Archive for January, 2008

Trip to Key West

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

Friday morning, Jan 25th, we woke to a rather choppy anchorage. The wind had shifted to the northeast and there was plenty of fetch from that direction for the waves to build. The weather forecast called for it to calm down by late morning, so we decided to wait a while before weighing anchor. By 11:00 it was still blowing 20 knots and we were anxious to be on our way, so we went ahead and started the anchor drill. The temperature was about 65 degrees, but it was so windy I nearly froze up on the bow getting the anchor up. It was quite an exercise getting the anchor up with the boat pitching as much as it was. Nothing like a good challenge to start the day off. Charlotte Harbor was choppy, but when we entered the channel leading out, it got downright rough. The tide was coming in and the wind was opposing it, but the channel is not very long and soon enough we were in open water and things settled down.

The forecasts had called for north to northeast 5 to 10 knot winds and that’s more or less what we found when we first got out into open water. It made for very pleasant sailing and we kept the engine running to keep our speed up and ensure a daylight arrival at Key West. I fired up the stereo and we listened to some tunes and ate dinner in the cockpit while enjoying our most pleasant sail yet. Towards evening, the wind veered to the east and started increasing in force, but never got above 20 knots. For some reason I have yet to fully understand, though, we had one of our most unpleasant nights underway yet. The waves built to only about 4 feet high on average, with the occassional batch of 5 to 6 footers coming through. They were also rather regular waves, not the angry, confused type we saw from Petit Bois to Port St. Joe. I swear I have seen scarier waves in the bathtub. We rolled like crazy, though. I tried all kinds of sail combinations and sail trimming to settle the motion down but nothing seemed to work. I seriously considered altering course so we weren’t taking the waves directly on the beam, but I’m kind of stubborn about holding course. We’re going to Key West and no puny little waves are going to make us deviate from our course. We were making great time, sailing at just over 7 knots for several hours, and over 5.5 knots for the whole trip.

We arrived at the northwest channel to Key West around 10:00 Saturday morning and got anchored about 1:40 in the afternoon. The anchorage is very crowded, so I’m a little worried about swinging into other boats as our boat swings around on its anchor chain. It has been very calm since we anchored, so I’m also anxious about the anchor dragging if the wind picks up. I’m never confident the anchor is set well until after I’ve seen it hold during a nice blow and chop. It is nice and warm here in Key West and we are so happy to be able to shed our winter clothes. We are both a little exhausted and may not leave the boat at all until Monday.

Trip to Charlotte Harbor

Friday, January 25th, 2008

We left the dock at Port St. Joe Marina at 10:15 Tuesday, January 22, and set a course for Key West. We started out sailing close hauled (pointed as close as possible to the direction the wind is from) in 5 to 10 knots of wind. Our main sail is so old and stretched that close hauled isn’t our best point of sail. We plan to buy a new main sail in March and man, are they expensive. We will get one with full battens and also get a battcar system, which is a track with ball-bearing cars. The cars attach to the sail and the track to the mast and it makes it easier to raise and lower the sail. Hopefully between now and March will be enough time for me to adjust to the idea of parting with that much money all at once.

As we were sailing that first day, the wind remained fairly light, but we encountered the sloppy seas remaining after the previous day’s gale-force winds had blown through, so it was a little rough. I think we waited too close to departure to put Nancy’s seasickness patch on because she started to feel bad after a few hours of bouncing around, so we decided to head for Tampa Bay and anchor off Egmont Key, as we had originally planned before we got held up in Port St. Joe. At 17:44, Tuesday evening we altered course for Tampa with a new heading of 133 degrees.

The seas continued to decrease through the night, though, and Nancy got a good night’s sleep and felt much better Wednesday morning. We decided to revise our plan yet again and head for Charlotte Harbor. If we had continued for Tampa, we would have had to reduce speed in order to arrive in daylight, but if we could maintain 6 knots or better, we would arrive at Charlotte Harbor sometime in the morning of the 24th. It would also put us an easy overnight sail from Key West. That’s just one of the perks of retirement and cruising, you can revise your plans and change your mind as much as you want. I’m definitely enjoying the flexibility. At 07:35, Wednesday morning, we altered course for Charlotte Harbor with a new heading of 142 degrees.

