Sorry it took me a while to tell you the story, but here it is!
Saturday October 9 2010, 6:20 am, I’m all packed and ready to go with food for 4 people for a week. The rental car looks pretty full already… I pick up Bill in Tampa at 7am, we load some more food and some cruising essentials, like an awning and a sun shower. 2h later we make it to Gainesville to pick-up Quentin, and fiew (!) everything fits in the car…At 11am we are unloading the car in the boat and at 1pm I drop it off at Jacksonville airport where my dad is waiting on me. He’s coming to warm up for a week of sailing (he’s hoping for wind…).
Plenty of people are there to see Salsa Verde leave…I get a rose from Roger (which made the whole trip safely btw!) and brownies from Diana (they were sooooo good!!!! They didn’t last very long…) Everyone is so nice they organized a flotilla to escort me out of Julington creek!!! Ted and Ulf on Ted’s new boat, Andrea & Matt and their crew on True Luck, Diana and Joan on Lothlorien… Wow!!! I did not expect that, I’ll miss those guys so much. And that’s not all, they put CONFETI in my main sail! So when I hoisted, it fell everywhere on the boat! There are still plenty of them in the cracks around the cockpit, traveler, inside the boat…I have a sweet thought for my Jacksonville sailors and friends when I see that. I don’t know how to thank you all enough…
So we’re leaving Julington creek and saying bye byes, motor-sailing as the wind is close to being absent. Our first obstacle is the roadway bridge. It’s closed, so we turn in circles in front of it for 15 minutes… Then a train comes! Yeh!!! It will be over soon, so we think. The train comes slowly, slowlier, and slowlier, and stops. Hum… Many minutes go by, and we keep starring at it with lots of hope. Ha! It’s moving!!! But wait, is it going backwards? Argh…The long train does its dance, back and forth for a while and disappears. We (and some other patient boaters) get closer to the gate, thinking it will open soon. We are seeing a few workers on the bridge, they seem to have a problem. Then we hear on the VHF that the railway bridge will be closed for an undetermined amount of time…WHAT!!!!???? That’s when we decided to dock Salsa Verde on some company’s dock just before the bridge. We were not gonna keep turning in circles for an undetermined amount of time, we would have gone nuts! The tide was rushing down like mad. The boat looked like it was sailing at the dock! Luckily our stop was not that long, another train came by (slowly) and the bridge came back up.
Next slight “slow down” was in sight, the main street bridge. But this one did not cause any unexpected delay. We were back on track, 1h later than planned. That caused us more than 3h delay at the end of the day since the tide turned around in our face before we were out of the river, which significantly lengthened our last river miles. Thanks Ted for lending us his chart plotter…Getting out of this river in the dark would have been pretty freaking challenging, even if I’d been there before. No moon, lots of lights on land, and only a few lighted markers on our way… We were in the ocean by 10pm, with a light south wind. Dad and I took the first shift and sailed most of it on 3 tacks, but had to start the engine when the wind died around 2am.
The rest of the Atlantic part of the trip was mostly motor-sailing in an oil-like ocean, encountering dolphins, rays, jellyfish and ballyhoo.
We made it into Ft Pierce inlet early Monday morning, and that’s when (awesome timing) the engine decided it had made enough of an effort and needed a fuel filter change. So we were able to idle into Ft Pierce city marina, borrow a filter wrench, buy more fuel and ice, and get a quick hair washing with the joy soap and a hose. Job done in 1.5h, not without sweat, since the fuel filter change and engine bleeding was a little far in my memory. Hopefully the nice guy with the filter wrench was there to resolve our dilemma. And here we went, starting the next leg of the trip… the Okeechobee channel crossing.
The wind was still light, the sun was hot, we put the awning on and motored our way towards the lake. Perfect day for the boys to get a sun shower! The way to the lake goes “upwards” into a few locks and the highlight of the day was crossing under the lowest bridge, which was supposed to have 49 feet of clearance. So as soon as we were in sight of the bridge, I put my climbing harness and helmet on, geared it with a screwdriver and got winched up the mast. I took the wind vane off just in case, because from a distance it really looked like we might not make it under. Well, contradictory to popular beliefs, there was a good 3 feet of clearance above my 48.5 feet high mast!!! Hooray!!!!!!! We made it!
Last stop before the lake is a lock where we met this lockmaster who kept telling us that he did not know anything about the area “cause he was from Pittsburg”. However, he did tell us that the channel through the lake was deeper than the rim channel, which was contradictory to what we had heard from many others… So beware of lockmasters…
We entered the lake just after sunset Monday evening, and since the rim channel has a bridge that is closed at night time, we decided to cross the lake to make better distance overnight. That way we could make it to the lock on the other side, in Moore Haven (Mosquito heaven you mean…). We got about 15 minutes of rain in the middle of the lake, just a cloud, actually the only cloud we encountered in the entire trip! Sailing across was only possible with the chart plotter, the markers are so far apart, and not necessarily light that it would simply be a grounding episode to try it otherwise. It required a lot of concentration to navigate there in the dark, without hitting any day markers and without running aground. The last part of the way across the lake is into the rim channel. That’s another interesting situation… Forget about markers, and forget the chart plotter. The channel is so much narrower than the GPS accuracy that it shows you’re on land most of the time. All you have to do is look to the left, look to the right, look to the left, etc. And try to stay somewhat in the middle. We succeeded with only one quick touch to the ground in a curve just before Moore Haven. Mosquito heaven was our hell, they were waiting on us like a starving pack of wolves. By the time we tied the boat to the lock’s side, rolled the mainsail and put away the essentials, we had been eaten alive. We closed ourselves in the boat and proceeded with a mosquito mass murder episode. It’s about 1:30am and we really, really, really wanted to sleep. Signs of dead mosquitoes were showing all over the boat and survivors were still found 2 days later in Apollo Beach.
We woke up at 6:30am the next morning and went through the now open lock. Bill made us “French toasts” and coffee while we were motoring through the fog. Later that morning we passed in Labelle, Fl. Very interesting, in the middle of nowhere (Labelle, FL) there is an immense boat storage yard! Apparently people make this trip just to store their boat over there for long periods of time. Bill was even saying that most boats have holes in the hulls to avoid water accumulation inside…
Motoring can be boring, so we put ourselves to work a little and reinstalled my handrails, that had been off the boat for more than 2 years. I didn’t need them in the river, so did not rush getting them back on. The exercise was more challenging than expected, for some reason, the holes didn’t line up at first…Hum… And the new screws are sticking out unevenly! Interesting…but we made it work.
Later that afternoon was time for a second fuel filter change. We hoisted the mainsail and used what we could of the little wind there was to stay in the channel. Bill timed me and it took 12 minutes to do the work. Now this is great practice, I will not forget how to do that anytime soon! We stopped at the Ft Myers city marina to get some fuel and a proper shower. We tried to buy more fuel filters since we were out of stocks, but we had no luck. So we crossed our fingers that there would be wind in the gulf!!! We took the Boca Grande pass to reach the gulf that Tuesday evening and were lucky enough to sail all night, almost in a straight line towards the north. The next morning (wednesday) we were in front of Sarasota and opted for that short-cut behind long boat key. We were entering Tampa bay around noon and we were welcomed by the dolphins in Apollo Beach by 4pm.
Thank you Bill, Quentin and Dad for making this trip safe, fun and memorable