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Sunday February 1-2nd, 2004
Getting The Buggers Fixed.

David and Roseanne, our Australian mates we met in St. Augustine, were in town getting their boat ready for their offshore passage to Australia. We got together with them and Stafford, a man I met at the marina, for dinner at the Quarterdeck. Staff, his wife and three children, ages 8, 10 and 12, sailed their 72-foot steel ketch to New Zealand in the late 80’s. He said they cruised for four years. He was full of interesting stories and also provided some helpful information for David and Roseanne. Roseanne said when they leave Lauderdale, they’ll visit Cuba and then plan to cross the Panama Canal in June. I have a strong desire to see the South Pacific, New Zealand and Australia so when David and Roseanne suggested we travel with them, I was all for it. We toasted to meeting in Panama; Pierre’s toast, lacking somewhat the commitment of mine. Maybe I’ll be able to talk him into it.

The Neil Pryde rep dropped our main sail off. Pierre and I measured and cut the batten’s. Ron and Leslie have a Windbugger wind generator which also needed some repairs so we were able to help each other remove them from our respective boats. Pierre and Ron shared a taxi to take the wind generators to the Windbugger office. Ours will need new magnets and balancing and they will ship it to us in about a week.

Once again, the generosity and helpfulness of everyone we meet is amazing. The cruising community is a close knit group. There seems to be a strong help ethic in the cruisers we’ve met. Most sailors are big on karma. It’s almost like by helping others, you make your own destiny safer and more secure.

Tuesday February 3rd, 2004
Nearly In The Movies!

It was just before sunrise when we headed out the Port Everglades channel on our way to the Keys. We had a nice SE breeze which enabled us to sail most of the day. We could see the colorful Art Deco buildings lining South Beach as we sailed past Miami. The water was striking blue-green. As we were sailing along, a sleek cigarette-type racing boat with several bikini clad women roared past us with a helicopter hovering a few feet above the boat. Pierre checked the scene out with the binoculars and noticed the helicopter was filming them.

Pierre and I found a great form of entertainment for the boys. We put them in our trailing dinghy and let them splash and play for a couple hours. You would think they would get bored after awhile but they never did. They loved their new found freedom in their own boat. 

The boys spent a lot of the day searching the crystal clear water for fish. They love it when I fish, even though I haven’t caught anything. I thought for sure I would catch something in the Keys. I was at the helm when Patrick decided to help out and try and reel in the line. I wasn’t paying attention and the next thing I know he is handing me the handle that is supposed to be attached to the reel. I’m going to be in big trouble now if I catch the big one. I can’t seem to reattach the handle so my only choice is to pull the line in by hand and cut it. So much for catching a fish in the Keys.

We arrived at Rodriguez Key, off Key Largo, just after sunset. We dropped an anchor, ate cheeseburgers, read the boys their bedtime stories and hit the sack.

Wednesday February 4th, 2004
Learning Which Stars To Wish Upon.

We couldn’t have asked for better weather with the highs being close to 80 and a nice 10 knot easterly breeze. Dolphins raced along our bow in the clear turquoise water. The boys stood on the bow sprit with a close up view of the large grey mammals while I attempted to catch them on video.

Pierre was at the helm most of the day while I worked on cleaning our stainless and tending to the boys. By 3 p.m. we had made the decision to sail through the night to take advantage of good weather and to make some headway to St. Petersburg.

The wind was forecasted to increase to 20 knots later this evening so we dropped anchor in Marathon so we could get the dinghy out of the water and on deck. Before we did this, I took the dinghy into a nearby marina and called my parents to give them our itinerary. At this point, it looked like we would be arriving into St. Petersburg by Friday morning. The only way we could get there then would be if we sail straight through for two nights. A strong cold front was forecast to roll into the area late Friday so we wanted to be in St. Petersburg before the 25kt northwest winds arrived.

I took the first night shift, sailing to the music of John Mayer, Marc Cohen, Enya and a few others under a near full moon and a 15 knot east wind. Pierre got me an astronomy book for Christmas so I sat in the cockpit with a flashlight and read the book while the autopilot kept us on course. After just an hour of reading, I had learned how to identify several constellations. What made it special was being able to look up and practice what I had just learned. When Pierre took his trick at the wheel (autopilot) he put his own tunes in the CD changer; Bob Dylan, Doobies, Rod Stewart, Etta James, Otis Redding and Aaron Copland. Oh well, guess you can’t have everything in common.

Thursday February 5th, 2004
Some Quiet Time.

