Tryin’ To Get Home

First off, you should be hearing music with this log entry.  I have embedded a theme song for this entry using the Quicktime media player and it may take a minute or two to download the audio file.  If you don’t have the Quicktime plugin installed in your browser, try clicking on this link so that you can hear the theme song (hopefully it will play on whatever plugin you happen to have installed), it fits

Dinghy

Our new dinghy

perfectly this phase of our journey.

Second thing, is anyone reading this???  I’ve decided that this will be my last post if nobody is reading this.  So, if you are reading this, you should send me an email to let me know someone is actually out there.

And now we continue with our regularly scheduled programming.

We wound up staying in Key West for almost two months.  We spent one month in a marina on Stock Island, which is just east of Key West.  While there, we did a few maintenance items on the boat and we got our new dinghy.  Our old dinghy was on its last legs.  I had patched it a few times and it was needing more patching.  It would still be a good dinghy for occasional use, but for live-aboard cruisers, the dinghy is a very essential piece of equipment and gets hard, almost daily use and abuse.  The old dinghy came with the boat when we first bought it and has served us well for over two years, but it had an inflatable floor, which is good in that it can be deflated and rolled completely up and stowed away below deck.

Tom Rust

Patrick and Tommy

It is bad, though, in that it rides lower in the water, which makes for a very wet ride when there is much chop at all.  We had decided we wanted to replace it with a hard bottom dinghy, most of which are fiberglass.  Our friends Ed and Julie, on S/V Free Radical have an aluminum bottom dinghy, which we have always admired.  The aluminum is both lighter and stronger than the fiberglass, so we decided to buy a brand new aluminum-bottom dinghy, and also to get one just a little larger than our old dinghy.  When we pulled into Old Island Harbor Marina, we met Tommy and Terry, a couple of our neighbors in the marina.  Terry just happened to have a pickup truck and said he would drive us to Miami to pick up our new dinghy.  Now that we have gotten over the sticker shock, we really like the new dinghy.  It is much roomier and much drier, even when the water is pretty choppy.  While we were in the marina, we also made an equipment bag to go in the dinghy, replaced all the lines and sheaves on the dinghy davits and added some cam cleats, tightened the shaft packing and cleaned the bilge, replaced the reef lines and 4 sheaves in

Blue Angel

Navy Blue Angel

the end of the boom, modified the reefing lines to run through some blocks I attached to the reef cringles, removed and filtered the fluid from the autopilot and cleaned out the reservoir, changed oil in the diesel engine, applied waterproofing to the bimini, replaced the mast boot, and various and sundry other jobs.  While we were at the marina, we were also entertained by the U.S. Navy’s precision flying team, the Blue Angels.  There is an airstrip for the Naval Air Station very near the marina, and they were putting on an air show.  The Blue Angels began practicing on a Wednesday and the air show was on Saturday and Sunday, so we were able to watch 5 days of air show from the cockpit of our boat.

Kevin and Debbie arrived in Key West on Wednesday, April 14, and stayed for a few days.  We had a great time visiting with them.  They got in late Wednesday and we met them at the Rusty Anchor, a nice seafood restaurant near the marina.  Thursday afternoon Kevin drove us around in his rental car to stock up on provisions and that evening we all wandered around Duval Street.  Friday he and Debbie sailed with us back out to the anchorage.  It was great seeing

Blue Angels

Navy Blue Angels

them and we wished they could have stayed longer.

