Thursday, February 27, 2020

Sailing Along the Florida Coast

We had been at Fishermen's Village Yacht Basin since January 27. I found a three day weather window that would allow us to sail North. But first, we had to get out of the Marina.  The three previous days had seen strong Northeast winds. In Charlotte harbor,  that means very low water.  We had been reading 3.5 feet on our depth finder. The problem is that we draw 4.5 feet. SHIFT had been sitting on the bottom for three days.  On Sunday,  the wind shifted to the East and we watched and waited as the water rose. We would have to wait for high tide and hope for the best. High tide was not until 4:09 pm on Sunday February 23.

We had spent the two previous days preparing everything for departure.  By 1:30 the boat was clearly floating free. We decided it was time and pulled out and motored out of the marina with ease. Whew! That was a big load off of my mind.

Once we got out in the harbor, the wind picked up to about 10 knots. We had flat water, which means we had a wonderful 3 hour sail down to Bull Key, where we anchored for the night. We enjoyed dinner in the cockpit watching a beautiful sunset. By Monday morning the wind had shifted to the Southeast,  which made for a rolling boat and some lost sleep. 

Sunset at Boca Grande Pass
We were up before sunrise on Monday and raised the anchor and headed out to the Gulf of Mexico through Boca Grande pass. The wind was light enough to use the cut along the beach. That saved us about an hour on the day.

Sunrise the next morning. Ready to go!
We sailed along nicely on a broad reach, then the wind shifted to straight out of the south at about 10 knots. That is perfect conditions for a wing and wing configuration.  I was eager to try a new whisker pole rig I had put together while we were in Punta Gorda. It took me about 20 minutes to set it all up, but we picked up about 2 knots over just the mainsail. We were able to set the autopilot and cruise with the wind all the way to Venice. In this configuration,  the boat is flat and the wind feels much lighter than it is. It was a great ride!

Not a great picture, but that is the "pole" setup.

We saw many pods of dolphins on this day and the next. I shot a bunch of video. I will try to get that edited in the coming weeks and post it.

A great part of my new pole setup was what I discovered when we arrived at Venice. I was able to furl the genoa and move the pole parallel to the boat, all from the cockpit.  As the day went by, the swell was building from the south and we really felt it when we turned to make the run into the inlet.  The wind was now on the beam with the swell and it was a rough ride.

Once we were in the protection of the rock jetty all was calm and we motored the 2.5 miles to Blackburn Bay.  We had the hook down by 3 pm. The wind picked up during the night,  but we slept well in our very protected spot.

We spent the evening looking at our options for the next day. We thought about staying in the ICW and motoring up to The Tampa Bay area,  but we really prefer to sail. The forecast was for 20 knots out of the south,  which would be the same as the previous day except more wind and bigger swell.  We decided to sail.

We were up again before sunrise and motored back south to the Venice inlet.  When we hit the open water it was as predicted.  The swell built all day and so did the wind to over 20 knots.  It was exciting,  but comfortable.  SHIFT did an amazing job handling the conditions.  We were going so well that we decided to go all the way to Gulfport,  Florida. That was a run of over 50 miles.

We were in the company of dolphins most of the day. They must have been hanging out with us because we were about the only boat out in these conditions.

When we cleared the ship channel into Tampa, we made the turn to the east and the wind strength became obvious. We sailed into Passe Grille pass with the mainsail still up because I really didn't want to go up to the mast to drop the sail in those conditions. We went to the Anchorage just off the cool waterfront area of Gulfport. We dropped the anchor and then dropped the mainsail. It all worked as planned. I feel like we are becoming a very competent team. 

The Boca Ciega Bay at Gulfport, Florida. This is just south of St. Petersburg
This was a very memorable day.  We had made it from Punta Gorda to Gulfport in 3 days and we were tired, but satisfied with our accomplishment. 

We had plans to see some friends in the area, all the while looking for a weather window for our longest sail yet. The Gulf of Mexico crossing to the Florida panhandle is next on the agenda. Come back to see the next chapter in this adventure. 

Friday, February 21, 2020

Ready to Get Going

I am writing this entry on Friday, February 21, 2020. We have been sitting in Fishermen's Village Marina since January 27. We have had a very relaxing time. We have really enjoyed our time here. Kim has been swimming each weekday morning with the group of ladies that do Water Aerobics. She has also continued to play Mah Jongg on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Kim has really enjoyed meeting many new friends.

