Tuesday, November 3, 2009



We have been blessed to be able to pursue our goal of sailing for a few years in our retirement. While we are still a ways out, it seems as though things might just be working out, if ever so slowly. I know of so many people who have dreams, big or small, that get stuck because of either external or self-imposed restraints. After all, selling everything and buying a sailboat sounds like a pipe dream to the ultimate escape, but in reality pursuing that dream carries a whole lot of opportunity to spend money, solve problems and make plans that inevitably have to be changed. Someone once said that chasing a dream is hard work (oh yeah, that might have been me) and while we've had our fair share of challenges, we are also able to take a top-down look at it and say "well, we're on the coast, and we own a sailboat". That's what we set out to do and here we are. Now it becomes a matter of prayer and planning to see if the fulfilment of the dream can be had in the next three or four or five years.
When we decided on the little sailboat as a training platform, we really didn't know how much we would indeed learn. I look back now, 6 months after we sailed the SV Robin (S/V is 'Sailing Vessel') to her first slip and I can point at so many things that we've learned; from painting with epoxy-polymer to mechanical and electrical and woodworking to sailing in a current, to talking to drawbridges to arranging payments for dockage to tying up extra dock lines in case of a hurricane. It's all been good and we have enjoyed our little boat from every aspect.

Our initial 'sail' was about 20 some nautical miles up the Intracoastal waterways. Actually we motored up the whole distance and including the wait times for scheduled drawbridges it took over 5 hours. We figured we would stay in Fort Lauderdale at Cooley's Landing during the summer because a) it was touted as a good spot to be in case we did get severe weather and 2) it was significantly less expensive than a few other locations we'd investigated. But all good things need to take a break and so did our stay in Fort Lauderdale.
A lot of money is made aroound here during the winter months as the 'snowbirds' arrive from parts north. The RV parks fill up with license plates from Quebec and Montreal and Massachussettes and owners and vendors raise prices accordingly. Robin and I planned to return to the south of Miami for the winter, and prices don't skyrocket as badly as they do in the Fort Lauderdale area. The prices at our RV park were going to go up about 30% and the price at the marina was going to go up by nearly 50% so it was time to move out in search of cheaper pastures. The rate hikes were happening in November so we planned to move our RV and the boat to new locations before the 1st if we could squeeze it in with our schedules at work.
Then the cold front came through.

Now a cold front in Florida isn't quite the same as one in say ... Wyoming, where the temperature can drop 50 degrees in an hour but still, it had some people excited about the propsects of cooling off from the mid 90's. There was talk at work about the associated thunderstorms and cooling air and the forecast surface winds were going to be fairly stiff at upwards of 25 knots. At first it didn't settle in with me, but finally a light dawned and I asked some questions of our local weather expert about the details of these forecasted winds.
Originally Robin and I had put our thinking caps on and tried to come up with a couple of days we could coordinate our efforts to move S/V Robin down to the new marina. It would be a 56 nautical mile trip and at 4 or 5 knots best it would mean a long, long day of it. We really didn't have convenient scheduling to get together for a sail (opposite days off) so we felt relinquished to staying at the higher-priced marina until we could get a weekend together (even in the middle of the week). But the cold front changed that...

Winds would be right out of the north, meaning that if we could make arrangements to go right after frontal passage we would have brisk weather and a strong tailwind to push us along the coastline toward our destination. We needed to move rather quickly, as suddenly we had a narrow window (2 days) to plan and move instead of the three or four weeks we'd initially conceived. Well, it all came together, we got the time off and packed up to go. We checked out and said a very fond goodbye to the staff at Cooley's Landing marina a the day before we left, went home and planned our trip. Initially I had given consideration to departing after Robin got off work that evening (Sunday). It was my day off, and it would mean that I would pack and prepare the boat and Robin would join me after getting off work at 9:00 P.M. We would sail all night until approaching the entrance to the new harbor and throw out the anchor for a couple of hours waiting for the high tide. The entrance to the harbor is not only narrow but very shallow and since it is a whole new place for us, I did not want to risk running through 4 feet of water when we need four feet eight inches :). An overnight sail is not my favorite idea, as you have to rely a whole lot on GPS and can't see the sights and after being awake all day it makes you very tired, but we were indeed slaves to the tide and we needed to be at the entrance by around 10:30 A.M. in order to have the deepest water. The next high-tide was about 11 hours later, deep into the night again and I did not want to try to negotiate a new channel, new harbor and cement dock late at night. So, that was the plan anyway.
Surprisingly Robin got Sunday off from work so we quickly made new plans (as referenced in paragraph 1 above) packed up and sailed away about 12 hours ahead of schedule. Now we would be able to travel most of the way in daylight then spend the whole of the night at anchor and make the entrance from nearby in the morning. Much easier idea and it worked out very well for us, but not without a bit of excitement (would you have it any other way???)

