ARIEL'S JOURNEYS Parts One - Three
by Dave Nance
In November, 1997 Dave Nance, Lois Carey-Nance and pet dog Rainbow left Seabrook, Texas in Ariel their Pearson 36 to winter in Florida and return to Chesapeake Bay in the spring of 1998. After delaying their departure until the 1997 hurricane season ended, a season that had no storms because of El Nino, they faced a fall and winter of unusual winds and cold, again a result of the El Nino weather patterns.
As we sit in the sunny warmth of Panama City, Florida, it's easy to forget the constant cold and rain of the past four weeks as we sailed and motored from Seabrook.
We are tending to forget:
We have forgotten all this and remember only:
Now the slow cruising is behind us. Pensacola was beautiful and friendly with the marina at Pitt Slip (now called Seville Marina) only one block from the old town with its wonderful restaurants and galleries. We stayed four days so that we could attend the Christmas Gallery Romp and the lighting of the town Christmas tree (and coincidentally sit out another rainy day).
The sail offshore from Pensacola to Destin and on to Panama City was again perfect sailing conditions - crystal clear water, dolphins, and at last, warm weather. In Panama City we moored next to Nina, a 70 foot stay sail schooner designed and built by Starling Burgess in 1928. This schooner holds many world class race records and is a boat I would daydream about as a kid. It is now here being readied for its next circumnavigation in four to five years.
From Panama City we sailed again offshore to bypass another low bridge and returned to the GIWW (the ICW on the Gulf Coast is known as the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway as it has different specifications from the Atlantic Coast ICW) at St. Joe to avoid the Air Force missile test range off Cape San Blas. The trip from St. Joe to Apalachicola was through the beautiful Jackson and Apalachicola Rivers. The Jackson River, if you remember, was the river where the movie Deliverance was filmed, but much farther upstream. Needless to say, we did not stop there for the night. You may not be aware, but it was here in Apalachicola that John Gorrie invented the ice machine and consequently "slime in the ice machine."
We are now awaiting a good weather window for our crossing of the Gulf to Clearwater. Meanwhile we are checking out every restaurant in Apalachicola.
Next time we will be crossing the Gulf to Clearwater, Fl.
ARIEL'S JOURNEYS Part Two
After four days in Apalachicola, the weather was set for two days of NE winds, so six sailboats and two mega motor yachts jumped for the trip southeast to Clearwater and Tampa Bay. The motor boats left in true bristol form at nautical dawn (the sun 12 deg. below the horizon, when the horizon is distinguishable) for a 10 hour crossing of the "big bend" bulge of the Gulf between Florida's panhandle and its west coast, while we waited until 8:00 for our 24 hour trip. The six sailboats paraded down the bay and out Government Cut into a ten knot breeze and perfect seas - for the first two hours. As we have now learned to expect, the wind turned to the SE (right on our bow) and died. One hundred forty miles to go. At times like this, a trawler looks better and better.
But wait! There was a reward for the calm sea. That evening we were given the most spectacular sunset and night sky that can be imagined. A quarter moon, with the other three quarters visible as a shadow, shone so bright that it left a reflection on the slick sea. Pluto, Mercury, Mars, Venus and Jupiter all escorted the moon to another spectacular setting with all the planets and the moon turning red as they fell into the Gulf. This left the Milky Way so bright that it lit the sky from horizon to horizon. We will gladly exchange a crossing under sail for the motoring conditions on a night like that.
Based on previous stops in Clearwater, we expected the city to be in a continuing state of deterioration with more vacant buildings and strange people lounging around. Boy were we surprised! The city is rebuilding with many reconstructed art deco buildings, new construction, small boutiques moving in and spotless streets and green spaces. It even sports a real Mexican restaurant and a Southwest restaurant owned by someone from Austin. Everyone here is from somewhere else.
Six days later we left the white sand beaches and palm trees decorated for Christmas and sailed to Tarpon Springs for Greek food and sponges. That trip is what cruising is supposed to be like. Gentle winds on the beam, calm seas, white sand beaches to starboard and blue water to port. The sail up the Anclote River is beautiful with small islands, palm trees and mangroves around the banks. Just ignore the power plant and pretend it's a lighthouse. Tarpon Springs is still a working harbor and we are the only cruising boat at the Municipal docks. The rest are sponge boats, shrimp boats, charter fishing boats and the common Florida gambling boat. The town is a pretty antique Greek American town with a beautiful park around Spring Bayou, replete with a family of Manatees. It's well worth the visit for the food, culture and scenery but maybe not for the six days we've spent here in the rain and cold. Oh! Did I say that warm sunny skies only last for two day increments in Florida? Yes, once again we are sitting at the dock, awaiting the arrival of the dry part of the Florida dry season. After six days of Greek food I now understand why most Greeks are fighting the battle of the bulge.
