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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Pulling up anchors and sailing off to Marathon...

It is day break and I find myself pulling up my anchors in the quiet anchorage just outside of Rose Marco Island Marina. I pause a moment to contemplate the early morning sunrise before carrying on with the task at hand and for once my Nissan 9.8 hp outboard is not giving me any grief and starts right on up.

Blondie's sails are ready to be hoisted but first there is the business of motoring through three miles of inlet channels. It is a delightful cruise right on past some of the most fabulous homes and condos you'll ever see and they all reek of money and lots of it.

I continue motoring out into the open waters to the last channel marker before attempting to hoist the mainsail. Winds are more than steady and it is with some effort before I can get the bow pointed into the easterly wind and finally raise the mainsail all the way up.

With the mainsail now up, I shut down the outboard and uncleat the roller-furling jib line and watch the jib spill out and fill with wind. Blondie is now slicing through the water at a good five to six knots without even breaking a sweat.

There is hardly a ripple in the water as I continue sailing on past Marco Island beach where just days earlier I had sailed right up to then dropped an anchor. I continue sailing on past Romano Point while occasionally looking back only to see Marco Island and all its luxury condos looking smaller and smaller on the distant horizon.

I think about the friendships forged over the past ten days or so and suddenly feel like a nomad not having a clue of what lies ahead in my life. I think about my brief conversation with the senior gentleman who cut my hair just days before and of him talking lovingly of his wife of many years.

I find myself yearning for my ex-wife's companionship and regretting not having been a devoted husband. I remind myself that life is a collection of life experiences and to have a more positive outlook on things and that I "need to embrace this" as Blondie continues on slicing through the water.

Soon enough Blondie is sailing right on past my first waypoint programmed into my GPS and it is but ten in the morning when I sail on past my second waypoint. The same waypoint which days earlier was within sight yet forever unreachable because there wasn't the slightest breeze to fill the sails.

Steady winds are out of the east and I'm hoping that they stay that way for awhile until I sail on past the Northwest Cape. I'm anticipating that the winds will gradually start shifting out of the south and am later hoping that the westerly winds will kick up and carry me southeast to Marathon. This seems to have been the wind pattern of the past few days.

Blondie wasn't but a mile or so away from the second waypoint when the easterly winds suddenly start gusting. It seemed like an isolated gust at first but soon one gust of wind followed another and were all out of the east.

The boat is suddenly heeling over and lurching forward. It is no longer a controlled sail... never mind whether it is comfortable sail or not. I reef the roller furling jib to some extent and let out the mainsail as much as possible so that the wind spills out.

By now, the smooth water of early this morning is a thing of the past. The water now resembles a caldron of boiling water. Blondie is now heeling over somewhat precipitously every time a swell sneaks up on us.

I am constantly surfing down the swells to keep the boat upright and once again I am frightened and regretting not heading the advise of a power boater to sail in close to shore and not sail out on the open waters. "Good luck to you" were her ominous departing words. But what the hell do power boaters know about sailing?

The easterly winds do not lessen nor do they shift out of the south. It is a brutal sail. I am exhausted and even more importantly thirsty. There is plenty of water onboard the boat this time around except that it is all down below in the cabin. My three liter bottle of water didn't last long and there is no way I can risk letting go of the tiller to go down below into the cabin to retrieve another bottle of water.

My legs ache from constantly bracing myself in the cockpit. My right hand now has callouses from having grasped the tiller with all my might all day and my right arm aches so bad that it is crying out for a bit of Ben-Gay.

Sunset for that day was scheduled for 7:32 pm and sure enough I watch the sun dip below the horizon at the appointed time. It's now around 8 pm or so with very little daylight when I see a massive thunderhead cloud light up in the distance.

I've made my mind up. The mainsail must come down one way or another and it must be now regardless of the ocean swells. I point the boat into the wind as best I can and race towards the mast while grasping everything in sight as tightly as possible while anticipating a large swell smacking Blondie at any moment.

Much to my relief, I successfully drop the mainsail and gather in the sail as best I can. I hastily fasten the mainsail to the boom with three bungee cords that I earlier had clenched between my teeth while scrambling up on deck.

I am pleased to see that my new topping lift functions as intended and that the boom is not on the deck rolling about. Blondie is no longer under sail but simply bobbing off one swell after another but I am relieved to go down below in spite of all the swaying motion.

I check my position with the GPS one last time and mark it. I am fifteen or so miles north of Big Pine Key... way off course but in deep enough water nevertheless. I'll worry about getting back on course in the morning when it is daylight. For now I am simply too exhausted to do anything but collect myself both mentally and physically.

I secure the gear in the cockpit and go down below into the cabin. It is a mess. Gear is strewn everywhere and all is wet from the ocean spray and occasional rain showers. Damned... I've yet to replace the two portholes along either side of the V-berth.

My cutlery knives that I previously thought were secure are all scattered on the cabin floor. I collect those up first and make sure that I've got'em all. Next I pick up a number of items that had spilled out of the various tote boxes and secure those as well.

