Our First Overnight Passage

When you find a break in the winter weather, you just gotta take it! So, after hiding from 35 knot winds for four days at Factory Bay on Marco Island, we saw a 24-hour period of calmer winds and seas approaching. If we missed that weather window, we’d be staying on the island for another week. Key West was calling, so we decided to go for it!

The trip from Marco Island to Key West is about 93 Miles. To put it in perspective, that’s almost the same distance as St Petersburg to Marco Island. Sanitas averages about 5 knots, so we planned for an 18 hour trip. Do the math…. we’ve only got about 11 hours of daylight, so one end or the other will be sailing in the dark. We decided it is better to start the trip in the dark, leaving a harbor we know very well, and then arrive in the daylight, at a new harbor and a new anchorage so we have plenty of daylight to help with the tricky parts.

So we checked out of Rose Marina at noon, anchored in the harbor, and rested up for our big night adventure. Around 8pm, in full darkness, we were sitting below decks at the salon table looking at charts and weather forecasts, prepping for a midnight departure. When Mike looked up through the companionway and saw A BOAT about to run us over! Well, maybe not quite that dramatic, but it was definitely the bow of another sailing ship drifting into the stern of ours at a slow, but still alarming pace. I think Mike levitated from the couch to the cockpit without touching the floor or the stairs, and literally pushed the other boat away from Sanitas to avoid damage. Apparently the other boat’s anchor wasn’t well set, and she dragged and drifted with the current. We left her captain to sort out his anchor issues, but with hearts pounding and adrenaline rushing, we couldn’t get any more rest, so we decided to simply GO!

From 9pm to about 4am, we still had 15-20 knot winds on the nose and 3-4 foot seas with high frequency waves coming through every three seconds. That made for a bumpy, splashy sail and a good chance to learn how Sanitas handles in those conditions. All the sailing books say that sailing up wind is “uncomfortable” for the crew, and I now understand what that means. I didn’t really sleep on my first rest shift – just bounced around in the V-berth and kept calling up to Mike, “is everything ok?” whenever I heard a new sound. We each took turns being on watch, looking for crab pots, other boats, or changes in the weather. But our autopilot did great, and we really didn’t have any problems. We motored quite a lot, because with the direction of the wind and waves, we were only moving forward at about 1.5 knots without the motor and at that rate it would takes us days to make it to Key West!

On my watch shift at 4 in the morning, I realized that the wind had died down to almost nothing, and the seas had calmed as well – just as the weather forecasts predicted. Pretty cool to see those forecasts come true. I had an almost full moon, and a dolphin leaping beside Sanitas at sunrise. I also had lots of small rain storms, and cold temps to deal with on watch. But Capt Mike pulled the longest shifts and did an excellent job of keeping Sanitas on track and arriving at Key West right about 4:00 pm as expected. Drew and Sharon and Chris and Stan cheered our arrival at the anchorage and helped us get settled in.

We really enjoyed our stay on Key West. The architecture and gardens in the historic district are beautiful, the people watching is fantastic, and all the restaurants have half price seafood at happy hour! We took the opportunity to be tourists for a few days, even meeting up with Anne and Tony again for a delicious dinner at Hogfish Grill on Stock Island. We celebrated to arrival of Bob and Laura from St Pete with a night out on the town at Capt Tony’s and Irish Kevin’s. And then we celebrated the arrival of Pat and Melana. Everyone winds up in Key West! And yes, I can really rock the cowbell. I’ve finally found my musical talent!

We don’t understand electrical stuff

The trip from St Petersburg to Key West was intended to be our shake down trip. There’s a West Marine in Key West, and a K Mart and plenty of hardware stores to buy anything we’ve forgotten or broken. We’ve used this trip to wrestle with our electrical systems. Day after day, we’ve had the cushions pulled up, the batteries exposed, and the voltmeter out. Mike has little drawings of circuits all over his legal pad. We don’t really understand how our 12 volt system is wired, what all the switches mean, and how it all works. They say that admitting you have a problem is the first step toward solving it.

