Sunday, May 6, 2012

Houston Ship Channel, Galveston Bay, Clear Lake

This big boy passed us in the Houston Ship Channel. It's no wonder there are many partially submerged containers floating around on the world's oceans.

We had a foul tide from the fairway all the way to Clear Lake. Just when you think you are almost there...

Approaching Kemah Boardwalk near the entrance to Clear Lake. It's like deja vous all over again.

Having passed the 146 Bridge the beautiful Admiral can finally relax. 

At 1:30 pm we finally arrived at the marina. Marina--what a concept. Lisa's mom and dad met us at our slip, helped us tie up, and left us a large bucket of Kentucky fried chicken with all the fixings. KFC never tasted so good. It hit the spot. It was nice to see them and we are looking forward to spending time with them here in Kemah.

Lisa's Mom. Word on the street is she won that hat in some kind of a contest. 


Lisa's Dad. They begot Lisa.

The trip from Panama City was 568 nautical miles and it took 98 hours. Since leaving Kemah in late November 2008 we logged 14,719 nautical miles (16,938 statute miles). Our Caliber 40LRC performed extremely well and took good care of us. We have been very pleased with the boat.

Alas, the time has come to let the anchor bask in the fresh air for an extended period of time. It spent plenty of time buried in the mud--it's only fair. We plan on being in Kemah indefinitely, so the fish are now safe. Like they weren't already. We have tossed around the idea of a future voyage to the Caribbean side of Central America, but nothing is set in stone. Thanks for sharing our journey with us.
Adios...for now.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Panama City to Galveston

After 2 weeks in Panama City, a nice weather opportunity appeared, so it was time to move on.
Our last night was spent at anchor along with Jesa at Shell Island. Departure time was set for 11:30 the following morning which afforded Karen time to construct some Euro corn rows with Lisa's hair (women have this thing about hair in their face), then I prepared the dinghy for sea, and we had our last shower for--almost ever. Yuck.

Our anchor was up at 11:37 and we waved a sad good-bye to the crew of Jesa.

Our plan was to head well south of the Mississippi River and then pick up the safety fairways from there all the way to Galveston. These fairways are marked on the charts but not on the water. They are basically shipping lanes which are free of the countless oil rigs that dominate the waters up to 100+ nautical miles off of the Louisiana and Texas coasts.

This strategy adds a lot of miles to the route, but we know of several pleasure craft that have run into unlit rigs at night. That makes for a really bad and possibly cold night. We were a bit concerned about purposely getting cozy with the big ships, but it was no big deal. Since it's like a highway they aren't coming at you from all different angles like on the Atlantic.

For kicks, we recorded the number of ships we encountered every hour in our log entries. We averaged a couple of ships every hour, but that number increased when we got within 100 miles of Galveston.
Our first afternoon out of Panama City we had a very nice close reach sail with 10-12 knots of wind and very calm seas. But that was the end of that.The wind stayed light, but went directly behind us and the swells increased to 5 to 7 feet and on the beam. The swells stayed with us for the remainder of the trip, and we only managed about 11 total hours of sailing. It was very difficult sleeping on our off watch time because the pendulum thing was rather violent. I had to wrap my pillow up the side of the hull so my head wouldn't go kaboom. The weather was spectacular the whole way, but the swells were a bit close together, and with no wind in the sails, it wasn't comfy.

Proof that the world is round and that there are 3/4 sized dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico.

This is not a chihuahua or a rat terrier. It's not a osprey nest. It's Euro corn rows gone bad after 3 days at sea.

Our final dawn after 4 nights at sea. If you blow up the picture you can see scores of tankers at anchor waiting to dump their loads. 

At this point, we are still out in the fairways and quite a ways from the jetties--at least in sailboat years. I bet there were close to 100 tankers anchored on either side of the fairways.

Happy that the nights were behind us. And... the bandanna has made it's appearance. Photo by Lisa.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Egmont Key (Tampa Bay) to Panama City, Fl

If you exclude insane cat people, we love animals and wildlife as much as anyone, but...we moved to the north end of Egmont Key on our last afternoon/evening to get away from the bird sanctuary and the incessant squawking of the one trillion resident sea gulls. It also moved us closer to the inlet for a quicker late night departure. It was a bit bouncier but much quieter, and after a fitful nap our anchor was up at 11:07 pm. So, by a margin of 53 minutes, we broke our unintentional habit of leaving harbor on Friday the 13th. Seems as though we nailed most of them when they came around.

