Thursday, December 26, 2013

The West Coast Complete! - Dec 18th - 26th

December 18th - 21st

The next couple days were good days for solar cruising.  We anchored on the south side of Pine Island at St. James City and then arrived in Fort Myers Beach where we lay'd over for a couple days.  It was time to provision the pantry and we knew of a Publix with good access from the water located in Mantanzas Pass.   After provisioning, we moved the boat just a little further down toward the entrance to Estero River at San Carlos Pass.

December 22nd - 24th

Time to head out but this time we're out of ditch so we had to go offshore to Naples.  We set out very early (for us solar folks anyway), to ride the tide out the inlet as we heading for Naples. Naturally we were headed straight to weather which made for a day long slog to the next inlet but at least we weren't getting broadsided by the 2'-3' swells and 20 mph wind.  And, we made it to anchor right at sunset with the relief that we avoided any night opps coming into Naples Bay. From there we worked our way down to Marco Island along the ICW again and  Monday, found us nestled in a calm basin beside another causeway where Carter found a Winn Dixie with a dingy dock using high resolution satellite imagery analysis. Which is his way of saying he looked it up on Google Earth.  We finished the provisioning that we didn't complete in Mantanzas Pass and the weather turned bad so we just hunkered down to spend Christmas Eve in this nice little basin called Smoke House Bay.

December 25th-26th

Well, we didn't quite make it to the "Keys" for Christmas but we're close and when the weather finally settled down a bit, we weighed anchor on Christmas Day and set out into the open Gulf again on our final leg to the Keys.  With partly cloudy skies, 3-5' seas, 20 mph headwinds, and 90 miles of open ocean between us and Key West, it was time to fire up Big Ben and make the sprint.  We ran hard until 12:30 am when we dropped anchor in a little bite Carter found by the Shark River then dropped ourselves into bed.

We started out the 26th figuring we would hug the coast to stay in shallow water where it was a lot calmer but once we got out there, we found the wind had shifted and we had a following sea that was pretty darn good for heading straight across Florida Bay. Carter set a course for Big Pine Key where we planned to get on the Back Country route that winds thru the Keys and head into Key West in the ditch.  We made it to the Keys by sunset and quickly found an island to anchor behind just before dark.  Tomorrow we should be in Key West.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

!!! Shoal Surveying !!! December 13th - 17th

Friday, December 13th

I'm not going to lie about this next leg of our journey.  I've heard it said that it happens to everyone.  I'm not going to say just how many times it happened, but I will say that we have got our 'skegging off the shoal' routine down pat.  It began at the Manasota Beach Bridge while trying to get to our previously determined anchorage location. 

Everyday, the Captain takes time to plan our daily travel and pick a good spot to settle for the night.  He uses the chart plotter as well as Google Maps on his smart phone.  So far, this has worked flawlessly but .... sometimes the charts just don't accurately portray the depth of the water and it's hard to tell on Google as well.

We were heading for a nice public dock right beside a bridge to tie up to for the night and ran aground where we really thought there should be water.  We skegged off this shoal and decided to turn around and and cross the canal  to the other side of the bridge where there was a sailboat already at anchor. There must be water there, right?  Wrong, we ran aground again!  The tide was coming in, it was dinner time and we were both tired and hungry, so since we were safely out of the channel we sat down to dinner. I was making a Mexican dish that night that Carter likes and now it has a new name,  Carter calls it "Run Aground Casserole".  The bridge tender must have thought we were crazy!

After dinner, Carter got in the whaler and began taking soundings all around us to find out exactly where the water was.  Turns out the channel was close up to the shoreline right along the mangroves instead of out.  So, we weighed anchor and headed back to the dock we originally started for, this time sticking close to the shore.  It worked and we spent the night tied safely to this nice public dock at Manasota Beach.  It was just getting to be sunset by the time we finished so we took a walk and discovered the Gulf was just across the road from the park!

Saturday, December 14th

We had no problems leaving the dock this morning now knowing where the water is.  We left pretty early this day as soon as the batteries were fully charged.

Radar and I hanging out on the boat waiting for the batteries to charge so we can  move on down the river.
He's so cute!

 When we came through here last spring, this ferry was busy transporting heavy equipment across the river.  The construction must be complete as they are now transporting cars to a parking lot where the people then get into a golf cart to go to their final destination.  That ferry is busy all day long.

Sometimes when we are going down long stretches of ditch, an efficient way to give Radar his shore leave is to simply jump in the whaler and take him to an island we are passing.  So I take the helm and the Captain takes him ashore while I continue on down the river in the Arc. Radar has his shore leave and it doesn't take them long to catch up with me.

A swing bridge as we were passing through.

This day turned out to be a very quiet, uneventful day.  LOVE those uneventful days!

This is an interesting house with lots of solar panels!
We anchored early at about 2:30 pm in Lemon Bay next to Beach Road Bridge...and another McDonalds!

