Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christmas in Key West. . . and the weather is lousy!

Happy Holidays to all!

Our Christmas 'surprise' was that my dad and step mom's cruise ship arrived in Key West on Christmas Eve! (Can you tell which one is me and which on is my dad?) We rented one of those 4 person golf carts that are everywhere on the island and took them on a little tour of the island ending up at Pepe's for lunch. Pepe's has been there since 1909. . . and it looks it! It was great seeing them and getting a chance to visit at
Christmas time!

Yes, Christmas day in Key West was a bit of an adventure. The day started out just fine and we had decided to have a pleasant 'boat day' for Christmas (Newton's Birthday) and not go to shore. Storms were predicted for late afternoon/evening and boy were they right on this time!

We had pulled up dingy, messed with the anchor lines (2 down), and generally prepared for storm conditions. It was getting darker and darker in the west-north-west and we could hear the rumbling of far off thunder. At one point Sue said, "What's that noise"? I thought it was my wind generator but no. . . maybe the neighbor's. . . but no and then we saw the wall of rain coming our way. We were hearing the rain before feeling the rain. We had to hustle to get hatches and ports closed.

Then the rain REALLY came and so did the wind. It was raining sidways in buckets and blowing about 35 knots. The seas turned that ugly color and got mighty confused. Our anchors held just fine though and the boat stayed mainly dry except for one leak that came oozing from between the two shelves that form one of the double beds in the salon. All dry above that area. Must be some sort of leak around the toe rail.

As we huddled in the companion way watching the storm and listening to the nearly continuous thunder, our neighbor on a big Beneteau was out scrubbing his decks! Of course. Fresh water is at a premium and here's the chance to give the boat a good scrubbing and continuous rinsing. . . as long as you don't get a kabillion volts on your head! He finished up by giving himself a good scrubbing although not with the deck brush.

It calmed down after about an hour and seas were very calm when we went to bed. I got up at around 1:00 AM as I heard the wind begin up again with a little rain. Glad I did. When I looked forward there was a little trawler about 6 feet off our bow! I thought maybe they'd just swing away but, no, they were getting even closer. I felt bad but I had to let them have two blasts from the old air horn. I hollered a couple of times as well and they came out and saw the situation. In a few minutes they were underway and off my bow. We watched them re-anchor, thankfully, far from us. The rest of the night was pretty rolly but without further incident.

So merry damn Christmas!

In optical phenomena news. . . A few days ago we were preparing to launch the dingy to go into town when I looked up and saw the rainbow pictured here. I hollered at Sue, "Look, look, look"! To which she replied, "Where, where, where"? I couldn't believe she couldn't see it and then realized she had her polarizing sunglasses on. Light from a rainbow, like glare off of the sea, is polarized and so her glasses were making the rainbow invisible! I hollered, "Take your sunglasses off"! She said, "Wow".

The other neat thing about this rainbow is how low to the horizon it is. Usually you see rainbows in the evening when the sun can shine under the clouds and reflect off the rain. Rainbows are always viewed 42 degrees up from the tip of your own shadow (yes we each see our own personal rainbow!). So at noon (which it nearly was) shadows are short and 42 degrees up is not very high in the sky. This will certainly make it into the book!

We plan to keep writing and living in Key West through New Years and then work our way up to Marathon to stage for crossing over to the Bahamas. Onward!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Key West and Life is Good

As planned we are making a little stand here in good old Key West while I try to write the bulk of the book. Mornings are usually spent at the keyboard followed by a trip ashore. We check our email at Coffee Plantation and maybe do a little research for the book. A walk along the wharf or a stroll along Duval street in the late afternoon. In the early evening we’re back on board. Some cheese, snacks and a cocktail drink. We note the comings and goings of new boats and boats that had been here when we arrived. Almost everybody in Key West is from somewhere else and they’re all going somewhere else. What a crazy place!

