Friday, June 4, 2010

Honey Ryder's Circumnavigation of Florida

Or "Time to get the hell out of Florida" trip.We have a brand new shiny insurance policy to go with our brand new boat that requires we be north of Cumberland GA by June 1st for hurricane season. For various reasons 1.) our new Caliber 2.) horrific BP/Transocean/Halliburton Deep Horizon oil slick is headed towards the panhandle of FL 3.) NOAA folks have called for a very active hurricane season 4.) we are new boat owners...we decided to oblige. Another cruiser told me their insurance required the same. I haven't had the time to research how many marinas the insurance company owns north of Cumberland Island. Hhhuummm?We arrived in Panama City FL on Thursday May 22nd and begin prepping Honey Ryder for the trip around FL.
What a wonderful surprise to find our good cruising friends and mentors Patrick and Nancy on s/v Stolen Child in the slip next to us. They had been there a week on the hook and took the slip so they could charge the batteries and top off the water tank before headed west to Moss Point. It was wonderful to see them. After tossing our stuff on Honey Ryder and showing them around her, we promptly put them to work. Patrick helped Tom with the anchor/chain/grinding out sort out project. Nancy accompanied me on a big provision run. We rounded out the day with dinner at Bayou Joe's and after dinner drinks in their cockpit. They both wear the cruising life well as they looked great. Too soon Friday morning came and we gave them hugs goodbye.Back to work. Check systems, filling the water tanks, visually inspecting all the rigging/turnbuckles/pins, storing all the gear and provisioning securely, more errands for extras, etc... The local sailing liveaboards in the marina didn't fail. They were friendly from day one and offered just the right amount of assistance and encouragement. "Whatcha need? What type of screw? I probably have one and if I don't, you can have two of something else!" Phil and Brian supervised the marina goings ons from these chairs. They were especially interested in our lee cloth grommet installation. Brian said my homemade lee clothes looked like the $200 ones. He uses a sheet as a lee cloth.
So the grand plan was to sail from Panama City FL across the SE corner of Gulf of Mexico, cut through The Keys mid way at the Channel 5 bridge and then up the east coast of Florida to Brunswick GA (1st marina north of Cumberland Island) secure the boat and fly home to KC. All in 12 days. Of course this was provided the weather be perfect and nothing go wrong. Yeah RIGHT! We actually calculated it would 7 days and of course had several backup plans and bailout points.Enter Mark Lipkus. Hard core, long time sailor, delivery captain, yacht broker (Wellfound Yachts, all round good guy and our NEW best friend. Sailing friends Tim and Kim purchased their Hunter 36 from Mark a few years back. He lives in Key Largo and has intimate knowledge of The Keys. He arrived Friday afternoon and immediately began reviewing Honey Ryder for the voyage.
After a quick spin around the deck, Mark and I (mainly Mark) cranked Tom up the mast to check all the rigging. A quick review of digital pics taken aloft was vital. Connections? Good. Spare halyard? Good. Wiring? Good. is high. 58 1/2 ft to be exact.

Hold the rum....what exactly is going on at the top of the furler connection? A quick look at the manual said it all. There were two line drawings of this area of the furler in the manual. One was labeled "good" The other line drawing said "bad." Our digital pic matched the "bad." Uh oh! Quick call by Mark to rigging friend (note to self, must get rigging friend), trouble shooting, drilling of a hole, bolt, washer and such and we decided it would be enough to make it to Brunswick. A run to the closest Radio Shack and West Marine turned into Garmin Nuvi vs iPhone megadeath match for directions! Not really but neither got us there easily. After dinner at a local joint, we crashed. Saturday brought the BIG departure day. The forecast looked good and so did the boat. Our brand new Garmin 541 chartplotter (from here on out known as Big Min, named for Garmin founder Dr Min Kao) was wired in, a last minute provision run was made and rental cars dropped off. We stopped at the Panama City marina to fill tank #1 and then headed for the Gulf. Below Cap10 Tom and Big Min get acquainted. Departure - Saturday, May 24th ships clock 2:45pm. About 6 nm out and just on the edge of losing cell service, the auto pilot AUTO decided to quit. Not good. Mark and Cap10 Tom set about trouble shooting everything they could think of. Mark called a friend that is a marine electronics guy (note to self, must get marine electronics friend) and pulled him into the trouble shooting. Finally after disconnecting the this and that and reconnection this and that, it looked like we would have to make a choice...hand steer for the next 4 days or turn back for repairs. A few more attempts and suddenly AUTO spring back to life. Yay!Below checking the belt and oil. Cap10 Tom discovered a new multi tool (otherwise know as a toilet plunger handle)to help tension the belt. Isn't he ingenious! Later, when we were in Key Largo, Mark called his alternator/engine friend ( note to self, must get an alternator/engine friend) to trouble shoot Honey Ryder's belt chewing habit. In the mean time, we kept a close watch on the belt consumption. Honey Ryder restrained herself pretty well by only consuming one belt the entire trip. I cannot say the same for our peanut butter and Nutella consumption!Soon we all settled into the grove of the trip. Watches were set up, four hours on, four off. Mark took four and Tom and I took four so we could get used to passage making together. Below my watch buddy on high alert!
We established and kept a log, recording vital info at the end of each four hour watch.

