Returning from our two week trip to Ft. Myers Beach, we stopped once again at Jewfish Key. Last week getting into the anchorage was a bit difficult. The water is shallow and the approach is tricky; it requires being slow, deliberate, and vigilant while coming into this anchorage. This time, we had used the track feature on the chart plotter and were able to confidently approach the anchorage, almost like we knew what we doing. The track feature is a modern day way of leaving “breadcrumbs” behind to find your way back to a location.
We spent the night here, going ashore for a delightful dinner at MarVista restaurant, where we feasted on some local seafood and enjoyed a glass of wine while surrounded by magnificent spanish moss covered live oaks complete with fairy lights. We watched Sea Change happily tugging on her anchor swaying in the breeze.
For our return to St Petersburg, Robin and I had planned to stay “inside” and take the inter-coastal waterway across Tampa Bay and return to our home port in South Pasadena. Jimmie and Sue had wanted to go “outside” and sail the bright blue waters of the Gulf, entering at Pass-a-Grille.
Since the lightening storm at Marina Jack’s in Sarasota( or was it Cayo Costa, or perhaps Fort Myers Beach?) Sea Change had been suffering from a few electrical gremlins. Nothing too serious, but of some concern was the mast mounted wind instrument that had quit working a few days ago, compounded by a voltage regulator that seemed to have lost it’s mind; pumping who knows how many amps into the batteries at 16.2 volts–about 2 more volts than necessary, and certainly enough to boil our battery bank. There was also some concern that we might not have enough fuel to make it back. It was after all about a 5 hour run.
We were up early in the morning since both Robin and I were anxious to get back to Pasadena Marina. We’d spent the past several nights aboard sleeping without air conditioning and we were excited about plugging in, sleeping in a cool bunk, and having a shower without concern about water conservation.
I talked to Jimmie to see if they still planned to take the outside route. They were, so I convinced Robin that we should follow along even though we had planned to stay inside.
We hauled the anchor up and motored into the intercostal and around a small island. We heard Jimmie hail the bridge tender on the radio and request details for the passage through the small bascule bridge and out in to the Gulf. The bridge opened, and we glided though the pass into the Gulf. The water was beautiful.
We had read reports that this pass was tricky. Our dock mates, Greg and Torrie, cautioned us before we left about being careful. Robin was at the helm and I was on the bow watching for depth and water color changes and guiding us along the pass. When we thought that we had cleared the worst of the shallow water, I returned to the cockpit and joined Robin. It was just a few minutes later when the keel made a sudden and sharp contact with the sandy bottom. We’d just rolled off a wave and onto the bottom. The first hit was pretty severe, the subsequent other four or five not too bad. It was about that time that a large fishing boat was leaving the pass as well. His track was much wider than the approach we’d taken. So we followed him to deeper water and finally the blue Gulf. I performed a few requisite checks, making sure the bilge was not flooded while I stewed about what had happened. Thankfully, serious damage seemed to be averted. A dive on the boat a few days later proved that Sea Change had not been harmed and the keel and keel joint were intact.
After passing the Mo(A) beacon, Robin turned the boat northward and I unfurled the genoa. Motor-sailing, we made some 7 kts and soon we found ourselves crossing the shipping channel– the main entrance to Tampa Bay. With the iconic Sunshine Skyway as a back drop for the next two hours, we made our way north We could see gigantic ships entering and leaving the Bay. In fact our AIS confirmed one ship was over 400 feet long. It was nice that conditions were perfect and visibility was excellent. Personally, I don’t think I would enjoy dodging these hulking cargo ships at night.
