Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Still getting there

We spent last night anchored just south of the Tom Adams Key Bridge. Manatees and dolphins greeted Kintala as the hook settled into the bottom. It was a good place and we debated staying there today since storms were in the morning forecast. Isolated though, mostly just rain, so after the fog lifted we sallied forth. Just a few hours and barely 16 nm along, it looked like it might have been a better choice to let Sally be. There was still nothing much showing on the radar, but the air felt uneasy and full of the potential for mayhem. I was pretty sure the sky was up to something that the forecast had missed.

Unfortunately there are few good places to stop along this stretch, particularly for boats that draw 5 feet. We passed one at Venice FL that was just not viable; shallow and stuffed full of hulls that had that permanent look about them. A couple of miles further along Blackburn Bay was the next chance, the charts showing just 4.9 feet at mean low tide. (Exactly what Kintala draws.)

The only thing I like less than skinny water is being caught flat footed in big winds in a narrow channel with no place to hide and no room to anchor. The hair on the back of my neck was insisting that Blackburn was the only real choice. We crept out of the channel and tossed the hook with the depth meter reading ZERO point ZERO part way up a rising tide. In Kintala that means there is 18 inches or less under the keel. It is a 1.8 foot tide. Sometime in the next 12 hours we are surely going to bump.

The first line of storms went by with gusts in the 30+ knot range and lighting falling close and loud all around. Not bad given that we were settled in and secure. It would have been a near nightmare had we been between the Venice Avenue and Hatchet Creek bridges, a place we had just passed through. At 0.3 nm long by 86 feet wide, with no docks, no space to anchor, just rocks and trees and bridges; it would be hard to imagine a worse place to come face to face with a thunderstorm.

The second wave just passed, mostly rain and thunder. The next is due within the hour and looks to be the meanest one of the day. Once it passes, rain will be on the menu for much of the rest of the night. Last night's anchorage would have been a better place to ride this out but we pushed on, so this one will have to do.

Mostly we pressed on simply to get this part of the trip over. Being in Bradenton, not getting there, has taken over our thinking. And, truth to tell, Kintala will be limping a bit when she finally gets settled between the piers. Foot sore, if you will, having been on the move, more or less relentlessly, since leaving Oak Harbor nearly 8 months ago. Along the way we have stopped to fix only the things that had to be fixed in order to keep going.

As a result, the Beast is dripping water from the inside seal on the raw water pump. (That pump is only 8 months old, and was the warranty pump for the new one that failed right out of the box. At the moment Jabsco is not very high on my list of lovable manufacturers.) The alternator bearing squeals once in a while, the tachometer has died, and the throttle and shift cables are not giving off warm-n-fuzzies while they do their thing. There is a new vibration that might just be stuff growing on the prop, but my thinking is the cutlass bearing will have to be replaced before heading out to the big once again. When the Beast is run too hard, the front seal on the v-drive dribbles brown goo onto the engine diapers. That, rumor has it, is a pretty common failure on the Walter v-drive and it seems that several decades has not been enough time for them to find a cure. (Walter V-drive has never been on my list of lovable manufacturers.)  Maybe Jabsco called Walter for a recommendation on a seal?

I would love to find and slay the small oil leak (different than the v-drive goo leak) that has eluded detection so far.

The wind instrument is dead, killed by a bird in Stuart. The stern nav light died all on its own. There are water leaks in the cabin that need plugged, a staysail furler that needs to go away, a bent jib pole that needs un-bent or replaced, running rigging that needs re-run, and the down-stay under the deck below the inner forestay has a couple of broken strands. The seal on the rudder post drips, mostly on a port tack. We need to install some LED strip lights in the V-berth, refinish the cabin sole, and get serious about some bright work inside and out. There is still only one anchor on the boat, though we do boast 200 feet of chain. A new gray water tank waits to be installed, one with a lid to keep the stink out of the boat. The non-skid needs painted and the hull has several scars from more than two years of constant cruising.  The boat speed indicator has croaked and the old GPS at the nav station, the one that tells our IAS receiver where it is, is finally starting to fade.

One might think we just bought this thing and haven't started working on it yet.

Deb will carry the load for a lot of this since I have a day job fixing other people's boats. (And spending other people's money!) Weekend's and evenings will see me up the mast or buried in the Cave of the Beast. And, to give you some idea of just how demented I might be, I'm kind of looking forward to it. Oh, I still hate my boat, and my boat still hates me. But Kintala has carried us far and hasn't killed us yet; getting her somewhere near to “right” has grown into a bit of an obsession. I want her to function as well as she looks, and I want her to look a little better as well.

The third wave went through while I was typing the above, with wind gusts over 40. Not sure how much over 40 since the wind gauge is toast, but it takes a good puff to push Kintala over on her side like that. The lightning was closer and louder and I wish there were a few more inches of water under the keel. But I made the decision to "go", and this is where we ended up.

One more day, maybe two, and “getting there” will turn into “being there”.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Heading home...

