Now for the hardest part of a trip like this–leaving. I have made quite a few close friends here over the past months and it breaks my heart a little to have to let them go. I never know when I might see them again, though, so the goodbyes never seem final. I try to keep in touch with everyone, but of course some relationships will fade with time. There are equally as many that will remain bright and will continue on without skipping a beat when I meet up with the people again in some far-off time and place. I treasure those moments–the chance or planned meetings of people that I have loved and had to leave behind.
For now I have to get underway before the day fades. I want to be well offshore before I lose the light so that I can enjoy the dark and the stars rather than being nervous about unseen hazards. I will be sailing straight from here to Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas–a straight-line distance of about 120 miles. The wind looks fair and light. It should be an uneventful passage.
I have no idea what adventures may await beyond the horizon and the excitement dulls the pain of leaving. What a strong mix of emotion! There is the fresh pull of leaving mixed heavily with the temptation to stay. It all leaves me feeling very alive even through the sadness.
I hope that I leave everyone’s lives a little better for having been a part of them. I know that mine is better for having shared moments with those around me.
Yesterday the Calusa Yacht Club docks were swarmed by a group of powerboats from a Fort Meyers yacht club out for their annual week-long booze cruise down the coast. This is their opportunity to get out on the water so that they can say that they do actually use their boats.
A large, fast Fountain docked next to my boat. The couple onboard immediately kicked back in the shade with cold drinks and began poking at their smart phones. The woman asked if there was a Whole Foods market nearby because I was provisioning my boat and throwing out a few old paper bags, which she had obviously spied in my cockpit. I told her that the nearest one was in Naples, and that the nearest supermarket to the marina was the Publix about four miles away. She was disappointed because they hadn’t brought their bicycles with them and weren’t willing to walk that distance. Seizing the opportunity to be helpful, I looked up local taxis in an area guide that my neighbor had laying around and discovered that there aren’t really any taxi services on Marco Island. There are limos that make airport runs, but that is about it. I let her know what I had found, and that segued into a polite introductory conversation.
This is when my opinion of them took a nosedive. It was one question in particular that really rankled me–after being asked where I am from (born in Australia, lived here for a long time though), and where I am going (sailing up the east coast from here), the next thing out of her mouth was, “What are you–some kind of spoiled rich brat out playing with your parent’s money?” Standing on my tiny boat looking up at them on their huge, fuel-guzzling speedboat I was incredulous!
I responded politely, telling them that I had saved for a long time to be able to make this trip; that I watched my pennies and that lived on a small amount of money. I was a bit upset by the thoughtless phrasing of the Fountain lady’s question, but certainly didn’t let on. I ended the conversation there. That lady had no idea whether there may have been something else that I may have done to have made her life better, like arranging a ride to the store, or not, but she removed any possibility of that happening by uttering a few callous words.
That lady shares what seems to be a common outside view of what it takes to live on a small sailboat and go cruising. However, I am here because it is one of the least expensive ways that I can think of to live–my boat cost about the same as a good used car, and my expenses are bare-bones. I usually cook onboard and do all of my own maintenance. On a good month, that keeps my expenses to around only two hundred dollars. The Fountain in the next slip over could burn more than that in fuel in an hour of running.
I have become much more sensitive to how others feel in the past few years. This has really taken the edge off of what I will let out of my mouth when around others that I don’t think that I will ever see again. Now I treat everyone like I might be their neighbor again someday. In this boating life, that may indeed be the case. I treat this as one more reminder to always be mindful of what I say and how I treat strangers, and also as a strong reminder of how others perceive my current lifestyle.
It is with surprising frequency that a chance series of events has led to an unexpectedly favorable outcome on this trip. It was on a whim that I decided to inspect my water pump last week, for instance, and that one small decision resulted in more positive developments than I ever would have guessed when I first started to loosen the screws that hold down the engine cover.
I originally intended to change the oil in the engine on that day, but after I opened the cockpit floor and peered into the oily pool of water that had accumulated beneath the engine in the drip pan I changed my mind and decided to begin the day by emptying and cleaning the drip pan. That task accomplished with the aid of a drill-powered pump I began to realize that it really was finally time to address the leaky engine cooling water pump that had caused the buildup of water in the first place. I had known about and been ignoring the leak ever since October back on Lake Sinclair. It only leaked when the engine was running, so it wasn’t a big deal, but it is a real pain to pump out and clean the engine drip pan due to the limited access. The engine also leaks oil from everywhere (I look at it as a corrosion protection “feature”), and that oil is much easier to clean up if it isn’t floating around on a pool of water.
