Sunday, December 30, 2007

Marathon--tale of 2 crossings

Cruising in Marathon is dominated by two kinds of crossings.

The first kind is very dangerous. It is the crossing of the Overseas Highway (US 1), a full on 4 lane freeway. The harbor is on the Atlantic side. Mercifully so is the Publix grocery store, the library, 3 liquor stores, Home Depot and West Marine. But on the Gulf side is Stuffed Pig (like Price's Chef), Overseas Lounge (like Knuckle Heads only worse), Aoinettt's (surf and turf), Chevron (propane), and the sushi place (average).The nearest traffic light is 1/2 mile away so running for it is the best option. During the day traffic is heavy as this is the only access to Key West and all of the Keys. In the day light a certain nimbleness and timing is important. At night the targets are fewer, well lighted, but almost certainly intoxicated as are you--a very dicey situation.

Crossing the Gulf Steam to the Bahamas is a subject of constant concern in Marathon. The danger is much less than crossing the Overseas Highway, but the discomfort is infinitely greater. All of the concern is about the 'weather window' what ever that is!! Any north wind is completely out of the question although I doubt that the 0-5 knots N. winds of Christmas Day could hurt anybody. Eventually we hit upon a forecast of 10-15 E to SE dropping to 5-10. We should have left Wed., but were not ready until Thursday 12-28-07. We had a weather keyhole, not a window.

My game plan was three fold: first was a reach SE to cross the reef and access the Gulf Stream, then use the current to sling shot us to the NE, finally there would be a close reach in the eastern straits of Florida using the S. flowing counter current as a 'current wind.' Only the last part worked out.

The first stage was foiled by motor problems. There were 3 emergery trips into the lazerette the address concerns. One was a plugged up strainer. Twice the fuel filter had to be changed. We must have gotten into some bad fuel. Actually I suspect we got some "good" fuel in Florida with biocide added. My long standing practice is to ignore bacteria in the fuel. They build up a thick biofilm on the lining of the fuel tank that is like a rind and never causes a problem--even during the violent shaking of our storm. The small amount of biocide has killed the bacteria and now the biofilm is dissolving. I used 4 of my 5 filters and I suspect that this will be a problem for months to come.

By the time we finally got into the Gulf Stream it was just bashing with the motor into a SE headwind. The compass heading was 115, but the course made good only 75. It was a miserable slog with lumpy seas and spray for at least 18 hours. But by noon Friday 12-29-07 things were looking up enough to bring out a few smiles.

We entered the Banks at Riding Rocks. These are the southern entrance onto the Bahamas Banks and are absolutely deserted. I doubt that the light even works. By this time it was so late that we motored all the way across the Banks. This is not as dangerous as it sounds if you stick to well described routes. We cleared the North West channel light at dawn. After a stiff motor sail into head winds we docked at Chub Key exhausted at 10:45 am

Christmas in Marathon

What did you do for Christmas? Fair enough question for two 'Xmas renegades.'

We spent a quiet afternoon Christmas Eve on the boat. Then a few drinks at the Overseas Lounge and a late dinner at Antoinette's. We did not link up with other cruiser for a pot luck on Christmas day. That is the time honored way of the harbor but just did not happen this time.

Christmas morning on the White Pepper Jan made a wonderful holiday breakfast. I got to eat bacon! Then we exchanged gifts. Santa left the gifts under a small tree on the deck. There should be a pic here somewhere. I got a speedo, Jan got a Nintendo Lite, Phillip got a engraved 'Zubanel' yacht bag thanks to South Texas Canvas (again). He gave us a much needed battery charger--more on that later. Mavic Luby gave Jan lotions from Victoria Secret's. This is a sailor girl's insight as skin care is vital when living on a yacht. We got movies from the kids. Thanks, of course, but I want to tell readers that that I do not have time to read. I may have read 5 pages in this month. Just keeping White Pepper moving forward and in working order is an all encompassing past time. There is no relaxation. Hopefully that will change when we finally arrive at Georgetown.

Then came the real miracle of Christmas. On a 3 burner stove top (oven on the fritz) using propane, Jan served up a Christmas feast of turkey breast, yams, corn on the cob, brussel sprouts (Phillip's idea) and state of the art dressing and cranberry sauce. Dessert was Mary Mitchell's fudge. The wine was Stirling chardonnay. The only thing missing was the extended family. They were missed intensely. Sound asleep an hour after sunset--what a great Chrismas! We hope that yours was equally as satisfying.

We also enjoyed ourselves at the Overseas Bar & Grill as they offered free wireless as long as you were drinking or eating.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Hawke Channel

We're back up and running using the wi-fi in house at the Overseas Bar, Grill, and Package Store in Marathon.

