A sailing voyage Marsh Harbor to St Thomas

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A sailing voyage Marsh Harbor to St Thomas

Postby THATBOATGUY » Fri Dec 05, 2008 10:05 pm

Underway aboard Gypsy Wind 20 January 2007

N 24 21.240
W071 09.040

In the movies, one sees the lead and his lady on deck of a sailing
boat on calm seas and yet sailing along nicely, the stars are way too
many and stretch from horizon to horizon. They are dressed
appropriately (which is barely) there are nice little rigging-creaking
and water-slapping-hull noises. The balmy wisps of wind in the
cockpit stir the leading lady's hair. Think "Joe and the Volcano",
heh heh. Of course all of us "real" sailors look at that and say…

And yet here it is come to life… almost. On this trip we have seen
conditions like that a couple times. As I sit here tonight it's true
that we are motor sailing (making 6 knots out of 2k RPMs), cheating to
get all the easting we can before we get south enough to be in the
trades for real. But last night we were doing it sans motor. It's
also true that my leading lady is at home (sniff). We have a good
forecast for basically more of the same. One friend simply said…
"Looks like you have some good sailing ahead". Indeed we do. I have
the midnight to three am watch, the new moon sunk right after sunset.
I've figured out how to make a recliner on the cockpit sole using one
of those folding portable seats so my feet are up on the starboard
bench with my toes pointing at Sirius (or is it Betelgeuse?).
Betelgeuse (or is it Sirius?) is reciprocating by splashing her (his?)
light down on the glassy waters back toward me. And did you know that
that star twinkles in colors? Orion is hunting the Pleiades; those
shy sisters are going to give him the slip below the horizon soon. I
can see the 24 mile radar at the nav-station below (it's blank) and I
get up and stretch once in a while and have a visual look around.

Robert A. Heinlein once described the military as being comprised of
three departments, the Department of Dirty Tricks, the Surprise Party
Department, and the Ferry Godmother Department. I'm paraphrasing here
but bear with me… the Ferry Godmother Department is comprised of one
elderly GS-something clerk typist who occasionally puts down her
knitting to pull a name out of a hat and do something nice for them.

This trip came to me directly out of the blue from the FGD. There may
be hundreds or even thousands of people out tramping around catching
rides on sailboats going here and there around the planet but it's
still a small pool compared against the ever-increasing number of
yachts going places. So I get offers quite often but there has to be
the right combination of things to get me to go. It should be
someplace I have wanted to go to but have not yet made it. It has to
be a nice, comfortable, hospitable boat; the captain can't be a jerk.
The expenses have to be paid by the captain/owner (including travel
to and from the boat) and if I can make a few bucks that's nice too.

In this case a friend from a previous trip, Cliff sent me a message
about this trip from Marsh Harbor in the Abacos to Saint Thomas in the
US Virgin Islands. I've been to Marsh Harbor and while I love the
Abacos it wouldn't have been enough to turn the trick. But St. Thomas
now… a landfall in paradise complete with volcanic mountains that
appear to rise up out of the sea -- now that's something. The captain
was an unknown, and among the few things we did know about him was
that he was an ex-navy orificer (not a good indicator in the "not
being a jerk" department). But Cliff had asked him point blank, "Are
you an asshole", and after a brief pause Chuck had responded… "Well I
don't think so". And Chuck has not been a Jerk to us. He has been a
friend who shares everything on the boat, spins a great yarn, and can
even carry a tune. This boat, Gypsy Wind, is an Island Packet 45. She
is a heavy displacement full keel cruiser that carries 150 gallons of
fuel and 250 gallons of water, and all the toys. When it got "a bit
sporting" out here couple days ago I found the ride to be very
acceptable. She is a cutter rig, and with the luff of the foresail
taught and the traveler on the mainsheet up to the high side she moves
to windward well. Ok ok, so with all that and a slight little kick
from the "iron genny" she moves well to windward. And we need to
pinch those extra few degrees into the wind too for the conventional
wisdom on this route is to "take your easting when you can get it".
Once we are south enough to be in the trades proper the winds will be
steady from the east and still needing hundreds of miles to get south
we could be pushed down into Puerto Rico or even Hispaniola.

This trip came along at about the right time too. One of my heroes,
Jon Turk, recently summed it up by quoting Melville from Moby Dick.

"Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a
damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself
involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the
rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get
such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to
prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and
methodically knocking
people's hats off--then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon
as I can."

While I hadn't actually taken to knocking peoples hats off, I was
certainly talking to drivers of other cars and cursing traffic lights…
a bad sign.

