AT EASE, and her crew, are becoming land bound. It's true… she sets
in her borrowed slip in the Ocean Springs Small Craft Harbor, firmly
tethered by shore power and shore lines, constrained by real and
assumed demands, with cruising plans for the year all on hold.
Family demands, well inland, necessitate crew members be in a
"ready" position to respond, and Ocean Springs is about as
accessible as any coastal locale… certainly more hospitable than
most and certainly populated by dear friends. That the area is a
delightful playground, pleasing to the eye and palate, and
reasonable in seasonal extremes just adds to the plus column.
Shore bound, we say, and indeed we are. Even more ties snake out to
ensnare the unwary. We have a car, duly purchased to accommodate all
this land travel, and now we have a house, purchased to provide that
land base a more commodious home. What a flood of changes accompany
those so very basic purchases. Suddenly there is a need for
insurance here and there, furniture, accessories and such, pots and
pans and plates and cups and towels and napkins and lamps and
bedspreads and "stuff".
And commitments abound… those monthly expenses of phone and yard and
electricity and newspaper and security system and more. And don't we
need a better this and bigger that or another of those now that we
are to live ashore for some time?
Some time ashore… that's the plan. Not foregoing all cruising, of
course, but cruising that is to be curtailed nevertheless. Trips
outbound to the Keys, to the Bahamas, to Central America or Mexico
are all well within newly imposed time and distance limits. Three to
six months of cruising, we think, would be possible, perhaps with
interim trips home. We think it may even be possible to leave AT
EASE temporarily at some distant, shore side base, where we might
travel to and from for intervals of play afloat. We don't really
know. Life is changing.
And this journal will change, possibly in content, certainly in
frequency. In the past, we have reported on daily life aboard,
routines and maintenance, on voyages hither and yon, on adventures
ashore intermittently, and on discoveries and people invariably.
What would one report on when living ashore? I suspect the mundane
will inspire neither writers nor readers… but, as always, the future
By 0730, Sunday, the 13th, we were up, well rested, and had AT EASE
underway in essentially calm conditions. We had spent a pleasant
night hove to about 30 NM offshore, well away from fishermen and
sea-lanes, just waiting for daylight to enter Pensacola. Just
outside the Bay's sea channel, we turned into the wind and dropped
all sails, then motored up the channel, past the Navy Station, and
into the Bay.
Pensacola, and its surrounding area, had experienced severe damage
from hurricane Ivan. Many marinas have simply not reopened and
rubble and damage are everywhere in evidence. We had called on the
radio for local knowledge about diesel fuel availability but had
received no reply. I called the local Tow Boat US on our cell phone
and was told that fuel was only available on the east side of the
bay (well out of our way) and in Bayou Chico within the bay. There
we headed, arriving and realizing we were down probably to our last
gallon or so of diesel. Creeping up the bayou, looking left and
right, we saw obvious damage remaining everywhere and no sign of
life (i.e. open businesses) ashore. Bottom line, nothing was open on
Sunday. We anchored… forced to wait for business hours Monday.
Our dinghy fuel tank was one of our casualties from the gale; washed
overboard after its tether line chafed through. So I rowed the
dinghy up and down Bayou Chico, checking marinas, still in a
fruitless search for diesel. Finally, the office staff of Bahia Mar
Marina, ladies all excited about their newly arrived desks and
computers (it looked more like a bank than a marina), took pity on
me and persuaded one of their yard workers to drive me into town to
get a couple of jerry cans of diesel at a gas station.
With AT EASE refreshed, we got underway via the ICW moving west. We
motored past extensive storm damage, blown windows and roofs,
structurally damaged homes and condos, and mile after mile of
skeletal pilings, drunkenly askew, with the all too visible remains
of shattered and sunken boats. Folks are proud of what they have
accomplished since the hurricane. I'm amazed that it could have
Bear Point, a marina on the western end of Perdido Bay, was selling
diesel, but even here damage was starkly evident. We called to gain
reassurance that the water leading to their fuel dock, an area
surrounded by badly damaged piers, was free of wreckage... and so it
was. After nursing our diesel for so long, we felt positively
decadent to have a full tank again. We continued west, motor sailing
in the light but southerly breeze.
