Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Life in Marathon on a Mooring Ball

We've only been in Boot Key Harbor for a few days now, but we can already see why it is so popular. Beautiful weather, protected mooring area, nice dinghy docks, numerous facilities, parks all around, restaurants/bars in easy walking distance and most of all a wonderful friendly community of boaters.

The Cruiser's Net (VHF Channel 68) starts at 9 am each morning. Information, advice, assistance and support are freely offered to everyone in the Harbor. What a neat community. They are currently fundraising for Christmas bikes to be given to local children in need. Last year they gave away 26 brand new bikes. That is a lot of smiling faces on Christmas morning.

Faro Blanco lighthouse

Sharing company on each other's boats for sundowners and snacks is also a regular event. We all share a common interest in boating and many are cruisers just like us. We share stories and look for information on all of our destinations. A cold beer, wine or rum sure goes well with good company.

Dinner aboard Asilomar

We have visited a few of the local restaurants and have found that the frugal cruiser can eat out at a reasonable cost. You just have to be picky in what you order and definitely look for the happy hour specials. Burdines food was reasonable and very tasty. The Stuffed Pig has awesome breakfasts. The Overseas was a little more expensive, but their happy hour specials are pretty good. $2 for a draft beer and $3 for a rail mixed drink. We also ate at the Faro Blanco Marina with our sailing friend Tinsley aboard Salty Abandon. She warned us it was expensive there, but we shared lunch with her in the marina restaurant. Not outrageously expensive, but a bit more than we like to spend. (unless you are paying for one of their slips - $165/night) Good food though. Check out Salty Abandon's video blog on YouTube.

Brenda and Tinsley in front of Salty Abandon.

Brenda met one of her heros, Carolyn Shearlock of The Boat Galley fame. We dinghied over to her boat and purchased a signed copy of her cookbook. I'm not used to seeing Brenda in awe of someone, but Carolyn is someone Brenda really admires.

Now we need to explore the river by dinghy, go fishing and just keep exploring. Heck, that is just what we want to do on this Key. There are a whole bunch more that we haven't even seen yet.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Boot Key Harbor

Tired sailors in Boot Key Harbor

After anchoring outside the channel to Boot Key Harbor we rested for half an hour before getting into our dinghy and putting up the channel. We were graciously invited to Thanksgiving dinner and drinks aboard Bret and Theresa's sailboat Elusive. We hadn't seen these fine people since July and it was good to be back in contact. They have another couple staying aboard, so we had a party of six for a wonderful full Thanksgiving feast. Thank you guys for an awesome night.

Thanksgiving celebration aboard Elusive

We slept fast and hard after our trip in the Gulf and the great dinner.. We are getting too old to stay up round the clock. Brenda woke Mike up at 7:45 am so we could dinghy in to the Boot Key Harbor office to get on the waiting list for a mooring ball. We had called in and found out they were full already and it is first come - first served for the waiting list. You have to physically be in the office to get on the list. We dinghied up the channel and found the dinghy dock for the office. The office normally opens at 8 am, so we were there in time to be first in line. But, since it was the day after Thanksgiving the office hours had been changed to open at noon. Hmmm, now what. BREAKFAST!

The Patio at The Stuffed Pig

We walked hand in hand out of the marina to Highway 1 and looked for the nearest breakfast joint. The Stuffed Pig was almost directly across the street and their parking lot was full of cars which is a good sign they serve good food.

We sat outside with tired grins on our faces as we enjoyed a surprisingly reasonably priced tasty breakfast with lots of coffee for Mike. What a great first spot for our Keys visit. After stuffing ourselves we strolled back to the marina office and parked ourselves on the first bench by the front door. As we waited for the office to open we were treated to our first manatee viewing this year.

We were first in line which put us third on the waiting list. Hey, that isn't too bad. Hopefully we'll have a mooring ball in a day or two.