So. I needed to go to sea, I trusted Cliff's judgment in the "not a
jerk" department, there was a desirable destination, a paying gig to
boot. Could I afford the time? No. Is it fair to leave Kerri to
fend the fort? No.

Nevertheless here I am.

I have my own "room" in the stern quarter port side. There is a big
comfortable berth; one door leads into the galley and salon while
another leads to the aft head. The head has a big shower that's
awesome in that it's a very practical and clever design as well as
functional even in a seaway.

On watch I'm in my recliner. I can stargaze up between the dodger and
bimini canvas to watch the stars. Some ancients held the cosmological
belief that we are just a speck ridding on the slime on the back of a
great turtle. Indeed here I am ridding the wet and slippery surface
of this planet which is also a ship hurtling thru space -- a star ship
of sorts. And this star ship must be passing thru space junk because
on each night of this voyage I've seen many shooting stars. Enough
meteors to surly qualify as a meteor shower. I've counted dozens of
them; 50 in one three hour watch before I got bored with the counting
of them. Some of these meteors break into parts as they burn into the
atmosphere. Some leave blazing smoky trails. I've pretty much proved
the wishing on falling stars thing is bunk. I tried it on each of
those occasions and yet Kerri never did appear beside me.

The Koreans have a saying; "to begin well is to be half finished".
When we left Marsh harbor we had an escort of spotted dolphins. A
small pod including what I took to be a family complete with a baby.
I took up memory on the chip in my camera trying for a good shot of
them despite the poor light. I've just checked them and found one
with the baby just nosing back into the water after going flying on a
great leap! It's a great photo. A little later I described my green
flash experiences to Chuck and Cliff. We talked about it at length as
the great orange orb sank into a nearly straight-line horizon. And
low and behold! We were rewarded with one of those celestial
emeralds. Talk about beginning well! Two wonderful omens.

Tune in next time when we encounter Caribbean Contrails or Pilots of
the Caribbean!


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Re: A sailing voyage Marsh Harbor to St Thomas

Postby THATBOATGUY » Fri Dec 05, 2008 10:23 pm

Part two:

Edgewater MD. Groundhog day 2007

We live in the space age. In this age, how many people do you know
who will set out on a journey in the wilderness of seven days or more?
Seven days from departure to destination, continuous travel, no
stops. Well you know one anyway.

Victor Hugo knew the value of a trip into the wilds.

"…walk with a softened heart in this wilderness; it is as voluptuous
as spring and as melancholy as autumn; wander about at random; leave
behind you the ruined abbey, lose yourself in the moving peace of the
ravines, amid the song of birds and the rustle of leaves; drink fresh
spring water in your cupped hand; walk, meditate, forget."

When I'm at sea I understand that I am in the most vast and accessible
wilderness available to me. Chuck is an engineer and did the math
for what we in the Air Farce referred to as "gee-whiz" figures. He
explained how, using only a square pie, he could figure out the area
of ocean we could see around us when standing upon the coach roof. I
think the number was about 55 square miles. I'm no mathamagician so
I'll simply take his word for it.

Sometimes the horizon is unbroken for three hundred and sixty degrees
out there. I can see a good long way where I've been and also where
I'm going. That extends into the realm of metaphor as well, as my
mind is unburdened of over stimulation I relax, I meditate, I forget.
I can see mistakes I've been making, and false paths, wrong actions
and I can find remedies. I can also see right actions! I can also
dream about the future.

Riding off to our right for much of the trip and at great altitude
were jet airliners. Those glistening metal tubes of tour-rats headed
for the islands, left in their wakes the condensed water clouds called
contrails. "Caribbean Contrails" according to Chuck who also insisted
that the picture I took of them should be titled "Pilots of the
Caribbean" heh heh. I like Chuck. He is a kind of a renaissance guy
with his art in music and his use of malapropisms in wit. He is also
clever in business and generous with sharing of his boat and it's
facilities. He has had this romantic notion of sailing his own boat
down to the Virgin Islands and he is determined to make this more of a
guys outing than an employer/employee voyage. The other shoe failing
to fall, Cliff and I, guardedly at first, participated and gradually
came to just enjoy the trip.