By nightfall, and in increasingly hazy conditions, we were nearing
the western side of Mobile Bay and preparing to cross under the
Dolphin Island Bridge and out into Mississippi Sound. A Coast Guard
boat came alongside, declaring their intention to board for a safety
inspection, and so they did. While I maintained some progress along
the narrow approach channel, two well mannered petty officers came
aboard, checked documentation and required equipment, asked Shirley
a host of questions so they could fill out their report forms, and
were ready to depart in something like 30 minutes. Very efficiently
and professionally done.
The channel leading into Mississippi Sound is well marked but with
day marks and unlighted buoys. They were essentially invisible in
the darkness. We tuned the radar to very short range and used it to
position AT EASE between the marks, and to move from side to side in
the channel as we encountered east bound tows. It was a relief to
get back into more open water. We crossed the Pascagoula ship
channel, empty of ship traffic for a change, and moved over to the
north side of Horn Island to anchor for the night.
Tuesday morning, the seventh day out, we awoke to a thick fog;
visibility something less than a quarter of a mile. We were
entertained all morning by the chatter of tow and commercial
captains moving their vessels through the soup, each contributing
their own observations (and lack thereof) in rich and colorful
language and in the comfortable and welcome accents of the deep
south blended with contributions of both "good ole boy" and Cajun.
That was a good opportunity to document storm damage. We knew we had
lost our dinghy fuel tank over the side. We now discovered we had
also beaten a Fortress anchor, secured on a bow roller, to pieces.
Only the shaft was left. We had a cleat, part of my mainsail reefing
system, shear off the boom and the resulting stresses made a
relatively small tear in the mainsail before I could redistribute
the load. The traveler car failed. Two of the four bearings
supporting it on the track broke off under stress. The fixed TV
antenna, mounted on the mast, separated from its base and went
soaring to hit the water well behind AT EASE. A support arm and one
of the mounts on a solar panel failed. There was general wear and
tear, line chafing and such, throughout, wet lockers and wet
clothing, wet bedding, and gear both topside and below. We also have
about 20 lbs of soggy dog food, salt water and a ruptured container
of oil, to clean out of the lazarette locker. All in all, we got off
It's magical when heavy fog lifts. It isn't gradual… rather it is
like opening a curtain… in this case suddenly exposing a brilliantly
blue sky and bright sun shinning down on the rather dingy,
dirty-brown water of the sound. In the distance, receding inland, we
could see the fog like a wall, almost deliberate in its progress,
not disappearing, just moving away. We knew it could move back just
as quickly. We eagerly hoisted the anchor and motored down the
Biloxi channel, turning into Ocean Springs and its small craft
harbor, feeling very much like we were coming home.
After our blissful departure from Key West and its attendant shoals,
enroute to Ocean Springs, MS, some 5-7 days across the Gulf, we
motored through the evening and night, even through the next day and
evening, in conditions beyond calm… really placid seas and just a
hint of breeze. By Wednesday evening, we were roughly along the
latitude of Tampa but some 70-80 NM offshore. We had intentionally
held pretty far east of our rhumb line in anticipation of a front
winging in from the northwest. From this easterly position, we had
the option of diverting into Tampa Bay for shelter if the front
seemed to be too rambunctious.
Weather forecasting is always iffy… the more so the farther one is
predicting into the future. The most immediate information is better
but I am convinced the only accurate weather description occurs when
one talks about yesterday. For this trip, Shirley and I daily
downloaded the National Weather Service 24 and 48 hour weather
faxes. Additionally, we had a good friend ashore with access to a
commercial weather service and he graciously forwarded that
information to me daily. All reports generally agreed that the front
would pack some punch… winds around 25 kts and seas 6-8 feet, 10
foot at the worse. The reports also suggested the front, a high
pressure cold front, would have continuing weather impact for a day
Shirley and I considered the options. Winds to 25 kts are no
struggle for AT EASE, she really likes 15-20 kts to sail well in any
kind of sea state. It takes that much power to punch through the
waves. Even 6-8 foot seas are manageable; that's really more the
norm for Atlantic trade wind sailing. We factored in the uniqueness
(to us) of the Gulf and its tendency to produce very steep, what we
call "square" waves, and still decided it was a "go"… we would punch
through the front and proceed as close to NW as possible against
winds reported to be from the north; later to move to the NE.
