Our Boat

Caloosa Spirit

Catalina 42 mkII

Log #86 Cruising 102

We did it!! FINALLY! We left Sarasota and its surrounding environs yesterday, headed south. And it’s actually warmer—a little. We didn’t make our escape any too soon, though. In fact, we were about 48 hours too late. Let me recap.

We knew another front was coming on the heels of the last one, and we desperately needed to get some spare parts, buy some fresh groceries, and do some laundry before leaving. All that besides taking care of settling our car in at Mike’s house for the next several months. So, unlike the other times that we’ve chosen to sit out the high winds at protected Longboat, we opted to remain in exposed Sarasota Bayfront until we had accomplished our objectives prior to departing. Everything was working out okay until Saturday night. We only needed one more day to do laundry, settle the car, and—most importantly—say good-bye to Mike.

Dragging anchor is a rare occurrence for us. We’re always diligent about setting it well and allowing sufficient scope (length of chain and line) to hold us in place. Our trusty Delta usually grabs on the first try and we back down on it hard. Let me just say that if we had to drop the hook as many times as we often see others who have difficulty getting an anchor to set, we would have dropped the hook permanently some time ago. Anyway, after sitting in one place for over two weeks we had become somewhat complacent, and we were definitely not prepared for the 30+ northwesterly and the 2-ft. swells in the anchorage. So at about 11:30 PM (it ALWAYS happens in the dark!) Jim bellowed to me with the dreaded words, “Alice, get up! I think we’re dragging!” In a daze I asked what made him think so—a stupid question, yes, but one born of a desperate desire for him to be wrong this one time. As I scrambled up the companionway I realized how right he was when I observed our proximity to a neighboring boat. Of course, the wind was howling and the deck was pitching, but at least the rain had chosen that moment to abate. Fully awake at this point, we began the procedure for re-anchoring. I longingly wished that we still had the “marriage savers” (walkie-talkies for just such an occasion) that the summer thieves had looted, but our deck light and reliable hand signals proved to be sufficient. The abundance of ambient light in the anchorage helped, too, along with our reliable Maxwell windlass and ample space among the other boats. Within a few minutes—and with about 150 ft. of anchor rode in 13’ of water—we had Caloosa Spirit secured once again. Under the circumstances we opted to take turns doing anchor watches, and with adrenalin running in high gear, I took the first. By about 3:00 AM the winds subsided enough for both of us to get some much-needed sleep. It was the first time I’ve ever seen Jim wear his foul-weather jacket to bed!

The next day we finished our other tasks and were ready to head out the following morning. Winds were still predicted to be 20-25 knots out of the east—not the best direction for our southeasterly route—but we hoped that NOAA would prove to be once again mistaken. We had planned to motor down the ICW to Venice Inlet and then sail on the Gulf from there to Boca Grande. With the wind direction, though, (for once NOAA was right) we envisioned a long, wet sail with a probable after-dark arrival at Boca Grande. Friends have told us that sailing through that cut in the dark is a piece of cake, but they’ve done it before and we haven’t. And after once getting in through the cut, we would have been sitting in 2-ft. swells waiting to get into protected Pelican Bay the following morning. Call us wimps, but, truthfully, we felt we had filled our quota of harrowing nights for the month. Also, we heard another weather forecast that suggested that winds on the next day would be northeasterly—a very desirable direction.

So a new plan was born. We would motor down the inside beyond Venice and anchor for the night at Englewood, then sail on the northeasterly the rest of the way down the ICW to Pelican Bay. What we didn’t bargain on was the excessively low water resulting from the persistent winds, and the consequent inaccessibility of the Englewood anchorage. However, we only realized the scope of the situation when we ran aground just after turning toward the anchorage. The slack tide was to be no help, but Jim’s persistence in crabbing Caloosa Spirit back and forth at 3000 RPM toward the deeper water of the main channel finally did the trick. Only then did we think to call TowBoatUS for local info, and were told to avoid the area with our 5-ft. draft because of the abnormally low tide.

Plan C: Continue down the ICW to Cape Haze, the next protected and dependable—well, sort of—anchorage. After our recent drag experience, we were uncertain about the holding there, but the Delta grabbed in the silty bottom, the wind gods were kind, and we passed a quiet and restful night.

Today the weather is sunny and warm enough to do away with the sweatshirts, although the predicted northeasterly never materialized. (Why is NOAA right only when it’s inconvenient?!) We again motored for another 2½ hours into the 10-15 knot southeasterly (on our nose) to finally plant our hook in Pelican Bay, one of our favorite anchorages. We have yet to see the resident dolphins and manatees, but, even without actually sailing, we feel at last like we’re cruising. A celebratory dinner awaits.

