot.  So I gave up.  Trevor had a more successful shower (apparently the hot water takes a while to get there, and I gave up just before it did).  So I tried again.  The windows for the women's shower was open, and stuck that way.  So it was cold in there, really really cold.  And I had to duck down to get under the shower head.  I had a less-than-satisfying shower.  I hate it when I finish a shower shivering.  And the final bad thing about Sea Hag is the blatant price-gouging on diesel fuel.  Trevor and I don't use much fuel, so it didn't affect us terribly.  But Mom and Dad took on 60 gallons.  And they were charged $3.75 a gallon for it.  Just down the street at the gas station, it was only $2.75.  Unreasonable!  We were really happy to get out of there.  The cabin fever was taking hold, too.
Okay, rant about the marina is over.  We stayed for so long because of the wind and the cold. 
See how choppy the water is?  We were pretty well sheltered here, and it was still choppy. Wicked winds.
This is ice on one of our dock lines.  Nasty cold.

But the lucky pizza worked!  We had some trouble starting the engine due to the cold.  And after a few minutes, it died.  So Trevor drained the primary fuel filter to check for water.  There wasn't any.  But then we ended up with air in the fuel lines.  Ah crap!  It took quite a while to get the air bled from the lines, but we finally managed.  So out we went.  Ready to steam down to the Cedar Keys and then on to Tarpon Springs the next day.  Well, you know how plans go.  The wind didn't cooperate.  It was (and here's a shock) not what the forecast called for.  Oh, the marine forecast around here.  So frustrating.  So the wind was on our nose.  As usual.  We couldn't sail with our jib, but we managed to use the main sail a little.  We had to have the bimini down to use it, but a little extra sunshine was kinda nice considering how nasty cold it was.  So the main sail gave us a little speed, we think.  And we got to the Cedar Keys and anchored before sunset.  We had leftover vegetable-beef soup (Mom's delicious soup!) and grilled cheese (so good!) while the sun went down.  Oh, you like sunset pictures?  Okay.