After leaving Tarpon Springs we made only 110 nautical miles south in four weeks. We are now snugly moored at Marina Jack in Sarasota. What a change. It's warm and so civilized. This is the only coastal town that we have found that has an opera, ballet, symphony and circus, all but the last within walking distance from our dock. Mornings usually find us at a sidewalk cafe for bagels and coffee, lunch picking out which of the other sidewalk cafes to stop at, and dinner at any one of numerous restaurants. In between are art galleries galore. All this is two blocks from the boat. For a change of pace we bike to St. Armands Key and rub against the rich snow birds. Sarasota Bay is our backyard and we can watch the dolphins and pelicans compete for the fish.
There are numerous exotic birds in this area. The grackle type birds inhabit the palm trees and pick the berries, fly to the nearby masts, eat the shell, throw the hard seed to the deck, usually during nap time, and then poop all over the deck. They are so adept at the latter that they can throw it under the dodger and bimini and into any open port. The local boats have tried everything imaginable from rubber snakes, owls, inflated eyeballs, flags and mast vibrators to keep them away. The birds welcome these as new places to perch. The other amazing bird is the Northern Snowbird. So that we are not a part of this flock, we define this bird as one from north of Dallas. These birds have numerous things in common: gray heads, fat bodies, colorful feathers and they travel in big expensive cars, slowly. Their heads are constantly in motion and never face in the direction they are traveling. Their song is reminiscent of a "cackle." They seem to be at least 50% of the population. Both birds are to be avoided.
We met a delightful British couple, Alan and Rhoda Cawthorne that have sailed from England to Beaufort, NC, to Canada and through the Great Lakes and river system to the Gulf coast and now are headed back to England via Bermuda and the Azores. This is not a particularly unusual trip except that they are 78 and 75 years old and are in their 34 foot Vancouver, New Chance. After a week with them we feel quite inadequate and may have to rethink our long term itinerary and our boat. What we learned is to keep the boat small, comfortable and simple. Isn't this what most of the books say?
The storms so far this winter have been constant and severe. The good thing is that we are in a nice marina watching what the sustained heavy winds do to the boats at anchor. We get two foot waves in the basin and wind gusts to 35 knots. In the anchorage it looks like a hurricane blowing. These storms last for about 24 hours until the front passes, then we have several days of beautiful dry weather when everyone runs into town to enjoy the sun and warmth. Those that are at anchor all come ashore to wash and dry out. The bad news is that each storm brings a boat or two ashore as their moorings break free. This last storm has five sailboats and two motorboats on the beach. Two roller furlers on our dock let go and thrashed their jennies to death, and several biminis on the motorboats decided to convert to sails and blew apart. All in all, storms are exciting but best of all is when they are over. At one point we looked out to see a ball of foam streaking across the bay leaving a roster tail behind and a colored fin protruding out the top of the foam. It was a windsurfer just out for some fun.
We received a letter from Alan and Rhoda with a description of their journey home after their return to "Newman's Cottage," their 17th century thatched roof house on the Isle of Wight. While crossing the Bay of Biscay they tangled a drifting fishing net in the prop and rudder of New Chance. Rhoda (remember, she is 75) repeatedly dove over the side to cut the net away. Alan said he helped with moral support and lent a hand sharpening her knife. Later between the Azores and Spain, Alan suddenly lost most of his eyesight. He pointedly informed us that they have not "swallowed the anchor" and that instruments with very large numbers were being installed along with a bright light over the chart table in preparation for the next year's cruise to the Baltic.
Next, The Key's and Miami
ARIEL'S JOURNEYS Part Three
In the southern Gulf of Mexico there is a magic line south of which the senses are magnified and time takes on a different pulse. The beauty of sailing across this invisible line somewhere about 26 degrees North during an overnight passage from Naples, Florida to Key West is watching the dawn light make the new colors of the tropical waters shine and light the beautiful white cumulus clouds of the trade winds from the Atlantic.
We finally left Sarasota on March 1 and slowly made our way to Cayo Costa, a quiet, unspoiled state park on an island in the Gulf north of Captiva Island, Florida. It was a pleasant contrast to the noise and population of the condo packed shores that now cover most of Florida's west coast. After two days of decompression, watching woodpeckers nest in the decaying pines among the native palm trees, loons fishing in the crystal waters, and ferrying Rainbow on outings to the beach in what is now his dingy, we finally left to meet friends from Annapolis who were vacationing on Sanibel Island. We also decided that we should take a short vacation from the rigors of retirement and checked into the Sanibel Marina for a week of pampering. Sanibel is one of those places that has maintained an aura of the past with all the amenities of today's world. The prices though have kept pace with the times, but money does buy comfort.
