Category Archives: 2004 April Fools Cruise #1 (Offshore and ICW with Brian on Cayenne)

#44: We have guest poets (so I can take my birthday off today!)

From Roy, of Naples, Florida, in honor of Meps’ birthday celebration with her Dad:

So the boat is afloat in the IC moat
The birthday coming and you can dote
On the daughter dear who has no fear
Of waters wild or the Skipper’s beer.
So hoist one for us and sow the wild oat!

From Tom, of Olympia, Washington, in honor of our first passage:
The crew of Cayenne did compete
To complete a passage quite fleet
Downwind they flew
On a course straight and true
Arriving on time in St. Pete

Another one from Tom, about the ICW:
Tis true water shallow and murky
Makes a sailor feel just like a turkey
When the keel way down
Contacts the ground
And progress becomes really jerky

#42 & #43: Calamitous Key West

Tuesday afternoon, 3 pm:
The boat up ahead is bright yellow
And the driver is cool, calm and mellow
To our right is Key West
But our skipper is stressed
Being towed in by a Sea Tow fellow

Thursday morning, 2 am:
On a sailboat that’s lovely and red
A lady, asleep in her bed
Awoke to a thunk,
Leaped out of her bunk,
And cried, “That guy just hit us! Call Fred*!”

* Brian’s attorney and “charge d’affaires”

Pieces of a Fast Passage

I’ve been told by sailors that there are three kinds of wind: Too much wind, too little wind, and just the right amount of wind in exactly the wrong direction.

We’ve spent nearly a week dealing with too much wind, staying inside the ICW, sometimes in marginal anchorages, and not being able to sail out toward the Dry Tortugas. Last night the winds abated and shifted around toward the North, which is as they should be for going on our way. We got the Sanibel Causeway bridge to open for us at Eleven and headed out into the Gulf.

Now we have another kind of wind: So little that we can barely make progress. In fact, we were drifting down on a crab pot and Brian had to run the engine to get steerage back. It has dropped down to below anything our wind instrument can measure, probably zero to three knots. There is a long gentle swell, only one or two feet, but I was finding that if it went by the boat in the wrong direction, it was enough to keep the sails from behaving well. At this rate, we should have 15 knots on the nose after a week of this.

I finished typing, shut the computer down, then decided to take a bit of a nap. The boat was now moving through the water a little over two knots, which was probably twice as fast, but I hadn’t paid any real attention. After napping for at most an hour and a half, I woke to remember another old saying: If you don’t like the weather, wait an hour. The boat is heeling a bit, and I’m hearing the sound of it plunging through the waves just outside my bunk in the forward cabin, and as I glance up sleepily I see the poor cat trying to walk along the boat, and every few steps we lurch and heel a little more, and she slides sideways along the floor, then stops and starts walking again. I am reminded that the cabin sole is varnished and fairly slippery, especially if you have fuzzy wiffles between your toes. Maybe we’ll have to sand some of that varnish off when we feel like working on the boat again.

The sea is still an amazing shade of light green and the sky is still blue. Now the boat is moving at five or six knots, the wind blowing about ten. We are still heading out from San Carlos Pass and Sanibel Island, after about four hours the depths are getting close to fifty feet, which means we shouldn’t be seeing any more crab pots. Sailing sure isn’t that certain or predictable, but it feels pretty good right now.

We watched the sunset out in the cockpit, and slowly the stars came out as the daylight faded. I very seldom take the time to be out watching something like this, but today I was just steering the boat and didn’t have anyplace else to be or “important” things to distract me. The process was much slower than I was somehow expecting. The sky stayed orange and eventually almost brown. First a bright planet and a few stars started to appear. Eventually the sunset was gone and stars started growing brighter. After that the border between sea and sky became harder to distinguish; I could find it clearly in some directions, but it was nearly invisible in others. And the stars started coming out. Orion was out very clear, not very high off to the west. I wished I could identify something other than the dippers and Orion on that night. One of the planets (I would guess it was Venus) was up in the West, and it was bright enough that it had a really clear trail of reflections below it in the water.