The next morning (Thursday), we got up bright and early.  Way before sunrise.  Took three tries to get the motor started, but it was cold.  We headed out as the sun came up.  We actually saw the sun rise over the same island that it set behind the night before.  Don't get to see that very often.  The wind came up pretty early that morning, so we had a breeze blowing us out to the Gulf.  And some dolphins escorting us out (have I mentioned that I love them?).  Once we made our turn, the wind was on our faces yet again.  (Cursed forecasts are always off.)  We ran up the main sail and charged into the waves.  The sail actually seemed to help us keep our momentum even through the waves.  We were still going considerably slower than we needed to.  70 miles at 3.5 mph is a 20-hour drive.  Eventually, we gave it up.  We were going to get the crap beat out of us forever if we continued on.  So we made a beeline for Crystal River.  As we were heading that way, the wind died down, and the seas calmed.  Ah, much nicer.  We could have gone all day in seas like that.  Weird how the wind dies in the afternoon in this part of the world.  We anchored just outside the channel that goes into Crystal River.  We didn't want to go into the river because it's 9 miles in to a marina.  That's about 2 hours.  We couldn't afford a 2-hour delay when we already have a long long drive ahead of us.  So we anchored rafted up to see how it would do.  The wind picked back up a little, and we could see our boat bobbing next to Mom and Dad's.  We knew the rafting thing wouldn't work for the night, so we were planning to separate and anchor on our own after we finished our drinks.  Then the wind picked up more.  The water got choppy.  So we separated fast, pulled up our stern anchor, and headed for the channel.  The wind was blowing hard enough to actually knock us off course and almost out of the channel.  Once we got into the river itself, we were fine.  But the depth goes up and down and up and down.  20 feet to 6 feet to 16 to 8.  Very stressful to watch the depth in an unfamiliar place.  Eventually we made it to Pete's Pier, where we tied up for the night. 
Trevor and I had a slight fuel leak, so I tried to fix it.  When I loosened one of the nuts, I hears a hiss of air going into the lines.  Ah crap, not again.  But we decided to deal with it in the morning, as it had been such a rough day.  So I went to take a shower.  And it wasn't hot.  It was slightly warmer than cold, so I gave it a try.  I only got through washing my hair when I gave it up.  This made four showers in a row that ended with me shivering and disappointed.
And now for today's events.  It was a doozy of a day.
After we had coffee and were starting to lean toward leaving, I started the motor.  Started no problem!  It's nice and warm (I was only wearing 1 pair of pants, instead of 5), so the engine was happy.  For a little while.  Then that bubble must have gotten to the important part, and the motor died.  Crappity crap crap.  We were ready to go!  So I started bleeding the lines.  But try as I might, I could not get fuel to come out of some of them.  Trevor tried and had less luck.  So I tried again, and nothing but bubbles.  Frustrated, we moped to Mom and Dad and called my brother Dave for advice.  We drained the Racor filter (because that seemed to work before), but it didn't refill afterward.  Hmm.  Talked to Dave again, and he said check farther up the line.  So we did.  Farther and farther up.  We messed with plumbing we didn't even know existed.  Ball valve?  We have one!  And it was dirty.  So we cleaned parts and checked lines and got some fuel right out of the tank.  Water and dirt in the tank.  Oh no!  Nastiness in the fuel tank is a big problem.  After weighing several options, we decided to go to the West Marine store, get an external fuel tank, plumb it in, and skip the main fuel tank altogether. 
So we strolled up to West Marine.  We called them on the way to make sure they even carried fuel tanks, and Trevor talked to a guy who said he had some ideas how to make it work.  So we got there, asked a guy on the way where the fuel tanks were.  Hey, it was the guy Trevor and already talked to!  His name was Bryce, and he was definitely our hero of the day!  So he met us over by the fuel tanks and went over our problem with us.  Gave us advice, then more advice.  Kept us from buying things we didn't necessarily need.  Said he knew a guy who could polish our fuel tank, and then we wouldn't have to buy a new tank.  (Polishing consists of pumping out the fuel, filtering it, pumping it back in forcefully [to knock the crud out of the tank] and repeating until clean.) That sounded pretty good to us!  He even called the fuel polishing guy.  No answer, but he left a message for us.  And then you know what he did?  He gave us a ride back to the marina!  Said he'd be back later to check on us.
We could not get hold of the fuel polishing guy.  We finally got a call back, but it was from a place in Key West, so no good.  We eventually ended up calling another marina (Twin Rivers) to get their fuel polishing guy to help us out.  But they said he couldn't polish the fuel, just pump it out.  But he said that should take care of the crud in the tank.  Okay, cool. 
Hey, you know who showed up in the meantime?  Our buddy Bryce!  He brought some stuff he had lying around at home that he thought might help us out.  How nice is that?  And wouldn't take a dime for it, just said pay it forward.  If there were more people in the world like Bryce, it would be a much nicer place.  He also gave us moral support, some more advice, and information about some of the places we were headed to.  We told him if he makes it down to the Keys in the next couple of months to give us a call.  I really hope we see him down there.
So the guy shows up, and he pumps out our tank.  But that doesn't take care of the crud.  At all.  And the guy leaves.  Just leaves.  Basically with a "sucks for you" attitude.  Hard to get good help on a Friday afternoon, I guess.  So we unbolted the tank and dragged it to a slightly better spot (there are no easy places to work on fuel tanks on a sailboat).  Trevor shoved a rag in and wiped out what he could.  He did this several times.  Lots of really nasty rags.  After a ton of effort, pulling the tank out completely, and some non-bloggable methodology, we managed to get that tank as clean as it's going to be.  We'll put it back in tomorrow, hook everything up, bleed the lines.  After that, all our problems will be solved!  We hope.  With a clean fuel tank and a fresh supply of fuel, we should be good to go.  Honestly, we should have cleaned the tank earlier, but we didn't realize how bad it was.  You never know how bad things are until they die, especially when you can't see them.
Oh yeah, and another cool thing.  As we were working, the guy across the dock offered us a bag of ice he didn't need.  Said he was just going to throw it away, and he'd rather see it used.  So we got ice! 
Here are my thoughts on Crystal River.  It's pretty here.  The people are really nice.  But the marinas are not the best.  But at least the people are nice.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Bad Day, a Worse Day, and a Great Day walk into a bar