The nice heated swimming pool here at Fishermen's Village Marina
I have not been as social. I have been busy with boat projects including periodic maintenance and installing our new AIS transponder. Now we can been seen by other boats that have an AIS receiver. I feel we are now ready for our next challenge. I will give you the details of that challenge later in this entry.

Fishermen's Village Yacht Basin. Our slip is on the right hand dock, almost all the way to the end. 

This is the long dock we walk a few times each day. It is .2 miles each way to the boat. 

One aspect of the Cruising lifestyle that I was not looking forward to was the fact that we would be stuck without a vehicle. This has turned out to be a blessing, not a curse. We have really enjoyed working out how we get places by either walking or riding a bike. They have had bikes we can borrow for free at each of our last two marinas. We have done a great deal of sightseeing, shopping, going to church and even attending music festivals without a car.

We have had the opportunity to spend some time with our friends, Wayne and Michele. We are still amazed when we think about how we saw each other at the Pelican Bay anchorage back in November. I had not seen Wayne in 14 years. I have enjoyed playing some more Pickleball with Wayne's group. They are much better players and I have learned a lot. If you are reading this Wayne and Michele, I really hope our travels cross paths again. Thanks for the hospitality.

We have enjoyed our time in Punta Gorda, but just like every time we spend more than a week anywhere, we are ready to get on the move again. Our plan is to leave here on Sunday, February 23. We will not be able to depart until close to noon. We will have to wait for high tide. When we are at low tide here in the marina, our keel is sitting on the bottom. We are only planning to make about 20 miles the first day, probably going back to Pelican Bay. The next morning we should have the right wind to head north up the coast to Venice, Florida. We will anchor there for the night and then get going early the next morning and sail all the way to Bradenton. We plan to see some friends there for a day or two and then move north to Gulfport, Florida. We will closely watch the weather and if all holds, we will try to cross the Gulf of Mexico from around Tarpon Springs to Carabelle between March 1-4. We should have a buddy boat with us for that overnight sail. The weather services are calling for good conditions at that time, but who knows this far out. Then we will sail along the Florida panhandle coast to Pensacola. At that point, we will duck inland and motor on the ICW to the Gulf Shores area and meet up with family that is coming down to the area. We are hoping that the weather allows all of this to happen. 

SHIFT is champing at the bit, ready to go! You can see in this picture that our boot strap is above the water line indicating that we are sitting on the bottom. 
 I would not want to be out sailing today, we had a cold front come through this morning and after mid 80 temperatures and light winds this past week, we are down in the high 50's and a 20+ knot wind out of the north. The next few days should be a south eastern breeze with highs in the 70's. It will feel strange to live again without shore power and unlimited fresh water, we have had the air conditioner on this past week, but it should be much cooler as we head north.

My next entry will be the first part of the story of our trip north to Alabama. I have studied the weather and think we have a good weather window, I sure hope the forecast is close to accurate.

One last beautiful sunset from Punta Gorda, Florida

Friday, February 14, 2020

Trying Something Different

I have not written in this blog in a couple of weeks. That always seems to happen when we stop traveling. That is exactly what has happened. In my last entry, I left off with us at Punta Rassa Anchorage near Fort Myers Beach. We had just finished the overnight sail from the Dry Tortugas. We spent two quiet nights at Punta Rassa. We were the only boat in the anchorage. We were about 200 yards off of the ICW and the Caloosahatchee River. They are one and the same at this point. The Caloosahatchee River becomes the waterway that goes all the way to the east coast of Florida through Lake Okeechobee. We camped at a COE park along the waterway at one of the locks called Ortona last winter.

There is a significant amount of boat traffic along the ICW at this point. We did have some rocking from wakes, but a cool north wind kept that down for the most part. We did see some ocean go-fast boats come in and open it up on the second evening we were there. Those boat were doing well in excess of 100 MPH. I think there were about 10 of them. As soon as it became dark, the boat traffic dropped off to almost nothing and we had two very calm nights and caught up on some much needed sleep.
A shot of the sunset at the Punta Rassa Anchorage.
After two nights we decided to move up to move up to Chino Island, which was a trip of about 7 miles. The island is a National Wildlife Refuge and sounded nice in the reports I had in Navionics. The wind was out of the north and did not move around to the East as forecast. It was cool and windy and the island did not have a visible beach. We only stayed one night. We raised the anchor without a plan for the next night. We were now committed to motoring up the ICW to Charlotte Harbor. We raised the Genoa and got a little push from the wind to help the motor. That lasted about an hour and then the wind dropped off to nothing. The water got glassy and we just motored along. We saw a few other boats, but with this being Monday, January 27, it was a pretty quiet day on the water. 

