'Til the butter melts

Pursuing the cruising dream in 32' of sailing ketch


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“Cha-cha-cha-Changes…”

We’re going back to Maine.

Not because we particularly want to, mind you. It’s cold back there, and they have this stuff called “snow” and “ice”, and we’d really just rather skip the whole winter thing, thank you very much.

But my eye (you remember my eye? It’s been featured in more posts than any other topic except boat projects, I think!) has other ideas.

A couple weeks ago that eye got to itching a bit, a little uncomfortable. Then it got a little red. Then it got a little more. So a visit to a clinic for some antibiotic was tried, but didn’t help. Then a visit to a real retina specialist, which showed widespread inflammation and increased pressure and just generally weird goings on that the expert couldn’t explain.  Eye drops for the pressure, eye drops for the swelling, and we’ll see you in three days.

Well three days later things were looking and feeling a lot better, and the expert agreed I was much improved. Still ok to put off the final two procedures this old eye needs until May,  as long as we monitor the pressure regularly…

There’s no way to monitor regularly and still cruise in the Bahamas. If we’re to stay within monitoring range, we’ll need to be here, in west-central Florida, where nobody speaks “Cruiser” but us.
Many phone calls and conversations later, two facts became abundantly clear: One; we are sick to death of constantly thinking about this eye, and two; we’re really, really ready to cruise somewhere that doesn’t equate a cruising boat with “there goes the neighborhood” thinking. Florida has an Abandoned and derelict boat problem, as I’ve written about before, but in some areas, they don’t know the difference between that, and a tourist on a boat. 

We’re tired of being treated like social pariahs. (I’ll write sometime about the citation we received while at anchor last week, but suffice for now to say that the charge of “improper lighting” mentioned a rule that the officer made up, and we – the properly lighted boat from “away” – were ticketed while the 4 UN-lighted “local” (but abandoned) boats next to us were not.) 

So we have a flight out to Maine on Christmas Day ($84 each! Yay Allegiant Airlines!), dear generous friends have offered us a dock for Sionna in Marathon, Florida, and a tiny apartment in Rockland for two months, and my surgery consultation is scheduled for January 3rd. 

It’s time to close that chapter and move on.

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Of sea cows and other wonders

(NOTE: The photos in this post (except the one of our dinghy) are not ours. We were too busy communing to take any silly pictures.)

When we first entered southern waters last fall, I at least was figuring we’d be seeing manatees on a regular basis. I mean, they’re everywhere, right? And all those signs for “Manatee Zone – minimum wake” can’t be there for no reason.

But we didn’t see them. At least, we saw traces a couple of times, but never enough of a view to even be certain that was what it was.

Until today!

This morning, Nicki and I dinghied up the canal on Longboat Key to the Longbeach Cafe – a place that’s become a favorite stop for us. Basically it’s a diner, with a more interesting menu than your average inland diner, and a patio on the canal with a sea wall that you can tie your dinghy to when you come for breakfast. Or brunch, if early mornings aren’t your thing. So of course we were there for brunch.

Anyway, after brunch, and chatting with another couple who were very interested in this crazy, off-the-beaten-track life we live, we got into the car… er… dinghy, and headed back out the canal. And a quarter-mile later shut the motor off to drift slowly through a herd of manatees! We think there were five, maybe six. They’d stick their noses (some big, some quite small) up to breathe, which is how we spotted them, and then a couple minutes later they’d do it again…

Now mind you, the water in the canal wasn’t as clear as in this photo, but we could still see them clearly when they were nearby. Pretty cool!

And then – on a whim – I stuck my fingers in the water next to the dinghy and wiggled them gently…

And one came to see me! Very curious, bumped my hand with her nose, sniffed my hand, then very slowly moved forward, inviting me to scratch the top of her snout and the back of her head… Leathery, soft, covered with sea moss, and warm…

Hey, I may be easy to amuse, but damn that was cool!

I don’t care who you are: Sea. Cows. Rock!


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Little Touches

This boat we live and cruise aboard came to us second hand, of course. Well, actually it’s certainly more than second, and it could be 22nd-hand, as far as we know.   She was built 54 years ago and the ownership records are long gone for the first half of her life, so it’s anyone’s guess.

But what we do know is the last 25 years.  Gordon – the previous owner – found her in southern New England around 1990 and brought her to Maine.  Now Gordon was and is quite a craftsman, but even more important, he had good sense in boat fittings and accommodations. Little things, like a handle here, a knob there.  Big things, like a new dodger over the cockpit, new engine and upgraded sails. Changes and refinements big and small, and each carefully thought out and executed well. In his 23 years as Sionna’s caregiver, he gave her a lot of care, and it shows.

