Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Finally starting out (Mar 31 to Apr 15)

As you may recall, when we completed our Loop in Gulf Breeze, FL in November the plan was for a short stay followed by a cruise beginning with the Keys and the Bahamas. As Joe always says, our plans were written in Jell-O. As it turns out, we had a good long stay in Gulf Breeze. Soon after we arrived, Young America joined Carolyn Ann behind the house and we had nice visits with Fred and Linda before and after their trip home to NY for the holidays. We started making the rounds of doctors and dentists in December. Just before Christmas, daughter Caitlin announced her engagement and, shortly after New Year’s, son John and his wife Meredith announced that they would be presenting us with our first grandchild in September. All three also joined us for a wonderful Christmas visit.
After the first of the year, Joe started a series of appointments and tests which resulted in carpal tunnel surgery on his right hand in early February. That 15 minute surgery (literally) delayed us for another six weeks. The doctor says the hand is doing well but Joe feels very clumsy as he has little feeling in his thumb and index finger and has trouble telling if he’s holding onto things he wants to hold onto. He was told this should pass - in about 18 months.
Carolyn Ann also got some TLC while we took a break from cruising. She spent more than a month “on the hard” having some maintenance items taken care of and a few new improvements made. Joe’s Christmas present – a 77lb Rocna anchor – was installed, as was Punk’s gift of a sonar blackwater (poop) tank monitor. Santa was good to us! Joe also gave into his cleat fetish and added four more of those. At last the weather and life cooperated for a noon (well, one-thirty) departure March 31st to make the four hour trip to Destin as a jumping off point for the Gulf crossing to Clearwater. Shortly after leaving home we discovered that, although the laptop computer said it had a good internet connection, it wouldn’t let us use it. Then the ship’s computer started acting up – no gps, then just no computer – which meant no charts that show where the boat is. Mr. Redundant quickly rigged the laptop to fill in and we continued on our way. We arrived at the anchorage in Destin Harbor shortly before sunset to find that the windlass was refusing to lower the anchor. Of course, lowering a 77 lb anchor into the water is not a big problem, but if the windlass wouldn’t lower it, it also wouldn’t raise it. With no time or space to diagnose the problem, we headed for Harborwalk Marina. Once settled in, we turned on the TV to see who’d be voted off American Idol only to find that we couldn’t get connected to the satellite. Why should that be a surprise on a day like we’d already had!
We had planned for an early morning departure to start the expected 31 hour trip to Clearwater. Good thing because we were docked with all the charter fishing boats that made a mass exodus at dawn. By 6:30 we were on our way through the pass to the gulf. The ship’s computer seemed happy again – after Joe disabled a few things we could live without – and early diagnosis on the anchor is a breaker that was probably turned off during maintenance. The day was clear and beautiful and the water flat. Just the way we’d hoped. The overnight crossing proved to be long and virtually uneventful - just as we’d hoped. The only problem was the electrical gremlins that began causing problems with the alternators which became very, very hot with any extra load. But, the seas were flat and the bright three quarter moon lit the sky and from time to time prompted tiny sea nymphs to come to the surface for some wind surfing with their silvery sails. That’s what it looked like anyway as the chop carried the moonlight across our path.
It was all going so well, we changed our destination to Gulfport, FL – near St. Pete. We arrived at the Gulfport Municipal Marina just as the sun was setting, bringing our 37 hour, 265 nm trip to a close. After a good night’s sleep we were able to visit with John and Meredith who live nearby.
