Sunday, January 31, 2016

Three days of sailing, two days of sitting ...

Back on the water at last!  We took the five days starting Monday, January 25th to get back on Alizee and enjoy some time away from land life.  We left the slip at Burnt Store Marina at 12:50 and were under sail in twenty minutes.  A light NW breeze got us on course to Pelican Bay at about 3.5 knots, but by 1400 the wind had fallen off.  Soon we were motoring into our anchorage and by 1615 we were securely snugged in for the evening.  But in the process of anchoring, we discovered that mice had been attempting to nest in the rope locker at the bow.  James cleaned it out, and we'll put mouse traps in the locker once we're back.

Our first evening on the hook ... seems like it's been forever, and in fact it has!!  This is testified to by the fact that James could not blow the conch horn effectively at sunset ... nor could Penelope ... only one decent little "toot" was managed after numerous attempts at puckering and blowing.  Cocktails followed by a dinner of Empress chili and Mazza salad and a nice conversation on the phone with Tony and Lin Kay, who James always wants to call when we get on the boat and he has an after-dinner drink of Ricard.

Tuesday were arose at 0800, and relaxed with books while awaiting the tide to rise and permit a passage through Pelican Bay's entrance.  James decided to straighten up the rope lockers in the cockpit, and we discovered that mice had been nesting in each one, so the task became one of cleaning out as well as straightening.  We are going to have to put copper wool in the drain holes of each locker.  Mice, birds!!  What a pain in the rear.

We weighed anchor at 1100 and had a foot to spare while going through the bay entrance.  Got a nice SE wind of 10-12 knots and got 3/4's of the way back toward Burnt Store Marina before we had to tack. Then on our second tack back to the north, the wind died and we motored north to the Myaka River to spend our second night.  James through out a trolling line for the trip, but got no bites -- the water's a bit cold so the fish are likely headed into the shallower shore waters -- so we just had to suffer with a lamb chop dinner.

Motoring is not our favorite way of moving across the water, but it does have the benefit of letting us charge all our electronic toys by using the inverter as well as the 12-volt charging outlet, so when we anchored in the Myaka at 1600, everything was charged up.  The weather predictions pointed to a front coming through with possible lightning, so that night we put all our electrical devices in the range oven, so if Alizee were struck with a bolt, they might survive, the oven acting as a Faraday cage.

We got no lightning, but we did wake up to roily conditions.  We love the Myaka River and our evening was incredibly nice as we floated on milky waters, but we always forget that the combination of the river current, tides and winds often leads to a rocky ride.  Up at 0730, and knowing that weather was headed our way by noon, we decided to weigh anchor and motor over to the anchorage just north of Gilchrist Park in Punta Gorda.  We arrived and anchored by 1000, and the rain started almost immediately.  James made a bacon/egg/pancake "brunch" and we settled in for a rainy and windy day, which by the end of it we each had finished books and were starting new ones. Dinner was spaghetti and meatballs, and James managed to log on to Amazon and download the book Dead Wake to his Kindle.  We continued reading!

We had hoped Thursday would bring a break in the rain, but alas, the front continued storming through all day and into the evening. The waters got a bit roily because the wind was out of the northwest and blowing across Charlotte Harbor, but by now we had our sea legs.  It reminded us fondly of waiting through storms in the Bahamas at places like Sail Cay and Eleuthra. Penelope put it perfectly: "This is really like cruising."  But despite the rain and wind, we were very comfortable, and Penelope cooked a great dinner: Filet Mignon (from d'Artagnan), baked potato, brussel sprouts, mushrooms -- a real feast!!

At the start of the evening, I inflated the dinghy, which when soft and hanging on the davits is able to swing side to side when it's windy.  Clearly there was a leak I had not found and patched earlier, in December.  Around 0400, enough air had leaked out again to cause the dinghy to swing, and the first thing I did on Friday morning was to inflate it again.  But I found the leak this time and will fix it once back at the marina.