We dinghied back to Wrinkles expecting to nap the afternoon away, but after just a couple of hours the marina called to tell us we were assigned to ball B-11. Sweet. All we needed to do was dive on the prop and rudder to make sure there weren't any crab pots still attached or any damage. Mike donned his snorkel and mask and went down to check things over. No crab pots and the prop turned freely. We started up the Yanmar and motored into the channel with visions of a quiet night's sleep. Brenda picked up this mooring ball like a pro and suddenly we were Boot Key Harbor tenants. The sun set as we turned off the diesel. Exhausted, happy and excited all at the same time. Goodnight.


Friday, November 25, 2016

Marco Island to Boot Key Harbor

Crab Pot Debri

As we had supper aboard Wrinkles on Tuesday night we changed our plan to sail from Marco Island to Shark River (Everglades) to Boot Key Harbor. Brenda wanted to sail overnight directly from Marco Island to Boot Key Harbor in Marathon. We planned to leave between lunch time and 4 pm so that we would be navigating the waters around Marathon during the daylight on Thursday morning. We had the boat prepped and ready to sail at 12:30 pm and we pulled up our anchor for the trip.

The forecast called for 11-15 knots of wind out of the ENE for the next 36 hours. A perfect wind for our route. We motored out into the Gulf of Mexico and got ready for the wind to blow so we could raise our sails. 5 hours later we were still motoring on dead flat water. As we put the Cape Romano shoals well behind us we finally started to see some ripples in the water. Yippee skippy we get to sail.

We had a blast sailing along with all three sails up and Wrinkles hitting over 6 knots. The sunset was beautiful over our starboard side. As the night progressed the winds slowed to 7-8 knots which had us sailing, but not fast enough for a trip this long. We decided to motorsail with the Yanmar contributing just enough to keep us over 6 knots. The sky at night offshore is nothing short of amazing. You've never seen so many stars.

We were making such good progress that by 2:15 am we knew we would have to slow down or arrive near land before sunrise. We reduced sail and turned off the diesel which got us down to 4.5 knots. Then suddenly we dropped to 1.0 knot and Brenda said, "Something is wrong, I can't steer." Uh oh! We had picked up a crab pot on our rudder. Or so we thought.

The crab pot stopped Wrinkles completely and held her stern directly into the waves and wind. With a flat transom sailboat this is not a good thing. The waves roughly picked up our stern and slammed us down over and over. Before we could address the crab pots we needed to do something with the poor dinghy. Mike learned his lesson a year ago crossing the Gulf with the dinghy up in its davits. He said he would never do a long passage in the Gulf again without putting our RIB on deck. It is just too exposed back there to following seas or big waves. He followed his own advice on our next trips in the Gulf, but for this trip it didn't seem necessary. Another lesson about to be learned.

The waves picked up Wrinkles stern and then dropped her deep enough to nearly submerge the dinghy. When the boat raised again the strain bent our starboard stainless dinghy Davit, putting the dinghy and a solar panel in jeopardy. We cut the davit lines to drop the dinghy into the water and tied it to our port side. OK, that is under control lets work on that crab pot. With the stern rising and crashing down every 2-3 seconds there was no way to go overboard and cut the crab pot line. We used a boat pole to snag not one but two of them. We pulled as much line aboard as we could before cutting them. We couldn't pull up the crab pot basket that somehow attached itself to our rudder and it was still holding Wrinkles stern to the waves. We put out our Rocna anchor hoping to get Wrinkles aimed into the waves, but the crab pots held tight. We attempted to pull forward by raising full sails, but Wrinkles was fully held in place. Two crab pots removed and we still had issues.

Bent davit on the left.

What time is it? Yup, Tow Boat US time. We hailed them on the VHF and were told they were busy until around first light. We rested until dawn and then tried to remove some more of the crab pots. Yup, we pretty much had the whole crab pot field attached to Wrinkles. We were able to find one line that was really stretched tight. Using one boat pole to pull the line up near the surface and our second boat pole rigged with a sharp kniffe we sawed through the line. Wrinkles stern swung about 20 degrees which brought a bit of relief from the waves directly on the stern. Much better, but we still can't move. TowBoatUS arrived at 8:30 am and pulled us from the bow until we were free from the crab pot's grasp.

