A little drama in the marina

I know. For the past month, all of my posts have been drudgery. Boat projects, hard work, blood-sweat-and-epoxy. But we had a little bit of excitement yesterday. No great photos, but that’s how you can tell things were exciting – if you don’t have time to take pictures, it must be a good story.

I was on the top deck of Sanitas, working on my latest teak refinishing project. And I heard a bit of yelling across the way at the St Petersburg Yacht Club fuel dock. I checked it out, but decided to mind my own business. Couples yell at each other while docking at the fuel dock all the time. None of my business, right? So I put my headphones back on, and cranked up the volume on This American Life, and got back to work. (Totally worth it! Look at that newly refinished hand rail!)

Oblivious to my surroundings, I heard much louder shouting. RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME! I leapt to my feet, ripped the headphones off and dropped them on the deck, because a sailboat was about four feet from Sanitas’s bow and blowing right into me sideways. I jumped up the the bow pulpit and assumed the position to fend off this massive amount of inertia. And screamed “Mike! Get up here!”

Folks who normally live in a slip about four boats down were apparently moving to a new slip across the marina. Some of the boats that live here are in, harrumph, less than perfect working order. This one didn’t have a functional motor and was trying to move out of one slip, across the harbor, and into the new slip. Completely under sail. For those of you who aren’t sailors, this is not an easy maneuver! Especially since this couple might not have left their slip since they bought the boat.

When Capt Mike made it above decks, the couple asked for a tow over to their new slip. My first thought was “Bug? The smallest dinghy in the marina, with the smallest 5-horse power motor? Tow this big fat boat?” But Capt Mike went into superhero mode. He leapt into the dinghy, released the painter, and went to the rescue. Now it wasn’t a perfect rescue attempt. For the first ten minutes, Capt Mike and Bug made a valiant effort to tow the sailboat from the front. It was not a success. There was quite a lot of random drifting and close calls with all of the very expensive boats docked at the Yacht Club. Then Allen, a salty old guy why also lives on the dock, wandered over to watch the show and started giving me advice. “He shouldn’t be pulling the sailboat. He should be pushing from the stern.” So I repeated it all, just a little bit louder. “Hey Mike! Stop pulling. Push from the stern!” Allen knows his stuff.

So he tried it, and Bug saved the day! Lashed to the stern of the sailboat, her little outboard motor provided plenty of forward momentum. The woman who owned the boat could steer from the helm. And they putted their way across the marina to their new home. Did they shower Capt. Mike with thanks and gratitude, and maybe a spray of champagne? No. They did not. But he had the satisfaction of being a Good Samaritan. And Bug has a new friend who comes visit her at sunrise- a gorgeous grey sand crane.

We’re committed to the nomadic life now!

On Thursday, we sold my car. Talk about a bittersweet moment. I’ve owned this cute little VW convertible since 2010, and it’s taken us on many adventures; including moving all of our belongings to Florida, and two more cross country road trips this past summer! More importantly, it’s given us the freedom to do whatever we wanted while living here in St Petersburg. Early morning trips to the YMCA? No problem. An afternoon of errands and massive provisions runs to Sam’s Club, West Marine, Home Depot, and Trader Joe’s? Piece of cake. Invitation to spend time with friends in Siesta Key an hour’s drive away? Don’t mind if I do.

Last year, we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to store the VW at Drew and Sharon’s house here in St Pete, knowing we planned to return after the cruising season. This year, our plans are less firm. We want to have the freedom to continue cruising, without having to make the long trek back to Tampa Bay. So it’s time to cut the cord and truly become cruising nomads.

We put it off as long as we possibly could, and until every hold of the boat was FULL of provisions. Then we began the Craig’s List and Facebook Marketplace dance. Is this a real person or a robot? Will he actually show up for our meeting? Will he offer me some kind of ridiculous low ball price? After several “interesting” showings, we connected with Maggie of Das Auto Haus in Clearwater who offered us less than we asked, but more than the VW dealer, and we had ourselves a deal. Goodbye trusty Volkswagen! Thanks for everything!

Yesterday, I did my first round of errands as a walking person. Grocery store, post office: it really makes you think if you need BOTH almond milk and bottled water at the same time – heavy!

I live on a Sailboat…. Again

It’s been a week since SV Sanitas splashed into the water of Tampa Bay after her summer vacation in the boat yard, and I guess I can finally say we’ve moved back aboard. We’ve slept in our tiny V-berth, cooked some simple one-pot meals in the galley, and unpacked box after box after box. At first, I couldn’t figure out why it takes so long to unpack such a small boat, but I think I figured it out – there’s no basement you can stash a pile of boxes in and forget about them for months. Or even years!

