Friday, April 24, 2009
Leaving Key West is a time of sadness, saying good-bye to old and new friends, and a time of anticipation of new adventures ahead. During our last weekend we visited the USCGC Mohawk that served as part of the naval forces providing convoy escort operations in the North Atlantic from 1941 to 1946. The Mohawk both attacked Nazi U boats and rescued survivors from transports ferry goods to England prior to the US entry into WWII. She was built at the Pusey Jones Shipyard in Wilmington, Delaware (John’s hometown) in 1935. Helen father was a Commander aboard a US Navy destroyer escort in the North Atlantic area during 1941-1942. The memorabilia on the ship spoke most eloquently of early navigational equipment, living conditions and the rough, cold, sometimes ice covered environment in which they operated. 35 similar Coast Guard Cutters were lost to German Subs during the war. Not to stay too serious, our Saturday excursion was to Duval Street for the Drag Races, an annual event and one of many fun activities that are part of the “ Conch Republic” Independence Celebration. A picture is worth a thousand words, so look for two in the side panel. Afterward at Kelly’s, a “sunset Margarita” was an excellent toast to our visit to Cayo Hueso. Turtle Story: We heard this story from a couple we met while working out at the gym at NAS Key West. (Yeah, we were at the gym using torture machines.) They had been snorkeling the previous weekend and came across a pair of large turtles, probably Loggerheads. The female turtle had rope (most likely from a crab pot buoy gone astray) wrapped tight around a front leg and then about a dozen times around her neck. She was in distress and certainly wouldn’t have survived much longer. Our acquaintance went into the water with his knife, went behind the turtle, (you’re not going to operate in front of a 6 inch wide mouth) and cut the rope from the leg, then unwound the rest from her neck. Free again, the turtle dove down several feet. Her mate, who had been observing the action from a few feet away, swam up to the rescuer, gave him a “look” as if to say “thank you” and then dove and followed the freed turtle. The rescuers companion took photos from their boat. Maybe they’ll share the story in the media. In preparation for a late Sunday afternoon departure, water tanks were topped off, laundry completed and the engine was inspected. We had a great send-off crew to wish us well and fend Zephyrina off the pier as we backed out of slip A27 with a 15-knot wind on our beam. In contrast to our trip down we sailed back to the peninsula (Indian River Inlet – the Everglade Nat’l Park) in 17 hours, with just 4 hours of motor sailing. Winds were ESE 15-20 with gusts to 25, moving SE in the wee hours of the night. Our speed varied from 5.8 to 7 knots, except when we were slowed to 2.8 knots by a snagged “something” (could not see what, in the dark) in 60 feet of water. Since we were sailing, John started the engine, engaged the prop and “POP” the “something” departed. We think it may have been a fishing long line adrift in the sea. Our radar showed we were alone in a 12-mile radius. The shallows off the Ten Thousand Islands area of South Florida are generally in the 7-10 foot depth. Strangely our chart plotter with the new 2009 Navionics Electronic Chart Chip was showing 79 and 33 feet, instead of 26 and 10 feet when on the 24, 12, 6, and 3-mile views. Only on the 1 ½ and ½ mile views were the depth accurate. A potential for disaster, or at least grounding! We’ve reported the errors to Navionics. They will refer our observations to their cartography supplier and it might be two or three weeks before they contact us with their finds and their solution (a recall and new chips, would be the appropriate consumer protection response). Once in the waters north of Cape Romano and near Marco Island the depth on the chart were accurate. Helen has a MAC ENC program with update charts from NOAA on her laptop, so we had another means to verify the depth along with our paper charts. This proves once again one should not navigate solely based on the chart plotter information. We ventured up the Indian River to Russell Pass, dropped anchor and took a two-hour nap. Night sails are good for passages that are longer that can be accomplished in daylight but neither of us get more than a few hours sleep when “off watch”. Two dolphin sentries patrolled back and forth between us and the tidal-current flow in the river. They were fun to watch. We had a wonderful rain shower (over an inch) at sunrise, Tuesday washing the “crossing salt” from Zephyrina. Later in the morning, we motored further up stream to Everglades City and tied up at the historic Rod and Gun Club. Barron Collier (Collier County Florida) built this Inn for the hunting and fishing enthusiasts of the twenties and thirties. The large paneled lobby displays a huge stuffed marlin, a Florida Black Bear, a river otter plus many seascape paintings, gilded mirrors and a billiard table. Besides being a sport fishing area it was known for its timber (now mostly depleted) and citrus groves. The Everglades City museum in the “old town laundry building” is a historic treasure trove