Highflying omens aside, we traveled the fringes of satellite reception
with the sat-phone often silently searching for a signal, and the
music from space cutting in and out on the stereo. We resorted to
more old-fashioned means of entertainment…

For instance… we had books and CD's and while those are not so old
fashioned there was also a guit-box strapped to the wall of Chucks
forward stateroom and he does know his way around that instrument.
One sunny afternoon while the satellite radio signal was playing hide
and seek with our receiver chuck played a couple tunes for us. One
was a Robert Earl Keen song "The Road Goes on Forever and the Party
Never Ends" and another one I'm sure almost all of you will know was
John Denver's "Country Road". I can tell you that coming in a time of
scarcity of sensory input, a veritable desert, these songs ring clear
in my memory forever and now when I listen to "the road goes on" I
feel the swaying of Gypsy Wind on the Atlantic swell and the silky
warm feel of trades on my skin.

My apologies but I really do need to back up a little bit. I spoke
too little of getting out there as I began writing these trip reports
while at sea. Now that I'm back here in frozen Annapolis I can relate
more clearly to those feelings of getting underway. I suppose it
began with the flight from Baltimore.

Kerry dropped Cliff and I off at the kiss-and-go-valley between
terminal and parking tower at an ungodly hour of a cold predawn
Baltimore winter's morning. Only the promise of sunshine and crystal
waters sustained me and pulled a balance against the guilt of once
again flying off and leaving Kerri to fend the fort.

Once inside we got our tickets thru an almost 100% automated system
and thru security that has gotten so routine as to make one fearful
that gaps must certainly be plain to those of devious mind. My mind
was set on the near future as I perused our itinerary… two stops and
plane changes before Marsh Harbor including what looked like it could
be an OJ at Miami International. A small price to pay really… And
indeed it was merely the common up/downs; hurry up and wait's of
modern day air travel with a few exceptions.

At Baltimore while Cliff and I waited for the Micky-D's to open up (it
was that early) so we could get some java, a Hispanic man who was kind
of wandering, a bit lost looking, caught our eyes. When we both
smiled and nodded a greeting to him he came in for a landing and tried
some Spanish on us that we didn't understand. He made himself clear
with pantomime and a few Spanish words that we did understand. He
held his ticket out to us saying… "no `tiendo" and then pointing to
his watch. So Cliff took a look at his ticket, and hustled him off to
get to him to his gate in another concourse. It's funny (funny odd
not funny heh heh) that of everyone in the terminal this man was
invisible but to us. Why don't we help each other more?

---- These next few paragraphs are a reflection of my strange mind and
you can skip them if you like----

Since I had some time to kill while Cliff was off doing his "bon
action", I did some daydreaming. While I'm in Airports, and I'm
bored, I sometimes play a game. I pretend I'm a time traveler from
the future and I'm on an important mission to the past. I marvel at
the dress of the individuals, as I shift uncomfortably in my own
period clothing. I marvel at how they operate as single units
unconnected by the net. To me, an advanced modern person, I'm amazed
that people can function this way and remain sane. I ping the link
that stays active to the future net to reassure myself.

As always on these missions, I'm amazed at the complete and total lack
of anything natural in the caves of the airport. It's a world of
petroleum based synthetics, steel, and aluminum. And those metals are
solid instead of foamed… incredible decadence. Not only are the
people isolated by a lack of a network but also they seem to work hard
at maintaining this poise of individuality, this fiction that they are
somehow functioning outside of a clan. True there are small nodes of
human interaction among families and coworker travelers but even these
seem sterile and clunky, just as uploading to the net used to be
accomplished by manually typing letters thru an "input" device such as
a "keyboard", or even more antique methods of "punch cards".

I move thru the crowd with great difficulty. The link to the net
helps run odds on how to maneuver with the flow… to pass this oncoming
person on the right or left, he is smaller than me but has more
delta-v; he's dressed more expensively and moves with purpose. How
are these people managing to do this without an AI controlling
traffic? This person is uniformed and carrying an amazing array of
weapons. The network highlights each one and outlines the dangers of
each -- a club, irritant aerosol gasses, a chemical reaction lead
projectile firing weapon… highly lethal. The net reminds me that
these are not idol threats; people get gunned down in these synthetic
caves sometimes for merely acting out of normal.

------- Anyway you get the point. It's an interesting mental exercise
that causes me to become an outlander in my own homeland; it's another
kind of people watching. Some people knit… ----

On the flight over from Miami I get a fantastic view of Grand Bahama
with Great Sael in the background. And then the backcountry of the
shallows behind Little Abaco and Great Abaco came into view with a
smattering of the out islands off in the distance. All those places I
must show to Kerri.

On the ground in Marsh harbor we went thru a pretty informal arrival
procedure. And if it's friendlier than in some other places I've been…
form follows function. "Are dees your baigs". "Yes they are". "And
watts in dem?". "Just some cloths, swim suites and snorkel gear".
"OK, next in line".