TowBoat US

Unfortunately there was some line and a basket still banging around under the hull. We decided not to risk destroying the prop by trying to run the diesel. The tow boat dragged us the final 17 miles to an anchorage by Marathon. The clanking stopped under the hull after about 10 miles, so we hoped all the debri was finally gone. The next day Mike dove on the prop and found that everything was normal and no damage had been done. Another adventure in our log book folks.


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Ft. Myers to Marco Island

Brenda bundled up and happy.

Although we had reserved our mooring ball at Ft. Myer's Beach through Thursday we liked the weather forecast too much to stay. Early Tuesday morning we left the mooring ball in our wake and headed out onto the Gulf of Mexico. We were rewarded with great sailing conditions which seem to be such a rarity in cruising. As soon as we had the sails up Wrinkles found the wind and plowed ahead. The winds were 11-15 knots just aft of our beam. The waves were 1-2 ft coming from the same direction as the wind.

Leaving Ft. Myer's Beach

After a couple of hours the wind started getting pretty gusty which required a single reef in the main sail. Perfect, we were still clipping along at 6-6.7 knots which is really cruising for Wrinkles. (Yes Phil we hear you laughing, but 7 mph can be fun!) We bundled up in the brisk Florida weather and truly enjoyed a nice long sail on one tack. Around 1:30 pm the wind dropped down to almost nothing. Oh well, back to motoring for an hour and a half to our anchorage for the night.

Smokehouse Bay

We hoped to anchor in Smokehouse Bay in Marco Island. We had spent several days with Jim and Joni in a condo overlooking this peaceful anchorage last winter and had looked forward to dropping our own anchor there. The charts make the longish channel route look shallow and poorly marked. Instead we found plenty of water on the rising tide and were happy to find a well marked channel as well.

Smokehouse Bay

Once our anchor was firmly set we dropped The Ernie T and dinghied over to the Winn-Dixie dock to get a few fresh groceries. As we walked the aisles in the store our noses were attracted to the hot rotisserie chicken which found its way into our cart for supper. Brenda cooked some potatoes up to go with the chicken and we dined in the cockpit as the sun set on a fulfilling day.


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Should we stay or should we go.

Ft. Myers mooring field

Here we sit at Ft. Myers Beach on a mooring ball. What's next? Our goal is to get to Marathon in the Florida Keys before Thanksgiving so we can play there for the winter months and then jump to the Bahamas. If we get there much later, we might not get a mooring ball. While anchoring out is fun, it is nice to have some amenities available like showers and laundry. So for us to get to Marathon from here, we have about 150 miles to travel. Remember, we can only hustle along at about five knots (roughly equal to mph) so that's 30 hours. It can be done and we did do 170 miles across the Gulf. Don't really want to do that again.

One possibility is to break the trip down into smaller chunks. Ft. Myers to Marco Island. Then Marco Island to an anchorage in Little Shark River (Everglades). And then a final jump from Little Shark to Marathon. That means we need a good three day window. Right now we don't have that window as we watch and feel a cold front approaching. The winds are gusting in the mid 20’s with higher gusts expected. We could have jumped to Marco Island yesterday and then waited there for the next weather window to move on. But we spent a week there last year with Jim and Joni and we have already explored that area. We would be at anchor there with no shoreside amenities readily available other than a nice dinghy dock right next to a Publix grocery store. We haven't spent much time in Ft. Myers and we would like to explore a bit.

Three Jumps

If we stay here, our chances of getting a mooring ball in Marathon get slimmer and slimmer. But we have always said we will travel when the weather is right. If the weather is "doable" it is just as likely to be lousy. Our plan has always been to travel safely and conservatively weatherwise. So we will sit in the Ft. Myers Beach mooring field until probably Wednesday. It will be tough, but somebody's got to do it. After all, there is a fantastic beach within walking distance, nightly musical entertainment, a fun beach town waiting to be explored and hot water showers available.


