Prepping Sea Gator for Hibernation

Travelogue - May 11, 2006

We made the most of our last week on the water: I indulged in some quality dolphin-watching and pre-packing between work assignments; Goldie snoozed in the sun; and under cover of darkness Rick peed off the swim platform "the way God intended."

Rick at Little Gasparilla Island We found a quiet beach to enjoy, just a short Bump Head ride away on the tip of Little Gasparilla Island. While I was prowling the beach looking for shells for my Aunt Millamae, Rick was befriended by a lady (the hussy, but who can blame her?) who hailed from Massachusetts. It's a small world.

Even though we'd been to the Cape Haze anchorage several times already, we did something new: we Bump Headed north to Don Pedro Island State Park's land base dock (just north of the no-wake zone, f.y.i.), walked to the entrance gate and across the road to Jam's Italian Restaurant for pizza. It was our last night out as sea voyageurs. A few days later at first light we headed back to La Marina des Collards and began prepping Sea Gator for summer.

Diver Our first task was to schedule a diver to come clean her bottom. That is, clean Sea Gator's bottom, not the diver's. He suited up, flopped in, and paddled around vigorously for more than an hour, scraping barnacles and other crusties off the hull. It looked like hard work, and he confirmed that the hull was pretty dirty. Since there's no telling when she had last been cleaned the information came as no surprise.

Next we cleared everything off Sea Gator that could be cleared. I disposed of the worn checkered curtains and measured all the windows so I can work on replacement window coverings this summer, and made some sketches for door screens and an outboard motor cover.

Cleaning We washed Sea Gator inside and out. Rick replaced that broken window you see covered with plastic (never mind how it became broken), and we had a marine contractor come and put the center piling back down in place (see, it's way too high - our breast line had pulled it out on a rising tide while we were in Tennessee. Boy, you learn something new every day).

I drew the anchor rode onto deck and gently un-twisted it - a season of rotating with wind and tide had wound it up. I cleaned and dried it; Rick oiled its moving parts and returned it neatly to the chain locker.

We went through all of our belongings and decided which items can return to Wyoming for good, and which can stay. Get this theory: new clothes purchased in FL pay for themselves by reducing shipping costs back and forth! Yay! The new orange capris and the fishing shirts come home for the summer; other new clothes are staying. The heavy jackets we brought can return home permanently, as can the many untouched lipsticks, hair gels, and "should read" books.

Manta rays The day came to take Sea Gator to her summer home. We motored to the mouth of the Mayakka River and just beyond Cattle Dock Point. This was an excellent trip - we saw more rays than we had seen all winter combined. In some instances there were a dozen together, perfectly aligned and uniform like tiles floating just beneath the surface. You can spot individuals when their wing tips break the surface, left.

Looking upstream to South Gulf Cove Lock The trip to All American Boat Storage required passage through the South Gulf Cove Lock, which elevated us from Charlotte Harbor's "sea level" into a fresh water canal. It was our first lock, and a rare, self-serve model at that. We studied up in advance: you tie to cleats on the adjacent dock, trot ashore to the control box and power up the lock, crack the gate to release pressure, then open it completely. You then motor inside, tie up and close the gate. Then you open the far gate and motor through; tie up to the dock while you close all the gates, and power down the lock.

Sea Gator in lock The process required some running and jumping for me; we hurried because a sailboat under tow was waiting its turn in the canal upstream, as you can see above.

In the photo above right, I had opened the Harbor-side gate and was running back to Sea Gator to untie her. Left, there she is inside the lock - it's a snug fit. The photo below right looks back as the sailboat enters the lock from the canal.

Looking downstream back to South Gulf Cove Lock We were mightily relieved at having cleared the lock successfully. Relaxed and making good time, we cruised at slow, no-wake speed for several hours through the canal.

In the canal We saw a few houses in the distance; the shore line was completely undisturbed. This was the first fresh water we'd been in, so we really enjoyed the cattails and reeds, and other plants we hadn't seen before. And most important, Sea Gator appreciated the fresh water during the passage. It flowed through the main engine's cooling system, flushing sea water out; Rick turned on the generator and the heater/AC to flush them as well.

By 1:30 we were within sight of the boat lift at the yard, comfortably in time for our 2:00 "haul out" appointment. This would be another new experience!