So this we knew when we took her over back in the spring of 2015 – we were getting a well loved, pampered boat. 


 Thus, our happiness.

Well today I found another example of Gordon’s loving care of her, and in the most unexpected place – the head vent!  (The “head”, if you’ve forgotten, is what you land-people call the “bathroom”, and a vent is…well… a vent.)

I figured it was time to check the vent ducting this morning, not having looked at it in a while, and I thought I’d start at the outside and work inward. The outside vent head looks like this:


So I took off that little screw and the cap it secures, turned it over, and found this:


You see that little symbol, carved into the top of the pipe and the inside of the cap? It’s Gordon’s “mark”, if you will.  It’s both a stylized letter “G” and a drawing of a schooner’s gaff-rigged mainsail, thus:


And that cap?  From the outside, I took it to be a piece of molded plastic, and gave it no more thought, but once I looked closer I realized it’s actually wood and Gordon – an accomplished carver – must have created it and finished it to look so non-descript as to be invisible. 

Such are the wonders one finds when they hang out with old fat boats and talented people. 

Thank you, Gordon. She’s a gem. 


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Oh the places you’ll go…

We cruise mostly to see things we haven’t seen before.

Well ok, that’s a lie.  We cruise to get away from cold. And snow. 

But once we got far enough south last year to feel like we weren’t in imminent danger of being killed by our environment, we began to notice things. New things. Fun things.

Pelicans as we approached the Chesapeake Bay; Dolphins in southern Virginia; The first (none-to-healthy) palm tree in North Carolina; Egrets in South Carolina; Armadillos on Cumberland Island in Georgia; Cactii on Cayo Costa in Florida…

     
Oh, and bridges. Short bridges which have to open if we’re to fit our 41’ sailboat beneath their spans. Bridges happen a lot on the ICW, and you’d think they’d become routine.  No such luck.  We’re getting better at it, we know the drill, and have some skills we didn’t have when we left Maine, but those opening bridges still cause the pulse to quicken, every time.

But that’s just part of getting around down here, as unavoidable as crossing the street. Which – after living life at 6 mph for a few weeks – is actually a pretty big thing.  Cars move SO fast!

But here’s a little sample of what we saw at our last nature stop – Don Pedro State Park.  Neat spot, and not too many people compared to most of Florida…

    

And did I mention it’s generally warm? Bonus points for that.


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Making others plans

There is a saying – often attributed to John Lennon (though I have no idea if that’s accurate) – which goes:

“Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.”

There is another saying, most often heard in country music lyrics, (which, by the way, is what you often hear blairing across the anchorage as young men of a certain age and socio-economic status cruise by – alone – in their rather shiny and expensive fishing boats, not fishing) which goes:

“If you wanna hear God laugh, tell him your plans…”

So today we’re planning and laughing along with God – assuming that’s who’s responsible for the weather we’re having.

Florida is stuck in a weather rut. As weather ruts go, it’s really not a bad one. Mostly clear weather, mostly sunny, mostly pleasantly warm (low 80’s days, upper 60’s nights).  Only thing is the wind. It doesn’t stop. And it’s from a particularly unhelpful direction. Every. Single. Day.

North winds. Where I’m from, North winds are an oddity. Wind from the north means a change, a front’s passing or a large weather system is finding it’s way out. Lyrics from a song by the inestimable bard Gordon Bok come to mind:  

East wind’s rain and North wind’s clearing. Cold old Southwest wind’s a fair wind home.”

Well in the New England that’s generally true, but down here the weather never got the memo. Except for a couple brief periods of near-calm as a warm front came through, we’ve had winds from the north and northeast every day but a handful for weeks.


Wind so consistent, even the white pelicans are sitting it out. Well actually in fairness to the pelicans, they seem to be pretty much oblivious to the wind – north or otherwise. They still huddle in large groups as a social thing, and they fly – loose eschalon formation – whenever they feel like it.  I just wanted an excuse to use this really cool picture I took of a little place we call “Pelican Island” when we’re upwind of it, and  something less complimentary when we’re downwind…

Which sort of brings me – in a rambling, Tuesday-morning-with-nothing-to-do sort of way – to those “other plans” I mentioned earlier.  

Nicki and I had planned a short jaunt “outside” today. Outside meaning into the Gulf of Mexico, rather than in the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. Outside is real sailing. Outside is exciting. Outside is the “real world”.

