Bouncy and breezy cruise to Carrabell – 10/31/15

First of All -

  • First time feeling the surge of Gulf swell
  • First sighting of a leaping manta ray
  • First bird sighting: American oystercatcher

Namely Speaking-

  • St. George Island
  • Dog Island
  • Carrabell

Loop Log:

  • Miles Cruised today: Power: 29; Sail: motordailed for 3 hours
  • Total Miles Cruised to date: 1,786
  • Hours Underway: 5
  • Fuel: 15.3 (6 miles per gallon average from Panama City)
  • Morning House Battery Reading: 14.2 (plugged in)
  • Wind Speed: 12; Wind Direction: SE
  • Daily High Temperature: 80
  • Water Temperature: 74

Ah, Carrabell. How many thousands, yes thousands, of Great Loop cruisers before us have paused here before venturing forth on their Gulf crossing? Carrabell is the last sheltered port on the shallow and remote Big Bend of Florida, where one can fuel up and provision prior to a crossing. How many of those cruisers tried, mostly in vain, to push back their feelings of anxiety over a significant open water passage. Larger and faster boats generally opt for a direct overnight 170 mile passage to Tarpon Springs. Slower boats and those with shallow draft have the option of a shorter crossing (65 miles) to Steinhatchee, followed by a couple of coastal legs on open water until reaching Tarpon Springs and a resumption of protected waters. In either case, the Gulf crossing is a significant undertaking in a small boat, and the most challenging passage on the Great Loop route. How many of those loop cruisers stopping here have grown increasingly restless as unfavorable weather turned a short stay into an extended one? Carrabell is rife with stories of cruisers who were pinned down here for two or even three weeks. I have even heard of one cruiser who simply stopped at Carrabell and went no further. On this Halloween, I wonder whether Carrabell has tricks or treats in store for us.

DSCF8811Our passage to Carrabell starts right off with challenges. For most of the night it remains calm on the municipal dock in Appalachicola. However, around 3 in the morning I awake to the rhythmic motion of the boat. A wind has piped up and a light chop is entering our channel. I rise to a red sunrise on the horizon. The breeze is steady at 10 mph. Since we’re tied up with the stern facing the wind, it will be difficult to get free of the dock without colliding with the stern of the boat in front of us. I decide to turn the boat around, using spring lines. It’s a bit of work, but thanks to the help of a cruiser on another boat, we manage it. With the bow facing into the wind I have good control and am able to easily swing out into the channel without mishap. Sandy steers while I secure lines and prepare the boat for the run to Carrabell. As with most early morning departures, Sandy prepares breakfast after we get underway, and she takes the wheel while I have my breakfast.

The route follows channel markers out for a couple of miles of shallow water before meeting up with the GICW, where we swing east. The south easterly wind is nearly on the nose on the way out, and it kicks up a rough 1 to 2 foot chop. After we make our turn to the east it is still too much on the nose for the use of a stabilizing sail, but the further east we go, the closer we get to St. George Island. The increasing proximity to the island reduces fetch and makes for a more comfortable ride. We make a dogleg turn toward the northeast, and this gives me a good sailing angle, so I pay out the genoa and we motor sail at 6.5 mph with the engine turning at just 2000 rpm. Another jog to the east puts us closer to the wind, but I’m still able to motor sail comfortably on a shortened jib. We pass by the east end of St.DSCF8814 George Island and gaze out onto the open Gulf, through East Pass. This is the route which loop cruisers generally take to start their crossing. We pick up a rolling 3 foot swell, pushing in between St. George and Dog Islands. A taste of things to come.

While we’re underway, crossing St. George Sound, we’re captivated by a drama playing out some 60 miles to our east. A 29 foot cabin cruiser, making the crossing from Carrabell to Steinhatchee just like we soon expect to do, has radioed the Coast Guard. We only hear the Coast Guard side of the conversation, but it sounds serious. The captain is singlehanding the boat, and it’s taking on water. For the next couple of hours the Coast Guard maintains regular and steady radio contact with the cabin cruiser, obtaining critical information, determining position, and providing important advice. The boat is under power, however, it sounds doubtful that it will make it before filling with water. A tow boat heads out to meet the vessel in trouble, and meets up with it close to the Steinhatchee channel entrance. The leaking boat has lost power at that point, and it sounds like the captain might have to abandon ship. The rescue vessel has brought a pump, and with a helicoptor hovering overhead to monitor the situation, it seems that the emergency gets successfully resolved. This episode underscores how easily things can go wrong out on the water, but also how well recreational boaters are served by the U.S. Coast Guard and the fleet of commercial tow boats. It also proves just how essential a good VHF radio and GPS are to safety out on the water.

DSCF8813We have another bit of excitement as we near Carrabell. We’re being entertained by the terns which soar and flutter overhead before swooping down to catch a meal. The stately pelicans are not to be outdone, alternately gliding along just above the waves or plunging in dramatic, splashing dives for fish. Dolphins play alongside our boat. While watching this show Sandy is startled to see a manta ray launch itself out of the water and several feet in the air. I miss seeing it, but do observe the large splash it made when it fell back into the water.

We enter the Carrabell River channel around 1pm and prepare to dock. I’ve contacted the Moorings Marina by cell phone. They have a guy at the fuel dock to take our lines. It seems like a nice place, with good facilities. We will stay here at least one night, and longer if weather prevents us from making our crossing right away. The wifi connection is good, and I’m able to catch up on email, and get our new cell phone put into service. Sandy does a laundry, which turns out to bring its own challenges. The washer works fine, but the drier is broken. A guy from the marina comes over and drives her over to a commercial laundry where she dries the clothes. When they’re done he comes by again and picks her up. Not quite as convenient as doing the wash back home, but such is life while on a boat. We’re both too tired to fix dinner so go out for dinner at a small restaurant across the street. Sandy orders grouper, which is excellent, as is the ribeye steak I have. Before we know it, it’s gotten late and we need to turn in.