I'll tell you about it:

Well with lift Rick driving into the well We tied up to their long dock for a few minutes while the "boat wranglers" came down to assist. They had us prepare our approach while they readied the boat lift. This is a BIG piece of equipment! See the photo (left). There is the chief wrangler, Pete, in an elevated control box on the right. Note the slings hanging into the water below, and the huge tires on the sides.

Heading into the well Heading into the well Rick drove into the lift and stopped with a quick "reverse". The wranglers then maneuvered Sea Gator with boat hooks as necessary. You'd think that driving in without leaving paint along the walls was the hard part. Wrong. The tricky part came when they had to balance the boat, fore and aft within the two slings. They also had to be sure that the boat's weight was not resting on her propeller or its shaft. Makes sense, right?

Boat wrangler Pete Rich and Pete inspecting straps They set the straps initially on an educated guess, then lifted Sea Gator just enough so that Pete and the yard's owner, Rich, could inspect (right). They conferred, lowered Sea Gator back into the water, loosened the straps, and adjusted her position by pulling her forward. That did the trick, and when they lifted her again, Pete reported that they were balanced to within 100 lbs. - impressive! Total weight of Sea Gator (with full fuel and water tanks): 30,000 lbs.

Sea Gator in the lift Sea Gator in the lift Rick and I clambered ashore and watched. When Pete and Rich were satisfied all was well, they lifted Sea Gator completely out of the water. I held my breath... she looks much bigger when you can see her hull, and it was amazing that the lift didn't make a peep or a groan or a sputter, and that the tires held... And then...

Lift transporting Sea Gator Lift transporting Sea Gator ...they drove away! I should have expected it for goodness sakes, but still! I followed behind in amazement, thinking, "There goes my house!" Silently I urged, "Hang on, you Sea Gator!" A nice man who was working on his sailboat came past me, smiling. He had done this before himself, obviously, and clearly he understood my distress. But every person working at the yard was completely professional, and it all went without a hitch.

Setting Sea Gator in her slot Blocking They used a tape measure to double check at the last minute, then squeezed Sea Gator into her land berth, adjacent to Booty, a 36' trawler from Minnesota. Propping her in place was spooky-easy: blocks of wood beneath her keel, and angled jack stands against the hull. Holy cow! They released the straps and drove away, and there she sits.

The yard power-washed her below the water line, and during the next few days Don and Rick polished her hull - the area that Don had been unable to reach from deck last fall. I polished the stainless (yes, again) and we finished cleaning and clearing the inside and set up some dryers which will, hopefully, keep her mildew-free.

Don polishing the hull We lowered Bump Head onto the sundeck and lashed him in place. We said our "goodbye"s and "thank you"s to Sea Gator, and locked everything up tight. We've done all we know how to do, to help Sea Gator safely survive hurricane season.

If she does, we will be back aboard by December. Our plans for next winter are to explore south of the Caloosahatchee River, including Naples, the Thousand Islands, Everglades City and Flamingo. From there we will venture to the Keys, and we plan to spend a month at the city marina in Key West, just a few blocks off Duvall Street and just down the shore from the Sunset Celebration. Then we'll return again to Wyoming for mud season and beyond.

Rick and Sea Gator The trip home was uneventful, but very long. We left La Marina des Collards at 2:30 a.m. and arrived home 15.5 hours later. Poor Goldie was in her hutch the entire time (drugged but conscious); I hauled her with me, bouncing against my hip as we hurried from gate to gate in airports across the country.

By the time the lady in the next seat coughed for the fifth time, about mid-way between Charlotte and Denver, my throat was scratchy with what has developed into my first cold in over a year. No matter; we are all just happy to be home.

When we stepped off the plane in Jackson, even through the odor of jet fuel and asphalt I could smell the crisp scent of spring in Wyoming! It's the fragrance of a warming wind blowing over a snowfield, and thawing earth and emerging sagebrush. We saw six bison (buffalo, f.y.i.) on the way home - you don't see that every day in Florida! And our house is in fine shape. I am just dusting and getting organized.

Speaking of which, if I happened to have confided in any of you my super-secret, super-secure, ultra-clever hiding place I intended for my keys while away, please call and fill me in as soon as possible. Seriously.

Well, hey, I guess that's it for the Travelogues! Thanks for listening to me for the past six months.

Have a wonderful summer!

- Pat

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