Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Port Charlotte, Florida

Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda  are across the bay from one another. The bay is large, and from our anchorage in Boca Grande, it took about 5 hours to get to our anchorage in Punta Grande. The entire bay has only a smidgeon of deep water, so we had to follow our GPS very closely so as not to get stuck in the shallows. Most of the depth is at around 3-5 feet. Not a sailboat friendly bay. You can tell because of all the power boaters.
I didn't think I'd bring this up, but I feel compelled to do so. Paul and I thought the power boaters in Texas were disrespectful, but quite honestly, Texas M/V's have nothing on Floridian motor vessels. We were just amazed at how most of the power boaters here would not even think of slowing down as they passed us. We were rocking pretty badly at times, to the point you could hear things below knocking around. This is not only disrespectful, but also against boating rules and regs. Too bad there weren't more Coast Guard people out stopping these rude people and ticketing them. So, if you are coming to Florida in a sailboat, just be aware of this ...especially in the ICW.

There, I feel better now!!

When we arrived in Punta Gorda, we found our anchorage outside of Fisherman's Village Marina. We tried to get a slip there, but the man said they were booked until April. The anchorage was tricky to get to, because of depths going back and forth from 3-6 feet. After much winding around, we finally were able to anchor in 6' of water.

We were trying to figure out a way to get to shore, since we didn't have a dinghy. Ray, Florence's husband, said he had a small dinghy he would bring us the next day and we could motor into Fisherman's Village to pick it up. We checked the depths in the channel to the marina, and it said it had 5 feet of water. Our draft is 4'8". Close! Next day we tried it and got stuck. We had to call Tow boat U.S. to come pull us out. Thus, we weren't able to get to shore. Florence and Ray had to hire a guy at the docks to come out and get us and they brought the dinghy, too. It was the only way to get into shore at this point. I was thankful to be going ashore, because my back was hurting badly.

We looked on Craig's list and Ebay for used dinghies and found a few. Florence asked us to stay since I was hurting, which sounded like a God-send to me. Paul had checked the anchor before we left and it was dug in well. The next day we went to look at dinghies, and didn't find anything that we liked. We also went to "Marine Traders" a consignment shop for all things boats. They had a dinghy for sale, but was priced too high for it's condition, I thought. Finally, we found one online. It was $400 for the dinghy and a trailer. Sounded like a good one and we planned to go get it the following day. In the meantime, Paul had gone over to the boat to make sure it was secured well. That Danforth anchor has been great the entire trip. Never had any problems with it coming out.

At Florence's and Ray's cozy home, we were able to relax and eat fine food. Ray and Florence both are wonderful cooks. Ray made a scrumptious chicken casserole the first night. Next night, Florence made pie from scratch. It turned out so pretty, I had to take pics of it. Every night, the table was set as though we were in a high class restaurant. Loved the way they worked together to make everything so lovely and welcoming. We also had freshly baked breads. Holy mackerel!!
Florence with her beautiful apple pie. Home made
from scratch, folks. Deeeelishus!!!

Ray and Florence at the dinner table. It was always set up
so pretty. I told them they needed to open a B&B, and they
said that they already had the name for it..."Flo-Ray-Duh Inn"

Cousins!!! Paul and Florence

The pie was so beautiful, I had to get a showcase pic of it.

Paul and Florence

The next day, Paul's other cousin, Barbara from Maryland, arrived. Paul hadn't seen his cousins in probably 40 or more years. Hearing the stories from their past and getting to know these wonderful folks was truly a delight for me. They made it so I would feel like a part of the family, and I do.

Me, Ray, Florence, and Barbara...playing Scrabble and telling

Barbara coming up with a high point word!

Paul and Barbara

Ray, Florence, and Barbara

Somebody's got the giggles

Ray challenging a word!

Our room. This is a murphy bed! When the bed is empty, it goes
back into the wall and it's her sewing room.

Barbara and I took a walk and this is how the winds looked
as we neared the house.

Ray went with us to pick up our new/used dinghy and trailer. We all piled in two cars to take it over to the boat, and as we were crossing the bridge, we were looking down on our anchorage site, and couldn't see our boat! What? Kept looking....no boat!!?? We scurried down to Fisherman's Village and as Paul went into the office, Ray and I were running down the pier to see if we could see the boat. It is amazing how one can identify one's own boat simply by seeing the mast. I knew that mast, and it wasn't where it was supposed to be. It was close to shore and it looked in danger. The winds at that point were in the 40 knot range. The waves were ferocious! When we found our boat, she was being crashed up against the sea wall on her bow. How did she get there? Good question. Our line to the dinghy must have been sawed off by the rocking of the boat and waves crashing into it because there was only the line with it's shredded cut left on the boat. The anchor was probably still holding in the sand under the water somewhere (probably exactly where we dropped it), but the line had been cut off. Ray's dinghy line was also shredded, so he lost his dinghy. It was a traumatic day for us. I called Tow Boat U.S. again, to see if they would come and help us out. Turns out, the same man, Nick, came to help. A super nice guy, and one of those people who go beyond the call of duty to help. He called a marina to see if they would let us dock. We ended up in the "Isles Yacht Club" which is a private marina, but they were kind enough to let us stay until we decided what needed to be done. The next morning, this was on the front page of the Charlotte Sun Newspaper:

