Docking –

Next time you walk down the dock or stare over the rail at the pretty boats nestled

Grand Banks at rest
Shangri-La safely at the dock

snugly in their their berths, consider how it all came about.  In the past that 18′ open bow was a snap to bring in.  She’d slide right up to the dock and hug the rub rail.  Toss a few lines to the cleats and day is done.  Go get the truck and trailer and get on down the road.  In bigger marinas where we launched I always had to linger and look at the ‘big boats.’  Those 30 footers with fly bridges and big wide sterns.  Not once did I ever give any thought to how they got there.

Docking is one of the top 3 topics around docktails at the end of the day.  Maybe #1 unless someone brings up what kind of anchor to use.  We talk about marinas we like, tides and currents.  Dock hands that help, and places you are all alone.  We talk about slip widths and water depth.  We discuss approaches in detail and how the wind will “walk yer boat back out into the channel before you can say “ahh crap.”  We trade stories about this nick and that gouge, those props with the polished edges and that stain on the stern. . . Continue reading “Docking –”

It’s the People II

Been a while.  We’ve been here and there making waves and making friends.  For the second time I am driven to note what an amazing journey this has been.  Over 1,800 nautical miles, more than 30 marinas and the love just keeps coming.  We thought this adventure would be about destinations.  Awesome pictures of quaint towns and sunsets.  It’s not.

The small towns and cities along the waterways are indeed a treat.  Eye candy mixed with Southern charm that surrounds us as we walk the streets, duck into mom and pop restaurants and visit with folks along the way.  But it’s not just the scenery.  In fact, the scenery is only a backdrop for a personal drama so full of gracious welcome it sometimes actually hurts to leave.

In Captiva, when Jan got hurt.  We were surrounded, not in the novel way surrounded is used.  But literally surrounded physically by men and women who focused on us and our challenge to make things happen.  When we needed a dock RIGHT NOW and they were there.  The names I wish I remembered. Those five men who met us at the dock and insisted “Go, be with your wife, we got this.” It gave me chills to think about leaving Shangri-La with perfect strangers.  Barely nudged against the dock in raging winds and heavy seas.  But we did.  We left.  And when we returned our home was safe and secure.  Tied in by professionals who knew what they were doing.  Many of whom we never saw again. Continue reading “It’s the People II”

Outside

It’s all about the weather.  We love it inside, traveling the twisting turning ICW that occasionally blows out into huge bays and sounds.  The traffic – every conceivable kind of boat, coming and going.  Being close to the scenery and smelling the marsh, the riverside cedars.  A friendly wave hello from front yards and docks along the way.  It’s quaint and we never feel hurried.  We don’t worry about the weather.  Strong gales can whip the bimini and rattle the eisenglass, but the water never gets rough.  2 – 3 foot seas in the sounds.  It’s easy sailing.

Southeast US Coast
Atlantic Ocean

 

Outside it’s different.  At the dock when we’re near an inlet the discussion sooner or later comes around to “going outside?”  “What kind of seas are expected?”  We listen intently to the stories, and there are many, where the forecast was for calm seas and it didn’t quite work out that way.  At best the predictions we’ve followed rarely get much above 30-40% accuracy for more than 24 hours out.  “Which App do you use?” is a common thread over docktails.  And there are many to choose from.  We’ve become weather watchers unlike any other time in our lives.  And it’s always, always about the wind. Continue reading “Outside”

Okeechobee Gone

Destination, Clearwater Florida.  Our goal is to make it up the west coast of Florida and visit friends in the Tampa area.  There are three routes.  Down through Key West and up across the Gulf of Mexico, coming in near Naples. Or, with a bit of luck, one can sneak through the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and hug the Everglades around the bottom of the mainland.  The third option is the Okeechobee Waterway.

Okeechobee map
Okeechobee Waterway Map, click to enlarge

At over 150 miles long, with 5 locks and a massive lake in the middle, it’s unlike anywhere we’ve been so far.  We’ve driven down by car to the St. Lucie Lock to see how it works and talk about how we would enter, maintain control and exit the lock.  We got to see a few boats go through and this helped alleviate some of the mystery.  With this excursion under our belt we begin the trip.  South from Vero Beach to Stuart FL, where we take a hard right off the ICW and head up the St. Lucie River.  Away from the ‘big water’ boats on the ICW.  We’re feeling rather out-of-place at first.  Lots of runabouts, water skiers and small fishing boats zipping about in all directions.

The channel through this area isn’t all that wide and we have to concentrate a bit harder to be sure we don’t get distracted.  After several hours, the river narrows and we begin the actual trip across.  Our goal is to make it to that first lock before they close at 4:30 PM.  If we don’t, we’ll spend the night anchored out below the lock and dam.  Jan nails the schedule and before 4 PM we are nudging our way into a cavernous box.  It is a bit intimidating.  Shangri-La has a lot of momentum and my worry is keeping her ‘quiet’ while getting close enough to the lock wall where we will grab the lines hanging down over the side.  I leave the girls (Pam and Sarah, our pet names for the Port and Starboard engines) idling, in case we lose control. Continue reading “Okeechobee Gone”

Uh Oh!!

In the course of human events. . . 

The Windlass. Rope pulley on the left, chain gypsy on the right

When we started this adventure, the biggest argument against it from our families was – what if you get hurt??  How will you get help? Legit points for sure. Lots of things can happen.  A slip, a fall, machinery, ropes, motors and more.  But we are careful. We think things through and we stay safe. . .

