Bottom Job: Check!
And with that, our last hard time commitment was behind us. We are truly operating on no particular time frame. We are, for the first time in four years, Vacilando. As we left the lock and headed out in to Charlotte Harbor, we were excited for our first destination. Melody had been wanting to see the Dry Tortugas since we bought the boat four years ago. On that first maiden voyage out of Panama City, we were headed that way but Tropical Storm Beryl had other ideas and sent us into Tarpon Springs. We never made the Tortugas. I’ve been wanting to see the goliath groupers rumored to be there ever since.
We sailed down Charlotte Harbor and pointed straight for the inlet at Boca Grande. With our Delorme tracker running, we got a surprise text from some friends from St. Pete. Geoff and Melody (another Melody!) aboard their awesome Ranger Tug texted, “Are you guys coming down Charlotte Harbor? We’re coming in the inlet! We see you dead ahead.” How freaking strange, right? The universe plays wonderful games with us all and now, as we were about to embark on our crazy journey, two wonderful friends were about to pass like ships in the night… er, mid-morning.
As Far Post (their boat) approached us, the wind began to pipe up, and Vacilando was cruising at hull speed. The two Mels were chatting on cell phones while Geoff and I did our best not to smash into each other. After some enthusiastic waving and hand gyrations, we took some photos of each others’ boats and bid our farewells. They were headed for Naples to see his folks. We were headed out to sea, but not before we decided to tuck a reef in the main.
We did our usual drill and Mel headed up into the now stiff breeze. Not wanting our aged jib to flog itself to death, I began to roll it in. The old girl never made it. The minimal flogging as I rolled it up caused our old Johnson to split wide open at the point where the sunbrella meets the Dacron. A nice, clean, ten foot slit opened up. Honey! Change in plans.
No longer were we headed out the inlet. We changed course, dropped the main and headed down the ICW (again) bound for a safe harbor. Wanna know the ironic part? About two months before we left, we had been cleaning, rearranging and stowing things aboard Vacilando and came upon our spare jib under the v-berth. It had been there since we bought the boat. A nice, hardly-used 135% in a crisp yellow bag. And I sold it. We’d never used it. Never even came close to using it. Our CAL 35 moves like she’s on rails. The last thing I ever found myself saying is, “We need more sail area.” Our 110 Johnson had always been perfectly acceptable. Well, perfect until she wasn’t. Needless to say, no spare jib. I know… I went against my main mantra, “Two is one and one is none.” When you forget the lesson, it will be retaught.
So there we were, motoring down the damn Gulf Coast ICW looking for a spot to stop for the night. Geoff and Melody on Far Post were well ahead and already in Sanibel. We’d never catch ‘em, nor did we wanna spend the money for a marina. We now had a sail to buy. Geoff told us about an anchorage off of St. James City. He said it wasn’t very protected, but it was close to a wacky little bar/restaurant that we just had to go see.
Anchor in St. James City we did. Not protected is an understatement. If the wind is West or SW, don’t stop there. It’s nerve wracking. It’s basically a large open bay that shallows quickly and is well adorned with crab pots. Active Captain has the scoop.
In spite of it all, the shadows were growing long and we needed to stop. We put out a ton of scope and launched the dink. To be honest, Melody and I wanted to simply shower on the boat, cook a hot meal and go to bed but… we had to go see the Waterfront Bar and Grill. Geoff and our friend John Doyle talked of this place so much it had almost become as legendary as Melville’s white whale.
In the dink, Jet took his usual spot up front (picture the Mack Truck dog on the hood of a truck). Mel and I were getting splashed by the steep chop as we motored aimlessly trying to find the channel to the restaurant. I will say, when you run aground in the dinghy, you know you’re in shallow water.
The light was fading and with our jeans soaked we finally found the rickety old docks. The stares were priceless. Jet hopped off and took care of his evening constitution in the side lot. Mel and I gathered on the deck and choked down a couple cold beers and took it all in. I’m simply going to describe it as a… ahem, a very unique place. Apparently, the clams are to die for, but we didn’t stick around long enough to find out. With the day that didn’t go as planned, we just wanted to hightail it back to Vacilando.
It was a sleepless night, and the next morning, we weighed anchor and decided to head to Naples. Once there, we’d make some calls and search for a sail. After about an hour of motoring through the “Miserable Mile” (which is actually about five miles of very shallow water with lots of shoaling), we should be approaching the Sanibel Bridge. Funny thing – no bridge. Just damp, dense fog. Hmmm… looking at the charts, the 75-foot-high span should be less than a half-mile in front of us. Nothing. Nada. Suddenly we heard traffic and when we were about a quarter of a mile away, we finally saw it. Whew!
