Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A different kind of travel

Photo courtesy of airbnb.com
When we charged into Tampa Bay the other night on 6 foot swells, the plan was to go on up to St. Petersburg and take a mooring ball or slip for a couple days. The plan was foiled by the lack of availability of balls or slips, so we decided to come on in to our home slip at Snead Island, rent a car for the week, and go play tourist by land for a couple days. A few minutes on various hotel pages had me looking for alternatives due to the exorbitant prices so, remembering my daughter youngest's good experience with airbnb.com, I decided to take a peek. I had a pretty good idea where we wanted to be - close to the older part of town that flanks the shoreline of Tampa Bay and is filled with an eclectic mix of theaters, bars, restaurants, and parks. All of the one bedroom places were booked, but we happened on this adorable little two bedroom cottage that was available. It was a charming place just a few blocks from the shore, Vinoy Park, and a ton of good restaurants and bars. Ken and Renee, the hosts for this property, were gracious and accommodating. The website and booking software were incredibly easy to use, the communication from the hosts was quick; it couldn't have been a better first experience. The place was just the ticket for two weary sailors looking to spend a couple days on land.

The Vinoy Basin mooring field. There are only about 10 balls there so it fills up rapidly.

As soon as we got there, we discovered why there were no mooring balls or transient slips available (or nearby parking for that matter) - the Mainsail Art Show was this weekend. We dropped our stuff off and trekked over the two blocks to the park and enjoyed walking around looking at the art and crafts as well as the finish of a local rock band's performance. At the close of the show we walked on down past the Vinoy basin moorings to the Ale and the Witch, a local bar that hosts live music seven days a week. We really lucked out on this one, arriving just as a local rock band started their three hour gig in an open courtyard outside the bar. The group was called Antelope and was doing a tribute show to the band Phish. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Yesterday we went on a St. Petersburg walkabout, strolling about 10 miles from the historic northeast, down along the shore to downtown, around by the airport and the Dali museum, through town, back up past our place and down again through the neighborhoods. St. Petersburg is a beautiful city full of amazing architecture and more parks than you can count. There are copious amounts of trails along the shoreline that are wide and paved, benches strategically placed in the shade with great views, sandy beaches interspersed among the marinas, and one glaring omission - there was no trash. I'm not sure how this city has managed to get control of the litter issue but, in spite of a wind advisory, we saw almost no trash anywhere. It was refreshing.

After a quiet evening in the cottage and a good night's sleep, we climbed into the rental and headed out this morning for the boat. Grandbabies await our flight's arrival in St. Louis this weekend and grandbabies are never to be denied.

We're suckers for historical signs and amazing trees. 


I so wish my grandkids had been with us for this one! Such a great climbing tree.




Downtown St. Petersburg

Even their alleys are beautiful

More huge trees. You could actually get inside this one.


The Vinoy Basin on the horizon


As seen on the wall at the airbnb cottage. My motto!

All may yet be well...

I didn't pay much attention to the news while we were in the islands, and have been slow getting back into the habit since returning to the States. What news I do follow tends to do with advances in technology, cognitive science, and space exploration, which is how I ran across last week's “March for Science” protests. One picture I saw was of a protester carrying a sign that read, “I can't believe I am marching for facts.” That seemed kind of funny at first, but the more I thought of it the more it seemed to sum up the current dilemma / failure facing the US.

There is a portion of the population who looks upon current affairs with a dismay bordering on horror (hence the protests). But a larger portion appears to have little regard for facts, and therefore no regard for knowledge, understanding, truth, or wisdom. Many people are openly hostile to any facts that challenge their greed, ego, and grasp of power. Most of the nation's, and world's political, corporate, and religious leaders appear to be members of that group.

