Thursday, January 19, 2017

Real life

Kintala and her crew have been on the move, trying to escape the confines of the shallow waters and crab pot mine fields of the Gulf of Mexico and the west coast of Florida, though it has had its charms. A day out of Factory Bay we set the anchor just outside of Shark River. There was no need to venture further inland as the winds were light and variable. It was the first time since getting to Snead Island months ago that we enjoyed a place dark and quiet, far away from the light and noises of modern society. Venus and Mars were glowing bright enough to leave their own reflections in the placid water while the silence was so complete that one's ears hurt, trying to find a purchase in the unfamiliar quiet. I couldn't help but wonder. With nearly half of America's population now living in cities and suburbs, just how many of my fellow citizens ever experience a place where human kind is so obviously unnecessary to the workings of the world or the history of the cosmos? And if more of us did, would that make us a different kind of people than we have turned out to be?

The sun reflected in the water off Kitala's side in a rare moment without crab traps

It was a special evening set in the middle of some not-so-special days. Truth to tell, if I were a full time live-a-board cruiser whose only cruising choices were the west coast of Florida and the eastern Gulf, Kintala would have a “FOR SALE” sign hung on her bow and we would be looking for an RV. Two full days of picking our way through crab pot haven, and finally getting out of the Gulf, have left us anchored up near Big Spanish Key with poor holding, little protection, and nowhere else to get to before night fell. Crawl Key was the anchorage we had been aiming for after coasting over the shallows of the Big Spanish Channel (even at near high tide the depth gauge read “0” at places). But it was completely covered in crab pot markers. With some daylight left, we moved on and ended up here, a place with a bit more swing room. Which is good. Even the Mantus couldn't find a purchase in the few inches of sand covering coral, and we are lying to its 65 pounds of weight and more than 100 feet of chain. It will likely be enough to keep us in place, but it will also be a night of restless and troubled sleep. The night's forecast of light winds has already proven to be in error, and we are currently bouncing and bumping against the anchor chain. Two different anchor alarms are set and, should it turn out that we need to move and attempt a re-hook, picking out the crab traps will be nigh on impossible in the darkness.

Pulling into the anchorage at Shark River on the very last of the sunlight after 10 hours and 40 minutes and 59.7 nm


This is only my second time sailing through this part of the world, but I am failing to understand other people's enthusiasm for the place. Still...

Dolphins have been nearly hourly visitors, rather than a rare treat. We have seen more big turtles in the last two days than we have seen in the last two years. We even saw what we think was the fin and wake of a large shark, off the port side, doing whatever it is large sharks do in the Gulf of Mexico. (I know, pretty much anything they want to do.) That makes a kind of sense since we were heading for Shark River at the time.

Tomorrow we hope to gain Boot Key, though it may be too full for us to find a place to hind from the cold front due Sunday / Monday. Winds of 35 knots are forecast, along with thunderstorms. Should there be no room for us in the inn, at least the anchorage outside has good holding. After riding out a 50+ knot storm in Fox Town a couple of years ago, and with an additional 50+ feet of chain to lay down if necessary, the front should offer nothing more than a couple of days of discomfort and another night or two of little sleep. While in (or near) Boot Key, we hope to address a couple of minor mechanical issues. The brand new remote oil filter we installed last summer has an oil leak. And the
brand new water pump we also installed last summer, (which has less than 50 hours of run time on it) has developed a water leak at the front seal. (The same issue that caused us to replace the old one.)

Welcome to the real life of a full time cruiser.

Of course, another part of the real life of a full time cruiser is the Abaco Islands. With any luck we will see them again before too many more weeks have passed.

As daylight waned, the horizon became indistinct
Backing down on the anchor as the last light fades
The sunset at Little Pine Key


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

On the move, slowly.

This morning Kintala nodded to the rising sun from Factory Bay, Marco Island. We stopped here on the way north and, except for bumping the ground on our first attempt to gain the anchorage, liked the place. There were no such dramatics getting in this time, “previous tracks” are a marvel of modern navigation.