The past week has been a reminder that everything takes longer than anticipated when you’re living on a boat. We were scheduled to put Sanitas in the water at 9am last Thursday…. which turned into the last thing before the yard closed at 5:00. So all the things we planned to do in the water (inspect the mainsail, load new and very heavy house batteries, check all the engine systems) moved to Friday morning. Eventually, we got those tasks done and motored the 3 miles from Salt Creek to the St Pete Municipal Marina Friday afternoon and tied up to the transient wall. Since we are staying for a month and because we have a very low freeboard, we’d requested a slip instead of the wall, but no one in the marina office could find the request until sunset. Then we were told come back tomorrow, and we’ll move you into your slip on the West Dock. So instead of having 3 days of overlap between the marina and our apartment to give us plenty of time to move in, we did it all on Saturday: moved everything we’d been living with for the past two months from the apartment to the boat, then moved everything from the storage unit we rented for the summer onto the boat. That’s a lot of stuff! Did it grow and breed over the summer? Suffice it to say, there wasn’t an inch of room to move on little Sanitas.

As Capt. Mike was hiding things away in the storage hold under the bed, I heard him shout, “We have a problem! We have a problem! The hold is filling up with water!” Now I interpreted that as we are sinking, and starting trying to remember where the wooden plugs and the waterproof repair tape got stashed. But luckily (?) it just meant that the hose to the forward water tank was leaking and 45 gallons of water were flooding the place where we had just placed our belongings. I turned on all the taps to take some of the pressure off the hose, unloaded everything back into the cockpit where it had started the day, and we dealt with the mess. Eventually, the tank ran dry, we bailed it out, set up fans, spread out our soggy belongings….. and got a cheap hotel room for the night.

Stuff floating in the “under the bed” storage hold…

Capt. Mike actually fit in the hold while repairing the hose. If you ever wonder where we hide the dead bodies….

Installing protection around the hose fitting, so we don’t do THAT again!


Sunday went much better! We put our bed back together so that sleeping aboard was possible, set up the composting head, and did some more unpacking. Then we rewarded ourselves a day of rest – a visit to Pat and Darby in Siesta Key, and walking over to Vinoy Park to see the Barenaked Ladies in concert at Rib Fest.

Since then we’ve been continuing to unpack and get settled. We’ve given Sanitas a good bath after the boatyard. (Do you think they call it the poop deck because so many birds poop on it?) And we finally put the jib and staysail back up. We took them down so Keith at Advanced Sails could inspect them and do some minor repairs, and to have as little canvass as possible up during hurricane season. While we were at it, we replaced the sheets on those sails with nice shiny, clean, and snag-free ones.

We’ve also done lots of minor projects that don’t sound like much, but will hopefully improve our comfort and happiness in the months to follow. Such as installing lights in the cupboards and head, installing a small shelf in the bilge to keep our stores on canned food above the water, fixing that darn forward water tank hose and installing protection around the fitting, repairing latches on doors, fixing the squeaky companionway stairs, repairing the brass wall clock….You get the idea. In the process, we’ve made many trips to the dumpster, recycling, and Goodwill; made a bit trickier by the fact that our new parking space is about an eight-minute walk away. I hesitate to post pictures yet, because we aren’t yet organized and ready for prime time. Oh, ok. Since you insist. Here’s what living aboard looks like one week later:

But we are floating (not sinking!) and the view from the cockpit can’t be beat! One step closer to a tropical paradise.

Back in the Real World

Our first days back in Florida were a bit of a let down. Here we were back “home” in the US after almost four months, but we were still far from friends and family. The endless rain brought by Alberto that left us trapped on the boat didn’t help either. And we suddenly had a mold problem. All the rain and humidity of the past few weeks triggered a full blown mold bloom on every wooden surface inside Sanitas. Since it smelled a bit funny and drove our allergies crazy, the first couple of days in Boot Key Harbor were spent moving every thing we owned from one part of the boat to another, and dousing all wooden surfaces with vinegar and hydrogen peroxide. Fun!

We also watched on social media as all of our friends back In Colorado celebrated Memorial Day at the Bolder Boulder 10k without us, and as my fellow Skirt Sports ambassadors had a wonderful and inspiring time at the annual retreat. So we consoled ourselves… with food! We’d devolved into eating cold soup right out of the can on our Gulf Stream crossing. Plus, after the cost of groceries and eating out in The Bahamas, Florida seemed dirt cheap. And varied! So we made good use of the free cruiser bikes at the marina to make long, luxurious shopping trips to Publix, hit the early bird steakhouse special, the Mexican restaurant, and several visits to the Overseas Pub.