We’ve made a friend (or a pet) of our nearest neighbor, Jeff. He lives aboard a 26 foot sloop with no sails and comes and goes on about a 16 foot dingy off of which he has only fallen once but we are still counting. He’s a good guy and maybe a ‘typical’ Conch if there is such a thing. He’s younger that us by 20 years (who isn’t) and came aboard via his own invitation one night. He was married and running a construction company up in Rhode Island. The part about Rhode Island is believable based on accent. Got divorced, sold the business and is now living and NOT working in Key West. He does a great Capt. Ron impersonation and I fear there may be more Capt. Ron in him than is good for anybody! Such are the characters that we meet on occasion.

We’ve also befriended another Canadian couple who are here for the first time. As we can help them find things in Key West they have lots to tell us about the Bahamas, our next destination. We look forward to going over charts with them and taking lots of notes. Cruising guides are great but you really like to talk to someone who has been there recently. We’re especially interested in making our way through the reefs at night when we leave Rodriguez Key. Doesn’t look all that tough on the charts but you do need to do it at night so as to arrive at Gun Key or Bimini in daylight. Another sphincter squeezer!

We’ve found a boat yard in Marathon that will haul us out and let us paint our bottom ourselves. This apparently is becoming rare. Two out of three yards wouldn’t let us do the work ourselves. We’re anxious to get a couple of coats of bottom paint on before heading to the Bahamas where we will probably scrape it all off again! We should be up that way in early January.

It rained for just about three solid days through Saturday recently. Got a little cabin fever but not too bad. Endeavour Enee is big enough for us to comfortably write, work, read, and relax without going to shore for some time. Sue’s new awnings on the bimini make the cockpit still useable even in a steady rain.

We have been enjoying the freedom of NOT having refrigeration for some time now. After working my butt off to get it installed last February it is now not working. But, we buy ice every few days and only buy fresh meat when we intend to eat it and this is turning out to be more easy going than constantly checking battery levels and running engine twice a day which is what was required to keep up with the refrigerator. They have 25 lb blocks of ice at the market by the wharf and one of those lasts us nearly a week! Better than the deisel I’d have to burn to keep up with the refrigerator. With the refrigerator off line and the nice breezes here to spin our wind generator we are hardly running any diesal at all. Nice. Well, live and learn. Anyone want a slightly used Cold Machine (may need some work)?

We still miss Gracie the sailing cat but hesitate to adopt another. They’re great but can become a real puzzle when we leave the boat for extended periods of time. We’ll see what the future brings. Maybe I can find a six-toed kitten. . .

That’s about it from Key West. Happy holidays and happy Issac Newton’s birthday which we all celebrate (December 25).

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Hurry Up and Stop!

Scott Says:

This time of year there is a regular progression of fronts that descend upon Florida. When they come they bring stiff northern winds and cool temps. Just such a front was due to come late Thursday or early Friday to the Keys. So, we decided that we could safely leave Marco Island on Wednesday afternoon to arrive in Key West Thursday morning (Oh boy...a night sail!) before the front could stir up the waters. So off we went at 3:00 pm on Wednesday. We were a little worried that there might already be rolly conditions and a wind at our back but no. We had a little east breeze on our beam but not enough to make our desired 5 knots. So back to motor sailing which we’ve learned is not that uncommon. There was enough wind to keep both sails mostly filled and we gained some speed by leaving them up. Still, it was a beautiful night. When the moon got high in the sky it had a perfect, giant circle around it. Hmmm...we also had a very nice sun dog to look at right before sun down. Related? Must research this. I think they are but stay tuna! Sue and I broke the night up into 3 hour hunks. I did 6-9 and 12-3 while Sue did 9-12 and 3-6. Three hours is a long time to stare at the compass/GPS. Our autohelm is on the fritz and we are saving for a new one rather than repair the Autohelm 4000. I’ve now had 3 of these things and I’ve never had one work well. Well, that’s another story.

