Our First Cruising Guests

In January, 2008, a technical standards committee that I chair had a week-long meeting in Orlando, FL. One of the committee members, a friend of mine named Jonathan, is a small-boat sailor and we’d spent a bit of time talking about sailing, Dream SeQueL, what it’s like to sail larger boats, and the like. Jonathan had, in fact, gone out with us for our first day sail on Dream SeQueL a couple of years earlier.

Knowing that the meeting was coming up, I suggested to Jonathan that he come over to the Tampa Bay area after the meeting adjourned and go sailing with me and Barbara. As the conversation developed, Jonathan asked if he could invite his girlfriend, Kathy, to join us as well, and we eventually decided that we’d do a short-ish cruise together. We quickly agreed on a 4-day cruise to Ft. Myers as something reasonable, cost-effective, and a good introduction to cruising for the two of them.

In the end, Jonathan arranged for Kathy to fly to the Tampa International Airport early on Friday evening of that week, and I arranged for Barbara to arrive at the same airport within an hour of Kathy’s arrival. Jonathan also booked flights from Ft. Myers back to their home base in North Carolina for him and Kathy. When the meeting adjourned, Jonathan and I drove from Orlando to Tampa, then on to Clearwater Beach to “wake up” Dream SeQueL and start provisioning her for a short cruise. As the flight arrival times approached, we headed out to the airport to pick up our companions, then headed back to the boat.

Kathy had never previously stayed on a boat, but seemed comfortable with the arrangements. She and Jonathan were assigned the quarter berth as their quarters. When we arose Saturday morning, we managed a decent breakfast for the four of us, then spent the day doing some minor work on the boat (there’s always things to fix!) and buying food and other supplies.

On Sunday morning, a little later than planned, we cast off and headed out into the Gulf. Winds were fairly light, so we had a slow sail down the peninsula, reaching Eggmont Key (described on our Destinations page) in the late afternoon. Things went very well, both during the sail and after anchoring. Nobody got seasick (Barbara is rather prone to mal de mer and Kathy was concerned that she might have problems as well) and there was plenty of time for Jonathan and Kathy to have the opportunity to drive the boat…not that it needed much driving while under sail, of course. As I recall, we fixed a very nice dinner that evening, drank a little beer, and made it an early night.

Monday saw us sailing — and, to be honest, motoring, due to a pronounced lack of wind — southward to Venice, FL. Venice is said to be a really cute little town, but Barbara and I’ve not spent any time in the town itself. On one previous occasion, we’d dropped the hook off the beach just south of the Venice Inlet, and another time we’d docked at the Crow’s Nest Marina. Although it’s a little more expensive than we’d like, the Crow’s Nest is a nice place and very conveniently located just inside the Inlet, avoiding the necessity of navigating the sometimes tricky waters further inside the Inlet. When we were about 15 miles north of Venice, we telephoned the Crow’s Nest and asked about a berth for the night. They said there’d be no problem and to hail them on VHF when we got to the Inlet, which we did.

When we radioed the marina, they asked us to kill time out in the Gulf for a half-hour or so while they sorted out some traffic that was clogging up the waterway, so we spent the time sailing back and forth, practicing our tacks and jibes. When they radioed back to come on in, they told us that the last deepwater slip where they intended to put us hadn’t been vacated by its previous occupant, so they told us to tie up at the fuel dock, asking only that we check out by 08:00 the next day. Because we’d planned to leave by then anyway, that was no problem, so we readily agreed.

The eponymous restaurant at the Crow’s Nest is somewhat famous, and the quality of their food (and drinks) deserves the excellent reputation. After using the marina’s showers to get some of the salt off of our bodies, we had a great meal before retiring back to the boat for a relaxing evening of conversation. Even th0ugh we hadn’t worked very hard during the day’s sail, we slept quite well that night. Jonathan and Kathy both seemed very pleased with the whole cruising bit, and Barbara and I were really enjoying the opportunity to see our boat through their eyes.

On Monday, we arose later than planned, but quickly refueled and checked out by 08:20 or so…which the marina assured us was not a problem, as there were no boats standing by to refuel at the time. As we exited the Venice Inlet back into the Gulf, we were pleased to see that there was a very nice breeze developing, about 15 to 18 kts, according to our wind instrument. The bad news was that it was coming from exactly the direction we needed to sail, SSW! This third day of the cruise promised to turn into a bit of a beat upwind, which would add a new dimension to Kathy’s experience of sailing on a mid-sized sailboat.

Our destination that day was really not very far…Boca Grande Pass (the entrance from the Gulf into Charlotte Harbor), so we weren’t too worried about “making time”, even though Jonathan and Kathy had a flight to catch a couple of days hence. Because we had to tack our way south in any case and this was the first day with decent wind, we spent most of the day having a blast, keeping the rail buried and doing 5-mile tacks out to sea and back in. We all had a blast, and everybody had the chance to get their toes wet in the saltwater running down the scuppers.

