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Northward Bound

Travelogue - May 15, 2007

Last Days in Key West

"Drizzle, Drazzle, Drozzle, Drone.
Time for this one to come home."

Our last few days in Key West were a mix of enjoyable activity and fretful waiting.

Long dock at Key West Bight Marina We thought we were seeing double on Sunday afternoon when a husband and wife team drove Sea Gator into her slip... But it was Richard and Laura G. piloting Laura Anne, an '86 Marine Tradewinds (Sea Gator is an '88 Marine Trader). The model name is superfluous since both boats were born in the same mold. Here are Laura Anne, Boomerang, and Sea Gator.

Boomerang, the sailboat filling in our trawler sandwich, was a good sport about it when we all stopped for a chat near their cockpit.

Richard and Laura had just been to the Marine Trawler Owners Association (MTOA) rendezvous in Punta Gorda where they visited several dozen "sister" trawlers. But Laura Anne was my first. Rick and I came away with some ideas for improvements we could make to our boat, and an appreciation for the subtle differences and the good things that are unique to Sea Gator (glossy brightwork, for example - see Goldie reflected in the glossy teak, below left).

Goldie showing off the brightwork Later that very night came a knock knock on our hull. A couple had stopped to inquire about Sea Gator: how long had we had her, what changes had we made, etc. Rick's answers confirmed their suspicions. They were Kevin and Leslie D. who had owned Sea Gator in her previous incarnation as Sibri from the early '90s through 2001. We'd seen their names in her old documentation so we all said "Ah ha!" almost simultaneously. What a small world!

These folks now live in Key West and were on an evening stroll. Despite her new orange stripe, new name, changes wrought by several intermediate owners, and her obvious similarity to every other Marine Trader/Trawler ever launched, they immediately recognized Sibri/Sea Gator.

We were happy to assure them that we are taking very good care of the boat - changing her oil, replacing her filters, waxing her hull and varnishing her teak. And keeping her afloat and cruising which is what boats want.

They promised to send photos of Sea Gator from her previous life, and that will be fun.

Preparation and Execution

Meanwhile, we prepared to leave Key West. Rick made a thorough check of all of Sea Gator's mechanics and electronics. I packed our "abandon ship" bags including: water, human and cat food, flashlights, sunscreen, cell phone, warm clothes, rain gear, first aid kit, copies of documentation and insurance, flares - lots and lots of flares. We confirmed that human and feline PFDs (personal flotation devices) were readily accessible. Rick saw to it that Bump Head was fully inflated, fueled and ready to go.

Chart with courses plotted, Gulf of Mexico We plotted our route on my laptop and uploaded it to the hand-held GPS. Our route: 118 nautical miles due north from Key West's Northwest Channel to the mouth of Matanzas Pass at Estero Island (the yellow line on the chart, right).

At 6.5 knots per hour, that would be 18 hours, plus or minus depending upon current and wind. Plus one more hour or so to get from the final waypoint into the moorings at Estero Island/Ft. Myers Beach. We planned to depart Key West about mid-afternoon in order to arrive at our destination in daylight.

The straight shot north from Key West promised a significant time savings over retracing our long coastal route in reverse (the magenta line on the chart): Key West to Marathon, to Little Shark River, to Russell Pass or Goodland, to Estero Island. We figure the coastal route would require four long days of good weather.

Wastin' away again in Margaritaville...

We dithered around until Monday, meeting the trawler folk reported above and waiting for our mail which did not come. By noon the UPS Store called from Jackson to say they'd mistakenly shipped our mail to USPS General Delivery via UPS, so not only was it delayed but would probably never arrive. They located the package and promised to forward it to Rick's parents in Punta Gorda. Problem solved.

We took one last stroll downtown and Rick bought a t-shirt, then we returned to the boat with mixed feelings. Rick reported a sense of melancholy at leaving Key West; he had enjoyed himself immensely in this funky town and was sorry to go, although he was more than ready to be underway again.

I was just anxious. I loved the city, too, but as I said in the last Travelogue, it was time to either get a job or move on.

Night Crossing

We checked the weather for the hundredth time, followed our "pre-flight" checklist, took our 1/2 dose of Bonine (for as Ron says, one can NOT afford to get mal de mer), and battened down all the hatches (literally and figuratively). I telephoned Sally and Ron of Adventure - they were already safely dockside at their summer marina on the Okeechobee - to let them know we were heading out, and at 2:15 p.m. we cast off and waved goodbye to Key West Bight Marina.

Got out of town on a boat goin' to southern islands.
Sailing a reach before a following sea.
She was making for the trades on the outside
And the downhill run to Papeete Bay.

