Sarasota To Fort Myers, Florida

Since things wrapped up quickly in Sarasota we saw no need to hang around so we left early and decided to fuel up a bit further south. Today would be a total of 9 bridges to transit so this would be a bit longer day than it would be to just cover the miles we needed to go. When we reached the Hatchet Creek Bridge we were informed that we would have to wait about 10 minutes for the scheduled opening, and, ”oh, by the way we have maintenance people on the bridge and it would be an additional 20 minutes.” So we waited and watched as the crew used a bucket over the side and apparently were inspecting the underside of the bridge. And they were correct, 30 minutes later we were through the bridge and on our way. Our fuel stop was at Marine Max which is right on the waterway at the Circus Bridge. We fueled up at $4.53 per gallon for diesel and while we were there, took advantage of their extensive parts department to get some coax cable and connectors we needed to make some permanent repairs to the VHF cable. Again we were on our way but the afternoon thunderstorms were already forming in the distance.
From Sarasota south on the waterway, it is a narrow and shallow channel and outside the channel the depths in most areas are measured in inches. Many areas we found only 8 foot depths in the channel and at the Venice Inlet we found only 7 feet for a short distance, we remembered this area heading westbound 2 years ago. Then at about 2:45 PM just about 4 miles from our anchorage, around mile marker 40 just past green 13 and right in the middle of the channel, we came to a screeching halt. We had parked Sea Trek on a 5 foot bar that extended right out into the channel and our 6 foot draft would allow us to proceed no further. Usually we can back off or get the boat to wiggle off the bar but not this time. A small power boat full of British tourists saw us go aground and we asked him to run circles around us to throw up as much wake as possible. He was happy to oblige (the women squealed as they blew around us at top speed) and we were able to bounce the boat about another foot but not far enough. The stern was hard aground and the bow was in enough water to get us going, but nothing worked. So we finally gave up and called Tow Boat US, since we carry unlimited towing insurance with them.
The tow boat showed up in about 20 minutes and assessed the situation. He stated that it was only a short distance to deeper water and should be no problem. We, too, were surprised to find the bar in the middle of the channel. And did we mention it was dead low tide? Then things really went wrong in a flash. He hooked up his tow line on a very short lead and easily pulled us off the bar. Soon we were in 10 feet of water. But he was pulling us too fast and once we were free, Sea Trek, all 13 tons of her, came at his stern with a vengeance. If you have ever seen that bow sprit coming at you it can be intimidating to say the least. For some reason he throttled up and took a hard turn to port, still tied to our bow through the starboard hawse pipe. This pulled the tow line hard across our dolphin striker. Still trying to pull away at full throttle, all he succeeded in doing was to get his boat pulled by us stern first while his engine was still throttled up in forward. This caused his boat to slam hard into our port side. At the same time, we were trying hard to stop our boat from moving forward with the engine hard in reverse. He finally untied the tow line from his boat but it was still at a hefty forward throttle and when the tow line let go he got the small bimini top on his boat tangled in our dinghy outboard which was hanging on the davits. This pretty much pulled the bimini loose on one side of his boat. All of this happened in less than a minute. By now we had Sea Trek stopped and we were just sitting in the channel.
We immediately started inspecting for damage and fortunately the old girl is tough, but not quite tough enough. We expected some serious damage to the new paint because he slammed us hard. Surprisingly other than a small scuff mark, the side of the boat was fine. But under the bow was a different story and we quickly realized that a very important part of our rigging had been broken off and was gone. Sea Trek is a very traditional rig with a long bowsprit. There is a stainless stay that runs from a fitting glassed into the hull at the waterline on the bow and connects to the end of the bowsprit. This is called a bobstay, we suppose named after someone named Bob that invented the stay. About midway down the front of the bow, a stainless steel tube attached to a fitting on the bow keeps the bobstay at the correct angle to the headstay which has the roller furling on it and keeps the mast from falling backward. This tube has a fitting at the bottom of it to keep the bobstay from jumping off. The entire stainless tube, along with the end fitting was gone and the fitting that it attaches to on the hull was sheared off at the base plate that bolts to the hull. This is serious since it does affect the integrity of the mast. We were both in a state of shock at this point and we stated to the tow boat operator what damages we had but he did not seem to understand. Other than a broken fitting on his bimini his damage was very minor.