We'd been thinking about moving the boat for several days and were, well, sort of ready to sail. The last minute provisions consisted of food, some blankets and pillows and, as a last minute thought, extra fuel. While I was pretyy confident that we'd have plenty of diesel, the gague hasn't worked since we bought her and I was only estimating what we had in the tank. An extra 5 gallons couldn't hurt. The little two-cylinder engine purrs along nicely and is pretty stingy with fuel. I am sure it isn't as eco-friendly as a model that's 30 years newer, but it sure is nice to have a motor unburdened with oxygen sensors and computer controlled exhaust recirculating to make life a little more difficult if it unexpectedly quits running.
We cast off at around 11:30 - ish (after being so busy with preparations, it was not really noticed what the time was) and motored along the New River. We crossed under the familiar 7th Avenue, Andrews Avenue and 3rd St drawbridges and joined the Intracoastal waterway southbound. Along the we felt a few 'puffs' of wind; reminders that we needed to pay close attention to our drift while we were within the narrow confines of the river's dredged passageway. After crossing under the 17th Street causeway (which has plenty of clearance for us to pass beneath without requiring an opening) we entered the shipping channel at Port Everglades and turned due east toward open water. I have read about the feeling one gets when you point toward open water and yes, it is exciting and intimidating simultaneously. Even though we really wouldn't travel all that far offshore, it was still a pretty cool feeling to know that we were doing what we set out to do; take a sailboat out on the open ocean. We were planning to be on the water for about 24 hours and it was exciting to think about what lie along the way.
We motored out along the channel and began to feel the predicted north winds pushing on us as we cleared the buildings and rock jetties. Even though we were some 6 nautical miles from the forecast wall of the northbound Gulf Stream, we coould see clearly the very tall waves and rough conditions brought up by the northerly-flowing Gulf Stream current fighting against the south-bound winds which were now approaching 30 knots out there. I was thankful that would not be where we would want to be heading this day...but it might be fune to try it for a while on our own terms)

We turned southbound about a mile and a half off shore after opening up some of the front sail (jib) and getting a feel for how hard the wind would be pushing us. After only a few winutes we decidied that the jib alone would be sufficient power for us and we ran downwind at over 6 knots for a while, with speeds as high a 7.8 kts recorded on the GPS. The wind was pushing well indeed!
We don't have the equipment to tell exactly how much relative wind we have, but a check on the radio brought us reported winds of 20 to 32 knots from nearby reporing stations.
The wind was out of the north, and so were the waves ... 3 to 4 feet of them for the most part, a few bigger ones that offered a little more lift as we rode up the swell and then dipped into the trough that followed.
Now, waves from behind are called 'following seas' and they can be a bane depending on how the boat handles and if the waves manage break in the wrong spot and spill over the back end of the boat thereby soaking the sailors. We happily report that the SV Robin is a very stable and very dry boat in follwing seas. She handled extremely well, and the waves provided a smooth and gentle ride without smacking the back of the boat and splashing over.

We traveled along the coastline southbound watching Fort Lauderdale, Dania Beach, Hollywood Beach, North Miami Beach and South Miami Beach slip along our starboard side. We took turns at the helm (the autopilot is inoperative, and enjoyed the view, the ride, the temperature and the breeze. The little boat slipped right along the coastline and we passed the big Miami Port and the inbound channel called "Government Cut" pretty much on schedule and under a beautiful sky.

We kept our ears on the VHF, our eyes on the GPS and enjoyed our snacks along the way. We played with different sail setting and eventually traded the Jib for the Mainsail which gave us nearly as much speed and a little less noise. div>
After we passed Miami we slipped past Virginia Key island and Biscayne Island, observing the lighthouse we had visited while bike-riding the Biscayne State Park a few months earlier. The persective of looking 'in' from offshore toward places you've visited is pretty cool.
We were directly east of the south part of Biscayne Island during sunset. The sky was gorgeous and the sun splashed acroos the clouds and burned between the builldings on the island. There was one point where we could see the billiant orange light poking through the hallways of a building; apparently with windows on both ends. Very unique and impossible to capture on film (or in this case CCD digital). After the sunset show it gradually darkened and cooled off a little. We had just a couple of miles to travel southbound before finding our passage through the shallow water of Biscayne Bay and re-connecting with the Intracoastal (ICW). The winds were still quite strong and sailing at night through a narrow channel going cross-wind did not appeal to my skill level so we swung into the wind to drop the sail. As we headed into the wind we got a taste for exactly how hard it was blowing.
Robin had the helm as I tried to drop the sail. Being the 'more mature' boat that it is, the sail didn't just race down its track and fall precisely into position so it took what seemed like several minutes to pull it down one 'hank' at a time and try to control the loose sailcloth in the wind.