I want to catch up and report on the trip from Key West to Marathon. Off of the Atlantic side of the Keys is the second largest coral reef in the world. It parallels the Keys about 10-12 miles offshore. This forms a wonderfully protected channel--the Hawke channel. It is reliably 25-30 feet deep and waves are rarely over one foot. The problem is crab pots. There are thousands.

On 12-22-07 we motor sailed NE out of Key West. At 1400 we headed into the Niles Channel and proceeded slowly to an anchorage NE of Pye Key. The Garmin chart plotter was crucial en keeping us in the 7 ft. water which was indistinguishable from the 4 foot green water. Down went the new Rocna anchor on the new 5/16th chain on the just installed bow roller with the new rope/chain snubber. Remarkably it all worked perfectly. It came up without a hitch in the morning.

Then off to Marathon. We hit the entrance on nose and went thru bascule bridge (see picture on previous post). After running aground twice we picked up a mooring in the huge mooring field of Boot Key Harbor.

Marathon is a blast. We walk to the Publix grocery store and Home Depot. West Marine is a dingy ride away. Our friends Bill and Pam on Wave Dancer and Lynn and Susan on Susan II came in today 12-26-07.

The weather has been wonderful. We could probably cross the Gulf Stream at any time but there is a southerly flow predicted for Friday 12-28-07. If that prediction holds up we will head out for South Riding Rock, Bahamas, cross onto the Great Banks dawn 12-29-07, anchor on the Banks that night, and clear in at Chub Key 12-30-07.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Fun in Marathon Christmas Eve 2007

Comments--how to?

White Pepper is back online in Marathon Harbor on Christmas Eve. The weather is absolutely gorgeous. Fair, warm, dry, gentle breeze--amazing. The taxi driver says it's like this all the time. The only problem is that the we-fi is spotty. I was able to pirate free service from KR1 last night but his signal is too low now. I signed up for a paid for service ($10/day), but they are intermittent at best.

We have received several complaints about posting comments. To post a comment click on the tiny entry at the bottom of the post which says "comments." Apparently, I have to review all of the comments at my e-mail address. I will be more diligent about checking it from now on. I did approve 5 comments for the next to last post. Thanks. Keep trying. One major problem seems to be getting an identity for the comment. If you have a g-mail account or know how to enter a URL--no problem with the comment process. I found that pushing the anonymous button lets the comment go through with little hassle. Please sign the comment then so I know who sent it. Also I will somehow have to migrate the e-mail to soon. The address will die. Also frequent visitors are encouraged to use the "feed" option. To forward the blog click on the envelope icon.

What a small world! Just after running aground in the muck of Boot Key Harbor (Marathon) who should be the first boat by but Chuck Miller. Chuck is a friend and well known yachtsman from Corpus Christi. He pushed us off with with 25 horse dingy. Thanks. Then standing in line at West Marine I met Jess Still. Jess is married to Cindy, one of Jan's friends from Corpus Christi.

Peace on earth, happy Christmas to all.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The arrival

Now getting to Florida was becoming a problem. It is all very well to talk about beating to weather in heavy air, but with a deeply reefed cruising genoa and a confused sea state you just can not do it. We could only broad reach Sunday with about 40% of the genoa. The irregular sea state and 20 foot waves overwhelmed the auto pilot so we alternated watches every 2 hours hand steering. It was all very tiring. By Monday we were able to raise the second reef and get closer to the wind which was clocking NE. With set and drift the best heading we could make was 125M. We were headed straight for Cuba. By Monday midnight we were closer to Cuba than Florida. My worst fear was being swept into the Gulf Stream and on past the USA.

We tacked back north and retraced 30 n. miles. The move paid off as the wind clocked to east and by Tuesday dawn the norther had blown itself out. We were sailing slowly to the NE.

By Wed. am we were within the radius of our remaining fuel supply. On went the motor, and it did not stop until we were safely tied up at the Galleon Marina in Key West. There was a bit of a hiccup finding the Galleon in the pitch black. The Garmin was wonderful keeping White Pepper in the deep water during all of the confusion.

We had a 'tired and emotional' moment at midnight on Duval Street. I had the first burger in 18 months. It was devine. We collapsed asleep with no worries for the first time in days.

Our friends, Pam and Bill Carrothers, on Wave Dancer, and our new friends, Lynn and Susan on Susan II, gave us welcoming reception with popcorn, cheese & crackers and rum punches.

We started the long, slow process of recovery by exploring the half weird, half familiar surroundings of Key West.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The trip--simply appalling

The first three days of our crossing were alternating beautiful and difficult. The wind was often abeam as the stalled norther of Wednesday brought in a nice southerly flow. But otherwise the wind was east or southeast which meant beating. As I rocked in my bunk below I was more reminded of my offshore races rather than the beginning of a new life of cruising. We were making progress of about 100 n. miles per day which was acceptable. There were 13 hours of darkness to divide 3 ways. Eventually we settled on watches of 6-9, 9-12, 12-3, 3-5, and 5-7 rotating the days.

