Tuesday, February 26, 2013


I'm home in Georgia thanks to an amazing rescue by Karen.  Here are the headlines:

Too inclement, too cold, too early, too long...
What was I thinking?  Well, every time I talked to my friend Jim in Tarpon Springs around this time of year, he would report 70's and 80's.  Somehow I got the impression that central to south Florida was a good place to escape winter. Well, if you live there, it's a site better than the north, for sure.  However, when you are confined to the cabin of a small sailboat, it's a whole new ballgame.

Up front I want to say, especially to those that remember the fiasco of my last attempt to sail the coast of Florida: Belle came through with flying colors!  She did not leak.  She sailed well and sat well at anchor. The charging system worked amazingly well. All systems were a go. On the other hand, the captain didn't pass muster.  There were just too many storms and cold weather systems coming down the peninsula.  When your only escape is the great out of doors, a lot of bad weather really serves as a downer.  You begin to ask yourself, "am I having fun yet?"

I must also admit that I am a little more of a home body in my "dotage." I seem to need a little more routine and predictability in my life than I once did.  Having company and social interaction seems to have become more important to me than I was aware.  And shall we say, there are a lot of bumps bruises, cuts and aches that get worse aboard a boat as one gets older.

Here's my conclusion.  I plan in the future to pick my weather more carefully.  I plan to sail an area with the truck and trailer available to make my escape.  I plan to make my trips less than a month.  And I plan to spend most of my sailing time in the future with company.  That would be Karen who is my partner.

So, I did have fun, especially at Cedar Key.  In a way, however, I feel like I failed my first test.  Yet I can also look at it as a shakedown cruise, which is what I should have planned on all along.  So two weeks is what it was.  I learned my lesson and I'm moving on.

I hope my readers will indulge me in understanding the nature of the journey.  I think this journal of my experiences could have been fun to write and to read.  I'm sorry I didn't deliver.   Again, thanks for indulgence in what can only be construed as live reporting.  What happens, happens.  Farewell for now. Be safe, have fun and plan on more sometime in the future.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

I'm now anchored at the Florida Power Plant in Tarpon Springs.  Despite  how it sounds, the setting is quite idyllic, especially at night, after Anclote Park closes and the ramp ceases to do its brisk business.

On Tuesday morning a cold northerly breeze was blowing shaking up the anchorage and making the prospects of another rocky night at anchor unappealing to say the least.

 Cedar Key had been downright cold over the weekend. Having been at Cedar Key over a weekend.  I was more than ready to move on.  My first thought was to take a more protected spot in the bight of Atsena Otie. But as I motored over that way I impulsively steered out the inlet and set off for Crystal River.  The trip is about twenty-three miles if you count the inlets.

I finally made anchorage in a very quiet anchorage, way up Crystal river in front of a place called Crackers.  There I settled in and made my way by dinghy to sample the fare.  It was good bar food washed down by a cold one.

In the morning, I had planed to be up early and fuel up at 7 am. Unfortunately an unseen bar had other plans.  It was low tide, thankfully.  By 9:30 I had finally muscled 5000 lbs of Belle of the bar and by 10 I was ready to head down the river.  A cold north wind offered good passage south.

After I snapped this surfing speed we topped 8.8 knots running wing on wing motor sailing.  I hated to motor but with 53 sea miles to go, I wanted to have the hook down at south Anclote Key as soon as possible.  I made good speed and did a precision "instrument approach" getting the anchor down exactly where I wanted it in complete darkness.  Even though a fairly strong breeze rocked Belle, I slept quite soundly.
 Here's Belle at anchor near the Power Plant.
After lunch with my friend Jim of Marine Concepts, Sailboats, I got the new inflatable kayak out and went for a paddle.  This is a big boat, suitable for two paddlers and gear.  It is comfortable and relatively easy to paddle.  I think it will make a nice addition the Belles "garage."
I share the anchorage with 4 other boats.  So I chose to anchor Bahamian style with two anchors holding Belle to a tight rotating angle.

  I am enjoying the native bird species.  I know the locals laugh at me for taking their pictures.  To me, though, they are exotic and add a tropical flavor to the scenery.

There are two osprey nests close enough for me to appreciate the parental presence constantly near the nest.

I'll be here over the weekend as I get my dinghy repaired and sort out a cabling problem between the Garmin GPS Mapping unit and the autopilot.  I also need a few supplies.

Mostly, I am happy with the warm weather. It's supposed to be 82 degrees tomorrow!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Worth the effort!

