GLSC Members Sail Tampa to Dry Tortugas, Feb. 2011

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               This is a short dialog of a magnificent sailing trip from Tampa Bay/St Petersburg to the Florida Keys and further down to the Dry Tortugas Key. Time was 2 weeks and distance sailed was approximately 400 nautical miles.  Those on board were the following GLSC members: Marshall Orcutt (Cap’t), Renick Kreeger (Engineer & Assistant helmsman), Bruce Berge (purser), Barnacle Bob (Da cook) and Marshall’s Grandson John Orcutt (Electronic Guru/Navigator). To help on my limited typing skills I will abbreviate their names: Marshal as “Cap’t”, Renick as “RK”, Bruce as “BB”, Barnacle Bob as “DC” and John as “EG”.

               Due to extreme weather conditions (heavy snow etc) departure time from Arkansas was delayed 1 day ,but all managed (“DC” was flying from warm South Texas) to arrive within 15 minutes of each other at the marina. The rest of the afternoon was spent storing our personal gear plus food on board. It was soon realized that we brought more stuff than the boat could possibly hold so we started jettison unnecessary food items (Marshall’s dry powder milk, etc.) and removed plastic plates, glasses, etc. from the boat until we could barely find room to store all of our gear. This boat (a Catalina 35) did have very limited storage and bunkage for 5 grown men.  We did a walk through with Captain Roy from the Charter Company and soon found that the head salt water intake did not work plus the fuel tank was about ¾ full. He promised to fix all early the next morning. We then left to buy fresh meats and veggies and we did manage to see the 4th qtr. of the SB and watch Green bay win (MY TEAM).

               Early the next morning Captain Roy was aboard to fix the salt water intake micro switch and managed to break the last spare part in the process. We were told to use the shower head as a water supply (which of course limited our freshwater supply) and we then proceeded to the fuel dock for diesel.  Finally off toward Tampa bay inlet 3 hours late with “DC” at the wheel. Winds were forecast 18 to 25 knots due South (directly on our bow) and were actually steady at 28 and gusting to 35 knots. A rough ride as the seas were confused between the waves and the waves were about 4-5 feet high. We tried to motor/sail, but soon realize that it was fruitless. “EG” went below to read up on his new video camera and in about 20 minutes comes flying out and heads directly to the stern rail and heaves all to the sea gods. Next up to get sea sick was the “Cap’t”, “RK” turned green at the gills but managed to hold on. “DC” & “BB” showed no signs of sea sickness during the whole trip. After passing thru the inter-coastal bridge (about 120’ high) helm was turn over to “BB.

               As we approached the inter-coastal water way via Anna Maria sound we all saw markers and assumed (make an ass out of me) that we were on course. “Cap’t” explained if you follow this course you all will end up on those shoals where the breakers are. A closer examination showed that we needed to be looking for the farthest marker basically starting with a “1”. The pass was roaring, had engine at ¾ throttled just to keep on coarse and making slow ground speed. “BB” did a great job as helmsman. Finally into the inter-coastal and started learning the new aids to navigation for the inter-coastal water way. Successfully pass through first draw bridge after waiting for the ½ hour openings. As we approached our 2nd draw bridge (about 20 minutes from our first anchorage) the red warning buzzer and light for low oil pressure sounded. Stopped the engine, ”RK” check oil level- not an easy task(it was okay) and called home base for instructions. We then decided to anchor in the inter-coastal for the night as it was already “dark 30”. Wind howled all night long so anchor watch was initiated. Rained hard that night and like most Catalina’s major leakage around windows and opening ports. All bedding wet except for “cap’t” in the aft stateroom (his name was aft closet).

               Next day headed out to sea via Longboat Pass and pretty easy pass to get to the gulf. Motor sailed with light rain and very, very cold winds out of the North. All aboard had on all clothes we could manage to get on. Passed our first waypoint with no problem and ended up approaching the Boca Grande Inlet with ease into Charlotte Harbor and anchored the second night at Useppea Island. Great anchorage, no winds, about 25 yards from beach with large mansions in view. No Anchor watch!

Next morning up early to motor (about 1 hr.) over to the lee side of North Captiva Isle. This Isle is well known for its shell collections due to winds and tides as a lot of shells from the Caribbean are washed ashore here. Tried to motor the dingy in, but Mercury motor refused to cooperate due to many problems (way too many to list here). Finally got motor back on board and oared in thanks to “BB”. There were many shells and we did bring home a few nice shells. In the process of oaring, oar lock broke so we were left to hand paddle. Trying to leave North Captiva “DC” immediately ran aground and received verbal warning from “Cap’t” to watch those depths and charts. Luckily it was a very soft landing and managed to back out with no difficulty.