Saturday, November 19, 2016

Pelican Bay to Ft. Myers

Pelican show at Pelican Bay

Arriving at Pelican Bay we followed the very specific directions for entering. There are some very shallow areas surrounded by sand bars. If you follow the the right path all will be well. We were surprised to see roughly 20 boats in the various areas of Pelican Bay. It seems the winter sailing season has begun here.

We dropped our Rocna anchor and 50' of chain in a nice spot to watch the wildlife and the sunset later on. The pelicans were dive bombing all around us and the dolphins were splashing around nearby. The sunset was very pretty as were all the amazing stars at night.

Pelican Bay sunset

We mapped out our route to the Ft. Myers area with a planned anchorage at Punta Rassa. The Yanmar started with some difficulty again, which really is bothering Mike. Brenda motored us out of the bay into the ICW where we pulled out the headsail and had a great 3 hour motorsail. Mike just didn't want to trust the Yanmar to restart, so he left it running as we sailed down the trail. The scenery was beautiful, but some of the monster power boat captains just love to pass close by and send their huge wakes at our beam.

As we approached Ft. Myers the traffic got really thick in the narrow channels. We were pretty happy to go under the big bridge and pop out into the open waters of the Gulf. We motorsailed to the indicated anchorage at Punta Rassa, but the swell coming in from the Gulf was awful. We weren't going to get much rest or sleep if we stayed there. Brenda was at the wheel and in true captain's form as she quickly said, "We're going into Ft. Myers and grabbing a mooring ball."

Cabbage Key Restaurant

We navigated the nicely marked channel and contacted the mooring field operators. They told us which three balls were available and we headed in to get one. We have moored a number of times and normally had pretty good results. This time was a different story. The mooring field is in a channel with a strong current running through it. The wind was blowing directly opposite the direction of the current. Mike motored right up to the ball assuming the two forces would offset each other and allow Brenda plenty of time to pick up the ball with the boat pole and secure us to it. Unfortunately the current was far stronger than the wind and Wrinkles quickly drifted too far past the ball. Brenda grabbed the tether perfectly, but with the boat continuing to move there was no way for her to hold on. So, one boat pole goes overboard. It is nice to know they float.

Mike circled around and we were able to retrieve the wayward pole on the first try. OK, let's try grabbing a mooring ball again. Mike stopped the boat 10' short of the mooring ball and then put the transmission in reverse with the engine at idle. That should hold us against the current right? Nope, we still floated too far past the ball. At least the neighbors on a nearby mooring ball are getting a good show. One more try using the engine at half throttle in reverse held us near the mooring ball long enough for Brenda to gets us tied up. Whew, time for a rum.

We dinghied to the office and paid for our mooring ball. Afterwards we had a great early supper at Matanzas On The Bay. Aren't you jealous Jim and Joni? We knew this was one of their favorite places in the world. The sunset was glorious as we relaxed in our cockpit listening to a good trop-rock band playing at a shoreside bar. This is cruising!

Ft. Myers mooring field


Friday, November 18, 2016

Yanmar Running?

Last night at Punta Gorda anchorage.

The most experienced guy from Certified Diesel worked with Mike on our Yanmar on Wednesday. They went through the bleeding process several times and it wasn't looking very promising. The fuel just didn't want to get past the injector pump. The manual says to turn the diesel over no more than a couple of minutes to complete the bleeding process. They cranked that poor starter on and off for 45 minutes.

In the end the tech recommended replacing the existing new 2 micron fuel filter with a less restrictive 30 micron version. They put that on and went back to bleeding the system while cranking on the starter. Eventually the Yanmar started to spit and sputter as it wheezed out the remaining air pockets in the fuel. It ran just fine and we hoped everything was good to go.

Note: If you ever have to run the starter more than a couple of minutes, shut off the water intake valve. Otherwise you may flood the engine with water.