Thursday morning, about 0200-0300, the winds began to build. I
already had the main up, and a reef in place, and had out the yankee
headsail. Over the next couple of hours the wind built from 15 kts
up to 20 with gusts to 25. AT EASE had a "bone in her teeth", white
foam and spray around the bow, as she plunged into the building
seas. We headed NW against the initially northern winds. By
daybreak, winds had increased to 25 sustained, gusting to 30 and the
seas were confused and building rapidly; we were in near gale
conditions. By midmorning, we had sustained winds over 30, into gale
conditions, and the seas had built to 8-10 feet. With sail alone, we
were just overpowered. We kept one rail in the water and between the
clouds of spray breaking over the boat and the waves coming aboard
along the starboard gunnel, crashing against the primary winch and
then surging over the rail and into the cockpit, AT EASE was wet and
Conditions worsened and it became clear we simply could not generate
enough sail power to keeping working to windward in these
conditions. The options included turning and running downwind, back
to Tampa, now some 100 NM ESE, or reducing sail still further to
lift AT EASE off her ear and then adding engine power to keep
working to windward. We opted to keep going. I eased the main until
only the aft third was drawing air, furled the yankee, and started
the engine. Maintaining just enough power for good boat control,
moving about 4 kts over ground, we plowed ahead.
The seas were building and confused. On watch or off, it was hard
work for both of us. On watch, one basically just held on,
monitoring instruments and keeping the boat under control. Boat
motion was violent and in three dimensions and just holding on
required significant physical effort. This is where injuries occur…
when the boat's motion is unpredictable and violent and the crew are
tossed around within to bang heads and break bones and gouge skin.
Even off watch, trying to sleep, even with lee clothes to hold one
in, we were still using arms and legs to brace and could never
really relax. By 1100 Thursday morning we were ready for a break.
I turned off the engine and hove to, using only the reefed main.
Like a lady, AT EASE turned her shoulder to the waves and her
motion, while still lively enough that holding on was a chore,
became less violent. Through several hours, we napped, grabbed some
hot food, and got ready for the evening. A Coast Guard Gulfstream
flew over at low altitude… wonder what they thought?
About 1430 we got underway again, motor sailing about 300 degrees,
shouldering the confused seas and now sustained 30+ kt winds. AT
EASE pitched and plunged, bucking sharply as the large seas drove
by, shuddering when waves and sheets of spray crashed aboard. Water,
under that kind of pressure, will find its way in… anywhere. Even
the dorades, special vents that separate air and water to ventilate
the boat, couldn't handle the volume of water without significant
quantities of water finding its way below. Clothes, bedding and
crew… we got wetter... and colder. We hunkered down in our foulies,
trying to stay warm if not dry.
We were able to make very little progress over ground throughout the
afternoon and into the evening and by 2230 we hove to again, left
navigation lights on and just tried to get some sleep. Winds were
now sustained 35 kts with the highest gust noticed at about 40 kts.
With the continuing demand to brace against the boat's motion, sleep
was broken at best. One or the other was up every few minutes
checking the radar and boat. Through the night we drifted, making
about 1-2 kts, moving almost due east
Daybreak, Friday, revealed a beautiful clear day… bright blue skies
and huge seas. Wind was now down a bit… about 25 kts sustained,
gusts into the 30 kt range. We were now seeing 12 foot seas
routinely, some breaking waves, with some 15 foot seas about here
and there. The seas had become a bit more regular, contrasted with
the confused seas of yesterday and last night, so we could more
easily maintain directional control. We were able to get underway,
sailing with reefed main, staysail and yankee, now being pushed
westerly, still 100 NM offshore from anything.
From the cockpit, we watched the walls of deep blue water build off
the bow, rising so far above the boat it seemed inevitable we would
dip the bow and ship the wave down the length of the boat. Yet, each
time, AT EASE sensed the building wave, shoulder turned and ready,
raised her bow and climbed, dropping off the crest into the trough
with a crash, flinging huge sheets of spray to the wind that then
fell on the boat like surf.