By 19:00 Wednesday evening we started encountering intermittent fog. The wind has backed (changed direction in a counter-clockwise direction) and we are now on a nice beam reach (the wind perpendicular to the boat, or coming from the side). The fog is so dense at times that we begin turning on the radar every 10 to 15 minutes. At about 21:30 I spot what appears to be a large ship on radar at a range of about 6 miles. After watching it for a few more periodic scans, it becomes clear that we are going to pass uncomfortably close (for me at least) if we each continue on our present courses. When it is about 3 miles away, I call for “the ship at approximate position 27 degrees 36 minutes North, 83 degrees 11 minutes West, heading west from the Tampa Bay area” over the VHF radio on channel 16. A container ship answers and I ask them if they see me on radar off their starboard bow and they confirm they have been watching me. I tell them I’d like to ensure I pass astern of them and we agree to each alter course to port, so that we pass safely, then resume our original headings. I was very surprised that they offered to change course as well. I just wanted to make sure they could see me on radar and let them know I was going to alter my course to pass astern of them. I thought it was incredibly nice for them to offer to alter course as well since they are quite large and not as maneuverable as a sailboat. We passed with a closest approach of just over one nautical mile and then resumed our previous courses. I never was able to see their lights visually through the fog.

By 01:30 Thursday morning, the wind has completely died and I’ve furled the jib, lowered the main, and the fog has increased to where we can just barely see past the bow of the boat. We’re making around 5.5 knots with the engine. My fervent hope was for the fog to lift before we enter the channel into Charlotte Harbor, but that was not to be. As we approach closer to Charlotte Harbor, our chances of encountering other vessels will increase and we continue to scan with the radar every 10 minutes or so. Some of the smaller fishing boats are all but impossible to see on radar, though. They present a very small target for the radar to reflect back from and fiberglass isn’t a very good reflector. We had one small sport-fisher appear out of the fog about 1/4 mile away, which is way too close for a first glimpse. We just stayed vigilant, with both of us on deck. I was at the wheel, looking ahead and prepared to maneuver while Nancy looked all around and ran the radar every so often.

At 10:45 we entered the channel with the fog still pretty thick. The channel markers are only visible when we are within about 150 yards of them, but they are all present and accounted for, just as depicted on the chart. We enter Charlotte Harbor and anchor off Gasparilla Island. The wind is very light and the humidity is 98 percent at 12:00 when we finish anchoring. You can feel the droplets of water condensing out of the air. We take showers and fix a nice large lunch (pasta, corn, mashed potatoes and dinner rolls) and by then the fog has lifted, the sun is out, and the humidity is down to 60 percent. It is very pleasant sitting outside without a jacket on.

As I write this, it is now 22:34 and the wind has picked up from the north. It must be blowing 10 to 15 knots, but we are fairly well protedted from the north and there is only a gentle pitching motion on the boat. Our current plan is to leave for Key West in the morning, but we are going to check the latest weather forecasts before we leave.

(Note: As I re-read this and other log entries I’ve made, I realize that I switch tenses throughout an entry. I know that this really grates on some people’s nerves, so I offer this advice: If the switching of tenses cause you more angst than you can bear, have a few beers before reading this blog and it probably won’t seem as bad.)

Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay

Sunday, January 20th, 2008

Sunday morning, January 20th. It is about 50 degrees and windy outside, but the sun is out today. We are still docked at Port St. Joe Marina waiting for a good weather window for the next leg of the trip. Since we have spent so much time here, we may sail directly from here to Key West, provided the wind and weather stays favorable underway. Currently it looks like Tuesday may be a good day to leave. We will have to be careful of the tide when we leave, though. I woke up this morning and realized we were sitting aground at the dock. It is nearing the full moon and the tidal range is nearing its maximum. Our boat draws 5′ 10″ and I estimate the depth in the marina at low tide this morning to be about 5′ 7″. Low tide on Tuesday is predicted to be at 10:35, so if we can’t leave the dock by 08:00, we should probably wait until 12:00 to leave. We are supposed to meet Rob in Miami on the 31st, but I built enough extra time in the planning that we should still have no problem making it there on time. Rob is a sailor, so he understands weather windows and is prepared to wait for us in Miami if we should be delayed beyond the 31st.

Port St. Joe has been a very nice place to wait for a weather window. The marina here is very nice and the people are very friendly and helpful. There is a grocery store, sporting goods store, hardware store, movie rental, and several restaurants all within walking distance. There is a 45′ Cherubini Trawler docked with us on the transient pier. Joe and Judy are the owners and Nancy and I have enjoyed their company. Their boat, named Night Star, is very beautifully appointed. They are waiting for a weather window to continue south, as well. We have been just taking it easy reading, watching movies, and taking care of a few jobs on the to-do list while we’ve been here.