But when the wind has been blowing stink for a week from one direction, and the waves have decided to get into the act AND that’s exactly the direction you want to go…  We can plan all we want, but attempting to go north today is going to be a pissing, moaning, slamming exercise in frustration no matter how we slice it.  So we’re not.

Instead, a few random thoughts, in the form of seven nearly unanswerable questions:

  1. Now that so many of the 20ish white men down here are listening to the music which – in my youth – we identified with late-teen black men, what are the late-teen black men listening to? 
  2. Why is it nearly impossible to find an FM radio station down here that isn’t broadcasting either Bro-Country, or a bible-thumping misogynist?
  3. Why is “Bro-country” so popular among the 30-something men who clearly have some means, considering the boat they’re driving, and why are they alone in that boat, slowly cruising it back and forth past the docks and other boats, broken-hearted songs playing at a level meant to be heard a half-mile away, looking sad…
  4. Why do people buy sailboats, and then never sail them, even in near-perfect sailing conditions? (This question was voiced recently by a friend who sailed by several new-looking sailing vessels on a passage along the coast, all of whom had their sails tightly furled and were motoring in great discomfort due to the perfect sailing conditions previously mentioned. We see it all the time.)
  5. Why do pelicans flying in echelon formation always follow the leader precisely, even when the leader is making altitude deviations for no appearent reason? Are there invisible speed bumps in the air that I can’t see?
  6. What is it about watching a Brown Pelican quit flying and fall headlong into the water that makes me smile – Every. Single. Time. They don’t “dive”, they just quit.
  7. We’ve read that Anhingas hunt by spearing small fish on the end of their very pointy beak. Ok, so how do they get that fish off the beak and into the mouth without dropping it?

There’s your bit of randomness for the day.  I hope at least one of those questions causes you to stop in awe of the universe for a moment. Douglas Adams, eat your heart out.


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Punta Gorda

There are many ways to cruise. 

Local is one, where you pick a location, say – Rockland Maine – to use as a home base, and make short jaunts from there to explore the local area.

Then there’s what’s called “Coastal” cruising, which involves more travel and more new locations. Start from point “A” and, like a snail with her shell, take your house and belongings on a tour along the shore, stopping when it looks interesting, moving on to explore somewhere else when the mood strikes. That’s what we’ve been doing the last year or so, of course, with the added dimension of being Commuter Cruisers. That’s a concept popularized by a friend of ours on her blog, (thanks Jan!) and we’ve made it our own. Take (or leave) the boat someplace warm and cruiser-friendly during part of the year while you do something else (like work), then return to the boat for your cruising fix when it suits you.

Now after that it get’s a little nebulous. “Long Distance” cruising? “World” cruising? Nicki and I would like to go a bit farther afield one day, perhaps back to the Caribbean, where we spent our honeymoon, or perhaps Mexico or Belize (we’re studying Spanish!), but we’ve no interest in sailing around the world or anything. Perhaps we’ll call it “Caribbean” cruising, if we ever get that far…

So for now we’re coastal cruising, and our most recent stop in Punta Gorda Florida turned into a fun, relaxed sojourn of the sort we hope for.  

True, Nicki and our friend Jaye (you’ll hear more about our friends Dan & Jaye later) did end up in jail for a brief period, but hey, it’s all in the name of a good time, right?

One of the things Nicki and I were looking forward to with this year’s cruising was the chance to see Florida in a different season.  We northerners come here to be warm when it’s cold up north, which means we only see it in the winter.  Yes, things still grow and bloom in the winter, but we wondered if it would be different in late-summer and early fall?

The answer is “Yes”, it’s different. And beautiful.  More flowers, more wildlife, more color.  I used to say I didn’t like Florida (I went to college here in the early ‘80’s) because it just changed from one shade of brown to another with the changing seasons.  I can now report that either my vision is better, or else Daytona Beach was the problem, because there’s no lack of color here these days!


Punta Gorda – where we just spent a week – has a couple of things going for it as a destination from our point of view. 

One, it has a rather nice Municipal marina. We’ve found that City facilities tend to be less expensive than private ones, because the City has a vested interest in attracting Cruising boats whose occupants will – it is assumed – patronize local businesses and therefore help the local economy.  (Well come to think about it, PRIVATE businesses have the same vested interest, but they tend to forget it in their rush to make today’s buck…)

Two, it has moorings. Moorings are everywhere in Maine, practically every decent anchorage has a couple private ones, and most towns have many in their harbors, but here most marinas don’t have them, and the few that do are usually City-run. The cynical part of me says that’s because moorings are for poor cruisers (like us), and they don’t have moorings because they’re trying to force us to pay a ridiculous fee for a marina slip or else go someplace else. The more charitable part of me, unfortunately, agrees that’s probably the case.

