OUR PLAN

We are writing this blog for one reason and one reason only. To provide a vehicle to make it easier to remain in touch with our family and friends back home.

Our plan is simple. Depart our home port of Goderich Ontario in the Summer of 2011. Cruise Georgian Bay and the North Channel of Lake Huron while visiting some of the ports and anchorages we have missed over the years. As well as revisiting some of our favourite haunts hopefully with some of our very good friends with whom we have cruised with many times before. All the while adding up the miles and gaining experience with our new trawler. Our first and only self imposed deadline is to be in the Chicago area around Labour Day. South of Chicago, weather and circumstances will guide us!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Correction

Note: The second last post labelled January 24-25, 2012 Appalachacola Fl. to Clearwater Fl. was not published in its entirety. The error has been fixed and the post is complete.
Regards,
Mark

January 24 2012 – Clearwater, Florida

Ahhh!!!   We have finally arrived!  After a long night we were famished, so we decided to go for the hungry man’s breakfast across the street from the marina at “Pickles”.  With our bellies full, we retired for a long, wonderful nap.

Clearwater Harbor City Marina on the mainland was wonderful!  The marina was sheltered, with all floating, looking-like-new docks, and quiet.  It was close to parks, the downtown (although the area economy was hit hard with 50% storefront occupancy) and a short bike ride to Clearwater beach.  Oh yes, I said bike ride – Mark and I finally took down the fold up bikes and decided to adventure across the Clearwater Causeway bridge to see what there was to see at the beach.  We toured with Bonnie and Charlie from Sonata, parked the bikes, lunched at Frenchy’s and took an open air Jolley Trolley tour of the area. The wind had picked up on the return bike ride and our legs were feeling wobbly by the time we reached the marina.
Our stay lasted 7 days and we enjoyed every minute, but it was time to move south, on down the Intercoastal Waterway.

Terri
Finally getting out the bikes!

Charlie, Bonnie & Mark - Lunch @ Frenchy's

Clearwater Beach

View from the Bridge

Heron on the dock
Heron in flight

Terrmar & Sonata @ Clearwater Harbor Marina

Hey Mark!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

January 24-25, 2012 Appalachacola Fl. to Clearwater Fl.

After our oyster feast last night we discussed the impending gulf crossing with the crew of Sonata. The tea leaves were lining up and we were a go tomorrow (maybe) after a review of the freshest weather reports.  In unison we have all agreed that the weather reporting has not been reliable, not even remotely so.  I have never been real good at waiting and the thought of waiting a week for a weather window sickened me.  Time will tell.  There are a number of different sources we search out and compile for weather information.  A lot of it is meaningful, but seemingly most of it rather dubious at best.  So we all retired that evening agreeing for a noon departure next day if the weather cooperated.  Now Terri and I have been boating for over twenty years and if you had pushed me to bet on the weather, I would have bet we would be staying put.
The next morning we awoke and there was not a lot of change in the weather, the forecast for a change might be correct.  At ten AM we all decided to go for it.  That left us two hours to make final preparations, fuel, pump out etc.  I wasn’t hungry and skipped lunch.  If the truth be known my stomach was in knots and I couldn’t eat.  Terri and I reviewed the charts and I almost had our exit plan memorized.  No big deal.  The only real issue might be a little cut named Government Cut.  It is the waterway between the protected harbour and the gulf.  It seemed a little narrow but we had great visibility so this should not even be an issue.

We did depart Apalachicola Fl. at exactly 1200. The sun was shining, even warm and we even managed to snap a few pictures as we left the marina. 
THIS SAILBOAT APPEARS GROUNDED BUT ACTUALLY IT IS JUST BEHIND THE GRASS