Suddenly… everything changed. The storm passed and the sun came out, and all of the friends we met during the last cruising season started passing through Boot Key Harbor on their way back to wherever they planned to spend hurricane season! Suddenly, our social calendar was full. And we had more excuses to eat out. We spent one fun evening with Todd and Celia of SV Eileen, sharing pizza, seared tuna, and a bottle of wine in the cockpit at sunset. We met Pat and Melana of Tapati for happy hour at Keys Fisheries – the same place we sat and discussed our plans for the cruising season back in February. We met Robert and Rhonda of Eagle Too for the first time since the Georgetown Regatta. And we helped Colin and Dawn Marie of Wavelength prepare for their summer season in Cuba and Guatemala; trading currency, guidebooks, music, movies, and gluten free food back and forth between our boats. Pretty amazing when you think about it that we knew no one when we bought a boat and moved to Florida in the fall of 2017, and here we were less than a year later finding so many friends in port! I guess that’s the proof of a successful cruising season, right?

Operation Homeward Bound (Part2) – The Gulf Stream

Here’s a link to Part 1: Starting our sail from Nassau in The Bahamas back to Florida.

Two days into our journey from Nassau back to the States, we were once again prepping to cross the Gulf Stream. I complained to Capt. Mike that I couldn’t find any information on the internet about crossing the Gulf Stream in this East to West direction. He said “That’s because you’ve already crossed it once, so you know how!” I guess that’s true. But I’m a planner, and I want details, charts, pictures, more details! We were complicating things a bit by attempting to make it to Boot Key Harbor in Marathon in the Florida Keys before Subtropical Storm Alberto hit. So we’d be fighting against the northward flow of the Gulf Stream rather than benefitting from its power and speed. So when in doubt, I turn to my favorite blog The Boat Galley, and learned from Carolyn’s approach of researching all of the cuts through the Florida reef, aiming for the southernmost cut until the Stream pushed us north of that destination, then adjusting for the next cut north, etc. Our realistic goal was to enter the reef at the northern end of Key Largo right at sunset.

The Boat Galley

Day #3: 68.9 miles, 12.5 hours

After a horrible night’s sleep at South Riding Rock, we raised anchor at first light. The uncomfortable anchorage would hopefully be worth it, because it allowed us to start our westbound crossing 30 miles south of Bimini. Our motto for the day was “Get our southing in early” before the power of the Gulf Stream pushed us north. Winds were extremely light all day so we motored to ensure we’d reach the coast before dark. Good thing the days are getting longer!

We started off heading southwest at a COG (course over ground) of 260 degrees in less than 10 knots of wind. Capt. Mike created a table to track our course, distance covered, and speed each hour so that we could see our progress. We compared to our GPS data on the chart plotter for a visual indicator of when the Gulf Stream current started pushing us sideways and slowing our southbound progress. Each time that our COG varied significantly from the heading we had set in the auto pilot, we knew that the Gulf Stream was having more effect on Sanitas’ forward progress than our Yanmar engine was, and we needed to point ourselves a few degrees further north. The bonus benefit of the table was that it kept Capt. Mike entertained with data gathering and math on an otherwise long and uneventful day.

Our navigation and course planning was spot on! But it was still a ridiculously long day, especially on top of the previous two, and we were completely spent by the time we spotted the coast of Key Largo. We slipped inside the Florida Reef (the third largest barrier reef in the world!) right at sunset, and dropped the hook about a half a mile off an uninhabited shore – basically as close to the middle of nowhere as you can be in the Florida Keys. A couple of cans of soup and a small celebratory glass of wine, and we were asleep before 9:00 pm.

Back in the United States after three and a half months in The Bahamas!

Looking at our course on the chart plotter, we really did manage to cross the Gulf Stream using the classic S-Curve pattern. I guess we knew what we were doing all along!

Day #4: 66 miles, 11.5 hours – Boot Key Harbor, Marathon

The last day of our journey home was supposed to be uneventful, if a little bit annoying. Something along the lines of, “I haven’t touched land for 4 days, and Florida is right over there, but we have to wait another 12 hours to touch it” kind of annoying. But it ended up being the most challenging day of our crossing.

Our goal was to make it safely to a mooring ball in Boot Key Harbor where we could wait out the high winds of Sub Tropical Storm Alberto. But the leading edge of the storm brought band after band of squalls with it. So even though we were traveling inside the Florida Reef and within sight of the Keys, we spent another sunrise to sunset day reacting to storms and going from motoring along with no wind to suddenly dealing with 30+ knots of wind. On the positive side, we got lots of practice reefing the main!

By the fourth mini storm of the day, Capt. Mike had the helm, and he sent me below to stay out of the cold driving rain. I sat at the bottom of the companionway, watching him like a hawk to make sure he wasn’t swept overboard. And shouting up every few minutes, “Are you ok? Do you need anything?”

We finally made it to Boot Key Harbor in Marathon just about half an hour after the marina closed for the night. Since we couldn’t reach anyone in the office to ask for a mooring ball, we took matters into our own hands! The last time we’d stayed in Boot Key before The Bahamas, we had moored on ball Romeo 5. We knew the way there, and knew the water was deep enough, so we just helped ourselves to the same ball four months later and settled in.

After four days we were finally home!