Perhaps is has always been so. We, as a species, have a need to be ruled, to be told what to think, how to act, and what to do. It is a characteristic bred from of our evolutionary path from tribal apes to modern humans. Born helpless and hapless, we are a species physically bred in dependency and submission. Virtually all of our social constructs are steeped in this deep seated, authoritarian history. Religious people accept the authority of their religion's prophets and holy writings, and no fact that might undermine that authority structure is readily accepted. It took the Pope more than 350 years to admit that Galileo was correct. There are Christians still today who reject evolution. Many of those who admit that evolution is how biology works, still insist that human kind is a special creation and the focus of attention for the entire universe. Followers of more secular ideologies are no less reluctant to accept inconvenient facts if they challenge the claim to having the right to rule. Tax cuts have never paid for themselves or led to job growth, communism has never been a viable economic model, regardless of the ideologies of right and left.

It gets even more muddled since people tend to mash incompatible ideologies together in odd ways, so long as the outcome supports the claim to power. In the US there are those who embrace both the authoritarianism of Donald Trump and that of Christianity as being one and the same thing. Others cling to the authority of their god while rejecting Donald Trump for his racism, misogyny, and love of violence. Some loath the economic ideology of “socialism” while crying for a bigger and more aggressive military, smooth roads, stout bridges, clean water, and a quality education. Others loath the economic ideology of consumer capitalism while insisting that they, personally, should be allowed to burn through all the resources they can afford.

This cognitive dissonance, this fundamental tendency to dismiss facts out of hand if we don't happen to care for the implications that come with them, has not mattered that much for most of our history. The cosmos is such a mystery that no human being has ever had much of a grasp of the facts of our existence. For all of our discoveries, we don't really understand how it is that we understand anything at all. A not-so-close approximation of what might really be happening may be the best that the evolution of  approximately 3 pounds worth of biologically supported quantum interactions will ever manage.

Be that as it may, our species has evolved to the point where we have overwhelmed the planet. Any individual or tribe that did manage to get themselves too unattached to the facts and understanding that formed the physical basis of their lives got themselves killed off rather quickly. Build a city at the base of a volcano, cut down all the trees on an isolated island, eat all of the mastodons... poof, gone. But no matter, there were other individuals and other tribes around to carry on. The children of those survivors, us, are now members of a deeply intertwined and co-dependent global society.

Thus evolution has brought human society to a cross roads, a turning point, a place in history from which there is no retreat and, perhaps, no way into the future. That sounds horrible but is likely a fundamental characteristic of evolution itself. For, in the space of just a few tens of thousands of years, we now stand at a place where facts, knowledge, understanding, and wisdom, form the only doorway into the future. Oddly enough, much of human religion teaches a similar theme of a dividing line, a break point, where heaven is one choice, and hell the other.  Unfortunately much of religion also implies that it is an individual choice, that I can chose one while you chose the other. Maybe that works in an afterlife. But in this life it appears to be, almost, an all or nothing deal. History has unfolded to the point where everyone gets on board in the pursuit of wisdom, or no one survives. (More on that in a minute.)

But, perhaps, that ultimate fate has not yet arrived. We, as a global society, can begin to question our own authoritarian instincts, can couple what we have learned of the cosmos with our imagination, and look at ourselves from a different perspective. “Authority” can be shaped as cooperation and community. More importantly (and imperatively) ideology can be dismissed, replaced by knowledge gathered in the pursuit of wisdom.

We can, for example, replace our ideology of war. Right now many political and religious ideologies insists that war is inevitable and, even worse, winnable. But if we ignore the ideology and look, instead, to understanding and wisdom, it may prove that it is neither. Wars are, first and foremost, a failure; an exercise of the very worst of what evolution has bequeathed us, a twisted expression of the instinct to survive. Uncounted millions have died to defend religious ideologies that have long since faded and empires that have long since crumbled into dust. Today thousands are killed, maimed, and rendered homeless in orgies of destruction that have no goal and no purpose. Violence piled upon violence by shear force of habit.

An honest reflection will also, and easily, lead to the conclusion that any of these “local” wars could well erupt into an all out war between major nuclear armed nations.  Such would likely lead to the end of modern civilization. It is an important bit of wisdom that appears to be beyond the grasp of some, including five in particular; Trump, Putin, Assad, Xi Jinping, and Kim Jong-un. Five people fanning the flames of war for their own ego, their lust for power. Five people whose failure to look to wisdom and understanding could portend the deaths of billions.