Layover in Carrabell – November 1, 2015

First of All -

  • First free breakfast at a marina
  • First time watching an NFL game on tv this season (Seahawks game at that – they won, but barely)

Namely Speaking-

Loop Log:

  • Miles Cruised today: 0 – Layover day
  • Total Miles Cruised to date: 1,786
  • Hours Underway: NA
  • Fuel: NA
  • Morning House Battery Reading: 14.2 (plugged in)
  • Wind Speed: 10 ; Wind Direction: S
  • Daily High Temperature: 84
  • Water Temperature: 74

I start the day off by walking over for the free breakfast provided by the marina. Sandy skips it, but I have to check it out. It’s not great, but they do have good sausages and orange juice. The french toast is pretty dried out, but still, it’s a nice break from my usual bowl of Cheerios. Back at the boat, I study the weather links on the computer, trying to determine just when we might make a crossing. It’s clear that today and tomorrow aren’t suitable, but Tuesday still holds promise, and Wednesday through Friday look pretty good for further movement south along the Florida penninsula. We go up to the Chart Room, which is a nice, spacious air conditioned room above the rest rooms and showers. It’s equipped with a pool table and big screen tv. I lay out my chart book and work on waypoints and distances for the passage to Steinhatchee and points south. The waters over there are tricky, with lots of reefs and shoals. We’ll be cruising in 12 feet or less for most of the time, after we cross over. I need to lay out our course carefully, even with our shallow draft capability. After lunch I wander over to the pool for a swim, and then head back to the Chart Room to watch some football. I catch the Seahawks/Cowboys game, the first time I’ve seen our home Seattle team this season. Based on their struggles to date, I conclude I haven’t missed much. They barely manage to win this one, but at least they do win.

My plan is to hang out here at the marina as long as possible, since the winds aren’t supposed to start dying down until the afternoon, and there is a chance of thunderstorms here. Hopefully we can go over to Dog Island in the afternoon and anchor out there, in preparation for a crossing to Steinhatchee on Tuesday morning. Tomorrow morning I’ll check the forecast sources to see if things still look good.

Poised for our Gulf crossing at Dog Island – 11-2-15

First of All -

  • First time dinghying ashore for a walk on the beach
  • First sea shells collected (scallops and olives)
  • First hermit crabs and starfish seen
  • First birds sighted: common loon, willet, western sandpipere, ruddy turnstone
  • First shark sighted swimming by the boat
  • First bioluminescence seen from the boat

Namely Speaking-

  • Cat Daddy (buddy boat for our Gulf crossing)
  • Shipping Cove (our anchorage at Dog Island
  • Cannonball Point

Loop Log:

  • Miles Cruised today: Power: 7; Sail: 0
  • Total Miles Cruised to date: 1,793
  • Hours Underway: 1.25
  • Fuel: NA
  • Morning House Battery Reading: 14.2 (plugged in)
  • Wind Speed: 10;Wind Direction: S
  • Daily High Temperature: 86
  • Water Temperature: 76

DSCF8816Today is decision time. Do we go across tomorrow or wait another day. I check all my sources on the internet, and tomorrow continues to look favorable. I get the boat ready, while Sandy walks across the street to pick up some last minute grocery items. Shortly before noon I walk over to the marina office and settle up our bill for fuel, ice and 2 nights of moorage. It all comes to just under $100, which is quite reasonable. We eat lunch around noon and then free lines and get underway. It’s very warm in the marina, and it feels good to get out into the channel where we pick up the breeze. The wind is forecast to diminish in the afternoon, so our stay at Dog Island should be aDSCF8817 comfortable one. We encounter a light chop out on the bay, but it steadily diminishes as we near Dog Island. The anchorage is completely empty, which seems strange on the eve of a good crossing window. We set the anchor in 5 feet of water (it’s low tide, so we’ll be fine), and then nap for a while, waiting for the sun to get a bit lower. Around 3pm I row the dinghy ashore and we land on a beautiful white sand beach. We walk about a mile to the tip of the island, and then walk along the entrance channel to the Gulf side of the island. We continue walking on the Gulf side for nearly a mile, out to a point. A nice variety of shorebirds are busy poking their beaks into the sand and scurrying along at the edge of the shore break. Shorebirds are tough to identify, but I’m happy to be able to identify 3 species. We find lots of shells on the Gulf side, mostly broken, but occasionally we come across intact shells. Sometimes a hermit crab has taken up lodging inside. We’re particularly attracted by scallop and olive shells, and we select a couple of the nicest ones and place them into a plastic bag. On the walk back to the boat we watch a catamaran power boat enter the cut. It turns eastward and heads over to the anchorage. While rowing back out in the dinghy we see another boat. It looks familiar. I put the binoculars on it, and we’re pleased to recognize Harmony also heading toward the DSCF8819 anchorage. I detour in the dinghy, and row over to our friends to say hi. While we’re chatting, a dinghy from the cat boat motors over to join the impromptu gathering. We soon meet Rafe and Annette, who have recently started their loop. They already know us from reading my blog. John and Eunice, on Harmony, plan on doing the direct overnight crossing to Tarpon Springs, starting around noon tomorrow. Rafe and Annette, on their Cat Daddy, will be taking the route we plan onDSCF8823 cruising. It’s reassuring to know that another boat will be out there on our route. They cruise at around 9 mph, while we’ll likely be doing 7, so we won’t be staying close together, however, we do plan on talking on the radio from time to time. I think we’ll get underway a litte before them, so I expect they’ll catch us and pass us sometime in the morning.