We had white water on the boat essentially all the time, not having
time to drain before the next wave struck, but we only had green
water come aboard a few times when we came down off a crest and
stuck the bow into a wave. On those occasions, even with our
enclosed cockpit, it was as if a bucket, maybe a barrel, of water
had been thrown directly into the cockpit, not impeded at all by our
enclosure, soaking whoever was on watch.
By noon, Friday, conditions were getting better. Winds were down to
20-30 and seas probably 8-10 ft. By 1630 the winds began backing to
the NW, pushing us further into the SW, and then dropping to 10 kts…
just not enough power to sail in these seas. Near dark, I opted to
move north again, motor sailing, with 3-4 kts progress in the
unchanged wind and seas, trying to close the shore still some 100 NM
away. Apalachicola seemed our best bet. We could make progress in
that direction assuming the wind didn't clock. The wind had been
expected to clock north to northeast but just wouldn't budge from
the northwest; the direction we wanted to go.
At just past midnight, Saturday morning, the engine abruptly
stopped. We had experienced some RPM cycling at highest running
speeds earlier so I assumed we had clogged filters. We hove to
again, bouncing about, while I climbed into the engine spaces and
changed filters… finally all three filters… and still couldn't get
fuel flowing enough to bleed the system. Unexplainably, we seemed to
have run out of fuel. Frustrated, I climbed out on deck and, one at
a time, hauled our four jerry cans of diesel back to the cockpit
where Shirley and I, in a real feat of balance and agility, managed
to pour and filter the cans into our fuel tank. Below again, now
with primed filters, I got the engine running and by 0200 we were
underway again, but now sailing without the engine in an effort to
We had filled up the internal tank and four jerry cans before
leaving Key West. We burn about a gallon an hour when under power.
The engine hours and fuel use simply didn't add up… we seemed to
have been about 20 gals short. It's still a mystery… but best guess
is that I simply had not "filled" the internal tank in Key West.
Sailors will know that you fill until you hear the sound of diesel
coming back up the fill tube. You have to stop immediately then else
foam and diesel come boiling back out to fill the cockpit and make a
nasty stain on the water… folks, especially official folks, get
upset at that. Although I "thought" I heard the tank fill, "thought"
I could see foam in the fill tube, I apparently had shorted our fill
by about 20 gals. Bummer!
With the fuel from our jerry cans, I knew we had just enough to
(barely) reach Pensacola some 95 NM away. That now became our
destination. It was only reachable by motor sailing; that pesky
wind, now falling quickly, was still dead foul from the NW. Only by
motoring could I get any power out of the sails at all. By 0830 on
Saturday we had the reef out of the main and were motor sailing with
staysail and yankee, enroute to Pensacola. All day, we closed shore
until about 2230 when we stopped and hove to again, some 30 NM
offshore, to await daylight for our approach.
AT EASE got underway again yesterday,
dropping off the mooring at Garrison Bight and moving back around
Flemming Key to take on fuel in Key West Bight (Conch Harbor). We
arrived back in Key West just after 2200 the night before and made
our way via cab back to the landing to pick up our dinghy and motor
out into the bay in search of our home.
Back aboard, we spent some time turning equipment on, plugging in
electronics, checking equipment, then turned in, into our own bed,
back home after essentially a month of living here and there, with
Shirley's family and mine, and with friends. How nice to be home
again. There is, however, one big gap. Saylor was left with a vet,
"boarded", they say… "jailed", I say… in Ocean Springs. Both Shirley
and I find ourselves looking about, checking on her, making sure she
has water, etc. It's disconcerting.
On Tuesday (2/8) morning, we picked up our mail, stopped by to let
the Key West (Garrison Bight) folks overcharge us for the mooring,
then dinghied into the Navy Marina to provision at the commissary.
Loaded down with packs and bags, we trudged back to the dink and
then once more across that beautiful, blue-green bay, to AT EASE,
who had seldom looked better in the bright sun. Shirley stowed below
while I went about the deck correcting the casual neglect that
accumulates when we stay in one place too long. Just getting our
three lines off the mooring ball took more time than anticipated but
we finally had only a single line rigged to slip from AT EASE's
deck. We emptied and hauled the dinghy aboard and secured her to the
foredeck. Finally, Shirley slipped the last line from the mooring
and we fell off to head in for fuel.