The following morning we ran a couple of errands before pulling up our anchor and heading toward Pelican Bay. Mike hit the starter button with high hopes, but he wasn't rewarded with a purring motor. He had to grind the starter for a long time before the Yanmar struggled to life. Hmmmm, not very confidence inspiring.

We motor sailed for over four hours and the Yanmar purred the whole time. It just doesn't like starting up we guess. We'll see how it does as we work our way south.


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Well, maybe not so ready to go.

We motored away from Charlotte Harbor Boat Storage thinking we would soon be headed to the Keys. A planned one night stop outside Fishermen's Village to pick up diesel and say goodbye to Don and Gail has turned into a longer stay. The faithful little Yanmar 3GMF20 chugged along for two hours through the canals, lock and finally the channel to Charlotte Harbor. Then it began surging from idle speed to operating speed every few minutes.

No big deal we thought. Just sail or motor-sail over to our anchorage where we would replace the fuel filter. The little Yanmar kept surging all the way across the harbor without dying which made anchoring a bit nicer. Mike replaced the fuel filter/water separator and then began bleeding the air out of the system. Hmmmm, the manual fuel pump lever doesn't seem to be moving much fuel. OK, time to replace the fuel pump. Our good friend Don picked us up and took us to Certified Diesel where we purchased the new pump and gasket. Tomorrow all will be well.

Mike wiggled, bent and folded his "girlish figure" into several pretzel shapes and eventually got the new fuel pump installed. Using one hand and an extension mirror is an interesting way to do motor work. Sweet, a new pump installed means the Yanmar should be happy. Mike started the air bleeding process again with high hopes as the new pump actually pumped diesel. Problem fixed. We'll be motoring soon.

The sit on motor/one-handed/work by feel method.

Not so fast Mr. Optimist. Mike found that the bleeding process would stop at the fuel injection pump. Yup, pump number two in the system. Repeated efforts to bleed fuel past this pump failed even after checking for any other possible causes. Since the fuel injection pump is a pricey and complicated little item Mike had to do something he hates more than just about anything in the world. He had to ask for help. We have Certified Diesel coming to our boat on Wednesday to go over the fuel delivery system and diagnose/confirm the problem. Mike is actually hoping the expert will look at the problem and say, "Mike, the problem is so simple I can't believe you didn't see it." Hey, call me an idiot all day if it saves me the several hundred dollars I would have spent on a new injection pump.

We'll see what happens on Wednesday. Either we will be happy cruisers sailing south or broke happy sailors waiting for a rebuilt fuel injection pump.

A nice spot to do motor repairs.


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Ready to go!

All the items on the "to do" list were checked off, so it was time to launch. Provisions were loaded and places were found below for all our goodies.



Yeti full of box wine.


The boat yard put Wrinkles up in a sling (ever seen your house hanging in the air?) and lifted her so Mike could paint the spots where the stands had been holding Wrinkles while on land. Then they wheeled her over to the well so she could be set back in the water. These boat yard guys have the envy of many little children. They get to run a big machine using a remote control!




After Wrinkles was settled in the water and there was no evidence of leaks, she was pulled around the corner and side tied to the dock. We had our farewell dinner in the Hut. What a great group of people. We hope to see you again soon Tammy and Gerel, Rose and Bill and David.


The next morning, after watching the election results, we were untied from the dock and on our way.


We putted down the canal and then into Interceptor Lake. We managed to get through the dreaded locks without a problem and soon were motor sailing across Charlotte Harbor. What a great afternoon.

However, as we were rounding red #8, the engine began throttling down and then revved back to normal, only to repeat the cycle all the way across the harbor. We had our headsail out, so we knew we could sail to the anchorage, if needed. But Wrinkles saw us through and we planted our anchor outside of Fisherman's Village. Sounds like a fuel filter issue that Mike could deal with the next day. Don and Gail met us at the marina and we enjoyed catching up with them and furthering our plans for the Keys and Bahamas. It was nice to be back on the water. It took us a bit to get used to the fact that our boat moves with the waves. It has been a while since we have been in open water, but it is great to be back!