Here is a selection of some of our best photographs over the past 2 months from various places along our trip southward from South Pasadena to Marathon.
Here is a selection of some of our best photographs over the past 2 months from various places along our trip southward from South Pasadena to Marathon.
On Saturday morning, I checked the weather as I do nearly much as I check Facebook, and cleared us for travel southward. Our float plan would take us out into the Gulf for a 30 mile run, we would enter at Boca Grande, a opening to a large deep bay. Leaving Venice Inlet the 2 and 3 foot waves were abeam and made the ride uncomfortable. When Robin turned the boat southward and I let out a bit of sail to steady the boat we picked up boat speed into the mid sevens; this is perfect, I thought, a downwind run for the day.
The rest of the sail was uneventful. Robin and I made the approach to Boca Grande, putting the breaking waves on the beam, the ride got uncomfortable again, but we knew that it would only last for about 15 minutes, until we reached the safety of Charlotte Harbor.
Robin turned the boat and we joined the ICW for a mile or two, turning off into Pelican Bay at Cayo Costa State Park. Following our electronic trail that we left last June, we ghosted with sometimes less than 1 foot of water under the keel to our anchorage. The anchor set the first time. Everything was going according to plan at this point.
As sailors we try to prepare for every contingency. We play tons of “What if?” games. What if we run aground? What if the batteries go dead? What happens if? And while we try to prepare for everything, we can’t possibly consider or address every option. This was precisely what happened when I noticed what looked like a swarm of bees hovering around our mainsail. Looking around the dodger, the swarm continued to build, I could see bees coming from the nearby land. At first there were 20 or so, then 30, then 100 or maybe more.
The bees were swarming on the main sail at first. There on the luff of the mainsail was what appeared to be a sheet of bees. They looked quite content to huddle together on the flat of the sail out of the wind protected by the fold of sailcloth above them. Lacking any serious bug spray and not wanting to kill the bees, we opted to raise the mainsail hoping that in the breeze the bees would not be able to hang on and would be blown away in the wind.
Robin braved the swarming bees to untie the sail ties, while my hyper-allergic self used the halyard to raise the sail from the safety of the cockpit. Instead of having the bees leave the boat, they quickly gathered at the end of boom, finding the hollow of the boom and likely rejoicing at finding something much like a dead tree hollowed out and suitable for habitation.
I could see this was going to be a problem, I shouted on the VHF to see if I could gather some assistance from the local park rangers at Cayo Costa, no luck. I googled the phone number for the ranger station, no one answered. Thinking all the while that we needed help with this situation before the bees on the boat became even more problematic.
I remembered years ago that my good friend, Pat Franz ’78 from Subiaco had helped the Abbey set up some bee hives. He’d even shared some of the delicious honey from his own hives in Oklahoma. He knows about bees I thought. Using the phone a friend option, I call him up and leave a frantic voice mail pleading for him to call me back. All the while the bees are swarming around the end of the boom while Robin fended them off with a towel tied to a boat hook. In a few minutes, Pat called back. In less than 5 minutes he explained what’s going on with our bee problem. This isn’t a swarm by apiarian standards, but an advance scout team of bees looking for a new home. He said that time is critical in discouraging these docile insects. Should enough of the scouts return to the main hive, they will work to convince more than half the bees to leave their current hive and arrive at our location to start a new hive.
He instructed us to make a mix of Dawn dish soap and water and begin to liberally apply the soapy mix to areas where the bees are swarming. The bees, now discouraged, would begin to leave. Just as he said, the bees left as Robin continued to spray the sails and boom. Soon most of the bees had left Sea Change.
We managed to get all of the bees off the boat and while a few of them were killed by a direct hit of the dawn mixture, by and large, most of the bees escaped and relocated hopefully to a better location than Sea Change.
I chuckle to think of the picture we presented; Me, intermittently poking my head out of the companion way to give instructions or help and Robin climbing around the foredeck armed with a towel, boat hook and spray bottle of dilute Dawn, all the while bees zoomed about trying to find a home.
So the bees have gone and the sail is flaked. The sun is setting and it’s another adventure to record for Sea Change.
Our incident with the honey bees has spawned a swarm of bee puns on Sea Change. it hash’t stopped yet. Just take note that if Michael is found dead in a pile of honey, it couldn’t bee me.
