December 17, 2011
Where to begin...
Since we last posted our progress, much has happened. We spent a really nice, relatively uneventful week in Pensacola with Jack & Tatiana and friends, during which time we were referred to a guy who does great work on inflatables. He fixed the leak on our wonderful (but old and leaky) dinghy that Al had been battling for over two years and, for the first time, we had a great, seaworthy, airtight dinghy. Wahoo! How nice! And just in time for our trip down the Florida coast. We left Pensacola on Friday, December 9, "buddy boating" with Jack & Tatiana on Pashka for what was to be a two-day, two-night trip across the tip of the Gulf of Mexico from Pensacola to Clearwater. We checked with three weather services, all of which gave us a favorable weather window of a northwest wind (perfect, since we would be sailing southeast to Clearwater and would have the wind behind us, helping our progress) along with calm seas alternating between 1-2 feet and 3-4 feet and winds of 10-15 mph. Again, perfect, right? DON'T EVER, EVER BELIEVE THE WEATHER FORECAST! Holy cow! We left Pensacola with a north wind, expecting it to turn northwest. Instead, it turned northeast (where it stayed), the wind speed increased to 20-25 mph and the waves increased to 6-8 ft. After a long night at sea, things got worse. The wind increased to 30 mph and the waves increased to 10-12 ft with the wind edging even more easterly, coming at us from the ENE. The end result was that we were driven further and further south, away from the Florida coastline and into the Gulf. On Day Two we lost our dinghy (which we had been towing, thinking that we would have a fairly calm sail). We retrieved it (what a tough time that was) and reattached it, only to lose it again the following day. Once again we retrieved it but had a much tougher time tying it to Wind Dancer since some of the holding points on the dinghy that we could attach lines to had ripped off. Later that day, we lost her for the third (and last) time. Unable to secure her to Wind Dancer, we had to continue sailing without her. However, we're sure she'll make some Cubans happy when she washes up on the western tip of Cuba (which is where we were headed when we lost her). In any case, losing her was a significant loss for us.
Continuing on. The end result is that we had to sail virtually due south for two straight days and nights until the wind and waves eased up enough for us to set an easterly course. By then we were due west of Fort Myers, where Al's brother lives, so off went Pashka and Wind Dancer toward Fort Myers. We arrived there on Tuesday, Dec. 13, after another two days and nights, bringing our total time at sea to four days & nights. God, did it feel good to arrive in port! Everything on board was soggy and we were absolutely exhausted. But we made it! And what troopers Sophie & Chelsea turned out to be. They stayed with us in the cockpit for virtually all of the trip, soaking wet and shivering, but determined to tough it out with us. What a joy these little creatures are.
As to why you haven't heard from us before now, while at sea we lost our standard lines of communication, including cell phones and email. In fact, we were just able to get our email back online yesterday. So thanks for bearing with us. We're so sorry that so many of you were worried about us. We're fine (just pooped but almost recovered) and are presently at a great marina by the name of Salty Sam's in Fort Myers where we think we'll hang out for at least a couple of weeks, including Christmas, before heading for the Dry Tortugas and Key West. We found a used Achilles (top of the line) dinghy for a really good price (Merry Christmas, Sue & Al!) and, although she's small, we're delighted with her. She's light enough that we can fold her up and bring her on board, lashing her down on deck when sailing in seas that we feel are too heavy for towing to be appropriate. (We are not about to lose another dinghy to wind and waves!) By being able to carry her topside, we can avoid the expense of having to add dinghy davits to Wind Dancer. We think we're pretty well set for going forward at this point but are enjoying being able to spend some downtime with Jim & Phyllis here in Fort Myers Beach, as well as with Jack & Tatiana, and being able to take the time to clean up the boat (and us! holy cow, the laundry!).
We truly do wish all of you were here with us. If we don't talk with you before then, have a wonderful Christmas. We'll try not to let so much time go by before our next post. Thanks for hanging in with us!
Sue, Al, Sophie & Chelsea
The Crew of Wind Dancer
Friday, December 2, 2011
Well, we made it to Mobile Bay Tuesday p.m. and anchored just north of Dauphin Island (a chilly sail day...turning on the generator & the heaters that night felt really good). The next morning, after a somewhat rolly night and five minutes after pulling up anchor and setting out for Pensacola, we had a major engine overheating problem and Al spent the next four hours replacing the impeller (that had basically disintegrated). While he was doing this, the wind was blowing us south (toward the ICW) at a rate of approximately one knot/hour which turned out to be exactly what we needed to arrive at the ICW with perfect timing to continue on our way. After starting the engine (which no longer smoked and sent alarm bells clanging....Thank you, Al!) and letting it warm up, off we went. We stayed overnight at a great marina called Marina on the Wharf (we know a lot of this means nothing to you, kind reader, but it's a great log for us for the return trip to plan on where to overnight or, in some cases, not to). The next morning, Thursday, we slept in, had a leisurely morning, and then set off for the short hop to Pensacola, arriving just before sundown and in time for docktails on Pashka with Jack & Tatiana and their friends Doug & Shirley, also owners of an Island Packet. Nice folks! The six of us had dinner ashore and turned in early for a great night's sleep. Tatiana (a serious walker who at one time competed in the Olympics as a biathlete) has promised to take Sue on a "walk" around Pensacola (get ready, legs!). An absolutely gorgeous day is forecast: bountiful sunshine with a high in the upper 60s. Nice!
We'll be in Pensacola for a few days (maybe as long as a week) tending to some minor engine work and having a tear in our jib mended. Then Pashka will join Wind Dancer for the trip south, "buddy boating" (which will be nice for the longer offshore legs that we plan on doing). We'll skirt along the Gulf Coast of Florida with several offshore hops, necessitated by the fact that many of Florida's bridges have fixed heights that are too low for our boat to pass under (stopping off at Fort Myers Beach to visit Jim [Al's brother] and Phyllis] and then head for the Dry Tortugas & Fort Jefferson (and great snorkeling in turquoise waters) before continuing on to Key West.
All for now. We'll keep you posted. Thanks once again for following us! (Al is promising to post pics today on our blog. We'll see.)
All for now. We'll keep you posted.