We followed the north-west edge of the island then turned north and bid farewell to the many tour ships and para-sailors out and about on that beautiful afternoon. We headed into the Northwest Channel and very quickly the crowds dispersed and we were on our own.

The water was beautiful, clear and green. Rick spotted two sea turtles while we were still in the Channel. They floated along on the surface until they saw or heard us, then quickly ducked below and swam off to the side. We saw several dolphins, too, and lots of pelicans and gulls.

We passed one more fishing boat at the East Jetty and then we were solo in the Gulf.

It was wide, open and wonderful. We caught our last glimpse of the taller buildings on Key West and then they, too, disappeared behind the horizon.

Goldie in her berth The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea green boat.
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.

The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
'O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are, you are, you are...'

Our pussycat, Goldie, was tucked snugly in her berth where she would stay, cozy and unfazed all night, and she missed it all. So will the rest of you, because no photo would do it justice - just miles and miles of open water on all sides, wavelets kicked up by a moderate breeze glittering in the sun. Far to the south, one tall sail shone, picking up the last of the sun just on the horizon where it hung until dark. The evening was tranquil.

We had a snack of apples, Rick completed the hourly "engine room check", we recorded our lat/long and instrument readings as we would every half-hour, Goldie was snug asleep in her hutch and all was well. I took the first watch while Rick went below for a nap before dark.

Winken, Blinken and Nod one night
Sailed off in a wooden shoe.
Sailed on a river of crystal light
Into a sea of dew.

Where are you going and what do you wish?
The old moon asked the three.
'We come to fish for the herring fish
That live in this beautiful sea.
Nets of silver and gold have we,'
Said Winken, Blinken and Nod.

I hung a bandana under my hat to protect the left side of my face from the setting sun, and I entertained myself by reciting every poem and singing every song I could think of, as you see.

Ferry I was reveling in the solitude, and mid-way through a squeaky rendition of Emerson Lake and Palmer's "Pirates", complete with swashbuckling gestures and imaginary microphone...

'Who'll make his mark?' The captain cried
'To the devil drink a toast.
We'll glut the hold with cups of gold
We'll feed the sea with ghosts...'

...when the Ft. Myers Beach to Key West ferry dashed past to port. They move fast; they snuck up on me on my bandana-side since the last time I took a 360-degree look around. Well, at least I wasn't caught picking my nose or peeing over the side.

I called down to Rick to come and see the ferry (no, they did not pass this close to us in the Gulf - this photo was taken in Estero Bay two days later).

Sunset Later he came up again to watch the sunset, right.

And later still, together, we watched the moon rise, nearly full, out of the rosy haze to the east. We viewed heaven's pyrotechnics in silence, it was an awesome sight.

Aye Calypso the places you've been to
The things that you've shown us, the stories you tell.
Aye Calypso I sing to your spirit -
The men who have served you so long and so well.

Rough Going

The waves were getting steeper by the time Rick took over watch. I went hand-over-hand below to make a light supper. I had to sit on the galley steps and reached into the refrigerator between rolls. Tuna salad sandwiches, lettuce, fig newtons, ginger ale. Easy to make, easy on the stomach.

The weather started getting rough
The tiny ship was tossed.
If not for the courage of the fearless crew
The Minnow would be lost

I lay on the bed in our stateroom and listened to things rattling around until I dozed off. When I awoke a little while later we were seriously rolling. The wind came from the east as predicted - that is, Sea Gator was taking the waves on her side. I don't know if the waves were steeper or higher than predicted, or if we just didn't anticipate the severity of the cumulative effect. But it was rough. I took over watch and Rick went below.

To sleep, perchance to dream.

Being aloft at the upper helm station magnified the rocking motion, like being on the tip of a metronome. But I stayed above because it was worse at the helm station below: through the windows you'd see all water, alternating with all sky.

Water...

Sky...

Water...

Sky...

It was better to be above with a view of the moon-lit horizon and all the fresh air you could breath.

Still, it was rough going. Sea Gator leaned from the leading edge of a wave, heeled heeled heeled to port, skidded and bumped, whipped to starboard as the wave passed beneath, slid down that wave, then rose to tilt and ride the next wave.

Darkness magnifies all things

Beauty. Passion. Fear.

Rock At seven p.m. the old cook came on deck
Sayin' 'Fellas it's too rough ta feed ya.'
At eleven p.m. the main hatchway gave in
He said 'Fellas it's been good ta know ya.'