The only not-so-good thing was discovered when I headed below to  make sandwiches for lunch: I discovered about 6″ of saltwater on the saloon sole! It took me about 2 minutes to figure out that the source of the water was the un-plugged hole through which our anchor chain entered the chain locker — every time we’d hit a wave and bring green water up onto the bow, a big gulp would pour down into the chain locker and thence into the bilge. When we were heeled over sufficiently, the bilge pump would empty the bilge, but several gallons of water would remain above the sole. After expressing my angst over this (“Arrggghhhh!!!!!), I mopped up the water on the sole and went up to the foredeck to plug the anchor chain’s pipe. Problem solved!

This distraction ended up taking us quite a bit farther out than our earlier tacks had done, which of course meant taking longer to get back towards shore. The end result was that it was approaching sunset when we neared Boca Grande Pass. Like any channel that’s been dredged, there’s a sort of reef on both sides of the channel extending some way out to sea. In this case, the spoil extends over a mile out. But…there’s a very narrow gap very close to shore that can be traversed by boats drawing up to maybe 7 feet (at high tide). As the tide was high and we draw only 5’9″, we decided to try it, and we very slowly and cautiously felt out way through the gap and into the Boca Grande channel without problems.

Our charts showed that, just south of the channel and just inside the barrier islands, there was a small bay, called Pelican Bay (also mentioned on our Destinations page). Now, the entrance to Pelican Bay is narrow and shallow; the cruising guide we were using recommended “local knowledge”. So Barbara got on the VHF and made a request for local knowledge, receiving an answer from a marina a few miles away on the Charlotte’s Harbor side of the Intracoastal Waterway. They advised sticking carefully to the north side of the entrance into Pelican Bay and not going more than ¼ mile into the Bay because of depth problems.

We followed that advice carefully and dropped the hook in this small, very quiet anchorage along with perhaps 15 other boats, none closer than 150 yards from us. After another superb dinner put together by Barbara and Kathy, we put our jackets on and went up on deck to stare in wonder at the trillions of stars overhead! Yes, it was chilly, but it’s been a loooooong time since I’ve looked up at skies that clear! (Now, that‘s what cruising is about, IMHO.)

Wednesday was a real experience, especially for me. First, we got moving a bit later than planned (anybody sense a pattern here? I’m just not a morning person, and that’s all there is to that!). Second, because of our late departure, the tide was already on its way out, making the exit from Pelican Bay dicier than it otherwise would have been. We again called for local knowledge, and a charter captain responded to our call. He said that we would almost certainly bump against the bottom, but that…provided we got under way immediately…we ought to be able to get through. Needless to say, we didn’t dawdle!

As warned, we did scrape the (happily, soft and yielding) bottom, but judicious use of the throttle powered us through and into deeper water. We did bang against a solid object (the charts say it’s a snag, other people have told us it’s a wooden rowboat, still others say there’s nothing there), but we went right past and out into more open waters. A few minutes later, we entered the IntraCoastal Water Way (“ICW” to some, “IWW” to others) and headed towards Ft. Myers.

Now, I don’t like confined water very much, especially when there’s wading depths — or less — just a few feet to my port and my starboard. And I’d just signed up for a full day of motoring down the ICW. At first, it wasn’t too bad. The channel was pretty wide and the water under our hull was comfortably around 10’. But, as we moved south of Cayo Costa Island and near Captiva Island, the water started getting shallower. Although there was still plenty of water under the boat, it was clear that adjacent waters were moving from head-deep towards chest-deep. A bit later, as we paralleled Sanibel Island and turned eastward towards the Caloosahatchee River, the water on either side of us shrank to alarmingly shallow depths. OMG, I kept saying, we could walk and hardly get our socks wet! I felt like the slightest lapse in concentration would leave us high and dry. You experienced ICW cruisers must be chuckling as you read this, but I didn’t find it the least bit relaxing at the time!!

Anyway, after a few hours of tensely staring at the channel markers (“keep the green on the right, red on the left!), we entered the so-called “Miserable Mile” about which we’d been cautioned. The cross-currents there demand close attention to course over ground (not merely heading) to avoid getting swept into the shallows. Happily, we crossed it at slack tide, so my fears remained imagined and not realized at all. A couple of miles up the Caloosahatchee, we passed the entrance to the channel up past Cattle Dock Point and into the Cape Coral Marina, our intended destination.

As we approached, we hailed them on the VHF and were told that the deep slip they’d assigned to us was taken by another boat, so they put us against the cross dock at the end of a finger pier! Very convenient, I must say…easy in, easy out, and only a short walk farther to shore. Because we arrived there in the early afternoon, we had time to start doing some work on the boat! It was at this point that Jonathan really started to understand what cruising was: Boat maintenance in exotic locations! And, yeah, things had broken and existing problems had been revealed over the last few days.

The next morning, Jonathan and Kathy packed for their early afternoon flight and I started making a shopping list for a trip to the nearest West Marine! Barbara and I ended up staying another full day and night at Cape Coral Marina, then took two long days to sail back to our home dock in Clearwater Beach.

All in all, this was an extremely successful cruise. Everybody had fun, we learned a lot, and nothing serious broke!

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