This is a quick, down and dirty log of what we have been up to and my musings about it.Please feel free to skim/pick locations or topics out that interest you, etc.I have included some information that perspective new cruisers might find interesting.
There is a lot of new stuff here.In the future, I hope to add short bits at a time.Happy Trails…
PREPARING FOR A FEBRUARY 29TH DEPARTURE
We started our preparations with a new “bottom” job when we first moved onto the boat.It should hold us for a couple of years at least.
We spent the next 10 months diligently testing (sometimes breaking) and repairing/replacing equipment.Our motto:Better to have something fail fairly close to homeport than out where our connections and conditions for repair might be flimsy at best.These included:batteries, radios, water pumps, impellers, charging issues, holding tank issues, electrolysis issues, a joker valve repair (you don’t want to know), auto pilot repair, replacing the air conditioning system, and replacing the refrigeration system.
We also installed equipment that was not on the boat when we purchased it.Mark personally put in:an ice maker, a wind generator, new solar panels, and a water filter for drinking water (all of these “musts” in my opinion). In addition Mark installed email capability on sat phone and SSB, satellite phone.
Patrick Manning of Sunshine Marine Canvas crafted us new hatch covers, screens for the cockpit, and new upholstery all the way around the boat.He does beautiful work and we would highly recommend him.If you’re lucky, he’ll share some tales of his days as a professional captain in the Caribbean or motorcycle racing in England.He turned us onto Keith Donaldson of Advanced Sails who made us a stack pack and a new headsail (we blew ours out in a storm during one of our shake down cruises).
In addition, I had some aesthetic issues that Mark lovingly agreed with:the new upholstery, new countertops in the galley and the master vanity, new faucets in the galley and both head sinks, a new shower head, and two flat screen televisions (one in the salon and one at the foot of our bed with 12 volt DVD players—very decadent).
I learned a lot about maintaining Susurra while preparing to leave.I managed to do a thorough once over of all the stainless steel, as it had gotten quite a few rust spots.The beginning process requires a good wash with fresh water, then a good drying.I used Brasso to remove the rust, then coated and buffed everything with wax.
I also did the teak toe rail, rub rail, and hand rails before we left:sanded, cleaned, applied mineral spirits, wiped down again with a tack rag, and then varnished (we use Epthanes:highgloss).I then repeated that process four times…
I did the teak trim around the new countertops below using Epithanes:rubbed effect:sand, clean, apply, dry, sand again, clean, apply, etc. It goes on great and looks real purdy
We had hoped to have Susurra’s topsides freshly waxed before we left, but we will have to do that somewhere underway.
The week before our planned departure, a dear friend on the dock offered us his Costco privileges, which is where we began the daunting task of stocking the boat with canned goods, paper products, booze, toiletries, cleaning supplies, etc.We had a trek akin to an odyssey on this outing (Maine Dave, you know what I’m talking about…), inspiring an abundance of much appreciated laughter and fun during what might have been an overwhelming task…Thanks Dave!
So, we planned to leave St. Petersburg City Marina on February 29.Mark thought Leap Day would be a rare and appropriate time to embark on our new cruising lifestyle (never one to shy away from synchronized serendipity).However, several factors conspired against us leaving on this date, leading us to our eventual departure on March 1st.
First: February 29th was a Friday.Unbeknownst to me, this is a real no, no.Apparently sailors are a superstitious lot and departing on a Friday incurs insurmountable amounts of bad luck.As an extreme skeptic on all things supernatural, I took the warnings with a grain of salt.However, the peer pressure and the sheer amount of times I heard it did start to eat away at me.
Second:We didn’t quite get everything accomplished that we’d hoped to on the 28th.
Third:Some great people, whom we will forever consider great friends, gathered the evening of the 28th, wine and Bahama Mammas (amazing rummy drinks refined to an art by Minnesota Ed) in tow.We noticed them standing on the dock at the bow of our boat and it took about two nanoseconds for us to gladly join them.Thanks to you all for such a wonderful, impromptu send off!That night we had the most people on our boat than ever before or since.It meant so much to us to have you join in the genesis of our adventure.
Needless to say, we were a little slower than usual the next day, resulting in our taking a lot longer to do “fresh” food provisioning and the last loads of laundry than it might have ordinarily.Perhaps it was in the cards (plans?) for our dear dock friends to save us from an unlucky Friday departure…
In any event, we happily took another day at the dock and left mid-morning, Saturday the first of March.
