Monday, January 23, 2017

Riding the storm out...again.

In the wee hours of the morning the line of thunderstorms passed over Kintala, announcing its arrival with winds of 58 knots, slightly more than the one in Fox Town. There were tornado watches, tornado warnings, and spectacularly vivid lightning. Rain was so intense that the visibility was reduced to mere feet, making it impossible to see if anyone had pulled an anchor loose or dropped off a mooring ball. The good news was that the deluge lasted for just a few minutes, replaced by a more normal driving rain. The bad news was someone had indeed pulled an anchor loose. As the visibility improved, Deb spotted a rapidly flashing light off our port side, clearly a warning signal of some type. Sure enough, just off our bow a boat loomed out of the night and, just like in Fox Town, appeared to be dragging directly for our anchor, and our bow.

Out on deck, soaked in the driving rain, we started to untie fenders, having prepped the cockpit before the weather arrived in case we needed to wake the Beast for just such a contingency. The dragging boat started to weave back and forth across our bow, her own engine at work while the crew struggled to get the hook back into the mud. They were close, got no closer, and eventually – as the storm passed to our east – managed to get settled back in.

The waves inside the protected anchorage at Boot Key
The storms have passed but the wind hasn't eased much. It blew constantly in the 40's throughout the night, and is forecast to do so until midnight tonight. Tomorrow it should ease into the high teens, then finally fade away. It is uncomfortable. The boat is making a slalom run on its rode, heeling and lurching at each turn. Coffee cups tumble and fall if inadvertently set aside and forgotten, anything that can roll and slide, will. Coffee and cereal may well make up most of our diet today. We are around 36 hours into this slice of weather, all sleep caught in bits and snatches that are not really sleep, just burning minimum energy until the next lurch, gust, or noise demands attention. Cooking is not much of an option.

Though the wind is slightly worse than it was in Fox Town, Boot Key Harbor is much better protected from building waves. Here in the anchorage waves break at two feet or so, and there are people sitting in their dinks pumping out the rain from last night. Kintala's Ding is lashed to her foredeck, our normal procedure for a storm. The boat that broke free was trailing her dink as she motored back and forth, and it had me worried. This morning I can see that they tied it high on a bridle, making it impossible to snag the line in the prop. But I couldn't see that last night. Most of the boats around us, though, are trailing dinks with lines in the water. Drag in a storm, catch the dink rode in the over.

Today will likely pass much as yesterday, though winds of 30 to 40+ are harder to live with than those of 20 to 30. (And there are a few more storms starting to pop up on the RADAR. Small, but this may not be over yet.) We will read, do a little writing, watch a video. Videos are good because they come with sound, and earplugs help dampen out the constant moan of the wind. For me that is a trying sound, making conditions feel much more uncomfortable than they really are. The longer it goes on, the more trying it becomes.

Maybe we can be on our way by Wednesday.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Ups and Downs...and ups.

Kintala is safely holed up in Boot Key, riding out a blow expected to include wind gusts up to 35 knots. There are a lot of boats crowded into the safe spot, all on short rodes, so the next 36 hours should prove interesting. Protected or not, boats have been known to saw through their mooring lines or drag an anchor to rampage through the rest of the fleet. Yet we are very content to be where we are.
The anchorage at Boot Key Harbor

Just a few nights ago Kintala was not a happy boat. Lying to a poorly set anchor while trying to figure out a place to ride out the upcoming blow looms as a pretty big deal when everything one owns is at the end of the decision making list. Boot Key was the only real option within a reasonable reach, but it was rumored to be full with boats anchored outside waiting for a spot. And “outside” would be a terrible place to ride out this weather. The original thought that it wouldn't be that big a deal had disappeared. To quote Marine Weather for the area of Boot Key, “Monday: West to Northwest winds 25 to 30 knots. Seas 9 to 11 feet...building to 10 to 13 feet.”

One of the worst beating we have taken was in Fox Town, where the seas were every bit of 6 feet, maybe a bit more, lasted nearly 6 hours, broke over the bow...and we broke the boat. Winds gusted to 50 knots, blew steady at 40, but we did have a little protection. Waves twice as high and lasting twice as long while sitting out in the Florida Straights? That's the kind of thing that can bring an end to cruises.