We had to do some quick damage control. First we attached a spare halyard to our Sampson post and cranked on it hard with the main halyard winch. This stabilized the mast and prevented any strain on the bowsprit. Next we were able to tighten up the bobstay enough to take out the slack, but the angle in relation to the headstay was not right. At least the rig was secured enough to travel although we would not be able to sail. We have had occasion to use Tow Boat US in the past, although not often, and they were always professional, capable, experienced Captains. We still do not know what actually happened but the results were a loss of control by the Tow boat operator. We will have to see what the repair costs will be before we decide how we will proceed. In the meantime, we covered the 4 miles to Cape Haze, which is actually a very nice basin ringed by homes with both sail and power boats at their docks. I did forget to mention that all of this was going on with a large thunderstorm building in the distance a few miles from us. We dropped anchor and prepared for the gale force conditions. But I suppose the universe decided we had enough for the day since the thunderstorm stayed just far enough away and didn’t affect us. Our nerves are really getting frazzled with dealing with these storms every day, even when they don’t quite make it to our location. You see them coming but you don’t know whether they will hit you or not.
The night was calm and early the next morning we were up and off the anchor. It is important that we get settled in early since the storms start at anywhere from 3 to 5 PM. We decided to make a run to Fort Myers Beach because we know there are several repair facilities there. It is a large boating center so we should be able to find the parts we need and get the correct repairs made. We will do the repairs ourselves but we need to get some new fittings welded to replace the missing ones. The 40 miles to Fort Myers Beach was easy and since we left in the morning on a high tide, water depths were not an issue. With only 1 bridge, we covered the distance leaving Cape Haze and arriving at the mooring field in Fort Myers Beach at 2:25PM. When we came through here 2 years ago, the place was packed and the mooring field was full, as were most slips. Wow, were we surprised as we entered the harbor to see only about 3 or 4 boats in this huge mooring field. We called ahead to Matanzas Inn which manages the mooring field, and they gave us a mooring assignment so we had no problem picking up a ball for a couple of days. We will do whatever repairs we need to do and a few things we have been putting off.
Don’t you know, as we settled in and went in and paid our mooring fees, which are $13.00 per day, the thunderstorms hit at 5 PM right on schedule. Same old same old, driving rains, gale force winds, lightening, thunder and did I mention gale force winds? Oh yeah, I did. The NWS was announcing wind gust of 50+ MPH in a community very near to us. Man is this getting very old and very nerve wracking. It is not much better being on a mooring since you have to worry about how secure the mooring is and how well it has been maintained. We can only hope these folks take good care of them. Again the night was calm after the storms so at least we can sleep well after all of the excitement.
Friday was a work day for us since the first order of business was to get the remnants of the bow fitting off so we could get it to a welder. We plan to use the base that was left and some stainless fittings we have on board to build a new fitting and adapt another to fit on the end that holds the bobstay at the correct angle. After 30 years, the old bolts that held the plate were not about to let go, so we had to cut the heads off the bolts and push them through to remove the fittings base. This was accomplished without too much effort and we soon had the parts and pieces to the welder. There are repair facilities for just about everything here in Fort Myers Beach and that is why we decided to get the repairs done here. We also had some other projects that needed done while we were in the maintenance mode. The connector on the end of the TV antenna at the masthead needed replacing so that was done as well as a few other minor things. The welder did not have the parts ready at 4 PM and as usual a storm was moving in so it was not wise to go ashore and meet with him to confirm what needed to be done. We found that the fellow with whom we dropped off the parts was not the fellow that would actually be doing the work. So we agreed to meet at his shop at 9 AM Saturday morning. Meanwhile the afternoon storms hit a bit early, around 4:30 instead of 5:00 and this afternoon was a bit different, as if the storms did not want us to get bored. This was a rain and lightning event without all of the winds although areas around us reported wind gusts to 34 knots. We have been using our water catching system built into the hardtop just for these occasions to top off the water tanks. Yesterday we caught about 15 gallons and today we will catch quite a bit more since as soon as our water buckets were full we directed the hose right into the tank deck fill. Good clean rain water is really a treat and we like the way it makes drinks, ice and especially coffee.