And then I was out front with Cliff and somehow Chuck figured out who
we were and we figured out who he was. He even had a rental car!
Cliff looked at my bag and asked me where I got it… oh oh!

Once Cliff backtracked for his checked bag and got thru customs we
were off to see the boat.

"So you've been to Marsh Harbor before George?" "Yes I have Chuck"
"Well lets get some lunch, do you prefer Sapodilly's or Mangoes?" "…

You see my budget never allowed for Sapodilly's or Mangoes. There was
a little take out place a few blocks up from the waterfront but I
could hardly recommend that to Chuck.

"Oh either one would suite me fine". I finally answered not so
nonchalantly as I might have wished. I had a great grouper sandwich
in the shade of an open-air deck overlooking the harbor and the
turquoise sea of Abaco beyond. I ached to get out of blue jeans and
into shorts and Tevas.

The boat inspection went well. Cliff and I poured over the decks and
after making a few minimal changes (ringdings in a few lifeline
connections and mouseing a few shackles) and inspecting everything we
could get our eyes on, we were satisfied that the boat was seaworthy.

We got our provisioning done that afternoon. We enjoyed a relaxing
evening writing email and such from the bar over the restaurant at the
end of a dock where Gypsy Wind tugged at her bindings. They also had
great showers (which I had sneaked a few times as a cruiser) and we
availed ourselves of those. The next morning we met the folks from
the two boats that were supposed to "buddy boat" with us on our trip.
This was perhaps the only thing I had any trepidation about at the
time… and rightly so.

Here is page number four already! So getting underway will continue
next time along with the story of the stingray that didn't attack me!


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Re: A sailing voyage Marsh Harbor to St Thomas

Postby THATBOATGUY » Fri Dec 05, 2008 10:41 pm

Part III

Sebastian Fl.

Aboard R/V Wildflower (shhhh she thinks she's a boat) 3
March 2007

When I first came to Sebastian I reported it as coming home to a place
I'd never been before. Outside there are the sounds of busy insects,
the trickle of the fresh water spring that feeds down into the lagoon,
even some night birds. There is the occasional "plop" in the deeper
pools of a frog or perhaps even maybe a heron hunting. Lightning bugs
play along the brush at its short banks. The smell of night jasmine
sometimes wafts into the open screen window mingled with salt air and
a base note of low tide decay. Terri actually saw a pair of otters
playing in this little creek a few days ago. There is also the
occasional Harley sneaking down the river road on it's way from Earl's
Hideaway to points North and ridding right by Arlo Guthrie's house (I
don't want a pickle). Sometimes a train up on the tracks to the west
rumbles the ground (Feel the wheels rumblin' 'neath the floor) and
wails it's air horns and there is often a general low background white
noise of cars on US 1. It's an easy walk to the super Wally world and
there is a weak but usable wifi connection. So it's not all nature
here but if you squint a little you can see magic. All in all it's a
great place to flop.

We had a very rough start to this trip. Wildflower didn't want to
cooperate at all. We had left around sundown on 6 February but made
it no further than the Wilson Bridge over the Potomac when the engine
power faded and the snow began to fall. What followed was a 25 mph
limp home on two cylinders and 10 days of working on a vehicle outside
in sub freezing temperatures. Oh yes and more snow, and then an ice
storm that knocked out our power for 36 hours… We heat with all
renewable fuel (we live in the great northeast hardwood forest and
know how to use Craig's list and a chain saw) so the house was still
warm enough but working outdoors in sub freezing temperatures without
even an electric space heater to keep myself from actually sticking to
the metal engine was brutal. Woof!

Once we did get going things didn't go all that well either but one by
one we managed to get to the bottom of all the little bugs that were
plaguing this "ship" and here we are!

But you don't want to hear about the frozen north… oh no, you want to
hear about the warm southern breezes that sent Gypsy Wind on such a
fantastic little voyage. At the least I owe you explanations
concerning the buddy boats that weren't and the sinister stingray that

The day we left Marsh Harbor was about as shiny a day as comes to the
Sea of Abaco. The winds were out of the north and settling down after
the blow of a norther. My experience with these frontal passages told
me that we would see the wind clock around to the east before too long
and I was anxious to get underway. Unfortunately Chuck had agreed to
buddy boat with a couple boats that I thought we were ill matched with
and this proved to be very true.

Michael and his spouse on a ketch rigged boat of around 50 feet and
John a single-hander of a Hunter 40 something were readying for
departure. Michael had flown in a crewmember that had little
experience but would round out his crew well. John was going it alone
but insisted that it was "no big deal". The first problem was that
Michael with his 6 feet of draft needed high tide to get out of the
marina and that would not be for 4 more hours. It was already around
noon when we pulled out and we might have gotten an even earlier start
but knew that hurrying would do no good. We were slaves to the moon.
So we opted to wait out by the pass for the others to get out.

