We launched Fracas on Monday, January 10th; everything went well with that. Normally you can fill up with water after you launch but there was a backlog of boats to be handled. We had been launched into a freshwater canal system leading to the gulf and Charlotte Harbor. The wind was scheduled to be strong and from the North. These North winds would hold back the tidal waters and we needed at least a foot of boost to get out without grounding or dragging.
With no assurance that we would find enough water, we dropped the hook in interceptor lake, a widening of the canal. We have anchored and waited here in the past. It is not a bad place, at least the no-see-ums like it. While in the yard we had a running battle with a mob of honeybees. They had taken up residence in the top of the mast. I tried everything from mothballs to raid. It seemed like we had given them the slip. Fracas had bounced two miles on the trailer to the Charlotte Harbor yard, transferred to a travel lift and a splash and go to give them the slip. We have not seen any bees since.
We prepared to spend a few days on the hook in freshwater to wait for the tides and winds to work together to get us out. On Friday, January 14th, the wind would shift to the Northwest and drop to less than 10kts. This in theory would allow the tide to come in and give us our boost. As this tide would be late in the day we would stay just outside the lock in the middle of the bay. We approached the lock; a boat was just coming through towards us. They left the lock open, and we just cruised in.
Written instructions are the bane of most men. This small lock is a user-operated machine. Clearly posted on the sign is the correct method to operate the lock. We tried a few different methods until ML read the instructions and pushed me out of the way. Apparently, one needs to hold the chain until the gates behind close and the gates ahead crack open. After the water level equalizes one pulls the chain until the gate is fully open. The last step is to stop on the exit dock and hold the chain until the gate closes leaving the lock ready for the next folks to use. The Northwest wind and my rusty boat maneuvering skills conspired to help us miss that duty. I apologize to those who came along next…
When we cracked the exit doors, I noticed that the ocean-side sea level was the same as the level inside the lock. That meant that we could make it easily out the channel to Charlotte Harbor. We had charted the channel with a depth sounder thingy and my iPhone, so we had an optimized trail to follow to get out. By missing a stop at the exit dock, we had also missed a chance to set up the chart on my phone for our exit. We only had a small touch in the soft sand at or near marker 6. Had we used the chart I created we might have avoided that but what the hey…
One needs to have confidence in the weather to drop the anchor out in the middle of open water. These days our weather forecasts for the next 24 hours are extremely accurate. On the chart, it clearly shows an anchorage on Active Captain and an old one on the chart. We dropped our hook right on the mark and it grabbed immediately. The night was quiet and comfortable. ML was transfixed by a green sailboat that appeared to be abandoned about ¼ mile off the bow. Part of the genoa was unfurled, flapping and ripped up. This boat would be much closer to the path of the Gasparilla tornado, so we don’t know her fate.
We knew the weather was going to be severe on Sunday morning. The wind would increase overnight on Saturday and the cold front would arrive with the sun on Sunday morning. We set our new Rocna anchor carefully and felt it was good to go. We increased the size of our anchor to a 73-pound vs our old anchor at 55 pounds. The new anchor is sized for storm conditions for a boat our size and weight. We were in one of our favourites (I’m in the states so I will use their words) spots in Florida for anchoring, Pelican Bay at Cayo Costa State Park. We have been here when there have been 60 to 70 boats, but on Saturday afternoon there were only 21.
Using my charting app, I had mapped out a passage to the back bay at Pelican. But it had been almost two years since we had been here, and I’ve learned that sand moves, and safe passages come and go. Therefore, we dropped into a safe spot amongst some other sailors.
Anyone with either common sense or a dock ashore would or should be heading there. The early forecasts said it would be a strong cold front but there wasn’t any mention of tornadoes. We were well anchored and modern anchor alarms allow a certain amount of comfort that you can catch an anchor slip early. So, we were ready.
The storm was violent, but the main violence was North and South of us. We could see the intense lightning to the North. This storm to the North was the F2 tornado that struck Gasparilla Marina and the trailer park next to it, about 15 kilometres from our boat. The second tornado was to the South of us and impacted an area in Fort Myers called Iona/MacGregor. This tornado was a similar distance from Fracas. These tornadoes were on the ground for several miles and as always seems to be the case they fed on trailer parks and as the news calls them here ‘engineered’ homes. Luckily no one was killed or seriously injured.
We saw maximum sustained winds of 37.5 knots or just under 70 km per hour. Fracas danced on her chain but held firm. We also received about 1.5 inches of rain in less than one hour. After the passing of the front, the wind turned to the North and blew 20 knots and is just diminishing now at 7:00 p.m. on Monday night.
While the storms were approaching and passing, I was watching the radar on my phone. I have an app called ‘radarscope’ that allows some alternative radar views. The interesting one is Velocity. This radar sees wind speed either away or towards the radar. This enables it to see potential rotation, some wind coming at and some going away from the radar site. I could clearly see the anomaly indicating the tornado to the North. I had no idea it was a tornado only that it had the signature of a rotating storm. While I was watching this on radar over 100 homes were being damaged and 30 or so were being destroyed.
We’ve been in the water for a week now and are a little boat happy. We have not been ashore since we launched. Perhaps this morning before we move, we might venture to the shore for a quick walk. The wind is blowing a tad but nothing like it was. We will move South this afternoon, not sure where?