I removed the pump from the engine, a task that necessitated the removal of the secondary fuel filter mount for access to the fasteners that hold the pump to the engine due to the tight clearance between the engine and the hull. The entire removal process took almost three hours even though detaching the pump itself really only required removal of two bolts and two hoses. Tight quarters slowed the work considerably, though now I know the process and could do it again in an hour–still longer than I would like if I ever had to repair the pump under emergency conditions.
Once the pump was out and the cover removed I could see that it was a good thing that I had finally undertaken this project because I discovered the broken vane that can be seen in the first picture in this post. The pump was very close to total failure! Luckily I caught it before it lost any pieces, as broken pieces from the failed vane would have caused quick failure of the remaining vanes as they were pushed around inside the pump. They eventually would have broken into pieces small enough to pass into the engine where they could have become lodged in the cooling passages and caused further cooling problems.
I completely cleaned and rebuilt the pump, replacing the leaky shaft seals that had been the original source of concern, and also the defective impeller. That impeller was supposed to have been new when I bought the boat. The previous owner told me that he had asked a mechanic to replace it. I find it hard to believe that a new impeller only lasted 150 hours! Anyway, now I know for sure that all of the important parts of that pump are new and I will sail from here with some additional peace of mind.
So, my impulse decision to look into something that wasn’t really on the agenda for that day possibly saved me from some future disaster. That pump could have failed while I was approaching a bridge with a strong tail current, or when I was trying to leave a harbor with the wind setting me onto a deadly breakwater… I can let my imagination run wild on that one. Maybe an even happier development was the friendly group of people that I met when I took the boat out to test the repairs, but that is a whole other story!
I thought that I knew what Florida was like. I had been up and down the east coast by car as far south as Key Largo, and had made a couple of trips around the Orlando area to visit my grandmother and to go flying at Quest air park, so I thought that I had a good grip on the “feel” of Florida before starting out across Mobile Bay from Dog River to travel down the west coast of Florida on the Gulf ICW. I figured that the coast would all be low and muddy, that there would be plenty of retirement communities and trailer parks, and that the water would be shallow. I was right about most of those things, but the “feel” of the west coast of Florida is distinctly different than that of the east coast.
The east coast of Florida draws people from the east coast of the northern states, and from other big cities. It has a big-city feel. The people remind me of New England. It is bustling and commercial and filled with traffic. When I lived in Georgia and used to drive south to visit some of the coastal Florida towns on the weekend I used to think that I could go no farther south than Georgia because once I crossed the Florida border I was back up north again.
The Gulf coast, however, is a bit quieter. It seems that most of the people who winter over or vacation on the west coast of Florida come from the midwest section of the US, and bring with them their midwest mannerisms, accents, and attitudes. I feel more likely to randomly strike up a conversation with friendly strangers here on the west coast than out east. The towns are less bustling and more laid-back, which makes me feel more at ease. All in all, the west coast has been a very pleasant surprise and I hope to visit again.
Some Floridian details are the same on both coasts to remind me that I am still in Florida, such as the large back-lit street signs, and loads of retirees, or “Q-tips” (for their white hair and white sneakers), as a friend of mine likes to call the seas of oldsters in the Retirement, I mean Sunshine State.
OK, I didn’t get far on this blog before letting it languish. I started with all sorts of great intentions and grand visions of daily blog entries filled with humorous, insightful, entertaining, moving, memorable writing. I had great intentions, but not much of a plan. I wasn’t sure what exactly it was that I would write about. I just figured that ideas would come to me out of the blue and make the writing easy. That didn’t happen. I just don’t have as much material that I want to share as I thought I would.
I think that a big part of the problem is that I need to be more open. I am normally very happy keeping my thoughts to myself. That is exactly the opposite of what I need to do to succeed as a writer! The best writers seem to open themselves up and pour their being into their work. I find it very difficult to do that. It’s not that I don’t have observations, emotions, and stories to tell, it’s just that now that I am presented with an easy way to make my thoughts public I find that I am a more private person than I had realized!
Now that I have learned something new about myself I can begin the process of change. Sailing into the sunset is easier work than personality reconstruction. More to come soon…
It is fitting that this entry is not the first on this blog.
“Where are you from?” “How far have you sailed?” “How far are you going?” These are the questions that I am asked most frequently when I meet new people. Everyone wants to know how far I have come on this voyage and how much farther I have to go. The easy answer is to say that I began in Dunkirk, NY, in the month of October, year 2010. That is where I set out with the JJ Taylor (Contessa) 26 named Cavendysh with the goal of sailing far enough south that I wouldn’t freeze in during the winter months. That is the last time that I saw Dunkirk, which is where I bought the boat in the early months of 2010. It is an arbitrarily chosen beginning, however, because this voyage has been a long time in the making.