One of the boaters docked nearby mentioned that we'd be able to see the last dark launch of the space shuttle from our boat. The sight was well worth the early rising! The early morning light shining on the remaining contrails was almost as good as the launch itself. On Monday I took off to Atlanta in a rental car to begin making wedding arrangements with Caitlin. Joe stayed back at the boat to find someone to take care of the electrical issues that had cropped up during our crossing. It was an expensive week – lots of electrical work, a deposit on the wedding venue, and, after only one stop, a beautiful wedding gown for Caitlin! After I returned from Atlanta, we used the John Pica Laundromat and stocked up on a few groceries. Joe’s cousin Liz and her son Brett (missed Liz’s husband Steve!), who recently relocated to Land O Lakes near Tampa, came down and joined us and John and Meredith for dinner before our departure on Saturday. Always great to catch up with all the family news! As Joe had planned, we left Gulfport Marina at 7am, heading out for an offshore run to Pelican Bay, just south of Punta Gorda. Joe had talked to a TowboatUS operator about a shorter route across the bay to reach the gulf. So there we were, cruising along as the sun was rising – until we stopped … suddenly. For the first time in her life, Carolyn Ann had run aground. I guess that guy meant to stay on the other side of that sign for the deeper water. TowboatUS (a different guy) showed up in about a half hour to pull us off the sand bar and guide us to the deeper water. Well, we finally got to use that unlimited towing we’ve been paying for! Everything seemed to check out fine and we continued on course for our offshore run. A little (a lot!) windier than we’d thought. A good bit rougher than we’d thought. So after going out Pass A Grille on the northern side of Tampa Bay, we came back in through Eggmont Channel on the southern side of Tampa Bay. We travelled south to Sarasota where we successfully anchored for the night. It had been a trying seven hour cruise that had actually only brought us about 30 miles down the coast. The next morning, Joe went out to raise the anchor. This is always Joe’s job. I maneuver the boat according to his hand signals and he uses the windlass foot controls to raise/lower the anchor. The windlass basically consists of a wheel with a groove for the anchor chain. There are two small, round pads on the deck that activate the motor which turns the wheel to either take in chain or let it out. The windlass is widely considered to be the most dangerous part of the boat. I’m sure you can see where this is headed. The anchor was up and Joe grabbed hold of the chain to position it correctly with a lock. With the heavier anchor, he repositioned his foot for better leverage. Unfortunately, he repositioned his foot onto the control that winds more chain in. It did and that trapped two of Joe’s fingers between the chain and wheel. He was able to quickly reverse the motion and extricate his fingers, but it was obvious that medical attention was called for. As luck would have it, we had anchored next to Marina Jack. The dock hands quickly helped us into a slip and one even drove Joe to the hospital. Several hours later he was back with a splint and orders to see a hand specialist the following day. Joe said he wasn’t in much pain and decided to salvage some good from our unexpected stay in Sarasota. John drove down and picked me up, took me back to St. Pete and on Monday morning I went along to Meredith’s sonogram appointment. It’s a boy! The quality of the sonogram has improved a great deal since the one I had when pregnant with John – we could count the little guy’s toes, see his eyes, and watch his blood flow. Simply amazing. Back at the boat, Joe ended up with only a phone consult with the specialist who said no bones were broken and no visit was necessary – since he didn’t take our insurance anyway.
We left Marina Jack the next morning, heading south to Fort Myers and the entrance to the Okeechobee Waterway. Two fairly long days brought us to Moore Haven, just west of Lake Okeechobee. Back in Sarasota we had met Steve and Barb Sipe (Maerin) after they had seen Joe's posting about his injury on a boating site and happened to be at the same marina. As luck would have it, we docked together at Moore Haven. We went to bed thinking that we'd have to spend the next day in Moore Haven - not what you'd call a thriving metropolis - because of predictions of high winds. By morning, though, the weather prediction had totally changed so we all took off for what turned out to be a choppy, but not uncomfortable, lake crossing. At the end of another full day, we docked just before the St. Lucie Lock and had another nice evening with Steve and Barb.
So, we're back into cruising mode and ready for what we hope will be an uneventful cruise north. Enough drama already! Our plan at this point (today, at least) is to cruise north to the Chesapeake, possibly taking time out for a road trip or two depending on the timing. We'll spend the summer on the bay and take a trip up the Potomac again, then head back south. Blog postings may be few and far between as we won't be covering much new ground, but we'll keep in touch. Oh, people often ask how Rocky manages the transition from land to sea. Doesn't seem to notice the difference!

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