One nice thing about all this was it gave me a chance to snorkel
around a bit and even though it was only the grass and sand of the
bank, it was still splendid. Among other small tropical fish I saw
those colorful little wrasse fish that hide in broken shells, a few
undersize queen conch, and one stingray. My heart did a little tick
at the sight of that last critter. Ever since the crock hunter and a
fisherman in Florida were killed by stingray "attacks", I've been
wondering if these guys have decided to like… strike back or
something. I had never previously thought of them as dangerous beyond
a painful sting. I had certainly never thought of them as a threat to
life! My folks taught us kids to shuffle our feet in the shallows to
avoid a sting. Indeed I've brushed against them many times in the
shallow surf of the gulf coast only to have them shimmy off into the
deeper water but I've never been stung, much less mortally skewered in
the heart. So here I was face to face with one of them (mano-a-manta
as it were) suddenly menacing looking. And there next to him a piece
of pinker than pink, the very color of that screams Bahamas, the
junkanoo's battle flag, the flamingo's underpants, a little bit of
broken conch shell. I read once somewhere that when handed a conch
shell men and women will react differently. The women tend to hold
the shell up to their ear while men cannot resist descending a finger
along the smooth pink path that leads from the snails foyer into it's
inner sanctum.

A little flash of blue and yellow caught my eye near that shell as a
tiny damselfish swam away, and in that moment I knew I needed that bit
of pink for to make a keepsake piece of jewelry for Kerri.

To gain the pink prize, I was going to have to brave the dragon in
about 20 feet of water. I hyperventilated briefly, caught a half
breath, and surface dived. A couple dolphin kicks got me thru neutral
buoyancy to negative as the water pressure increased and collapsed my
lungs. I dropped with as little motion as I could until about 6 feet
from the objective the creature fluttered up in a puff of sand… and
shuffled along, just as they always have. My view of stingrays as
interesting and innocent friends is restored.

I also retrieved a few small but perfectly shaped sand dollars. I
showed them to the guys when I got back to the boat and was about to
toss them back in the water when Chuck expressed an interest in
keeping them. So I found a zip lock and tucked them away.

At last the other guys came out steaming for the pass. Michael
reported that his wife had had to bow out due to illness in the family
so now he was with his inexperience crew only. Slack tide was a good
thing as the north wind was pushing waves onto the bank that built in
the shallows. The swell was setting in from the northeast so things
were bouncy enough as it was. Nevertheless, gaining the big deep blue
was a snap. I was very very happy about the ride as Gypsy Wind had a
tendency to smooth out the bumps rather than pound onto them. My
kidneys were thankful. I even felt a little dopey as the realization
set in that I was going to be able to sleep easily on this trip.

I mentioned before… the dolphin escort and the green flash. Those are
deep cleansing for the soul kinds of events and I'm a big believer in
omens. How many times in my life will I be allowed to cast off the
chains and sail off towards the horizon putting my faith in a small
ship and a small cadre of like-minded fools? I can't tell you how my
heart was soaring at that point…

Still… there were the buddy boats.

First of all there seemed to me to be a lot of unnecessary radio
chatter. This was all going out on 16. OK not such a biggie I bit
down on that one for the moment and just settled for imitating
Michael's British accent and manner of speech to entertain the crew…
"and um, and um, and um, you may be interested to know that our speed
over ground is… um… 4.3 now… over".

Also while the "PLAN" called for heading due East until we were due
North of St Thomas before we turned, our buddy boats drifted to the
North first and as the wind (as was easily predictable) clocked around
to the east, they fell to the south chasing after a tenable point of
sail. We motor sailed and finally just motored. Chuck had finally
had enough of the chatter on 16 and called for use of an alternate for
chit chat. I think that ticked Michael off. Also they seemed to
think that loosing ground to the South was OK at that early stage of
the game. We did not like that one bit. At last we heard Michael
talk John into hanging with him and taking off to the South. We
motored on to the East… as planned. They deviated from the
conventional wisdom of "take your easting when you can get it", and
left us because we "would not compromise". I can't say there was much
in the way of wailing or gnashing of teeth aboard Gypsy Wind
concerning their departure.

