Hark Upon the Gale

Author’s Note: All pics were taken pre-or-post gale, it was a freakin gale ok? Not like we were taking photos. Also, so you don’t get the wrong idea, we were (semi) anchored during the gale (details within), not like we were about to go sailing around in that stuff.

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Alma Mater Hail!

This sailing racket can be pretty hard. It may seem like we blithely flit from anchorage to anchorage, watering hole to watering hole, sharing adventures with other like-minded piratical maniacs, but the truth is that sometimes this sailing racket can really suck.

Our plan was to try and make it down to Key West in time to meet my family for a week’s visit. Failing that, we figured we could leave the boat at Boot Key Harbor in Marathon. We left Tavernier early in light and shifty winds, motored through the sounds of the upper Keys, and had some beautiful sailing just outside the Channel Five bridge, southwest of Islamorada. We anchored in Long Key Bight, which is protected from the North-West-South, in anticipation of the cold front forecast to bring strong winds clocking from SW to N the following day. Long Key Bight isn’t a particularly snug anchorage, but there weren’t many options with protection from all the right quadrants. Plus, we have (extremely) oversized ground-tackle, so we weren’t too worried.

The winds began to increase around midnight that evening, and by 2:30AM had increased to the point where sleep was increasingly unlikely. At 4AM the winds increased again, and we were roused by the sound of “Bug” (our dinghy) slamming against the side of “Firefly.” I leapt on deck to discover us beam-on to the wind, suggesting strongly that our anchor was dragging. I ran forward to check the rode, usually you can feel the anchor skitter across the bottom if it’s not set, but the rode was rock solid, albeit streaming aft at a weird angle. Then I saw a lobster buoy float by at about 1 kt, there was no doubt, we were dragging. If we didn’t act fast, the boat would be on a shoal, mud if we were lucky, coral if we weren’t. I would have estimated the wind at a steady 30 kts at this point, radio said later it was gusting to 40. It was pitch black, very rough, very loud, and very, very scary. Ryan came up on deck, we got the motor started, tried to get the nose around into the wind and haul in the anchor. (In our underwear, of course) We couldn’t quite get her around, so I hauled the anchor up the side of the boat. I remember thinking that it was surprisingly easy to pull the anchor and chain in. 5 or 6 days later I’m still sore though, so I think adrenaline had something to do with it. At any rate we were able to get the anchor aboard, use the gps to find a safe spot to re-anchor, and get the anchor set again. This time I put out all 100 feet of our chain plus another 20 feet of nylon rode, and she held. We spent the next 36 hours on anchor watch, and on pins and needles until the gale blew itself out. I’m not sure what was worse, the craziness at 4AM or spending the next day and a half stressing about the anchor holding. You often hear about the howling of wind in the rigging, and it’s no exaggeration. There was no escape from the noise, and the pitch of the wind varied minutely with its strength. The effect is like some psychotic improvisation, with gusty peaks an valleys, motifs and threatening phrases as the boat swung on her rode. Coupled with the sharp slap of waves against the hull and the hissing of whitecaps it was pretty intense. I can’t imagine a storm at sea.

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“Are we dragging again?!” “Just a wind-shift” “Are you sure?!?” “No” “Let’s check the ducky” (gps)

The wind was blowing 20 kts 2 days later, forecast to decrease to 15 kts, but they were still calling for 5-7 ft seas in Hawk Channel (the only way to get to Marathon/Boot Key Harbor), so we decided to slog back the inside of the Keys to Tavernier. The first hour was “salty,” but we hoisted our double-reefed main, heeled the boat just a bit, she steadied out, accelerated, and all of a sudden we were having fun again.

What follows is a nautical-nerd discussion of anchoring technique, feel free to skip to the part with the pictures if that’s not your thing.

In hindsight I think I didn’t have enough scope out for the amount of wind/chop we had, coupled with less-than-ideal holding. (Scope is the ratio of how much chain/line you have out to the depth of the water, holding is how good or bad the bottom is for setting an anchor) We have regularly anchored in 25 kts of wind on relatively short scope, 5:1, due to our oversize anchor and chain-rode. It’s super useful in tight anchorages to sneak into spots the big boys and girls can’t fit. What I neglected to consider is that the force exerted by the wind on a surface varies by the square of the velocity…double the windspeed and the force increases by a factor of four. Which is terrifying if you really think about it. Anyways, not a situation in which to skimp on the scope. Secondly, the holding was somewhat marginal, which I didn’t realize until I hauled the anchor aboard and saw in the light of my headlamp a medicine ball-sized clump of grassy-mud. I think the anchor sawed a piece out of the bottom wholesale.

Now that we’ve recovered, we’re looking forward to spending some time with my family and exploring the islands of Florida Bay from our current base of Boater’s Mangrove Marina in Tavernier. Here are some highlights from our trip south from Ft. Lauderdale.

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Morning fog, Florida ICW

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It took me 2.5 months and 1200 miles, but I finally installed the tiller-pilot. Pretty awesome.

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Sailing on Biscayne Bay

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Stiltsville, USA

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No Name Harbor, Key Biscayne

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Boca Chita! Not to be confused with Boca Chica! Or is it Boca Chica! Not to be confused with Boca Chita!? I don’t remember.

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Boca Chita! (def Boca Chita), beautiful home of 10 Trillion Mosquitos.

 Perhaps the most compelling reason for us to make Tavernier our base for a little while is the presence of J & K the crew of “Chickadee,” whom we originally met in Cocoa, FL. These guys are awesome, J works on a head boat here and the whole gang went a-feeshin.

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Ryan was by far the most successful fish-killer. We all went back to the Tiki Hut, made fish tacos, and FEASTED

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Wise words, thanks Tiki Hut!