As it got later, I just had to steer and watch for the occasional traffic, mostly shrimpers. I was getting sleepy, and decided I would wake up Brian for his watch when Orion set. As I kept steering, Orion was going down, but I was losing alertness faster. I never looked at the time during the entire watch, so it was sort of timeless, but couldn’t have been that long–When I gave up and woke Brian, it was only 11pm.

It has now been a day and a half since we arrived, and my memories from the night watches are getting more vague and fuzzy as time goes on. As I was writing this, I had to ask Meps when it was that I got up and when I went down to nap, and when she was steering the boat. I took another shift hand steering later in the morning–I had missed the moonrise, but the sliver of moon was still low in the East. I also remember not quite winning another contest with myself to stay alert and on duty; this time until we were one mile from our first waypoint going into the Dry Tortugas. I remember trying to steer downwind and keep our course pretty accurate, and make sure that the sails didn’t bang and crash as we rolled with a swell passing under us. As got sleepy again, my world contracted; I was focused on the steering compass, or looking in front of the boat and keeping that unidentified constellation that was just to the right of the masts where it should be, occasionally risking a glance at the wind instrument.

While the steering was not physically difficult, it took all the concentration I could muster to keep the boat on course as we rolled and yawed with each swell. If there was a light or a boat on the horizon and I tried to figure out what it was, I found myself off course, and had to correct. When I looked at the mizzen sail because it seemed to be fluttering too much, I went off course. When I thought I saw the lighthouse tower in the Dry Tortugas, perhaps both of them, I didn’t take time to look and try to figure it out because I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep the boat on course. I did have just enough extra mental energy to decide that when we got to the waypoint we would have to turn the boat onto a new course and even adjust the sails. I decided that there was no way I would trust myself to make those decisions, I was just too groggy. Despite this, I think I was still doing a reasonable job of steering Cayenne on her course as long as I didn’t try and think about anything else.

Finally I decided it was as close to that waypoint as I was going to get (I think it was two miles) I woke Brian again, told him what was going on, and went down below for another nap. A bit later Brian and Meps woke me in time to take the sails down and we motored around behind Garden Key to anchor in the Dry Tortugas.

Does this mean we average running aground once a day in the ICW?

I was driving the boat down the Intracoastal Waterway (All the East Coast boaters just call it the “ICW” or “the ditch”) today. Since it wasn’t a weekend this time, there was some traffic, but it was pretty reasonable. Sunday it reminded me of the Lake Washington Ship Canal on an equally sunny day, just after the large locks had opened. Except that the traffic didn’t seem to slow down between lockings.

Back to today, a Monday. One of the larger powerboats was coming up behind us, and was nice enough to slow down. They were no longer moving much faster than we did, so I slowed down and went over to the right side of the channel to let them around us. When the had finished passing us, I was a little distracted by something, and then noticed that the depth was decreasing pretty rapidly, so I backed the throttle off a little more and turned back toward the center of the channel. Too late. We were aground. I was acting a little unsure, so Brian took the wheel, throttled up and pushed us through a little mud or sand, and back into the “deep” part of the channel. We were back on our way, and no damage was done.

That was when I said “Does this mean we average running aground once a day in the ICW?” I’m not sure exactly what the depth is supposed to be in the channel, but I’ve usually been seeing 10-12 feet around here, occasionally under 8 feet, but so far, never under 7 feet inside the channel. Cayenne draws six and a half feet, so this really doesn’t leave a whole lot of margin. By the time we were anchored tonight, everybody aboard except the cat had run us aground! I’m not sure I’ve done the math correctly, but this assessment is way too close for Brian to want to stay “inside” much longer. In fact, we’re all looking forward to the nice easy navigation on a passage once out of sight of land and in enough water that the depth sounder can’t find bottom.

Day 2: Everybody took a nap

Our first day started in the familiar waters of Lake Ponchartrain, and we eventually made it to our bouncy anchorage in the lee of Ship Island. At first light Meps, Brian and Kem got up and prepared the boat. This must have included taking down the now dry sheet Prussia had barfed on, removing sail covers, and raising the anchor. I stayed in bed and on and off slept through the process, and got up later to find us sailing with a double reef in each sail.

After breakfast Kem took some dramamine and then she took the first in a series of naps throughout the day.