Pierre woke me at 4:30 a.m. for my next shift. The wind had lessened so we were moving along slowly at 4-5 knots. I sat in the cockpit and tried to stay awake. The moon was like a bright spotlight as it shined into the cockpit. It was a very quiet night and I didn’t see any other boats during the night. This area of the Gulf of Mexico seems to have less night traffic than the Atlantic.

I watched the sunrise and soon the boys were in the cockpit wanting breakfast. Pierre was fast asleep so I fed the boys a quick breakfast poking my head up now and then to make sure there weren’t any boats nearby. Once again, dolphins graced our presence. This time it was a pod of 4 or 5 racing along the side of our boat and playing in the wake for a couple minutes. It was sunny and close to 80 degrees today.

Friday February 6th, 2004
Arrive In Tampa.

Victoria, with her three sails full, glided on a broad reach about three miles offshore under a moonlit sky. Sitting in a protected corner of the cockpit, listening to CD’s and writing the journal occupies a big part of my four hour shift while the autopilot does most of the work. Every 10-15 minutes I stand up to get a good 360 degree view to make sure there aren’t any boats nearby. I check the GPS frequently to make sure we are maintaining our course and then I go down below every hour or so to plot our position on the chart.

I woke Pierre at 1:30 a.m. for his shift. The GPS shows we have about three and a half hours before we reach the SW channel buoy off Egmont Key. This channel leads under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and into Tampa Bay. Our plan is to anchor off Egmont until it gets light. There is a chance that my parents will be able to come out and meet us in their boat since they live nearby. Our plan is to radio them on channel 68 at 7:30 a.m. since we don’t have a cell phone.

We haven’t had a cell phone for over a month now which has been both a curse and a blessing. It can be inconvenient at times but overall we’ve enjoyed not being tied down to a phone. We’ve been using calling cards since our cell phone quit working. The worst part is not being able to have someone call you back if you have to leave a message.

Pierre woke me from a sound sleep around 5:30 a.m. We were off of Egmont and ready to drop anchor. It wasn’t a protected anchorage as the breeze was out of the south but the winds were light and the anchorage not too bumpy. Our plan was to sleep awhile but just when we got in our bunk, Patrick decided to wake up, hence, neither one of us got to sleep. I hailed my Dad on the VHF at 7:30 a.m. It looks like he’s not going to be able to make it out because he has a work appointment this morning. After a French toast and bacon breakfast, we pulled up the anchor and sailed towards the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. The huge bridge and causeway stretches 11 miles across the mouth of Tampa Bay and is one of the longest bridges and causeways in the world.

The wind has picked up considerably and by the time we reach the channel heading into The Harborage Marina, it is blowing 25 knots. We elect not to try and get into our tight slip under these conditions and tie up to a T dock.

February 7-18th, 2004
Arrive In Tampa.

The day after our arrival, we borrowed my parent’s car and drove over to Daytona to retrieve our 95 Dodge van. It’s been great being able to have a vehicle when we are in port for an extended period of time. The logistics of moving a car around can get a little complicated but for us is has been fairly painless. We had our van up in Deltaville,VA when we there for a month, in Daytona for six weeks, and now that we are in St. Pete for several months we’ll have it here. No doubt about it, having wheels is a luxury. But in the three occasions when we’ve had a car I think we’ve actually saved money and been able to get more done, as well as having the ability to visit friends and family and see the country a bit more. Our van is like a garage. It has our mountain bikes, bags of clothes, toys, snow ski’s and more.

The wind finally died down after a couple days and we were able to move Victoria into her slip. Within the first hour, we met several nice people on our dock, a few who are also liveaboards.

Thomas and Patrick started at a preschool just a few blocks away, going from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Pierre and I were almost giddy after dropping them off on the first day. We had been with them 24 hours a day for 8 months and now we were free. Our intent was to be able to work on the boat without distraction but for the first day or two we toured around downtown reveling in our new freedom. We weren’t the only ones enjoying ourselves. Patrick cried when I arrived at 4 p.m. on his first day to pick him up. He wanted to stay longer and both boys asked that I pick them up later the next day. No separation anxiety from these kids.

Pierre and I got down to business compiling our to do list which was a couple of pages long and consisted of tasks such as changing engine belts, installing insulation in the engine room, cleaning fuel tanks, repairing teak bungs and deck caulking, repairing leaks over the chain locker, replace main hatch gaskets, whip all dock lines, wax and clean hull and topsides, varnish teak, and install thermostat for fridge/freezer. These were just a few of the items on the list. Now I see why Pierre said we will be here for at least two months.

I’m excited to be back in St. Petersburg as this is the town where I grew up and where my family and several old friends are. We’ve got a lot of work to do but will also have as much fun as possible while we are here. In fact, we've already had our first visitors to the boat. Pierre’s buddy Gerry and his wife Cindy, of Atlanta, were vacationing in a nearby town and came by to visit and see the boat. Gerry is an experienced contractor who loves boats and even offered to come back and help us with some of our boat repairs in the future.