Leaving Charlotte Harbor
Where we did bump the ground was exiting the canal in Punta Gorda two days ago. “Bump” isn't really the right word, “stuck fast” is a better description. Trying to get away early in the morning on a falling tide maybe wasn't the best choice. But there was a long day's sail ahead and, well, stuff happens. So after paying four years' worth of premiums to Tow Boat US, we finally got the opportunity to try out their service. Barely an hour after fudging to a stop in the soft and sticky mud (and providing the morning entertainment for those walking and fishing in the park), Kyle had pulled us free and out into deep(er) water. No harm, no foul, and excellent service all around.

If you sail the ICW, don't leave home without it.

We had been giving longer, outside runs to the Keys serious consideration. Two or three nights worth of passage making would have had us there already. Assuming, of course, one didn't get tangled up in one of the hundreds, if not thousands, of crab pots polluting the water even miles off shore. I know, crab fisherman need to make a living, and people like eating crab. But the crabbers have effectively confiscated the west coast of Florida for their own use. Picking one's way through in the day is possible, though in bigger waves than the ones we have seen so far it would be difficult. Trying it at night is a pure crap shoot. Maybe next year we will try the “sail 50 miles west during the day then turn north or south as appropriate and be on your way” approach. For, truth to tell, the combination of crab pots and shallow water is getting rather tedious.

Great Blue Heron in the Venice Inlet
Still, we are in Factory Bay, on the hook, and it is sure good to be back to our chosen way of living. We even had sundowners with newly met friends, who are also new to cruising. We met on Rascal, their 42 foot Jeanneau DS. Good folks on a sweet boat. Reasons to come this way.

There hasn't been a lot of sailing going on yet. Yesterday, just after leaving the channel off Sanibel Island, we saw a glorious hour of reaching, starting out with the two reefs in main left over from the last romp with Daughter Eldest and Family. (Yep, its been that long since the main was put to serious use.) We had to heave-to for a few minutes at first to reconfigure the auto pilot from “tiller pilot” to “wind vane” mode. That is every bit as much of a pain as it sounds, but that's what happens when one layers back-yard engineering onto marginal-in-the-first-place equipment. It all works and we have learned to live with it. In fact, I am a bit proud of how well it seems to work most of the time.

As the winds faded, we shook out first one reef, then the other, hanging onto the sailing as long as we could. Eventually though, it was clear that night would fall on the lurking crab traps long before we would gain the entrance to Marco Island. No need to heave-to for the auto pilot reconfiguration this time. Kintala was effectively drifting in placid water.

Figuring it out as we go. Stumbling a bit once in a while. But still making progress. Not too bad. Not too bad.

Thanks, Dave for teaching me that this was an Aninga not a cormorant.
The duplicate of the Vietnam Vet Wall located in Punta Gorda, FL

The Captain is happy to be on the move again.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Hard Starting...

Not the Merc on the Ding, that starts pretty easily. It is getting it to idle that is difficult. What proved hard was getting back to cruising, getting off the pier.

A manatee showing us how to relax
Friday was the initial start day. Daughter Eldest and Family departed before sunrise. The plan was to have Kintala underway shortly thereafter. A blustering cold front made leaving the dock problematic, and the oven was having ideas of its own. Ideas that included fluttering, popping and puffing flame balls. Ditch the idea of leaving the dock. Heading out with an oven that was threatening to turn into a hand grenade would be pure lunacy. There is enough of that in the world without my contribution.

There were other small tasks that needed done as well. Good thing, since the oven gremlin was elusive and persistent. It took until Sunday to root him out and send him on his way, with many thanks to Todd at Sure Marine for his troubleshooting help.

Sunday. Oven was fixed. Water tanks were filled. But man was it cold. Monday would be good. We could leave early in the morning. And with that thought in mind Deb went out to check all of the boat's exterior lights. All of which worked except for the bow navigation lights. I am a boat spark chaser, we are sitting in a boat yard that has, and can get, parts. It seemed kind of silly to head off with something like the navigation lights not working. Still being hooked to shore power meant we could at least fend off some of the cold with our little space heater. Monday was planned as a work day. Departure day to be determined.