               Proceeded down inter-coastal past Red Fish Pass and into San Carlos bay which is south of FT. Myers. Our 3rd night was spent at the Snook Bite Marina on Estello Island. We tied up in one slip and were requested to move to the outside slip. In this process ”DC” was helmsman and he managed to clip the davit of a new Catalina 440 that was really sticking out with our Bimini-no damage done to either boat. Needless to say Cap’t was not happy with this event. It was a real nice marina with a large grocery store about 2 blocks away. We tried to pump out (it was broke) but did get good showers and resupplied the galley. Ships bell rang at 6:30 as usual next morning for coffee- “DC’s” job .There was heavy fog and light rain. There was way too much fog to try to navigate out of channel. We spent the morning talking to Cap’t Dave (bachelor) who was docked next to us. He has spent the last 10 years in a 39 foot CCY (Caribbean Cruising Yacht) in and around Ft Meyers. Showed us a 44(?) Foot Moody (looked pretty new) that was picked up for $20,000.00-so he said- all pricing in Fl. has really dropped.

We left around noon in light fog & rain. Capt Dave said to disregard buoys and stay close to the Port side of the channel by the private docks where the deepest water is. All went well till we entered a wider portion of the channel and “DC” ran aground again!! Managed to back off okay headed toward buoys and proceeded out to the gulf. Motor sailed in light rain and mist about 3 miles out in the gulf. We saw many 90% empty condos along the beaches all the way to Naples/Gordon Pass for our 4th anchorage. We arrived at 6:30 and “DC” was ordered below to fix grub as the “Cap’t” was hungry again and others helped with the anchor. No watch was needed that night.

               Next Morn ship bell rang at 6:30 and we were underway early toward Everglades National Park for our 5th anchorage. We motor sailed in the gulf passed Ten Thousand Islands again in light misty conditions. We passed Ponce De Leon bay, anchored in the Little Shark River amongst the very large mangrove trees in the Everglades Nat’l Park. We were about 500 yards in with only one other motor boat sharing the anchorage. Cap’t was hungry again!!

               Ships bell at 6:00 to get early start toward Key West. We arrived in Key West in mid afternoon passed a naval assault vessel with sentries everywhere. We followed a 2 masted schooner tacking up the Man of War harbor- a very impressive site. We stayed at a very expensive & nice marina to get fuel, shower and see the town. Dock next to a 135 foot motor yacht (2.5 mil with absentee owner). Also saw fuel pump that had pumped 750 gallons of diesel for about $2900.00! We took just 12 gallons –sure was nice being a SAILER!! We went to Hemmingway’s house and a museum in the Key West Light House. “EG” climbed up all the steps to take some great pictures and was accidentally locked in- much banging later he was rescued. ”Cap’t” took it easy on us the next day as it was going to be a short sail to Boca Grande Key. We managed to sleep in till 7:00 and eat a good breakfast on shore. Left about 10:00 without pumping out (an expense) as Cap’t explained that we will be past the 9 mile limit and can dump at sea(fatal error). Sailed past a huge cruise ship and really noticed how small we really were at sea.

               On the way to Boca Grande key “DC” was working on way points. Cap’t kept requesting course and I said give me a minute I am still working on it. A short time later “Cap’t” and “BB”-the helmsman said come up here. I responded to say we are at least 2 nautical miles from my waypoint. They said come on up deck and we will show you where you are. They had dead reckoned to a key that they thought was Boca Grande- luckily no grounding but a close call. Very important don’t rely on instincts !!!! “EG” confirmed my correct waypoint and we proceeded to Boca Grande Key. Nice anchorage but a little windy. Took Dingy to key. Saw eagles (2) and eagle nest, small shells and 1 very large 8 cyl. Inboard engine on beach. No boat around. Your guess is as good as mine.