We observed that the starter battery hasn’t been starting our motor. When we turn our Perco switch to 1 which we think means that we are using our starting battery instead of our house battery banks, the motor doesn’t turn over at all. We’ve been working around that problem by using our house batteries to start the motor, but that’s not a good long term solution. So in Marco Island, we measured the current at the starter battery while turning the key in the ignition, and learned that we don’t have enough CCAs or cold cranking amps to start the engine. So we had to plunk down some money for a new 70 pound battery.

We also found that running the engine isn’t charging our house batteries the way it is supposed to. In fact, after running the motor for hours on end during our Key West crossing, we were depleting the batteries instead of charging them. I spent one night shirt with the motor and generator running at the same time! Yuck! On the positive side, our solar panels work great, and we have figured out how to interpret the single blinking led light on each controller to confirm that each panel is connected correctly and charging at a high current or low current capacity.

We reached out to Jock, Sanitas’ previous owner, and he sent us a wonderful detailed email about the electrical systems. But we still weren’t smart enough to understand it! Finally, after another day of messy chaos in the boat and reading smelly old users guides and manuals, Mike got a win. He deciphered the flood of error codes transmitted by the alternator regulator to find that it thinks our house batteries are 96 degrees Celsius- almost at the boiling point of water. Since they are clearly not that hot (we can put our hands on them and touch them) there must be a faulty temperature sensor someplace in the system. It is telling the alternator not to put out any charge for our own safety. Well we showed that stupid piece of metal! We disconnected the temperature sensor! Ha! From that point on, the alternator charges the batteries at a rate of 43 amps. Yee haw! Mike did a happy dance in the cockpit to celebrate.

Now with a working alternator, new starting battery, and fully functioning solar (plus that little Honda generator) we should have plenty of electricity for our needs. Mostly lights, navigation systems, and of course the iPad I am using right this minute!

The Rest of the Way to Marco Island

After our long day of bridges, our next stop was just off the coast of Gasparilla Island. Not much of a stop, just a place to anchor after a long day and to get some well deserved rest. Then a short hop to Punta Rosa, within sight of the bridge connecting Sanibel Island to Ft Meyers. This was an extra fun stop, because Tom and Jeanne Lounsbury hopped in their bother-in-law’s fishing boat and came out to visit Sanitas on the hook!

They were very good sports, attempting a cockpit picnic in the slightly unpleasant drizzle. Lots of fun to congratulate them on their recent retirement, and to hear about their current east coast road tip, and even more exciting plans for a cross country RV extravaganza! Thanks to Don for zipping us over to Ft Meyers Beach for a delicious lunch at Matanzas Inn Marina… this same trip by sailboat the next morning would take us almost 2 hours! I definitely need to get used to slow travel. Also thanks for their ability to find Sanitas again to bring us home safely in the crazy fog!

We finally slipped “outside” and left the GIIW for the relative wild of the Gulf of Mexico. Sanitas was happy to finally cut off the motor and actually sail! After this small taste of freedom, we arrived at Marco Island and found ourselves more or less trapped in the Rose Marina by high winds and seas for the next four days. Foiled again!

We had more visitors to entertain us, and to break up the stay. Mike’s Uncle Brad and Aunt Marcia drove all the way over from West Palm Beach and we exchanged travel stories of their Italy adventures and new retirement lifestyle. They brought us the sweetest gift, a silver wine bottle opener with Sanitas’ name engraved on it!

We had the wonderful surprise of meeting Mike’s mom’s friend’s husband Casey (did you catch all that?) on Marco Island. Casey and Dodie have been splitting their time between western New York and Marco Island for 30 years, and own a lovely home on the island. Casey was gracious enough to take us out to dinner, listen to our excited stores, help chauffeur us to some critical boat repair errands (more on that later…) and even leant us a car for a day so that we could explore more of the island than our own two feet could cover. So far, the best part of this adventure is meeting such wonderful people!

Tool of the Day …. Teak Oil

I made the mistake of searching the internet for the proper way to maintain teak wood on a boat. As soon as I found one website that said “clean the wood with Murphy’s Oil Soap and the use teak oil” I found another web site that stated “Why would anyone use oil on an already oily wood? You need to varnish your wood to preserve it.” Sigh.

I choose to stick to the cheapest and easiest way to maintain the wood. Even saying that, with the amount of teak in the interior of our boat, it still took four days to treat it all. I think it looks really good, what do you think?