Tom Jones

Photo courtesy of Daniel Bennet

Photo courtesy of Daniel Bennet

From the very first time I met Tom I knew that he was a fierce competitor.  While he may have been in his late 60’s the competitive sailor fire still burned in his eyes and was substantiated by his race performance on the the track.    Not only did Tom know his stuff, to pull off a win.   Off the track, Tom was good natured always looked to the very positive in everyone.

In 2012,  when it got hot in May and stayed that way until September,  and by hot,  I mean in the 100’s for days up on days.   Tom was determined to race in the July Arkansas Cup Series.   As I recall,  it wasn’t particularly windy,  it was however, incredibly warm even for Arkansas.    Tom’s crew had other commitments and I remember the playful pre-race banter that he and I shared about him single-handing and of course winning the race–Tom and I always talked “smack” before a race,  he liked it, and it seemed to ease some the pre-race tension, especially on windy days.

I was crewing on Dream-on for the venerable Tom Unger.   I was trimming that year, and honestly can’t remember where we finished, because as we finished I noticed Fun making slow circles,  her Captain in his signature wide brimmed hat,  slumped over at the helm.   Bruce Smith fired the motor on Dream-on and we steamed the short distance to his boat.   As Bruce approached, I made the transfer to Tom’s boat Fun.   Tom wasn’t in good shape.   He was overheated and wasn’t making any sense.   I knew that Tom needed to be cooled down,  so at first I started with lake water, that seemed to help.  I knew that Tom needed to be cooled quickly.

Meanwhile a couple of other sailboats approached Tom and I on Fun still doing circles, with me trying to cool off.   I managed to get a a few sandwich bags filled with ice tossed from a few near by boats.   Tom,  who had cooled off some was coming around a bit.   Armed with several ice bags,  I placed one on his neck.   I still had a few more ice bags and knew that Tom needed to be

Tom was a verteran story teller, avid race with a sly and wicked sense of humor.

I realized this when heard him tell the story of his mis-adventures of the summer of 2012 .  As an avid racer,  Tom insisted upon competing when lesser and younger men where choosing to cool thier keels with a brew.   It was one of he hottest summers on record.

Tom’s story of over heating or getting too hot on the race course, when he told it, it usually ended with me asking him to drop his shorts and the suprisied look upon face when I placed bags of ice on his groin to cool him off.  I guess somewhere buried deep inside me will always live the paramedic/firefighter.

Sadly Tom passed away last year after a long battle with leukemia.   He was and always has been a fierce competitor even in the face of a deadly cancer.



The Ins and Outs of Ft Lauderdale


Robin and I never fail to learn something new when we leave the dock.  Each time we travel we are handed a new challenge, something new to fix or overcome.   Most of the time, it’s not hard,  just requiring some extra planning.

In 2005 when we took our American Sailing Association courses, we exited Port Everglades and entered Government Cut,  the port of Miami.   We did this because we had to avoid the Julia Tuttle Bridge because of the height of the sailboat’s mast. The air draft of Tuttle is 55 feet and the boat we were learning to sail on had a mast that was 60 feet.  Similarly,  Sea Change’s mast needs 56 feet so again we had to exit and enter in these same inlets.  The last time we passed this way through these inlets we were met with steep standing waves.   Some of them could have been as high as 10 feet.  Sailors know this is perfectly okay in another person’s boat,  but we are moving our home and that’s a different story altogether.  So, we consulted local knowledge and found that when the tides and winds were in opposition this was the perfect set up for standing waves.   Great for surfers,  not great for Sea Change and crew. We needed to study the tide tables, currents and weather to find the right time to make our exits and entrances through these inlets.

Miami Skyline

Miami Skyline

With a strong east wind blowing,  we had to time exit and entry at both Government Cut in Miami and Port Everglades in Ft Lauderdale. We were looking for slack tides so current and tide would not be an issue The plan was not simple  we had to time the departure for slack tide at Government Cut (8:45am); plan another entry at slack tide at Port Everglades near Ft. Lauderdale (2:56pm) some 22 miles away and work our way up the winding river to Cooley’s landing,  where we needed to dock at slack tide (5:00pm) because the tremendous cross currents would make it impossible to stuff Sea Change’s 12 foot beam into a 14 foot slip. Did I mention that the bascule bridges are all “locked-down” from 4:30 to 6:00 each night for rush hour traffic in downtown Fort Lauderdale? Sounds like a math problem; it’s great that Robin enjoys puzzles.   I watched her think all day long.