Back on the boat, we enjoy chips and drinks in the cockpit as the sunset developes. Sandy fixes up a nice pizza which heats up perfectly on the barbque. This evening we’ll get things in readyness for tomorrow’s crossing. The forecast is for 5 to 10 knot winds out of the northeast in the morning, then diminishing to light and variable later in the day. Seas are supposed to be 2 to 3 feet early, then diminishing. They’re predicted to be off our starbard stern quarter. If those conditions actually materialize we should be quite comfortable. Time will tell.

 

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Gulf crossing – Blood on the deck – 11/3/15

First of All -

  • First time cruising on the open Gulf
  • First time at sea, beyond sight of land
  • First salt water fish caught on the trip
  • First time running a gas tank out during a passage
  • First crab pot floats encountered

Namely Speaking-

  • Appalachee Bay
  • Deadman Bay
  • Steinhatchee
  • Sea Hag Marina

Loop Log:

  • Miles Cruised today: Power: 81; Sail: 8 hours motor sailing
  • Total Miles Cruised to date: 1,874
  • Hours Underway: 12
  • Fuel: NA
  • Morning House Battery Reading: 12.54
  • Wind Speed: 5-10; Wind Direction: ENE to ESE
  • Daily High Temperature: 78
  • Water Temperature: 78

DSCF8838Up at 6, off the anchor at 6:30. We’re the first boat underway, rounding the eastern tip of Dog Island and turning east toward Steinhatchee, 75 miles across the Gulf. It’s just getting light when we start out, so I’ve got our running and steaming lights switched on. The sky is overcast, but a break in the cloud cover to the east allows streaks of light to break through, encouraging us on our way. The wind is light, and with just enough angle on our port side to allow me to unfurl the jib. Motorsailing with center board and rudders down really helps in countering the effect of the swell, which rolls in on our starbard stern quarter. The seas are only 2 feet or so, and the ride is quite comfortable. About 12 miles out we cross into 40 feet of water. I rig up my trolling rod with the jig which Karl tied up with wire leader and gave to me. I pay out about 40 yards of line and we cruise eastward. Our new friends on Cat Daddy catch up with us and pass us by, around 15 miles out. We’re cruising at around 6.5 mph, and they’re doing twice that. We chat on the radio as they pull out ahead of us. They suggest that we get together for pizza in Steinhatchee, which sounds like a good idea. Around 10:30 I’m startled by a loud zingingDSCF8850 sound. It’s my Penn reel. Fish on! I cut the throttle down to idle speed, undo the bungee which holds the rod in the holder, and grab the rod. All this while the reel is loudly singing, with line rapidly paying out. I have no idea what I’ve got on, but it must be big. I tighten down on the drag and start regaining line. The fish makes a couple strong runs, but I gradually work him in close to the boat. I get him up near the surface once and get a look at his back. I fear that it’s a shark. Before I can get a better look, he makes another run, this time going deep. This happens a couple more times before I get him to the top again. This time I get a better look. It’s definitely not a shark. I think it’s a king mackerel, a very sporty and prized gamefish. Sandy hands me the gaff and, while I’m working him in for landing, she snaps pictures. I slip the gaff in behind the gills and lift him out of the water, and into the boat. Sandy takes a few more pictures before I kill the fish with a few good whacks on its head with the trailer hitch ball I keep handy in the pedestal socket, and then the work begins. The port side cockpit seat DSCF8844cushion gets dumped onto the deck. It’s a dandy fish, around 40 inches long and probably over 20 pounds in weight. I lay the fish out on the fiberglass bench and carve off two thick fillets. I have to chop each fillet into 3 chunks, so that the meat will fit into a pair of gallon sized zip loc bags. The bags are put into the ice chest, and then I start rinsing the butchering scene with sea water. I use a small bucket on a line, and it takes many rinsings before the bloody evidence is mostly removed. This whole operation consumes the better part of an hour, but we figure it was worth the delay. I call our friends on the VHF and tell them we’ll not be having pizza with them, because of the fish Mike with his King Mackerel - Appalachee Bay, FLI’ve caught. I tell them to make room in their refrigerator, since I plan to give them some fish. At the time, Sandy would have a hard time agreeing with me, since she starts feeling queasy while we’re rocking and rolling amid fish blood and slime. She lays down once we get started again, and takes a good long nap. I motor on, with the seas growing just a bit taller. They come from two directions and when two of them meet and peak, we get rolled pretty good. While Sandy is napping, we lose our wind and I have to roll up the sail and raise the fins. This really accentuates our roll. As we near the halfway point, the engine starts to cough and I know I’ve emptied one of my gas tanks. I drop the throttle down to idle before the engine quits, and then quickly switch the fuel line over to the second tank. I resume cruising, but at a slightly reduced speed. About the time she’s waking up, the wind resumes, this time out of the south east, which allows me to again set the jib. The motion of the boat again eases, as the sail and fins counteract the effect of the swell. When we’re about 20 miles out, it becomes apparent that we’ll be getting in late once again. I dump a pair of 2.5 gallon gas cans into the operating tank, and kick the engine up to 4000 rpm. This gives me around 8 mph, but we’re still going to get in after dark. Our friends are already docked. I call them on the cell phone. They’ve already gone into town for pizza, and have half a pizza left over. They suggest exchanging pizza for fish, and that sounds like a great deal to me. As we near the coast we start encountering strings of crab pot floats, and avoiding them requires careful attention. The problem becomesDSCF8849 even more difficult as dusk settles in. The final 10 miles seem to take forever. By the time we reach the first lighted channel marker, it’s totally dark. The entrance channed is narrow and twisty, and the water on either side is mined with crab pots. Sandy pulls the spotlight out and plays it on navigational markers. I glance back and forth, between the GPS and the darkening water ahead of us. At one channel dogleg I stray out of the channel, but thankfully we somehow avoid fouling the prop in crab pot lines. As we near the marina we search for Red marker “42” which we’ve been told is where the marina is located. It’s extremely dark, and I can’t see a marina anywhere near marker “42”. I phone our friends on the power catamaran, and they direct us in to the dock. They take our lines, and we’re in. We exchange fish for pizza, and eat a hurried dinner. We’re both very tired, and glad to be off the open water. We’ve successfully completed our Gulf crossing, and caught a nice king in the process.