After a sandwich, we began sorting out the markers to make the entrance to Pass-a-Grill. It only takes a brief lapse in concentration to make a huge mistake, so we are always careful. For the most part, it is fortunate that we are only going 6 or 7 knots. Robin is an excellent helmsman (or person) and she knows how to make the chart-plotter work to her advantage. Our roles have developed and been refined over the past few months. Robin is usually found at the helm, I divide my time between looking out for marks and buoys, making sure that our systems are operating within specifications, and making the occasional meal while underway. She will call out from the helm, “Michael, is that red marker 8?”, and I’ll scour the horizon with the binoculars and confirm. This process repeats itself over and over again until we are certain of our position both in the real world and on the chart-plotter.
The approach to Pass-a-Grille was no big deal, the weather was perfect, and the approach was easy. After we made the second “dog-legged” turn we were greeted by a brief cooling rain shower.
We were less than an hour from our homeport and I had been watching the fuel gauge closely. The gauge showed we had a quarter of a tank, then an eighth, and finally we were running flat on empty. Fuel gauges on boats are notoriously inaccurate and Robin and I had the boat flat on empty previously and still had four or more gallons left when we re-fueled. I backed off a bit on the engine RPM’s and figured we’d just ghost our way in to Pasadena Marina.
With less than 15 minutes left to run, Robin looks down at the fuel gauge and then back at me with a quizzical look on her face and without further warning the engine sputters, coughs, and goes silent. We still had 6 knots of boat speed and were in the protected waters of Boca Ciaga Bay. So we coast out of the inter-costal water way and make a plan. We have a breeze, we are a sailboat, so no problem. We unfurl the genoa and make a few a tacks back and forth , dodging the fast dolphin charter boat and a few power boats. When Robin has us safely out of the way, she turns upwind and the boat coasts gently to a stop where I set the hook. Easy, we’d done this maneuver a few times on Bella Luna after learning how in our ASA course so many years ago.
After making a call to Tow-Boat US, the equivalent of the American Automobile Association on the water, and finding out that they were pretty busy and it would be a few hours before we could get a tow or fuel, we both decided that the best approach would be for me to take Spare Change, the dingy, about 5 miles to Gulfport Marina, and grab some fuel.
After a bumpy ride upwind to the marina, I made the return journey with the fuel. Now, the question became where did I park the boat? I scanned and scanned the horizon while driving the dinghy back in the general direction that we’d anchored the boat without being able to see Sea Change. Boca Ciaga bay is a fairly large body of water. I stopped the dinghy and called Robin on the phone. “Honey, where are you?” I asked quizzically. She responded, “I’m right here where you left me. I’m the blond girl waving on the bow of a 38 foot sail boat!” I pressed on, still unable to actually see the boat, but fairly confident that I knew where she was. It seems that the high-rise condos and beach hotels had camouflaged the boat and after a few more minutes of dinghy riding I finally located the boat.
Pouring 5 gallons of fuel into the tank was what the Westerbeke needed to get underway. In a few minutes we’d hoisted anchor and were back underway. Twenty minutes later, we were tied up and basking in the air conditioning.
All part of living the adventure. Our trip has been one of pretty sights and fun times but also one of learning lessons the hard way. Not every day ends with a beautiful sunset but our life is good and blessed. Holding onto that outlook makes the journey so much better. (Another one of those lessons we had to learn.)
We should have used Active Captain tracks to navigate out of Longboat Pass
We used the gen-set for several hours on this trip and we hadn’t run the gen-set long enough to have fuel burn rates figured out, contributing to our lack of fuel onboard.
The malfunctioning voltage regulator caused the alternator to pump out extra amps and use extra horsepower and consequently extra fuel.
We should have stayed “inside” and stopped to get fuel at the numerous places along the way.
Our extra fuel can, should have been filled and at the ready, giving us at least 5 more hours of running time.
The fuel tank is an inverted trapezoid; the less fuel we have in the tank the faster it is used.
We should have stuck with our original plan.
If I have learned anything over the past few months, it is this: If Robin and or I toy with the idea of doing some task on the boat, we probably should have already done it. Be that closing hatches on clear blue skied days, learning everything about navigation in a certain pass, or not skipping a fuel stop. Life is full of opportunities to learn.