Evolution has, indeed, brought us to the very edge, where the seeking of wisdom by every individual is the dividing line between having a future or being forgotten.

Photo courtesy of Amber Rennier Photography
That just five deluded men in a world of billions could bring down the curtain on human history would seem rather grim odds but, then again, it hasn't happened yet. Maybe, having survived since August 6, 1945, human kind has learned how to live with its nuclear arsenal locked and loaded. Maybe environmental degradation and resource depletion will be evolution's way of breeding a desire for wisdom into us. They are longer term disasters that will unfold at a much slower pace than the 30 minute flight of a ballistic missile and a flash of nuclear fire. Slow enough, perhaps, for knowledge and wisdom to prevail. For, though evolution of the cosmos has brought us to the cross roads of cherishing wisdom or being cast aside, it may be that we can linger here for a few more lifetimes, a few more generations. Long enough, maybe, that our kids or grand kids get to be the ones who make the call.


In which case all may yet be well.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Boot Key to Tampa Bay

Day 1

The plan was to make it to Tampa Bay in one 48-hour jump, but everyone knows how cruiser plans work out. A heavy rain started to fall while we were still at the fuel dock in Boot Key, the first hint that the weather wasn't going to be exactly as forecast. We waited a bit, each of us having an internal argument over it being better to just go back and pick up the mooring, then wait some more for better weather. And I suspect, had either of us said as much to the other, that might have been exactly what we would have done. But we didn't. So we didn't.


Other than the rain, conditions going under the bridge and out into the Moser Channel were pretty much what we expected. So we drove on to exit the Keys and sailed into the Gulf of Mexico. There we found the wind was on the wrong side of the boat (at least according the forecast) and the sea state more confused than expected. At least the waves heights seemed about as forecast. We pressed on, not knowing that the last chance to avoid a thrashing had just been passed by.


The bridge on the Mosier channel

Twenty six hours after leaving Boot Key we got ready to drop the anchor behind Sanibel Island having, in the wee hours of the morning, decided to take our bail out option of Big Carlos Pass. The expected seas state of two feet or less on a two second period turned into waves of 3 to 5, occasionally seven, then a bit more than occasionally, eight or more. They hit us on the quarter, both pitching and rolling the boat in an ugly figure "8" motion that trashed my inner ear that set me to feeding the fish. Rough enough that, when we finally made it in, the hook dropped about five feet and hung. After climbing over the v-berth and into the anchor locker I found the spanking we had taken had twisted the 3/8" anchor chain into something that looked like a giant yarn ball formed at the paws of a demented kitten. It actually had knots in it.

Anchor finally set, we set about securing the boat in a bit of a daze. A shower to warm up and wash off the salt, fresh clothes, and a little food to help settle the stomach, were big steps toward feeling human again. Even though I was pretty beat, sleep came slow; a usual reaction for me as I tried to puzzle out just how I had managed to stumble into such a mess. Wind, waves, confused seas, lighting on the horizon, rain, how in the world had we ended up in the middle of all that? Where the forecasts that wrong? Did I miss something? Did the need to get on our way overwhelm the need to be careful?

No good explanations presented themselves. Sleep finally took over to put an end to what had become a very long day. We had managed the conditions we found, not hurt the boat, not gotten hurt ourselves. That is going to have to do.

Day 2




Except for a brief sunset assault of black flies (thankfully we have excellent screens), the anchorage at Sanibel Island was quite and calm, making for a good night's sleep. The plan for the day was simply to get near the inlet of Charlotte Harbor, staging for an outside jump from there to Tampa Bay. Sanibel to Charlotte may be the best piece of the ICW anywhere; no bridges and open enough that, should the winds be right, sailing is a good option. And it was an easy sail in light winds and on flat water.

