We finally get away from St Petersburg, FL
-- and continue to face challenges.
Saturday, 10/16/04, 5 pm.
At anchor in Blackburn Bay, FL, 20 miles south of Sarasota
08.94'N, 82° 28.41'W
Finally a moment to breathe. All of us are in the cabin at the end
of a mild day in protected inland waters. Tracy Chapman is on the stereo,
which we finally took out of the box and found a place for yesterday. Lynn
is hand-sewing a quilt for Roxanne that she's had cut and ready for assembly
since before we left El Segundo. Tania is working on schoolwork. Roxanne
is sketching in her journal. Lane is writing this report. We really hope
our life will settle down now. We've just had our first "normal" cruising
day: mild weather and no disasters. We've been living moment to moment for
the past two weeks, facing one challenge after another.
We finally got out of the Sailor's
Wharf Yacht Yard in St Petersburg, FL last Tuesday morning, four days ago.
It seems like it's been a month. That's one of the key characteristics of
cruising: as long as you keep moving, so much happens that time seems
On Tuesday, when we left St Pete, Wind Song's masts were up,
the standing rigging was tight, the sails and booms were mounted, but that
was about it. No sheets rigged yet to control the sails when sailing, no
lazyjacks rigged to control the sails when dropping sail, the halyards that
raise the sail still lashed to the masts and tangled with other gear from
when the boat was on the truck, the cabin floor piled with a screaming mess
of gear not yet stowed and for which no space seemed to exist, the four of
us tripping over the piles and each other, motoring south across Tampa Bay
headed for the west Florida Intracoastal Waterway -- with an unusual and
previously nonexistent smell of diesel fuel coming from the engine compartment
in the exhaust of the bilge blower fan. Hmm. Just what Lane does not need
It was a long, still, HOT day. We entered the ICW heading south, passed
through two bascule bridges, stopped to fuel up, and the tank took about
1.5 gallons more than we were expecting. Hmm again. So, on south until
we were opposite Longboat Pass (a skinny, shallow channel through the barrier
islands out to the Gulf of Mexico), where Lane's navigator, Roxanne, took
a brief trip below decks and Lane, unable (apparently) to steer and read
a chart at the same time, took a wrong turn at a confluence of three channels,
and shortly thereafter parked Wind Song on a spoil bank on a falling
tide. (A spoil bank is where they throw the diggings when they dredge out
a channel.) Not much of a falling tide, it must be said -- total
tidal range at that location roughly 12 inches, and we went on at half tide
-- which meant that IF the tide level was being controlled by the moon and
NOT by the wind conditions (the latter is often the case in the Gulf of Mexico,
since the Gulf is rather poorly coupled to the oceans of this world, which
means other factors than tide can and often do affect water level), we had
a grand total margin of 6 inches of water to float us off in another 9 hours
-- at night, of course -- which in turn meant that it would a darn good idea
to know where the nearest deep water was and to go directly there without
any further mistakes, because further mistakes, if made, were going to
occur at High Tide, after which the next sufficiently high tide to float
off with was about a month away.
We therefore used
those hours in our bathing suits and reef walkers, surveying the region
around Wind Song on foot for a radius of about 100 yards, identifying
the right direction to go, upon which Roxanne dropped the anchor and Lane
picked it up and hand-carried it, dragging 200 feet of chain at one pound
per linear foot behind him, and dropped it in six feet of water on the edge
of the nearest channel. (Wind Song draws 3'6" of water with the centerboard
raised.) Then we downloaded our GPS position to an accuracy of 14 feet, plotted
it on the chart, plotted a course to the nearest safe place to reanchor (300
dark, blind, shoal-surrounded feet away at 9 pm), plotted the lighted markers
to aim for, and waited for the water.
Wind Song in about 9 inches too little water.
Tania after walking the surrounding shoals.
Lynn reading in the cockpit as the hours pass until high tide.
The water came as the Earth turned, and all our planning payed off.
We got Wind Song reanchored in seven feet, hit the hay, and got
up early to get out of the middle of a channel to a nearby marina, which
is where we had ended up.
There was no place else nearby to anchor, so we motored down to Sarasota
Bay, found a quiet cove in the northwest corner under the lee of Longboat
Key, and got to work. It took a day to get the sailing gear straightened
out, and then we took a look at the motor. The leak originated from one
of the four high pressure lines coming out of the injector pump (it's a 4-cylinder
diesel). Just tightening the nut did nothing, and we hadn't proper tools
to go much further, so in the afternoon we got on the cell phone and started
calling. We didn't strike pay dirt until the next morning, when we got a
callback from Steve Conley, yard boss at The Yacht Center on Whittaker Bayou
We have to say right at the start here that Steve and his guys just plain
made our problems vanish. He started by simply saying "yes" when everyone
else had said "no". They all had their reasons, and all their reasons were
"reasonable", as reasons generally are. Every yard in Florida has a year's backlog of hurricane-damaged
boats right now, and The Yacht Center is no exception. It's just that, when
Steve had an opportunity to help a family in transit on a cruising vessel
that is also their only home, his first impulse was to help, not dither.