Waiting for one's turn at a fuel dock, especially in a busy inner
harbor, precisely where fuel docks tend to be located, is always an
adventure. One should really go very early in the morning or late in
the evening, definitely not mid afternoon. We began that clumsy
dance, backing, turning, drifting, circling, dodging traffic moving
in and out, impatiently waiting our turn on the dock. Finally, the
last Canadian boat finished filling fuel… and water… and washing
down the deck… and dumping garbage… and departed. We slid in
alongside and passed lines to waiting hands from bow and stern.
"Ahead", the attendant called, "come forward." The man on the stern
line locked us down on a cleat. "Come forward", he yelled
impatiently. Again I tried and again the man on the stern line
locked us down. "Come forward"… more insistently. I stepped off the
boat and explained, patiently I thin, that it was indeed difficult
to move forward when the guy in back stopped me each time.
The attendant, with more than a bit of frustration, finally
clarified the problem, informing all on the dock that our Good
Samaritan, the fellow who kept cleating our stern line down short,
"… doesn't even work here… I don't know who he is." Our Samaritan,
knowing when he wasn't wanted, beat a hasty departure. We did too,
immediately after fueling.
We motored west, out through the channels going through the shoals
surrounding Key West, and off into the Gulf. About the last sight of
the island that disappeared over the horizon was the upper works of
the cruise ship laying alongside Mallory Square. Offshore, we
motored in calm conditions, pushing into a heaving sell from the
north that left AT EASE bucking in a not unpleasant pitch. We
threaded through the crab pots, among the numerous fishing boats,
even into the night, watching their lights fade even as their radar
returns faded, until we where out past the 70 ft contour and into
Just before dark, Shirley brought a heaping plate of roasted
chicken, carrots and spinach to the cockpit. After dark, Shirley
stood watch while I slept. After midnight, I awoke to relieve her.
By 0200 she was back up, complaining that her cold medicine wouldn't
let her sleep. I slept the night away.
The New Year still finds us hanging
on a mooring at Key West's Garrison Bight. There seems little
drive to move on with AT EASE's crew. We have excuses enough to
justify lulling about day by day. We're waiting for renewal of our
boat insurance, a process which always seems to take much too much
time and which involves our insurance company asking for a much
too detailed itinerary of sailing plans for the upcoming year.
Detailed plans when we have proven again and again we are
attention deficit sailors driven more by distracting impulse than
intent. We're waiting as well for a sickly computer to return from
That's only one of a list of boat
chores, the inevitable boat chores, that never go away and only
temporarily gets shorter. While here, I have replaced and swaged a
broken masthead fitting on our topping lift, a wire rope that
holds the boom up when the sail is down. I'm waiting for a calm
water day to again climb the mast and secure the new fitting.
While up there, I'll replace our worn lazy jacks, the rope and
bungy assembly that semi-flakes the mainsail when lowered, a real
labor-saving device. Our old jacks or stretched and worn to the
point of impending failure.
These daily winds of 15-20 kts,
with accompanying whitecaps through the mooring field, have worn
our patient dinghy as well. She jolts hard against her poly
tether; hard enough to feel even AT EASE jerking up short at the
force. I put a hard rubber snubber on the tether line to absorb
the shock loads and sat back smugly content, feeling that problem
could now be stricken from the list. Within two days, the snubber,
which should have taken a couple of thousand pounds of shock, had
simply failed…pulled apart. Back to the drawing board, I
designed a mixed nylon and poly system, with a new snubber on the
nylon. We still use poly on the dinghy, a line that floats and
therefore stays away from our prop when the dinghy is towed. But
now the poly tether is secured to the nylon three-strand line and
snubber that stays attached to AT EASE. Conceivably, we could use
both lines to secure the dinghy, a belt and suspenders approach,
and do so in heavy conditions, but for now we seem to have the
dinghy riding much better in even active conditions.
I've replaced the thermostat in our
diesel; she simply wasn't running hot enough. That now only wears
the diesel but really cuts down on the availability of hot water
in the boat and I have never liked cold showers. Now, with a new
thermostat and a spare, we're cleaner and more comfortable.