After two days in the Isles, we found Charlotte Harbor Ship Yard that we could go on the hard for $20/day and work on our own boat. It's a popular place for sailboats and motor vessels alike. A lot of very nice people here as well.
Sea Casa on the hard. We are still living on her.

The boat lift

The boat folks house. Everything you need. Dishes, silver,
tables, stoves, crockpots, microwaves, pots/pans, laundry,
and bathrooms with showers.

Washer/dryer on the left, frig, dishes, silverware, tables. The
room is all screened off with plastic curtains to keep out the
cold weather. And yes, it has been cold here!

Coffee, $.20/cup.

Spacious bathrooms/showers

Ok, now I have to say, it seems like the first two weeks of our journey were wonderful. No problems, nice weather, easy motoring/sailing. From Gulf Port Mississippi and on, it's been nothing but problems.  It is humbling to think what things have happened, and even more humbling to realize we've pretty much been spared our lives. The Denton wave could've very easily been the end for us. Yes, it was that bad. Or the tornado could have taken us. Or the winds in Port Charlotte could've sunk our boat. So, from that perspective, I feel very blessed. So very thankful!! We still wonder if it's a big message telling us to stop our cruising life. We are aware of that notion and keeping it under our hats for the time being. It's possible we're being shown things we need to know in advance for future cruises further away from home. One way or the other, we are learning not only about cruising, but about each other and how we deal with situations. Amazing!! The adventure continues!


Sarasota, Florida

One of the things Paul and I needed was the talk that took place at Walter and Jeanette's place over dinner. We all discussed how many hours should be cruised in a day and what to do if bad weather starts up. Brooks, Walter and Jeanette, who are much more seasoned than we, mentioned that for us, 35-40 miles a day is probably enough...and there should always be a "Plan B" in case the weather or water becomes difficult. We had been pushing ourselves and many times found ourselves coming into places at night with high winds on our bow. From now on, we'll go shorter distances, and have a secondary plan for if there are weather changes. Wise words to live by, and I'm so glad we all talked about this.

Walter and Jeanette told us of a marina in Sarasota that would be a good place to sit out the upcoming storms we were hearing about....high winds, even a possible tornado! The name of the place is Marina Jack's. We would highly recommend it as a mooring place or a docking place. Very nice. The mooring ball was $25/night. The mooring field was quite large, too. Not too many people there. I think most people were probably docked for the storm, as I wish we had been!

Before we arrived at Marina Jacks, we enjoyed a lovely day on the water. We took some pics along the way.

Beautiful sky, amazing day. When we got to Sarasota, we had arrived about 3 hours earlier than we expected. There were some nice winds and the big bay of Sarasota was beckoning us to pull the sails out. We sailed around the bay and tacked back and forth across for about 3 hours, and then went into find our mooring ball.

Our mooring ball was number 2! So we were pretty close to land. Unfortunately, we were without a dinghy, so we stayed in our boat the whole time. It was fine, we didn't mind. I would like to have explored Sarasota though. Brooks and Sandy said they'd come over and join us for dinner if we could get a water taxi into the marina. We checked, but Marina Jack's doesn't have that service. It was just as well though, because the winds were starting up.