Southbound to Cedar Key – 11/04/15

First of All -

  • First time headed south on the Gulf of Mexico
  • First dolphin seen tail slapping
  • First time seeing the green flash at sunset
  • First time dinghying over to a boat at anchor for dinner

Namely Speaking-

  • Pine Log Swamp
  • Bowlegs Point
  • Pepperfish Keys
  • Suwannee River (as in “Way down upon the…”)
  • Atsena Otle Key

Loop Log:

  • Miles Cruised today: Power: 59; Sail: 2 hours motor sailing, main and jib
  • Total Miles Cruised to date: 1,933
  • Hours Underway: 9
  • Fuel: NA
  • Morning House Battery Reading: 14.2 (plugged in)
  • Wind Speed: 5-7; Wind Direction: SE
  • Daily High Temperature: 86
  • Water Temperature: 81

DSCF8851Sea Hag marina awakens early. It’s primarily a sport fishing center, so by 6am a girl is cleaning out dead fish from the live bait tanks, and fishermen are buying bait and tackle at the store. I pay for dockage and then move the boat over to the fuel dock and fill the tanks. We used 15 gallons on our crossing, getting under 6 miles per gallon for the first time. I’m not surprised, considering how hard I ran the motor, especially on approach to Steinhatchee in the gathering darkness. It’s warm and sultry in the early morning, as we weave our way back down the river, seeing this territory for the first time in daylight. We’re passed by a steady parade of fishing boats – jon boats, centerDSCF8856 consoles, larger sport fishing boats, and commercial crab boats. The latter especially seem to take devious pleasure in blasting close by us, rocking us with their wake. We make our turn to the south at Green Marker “1” and begin our run down to Cedar Key. Our friends on Cat Daddy start a half hour or so after us, but soon pass us by. We take pictures of each other’s boats as we pass. We have them in sight for a long while, but eventually they disappear over the horizon. We earlier made plans to meet up at the Cedar Key anchorage, and we are invited over to their boat for dinner.

The sun shines brightly in a mostly cloud free sky. A light breeze out of the southeast allows us to motor sail with main and jib for the first leg of the trip, but once I make a turn the breeze is on our nose and down come the sails. One benefit of this is added visibility. Crab pots are numerous in these waters, and avoiding them requires constant vigilance. Despite my best efforts, I manage to bump one float with the hull. Fortunately, we don’t foul the line in our prop. The cruise down to Cedar Key is fairly uneventful. The water is uniformly shallow, averaging 10 to 12 feet where we’re traveling. We see the occasional gull or pelican, but little else. As we near Cedar Key several DSCF8860groups of dolphins show up. Their pattern is to turn toward us, rise several times, and then just as they near the boat, down they go and we usually don’t see them again. The islands around Cedar Key are quite scenic, with graceful palms and other trees. We see our friends’ boat anchored off the beach at a small island named Atsena Otle Key. We maneuver into a spot just off the beach and drop the anchor in 6 feet of water. It’s just past low tide, so we should be fine here. The current runs fairly strong here, so I put the kicker motor on the dinghy and we go ashore. Atsena Otle Key is a National Wildlife Refuge,DSCF8865 with trails just begging to be explored. We only have time this evening for a short beach walk, but we thoroughly enjoy it. At 80 degrees, the water here feels like bath water. We motor back to the boat and Sandy fixes up a rice side dish to bring over as our contribution to dinner. While the rice is cooking we’re treated to a tomato soup colored sunset, the first we’ve seen with the sun dropping directly into water. I gaze at the last third of the solar disc in hopes of seeing the green flash, and I’m not disappointed.

Shortly after sundown we dinghy over to our friends’ boat and we enjoy a tasty dinner. Annette has prepared chicken sishkabobs, fresh green salad, and bread. Along with the rice, it makes for a great dinner. The conversation is warm and lively, and we hope to see more of each other further down the way. We dinghy back in the dark, a trip made a bit easier since I remembered to turn the anchor light on before we left. Both wind and current have reversed from when we first arrived. My anchor has reset nicely, and with 60 feet of scope out, I’m confident that we’ll stay put tonight.