But there’s a down side to this pretty city too – it has bridges.  LOW bridges. 

TWO of them…

Back in Maine when we were getting the boat ready, I very carefully measured our hull’s height from waterline to mast step, measured the mast itself from step to head, and then added on the length of our VHF antenna (which resides atop the mast), and determined that our air-draft is a true 40.6 feet. 
So in theory, Sionna can fit under any bridge that has more than 41 feet of clearance. The Route 41 bridges on the Peace River have 45’ clearance at high tide…

Let’s talk about theory for a minute. In theory if your Aunt had testicals, she’d be your Uncle. 

Your gut doesn’t know squat about “theory”, and driving 14,000 pounds of home and goods under an immovable object with that spear standing straight up on top creates more than just a touch of what we in the business call “Pucker Factor” – theory not withstanding.

Why did the City Fathers & Mother’s of Punta Gorda choose to put the Municipal Marina behind a bridge that keeps 90% of cruising sailboats out of it? It’s one of life’s little mysteries.  I’d love to know the answer, though…

So what does Punta Gorda have? Easy access to services, very reasonable rates (our mooring was $72 for a week!), cheap ($2/load) laundry, clean showers, free loaner bikes and Wi-Fi at the marina, and a friendly, helpful staff. There’s a West Marine store, Ace Hardware, T-Mobile store, Publix Supermarcado AND an ABC Liquer store, all within less than 2 miles!  


Oh, and it also has mail (thank you Al & Mary, for the delivery!), and boat parts. (Our water pump developed a leak, so…)
And there are restaurants, and historical sites, (that’s where Nicki got into jail), and an extensive trail system that lets you walk or bike in comfort through most of the city without having to spend all your time dodging traffic. 


An interesting bit of history: Punta Gorda was badly damaged in Hurricane Charley, back in 2004 – actually it was virtually destroyed. Which means that – thought there is a historic district – the city has been basically built in the last two decades, and the pride and fortitude of the residents is obvious. There’s a neat vibe, great food, open spaces, parks, the trail system, free loaner bikes available all over town (not just the marina)… 

They’ve done good (Except for those pesky bridges. I’d REALLY like to know what they were thinking…) 

Oh, and about Dan & Jaye: We met them and their boat Cinderella last year in Marathon. They spend their winters aboard, and the last few summers sailing a little (500-ton) boat called El Galeon, a replica of a 1600’s Spanish merchant vessel.  And they play pirate. Really, they’re that cool.

And THAT’S how Nicki ended up in jail. Go visit Punta Gorda and see for yourself.


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The Curse of the Morning-Person

It’s not fair, really.

No laying about in bed of a morning, stretching and dozing and just generally relaxing for me. And late nights out on the town with friends? Hah!

The midnight train leaves the station promptly at 9pm, Bucko, and I’m going to be on it, like it or no.

It wasn’t always this way. There was a time, not so long ago, when I could pretty much set my own hours, but that was when I was sleeping from home. Shoot, I could show up for bed at 2am in my birthday suit, and as long as I put in my 8 hours, it didn’t matter a wit.
No more those carefree days – I work for the (sand)Man now.
In truth, it’s a minor inconvenience, generally. The biggest drawback is that my partner in life is definitively NOT a morning person. When I’m winding down, she’s winding up, and when I’m raring to go at 6:30am, well… Let’s just say she’s less than enthusiastic about hearing my plans. 

Comatose, actually.  

In a couple hours she’ll be getting her second eye open, hunting for that first cup of tea and greeting what’s left of the day, but right now you couldn’t get her out of bed with a crowbar.  

In truth, I miss her company in the morning. I miss that quiet, soft shuffling around to get the tea on and poured, miss the almost silent period when we sit and sip and slowly – oh so slowly – begin to speak of little things: of our dreams, perhaps, and how we slept, and the thought that occurred just as we were falling asleep but “you were snoring already and I couldn’t tell you…” Gradually we’d work around to what the day might hold and our hopes for it, but that takes time. There’s no rushing a morning done on the buddy system.

Of course there are compensations. I’m writing this during that period of the morning when it’s only me, and I suspect I do some of my better writing when my brain is fresh from sleep, but not yet cluttered with the minutia of a day already underway, or just concluded. 

Perhaps. But middle-age has come home to roost, and I guess I had better get used to hearing it scrambling around the place, sharp talons on a tile roof. The last of the celestial bodies have faded from the sky, the first fishing boat has blasted into the bay looking for a worthy opponent, and I’ve run out of muse. 

Good morning, wonderful. How was your night?