It was a strange feeling to empty the dock box and take all the dock lines with us.Thanks to all who gathered for the final goodbye…no, we didn’t hit any Opti kids, maybe we even inspired them towards bigger boats and broader journeys in the years to come…
I just want to say that each and every person we met on Dock 3 in St. Petersburg made us feel welcome and at home…we will miss you all!
Vermont Ed:Thanks for the artwork…we will treasure it always…thanks for the music, conversations, and friendship…you will be missed
Afghanistan Jim:Thanks for all of the advice, guidance and friendship.We hope all is well with you.
Maine Dave:We will miss you!We’ll look for you on the horizon…hopefully sometime soon
Don:Thanks for the inspiration and good pointers for cruising.
Minnesota Ed:Your smile and constant good humor still follow us.Thanks for the great cruising guides and of course, the Bahama Mammas!
Mat and Anik:Good luck to you both…we so loved meeting you…we hope to see you in the future and please stay in touch…Mat we will look for you on the horizon as well
Randy and Linda:We are so sorry we didn’t get to see you Randy!We hope all went well and good luck in the race…please let us know the details when you return…Mexico may be in our future!
David and Lynette:Lynette, we missed seeing you during our goodbyes!David, thanks for all the help and advice…keep strumming!Good luck to you both…perhaps the ocean will beckon you again…
Clem:We will miss our daily joke and your sweet smile!Keep on truckin’…
Kent:Get back on the water!!!We would love to see you and thanks for the nights of great stories, fun, and the always appreciated advice
Kurt and Susan:It was great playing with you…take care of each other and hug the kids…
Sammy:Where are you?We miss you!Be safe and find happiness.
Ray:Keep doing the wine thing, you have a talent!Come find us at Thanksgiving for pecan pie…
Joe and Pat, Barr, David and Kathy, Mike, and everyone my brain has lapsed on…we hope to see you all another day!
Also, thanks to all of the Marina staff.You guys are awesome!
March 1, 2008
Upon leaving the marina, the first order of business is to test out the auto pilot…it doesn’t work.Also, we hit a rather large wake and the champagne glasses that I stupidly put aboard to toast at our first anchorage flew from the rack and shattered all over the salon floor (reminding me why all other dishes/drinking vessels are not glass).I’m sure glad we didn’t leave on Friday, or my skepticism would have been severely challenged.As it is, these are just little issues we can easily deal with.
We have a leisurely journey to Egmont Key and anchor in the afternoon.It is an extremely easy first day, but the shock of having actually left the marina begged for a relaxing first evening and an early cocktail.
The night is rough, large swells and high winds…not a lot of sleep…but at least, we are on our way!
March 2, 2008
The next morning we head for Boca Grande.It’s a good day, although by the time we get through the fairly long pass, darkness hints.We opt for anchoring at the closest place, just off of Gasparilla Island…another uncomfortable night…even bigger swells, but we are so thrilled to be officially underway that we can’t complain.
March 3, 2008
The following morning we move to Useppa Island—a short ride and a really cool place.We find a good anchorage just opposite the island.The water and wind are calmer for the first day and night, but the weather forecast declares heavy winds and waves for the next several days.We hunker in to wait it out.
While there, we go to a great restaurant ashore where we visit a dollar bill bar; the walls and ceiling lined with close to a hundred thousand dollar bills.We take a beautiful nature walk around the island, climb an old water tower, and add our shells to the conch tree on the back side.This marks the first deployment of our dinghy since leaving St. Pete’s.Lowering it from the davits is easy and the hoist for the engine works great.I could probably manage both on my own.This becomes an important issue, as there are some things on the boat that I just don’t have the strength to do…very frustrating.For instance, I can’t get Mark up the mast, I can’t lift the full jugs of fuel and water, etc.I can always rig things on the halyard and use the winches, but it pales when Mark can do it on his own…more pushups for me!
Our stay at Useppa is wonderful.We sink into boat life, constantly trying to perfect the best way to conserve.My mantra is:If you can do it without fresh water, do so.If you can do it without paper, do so.And finally, if you can do it without power, do so.This is my personal hierarchy, Mark’s might be slightly different—he is obsessed with power usage.A woman we met in Key West calls her husband the “Amp Nazi”…nuff said!Needless to say, we spend quite a bit of time wearing our Petzel head lamps (thanks Zack and Sieka!).We run the generator about two hours a day.This provides us with just enough ice for evening cocktails and recharges the batteries.For my once-every-three-day shower, we do run the water heater for a couple of minutes.