We were watching the overnight low temperatures along the northern Gulf of Mexico and waiting for them to stay

consistently above 60 degrees before heading home.  We were anxious to get home, but after 2 and a half years in the tropics, we aren’t very well adapted to cold weather anymore.  Key West is a pretty nice place to spend some time, but it can be incredibly expensive, even for

such essentials as food and pints of Guinness.  At least the local pub, Finnegan’s Wake, started giving us the locals discount of 15 percent off our tabs.  One day we were sitting in the cockpit in the anchorage when somebody starts yelling at us.  We look around to see none other than Ed and Julie sailing Free Radical into the anchorage.  Damn, thought we’d left them behind in Roatan, do we owe them money or something?  Seriously, though, it was awesome to see them again.  They were on their way taking Free Radical (the red mono-hull) back up to Canada to put it up for sale (they are keeping the catamaran in Roatan).  They had sailed directly up from Roatan and had a pretty rough ride, and the autopilot failed on them two days out of Key West.  Nancy and I played tour guide and showed them around Key West and where to find everything they might need.  Naturally, we also took

Kevin and Debbie

Kevin and Debbie arrive in Key West

them to Finnegan’s Wake for a pint or two of Guinness.  We got to visit with them for a good week before we left on our journey home.  One day we took them on a dinghy safari through Key West.  Ralph and Tiff had told us of a canal that ran right behind the Winn-Dixie supermarket, and we thought we’d dinghy in to do some provisioning.  We missed the entrance to the canal and wound up pretty much on the northeast end of Key West and decided to ask a local for directions.  He said since we were as far east as we were, we should just take the Riviera Canal, which runs right through the center of Key

West behind a bunch of nice homes, and then meets up with a small channel through the mangroves, and eventually comes out behind the Winn-Dixie and meets up with the canal we were originally looking for.  It was quite the dinghy ride, but it was very interesting.  There was one place through the mangroves where we had to clear a fallen tree from the canal before we could proceed, and a couple of bridges we had to pass under that were only about 8 inches above the top of the dinghy.  In all, it was about a 5 hour dinghy ride, through parts of Key West never before seen by tourists and unknown even to most locals.  Though badly sunburned, Ed and Julie were suitably impressed with their tour guides and graciously tipped us with lots of beer.

The weather up in the northern Gulf finally seemed to be warm enough to suit our wardrobe, and on Tuesday, May 4th, it looked like we would have favorable winds to head out, and so we did.  At first, we were making about 6 knots with a 15 knot breeze, heading for the Ft. Myers area, but after a few hours, the wind started dying out and we changed course for Everglades City.  At our new speed of 3 knots, Ft. Myers would have been a night-time arrival and

Kevin and Debbie aboard Stolen Child

Kevin and Debbie aboard Stolen Child for a day sail

Everglades City, being closer, would be an early morning arrival.  We arrived at 09:20 on May 5th and anchored in Russell Pass, just off the Indian Key Pass approach to Everglades City.  Everglades City is actually a few miles from the Gulf.  Between Everglades City and the Gulf is a mangrove swamp known as the Ten-Thousand Islands.  There are many paths through the mangroves, but Indian Key Pass is about the only path leading to Everglades City that is consistently deep enough for us to travel.  We were pretty tired, so we decided to rest up and wait until Thursday to dinghy into town.  We were anchored in a very pretty, scenic setting, nestled among the mangroves, and there was just enough of a breeze to make it very pleasant.  Until dark.  Once the sun went away, so did the breeze, and out came the mosquitoes.  Millions and billions

of them.  I put on bug spray and they acted like it was cocktail sauce.  Impossible to sit and relax or read a book, so we went to bed.  With no breeze it had become quite warm, but with the mosquitoes, I had to keep the sheet pulled completely over my head and just endure the sweating.  Needless to say, we didn’t sleep much that night.  Finally morning came and with it a little breeze to chase the bugs away.  We dinghied into Everglades City and found it to be a very nice, kind of backwoods town.  We tied the dinghy up to the dock at the City Seafood Restaurant and ordered some lunch.  We wanted to get some jerry jugs of diesel to take back to the boat and also some gas for the dinghy.  I started talking with a couple of guys at the restaurant and it turns out one of them, Richard, was the owner.  He said