Alas, Friday was our return trip day.  We left anchor at 0930, and motor-sailed with just the Genoa out of the anchorage with a nice NNE 10-knot breeze.  Although the breeze softened, we were able to sail from outside the anchorage to about one-mile north of Burnt Store Marina, at which point the wind died completely.  We docked at 1330, put on the canvas, fenders, turned on shore power and inflated and raised a new bird-control balloon called the "Evil Eye" up to just below the top of the mast.  We'll see if it keeps the birds from landing on the mast and covering the deck with poop.  We were home by 1500, and so ended our first short sail week of the new year.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

An Aborted Christmas Cruise ...

As fate would have it, our days and weeks got overloaded from August through early November with planning for, executing and mopping up after the War on the Peace Dragon Boat Festival -- James was the festival director and Penelope the assistant festival director and volunteer coordinator.  And, James's band All That Jazz continues to play Sundays in Venice as well as occasional other gigs.

So, we didn't get any sailing in.  But we promised ourselves that we would go out for Christmas week and let the wind take us wherever, so we spent a couple of weeks readying Alizee for the voyage, prepared provisions for the week and, on Monday Dec 21st, set off for Pelican Bay for our first overnight anchorage.  We had a beautiful sail under an east wind of 10-15 knots, sailing up Charlotte Harbor (northward from Burnt Store Marina) for about two hours, thence sailing south to a spot a mile east of BSM, where we turned west and had a nice downwind sail to the entrance of Pelican Bay.  We were anchored in eight to nine feet of water by 16:30, and settled in for a little reading, cocktails and finally a spaghetti and meatball dinner prepared by Penelope.

We had a great evening kibitzing and finishing off a bottle of wine, followed by a really nice night's sleep.  Next morning I arose to make our morning coffee, and (damn/spit!) discovered mouse droppings on the galley counters.  Then when we climbed into the cockpit I found even more.  Oh no! Shades of our rat infestation a couple of years back.  Well, we decided to put out a trap that night, but couldn't do much more at the moment.

We agreed we should sail all the way up Charlotte Harbor to a favorite anchorage of ours on the Myakka River.  We hoisted the mainsail, weighed anchor and motor-sailed our of Pelican Bay.  The batteries had gone from full charge to 3/4 charge over night, so following normal routine, I checked to see that the engine alternator was charging them.  Oh, oh!  No charge.  In fact the electronics we were using and the refrigerator were still drawing 4-5 amps from them.  Obviously, we had a problem.  I telephoned our mechanic, Smitty, and low and behold, he agreed to meet us at BSM around noon, so we cut our cruise short.  At least the sail from Pelican Bay to BSM was a gorgeous sail close hauled under 10-15 knots of southeast wind.

The rest of the story is one of maintenance, although we did stay on the boat one more night hoping a new alternator would be available for installation the next morning.  Alas, that didn't happen.  But, the mouse chewed his we off the boat (we think), exiting through the screened hatch covers we use to keep out mosquitoes and no-seeums.  So, we looking forward to trying again in January, particularly since we have a new alternator!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Move to a new marina ...

Poor Alizee has been virtually at a stand still for the past six months.  We had a great sail bringing her down from St. Pete in November, but low tides combined with the captain's music gig schedule eliminated virtually every opportunity we had to go sailing during the winter season (sad, indeed, because that is the best sailing season in Florida).  Then, when we finally got ready to set out for a sail, we discovered the heat exchanger had cracked, leaking coolant over the starter, and stray voltage fried the starter as well as voltage regulator.  Thus, lots of engine work, which also revealed fried wiring in the engine harness and problems with the raw-water-intake pump -- both replaced, along with the starter, voltage regulator and heat exchanger.

At last, on Monday, 18 May, we boarded Alizee, and prepared to take her out, away from our long-term dock at the Charlotte Harbor Yacht Club, and to a new berth at Burnt Store Marina (just 5 minutes from our home and having a regular year-round depth of 6 feet plus).  Friends Hermann and Jeri Schaller joined us for the voyage, which took about five hours.  Very light winds, perhaps get us up to 5 knots at one point, and we ended up motoring the last couple of nautical miles.  And, HOT!   It's not quite summer, but temps in the low 90s and a little humidity make it really miserable at times.

