Friday, August 30, 2019

Here Comes Dorian

This is one post I had hoped I would not have to write. We are still in Palmetto, Florida and are now waiting for the arrival of Hurricane Dorian. We have been watching the progress of the storm for a few days and we kept hoping it would not head our way, but now that seems like a real possibility.

The good news is that we are on the West coast of Florida, just south of Tampa Bay. The storm is coming through the Atlantic and looks like it will hit Florida somewhere between Ft. Lauderdale and Jacksonville on the east coast. That is a huge area and where it hits will make all of the difference to us. If it hits south of us, it could go across the state and do damage to our area. The part that drives everyone crazy is the not knowing. If it goes a bit north, it could then turn further north and not impact us much at all.

Kim and I have been in a wait and see mode for the past few days. We checked into having SHIFT hauled out with the lift and putting it on stands on the hard ground. The problem is they are full with reservations here at the marina, so we can't do that. If it was going to be a direct hit from a Gulf of Mexico storm, we would look at other options for getting put on the "hard". After consulting with many other local boaters that have much more experience in dealing with these storms, we have decided to stay here in this very protected marina. We will strip all of the canvas off of the boat and reduce things that can be impacted by the wind. We will also add many more lines to anchor points around our slip. The boats on both sides of us have been placed on the hard, so that gives us more room to run lines. We completed that work today. We will take the canvas off tomorrow. We also placed the dingy upside down on the foredeck and lashed it down. We have made countless other things that have been pointed out to us.

When the time comes, we will leave the boat and go in a direction of safety. We will not stay on the boat unless it looks like the impact will be minimal.

For the most part we have stayed calm and discussed our options and made decisions. The thought of our boat getting damaged or worse is crushing. All we can do is do our best to protect her and then hope and pray that it will all work out.

I expect my next entry will be right after the storm and I will report the status of us and SHIFT. Thanks for reading.

Just a sunset shot to end this post on a positive note. Venice, Florida

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

7 Day Cruise (part 2)

I took this double rainbow shot while we were aground. We knew we would be fine.
We will now pick up the story on the morning after grounding the boat. I was tired and slept in. Kim got up to say goodbye to Dave and Janice. Janice had to be back at work the next day, so they had one day to make the 65 NM trip back to Palmetto. They ended up stopping after a 12 hour day motoring up the ICW and then just making it in time the next morning. We did not have any time restrictions, so we decided to spend the day exploring this beautiful area.

We started the day by taking the dingy to the dock at the State Park. They charge a $2 per person daily pass, that we gladly paid. We took a golf cart ride across the island to the beach. It is a nice beach with lots of shells. We walked for a little over an hour and added to our shell collection.

Beautiful beach all to ourselves
Flowers on the beach.

Kim on a beach. There is that theme again.
We went back to the boat and relaxed a while. Later in the day we were joined by 4 other power boats in the anchorage, but there was still plenty of room and privacy. In the late afternoon we took a dingy ride to further explore the area, but I guess we were not in a picture taking mood. I fished in the evening hours and caught 6 fish, but no pictures. None were keepers. 5 were trout and one catfish. I had a double hook rig and actually caught two fish on one cast. It was our best day yet on the boat.

We were watching the tide schedules to give us as much water as possible to get out of the bay, so we decided to leave at 10 am the following morning and head back north. It was our first day traveling alone and we wanted to take it easy, so we just motored up the ICW 18 miles in about 4 hours. We opened two bridges and then stopped at a very exposed anchorage in Lemon Bay. We wanted the open location to give us better breeze. That did not work out so well. All was good until I was awoken at 12:30 to a strong breeze whistling through the rigging. The anchor alarm went off and I was up in a shot. I looked at the instruments and it showed solid 20 knots of wind with a gust or 2 over 30. I checked our position and we were stable and the anchor was holding. I stayed up for an hour or more to keep a watch. By 2 in the morning the storm had passed and I was able to get some rest. That is just part of life on a boat.

Our view of the sunset at Lemon Bay

A rainbow at Lemon Bay
We left the next morning and continued to motor up the ICW. The wind was pretty good, but there were storms all around, so we decided to play it safe and not sail out in the gulf. 