Tonight is one of those nights that makes all the hard work of adventure sailing worthwhile.  I took several pictures of the Sunset and had a difficult time deciding which was best.  I know this, having a good camera makes a difference.  This is the PowerShot SX10 which is a much better camera than the one I usually use.
I tried ever so hard to catch the Black Skimmers en mass doing what they do best: skimming just above the water at sunset on a calm night.
Here's what they look like.
I sit quietly in my ratchet-back chair enjoying the warm evening and sipping a fine glass of Captain Morgan Spice Rum.  Cheers from aboard S/V Belle, near the dock at Cedar, Key Florida

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A little Cedar Key History

Since I am land bound until Monday, I decided to take a little tour of the city.  It's not that I haven't done it many times before.  I just wanted to revisit the Cedar Key Historical Society Museum which conveniently is open to today, taking a moment to reacquaint my self with the rich history that is belied by simplicity of this small fishing village.

Additionally, I took a walking tour of the southeast side of town which richly rewards a little walking effort with architecturally interesting and beautiful specimens of the old mansions of the past.
Cedar Key history of course goes way back as evidenced by shell middens of the Timucuans dating as far back as 500 BC.  Very little useful material is available to stitch together much of a story until around the time of the first Seminal War which occurred in  1818.

The name to remember around Cedar Key is David Levy Yulee, a wealthy lawyer, entrepreneur and senator who was instrumental in the building of the Jacksonville to Cedar Key Railway.  As luck would have it, the fateful line was finished in 1861. The war between the states put a stop to economic progress in the town on Way Key (current Cedar Key) and Depot Key ( now known as Atesena Otie).  I wont bore you with all the details, but Cedar Key was a major center for shipping and commerce to points in Cuba, the Caribbean and New Orleans.  Goods were trans-shipped on Levy-Yulee's railway and moved aboard ships to distant water destinations.Cedar Key enjoyed a boom between 1865 and 1885. But lost out on the transportation race to Tampa Bay which got its own railroad and boasted a truly world class harbor facility.

Cedar Key was also the home of a thriving cedar lumber milling and slate manufacturing for the pencil industry. So successful was the effort that there are only a few small specimens left to show for the great cedar forests along this area of the Gulf

As I said, the Civil War interfered mightily with the goings on at Cedar and Depot Keys as the Union army blockaded the keys and confiscated and destroyed the salt making industry. They set of a base at Sea Horse Key which was the nexus of their harassing and pillaging of this area of the Gulf.  At the end of the war, David Yulee spent some time in prison until he was released in 1866. The railroad once again became operational after Mr. Yulee's release from prison.

Of course fishermen of Cedar Key added a rich history of sponge diving, net fishing and oystering.
Cedar Key's population peaked at 1887 in 1885.  In 1890's the population of Cedar Key slowly dwindled due to declining timber and fishing resources.

The great hurricane and storm surge of 1896 destroyed the Faber and Suwannee Lumber Mills of Atsena Otie and heavily damaged the Cedar Keys. The owners chose not to rebuild.
Cedar Key had a brief brush with the manufacturing industries (no pun intended) with the establishment of Standard Manufacturing Company. Their business was manufacturing fiber and a line of Donex brushes.  These fine brushes were made of the widely available Sabel Palm which is the state tree. Fiber was sold to brush companies all over the US, Canada Britain and Australia. 

I often ponder the realities of life in the 1880's on Atsena Otie as I walk its sun-dappled trails through the thick growth which obscures the buildings and cityscape of those far off years.  The small cemetery on the southwest side of the island is intimate and serene with dates posted from those years

Today, Cedar Key is a quaint fishing village catering to the professional and sport fishing industry.  In recent years, a fairly large and prosperous aquaculture industry was been gaining popularity with nearly 300 leased oyster beds in the close vicinity.

On a more cultural note, Cedar Key is home to a thriving artist community.  Works of Gerald Lindstrom, Jolie Davis, Willie Smith, Mike Segel, to name only a few are to be found in three galleries along Second Street in Cedar Key.  These galleries include: Island Arts Gallery, Cedar Keyhole Artist Co-op and there's even one called Barefoot Artists.

The Cedar Key Historical Society Museum

A familiar site on the Cedar Key waterscape: the honeymoon cottage, or what's left of it. The No-Name storm of 1993 mostly did it in.