The wind dropped steadily from very early Sat. morning until becoming nil about noon 12-16-07. There was a lot of moisture in the air and scattered thunder showers moving about. It was not as if we did not know there was a norther coming. We had picked up a weather forecast on Thursday from a work boat that a 25 knot norther was coming Sat. with 15 foot seas. That was not too bad. I did not have enough diesel to motor to Logger Head Key. We were in the exact middle of the Gulf. I was frustrated by the lack of wind. I actually welcomed seeing those white horses trip across the flat water from the northwest. This was about 4:30 pm. The moisture was blown thousands of feet into the air. As it caught the dying rays of sunset the vapor reflected an eerie 'out world' yellow light. "Look, Jan, it's God doing an imitation of Stephen Turner." We were all to suffer for that blasphemy!

We quickly put away the sails and headed off on a bearing of 107 directly to Logger Head Key with 50% of the genoa rolled out and no main. White Pepper and her crew handled the wind shift well. The wind speed was about 35 knots and the auto pilot was holding the stern into the waves without difficulty. I went below for a nap and to get ready for my shift at 9 pm. When on watch the wind died down a bit, and I wondered if this front had enough punch to push us all the way to Florida. Then the real front hit with ferocity that was physical. Phillip, who worked all of his life as a merchant seaman and engineer, thought that some of the initial gusts were 70 knots. Certainly the winds were a steady 55 to 60 knots. The boat was nearly out of control and as the waves built getting more so. We rolled the genoa into about 5% and headed off dead downwind at 150 degrees. The maneuver is called running with speed.

I was steering and my sensations were focused on wrestling the wheel. Jan's sensations were aural. What she heard was screeching and screaming worse than any horror movie. She had never heard sounds like that before. I, however, do not recall any noise what so ever.

For the next 10 hours we concentrated solely on keeping the stern of the boat square to the waves. Phillip and I both handled the wheel. Often it took both of us straining to wrestle the wheel back from those monsters. We had to give each other brief mental breaks as we were hallucinating by 3 am. Jan stood by helping in the cockpit with flashlights and water. Her job was the hardest. She had to look back and watch the waves. They would flash into the small circle of the stern light, rear up, froth, hiss, and usually slip under the stern. About half a dozen, however, made it into the cockpit filling it up with warm water. It did drain quickly thru the scuppers. Jan was amazingly calm and never once uttered a negative or anxious word. By 5 am the wind began to moderate, say about 40 knots. At dawn about 7 am the waves became visible. The scene was unsettling. Everywhere there were rolling cylinders of grey-blue water about 30 feet high. They did not roll uniformly but at slight angle. When two waves would cross there was a spectacular plume and cascade of water. The drill now was simple albeit delicate. A wave would come from astern, lift the boat up 30 feet, and put it down at the bow. All of this was quite gentle unless another wave came across to push the stern around. Then the escalator ride turned into a roller coaster. Or two troughs might combine leaving a big drop. I recall one moment when White Pepper had 40 feet of air under the bow.

By 7 I had become quite frazzled and was sent below for an hour's nap. Jan and Philip had been up all night somehow could keep going. When I came up at 8 am to relieve them they were smiling. The real monsters had gone. We were slicing diagonally across 20 footers, but headed east for Florida. We had been pushed 50 n. miles too far south.

More about the storm in our next post.


To paraphrase the Chinese 'every journey of a 1000 miles starts at the fuel dock.' Tuesday morning Bruce Swart and John Files came down to the dock to help cast off lines. John took us to a ceremonial last breakfast at the Island Cafe. Bruce gave us a nice gear gift that will help getting into the dingy. Thanks.

Then off on a 200 yard trip to the fuel dock. Joe Kessling and Steve Free were there for their send offs. We bought 42.5 gallons of diesel and 5 gallons of gasoline.

Finally we really,really left about 11 am.

Motoring out the jetties White Pepper met a very steep wave that threw us sideways. I told the crew that would be biggest wave we would meet. I was wrong. Early in the afternoon was quite difficult. The wind was 20 knots on the nose and seas 10 to 15 feet. The wind moderated as predicted and by sunset prospects were improving

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Last Post from Corpus Christi

This will be the last post from the desktop at Seamount Cay, Corpus Christi. We are breaking down the computer tonight for storage. The next post will be from the uncertain world of mobile wireless.