I was hearing storm warnings on the VHF radio all day, but they were pretty far north of us. We had motored about 28 miles and were just entering the large open water of Sarasota Bay, when I heard a storm warning that was for the area we were in. I pulled up the radar on my phone and it did not look good. We had to make a quick decision and found a protected anchorage just about a half mile back. We spun the boat around and headed for Ken Thompson Park. I had to watch the charts closely to not run aground. I worked my way between boats that were moored in the area. I found a fairly open area and Kim took the helm, so that I could get the anchor ready. We dropped it and let out 70 feet of chain. I backed down on the anchor with the motor and we were hooked well. By this time the storm was closing in on us. Kim went below and got everything closed up. I put on a rain jacket and sat in the cockpit and watched it come in. I wanted to be able to start the engine and help the anchor if needed. We saw gusts over 35 knots. We had rain coming through the cockpit like a firehose. It was intense for about 20 minutes. Through all of that, the anchor held tight. Then just as fast as it came, it was gone. 

We had a nice evening with a comfortable breeze.

Downtown Sarasota from the Ken Thompson anchorage

Other boats moored around us.

I thought we were done with the storms, but at 2 am, I was awoken by another one. This one was not as bad and our protected position helped, but we still saw gusts about 30 knots. It was another night without enough sleep.

We got moving the next morning and hoped to sail down the bay, but the wind was right on the nose and we did not have room or desire to tack up the bay. We motored for about 4 hours and were at the mouth of the Manatee river when another storm hit us. The wind was not bad, but it rained buckets for about a half hour. We motored on in to the marina, got the boat put to bed, then another one hit. It was nice to go below and not worry about the anchor. We feel very secure in our slip. And it was even better to turn on the Air Conditioner. I went to bed early and slept very well. 

We have learned that this is not a good time of year to be sailing in Florida. It is very hot and humid and the afternoon thunderstorms are daily. Not to mention the possibility of a hurricane. This past week, the storms were much more frequent than normal due to a disturbance out in the gulf. It will certainly be our goal to be in northern climates during the summer months in the future.

That wraps up our 7 day trip. We had an awesome time and we learned a ton of important lessons. We can't thank Dave and Janice enough for taking us under their wing and showing us all that they did. 

In my next entry, I will talk about our plan going forward. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Video of 7 day trip

I ave been trying to shoot some video along the way. I put this together. Please let me know what you think. This one is in 1080p, so it should be better quality if you have a decent connection.

Video of 7 Day trip to Pelican Bay


Monday, August 19, 2019

7 Day Cruise (part 1)

We got back to the marina after our trip to St. Petersburg on August 7. We relaxed for a day and then our boat neighbors asked us if we wanted to tag along with them on a little trip to their favorite anchorage. This trip would require us to do a number of things that we had never done before, so we quickly accepted the invitation and got ready to leave on Friday August 9.

The first order of business was a trip to a place called Bimini Bay. This is a very protected little bay just a few miles from the marina. Dave and Janice have a Gemini 105C Catamaran and they wanted to clean their hulls before they set out. In this area you should clean the hull about once a month to keep the buildup of growth to a minimum. If the growth gets bad enough, it will actually slow the boat down.

It was very shallow getting into the bay and required me to keep a sharp eye on the chartplotter. We made it by following their path and dropped anchor. We swam for a while and cleaned our hull also. At one point I looked over at Kim and a dolphin was about a foot behind her. She heard it, but did not see it. Swimming with dolphins is a very cool experience. It would be the first of many on this trip. Sadly no pictures.

We then motored up the Inter-coastal Waterway (ICW) for a few miles to the Anna Maria Island Bridge. It is a bascule (draw) bridge that is only 20 feet high when closed. We called them on the radio and requested an opening. I was a bit slow getting through the bridge, but it worked out fine. That was a big first for us. We then motored to the Cortez Bridge and did the same thing. Just a few miles later we were at the Longboat Key Pass. This is a very cool place. We motored in with Dave leading the way through shallow water and dropped the hook.