One of the tricky parts about sailing at night is trying to dodge the crab pots! As we left Marco Island they were pretty thick. We hoped that they would thin out as we progressed south and they did but they never did really go away. I didn’t want to imagine me in the dark water trying to cut loose a crab pot in the middle of the ocean. I could imagine Sue doing it though. She must have imagined it as well since she spent over an hour laying on the bow sweeping a beam light across the dark horizon hoping to spot the pots before our propeller did! She finally returned to the cockpit when the moon rose high enough to shed some light on the problem. We couldn’t believe that we were still seeing (thought barely) crab pots in over 50 feet of water.

As we had planned we reached G1, the green bell marking the entrance to the north west channel that leads to Key West, at 0730 on Thursday. All night there had been a light on the western horizon that we had been keeping our eye on. (In fact it was the only thing to look at on the entire horizon. Love those night sails.) As we approached G1 so did he and he was a tug pulling 2 barges like a two car train. It looked like we were going to arrive together so we jibed and more or less fell in behind him. Once in the channel proper we actually got some real wind so we FINALLY got to turn off the engine for a very nice arrival into Key West under pure sail as it should be.

Once we rounded sunset key there was the usual busy harbor of Key West. A giant cruise ship was docking, the coast guard was out in force, boats coming and going. Neat. Now’s a good time to drop the sails. Start the engine! Nothing...no whine no chug no nothing. This engine just ran all night...16 hours! Well, we are almost used to this sort of thing. We did roll up the Genoa and Sue sailed us up and back a bit on the main only while I crawled into the engine room. Just have to jump the starter motor with a pair of pliers. I hate this because even though you don’t want to you always jump when you make that sparky connection (and sometimes yelp like a lady . . . but not me.). Once I jumped and put my knee into the fins of the alternator. That was bad. Well, she started right up and this is a real puzzle.

The puzzle... If you follow the wires away from the starter motor you find an external solenoid, key switch, and push button start. All of those things have been replaced so I’m at a loss (for now) as to why jumping around these things even helps. I can’t even make it be bad...it just does this sometimes which is always the hardest problem to track down. Any hints/ideas would be appreciated.

Back underway we dropped the main and headed for Conch Marina. Usually after a long sail we are tired and just want to get the hook down and take naps. What happens then is a couple of days later you find yourself saying things like, “Boy we should have stopped for fuel or water or pump out or all of those. . . “ and then you don’t feel like hauling up the anchor and going through all the gyrations of docking the boat. Remembering this sort of thing we took care of business before anchoring. So, after taking on fuel (24 gallons) and fresh water we turned north to the anchor field just west of Flemming Key. Fairly crowded but always room for one more boat.

Knowing that the wind was going to come ripping out of the north I wanted to set my all chain anchor, the CQR, to windward. It’s is tricky here because the wind was north but the tidal current was flowing from the south. This means that as we backed downwind the boat would try to turn to point up current! Well, with a couple of tries, a little swearing, and a promised lashing, we finally got her set. Because of the reversing current we wanted to anchor “Bahamian style”. This means you put two anchors out 180 degrees apart with the boat in the middle. This way as the current reverses the boat only swings in a little circle instead of a big circle. I tie a ribbon to the chain so I can tell where I was. The idea is to let out more chain as we back further down wind. I don’t want to disturb the anchor I’ve already set. Ideally I’d double the amount of chain out and then drop the second hook. Then when I go back upwind and reel in this chain to the ribbon I’ll know the boat is in the middle of the two anchors. This worked pretty well. I probably have 160 degrees (180 is an ideal) and both anchors set well.

As the wind came up on our first night I thought I would have been smarter to set both anchors to windward in a V shape. The current is not able to dominate the wind right now so we are not making any circles. If the wind gets real strong I’d feel better having that second anchor holding me in place rather then trailing off down wind. Upon watching the two rodes though I think this is ok. They both stay tight and we are basically rock still in this position.

We could hear and feel the wind start to come up that first night. In the morning it was blowing a good 20 knots and gusting to 25. Anchors are holding well but we neglected to launch the dingy and mount the motor when things were calm. Now we are in 2-3 foot seas and no way am I going to head down the ladder with the motor in those conditions. Looks like we’ll be aboard for awhile. . .

