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Saturday, September 4, 2010

Nothing to do but gaze up at stars and distant galaxies...

It's now late in the evening and there is still not a whiff of air to be found blowing in any direction. I'm still debating with myself whether to continue sailing to Marathon once the wind finally kicks up or head back to Marco Island and get my motor repaired by someone who knows what the hell he is doing.

I am nevertheless concerned about my already depleted water supply and the fact that there is virtually nothing between my next way point and Marathon other than mosquitoes and gators. I check my nautical charts and note some menacing names of places no one has been to in a while... "Mosquito Key", "Alligator Bay", "Big Lost Man's Bay", "Buzzard Kay", "Alligator Cove", "Shark Point", and "Dead Man's Key".

Somehow I also find myself thinking about the true life story of an adventurer featured in the movie, "Into the Wild"... and of his fate, and no, I certainly do not want to be that guy...

I'm also concerned about uncharted shoals. There is always the possibility of running aground on some uncharted shoal out in the middle of nowhere and not having any auxiliary power to pull the boat off. I ask myself, who would come and save my ass? It's not like anybody knows I'm even out there.

My handheld VHF radio has a but a limited range of but two miles or so... besides there wouldn't be anybody out there to hear my pleas for help anyway... and I might just wind up having the misfortune of having a shoal named after me.

I finally make the decision that evening not to make a decision until the next morning. I open up my last bottle of inexpensive and unpretentious Merlot and pour myself some wine into a wide based ceramic cup.

I spend the rest of that evening sipping on wine and contemplating the stars and heavens all the while thinking about all the screw-ups in my life and yearning for companionship. Earlier that evening I watched the sun dip below the horizon yet did not see the green spark this time around.

Navigation lights can be seen methodically blinking on and off in the distance while I contemplate whether sailing is indeed more relevant than growing a vegetable garden, or hiking, or even grilling burgers out in the back yard with friends and family.

I marvel at planet Jupiter, the brightest object in the sky on a moonless night. It is but the width of three fingers above the horizon and its reflexion on the completely still water makes a perfectly straight line.

Later that evening I see the skies light up beyond the southern horizon with a distant thunderstorm. I also see an occasional satellite high above the atmosphere streaking across the sky but it fails to make much of an impression on me since it has become somewhat of a common occurrence to see them.

I periodically wake up throughout the night to check my GPS position. There is a slight current but I'm only drifting at half a knot or so. I'm in deep water and have drifted but three miles throughout the night.

I awaken with a clear head and decide to do the prudent thing and head on back to Marco Island to have the outboard repaired. The "never go back" bit of advise from my fellow barfly up at Fort Myers Beach will simply have to wait until I have "embraced this" in its entirety...

Morning showed some gray skies over the eastern horizon and sure enough the wind started to pick up ever so slightly but not enough to bother with the sails just yet.

I make a French press pot of Bustelo coffee and find myself wishing I had some "pan tostado con queso y mantequilla" to go along with it. I check my position once again and calculate some twenty miles to Marco Island. There is now a perceptable slight breeze blowing.

Soon thereafter I've raised the sails and am glad not to see the sunrise because of the cloud cover on the eastern horizon. Blondie-Dog is once again under sail doing a good five knots while gliding over placid seas.

It was a delightful easy sail made in four hours or so. Upon rechecking my nautical charts, I note a beach on the south end of Marco Island. The chart shows plenty of depth up close to the shore. As I make my approach I can see kayaking and para-sailing going on. On shore is a row of luxurious condos from one end of the beach to the other.

I slowly ease my boat into about twelve feet of water while continually checking the depth of the water before dropping sails... there is no point chancing getting in too close in shallower waters and I drop an anchor and let out a good hundred feet of rode.

I then partially unfurl the jib and angle off from my hook to set the other anchor. I now have got all my gear stowed away. It's but a little past noon when I get down to the business of a few phone calls to see about having someone come out to the boat and replace the starter cord in my outboard.