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Layover at Cedar Key – 11-05-15

First of All -

  • First time using my trip line rig to anchor the dinghy out in the water, away from shore
  • First insect sightings: zebra butterflies and rhinoceros beetles

Namely Speaking-

  • Cedar Key
  • Faber pencils
  • Donax whisk

Loop Log:

  • Miles Cruised today: Layover day
  • Total Miles Cruised to date: 1,933
  • Hours Underway: NA
  • Fuel: NA
  • Morning House Battery Reading: 12.58
  • Wind Speed: 5-10; Wind Direction: E and then W
  • Daily High Temperature: 86
  • Water Temperature: 81

DSCF8896We’re in no hurry this morning, for a change. With settled weather forecast for the next 4 or 5 days at least, there is no urgency to move. We’ll spend one of our hard earned layover days at Cedar Key. It’s actually quite breezy this morning, with the east wind kicking enough of a chop from across the bay that our boat is getting a good rocking. As it swings into the wind and chop it momentarily settles out, but then her swing continues, putting us abeam of the chop, and then the rocking begins. Our friends on Cat Daddy are headed for Tarpon Springs today. They get an early start and we have the anchorage to ourselves. This situation doesn’t last long, however. A pontoon boat is heading across from Cedar Key, and it’s filled with excited kids, all wearing orange life jackets and clearly eager to go ashore here on Atsena Otie Key. We later learn that they are the 4th grade class from Chiefland Elementary school. This is the first time Chiefland hasDSCF8900 brought a class of students here on a field trip. The pontoon boat lands on the beach, disgorges its cargo of 4th graders and accompanying teachers, and departs. The kids are armed with buckets and fish nets. They wade the shallows, deploying their nets and enthusiastically examining their catch. By the time we’re ready to go ashore they’ve all disappeared, following the nearby trail inland. We walk the beach to the start of the trail, and walk into the island forest. We don’t go far before we hear the kids quickly walking back toward the beach. We meet up with them and hear scary stories about vicious mosquitoes. We’re not deterred though. We’ve brought along a special repellant potion I bought on impulse at a grocery checkout counter. It’s supposed to repel mosquitoes, biting flies, no see ums and chiggars. I shake it up vigorously and drench all exposed skin with the stuff. It’s got citronella and other non deeet ingredients in it. It smells nice, but doesn’t work worth a darn on mosquitoes. Oh well, maybe it works on no see ums. If all else fails, we can still poison ourselves with deet. Along the trail we pass a large shrub which is in bloom, and it has attracted 6 or 8 beautiful black and yellow butterflies. They have DSCF8909graceful, narrow wings. We’ve seen them in the Florida Keys before, and I think they’re called zebra butterflies. The trail ends at a historic cemetery, where residents of the small village which once stood on this now uninhabited island said farewell to their departed loved ones. At the entrance a sign identifies 40 or 50 names of people buried there. Most of the burials date from the 1870’s to the 1890’s, when a community on the island thrived. A cedar mill was located here. That, along with fishing, provided the basis for life here. The mill has long ago gone to ruin. Besides the cemetery, the only signs of settlement which we see from the trail are the remains of a windmill, a large concrete cistern, and some brick foundation structures where the mill once stood. On another branch of the trail we walk over to a dock, which is gated off at its head. A sign interestingly points out that this dock is reserved strictly for the birds. The birds have gotten the message. Cormorants occupy the tops of most pilings. Here and there ospreys stake outDSCF8918 their spots. Closer in we find pelicans, terns, and shorebirds. It’s an amazing menagerie. Back at the beach we chat briefly with the teachers, who vigilantly monitor their students, now out playing in the warm water. We leave the beach to them and dinghy across the bay for town. We’re in search of a good lunch, and we find it in a small cafe. I order a tasty meat filled sandwich called a Cuban. The bread is smashed flat and lightly fried. Different, and very good. Sandy has a salad, so she’ll have an appetite for dinner. After lunch we explore the historic streets of Cedar Key, and cap off our walk with a visit to the town museum. It’s a great small museum, with an interesting mix of artifacts, story boards, and historic photographs. The docent loves to talk with visitors, and she enthusiastically describes what is on display. Cedar Key has an interesting prehistory, as well as a remarkable set of more recent stories to tell. Cedar Key was the western terminus for the first cross state railroad in Florida, completed just prior to the Civil War. It was the scene of military activity during the war. The place boomed for 20 or 30 years after the war ended, with logging of the local cedar stands being the principal activity. Most of the cedar logged here was turned into pencils by the Faber Company. After the cedar stands got logged out, a new DSCF8916industry was started by a dentist named Dr. Andrews, who began producing whisk brooms from the fiber found in the Sabal Palm. HeDSCF8914 processed the bases of the palm fronds, and turned them into various sizes of whisk brooms, which he called Donax Whisk Brooms. The operation closed in 1952, and at that time Dr. Dan’s wife had all the whisk broom making equipment, along with all the remaining processed fiber stock, placed in storage. Dr. Dan’s son is now 87 years old, and he is still making whisks, on a small scale, with the remaining stock of fiber. The whisks he makes are sold at the museum, and he donates all proceeds to the museum.

It’s now time to head back to the boat, following stops at the grocery and an ice cream shop. The wind has now disappeared, and the bay is glassy smooth as far as I can see. I hear some heavy breathing close by, and watch a pair of dolphins cruise within 10 feet of the boat. I can see them surface way out on the bay. Soon it will be time to fire up the barbque and put a nice slab of king mackeral on the barbque. I’ll use my friend Karl’s special recipe, and I expect it will turn out great. I’ll report on the results tomorrow. After dinner we plan on rowing ashore, where we’ll sit on the beach and hope for a repeat of last night’s green flash at sunset.
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Heading for Manatee country – Crystall River – 11-06-15

First of All -

  • First time cruising in a manatee zone
  • First time snorkeling out of the dinghy
  • First time swimming with manatees
  • First bird sighting – white ibis

Namely Speaking-

  • Crystal Bay
  • Indian Mound
  • Kings Bay
  • Three Sisters Spring

Loop Log:

  • Miles Cruised today: Power: 37; Sail: Motor sailed with jib for 3 hours
  • Total Miles Cruised to date: 1,970
  • Hours Underway: 5.5
  • Fuel: 16 gallons ($64)
  • Morning House Battery Reading: 12.38
  • Wind Speed: 10; Wind Direction: E
  • Daily High Temperature: 86
  • Water Temperature: 78