With the tide against the wind, the inlet was rough, but once we hung a right and pointed the bow to Panama City the seas calmed down. We sailed close hauled for several hours with 9-13 knots of wind, then bore off to a close reach to pick up some speed. Even though we were going into the wind, the seas were comfortable. We gambled that the wind forecast would hold true, so we didn't tack. This put us about 12 miles west of our rhumb line. The winds were supposed to pick up to the mid to upper 20s the following day and move behind us for a broad reach. We never want to sail on a close reach in those winds but on a broad reach it can be fun. If the wind didn't clock and stayed on our nose we would have had to bear off to Pensacola. But our Winlink forecast was on the money and with the wind clocking toward our stern, we were able to turn into a broad reach right on into Panama City. I wouldn't call it fun, because we were doing the cork screw twist and the seas were not small with the winds in the upper 20s, but it worked as planned.

When we approached Panama City, it was post card pretty with white sand beaches and several shades of beautiful blue water. As we reached the jetties, the water became flat and we had a wonderful sail up to the mouth of Watson Bayou, where we would rendezvous with Jesa and her crew.

Our anchor was down shortly before 3:30 pm with Jesa swinging on her anchor a couple hundred feet in front of us. Jesa hails from the Kemah/Galveston area and is crewed by Zak, Karen, and Jessie. Karen is Lisa's eldest sister.
The following day was Lisa's birthday, and she was excited because she now qualifies for senior discount at IHOP. Woohoo!

These are not Cheerios. These are Oh's. If you have never tasted them you don't know what you are missing. Don't mess with milk, just eat them plain. 

Before you accuse me of being cheap, we decided many years ago not to do the gift thing on birthdays and Christmas. Too much pressure and we aren't into the obligatory spend money-because-it's-what-you're-supposed-to-do thing. If one of us wants something--well there are 3 hundred and sixty something days in the year. So for birthdays, we do the eat out thing and maybe a treat or something. It works for us. And Lisa loves Oh's.

Jessie spent a night with us on our boat. 

We had a fun evening and we learned a lot about NCIS and Sugarland. We always enjoy spending time with Jessie. I like to tease her, she likes to tease me, and Jessie and Lisa like to gang up on me. 

Sometime the following week, Jesa and Nicki May anchored in St Andrew Sound just off of Shell Island. The only way to get there is by boat.

Photo: courtesy of Karen since I forgot my camera. The crews of Nicki May and Jesa (minus Karen) make their way from the St Andrew side to the Gulf of Mexico side of Shell Island. Beautiful white sand that squeaks under your feet.

Once again, photo is courtesy of Karen Kuykendall. Good thing her middle name isn't Kristine. For those of you from Rio Linda...

Left to Right. Zak and Boone headed for shore. I wish I had Zak's full head of hair, and Boone is wishing the dinghy ride was over with already.

We are glad the winds didn't blow us to Pensacola. Panama city is a great place for boating with nice water and good coves to tuck into, and we really enjoyed our couple of weeks with the Kuykendalls.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Vaca Key (Marathon), Little Shark River, Indian Key, Egmont Key

We really enjoyed our time in Marathon. The mooring field is well protected with a great dinghy dock, there's usually a nice breeze, Home Depot, Publix, and CVS are close, the marina Laundromat is open 24 hours a day, the sailing community is friendly and helpful--what more could you ask for?

Here is our new economy flag pole and flag. 

The pole is schedule 40 PVC with an end cap on it. I filed one end down so that it would fit in the holder, and used acetone to get rid of the writing on the pipe. The flag is attached to the pole with wire ties. We used wire ties on our other rig as well because they are much quieter than the metal connectors. This setup replaces our 2 foot by 3 foot flag on a nicely varnished 4 foot teak flag pole. The new rig doesn't look as good, but it is more practical since we have davits and solar panels. You don't want to shade the solar panels, and they have sharp corners that cut flapping fabric. And the davits take away the normal mounting spot on the stern.

Our Brother-in-law Larry relaxing in his Marathon emergency duds. 

Larry was nice enough to drive down and visit for a couple of days. He let us tag along to Key West and a tour of Pine Island. It was a fun two days and it was great to see him again.

With the autopilot reinstalled, it was time to move on. On the eve of our departure, I scraped as many barnacles off the bottom of the boat that I could reach with a pole from the dinghy, we did our last Publix run, and finished laundry at 1:30 am.

We were off the mooring at daylight the following day and had a very slow sail to Little Shark River. The wind was light off the stern, but we could tell the boat was a bit sluggish. There were obviously way too many barnacles left. My next chance to dive on the boat would be at Egmont Key. After a day of dodging lobster/crab pots we finally arrived at Little Shark River not long before sunset. As we wound our way up the river, we got bombarded by noseeums. With the anchor set, we dove into the cabin and slammed the companion way doors shut. We have mosquito screens on all opening ports and hatches, but mosquitoes are much larger than noseeums. It was our first night that we had noseeums invade the inside of our boat. Now I know what Lisa looked like when she had the measles.