Had Boot Key proved to be full, we would have anchored north of Marathon, which would leave us bare faced to the weather when the front passed and the winds swung to the west-north-west. Marine Weather again, this time for the bay north of Marathon.“Monday; West to Northwest winds 25 to 30 knots. Bay Water extremely rough.” Not sure what “extremely rough” means, but it sounds better than “10 to 13 feet.” Not a good time, but perhaps no worse than Oriental, Charleston, or Fox Town. Still, 3 days of little sleep, little food, and seriously uncomfortable motions (aka; taking a beating) is not a happy thought. That became our last, and not very good, option. You know some bad calls have been made when the options list is reduced to one.

A Marina stay could have been an option, the cruising kitty somewhat flush from the summer's work. A four night stay could be had for a little more than a week's worth of after taxes pay. But marinas in this part of the world are pretty full this time of year, and many have approaches that will snag a 5 foot keel. Calling around made it clear that a slip for our Tartan just couldn't be had. Even if one could be found in Boot Key, the transient slips are pretty exposed, lying right at the inlet. Those folks are going to have an ugly weekend, dock or no.

Back in Factory Bay I had pulled up the latest Prog Charts and saw what could be a bad-looking possibility playing out. Marine Weather and the GRIB files didn't go out enough days to offer details on the coming cold front, but it looked like a lot of isobars were fixing to gather over Florida, and the winds were going to be fierce. Deep in the reptilian part of my brain, that bit mostly tasked with self preservation, I wondered if staying in Marco Island for a few days to see how things panned out might be wise. And it would have been. But, clearly, I am not that wise.

Now the do-do was getting deeper, with options being reduced to Boot Key or taking a thrashing.

So we left Little Spanish Key just after dawn, picked our way through an absolute nightmare of crab (or maybe lobster) pots hiding in the rising sun, and made the Moser Channel well before noon. That gave us enough time to backtrack through the Channel and head to the north side of Marathon should Boot Key be stuffed.

It wasn't. Tight? Yes. Stuffed? No, or at least not when we got here Friday. It is Sunday now, the blow arrived last night, and the place is pretty stuffed now. (Why do these things always arrive at night? This one forecast to last through today, tonight, tomorrow, and into tomorrow night. So last night was night one of three.)

Before the weather arrived we had a chance to visit with friends from Carlyle lake. Dennis and Petra own the marina where we started this little adventure. They spend part of every winter living in a picturesque spot at one of the nearby keys. After getting settled in, we dumped the Ding into the water and putted down near the channel entrance for a happy hour meet.

Riding back through the bridge into the anchorage after our happy hour visit with Dennis and Petra

So I wasn't concerned when I should have been, got concerned when it was too late to do anything but came up against poor options, and ended up sitting pretty safe with only minor concerns after all.

Ups, and downs...and ups.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Real life

Kintala and her crew have been on the move, trying to escape the confines of the shallow waters and crab pot mine fields of the Gulf of Mexico and the west coast of Florida, though it has had its charms. A day out of Factory Bay we set the anchor just outside of Shark River. There was no need to venture further inland as the winds were light and variable. It was the first time since getting to Snead Island months ago that we enjoyed a place dark and quiet, far away from the light and noises of modern society. Venus and Mars were glowing bright enough to leave their own reflections in the placid water while the silence was so complete that one's ears hurt, trying to find a purchase in the unfamiliar quiet. I couldn't help but wonder. With nearly half of America's population now living in cities and suburbs, just how many of my fellow citizens ever experience a place where human kind is so obviously unnecessary to the workings of the world or the history of the cosmos? And if more of us did, would that make us a different kind of people than we have turned out to be?

The sun reflected in the water off Kitala's side in a rare moment without crab traps

It was a special evening set in the middle of some not-so-special days. Truth to tell, if I were a full time live-a-board cruiser whose only cruising choices were the west coast of Florida and the eastern Gulf, Kintala would have a “FOR SALE” sign hung on her bow and we would be looking for an RV. Two full days of picking our way through crab pot haven, and finally getting out of the Gulf, have left us anchored up near Big Spanish Key with poor holding, little protection, and nowhere else to get to before night fell. Crawl Key was the anchorage we had been aiming for after coasting over the shallows of the Big Spanish Channel (even at near high tide the depth gauge read “0” at places). But it was completely covered in crab pot markers. With some daylight left, we moved on and ended up here, a place with a bit more swing room. Which is good. Even the Mantus couldn't find a purchase in the few inches of sand covering coral, and we are lying to its 65 pounds of weight and more than 100 feet of chain. It will likely be enough to keep us in place, but it will also be a night of restless and troubled sleep. The night's forecast of light winds has already proven to be in error, and we are currently bouncing and bumping against the anchor chain. Two different anchor alarms are set and, should it turn out that we need to move and attempt a re-hook, picking out the crab traps will be nigh on impossible in the darkness.