I can’t figure the winds in this country out. We’re in the midst of an extended high pressure, settled, fair weather pattern. All well and good. Back home in the Northwest, both on Puget Sound and on inland waters, such conditions would mean calm air first thing in the morning, then a breeze kicking up by late morning, maybe getting quite breezy by mid afternoon, and then settling back down again in the evening, with calm air at night. Around here it’s quite the opposite. The afternoons tend to be calm, and then around nightfall a wind kicks up. It can be breezy all night and into the morning. Whereas back home it’s generally a good idea to get up early to take advantage of the morning calm, in these parts it’s often quite windy and bouncy first thing. Yesterday afternoon was nearly dead calm, but when it came time to turn in, a breeze kicked up and, in our open roadstead anchorage, we really got bounced. I considered getting up and setting a stern anchor to keep us pointed into the chop, but ended up deciding to not tackle that job in the dark. We ended up getting rocked to sleep, and the rocking was hard enough to delay the sleep part.

DSCF8939This morning it’s still breezy, but not as much as last night. We get off the anchor at 7am and follow preset waypoints out past the town of Cedar Key, across rather shallow water (6 to 8 feet), and then out into deeper water. There’s enough of an angle to the wind that I’m able to unfurl the jib and we motor sail comfortably with the stabilizing effect of the sail. We’re pretty much by ourselves on the shallow water route I’ve laid out. We draw near the Crystal River Nuclear Power Plant, with its distinctive twin cooling towers. As we approach the marked channel into Crystal River we start encountering more and more recreational fishing boats. Fortunately, crab pots are scarce inDSCF8940 these waters for some reason. It’s quite a long run into Crystal River. We begin passing through salt grassDSCF8945 marshlands, backed by hammocks of palms. It’s very pretty country, with a definiteDSCF8942 tropical flavor. When the channel narrows we see the first of many signs advising that this is manatee country. A speed of 25 mph is permitted in the marked channel, but elsewhere limited wake or no wake speeds are required. We wind our way up the Crystal River until the water finally opens up into Kings Bay. We see a power catamaran boat heading out. I’m pretty sure it isn’t our friends on Cat Daddy, because they’d planned on going all the way to Tarpon Springs yesterday. However, I’m proven wrong when I see Rafe waving enthusiastically from his fly bridge. We pull along side and learn that they were getting beat up by yesterday’s morning wind and chop, and elected to get off the open water here in Crystal River. They are headed to Tarpon Springs today, but before moving along, they told us that they’d seen manatees here. We’re hoping to see some, but understand that with the Gulf water being so warm, the manatees are quite dispersed still, and very few have moved into the Crystal River and associated springs yet. We’re encouraged by their report. We wave farewell to them, with hopes of meeting up again down the way.

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We pull up to the Pete’s Pier fuel dock, fill gas tanks and take a slip for the night. After getting squared away I squirm into my shorty wetsuit and load snorkel gear into the dinghy. Around 3pm we head onto the Bay, in the direction of Kings Spring where, we’re told, manatees have recently been seen. It’s a pretty run, and we slowly cruise around Banana Island, where King’s Spring is located, but see no manatees. We do see our first white ibis, which are hanging out with a great egret. On the way back I take a run up toward Three Sisters Spring. We were told by a lady on a GOPR0064GOPR0065

manatee informational line that manatees are not at this particular spring, but while we’re out, I decide to give it a look. We motor up the channel at idle speed. The water is quite clear, and we finally reach the entrance to the spring. I grab my mask, snorkel and fins and go over the side, into the water. It’s a refreshing 72 degrees, and I’m glad I have the wetsuit on. I swim up the entrance channel and back into the spring area, a pond pehaps an acre in size. The bottom is mostly white sand, and the water averages 4 to 8 feet deep, except there the springs are located. There, the water is easily 30 or more feet in depth. I see a mix of fresh water and salt water fish back there: mullett, needle fish, bluegill, and a few small bass. But no manatees. I swim back out to the main channel, and back to the dinghy. Sandy tells me that a couple of manatees are right here in the main channel. I swim over to where a dozen or more snorkelers have gathered and peer down. There, near the bottom, is the enormous round form of a manatee. It’s slowly working along the bottom, apparently feeding. I have the Go Pro underwater camera with me, and I try taking pictures, not really knowing what I’m getting, but I’m having fun trying. More boats are arriving, so it’s time to get out of the water and return to the boat. For dinner I grill up some king mackeral steaks, and they turn out great, which is good, since we have two more meals of fish in the refrigerator.

A strategic 3 mile move – 1`1/07/15

First of All -

  • First time being passed by an operating airboat
  • First time seeing and talking with high school classmates in 50 years (via Skype link with 50th class reunion)
  • First time setting up the solar shower

Namely Speaking-

  • Salt River
  • Crespi High School

Loop Log:

  • Miles Cruised today: Power: 3; Sail: 0
  • Total Miles Cruised to date: 1,973
  • Hours Under Way: 1
  • Fuel: NA
  • Morning House Battery Reading: 14.4 (plugged in)
  • Wind Speed: 5; Wind Direction: SW
  • Daily High Temperature: 86
  • Water Temperature: 79