My first call goes out to First Marine up in Fort Myers for a local store to call, who may in turn might suggest a local marina to call... and I'm once again thinking about the "you need to embrace this" comment because if I had, I'd already have this information before I even set sail for Marco Island. The marinas certainly do inform me that they would be glad to repair my outboard but no, they can't go get it and that I'd have to bring it in myself.

Now I'm thinking that I'm going to have to re-inflate my dingy, tie off the outboard, lower it into the dingy, and row ashore, then hoist that two hundred pound outboard up on my shoulder and trek to the marina.

Which brings me to my last phone number to call and see whether my boat towing insurance would cover the cost of having them send out a boat to take my outboard ashore. To my pleasant surprise, not only will they come out to the boat, but they will also tow my sailboat to the marina completely free of charge... because technically, the moment I didn't have auxiliary power, my vessel was "disabled" all on account of a broken starter cord. Disabled my a**... didn't anyone see me sail right up to the beach this morning?

I turn on my GPS and press the MOB (man over board) key to get my position and relay this information over the VHF radio. (N25' 55.036 W081' 43.842)
We agree for him to tow the vessel at three that afternoon... giving me some time to catch my breath and scope out all the scantily clad eye-candy up on the beach.

Tanning ashore can be seen a couple, both with hard bodies as far as I could tell looking out over the water at my boat. I imagine the guy to be thinking, "what a life, I wish it were me aboard that boat" while I in turn am thinking, "what a life, I wish it were me laying out on the beach rubbing tanning oil on that super-hot babe laying out next to the guy".

I shortly thereafter grab my snorkeling gear and dip into the cool refreshing water. I bring along a pair of cotton gloves and my plastic paint scraper and get to work once again scraping off barnacles and crud off the hull of the boat.... seems as if I didn't quite do near enough scraping while anchored off Point Ybell some tens days ago or so. I missed more than a few spots this second go around as well. I'll need to bring along a chipping hammer next time to remove a few of the larger barnacles steadfastly refusing to become dislodged from the hull.

Light winds and a minor mishap of sorts...

I've hoisted my sails and reach my first way point in due order. (FW0087) I've averaged some four knots at best and continue sailing on to my second way point, FW0086, N25' 41.3000 W081' 38.770 another eleven or so miles further south.

The sun is brutally hot and it is all that I can do to stay hydrated. I'm wearing a white long-sleeve shirt and a broad rim safari hat for some protection from the sun. I finally relent and go down below and retrieve my golf umbrella. What the heck... I'm in the middle of nowhere. Who's gonna see me? It occurs to me that I must look like Mary Poppins holding up that umbrella.

The seas are completely calm, a far cry from what was going on just yesterday. What little wind that I had has died down to but a whisper. Winds are light and variable... it's a challenge to keep the sails full. By two in the afternoon, I'm just bobbing like a cork in water. Who am I kidding? This ain't sailing. I pull the sails down and attempt to start my Nissan 9.8 HP outboard engine.

I haven't wanted to run it whatsoever unless negotiating narrow channels and such. Fuel is limited and it's a long haul to Marathon... some ninety miles or so.

I find myself yanking time and time again, (pun indeed intended), on the starter cord. That treacherous outboard just won't start when a slight mishap occurs.

The outboard starter cord has been yanked one time too many and has snapped in half. It's no time to panic and I can only think about the words of advise from my fellow barfly just a couple of evenings ago advising me, "You need to embrace this".

My problem is that I simply don't care about motors and have never taken the time to understand them. Somehow the item on my "to do" list about going online and down loading the operator's manual for the Nissan outboard simply never got done.

My GPS tells me that I am but five miles from my second way point and since it's still early in the afternoon without the slightest hint of a breeze and with the seas as calm as glass, I get to work to attempt to replace the starter cord with some line that I have on board.