We took our time tying up Alizee, and went into the berth bow first after I failed a couple of times to back her in.  That's always a tough thing to do, and the little breeze we had kept sliding her away from the berth.  Too hot to put her to bed properly, so the next day, I went back down in the morning to straighten out the sails, put on the covers, make sure the lines were all adjusted correctly, and pick up some stuff we'd left aboard.

The first heat break we get, I want to go out for a night on the hook.  Hope it's soon, but it may not be for a while.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Hot summer, little sailing, lots of music ...

Alizee has been in safe harbor for the summer in St. Petersburg.  We've spent a couple of nights aboard her as a way station from our home in Punta Gorda and the Tampa airport, which makes leaving and arriving on trips much easier.  But, while others may not agree, we find it simply too hot to do much sailing.  So the summer is a time for other pursuits ... primarily being retired!  But also MUSIC!!!

My All That Jazz Quartet has had a great summer gig, every Wednesday evening through September 24th, 6:00-9:00 p.m., at Cassariano's Italian Eatery in Venice, about 50 minutes north of Punta Gorda.

In October we switch to every other Sunday, beginning October 5th and lasting (we hope) through March 22nd.

We've also picked up some other gigs at Howard's Restaurant in Englewood (November 11th and 26th and December 16th) as well as ten other dates at the Charlotte Harbor Yacht Club.  We're looking forward to a busy season and lots of music!  Drop by one of our gigs, if you're in town.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Alizee goes back to St. Pete for the summer

Most everyone knows that it's hurricane season in Florida between the beginning of June and end of October.  While we love having Alizee with us on Charlotte Harbor, our tie up at the yacht club is not a very safe one in the face of potential tropical storms, much less a dreaded hurricane.  Therefore, we decided to sail Alizee back up to St. Petersburg and put her in her summer berth at the Harborage Marina.  This is anywhere from a three to five-day trip, and it takes a bit of planning.  Additionally, it's pretty hot down here now, so Penelope urged me to find somebody else to help me take the boat north.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned the trip north to Al Hedstrom - Captain Al, as he's known - who sings lead and plays guitar in the Coast Connection blues/rock/bluegrass/country band that I played with during the winter months.  He spends most of his time on the water as a fishing guide out of Ft. Myers, but that didn't stop him from saying he'd love to go with me on a little sailing trip and the last week of May would be perfect before he packs up to head for the Minnesota boundary waters and his summer work chasing wall eyes, etc.

Starting in late April, I started getting some maintenance work done on Alizee, in order to have it all done by the trip: fixing the head and replacing clogged sanitation hoses; trouble-shooting the dinghy engine; putting a couple of coats of varnish on the cockpit coaming and hatch covers, and doing a service on the auxiliary Yanmar engine.  Then, for three days before, I did a basic cleaning job on Alizee and then, with a lot of help from Penelope, got her provisioned for the trip.  We also had Al over for dinner and what one optimistically might call a bit of a captain's meeting.

On 26 May, Al drove to our house and picked me up.  By 0900 we were pretty much loaded aboard Alizee, and we left the dock at 0915, motored out onto Charlotte Harbor and got the spinnaker up and flying by about 1000.  We had a slow, very light-wind sail down the harbor (well at times we seemed to be losing ground), and then at about 1400 the southerly wind shifted and a west wind of about 14 knots appeared.  We put up the mainsail and had a nice ride at about 5 knots speed over ground (SOG) down to an anchorage north of Matlacha.  The anchor was dropped at 1700, and we settled in for our first night.  Al brought home-made enchiladas for dinner, and then he got out his guitar and me my little Yamaha keyboard, and we played music until 2300 or so.

Down Charlotte Harbor to Matalacha.

Next morning we weighed anchor at 0710, put the spinnaker up and were underway in a light 5-6 knot morning east breeze at 2.5 knots SOG.  Al had what would become his typical breakfast of oatmeal with bananas, strawberries and dried fruits, while I made up a scrambled egg stir fry of peppers and onions.  (I forgot the mushrooms, damn it!)  The wind pretty much died by 1030, and we motor-sailed out the swash channel (a narrow channel through which the tide flows), just at Boca Grande inlet on to the Gulf of Mexico. Once out, we continued motor sailing in order to make the 30 miles to the Venice inlet.  Al had his typical lunch, a salad, and I had a chicken sandwich, we caught a Spanish Mackeral each and released them because Al had brought a bunch of Mangrove Snapper filets - we didn't need more fish, but the entertainment was just fine.
                                                                           Captain Al on the Gulf.