of the early history of the area. Wednesday mid day, we returned to our first night’s anchorage to again enjoy the mangrove islands, dolphin antics and a little fishing – only catfish, [5 fish in 6 casts] all released. Yesterday, we gingerly worked our way back out into deeper waters and motor sailed north to Naples. As we got underway, our speed indicator suddenly stopped working. Over an hour later we cleared the narrow channel into the Gulf and stopped to pull the speed transducer. Seems a miniscule crab had become lodged in the paddle when the boat started to move. It will be remember by the photo in the side bar. Right now we have ash in the air, blown on easterly winds from the wildfires near Immokalee. John has given Zephyrina a good wash down but she may need another before we leave Sunday morning for Ft. Myers. Now it’s time to play. We’ll explore the “up market” shopping area of 3rd Street, check out the fresh air farmers market tomorrow morning and enjoy a little time on the beach.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Tuesday morning’s weather review showed a front heading our way, actually the one that came through Pensacola on Sunday-Monday. So we opted to remain in the marina instead of joining our friends at the Dry Tortugas. With this change of plan we joined 30 dock mates for a special tour of high tech TCTS (Tactical Combat Training System) Center on base. This command oversees the aerial combat training between visiting regular and reserve Navy, Air Force and Marine fighter squadrons from all over the U.S. The “visitors” fly F-16s, F-18s and Harriers against the “aggressor” squadron attached to TCTS. The “aggressors” are Navy “Top Gun” trained pilots flying 30 year old F-5s. Dog Fights are monitored and recorded electronically from “pods” attached to the planes to confirm “kills”, usually by the F-5s and given real time permanent recording for the later critique on the ground. We toured the F-5 hangar and observed several planes under going routine maintenance. Some of these planes were sold to Switzerland and some were built by the Swiss and purchased back from them several years ago. They look like they were only flown on Sundays. Yesterday we finally made a long planned visit to the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory. http://www.keywestbutterfly.com/ It is a small arboretum filled with flowering plants and shrubs that attract dozens of native and tropical butterflies, or “flutter-bies” as someone suggested they should be named. (See pictures in the margins). The garden was also home to different kinds of brightly colored finches (Asian) and a Chinese Button Quail, the size of a baseball with their newly hatched chicks barely the size of ping pong balls.
Monday, April 13, 2009
On Sunday morning @ 6:45 am, the planets Venus and Jupiter were high in the eastern sky. The low clouds had a hint of soft pink. The red ball popped up at 7:05 AM to provide the lovely background for our Easter Sun Rise Service held on the Marina’s Beach. The fellowship afterwards was accompanied by a “groaning board” of breakfast treats provided in the potluck fashion of the community. Kielbasa, quiche, deviled eggs, Danish-sweet rolls varieties galore, yogurt and fruit compote were enjoyed by over sixty boaters. At midday we put the Yamaha 4 outboard on the dinghy and headed out the channel to the beach near the Boca Chica channel entrance. A coral shelf prevents access except at high tide. Last year, Mac our beloved 13-year-old dachshund loved to sniff out the crab holes among the shells and seaweed beds. It fact, when we would beach the dingy, his enthusiasm for the adventure transformed him into a “puppy on a mission”. Those happy memories were replayed as we trekked along Atlantic washed sands. Our second destination was to cross the coral banks that separate our safe harbor from Stock Island and duck under the low US Highway 1 Bridge to enter the Gulf of Mexico side of the Keys. We didn’t go quite far enough among the mangrove islands to discover the deep submarine pens excavated in the coral after World War Two. They were aborted due to increased surveillance technology and the Navy decision to locate Submarine Bases elsewhere. They should be great fish aquariums. A spur of the moment suggestion for a sailing trip to the Dry Tortugas was proposed when we returned later in the afternoon. We hastily provisioned the galley, did a quick laundry and prepared for an early morning departure. As sailors do, we rechecked the weather forecast at 5:00 AM, this morning, anticipating a 6:30 AM convoy of three sailboats sailing the 68 nautical miles to Fort Jefferson. Wind velocity and seas had increased from the 9:00 PM Sunday NOAA report to their 4:33 AM one. After thinking through the impact on the anchorage (no protection from the south, the direction of the winds) we aborted our plans. John says, Zephyrina is a pleasure boat and we are pleasure sailors so we don’t knowingly take on uncomfortable situations. Sandcastle and Blithe Spirit have gone on and we hope the weather forecast will be more favorable than reported. We sailed to the Tortugas in 1992 and Helen went again last year. Fort Jefferson is an excellent example of pre and post Civil War construction and, of course, the prison to which Dr. Mudd was sentenced after the assassination of Abe Lincoln. We would have loved to snorkel the old coal docks but think the rough seas may cause low visibility. The substitute plan for today was a roundtrip long walk to the extensively equipped Navy Gym. The goal was to shed a few extra calories from Sunday’s brunch and later Fried Turkey, prepared by our dock mates Hank, Bridget, Leo and Sallie. Again our marina friends added stuffing, sweet potatoes, peas, salad and chocolate toffee oatmeal dessert – a low-cal Easter feast. Tonight we’ll cook Mahi Mahi fillet [from the fish caught last week] along with broccoli as our slim fast meal.