I suppose that subconsciously I have not embraced the outboard as an integral part of the boat. What the hell, I use to sail all the time aboard my AMF 21 sailboat in Puerto Rico without a motor. I'd sail in and out of the slip under sail all the time. No motor... no problem was my motto.

I get to work and find myself seated on the swim ladder off of the transom. I remove the cover of the outboard and proceed to carefully disassemble the flywheel. How hard can it be to replace a lousy cord? I seem to remember the cord on my lawnmower breaking on more than just one occasion and me somehow managing to fix it. All flywheels are more or less the same... right?

I replace the broken cord with line but now couldn't either remember or figure out how to reassemble the damned thing. I'm hot, I'm tired, and a bit out of focus. I feel a trickle of sweat dripping off my nose when suddenly one of the three bolts used to fasten the flywheel securely slips out of my hand.

Another mishap... I've inadvertently dropped a bolt into the drink... the thing didn't even bother to make a plopping sound as it sliced through the water and made a straight line to the bottom.

That was enough screw-ups for one day. I collect all the remaining parts and store them in a container. I replace the cover on the outboard and go down below out of the brutal heat. I am both mentally and physically exhausted. The sun had taken a toll on me and it's way past time to shut everything down, clean up, and finally eat something.

Not that anyone cares about threaded bolts and such, but dinner that evening was a small tin of some off-brand salmon. I opened the tin, plopped the salmon into a stainless steel mixing bowl, flaked the salmon with a plastic disposable fork and chowed down. I then slurped the salmon juice the same way a Chinese person might slurp down a bowl of Wonton soup.

My sponge bath followed by some dry clothing did indeed put me in a better frame of mind later that evening as my boat continued to bob about for the rest of the night.

Setting Sail from Marco Island...

It is daybreak, Thursday September 2nd and I'm pulling up my anchors. I'm not convinced that either anchor ever grabbed in well when I set them the previous afternoon. I had wanted to dive on my anchors but that was before I caught a fleeting glimpse of the angular shaped dorsal fin of a shark swimming nearby the boat. It was out of sight in an instant.

Up on the beach a ways could be seen an adult couple and their three kids splashing in the water. I wondered to myself whether they knew that sharks prefer to feed early in the morning and late in the afternoon... at least that is what I seem to remember after viewing a program about sharks on the Discovery Channel.

It was somewhat of an uncomfortable anchorage and I'm not sure that I ever got in a good sleep in spite of going down below at around eight that evening. I'm thinking that I was simply too physically exhausted to ever relax after the strenuous sail earlier in the day.

It must have been around ten or so in the evening when I finally decided that I could use a cold beer. However, there is no refrigeration on board and the only beer to be found was a 32 ounce can of Miller High Life at ambient temperature. But what the heck, that beer purchased at a Seven-Eleven awhile back cost me but a buck and change so to hell with it... I popped open the tab and pour myself half a glass.

Let me tell you, that was a mighty fine tasting beer... room temperature and all. Cold beer aboard a sailboat is vastly overrated. I had a good buzz going on yet no one to talk to other than myself and with there not being a soul within sight, I entertained myself singing a few of my favorite karaoke songs at the top of my lungs.

I sang "Midnight Special" by Creedance, "Drift Away" by Doby Grey, "Honey" by Ricky Skaggs, "Maggie Mae", Rod Stewart, "Lady In Red" by somebody, "Purple Rain" by Prince and lastly "'Cause I Get High", by ..oh heck, I can't remember at this moment.

Winds were relative light as I hoisted my sails at daybreak and set off for my first way point on my nautical chart. FW0087, N25' 50.000 W081' 45.000, some eight miles south of my anchorage. Surely the winds would pick up later in the morning... or so I thought.

"You've Got to Embrace This"

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"You've got to embrace this" was the comment delivered to me with absolute certainty and a bit of rapprochement.