Until now.  Anchored out for a few days in Roosevelt Channel alongside Captiva Island we’d been buffeted the entire time by high winds.  One day we decide we will move to the coast, up near Venice, FL, and continue on our way to Clearwater.  We’ve already made the 3 day trip across the state, through the 5 locks of the Okeechobee Waterway to Captiva. We’re pros.  We got this.

Early on the morning of Sunday, February 26 we were going to make our way out of the channel and head north.  The wind is over 30 knots and the water in the channel has blown out, leaving a lower than low tide.  We call a tow service to confirm we can safely exit the channel and head out into the waterway separating Captiva from the mainland.  “No problem, they keep that channel dredged.”  30 minutes later we are at the final marker indicating the entrance / exit of the channel.  And we’re stuck.  Back away, try another path.  Nothing.  We keep stubbing our toe trying to get over the sand bar.  We have no choice.  We fall back into the bay alongside another trawler, also waiting to get out. Continue reading “Uh Oh!!”

The Sounds – Noises

Rigging

Living in the ‘dirt house’ as long-term boaters refer to conventional homes, we get used to the noises.  That creak in the hallway floor.  The whine of the air conditioner.  That vinyl siding creeping on nail heads as it warms in the spring sun after a cold night.  Dozens of sounds.  The way the wind rattles the porch light and makes the cover on the grill flap against the metal lid.  We get used to them.  We know them by heart.

And now – new noises.  I’ve slept in my runabout before.  Heard the creaking of the dock lines.  Barely, but it sounded ‘shippy’ to me so it was pretty cool.  Our first night in Coinjock I heard a different sound coming from the dock lines.  That noise they use in movies featuring old wooden ships.  A base level creaking, not some wimpy screech but rather a creak with smoker’s cough.  Low, slow, more like a growl.  The movies do a good job on it – or else they recorded real ships pulling against the dock piling and cleats.   Continue reading “The Sounds – Noises”

Fear

Be not afraid.  Easier said than done. After a lifetime of being on the water in small boats things were about to change – big time.  My runabouts, 14 and 18 footers got me through a lot of tough spots.  Spots I probably should never have gotten myself into.  Storms I could not even believe, including one wicked thunderstorm coming back from Charity Islands with my young son in the middle of the night. “9 foot seas” the Coast Guard told me when I called them at midnight to report we’d made it back to the dock. Wicked.  I thought I knew fear.

Now here we were, taking possession of a 34 thousand pound twin-engine 42′ long boat.  Home.  It was now our home.  Having sold everything we’re moving aboard and this is it.  All we have.  I pull up the hatch to the engine room and crawl down to survey the space.  It’s a factory down here.   Continue reading “Fear”

On The Hook

On the what?  First time we heard this term we were indeed confused.  After all, if something is ‘off the hook’ it’s a good thing, right?  So what on earth is ‘on the hook?’  Duh.  That means your swingin on your anchor rode (it’s not a rope if there’s a hook on the other end.)  And swinging it is.  Riding the hook is simply ‘at anchor.’  Well heck, I’ve been hookin it for 50 years on lakes all over Michigan. Been hookin in Higgins Lake, Burt Lake, a hundred other smaller lakes and rivers as well as Lake Huron.

No big deal.  Drop the hook and sit back and relax.  On a lake.  With no current. Without a fetch of 8 miles across the sound.  With no tide.  It is indeed a piece of cake.  I could anchor the Nightcrawler, our 18′ open bow runabout directly over the fish.  Every time.  Read the breeze, let out some rode.  Good to go.  A couple of things make it much more exciting now.  First, we’re 17′ out of the water to the bimini top.  With the eisenglass zipped in, we make a dandy sail.  Then there’s the bow.  On this particular vessel, our bow is an old school, a nearly vertical knife falling 4 and a half feet below the surface.  Like a giant rudder, only on the front. Continue reading “On The Hook”

The Dink

Actually, we have two boats. One, our home on the water, the second is our dingy. Affectionately call a ‘dink’ in boating circles.  Ten feet long it is known as a RIB – Rigid Hulled Inflatable boat.  Sounds pretty cool, ‘eh?  How could one go wrong leaving the dock in a boat that’s both solid fiberglass hull and inflatable?  But then again. . 

Our dink sits atop the roof of the stateroom in a solid wooden cradle.  Part of the charm of our old trawler is the mast and boom which work in tandem to manage the launching and retrieving of the dingy.  It’s far too heavy to manhandle over the side considering it has a fiberglass hull and 15 hp outboard.  Launching the dink is easy.   Continue reading “The Dink”

Crab Pots??

The Sound

“When you leave Coinjock you can head out into the sound, set the autopilot and relax.” That’s a lie.  We cleared the entrance to Albemarle Sound and set course for Roanoke Island.  200 yards later Jan says, “so what are those white things??”  Crab pots. Hundreds of millions of crab pots.  Autopilot adios.

We started weaving between them for a bit then figured out, they are in a string – just like on Deadliest Catch.  The buoys, no bigger than a soda bottle, were laid in straight lines, cris crossing this vast stretch of open water. From the air it has to look like artwork drawn by a 3 year old.  There was no going straight for long.  All we could do was follow a string in the general direction of south, then jump across and pick up the next one.  I felt like we were tacking in a sailboat.  Maddening. No, it was worse.  We wanted to relax, enjoy this fine day and let the Cummins diesels hum us to our next stop.  Continue reading “Crab Pots??”