We were still sailing through a series of marked dredged channels through the shallow parts of the Gulf of Mexico, but the depths were gradually increasing, and the navigation became a bit easier, so the skipper went down below and took one of his quick “power naps.” With Meps steering or watching auto I started to feel like dozing in the sun. By the time I decided to get a better pillow, the skipper was back up, so I decided to go below and hit the bunk again for another nice long nap. This time I had a good excuse–I was expecting to take an early night watch, and didn’t want to be sleepy….

After lunch Meps took her nap. I think Prussia got a lot of napping in as usual, but I’m not sure–She spent the whole day hiding out in the bottom of a hanging locker in our cabin, and every time I looked in I saw two wide eyes looking back out at me.

By dinner time the wind had picked up again and we were sailing with a single reef in each sail, still making good progress. After dinner, Brian and Meps turned in, and Kem and I were on watch, sailing along with distant oil platforms and not much else. After midnight Brian got up, and we set our new course to Clearwater Florida, 275 miles away.

Since it was bedtime I just slept rather than napping again!

First Offshore Passage: Solitude and Companionship

Our first day out from New Orleans found us in the company of barges, fishing boats, and ships. We opened a number of bridges, waving gaily at the bridge tenders as we passed through. On our second day, heading out into the Gulf of Mexico, vessels became fewer until Brian noted the last ship on the horizon during his Friday night watch.

Our crew included a couple of special additions: Brian’s sister, Kem, who flew down from Seattle to make our maiden passage with us, and our cat, Prussia, who flew down as well and will be cruising with us for the duration. So our little world included four humans, one feline, a teddy bear named “Frankie,” and Brian’s infamous Mardi Gras snake. As the passage wore on, we became goofy with lack of sleep and assigned silly names to each other, including Wheezy (me, with a cold), Queezy (Kem), Barfy (Prussia), Nappy (Barry), and Happy (Brian).

All day Saturday, we had complete solitude. The sky was blue and clear and the sun shone brightly. We all commented on the blueness of the water, hanging out over the stern to enjoy the deep azure color. Every few minutes, I’d scan the horizon in a circle, but there was nothing to see but water and sky.

That evening, a tiny black and brown bird circled the boat. Fearlessly, he landed on the lifeline. Then he discovered the windbreak provided by the dodger, so he moved into the cockpit. I was down below and snapped a bunch of photos when he landed at the top of the companionway. But he got bolder, and then — oh, no! — he was inside the boat, sitting on the nav station.

All I could think of was bird poop on Brian’s computer, so I went to shoo him back out. But he was confused and flew over my head and into the main cabin, where he circled and flapped. He found the entrance to the v-berth and started zooming around our bed, zipping over my head a second time when I tried to capture him. He ended up in the head and finally came to light on the floor under the toilet. Got him! Cupping him carefully in one hand (gotta have one hand for the boat), I carried him up to the cockpit and freed him.

You may be wondering, where was kitty during all this? Well, of the four humans, only Kem experienced much seasick queasiness. But our feline companion had a much rougher time of it. After barfing all over our bed the first night, she’d found a tiny but stable hidey-hole in a locker and hadn’t come out again. She was completely unaware that a tasty little bird had flown within just a few feet of her, and probably too queasy to enjoy it anyway.

Our little bird refused to leave the boat and was joined by two others. Darkness fell, and they huddled under the dodger all night. Sadly, by morning, all three had simply laid down and died. The guys gave them a burial at sea while Kem and I were sleeping — if I’d been awake, I’d have played Amazing Grace for them on the harmonica or something.

Sunday evening’s companions were much more cheerful — a school of bottlenose dolphins! One caught our attention by doing a back flip out of a wave beside the cockpit. Then they were everywhere, their sleek streamlined silver bodies surfing and leaping on all sides. Kem and I stood on the bow, and we could actually see them under the water, riding our bow wave like underwater surfers. Groups of three or four would come up beside us, zooming by in perfect formation. When a particularly big wave came up from astern, several of them would surf in it, leaping out of the wave crest in the blue-white moonlight.

I never saw the dolphins depart. I watched them for a half an hour, until my frequent yawns ran together into one continuous yawn. I went below and climbed into the v-berth to sleep. The last thing I heard as I was drifting off was the high-pitched clicking of the dolphins, chattering with each other on the other side of the hull.