We messed with rigging, tweaked sails, goofed with lines and generally set about really getting to know Honey Ryder.

The scenery was magnificent! The wide open expanse of the ocean, fabulous. The ever changing sky, amazing. The sea life, exciting and vibrant. All awe inspiring!

All his years at sea, Mark has never seen the green flash. We saw it when we were in The Bay Islands off Honduras in 2009. We had a couple of sunsets while in the Gulf where conditions seemed just right but alas, no green flash. We did see the blue streak after sunset but no green flash. What? Never heard of the blue streak? Me either. Mark pointed it out only after he DIDN'T get to see the green flash. Hhumm? Me thinks the blue streak is a sailors "tale".
There wasn't a ton of wind overall on this trip. What wind there was of course was on the nose for some of the trip. We were able to do some sailing but because of our tight time frame turned the motor on any time the speed dropped to 5 knots. Several times it threatened rain but we never got more than a sprinkle. Luckily we didn't see any "BP/Transocean/Halliburtor Deep Horizon Major F-Up Oil Spew" I think we were just ahead of it.

Mark is a foodie like us and very much enjoys cooking and trying new things. To say we ate well on this trip would be a major understatement. Mark and I whomped up some fine galley fair and had a blast doing it. My new galley gear worked great. Here the chefs that a break while swabbie Tom cleans the galley.

After 4 four days crossing the Gulf, we approached East Cape - the SW tip of mainland Florida. From there we entered Florida Bay. Of course this was just at sunset. Mark was on watch and guided us through the very, very, very shallow area.

I quit looking at the depth sounder at 6ft. We kept our eyes peeled hunting for unlit, unmarked day markers. These are steel ibeams with small reflective stuff on them that you can only see at night when you shine a high powered light beam at them. "Come on Florida residents! Seriously? How about coughing up a little bit of tax $$ to light these suckers and help the visiting, spending money in your state, yachties out!" Here is one the next day. Can you imagine running into one of these at night!Mark guided us into a great protected hidy hole around 2am and we dropped the hook to get a few hours rest and tackle the very tricky "Yacht Channel" at first light.
Yacht Channel or Urie's Channel as Mark would have us believe (remember, Mark was somewhat sleep deprived) is a narrow channel with a funky hair pen turn that must be follow exactly. No matter how many times you read the guide book or look at "Big Min" it's tough.
But Mark guided us through without a hitch. Channel 5 bridge ahead is the entrance to Hawk's Channel on the east side of The Keys.

Next stop, Key Largo and Mark's home port. We anchored off his channel and then loaded up the dinghy with the trash, Mark and his gear and laundry and dinghyed to his house. Well sort of. We discovered that we had outboard it quit running but only after we cast off from Honey Ryder. We scrambled around and got it started again only to have it quit again. The current kept pushing us back out to sea. We finally kept it going long enough to make it to Mark's house.
Our new crew, John Anderson from KC was waiting there. Mark graciously opened up his house to us, insisting that we take showers and do laundry. He ran us to West Marine, the grocery store, bank and liquor store. Then he cooked a fabulous meal of fish tacos. Simply wonderful after four days at sea. Finally after stuffing our bellies, we loaded up John, his gear and all the supplies and started paddling back to Honey Ryder. Luckily the tide was headed out with us.
The next morning we pulled up the hook, carefully motored into Largo inlet and around crash corner, (a 90 degree turn in a very narrow canal) to the fuel dock to top off tank one.Soon we were sailing up Hawk's Channel towards Miami.
We had to stay on our toes as ship traffic around port Miami made it very congested.

All the lights of North Miami Beach, Ft Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and so on twinkled like Xmas tree lights throughout the overnight watch. A sport fishing tournie with well over 200+ boats kept navigation interesting. We set 4 hour watches. Tom took 12-4, John 4-8 and me 8-12. We kept this schedule even in the daytime so that someone would be responsible for the helm at all times even though often we were all in the cockpit during the day. We also kept our log entries going, recording data at the end of each watch.