Now it's time to look out after myself and I proceed to drink what seemed to be at the time a quart of water. I kick off my wet sneakers and strip off my life vest followed by my white long sleeve shirt that had once seen better days in an office. I then strip off my wet swim trunks while continually bracing myself down below while Blondie is continuously rocked from one side to another.

I dry myself off with a grungy towel but then reconsider the extent of my "bathing". Even I can't stand the grime and odor that's stuck all over me. I dig out a bar of Irish Spring soap, a clean washcloth, a bucket, and some fresh water and scrub myself clean.

I later rinse off as best I can with the same washcloth and dry off with a clean dry towel this time around. I pull on some dry underwear, a t-shirt and a pair of basketball shorts of all things. I am now somewhat clean and dry and my disposition has improved.

My stomach reminds me that I need to eat something but nothing sounds appetizing with all the rocking motion going on. I rummage through my tote box containing my provisions and come across a can of Campbell's condensed tomato soup. I pop open the lid, grab a spoon and down my first spoonful. The soup is cold right out of a can but I remind myself that this is what is surely called plain Gazpacho Soup in Spain. The soup is decidedly satisfying and comforting.

Sleeping in the V-berth is out of the question. It is completely wet and there is way too much motion going on to sleep in there. I lay out my somewhat dry towel on top of the deflated dingy laying on the cabin floor where there is the least amount of motion to be felt. I lie on the towel and soon enough my exhaustion takes over and I am sound asleep.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Local hangouts within walking distance.

One good thing about Rose Marco Island Marina was that it was somewhat within walking distance of a number of establishments.

Jack's Lookout is an opened aired structure just across the marina overlooking the water and close enough to pick up the marina's free unsecured WIFI signal. It was explained to me that the owner is originally from New England so consequently all the Patriot games get viewing priority. The place serves cold draft beer among other beverages.

The Sand Bar is another local establishment within walking distance. Nevertheless I couldn't get too excited about this place for whatever reason.

The Dolphin Tiki was a fun dockside bar but somehow I never got around to going back after my first evening ashore. I think that I resented the "Gut Bomb" burger and fries that I had ordered.

I ordered my burger medium but when it arrived it resembled a hockey puck. I don't care for ice hockey nor do I care for hockey-puck burgers either.

The burger seemed as if it had been on the grill since mid-day yet I was so famished after being out at sea for three days that I scarfed half of it down before I realized that the thing was stuck halfway down my throat because of how dry it was.

Porky's Last Stand on the other hand became my favorite place to cool my heels and quench my thirst. Porky's serves inexpensive draft beer by the pitcher, they have nice cold air-conditioning, a multitude of flat-screens for viewing the various sporting events , a no-smoking policy and best of all free food during happy hour.

I found myself loading my dinky Styrofoam plate up with succulent, juicy, bar-b-qued ribs again and again when no one was looking and chowing down as if I hadn't eaten in a month. The sliced pork sandwich along with baked beans and cole-slaw was to die for, it was that good.

You could say that I was indeed enjoying the local establishments and wasn't in any particular hurry to sail off anywhere just quite yet... especially after having befriended someone at a local tavern who kindly allowed me to watch TV at her house late nights and was only too gracious to let me dip my toes in her pool.

It's not quite yet tourist season so Marco Island still has a relaxed, quaint charm about it for now. I like this place.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A fellow boater.. Jason aboard S/V Tarquin.

Two days after tying up at Rose Marco Island Marina, I met the owner of a wooden sailing vessel tied up alongside of my vessel.

It was early in the morning and he had returned from a sailboat delivery to discover his water hose fully extended and stretching across the cockpit of his vessel and onto my stern.

My slip did not have a water spigot and I had previously asked the marina personnel whether it would be okay to board his boat to connect his water hose to mine. I had been assured that it was okay and that the owner of the boat was not staying aboard and nor would he be back for awhile and not to worry.

Well the young man was looking at me kind of funny so I explained the situation and that I had asked permission to board his boat and whatnot. He responded, "It's all cool" and we proceeded to introduce ourselves.

It took some adjusting not to be judgmental about all the tattoos and piercings adorning his pale, slender body. He had cobweb tattoos on his elbows, a red swastika on the underside of his arm, a nude female on his leg, and who knows what else.

His earlobes and eyebrows had multiple piercings as well as his lower lip and it goes without saying that his nipples were each pierced as well. Dangling about his neck were some four of so medallions one of which seemed to resemble the demonic pentagram.

The funny thing about it all is that I somehow managed to look past all the piercings and tattoos in our future conversations and just simply enjoy conversing about navigation and sailing with him in general.

Rose Marco River Marina

A bolt had to be special ordered to replace the bolt for my Nissan outboard motor that I previously mishandled and dropped into the sea... but that was okay by me since I wasn't having to pay dock fees while my vessel was "in service".