In summary: Cedar Key is in a way, but a shadow if it's former self. At 800 population it is a fragile microcosm, an eclectic mix of citizens. At its backbone, are  the workers that keep it going.  They live in the scrub of the mainland for the most part.  There is a large component of wealthy retires. There also is a strong and thriving artist community.   The tourist often consist of  art gallery and shop browsing women and families, juxtaposed with brash sport fishermen types. .  The commercial element consists of various business ventures, aquaculture ventures and touristy shops.  The commercial fishermen are hanging on by a thread mostly due to the 1994 Florida law banning gill netting.

All in all, Cedar Key is a very Eco-friendly village, where conservation of water and energy is practiced scrupulously.  People here are friendly enough, but are not ones to intrude into your affairs.
And most if all, every year on the first weekend in may, we have the Small Boat Meet at Cedar Key. That's what keeps me coming back.  Unfortunately, I probably won't make it this year (20th).  I am heading south on the adventure of a lifetime.

I've been coming to Cedar Key for twenty years now, and I feel like I am just getting to know it.  And to know it is to love it.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Good morning from Cedar Key, Florida.  I am luxuriating in the warmth of the day, ever mindful that Saturday, it could snow in CK.  The lows both Saturday and Sunday have been revised to 30 deg. F.  That is bone chilling especially with the 30 knot winds that will bring in the cold front.  I had a nice little Buddy Heater that runs on propane and darned, if I didn't elect not to bring it. What was I thinking?  Florida I guess.  Fact is, northers come down the peninsula pretty regularly at this time of the year.  It pays to be prepare.

One really cool thing is watching the charger.  With the bright sun I have seen up to 12.3 amps with 8-10 being average.  That should bring the battery bank up to full by the end of the day.  Two days of clouds really ate into the daily amp-hours budget, but I never ran below 12.5 volts so I'm guessing about 75 percent charge at the worst.
Here the charge monitor shows 12.1 amps.

Outside I hear the frequent "blow" of the dolphins hunting all around the boat.  Getting there picture of course, is a matter of rare chance. I don't concern myself with that too much.

Last night, I turned in about 8:30.  The cabin temperature was dropping at an alarming rate so I put on an upper and lower fleece (Polartec) suit and was off by 9 PM.  It really was a peaceful night with almost no rocking and knocking.  Saturday night will probably net me no sleep at all with that 30 knots with gusts to 40 disturbing the anchorage with large rollers and a vicious snap action as the boat wanders back and forth.

I'll have to be honest. I made a mad dash for "Eat at Pat's" the local greasy spoon to warm up this morning.  I'm trying to limit my forays into fast food.  But sometimes I just can't resist.

And I am going to be here a while.  I have to wait for the delivery of the Sea Eagle 380 on Monday.  It looks like the first weather window will be Wednesday.  I think Chrystal River at 20 nautical miles is a reasonable goal, what with the short winter days.  We'll have to check the weather then for the final run into Anclote Key at Tarpon Springs.  I got a months premium subscription to Sail Flow. This program will give you the hour by hour nitty gritty on every feature of the forecast for days to come.  That's how I make my decisions aboard Belle.  I hope that the change in latitude will bring a little more warmth.  I could use it!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Stuck in Cedar Key, I could do worse!

Greetings from a very soggy and chill
Cedar Key, Florida.  I am holed up in Belle waiting for better weather.  This is the lot of a full time cruiser.  Well anybody in actuality. Sometimes you can pick your weather for a short jaunt. But when your out there full time,  Well, you take what comes and try to remember why cold mornings sponging off with cold water is better than a warm bed at home and a nice warm shower in the morning.  It's my little kingdom like it or not.  I take the good with the bad.

As for transportation, you will remember that I had a mishap with a sharp oyster bed on Tuesday.  Well, I did my best to effect a clean and strong repair--to no avail.  The pressure when inflated, even after waiting twenty-four  hours was just too much and she leaked profusely almost immediately on inflation.
It's always good to have alternate transportation in your back pocket. I knew there was a reason I quipped, "I can't have forgotten anything.  The house is empty."  So out of the port locker of the vee-birth comes my plan "B."  Here is my little 6 foot Mercury dinghy.  I planed to use her with the 2.5 HP Nissan short shaft outboard.  I can't bring myself to get involved with a stinky motor right now so the oars are doing just fine, thank you.  I still need a paddling vehicle because so much of my trip involves exploring via kayak.  So I have a new SeaEagle 380.  It will arrive on Monday and hopefully I will be able to leave Tuesday.  I am getting to be a regular around Cedar Key.  If it weren't so cool and wet, I could get used to it.  The forgotten sail covers arrived today.  Thank you Karen for that.
 So what does a marooned sailor do in his spare time.  Well, today I washed clothes at the conveniently located laundromat located right down town.  I ate lunch at the Pickled Pelican.  Now I am updating the blog and cleaning up the boat.  There's always the library when I finish.
So what do I think about the oyster incident:?  I put the boat at risk by paddling that area especially on a falling tide.  I know how to avoid that in the future.  Believe me, I will.
Tonight I hope to make contact with a ham friend on 40 meters, side-band. The battery is at 12.6 volts so I need to conserve.  Tomorrow, with sun, I should be able to completely recharge.   