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Yesterday was “Ladies Day Shopping” day. Helen joined her friends, Jan and Gail for luncheon at Blue Heaven, a favorite Key West garden restaurant, and a stroll down Duval Street. Though they each made a couple of small purchases they didn’t make a real impact on the local economy. Since it was Good Friday and a county holiday, it was possible to park in the parking lot behind the courthouse for free. That was to our economic benefit! After a three-mile walk, John installed the new canvas chart and magazine bag-rack on the bulkhead just above the armrest of the settee. Helen’s design, Carole and Pete were able to snag the fabric from their friendly canvas detailer and Jan was the seamstress. It is held on with three snaps. The rest of his afternoon was spent photographing the birds, fish, flowers, boats and airplanes that surround the marina. The Boca Chica Marina community is a sharing supportive group of sailors. We thank them for giving us a “lift” to the Commissary, the Publix grocery store and marine supply stores this past week when we were without a rental car. Tonight several of us will go to Bobalu’s Southern Café, which offers good seafood and typical southern things like collard greens, black eyed peas and fried okra. Actually we go there for Bobalu’s “New Haven Style” pizza. After we read about next week’s The Conch Republic Independence Celebration schedule of events we decided to remain in “crazy town” for a few extra days to enjoy the beginning of the festivities. Here’s the Republic’s motto: “DEDICATED TO THE FUNDAMENTALLY AMERICAN SPIRIT OF A PEOPLE UNAFRAID TO STAND UP TO ‘GOVERNMENT GONE MAD WITH POWER’ THAT EMBODIED THE FOUNDING OF THE CONCH REPUBLIC IN 1982. AS THE WORLD’S FIRST FIFTH WORLD NATION, A SOVEREIGN STATE OF MIND SEEKING ONLY TO BRING MORE HUMOR, WARMTH, AND RESPECT TO A WORLD IN SORE NEED OF ALL THREE, THE CONCH REPUBLIC REMAINS THE COUNTRY WHO SECEDED WHERE OTHERS FAILED.” So until Friday, we’ll enjoy the Eco Center, the Butterfly & Nature Conservatory and go kayaking and snorkeling. Ah, yes we’ll also rent a car for a few days.
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Finally, with clearing waters and light southerly winds, Sunday, we went out to Sambo Reef to snorkel. The reef is just six nautical miles south of the Boca Chica - Stock Island entry channel. Sambo is one of 13 reefs of the Florida National Marine Sanctuary located along the Atlantic edge of the Key and the deep waters of the Gulf Stream. For the past two weeks we've had high to moderate winds clocking around from all directions, great for sailing at times but causes cloudy turbulent waters around the coral, sea grasses, rubble and shallows. The Sanctuary areas have mooring Buoys strategically placed on the perimeter of the dive areas. After securing Zephyrina and hoisting our dive flag up the halyard, to signify divers in the water, we and friends, Jan and Luke Sand donned our fins, masks, snorkels and dive vests and jumped into the 78 degree water. Our underwater visibility for seeing fish and coral was about 5 feet in depths that ranged from 5 - 12 feet. Among the waving red-gray grasses, we spotted lime green feathery fern like grasses, making a colorful contrast on the sea floor. Small light pink coral heads appeared more prominently at ridge edges. Some were tree shaped with multiple branches reaching upward. The largest and most spectacular coral was about three feet in diameter, orange with a yellow lacy edge. It reminded us of a huge wood ear that might form on one of our live oak trees. The fish were not as numerous as we'd seen before. The four of us exchanged sightings, after the dive, and our list includes several Blueheads both adult and juvenile, a couple of varieties of Parrotfish and number of schools of small blacked striped fish, we think were most likely Grunts. All in all, it was good time, we just hope we'll get another opportunity before we leave. But here it is Tuesday and the winds are NNW 20-25 knots with the forecast for a steady 15-20 clocking east for the next several days. Ah, but, John has a hot water plumbing project to keep him busy. Our connection hose under the galley sink popped out of it's crimped hose. After removing the hose couplings, he's been trying to replicate the coupling types and sizes on a new hose. One of our dock mates, Rich Gano has kindly chauffeured John to Home Depot twice. With perseverance, John succeeded!