Alone, in the dark, a dozen feet above the waterline and swaying back and forth was a shaky experience for me. I clutched the arms of the chair, my stomach lurched, my teeth clenched. But each time Sea Gator only heeled to her limits, and she stabilized for a brief respite between batches of waves.

I didn't sing during those watches, but I envisioned many prayers and I visualized Sea Gator's low center of gravity and ballast. Finally I realized that Sea Gator would not willingly heel beyond that 30 degrees +/- and she was not going to sink, and then it became possible to simply endure.

Roll Eventually Rick came up because it was too rough for him to sleep below. There was too much rattling and banging.

Fortunately he had been up on the bed when gravity won over friction and things started crashing to the floor - books, tools, toiletries - all stowed in ways that had never let go before. He was safer above.

"Dammit, Jim, this is a Trawler.
Not a Sailboat!"

We rode the bronco for four hours. The full moon lit the horizon all the way around, so we always had a point of reference for "level" and I think that helped a lot. We saw no other boats nor lights.

"Aye, I dinna think she can take any morrrre."

Upper bench Finally my brain decided it had had enough. Whatever would happen, would happen. I lay down on the bench and lashed myself to the side rail with a length of line and, incredibly, fell asleep. It was a good way to pass the time, and when I awoke the big waves were spaced more widely apart.

It was my turn at watch so Rick followed my lead and trussed himself up like a Thanksgiving turkey on the bench. The motion of the boat felt different even then; I noted our lat/long at 1:30 a.m. and thought, "That was the last big wave." And it was. Things gradually became easier. Gradually the sea calmed - we were feeling the affects of being north of the winds and in the lee of the mainland far, far to the east.

Calm Dawn

Those three or four hours of darkness and relative calm before the sunrise were magical.

Olias awoke from a dream
And drank his soul into the ocean
That sailed past the brink of his window
That long summer.

Night cruise The moonlight on the waves was truly beautiful - although the photo, left, mostly illustrates darkness. Waves rocked Sea Gator in a gentle, soothing motion. I knew she could handle it. Although our diesel engine growled relentlessly along, from the helm station above it was a reassuring background hum. Waves knocked and hissed against the hull as we moved through the water.

When Rick awoke we had a snack, and I tied myself in for a brief nap although it wasn't really necessary anymore. And when I woke there were faint pinpoint lights shining through the darkness far to starboard. We had come abeam of Marco Island, and there would be continuous lights from the high rose condos all the way north from there.

Sunrise Rick relaxed on the bench and fell asleep immediately. I drove on in the darkness. The moon, now low over my left shoulder, glittered through low clouds and reflected silver off the water. Photos did not capture it, although I tried. Those dark hours coasted by in a haze of relief and fatigue.

Well I'm on the Downeaster Alexa
And I'm cruising through Block Island Sound
I have charted a course to the Vineyard
But tonight I am Nantucket bound...

The sky paled and dawn arrived, late. Rick had asked me to wake him for the sunrise but I didn't bother. The sun didn't exactly "rise". An hour or two after dawn it just sort of gradually appeared out of the murk, desultory and sullen. The smoke and the haze and the red sun indicated a brush fire on land, and that later proved to be correct.

Nevertheless, it was a lovely morning. Soon I could discern crab pots littering the Bay but I was able to dodge them easily - there weren't as many as I expected, nor as many as we'd seen before. Rick woke, refreshed, and we recognized landmarks from our cruise south last January.

Early morning cruise When I went below to fetch a snack I noticed that the galley floor was sticky. Investigation revealed that beer bottles crashing around on the top shelf of the refrigerator during the night had fizzed out through their caps. That certainly had never happened before. Escaped beer filled the bottom of the refrigerator then overflowed onto the floor. What a mess.

And there was no water with which to clean it. "Turn off water pump" was accomplished during our pre-flight checklist, but the pump had apparently been turned on for hand-washing during the night and not turned off again, and then dishes flying out of the cupboard had hit the hot-water spigot and turned it on, for crying out loud. On one of his forays below Rick had seen the faucet angrily spitting wet air and that was the last of our water.

And thus, once again, we arrived at Ft. Myers Beach with empty water tanks. It was meant to be.

Safe and Restful Sleep, Sleep, Sleep

We followed a fishing boat into the harbor and tied to a mooring buoy at 8:30 a.m. with no trouble at all. I phoned Sally and Ron to report our safe arrival: we're here, no need to call out the sea hunt!

Then we lowered Bump Head and motored in to the Matanzas Inn to register, grab a cup of coffee and a shower. We filled our water jerrycans (we now have four) with fresh water and soon the refrigerator and galley were clean, most of the flying objects were returned to their places, and the three of us were tucked in for a well-deserved nap.