In the small time we’ve been here, we are already feeling at home. We now have a cell phone, we can connect to the internet at the marina lounge and we even have cable TV on the boat. All we need now is a little motivation so we can start tackling our to do list.

February 19-April 24th 2004
Offshore Preparations In Tampa.

When I left my job a year ago, I pictured us sailing among tropical Caribbean islands, plunging off the deck into the clear turquoise water to snorkel among colorful fish and relaxing on white sand beaches in the warm sun. I never expected to work as much as I did at my previous job.

Although definitely a different kind of work, the task of maintaining and preparing a boat for offshore is never ending. It is said that “cruising” is working on your boat in exotic places. We have been at The Harborage Marina in St. Petersburg for two and a half months and while we have finished several jobs on our to-do-list, it seems like new tasks appear almost as fast as we complete others. On one occasion, Pierre was cleaning the stainless on deck when he discovered a significant crack extending through the cranse collar, a six inch long stainless steel collar on the bowsprit to which several pieces of rigging attach. If this collar breaks then down comes our mast and rigging. We had a new collar fabricated which took a few weeks and then Pierre installed it. He was the entertainment on the dock that day as he was covered in the black, gooey 5200 sealant used to attach and seal the collar to the bowsprit. Anyone who has ever worked with 5200 knows how frustrating it can be. It sticks to everything and when Pierre was done, the black sealant was on his feet, hands, face, clothes and even his front teeth. It is considered a semi-permanent sealant so it is very difficult to remove.

Our daily routine involves getting up around 7 a.m., eating breakfast, getting the boys dressed, lunches packed and off to preschool by 8:30 a.m. Every morning, the boys jump onto the dock (lifejackets on) with their Thomas the Tank Engine lunch boxes in hand and make their daily stops to the neighboring boats to say hello to anyone who is sitting in their cockpit. Almost daily, as we walk along the dock to the van, we see schools of fish, a large blue heron and occasionally a couple manatees. There are usually a few small planes or helicopters flying overhead as the Albert Whitted Airport is just north of our marina. The shrimp boats come in and unload a couple hundred yards from our dock and the harbor is also home to a Coast Guard base which has several large CG ships docked nearby. It is a stimulating environment.

With the boys at school, it takes a lot of willpower for Pierre and me not to spend the day playing tennis or riding bikes. Instead we try to focus on the task at hand that day. It is overwhelming to think about everything we have to do so we take one thing at a time. My most recent job has been working on the teak decks. This involves replacing bad bungs or exposed screws when necessary and making sure the caulking between the decks is okay.

When you don’t have a lot of experience maintaining boats, you spend a lot of time researching the best way to do something, either with books, internet or asking people for advice. We often will post messages on SailNet.com. Their message board has been a great source for us as the sailing community always seems eager to pass on knowledge. We’ve posted questions such as: What’s the best material for replacing hatch gaskets?; What’s the best way to clean brass? The other sailors at the marina are another great source. There are several liveaboards on our dock and they love to pass on advice they’ve gained, usually learned from mistakes they’ve made in the past. Having too many sources can be confusing at times.

Another sailor overheard me discussing a problem with our refrigeration on the phone and he volunteered to send a marine refrigeration man over to take a look. This repairman was working on his boat and agreed to stop by and assess my problem. We have a Sea Frost refrigerator and freezer which can be operated on 110V or with an engine-driven compressor. My problem was every time I turned the 110V on for any length of time it would get so cold that it would freeze everything in the refrigerator in addition to the freezer. Pierre and I could not find the thermostat. I was ready to purchase a thermostat when Rick, the repairman, stopped by. It took him all of five minutes to find my thermostat which was hiding right behind a set of hanging potholders. How embarrassing! The pot holders have been in the same spot since the previous owner so I never realized there was anything behind them. Needless to say he didn’t charge me for that one. Now we know why people say it takes a couple of years to really know your boat.

Living aboard at a marina is a unique experience. Our boat is only five feet from our neighbors. You are privy to their daily habits whether you care to know or not; when they awake, go to bed, eat, entertain, etc. It helps to be social in this environment as there always seems to be someone with a few feet of you when you come on deck.

