What I didn't anticipate was that I would need 'shaking down' a lot more than the boat.
Although I've been wanting to take a long cruise like this for about 30 years, my experience up until now has been limited to shortish cruises, on a bigger boat (Southern Cross 28), in sailboat-friendly Long Island Sound.
Sailing in the windy, shallow Big Bend region of Florida, in a spartan 23' boat, is a whole other thing!
One problem I didn't anticipate at all was the psychological impact of separation from home and family. I'm no boat bum. I've got a house, beautiful wife, and 4 kids -- 6 including the kid's 'significant others'. And a granddaughter on the way!
I was really down for a few days, and couldn't figure out why, until I startedthinking of those old time sailors who went off exploring the southern seas, leaving their loved ones for years at a time. Tougher fellows than me! Thank God for cell phones!
I did see some dolphins today
photo wikipedia commons
Almost as difficult was adapting to my relationship with the boat. It's been ten years since I sold my last boat, and I'd forgotten how demanding they can be. Worse than a teenager! It's all about the boat. Move me, reef me, replace my rope, paint my deck... it goes on and on.
Worse, boats bite. I think I've found every possible way to bang my shin, in the last few days. At least I hope I have. At last count, I have 4,714 black and blue marks. And I never exaggerate.
Nothing I shouldn't have expected, but somehow I didn't. I had been looking forward to Captaining my boat on a carefree cruise along a balmy palm-fringed shore. Instead, I seemed to be nothing more than the Crew who was expected to do this and do that all day and all night long.
I resented it!
But after a few days, the Blue Moon and I have come to terms. I give it what it needs, and she is giving me at least as much back. I am happy to be 90% Crew, and 10% Captain. We are reconciled to this relationship. It fits us.
Well, I had been expecting to be posting this from Crystal River, but when I reached the latitude of the long, torturous channel into the river, I was about 8 miles off shore, with the wind blowing directly into my teeth. There was no way I could beat up to the channel and then motor in before dark, and one flashlight-lit bit of navigation per week is about all my nerves can manage.
Since the wind was blowing me south, I decided to go with the flow, and sail overnight to Tarpon Springs.
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The Blue Moon did most of the leg under reefed mainsail and club-footed staysail, averaging a bit over 5 knots. Not bad for a little 23' boat, I thought.
Luckily, we did the whole leg on one tack, on a broad reach. This let me use my new sheet-to-tiller steering system, so the boat steered herself most of the way.
Hardly anyone seems to know about this interesting method of self-steering. Here's a couple pictures of the set up.
The sheet-to-tiller part
The rubber band part
In a nutshell, there are two parts to the system:
1. a line that is fastened to the sheet with a rolling hitch. This line take most of the sheet tension. This line runs through a block and is hitched to the tiller.
2. a 'rubberband' line that is hitched to the other side of the tiller, and cleated off on the opposite side of the boat.
Once the boat is balanced on the tack, meaning that there is just a bit of weather helm, then as waves knock the boat higher or lower off its track, the tension on the sheet will go up or down.
When the tension goes up, the sheet pulls harder, and pulls the tiller to windward, heading the boat back down.
When the tension goes down, the sheet pulls softer, and the rubber band pulls the tiller to leeward, heading the boat back up.
That's the theory. Getting it to work took a couple hours of trial and error, until I finally got the feel for the system. When it's adjusted properly, everything is quite delicate, and the tiller moves back and forth easily, keeping the boat on track hour after hour.
Which really comes in handy on 10 or 14 hour sails, I can tell you! I kept a pretty good watch, but never saw another boat on the whole voyage, until I'd nearly reached Tarpon Springs.
I arrived in complete darkness and navigated into a pretty poor anchorage on the east side of Anclote Key, near the old light. I had some protection from the still stiff easterly winds, but the anchorage was rolling.
Luckily, I was too tired to care!
After a few hours sleep, the sun came up and I moved to a more protected anchorage.
A snug harbor, at last!
After being up for most of 3 days, I was ready for some sack time. I fell asleep at 4pm and slept until 7:30 the next morning. Bliss!
Tomorrow, I head into the interesting-sounding town of Tarpon Springs for a look around and a good meal!
Next Episode: Tarpon Springs
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The Voyage So Far...
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