Last time I blogged, we were anchored near Alligator Harbor.  The next morning, we woke up at 4:40, listened to the forecast, and went back to bed.  It did not sound like something we wanted to even try.  Sleeping in until 8 was really nice.  Then we had a fairly lazy day.  The waves picked up a little throughout the day, but we didn't think much of it.  Until we went to bed.  The waves were just big enough to yank us around and knock our boats into each other. We had the fenders out, so there was no real risk for damage, but we could not sleep.  We got up around 1:00 to see if adjusting the anchor line would help. Apparently, Dad thought the same thing because he was out adjusting his line 10 minutes later.  Adjusting the lines didn't help. Dad pulled his anchor up, hoping we would swing around on ours and get a better position into the wind.  We didn't budge.  So the waves still knocked us around.  Since we were leaving in 3 hours anyway, we said "Let's just go."  So we went.  Full dark.
And it was gorgeous out there!  So many stars overhead.  I even saw some shooting stars.  And looking beside the boat into our wake, I could see the bioluminescence we stirred up.  Really awesome!  So we were in pretty good spirits.  Hey, we were going to get to Steinhatchee 3 hours earlier than we expected.  The waves got a little bigger, but we were still doing okay.  Then the engine chugged.  Uh oh.  It did this the other day.  Then it chugged, chugged, sputtered and died.  Oh crap.  It restarted easily enough, but we called off that attempt to go.  We turned around and headed back to Alligator Harbor to anchor for a few hours and maybe get some rest.
Not much sleep was attained.  We were probably a little too wired to sleep.  So we got up and headed out before the sun came up, when there was just enough light to see the waves coming at us.  The engine sputtered a couple of times, and died once.  But we headed on, thinking maybe it just had some crud it needed to cough out.  Just as we were nearing the point of turned east to Steinhatchee, the motor started giving us more trouble again.  We decided to aim for St. Marks, which was 30 miles away, instead attempting the 60 miles to Steinhatchee.  The waves got bigger and bigger, and the motor got grumpier and grumpier.  Died several times, but we managed to restart it.  For a while.  It took 2 attempts to get it started, and it didn't stay on for long.  We had already called TowBoatUS to get them moving toward us because we knew the motor wouldn't make it 30 miles.  So when the engine died the final time, we dropped anchor.  It was tricky, though, because we were in 35 feet of water, and our anchor line was only 100' long.  So we tied our old anchor line to the end of the new one to give us 200' to work with.  Trevor showed masterful seamanship in getting us anchored in those conditions!  Then we hunkered down and waited.  We were rocked and rolled like crazy, never in danger, but in lots of discomfort.  My stomach was uneasy, but the ginger kept it from losing control.  Didn't want to be leaning over the side of the boat in those conditions. 
Finally, the towboat showed up.  Trevor had to pull up the 150 feet of anchor line he'd let out.  And with waves buffeting us in all directions.  He was awesome!  Heaved that anchor up (yes, heaved), secured it, and then got the towline attached.  Being towed is an adventure in itself.  Normally, our boat doesn't go more than 6 or 7 mph.  We've been up to 8, but with a current.  The guy was towing us at 8.5 mph.  I now understand why sailboats can't exceed their hull speed.  At this speed, we were making a wake (we don't make a wake, ever) that was high enough to come halfway up our transom (back end of the boat).  This was a problem.  Why?  We have holes back there, drain holes for the cockpit.  So water flowed in through these holes into the cockpit. 