On our starboard side are Dan and his wife Pam. They have been living on and renovating their Ericson 39 for three years. Dan is a diminutive Vietnam Vet in his mid-50’s who spends the day working on his boat or fishing, usually with a stogie in his mouth. He is quite a character. He claims to have insomnia and narcolepsy. He is up all hours of the night, usually fishing. One night while fishing off the dock, he fell asleep and woke up without a rod in his hand. He told some dock buddies who were helping him retrieve his rod that a large fish pulled the rod out of his hands. Much to his chagrin, when the rod was pulled from the water, there was a six inch dogfish on the hook. Dan, a former Army sergeant, minister and self-proclaimed tea totaler, will fall asleep anywhere. One minute he’ll be sanding wood in his cockpit and the next he’ll be fast asleep, his head resting on the side rail of the boat. His wife is a surgical nurse who works six days a week. I rarely see her. Thanks to Dan, I tasted my first snook. Good Friday morning he caught a 14 lb, 35 inch snook and generously gave us half. Maybe a few fishing lessons from Dan are in order.

On our port side are Tim and his girlfriend Holly. Tim arrived on his sailboat a few months before we did. He bought the boat from his Dad and sailed it here from the Chesapeake. He is a 40 yr Californian who gave up working as a news video cameraman to do freelance documentaries. He sounds exactly like Tom Hanks and is very social. Holly works downtown as an architect. They love Thomas and Patrick and invite them aboard often. Tim’s father loved cruising and they sailed many times together to Mexico. His father died last month of cancer and Tim plans to put his ashes in a small container mounted in his cockpit. He said that way his father will continue to sail with him.

Kyle and Margaret are another couple on the dock who have opted for the cruising lifestyle. They are from Iowa and own a hobby shop. They said they have good people running the store while they take care of the business end from here. They bought a catamaran with hopes of cruising the Bahamas but Margaret is not quite ready to leave the dock yet. They took a few sailing classes before they bought their boat in hopes of getting her more comfortable with sailing but she still is a bit anxious. Kyle is a mechanical engineer and is very patient with Margaret. He told her when they left Iowa that he wouldn’t push her. Kyle is so enthusiastic about sailing. In fact, he just left last week to crew on a boat sailing down to the Dry Tortugas, Key West and back to St. Petersburg. Lucky for us, they love kids. Thomas and Patrick visit their boat on their way to and from school everyday. Margaret had two Thomas the Tank Engine trains sent here from their shop for the boys. No wonder the twins won’t leave them alone.

I must admit that although we are up to our necks in boat chores, Pierre and I did manage to sneak away for 12 days last month to go snow skiing in Utah. Thanks to my brave parents, who offered to watch the twins, we were able to take our first trip together without the boys. What a treat.

We have had several visitors come by the boat. One in particular was Dave Crumbley owner of the Windsong Sailing Academy in Atlanta. Dave and Tom Broome, one of his instructors, were returning from Captiva after test sailing a new boat he was purchasing. Dave came bearing gifts for the boys but the candy was the most treasured! Dave maintains the travel journal on the Windsong web site. We were so happy he got to see our boat in person. Dave met Pierre when he first crewed with him on a Moorings Tampa to Tortola delivery in the late 80’s. Pierre is eternally grateful for all the students Dave has recruited for him as crew over the years since.
A few weeks later we made a run to Atlanta to take care of some business. We were able to have dinner with Dave and his wife Patti who Pierre first met when she joined a delivery with them from St Lucia to Tortola in the early 90's. Dinner was filled with old salt stories from the trips Dave and Pierre had done together. Dave and I worked on my laptop configuring software until nearly everyone else collapsed. When we finally rejoined everyone else it was too late for the boys despite their favorite video that was still playing on the T.V. 

Thomas and Patrick are taking swim lessons three days a week. We are amazed at how well they are progressing. This will give us a little better piece of mind even though they aren’t great swimmers yet.

Being back in St. Petersburg has been a lot of fun for me. I grew up here but left in 1989 to attend graduate school in Atlanta. I’m constantly running into people I haven’t seen in years. Pierre used to deliver boats for the Moorings so he also has several old buddies in the area. My parents live 15 minutes from the marina so it has been nice to be able to see them and also my sister Debbie and her husband Scott who are only an hour away. Thomas and Patrick are getting to spend some quality time with their cousins Forrest and Jackson.

As of now, we still don’t know where we are headed next. Our original plan was to cruise Mexico and Belize or the Eastern Caribbean and spend the hurricane season in Tobago or Trinidad. We still have at least another six weeks of preparation which would put us too close to Hurricane season (June 1-Nov. 1) to spend much time in the Caribbean. My dream cruise would be to spend some time in Panama and then sail to the South Pacific and end up in Australia and New Zealand. We may leave Florida and head north again to wait out the hurricane season before continuing our journey. Our renters in Atlanta will leave in July so we are currently trying to rent our house for at least another year. This is pretty crucial as the rent pays the mortgage.

There are many factors involved in our decision making. Stay tuned.