When the wind built strong out of the east and the ride turned to
complete crap we broke off to the south only enough to ease the ride
and conserve fuel. When the going to the east was easy we motored or
sailed or motor-sailed directly into it at an economical fuel
conserving lower engine RPM. Our strategy was paying off as we got
closer and closer to the turning point. Over the first few days we
got in some of the best sailing I've ever encountered anywhere
anytime. Later on that first leg we rode a fantastic lift for nearly
a day!

At last, after days of hanging tough to earn the upper hand, we looked
at the forecasts, the current conditions, our current position
relative to St Thomas as well as our fuel reserves… and turned to the
South Southeast -- directly for the Virgin Islands. That was a happy
moment. It's true we were cheating the plan a bit at that point but
that was only possible as a result of having resolutely stuck to the
conventional wisdom and banged out that Easting.

Almost nothing broke on the boat on the entire trip. What did break
was easy to fix such as the gas solenoid valve that started repeatedly
throwing the breaker. Trouble shooting found a bad coil in the
electromagnet so I just gutted the thing and we had to turn the gas on
and off by hand when we wanted to cook. No big deal.

Back when I felt trapped by a job and social responsibilities I used
to dream of landfalls in paradise. I had my Fodor's, my cruising
guides to the Caribbean, and my well-worn copy of "World Cruising
Routes" all on a shelf next to the big bathtub that I would soak in
for hours. The stress and aches and pains of a workingman's existence
would melt away then as I dreamed the dreams of the explorer. The
best dream of all was to make a landfall on a tropical volcanic island
that raises out of the sea, slowly revealing her lush greenness, the
earth goddess's tits. As we would approach, the smells of tropical
flowers would waft out to meet us.

It was all that and more.

It's true that I had this sort of experience, somewhat by surprise
when we made landfall in the Azores. I had not really been expecting
it then and also the freaking howling cold winds and frigid spray kind
of detracted from the whole tropical feel of the event… heh heh. But
this time it was the real deal. Unfortunately, while we did get to
watch those wonderful islands rise up out of the sea, just a little
too soon afterwards the sun sank into the sea to take their place.
And we did what every cruising guide for the Virgin Islands says not
to do… we made our approach in the dark. We then certainly lamented
those 4 hours we had given up in Marsh harbor waiting for high tide…

Tune in next time for the exciting conclusion to find out if we lived
thru it! Be amazed at how I played "Spin the Catamaran" with some old
friends! Hear about iguanas for breakfast! And much much more… heh heh


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Re: A sailing voyage Marsh Harbor to St Thomas

Postby THATBOATGUY » Fri Dec 05, 2008 10:58 pm

Finale Part IV

Wewahitchka 15 March 2007

An easy day of driving from here (or just about anywhere in Florida),
on the edge of the Ocala National Forest and just out of cell phone
range (not even roaming) is an unsung jewel of a Florida attraction.
Up from the depths of the earth, rise millions of gallons of water per
day; a natural spring. This spring is distinguished from other
Florida springs by its salinity. So salty in fact that it makes
possible a microenvironment of creatures normally only found in murky
brackish estuaries. And yet the water there is crystalline. There
are schools of mullet along side blue gills, damsels alongside bass.
And the stars of the show in my opinion are the blue crabs. Feeding
on the mullet and blue crab alike are otters. But the special nemesis
of the mullet is the osprey.

The total incongruence of finding blue crabs thriving in a clear water
pool in the middle of the state is just gonzo enough to enter the
realm of the magical. We scouted the swimming hole by bicycle from
the campground. Seeing the crabs and a few tropical fish from above
was cool but I knew that to get the full effect we would have to come
back at it from a different angle. So the next morning we offloaded
the Kayaks, portaged them to the little canal behind our campsite
(Kerri takes both bows and I take the sterns ["if you aren't the lead
dog the view never changes, but viva la vista!] ) and we launched.

The entire area in front of our campsite could have been just about
any "primitive" portion of a National Forest Campground anywhere.
They seem to be pretty much cookie cutter. But behind our little RV
was old Florida and it doesn't take much of a leap of the imagination
to picture Ponce de Leon stomping about, striking another spring off
of his list as it failed to make him young once more. The honeysuckle
was blooming along with dogwoods and those little blue snapdragons I
don't know the name of. There was moss hanging from the several
varieties of oaks. There were tall hickory and short juniper. There
were long needle pines and cypress. There were cabbage and palmetto
palms. Vines intertwined all and butterflies bounced along the sides
of the trail as we portaged along.

We Kayaked out of the canal and into a stiff headwind that was blowing
a short chop. It would have been a steeper chop but for the short
fetch and shallow depth. It was a fine day for a little paddle and we
dug into it with gusto. I kept scanning whichever shoreline was in
the lee, allowing my vision to slide along the glassy expanses of
water near the banks. I was hunting for mermaids, a.k.a. sea cows or
manatees. Their nostrils or the disturbances of their tail wakes give
them away. No such luck. I did however spot a few otters.