the entry into Marina Jack's...beautiful buildings. Looks like
somewhere in the orient.
Our neighbor on Mooring ball #1
Some other boats in the mooring field.
After I shot these pics, the winds were just starting to pick up. We had dinner, and were reading when we heard the winds getting faster and faster. All night the winds rocked our boat. At one point, very early in the morning, I got up and looked out the cockpit, and everything got very still...quiet and still...and that's when I wondered if the "tornado" they had mentioned was going by us. I've been in tornados before, and this is what it's like. I went back to bed and the rocking started up again more intensely. We must be getting used to this type of weather, because, believe it or not, we slept.
The next morning seemed better for awhile, but the high winds started up again. It felt worse than the night before, and our boat was rocking high from front to back and side to side. I went below to put some things away that were falling and was holding on, (one hand for you, one hand for the boat!!) but I saw a mug starting to slide off the sink, and I grabbed for it, letting go of my hold. Just then the boat rocked side to side. I went flying back against the stairs and hit them hard enough to jolt them out of the slots that held them up. The stairs and I went down very hard. This was a scary and painful event for me. And the mug broke!
That afternoon, the winds stopped, thankfully. We found out that there actually was a tornado and it hit Bradenton...just north of where we were moored.  Two people were killed. Apparently, we had wind gusts up to 50 knots, with most being in the 40's. No wonder our boat was rocking that much!
The following day, being mild, we set out early for Boca Grande to anchor one more night before cruising in to Port Charlotte. We were looking forward to our arrival in Port Charlotte for our reunion with Paul's cousin, Florence, and her hubby, Ray. The anchorage off Boca Grande was close to the channel to the Gulf, so there were waves coming in all night and it wasn't all that peaceful. I suppose it's like that when sailing. Some places will be restful, while others won't. All a part of the experience. Well, one thing is for sure, we are accumulating a lot of experiences so far, (a few less would be alright with me!) and we are learning many things. Having sailing friends is important and helpful to those of us who are green at the art of sailing, and I'm so thankful for the friends we have. 

Apalachacola across the big stretch to Tampa

I seriously have to write a review on Active Captain about the "Government Cut" channel coming off the Gulf going into Apalachicola. On their site, they stated that the "Government Cut" is dredged on a regular basis...which may be true. However, when we were attempting to leave via the same route, we tried every angle we could to get into that channel, but got stuck 4 times in the sand. We called Apalachicola marina to ask if there was another way to get out, but they said it should be clear to get out. He said to call the dredging company, which we did, and they said it was fine that morning, and should be clear. We just gave up and turned around to go the ICW towards Carrabelle.

For those of you who aren't familiar with this trek, the distance from Apalachicola to Tampa is approximately 200 miles. I know, if you drove you'd be there in 3 or 4 hours. In a boat, it's all about the cruise, the adventure, and hopefully, the sailing!

Before arriving at Carrabelle, we turned to go out into the Gulf at Dog Island. We finally had the wind on our sails instead of our nose...so we actually had our sails out and some real, live sailing for the entire day. It was wonderful! That's what it's all about!! It seems worth all the hard times when you're finally able to feel the wind catch in the sails and billow out to take you swooshing quietly and smoothly across the water. Yes!

The overnight passage was uneventful...except for the amazing dark sky lit up with millions of stars. How I love this part of sailing!! Paul and I traded taking the wheel on 2 hour shifts again...still works for us. As the sun began to peek out in the east, we had another day of east winds for good sailing. We assumed we would arrive in Tampa/St. Pete's the following morning (day 3), but because we were being pushed along at about 6-7 knots, we actually arrived the second night. Paul being colored-blind, he is unable to tell the green and red lights apart, so I have to do the night sailing into the channels that lead to anchorages and marinas.  It is probably my least favorite thing to do with a boat; night cruising. The entry into Tampa Bay was like a scary Disney ride. There were so many conflicting lights, we couldn't tell which way to go. After hours of slow going, we finally made it to the anchorage site we had picked for the night. It was a lovely place, very quiet, very still...called Emerson Point. Perfect depth, from 6-10' of water. It had 5 stars on Active Captain, and it was correct this time. We slept very deep and peacefully.

The next day we headed over to the marina in Bradenton where our friends Sandy and Brooks were docked.  Actually, their boat was on the hard having repairs, thus, they were living on the boat across from them, and their slip was empty...so they allowed us use their slip. It was terrific to visit with them and spend time together. They had just returned from Fort Lauderdale where they had purchased solar panels for their boat. That evening they took us to a restaurant across the water. Walter Bliss, our neighbor from Waterford, came to join us. It was a treat to be with our Waterford friends again! We had drinks, food, and a fun visit.  The second night, Sandy was busy, but Brooks, Paul and I were invited to Walter and Jeannette Bliss's boat for dinner and a visit. Jeannette had just returned from a trip to see her mother. She looks lovely, as always.

Paul and Brooks in Walter and Jeanette's salon

Brooks, Walter, and Jeanette

Beautiful sunset from Walter and Jeanette's boat.

Walter and Jeanette...Jeanette and Sandy had birthdays just a
few days apart from one another, so this was a celebration!!

Brooks, Walter, Jeanette. Look at that pretty hair of hers!
 The weather was supposed to be sunny for the next day, so we said our farewells and left Bradenton to head towards Sarasota where we would catch a mooring ball for a couple of days to sit out the upcoming storms. Before we left, we clicked a few pics with Brooks and Sandy.
Sandy and me
Me, Paul, and Brooks.
 I feel certain we'll all meet up again. It's the way of the cruising life.