We can not say enough about the great service we received from Olsen Marine Service and the owner, Mark and his crew. They gave us their prompt attention in finding a solution to our damaged hardware, manufactured the parts we needed from the pieces we provided, completed the job when they said they would, charged us a fair price and did wonderful work. That kind of service is very rare in the marine industry today so if you are ever in the Fort Myers Beach area and are in need of service, give them a call at 239-463-6750 and tell them Chuck and Susan from Sea Trek recommended them. You won’t regret it. Once the parts were in our hand, we immediately went to work installing them. The process went quickly albeit with a bit of effort. The interior bolts are as far forward in the anchor locker as possible and in a slot that really does not allow more than a couple of fingers to work. We soon got all of the hardware installed, and the bobstay attached and adjusted for tension. Once the cotter pins were in the turnbuckles, we were back in business. It feels really good to be whole again. We plan another lay day for Sunday just because, and we might do some laundry. One biggy though, NO STORMS TONIGHT, and we thought maybe we had been transported to another part of the planet. I am sure they will make up for it later since our plan is to leave Monday, with more favorable winds, and do a day run to Marco Island. Well, let me clarify, we did not have thunderstorms but did have a storm of a slightly different nature. During the night we had either a very large bird or a flock of birds perch on the boat after we went to sleep. The next morning the deck, sail covers, windshield and cap rail were covered in bird guano. So I suppose you could say we had a sh__ storm overnight and it was truly a mess. If not for the repair delays we would be in the Florida Keys by now, but that is the nature of cruising.
Sunday was safari day for us and there is a trolley system that runs north and south on the main highway that you can ride for only 25 cents per person per ride. A short ride south will bring you to a Publix supermarket or IGA for major provisioning if needed. In the tourist beach areas there are the usual restaurants, food and drink stands, bars and t-shirt shops. Not much in the way of practical shopping, but at both ends of the trolley lines there are large shopping centers with a K-Mart and many other stores. We did our shopping and picked up a few items we needed and got the grand tour of the beach areas south of Fort Myers Beach. Since our last visit here we have discouraged cruisers from stopping here because of the very negative experience we and other cruisers experienced mainly from Salty Sam’s, which managed the mooring fields in the past. This, at that time, did not seem to us and others to be very cruiser friendly, but that has all changed. Matanzas Inn is managing the mooring field, and doing a good job of it. They have built a free dinghy dock which is very nice, with the restaurant, laundry, heads, and dumpsters near by. The entire area seems happy to see you now. We had lunch at the Matanzas Inn and the food was good and plentiful. The prices were also not bad for a tourist area. It seems the locals like to eat here also.
Monday morning we were off the mooring ball shortly after sun up and under way to Marco. Our predicted south winds, the direction we needed to go, were south to be sure, but instead of light 5 knots or less it was at least 8 knots, slowing us down a bit and making the chop it bit larger. Unfortunately, we need to press on so will motorsail into the seas today. Not a bad way to spend our 18th wedding anniversary – underway, on our boat, just the 2 of us.

2 comments:

  1. salty_dog_68@yahoo.comJune 20, 2008 at 11:54 PM

    Near miss...

    Chuck,
    My wife and I were on a 6 week dive cruise to the keys on our Pearson 422 "Dulce Vida". We pulled in to Ft. Myers Beach this past sunday afternoon and tied up to ball #5 at the Mantazas Pass anchorage. I was sitting up top and noticed something familiar about the boat two balls away. I realized it was Sea Trek. We had just made a 24 hour passage from Marathon and were pretty grimey and exausted so I thought I would swing by the next day(Monday morning) and introduce myself after a shower and a good nights sleep. Well...

    So, next time I run across a familiar boat while out cruising I am stopping by to say "Hi" no matter how bad I smell or how tired I am.

    You guys cruise a lot of the same waters we do and you have sailed to Rio Dulce(our ultimate goal). It would mean the world to me to have a chance to talk cruising with you. Maybe next time.

    May your sails remain full and your bilge remain empty.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Sorry you did not stop by. Maybe the next time.

    ReplyDelete

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