Robin was having difficulty maintaining a heading as the wind was pushing us around so she got the engine going and got us underway into the the wind again. This was a brilliant move that helped in all aspects. I was holding tightly to the mast dragging the sail down and tying it off while Robin kept us steady on. In retrospect it went well, but we learned a couple of lessons about preparation there and about dealing with 'Small Craft Advisory' winds. "Small Craft Advisories" are just plain fun :)
Once we started westbound the winds was coming directly over our starboard rail and we were crossing the waves at about 45 degrees nose in. The waves would occasionally splash us pretty good so we ended up donning our rain jackets to stay a little drier. We were thankful that the GPS was waterproof. The strength of the wind and the 'windage' of the boat required us (mostly Robin) to steer about 40 degrees into it to keep our course. I suppose there's mathematics we could plug into some formula to predict that, but it was just a matter of saying 'further to starboard, ... more ... more ... until we started making good our desired course through the water.
Our course took us past some old derelict houses, formerly elite mansions on pilings, that were built out in the open water. Locally known as "StiltsVille", the houses are now vacant and as we passed the structures in near-total darkness it was bordering on downright spooky.
Crossing the channel (Biscayne Channel, south of Key Biscayne Island if you want to look it up) took around an hour and then we cleared the end markers and turned southwest bound to connect to the Intracoastal Waterway for the rest of the leg. It was completely dark now and we were very dependent on the GPS as the ICW channel markers are fairly widely spaced. We saw lots of stars, a couple of flashing beacons, and airplane or two and one brighltly lit fishing boat (bigger than us) heading the opposite direction obviously in a hurry. It was pounding hard into the waves, creating big splashes of spray and a 'thump' we could hear from a half-mile away. They must have been miserable aboard, fighting the wind, getting both pounded and soaked. We at least had the wind on our stern and following waves again. We plugged along southbound, Robin competently steering us nearly perfectly centered in the ICW channel. Which helped as we entered a very narrow section called "The Featherbeds".

I had debated making this crossing at night, but as we were doing so well keeping our course, and as the tide was higher than it would be early in the morning, we made the crossing without incident. There were markers on both ends of the channel, and the run was perhaps a mile and a half long, but there is till trepidation in a very narrow channel with very shallow water on both sides. Later on I'll explain why we should've waited but our plan was unfolding well as it was.
After clearing the Featherbeds we were in position to enter the long channel to Black Point marina. This was one we had decided to not try at night so we consulted the charts for a reasonable depth with some "swing" room should the winds change and I wne out front and tossed the anchor out. It took a bit before it sunk in and caught, but we were held tight against the wind and waves all night long. I set the GPS to alarm if the anchor dragged and Robin and I tried to catch a few winks between looking outside and checking that our position had not changed. We had a couple of nice landmarks, the most notable of which was a nuclear power plant. Not surprisingly, it was well-lit :)
Neither of us slept much as the winds did not subside and the waves gave us a pretty good ride all night long. This will be an art we will have to develop after more experience. A after daybreak we prepared for the last 7-mile leg into the marina and with Robin at the helm I weighed anchor and we set out northwest-bound toward the channel entrance.
As I mentioned a little earlier I was going to explain why crossing the Featherbeds the previous night had not been such a good idea.
What seems so painfully obvious in retrospect did not occur to me at all during the planning phase. By crossing through the Featherbeds and anchoring a couple of miles past that crossing point, we put ourselves SOUTH of the marina's channel entrance. That didn't seem like a problem until we figured out that south of the entrance also meant downwind of the entrance. With a 20-25 knot headwind we could only manage around 2 knots forward speed toward the goal, and if we ended up being too late, we would miss high tide and risk running aground n the shallow water. As it worked out, the problem of the headwind became less of a concern only a few minutes after we got underway ... because the engine quit.
Now we were adrift in the bay with a strong wind pushing us southward. Thankfully our direction of drift was right back toward our anchorage so we knew we were in deep enough waters to not get stuck. I clambered up front, tossed the anchor over and played out what I though was about the right amont of line (called 'scope'). I felt it tug and went back and below to see if I could puzzle out what might've happened. There were a couple of possibilities that were running through my mind, the worst of which was an overheat somehow because we'd not paid attention to the water coming out of the exhaust or maybe the headwind had something to do with it. I considered that the fuel filter may have gotten clogged up (I had seen this before on the S/V Contour) and I prepared to get really messy trying to fix that. I rummaged through and found the new filter cartridge, and then I thought about it for a few more seconds and decided to start with the less obvious, but simpler-to-prove hypothesis that we may have run out of fuel.