At 4 am we had a major thunderstorm blow through with very strong winds. We had the motor running just in case, but were back in bed within an hour.

The shrimp were so loud it sounded like it was raining hard all night long.

Our next leg was to be an overnight trip to Egmont Key which is right next to the Tampa Bay Inlet. Our course was to be northwest, so the forecast south winds would work out great. Only problem was they were actually from the west, so we were very closed hauled and the winds were picking up into the low 20s. We decided to hang a right towards Indian Key, anchor in Russell Pass and wait for the wind to blow from the proper direction. We had been having problems with our pactor modem (which enables us to get weather, grib files etc. when we don't have internet access), so we were relying on NOAA weather from the VHF. Why we listen to that I don't know. They are never right on the gulf coast. But it's the due diligence thing. (Since then we troubleshot the pactor modem and it is working hunky dory now.)

The anchorage at Russell Pass was way cool. Tons of dolphin, some rays, a lot of wildlife, and quite beautiful. It's fairly remote, so there wasn't much boat traffic there. Not too far up the river, is the town of Everglades City. A smuggling hub in days past.

While still relying on the NOAA VHF reports, we waited 3 nights until the forecast called for southeast winds. When we made our way north, we got beat up pretty good again, because the wind was from the west again--not the southeast. Good thing we waited 3 days for the wind to clock--but we are glad we got to see Russell Pass.

If you are boating from Marathon and up the west coast of Florida you should not be required to carry life jackets. If you fall overboard all you have to do is grab about 10 crab pot floats which will be within arms reach and you should be good for the night.

Our progress was very slow due to a combination of a foul current and barnacles staying cozy with the boat. At 12:30 pm the following day, we finally dropped anchor at Egmont Key. I promptly went overboard to start scraping the barnacles off. The water was not nearly as clear as I had hoped, but it worked.

A good portion of Egmont Key is off limits to humans. Birds only. And let me tell you, that island is full of birds. They are extremely noisy for about 19 hours a day. The pelicans don't make a sound, but the sea gulls make up for it in spades. Apparently, their daddies never told them "keep that up and I'll give you something to cry about". They cry because they can. With all the birds on this key, I estimate the island will gain 3 inches in altitude per year.

This picture does not even come close to portraying the number of birds here.

If the girl at the store says they fit size 12 to 13 don't believe her. She's on commission, and they are the biggest ones she's got. 

My good fins have a few breaks in them, so I pulled out the emergency ones. After a couple hours of pain, I went back to the broken ones.

I don't have a dive tank or a compressor, so I have to make many dives to clean the bottom. We have a fairly long keel and a skeg rudder. I wasn't making fast enough progress with my 2 inch wide scraper, so Lisa donated the top to a brownie pan. Mucho faster.

Armed and dangerous. 

I can't believe how many barnacles Nicki May accumulated in 4 weeks at Marathon. This process got me thinking. Since a man's gut tends to get larger with age, why don't his lungs get bigger too, so that he can hold his breath longer? Just asking. And remember, there are no stupid questions.
Brownies anyone?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Marathon, Key West

I spent the better part of a day extricating various components of our autopilot to send to the manufacturer. After a couple of weeks in transit and at the shop, I think the parts are headed back to us now.
As of yet, I haven't been able to talk to the guy who did the troubleshooting, but rumors are the cables were bad. I would assume at the connectors (7 little tiny wires in each cable). They were well secured, weren't corroded and were placed where they would not get bumped, so I don't know how they went from good to bad. We will see.

We had the alternator frame welded and I reinstalled the frame and large alternator with new belts.

The weather has been breezy but spectacular during our stay here. We took the bus to Key West and enjoyed a day there. Other than obscene T shirts hanging in the shop windows, we didn't see any crazy stuff that makes Key West so proud of itself. By reputation, not our type of town, but now we've "been there, done that". I will say that I've been on third world buses that were much more comfortable than the "Keys" bus. At least there weren't pigs and chickens on board.

Speaking of chickens...much like in Latin America, they roam the streets and sidewalks of KW with abandon. Mostly roosters, but you see a chicken every now and then.

Some of the 48 percentile. Tarpon begging for handouts from a fish cleaning skipper.

Waiting in line for an autograph from Albert Einstein IV. 

Actually, there was no way I was going to wait in line to take a picture of this famous landmark, so I jumped up on the little wall, and this was the best I could do.