Once we got into the Atlantic, again we had 4 and 5 feet waves on the beam which could make for a sloshy a ride.  However raising both sails allowed Sea Change to hook up with with the wind and we had steady but sometimes still bumpy ride up the coast.   There was plenty of traffic to entertain us as we traveled northward;  the occasional mega yacht would potentiate the hight of the existing waves and swell.    With our auto pilot driving,  we sat on opposite sides of the cockpit and chatted, occasionally looking out the eisenglass enclosure for boat traffic.

Port Everglades

Port Everglades

It wasn’t too long before it was time to douse the sails and make the approach into Port Everglades.   Robin headed us up into the wind just as a green and yellow container ship appeared in view.    This was a small ship, maybe 350 feet long with containers across her deck.   The Automated ship identification system(AIS) display said that it was returning from the Bahamas.   As I had just furled the genoa, I then set my attention to dropping the main.    Releasing the halyard the main dropped nicely on to the boom,  and then to the deck obscuring Robin’s view from the helm.   I went on deck struggling to maintain my balance in the sea way,  abruptly sitting down a few times on the way to secure the mainsail.    With the main secured,  Robin turned the boat towards the well marked Port Everglades inlet.   We were both were surprised to see the green container ship abruptly turn and head back out to sea.    We reviewed reasons that ship might turn back.  Perhaps there was traffic coming out the inlet,  perhaps the ship was early and there was no room at the dock to offload. We weren’t certain.

Listening to the radio hadn’t helped ascertain what was going on,  so Robin nosed Sea Change towards the inlet.   Honoring the reds and greens she began to line the boat up on the port.   Next we see another small orange ship heading out the inlet. This one about 200 ft in length.  Robin and I discuss our next action and we both agree to get Sea Change out of the channel.   Moving northward of the channel,   the orange boat continues to head right for us.   We quickly headed back out to sea again noting the massive grey tanker behind the orange survey ship.  This was the real deal as our AIS indicated she was almost 900 feet long.  We must have looked a bit silly running around in circles trying to avoid these other ships,  but we did so safely.

New River

New River

Soon we coasted into the inlet and began the task of making our way up the New river.   The currents were fierce and without warning the bow or the stern would quickly head in the wrong direction.   Compounding the current,  water taxis zipped back and forth,  other yachts headed down stream,  and we had to wait in the current for small bascule bridges to open.

Don’t get me wrong,  the New River is beautiful.   Billion dollar homes and million dollar yachts line the waterway.   On the banks of the river is  expensive shopping,  restaurants and a river walk.   There is an art museum,  performing arts center,  and much much more all just a short distance away.

We made it up river to Sailboat Bend and tied to a floating dock near the performing arts center to wait for slack water on the river. With a little assistance, Sea Change nosed in to a slip by the bridge at Cooley’s Landing. Time to look around the area!


Inlets aren’t my favorite part about sailing

Sunrise on the Atlantic

Sunrise on the Atlantic

With the anchor up at 6:50 we were able to enjoy our first sunrise on the Atlantic ocean together.   The north wind of the previous night had laid down nicely and clocked to the northwest allowing us to sail up and make entry at Angelfish Creek.

When we sailed on Beaver Lake things were simple, for example with the exception of extreme cases we would have the same depth of water in our slip no matter what time we returned.   There were no currents on Beaver, and really the only concern centered around wind speed.

Sailing in the ocean is much different,   not only do we need to take account of the weather and monitor the winds,  but we must pay particular attention to the waves both height and direction.   The tides also generate current which at certain times in certain places can exceed the speed and maneuverability of our sailboat. Tides can also assist with shallow passages.   This was the case at Angelfish where without the assistance of the tides we would be unable to make the approach with our over 5 foot draft.

Angelfish CreekTime was of the essence as we blasted north trying to make 7.5 kts to reach Angelfish Creek before we lost tide assistance.   Luckily we made good time and began our approach just after 10 am.    We donned our two-way voice activated head sets (with Marriage Saver 2.0 Technology)  and I made my way to the bow for the approach.    Robin and I made some nervous chatter over the radio before she began calling out the depths.

On Sea Change,  the depths register as the amount of water under the keel.   When it reads zero,  we are aground.    And,  stay with me here,  we are absolutely certain that this is correct, because Robin set the offset on the depth gauge when we were aground the last time.