On the way back we saw a spot along one bank that looked like it would
be a good place for alligators to haul themselves out for sunning.
And there in the grasses in the water near the bank was one of those
fearsome monsters. It was a little hard to get worked up about this
one though as it was only about 12 inches long! Nevertheless it was
Kerri's first alligator sighting outside of a zoo or tour boat and in
my world that is significant.

Then we turned our Kayaks to the source of the spring and made a
proper approach from water. In the shallows we tied our kayaks and
donned our snorkeling gear. We devised a rather loose interpretation
of the posted signs that allowed us a loophole in order to swim into
the springs from this direction… heh heh

What an amazing little pond! Against an easy current we swam upstream
thru schools of mullet and the occasional lunker bass. In the green
grasses of the bottom I spied the occasional crab-on-guard brandishing
claws in gutsy display. But the real treat was the cavernous rock
formations where the waters came forth. Here were the greatest
concentration of crabs and little tropical fish. The crabs were clean
of algae and looked like little trophies and some of them not so little!

All in all it was a delightful first for me. I'm certain we will be
back to this magical place many times to come. And since we are
speaking of firsts… a good as any place to segue back to where I left
off last time approaching the Virgin Islands from the big blue
Atlantic Ocean.

In the bright daylight we approached those green hills towering out of
the ocean even though they were still far away. The water became even
more shockingly blue against the far off dull green of the islands in
the haze. I have to mention again about the water out there. There
is a quality of the interplay of light and water that is found only a
few places on earth. One is in the deep Atlantic where shafts of
shimmering sunlight slant down and down to the depths into ever-darker
blue. The other place you can see it is in a fine blue star sapphire.

The day gave way to night while we approached. If the weather had
been poor we would have stood off, but the wind was moderate and the
seas were low and even. Nothing about the approach we chose was
tricky in the least and by the time we were in water shallow enough to
cause us concern we would be within the boundaries of well marked
channels and coming into a secure harbor anchorage. Nevertheless we
were all of us nervous and on edge. There is a dichotomy of feelings
at these times, a yearning for the land and yet the sure knowledge,
felt bone deep by any mariner, that the danger is the shore while
safety is at sea. Mix that with a heavy dose of adrenaline associated
with the adventure of making a first landfall of this kind and it's a
heady mixture of feelings indeed.

As an exercise of immigration… er… I mean imagination, the naming of
places will be hit and miss until we clear customs in the US Virgin
Islands. In fact I'm not going to even swear that it's not all just
fiction from here on… heh heh

The lights of St Thomas were so very bright while most of the other
islands in view were primarily dark mounds identifiable in outline
against the starry sky. Population distribution was as crystal clear
as the waters we plied. The gap between the small islands we would
pass between looked ever smaller and smaller although we had miles of
deep water between them, that conflict between intellectual and
emotional knowledge was tormenting us.

Then something truly strange happened. In a crackly voice I started
hearing someone not among our crew call me by "thatboatguy". We were
so busy being alternately freaked out and ecstatic about the landfall
that it took several utterances of that radio call to get thru to my
conscious thought.

"Vessel calling thatboatguy this is Gypsy Wind". It turns out it was
another friend I had yet to meet from our circle of friends on the
internet. Cliff had met him on an earlier visit to the Islands while
crewing the delivery of yet another friends boat… small world. Kevin
wanted to know where we were and I told him our position. He lived up
on a hill on St Thomas that had a line of sight to us although he was
many miles away and reported that he couldn't see our lights. When I
flashed our spotlight in the general direction of his house we were
all surprised that he could see us. Even though Chuck had done the
same thing with a friend of his via cell phone it was still a surprise
that a spotlight could be seen from that distance. I mentally added
one of those inexpensive battery operated spotlights to S/V Mana's
ditch bag.

A short while later we were able to make out details of the island we
were approaching. And before we knew it we were anchored and
launching the dinghy, suddenly drawn by the sounds of music and people
having fun at the funky bars ashore. Alas, we were too late to get
any food and since I used up all my beer chits by November of 1984,
there was a limited attraction for me and I had Chuck take me back to
the boat early. I fixed myself some noodles and crashed hard.

