Thursday, April 17, 2008

Grandkids, more fish, and fewer fears

I have always loved the Gulf Coast of Florida. When I was a child, my family vacationed at Ft. Myers Beach every year, and I have fond memories of those trips.

Sailing up the West Coast last week to meet our son, Matt, his wife, Michelle, and our two grandchildren, Kailyn (age 6) and Tyler (age 3) in Naples was one of the high points of our journey so far.

We tied up at the Naples City Marina on Saturday, April 5th, and spent the day getting the boat ready for company. Matt called around noon on Sunday to say they had arrived at the condo where they would be staying and would come to the dock around 2:00 p.m.

Kailyn is a proficient reader. Since we were at the far end of the marina, I quickly made a series of signs and taped them along the docks leading to our boat. I knew the kids would love to follow the clues.

As Kailyn and Tyler found the last clue, they came running to the boat. We greeted them with open arms. Michelle's twin sister, Danielle, her husband, Brian, and their two sons Steven (age 6) and Ethan (age 3) came along also. After the kids made a thorough inspection of the boat, we all went out to dinner.

We spent a wonderful week with the extended family. There was lots of beach time, finding shells and starfish and making sand castles. We took a nice boat ride on Sunshine with the kids and their dads sitting up on the bow for a tour of Naples. And we ate lots of good seafood.

On Thursday, the Indiana visitors headed back home and we prepared for our journey back to Marathon and Boot Key Harbor.

While at Naples City Dock, we had met Doug and Debbie on Perigee, another catamaran, who were planning to head south about the same time we were. We left Naples on Friday morning and anchored that evening with Perigee at Jack Daniels Key, just south of Everglades City.

The weather forecast showed a cold front arriving from the North on Sunday afternoon, so we decided to leave the anchorage at dawn on Saturday morning and try to make it all the way to Marathon in one day.

The trip was about 65 miles, farther than we had ever gone in one day before. We pulled the anchor at first light, about 6:40 a.m., and followed Perigee out into the Gulf of Mexico.

All day, the wind was "on our nose" as they say. That means we were heading directly into the wind, which isn't very productive for sailing. We motored with the sails up, but finally decided the sails were slowing us down, and we pulled them in.

Motoring at about five knots, it was slow going. Our speed increased to six knots as we passed the southern tip of Florida. We said goodbye to Perigee, as they were headed to the Upper Keys, and we proceeded directly south on our own towards Marathon.

Although we weren't moving very fast, Phil did manage to catch two more large Spanish Mackerels during our trip. I filleted one and Phil filleted the second. They tasted great the next day!

There was a third fish, which we are calling the MONSTER fish, that chomped on our bait during the trip. I was at the helm. Phil was inside the boat. I suddenly heard the line make a "whee-ee-ee" sound. Before I could even pull back on the throttle and get Phil's attention, the MONSTER fish had emptied the reel of its line. There was a split second when I thought maybe I could begin to reel it in, but the 60-pound test line snapped before I could even consider grabbing the pole.

We'll never know what grabbed that line. I would like to think it was a huge Mahi or a Yellow Fin Tuna.

We passed under the Seven Mile Bridge about 7:30 p.m., close to sunset. It took us another half hour to reach the bascule bridge leading to Boot Key Habor. However, the bridge tender had gone off duty at 7:00, so we had to anchor right outside the bridge.

The light was disappearing quickly as we dropped the anchor. The first try didn't set, so we pulled the anchor and tried a second time. This time, the anchor set and we were secure for the night, just as the last light was fading.

We had been underway for nearly 14 hours and decided the cook needed a break. We dinghied to Burdine's Chiki Tiki restaurant nearby and enjoyed a fine dinner, then dinghied back to the boat and fell into bed.

First thing Sunday morning, we pulled the anchor and hailed the bridge tender, who welcomed us back to Boot Key Harbor. We managed to claim the same mooring ball (out of 226) where we had been before, and felt we had come back home.

We've been here at Boot Key Harbor for several days, stocking up on groceries, doing our laundry, and enjoying the camaraderie of old friends and meeting new friends. There are not many harbors that make you feel as welcome as Boot Key.

This weekend, we'll head to Key West. The Conch Republic Independence Celebration will begin on Friday, the 18th, and continues to the 27th. Our younger son, Andy, is flying in from Seattle to spend a few days with us beginning on Saturday, the 26th, and we are looking forward to his visit.

In case I haven't told you about the Conch Republic Fesitval, let me explain:

Back in 1982, the Navy was trying to stem the tide of Cuban refugees coming to the Keys by boat, so they installed a checkpoint at the north end of the Keys. The result was a traffic jam so great that few tourists could make it to Key West.

The mayor of Key West petitioned the Navy to remove the checkpoint, which they refused to do. So, the mayor filed papers of secession, Key West declared war on the U.S., and attacked the Key West Navy Base with rotten tomatoes. The Navy responded with water hoses.

Key West surrendered (the same day they declared war) and applied for $5-billion in foreign aid, which, of course, they never got. However, the massive publicity caused the Navy to remove the checkpoint.

After that, Key West residents began calling themselves the Conch Republic and, although the secession was mostly a publicity stunt, I think a lot of folks in Key West consider themselves separate from the United States.

We are looking forward to helping the Conch Republic celebrate the 26th anniversary of their independence from the U.S. I'll try to take lots of pictures, because I don't think I'll be able to accurately describe this event in words.

Finally, I thought it might be time to review the list of "fears" I had at the beginning of the trip:

Here was my list from February 4th:

1) The dinghy scares me. I am ashamed to admit this, but this little inflatable boat that is our "car" is difficult for me to get used to.

I am no longer afraid of the dinghy. It's still a little difficult for me to get in and out of, but it no longer scares me.

2) It scares me to go sleep on an 8,700 pound boat being held in place by single anchor. I get up during the night to make sure we are not dragging the anchor.

I still get up during the night to make sure we are not dragging the anchor, but it no longer scares me. I sleep well on the boat at anchor.

3) It scares me to try to dock this 36' by 18' yacht and then help get it securely tied up.

I think everyone is apprehensive about docking, but it no longer scares me. I've learned some techniques about estimating the effect of the current and the wind, and I've learned to slow down. I now enjoy the challenge of docking.

4) It scares me to try to pull away from a dock without crunching the back of the boat, or going aground (as I did a few days ago).

We're still working on this one, but I can't say I'm scared any more. It's definitely a challenge to pull away from the dock gracefully, especially when the wind and/or the current is pushing you back into the dock.

5) It will really scare me when we "go outside."

We have "gone outside" several times now. It is no longer scary. We watch the weather and don't take chances.

6) Learning to sail will scare me. We have very little experience at sailing and we have a lot to learn. As we learn, I will be less scared.

We have sailed a number of times and there has been nothing scary. We have both learned how to raise the sails and pull them back in. We have learned how to trim the sails to get the best effect from the wind. We are not expert sailors in any sense of the word, but we are learning a lot.

7) Our first overnight passage will scare me.

We haven't tried an overnight passage yet, but I don't think I will be scared. I will probably have a hard time staying wake, but it no longer scares me to contemplate an overnight passage.

Life is good,


1 comment:

Greg and Dianne said...

Sounds absolutely WONDERFUL!! Hoping you will update soon with pics!!