DSCF8964It’s a bit foggy first thing this morning, but the vapor quickly lifts, and the day promises to be another hot one. We don’t plan to go far today, so we take time for a fancy breakfast. We fix up cinnamon bread french toast, and it’s delicious. I rinse the salt off the boat, and set up the solar shower for the first time. I have trouble with the plastic tube, which keeps popping off of the water container. I end up securing it by twisting some copper wire over the connection, since a hose clamp just doesn’t want to do the job. We pull away from the dock at 10:30 and head downriver. We are going only a short distance, and for two reasons. The main reason is because cell service is poor at Pete’s Pier, and wifi is non existant. I need a good connection for tonight, since I’m expecting to hook up with my high school 50thDSCF8970 year class reunion via Skype. I’ll be seeing and talking with guys I haven’t connected with since graduation night in early June, 1965. Obviously, I can’t be there in person, so this hookup is the next best thing. The other reason is that we have a long run ahead of us tomorrow, better than 60 miles down to Tarpon Springs. With the slow speed limit on the river, the move today saves us about an hour tomorrow. We’re given a handy slip just inside the marina, and spend a quiet day relaxing, reading, and going for a walk. On our walk we meet up with a friendly shrimp fisherman, who’s busy renovating an older fiberglass hull shrimp boat. He clearly loves fishing and the sea, and has spent a lifetime on the water. He introduces his wife, who’s sitting on a scaffold next to the boat’s stern. She’s carefully painting a new name on the boat, the Abigail , which happens to be their daughter’s name. It’s a lovely boat name, and we wish him good fishing in this boat, once his work is complete.

DSCF8971Around 5pm I get a cell call from my high school class reunion organizer’s wife, who is setting up the Skype link. This allows me to see and talk with a bunch of guys I haven’t seen for more than 50 years. I have to ask most of them their names. I know I haven’t changed in 50 years, but somehow they all have. It’s a great experience, and I’m grateful to be able to hook up in this manner, even though I’m thousands of miles away. I come away from the experience marveling at the remarkable things our small class of 95 have achieved, and at the same time I’m saddened in learning that we’ve already lost 15 classmates. Time and the actuarial tables take their inevitable toll.

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Pounding our way down to Tarpon Springs – 11/08/15

First of All -

  • First sea turtle seen
  • First stowaway; a crab
  • First time cruising Florida’s west coast in calm, sheltered waters
  • First time staying in a high rise boat condominium “marina”

Namely Speaking-

  • Homossassa River
  • Weeki Wachee River
  • Centipede Bay
  • Anclote Key
  • Tarpon Springs

Loop Log:

  • Miles Cruised today: Power: 75; Sail: (Motor sailed 3 hours)
  • Total Miles Cruised to date: 2,148
  • Hours Underway: 11
  • Fuel: NA
  • Morning House Battery Reading: 14.5 (plugged in)
  • Wind Speed: 12-15; Wind Direction: SE
  • Daily High Temperature: 80
  • Water Temperature: 78

DSCF8981A careful check, last evening, of several weather sources predicted changing weather conditions, with strengthing winds and a chance of showers. However, the wind was predicted to come out of the north east, which would produce more or less following seas and an apparent wind of less than 10 knots. Wave height was predicted to be 2 feet. Based on this information, we plan to make the last long jump on our open Gulf passage, to the protected waters which begin at Tarpon Springs. If we don’t go today, we may have to wait for several days before things settle out. Decision: we go. I get up at 5:30 am, knowing we have a long way to go. I’m ready to leave the marina shortly before 6am. Only problem: I forgot to raise the centerboard when we arrived yesterday, and when I try to pull it up, I find it solidly stuck in the shallow mud bottom. The bow of the boat is just a foot short of a concrete bulkhead, and I know I must move the boat forward in order to free the centerboard. That foot won’t do it. Fortunately, the bulkhead is at an angle to the boat, and I’m able to turn the boat enough to free the centerboard. I back out of our slip and in the faint predawn light, ease my way out into the channel. I have to dodge a few crab pot floats, but manage to get out into the designated navigation channel, where I proceed to follow the track we made on the GPS yesterday, when we came in. Looking astern, I see a fingernail sliver of moon in direct alignment with a very bright Venus and a less bright, but still very visible Jupiter. They look like some sort of Mason’s emblem. On the eastern horizon, a striking sunrise is beginning to develop. Sandy comes out into the cockpit with the morning’s coffee, just in time to savor the rapidly evolving sunrise. We cruise down the Crystal River, encountering a couple of commercial fishing boats who are on their way in after a long night’s fishing. WeDSCF8988 follow the channel markers out in a light breeze, finally reaching our turning point about 7 miles out from the mouth of the river. The breeze is out of the southeast, but our course is initially to the southwest, which enables me to raise the main and fly the jib. We motor sail at an easy 7 mph. About 10 miles further along, our course requires a turn to the south. I’ve been hoping that the wind would start clocking to the northeast, as forecast, however it’s stuck in the southeast. I furl the jib and set a reef in the main, and we motor sail close hauled, with just enough sail out to stabilize the boat from lateral motion. The up and down is another story, however. The breeze is freshinging, and those predicted 2 foot seas are building to closely spaced 3 footers, and when one of them climbs on top of another, we plunge steeply downward and green water breaks over the bow, covering the foredeck and washing back, almost to the sliding hatch. The boat pounds hard on these drops, and our forward speed suffers as well. We plow on, having no other alternative, all the while hoping that the forecast northeast wind will soon arrive. This hope proves to be in vain, although once we cross into 20 foot plus waters, the chop seems to lessen somewhat. Out on the rough water Sandy is pleased to spot a sea turtle, the first we’ve encountered on the trip. He pokes his head up and his large carapace is visible in the swell. Before I can look that way he disappears beneath the waves. As we proceed south the seas gradually ease, and our speed picks up. Off to the west we see dark skies, and listen with interest to Coast Guard reports of dangerous squall lines 20 to 40 miles off shore. Fortunately for us, they’re headed away from us. At long last we reach our last turning point, and are able to start heading in toward the coast. I call the municipal marina and am disappointed to learn that they’re full up. The dockmaster suggests Turtle Cove Marina as a reasonable alternative, so I give them a call. They have room for us, although their office closes at 5pm. We will be pressed to get in by then, but we give it a go. Standing squarely in our way, however, is an ominous dark cloud which looks to be directly in our path to shelter. It flashes occasional lightning, and we can hear the distant rumble of thunder. I hope that it will slide past before we get too close. It looks like that hope will be in vain, however, so I haul out the cockpit enclosure panels and go to work zipping them into place. I’m nearly done when heavy rain begins pelting the sea around us. The shower is fleeting, though, and we proceed the rest of the way in, behind the shelter of Anclote Key, under gray but dry skies. I follow the navigation markers up the Anclote River, toward our marina. When I draw near I give them a call, letting them know we’ll make it right at 5pm. The lady assures me that someone will be there to meet us at the dock. As we near the turning point, things start getting confusing, so I call again for directions. It takes them a while to figure out which way I should turn, and when I get instructions, they prove to be wrong. Somehow I find my way in. This marina is a sort of high rise boat dry storage condominium, and they stick us in the most remote slip in the place. We hike over to the office and register. I’m given an electronic key and a welcome packet. We learn that the showers and restrooms are a lengthy hike from our slip, better than 1/4 mile away. We’re almost too tired to care. We hurriedly fix dinner and afterward, gather our shower stuff and hike over to the club house. We find the place dark and uninviting. The pool is unlit, as is the hot tub. We climb the stairs to access the restrooms, only to find that the doors are deadbolted, and our electronic key is useless. We return to the boat and discover that the wifi, which we’ve been given the password for, won’t work where we’re at. We would need to go over to the office or the clubhouse or the tiki bar, all of which are dark and locked up, in ordere to use wifi. The welcome packet we were given when we checked in states that this marina wants to be more user friendly toward transients. It’s clear to us that they’ve got a long way to go.