We have been making plans and discussing our plans and rethinking our plans to leave Pasadena Marina and head toward the Keys for weeks now. The weather was forecast to be favorable for a move south, then on Sunday at our late afternoon weather check, we notice what was to become Invest 93L. This could definitely through a kink into our travel plans.
All the advice from sailors and boaters alike seemed to be, Watch the weather but carry on with your plans. We worried over leaving but continued to gather supplies and plot a course southward.
Tuesday morning was overcast early on but cleared as the morning progressed. Checking the morning forecast, we decided to leave the dock. We waved as we made our way out of our home for the last 4 months and entered Boca Ciega Bay. We topped off our fuel tank and our last stop north of Tampa Bay was done.
We tested out our new auto pilot as we crossed Tampa Bay headed to Anna Maria Island. The auto pilot works like a charm and we made excellent time. We arrived at the anchorage between Jewfish Key and Longboat Key about 4. The last time we had anchored here we anchored without significant difficulty but this time it seemed that the anchor just didn’t want to set.
We dropped anchor 3 times and pulled it up again and again. Michael began muttering under his breath and his frustration was apparent. Finally, the anchor set. Michael and I remembered the strength of the wind from thunderstorms that came in the last time we traveled along the western shore of Florida. Neither of us wanted to be second guessing our anchor at 2 in the morning if the predicted winds came in with gusts to 25 knots.
For now we had only a slight breeze. Michael readied the dinghy and we went ashore to Mar Vista. if you have the opportunity to dine here, then take advantage of the opportunity. Fairy lights hang from the trees over tables set on the shore. Yummy treats come out from the kitchen there. The servers are friendly. We watched the lights on the boats off shore as we shared a meal.
We had gone to bed and just dozed off to sleep when the wind began whistling and the wind generator started whirring. Apparently, the predicted wind shift arrived early. Michael had commented before we went to sleep that one of us needed to get up about 2 when the wind shift arrived and do an anchor check. Mother nature had different plans, she planned a short night for us. With the strong wind, Sea Change was lying bow into the wind and a lot closer to our two neighboring boats than earlier in the evening. In fact, we were close enough to keep me up in the cockpit for a while monitoring Sea Change’s swing in the anchorage. Michael and I both were up watching the wind and Sea Change’s response to the wind. Our anchor held, thankfully, throughout the night but both of us were alert to any changes in the wind or the motion of the boat.
Michael had gone above at one point and called for me to come up also. Oh no! Here we go, I thought. I was mentally preparing to drive the boat up on the anchor while Michael dealt with the chain and anchor. Much to my relief, Sea Change tugged at her anchor rode and swung back and forth. Nothing seemed to have changed. What had changed was another boat in the anchorage. Before going ashore for the evening, Michael and I had noted a sailboat come into the anchorage. They seemed to have the same issues we did with setting their anchor; the anchor just didn’t seem to want to hold. Finally the anchor set and everyone went about the evening.When I made it to the cockpit, we could see the crew of the sailboat motoring forward because their anchor was dragging in the brisk wind. In the dark of the middle of the night is not the time that anyone wants to be setting anchor. Grateful that Sea Change’s anchor was holding we watched our fellow sailors struggle in the dark and wind to set the anchor to allow them a few hours of sleep for the night. Crawling back into our bunk, we managed a few more hours of sleep and woke to bright sunshine and continued brisk breezes.
We met our fellow sailors who managed to reset their anchor in the dark and wind a few days later. They were traveling south also and were undaunted by the trials thrown at them by Mother Nature. We offered our kudos and good wishes for the rest of their journey. Sailors as a group are a hearty breed.
So starts this next part of our journey!
We recently were notified of the death of a dear friend of ours, Gary Milburn. Gary was a scientist, a sailor and a fine man. As a way of honoring him, Robin and I would like to take a moment here and share with you a few thoughts about Gary.
We met Gary several years ago on Beaver Lake, a small crystal clear lake that lies just south of the Missouri Arkansas border. Both Robin and I felt an immediate kinship with Gary as we all shared a love of sailing boats. When I helped Gary dock his boat at Beaver Lake Sailing Club for the first time, I knew that he was going to be an exceptional club member and a great sailing friend.