Pulling into the anchorage at Shark River on the very last of the sunlight after 10 hours and 40 minutes and 59.7 nm

This is only my second time sailing through this part of the world, but I am failing to understand other people's enthusiasm for the place. Still...

Dolphins have been nearly hourly visitors, rather than a rare treat. We have seen more big turtles in the last two days than we have seen in the last two years. We even saw what we think was the fin and wake of a large shark, off the port side, doing whatever it is large sharks do in the Gulf of Mexico. (I know, pretty much anything they want to do.) That makes a kind of sense since we were heading for Shark River at the time.

Tomorrow we hope to gain Boot Key, though it may be too full for us to find a place to hind from the cold front due Sunday / Monday. Winds of 35 knots are forecast, along with thunderstorms. Should there be no room for us in the inn, at least the anchorage outside has good holding. After riding out a 50+ knot storm in Fox Town a couple of years ago, and with an additional 50+ feet of chain to lay down if necessary, the front should offer nothing more than a couple of days of discomfort and another night or two of little sleep. While in (or near) Boot Key, we hope to address a couple of minor mechanical issues. The brand new remote oil filter we installed last summer has an oil leak. And the
brand new water pump we also installed last summer, (which has less than 50 hours of run time on it) has developed a water leak at the front seal. (The same issue that caused us to replace the old one.)

Welcome to the real life of a full time cruiser.

Of course, another part of the real life of a full time cruiser is the Abaco Islands. With any luck we will see them again before too many more weeks have passed.

As daylight waned, the horizon became indistinct
Backing down on the anchor as the last light fades
The sunset at Little Pine Key

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

On the move, slowly.

This morning Kintala nodded to the rising sun from Factory Bay, Marco Island. We stopped here on the way north and, except for bumping the ground on our first attempt to gain the anchorage, liked the place. There were no such dramatics getting in this time, “previous tracks” are a marvel of modern navigation.

Leaving Charlotte Harbor
Where we did bump the ground was exiting the canal in Punta Gorda two days ago. “Bump” isn't really the right word, “stuck fast” is a better description. Trying to get away early in the morning on a falling tide maybe wasn't the best choice. But there was a long day's sail ahead and, well, stuff happens. So after paying four years' worth of premiums to Tow Boat US, we finally got the opportunity to try out their service. Barely an hour after fudging to a stop in the soft and sticky mud (and providing the morning entertainment for those walking and fishing in the park), Kyle had pulled us free and out into deep(er) water. No harm, no foul, and excellent service all around.

If you sail the ICW, don't leave home without it.

We had been giving longer, outside runs to the Keys serious consideration. Two or three nights worth of passage making would have had us there already. Assuming, of course, one didn't get tangled up in one of the hundreds, if not thousands, of crab pots polluting the water even miles off shore. I know, crab fisherman need to make a living, and people like eating crab. But the crabbers have effectively confiscated the west coast of Florida for their own use. Picking one's way through in the day is possible, though in bigger waves than the ones we have seen so far it would be difficult. Trying it at night is a pure crap shoot. Maybe next year we will try the “sail 50 miles west during the day then turn north or south as appropriate and be on your way” approach. For, truth to tell, the combination of crab pots and shallow water is getting rather tedious.

Great Blue Heron in the Venice Inlet
Still, we are in Factory Bay, on the hook, and it is sure good to be back to our chosen way of living. We even had sundowners with newly met friends, who are also new to cruising. We met on Rascal, their 42 foot Jeanneau DS. Good folks on a sweet boat. Reasons to come this way.