We were passed by this tour boat called the Lady Chadwick. Funny to see that name here in Florida. 
As we cruised along, we discussed our options. We wanted to visit Punta Gorda, which is at the other end of Charlotte Harbor. A friend visited there recently and raved about Fishermen's Village Marina. I called there to discuss our options. Their nightly transient rate is about $100 for our boat, but the monthly rate was about $800. We were seeing cool temps in the long range forecast and decided that we wanted to stay further south for a bit longer, so we decided to stay a month in Punta Gorda. I am not sure if we will stay the entire month, we will start looking for good weather windows around the 20th of February and find a good time to move up to the Tampa Bay area. We will stage from there to make the crossing to the Florida Panhandle. 

We made it to the marina at about 4 PM after motoring through a glassy Charlotte Harbor. We saw hundreds of Dolphins as we cruised along. It was a very pleasant day. We had dock hands waiting for us when we arrived at our slip at Fishermen's Village Yacht Basin. We pulled in and got hooked up to power for the first time since November 1. It is amazing how quickly you get used to having all the power you want. 

Something happened that at this point that kind of surprised me. We had been on the boat for all but 4 hours in the previous 11 days. You would think that as soon as we could, we would leave the boat and go ashore, but we didn't. We just settled down to living like any other day. It was only just before sunset that I took a walk to check out the shore facilities. 

SHIFT in her slip at Fishermen's Village
Our view along the long C dock at Fishermen's Village.
It did not take us long to figure out that this is a very social place. We met all of the neighbors and were invited to join them for the many social activities in the marina. Kim  has now learned to play Mah Jongg and plays every Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon. She also does Water Areobics each morning in the nice heated pool. There is a social gathering each evening at the end of the dock called "Dock Tales" where tales are told and adult beverages flow. 

A shot of sunset out at the end of the dock. 
I am writing this entry on Valentine's day, February 14. We have been hanging out here in Punta Gorda for the past three weeks. We have had a great time. In my next entry, I will give you a tour of the many activities that are available without the use of a car, in the Punta Gorda area. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Video Link: Passage from Dry Tortugas to Fort Myers Beach

I recorded 3 updates while we sailed from the Dry Tortugas to Fort Myers Beach on January 22-23, 2020. There is also some raw GoPro footage along the side of the boat with some Dolphins.

Click on this link to view video: Sail from Dry Tortugas to Fort Myers Beach

Thanks for reading and watching!

Monday, February 3, 2020

Our Longest Passage Yet

From the time we have been planning to visit the Dry Totugas, I have been thinking about the trip from there back to the mainland of Florida. We certainly could travel East back to Key West, a trip of about 70 miles and one that could be done in a single day, but that looked like backtracking to me. If you have been following this blog for a while you probably know that I hate to backtrack. I also wanted to complete the loop. It seemed like the logical plan was to sail northeast about 130 miles to Fort Myers Beach. The plan was for this to be our first overnight sail, but as it turned out, that was accomplished quite by accident on our trip from Key West to the Dry Tortugas a few days earlier.

I had been desperately trying to get a weather forecast the entire time we were anchored at Fort Jefferson. The VHF weather forecast from Key West was very broken and scratchy. I was spending about an hour each day trying to piece together something that would be helpful. When we finally went to shore on Wednesday the 22nd, I spoke with the captain of the Tour boat and asked him if he could do better. He was happy to help. What he gave me was that there was good weather with a Northeast wind on Thursday that would clock around to an Eastern wind later in the day and into Friday. It was expected to be 15 knots in the morning  and dropping down to 5 to 10 that evening and into Friday. There was a stronger Northern that would come in on Saturday. That was the window we were looking for. We would have rather stayed at the Dry Tortugas for another day, but this was too good to pass up. I broke the news to Kim and she said that she was ready to go. We got to work getting everything ready. The winds were lighter than they had been and we got a good nights sleep.