Unfortunately, we snagged the spinnaker on the forestay while trying to tack it and what was initially a very small tear in one   panel ripped all the way across the sail.  So we took it down and bagged it (we dropped it off at the sail loft in St. Pete for repairs after we arrived).  A nice wind came up thanks to thunder storms moving up inland along the coast to our east, and we got some good sailing up to the Venice jetty.  There we dropped sails, motored into the Venice Yacht Club to spend the night, took showers and headed to the bar for a couple of drinks (very small pours, indeed).  We met an older couple from the Bradenton YC at the bar, then returned to have real drinks on Alizee and to cook dinner.

As we were just sitting down in the cockpit, Al noticed a family in a jet-ski boat who appeared to be sinking. They were just 25 meters from us, and the father was bailing frantically while two little girls got into life-vests and a young boy perhaps 17 or 18 tried to help his dad.  Finally, the boy got in the water with a line and swam to the ladder at the end of the dock beside our stern tie.  I helped him up the ladder, they pulled the sinking craft over, got the girls on the dock and dad kept bailing.

L-R: SeaTwo guy checking bottom of boat, Miguel with boat hook in boat, Antonio with pump, and Izzy looking on.

Antonio Cassariano, the father, assumed that drain plugs had not be put back in from the day before, so Miguel (the boy) tried to dive the stern of the craft to see.  I loaned him my snorkeling mask, but he still couldn't see it. Eventually, they reached SeaTow, and their representative brought a couple of pumps to get the water out faster than it was coming in. The probably was that the exhaust pipe had come lose, and water was pouring in through the whole.  At long last, the SeaTow fellow got a towel stuffed in sufficiently to stem the incoming flow and they finally pulled the boat around to a ramp and saved it.
                                                                                                               Front-back: Antonio & Miguel                                                                                                                                Vanilla and Izzy with their Dad.

The girls, Isadora (Izzy) and Antonella (Vanilla), got over their initial fears and had a good time with the adventure in the end. Meantime, Miguel and Antonio dropped my diving mask while trying to hand it from one to the other, and splash ... it went to the bottom.  Antonio, it turned out, is chef-owner of Cassariano's Italian Restaurant in Venice (very upscale), and said we had to come to dinner, which we said we'd be happy to do, perhaps on our way back down after dropping off Alizee in St. Pete.

(The next day, after letting Penelope know about this, we called Antonio on his personal cell, and told him we could come for dinner Friday right after they opened at 1630.  He readily agreed, and we assumed this would be payback for the lost mask.  And, indeed, it was.  Antonio is an amazing chef, and we had a truly wonderful  dinner - not inexpensive, but he gave us a nice gift certificate that easily covered for the lost diving mask.  And, at Penelope's suggestion I gave Antonio one of my "All that Jazz Quartet" cards, and he said he and Luca were thinking about starting a jazz evening.  In fact, a couple of days after we got home, he sent me an email asking if we'd be available in July, August, September and for more information on our group.  Maybe we'll get a gig or two, which would be lovely!)

... All in all, it was an exciting late afternoon and early evening and after everyone had gone, we had a snapper dinner (also by Al) and again played music in the cockpit until 2330.

The sun arose at 0630 on 27 May, we made coffee
and left the dock by 0730.  I was a bit queasy for half the trip, from all the alcohol that Al had forced down my gullet, but it passed in time.  Actually, we had a following sea, and I always get queasy with those. We had a light breeze from the east as we motored out the Venice inlet, and then with our main up and Genoa out, we motor-sailed up to Egmont Key, at the mouth of south Tampa Bay.  Despite the light winds we managed to make 4 knots SOG for the 31 miles, and anchored around 1830 at Egmont.  Lamb meatballs that Penelope and I had made ahead provided dinner, along with vegetable skewers that Al put together and I barbecued.  No music this night, but conversation still kept us up until 2330.