Along the way, and for the first time in the years we have been out here, a passing Sheriff's boat turned on its flashing blue lights and pulled alongside. One of the three officers jumped aboard to check our papers and safety equipment. Deb took care of those details while I answered the questions of the other two. They insisted on knowing where where we kept the boat, our “St. Louis” home port-of-call catching their attention for some reason. It took several tries to get them to understand that we lived on the boat, full time, and didn't “keep” it anywhere. They then asked about our recent travels. Learning that we had been in the Islands for a while they wanted to know where we had checked in upon our return, (Miami) and, while we were in the Islands, if anyone had asked us to bring anything or anyone across with us (No). We talked about the weather and our recent thrashing being the reason we were in the ICW at all, and not in Tampa already.

Another bit of confusion was with our “check in”. They expected us to produce some piece of paper that showed us having complied, and it took a few minutes to explain that using SVRS doesn't leave a paper trail, at least on our end. Other than that it was completely painless and I'm sorry I didn't ask for the officer's names, for they deserve honest recognition. They were utterly professional and non-threatening (in spite of the big guns on their hips), but they were too far away for me to read their name tags. In any case, and in spite of my normally low opinion of all things “official”, they were excellent examples of what officialdom can be when the people involved have the character and the heart. Blue flashing lights, guns and all...there was nothing negative about the encounter.

The anchorage just south of the Charlotte Harbor Inlet was comfortable and very, very quiet. All the rest we could get would be good. Even though every weather source we could find suggested that the jump to Tampa Bay would be done in pretty good conditions, we were still getting over the first day's beating, and it would be a long day's sail to Tampa Bay.

Day 3

Up before dawn to lift the hook as soon as there was enough light to see. There was little chance we would make the inlet to Tampa Bay before dark, but wasting daylight seemed a poor way to start. Wind and tide were working against each other in the inlet, making for a bumpy ride out. With at least six other boats in the parade it was clear we were not the only ones taking advantage of the forecast.

The main had gone up right with a single reef right after the anchor had come on board. After clearing the inlet and turning north the jib spun out, the Beast went silent, and we headed off at better than 6 knots, hand steering for the time being. One of the quirks of Kintala is the wind vain / tiller pilot set-up. It takes a bit of rigging to change from one to the other. All the forecasts had the wind fading as the day went on, making most of the day a motor. And, about four hours in the winds did, indeed, fade away. We rolled up the jib, centered the main, woke up the Beast, engaged the tiller pilot, and kept going on flattening seas.

Everything according to plan and forecasts.



A little later Deb looked up and asked why, if the forecast had nothing but good weather in it for the next five days, the sky was full of mare's tails? I had noticed the same thing, and the only answer I could come up with was, “Well, someone, some where, missed something”. Usually mare's tails portend weather 12 to 24 hours out, but not always. And, truth to tell, all of the "positive" forecasts for the day had me a bit wary. If there has been a theme for this season's cruise it would be the blown forecasts and unexpected weather. The inlet to Tampa was still some 15 miles away. The hairs on the back of my neck were insisting that was 15 miles too far.

Sometimes being right is a major pain in the ass.

The wind started to back and build out of the north west. The forecast following seas of 2 feet or less gave way building seas directly on the bow. The tiller pilot gave up. Though the Beast was doing its best, it didn't have the horsepower needed to drive the boat through the heaving water. The staysail spun back out to help keep us going and, with the Beast, allowed us to point a few degrees tighter on the wind. But it wasn't enough. The inlet to Tampa Bay was directly upwind, and we just could not hold that point of sail.

The moment it became apparent that we simply had to tack back out into the Gulf of Mexico for an hour or more if there would be any chance of making the harbor was, perhaps, the lowest moment of my last few months. Kintala's bow was going completely under every few minutes, water gushing down the decks flowing over the toe rail, having completely overwhelmed the limber holes. A series of such hits would slow the boat to less than three knots, where she would wallow and struggled to get back up to speed before the next series of waves pounded her bow once again. We were now taking our second serious thrashing in just 3 days. Having to add miles to a trip that I really just wanted to end, frayed my last nerve.



But there was simply no choice. No amount of wishing, wanting, or even needing, to get out of the weather would make any difference. The only way out was out into the Gulf. So out we went.