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Last night was not particularly good, for several reasons. I chose to go on an extended paddle circumnavigating Cedar Key.  This trip proved to be much longer than I had anticipated featuring a muscle shredding paddle against winds of fifteen miles per hours and a contrary ebb tide of 2-3 miles per hour in some places.  It also featured a catastrophic encounter with the shallows laced with a razor sharp oyster bed.  For a moment there I thought I had lost control of my bodily functions as a loud burbling sound issued from below.  Fear not though, it was only the air escaping from the floor of my Kayak!  Now with my butt hanging down the clearance in the shallows was even worse and the drag through the water...well it was enormous. You can follow my three hour trip via my SPOT share page.  I tried to beacon enough to show the perimeter.  Towards the last, though it was pure survival.
The winds of course portended an oncoming cold front.  I had anticipated an stop at the Big Deck for a refreshing Draft Fosters, but by now dark was approaching and I was anxious to test my ability to scale the side of the boat with such wasted muscle strength.
Belle's butt was a happy site and I quickly secured the partially flaccid kayak and clambered up over the bull-works with amazing alacrity.  It was do or die if you please.
Back to the paddle itself.  I started on the north end of Cedar Key, the island, entering a slough that all the work boats use to make port.  I had timed my paddle for high tide, around thee PM.  So far so good.  Not being sure of the exact route, I came upon the obvious answer that the water knew the way out: just follow the current.  And so it was, that I found myself surprisingly adept at figuring it all out.  As rounded the eastern extreme I ran headlong into a 20 knot wind accompanied by 2 foot short chop and Gulf rollers.  It was somewhere along the east shore that I made that fateful encounter with the sharp and shallow oyster bed which lead to a "sinking feeling."  Resolutely, I kept at the paddling making no more than two miles an hour, hoping against hope that the back slough entrance behind the Cedar Key Airport would manifest itself.  Shallow water with sharp oysters became my constant companion, but so far, no more slashes.

At last I found myself tracing my convoluted path through the mangroves and saw grass.  Paddling effort had to be redoubled to fight the fierce currents in the narrows. I hugged the side as best I could to avoid the worst of the current.
Every firm piece of ground in the buyous taken with housing for the wealthy.  I must say in twenty years of coming to Cedar Key, I have really never seen any activities around these homes.  Cars are parked in the driveways but none are enjoying the views.  Waiting to die?
This is what I paddle for: encounters with nature and wildlife where they live.  
So I finally made my way under the bridge and caught site of the water tower.  Two more supreme struggles await me as I fight the full force of the wind with a sunken bottom.  I finally make my way slowly past the town dock and catch site of my home sweet home.
As I bellied over the coaming and slithered into my cabin, I was thankful to take a nip of the old Jack, single barrel.  The winds waxed and waned around 15 to 20 knots all night leaving me shaken, not stirred. Lousy sleeping night for sure, but Belle stayed cozy and safe.  
The sun has finally come out this morning and the charge indicator is showing 10 amps.  You gotta love those solar panels.  
Oh, by-the-way, I talked to my friend Paul Kelly, W4KLY on 40 meters last night.  Seems the Buddistick antenna is doing a fine job.
 Here's a picture of the slash in the bottom of the kayak.  Pretty bad for sure.  Thanks to Karen's reminder, I have a repair kit and it is all fixed.  After drying for twenty-four hours I can re-inflate it and go pick up the package of sail covers that Karen sent.  Hopefully, tomorrow is the day.  I will do laundry and prepare to head down the coast to the Withlacoochee river. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

We finally made it to Millers Marina in Suwannee. It's fine family run business that always treat's its customers with respect.  The area reminds me of "old" Florida.  It took at least an hour to set up the rig.  This after getting up at 3 am   and driving 6 hours.