The next morning we tacked and headed off shore a bit in search of wind and better wave action. We found both. This also allowed us to line up with Cape Canaveral, which is where we found ourselves the next evening. We enjoyed Forbidden Zone Pasta while sailing safely outside the real off limits zone. Just after dinner the only other vessel in the area, a sailboat tacked and sailed close by us. We all looked up to check out this sailboat with the sun setting behind it. Just as we did, a huge, 5ft sting ray jumped clean out of the water between the two boats. The loud splash it made when it landed back in the water was like that of best belly flop. It was truly an awesome sight. I personally think the keels of both boats scared the poor ray and it jumped out of the water because of that. Can you imagine what the Ray must have thought seeing two dark fins on either side ...."WTF? I am outta of here."

Noon the next day we sailed into St Augustine to drop off John. He talked to a buddy of his and arrange for us to take a slip for a few hours. Paul and Judy were there on s/v Gratitude. Oliver and his wife Ruth from NC were with them. We secured Honey Ryder and grabbed cabs downtown for lunch and ice cream. St Augustine is a kewl little town and very historic. It's the oldest city in America. We didn't have time to explore any of the history so we will need to go back.

After lunch we took naps and did a few boat chores. The wind was really picking up and storm clouds were moving in. Since the final leg would be just the two of us, we deployed jacklines on both sides of the deck..We cast off around 6pm for the all night run up to Brunswick GA. Exiting St Augustine entrance was a bit hairy as the wind was blowing right on the nose, kicking up the waves and shoals line both sides of the entrance. But we slammed our way out and then turned north. We past the port of Jacksonville that night. It is another busy shipping port. Our radar had quit working back in the Gulf and unfortunately Mark didn't have a radar friend (note to self, must get radar friend). I was able to access the light list in my Boater's Reference Guide app on my iPhone. I identified that the lights I was seeing were some big ass ships. It was hard to tell how fast they were going or how far away they were. A couple of times I woke Tom up to help me sort it all out. Just for good measure, I turned on the engine so we could get through the shipping channel as quickly as possible. Now thinking of asking Santa for an AIS VHF radio for Xmas. This will allow us to know the names of the big ass ships and hail them on the VHF radio directly by name thus raising the chance that they will answer back and not run us over.

As the full moon set and the sun came up we reached the outer marker at the entrance to Brunswick.

We headed in and finally tied up to the dock at 9am Sunday, May 30th. Seven days and approximately 19 hrs after we left Panama City FL.

We were tired but thrilled to be in and proud of our accomplishment. We chilled in cockpit a bit and then set about on boat chores too numerous to list. Soon a few dockmates stopped by to introduce themselves and be sure that we knew about the Memorial Day BBQ the next afternoon. Unfortunately we would be headed to the airport about the time it started.

The facilities at Brunswick are top notch. Big, wide concrete floating docks with very tall concrete pilings. Spectacularly clean showers and free laundry. At the top of each dock is a covered gathering spot. I am not sure but I think I have already identified the Brunswick equivalent to E-Dock on Lake Perry. We have hired a care taker that lives in the marina and will check on Honey Ryder weekly.

This marina truly attracts major cruisers as they head north and south each year. A quick look at the laundry room logbook supports that with entries from all over the world. No chance of getting a big head about our accomplishment here. Case in point. I was doing laundry and chatting it up with a very nice woman. She asked "where did you come in from" I said "Panama City." She got very excited "oh, when did you go through the canal?" I clarified "No, we sailed around from Panama City FL on the panhandle of Florida." "Oh" she said disappointed. Another person said something very similar...."oh, just around Florida, I see." To us, the circumnavigation of Florida was a huge accomplishment. To these seasoned cruisers it was nothing big. Too funny.

Monday I popped up the dock and knocked on a big Fountaine Pajot cat. I offered them our ice, mayo, mustard, lemons, limes, onions and garlic since we were leaving that day. They gladly took it all. Three mins later she knocked on Honey Ryder and offered to take us to the airport that afternoon since they have a car there. Sailors are just good people! A little strange/odd/weird but good people.

The complete GPS data is in Big Min on Honey Ryder. I forgot to get a mini SD card so I could bring it home and download the trip info on the home we don't have the exact distance yet. However pre-trip planning and the actual route we followed are very close which puts total nautical miles covered roughly around 950. It was a wonderful experience and a great chance to bond with Honey Ryder. We made numerous notes, discussed the good, great and would do different next time. We have added many tasks to our To Do Lists as well as our long, growing wish list of someday gear and electronics. However, having said that, Honey Ryder is absolutely perfect as is! Can't wait for next time.