Homeward bound?

We began practicing our version of sterile technique before we left Stock Island near Key West. Rick and Louise had flown home and we knew we had to wrap things up and start for home. The only issue was a 20-ton sailboat that had to be put into storage. She is our house for half the year and abandonment was not an option being considered.

Back home in Canada we knew that people were taking the threat seriously. In Florida that wasn’t the case at all. They were joking about it. I overheard two workers at Home Depot talking about the pandemic was thinning out the democrats, the irony was not lost on me. We were already carrying sanitizer and wiping down register screens and alcohol baths after shopping. The Democrats were concerned because obviously they were the ones stealing the sanitizer the stores were putting out but not quickly replacing.

We had enough provisions on board to get us home and then some. We have a freezer and it was full and a large fridge on the boat. We also carry can and dry goods to cover any emergency breakdown or extended stay. Fracas can carry enough fuel to travel 1200 to 1400 nm under engine alone. We were not full, but we had 500 nautical miles of engine range with only 120 of that to travel to haul out. I prefer to have empty tanks when we go up the canal.

Our buddy boat ‘Last Mango’ had attempted to travel to Marathon with us but the residual sea and the wind direction conspired against them and they turned back. Mango is a stout ship, but she has a shorter water line and her motion in the waves can get uncomfortable over time. When Mango told us, she was turning back to Key West we were committed to Marathon and continued along. The weather improved as we approached the Marathon Marina and we made it into our slip. The dock attendant however was either incompetent, stupid or deaf, or perhaps a combination of all three. This was March 13th.

The wind was coming across the bow pushing the boat away from the slip. I brought the boat in and the dock guy had the line and thought he was super man. I was screaming “cleat the line” he continued to try to hold 20 tons and the wind. Luckily another guy helped by cleating the line and working Fracas back into line. “The wind caught it” he informed me. No tip! I thought. The saving grace was that no boat was in the adjacent slip. Other than this one incident our shortened stay here was great as expected. This is a nice marina/yard. They have a restaurant, pool, store and a small RV park. There is also a boat lift and yard for 30 or 40 boats.

Our travel in Marathon was limited to one very cautious shopping excursion and a bike run to Home Depot. I had to forgo the Tunachos I was drooling for. Castaways was closed to the public by now and biking in for a takeout order seemed risky. Damn they are good, I will be back.

It was time to head North. We had arranged a lift date on March 28th and had a plan to get the boat ready and anchor here and there to prepare the boat. As you may know, plans changed, and we made it back home and quarantine on March 27th. Mangos had left the day before. We had plans to loosely travel together (our starting points were Key West for Mango and Marathon for us) to Little Shark River. As it turned out conditions were favourable for Mangos and they decided to make the run all the way to Fort Myers Beach and the mooring field. We had time to kill so decided to stick to our plan and slalom through the crab pots to Little Shark River. Our plan prior to being lifted was to stay aloof and away from all others. We managed to pull that off.

Recreational trap but like a commercial one

Crab Pots? There are a lot of floats everywhere in the shallow water of the Gulf near the shores of Florida. They can make a mess of a prop, your day and your attitude. If your motor is running you multiply the risk that one of these float lines will catch in your wheel and foul the works. You can snag then even while sailing. You end up dragging them along with you, again messing up your day. The fishermen deserve to make a living and we share the water with them, and who doesn’t like crab meat. Still frustrating though.

It was St. Patrick’s Day. I never miss an opportunity to get out the tickle trunk and dress up. Further, an opportunity to pull a cork and have a couple of fortified libations. We may have tried out the costumes in the privacy of our own privacy. Perhaps the cruising sailors St. Patrick’s Day Calendar will come out next season.  The sail from Marathon up to Little Shark River was very pleasant. Seas were manageable and the wind was on the beam. Most of our run to Shark River was under sail with speeds of 6 to 7 Kts. It was a nice trip. Little Shark River can be a nice anchorage, but it can be heavily populated with mosquitos and no-see-ums. Conditions were beautiful with light winds from the East so anchoring outside the river at the entrance was a good choice. We get the breeze and fewer bugs. We were also treated to a magnificent sunset and sunrise. There was good holding and it was a nice night on the hook.

Early the morning of March 18th we set off with a destination of Factory Bay on Marco Island. We soon learned that Mangos had arrived at Fort Myers Beach and had secured their mooring balls. For the second day we were treated to Trade Winds and sunshine. We sailed most of the way to Marco and made our way into Marco and around to Factory Bay. There was enough room to anchor for the night. We were noticing more and more boats languishing at anchor.  We were beginning to see more and more cruising (able and willing to move) boats hanging on their hooks. Marinas were beginning to control boats entering their docks, not closed yet but choosing who could dock.

Factory Bay does have smelly clay/mud and the chain came up in the morning looking like a mud rope. I have a hose on the bow, but it uses fresh water and I hate to waste water. We eventually got the anchor up and the mud returned from whence it came. Our night had been fine. All things being equal, Factory Bay is an ok anchorage other than the traffic and the wakes from the boats that drive like they are the only boat on the water. There are a lot of these ‘boaters’ not all of whom fly their ‘Trump’ flags.

While at Marco Island things had changed in the world and our assessment also changed. Our lift date of April 9th turned to March 27th and then March 24th. March 24th was the earliest opportunity. This was March 19th and our next destination was Pelican Bay at Cayo Costa State Park. The United States was well involved with the virus. However, we were seeing very little change in the behaviour of the boaters in Florida. Boats full of partying people, beaches with lots of people not using appropriate distance precautions. This activity by others fortified our resolve to stay as isolated as possible from them. The early part of the 19th allowed for sailing. The wind diminished with the day and by lunch we were running the engine to travel. Our speed was 7 Kts +/- and we made it by Fort Myers Beach and on to Pelican Bay by 17:30.