Water in the cockpit

Our view of the towboat
You can see we had several inches of water in the cockpit.  It was like that the entire tow, which took about 4 hours.  Every once in a while, we'd ask the driver to slow down so the water would drain out.  After about an hour, we started to relax.  I tossed out a fishing line.  Didn't catch anything except the attention of a few seagulls. 
But then we got dolphins!  Several of them!  And they stayed with us for quite a while, jumping right next to the boat or riding in our wakes.  I took lots of pictures, even a video. 

Those were dolphins jumping our wake.  The one below is right next to the boat!  So awesome!
So the day was crappy, but the dolphins were amazing.
Finally we made it up the St. Mark's River to the Shields Marina.  A mechanic came to look at our motor and found the problem instantly.  We had water in our fuel.  And a dirty primary fuel filter.  The fuel filter was my fault.  It's in a place that's really hard to get to, so I hadn't changed it.  Ever.  But the mechanic was awesome and showed us how to check it and change it.  He explained everything we needed to know about how much diesel engines hate water.  He even reassured us about the slow starting on cold mornings (spraying WD-40 in there is okay, yay!) and how the engine is burning oil.  So we felt better, the engine is fixed and happy, and now we know what to do if the problem occurs again.  We were worried we'd have to replace the thing, and that's where the big money comes in.  So we were relieved, to say the least.
The forecast for yesterday was awesome.  But it had been awesome the last several days, and we'd had rough seas.  So we gambled and tried again.  We figured if the water was rough, we could turn around and spend a few days in St. Marks.  Bad weather was coming, and we had only the one nice day left before getting socked in. 
We left yesterday as the sun was coming up.  Dodged crab pots in the river.  When we got to the Gulf, the water was pretty smooth.  So we raised our genoa and motorsailed for a while.  We ran a few miles off shore, and there were crab pots everywhere!  Crab pots are not something you want to tangle with.  They'll wrap around the propeller and shut down a motor.  So we dodged them all day.  But the water was smooth.  Glassy at points.  It was an absolutely gorgeous day!  There were times where we could hardly tell where the water stopped and the sky began.
Is this the same Gulf of Mexico that's been beating the devil out of us for so long?  Amazing!  The biggest tragedy of the day came when my fishing hook broke.  Just snapped in two as I was getting ready to start trolling.  I was heartbroken.  I was going to catch fish, for sure!  But if that was the worst thing to happen, we were having a great day.
And then came the sunset.  Oh, the sunset.  We were still out on the water while the sun was going down.  And we ended up coming into the river and the marina in the dark.  It was a little tricky.  But with Trevor navigating and me driving, we got in with no problems.  Because we're awesome like that. 
And we are so glad to be here.  The rained moved through this morning, and now the wind is howling.  They're calling for possible gale force winds, and we are tied up tight.  Trevor's been wind-proofing the boat.  Took down our radar reflector, genoa, and tied down the bimini.  I think we're about as ready as we can be.  And for your viewing pleasure, yesterday's sunset.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Adventures Are Overrated

Last time on the exciting Adventures of Cap'n Rumslinger and the Dread Pirate Trevor... We were about to leave Panama City. Now we're caught up.
So we left Panama City. It was a bit choppy, but nothing we couldn't handle. And cold, too, but we could handle that, too. On our way toward East Bay, we encountered a couple of large boats. They were going way fast and making a big ole wake. But they slowed down right as they got to us. Unfortunately, they should have slowed down a half mile sooner. We were rocked mightily by their wake and cursed about how any idiot can buy a boat. Just a little while later, another Clorox bottle boat came roaring around the corner toward us. This guy didn't even slow down and passed really close by. Thanks to my awesome captaining skills, we came out unscathed, but annoyed. I may have said a few expletives and given him a 1-finger wave, but I'm not sure (I'm totally sure, and he had it coming). Then we rocked and rolled all down East Bay. East Bay ends in a really narrow (really narrow) channel, and of course there was a barge coming the other way when we got there. It was a tight squeeze, but we made it. Then 4 boats came up on us (it would have been nice if they'd caught us in the wide bay, but no) and passed us when we got to some marshy area (also narrow, but less formidably so). Then we motored on down the Searcy Creek and anchored in an area labeled "inpenetrable swamp" on the chart. The nices place we've anchored in the last few days.
I'd post pictures, but Blogger is being really stupid and won't let me. *pout*
The next day we headed out (like we do) toward Apalachicola. The day was cold, but we were alright. The marina where we intended to stay was up a creek, so we had to turn into the wind, and then we froze our butts off! Dad led the way up the creek and into our first choice of marina. But it was shallow. He stirred up mud on his way in and his depth finder read zero (never a good thing), so he broke out the boat hook and checked the depth in the next slip. Only 2 feet. So we headed down to Scipio Creek Marina. I led the way into this one, and when we rounded the corner, I saw Phil Waste waving at me from the pier. (Phil and Linda were my dock parents back in Chattanooga, until they left on their boat a couple of years ago.) So we parked the boat, and had lunch with Phil and Linda. So awesome to see them!  They shared lots of stories and advice about the upcoming trip.  And Linda took us to the Family Dollar to get thermals and gloves to keep us from freezing on the Gulf crossing.  We even got to do some grocery shopping.  And ate gelato at a local chocolate shop (so good!).  That night we plotted and looked at charts and made plans for crossing the Gulf.

