Saturday, August 25, 2012

Holy Hand Grenades Batman

Not your typical title for a blog about date nights, but we’re not your typical couple. 

After a week in Miami that left us wishing we were back in Key West, the hubby surprised me with a date night.  I don’t have your typical “girl” taste in movies, so getting to see the new Batman movie was right up my alley.  I won’t lie, I got a tad excited and it made me want to pull out my old Batman movies and TV shows and cuddle up with the hubby for a marathon on the salon floor.   
You may laugh but it’s a bit hard to cuddle on a settee in the salon, so every now and then I make us a pallet with pillows and we like to settle in with a few drinks.  Or we break out the Wii and go head to head with some Super Mario Bros 3.  Heck when it’s too hot at night to sleep in the cabin, I’ve been known to crash on the salon floor.  I can sleep anywhere…’s a gift. 

But I digress…back to date night.  The movie was awesome and my date was the best.  We even munched on some popcorn coated in movie theatre butter and topped with jalapenos.  Hey, don’t knock it till you try it.  Then we took a stroll around the complex and headed back home. 
The next night we headed to New Orleans for another date night.  Not on the boat though, we actually jumped in that crazy metal thingy with wheels and sped down the interstate at lightning speed (or 80ish mph).  This may sound like a crazy thing for cruisers to do, but I had hotel points and we deserved a night out just enjoying each other.  We spent most of the night walking up and down Bourbon Street people watching, checking out the sites, doing the normal “budget cruiser” thing.  But the hubby did buy us 2 hand grenades because I had never had one before and they came with these neat Jell-O shots in syringes for free.  And who amongst us can really pass up free drinks?

Friday, August 24, 2012

He Gets Me Wet On Purpose

AKA Dinghy Butt

We’re at dinner with our friends Scott and Natalie the other night giving them our top 5 tips for cruising.  Now while the hubby has important tips like – know your dinghy engine inside and out, be able to take apart and rebuild said dinghy engine at night (blindfolded with both hands tied behind your back).  My tips were more along the lines of – baby powder is your friend, and consider having a special “dinghy riding outfit” if you’re going somewhere nice.

I have come to the conclusion that my hubby gets great joy out of soaking my bottom every time we go on a dinghy ride.  His may get wet every now and then, but every single time I have a wet soggy bottom.  I swear he does this on purpose.  I do understand that a wet soggy bottom is a potential hazard for a good number of dinghy rides….but every single one? 

Many of you couples may position yourselves while riding in the dinghy much like we do; my hubby sits further back by the engine and steers, while I sit on the opposite side in front of the halfway point.  Yes, I realize I could use my feminine power and steer the dinghy myself.  But if I’m honest I like to enjoy the ride and let the hubby do the work.  Yes ladies and gentleman, there are reasons he calls me Princess.

Normally the drenching occurs when we have to cross the wake that another boat so politely leaves in our path.  He maneuvers the dinghy so that “according to him” it’s best for the dinghy.  Which conveniently causes a big splash to come up over the side and thru the fabric protecting my bottom.  Coincidence?   I think not!

I have gotten to where I either wear sundresses, with swimsuit bottoms underneath, and take the ride with my sundress pulled up and tied around my ribcage or I wear one outfit in and change clothes in a bathroom.  This may sound like I’m being prissy or taking extreme measures, but a wet bottom means more than just an unsightly dark spot “down there”.  If you’re walking around in 90 degree plus heat, it means “Hello chafing, here I come” – hence the need for baby powder. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Princess Aboard’s Guide to the Dry Tortugas

From the title you will notice that this is MY guide to the Dry Tortugas.  You can probably do it in a shorter trip, or a longer one, but this was “in my opinion” what I would do if I was to do it again.  I’ll try to make note for cruisers as well as those camping. 