Pelican Bay
The serenity of Pelican Bay

The manatees and dolphins seem to have taken up residence elsewhere. We went in search of them this morning to no avail. Perhaps they, too, have moved south to warmer waters. Or perhaps they didn’t like the alligator we discovered swimming in the manatees’ lagoon!

A long leisurely walk on Cayo Costa’s beach morphed into a spritely stride on the return trip to beat the threatening sky. All afternoon the clouds toyed with us, sometimes fogging us in, but no rain fell. Tomorrow’s front may be a different matter, so we’ll sit here for another day.

Well, Pelican Bay hasn’t been quite so attractive this time around. The front that came through has stirred the waters like a washing machine, so last night was another sleepless one. We had hoped to leave this morning, but the tide pinned us in the bay until mid-afternoon. When high tide finally arrived we were still uncertain about the water depth due to the high winds. By scraping the tops of the sea grass blades on the bottom we made it out, but the late hour made a trip to Ft. Myers Beach impractical. So tonight we’re anchored at Useppa across from Cabbage Key. The wind is forecast to be a 10-knot northeasterly tomorrow, so we hope to sail down Pine Island Sound without the ugly chop.

So much for the 10-knot northeasterly. This morning’s forecast called for light and variable. Since we’re determined to sail at some point, we decided to sit here for another day. Maybe the forecast 15-20 from the north will materialize tomorrow, but we won’t hold our breath.

For one desirable time the wind held to its forecast, so we had a terrific sail down Pine Island Sound, and we’re now moored in Ft. Myers Beach. That’s the good news. The bad news is that this morning at Useppa just before dawn for the second time in as many weeks we had to re-anchor in the dark. No, we didn’t drag this time. We couldn’t, since our keel was resting on the bottom. Who knew that when the wind turned to the west at low tide we’d be in 5½ feet of water? We feel like we’re having to get this cruising thing down all over again.

The rest of the bad news is that our 2-month-old outboard refused to stay running when we tried to head into the marina office to register for a mooring. What’s this about, you ask? We wish we knew. Jim suggested that maybe the excessive oil in the gas (we followed the directions for the break-in procedure) has gummed up the carburetor. If it’s not one thing it’s another. Oh, well. At least this is a pleasant place to sit for a while.

We hope the outboard saga is at an end—for the time being, anyway. After a vain attempt yesterday to clean the carburetor with his trusty Gum-Out (the outboard ran for a bit, but not long enough), today Jim took the carburetor apart to clean its innards. A tour around the mooring field ended with no further mishap.

In the course of our trial runs yesterday and today we’ve managed to meet some other cruisers here in the mooring field—Sandy and David on Tumbleweed and Dick and Janice on Cambia. Once more cruisers prove to be among the friendliest folks one can encounter.

About three years ago we first encountered the mooring field here at Ft. Myers Beach, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience. Last summer when we spent a few days here we were delighted to experience something totally different. Our stay this year has been another rewarding one. The protection is excellent, the facilities at Matanzas Inn are superb (even a pool!), and the staff—especially Ken on the pump-out boat—is first-rate. (Ken is one of a rare breed who declares with conviction that he has “the best job in the world.”) The $.25 beach trolley can get us to any place we need to go on the island (today we took it to Publix), and the free Park-and-Ride goes to West Marine and a few other stores on the mainland. All that and the beach, too. Ft. Myers Beach is definitely a place worth a stop or a sojourn.

It’s been a pleasant stay at Ft. Myers Beach, but we’re planning to head out tomorrow morning. We’re not sure about the winds—they may be either on our nose or non-existent—but we’re eager to get to Marathon, and we have a predicted window with no troublesome fronts. We hope to do some sailing, but at least we’ll be cruising.

It’s good to be back in Marathon. We did leave Ft. Myers Beach a couple of days ago, and stopped one night in Marco Island and another at Little Shark River. Both overnights were uneventful, but, sadly, so were the motor-sails each day. On Saturday the predicted easterly was more southeasterly and very light; we never bothered to raise the main. On Sunday we at least had enough wind at times to fill the main, but the engine did the lion’s share of the propulsion. Today, though, was another story. On a 15-20 southeasterly we sailed the entire 40+ miles on the southerly track from Little Shark River to Marathon. It was exhilarating to finally have a sense once again of being on a sailboat without engine noise. We also were once more thrilled with Caloosa Spirit’s ability to point into the wind.

As we approached Marathon we heard another boat on the radio being refused room on a mooring—they were full. So we called ahead to get onto a waiting list. We’re disappointed to be again at anchor in the poor holding of Boot Key Harbor, but at least we found room to shoehorn ourselves into the limited space for anchoring. The mooring field has expanded almost four-fold to a total of 226 mooring balls since our last visit here, and most of the harbor has now been absorbed by the mooring field. Unfortunately, some of the derelicts are still here—right next to us. We don’t understand why some boats are left to rot at anchor, and why the authorities don’t just haul them away. We hope to get onto a mooring tomorrow, and that we can sleep comfortably tonight.