There is something peaceful and meditative about conservation.It can consume the day in a myriad of ways, and never ceases to remind me how gluttonous I had become about water, energy, and garbage use on land, even while believing I was conscientiously conserving and recycling.On the boat, conservation of these three things can make or break a good cruising experience.
While living in the marina, we finally devised a pretty good way to organize the fridge—a constant battle as it opens from the top and things can easily become lost. We put the food into categories and stow them in their respective bags (green holds vegies, orange for roots, yellow for dairy, dark green for vegies we have cut into, etc.)This way we just pull out the whole bag of what we are looking for and can quickly shut the fridge back up.Losing too much cool air by having it open while hunting for what we want means more precious energy devoured while cooling it down again.
We have provisions stowed everywhere!We filled every nook and cranny and then hung net hammocks in the salon.In addition we purchased three milk crates for canned foods.These we keep on the forward berth, which has become the default zone for…well, just about everything!Our system is to keep the “in use” foods in the hammocks (chips, nuts, pasta, crackers…anything that has already been opened).When it’s time to open a new one, we pull it from the storage areas and put it in the hammock.I spent hours making an extensive inventory documenting exactly how much we had of each food/drink item and where we stowed it.I put an X next to each item, one for how many of each thing we had.The intention was to cross out the X each time we retrieved one of the items…Great idea!I can’t find the list!!—not on my computer, or in hard copy!—consequently, we hunt around for food a lot.
Useppa blows, and blows, and blows…oh yeah, and howls, and howls, and howls!We spend days reading, writing, and visiting.Of course, we take our cocktails with the sunset and often sit out until late at night.The stars are fantastic, especially in the wind!Mark rigs up our “Boatenna,” which is basically a disk of metal about a foot and a half across with a cable attached to it.He hoists it up the mast on the halyard and voila…television!Only about 3 channels, but alas, American Idol!As the wind gusts and blows outside, the boat healing and groaning, we snuggle and take in the guilty pleasure!
YORK ISLAND/ST. JAMES CITY
March 9, 2008
Mark has designated us “the slowest cruisers ever.”I don’t care. I’m having a great time!We are in no hurry and I love really getting to know the different places.
Today we take the ICW (Inter Coastal Waterway) up to York Island/St. James City.We lower the dinghy and go way up a canal lined with houses…some decadent and some no more than double wide trailers on the water—everyone has a boat of some shape or form.We find a great little lunch place on the canal and get gas for the outboard.The woman there promises Mark she will put our mail in a mailbox, as it is a long way from where we are.We get a six pack of beer to enjoy on the way back to the boat (it’s a fairly long, hot dinghy ride) and have a great evening under the stars.
March 10, 2008
Mark arranges for a slip in Fort Myers and we motor up the ICW.We don’t risk sailing, as this stretch includes the “miserable mile,” thus named for the wild currents and fairly narrow waterway—one to two feet deep on either side, just out of the channel.In places the channel hardly seems wide enough for us, let alone the large power yachts that plow towards us, behind us, and often past us.Mix in the little power skiffs and the jet skis and it is quite nerve wracking!Some of the big power boats throttle back as they pass, but unfortunately, more often than not, they just leave us in huge wakes that threaten to swoosh us out of the waterway and into the shallows.I typically prop myself as high as I can and watch for markers, boaters, etc. and alert Mark when necessary.Navigating through the ICW is not as simple as I thought.The markers can be spaced quite a bit apart and you must not only line up on the ones in front, but mind that you stay lined up on the ones behind you as well, lest you end up a foot out of the channel and aground.We draw 6’4”, and some parts of the ICW are no more than 7 to 9 feet deep…in the middle!
We make it safely to Fort Myers, but only after a little thrill going under the Sanibel Bridge.On both our paper and electronic charts the bridge has a vertical clearance of 29 feet (our mast is 65 feet), but is a bascule bridge (meaning if you call ahead, they will swing it open for you).As we approach, I call the bridge tender, but no one answers.I grab the binoculars to get a closer look and tell Mark that the bridge looks “fixed” and looks to have a clearance of a lot more than 29 feet.We continue to sneak up at low speed.As a small fishing boat passes us, I get their attention and ask if this is a fixed bridge.It is.I ask if they know the vertical clearance.They don’t, but they happily explain we can get out to the gulf by going up the ICW—back the exact nerve wracking route we just came from.Our dropping faces must have spoken volumes, because they quickly volunteer to go ask the workmen at the bottom of the bridge if they know what the clearance is.We hover.They zip back and explain that the bridge has a 70 foot vertical clearance (the sign with this detail was obstructed by the workmen)…we go for it…slowly!Five extra feet does not look like five extra feet when you are under a bridge…trust me.We make it just fine and snake our way to the Moss Marina in Fort Myers.We have a nice side tie on the end and docking goes smoothly.