The temptation, when tacking into weather like this, is always to turn to soon; a mistake that makes matters worse by forcing an additional series of tacks. But no one wants to go any further than they have to, adding more miles that will be covered at barely walking speed. The first tack we made got it wrong. The second one got it right and we made the entry not long after the sun went down. Inside Egmont Key the seas settled to nothing but big, rolling swells. A bit later the staysail rolled in clean and the main dropped into the lazy jacks. By the time we made it to an anchorage, got the hook set and the deck minimally prepped for the night, it was after 2300 hours.

Day 4

The plan was to sail up to Tampa and take a dock or mooring ball for a few days. But a morning phone call to the marina uncovered that they are completely full, and will be for the near future. Instead we motored into Snead Island and settled Kintala into the dock that will be “home” for the next six months or so.

Over the next several days we plan to rent a car and take a night in a hotel in Tampa just to do something different. Next week it will be off to St. Louis for a much needed visit with Daughters (3), family, and friends.

It will take a few days, at least, to let the adventures of the last few months take their place in our life's story. For now I am glad to be settled in, safe and secure, not having broken anything major, not having made any major bone-headed moves that ended in disaster. And I will not be the least bit sad to be off the boat for a while.

But I am also sad to be stopping, even if it is only temporary. Mixed emotions that don't really make any sense. So I am going to just set them aside for now. The days will unfold as they will and we are, to a large extent, just along for the ride.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

0400 on a wind blown anchorage

Kintala motored into Boot Harbor Key two days later than planned which, for a sailboat, is right on time - even a bit early. Winds and waves kept us pinned in Rodriguez Key longer than anticipated, with the third night being a bit of a trial. That afternoon the winds had actually died away, though it was too late to try and make Boot Key. I started looking forward to a good night's sleep and an easy motor / motor sail the next day. But as the sun went down the winds came back, moaning through the rigging, stirring up the bay, setting the v-berth to pitching and rocking once again, and blowing away any chance of sleep for the third night in a row. By 0400 in the morning jumping overboard and swimming to shore started to sound like the best idea I had had in a while.

Sunrise leaving Rodriguez Key

Exhausted, sleep finely won out just as the sun came up. The wind was still hovering around 20 knots but it would be a near beam reach in a following sea. Deb went about doing the engine checks and prepping the inside of the boat, letting me sleep as long as she could. But around 0730 she had to roust me out, not an enviable task. Bleary eyed and fuzzy headed, I stumbled out to the still rocking and pitching deck to get the boat ready to make sail - a task repeated so many times over the last few years that I can, as the saying goes, “Do it in my sleep.” Getting the anchor up was a different song and dance, given we were riding hard against the snubber and pitching just short of putting the bow under water. Still, all fingers and toes were accounted for when the anchor was up, pinned, cabled and tied.



A few minutes later the bow swung to the south west, the point of sail being just forward of a beam reach. The big jib spun out cleanly, the Beast was given a break, and ye ol' Tartan slipped through the waves at better than 5 knots. Staying on board at 0400 started to seem like a good choice after all.

A couple of hours later the speed slipped with the winds finally starting to fade a little. The main sail went up, still with two reefs, enough to bring the speed back up as well. A little later the wind faded some more and we shook the reefs out of the main. A little later still, a little less wind, we added the staysail to the mix. For the first time in a while, Kintala was making way flying everything. It was grand; staying on board at 0400 was definitely the better choice.

Of course it couldn't last. About half way through the 50 mile run the white caps disappeared off the waves, the seas flattened out, the speed fell off, and the sails started to slat. As nice as the sail had been, it was equally as nice when the jib and staysail rolled in smooth and clean, nary a drama or a snag. We left the main up mostly for show, and motored along.

An hour or so before dark we raised the entry to Boot Key Harbor. The main sail dropped into the lazy jacks with a pretty good flake, making it 3 for 3 in sail management for the day. That sounds like a minor thing, but it offers some hope that our recent run of difficulties doing that thing most basic to sailing, i.e. putting up and taking down sails, may be in the past. Some hardware changes and using different techniques have, hopefully, put those things behind us. One of the projects for this summer will be to change some of the running rigging and modify the lazy jacks, with the intent of excising the last of our sail handling gremlins.