Come Prepared
The Dry Tortugas are primitive, and I mean primitive for visitors.  The workers and volunteers who work there have access to things like running water, trash cans, AC, and internet…..  You will not.  If you want a shower, you will need to bring your own water.  You can pick up a cheap and efficient solar shower at Wal-Mart in the camping section if you do not have one already.  They are about $7 and half as expensive as their counterparts at Bass Pro Shops and other outdoor shops.  If you want to cook; they do have charcoal grills on the park but you will need to bring your own charcoal and lighter fluid.  Bring things that will require very little trash.  You will not have access to trash cans and you will need to police and take your own trash off of the island.  There is also a $5 fee per person for the park, we did not know this showing up and felt quite embarrassed (none of the research we did, showed a fee).  And let me say it right here - - - > SUNSCREEN, SUNSCREEN, SUNSCREEN.  I normally do fairly well with the NOAD 15 SPF lotion.  I’m also naturally olive skinned and come from a family with a bit of a Cajun background.  I wish I would have brought a 45 or higher, extreme waterproof, spray on.  I didn’t get burned per say, only the top of my forehead and nose b/c I was wearing a visor and the sun went all ninja and found a way in the top.  And the spray would have also made it easier to get to my scalp.  But if I applied sunscreen as religiously as I did, then I’m guessing those who are not as olive skinned as me could get themselves in a heap of trouble. 

How Do I Get There
If you are a cruiser – this part is easy.  It took us an overnight jump from Key West.  If you are not one of the lucky few to own or live on a boat you have a couple of options.  There is a high speed ferry from Key West that leaves early in the morning travels for a couple of hours, stays at the fort about 4 hours and then travels back.  They provide lunch and dinner (I believe) and alcoholic drinks are for sale for a very reasonable price.  I believe I also heard that they have kayaks and snorkeling gear for you to borrow free of charge.  You can also arrange with the ferry to ride in one day, camp a few days, and then ride back with them.  There is also a sea plane that comes in and out about 5 times a day.  I would personally take the ferry if we didn’t have a boat, but hey, that’s just me.  

At the helm on our way in

View of the harbor as we approached

How Long Should I Stay
I know if you take the ferry you can arrange an overnight or couple of overnight stays.  I suggest planning to spend 3 days at the Dry Tortugas.  Any less and you may miss something (because you’re tired and worn out) and any more than that and you might get a little run down if you’re not the cruising type.  Depending on how you got there, your access to “cool down” methods, and the time of year will have a big influence on how long you want to stay.  I had pretty much decided that if I had one of those chairs that sits in the water, and a waterproof kindle….you couldn’t have pried me away. 

Time of Year
We came in July, dead of summer, and while we had a great time…..I suggest picking a cooler time of year if you’re not acclimated to the heat.  When you’ve been snorkeling, swimming, walking on the beach, and 
climbing up and down the stairwells at the fort; you really want the ability to cool down at the end of the day.  If you’re a cruiser, you know that there are still chores to be done while you’re here.  And when it’s 90+ during the day (and you don’t have access to AC) it’s tiring just to do dishes.  The water here is amazing, so I really suggest staying in it as much as possible. 

Things To Do
The reason I said a 3 day stay is because while we were here there were 3 major things to do (unfortunately while we were here a lot of the keys were shut down due to turtle mating season).  I also suggest doing these things in this order.  In my experience you want to have your most active day at the beginning, with your lease active day with the most impact at the end. 
Fort Jefferson – There is a tour provided for everyone who comes by ferry and seaplane.  On all sides of the fort, expect for the harbor side, there is swimming and snorkeling around the moat.  It’s neat snorkeling, but by far the least impressive of the 3 sites.  YOU WANT TO BRING A CAMERA!!!  Even a very novice photographer like me can take amazing pictures out here.  I also suggest bringing a backup, even if it’s in the form of your iPhone. 

Me swimming the rest of the way around the fort after he got a cramp

Loggerhead Key – The backside of the key has the most impressive snorkeling of the entire US, so do not miss it!  You’ll even make friends with the local barracuda if you’re anything like me :/  Walking around the beach during turtle season even gives you the opportunity to look for turtle tracks, nests, and baby turtle tracks.  Loggerhead Key is about 3 miles from Fort Jefferson.  It is quite the kayak trip.  The park rangers suggest that you come by to borrow a radio from them and call in when you depart and when you head back to the fort. 
Our Texas friends kayaking over to Loggerhead

Scorpion fish we found as we got ready to snorkle

Windjammer Wreck – This lies about a mile off the tip of Loggerhead Key.  It is marked by a buoy, but is a tad hard to see.  We were told it was ¾ a mile off the tip, but we kinda beg to differ that it’s further than that.  It’s a wreck shallow enough to snorkel, although I do believe I saw a few dive boats and divers out there as well.  After doing Fort Jefferson and Loggerhead Key you “may” be tired, but it is well worth it.  Trust me on this one. 