MAYBE THIS SHRIMPER CAUGHT OUR DELICIOUS MEAL LAST EVENING

CITY DOCKS

SIGN SAYS UNSAFE DOCK????
The seas were smooth with only a ripple to speak of.  We had about an hour’s travel before we would arrive at the gulf.  The first half hour was very pleasant and a great way for us to start our journey.  I know that Terri was a little apprehensive as was I.  However as always, once we were underway things seemed to fall into place almost routine.  Our spirits we high, almost excited.  Hmm!  Now that I re-read this for editing purposes, I am not sure if Terri would agree about the high spirits.
Off in the distance, maybe a couple of miles, I could see the sky thickening over the islands.  Fog appeared to be forming in the middle of the day.  This is unusual perhaps, but not totally unheard of.  It shouldn’t matter though as we had Radar, GPS Plotter and instinct to guide us through Government Cut and out into the gulf.  The navigation channel, while very narrow, was well marked and I felt confident.  The fog thickens.  Visibility was down to less than 200 ft., but we appeared to be on course and our plan was working to perfection.  Sonata was the lead boat and we had long lost sight of them or any other little fishing vessels that are too small to show up on radar.  These small fishing boats were of great concern to me as the visibility was so poor and running into it from behind could get messy.  Slowdown is the natural reaction, but there was the tide to consider and we were already making a fairly slow speed.  Enough forward motion, just to maintain steerage was my goal.  I started fighting the wheel a little, meaning the wheel was turned more than normal to port as the incoming tide forced me to correct with the wheel just to stay in the channel.  The fog is disorienting and I must learn to believe in the instruments and trust them.  I did just that.  The fog seemed to lift a little and I could see the channel markers.  We were on the edge of the channel and not directly in the middle as I had planned.  Ouch!  The tide had pushed us wide and I must regain the channel.  I throttle up and quickly the helm answers and we are again dead center in the narrow channel again.  The fog thickens again.  Again the channel markers disappear.
“Sonata All Stop” booms the familiar voice of Charlie across the airwaves of the VHF radio. What the heck, is my initial reaction.  But we had been travelling with Charlie and Bonnie long enough to know that it meant that they had an issue to deal with.  Our job was to stay clear and give Sonata a chance to work their way out of whatever issues they had.  I did slow down, I had Sonata identified on radar, they were not too far from Government Cut and there were not a lot of options for Terri and I to choose from.  We were going slower than I wanted and steering again became an issue.  I could feel the boat drifting, pulling sideways very unnatural. The fog was again thinning out.  The channel markers again proved to Terri and I that again we were not in the middle of the channel.  I can’t go any slower and I knew Sonata was not too far ahead.  The channel is too narrow to turn around.  If I sped up we would be right behind the now stationary Sonata and we would surely be a hindrance to them in their efforts to pull themselves off of the sand bar which must surely be their quandary.

Terrmar jerks to port, seeming to swivel at about mid-ships. There is a bit of a thud and we come to a dead stop, with a definite list to Port. Ahh! not again. Only this time the fog made the whole situation more serious. Who else was out here, and would they see us? Well we can’t worry about that now and we must get off of this sand bar. But first I had to determine for sure where the deep water in the channel was. We were spun around in such a way and the fog was so thick that I could not tell for sure. So we grabbed a boat hook and did our best to determine where the deep water was. I think we have it figured out. Back up and then swing to port. I can see the channel markers again. They confirm our findings and we had better get at it. So slowly in reverse I increase engine power. We didn’t budge. More power then, and ever so slowly we return to a level heel and soon we are refloated and moving forward. By this time Sonata too has freed themselves and we don’t have to worry about running into them. Now we can make a good speed and we have full control of the boat. Fog or no fog we must keep this speed up or we could end up on the rocks of the actual cut. Radar and the chart plotter are invaluable and we are soon at the entrance to the gulf. The fog clears somewhat again and I can see the rocks. But just past the rocks we get our first glimpse of the gulf and it is not happy. The waves appear two to three feet and crashing off of the rocks. We have no choice and we are committed to at least going through the cut. I throttle up and pick up some more speed in order to maintain control in the now churning seas. We come about even with the cut only to find a fisherman in a boat that appears to be way too small for the conditions. He is not blocking our way. But he is sure reducing the size of the already narrow cut. Never the less we continue forward and all at once we are through the cut and in the gulf. 
While the fog is still here it has diminished enough that we could see maybe 50 yards.  We can deal with that, but what is with these waves?  While they weren’t hitting us on the beam, they weren’t far from it.  We have been in a lot worse seas than this and I knew we could handle it, but this was going to be a 19 hour crossing and we did not relish the fact of putting up with this.  Would it get worse? Would it get better?  We didn’t know but we did what Terri and I have always done in this position. We agreed to give it an hour or so and then re-access.  We have turned around on past journeys under similar conditions, so we shall see.  By now it is about 1500 and we are about an hour past our one hour self-imposed deadline.  Things are actually starting to look better.  The fog has totally disappeared and the waves, while not any smaller, seemed to have flattened out some.  They were real waves and not short choppy coastal waves.  We can do this and so next stop Clearwater Fl.  We have planned for an arrival around 0700.  That should give us enough daylight to spot any crab pots. Generally people tend to time this trip so as to arrive around 1000 or so.  This is because they don’t want the glare of the sun in their eyes while searching for crab pots, but Terri and I have done this before and it was not enough for us to worry about.  We had discussed this at length with Charlie and Bonnie on Sonata and they agreed.  Besides I did not want to wait around at the dock for another two hours burning sunlight and not sleeping.  So we did opt for the crab pots in the sun.
It was soon dinner time but neither Terri nor I were hungry.  Light fare was the order of the day.  Some left over soup for me and an apple for Terri.  The seas were definitely calming and the night started to look like it was going to be a calm one.  Soon the sun was low in the sky and sunset was inevitable.  But the sun was definitely red and of course this is a good omen to all sailors.
SUNSET OVER THE GULF, LAND IS SOME 50 MILES BEHIND US
We had been on the water for six hours now.  Only thirteen more to go and I was starting to feel good that things were falling into place.  The waves continue to reduce in size.  About a foot or so now and it was no longer a factor in our comfort or safety.  We could easily move around the boat without hanging on.  Still not hungry though.  For those of you who know me this is a very rare occurrence indeed.  It is dark now and there is no moon and almost no stars.  This was going to be a long night. We had Sonata on Radar and this would be our reference for the next twelve hours.  There was no sense in watching where we were going because we couldn’t see past the bow any way.  Radar was our eyes and it was working as designed.  We kept Sonata in site on one quadrant of the radar screen and all was well.  Every once in a while I would open the pilot house door to try and spot Sonata’s navigation lights.  Sometimes I could see them and sometimes I could not.  Thank you, God for radar.
We had arranged an hourly check in on the VHF radio with Sonata.  They would call us one hour and then we would call them the next hour.  Not a lot of words were spoken as they didn’t have to be. Just the fact that there was contact at an hourly interval deemed all was well.  It got to be routine and it kept my wandering mind on the task at hand.  Terri and I have usually shared the watch duties when doing a long passage.  There was nothing formal, just you go rest and I will stay on watch until you return.  It was only one night and more formality was not necessary.  It worked well until one fell asleep and then of course it didn’t work at all.  So we set up my computer in the wheel house and watched movies.  We took turns picking the movies.  Terri picked “Gone with the Wind” for her watch period.  Of course I didn’t sleep for the duration of the three hour movie and I even watched some of it with her.  As I write this blog and recall the events of that evening I seem to remember that I didn’t get much sleep at all that night.  Terri of course with her different mindset insists that I slept through the whole saga.  I couldn’t have!  I can still remember Rhett Butler telling Scarlet off and finally putting her in her place.  I might have been on the couch but I was definitely not asleep Terri! Lol.  The night turned routine.  On watch, off watch.  Talk to Sonata on the hour.  Scan the horizon hourly. Check the engine gauges hourly.  Check our course line.  Let Terri sleep through her watch.  Search a featureless sky for stars or any sign of the moon.  Try to sleep or at least rest my weary body.  All the while we constantly inch closer and closer to Clearwater at 9 mph.  This was a very economical speed and we were saving a bundle on fuel.
At around 0400 I could see a glow in the sky to the east.  Not the sun but the city lights of Clearwater Fl.  We were creeping closer and must soon have a visual watch for any traffic or crab pots.  0500 Definitely the lights are becoming clearer and we can distinguish the different colours.  0600 The eastern sky is a definitely in the early stages of sunrise.  I can make out the shape of Sonata in the distance and their navigation lights are starting to fade.  We are on time and on course and should be at the outer harbour in one hour.  We did see a few crab pots but very few and it never was an issue.
CLEARWATER WITH SONATA JUST AHEAD