I remember when I did a project on the Erie Canal in my sophomore year of high school. That was when I began to become interested in the canals and rivers that cast their web across the heart of America. I was 13 years old when I first had my first pang of desire to travel the thin blue lines linking the Atlantic to the Great Lakes, and the Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. I could easily say that the beginning of this voyage happened in a school library as I thumbed the pages of an old but barely turned book and looked at the images of engravings of men digging a trench to link the Hudson River with Lake Erie.
Today is the beginning of a new section of this voyage. Today I leave Dog River and point my bow south and east to Florida. I don’t quite expect to make it to Pensacola today, but it would be possible. Cavendysh has salt water beneath her keel and is feeling the effects of tides, but has not yet traveled any significant miles in this environment. Before I took her on this trip every mile of water that she had ever parted had been fresh. Her first two owners had kept her on Lake Erie and sailed her during the summer months on the short waves of that shallow basin. Now she is floating slightly, but noticeably higher. The scum line that the river left on her topsides where the surface of the water carried small amounts of oil and other staining substances is now slightly above the surface of the Dog River brine. I have a new set of challenges to meet in the tidal waters of and around the Gulf of Mexico after having become used to the rhythm of river life.
I don’t really have as many profound thoughts as I thought that I would want to share on this blog, so I will do the one thing that might be of lasting value–document my trip. I will write about what I see and the places that I go. I have seen a side of the US that I hadn’t before experienced on the lakes and rivers that I traveled since leaving Dunkirk, NY three months ago.
Dog River marks my return to salt water after about 1,900 miles of fresh water travel on the Great Lakes and the rivers that bisect the continental US. There are a few marinas here in Dog River, not far from the southern end of the Tenn-Tom/Black Warrior waterway. I needed a break here to catch up on all the work that needed to be done on the boat–work that has been accumulating for the last 1,000 miles.
I am staying at Dog River Marina because it is where Ted from the Manatee has been coming for many years, so I went with the recommendation. I have Cavendysh tied up alongside the Manatee. She is used to this arrangement by now, as she was towed this way for about 900 miles down the rivers from St. Louis to here. On Thanksgiving day we had some bad weather that caused a lot of damage to both boats, so my boat was really looking forward to some R & R–Repair and Refurbishment.
There is a West Marine outlet right here in Dog River Marina, which has been very convenient for buying the supplies that I needed to repair gouges in my hull, a crushed genoa car, and a broken bilge pump. Tom Dabney, of Dabney Sailmakers, Inc., made me a new port sidestay to replace the one that was crushed in the Thanksgiving Day collision. Dabney Sailmakers is located only a couple of miles from the marina. I don’t always find sailmakers in the places that I stop, so having Dabney Sailmakers so close to the marina is a great convenience. Tom also supplied me with some new tell-tales for my mainsail and beeswax, thread, and needles for my repair kit.
Outside of the convenience for getting things done on the boat, there isn’t much to see or do around here. A car is necessary to visit town or to run errands like doing food shopping, so it is fortunate that a courtesy car is provided by the marina. The airport is a 35 minute drive away from the marina. The good food stores are about a 10 minutes away. I haven’t visited downtown Mobile because it is so far away. There are suppliers for just about anything in between Dog River, which is south of the city, and the city itself, so it isn’t necessary to go downtown. I haven’t really had the desire to go downtown because when the weather has been nice I have had work to do on the boat, and when the weather has been unpleasant I haven’t wanted to go anywhere.
The weather has been colder than I had hoped, with about 10 freezing mornings since I have been here. That isn’t anything unusual, though. It is winter, after all. I had enough good weather to remove and re-bed the port, forward porthole, which was the leakiest one on the boat. It was a big project because it had been bedded in polyurethane, which has a tenacious grip and has a big flange, which means that there is a lot of surface area for the glue to hold on. I eventually managed to remove it using Life-Caulk’s “Release!” solvent, which did a good job of loosening the grip of the adhesive sealant. I worked the porthole loose over a half-day using wedges and solvent. It took another day to clean it up and another half of a day to test fit it and bed it.
The river where the marinas are located reminds me a bit of the marshes of Georgia. The most part of the river is muddy and shallow and bordered by marshes. The scenery is monotonous, a panorama of green and brown. That isn’t to say that it is boring, though. There are numerous pelicans, night herons, herons, egrets, and of course seagulls to hold my interest. The grey trees are festooned with spanish moss. There are boats coming and going, providing an occasional change in scenery and the possibility of new people to meet.
As part of a New Year’s resolution to write more I have decided to start a blog, so here it is. Why not? I am sitting inside with a good Internet connection and a bit of time on my hands. Eve is here to and was instrumental in forcing, er… encouraging me to actually get this thing started. I have talked about working on a blog for ages. It was always going to be “someday”. Now it is a reality.