Sunday, December 15th

We waited until 1:00 pm to weigh anchor and decided to take a shortcut back to the ICW.  Here's where we learned to NEVER try and take a shortcut to the ICW.  We ran aground and despite our best efforts all afternoon, we were not able to skegg ourselves off this time and ended up waiting for high tide to do the work for us.  This didn't happened until about 8:00 pm that evening at which time we were finally able to move the boat to deeper water and wait for the next morning to try again.  Once again, we are located next to a bridge with a bridge tender who got a front row ticket to "Carter and Diane Skegg off show". 

Monday (Dec 16th)  morning we departed Lemon Bay with fully charged batteries for both the boat and ourselves!  This time we diligently followed our snail trail back out of this anchorage into the ICW and proceeded to cruise on down the river to Uncle Henry's Marina in Gasperella.  We needed to do several chores like 15 days worth of laundry,empty the holding tanks, and  fill the water tanks. 

Can you see the Arc at the end of the dock?  
The boat is below dock level but you can't miss the solar panels!

Uncle Henry's Marina turned out to be a good choice, accomplishing all the chores, and leaving just after dark to find an anchorage close by. Unfortunately, the passage into and out of this marina was very narrow as well as twisty, turny with a ripping cross current that was bad enough in the full daylight. It  proved to be a nail biting night op experience for us and but we made it out successfully and found a nice anchorage behind a spoils island, perfect for taking Radar out for his shore leave in the morning. { It's all about Radar!} 

Tuesday, December 17th

After a good nights sleep we continued on down the ICW with Cabbage Key as our destination for the day.  There is a restaurant there that is well known and Carter has been wanting to check it out for a couple of years.  It was a nice day with only one snag in Charlotte Harbor ... on my shift no less ... but with a lot of hard work we were able to overcome yet another brush with the bottom and proceeded on to anchor in Cabbage Key at sunset where we encounter yet another brief encounter with the bottom. But again, we overcame this fairly quickly, hopped into the whaler and headed over to the restaurant where we consumed a delicious albeit, very expensive cheeseburger. 

Cabbage Key Restaurant

Over the years, patrons have plastered the bar and restaurant with thousands of dollar bills and the owner told me that there is more than $50,000 on the walls.  There is now more than $50,001 as Carter and I left a dollar with our names on it.  It began years ago with fisherman leaving a dollar bill with their name on it to pay for their beer upon their return from sea.  

Locals like to claim that longtime regular Jimmy Buffet was inspired to write his song "Cheeseburger in Paradise" here and this was the main reason Carter wanted to come but the owner said that was just a rumor ... although Jimmy did perform on stage here at her restaurant where he dedicated the song to Cabbage Key that night. Another Caribbean Urban Myth busted. Carter said of all the cheeseburgers he's had in Paradise, this was the first one that was ever served with candied carrots and rice pilaf instead of fries. Guess that so they could justify the $25 price tag. 

PS  This is the first Christmas tree I've seen this season so I had to have my picture taken with it!  I love Christmas!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Sarasota Bay to Venice - December 11th - 13th

Wednesday, December 11th

It was a beautiful day making it very pleasant to cross Sarasota Bay!  75* was a nice change from the temps we've been experiencing.  I put on a sun suit and headed for the bow to soak up some sun and warm my bones.  Radar liked it too.

Everybody was out on the water today.  Fast boats, sail boats, fishing boats, and pleasure boats.

As we were walking Radar, we came across this shell on the beach but soon found that it was inhabited so back to the water it went.

The Captain and Radar enjoying a moment while waiting on dinner after a long day on the water.

At our anchorage right beside the Ringling Causeway,  there was a city park right at the bridge that was definitely used by young and old alike.  There were 3 young ladies working out with their personal trainer in the morning and then later 2 men arrived and began sparring. That was a little different from the most of the places we've anchored.

We spent the evening putting up the Christmas lights.  I couldn't get a really good picture as the anchorage was pretty choppy.  This is the best shot.  Merry Christmas!!!

Thursday, December 12th

Continuing on down the ICW I see several sites like this one.  A cute little shopping canal!  Maybe next time we can , we'll have enough time to stop and shop!

We anchored this night by Blackburn Bridge.

Friday, December 13th
The next morning we set out in search of a place for Radar's morning shore leave and fuel for the whaler.  We found this interesting place!  Too bad we didn't find it the night before.  This is a restaurant "tiki bar" called the Skeeter Inn, with a boat rental place attached. 

Carter got to hang with Captain Morgan for a while!

This place was so close to us .... there must not have been anything happening the night before or we would have heard it and gone to investigate.  

As you would imagine, the ICW waterfront is lined with very expensive homes.  I chose this one to showcase because of the Marine flag flying.  My son is a Marine ... hmm ... maybe someday he will own a home like this one.