We were then invited to Dave and Janice's boat for sundowners. Sundowners are a boating tradition and just a good reason to have a drink and watch the sunset. We dropped the dingy and installed the outboard and headed over. Here is a shot of SHIFT sitting at anchor from D and J's boat "SloMotion".

SHIFT at anchor
We then decided to go to shore to a restaurant to eat dinner. Just as we sat down it started to pour down rain. OH NO! we had left our hatches open. The good news it did not last long. That was the first of many lessons we learned on this trip. We had a non-memorable dinner and went back to the boats. The next day I was up early. Having coffee in the cockpit is a beautiful way to start the day.

SloMotion at anchor - This one is for you Dave and Janice

View off our starboard bow

View off our port side

View Aft
We had a nice breeze and we slept fairly well. It is still hot, but the breeze makes it much better.

Kim and I took a ride to the beach in the dingy. We walked around a bit and enjoyed the park along the beach.

Kim on a beach, that theme will never change. 
We enjoyed the day at the beach and at a sandbar that got quite crowded on this Saturday. We made it back to the boat and then a big squall came in. Some wind and rain was just enough to run off most of the weekend boaters. We spent a second night and planned to go out the pass the next morning.

When we awoke, there were storms all around us. We waited and then decided to head further south on the ICW, rather than going out in the gulf. It is always nice to have that option. Just a few miles south was Sarasota bay. It is about 7 miles long and very wide and deep, so we got the sails ready and headed out. When we hit the bay, we had 10 knots of breeze. First we took a leg downwind and then had to make a turn and had the wind right on the beam. We sailed side by side down the bay. It was a blast. We each took shots of each others boat. It is really difficult to get shots of your own boat under sail.
SloMotion charging down the bay
SHIFT sailing wing and wing downwind.
SHIFT on the move

SHIFT under full sails
We then dropped the sails and motored down to Venice, Florida. We opened three more bridges along the way, but that is easy now. We looked for a place to anchor, but decided to stay in a marina. It was not a great experience. We had problems with the dock power and we had to move our boats after we were all tied up. Thankfully with 4 of us, we got it done. The marina was overpriced at $105.00 for the night and we rolled with the incoming swell all night. We won't be back to Crow's Nest Marina. I fixed dinner for all of us and then finished the key lime pie from my birthday.

The next morning we were on the move early. We went out the inlet and sailed down the coast. We had a great sail for the first 4 hours. We had 5 to 10 knots and the swell was not too bad. Then we got hit by a storm that caught us from behind. We reefed the sails and watched the wind climb to 18 knots. The sea state went from comfortable to wild. We had waves and swell over 6 feet high. The good news is the boat handled it in stride and I never was concerned about our safety. We sailed in through Boca Grande Inlet. The tide was coming out and the wind was stacking up the waves. We turned on the motors and were barely moving. It took forever to make it through the pass.

We rounded the corner to starboard and got our first look at Pelican Bay. It is a beautiful place and we had it all to ourselves. SloMotion got in and dropped anchor. It was then that I made a mistake. I was looking at the chart and saw very shallow water, but failed to turn quickly enough to avoid it. The next thing I knew we stopped moving. We were AGROUND!

I thought back to all I had read on the subject and got to work. I dropped the dingy and carried out an anchor to deeper water. I carry two anchors on the bow of the boat and one for the stern. I put that anchor rode on one of my big sheet winches and pulled it tight. The boat did not move, but it was low tide and we would just wait. We got the boat put to bed and had dinner. This was our view from our boat that for the first time was not moving.

I got out and walked around in the shallow water. Our draft is 4.5 feet, and that is about exactly how deep the water was. I determined where the deeper water was and waited until 11PM. I pulled on the winch and the boat began to move. Then sadly it got stuck again! I took the anchor out again and went through the whole process again. This time with some help from the motor, she got free and we made it to deeper water and dropped the main anchor. That was a huge relief. We finally fell into bed at 1AM, exhausted but happy to be rocking a little bit.