The weather situation remains confused. This morning NOAA reported that a slow moving front would stall over the Texas coast Thursday. My plan is to leave ahead of the front. If we wait the situation may not clear for a week or more. As it is we will have sun, warmth, and breeze albeit on the nose. The wave prediction models are not excessive, and I think we can make it with some bashing to weather. Phillip is game. We do need to meet his departing plane in Georgetown 1-7-08.

Today has been loading up the boat. I am amazed at how it absorbs stuff. It just settles a bit lower in the water. Charlie Mitchell of was out again today and finished up the starboard "closet" (see my previous post) . Thanks again Charlie!

I finished up the Magma project today. This started 14 months ago when Jan desired a Magma grill for the boat and wanted it hooked up to the inboard propane. The default for the Magma is to use those little low pressure bottles available everywhere. She gave me the Magma grill as a birthday present in '06. I have just today figured out how to hook it up to the high pressure tank in the locker that we use to fuel the stove. Thank you Lowes and West Marine. I did not ask for this project, but I have pursued it because the taste of fish cooked on the Magma grill is amazing.

For those following closely, we will leave Seamount Cay about noon Monday 12-10-07. Then we will refuel and spend the night at the transient docks in Port Aransas. Slack water is a 9:18 am on 12-11-07 and the adventure begins.

Saturday, December 8, 2007


We are at D minus 2--sort of. The last minute preparations are immense and exhausting. The labor is not that physical. The trial is mostly mental. There are so many piles going in so many directions. We are fearful of loosing something vital in all of the chaos. There are so many little parts that are not replacable-- the chuck on the drill or handle on the windless. It's all quite nerve wracking.

I sold the Saturn yesterday to our friend Tom Waters. Jan plans to sell the Pontiac tomorrow to other friends Barbara and Rick Carr. This will be the first time in our adult lives without ready access to "wheels."

The clothes have to be packed. I was surprised to find that ALL of my casual clothes could fit into one large bag and all of my underwear into a smaller bag. Both are water tight thanks to Charlie Mitchell and South Texas Canvas.

All of our books including Bible, trashy novels, and navigation tables can go into 2 Wal-Mart water tight boxes. Crucial documents and checks can all go into a large Zip Lock bag. Every thing else can go into a box for storage.

Today the absolutely, very last, adjustments were made to the anchor system. The dingy motor went onto the stern rail and the dingy was hoisted onto the foredeck. John Files was a great help with the above. Charlie Mitchell came out and fitted a clever mesh work that turns the pilot berths into closets. He helped Jan get started lashing on the weather lee clothes.

The weather window (so called) remains confused. It seems as if a large Pacific front is due in Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. It is supposed to blow at 20, 45 or 60 knots depending on who you listen to. Ideally we want to jump on the back side of a large front and ride it all the way to Florida. Whether this works out is a daily adjustment.

Chris Earls is a genius

Chris Earls is a genius--at least in stainless steel. As I mentioned in my post titled "Heavy Construction" the starboard bow roller is very eccentric. It has to be because of the excessively wide flukes of the Bruce style anchor. As installed there was no way that it would lead fair to the windlass' gypsy. It would be useless except for brutal hand over hand work. Phillip had the idea of a vertical roller to redirect the lead. I bought a cheap roller at Blue Water and called Chris. He came out promptly and surveyed the problem. After saying things like 'no way' and 'have to live with it' he began muttering to himself. Within 20 minutes he had a clever, elegant, and practical solution. He took the roller to the shop and within 24 hours returned an beautiful and very study welded stainless bracket that fit perfectly. It leads the chain fairly to the chain stopper and gypsy and should work great.

Then for good measure he took the cockpit table bracket that was purchased by Jan from E-bay and altered it to fit our binnacle. The table is very dear to Jan who purchased a "deal" off E-bay and then lovingly vanished it only to find that it did not fit. We will now have wonderful sit down dinners in the cockpit thanks to Chris.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Task List Complete

Six months ago Jan and I began a sheet with tasks to do. The list has grown to three pages. But today the last item was crossed off. It seems to be an impossibility, but there it was. What an immense effort! There are still things to be done, but they mostly administrative--put the TX numbers on the boat, sell the cars, etc.

One thing that is not on the list is packing. The kitchen is piled high with stores--nuts, dried fruits, and cans. The boat is littered with tools and loose parts. There are piles of clothes everywhere. We plan to devote all of Thursdays, Friday, and Saturday to packing. I want White Pepper to look like she is going for a day sail when she leaves the jetties early next week.

Today Phillip installed the "Y" valve that will make us legal in jurisdictions that enforce the holding tank laws. While doing so we found the discharge hose so clogged with scale that it was only a matter of time before it completely closed off. The vacuum breaker or siphon valve was also clogged. Cleaning it all out was a nasty job but prevented a worse mess at sea. Thanks Phillip.