I've replaced our Link 1000, the
electronic control box that manages our electrical system. The
Link in placed did everything but manage our inverter, an
irritating failure given our new-found habit of daily television
viewing. The new unit now gives us push button control and
monitoring, allowing me to be even lazier if that is possible. It
really was asking too much to have me go clear to the cockpit,
open the lazarette hatch, bend over and turn the inverter on (or
off) by hand.
Other electrical issues have
arisen. A splice in the battery sensing wire on our voltage
regulator was loose, leading to erratic performance of the
alternator. I was able to troubleshoot that pretty quickly. The
really means I have had to work on that system often enough to be
very familiar with the wiring.
I also noted we weren't charging
from our wind generator and our solar panels. Now given that I
check that about 600 times a day on average, I probably caught
that failure in the first few minutes. With my handy multimeter, a
tool that's out at least once a day, I finally traced the problem
to an amp meter, mounted just beside the Link, that had failed. I
jumped the meter for now, until I can replace the unit, so still
have that wondrous flood of energy, 10-20(+) amps, coming in from
the brisk winds and bright sun. I just don't get to gloat over the
numbers as casually now; it takes effort to walk over and put on
my hand meter to see the actual numbers. I still do it, of course,
but only about 500 times a day. It's just not as convenient.
Certainly there are other chores,
more shopping, boat stuff. I found a broken roller on our traveler
car, the track system that moves the mainsail from side to side.
It probably needs welding but as a temporary solution, probably
more a wish than a hope, I loaded it up with a metal epoxy to see
if that might hold. We're replacing our depleted spares locker
with more filters (oil, fuel and water), replenishing our store of
onboard oil reserve, adding a couple more deck hauled fuel cans to
give as a bit more range, and giving the boat a good inspection.
We still don't really know where we are going, but we are getting
ready to go there, sometime in the future.
AT EASE stills hangs on a mooring
off Garrison Bight, Key West. Days pass by with our bobbling about
as weather systems, front after front, march by. We are used to
Key West anchorages which are tempestuous… high winds and
white-capped waves, wet dinghy rides and cool to cold weather
interspersed with intervals of balmy sun. This year has been no
exception with daily winds of 15-20 kts routine, although AT EASE
is more comfortable, all in all, with our cockpit enclosure.
There had been little to draw me
ashore, plenty of provisions on board and mind numbing television
for entertainment, so wet rides in the dinghy have been avoided by
and large. With Shirley's return to the boat, after a three week
sojourn to Arkansas for family time, we make the trip ashore with
more frequency, shopping chores and desire for exercise seem to
predominate. The walks downtown or to the local malls really are
Key West has been sleepy through
the holidays with much smaller crowds than we have seen in the
past. Cruise ships still make their stops, temporarily adding to
the crowded streets with their rented scooters and bikes, but the
throngs of walkers and lookers seem anemic by comparison with
Now New Year's Eve has arrived. We
planned a "do" ashore after having drinks aboard AT EASE
with John Hixson and his lady, Debbie, who wanted to see how we
lived. She really got a taste of our life style. First the near
mile ride out in the dinghy, through 15-20 kt winds and white
caps, salt spray and all, and then the active ride of AT EASE as
she rode the mooring. After a drink, maybe a few, the lure of
celebration ashore dimmed and the augmented crew opted to stay
aboard and appreciate the downtown gaiety from a different
perspective. We all looked forward to the fireworks display, a Key
West tradition and historically among the best shows we have seen.
Midnight's magic moment neared and
we hurried to the cockpit as New York's ball fell on Times Square.
There… just over the harbor… the first of the fireworks. A
rocket soared and exploded in a shower of multicolored stars. And
then… well… nothing. Oh there was the occasional blast,
sometime a burst, maybe even a mini-cascade of bursts here and
there on the horizon, but no, absolutely no, fireworks display.
Not even the typical boaters broadside of outdated flares and
pyrotechnics. I'm afraid it was unanimous. I didn't bother to sort
through my signal flares either. Some years end with a bang…
some with a whimper. December 31, 2004, a date which shall live in
infamy, ended here with barely an exclamation.
The avid but aging partygoers
aboard AT EASE, all struggling to stay awake so far past our
bedtime, who had started so optimistically, eager to party the
night away, now closed out the evening with a final dinghy ride,
carrying our guests ashore, now wetter, now colder, and now made
older by a calendar that never looks back.