That is enough for this entry. Dave and Janice left us the next morning to head back to civilization. It was just Kim and I to figure out how to get back to the marina. Would we make it? I will tell the rest of the story in my next entry.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Time to Go Somewhere.

It has been over two weeks since I have written in this blog. We have been very busy in a typical boating kind of way. I am not sure exactly what that means, but to us it makes sense. I have a lot to write about, and hope to get a couple of entries done in the next few days and maybe even another video.  For now, we will go back about two weeks.

We spent the month of July working on the boat and doing mostly day sails out into Tampa Bay. There are some nice places around the bay to anchor the boat, and enjoy the water. During the week, it is fairly peaceful, but on the weekends the activity level increases by a factor of 100. Here is a shot of a favorite anchorage called Passage Key on a sunny Saturday:

Passage Key on a busy weekend

The water is beautiful and clear. To the right of this picture is the passage out to the gulf. It is very shallow close to the island, so unlike the power boats that can tilt their motors and go right up to the shore, we have to anchor off about 200 yards off and swim and snorkel around the boat in 6 to 10 feet of water.

We have had these regular visitors to the boat. It seems these two doves like to sit on the grill in the cover of the bimini. We usually ask them to leave to save our grill cover from the droppings.

Two love birds on this boat.
We have been thinking about going somewhere to gain experience in unfamiliar water for a while and it seemed like my 60th birthday was the day to do that. We made reservations at the Municipal Marina in St. Petersburg, which is about 20 nm across the bay.

We set off about 10 in the morning and had decent wind, so we put up the sails. We even had a visitor to the bow rail.

Just as we got close to the Skyway Bridge the wind died and we brought the sails down and motored through. There was a large ship coming the other way, but there is plenty of room for both. Here are a few pictures of the first time we went under the famous bridge.

Approaching the bridge

Under looking up.

Large ship approaching.

Those large ships move much faster than we do, so you have to be careful when you are in the shipping channel. The good news we can see them on our AIS and it even tells me their speed and heading. This guy was moving at 12 knots, so we had a closing speed of about 18 knots.

Just after we got clear of the bridge, the wind picked up and we sailed on just the genoa over to St. Petersburg.

Our view of St. Petersburg as we approached.
We made it into the marina basin without trouble. As we approached the dock the promised line catcher was not there. I aborted by first attempt due to a bad angle and did a quick spin around and made a better approach the second time. Some local gentlemen came over to catch a line and we were thankful for that. Kim offered them a shot of rum and one accepted. This was the first time we had done a side tie and with the long bowsprit I was concerned about hitting it on a piling.

The docks were not in great shape and it seemed a bit run down for about $96 per night. I gave them a less than great review on the online dock reservation system called "Dock Wa". The cool thing, they apologized and gave me a $26 credit.

We got cleaned up and took a walk into the city. It is a very cool place with lots of hotels, restaurants and other businesses. We had dinner at 400 Beach, that was good, but expensive for my birthday. We then took a walk along the water and through some nice parks.

Birthday boy

Kim in front of a large Banyan tree
The historic Savoy Hotel. No pictures allowed inside. Built in the 1920's. Cool history area inside.

We then got on the free trolley. It winds all through downtown and the driver gave us a nice history lesson. We had a blast and the A/C was nice and cold. We got off and went to the Publix grocery store and bought a key lime pie and went back to the boat. It was a great birthday and one I will remember for a long time.

Downtown St. Petersburg at night

SHIFT at the dock

I have been wanting to get a good picture of the transom with the new name on the boat, but it is hard to do on most docks.
 We headed out about 10 the next morning to try to get back to our marina before some forcasted afternoon thunderstorms. After getting out in the bay, we had 10-15 knots of wind and we had full sails up. We were able to stay on one tack the entire way to the mouth of the Manatee river. We were flying at 6-8 knots. It was our best sail yet and a great way to end this first trip to somewhere.

I have been dreaming of traveling on a boat for a long time. This was the first time I have ever set out for a destination that was not on an inland lake. We now feel we are ready for the next step. Come back for my next entry, and I will write all about that. I will tell you now, the trip was not without problems.