The moorings at Boot Key Harbor

Since we were planning to take a bus down to Key West for a day, and the winds are forecast to be in the 30s, we called the marina on the off chance they might have a mooring available. Amazingly enough they did, even one with an easy approach. We motored in and picked up the ball just like we knew what we were doing.

This is the first time we have been on a mooring in Boot Key, and the difference between being anchored out while here and now on a ball has been a bit of a surprise. With easy access to the marina being included in the fee, we head to shore every day. With all the boats around us also on a mooring ball, when the wind blows in the middle of the night we worry less about other boats getting free and running us down. Inside the harbor as we are, even with the winds howling, the ride is calm and sleep easy to find.

The cost isn't insignificant. In addition to the mooring fee itself, easy access to land means easy access to restaurants and ground transportation. We have spent nearly as much money “eating out” in the days we have been here as we did on food the entire time we were in the islands. For budget cruisers that is startling.

We have made some new friends who stopped by the boat because they saw “St. Louis, MO” on our stern. But the fact is, being on shore everyday, makes it so much easier to make connections to the tribe. Casual conversations are normally not so casual between boats that are anchored. There is a kind of perceived aura around an anchored boat, one that – often quite properly – suggests “strangers not welcome." Sitting in the cockpit and waving or nodding at those who pass by helps, but there is no getting around that deep in most cruiser souls is a streak of “loner”. We are different than those who live on land, and outnumbered millions and millions to one. We are loners almost by definition.

Yet, on the other hand, I have softened my inner, puritan voice, the one that whispers that true cruisers anchor out whenever they can. I don't know that I'll ever be of the group that goes from dock to dock, but that may be more an economic necessity than a choice of lifestyle. When I can spare the dollars, a mooring ball or occasional dock visit is a different kind of cruising, with pluses (and minuses) of its own.

One of which might be fewer times of thinking of jumping off the boat at 0400 on a windy morning.

 One of the anchorages in Key West

 A public beach in Key West

 A historical church in Key West on Duval Street


 Florida has some of the most amazing trees. Some of them are really wrinkly like this one.

 The southern most point in the US. The line was 3  blocks long to take
your picture there so we skipped that.

 The Strand theater opened in 1920 and now houses, unfortunately, a Walgreens store.

 Old friends Carolyn and Dave of Boat Galley fame and new friends Diana and John of S/V Joy
enjoying the good eats at Burdines in Boot Key Harbor

A perfect rainbow this morning

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Bashing

After a week of enjoying being still and protected in No Name Harbor, the calendar kind of insisted that we get a move on. As is normal, weather is the issue. (Sailboats, as a new friend put it, are the most unreliable source of transportation the world has ever known.) We need to go south, the winds and waves have been coming from that direction for days. But it looked like Tuesday would be an okay day to give it a try, right up until I did a last minute check of the weather Tuesday morning. The Ding was aboard, the deck was set, the engine checks done; but the waves were running just shy of 4 feet on a 4 second period, and there would be 20 knots worth of wind directly on the bow.
No thank you.

No Name Harbor at sunset

The day passed with occasional frets about the passing of time, though I was secretly pleased to spend another day. No Name, though not for everybody, is high on my list of places I have enjoyed since we headed out. If Biscayne Bay is our American home, then No Name Harbor is my lounge chair sitting in front of the fireplace.

The next morning we were up at dawn to stop by the pump-out, fill the water, and be on our way before 0800 to make Rodriguez Key before the sun went down. At first it didn't look too promising. Leaving the bay we were wind against tide, the surging rollers washing over the bow and slowing us to less than 2 knots. (It is a good, if somewhat scary, way to wash all the mud off the anchor.) It took more than an hour just to gain enough room off the coast to make the turn southward. When we did, things picked up a little. Though we still needed the Beast, there was just enough angle on the wind to fill the reefed main and stay sail, making for enough speed that, at least, it looked like we would make Rodriguez before midnight.