Monday. Monday morning a water leak was evident by the regular cycling of the pump. Deb found it in less than five minutes. I went to work on the navigation lights. It was just a burned out bulb. Snead Island had the right one in stock. Fixed.

The now properly repaired jib pole didn't fit in its improperly installed brackets any more (thank you previous owner). Since we were (still) in the boatyard I pulled the aft bracket and remounted it to the deck in a place so the pole would fit. It is better than lashing said pole to a stanchion. And the missing battery voltage at the helm charging plug wasn't missing after all. The adapter(s) we kept trying were shot. Get a new adapter and all is well with the world.

Monday afternoon. The days of delay have left us a little short on provisions. Deb borrowed a car to make a run (thank you Nice Man at the Marina). Our bikes went north with the kids, better than leaving them down here to slowly rust into a pile of dust. When she got back it was still just early afternoon. The winds had faded, the sun was out and warming the air, and there didn't seem to be any reason to stay any longer.

While Deb sorted the last of the provisions I topped all the water tanks and started undoing the snarl of lines and power cords that had become Kintala's nest. It all became a bit surreal, but finally, after 285 days of sitting at a dock, we gathered in the lines (instead of leaving them attached to land) and motored out of the basin.

We didn't go far, just out to the anchorage in the Manatee river. Barely a quarter of a mile off of the beach and maybe a mile from the dock, the anchor went over and took a good set. Yet, somehow, the little distance traveled was enough to find an entirely different universe. How can that be?

The sky is clear. The air is cool but the setting sun warms my sweatshirt and reflects off of blue water. Cold front winds have settled down to a gentle breeze, though Kintala swings to the incoming tide. And I am a bit stunned. How could I have forgotten how good it is to be swinging to the hook, with so little care as to what the rest of the world is doing?

A new view out the galley window
There is no telling what the next few hours will bring, let along the next few days or months. But at this moment, though there may be people in the world as content as I am, there is no one more so. Kintala is free of her restraints and on her way once again.

And so am I.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Quiet morning

One of the best parts of this cruising life is the (normally) quiet start to a day. Alarms, the blaring of TV news, traffic, and the bustle to make a schedule are not a part of most cruising days. Some time spent sitting in the cockpit sipping from a warm cup and easing into another day is more our speed. 

Kintala lies quiet to her mooring this morning; really, really quiet. Most of her crew for the last month caught the pre-dawn ebb tide of traffic and motored off into the fog for places north. And though one would think that being back to her normal crew of two would make the boat feel bigger, it just feels empty.

At least some of the empty will get filled with final preparations for finally getting off the dock. The romping Bird-Day sail sprung a fuel leak and showcased the need to tighten up the side stays a little. While cleaning the bilge of fuel we discovered that the bilge pump “auto” function wasn't working. Part of the work just passed included installing a new, high tech, “field sensor” equipped, low profile, pump that would suck the bilge nearly dry. Which it does, so long as the high tech “field sensor” part of the pump is squeaky clean...in a bilge. Add a regular cleaning of the bilge pump to the routine maintenance list, and take that pump off the “good idea” list. A really good idea would be a bullet proof pump and a simple float switch that works, slimed up and smelly, after weeks of sitting in a dark, damp, and dirty place rarely visited. (The fuel leak turned out to be the gasket under the tank sending unit. An easy fix, and now we know about the weak link in our bilge pump system. Not a bad deal.)  

There is a fan that needs changed, the oven is acting up, and we need to change the filter on the holding tank vent before the tank starts getting filled up once again. Stores need stored and some needed general clean up of the deck and cockpit testify to having had seven people living on the boat for the past month.

It looks like a passing cold front will keep us on the dock for the weekend, bringing storms, wind, and much cooler temperatures starting this afternoon. There will be plenty of work to keep us busy while we wait for a break in the weather. And though I freely admit that the relentless effort needed to keep a boat safe and operating is not one of the things I enjoy about cruising it will, for this weekend anyway, make it easier to get used to quiet mornings again.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Happy Bird-day

Grandson eldest turned eight yesterday. His little sister talked about his “Bird-day” from start to finish. The start was kind of early since the main thing the Bird-day Boy wanted for a present was to go sailing. The rest of us were glad to oblige.