You see, Gary had big plans for his sailboat and after a cleaning her up a bit from the journey, Gary would spend as much of his free time as he could working and tinkering aboard the boat. There was canvas to be sewn and carburetors to be rebuilt, but more importantly there were miles of beautiful Beaver Lake to be sailed.
There are several groups of sailors, those that like the idea of boat ownership but who somehow never have the time to sail, hence, boats sit and rot in the water. There are those sailors who are in love with working, fixing, and maintaining the boat. These tasks consume every bit of time, so there is rarely any time left for sailing. And there are those sailors who no matter what the shape of the boat, always find time to enjoy themselves on the water, sometimes even at the peril of deferred boat maintenance.
Gary was a perfect blend of the guy who loved working on his boat just as much as he loved sailing it self. Spending time sailing and working on his sail boat were ways for Gary to recharge.
I remember that it was just before Independence Day in 2010, when I received a call from another club member that Gary’s boat Hydrophilic was under water at the dock. When I finally made contact with Gary, he was devastated. The look on his face was even worse when he arrived and actually saw things for himself.
His boat, his hard work, was covered with water; life jackets and bits of things from Hydrophilic were floating or strewn along the docks with abandon. For Gary, the situation looked hopeless; he was unable to see how his boat would ever be the same again, let alone float up from the depths.
A few hours later after a trip to the hardware store, we rallied some sailboat family and friends and began the arduous task of raising the boat. To most of the sailors, it was a challenge. Using straps, air bags, the pump from a the local fire boat, and a lot of combined determination from our local sailors, Hydrophilic rose from the water. Soon she was sitting proudly in her slip, a bit damp inside and definitely worse for the dunking.
Gary went to work straight away on the little gas powered engine. He changed fluids, drained and dried things, and soon the little engine was going again. One of my best memories of Gary is the smile that he had on his face after making that engine run.
Gary was always a source of inspiration. His encouragement is certainly one of the very reasons that I’m not able to be there (at his funeral) in person and offer my tributes You see, Gary encouraged Robin and I to follow our dreams. So, we did. It’s because of this that I’m writing this letter from aboard our sailboat Sea Change. We are in Saint Pete Beach and will be soon be making a passage to the Keys. Much of our journey and life style was encouraged by Gary himself.
Amongst sailors, the term “crossing the bar” refers to the barrier between life and what lies after our death; Leaving the river and the difficulty we face crossing over a sandbar to the depths of the ocean is a concept we embrace as sailors. Death therefore is the difficult crossing we face leaving the river of life with its outgoing flood and entering the ocean that lies beyond death, that “boundless deep” to which we return.
Sunset and evening star
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For though from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.
Alfred Lord Tennyson –1889
And while Gary’s passing is heartbreaking for those of us left behind, Tennyson suggests we not cry at his departure. Gary having crossed his sandbar gets to see the face of his Pilot. We wish him safe journeys.
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.
While it may not be summer everywhere on the planet, it certainly is in Florida. Summer in Florida means thunderstorms. It rains nearly every afternoon often with several thunderclaps and some intense lightening.
Yesterday, coming into Cayo Costa State Park we dodged a couple of storms that looked menacing. After anchoring for the night, we were treated to an incredible sunset. Usually, once the sun has set, the day time heating that fuels the storms dissipates. This was mostly the case yesterday, that is until about 5 am this morning.
So that we can sleep comfortably at night, we have all 8 hatches open plus the companionway, and a couple of port lights. In 3 of the hatches, we use a device called a breeze booster. It’s made of a parachute material and works really well at funneling more air through the boat. In fact, we are actually able to pressurize the interior of the boat and allow the air to escape from the hatches over our bed, creating a delightful cooling breeze.
We were sleeping soundly when we heard the first clap of thunder, followed closely by another report. By the time we had climbed out of the bunk the raindrops were hitting the deck. Robin, not wanting to get her nightgown wet, stripped and began the process of taking our breeze boosters down and closing hatches. I joined her on deck, naked as well, and we managed to get everything closed before it really started to rain. There is nothing quite like a fresh rain water shower before sunrise to cool you off.
Back below, I fired up the gen-set and started the air-conditioner, we dried off, climbed back in the berth and drifted off to sleep for another 3 hours. Just another day in paradise!