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.
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.