This year’s EC was quite a sleighride for me up until my rudder troubles off Fort Myers Beach. But much was learned, and a great time was had, and I’ll attempt to share it with you here.
After getting a good night’s sleep at CP1 (and a lot of sleep during the day), I was more rested than I had been the entire week previous to the start of the Challenge. Many unexpected things at work and home conspired to really wear me out just before the start, which contributed to me errors in judgment the first day. Being well fed and rested, and remembering to put on my waterproof socks, I set out on my way towards CP2.
My first obstacle, and one that made me really glad I hadn’t given in to temptation and left late the previous afternoon, was the Boca Grande Causeway Bridge. This was the first bridge I had to deal with that opened on their schedule, as opposed to mine! I missed the ½ time by about 5 minutes, so I tacked around until the next opening, having spoken to the bridge tender to insure he knew I was there, as I had no desire to get smacked by the swing bridge closing on me. After that, I sailed through the abandoned railway trestle (the bridge section has long been removed) and headed for Boca Grande Pass and Pine Island Sound.
As I neared the Pass, I decided that I might want to put ashore and tie in a reef, so I began scouting locations. I had thought about tying in the reef a bit earlier, when I made a quick pit stop, but the wind hadn’t filled in, so I continued under full sail towards the south end of Gasparilla. I tend to prefer hitting hotel shoreline as opposed to the sand at private homes, but many of the houses were shuttered, so I picked one, and aimed for the shore. As I got closer, I saw I had picked the only bit of occupied beach, as a Carolina Skiff was beached sideways, with a gasoline-operated pump attempting to empty her. I checked with the skipper, who told me that she had been left at a dock and swamped by the weather the night before, which made me doubly glad I hadn’t been there in the dark. And just to make me triply glad, I noticed 3 large telephone poles bobbing in the surf nearby… and THAT would have been a collision I would not want to have endured, day or night.
After tying in the reef, I headed back out and across the Pass, which turned out to be a nice sail, and much calmer than the one we had two years ago in Clarity. After crossing Boca Grande Pass, I had to decide which side of Pine Island to navigate. I was already about as far west as I could get, and the wind was behind me, so I decided to go for another downwind run, and thank the planet for giving such nice following winds. This route is a little longer, and I doubt I’d ever take it if I was paddling, but it turned out to be a great sail, with a bunch of nice 2 or so foot seas that lent themselves to some great downwind surfing. As the darkness approached, the wind lightened, and I decided that stopping for a rest would be a good idea. I would finish my hot food, cook some more, and wait for moonrise to sail on towards the San Carlos Bridge.
As I approached Chino Key, the wind almost completely died, and I ghosted into an anchorage just off shore, in about 8 inches of water. There was a Gemini trimaran anchored nearby, but with my shallow draft, I easily anchored 100 yards closer to shore than they did. And they were only 110 yards from shore themselves! I ate, but had a bit left so I didn’t cook, grabbed a nylon tarp for cover, lit a candle lantern to warm myself with, as it was another very cool evening, and rested until moonlight came.
Around midnight or so, I felt I had enough moonlight to continue, and, having had enough of the raccoons wading out to investigate me and Discovery, I tidied ship and self, and set off towards San Carlos Bay. Or so I thought… the wind and tide conspired against me in such a way that for every 5 miles sailed, I made less than a mile of progress. I couldn’t believe the flow of water coming in: my wake was leaving the boat at a 20 degree angle! Since I’m not just a sailor, but a holder of a Class A driver’s license, I took the opportunity to practice my best trucker/sailor language, which I did for quite a while. In the midst of all this, I sailed through the giant power poles south of Pine Island, being grateful that I waited for the moonlight before I headed that way. They are spaced quite a ways apart, but with the adverse tide, I had to cut a shallow angle between them. Not to mention that two long tacks later, they seemed just as close as before. Looking at the track later on, I decided that I just had to call it my ‘laugh track’ because it was so hilariously frustrating. After about 5 hours of this nonsense, and with a beautiful day appearing, I decided to land at Picnic Island off Sanibel and wait for the tide, the wind, or SOMETHING to change in my favor.
Picnic Island is a beautiful spot, with a sandbar and a protected lagoon. Just don’t take the dogleg into the last part of the lagoon, as the water there is dirty and stagnant, which surprised me a bit. It looked like I would have a bit of time before the current changed, so I pulled of the drysuit (now THAT was aromatic), and set out some gear for maintenance. The drybag for my Nexus 7 tablet was giving me a bit of trouble, so I opened it up and let it dry out over the bowsprit (even with desiccant, there was a bit of moisture in the bag, but only because the touch screen balked whenever the bag got dirty on the OUTSIDE, which led to me removing the unit fairly often). I finished my Feeding Children Everywhere rice and lentil meal, and made another for later, and then explored the island a bit, catnapped for half an hour, and then packed back up, ready to head off for the San Carlos Bridge, bay, and southward around Marco Island. I had hoped to make it around Marco before dark, but the adverse tide and wind had slowed me to the point where that wouldn’t be possible. If the wind held from the west, and didn’t build, it looked to me like I would make Marco about 8 or 9, and then I would decide if I could get around Cape Romano, or if I needed to stop. It was looking like I had about 12 hours of good wind before the next front came through, and the next front looked like it might be too strong for me to continue in open water, especially at night. I was going to have to pass the concrete mushroom dome ruins in the dark (Google Cape Romano and zoom in… you’ll see ’em), but I was looking good.
Or so I thought. I didn’t know Picnic Islands’ name when I landed there, but, with its enticing lagoon and tropical trees, it should have been called Gilligan’s Island. At least for me, for I was about to have my own little three hour cruise, with no Ginger, Mary Ann, or anybody to share it with.
To be continued…