Then, a text from Geoff: “Fog! We’re offshore heading for Naples. Radar working. You may wanna sit tight.” Um, too late, buddy. Thanks for the intel. We did end up dropping an anchor just past the bridge, though, and waited until it burned off an hour or so later.
Around 3:30 (or 1530) that afternoon, we entered Gordon Pass at Naples. That is not a fun place. A 30 MPH speed limit will greet you when you come in the shallow cut. Those wonderful power boaters are so sweet and kind, too. Not a single one sped up behind us, grazed our beam and left us rocking and bouncing out of the channel. Not one. Cough. Cough. Middle finger.
We’ve been to Naples before, and let’s just say it’s not our cup of tea. The good thing about Naples, and I mean the singular good thing about Naples? The city dock mooring balls are just 10 dollars a night. There is a four-night maximum, but four nights is three nights too many to be in Naples. On this trip to Naples, there was another good thing. Our pals Geoff and Melody from St.Pete were on the dock. A couple of familiar faces help to soften the blow when things go astray.
After a night of rest, the search began. Sarasota. Annapolis. Fort Lauderdale. Miami. Phone calls. Emails and texts. One call I made was to my old friend Brad Storm, a rigger in Fort Lauderdale. He knows everyone and anyone in the sailing industry. If Brad couldn’t help me, I was f-ed.
The universe, however, works in funny ways, and we should have seen it coming when we bumped into Geoff and Melody. Brad said, “You’re in Naples? You wanna work? I took on a big job and I’m not sure how I’m gonna get it done. I could use the help.”
Let’s now recap: The sail blew out. We diverted to Naples. While in Naples for a day, I’m now planning to get to Fort Lauderdale. All the while, trying to locate a used sail and not spend two-thousand dollars in the process.
I found a sail in, of all places in St. Petersburg! We just came from there! You gotta be kidding me. But wait, it gets better. Remember our friends Geoff and Melody are on the dock. Melody needed to get back to St. Pete to deal with some unexpected issues with a client. She wants to leave in the morning. Geoff calls our mutual friend John Doyle (previously mentioned) to see if he will drive their car down to Naples where, John will give the keys to Melody and do the return trip with Geoff aboard Far Post. That lets Melody get home quickly and doesn’t leave Geoff doing the trip back to St. Pete solo.
Well, John was such an awesome pal, he went by Masthead Sails, checked out the sail I’d found online and called me with a real-time assessment of the sail. Once he said it was a good deal, I pulled the trigger and he drove the darn thing down and hand delivered the sail along with Melody’s Audi. That afternoon, my Melody and I picked up the rental car, loaded up the Jet-pack and jetted across Alligator Alley, bound for Ft. Lauderdale.
I spent the week in Fort Lauderdale rigging a Little Harbor 75. The days were long but gratifying. Brad and his wife Ingrid are incredible friends who put me up in their home. We enjoyed cooking wonderful dinners, wine, beer, rum, and stories of their younger adventure.
My buddy Brad sailed a 27-foot Albin Vega around the world in the mid 80s. Oh… with no engine. It’s hard to get him to talk about those days because he is humble beyond measure, but… I know the secret. Ply him with alcohol, ask leading questions and don’t interrupt as he contemplates. Do that, and you just might get the story about the Polynesian Chief who tried to marry off his 54-year-old daughter on an unsuspecting young sailor. You’ll piss yourself when he gets to the part about jumping through a window and running off into the night.
Melody spent her days in Naples harassing pelicans and eating ice cream with Jet for his 10th birthday, and hanging with some new friends she made on s/v Ruckus. Personally, I bet she was hitting on some silver foxes at the Dock Bar. You know… looking for Mr. Goodbar? A Sugar Daddy that won’t send her up the mast to change a light bulb? She’ll deny it.
All in all, what seemed like a stressful, unplanned disaster turned into an opportunity to hang with some dear friends and make some new ones. Geoff’s parents insisted we join them for dinner and we were happy to oblige. His folks, along with his aunt and uncle were gracious and funny. His mother shared her Glen Livet 12 with me, happily proclaiming, “She finally had someone to drink scotch with!” Well Mrs. Proud, I’m happy to share a dram with you any time.
This is a crazy way to live, my friends. What you planned for changes. Now, you have to improvise. Shoot from the hip. When that happens, sparks fly, and if you’re lucky, you’ll leave shaking your head, saying to yourself, “Did that just happen?”
So long, Naples! Thanks for the work, Brad! Enough f-ing around, kids… Lets get go see those goliath grouper and the Dry Tortugas!
P.S. Wanna see what happens when Melody tries to get too close to the pelicans in Naples?