Tonight we’re safely and comfortably hanging on a mooring ball, and the view is far superior to that in the anchorage. We’re now surrounded by cruising boats with nary a derelict in view.

There is a story about our excursion from anchorage to mooring ball, however. After Jim weighed anchor he didn’t stow it right away. That’s not unusual, especially if the bottom is mucky and the anchor needs to be cleaned off prior to stowing. Knowing how silty Boot Key’s bottom is, I assumed that was the case this time. To my surprise Jim calmly informed me that there was a head on our anchor. “A head? A head of what?” I wondered. “Surely not a human head; Jim wouldn’t have been quite so blasé about that. Maybe a large fish head? Oooh, nasty!” From the helm the anchor is completely invisible until it comes up onto the bow roller, so I could only speculate about what he meant. My ponderings were cut short as I watched for traffic and threaded our way through the closely moored boats, unsure of exactly where our assigned ball was located. After first approaching the wrong ball we eventually got securely tied to the correct one, but the anchor was still hanging off the bow. Some cruiser folks in a dinghy wandered by and made some comment to Jim, then passed by our cockpit and said to me, “That’s shitty!” When I asked what they meant they said, “The head!” What? I knew we had just pumped out, so the head couldn’t be overflowing yet. That would indeed be shitty. And a fish head would be gross, but not really shitty. So I took the opportunity to go forward and peer over the bow at the yet-to-be-stowed anchor. Sure enough, firmly hooked on our anchor’s fluke was the handle of a boat toilet—a head—with the entire porcelain bowl attached. YUCK! And to think we had paraded through the mooring field with that “hood ornament” on full display! I was mortified as well as disgusted. Okay, so I was also a little amused. I guess we provided some bawdy entertainment for the boats who witnessed this crass spectacle. It took some maneuvering with a boat hook to get the head to release its grip on the anchor, but eventually the tired toilet found its way once again to the briny deep. We’ll inform the marina staff of its final resting place. Maybe it can be raised by divers who regularly check the mooring ball anchors. It probably deserves a place of honor on the what-not-to-dump-in-the-drink wall.

Hooked head
The hooked head (compliments of Interlude)

On another note, we thoroughly enjoyed spending some time this evening with old friends from Lake Monroe in Indiana, Mac and Pat on Windbourne. We were delighted to find them here in Boot Key Harbor when we arrived. They are planning to leave in a couple of days for Key West, but we value the opportunity to reconnect for even a short time. Dinner at Keys Fisheries was a real treat.

We expect to be here in Marathon for a few weeks while we wait for some orders to arrive, and to get the boat ready for a trip to the Bahamas. Today’s project of servicing a head was less of an ordeal than expected, so maybe that’s a good sign. On the other hand, a possible leak in our fresh water system that makes our water pump run excessively is proving to be elusive. We’re hoping it’s a malfunction in the pump, but time will tell. The big job waiting in the wings is dismantling part of the watermaker to repair a leak in it. Even with work to do Boot Key Harbor is a pleasant place to be. The weather has become decidedly more tropical in nature, and we’re thoroughly enjoying the warmth.

Boot Key Harbor sunset
Boot Key Harbor sunset

It’s definitely time to get this log posted, if just so that all you readers out there will know we’re still alive. Over the last few days we’ve gotten the watermaker leak mostly fixed (“mostly” meaning that there’s still a slight drip, but we’re debating whether to chase it down any further), the water pump replaced (and the leak identified in the galley faucet), and the heads serviced. Things are looking up for making a break for the Bahamas in another week or so. Right now, in the midst of some nasty winds and rain, we’re happy to be sitting right here in Boot Key Harbor. There are much worse places to be.

Fair winds and a faithful wake until next time,
Alice & Jim Rutherford
s/v Caloosa Spirit

Posted Tuesday February 12, 2008

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  1. Jim and Alice,

    We read all your emails; hope all is well with both and that Jim is doing much better.

    We are currently in Hampton, Virginia – spent the winter up here (UGH!) so we could spend some time with our new little baby granddaughter. Don’t know if we would do this again. However, one never knows what they will do until the time comes

    Hello Jim and Alice,

    I will write more later. Just wrote a message and now it is gone away. I have to stop now. We are in Virginia for the winter, then heading north in June. We keep up with all your messages on your log.

    Sherri and Clyde
    Aboard M/S MORADA
    (formerly aboard TEJAS)
    Lying Hampton, Virginia
    — Sherri & Clyde    02/12/2008 03:22 PM    #
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