Winds were forecast in the 10 to 20 knot range. Since there were no plans to set speed records nor anywhere in particular we needed to go, two reefs were set in the main with the plan to fly the staysail most of the day, should the wind forecast prove accurate. The crew hurried a bit to get Kintala off the dock while the morning doldrums lasted, which also gave us a chance to try and reset the wind indicator in mostly calm conditions. It was the second effort. Deb took over the button pushing part while I just steered the boat as instructed. As usual when a woman is doing something, the nearest man (me) kept offering completely useless advice. And, again as usual, tactfully ignoring said advice was the only way to get the job done. In this case finishing the job resulted in our wind indicator actually working for the first time in over a year.

“Mostly calm” still meant 10 knots or so of wind being available to get down the river and out into Tampa bay. It was easy sailing mostly off the wind. With just the jib flying, Kintala nearly steered herself, so the “Bird-day” boy was given the helm and tasked with us down the channel safely. Our eight year old Captain did an excellent job, making Grampy T a proud Grampy indeed.

Gaining the bay, young Captain and the rest of the crew wanted to sail under the Skyway Bridge. Being tighter on the wind, the main went up to help balance the helm, though I'm sure we looked a bit odd with a double reefed main flying behind a fully deployed jib. It worked out okay and we headed for the bridged doing close to 5 knots, Grandson Eldest reluctantly giving up the helm in the more challenging conditions.


Nearing the bridge the winds started to falter, requiring some tacking to manage the clearing. On the far side of the bridge there was a bit more wind, making for an easy turn to start the sail back to Snead Island. Going under the bridge for a second time it became clear there was more wind everywhere. A lot more wind. Kintala heeled up on her “go fast” lines and we romped off, still flying the big jib. It would take a couple of long tacks to make the river, which was okay with everyone. Daughter Eldest used the heel to settle under the dodger, Granddaughter Youngest snuggled in her lap, both of them nodding off for a much needed nap. Yes, we were heeled hard over and bashing our way down the Bay, but Mothers of two-year-olds everywhere will understand.

The next tack saw us rolling in the big jib and flying just the staysail, the thought being to settle the ride just a little. That didn't really work so well. Without the power of the big jib we bounced over the waves instead of blowing through them. The jib went back out, along with the staysail, and off we romped once again. Now I'm sure we looked really odd, both head sails flying full with two reefs in the main. But ye ol' Tartan was happy and the helm was only moderately loaded, so we let it be.

Besides, we were running comfortably at well over six knots. If it works, don't fix it.

The next tack would have us gaining the river, so the big jib was rolled in. Hard on the wind we where showing nearly 30 knots of breeze flowing over the deck. Even falling off didn't completely unload the sail. The Deck Monkey struggled a bit at the furling line, but the jib rolled in so tight it looked like a toothpick on the forestay. I wish I could get it to look like that every time.

Working the wind, taking advantage of every lift and occasionally pinching up a bit, Son-in-Law (wanting his own time at the helm) worked us through the narrow part of the channel and into the open part of the river out from the Snead Island inlet. The staysail rolled up (not looking as good as the jib) while the shorted main fell into the lazy jacks with little effort.

We gained the dock with just a little bit of a stumble, caused by (you can guess) who thought he was grabbing the upwind stern dock line when, in fact, it was the leeward line in his hand. Kind of useless for keeping the wind from blowing the stern askew. The rest of the crew stepped up to keep things from getting ugly.


All in all Kintala covered more than 34 nm in 8 and a half hours of raucous sailing. Afterward the “Bird-day” Boy got his pizza dinner and chocolate cake, (complete with a matchstick for a candle) and opened a couple of presents.

I'm pretty sure my eighth “Bird-day” wasn't anywhere near that cool. I suspect Grandson Eldest and the rest of the family will remember it for many a year.

It was likely the last sail we will take with Daughter Eldest and Family before they come back for the summer. The rest of the week will be taken up with provisioning runs and errands, the last minute details for getting them back to St. Louis for the next semester of school, and us back to cruising.

Happy Bird-day indeed!