Free Radical

Free Radical arrives at Key West

there wasn’t a fuel dock that sold diesel, but he also

runs a couple of shrimp boats and would sell me some of his diesel.  He also offered me the use of his golf cart to

run around town and get some gas for the dinghy and buy a couple of extra jerry cans so I could take more diesel back to the boat.  I thought that was incredibly nice of him and took him up on the offer.  Our waitress also offered us the use of her car if we wanted to drive around and do some sight-seeing.  The people in Everglades City are so nice that if it weren’t for the mosquitoes, I’d consider living there.  We couldn’t bear the thought of another night with the mosquitoes, so once we got back to the boat we got underway for Ft. Myers.  The wind was light and mostly on the nose, so we had to motor all the way.  Not long after leaving, a small brown and yellow bird (maybe a finch?) flew aboard.  It isn’t unusual to have a bird hitch a ride, but this one flew below deck and I couldn’t chase him back out.  He didn’t seem particularly afraid of me and he didn’t want to go back out, so I finally gave up and left him below, hoping he wouldn’t shit all over the place.  Late that night, about

Happy Ed

He looks mighty happy, how many of those has he had?

02:00 in the morning, Nancy was in the cockpit, letting me take a nap.  All of a sudden she heard this huge roaring noise approach and come alongside the boat.  She could just barely make out a large black shape next to the boat when she was suddenly blinded by a spotlight.  She is justifiably freaked out and gets me up to see what is going on.  Turns out it is the Coast Guard wanting to do a safety inspection.  We tell them to come on aboard and two of them come over and start asking to see our flares, life jackets, fire extinguishers, etc., etc.  They are very polite and the only problem they found was that our flares had expired at

the beginning of the year.  They said it was so rare to see a boat as well-equipped and squared away as ours, that they weren’t even going to mention the flares on the report, as long as I would buy new ones at the first opportunity.  Satisfied with our safety, they were on their way after about 30 minutes.  I am a staunch supporter of the Coast Guard and think it is one of the best uses to which our tax dollars are put, but Nancy sincerely wishes they would modify their approach technique.  She says if she had any kind of heart condition, she would definitely have had a major

Entrance to Indian Key Pass

Entrance to Indian Key Pass

heart-attack right then.

We got to San Carlos Bay at 10:30 on Friday, May 7, without any further excitement, and anchored off the beachbetween Ft. Myers proper and Ft. Myers Beach.  We were both exhausted, so we just slept a lot and relaxed on the boat for the rest of the day.  Saturday we dinghied into Ft. Myers Beach to look around.  It is a typical beach

resort town.  Lots of night clubs, restaurants, traffic, and tourists, but not as expensive as Key West.  We ate at a place called Bonita Bill’s, right on the water, good food and very reasonably priced.  That night we were again attacked by mosquitoes.  We had gone to bed with a nice breeze blowing, but it must have died shortly after we went to sleep, because we woke up to the drone of hundreds of mosquitoes and the air was dead calm.  We put up all the screens and spent an hour killing all the ones that were already aboard and were then able to get back to sleep.  Sunday we dinghied into town again to track down a grocery store, which we found, and also located an Irish pub.  The grocery was two or three miles from the dinghy dock and the pub was on the way.  We got our groceries, and then fortified ourselves at the pub for the hike back to the dinghy.  The forecast for Monday was light but favorable winds, so we decided to continue on to either Tampa or all the way up to Panama City, depending on conditions underway.