Our last sunset at Dry Tortugas NP

We were in no hurry to leave in the morning. Every hour that we waited allowed the seas to calm down a bit. We pulled the anchor at about 8:30 and were heading for the channel before 9 am on January 23rd.

Our final view of Fort Jefferson. The channel was much more comfortable for our departure than it was for our arrival.

The captain at the helm. You never get tired of looking at that beautiful water.
As I had mentioned in an earlier post we have been having issues with our autopilot. It would seem to hold a course for a bit and then it would go crazy and turn us in some other direction. It could not be trusted. While we were waiting things out at the Fort, I did some reading and found the compass that is installed in a locker in the boat. The documentation warned not to have significant metal or any magnets near this compass. I had my main tool box, right next to it. Inside the box is a very powerful magnet. I rearranged the boat and moved the tools into another locker. The great news is that our autopilot was now working correctly. As the day wore on, I gained more and more confidence in it. I can now say it has worked perfectly since I made the change. That would make a huge difference in the next day and a half.

When you sail off shore, you set a line on the chart that is the direct line between where you are and where you want to end up. That is called your "rhumb line". That line took us on a heading of 45 degrees or NE. My plan was to sail as hard on the wind as I could and try to head straight north. We would hold that course until the wind clocked to the East and we could then turn back and make up the ground. If we could have stayed on our line and maintained 5 knots we would have a 130 mile trip in 26 hours. Every hour we deviated off of that course we added time and distance to the trip. 

We sailed along with good wind albeit from the wrong direction at about 6 knots on a heading of about 350 degrees. We used the motor some to clear Pulasky Shoal Light, which is the most northern shoal around the Dry Tortugas. We saw a few crab pots, but not nearly as many as we had seen in the keys. They were gone completely when we hit water over 100 feet deep. The deepest water we saw was 165 feet. The seas were 4 to 6 feet, but we both felt fine and never got seasick.

Our sunset at sea. At this point we were about 80 miles to the closest land. 
I was getting a bit frustrated with the wind. It was still coming from the NE and we were getting farther and farther off course. At one point we were about 25 miles off of the rhumb line. Then the wind just died off to about 5 knots. We had to run the motor and that took us on a better course. We made up a little ground during the night. We took turns sleeping for an hour or two. It was all I needed and we both felt great the entire trip.

Kim took a couple more pictures, but I was more focused on video. Look out for some cool video that I shot during this trip. We saw hundreds of dolphins. I will edit down the video and post it at some point in the near future.

Beautiful sunrise

Me sleeping in the cockpit.
A couple more sunrise shots.

Around 5 in the morning, the wind picked up to about 12 knots and finally clocked around to the East. I got all of our sails up and we were on the move and we were heading in the right direction. We made up all of our lost ground and by noon we were right on course. It was a great 7 hours! Then the wind just completely died, so we had to motor the last 3 hours to arrive at Fort Myers Beach.

I had called ahead and was given a mooring ball assignment. When we arrived, the harbor was crazy busy. We found our ball, but another boat was attached. I called the office and they told me that that happens all the time and there was not another place for a boat our size. I was tired and frustrated. I headed back out the channel and Kim started looking for close by anchorages. We found one about 5 miles away. We got there and had it all to ourselves. It was quite a relief after the congestion at Fort Myers Beach. We were looking forward to long hot showers and some land time. We had been on the boat for all but 4 hours of the previous 10 days. The good news is that we had plenty of water in the boat, so we took hot showers and settled in for the night. The wind stayed light and we slept very well.

Our quiet anchorage near Sanibel Island
I felt very good about our trip. We ended up traveling 155 miles in 37 hours. It went very well and we both had a strong feeling of accomplishment. It is amazing how far we have come in the past two years.

We stayed near Sanibel for 2 nights and started doing research to determine where we would go next. We had no plan, what would we do? In my next entry, I will answer that question. I will tell you now, the answer was a surprise to us.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Video Link to our trip to the Dry Tortugas

We made some update clips as we sailed to Dry Tortugas. I have edited them and strung them together in this video: Or Sail to the Dry Tortugas

Click the link above to see video. Watch until the end to see the float plane take off between our boat and the Catamaran that was anchored next to us.