Dinghy ride back to the boat after snorkeling the wreck

Be Nice
The staff working and volunteering on these keys are some of the nicest and friendliest people.  Now of course, we always make it a point to be nice to the locals.  Juels led the tours for the seaplane visitors and has read the “personal letters to home” of Dr. Mudd.  Pat has the coolest ghost stories and is a joy to be around.  In fact…… anywhere you go, follow this last instruction (even if it’s to the McDonald’s drive through).  

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Whats That Smell??

If you have spent any time on a boat this is something you will have to deal with.  You will just be sitting there and next thing you know your nostrils will be accosted by one of the most foul and hateful odors your nose has ever experienced.  Then just as quickly that it crept up on you and beat your nose to a bloody pulp its gone.  It leaves no trail where it came from or where it went.  All you know is that you want to take care of it, but deep down in the pit of your stomach you can feel the gut wrenching bile inducing knowledge that it will be back to haunt your nose again.
Now, when you take a boat offshore you will no doubt stir up things and smells from the deepest and darkest areas of the bilge that cannot be reached or more appropriately cannot be cleaned.  Hmmmmm, maybe the Princess could stir up one of her 5 inch fairies and command it to do the task instead of sending them to call on the weather gods to torment me while I am at sea.  But that is for another day.
So, I am about 30 miles offshore after leaving Destin.  My great weather Guru James Dobbins has once again divined what I will be expecting when I am out there.  He has nailed it on the head.  He called the rollers in the pass and the flat seas further out.  His wind predictions are right on the money.  Weather is a huge thing for the offshore sailor and getting reliable weather is a godsend. (Remember NOAA brags about getting right 57% percent of the time.  Wish I could have a job like that)  Chris Parker be damned  want me some James Dobbins weather routing.
So anyway back to the story.  I am 30 miles offshore and enjoying the crystal clear blue water water.  Flying fish are skittering across the top of the water and overall it is just a pure joy.  Did I mention that a pod of Dolphins had also opted to use JusCrewZen as a play toy for a few minutes.  Things were going great.  This should be a simple two day run to Tampa.
Ok, here is where you cue the ominous music.  My nose gets throughly accosted by this horrific odor.  This is when I look up and see that the Princess has left a pair of her shoes right by the companionway hatch.  Now you guys don’t understand, the only place that the Princess produces odor is through her feet.  And we are not talking about some little dainty odor either.  We are talking full fledge swing a bat and Hank Aaron a ball over the outfield odor.  I have actually considered hanging her shoes over the side and seeing if they would be like dynamite and all of the fish would float to the surface, but then the odor contamination may infect the fish.  Plus, I am pretty sure Florida Parks and Wildlife would have major issues with the shoes being the cause of red tide and massive fish kills.  Not real sure what I can or will do about the shoes.
I move over near the shoes and thn I realize that is not were the smell is coming from.  If is coming from down below.  With further inspection I notice that it is coming from the engine room.  I pop the hatch open and thats when I realize I am in a world of hurt.  I have a fire.
What to do!  What to do!
As of right now there are no flames, but there are these nostril searing tendrils of smoke billowing out of the engine compartment.  I look around and notice that there is no power to the panel.  As I look I notice that a ground wire has become one with my main house bank supply line.  Now kids, don’t do this at home.  I reach over and pull the two wires apart and shut down all of the power supply switches.  I am now sitting offshore with no power and no way to start the engine.  Let me mention that while this is going on I have the main, the jib and the mizzen completely out.  There is not enough wind to make them luff.  All I have is my own ingenuity.  (Thats a scary thought huh)
Well I spend close to an hour pulling the main battery wire out of the bundle.  It has melted itself to several of the other wires.  I get it pulled from the system.  I need this wire to get the engine started and to run all of the boats systems.  No I do not have a replacement for it.  What to do?
I broke out the roll of blue painters tape and began wrapping the wire.  My idea is to insulate it from being able to touch anything else just long enough to get me to the nearest port.
Look out Panama City here I come.
This happened to this wire almost instaneously