Rick assisting fellow cruisers Later that afternoon, Rick zipped over in Bump Head to offer assistance to some folks just arriving. They were having the same problems we had had upon our first arrival at that particular mooring field: how to manage the difficult mooring equipment? Fortunately Rick was there to retrieve their dropped boathook and to help them tie on, just as some other folks had done for us upon our first arrival in January. He visited them for some time and returned to Sea Gator, but before he could fetch me for our trip ashore, another boat arrived having the same problems, so he was off again on a mission.

That evening was the only time Pam and Don V. of Gallivant could visit with us between company and voyages, so they met us at the dinghy dock. It was great to see them again, to catch up and exchange news of the winter. They are enjoying their season afloat and their new berth at Fort Myers Yacht Basin.

We told them about our night cruise in endless, gory detail:

He holds him with his skinny hand,
'There was a ship,' quoth he.
'Hold off! Unhand me, grey-beard loon!'
Eftsoons his hand dropt he.

At dinner my club soda cup had a leak, and Don pointed out that we really DO have a hard time keeping our fluids in check at Ft. Myers Beach! Ha, very true!

Don and Pam were tolerant of our sleep-deprived lack of conversation skills, and we took the impending karaoke as a sign to call it an early night. They were heading to the Keys themselves shortly and we wished them smooth seas and a safe journey.

Upon reflection...

Night cruise scenery After a day or two, I asked Rick his impressions of our first all-night passage. He summarized by stating that Sea Gator can handle worse conditions than we can, which is true.

He also said it's a good thing that our first night voyage was NOT a piece of cake - because that might cause us to get cocky. "It was perfect the way it was: if it was all too easy I think it would lull us into thinking we can do anything. A little rough water was a good thing to keep us in the reality of big water."

Also true. Because anything can happen, especially the unexpected. It behooves us to be as conservative as we can possibly be, and to take nothing for granted. Like: tie everything down no matter what, and assume worse weather than that forecast. We always think we've done those things, until we realize we underestimated. There is always more to learn.

Finally, he observed cheerfully that the severe motion of the ship was a good ab. workout - since one naturally tried to remain upright, one's entire core received a thorough going-over. For hours and hours. Nice, and the constant flexing also served to keep the contents of one's stomach in check. But I still miss Jazzercise.

Still Northward

We revisited some favorite haunts at Fort Myers Beach - happy hour peel-and-eat shrimp at The Barking Shark, breakfast at Reese's, iced latte and a slice of ricotta streudel at The Renaissance Bistro - and we got a lot of quality sleep.

Sanibel Lighthouse Thursday morning we woke up struggling for air - the wind had shifted and the smoke from the brush fires was upon us. We had already planned to leave that morning, so we didn't dilly dally.

We passed the Sanibel Lighthouse as we crossed San Carlos Bay on our way to catch the ICW through Pine Island Sound. An easy four-hour cruise brought us to Pelican Bay - we were here in April last year with my mom, and again in December as we started out this season. It felt good to be in familiar territory.

Oh, Islands in the sun
Willed to me by my father's hand.
All my days I will sing in praise
Of your forest, waters, your shining sand.

Pelican Bay beach We worked, walked the beach on Cayo Costa, slept some more.

Sea Gator was surrounded constantly by little hard-nosed silver fish. They circled and looped and dodged and swept continually around the boat. They were each about 4" long - Rick caught one to show Goldie.

Rick completed an on-line demo with potential clients. The big mega-company was having trouble (as it turns out) figuring out which outlet to plug their computer into; meanwhile Rick waited, offered suggestions, and gazed out the window at the still waters of the Bay. No problems with the technology on our end. He was on line for over nine hours without a blip in the connection - these are the fruits of his labors designing and installing a digital antenna earlier this year.

And we took Bump Head to a small beach on Pelican Bay and Rick photographed a beautiful stately heron, and I found a live whelk and a starfish. I placed them next to each other in the clear water and urged them to race. The whelk won.

STILL Northward

We cruised into safe harbor at La Marina des Collards on a Sunday afternoon, just ahead of the wind brought by a spring cold front.

Don and Rick at work Those same winds fanned Florida's out-of-control brush fires. Many days were murky with smoke and it became difficult to breath. Rains brought by the first named storm of the season doused some of the fires further north. Crews continued to struggle with the fires on the west coast.

And so, we packed items to ship home, cleaned items which were to stay, cleaned Sea Gator, changed her oil, polished and waxed all the fiberglass above the hull, polished the stainless, and serviced Bump Head's outboard. We also had a diver come - same fellow as last year - to scrape the crusty barnacles off the hull. There were a lot of those, since we'd spent so much time on moorings and docks this year.