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Rainy layover in Tarpon Springs – 11/09/15

First of All -

  • First day it rained non stop all day long

Namely Speaking-

  • Hellas Restaurant
  • Parthenon Bakery

Loop Log:

  • Miles Cruised today: Layover day
  • Total Miles Cruised to date: 2,148
  • Hours Underway: NA
  • Fuel: NA
  • Morning House Battery Reading: 14.5 (plugged in)
  • Wind Speed: light; Wind Direction: variable
  • Daily High Temperature: 78
  • Water Temperature: 78

DSCF8997Last night was uncomfortable, because of a very damp, clammy sleeping bag, especially down near the bottom of the bag. The humid cabin can’t account for how wet the bag feels. I get up and check down there. Both the bag and the mattress topper on my side are wet. Somehow, while pounding through heavy seas yesterday, water managed to find its way into the starbard side of the vee berth, up near theDSCF8998 bow. It could have gotten in through one of the several holes up there, which accomodate mounting bolts for things such as the bow anchor roller, anchor securing bracket, and deck fill fitting for the bladder water tank. I doubt that these holes are to blame, since I made generous use of 3M 5200 when installing these fittings. I suspect the foredeck/hull seam. I roll back the rub rail to expose the joint, and this seam shows signs of having opened up on places, near the bow. The pounding of the bow into rough seas must have caused flexing at this joint, allowing seawater to seep into the cabin near the front of the vee berth. I think I can fix the problem, after things have had a good chance to dry out. I’ll take a tube of 3M caulk, peel back the rub rail, and lay a heavy bead of caulk along the edge of the joint, and then roll the rub rail back into positon. Hopefully, this will keep things dry up front in the future. In the meantime, however, we need to deal with the problem of a very damp sleeping bag. I visit the office and tell them of our inability to access the restrooms/showers last night. I’m told that a lightning strike damaged a transformer nearby, and that may have caused the electronic lock system to malfunction. The lock and electronic keypad work fine this morning, so Sandy and I march over there in heavy rain, with laundry and shower gear in tow. I remove the velcroed bedsheet from the sleeping bag and toss the two halves of the bag into driers. The sheet, along with the rest of our laundry, goes into a washer. It’s around noon by the time we’ve finished showering and doing the laundry. Still raining, and hard at times. We want to get into town and check out the Sponge Dock district of Tarpon Springs, so weDSCF8992 grab our rain jackets and walk over to the Sponge Dock area in the rain. It’s just a few blocks away, but we still get pretty wet by the time we get there. It’s an interesting waterfront district, with sponging and fishing boats tied up to the dock which parallels the main street. DSCF8994 Former sponge warehouses now host gift shops and Greek restaurants. This area was a major sponge harvesting center back in the early 1900’s, when Greek fishermen moved here and introduced their techniques for sponge diving. The industry has had its ups and downs, and now seems to be rejuvenated once again, this time with tourist purchasing being the major driver. Greek culture is genuinely entrenched here, and when we enter shops, we frequently hear the shop owner speaking in Greek with a local across the counter or on the phone. We go out for dinner at one of the many fine Greek restaurants here. I have roast leg of lamb and Sandy has lamb kebobs. We sit on the veranda, near the sidewalk while we dine, enjoying a nice view of the sunset (yes, it has finally almost stopped raining). After dinner we walk over to one of several Greek bakeries on main street, and we purchase some tasty looking pastries for tomorrow’s breakfast. Then we step into another bakery and select rich and very decadent desserts.

Earlier in the day I get phone calls from two MacGregor boat owners who live in the nearby area. They’ve been following our blog, and would like to meet up with us. I make arrangements to meet up with Jurgen tomorrow morning. We’ll try to get together with Richard next Saturday or Sunday. These meetings with fellow Mac owners have been interesting and enjoyable, and we look forward to meeting with them and sharing information and sea stories.

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