Ponce Inlet canal into Punta Gorda's interior network of canals
Kintala and Kai Lani in Punta Gorda
Kintala is resting easy at Friends Dave and Dee Dee's dock, tucked away in Punta Gorda. Her crew is tucked away in their very nice home a couple of hundred feet away. Out back is a pond and a pool, the A/C keeps it cool and dry inside. We have known Dave and Dee Dee since our early days on Carlyle Lake, long before they moved their base of operations south. They were witness to my early attempts to dock Nomad or settle her into the weekend raft up. So it was a bit of a hoot to work our way down the canal and settle into the dock next to their Catalina. Hints of times past, up to and including me misjudging the winds and bumping Kintala's stern into Kai Lani. Oops, sorry about that.

We have settled into a wonderful visit of stories, laughter, and good conversations. One evening we went out to enjoy some free music where ad-hock blue-grass groups formed for a while at various points in the local park. They would stomp out some songs, then the musicians would wander off to form new groups. I have but a passing interest in blue-grass, and some of the groups could have used a drummer to help tie the rhythm together. Still, smiles and toe tapping where the universal response to the music. One banjo player was good enough that a few of us followed him around while he joined first one group, then another. At one point another banjo picker walked up to him and laid down the first nine notes of Dueling Banjos. His expression was a priceless one of “Are you serious?” He demurred, was provoked a few more times, sighed, tweaked a tuning peg, and LIT IT UP with the effortless ease of a true master. It was blue-grass magic, something I never suspected even existed. (Even though I grew up in the shadow of the Appalachian Mountains.)

Later, we stopped by an Irish bar for a brew. On stage was a two-man team, guitar and violin, playing music whose roots lay some 4000 miles east of were blue-grass was born. About the third song in, they started laying down alternating riffs, each with a quicker tempo than the one before. The guitar player was good, but the violin player was a certified magician in his own right. His fingers blurred as the notes flew off the strings and filled the room. I've never seen or heard anything quite like it, beauty in motion that made the heart both sing and hurt a little. And I'm only ¼ Irish.

There is so much bad news coming from land these days that some of us non-land dwellers, once in a while, catch a small case of the smug over not being much of a part of it. But the bad news isn't the whole story. In fact it isn't really the majority of the story. Its just the part of the story that makes the headlines. This visit has reminded me that there is a lot of magic on land as well. There are quiet,
good-natured people who are artists and musicians, people who can lure the magic and then share it. They can light up the night with it, or fill a room.

The anchorage off Gilchrist Park in downtown Punt Gorda

In the next day or two Kintala will set off for a last, short, jaunt to Snead Island. It will be a bitter-sweet couple of days. When we arrive we will be, for all practical purposes, land dwellers once again. There will be a time clock and schedules, things that will have to be done by such-and-such a date. It will be hot, dirty, and (at times) just a pure grunt effort to hang on until the end of the day.

There will also be new friends to meet. Old friends and family will visit once in a while. I hope to learn a bunch of new skills while using the ones I already have to the benefit of our customers. We will be in one place long enough to learn our way around. Maybe I can find some places to use what little Spanish I have, expand on it, and actually stumble into being almost conversational.

This short visit has reminded me that Bradenton really can be “home”, at least for a while. And there will be magic to find there as well.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Punta Gorda Photos

The moon setting on one horizon at Sanibel Island

The sun rising on the opposite horizon

Crazy traffic on the ICW behind Sanibel Island
From our visit to the Peace River Wildlife Center where they rehabilitate injured and sick birds and turtles.

Love, love, love these birds.

Babcock Ranch Preserve in Punta Gorda

Babcock Ranch Preserve in Punta Gorda

This guy was about 6 feet long and eyeballed us for quite a while

Florida is full of beautiful flowers and trees

And, of course, beautiful sunrises and sunsets
And good music everywhere...

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Dolphins, Alligators, and Hitchhikers

Some photos and video from our trip between Crawl Key and Cape Sable in Southwestern Florida. It should be noted that you have no phone service for most of the way between these two locations.

It's impossible to overstate the amount of crab pots in the Gulf of Mexico along the West coast of Florida. I am told that if you go more than 20 miles offshore that you will avoid them, but these pots were over 20 miles offshore and in 26 feet of water. Some of them are so tightly packed together that it's like a minefield. Some of them have anchor lines that are too long and the line lays just a foot or two under water at a flat angle.Sometimes it's impossible to navigate between them as a result and you have to go way out of your way to go around but, as you can see, sometimes the lines can stretch for a mile or more.

I walked over a half dozen of these tracks, distracted by looking for shells, before I realized what I was seeing. These gators are huge. The tracks left the mangrove thickets and crossed the sand to the water, then return tracks were evident. I have to do more research on these reptiles, but I would not want to meet one in person. This is not a place to take a moonlit walk on the beach!

This gator was going from the water back to the mangroves

Two tracks side-by-side, one going toward the water and one returning.

This guy stopped to take a break. You can see the print from the scales on his belly where he rested it in the sand.

I laid y sunglasses by this footprint so you could get a feel for just how large these gators are.

While seeing the gator tracks up close and personal was amazing, I much prefer my sweet, happy companions, the dolphins. These bottlenose ran with us for over an hour. Some of them were the largest bottlenose we've ever seen and they were jumping completely out of the water.