Michael “I have 3 feet under the keel”, she said over the head set.   I quickly figured that the visibility of the water was just over 8 feet deep.  I could see the bottom passing underneath the boat as Robin continued her chatter on the headset.  “Three point five”, she said as I watched an abandoned crab pot slip quickly past.    Robin perfectly lined the boat up on the navigation marks as she brought us down the narrow channel joining the Atlantic Ocean with Card Sound.   Still calling the depths over the radio,  she said “two point zero” as she backed off on the throttle and slowed us down.

The depths continued to increase as we became surrounded by a mangrove lined channel.   We took a breath and enjoyed the scenery, meeting a small sport-fish boat and another sailboat in the channel.   We had successfully made it inside.

Earlier, I mentioned tide support was necessary to navigate Angelfish creek.    We entered the channel just after 10 am about 3 hours after high tide.   My iPhone tide application said that the water level was 1.7 above Mean Water Level.   Had we chosen to go in on a low tide,  we’d have been aground— again. Instead we navigated through into Card Sound on course for Biscayne Bay and Miami. Just another day aboard Sea Change!

Key Time for Departure

We arrived at Marathon just before Halloween to find the marina was fairly empty with only a few slips occupied. Most of the slips were occupied by people living and working at the marina.   Each time the weather was nice for a few days, more boaters would begin to dock a few at a time.   Then a couple of weeks before Christmas, Marathon Marina was at capacity.  For the next two months there wasn’t a slip available at Marathon Marina and waiting list was growing for the over 250 mooring balls in Boot Key Harbor. Everywhere we go, cruisers make quick friends and share information.

Photo Courtesy of Don Thompson

Photo Courtesy of Don Thompson

At Marathon Marina and Resort,  it wasn’t long before everyone knew our names.  We looked forward to watching the sunsets at the little mosaic table on the fuel dock that provided a place to share a small snack or a glass of wine; it was also the perfect platform to share sailing stories and adventures. Like many places we have been, inertia sets in the mooring lines quickly.   In addition to sailing around, we had planned to stay in places for a few months so that we could meet people and make new friends.  And we have met so many great folks that I could make entire blog entry about them.

We have found that inertia and the weather can trap you, making it difficult to exit the marina. When making passages, there are a lot of failed starts; some due to weather and some insufficient planning.  It seems that weather windows can close quickly.  We always try to string together several good days of weather when we plan to move Sea Change.    We look at several different weather routing sites each morning when we are planning a passage. We study the predictions for the next few days since weather predictions beyond that are notoriously inaccurate.       As our paid time at Marathon Marina and Resort finally came to a close, we knew that we had to start moving north.    We had selected a couple of favorable days and began working on converting the boat from a dock-u-minium to an ocean going vessel.   We provisioned,  making sure that we had fresh veggies and protein on board as well a few beers for the ships engineer and general maintenance man.   Our weather window closed pretty quickly with our departure day forecast having 20 knots of wind,  small craft advisories, and uncomfortable seas and so we stayed. A few days later,  the window opened up again.   With winds forecast out of the southwest, we decided to move north.

Photo Courtesy of Don Thompson

Photo Courtesy of Don Thompson

On Ground Hog Day,  we fueled up and left beautiful Marathon, Florida which had been our home for three months.   Robin and I love the colors of sea and this was no exception.  As we rounded Boot Key,  and began taking 4 and 5 foot waves on the beam, there was an incredible contrast between shallow water made opaque by the suspended coral and sand and the vibrant turquoise waters that are typical of the Keys. We unfurled some sail and headed north taking the swells on the beam and making for a most uncomfortable ride for the first three or four hours.  As our course changed from east to north, we enjoyed a following sea and a much more comfortable ride.

Neither Robin nor I have yet to suffer from the mal de mer, but certainly this could have been one of those times.   We both did fine, drinking plenty of water and snacking on peanut butter and honey sandwiches. After sailing most of the day,  we anchored just in the lee of Key Largo as we were expecting a cold front passage.   The anchor set well as Robin and I selected three prominent landmarks ashore to make sure that we didn’t drag anchor.   No problem really,  if we did drag anchor,  we’d just end up in Cuba. About 1 am Sea Change snapped around smartly and tugged at her anchor waking me. Quickly I popped my head up the companion way to locate my onshore landmarks.   With a 90 degree wind shift,  some of the buildings ashore were in a different places in relation to the boat but it only took a few minutes to figure out we were set well and not dragging a bit.   I climbed quickly back into the warm bunk, waking every couple of hours to check on the anchor until sunup. First night out and all is well!