S/V Panacea: June 6, 2004

Sunday, June 06, 2004: Please Can't We Stay?

It is amazing how wonderful you feel after a full night's rest with luxuries we take for granted every day: air conditioning, showers, clean sheets, etc.  The dog appreciates the dock even more than we do. Today is decision time.  Are we going back offshore and head straight for Panama City or are we going to linger around and work our way up slowly up the coast?  I wanted to complete everything at the marina, suck up the last bit of cool air, do one more load of laundry and then move to the free dock so we could hang out. Benny was ready to move along.  My arguments included more time for tinkering projects, rest, security of being tied to a dock, and the inclement afternoon thunderstorm forecasts. He was hoping to move up to Sarasota Bay. No matter how many "reasons" I came up with, it was obvious that we were moving despite my wanting to stay.

After talking to several other boaters, studying the charts and the guide books, and reviewing several anchorage choices, we unplugged the air conditioning, uummmm power cord and headed north on the GICW (Gulf Intracoastal Waterway). We had a few bridges to request openings for so as we approached, we would call the bridge tender on VHF channel #9.  The first 3 bridges were "on demand" so they were easy enough. The fourth bridge opened every 20 minutes so we had to time it.  We circled a few laps at the bridge before it was time but we had no problems. 

The final bridge (of the day) was supposed to open every 30 minutes but as we approached, it was a new bridge with no center opening.  It looked tall but we were not sure. We checked the charts, it should be a bascule bridge (like a drawbridge) but there it was -- a new high bridge with no lifting center span AND NO WATER MARKINGS GIVING THE CENTER HEIGHT.  Logically, we KNEW that it should be at least 65' but how were we to know.  We proceeded carefully closer.  Benny had me on the back of the boat doing a lookout to see if we would clear.  Our mast is 55' off the water.  I couldn't tell.  I saw a fishing boat over about two inbutments over and hollered, "Hey guys, does it look like we will clear under this bridge?"  They asked back, "How tall is your stick?"  I responded "55'" They said, " Go on, it should clear 65'. We did proceed without incident but it was harrowing to begin with.

Even though I was not thrilled about the choice of this path, I was enthralled to see all of the wildlife. We saw one set of nesting bald eagles and one set of nesting osprey, several rookery islands of pelicans and herons, a set of storks doing a mating dance as well as several dolphin.  There are silver linings to everything and this was the golden lining of the trip.

We followed the GICW into Sarasota Bay and down to Longboat Key. Moore's Stone Crab Restaurant is a restaurant on the water that if you eat there you can tie up to the dock for the night.  There is no power or water but it still sounds like a deal and we don't even have to open a can! I am ready for some good seafood.  I called Joe and Trudy West (Benny's uncle) and they joined us for dinner.  We haven't seen them since Barbara's funeral so it was really good to keep up.  Joe and I communicate over email so it was nice to visit in person.

After dinner, Timber pulled a Bad Boy trick. Some boys were on the dock fishing and T couldn't stand it.  He was over the lifelines, down the docks, checked all the rod/reels, tried to eat out of a cast net, jumped in the water, chased some crabs, went swimming and ran up and down the road.  All the while, he was watching me to make sure he didn't get too close to me or run into me accidentally. When he was done with his 15 minute romp, he ran back to Benny and began apologizing. His Mom was not happy with him.

Monday, June 07, 2004: Are We Going to be Celebrities?

This morning, Cyndi West brought us gourmet bagels and spent several hours sharing stories and visiting.  Cyndi is Joe's daughter, Benny's cousin. Benny, Cyndi, Chevis and Cameron (Benny's cousins) all spent many days together during their childhood so it was really nice visiting for such a long time.  We hadn't seen her since Barbara's funeral as well.  It was noon before she left so we had a slow start on the day.

Benny dove on the boat, cleaned out barnacles from the engine water intake valve and recovered a fishing rod lost the night before.  We began looking at the charts, tides, and weather.  The best time to leave the pass for the gulf would be tomorrow morning about 8 AM.  I voted to stay another day.  We hope the restaurant will not say anything and we can just stay here at the dock. We do plan to eat again inside. I have taken the time to get everything ready for the next Gulf trip.  I actually have time to do some scrapbooking but I am wondering if it would be worth it to try to get it all out and get started to have to pack it all up tonight.

As we were sitting in the cockpit just relaxing this afternoon, I noticed a man taking photos from the parking lot towards the boat.  Now this isn't unusual as we tend to attract attention.  Benny says it is because the boat looks so sturdy and I am sure he is right because it has a totally different profile than fiberglass boats.  The photographer walked out the dock to the boat and struck up a conversation. He is a staff writer for a startup local newspaper and he was out prowling the streets looking for stories of interest. I directed him to the other boat tied up at the pier as they had just returned from a 3 month trip to the Abocos, Bahamas. 

He seemed more interested in our story and asked if he could take a few photos.  He especially wanted the dog in the pictures.  He took down some information, gave us his card, and told us he would contact us if he was able to get it in the paper.  Can you imagine that?  The crew of the S/V Panacea making a local newspaper.

We dined at Moore's Stone Crab Restaurant again.  They really do have good seafood at reasonable prices. On our way out, the couple off of the other sailing vessel was also leaving so we began talking.  They invited us into their cockpit and we swapped information for the next two hours.  I was getting first hand info about the Bahamas and they were inquiring about the Dry Tortugas.  They are planning on doing that trip about October.