We had a Least Tern spend part of the day with us on the bow pulpit. He took a rest and groomed his feathers,
but when we brought the jib in he took off.

If you're tired of sunset progression pictures, then move on. I never tire of watching the sun go down from the boat.

Making new tracks...

The little Garmin chart plotter we have at the helm records our track, and saves it for an impressively long time. We could have, and sometimes did, follow our old track all the way from Oak Harbor back to Miami. Since leaving Biscayne Bay and turning south into the Hawk Channel, there has been no old track to follow. The new track now hooks around the south end of Florida and is working its way up the West coast.

Stopping the new track for two nights in the anchorage off of Cape Sable may not have been the best idea, but we wanted to spend a day at the beach there. It might have been fine had the forecast light winds out of the ESE actually showed up. The actual SSE winds of 10-15 knots roughed the place up enough to make sleep pretty hard to come by. Oh-four-hundred on the second morning found me fully dressed and trying not to fall off the settee, which was pitching and rolling around slightly less than the v-berth I had abandoned. The very first light of day found me out prepping the deck for getting under way.

Cape Sable at sunrise
The hook came up before the sun, and we motor-sailed northwest, sleep deprived, sore, and not sure if we could make Marco Island before running out of daylight. Exactly 12 long, long hours of grinding out the miles, dodging endless lines of crab traps, following the chart directly into the mud, backing slowly off, re-grouping, and taking a different approach into Factory Bay, the anchor hit the bottom.

We had a half hour of daylight to spare.

Factory Bay anchorage
Cape Sable beach

Cape Sable anchorage. No protection. For 5 ft draft vessels, 1/2-3/4 mile out is the best you can do.
Alligator tracks in the sand

For us, the beach at Cape Sable did not live up to its reviews. It was empty, which was good. It was free of trash, which was also good. And it was covered with 'gator tracks, a weird kind of, “Wow, look at that!” good. The whole visit turned into one of the strange things that happens with this lifestyle. We are glad we saw the place. It will make our “story list”. But we should have thought about it more and maybe not have done it at all. We spent two days off an exposed shore, beat ourselves up pretty good, and ended up pushing hard to beat some inbound weather. 

But we saw 'gator tracks in the sand.

So far our experience of laying tracks in new waters has been that kind of thing. As Deb already shared the sail from Boot Key to Bahia Honda was pretty sweet. The original plan was to spend a day exploring Bahia Honda, reported to be a favorite place of the locals. Alas, the Mantus found nothing but rock or coral under a thin cover of sand, several attempts utterly failing to get it to grab. It was too late in the day to try and find another anchorage. The good news was that the forecast for light winds. We laid every inch worth of 200 feet of chain on the bottom, rigged the snubber, and hoped for the best.

Fortunately, the forecast got it right. The next morning found us sitting in the same place but leaving the boat was out of the question. Bahia Honda will have to wait. Instead we hauled everything in and headed to a place called Crawl Key. Crawl is only 8 nm or so away from Bahia Honda, just short of the northwest end of the Bahia Honda Channel. That end boasts some pretty thin water, 4 feet at mean low tide according to the chart. Crawl lay just before the thin spot and was the perfect place to wait on the morning high tide. When we pitched the hook over for the night it sank out of sight and grabbed hard.

Crawl Key is a good click away from everyone and everything. It boasts the kind of quiet that almost hurts, and the kind of dark one rarely has the chance to experience along the crowded eastern shore of the US. We were starting to have our doubts about the Keys, but Crawl redeemed them, ranking as maybe the best place we have anchored since leaving Oak Harbor back in the fall. We slept well and content that night.

A trawler anchored off Little Spanish Key next to Crawl Key
The next morning we ghosted out of the Bahia Honda Channel flying full main and jib, making three to four knots. Waiting for high tide was a good idea. There were places where we had barely 18 inches under the keel. Past the last green maker we decided it was official, Kintala was in the Gulf of Mexico. We tacked out into the Gulf a few miles hoping to find a point of sail that would lead us to Cape Sable.
One of the MANY crab pot lines in the Gulf.
This one was over 20 nm off shore.

But, just like in the Atlantic, it seems the wind in the Gulf always blows right on the bow. It was a valiant effort though, eventually, we had to admit that we were not making any real headway. Daylight would be long gone before we could raise Cape Sable. Since that part of the Gulf is mostly a crab / lobster hunting ground, daylight was necessary to keep from collecting a pot. The sails were put away and the Beast pushed us onto Cape Sable before the sun was gone. And then the winds, which had been blowing directly off the coast, the winds that were forecast to fade, shifted instead. 

We have a few days of travel left before settling in for the summer. My friend and soon to be New Boss wants to know if we can get there a little earlier than originally planned. It seems the yard is bursting with work - which is good news for both the yard and for its newest marine technician. The Garmin track will stop there for a while, but there are all kinds of tracks in a life.

And we will still be making new ones.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Enchanted Sea

Just pics this evening of one of the most beautiful places we've been this side of the Bahamas.

As far as we can tell, these are bowl corals, an endangered species. Anyone know if this is correct?

The progression of this evening's sunset from Crawl Key.

Hope you had a most wonderful day today!