Back at Boot Key Harbor, there has been a bit of excitement. There used to be an opening bridge which guarded the entrance to the harbor. That bridge was condemned and is now always open, but just before the bridge there are power/fiber optic lines with 65 foot clearance from the water at high tide.

It is not uncommon for an unsuspecting/unprepared skipper (with a mast over 65') to run into these lines. We have met crew from 2 different boats that were dismasted by running into the power lines. We only draw 58' 6" and the high power line is higher than the fiber optic one, so no problem for us.

A catamaran with a 73 foot mast hit the lines the other day and apparently broke the cable holding up the fiber optic line. This caused the line to droop quite a bit lower. Later, several other unsuspecting boats, which normally would have cleared, hit the lines doing some damage, but not dismasting.

Now all the boats in Boot Key are in a panic. They've been waiting several weeks for a weather window to cross the Gulf Stream. The window has finally arrived, but nobody has fixed the power lines and sailors are feeling trapped. The fiber optic line belongs to AT&T, but you can't get them on the phone. Go figure. The city and the marina are disinterested. It has been amusing listening to the chatter on the VHF. It actually makes me feel smarter than I am. I guess that's a good thing.

I am in serious discussions with the Weather Babe regarding our route back to Texas. For us, The Gulf Intercoastal Waterway starts at Pensacola. Technically, it starts around Fort Myers, but not for us.

We don't like dealing with the bridge tenders around New Orleans and our experience at the locks have included very long delays. We can handle the lock delays and the bridge tender attitude, but delays make it difficult to make it to an anchorage before dark.

On the other hand, the Gulf of Mexico has thousands of oil rigs, many of which are unlit at night. Since we are short-handed, we prefer sticking to the shipping lanes which are rig-free.  This is a lot less stressful.   

The biggest problem for me are the funky currents. The Loop Current is warm Caribbean water that squirts up between Cuba and the Yucatan Peninsula where it then enters the Gulf of Mexico. At one extreme, the current takes an immediate right and becomes the Florida Current south of the Florida Keys, then making a left and becoming the Gulf Stream.

At the other extreme it shoots up close to the Louisiana coast before pulling a Uy, making a circuitous route back down to the Florida Current. Usually, it is somewhere in between the 2 extremes.

At the top of the U-turn, it breaks off creating an eddy which slowly makes it's way to Mexico's west coast--with baby brother and sister eddies on it's tail.

Since an eddy is basically a current flowing in circles, it creates a couple of problems. One, if you are on the wrong side of it, you will slow down. Two is worse. You are basically assured of having wind against current somewhere close enough to create steep, square and confused seas.

The key would be to try and hit the eddy where it flows with the boat and wind direction. But the currents move around and so does the wind.

But it could be a wonderful passage. Most likely some nice, some not so nice. This is assuming we get our autopilot back.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Stuart, Fort Pierce, Biscayne Bay, Rodriguez Key, Boot Key Harbor

While in Stuart, we rented a car and drove to St. Marys, Georgia to notarize some papers, then decided to check out Savannah since we were in the neighborhood. A very cold and windy cold front was making it's way down the East Coast so we drove through the cobble stone streets of Savannah's historic district, and basically stayed in the car. It was not even close to T-shirt, shorts and flip flop weather.

Some inside info for anyone writing a travel guide for Savannah, Georgia. Don't drive down the cobble stone streets with a full bladder. It really really hurts. Especially in an economy rental car.
We put over 1200 miles on the car during our weekend rental.

The St. Lucie Inlet is for those with more guts than us, so when we finally bid Stuart good-by, we took the ICW to Lake Worth. We were anchored by early afternoon, took a nap, then weighed anchor at 3 am and made our way toward Miami.

It was a beautiful, but windless day, so we motored most of the way. The fishing rods were deployed, but I only caught about 40 pounds of seaweed.

Sunrise on and calm seas.

We entered through Government Cut to Miami, then wound our way to Biscayne Bay and finally to the bight at Key Biscayne. We love this anchorage. The Miami skyline is quite stunning at night.

A nicely restored wooden motor yacht preparing to anchor next to us.

The anchorage doesn't provide much west protection, so when a front came through with it's westerly winds, we moved across the bay to the Dinner Key Mooring Field. It also provided an opportunity to do laundry.

This is not me, and it's not a body building photo. No, really, it's not. Lisa swears the camera makes her muscles look smaller. The picture shows the dedication of the Weather Babe to hang onto the mooring ball for dear life--when the helmsman doesn't take the time to set up a proper approach on a windy day.