The Hawk Channel is not quite the turquoise of Bahamian water, but still good on the eyes

Later, though not in the forecast, the winds picked up more and soon we were making good speed, helped by the waves tamping down a bit as we entered the Hawk Channel. Still, it was a long, hard day of motor bashing, the decks often awash with spray making its way to the dodger and bimini. I was glad to pitch the hook over the side just after 1700. I was really dragging. Dinner and a shower were done by 1830, by 1900 I was in the v-berth, where I slept for most of the next 13 hours.

We were going to try for Boot Key today, but an 0500 look at the weather wasn't promising. Wind and waves would be more brisk, and still directly on the bow. So much so, that it would be unlikely we could make anything more than 2 to 3 knots, even with the Beast thumping along. At that point we decided that moving to the other side of Rodriguez would be the only movement today. There we will wait for the cold front to pass, and hope to ride a north wind to Boot Key tomorrow. I went back to bed.

Sunset at Rodriguez Key

So we are listening to the wind blow and trying to decide on the proper time to relocate. Most of the boats that were around last night have gone, all north bound. (They will make Biscayne Bay easy today.) A couple of other boats have joined us, and two remain from last night.

We were hoping those two would leave. I missed the show, but they scared Deb. The crews came in from shore drunk and belligerent, shouting at each other, falling overboard, and puking over the sides of the boat. For some reason they also saw fit to scream racial slurs and ignorance into the night at the top of their lungs. At one point Deb was afraid that the woman on board was in real trouble, the noise and abuse to the point where she thought about calling the police. But this is Florida, and I will bet you a good cup of coffee both those boats have guns on board. Armed nut cases are an American staple, one best left to self-destruct without interference. So far today, there hasn't been any activity on either boat, and I will be happy if it stays that way.

So here we sit, struggling a bit because we “have” to get someplace by a certain time. Sailboats are simply not designed to do that, yet we haven't figured out how to make the cruising life work without those deadlines. Family can't be ignored, nor can the cruising kitty. It is best to be someplace else when the hurricanes come to visit, or at least be in a place where one can leave the boat and run, run away. (Insurance paid up, of course.)

Four years in, and we are still trying to figure out how to balance out the competing needs to not have to be somewhere, and having to be somewhere anyway. So the path to Tampa Bay is uncertain. Learning to live with that uncertainty has become my biggest challenge to living this way. Pilots live with alternates, but at least they know what those alternates are. Sailors, in a way, just live. What the day will bring is nothing short of a guess. Sometimes, what the next couple of hours will bring is the biggest guess of all.

Friday, March 31, 2017

There to here

Sunrise leaving Great Harbour Cay for the crossing
“Department of Homeland Security”...that name has always seemed like “1984” speak to me; something some addle brained bumbler came up with to try and assure other addle brained bumblers that he was in command and doing something useful. It is hard to say if the actual organization is less “Big Brother-ish” than the name implies, or if it is more. In any case the Miami office gave me 24 hours to check in after we got back to the States. I got a new passport since they had issued my local boater card (also called the SVRS - small vessel reporting system) which, somehow, made me a security risk again. So I dragged my weary bones out of the berth the morning after a 35 hour, 140 nm passage, caught the mooring field shuttle, took a couple of different buses over to the Port of Miami, walked up the stairs to the office, and handed The Man my new passport and my old local boater card.

Sailing the first 18 hours of the crossing
He poked around in the computer at his desk, which is likely linked up with every other government computer in the world, along with the computers that my bank, phone, and Internet providers use. And, if someone so chose, I am sure that at least some of those government computers can look at everything on my personal computer. I guess he added some kind of comment to my file about me having handed him my new passport (which they obviously knew they had issued to me) and my old local boater card (which – equally obviously – they knew they had issued to me). Then he handed them back to me and sent me on my merry way.