Monday, August 6, 2012

OMG - I'm Gonna Die

Destin Harbor Sunset

Ok so one of the reasons I did not want to go offshore from Houston to Pensacola was that I did not want to pound my boat unnecessarily.  I looked over the weather and decided that this would be a great day to head to Panama City.  (You will notice that the heading of this article does not say from Pensacola to Panama City.)  I knew that it was going to be a little rough when I got offshore but was ok with that as it was supposed to flatten out and become an enjoyable ride.
As I entered the Pensacola channel to make my exit the seas built to 4 foot rollers with the occasional 6 to 8 thrown in there for good measure.  I was thinking to myself that this is normal and that they would pass.  Four hours later I had cover a measly 10 miles and was making virtually no headway.  The wind was on the nose and the seas were 4 to 6 and basically my life was being made to be miserable.  I immediately began looking at the charts trying to see what I could do.  This is when I spotted Destin as a port of call and with my course change it would let me offset my motoring with a little sailing.  
I liked this idea, instead of pounding I would be able to sit in a nice anchorage and wait till I had a better window.  (Little did I know what was to come of this)  I immediately make the course corrections and because of the fact that I was able to get my jib out the  boat settled down a little and began taking the waves much better.  The computer was showing that I would make the entrance to the channel sometime a little after 9PM.
Now, everyone always says never make port at night.  Well, I am one of those sailors that has never made a port during the day.  No matter how much I have planned for it, it just has never worked out that way.  Now here I am looking at arriving at Destin after dark.  No Problem. Right???
I reviewed the charts.  I reviewed the satalite immagery of the area.  I called friends and had them look everything up.  I was prepared.  I can do this.
As I get a little closer to the entrance, I start looking at the lights.  They look a tlittle weird.  Instead of lining up and leading me into the channel the red and greens are side by side and kinda lead off into a weird angle.  Well, maybe my eyes are just playing tracks on me.  I line the boat up so that I will make a direct run at the narrow entrance.  I ignore the markers (Never wise and you are about to see why).  I head right for the opening.  I have a following sea and am surfing the 6 foot rollers into the harbor.  All of sudden my depth sounder begings screaming at me.  I have gone from 30 feet under the boat to less than a foot (That wasn’t on the charts).  All of a sudden the boat is picked up and turned sideways.  I am ok with this except for the fact I am quickly losing water from underneath boat again.  This is when I realize with sudden amazement.  I am going over a sand bar.  Just about the time all of this calculates in my little computer of a brain I look off to my port side and those little swells I was riding in that were 4 to 6 collide with the sand bar I just passed over.  Well if you are an experienced seaman you know what happens next.  When the swells hit the sand bar they stand up and become easy 10 footers.
I am fortunate, JusCrewZen has been designed to handle waves like this.  She is a sound and heavy boat.  However, if you remember, I am turned beam on to these waves now and I catch one full broadside before I am able to turn around.  I look at my inclinometer and cringe as the degrees of heal climb higher and higher. 10 degrees, 20 degrees, 30 degrees, oh SH@T.  I am working the helm and get her turned around finally, thank god.
I just kept chanting to myself follow the channel, you are almost there.  I quickly look at my pilot information so that I can navigate by the bridge and into the harbor and one little sentence sticks out to me now.  “Use the water depth to guide yourself through the narrows and into the deeper water of the harbor.”  What kind of BS is this.  Its nighttime and all of the water is the same color.  There has got to be channels markers, right.  Wrong.  There is nothing and I am still very worked up from the sand bar incident.
Well you can calm your nerves.  I made it into the harbor fine.  Dropped anchor and collapsed on deck from the exhaustion.  
You know what they say, if you goto sea and return and don’t have a story to tell then you really were not at sea.
The Princess Learning the Hard way how to go from dingy to boat

Wished I could fish like this guy

Fireworks over Destin Harbor

Party Gras that happens every Tuesday

Another sunset

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Dauphin Island to Fort McRae