We left our anchorage to head for Whittaker Bayou at 11 am Friday morning
just as a howling thunderstorm struck, with 25-30 knot winds and white-out
rain conditions. The gusts caused us to make unanticipated leeway out of
our anchorage and put us *THUMP* hard aground on a mudbank with a following
wind. We managed to back off, tried again further upwind (left, or north),
hit ground briefly there on the other side of the narrow cove, finally
got free, and motored down the bay in wind-driven froth and waves. We made
the left turn at green marker 13 and headed for the bayou entrance in a
roly-poly cross-sea, unable to lower our centerboard to reduce our motion
because the water was too shallow. Leeway was also a significant problem,
and it meant we weren't going to have two chances at the narrow, shallow
entrance -- less than one foot under our keel and solid cement seawalls
a few feet to either side -- we were going to have to hit it fast to avoid
sliding sideways under the force of the wind and waves.
We nosed up to the bar twice, taking hand soundings off the bow with
a lead line, then backed off, got up a head of steam, made our run, and
crossed quickly and uneventfully. Once inside things were much quieter until
we swung a bit left to get enough room to make the right turn into the dock.
This put us in deep, peaty mud, which the engine raw water cooling system
ingested, and it blew the rubber end cap off our diesel engine's heat exchanger
(between sea water and engine coolant). Lane immediately smelled the odor
of rank bottom humous warmed by a hot motor, and felt it falter, but it
didn't die and we made it to the dock safely, where Jim, one of the yard
employees, was waiting to help get us secured.
"Brooklyn" Steve, the diesel mechanic (Roxanne and Tania's name to distinguish
him from Steve Conley), took one look and announced, "Yer heat exchanger's
blown too." Lane was not surprised -- the end cap had been old and weak,
was already weeping seawater a bit, and the mud had been its death knell.
But that left the yard with a problem: how to get this odd part on a Friday
afternoon before the tide turned and locked Wind Song inside the
bayou. "Brooklyn" Steve
went to work on the fuel leak while Steve Conley phoned around for the
end cap. The leak required disassembly of that one injector line and tightening
of the fitting into the injector pump, then reattachement of the line. Then
Things got fairly quiet aboard Wind Song for a spell, until the
silence was finally broken by "Brooklyn" Steve charging back aboard again with the
new part in his hand. It was a perfect fit. Too bad the parts house didn't
have two. We could use a spare. We fired the motor, waited the five seconds
or so necessary for the empty line to fill, and it ran perfectly, no leak
of either diesel or water. Steve pronounced it "Fixed!", Lynn paid the
very reasonable bill, and we were out over the bar on the now-falling tide
and headed for an anchorage.
That was yesterday. Today we motored calmly and delightfully 20 miles
further south on a brilliant blue sunny day of mild autumn Florida temperatures
and low humidity, filled our water tank and dropped our trash at a friendly
marina along the way, passed through a bascule bridge and a swing bridge,
and found a quiet, dead flat anchorage here in Blackburn Bay -- at least,
it was flat after the cigarette boats stopped blasting past at double or
more the ICW speed limit of 25 mph. Hey, it's Saturday, and this is Florida,
Here are a few pictures.
Yer in the South now, buddy!
This is the load
from Costco. It was followed by a load from Target.
Lynn faces (sort of) the stuff that doesn't have a place yet.
Lynn cleans duct tape adhesive, from the truck trip, off Wind
Wind Song passes under the Tampa Bay Bridge. Those layer cake-looking
things are ship bumpers -- so when a ship loses control, at least the bridge
doesn't fall down. Do you get the feeling this has happened here before?
It's a nice, new bridge . . .
We pass through our first bascule bridge shortly after entering the ICW
southbound from Tampa Bay.
Oh, the power!
Tania's school materials take up 1/3rd of all the shelf space on Wind
The girls read in their berths after dinner. That towel wrapped around
the main mast with clothes pins is because the deck boot around the mast
was leaking rain during the first days after we moved aboard.
Roxanne fags out with a favorite stuffed animal while waiting for dinner
after a long, hard day.
Lynn uses an LED backpacking headlamp while performing needlework in
Cozy little waterfront properties on the ICW in western Florida . . .
Hey, check the sign, Manatee
We learned to stay scrupulously
in the ICW channel. These birds are wading ankle-deep about two boat-lengths
outside the markers. If it weren't low tide, the shoal would be completely
invisible. Often the birds are the only give-away.
An old-fashioned one-lane
swing bridge instead of the ubiquitous bascules.