There hasn't been a lot of sailing going on yet. Yesterday, just after leaving the channel off Sanibel Island, we saw a glorious hour of reaching, starting out with the two reefs in main left over from the last romp with Daughter Eldest and Family. (Yep, its been that long since the main was put to serious use.) We had to heave-to for a few minutes at first to reconfigure the auto pilot from “tiller pilot” to “wind vane” mode. That is every bit as much of a pain as it sounds, but that's what happens when one layers back-yard engineering onto marginal-in-the-first-place equipment. It all works and we have learned to live with it. In fact, I am a bit proud of how well it seems to work most of the time.

As the winds faded, we shook out first one reef, then the other, hanging onto the sailing as long as we could. Eventually though, it was clear that night would fall on the lurking crab traps long before we would gain the entrance to Marco Island. No need to heave-to for the auto pilot reconfiguration this time. Kintala was effectively drifting in placid water.

Figuring it out as we go. Stumbling a bit once in a while. But still making progress. Not too bad. Not too bad.

Thanks, Dave for teaching me that this was an Aninga not a cormorant.
The duplicate of the Vietnam Vet Wall located in Punta Gorda, FL

The Captain is happy to be on the move again.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Hard Starting...

Not the Merc on the Ding, that starts pretty easily. It is getting it to idle that is difficult. What proved hard was getting back to cruising, getting off the pier.

A manatee showing us how to relax
Friday was the initial start day. Daughter Eldest and Family departed before sunrise. The plan was to have Kintala underway shortly thereafter. A blustering cold front made leaving the dock problematic, and the oven was having ideas of its own. Ideas that included fluttering, popping and puffing flame balls. Ditch the idea of leaving the dock. Heading out with an oven that was threatening to turn into a hand grenade would be pure lunacy. There is enough of that in the world without my contribution.

There were other small tasks that needed done as well. Good thing, since the oven gremlin was elusive and persistent. It took until Sunday to root him out and send him on his way, with many thanks to Todd at Sure Marine for his troubleshooting help.

Sunday. Oven was fixed. Water tanks were filled. But man was it cold. Monday would be good. We could leave early in the morning. And with that thought in mind Deb went out to check all of the boat's exterior lights. All of which worked except for the bow navigation lights. I am a boat spark chaser, we are sitting in a boat yard that has, and can get, parts. It seemed kind of silly to head off with something like the navigation lights not working. Still being hooked to shore power meant we could at least fend off some of the cold with our little space heater. Monday was planned as a work day. Departure day to be determined.

Monday. Monday morning a water leak was evident by the regular cycling of the pump. Deb found it in less than five minutes. I went to work on the navigation lights. It was just a burned out bulb. Snead Island had the right one in stock. Fixed.

The now properly repaired jib pole didn't fit in its improperly installed brackets any more (thank you previous owner). Since we were (still) in the boatyard I pulled the aft bracket and remounted it to the deck in a place so the pole would fit. It is better than lashing said pole to a stanchion. And the missing battery voltage at the helm charging plug wasn't missing after all. The adapter(s) we kept trying were shot. Get a new adapter and all is well with the world.

Monday afternoon. The days of delay have left us a little short on provisions. Deb borrowed a car to make a run (thank you Nice Man at the Marina). Our bikes went north with the kids, better than leaving them down here to slowly rust into a pile of dust. When she got back it was still just early afternoon. The winds had faded, the sun was out and warming the air, and there didn't seem to be any reason to stay any longer.

While Deb sorted the last of the provisions I topped all the water tanks and started undoing the snarl of lines and power cords that had become Kintala's nest. It all became a bit surreal, but finally, after 285 days of sitting at a dock, we gathered in the lines (instead of leaving them attached to land) and motored out of the basin.

We didn't go far, just out to the anchorage in the Manatee river. Barely a quarter of a mile off of the beach and maybe a mile from the dock, the anchor went over and took a good set. Yet, somehow, the little distance traveled was enough to find an entirely different universe. How can that be?

The sky is clear. The air is cool but the setting sun warms my sweatshirt and reflects off of blue water. Cold front winds have settled down to a gentle breeze, though Kintala swings to the incoming tide. And I am a bit stunned. How could I have forgotten how good it is to be swinging to the hook, with so little care as to what the rest of the world is doing?

A new view out the galley window
There is no telling what the next few hours will bring, let along the next few days or months. But at this moment, though there may be people in the world as content as I am, there is no one more so. Kintala is free of her restraints and on her way once again.

And so am I.