SAME PICS MINUTES LATER

GETTING REALLY CLOSE NOW
 0745 We touch the city dock and congratulate each other on our successful gulf crossing.

This past few hours is the part of the trip that most loopers dread.  It is the longest single passage roughly 190 miles of open water.  Crossing in January has its own issues of course.  Yes it is the gulf but it is still January and weather windows around this time of year are a lot fewer and shorter than other times of the year.  From here on in, Florida should be both a breeze to navigate and a pleasure. The long range forecast looks great for the area and we are going to take a good long rest.
Thank you God for the safe crossing!

Mark

Thursday, March 1, 2012

January 23, 2012 Panama City Marina in Panama City Fl. to Scipio Creek Marina in Apalachicola Fl.

By the end of today we should be in Apalachicola Fl. and possibly our departure point for the Gulf Crossing. Not much happened on the trip but it was the first time that Terri has managed to get a few good pics of dolphins. They are hard creatures to photograph with a digital camera and its split second delay at the time of shooting. The only real highlight of this marina was our sharing a real good feed of raw oysters with Charlie and Bonnie from Sonata. After convincing ourselves about the quality of the establishment and the health of the oysters we dug in. Words cannot express the taste but we did have seconds all around.
Mark








January 22, 2012 Palafox Marina in Pensacola FL. to Shalimar Yacht Basin in Walton Beach Fl

The next few days we were on a mission. We wanted to get to Scipio Creek Marina in Apalachicola Fl. or maybe Carrabelle Fl. Either port would be suitable as a staging point for our crossing of the Gulf of Mexico. This was a distance of approximately 190 Statute Miles and would require an overnight crossing so as to arrive in Clearwater in the day light. Sometimes boaters will wait up to a week or more for the right weather window. Even then there is no assurance of a smooth crossing. This is of course winter and the Gulf can really kick up. So there wasn’t much that did happen out of the ordinary. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
Mark
WE LEFT IN THE FOG, SONATA IN THE LEAD

A BRIDGE COMES INTO VIEW
TREES AND MORE TREES

NARROW RIVERS

EVER CHANGING TOPOGRAPHY