We have a great time in Fort Myers, although I find the Spring Break crowd disconcerting.All these years I thought I missed out on something by never going to a Spring break…it’s nice to know I really didn’t.Scantily clad drunk girls and fairly obnoxious drunk boys carouse the streets and beaches.Most of them do not look old enough to drive let alone drink and Mark and I wager on how many fake id’s there must be in this town right now.The most disturbing are the shirtless, sunburned, middle aged men that leer, cheer, and by beer for the young women…ugh!
Regardless, we have a great time.We deploy our bikes for the first time since St. Pete’s and ride all over town.Dolphins swim everywhere and right up close to the beach, among the swimmers.We have hot showers at the marina, get a pump out and top off our diesel.We have had several bad experiences over the years with running out of fuel, so we made an agreement a long time ago that if you can, do!No matter how much you think you have.We have done really well on water usage…still on our first of four 40 gallon tanks…but we top that off too.
March 12, 2008
We have a fantastic sail to Factory Bay, just turning the engine on to navigate the tricky, shallow entrance.We are at high tide, but the charts peg the entrance at 6 feet, so we feel uncertain as to whether we will have enough water under us to get in, plus the rollers aren’t helping matters.Mark calls Tow Boat USA and asks what their local knowledge is and whether they recommend that we can make it.A really nice guy says he’ll zip over and sound it right now.We see him as we hover just outside in the gulf.He calls us back in a few minutes and says we should have no problem if we come in right now.Thankfully, he was right.We find a beautiful anchorage and spend a calm, peaceful night.
NOTE:The kind of cooperation demonstrated by the fishermen by the bridge and the Tow Boat USA guy is very typical.We have met and experienced some of the most helpful and friendly folks already, while still in the beginning of our adventure.It is great to be a part of a community that knows the power of a helping hand.We do the same whenever we can.
The next morning we take the dinghy over to Snook Inn…a restaurant we have seen advertised since we came to Florida.It is right on the water and has fabulous food and drink.We pass a grounded, deserted sailboat… probably a 50 footer…slowly sinking…very sad and humbling.Apparently its anchor dragged in the last big blow and the owner is nowhere to be found.
We spend a relaxing afternoon aboard Susurra and decide that this evening is the optimal time to head for Key West.
The high tide is around 5:30 to 6:00 p.m., so we should have enough water under us to get out.We want to arrive in Key West in the daylight, in order to navigate the entrance comfortably.I can tell we are both a little nervous about our first over-nighter on Susurra, but in the end I think we both feel if we don’t go now, under such good conditions (winds favorable, high tide, low wave action), that it will be a real copout.We go back and forth, but finally agree to just do it.We leave at 5:30 and head into the sinking sun.By the time we make the swing south, the sun is practically on the horizon and we get a spectacular sunset.We fly the main and the headsail and have a lovely sail as darkness falls.I sail for the first 5 or 6 hours (taking a short break to heat up leftovers for dinner).Mark typically has better long term stamina than I, so I tell him to let me take the helm for as long as I can in the beginning, because I can’t promise how strong I’ll feel as morning approaches.At about 11:30 p.m, he takes the helm and we switch off roughly every two hours from then on out.I am doing way better than I thought I would and as the middle of the night comes on, we each pop a coke and aim towards keeping each other awake.We put our Petzel headbands on and whoever is not at the helm, reads cards with life-significant questions on them.For instance, “What do you miss most about childhood?” or “If you could change on thing about yourself, what would it be?”It sounds silly, but it really made the time go fast (Thanks Jess and Kyle!!).Sometime around 3:00 in the morning, we start sleeping while not at the helm.We curl up in the cockpit and fall sound to sleep in minutes and for minutes.I have to disturb Mark to have him verify some lights I have spotted in the darkness, but he says even the short nap did a world of good.I told him it reminds me of being in labor when I could sleep soundly for two minutes between contractions!The night is DARK…by 2:00 a.m. or so, we have no moon and a cloudy mist hangs low over the water…beautiful, scary, and thrilling!We have seen absolutely nothing and no one since the sun went down.Only two distant lights that must have been fishing boats.They crossed in front of us and disappeared.Miraculously, around 9:00 in the morning, after having been out of sight of land all night, the entrance to Key West shows itself.Mark’s navigation and headings have been perfect!We each have a breakfast bar and a V8 and make our way to our first anchorage at Key West!I crack open the bottle of champagne and make mimosas once we’re settled.The weather is gorgeous and we hang out on the fantail enjoying life!