Yesterday was cold, and we didn't have far to go, so we didn't leave until 10 or 11.  Had a bit of an adventure getting out of the marina.  A mini-adventure.  The wind caught me off guard, so we ended up pinned sideways at the end of the pier, precariously close to another boat docked there.  After some tricky  maneuvering (and some hard shoving from Trevor), we ended up safely out of the harbor with no damage to our boat or the other.  We headed down the creek, and there were 2 boats side-by-side heading toward us.  One of them (happened to be a police boat) veered off a little, so we went in between them.  Once we hit the marked channel, we had to dodge sneaky crab pots that drifted out of their place.  Crab pots are somthing you never want to tangle with.  If you get the ropes wrapped around your prop, it's either time for a haul-out or some scuba diving.  No fun.  So we wove in and out of them, like awesome pirates that we are.  Went through a cut in St. George Island (bumpy ride getting there) and ended up in the Gulf!  The beautiful, gorgeous aquamarine Gulf of Mexico!  It was so great to see!  The big choppy waves went away, and we had gentle rollers following us.  It made for an excellent peaceful ride.  Nice change. 
Mom and Dad anchored off the southern side of the island (to protect us from the northern wind), and we rafted up together.  Trevor and I weren't sure about this arrangement, since we had waves knocking us about, but Dad was sure our stern anchor would keep us facing into the waves and not beam-on.  This held true until just after dinner (and just after sunset).  Then the wind shifted, and we really got rocked about!  With only 5 minutes of usable daylight left, we decided to break apart and go anchor alone.  With dark deepening around us, we were buffeted by waves and chilled by wind, but Trevor skillfully managed to get us anchored securely.  Ah, relief.  Until we went inside.  The boat was rocking up and down, left and right, hither and yon (I could go on, but you get the point).  It was a rough ride.  I'm not generally prone to seasickness, but I started to feel less than awesome.  Trevor was quick on the draw and sliced me a piece of ginger.  Fun thing about fresh ginger: if you bite into it, it immediately takes your mind off your stomach.  That taste is intense.  But it totally works!  Within a minute of biting into it, my stomach settled.  Yay ginger!  The boat was still rocking and rolling, though.  And with the dark outside and lights on inside, my brain could not compute what was happening.  Wicked vertigo.  So I went to bed in self-defense.  Trevor stayed up for a while to make sure we were secure.  Neither of us slept well at all last night.  The waves knocked us around, and the water in our water tank (right below the bed) sloshed and banged around all night.  Frightful racket, like a bowling ball in a bucket.  But the waves did slack off a little after a couple of hours.