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Double reefed, blue skies, and making for safe harbor.

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Hark! the students’ voices swelling
Strong and true and clear.
Alma Mater’s love they’re telling,
Ringing far and near.

William & Mary loved of old
Hark upon the gale,
Hear the thunder of our chorus
Alma Mater – Hail.

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A Change of Plans

Our alarm went off at 1AM New Years Day, we were underway by about 1:30, and we headed down the ICW towards Port Everglades, Bar Cut, and the Atlantic Ocean. We had come from Lake Worth to Ft. Lauderdale a few days prior, having decided to attempt the crossing to the Bahamas from a point further South so as to get a better lift from the Gulf Stream. The forecast was for SE winds 10-15kts, shifting S during the day, seas 2-3 feet subsiding over the course of the afternoon.  We passed the last few New Years Eve party boats as we turned the corner off the ICW into the inlet channel of Bar Cut. As we made our way out the inlet, the flat calm of the ICW gave way to the somewhat less placid surface of the ocean. A Port Everglades pilot boat pulled alongside and requested that we turn south in order to allow the container ship he was escorting to make his turn. With the ship past, we hauled up the main and working jib, and the press of the sails steadied the boat’s motion somewhat, although we were still moving around quite a bit. With the SEish wind, we were just able to steer our course, 90° E, close hauled. Our plan was to motor sail the entire way, with the engine running at about ¼ throttle and both sails pulling, we were doing about 5 kts, which would put us into West End at around 2 PM. The motion of the boat was considerable, despite our previous experience in “boisterous” conditions on the Chesapeake, the motion of the ocean as it were was something completely different. At this point I felt that we were managing the conditions. Ryan may disagree. Our friends Annick and Giles on “Calista” left a few hours behind us and were giving us encouragement over the radio. After about 2 hours and 10 miles progress, our motor cut out. I fiddled with it a bit while Ryan steered, I thought that maybe the tilt lock had come undone. Got the motor started up again, ran for a few minutes, cut out. We gave it one more chance, the motor started, ran for a few minutes, cut out. We made the decision to turn around, I didn’t relish the idea of coming into West End under sail alone, and our crossing strategy relied upon the motor helping us make good speed. We turned the boat around on a reciprocal heading, and shortly passed by “Calista.” We tried taking pictures, but it was too dark, but Calista made quite a sight slicing to windward under genoa, main, and a bright moon. We checked our speed and realized that we were making between 0 and .3 kts over the ground, having just encountered the edge of the Gulf Stream prior to turning back. We altered course to the West, and as soon as our course over ground indicated that we were no longer being set N by the Gulf Stream, altered course for the sea buoy marking the entrance to Bar Cut. Which of course was just about close hauled. We sailed in the inlet, having just a few moments of worry sorting out the lights of the buoys from the lights on shore. Bar Cut is wide and strait though, so navigating back was fairly straightforward. Upon making the turn onto the ICW, we got the motor started, it cut out again. We sailed a little further towards the 17th St bridge, the seas quieted, the motor started, and stayed lit until we dropped anchor right where we had left 7 hours prior. Occasionally in the course of this blog I have, if not censured, then understated the occasional stressful moment so as not to worry our worried mothers too much. J The final detail of this particular yarn is something that I was tempted not to mention, but it plays into our subsequent decisions. Upon getting the boat squared away and cleaned up, we discovered the bilges were full of water, right up to the floor boards. “Firefly” is a nice full keeled boat, with deep bilges, that’s quite a lot of water. It took 10-15 minutes to pump all the water out, manually of course. I set to trying to figure out where the hell it came from. Turns out the hole I drilled in the lazarette bulkhead to run the wires for the solar panels was the culprit. When there is any wave action at all, the lazarette fills with water from the motor well…this is normal, we fill it up just about every day on the ICW when going through wakes etc. However, with the exaggerated motion of the ocean, as well as heeling the boat hard over close hauled, there was enough water in the lazarette to just about submerge the hole for the wires, funneling it below and into the bilge. Needless to say this scared the shit out of us. So we have decided to forgo sailing to the Bahamas and are instead heading to the Florida Keys. Ryan did not have any fun sailing in the ocean, I don’t blame her. I fixed the hole, but am somewhat concerned that some other nasty surprise lies in wait should we test the boat offshore again. Fortunately, we should have ample opportunity to sail the boat in the Keys, and give everything a good thorough testing. In some ways the experience has also made me more confident, despite the various challenges, we were able to safely navigate the boat back through an inlet at night, having never gone offshore previously.

Although we’re both pretty bummed about missing the Bahamas, we’re excited to hit the Keys and catch up with some folks we know headed down that way. (WE R COMING 4 U CHICKADEE) I also still have every intention of shooting fish in the face with a spear. Now, to end on a more positive note, while waiting in Ft Lauderdale for our (somewhat dubious in hindsight) weather window to cross, we had a rager of a time celebrating Ryan’s 30th birthday. We started out at the Southport Raw Bar with Annick and Giles of “Calista,” which is the de facto sailors hang out due to their dinghy dock.

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There we met Dave and Rose of “Cloud 9.” Giles drove us back to the anchorage aboard their dinghy, skillfully dodging mega yachts and the Ft Lauderdale Fun Killers (aka water police) all the way. Giles and I then drove around the anchorage and invited all takers over to “Firefly.” The French crew of a large sailboat joined us, so we had 10 people, 2 languages, and 1 dog aboard. We were somewhat down by the stern. We had a blast, a right good party for my lovely wife.

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She’s pretty awesome eh? Some pics between Lake Worth and here.

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We thought this place was pretty big until we saw how they do it in Lauderdale.

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Then there was the time a palm tree fell in love with the prop

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Quick, suck in that beer belly!

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