Ship bell @6:00 to begin 35 mile sail to Fort Jefferson on Garden Key in the Dry Tortugas. We Sailed south of Quick Sands a very shallow and large bay area. GPS show Cuba about 85 miles away. Great beam reach and downwind sail wind sail surfing 3-4 foot waves at a steady 6.5 knots. Finally no heavy clothes mostly shorts and tee shirts-yea!!!! We reached 8 knots with gusts. We arrived a Ft. Jefferson about 4:00 that afternoon to start exploring fort that took 30 years (1846-1875) to build but was never completed. It housed 2000 men at the end of the civil war and was abandoned by the army in 1874. It took 16 million bricks to build the armor proof walls many which came as far away as Maine since Fl. succeeded from the USA during the war. The fort was protected by 420 -15 inch Rodman Smoothbore cannons each weighing 25 tons apiece. A well train crew could load one in just 70 seconds and fire a 330 pound cannon ball 3 miles out to sea-impressive for those days. (Stan Lance: slightly bigger than the cannon you brought for the 4th.)

               Up at 7:00 the next morn for more exploring. Shortly after 7:30 thousands of Sooty terns (out of about 30,000) that nest on Bush Key (our anchorage at the fort) took off for their daily hunt for food to feed their young. A terrific racket to say the least. Most of the crew could have spent 2 more days around fort and surrounding keys. Saw many frigate birds that soared effortlessly above the fort as their wing span is 6-8 feet. Good fishing and excellent snorkeling and scuba around keys and ship wrecks. We didn’t attempt as water was too cold. Local say by mid April water is excellent for the above. That night saw the sun set from the moat around the fort and “DC” was luckily enough to see the famous blue flash right as the sun set. Other crew had never heard of that so wasn’t concentrating enough. A beautiful full moon that night that rose as the sun was setting- most spectacular!!!

There is large amount of history involved around the fort but space and typing skill is limited. One interesting note is that Dr Mudd, who set John Booth’s leg, was sentenced for life imprisonment at the fort for conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln. He was later pardoned by Andrew Johnson. His prison door read “Those enter here leave all hopes behind”.

               Left at daybreak the next morning to head back to Tampa/St Pete area. Winds would not cooperate so set course at about 356 degrees North, North West toward Venice, Florida. Sailed all day with good winds and took up 4 hour watches to sail all night. “EG” &”DC” took the first watch at 8:00 and at their last watch 4:00 to 8:00 A.M. that morn the winds finally died and the seas were as flat as Grand Lake at times. As the morning progress the winds did finally come back about 10-15 knots. After sailing 2 days and 1 night consecutively (at one time GPS showed we were 125 n.miles from the nearest shore line) on basically one course we arrived at Venice.

               Upon reaching Venice first order of business was pumping out. Settled in and had good meal at seafood restaurant at the Crow’s Nest Marina. Top rated by cruising guide but was not overly impressive to any of us. Had to wait full hour to get seated and then another ½ hr to get our meal Cap’t was grumpy to say the least!!

               Ship bell at 6:30 standard next morning. About 30 minutes before departure there was a loud crunch and we looked to starboard and the only thing we could see was a very large white hull. A 45 foot (plus) motor yacht that was parked next to us tried to leave the docks and the cross winds plus tide was against him so he ploughed right into us and squeezed us between the motor yacht and the dock. He wife was driving –one hell of a lot of cursing but it was totally his fault. No major damage that we could see, but there was some bulkhead shifting. We were comfortable enough to go ahead and sail out of port. We sailed to Egmont Key in Tampa Bay the next day for our last anchorage then motor sailed into the marina from there.

               A great trip had by all as we saw a lot of sea life and sea birds. We spotted 3 medium size turtles and many sightings of dolphins. They always seem to be in groups of 3-4 and always appeared off our port stern side about 50-75 yards away. Then the chase was on as they would catch up with us with mighty displays of leaping out of the sea in pairs until they would disappear under the bow and then reappear on the starboard bow. What a sight !!! The weather was not great, but as sailors you take the bad with the good.   A lot was learned by all even the captain. He found out there was more to ship board meals besides fried spam and canned white sliced potatoes. As a sampling we had for our evening meals: fish tacos, sausage jambalaya, pork tenders in orange sauce, and pork loin in green sauce, beef tacos and spaghetti with fresh French rolls. The crew never went hungry as “DC” served 3 meals a day for 5 guys for 2 weeks without one negative comment.

               As a final word we all really enjoyed our sail (even though I received one F for grounding and a D- for docking) and the most important lesson was “READ THEM CHARTS AGAIN AND AGAIN” and watch out for tidal currents.

 

Barnacle Bob  

 

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