We straightened up the cabin, secured the deck and planned for our putting out to sea first thing in the morning. All we needed was sleep.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004: On The Gulf Again. . .

I can't help but think about Willie Nelson's song, "On The Road Again" but we are changing the words to the Gulf.  We are now on the Gulf again. There was little excitement about our leaving.  We sort of had a partial skimming but we didn't get stuck, we made the last of the bascule bridges, and we navigated out the channel to the Gulf. We set the sails and began moving along at the pace of a tortuga (you remember: turtle).

Things are slow and steady. We talked to Roxana off of S/V Chloe.  They will be leaving Venice about 2 PM today. We will probably meet upon the Gulf but then it might be Panama City before we actually do.  We had wanted to join them in Marathon but the winds and weather were not especially kind. We didn't want to fight 2 days to get there, stay 2 days and then fight all the way back out. 

Benny made a fishing lure out of a piece of air conditioning aluminum tape and threw it in the water.  Within about an hour, there was about a 7 lb. Bonita on it.  Timber loves fishing but he really likes it when Dad pulls the fish in the boat.  He hasn't quite grasped the catch and release concept.  Once Benny throws it back, he stands at the back gate for at least 10 minutes looking for the fish.

About 8 PM, the skies were beginning to look unfriendly.  We got the boat ready for storms. Benny manned the helm, watched the sky and the radar and was able to steer around all of the storms.  We had put a double reef in the main and were constantly pulling the jib in and out depending on the wind conditions. About 11 PM, we were through the storms so I laid down for a nap.

At 12:30 AM, I took a shift.  Benny and I rotated off and on about every 1 1/2 hour - 2 hours. It was probably the first night that I actually stood equal time on the watches.  I was really tired.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004: Same song, second verse

More of the same: light (if any) winds, slow rolling waves, and a good strong engine.  I am so thankful for having the engine this trip.  I cannot imagine floating and drifting like we did two summers ago. We are both napping off and on as we think there will be another kicky weather evening.

We did see a fairly large sea turtle floating along on the surface.  Flying fish and dolphin are common sites and make us smile whenever they appear.

We chugged along at 5 - 6 mph all day and night.  Thunderstorms held off for us.  We saw some on the horizon but there was nothing out in the Gulf where we were.  It was an eerie night watch though.  There were clouds lining the horizon in almost every direction and the moon did not rise until about 3:15 AM.  Motorsailing through this area gave the feeling of driving the vessel through a forest where you could hardly see past the tip of the boat.  The stars were magnificent but you could not tell where the sky ended and the sea began.  Lights off of the other boats were distorted but the closer you came, the clearer they were.

Thursday, June 10, 2004: Marina Bound
Dawn is breaking and we are both tired.  Benny had to help cover my watch as I had quite a bit of intestinal distress.  Benny thinks it is because we are headed back to the marina, I have my doubts.  We have less than 25 miles to go before we hit the white light (1 mile out of the pass at Panama City) and then about 7 miles back to the docks.  We are supposed to call Captain Bob so he can take photos of us coming in through the pass but we can't get phone service yet.  By the time we get phone service, it will be too late for him to get down here.

The Tyndol Air Force Base is warning all boats to stay out of a 12 mile zone off their shore as they want to play some air games today.  We are in the zone right now but should be out by the time they get started.  We are hoping to watch.

Saw an unusual occurrence this morning as Timber and I were manning the helm, two flying fish came out of the water and collided in midair.  I have never seen a midair collision by flying fish though we have seen plenty of the fish.  We have been joined by several dolphin welcoming us home. 

Going through the pass this trip was a breeze compared to sailing through it with no engine on our last long journey.  We called Mollie at the marina to let her know of our arrival.  If she has an idea of when, she is usually on the docks to help tie up.  She is always has a wonderful welcome. 

About 10:00AM, we turned into the opening of Watson Bayou Marina.  Timber was excited.  I am not sure if he recognized the area but he knew this was the closest he had been to land in several days and he was anxious for a visit. We dropped the sails just outside the marina and were prepared to dock.  I had secured all lines in position for docking.  The winds were picking up so things looked to be a bit tricky.

We made our usual stern entry only to be blown off. We circled the area and made a second attempt.  We were closer this time, closer to other boats than we wanted to be so we backed off again.  As the saying goes, the Third Time's the Charm and it was for docking.  Benny was able to position the boat and with Mollie on one boat fending us off while I was holding us off the opposite pylon, we got it maneuvered into the slip.  Once we get it past the first set of pylons, we are pretty snug (a few inches on each side) all that was left was tying the lines.

I mentioned earlier how wonderful it is to see Mollie on the dock when we tie up, and this time was no different.  If you don't know Mollie, not only is she always beautiful but she has the nicest smile.  There she stood with her camera, a WELCOME BACK banner and balloons all over our pylons.  What a welcome!  We were thrilled to be home, excited for the wonderful trip and passages we had completed, wowed by the places we had visited, and ready for a few days of rest before returning to work (well Benny anyway).

Timber patiently waited for permission to get off the boat (we were surprised) and when I sent him without the leash, he came back and asked a second time.  He finally realized Mom was giving him free reign and he took off.

Later in the day, S/V Chloe came in to balloons, a WELCOME BACK banner, and bubbles (both to blow and to consume). We all were excited and had stories to share. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights were all swinging dock parties.  Everyone brought food, Steve, Shelly and Stacey brought musical instruments, and we truly enjoyed each others company.  We all love our boats, we are happy with our marina, and we cherish each other's company.  Life doesn't get any better than this!