Earlier in the season I had used my sounding device and created my own chart of the water depths in Pelican Bay. This allowed us to easily go through the boats in the outer anchorage and to snuggle in with the others in the better protected part. This was Thursday and we were five days from Fracas lift appointment. We decided to stay at Cayo Costa until Saturday. We need high tide to get Fracas into the lock at South Gulf Port and the first high tide was at 16:30. It was only a plus 1.2 feet, but it would be enough if the winds were as light as forecasted.

Cayo Costa is a favourite of ours. ML likes to walk the beach and pick up shells and crap and I like to take pictures of the flora, fauna and sometimes crap. This stay however we like most of the people on the 50 or 60 boats anchored with us stayed hunkered on our boats. The others continued to party like always. The sandbar was full of day boats and their people appearing to be oblivious until the FWC came along and moved them out. The Park was closed but that didn’t stop the invincible virus vectors from going ashore. They stayed away from us. We did share our anchorage with another Whitby 42 (no bowsprit) from Guam, the name escapes both of us. There were several Island Packets (like Mango), it must be hard for them to avoid the secret handshake and clumping they normally do.

We knocked a bunch of preparations off the list on Friday the 20th and at lunch time on Saturday the 21st we started out just after lunch to cover the 23 nautical miles to the South Gulf Port Lock. We took our time to arrive at 16:00 and attempt the channel with a rising tide. The ride across the sound was uneventful, we did continue to see day boats full of people flaunting their invincibility. When we arrived at the entrance to the lock channel there were several other boats preparing to go in. It took them a while, but we did manage to get in before the high and cleared the lock by 16:15. This is a boater operated lock requiring pulling and holding chains and sequencing things properly. Fracas is close to 50 feet with bowsprit and dinghy and nearly fills the lock.

We are in fresh water again. The critters trying to cling to the hull are screwed now. Fracas might float a little lower, but the fresh water is great at flushing the salt out of the engine and other systems. We did run the dinghy motor also to flush out the salt. This was Saturday March 21st and we would have to hold here until March 24th. Normally two days on the hook in the same place would be a nice break. We however had to finish stripping the boat and putting stuff below decks. Getting the sails down (if there is wind) can be a bit of a challenge. We did manage to get them corralled and into the V-berth. Next, we tackled the running rigging and began to secure the rest of the stuff that makes Fracas a sailboat. For hurricane preparations you need to bare the decks and rigging as much as possible to reduce windage.

By the end of the day on Monday we were ready. Charlotte Harbor Boat Storage is the marina that does the lifting of the boat. Once you get tied to their docks it becomes well organized. They only have two docks and room for three to wait. We were on anchor at 08:00 we called, and they said to come in a dock would be available when we arrived. We got there at 09:00 and we were being lifted by 11:00. The next step is to be loaded on the trailer and trucked down the road to J and R Marine Services yard for storage. It always gives my heart a pause to see Fracas bouncing and scurrying down the highway. The turn into the yard at J & R is an uphill right turn. Fracas always does a weird wiggle when they do that, I close my eyes, no rum in the truck.

Randy is quick, professional and patient (to a point) and worked with me to get Fracas levelled just right. If you don’t get a Whitby just right, bow down a bit, the water will not clear completely off the decks. We got it just right and Randy was still smiling albeit a bit more tightly. Everyone kept their distances, but the boat yard was much quieter. I didn’t see any of the usual characters in the yard, not even the old, old guy who mumbles, rambles and then laughs and moves on. I’m not sure what language he speaks or even what planet he hails from for that matter. Fracas was on her stands on March 24th.

Our yard preparations were quickly and efficiently tackled and by 14:00 hrs on March 25th we were doing final adjustments and ready to head North. Fracas’ teak had been covered, her decks cleared, and stuff tied down. The bug bombs had been fired off and the power had been shut down. We run a dehumidifier all storage season and that was energized. It was time to switch modes and learn to drive a truck and trailer for the nearly 1800 miles (2900 kilometers) home. In my younger days I would have tried to drive this in one sitting, I’m older now.

Our first stop was the North Jacksonville KOA just over the border from Florida into Georgia. We left at 14:30 and we were in the park by 20:30 about 317 miles (510 km) March 25th. The next day we set our sights on Kentucky, I like Kentucky. The park was the Renfro Valley KOA near Vernon Kentucky 635 miles (1021 Kms), a long day.

This morning March 26th we were 893 miles (1437 Kms). It would be a very long day. RV parks in Northern Michigan would be closed and cold. We found a park that was open, but it was not far enough for a stop. We drove on, and on and on. As we neared the border it was apparent that we would go all the way without stopping.

By 02:30 on March 28th we were on the island and isolated in quarantine.

We didn’t stop for anything other than fuel. The KOA parks had taken precautions to eliminate human to human contact. They left packages like they do for after hours arrivals. We reviewed them with gloves on and then trashed them. I washed my hands and used so much hand sanitizer I didn’t want a reaching cocktail (not exactly true).

Our procedure for fueling was as follows:

ML would give me a pair of gloves and a Clorox wipe. I would wipe down the screen/touchpad and the nozzle for fueling. The credit card used would be wiped down and put in its bag. I would remove my gloves correctly and trash them. ML would put hand sanitizer on my hands, and I would rub that alcohol everywhere up to the elbows.

I felt badly for an older guy (older than me) who had one glove on and that was his protection and only step. This guy was watching me, and I could see realization seeping into his brain. I wanted to help him, but I wasn’t going to get that close to him. I moved on.

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