And then they came back in full force this morning.  It's so hard to get out of bed and get dressed when you're in a washing machine.  My stomach objected again.  Tried to eat, but that wasn't really happening.  I finally figured out that I might be better outside.  So I bundled up, went out, and felt better immediately.  Now I know I can't be inside the boat when it's really rough.  This might prove problematic in the future.  So we started the motor and pulled up the anchor.  The sun came up on our right as we made our way to the end of St. George Island.  The plan for the moment was to get back inside Dog Island to where it was more protected.  As we neared the turning point, the motor slowed down.  Weird.  A minute later, it slowed down, chugged, and stopped.  Uh oh.  Trevor looked at the motor, and there was nothing glaringly wrong.  So I cranked it, and it started right up again.  No idea what that was about.  Maybe with all the waves rocking us around, we got a bubble in the fuel line or something.  But it seems okay now.  We went on the inside of Dog Island, then back out to the Gulf.  This time around, the Gulf had gently rolling waves, small ones.  It was a great ride!  The sun was out again.  Gorgeous!  Where did this come from?  We could have cruised all day in that.  But by this time, there were very few places within reach before sunset.  So we're anchored right next to Alligator Harbor.  Trying to figure out our plan for tomorrow.  Steinhatchee is 70 miles away, and there's not much that's closer.  The weather is also turning fouler sooner than the forecast called for.  So there's a lot of plotting going on right now. 

We'll see what happens!  Not taking any chances.  But we're ready to get to the other side of the Gulf.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

In Panama City After Another Great Day!

Today was awesome!  We got up early.  Well, Trevor got up super early and made coffee.  Then I crawled out of bed just in time to untie from the parents' boat and take off.  We left the Choctawhatchee Bay and entered "the ditch".  It's a long, narrow canal-type thing.  But there are parts that are surprisingly neat! 
Florida's Grand Canyon:

Never expected to see that in Florida.  I liked it.
Another really cool thing (even more cool than the scenery) was the current.  We lucked into a current going the same way as us.  In fact, it was racing that way.  We generally go about 5-6 mph when we're motoring.  This morning, we were hauling ass at 7.6 mph.  We even got up to 8 at one point!  I think that's as fast as this boat has ever been (unless it was on a truck once), definitely as fast as I've ever had it.  It was awesome!  Here's photographic proof of our record-breaking speed:
Whoohooo!  So we booked it down the ditch. 
Once we got out of the ditch, we entered West Bay.  It was pretty, but nothing new or spectacular.
However, I did see about 8 dolphins through the course of the day.  Most of them were pretty far off, but a few were really close.  One swam right down the edge of the boat.  Later, there were two or three of them right next to us!  It was great!  If only they would stop for a minute and let me take a picture.
When we got closer to the Panama City Marina, we came across about 10 or 15 sailboats.  They must have been having a regatta today.  They're so pretty all lined up with their sails hoisted and filled.

Not as pretty as our rainbow sail, of course, but still really awesome.  It looks like a catalog picture or something!
Then we pulled into the marina.  It was different from anywhere else we've ever been, just posts to tie up to, and a little half-pier between boats to get to land.  It was tricky to figure out the right lengths for our lines so we wouldn't hit the posts, but were also close enough to get off the boat.  We managed, but our power cord was too short.  If I'd backed the boat in, we would have been fine, but I didn't have the nerve.  Backing up is tricky.  The marina was nice enough to let us borrow their 50-ft cord for the night.  At some point I need to get another 25-ft cord to add to our current one.  Then we'll be fine.  Gotta do some shopping.
Then we all had showers!  Yay!  It was one of the best showers of the trip.  It's a weird life when the highlight of your day is a shower, but we are living weird lives right now.
I also bought a Florida fishing license.  I've been itching to fish since we hit salt water.  I borrowed Dad's rod and reel.  It just had a little green rubber thing, so I didn't think I had a chance of catching anything.  I was wrong!  I caught 3 black snapper in a matter of minutes!  They were small, so I tossed them back.  Also wasn't in the mood to clean and cook fish for dinner.  Once we get to bigger water, and I start catching awesome fish, though.  Oh yeah!  I'm pretty excited about that!

 And then we had an AMAZING sunset. 

Yep, just another day in paradise.