Yes, I am afraid that's Captain LardAss filling up at the marina fuel dock.  I only hope time away from the largess of the home table coupled with constant work aboard Belle, will lead to a reforming of the captain's physique!
Karen was invaluable in helping set up Belle. She drove the truck and trailer home through a pelting rain, so deserves kudos for that as well!
 The navigation station showing my progress through the shallow southern channel out of the Suwannee river.
It took only two hours of motoring to make the anchorage at Cedar Key
The setting sun painted the Cedar Key docks with evening shades.

It's a classic Cedar Key sunset. The hook is down.  All is well aboard Belle.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Just a quick note to say, I am leaving Sunday instead of Saturday.  When I filled the water tanks and checked the pump, I found major leaks.  I have fixed the leaks by completely replacing the flex hose. I now have a very neat plumbing job with hard quick connect tubing much as is used in RV.  It really works!
It is done. But, I will be cleaning up and doing final prep tomorrow.  See you on the water!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

I'm thinking about leaving Saturday.  We'll see.  I have the necessary routes in place on the GPS mapping units.  The Garmin 198C is the primary unit for navigation.  The NMEA 0198 sentencing is "talked" to the autopilot, the VHF for DSC location information,  and the EPIRB emergency location beacon. The same data parallels from the Garmin 78sc as full backup for the main unit.  A large stock of AA batteries can run the 78cs for weeks.
Both the netbook and the laptop are loaded with SeaClear II which is connected to a USB GPS  for moving map and also planning purposes.
I will be posting SPOT location messages on my SPOT share page starting Sunday.  You can access the share page HERE

I realized that the tiller handle had serious varnish deterioration.  So I refinish it with three coats of Sikkens Cetol 
The louvered cabin doors also needed refinishing.  Both of these jobs were done yesterday.  Belle has been pressured washed.  The masts will be lowered and secured tomorrow.  Final packing of clothes and perishable fruits and vegetables will be finished tomorrow.

 A 25 watt VHF amplifier was installed and connected between the Kenwood TH-D72A handheld with built in APRS TNC and the 2 meter/440 MHz antenna. This will provide VHF APRS beaconing of my location while near land.  Offshore, the Yeasu FT-857D HF radio will provide beaconing on the 30 meter band via the TinyTrak 4 GPS position encoder.This combination provides a signal which can reach stations across the US.  Position data is available on the website under my call sign (WB4FGF).
The solar charge management unit continues to show  good voltages and ongoing charge activity.  The house shore-power charger is hooked up to maintain at night and on cloudy days.  It looks like I will be in good shape energy-wise on this trip
When I think of holing up for wet cold days like today, I am thankful for my well stocked library.  My Kindle reader is also stocked with 35 books to read and is currently on charge in its place on the same shelf.

So we shall see if all comes together to leave 4 am Saturday morning.  If not, no particular loss. I can always leave next weekend.  Weekends are the only choice because Karen is riding with me to drive the truck and trailer back.  She has to work.
P.S. We decided tonight:  it's a go.  We're leaving around 3am Saturday.  Friday, the masts come down, the clothes, perishables and computers go in---we're off!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Last night we had the local members of SeeYouThere club over.  Jeff (founder) Diana, Genise and Bernard, I had such a good time, I forgot to take out the camera and record the festivities. Andrea, we missed you. Sorry you couldn't make it!  The purpose of our gathering (and generally, not much excuse for celebration is needed) was to wish me well on my trip down the coast of Florida. Jeff came armed with a nice boat-warming gift: a really neat flashlight. We had burgers, salad and various deserts.  Karen's efforts were much appreciated!

Since last night, I have added four mesh bags to the cabin doghouse sides.  These are here to stuff light items like warm underwear, sleeping clothes, mosquito nets, etc.

I added a holder for the USB puck GPS which plugs into the 7 port powered I/O USB multiport.  All USB devices can be plugged in here leaving one cord to go to the net-book.  The device is powered by 12 volts so no draw is placed on the net-book supply
To clarify a question by Genise: This is the composting head.  The blocking baffle DOES pull out of the way for "business."  Then closes securely.  The head is ventilated by a low-power fan. Notice some supply holes were drilled on the opposite side to provide ventilation.  The fan eliminates odors and provides oxygen to the composting process.  These babies retail for $1800.  Mine cost $50 to make and works just as well.
Belle's solar panels are soaking up the rays and keeping a good charge on the battery bank.