I had been seated at the bar at the Big Game Bar & Grill watching reruns of another mindless preseason football game and anguishing whether or not to set sail for Marco Island in the morning when another patron took a seat alongside of me. He noted in short order the sailing literature that I had along with me and we were soon talking about sailing, weather patterns and GPS way points.

He shared with me that he too had once been a sailor who had sometime ago soloed from Seattle on down through the Panama canal and parts beyond using only a sextant as his navigation aid.

I describe my sailing ordeal of the previous week and of the terrifying thunderstorms and ocean swells and how I elected to turn back to which he resolutely states, "never turn back".

It was soon obvious that he was unimpressed with my degree of preparations for my sail on down to Marco Island and then on to Marathon. At one point after a casual response to one of his observations, he looked at me square in the eye and with an emphatic hand gesture stated, "You need to embrace this"... as in there are no short-cuts, as in this is not an easy weekend day sail, as in you can die out there, as in you need to get your sh*t together son.

Message delivered and I take him up on his advise to go to the public library the next morning and photocopy the large nautical charts for my passage.

I'm riding the Fort Myers Beach bus trolley the following day to the library and relieved not to be sailing in fore casted 15 to 18 knot winds with gusts up to 25. I take my GPS along with me and spread my copied charts out on a large table and then program every relevant and not so relevant way-point for the various navigation aids en route to Marathon.

A day later at daybreak, I'm slipping out of the marina with renewed confidence, negotiating the narrow river channels on out to the open waters. Once out in deep water, I hoist the sails and I'm cruising along at a nice comfortable clip and as the morning progresses, the winds pick up and I'm now flying at a good six and a half knots. I partially reef my jib to slow the boat down just a bit for a less strenuous sail.

The strong yet steady winds push me on down to Marco Island in under seven hours. I anchor off the beach on the north end of Marco Island. The sail was a good test of what the boat can do and restores my confidence in my seamanship skills if only for another day.

S/V Blondie-Dog is a fine rugged, heavy boat.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Setting Sail for Marathon, Florida again...

I'll be setting sail first thing tomorrow morning. Marco is my immediate destination some thirty-six miles south. After that I plan on sailing to Marathon and tying off to a mooring in Boot Key Harbor for awhile.

Winds have consistently been out of the east so it should be a nice sail. It was reassuring to hear from a fellow boater here at the marina that last week's forty eight hours of continuous thunderstorms was the exception and not the norm.

Thunderstorms do however pop up each evening with the westerly breeze but they pass on through pretty quickly.

I deflated the dinghy and gave it a good scrubbing with Soft Scrub. I later dried it out, folded it up and stowed it down below in the cabin. I've made it a point to lock up the boat when I'm not aboard... something I didn't do while docked at the City Marina up in Fort Myers. A fellow boater regularly informs me of transients literally cleaning out a boat of all its gear for resale. This fellow earns his living charter fishing and can always be seen with a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon in hand.

My size 38 inch shorts kept having somewhat of a malfunction. They kept wanting to slip off and I seemed to be continuously displaying a pants-on-the-ground fashion statement. I found myself hiking the things up all the time so I finally made a quick trip out to Wal-Mart and purchased two size 36 cargo shorts.

I've inadvertently lost some weight just moving around all day and not eating as much. I simply don't have much of an appetite while aboard because of the hot weather. Lunch is often either an orange or a tart green apple. A multivitamin and a capsule of fish oil is also part of my regular diet. Food is expensive here in Florida. I kinda miss walking into a Fiesta food store and loading up the cart with inexpensive food items.

Not that anyone gives a "mexican-pedo", but dinner yesterday was a huge plate of nachos loaded up with pico de gallo, shredded chicken, guacamole, sour cream and about half a jar of jalapeno peppers. It goes without saying that I used up almost the entire bottle of hot sauce as well.

...And we all well know that the reason why the hungry crocodile chowed down on both the little white and black boys fishing along the banks of the swamp and not the Mexican boy is because he feared having his a** hole burning for the next week and a half.