Thursday the 28th found us up and underway be 0700, on a starboard close reach to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge under 10-14 knots of SE wind.  We sailed up to and under the bridge in one tack, turned to a beam reach once under the bridge and picked up to 6 knots SOG all the way to slightly northeast of our destination in St. Pete.  Then, after we tacked to lay in a course to the marina, at 1130 hours, the winds simply died. We were becalmed for almost two hours, and then got a couple of knots speed to drift us over to the marina channel.  Engine on, sails down, docking lines and fenders rigged - we were met at the dock by my friend Jeff Grant.

                       On the way to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

We relaxed through the afternoon heat, ate spaghetti and meatballs (by Penelope) for dinner, played a little music and deferred boat work until the morning.  On Friday, we washed the boat down (Al doing most of it, which he said he liked doing and anyway felt like he was finally contributing to the trip), got the interior cleaned, packed up our stuff, took the spinnaker in the dinghy over to Advanced Sails and then dropped Bertha (the dinghy) off at the Harborage Marina Hi-and-Dry storage facility.  We stopped at Fish Tails for a cold beer, walked back, showered, finished packing the coolers, and Penelope picked us up at 1500.  We drove to Venice for our "thank-you" dinner at Cassariano's ... it was truly wonderful food ... and then headed back to pick-up Al's truck at our yacht club and get home.  It was a very fun trip home and a great week of sailing!  Can hardly wait to do it again ... well, the last week of October, we'll bring Alizee back down to Charlotte Harbor.

Monday, May 12, 2014

An almost perfect sail ...

It's starting to warm up here in Florida.  The snowbirds have almost all flown north.  Soon those of us who stay for the summers will be spending most of our time in the AC cooled indoors.  But the past three or four days have been lovely, short of 90 degrees with low humidity and, most important for sailors, with a nice 8-12 knot breeze.  We would have left the dock on Thursday morning, but we had already bought tickets for a Charlotte Stone Crabs (Class A Advanced) baseball game that night to join a couple of friends from the yacht club, so we didn't cast off until Friday morning.  (The game was great fun, with the best Philly Cheesesteaks and dollar beer, but the Bradenton Marauders trounced the Stone Crabs 8-2.)

We sailed about 21 nautical miles down Charlotte Harbor (which, if you don't know, is really a very large bay: 270 square miles) to a spot about two miles north of the historic fishing village of Matlacha, where we found a nice anchorage.  On the way south, we trolled and caught two nice Spanish Mackerel, which Penelope stowed for fileting later.  We caught a couple of other smaller fish, but released them.  We had a peaceful evening and night here, reading, relaxing and marveling at the wonderful conditions.  It was a little warm in the cabin, but we were able to stay on deck until dark (when the mosquitos started to appear); after that it cooled off nicely down below.

The next morning, Penelope fried up the Mackerel with a couple of over-easy eggs for breakfast, and we finally weighed anchor around 10:00 and sailed north with a southeast wind pushing us along nicely to the Myaka River, a little over 16 miles.  We anchored at 14:30, arriving earlier than we expected.  This anchorage was not as good a choice.  We probably should have gone another two miles up the river to an anchorage called Cattle Dock, where we'd stayed before, but that was closer to the mangroves and we wanted to be sure we weren't eaten by no-see-ums -- one of the reasons not to spend nights on the water during Florida's summers.  So, we tolerated the tidal changes and river currents that worked against a nice 14 knot wind to create a roily anchorage for the night.

Although we didn't get quite enough sleep, we finally awakened to a nice morning with a steady 10 knot breeze.  After a breakfast of apple sausage, mushrooms, red peppers and scrambled eggs -- one of our best! -- we set sail and headed back to our marina, about 10 miles.  We were at the dock just before noon, and spent a little over an hour packing up, cleaning up, and washing Alizee down.  First, however, Penelope caught a little chameleon and returned her to shore.  The little guy had hitched a ride for all three days, apparently getting on board via a dock line.  S/he had clung to mainsheet rigging and other lines for the bulk of the time we were out, and s/he drank some water Penelope left out and devoured a fly we trapped. 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

A day sail with friends ...