What I thought odd was that The Man, like everyone behind the bullet proof glass, was dressed in the full black ninja outfit, combat boots, and with a very serious looking weapon strapped to his hip. He, and his compatriots, were obviously very serious people, warriors, those not to messed with; the ones who appear out of the night, breach the barriers, kick the asses and take the names. Since we are constantly told just how deep is the danger we are all in, how close the bad guys always are, one would think the Department of Homeland Security could find some capable clerks to poke around in the computers and make the notes, and let the warriors go about their warring.

Then again, maybe the Department of Homeland Security dresses their capable clerks up like ninjas and lets them carry guns because someone has to look the part. The real warriors, the ones who do the actual ass kicking and name taking, likely don't dress the part. Instead they wear the same kinds of clothes the bad guys wear, carry the same kinds of guns, get the same kind of haircuts, and lurk in the dark places the bad guys lurk. They pick up the rumors, run down the hints, and search though the murk to figure out what the bad guys are planning. They board the ships that need be boarded and force open the shipping containers that need to be inspected. They follow the money, listen in on the suspected phones, rummage through the suspected computers, and stalk the dark recesses of the web and the world.

It almost has to be that way because making a middle aged white guy, who has already signed on for a background check, drop by the office just because he got a new passport is a waste of everyone's time. If the powers that be actually regarded that as some kind of real security the bad guys would have taken over the place a long time ago.

I say “almost” because, well, it might all be a bit of a sham. How else would they pry literally trillions of dollars out of our collective pockets to pay for “security” while under-funding virtually every social program in the country? Americans are generally pretty good folks. We wouldn't normally let kids go hungry, sacrifice our own kid's education, close down research into weather and physics and space, trash the environment, and condemn veterans to homelessness and poverty. Normally. But where the money goes that we would have spent on those things, other than buying ninja suits and serious looking guns, is secret. Most of what they say they do is also a big secret. I know that the Congress and the Senate are supposed to serve us by keeping an eye on such things, but when was the last time any Congressman or Senator did anything in the public's interest? I guess your view of the sham percentage in all of this rests on just how much you trust the Congressmen and Senators to do the right thing.

Sunset the end of the first day

The 35 hours, 140 nm passage from Great Harbor to Dinner Key went pretty well, if an average speed of four knots can be described as doing well. Truth to tell, having Miami in sight for more than 6 hours before finally dropping the hook was starting to get on my nerves. We were doing barely three knots at that point, the Beast struggling to push us against the Gulf Stream. We had a small problem rolling up the jib again and, again, that was an 0300 in dark, dark, morning thing. Even though we were pulling it in because the winds had died away to near nothing, it still rolled in up funky. While trying to fix it later the furling line got all snagged up, again.

So, on the way home from the DHS we stopped by West Marine and dropped about $200 on new blocks. Back at the boat we rearranged the furling line run and added the new hardware. We also noticed that the spare jib halyard, the one we have hauling around aloft for four years without ever using it for anything, lay really close to furling block at the top of the sail, and that it could easily hang up the whole operation. Since we have the spinnaker halyard for hauling the Ding and the anchor (if necessary) there seemed no good reason to leave that potential problem hanging up there.

So this morning I dropped it, only it didn't drop the whole way. The end, in free fall from the top of the mast, somehow managed to tie itself around the upper spreader as it fell. And I mean tie, as in an honest knot, not just snag as one might guess. How that happened is beyond me, except that Kintala still hates me on some days. And, some days, I hate her right back. Fortunately we picked this morning to move from the rolling, pitching, ugliness that is the Dinner Key mooring field in a southeast wind, to the serenity and quiet waters deep inside No Name Harbor. Untangling the wayward halyard was an easy, 10 minute foray aloft on a boat sitting as still as could be.

Land Ho! Miami on the horizon

After that, the deck was secured and the Ding went overboard. We need water, a bit of food, one LPG tank filled, and a good night's rest or two before heading south once again. From anchored off Great Harbor Cay to the weekend party that is No Name Harbor...sometimes we go pretty slow, but it is hardly ever dull.

No-Name Harbor, Kintala front and center

The lineup of boats waiting to depart for the States in the morning

Our neighbor in the anchorage at Great Harbour Cay

The last of the pretty turquoise water pictures for a few months. Stay tuned for more!