The next morning I sat in the cockpit with coffee and watched the sun
creeping up the tall hill on the west side of the tight little harbor
we were in. We were still in the very cool and fragrant shadow of the
hill to the east. There were only a few other early risers in the
anchorage and we nodded silent acknowledgment to one another, but when
the sun finally cleared that hill and splashed down on us, and Cliff
stirred below, I could no longer stay put. So we commandeered the
dinghy and took out in search of breakfast. Eventually Chuck woke up,
hitched a ride in with other sleepy heads, and joined us at the little
open-air restaurant. With a full belly, the warm breeze tussling my
hair, a forth cup of coffee, the sunlight sparkling the waters of the
pretty bay, and the companionship of my shipmates, I developed a
slight problem with my butt; it seems that it was stuck to that chair…
heh heh

We needed a second "technical" stop that morning in order for Chuck to
get our papers in order for clearing in. So we upped our anchor and
moved off to another splendid little bay. I was told that there was a
reef to snorkel on nearby so I went off exploring in that direction.
The waters of the bay were sedimented and cloudy and the reef turned
out to be dead rock. I saw one little green sea turtle and some
tropical fish but I am so jaded now I felt cheated at having made the
effort to swim over to it.

Back aboard Gypsy Wind with some more time to kill I picked up the
spyglasses and scanned the anchorage for boats I might know. When you
consider the vastness of the oceans and her countless harbors and
weigh that against a few score boats out of thousands that I might
recognize as belonging to friends of mine, you may determine that I
was engaged in a fool's errand. But what you would fail to take into
account is the magic of synchronicity. And low and behold! There at
the far side of this big smile of a bay, was a familiar looking
catamaran. I was just able to make out her name in graphics on her
port hull… Indigo Moon! Buddy and Melissa! And the big smile of the
bay was reflected on my face.

Once again Cliff and I commandeered the dinghy and sped across the
bay. I took her off plain as we neared and Cliff began fumbling
around with the painter in preparation to tying on. But I asked him
to sit back down instead and eased the rubber stem of the in-flat-able
dinghy up against her port hull and slowly opened up the throttle of
the 25 horsepower Honda outboard motor… heh heh I spun Indigo Moon
around in a circle! We then got to watch as Buddy came flying out
onto the bridge and saw him go thru every human emotion in order as he
tried to wrap his brain around the situation. Then Melissa also came
up on deck, slightly less perplexed having been briefed by Buddy. I
guess I'm about the last person they thought they would see out there.
We made tentative plans to get together soon and parted so that we
could go get cleared in proper.

After clearing in on St Johns… we seem to be naming places again heh
heh. We took off sailing for St Thomas across the way.

Lets all have a moment of reverence while I describe this short sail.
The winds were moderate, perhaps 15 knots, although the sea state was
almost flat. The sun was out with only high cotton balls of clouds
widely dispersed. The wind was warm as cotton from the dryer pulled
across my skin. The stark borders of steep green hills and deep blue
waters had us sailing valleys amongst the mountains. I give up. I'm
powerless to properly describe it. Look at all the photos and videos
you like. You will never ever capture this feeling unless you go out
there and do it.

We got Gypsy Wind into her slip in sapphire bay without happenstance
and soon had her washed and tidied all up.

Over the next few days we had some fun poking around St Thomas and St
John. We had breakfast at a little restaurant down in a boatyard
where big iguanas scurried around our feet hoping for scraps (iguanas
for breakfast). One other event of note is a dinner we had of a
gathering of friends in the area. We all went out to a waterfront
restaurant with live entertainment. Buddy and Melissa were over from
St John for their laundry day and met up with Kevin and his wife as
well as Robbie D. Cliff and I rode over in a skiff with Chuck.

Cliff and I flew home to Baltimore where Cliff was able to spend a few
days with Kerri and I before he had to return to even colder Indi.
Our luggage did not make it to Baltimore however and I was ever so
happy that I had put a pair of blue jeans into my carry on bag! Cliff
was not as prepared and I got to watch his calves turn blue out on the
arrival ramp while we waited for Kerri to circle around to get us. It
was cooold! Woof!

And that pushes us down just into page number five. Too long-winded
again but I did manage to wrap this fantastic trip up.


George and Kerri Huffman S/V Marquesa Freedom 40 CC CK Sail MarquesaImage
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Re: A sailing voyage Marsh Harbor to St Thomas

Postby THATBOATGUY » Sat Dec 06, 2008 10:53 pm

I lost a lot of photos in a computer crash but I did find this one. It's the pendant I made form the bit of conch shell I found in the Bahamas before we shoved off. It's in Kerri's jewelry box although she rarely wears this one.


George and Kerri Huffman S/V Marquesa Freedom 40 CC CK Sail MarquesaImage
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