Sunday June 7, 2015
Yesterday morning we were out of LaBelle almost with the sunrise in hopes that we may actually make it to the delivery point by nightfall. It was a measly 40 miles from where we stood until the Gulf, but the extra run up the coast to Punta Gorda had us a little unsure. Once we passed the Franklin Lock at mile 121 there was nothing keeping us back other than the setting sun. The only issue is without guided mile markers from that point on and doubts of the actual miles from Cape Coral to Punta Gorda, we didn’t know if we could beat it.
Matt had woken up feeling a little under the weather and as soon as we had backed out of our space at the free docks and had all lines back inside, I sent him off to bed. I didn’t mind having to handle the boat myself for a few hours though, since shame on me, I didn’t want to share the last Donut Stick with him anyway. Having him down below slumbering ensured I would have it to myself, and trust me, I took full advantage of the sugary situation. Activating the autopilot on a straightaway I ran below to fix myself a blueberry crumble latte using my AeroPress (can not rave enough about this thing) and once again set the stereo up to play some Florence and the Machine while I enjoyed a quiet morning to myself on the water.
I knew I had a few hours before we came up on our first lift bridge and thought maybe Matt would be up and about by that time. As we came within a half mile though and he was still dead to the world under a heap of blankets I began to stress just a little as holding the boat in place under current has never been my strong suit and I normally hand the wheel over to Matt while I handle the radio. But…maybe it was possible to do it all on my own. Getting within a half mile I put the autopilot back on to quickly run below deck and radio ahead that I would need passage in about 5 minutes. Getting the all clear that they would lift the bridge as I came up to it, I went back behind the wheel to slow our speed and time it just right with the opening. It turns out I may have slowed us just a little too much as they ended up waiting for me after closing the road to thru traffic, but hey, at least I didn’t end up with our mast smashed into any thing. That is always a success in my book.
With another one coming up five more miles down the river, I hoped Matt would be sleeping still so I could once again prove myself and maybe not hold up the bridge tender and impatient motorist so much this time. Through the next three bridges I did get better each time and I happily waved to each tender as I passed through and radioed my thanks every time I was clear, each time wondering if they thought to themselves ‘This girl is on a boat by herself? Good for her’.
Little did they know I just had an apparently very ill husband below deck. Although I could totally handle this boat by myself now. Except in the locks…that one area I did wake Matt up to give me a hand since even though I am proud of my new confidence behind the wheel while approaching immobile objects, I did not want to show up to deliver the boat with scratched all down the side because I misjudged the speed or my depth perception was off, or any number of things that could cause me to harshly bump against the concrete side.
With that task done Matt was back in bed and I was only an hour away from entering the city of Fort Meyers. Making my second blueberry crumble latte of the day I settled back behind the wheel while Matt settled back into bed with what he was afraid might be the flu. Not a fun time for him to get sick, but at least this was just easy ICW days with rest stops at night and not like when he had the flu on our Azores to Maderia passage where he was forced to go on shift every 4 hours for 9 days and could barely keep himself awake. I was completely ok taking on a full day of travel myself though and had no qualms with him staying in bed as long as he needed to in order to feel better.
Just as we began to pass the skyscrapers of the city and enter larger bodies of water, it was very evident that some very strong storms were on their way toward us. It was one of those situations where you’re under bright blue skies but just off to your side it’s as dark as night and rumbles of thunder echo through the air. For the longest time I was thinking we might get by unscathed, everything passing just to the side of us, but unfortunately it kept coming closer. Just as I was able to get all the hatches and ports closed the wind jumped up from 10 knots to 25.
This obviously wasn’t a bother as we had no sail up and were in a protected waterway. We would not be left completely untouched though. Minutes later the winds jumped up into the 40′s and along with it came the driving rain. The kind that is so bad you can barely see 50 feet in front of you. All of a sudden my worried turned into oncoming traffic on the water or missing a buoy and finding myself outside of the channel and in the 3 feet of water surrounding us. My only hopes were that other boaters could make out our nav lights if I couldn’t see theirs, and that our charts were spot on with the markers out there.