Nevertheless, since I was already at a full service marina I elected to spend a little money and have a few incidental repairs done to the boat that were beyond my capabilities. So S/V Blondie-Dog was pulled into the service slip and a forklift was used to assist in the removal of the mast from the deck.

Labor costs $90 an hour and I was glad to do any necessary grunt-work as instructed by the Marina Service Department in the interest of saving a few dollars where ever possible. I was soon enough instructed to prepare the mast for removal and found myself loosening up all the turnbuckles and detaching halyards and such and later securing it all to the mast with bungee cords.

The mast was then lowered to rest horizontally on some wooden saw-horses. Some sort of "foamy sealant" had been previously used at the base of the mast and had to be removed. I had seen the master repairman attempting to remove all that dry crud with a long screwdriver and all I could think about was the clock running at $90 bucks an hour so I promptly volunteered to do it myself. I was handed the screwdriver and told, "have fun".

Thirty or so minutes later I had finally removed the dry sealant crud so that the wiring inside the mast could be accessible. It was a laborious task out in the hot sun and all I could think about was "failure is not an option... don't be a wooz... and get it done".

The wiring inside the mast was found to be frayed in to a number of places and had multiple splices in it. It was unceremoniously disposed of and replaced with new wiring.

Next I was once again recruited to re-attach the fitting at the top of the masthead once the mast light was secured in place. That effort involved pulling out my tool bag and holding the bolts in place with a wrench while I turned the bolt nuts with a socket wrench.

Later I was instructed to tie off pieces cut out from an old foam mattress to the electrical wiring with black electrical tape. The sponges were tied off in three foot intervals to secure the wiring from clanging inside the mast.... certainly a most expedient and inexpensive solution to the clanging problem.

Once the mast was re-installed up on deck, it was my job to tighten the turnbuckles, secure the halyards and roller furling line, attach my new topping lift to the boom and finally to make my electrical connections at the base of the mast.

It was a real joy to switch on the anchor light later that evening once it was dark out and see first hand a bright anchor light atop of the mast. It was also a joy to rock the boat from side to side and not hear either the wiring or coaxial cable clanging within the mast.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Marco Island, Friday September 3, 2010

It's Friday around five in the afternoon or so and I find myself at the Dolphin Tiki Bar sipping on a cold draft beer after gulping down the first one. It's Labor Day weekend and S/V Blondie-Dog is squared away and securely tied up at the Rose Marco River Marina.

All service department personnel at the Rose Marina have departed for the long weekend and it won't be until Tuesday at the earliest that anyone will be able to reassemble the starting mechanism that I had securely stored in a tupperware dish. But that's okay. There's a festive happy hour going on here overlooking an adjacent boat marina to the Rose with many rich, idle, successful, beautiful people milling about.

No sooner had I arrived after trekking around the condo complex and after having worked up a good sweat when I found myself chatting it up with a young attractive couple from Wisconsin who happened to be vacationing at their rich uncle's condo.

I was describing my mini ordeal of having bobbed about out at sea the previous night and of the starter cord on my outboard snapping in two pieces and of thinking better of continuing on to the Keys without "auxiliary power" and of being glad to be back ashore sipping on a cold beer.

When asked where I was headed to after Marathon, I responded Havana. Not because I'm certain to be headed that way by any means but because it seems to capture the full attention of my captive audience and because I happen to be in a bar where at least some bullsh*t is sure to be expected .

I could have said Key West or even the Bahamas for that matter but the foreboding, and prohibited city of Havana is sure to get every one's attention and I happened to be in a bar and it's my prerogative to bullsh*t all I want to while in a bar... never mind whether or not competing at least once in my life in the prestigious annual Jose Raul Capablanca chess tournament held each November in Havana is on my bucket list of things to do.

A moment later a fellow bar patron was soon heard to be interjecting that he had previously sailed to Havana some fifteen years ago upon overhearing me mention Havana. The grey balding portly gentleman had been sipping on a drink tinkling over ice in a short glass when he made his comment.

There seemed to be gold jewelry dangling all over his somewhat bare chest and around both of his wrists. He proceeded to ask whether I was taking anybody with me and when I responded that I was sailing by myself, he said "Good!!, don't take anybody with you!" and then described having some fifteen or so scantily clad young woman frolicking about the deck of his motor yacht vessel at all hours while in the port of Havana.

Somehow I was supposed to be impressed by all this but I instead found his commentary to be rather tasteless... even for a bar. All I could think about was that those young twenty-something year old girls all had mom's and dad's and even older brothers somewhere toiling about trying to make financial ends meet in Havana somewhere and that I'd be damned if I was going to incur any body's wrath and resentment.

I can assure the local populous, that if I do indeed visit your country, that I will be courteous and even more importantly, respectful.

However , if I were to meet a "dama" somewhat my age, who happened to be "soltera, atractiva, culturalmente educada, amable, y con intereses mutuos", then all is fair game.

You might even find me up early one morning somewhere in Havana, applying for dual citizenship.