We end up re-anchoring here several times…the first place we feel is too close to another boat and we make three other attempts, but the anchor won’t hold.There’s a strong current through here and the ground beneath has become “scoured,” making for terrible holding.Ultimately, we end up just about where we started…
The next day, we make a reservation at Key West Bight Marina.Mark has out of town business and this will be a good, safe place to leave the boat.We spend a few days before and after his trips to enjoy Key West…and we do…I love it here!!Hemingway had a house here where he wrote and I can completely understand why.Sailboats dot every possible anchorage sight.Among these are day sailors, cruisers, and live a-boards.The anchored out live a-boards are typically youngish (20’s to 30’s).They are brown, brown, brown, scruffy, salty, and a bit crusty.Many of them are couples…dread locked women and tattooed young men.Sprinkled among them are huge yachts, charters, and people like Mark and me.In the marina we are nestled between an elegant Trawler with a couple aboard and a sleek bachelor’s sailboat.Across from us is a fully staffed motor yacht (68 feet) and just on the other side of them, a fully staffed sailboat (150 feet long!).The scruffy live a-boards putt through the marina in their scruffy dinghies’ to do god knows what scruffy business in Key West.Mark and I try to figure it out, but it remains a mystery.Sometimes you see the same couples go by 5 or six times a day, and their boats are quite a ways out…a long dingy ride.
If you walk to the end of our dock, you are in downtown Key West with restaurants, bars, artists, musicians, and you name it lining the waterfront.The boaters become intermingled with the tourists and the locals.The mix is unbelievable, lively, and always entertaining.I could spend all afternoon nursing a beer and watching the ebb and flow of people.
The sunset ritual here is to gather along the Western coast.People bring their cocktails, picnics, and children.Street performers swallow fire, walk on tight ropes, juggle, play music, and paint…pretty much if you can imagine it, someone is doing it.As the sun sets, all gets quiet.As soon as it sinks below the horizon the crowd (hundreds of people) breaks out in applause…quite awesome…and anyone who knows us can appreciate why we love it here!This happens about a five minute walk from our slip.
Taking advantage of access to fresh water, I redid most of the stainless steel while in Key West.So involved in my task was I that I got my first bone fide sunburn since moving onto the boat…I’ll be more careful while concentrating on my tasks next time.At least I got spiffy stainless out of the deal.
We meet some more great people here.
Tom and Linda are some of the nicest and easiest people I’ve known…maybe we’ll catch up with you somewhere up the coast!
Jeff and Diane…beeeeautiful boat.Thanks for your hospitality…have a wonderful adventure!
BACK OUT WITH THE LIVE A-BOARDS
April 3, 2008
Today we left our slip in Key West.I will miss it here.The winds were 20 – 25 knots, making getting out a little tricky.We only had a finger (small dock) on one side and it was the down wind side.I was concerned whether I could hold us off against the stiff breeze while Mark steered us out.There was a yacht parked at the fuel dock directly behind us, making the maneuver even more tricky and solidifying that Mark would be a better driver under these circumstance.The bachelor on the sailboat next to us just had professional crew come aboard to deliver his boat back to New Jersey.Mark asked if they wouldn’t mind helping to fend us off.As usual, they eagerly agreed.We had them take an upwind line on their boat (on the side where there is no dock) and pull as they walked back while Mark backed us out.It worked perfectly, I just had to push off the nose on the downwind side and we snuck out between the slips and the yacht.
We got out a little later than we wanted, so anchored out instead of heading for the Marquesas as we had planned.The wind really piped up that night and continued the next day.Another boat ended up swinging over our anchor line, so we could not pull up the next morning (the owner of the other boat was nowhere to be found).We agreed to wait until the wind/current (still 25 to 30 with big gusts) switched around, allowing us to free our anchor.This did eventually happen and we quickly pulled up and out…again, later than we wanted.We found another anchorage to hang out in until tomorrow, when he hope to head for the Marquesas and then the Dry Tortugas…nothing happens in a hurry, but the delay allowed me to catch up on my log!