Hurricane screens When they weren't waxing fiberglass, Rick and Don were installing new hurricane screens on the house. You can see through these woven screens from the inside, but they are designed for easy on- easy off, and to prevent the wind from getting its fingers under the roof or through the glass.

Seriously Aground

We headed across Charlotte Harbor Friday morning and it all went well: no low water, and the Gulf Cove lock was a breeze because a man pulled in ahead of us with his pontoon boat, and he operated the lock for both of us so it saved me a lot of jumping and running.

On the hard Now, Sea Gator is "on the hard" at All American Boat Storage - if you want to see the entire haul-out process, check out last year's end-of-season Travelogue.

And when they hauled us out this week, Tom mentioned that he liked his photos in the first of this years' Travelogues - I'm glad to hear that! When we went to All American's office to pay up, we saw that Travelogue printed out and hanging on their wall. What a hoot!

Here Sea Gator relaxes adjacent to her temporary neighbor, Alley Cat. They were the two best looking trawlers in the yard, you bet. I liked it that Sea Gator had a neighbor, but Alley Cat's owner only had her dry-docked for hull work for a couple of weeks; they were going to launch within a week.

Tom power-washed Sea Gator, I removed the mineral stains from her hull with my super high tech secret (lemon juice), and Don and Rick cleaned and waxed her hull.

Love Bugs interred Rick repaired a strange leak oozing from the lower rub rail. He had to remove the fiberglass and grind out the damaged wood. Then we patched in fiberglass with epoxy, and he finished it with a bonding agent. It became tricky - we were in "love bug" season in Florida. Look at all those bugs stuck in the epoxy, and notice that there are always two, attached. They are too preoccupied with their namesake activity while in flight to navigate successfully, so they blunder into your face, your pockets, your beverages, your epoxy. Blech.

After all that work, we realized that the water was leaking in elsewhere, so the problem is not solved. But on a boat, such projects will never end, so we're learning not to stress about it.

Can you believe I said that?

Westward, At Last

Our travel day on Friday was grueling: We bid Don and Lu farewell at 6:00 a.m. EST, then tranq'ed Goldie and zipped her into her travel hutch. Long story short, we arrived at the homestead at 11:30 p.m. MST.

Goldie It's great to be back home, despite the onset of nosebleeds and the sudden flaking away of our hard-won tans. Yep, it's VERY dry here. But the temperature is wonderful, it cools down at night. After two days of cleaning, everything is ship-shape. And I located my keys almost immediately.

Just turn me loose, Let me straddle my old saddle
Underneath the western skies
On my cayuse, Let me wander over yonder
'til I see the mountains rise.

I want to ride to the ridge where the west commences
And gaze at the moon 'til I loose my senses
I can't look at hovels and I can't stand fences
Don't fence me in.

Rick, his house-opening chores completed, immediately checked the tire pressure and other components of his mountain bike and prepared to set out on his favorite 24-mile ridge-crossing warm up ride. But as he was getting ready to embark the afternoon winds kicked up; he checked the weather and found that 50 mph winds are forecast for the Green River Basin (that's us), so he opted to postpone his ride. As we speak he has finished mowing and raking our tiny lawn, and is charging our watering system since it is already SO dry.

Goldie seems very pleased to be home. She immediately identified her old haunts, and Saturday morning demanded to be let outside where she skipped about whistling her theme song (above) and pretending she does not know us. She is already leaving rodent-parts thither and yon, so she hasn't lost her bloodthirsty skills one bit. Above, she ignores me while scanning for her next carnivorous opportunity.

That's it for boating activities for the season. Thank you for listening, and have a wonderful summer!

Pat, Rick and Goldie

P.S.

The snippets of poems and lyrics are used here entirely without permission. Future litigants include:

Tooter Turtle and Mr. Wizard
Jimmy Buffet ("Margaritaville")
Crosby Stills & Nash ("Southern Cross")
Edward Lear ("The Owl and the Pussy Cat")
Eugene Field ("Winken, Blinken and Nod")
Emerson Lake & Palmer ("Pirates")
John Denver ("Calypso")
"Gilligan's Island" theme song
William Shakespeare ("Hamlet")
"Star Trek" (hypothetical dialogue)
Yes ("Olias")
Billy Joel ("The Downeaster Alexa")
Samuel Taylor Coleridge ("Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner")
Harry Belafonte ("Island in the Sun")
Cole Porter and Robert Fletcher ("Don't Fence Me In")

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