We have been having an issue with our autopilot for some time. It does fine out on the ocean, and does great in heavy weather, but it does S curves on the ICW. Lisa wants to name it Zig Zag. (unlike on a car, a boat autopilot steers the vessel to a compass or wind direction setting) So far, none of the recommended fixes have been successful. We were out motoring doing another test with it (moving the fluxgate compass to another area) when we we heard a thump thump sound. Lisa took it out of gear and the noise went away, so we thought we had caught something in the prop and that it fell off when Lisa shifted to neutral.

After removing the engine cover, I discovered the thump thump sound was from a broken alternator bracket. This is a very heavy duty frame that seems to have been very well engineered and installed. It was mounted on top of the engine mount bolts so that it would move with the engine as it is supposed to.

This is a 200 amp alternator mounted on the frame that broke. 

The frame broke behind the raw water pump and the 125 amp alternator on the right hand side of the picture. The frame was bolted to the 2 front engine mounts and wrapped around to the rear engine mount on the left hand side of the picture (out of view).

Here is where it sheared off. 

The hole in the small piece is where it was bolted on top of the engine mount. You can see some dark coloring part way through where it broke, which indicates it started a while back. The belts were tensioned correctly, so I don't know what caused it. I suspect it may have been weakened when Bock Marine moved the engine sideways some to realign it with the prop shaft.

The weather window had us scheduled to leave the following day, so I removed the alternator and the rack with the intent of just using the 125 amp alternator. I made matters worse by letting the positive and negative wire from the alternator touch before having them safely wrapped up.
That necessitated a 35 minute dinghy ride across the bay and a 2 mile walk to West Marine to claim their one and only 400 amp fuse to replace the one that I blew. I was happy to pay double the nonWest Marine market value for the fuse.

Our departure was delayed a day, but we finally made our way out the Biscayne Channel and into Hawk Channel. My heart was bleeding tears watching the sailboats in front of us head for the Bahamas. All systems were running smoothly--except the autopilot. The autopilot motor was not receiving power from the motor controller. None of the fuses were blown, but I'm sure it's related to my alternator blunder. We will have to send pieces of the system to the manufacturer in Washington State to have it fixed. No Gulf crossing without Zig Zag.
Our destination was Rodriguez Key. The wind had more southerly in it than forecast, so we were close hauled the whole way and tacking back and forth for much of it. The true wind was 15 to 18 knots, so the apparent wind was in the low to mid 20s.

We're not addicted to Facebook or Twitter or I-Anything, but we do rely heavily on our autopilot and feel totally lost without it.

We arrived at Rodriguez Key tired after a fantastic day of sailing. The water is Bahama like. I desperately wanted to swim to cool down, but I had to trouble shoot the autopilot problem. Lisa did jump in and she checked the bottom of the boat and the anchor set. If she can do that here, I think she ought do it in Texas.

We were off at sunrise the following day and pointed to Vaca Key. Once again, we were able to sail the whole way and made great time, still with no autopilot. It was a bit rough again, but we were on a close reach instead of close hauled. As the day wore on the wind was just above a beam reach. We had decided to take a mooring at Boot Key Harbor if one was available, and if not we would anchor near the bridge and head for Key West the following day. We needed to stop somewhere to get the autopilot taken care of and to change our insurance. Right now we are only covered east of Carabelle, Fla. Yo, Obama!! Where are you when I need you? If I tell you I might get pregnant, then will we be covered in the Gulf--I mean for free of course.

We were relieved to get a mooring at Boot Key because muscles we don't have were hurting. And we were whooped. Can I please have my autopilot back?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Stuart, Florida

After a quick trip to Texas, Lisa is rearmed with a fresh, new and updated drivers licence (I know, that's saying the same thing 3 times--but I just really believe in it). Most of our projects are finished so we will keep our eyes on the weather and think about bidding Stuart farewell. We have decided to skip the Bahamas this year in favor of the Florida Keys and possibly the west coast of Florida. This spring, we plan on pointing the bow back towards Kemah. In the meantime, I'm looking for a community college that teaches a course in braille snorkeling so that I can continue to kill fish in Texan waters.

We had a great time reuniting with Larry and Susan for a couple of days. They made a trip from Texas to the Florida Keys in their RV, then headed north and stopped in Stuart for a couple of days on our behalf. It was really special to spend a couple of days with them. We got a tour of their beautiful RV, and we loved it. We also got a much needed dog fix. Thanks Larry and Susan!

The happily retired couple visits our boat.

OK, so they're a really happy retired couple.

Our next steps are Lake Worth, then Miami, Key Biscayne, Coconut Grove.....maybe, maybe not.