Saturday, May 30, 2009

We're still sailing, but almost home

No the earth is not flat and we didn’t sail off the edge. The past two weeks have been full of activities and limited time to write a post. We’ve explored Tampa Bay, flown north to visit John’s mother in Wilmington, DE, experienced the summer afternoon thunderstorms while at anchor and secured to a dock, watching junior sailors learning “the ropes (sheets)”, enjoying time with our daughter, Keri, in St. Petersburg, feasting on good Spanish “tapas” and Indian curries. Last Sunday, we met up with our good friends from home, Kay & John Sheehan sailing on their 34’ Catalina, Sea Shell. What fun and safe it is to have companionship on the seas. Clearwater was our destination for Monday. This was our last stop before crossing the Gulf to Apalachicola. Jeannie & Dale Whalen who had been our welcoming hosts in early March to the Barnett-Caffrey sailors again provided bounty this time to the Sheehan-Caffrey sailors. It was a great to be together, we can’t wait for Dale’s retirement (he’s still young) so they can return to Gulf Breeze. At 7:50 AM Wednesday morning, Zephyrina and Sea Shell embarked on a race to stay ahead of the storms forecasted to cross the Gulf from west to southeast in the afternoon. Southwest winds ranging from 8 to 11 knots along with the “iron mike” at 75% of full engine speed, allowed us to average 6.2 nautical miles per hour on a north west heading while watching the storms slip aft of us to the south east. We made the crossing in our best time 26 hours! Our Sirius Weather on the chart plotter was extremely helpful for the first 55 miles. Then with 100 miles remaining on the trip it stopped transmitting. Whatever gremlin that caused that to happen was scared off when the power plug to the SR50 computer, located in the stern locker, was removed and the reinserted. But that was only accomplished after calls to Sirius Weather, then Raymarine and resulted in a suggested solution (not in the manual) and John Sheehan (more agile than John Caffrey) practically stood on his head to remove screws, turn the unit to remove the plug. Nothing is easily accessed in a sailboat. Our reward was an excellent dinner at Boss Oysters on the Apalachicola waterfront. The ICW through the Impenetrable Swamp and Cross County Canal was the first half of our schedule for Friday. Just after noon we entered St. Joseph Bay and headed southwest into the wind with a 2 foot chop to position ourselves, beyond the entrance buoy #6, for a north west heading and close haul motor/sail to Panama City. The 10-knot SW winds became 15-knot west winds with gusts to 20 by the time we rounded the St. Andrews jetty. Glad to be inside away from the westerly chop and swells we headed for the City Marina. Now on CDT, thus gaining an hour, we arrived at 5:05PM and marina staff were still on duty and gave some assistance to our docking into the wind in a narrow slip with a high narrow finger pier. John and Kay slipped in next to us. The evening order of events was: (1) Desalt washing of the boat (2) Crew showers (3) lovely shared dinner cooked aboard. West winds will keep us here in Panama City for a couple of days. Hopefully, by Monday evening (June 1) we’ll have favorable winds and can make the 100-mile coastal sail to our home marina – Boca Grande NAS Pensacola. We’ll write the last post after our arrival.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Fishing, Friends and Photography

The Captain’s fishing tales are full and varied. We tried surf fishing on the Gulf side of Cayo Costa after reports of several varieties of desirable fish being caught close to shore. Despite our fresh bait and unusual patience, we landed only one small catfish [undesirable, even the dolphins don’t eat them]. Catching baitfish as we rested at anchor and then taunting catfish and catching a shark was very entertaining. But trolling behind as we ventured north from Cayo Costa to Venice proved fun, productive and a reminder of the hierarchy of the food chain. Trolling a flashy green plastic lure at 4.5 Kts., we hooked a 17-inch Spanish Mackerel. Just the right size for two people to eat, but the lure went out again anyway. After an hour there was a strong strike with the characteristic leap out of the water and we started to reel in. Suddenly the line went deep and got much heavier for a few seconds, then much easier to reel in as we could see the fish skipping along the surface, well not the whole fish--- just the head--- the shark ate the best part. The fish’s head, incidentally, was at least four times the size of that of our 17-inch catch. Our arrival in Venice was just minutes before s/v Barefoot with our friends Jim & Lenore motoring in from Punta Gorda. We relaxed and shared good conversation over dinner at the Club’s Tiki Bar. Their sail plan had them moving up to Sarasota on Sunday, but we plan to rendezvous in Clearwater, their homeport, in two weeks. After a short walk to the Venice Inlet to watch the Manatees, fishermen on the rock jetty and the ever parade of sailboats, trawlers, jet skis, kayaks and a WWII Duck full of tourists, we welcomed our Gulf Breeze and PYC friends, Kay & John Sheehan to the sea wall tie-up. They had sailed across the Gulf just the week before. Here our paths would cross for one night as we were heading to the Jewfish anchorage and on to Bradenton, Tampa and St. Petersburg and they down to Charlotte Harbor, Pine Island Sound and Ft. Myers. We will meet again at the end of the month to make the crossing home together. Having a buddy boat will be a lot of fun. Between fishing, boat maintenance, dining well and reading escapist novels, photographing the nature sights have consumed or leisurely progress north. When we figure out how to post a photo album on Face Book we’ll share the bounty including the Black Crowned Night Heron and Anhinga from Venice. Oh, yes outside the Manatee River, our engine was running hot. So, we anchored off the channel to check on the engine raw water intake. The strainer basket had some sea grass but when that was removed there was no appreciable change in the water flow to the engine. John then disconnected the hose from the through hull to the raw water strainer. No grass in the hose but still just a trickle was coming in. The stoppage was in the through hull, beyond the elbow turn. Like the Wolf in the Three Little Pigs he huffed and he puffed, using the hose, "blew" through the through hull thus dislodging the grass clog. and it floated away. The location of this raw strainer in under the rear cabin bunk, necessitating the removal of "storage stuff". So both the Captain and his chief “step and fetch it” were hot and sweating after the two hour ordeal. A lovely shower and delightful “build your own burger” at the Bradenton Yacht Club were so welcomed!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Beaches, Bays & Birds