I don't get any respect around here

I don't get any respect around here

We got underway a little before 09:00 Monday morning, making 5 to 6 knots with a 10 to 15 knot breeze on the starboard beam.  Early in the afternoon, though, the wind started dying and we had to crank up the engine.  By evening the wind had picked back up and clocked around to the starboard stern, so we were running almost dead

downwind, engine off, mainsail only, making about 6 knots.  We weren’t but a few miles from shore, so we were seeing the occasional fishing boat.  Along about midnight, I saw a white light off my starboard bow.  I couldn’t see any light except a white light, so I assumed it was a boat on a course roughly parallel to ours.  After a few minutes, it had moved closer to the bow, but I still could only see the single white light, even with binoculars.  It is very unusual to overtake other vessels in a sailboat, but that appeared to be what was happening.  I tried hailing on the VHF, but no response, so I altered course just a little to make sure we passed along his port side.  A few minutes later, though, we again appear to be on a collision course and still all I see is the one white light, but with binoculars, I can now see a faint glow that I finally figure out is the backlighting from his instruments in the pilothouse.  Holy shit, we are almost on top of him!  Now I’m in a pickle, because he is just barely on my starboard side and I’m running with the

Nancy

Happy crew is a sure sign of a good captain

main all the way out on the port side.  I can’t turn to starboard because we are too close to him, and if I turn to port I’m going to jybe.  There’s no choice, really, so I turn hard to port, hoping the preventer on the boom holds.  About this time, we are so close I can see him pop out of the pilothouse and become aware of what is going on, and as we go by him, I can now see his green starboard running light, but apparently his red port light is burned out, which led to my confusion about his course.  Now I am damn near dead in the water with the main backwinded and straining against the preventer, but at least we are clear of any danger.  I think the Coast Guard should give him a safety inspection.  Other than that, it was a good night, with the wind strong enough that we were making 6 to 7 knots downwind most of the night.  By noon on Tuesday, the wind had died down and we had to start the engine again.

We arrived offshore Panama City with sunrise Thursday morning and motored through the entrance to St. Andrew Bay, across the bay and into Massalina Bayou, where we anchored at 08:20.  After resting up and getting out to explore a little, we are really impressed with Panama City.  St. Andrew Bay is really beautiful and a great sailing bay.

Smooth sailing

Smooth sailing

Old downtown Panama City is adjacent to Massalina Bayou, where we are anchored, and is really clean and pretty with lots of small restaurants and a very nice used bookstore.  The surrounding neighborhoods are old, established neighborhoods with nice homes and lots of towering shade trees.  There are palm trees, pines, and even magnolias, which are just now in bloom, and there is even Spanish moss hanging from the trees.  If you ask for tea in the restaurants, they don’t ask how you want it, they just bring you a glass of sweet, iced tea, like they should in a proper southern town.  In short, this place feels like home.  The wind out in the northern Gulf has been very light and variable and is forecast to remain so until this coming Friday, May 21, so we probably won’t leave until at least Friday.  Tom and Sabrina have their new boat, Honey Ryder, here and plan to be here on Thursday, and we would like to see them before we leave, too.  For the sake of getting something posted to the Log Book, and seeing if there is actually anyone reading this, I’ll go ahead and post this and then post the conclusion of our “Tryin’ to get Home” journey after we arrive in Moss Point.

5 Responses to “Tryin’ To Get Home”

  1. Claire says:

    Yes, I’m reading. You should post more often. :-)

    Claire

  2. Otto says:

    Ditto Claire’s comments. Ever little bit I check for your position (it is unknown after a week or so) and the log for any comments. Nancy e-mailed about the near miss and the Coast Guard, but left out all the details. With the near miss, aren’t sailing vessels supposed to have horn signals for this type situation? Glad it worked out OK.

    Otto

  3. patrick says:

    Yes, we do have a horn aboard, but by the time I realized how close he actually was, it was either man the horn, or man the helm.

  4. Sabrina says:

    Post more often!!

  5. Lydia says:

    I stumbled upon your blog when I was pulling up more information on BJ’s in Roatan. Last time I was in Roatan was in 2006. I found myself wondering about her and if she was still around. I stayed at Oak Bay Resorts (I called it deer camp for divers because it was not quite what I expected) but I enjoyed the area of Oak Ridge. Please keep blogging. I can almost feel the breeze blowing, hearing the sails whipping and the smell of the salty air in your posts.

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