We went out on Easter Sunday with Bob and Harolyn Lester and their son Jon, daughter-in-law Jennifer, and their two children Sidney and Avery.  Every one had a lovely time, even though the winds were very light.  We sailed over to the Myaka River and anchored for lunch.  Then returned to the club around 16:30.

Avery, James, Penelope, Jonathan, Bob, Sidney, Harolyn (Jennifer taking the photo)

Sailing the Dyer Dinghy ...

Monday, April 6th is a red-letter day for us, because we actually launched our Dyer Sailing Dinghy Zephyr on the little lake behind our house.  First, we both went out in her and sailed around the lake.  Not much wind, which was good, and we got a feel for her.  Second, I went out alone, but only after capsizing right close to the shore.  Alas, Penelope got no photo of it.  But, we got her emptied out, drained, shipshape, and I climbed aboard to circumnavigate the lake alone.


Penelope followed with a solo sail about the lake, and she got some pretty good winds.  It was, all and all, a lovely day.


Dragon Boat race in Bradenton ...

 The Charlotte Harbor Yacht Club Dragon Boat team at work!

On March 29th, we participated in our first actual Dragon Boat competition in Bradenton, Florida, on the Manatee River.  They put us in the fasted category, Class A, because we're a club-run boat, but we clearly weren't Class A.  In our first race, 350 meters, we were almost cut off by the winning boat at the start , and we came in fourth out of four boats.  (I submit primarily because we were swamped by the winning boat's wake when they cut us off, but protests don't seem to be proffered.  It's not like sailboat racing.) 

Then the organizers cut the race length to 150 meters because of increasing wind and chop.  Still in Class A, we paddled a good race, coming in third.  With our combined race times, we were just .12 seconds off of getting into the trophy race.  But, alas, that .12 seconds still put us out of contention.  All in all it was a great time!

Finally, a little sailing ...

It seems this winter the tides have been extreme and when they have been good the weather has been lousy, with fronts coming through.  Additionally, we've both been busy, me playing music every Monday until the 1st of April with the "Coast Connection" rock/blues/country band, holding Wednesday afternoon jazz rehearsals, and going to yacht club membership committee meetings; both of us going to fishing club meetings on Thursday afternoons and Dragon Boat paddling practices on Wednesday mornings and Saturday mornings.  So, we haven't gotten in much sailing. 

But the weather was so nice and the tides cooperative in late February, that we adjusted our schedule to get out on the water.  The first day, a Thursday, after filling up on diesel, we took Alizee out on a high tide and anchored around 15:00 just outside the entrance to the club.  We lowered the dinghy and motored back into the club at 16:00 for the fishing club meeting, then returned to the boat and fixed ourselves dinner and watched the sunset. 

The next morning we went for a good sail, and along the way through out our trolling line and caught four Spanish mackerel (a story we told on the new fishing blog that Penelope created for our fishing club).  Because we were scheduled for Dragon Boat practice Saturday morning, we just sailed back and anchored again outside the club on Friday evening.  We were too tired to cook up the mackerel, but enjoyed cocktails, the sunset and a dinner that we'd prepared ahead for our little trip.  Next morning, we dinghied into the club for paddling practice.  The engine on the dinghy started missing and was hard to start, a problem which I attribute to old gasoline ... that gas has now been burnt up in my car, but I've not yet given the once over to the dinghy motor.

After paddling, we got back out to the boat, and we set sail for the Myaka River, due west of the club, where we found a nice, quiet anchorage for the night.  Very peaceful, and we awakened the next morning enveloped in fog, two sleepy pelicans floating just off our beam and taking absolutely no notice of us.  Gradually, we heard early morning fishing skiffs feeling their way through the foggy mist, and when it finally lifted, we hoisted sail, weighed anchor and slowly (because there was very little wind) made our way back to our berth at the yacht club. 

This is, of course, being written a while after the fact, and we are sad to report that we've not been out for more than a day sail since.