Some artwork on the ICW along the canal heading to Venice.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Clearwater on South to Madeira Beach, Dec 6th - 9th

Friday - Monday, December 6th - 9th

We left our anchorage at Palm Harbor heading south to Madeira Beach arriving at 3 PM.  There we met up with an acquaintance from previous travels.  Last season, while on our way to the Alabama/Florida state line to begin our solar passage, we encountered troubles with the diesel engine so, in the middle of the night, with the howling winds, we blew into Steinhatchie for repairs.  Fortunately for us, we were led to a guy named Smoky who we were told was a top notch diesel mechanic and that he was.  With a little logistical support from a lady named "Just June", Smoky was able to get Big Ben (as we affectionately call the diesel) running again better than it had run in a while and we were back on our way.  Now our paths have crossed again in Madeira Beach for a couple days and since Smokey and his brother Mike are heading South as well, we will likely see each other again.

Smoky and Clyde, Smoky's brother Mike and Sissy = good people!
We are always looking for local knowledge of whatever area we are in and Smoky told us of a place that we could beach the stern of the boat that just happened to be just around the corner and since we were "itching" to put the sticker on the stern of the boat ... it was a no to the Micky Dees dock we went. 

Once the water receded Carter was able to inspect the rudder and prop and saw that the zincs were in dire need of attention.  Then on to the business of putting the sticker on the stern! 

We are now officially the "Archimedes". 

With these two projects complete it was time to continue heading south.
Just as soon as the tide comes back in!

Sunrise over the Golden Arches at the McDonald's
A short walk to our Egg McMuffins this morning. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Gulf Passage

Friday & Saturday, November 29th - 30th

After waiting what has seemed like weeks, the weather finally calmed down enough for us to leave Tallahassee and get headed South.  We left on black Friday and headed back to where we left off at the GCICW at Carrabelle.  We anchored a few miles east of Carrabelle ready to head out first thing the next day but once again the weather wasn't cooperating so we stayed in the sound most of the day and then cruised over to Alligator Point to take off from there the next day.

As always, we worked on the project list while waiting for the weather to get right.  Since the antennae broke off of the hand held radio, Carter installed the VHF radio that has been in the box for longer than it should have been but since we had the hand held it wasn't a priority. Now it was imperative to get the comms back so it moved to the top of the list and got done.

Anchored by the GCICW waiting for the batteries to charge.

 This was a beautiful beach!

Tallahassee has a commercial promoting everyone to pick up after their pets and we laugh every time we see it.  The commercial shows many different pet owners with their poop bags!  LOL  We just want everyone to know that the only thing we leave behind on the beaches we visit are our footprints!

It gets pretty cold out in the Gulf so I sewed this Tee Pee to help keep Radar out of the wind.  It also gives him "his space" in the cock pit.  He likes that, and we like him out from under our feet.  He likes to poke his head out and keep a sharp eye on things.  Yes, it's cold in this picture.
The end of beautiful day. 

Sunday - Tuesday, December 1st - 3rd

After bouncing around all night at Alligator Point the seas finally laid down. It was sunny and the Gulf was almost like a lake.   The solar electric drive was running great and we steamed along all day.  As the sun began to set we had made about 20 miles into the Gulf on Solar. Because the days are so much shorter right now as we approach the Winter Solstice we just aren't getting a good angle on the Sun so we can't go as fast. Even though the batteries are charged up by 11 am, that only gives us about 6 hours of cruise time, even under ideal sun conditions we just aren't getting as far this time of year.  After a full day on the Gulf, Carter did the math, it was going to take over a week to make the crossing, and that was only if the perfect weather held, which it would definitely not. It was just plain going take too long to cross the Big Bend with the solar electric drive.  Although the electric drive does great in sheltered waters, even with high winds,  it simply doesn't have enough power to make the necessary headway in 3' seas that were predicted to come up the next day.  So the Captain made the decision to switch to diesel and sprint across the Gulf to Anclote Key where the GCICW picks up again. Good thing too because a couple hours after Sunset the seas picked up and we got banged around pretty good for a while and it wouldn't have been any fun hanging off the hook waiting for the sun to come up the next day. The seas varied from dead calm to raging for the next three days and even with the hammer down in diesel mode it took us 35 hours of cruise time to reach Anclote Key and the sheltered waters of the GCICW.

The dolphins were amazing as always!
Wednesday & Thursday; December 4th - 5th

There are many spoils islands in the GCICW to anchor behind at night and Radar gets to explore them to his hearts content.  He has been a happy puppy on this trip.

It's true ... everyone is curious about the big solar powered concrete boat and this guy stopped to ask questions.   Turns out he's a "specimen" collector,  collecting starfish, seahorses, sea urchins, etc.

The Captain is always happy to talk about the lost potential for solar energy in the "Sunshine" state  with interested folks and he had nice talk with this fellow.
As we picked back up on solar power at Anclote Key, it was nice to turn off the smelly diesel. Big Ben is an amazing machine and nice to have as a backup but he's a clunky old fellow and we're happy to let him rest while we run with the sun. We were a little surprised to be stopped by so many boaters on our first day out in Clearwater. It's not uncommon for people to pull up alongside and ask questions but it happened more times here than ever before. It was actually impeding our progress a little today.
As another beautiful Sunset unfolded we found a nice anchorage in Belair Bluffs just south of Clearwater, Florida to drop anchor for the night. Radar got to explore another spoils island.