After leaving Sanibel, a light northerly wind drifted us to Naples for a night in the crowded anchorage among the most magnificent estates outside of Beverly Hills. The constant drone of private jets coming and going from the nearby airport and the mechanical murmur of the huge motor yachts sang us to sleep. The morning of March 14 brought a forecast of light northwest winds for the next two days, so we quickly fueled Ariel and dewatered Rainbow for a planned 20 hour sail due south to Key West.
Please believe me when I say that we do not drink when we are sailing. It's just too dangerous. I say this here so you may believe what I'm about to describe. As sunset approached the boat was slowly rolling in the gentle swells of the 10 knot breeze over the starboard quarter. The swish of water past the hull and the occasional soft whine of the autohelm were the only sounds. Visibility was perfect with low humidity and the sky was clear as far as you could see. We settled down for a beautiful sunset and watched the sun sink into the shimmering orange water. Just as the sun disappeared we saw it. The elusive GREEN FLASH! There really is a green flash. For years we had said that the flash was a figment of the imagination brought on by some drug induced hallucination. Now, I guess all of you will say that the Carey factor is contagious and after 13 years Lois has finally gained mind control over Dave, but Rainbow is also a witness and will defend our story till the end; just ask him.
The planned 20 hour sail as usual did not work exactly as planned. We expected the wind to slack after sunset but it held at 10-15 knots. At midnight we calculated that we would reach the shoals off Key West at 4:00 a.m., not 8:00 as planned. We rolled in the jib, put two reefs in the main and trailed 200 feet of line to slow us. It did, but we still arrived at the shoals at 5:00 a.m. We hove to and rocked for two hours waiting for light to safely navigate the channel. We learned one thing though and that was that trailing the line stabilized the helm so that the autohelm hardly worked in the quartering seas, a very difficult point of sail for the spade rudder configuration of our boat.
Key West is in the magic land. We spent four days in awe of the weather, color, sounds and smells of the island. It's understandable why this is such a popular winter playground. We are now in Marathon after a one day sail in iridescent aquamarine water against an azure sky, the colors of a Winslow Homer painting. This sail was interrupted by periods of frantic barking as Rainbow would think that the Portuguese Man of Wars were sailing past us. He barks at everything that moves and has not figured out that the boat is the thing that is in motion.
Boot Key is a sailors place. The anchorage is a small town of several hundred boats at anchor waiting for a weather window to leave for the Bahamas or Cuba, or just passing through. It has everything from a water taxi service, a water and ice delivery boat, and a church boat. Sunday afternoon there is a pot luck lunch get together at a former cruiser's house on the shore of Sisters Creek. West Marine even has a dingy dock for their customers. Of course there are the numerous bars and restaurants that have dingy docks. We found friends from Houston anchored and waiting on favorable winds for the Bahamas. After several days we left with a favorable wind to sail through Hawk Channel.
Hawk Channel is a unique place that only occurs at several places on the earth. The Florida Reef separates the deep Atlantic from the Keys. Between the reef and the Keys is Hawk Channel. The reef lies anywhere from a few miles to about seven miles off the Keys and stops the ocean swell from hitting the Keys. What it leaves is smooth, blue green water and a sea breeze that is perfect for sailing. For days we sailed east and north through the Keys and anchored at a convenient key for the nights.
As with most good things, they end. We arrived in Miami. I'm reminded of the Frenchman (I believe his name was Colas) participating in a singlehand round-the-world race and having so much fun that when he crossed the finish line he kept on going for a second round. We could just turn around and go back and do it again. Rainbow just said no, so we will continue north.
There is not much point in sailing to Cuba now. You can go to Miami and enjoy the same cultural experience without fearing U.S. government retribution. Most of Cuba is now here. South Beach didn't seem to have the glitter that it had a few years ago so we sailed back south to Coconut Grove and stayed at the old Pan American Airlines Clipper base. It is now a municipal marina. After several days of Cuban food in wonderful sidewalk restaurants we left before the weight gain took up too much space in the boat.
This is the end of my summary of log entries but as many of you have, or someday will have the joy of cruising the Atlantic ICW, I will not bore you with those adventures.
I hope you have enjoyed the vicarious trip around the Gulf of Mexico's GIWW.
Dave and Lois