And then came Murphy’s Law. A large motor catamaran came up behind us trying to outrun the storm and threw up a huge wake which in collaboration with the waves, left us rocking very violently side to side. Truly not a big deal on it’s own, but we were quite low on fuel at the time and this little trick will sometimes kick up sediment from the bottom and cause the engine to cut out until everything has settled back down. Which of course it did to me right now. With gale force winds blowing us into the shallows immediately outside the channel.
I had a few minutes to work with the engine before we were too far from saving or before I had to go through the trouble of trying to unfurl the genoa just the right amount to sail ourselves out if need be. I’ve worked with it in those force winds on our Atlantic crossing though and it takes a very strong arm to keep the wind from grabbing onto the sail and unfurling the full thing, forcing you to round up into the wind just to get it back in. With already impeded speed and being forced sideways, rounding up was not looking like a good option if need be. Instead I would most likely find myself running and straight into a sandbar. Luckily the 6th time is a charm and just as I was about to give up, the engine roared to life and stayed on. I no longer cared about the pounding rain coming down on me, and even had Matt make me a glass of hot chocolate to raise my spirits as I continued to steer through the finally dying storm.
After another hour or two the storm left us completely and left us with overcast skies in it’s wake. By this point I was now fully exhausted as well and it was only 3 in the afternoon. We were just coming up on Coral Gables and I was in no mood to push myself all night just to make it to the marina. All I wanted was a place to anchor and fall deeply asleep. Consulting our Waterway Guide Southern we looked for a place to drop hook within the next 10 miles. It was so lucky we had this or else we would have been completely for a loss of possible anchorages along the way. Also getting the down low on Pine Island Sound we were able to find out that the inside channel was mostly meant for small boats or those with local knowledge. It looked as if we would be taking the long way around.
Treating myself to one of my last Costa Rican beers I put the ‘Dip on autopilot as as soon as we hit the sound and counted down the minutes until we could drop hook. Some dolphins kept me company along the way and just before 6 we were once again still and I was right next to Matt in bed, not caring if dinner didn’t get served until 9, because I absolutely had to have a nap.
This morning we woke to beautiful sunny skies and what should have been a very pleasurable and relaxing last few hours on Serendipity, but it was anything but. Yesterday was supposed to be our full clean down of the boat so we could hand her off in tip top shape, but as Matt was sick in bed and I was behind the wheel, there had been no time during the day and both of us were too tired in the evening.
Since Matt was still feeling a little under the weather it was decided that he would stay out in the cockpit since we could still keep the boat on autopilot now that we had a larger body of water to travel through, and I would go through packing up all of our remaining items as well as give everything one last scrub down. There was still surprisingly 20 miles to go which left me about 4 hours to get everything sparkling once more. It still amazes me how fast one can get a place dirty just by occupying it.
Amidst all the cleaning I would try and take small breaks to let myself not only enjoy all the stupendous beauty of Charlotte Harbor, but to treat myself to all the last little items in the fridge that I had been saving for our trip. The last bit of Amish cheese, a small glass of red wine, and real brand name Pepsi. Not that $0.84 Sam’s Cola that we’ve been living on for the last three months now. But the work was more than I imagined and snack times were few and far between. Now that I look back at it I’m not even upset that I didn’t get to enjoy all my treats. I’m just sad I didn’t get to sit out in the cockpit of the ‘Dip one last time and enjoy all the sights around me. This place truly seemed to be a sailor’s dream inside the US.
Pulling up to the marina just after noon we had all of our belongings packed up and every surface shining. Meeting up with the new owner we gave him a full run down of Serendipity and her systems before moving all our things off and signing the final paperwork. And just like that, she wasn’t ours anymore. Ready for a new keeper and new adventures. For as many wonderful times and adventures we had ourselves, I was prepared to let her go. She’d done her job and served us well. But that part of our lives is now done and we have our own new adventures to start without her. Not that we won’t always hold a special place for her in our hearts though. Nothing can replace your first boat love.