Our stay on Captiva Island was delightful. We were fortunate to get one of the 4 slips at the Captiva Island Yacht Club. Bowed in we were practically in the shoreline Mangroves, a perfect spot to watch the Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Great Egret and Osprey. The Osprey had a nest on the buoy piling 50 yards away with several youngsters dependent of their very solicitous parents for “pre chewed fish” feedings. The Snowy was stalking his next minnow [see photo column]. A long walk down the beach let us get the “kinks out”, watch the five or six dolphin in a pod move parallel to waves, and photograph shore birds, including a new one for us: the Black-Bellied Plover. We joined the members of the CIYC at the Bar to watch Mine the Bird win the Kentucky Derby. On Sunday mid day we carefully motored out Roosevelt Channel to the ICW and motored passed Useppa Island and around into Pelican Bay. In the bay at Cayo Costa State Park, we anchored amid 30 sailboat and 10 motor vessels. Winds were 15-20 knot ESE clock to SSE and then SW. Our wind generator kept our batteries charged and we watched a lovely yellow orange sunset. There is “fishing” and “catching”, but sometimes you don’t catch what you hoped for. At the anchorage there were hundreds of “bait fish” churning the water next to our hull, possibly hiding in the shade. Several times pelicans came crashing into the water for an easy snack. John decided to put a treble hook on a line and easily snagged a few of these bait fish, which happened to be Round Scad. Still on the hook the 6 inch fish was cast out to attract something bigger. After a few casts and some attempted strikes a big catfish (not the edible kind), the line came in easily. Easily until the fish swimming toward the boat realized the Scad was attached to John’s line. The surprise was a 2 ft shark, lots of fun to bring in but also inedible. What luck John didn't catch the four ft shark he saw hereby a few minutes before. On southeast to south breezes we sailed up Charlotte Harbor to the Isles Yacht Club in Punta Gorda. This newly rebuilt clubhouse and marina basin is a jewel. Hurricane Charley devastated the area in 2004. Helen’s fellow Narimasu High School graduate, Rosemary Blake lives in Port Charlotte, just across the Peace River. We enjoyed a reunion luncheon at Fisherman’s Village and Rosemary kindly chauffeured us to an Optical Shop for small eyeglass repair and to the local Publix. When we returned S/V Barefoot, a 40 ft Island Packet, had arrived on our dock. We’d met Jim & Lenore at Captiva last weekend and though we’ll leave them here, tomorrow, we’ll see them again in Venice on Saturday. Yes, tomorrow we’ll sail down Charlotte Harbor to again anchor at Cayo Costa, this time to surf fish on the Gulf side of the park.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Naples - Sanibel

The Naples’ Saturday Farmers Market provided us with fresh fruits (local strawberries and papaya), vegetables (tomatoes, green beans, zucchini & red peppers) plus a treat of stone crabs. This was heard on NPR the other day. “The majority of wealth is in the hands of those who are 55 and older and we can live the rest of our lives on fruits, vegetables, pasta, olive oil and wine, plus yearly doses of sock and underwear”. Yes, it was a male speaking! Our sail to Ft. Myers was swift – 15 to 20 knots of east wind with gusts to 25. The main was reefed 50% and we had 2’ seas abeam. It took only 5 hours and 45 minutes in contrast to the 7 hours of March’s southbound trip, when we motored against the wind. St. Charles Yacht Club, one of our favorite friendly stops, gave us the chance to visit with old friends Bill and Toni Hitchens and make new friends, Don & Virginia Sink from Tampa Yacht Club, plus have an address to which our bank could Fed Ex new credit cards. The Club held a Members’ Art Show and reception, Wednesday evening. For a small 120+ member club, there were many very talented painters, potters, photographers, jewelers, a wood turner and a gentleman who creates beautiful fly fishing lures. Last night, Thursday, we anchored off Sanibel Island’s Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge. By dingy we explored the mangrove shorelines and ventured into the bayou to watch cormorants, herons, ospreys and pelicans fishing and drying their wings on the weathered gnarled snags. With 10-knot SE winds it has been a comfortable and peaceful spot. This weekend we'll be at Captiva Island Yacht Club. The fire we spoke about in our last blog post began ten days ago in the drought areas of Big Cypress Preserve. It closed I-75 “Alligator Alley” from Naples to Miami for over a week. We were still getting a fine coating of ash during our stay at Ft. Myers. Can you see Iggy among the leaves in this photo? Our friends Carol and Pete have been supplementing his diet with broccoli stocks and collard greens.Iggy is a wild iguana living at Boca Chica.