We did bring the 5-gallon extra-just-in-case-we-needed-it container and I poured it into the tank. The engine cranked and failed, cranked and failed, then cranked and sputtered, then cranked and ran a couple of seconds then cranked and ran a few more seconds and I almost gave up. Finally it caught and stayed running and we could get underway.

It was then that Robin told me that the anchor hadn't really set and we'd been dragging the whole time. When I looked at the GPS we had drifted to nearly the exact spot that we'd anchored so off we went :).
Anchor aweigh and into the wind, we made the channel entrance about 90 minutes after we'd planned. There was still enough depth to let us through (with some to spare actually) and we motored into the channel waving to the occasional fisherman and passing a man with his two young children that was pointing toward us. We could hear him saying "Look! ... Pirates!!" to his kids. I did my best "Avast me hardies!" back to them and they all waved. What fun :)

We found our slip, tied up and walked over to the marina's grill. We met a great bartender and had a great lunch. The drive home was easy enough considering the lack of sleep and we arived back home satisfied that we'd done something we really, really wanted to do over our weekend.

It's good to go sailing.

WDW: Part Deux


Well, it had been nearly a week since we spent the day at Disney World so we figured 'what the heck' and planned for another day up there. You know, some times there is indeed too much of a good thing, but we've not reached that point at Disney World yet.

There was a good incentive for making the trip again (about 4 hours each way) and the story goes thusly:
A week prior we had cruised with Mom on the Carnival Glory and spent a day at Disney World (WDW) after we returned from the ship. On the very day that we left Orlando to drive back home, our relatives from Spokane arrived for a week long stay at the park but our schedules were so out of whack that we didn't get to see them at all, just like (grin) ships passing in the night. Robin and I weren't sure if we could arrange another trip up, but we sure wanted to spend some time with the rest of the family (you know, aunts and cousins and nephews, oh my) so we spent most of the work week whining that we'd like to get just ever-so-slightly more time off and were ultimately successful in arranging an overnighter back at WDW with some short notice.

Now, as luck would have it (and I won't go into the long story part of it) we eventually ended up getting to stay at the same on-property hotel with the rest of the family. A very cool turn of a phone conversation worked in our favor and we booked at a pretty nice room in one of the Disney economy lodges (The All Star Movies Resort to be exact).

Since we'd only be allowed one day in the park, we chose a single-park admission (a bit less expensive than a "park Hopper" pass) and whined that we'd like to go to Epcot for our choice. We met up with the family and what a great evening of reunion it turned out to be! The next day we spent time in Epcot and rode rides around a test track at 65 mph and all the way to Mars, actually. There was fun and laughter and hot sunshine and snacks. We then hopped a boat and went to the Swan and Dolphin hotel for one of the finest meals I could've imagined inside a theme park. The restaurant was called "Il Mulino" and was modeled after a classy Trattorio in New York City.

The food was first rate, the service outstanding and when the asked for our wine selection I half-jokingly asked for a 5 year old vintage of our favorite chardonnay (having not seen it available since it became a 1 year old vintage) and amazingly they had it! We ordered it before we had a second thought that we should've maybe inquired about the price, but at the end we discovered that it was very reasonable after all (well, I guess that's a matter of perspective).

Were I a critic of note (a la Ratatouille) I would happily give the establishment 4 1/2 stars out of 5, the only downside being that the overall ambiance was a bit too cool to be called 'intimate'. The place was pretty sparcely populated, but I can imagine that it is a noisy place when it is hopping.

Our visit with our family afforded some much needed catching-up time coupled with a good dose of silly fun.

I am so glad we managed to pull it off, and as we drove home we talked about the treasures that are our families and the gold that our memory of those we now miss.

We also decided that going to Disney every weekend could work for us :)

Captain Jack Sparrow tells it like it is.