Saturday, April 4, 2009
It's been a little over a month since we began our sail south to Key West. We've were introduced to a Blog, through our daughter, Keri's, Commute Orlando and others from her cycling trips. Then our fellow sailors, Bob & Carole Barnett started one when we were together in Clearwater, after the first leg of sailing cruise. Then just last week, Peg & Don Watson created one for their RV trip from Florida to Oregon. They are both very diligent in entering posts each day, giving humor insightful and delightful naratives. Well, we are attempting to follow their lead. We may not be make daily posts but we do hope you'll enjoy learning of our experiences, observations through word and photos. During the two weeks we traveled south, we motored all but one day, the first. You know the sailor's lament, "where ever I shall go, from there the wind shall blow". That was true except for our first overnight sail from Pensacola to Port St. Joe. We began the sail with 15 knot north winds with the sea a choppy 1-3'. At nightfall the winds picked up to 18-20 knots with gusts to 22+. Zephyrina pitched, rolled and yawed and sometimes lurched (no nautical definition for that) and the bow drew quick little circles in the air. It was time to reef the sail. We reduced the foresail to 70% and the mainsail to 20%. Zephyrina continued the above motions, but less violently and we only slowed down a little, 7 -7.5 knots SOG (speed over the ground). The end result: a wild ride and a new record for us - 17 hours, 20 minutes for 115 nautical miles. As the winds clocked around to the northeast and then east our Apalachicola to Clearwater run was at first little or no wind with 3-4' rolling seas, then at sunset the winds rose to 15-20 knots, 30-45 degrees off the bow with 4' swells. There was no real good options for sailing, so we just hauled out the main sail 20% for stability and rocked and rolled until we approached the west coast of the Florida peninsula. It took us 32 hours to reach the respite at the Clearwater Yacht Club. We were in about 4 PM. About 10:30 PM, Bob and Carole Barnett, friends from our home yacht club and our "at a distance buddy boat S/V Surprise, called via cell phone. they were just coming into the Clearwater Pass after a 38 hour similar rough ride from Port St. Joe. With our anchor light on (top of our 52' mast) flashlights in hand and cell phone to the ear, John guided them into a tie up just behind us on the long west pier. As we progressed down the coast we enjoyed accommodations at several sister Yacht Clubs and beautiful anchorages and great visits with friends, starting with a fabulous dinner @ Jeannie & Dale Whalen's abode in Clearwater. In Fort Myers we caught up the Bill and Toni Hitchens. Bill and John were high school and college classmates. Then when we were in Naples, we had a delightful luncheon with Ed Maxwell, another friend from Wilmington. After checking our various weather sources we made a quick strategic decision to leave Naples a day early to beat an oncoming front and motored through calm seas and very light winds to Key West and around the southern tip of the city to the third key east, Boca Chica, home of the Key West Naval Air Station. It's been fun to reconnect with friends from past visits here and make new ones. Last week, John's cousin Roger Mitchell and his wife, Gail, were down with friends for visit. This is the second year we've met here and this year we gathered at one of our favorite dining establishments, Alonso's for great food, libation and good conversation. A fishing enthusiast, Tom Wells, captains a twin hulled Glacial Bay Sport Fisher, dock here. He and John went out beyond the reefs to fish. Depth of the water was 150-200 feet. A 33 inch Dolphin was lured to the hook, producing terrific Mahi Mahi fillets for 4 dinners. Our evening "sundowers" are accompanied by a conch blow to signal the sunset and maybe a "green flash"