This part of the voyage was fairly uneventful.  I was only going to be traveling about 30 nautical miles.  When I woke up, the winds were still blowing 30 knots.  As a single handed sailor with a manual windlass, this is going to pose an issue.
The winds are going to make the anchorage I am in even smaller.  I am going to have to be quick and get the anchor all the way up before I drift into something.  Joy, this is going to be fun. (Notice high levels of sarcasm here) 
Now as you know there is always more than one problem that pops its little head up when you are trying to do something.  Count on it.  The second I start raising the anchor chain I see that it is coated in this mud that could be easier described by saying that it was stickier than super glue.  It would have been easier chipping concrete off with a q-tip than trying to get this stuff off.  It was nasty.  I did not have time for this.  I determined that I would just have to was out the anchor locker later and endure the stinky mud smell down below.  I cranked and cranked.  The chain was extra heavy because of the mud.  I finally got it up and ran to the helm and got underway.
Ultimately this trip was uneventful.  I pulled into Lulus, just so that I could give one of my best friends a hard time.  Since his help sailed right past it and refused to stop and let him eat there.  I enjoyed Lulus, it was much bigger than I thought it would be.
I headed off about 4 in the afternoon.  I made it to Wolf Bay just before dark and dropped the anchor out in the middle of the bay.  I was alone and secluded.  I watched a beautiful sunset, and nestle into the boat for the evening.  I only have 15 miles to go to reach the anchorage I have been dreaming about in Pensacola.
The next morning I wake up to dolphins.  They are amazing.  It doesn’t really get any better than this.  This is what it is all about.
I hoist the anchor and get moving.  This is the location where you can watch the water go from muddy brown to a clear emerald green.  It is pretty amazing.  When you leave Texas, Pensacola is the first place that you can say you have really started cruising.

Wolf Bay Anchorage

Gotta Love this Place

Just one more item to make the Princess Jealous 
JusCrewZen tied at the dock of Lulu's - She's looking good

The Ft McRae anchorage in Pensacola

Friday, August 3, 2012

Like a Fishin’ Bobber

We were snorkeling the Windjammer wreck off of Loggerhead Key when it occurred to me…..  I float like a fishing bobber. 

I’ve always been a tad more buoyant than my friends.  When I was young I could jump off the diving board and my head would never go under the water.  And today it was confirmed again.  I was swimming behind four other people today and I noticed how their bodies angled slightly downward, so that their legs were about six inches to a foot under the surface.  I then took notice of my own body and realized that from my head to below my butt; my body was on the surface. 

I tried to get my body to do what theirs were doing and after about five minutes of being unsuccessful and expending a heck of a lot of energy, I gave up.  I was also a little discouraged because I couldn’t swim down to get a closer look at the 600 lb grouper or the 2 large lobsters.  Every time I tried it was like my butt was a balloon and it was refusing to go below the surface. 

I guess I shouldn’t be too upset about this.  Especially since I’m learning to love snorkeling.  Being buoyant seems to come in handy when you need to mess with your mask or snorkel and you don’t have to tread water, instead you can just sit in the water and get your stuff done.  Or when you have a cramp and can stay afloat while being completely straight and vertical while you flex your foot. 
So fine, I can be like a fishing bobber. 

And for my random picture of the day "Tiniest Hermit Crab EVER!!!"  I squee'd, yep, not ashamed of it.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Being Stalked by a Barracuda

Oh my gosh!  I am officially a Barracuda magnet.  We went snorkeling two different places today and both times I was stalked by Barracuda.  Sometimes two at a time.  They would start out kinda far away and each time I turned around they had gotten closer.  And of course when I turned around they would play the “you don’t see me” game. 

Of course I see you!  You’re a freakin’ Barracuda!  It’s a big ocean; get out of my personal space!  But did any of them listen to me?  No…..instead they followed me around for several hours.  The smaller ones I would sometimes swim towards and at least make them move back a good 10 feet, but the 4-6 footers I wasn’t so brave with. 

They love me so much that we even had one camp out under our boat the entire time we were there. 

The hubby kept telling me they’re just curious like annoying cats.  That’s great, but I love cats.  Barracuda…..not so much.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

I’m Fairly Sure This Is What Heaven Looks Like

The water here in the Dry Tortugas is amazing.  The deep water is a deep but bright blue, turning to turquoise as it gets shallower.  You don’t even see water this blue in swimming pools.  The hubby keeps saying that our time here falls into the category of “doesn’t suck”.  The pictures I’m posting below have not been retouched at all.  It’s official.  I want to live here forever. 

Today we went over to Loggerhead Key with a couple we met last night.  They’re also from Texas.  How cool is that?  It seems that everywhere we go, we meet people from Texas.  And I’m OK with that.  There is also a couple we met yesterday, that are volunteers over at Loggerhead and spend 3 months at a time living on the island and keeping up the maintenance.  We want to know how they got that gig!

We walked the beach and got to see several Loggerhead Turtle tracks that lead to what look to have been nests.  I’m guessing they were nests because then we would see tiny little turtle tracks heading back down to the water.  It fell in to the pretty neat category. 

We also found a baby doll arm….not neat.  It looked like something off of a scary movie.

On a side note I'm going to be starting one of Bob Bitchin's books this evening.