Sue Says:

Still aboard in Key West

Yes we are still aboard in Key West. Not a bad place to be at all. But there is nothing still about the Key West anchorage we’re on. Today is Saturday. The winds are still in the mid-20’s gusting to 30s and the waves are too high and rolly to launch the dingy much less to lower the motor onto it. We wouldn’t be comfortable leaving the boat in these conditions anyway. Yesterday we noticed a nearby sailboat was slipping from its anchorage. There is nobody aboard and luckily the anchor reset itself though far away from the anchorage field avoiding going out to sea. Go ashore and worry about our boat dragging anchor? No Thank You.

So we are still aboard in Key West. Although we haven’t set foot ashore since arriving Thursday morning (not counting Scott paying for our fuel at the marina and picking up a much deserved 6 pack to go). So why did we leave Marco Island 3 days ago knowing that a cold front was coming through and would last several days? Hmmmmm. Well it was a trade off. Scott has been champing at the bit ever since leaving Ft. Myers Beach (this was the most recent champing anyway) and I don’t think he or I would have survived sitting on anchor in Marco Island for another week waiting for weather to change.

So we both decided that moving on to Key West was the best. We were excited to get here again. What’s not to like about Key West. We are Still aboard in Key West although most likely it will be 2 more days until we are able to comfortably go ashore. (I haven’t been off this boat since Tuesday afternoon. If we don’t get ashore until Monday it will be a full week of only 40’ Enee for me.) But I’m okay with waiting. I spend much time in the cockpit watching the dolphins (you can actually see them under water here) reading, writing, sodukoing. And listening to the next new sound that these intense winds and waves bring to our boat. So far everything has been identifiable and nothing has broken.

Still in Key West and Duvall street is calling our names. Watch out when shore leave arrives!

A final note from Scott

A book deal has finally come through with a publisher out east. We’ll be staying in Key West for about a month while I (hopefully) finish the book. The working title is “Sailing Through Physics” but that will probably change. The book is about all the interesting (really!) connections between sailing, maintaining a boat and just being on the ocean with the basic physical laws of nature. I hope it is interesting, entertaining and speled corectly and that all of you buy a copy (or two!) when it comes out next fall! Look for it right here.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Sailing Again

Good news...the boat still floats and we can still make the pointy part go forward! On Saturday we finally threw off that mooring line and chugged out of Ft. Myers Beach at first light (of course). Wind was south east or south west when there was any so we just motored with the main up for the 30+ mile run south to Marco Island. Interesting, this is the first anchorage we have returned to since the trip began. Of course we've sat still for some significant time in there but still...

So great to be at sea again. While we were under way we lucked out and both saw a dolphin leap at least 6 feet clear of the water...and then do it
again! Wow, what a lucky camera shot we got this time!

We also spotted birds on top of the sea. There must have been 500 birds - a mix of gulls and pelicans sitting and feeding on top of the water. We don't know what was there but suspect that maybe a fisherman had discarded some bait.

Now that we are anchored by Marco Island there is a bit of north wind blowing and making seas a little rough down by Key West (our next stop). We will probably have to wait for Tuesday or Wednesday to leave. As we did on the way north, we will leave in the afternoon to arrive in daylight in Key West. It is a little over 80 miles and should take about 16 hours. Wind on those days is supposed to be 10 knots or so and from the north east. Could make for a very pleasant night indeed.

In the meantime, we finished the long awaited awnings for the bimini. Thanks Kay for the use of your sewing machine back in Chicago. With much banging and swearing we finally got all the snaps installed yesterday and attached the awninings for more shade and protection from rain.

Left picture shows the awning being installed. At the right, Sue is swinging the hammer to no avail. Imagine some real sailor type swearing right here....

As a bonus we find that we can detach these flaps from the rail and fold them up on top of the bimini when they are not needed.

Well, on to Key West - one of our favorite places in the solar system! We'll probably spend a few days there and then head up the Keys to meet our friends Joe and Peg in Boot Key and then look for a window to sail to the Bahamas! Yes! New places are just down the road.