First Leg of Trip to Bahamas

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

We weighed anchor at Petit Bois Island the morning of the 13th and were underway at 08:18. The wind had picked up to about 15 knots from the northwest overnight but the anchor didn’t budge. This was the first time we had used our new 75lb Rocna anchor and I’m happy with it so far. We motor-sailed pretty much southeast all day and into the evening with a light wind on our port quarter (from the left-hand rear of the boat). By early evening, the wind and seas began building. We reached our waypoint of 29 degrees 20.5 minutes North, 087 degrees 40.7 minutes West at 21:00 and came to our new heading of 075 degrees. By this time the wind was moderately strong, in the 20 knot range, and the seas getting higher, but with our new heading, we are taking them on the port beam (left-hand side of the boat). The waves were not so large as to be dangerous, but they were definitely large enough to make the ride unpleasant. As time went on, the wind continued to build to about 30 knots and veered more to the north-northeast. The seas continued to build accordingly, and became confused, which means that waves from different directions are intersecting each other. When that happens, some of them cancel each other out, and some of them combine. This is called destructive and constructive interference patterns in physics. It’s quite interesting in theory, but very unpleasant to sail through. We were regularly taking heavy spray across the bow and occasionally the bow would plow into one of the waves and green water would rush down the deck. I had tucked a reef in the main before dark, so we should have been set to just grit our teeth and ride it out, unfortunately though, the reef line chafed through and parted with quite a bang. This meant I had to go out on deck and put in a second reef. As I was hauling the main down to the second reef point, I looked at the end of the boom, which was out over the water. I couldn’t see it well, as it was dark and everything was moving, but it looked to me as though it may have been damaged when the reef line parted. I also noticed that at least a couple of the slugs (sliding things that attach the main to the mast) had broken, so instead of putting in another reef, I just took the main down all the way. We aren’t balanced very well with just the jib, but the autopilot doesn’t seem to be having any problem holding course and I decide to wait for calmer weather to evaluate the condition of the main and the boom.

Finally around 09:00 on the 14th the wind started decreasing and by 10:00 the seas were calming down. We have been making good time, but with the wind becoming more NNE, we haven’t been able to sail directly to our next waypoint of Port St. Joe, Florida, but have had to sail a few degrees south of it. It looks like we will arrive well after dark. Normally, we wouldn’t enter an unfamiliar harbor in the dark, but we are very much ready to drop anchor and get some rest. The chart shows that the channel is well-marked and the markers lit with flashing lights. We decide to go ahead and enter in the dark. We got to the entrance at 20:55, the evening of the 14th and began looking for the flashing lights of the channel markers. Unfortunately, they don’t flash anymore. We had to use a spotlight, the chart, and the GPS to find the markers and keep the boat between them, so it was a little stressful entering Port St. Joe. Since it was dark, we didn’t try to find a “perfect” anchorage, and dropped the hook in 8 feet of water at position 29 degrees 46 minutes North, 085 degrees 23 minutes West and promptly crashed for a few hours. It was just after midnight when we finished anchoring.

When we got up on the morning of the 15th, it was very calm and we got our first look at St. Joseph Bay. It is a rather large and very pretty bay and we were enjoying sitting still. When we listened to the latest weather forecast, though, they were predicting storms for the next couple of days with winds reaching gale force from the north and east. The spot where we are anchored is very nicely protected from the west and south, but totally exposed from the north and east. Bummer. Scanning around the bay with binoculars, I could see a marina across the bay to the east of us, so I tried calling for “Port St. Joe Marina” on the VHF and sure enough a response came back. We picked up the anchor and headed for the marina, arriving at about 15:50, and here we will remain until we get a good weather window to continue on. It is the morning of the 16th as I write this and I haven’t checked the weather today, but as of yesterday, it may be Saturday or even later before we can leave. At least it will give us time to rest up and make repairs to the boat before continuing on. It is raining right now, which is nice because it is washing off all the crusted salt from the deck and rigging of the boat.

I’ll try to make another entry just before we leave Port St. Joe. Also, check out the new “Position” link on the homepage. It will take you to a map showing our last reported position. I’ve also put up a re-designed home page and will, over time, get all the other pages updated as well. The layout hasn’t really changed, but I’m doing things differently from a coding perspective to make updates easier.

We’re Off!!!

Sunday, January 13th, 2008

Today we began our first voyage as live-aboard cruisers. This won’t be a very long entry, but I wanted to post something to mark the beginning of our new lives. We left the marina in Moss Point this morning and are currently anchored off Petit Bois Island in the Mississippi Sound. The wind got a little cool on the trip out to where we are anchored, but it has been a beautiful day. Tomorrow morning we will sail southeast into the Gulf for most of a day, then turn east and head for Port St. Joe, Florida, the first stop on our trip to the Bahamas.

The other evening, Kenny, Janice, Nancy and I went out to dinner with Pam and Jim, from S/V Dream Maker. Pam and Jim lived aboard and cruised the world for a little better than 20 years. Pam said they went down to the Bahamas for a few months and came back 22 years later. After dinner we went to their house and Jim showed us some slides from their cruising days. We had a great time and learned a lot from them.