New Years Cruise 09 &endash; 10

by Ed Combs

We tried something different this year, going to the Ft Myers area instead of Homestead, as we have the past 4 or 5 years. I slept on the boat on Monday night to avoid a late storage lot opening. I woke up to 40 degrees of cold onboard Saint Somewhere parked somewhere in the back of our subdivision in Meadow Pointe. I fired up the truck and promptly got a low tire indication idiot light. I figured once the tires warmed up the light would go out, so I drove home and parked in front of the house so I could get a quick shower before we hit the road. We were on I-75 South at 6:15am with a cup of hot coffee running 65mph in very light traffic. We stopped at Jacaranda for a MacDonald's breakfast and made it to the Monroe Canal Boat Ramp around 9:15am with the temperature up to a blazing 45 degrees. Within minutes of pulling in Paul S. pulled in with his Compaq Sun Cat, Sanura. We checked out the ramps and decided the St James Boat Ramp was not anything we wanted to launch from &endash; single ramp, very short, with equally short dock next to it, and parking across the street. Monroe offered a longer dock with a fuel dock parallel to it and canal side parking. It ended up costing $10 a day, which seemed like more than the website had listed, but who cares? Paul rigged his beautiful green hulled boat a lot quicker than us but waited for us to finish, so we could launch first and get settled on the fuel dock, while he planned to take the shorter other side before we left on our adventure. With the cold there were only a few boats that launched &endash; all power boats &endash; while we were rigging, it might be a problem on a nice day since PB types are pretty impatient with sailors. We launched Saint Somewhere easily, even with the tide just above the low mark -1.4ft. I put a double bow line on so we could spin SS to starboard and pull her onto the fuel dock while we put the dinghy and other junk on. While I was parking Paul pulled to the ramp to launch. I admit that I got in a hurry &endash; grabbed the dinghy and my coffee cup &endash; and made a run to the ramp to help Paul &endash; who really didn't need my help, leaving my cellphone, yes the number I gave everyone to call me with questions on &endash; in the truck. Paul launched and we tied him off. I got on SS and started the last minute preparations &endash; GPSMap 76C in the cradle, on and tracking, depthsounder on, and radio on with VHF 71 selected. As always something always comes up and I got a low battery indication on the GPS, so I had to change those out before motoring out. While changing them a big, impatient power boat started coming down the ramp attempting to thread the needle between Sanura and Saint Somewhere. Paul went ahead and pulled off under power to avoid a possible collision, and I finished putting in the batteries and followed him.

The Monroe Canal has a couple of restaurants on it with dock space, at least on the cold Tuesday and Friday I saw them. One side of the canal was lined with little docks in front of older trailers and the other side with ancient homes interspersed with new, expensive homes, usually on stilts. A little over a mile to the end of the canal we made a port turn, passed a few markers, and were out in the water near the western end of "The Miserable Mile".

Since we were the committee boat we decided to sail straight to Picnic Island and monitor the radio for all the arrivals we were expecting. We had a reefed main up and rather than shake out the reef, which we didn't need, we left it alone and did a stately 3 &endash; 4mph over to the shallows leading to Picnic. We dropped the sail, pulled up the centerboard and rudder, and motored on the southwestern edge of the shoal that protects Picnic from the Power Boat wakes in the Miserable Mile. We anchored and explored the eastern edge of the island.


As always there was a bunch of trash, but at least it was bagged and put under the sign announcing Picnic Island &endash; please remove your trash. This was just about the time I realized I had forgotten my phone in the truck, so I got my trusty Humminbird VHF-5 out, loaded it up with batteries, and heard nothing from the other boats. Paul pulled in after sailing down and around the end of the island, so we set up beach chairs and had lunch. About 1pm or so I saw a Mac 26X flying the main downwind in the distance coming up the Miserable Mile &endash; so named, according to Dave after he had a few, because on a weekend there are usually 150 boats in a very narrow one mile long stretch of water with extremely shallow shoals on both sides, we saw three different boats run aground in less than 15 hours while we were on the island, and that was a weekday &endash; I called them on the radio a number of times but never got a reply. It turns out his radio had quit, so we were limited on communications for the remainder of the trip.

When they got even with the beach I could tell it was Dave and Teresa on Hot Tub. They went to the far end of the Miserable Mile, turned 180 degrees around the shoals 200 yards or so from the end of the island, and motored in to the anchorage. Just as they were getting settled I saw a Potter 19 sailing out from the SE corner of Pine Island and knew it had to be Stin on Lily P. It turns out he had launched at Matlacha (pronounced Matt-La-Shay) and motorsailed down a narrow, twisty, poorly marked channel with oyster beds and shoals all over the place. Stin got anchored and we all sat around talking about where to go and what to do, but mainly, "Where the heck was everyone else?" Even with cancellations I had thought we would have 7 &endash; 10 boats, but here we were, a flotilla of 4.

The winds were predicted to swing around to the west overnight and Dave recommended we get out of the cove or we would find ourselves hard aground until near high tide so about 3:30 everyone motored out and around to anchor on the SE side of the island. I like being able to step off my open transom onto the beach. The wind was on our nose after we anchored but it was SUPPOSED to swing around and leave us with a nice night at anchor.

We grilled on our Force 10 on the stern while everyone else used Dave's grill on the beach, ate too much including some Mac-N-Cheese that Teresa made, and sat around talking around the fire until after 10. We went to bed with some banging going on since the wind and waves had not moved anywhere. I woke up around 1am and knew the stern was aground but that I could still pull us off the beach, but when I poked my head out the wind was a good 15kts, still on the nose, and the waves would have beat on us some more. Instead I closed the hatch and slept like a king, although by morning things were a little skewed.

Dave and Stin had the sense to pull themselves out further so they were floating fine, while Paul and I had obviously slept too well to care. The tide came in enough around 9 to push Paul off and by 9:45 or so we shoved off too. We were off to Matanzas Pass and an anchor ball since the wind was supposed to shift, although it still hadn't. We motored into the wind in the Miserable Mile and although it was only Wednesday and not New Years Eve, there was a lot of traffic, although Dave said it was nothing compared to a weekend, and some of the mega-powerboats just don't care about their wakes.

We made the turn off the Miserable toward the Sanibel/Captiva Bridge and hoisted sail. Too bad for us we still had the reef in when the wind was dying steadily. We were about 20 yards from the Miserable and I went forward to undo the reefline when a 4 foot wake hit us from astern. The cockpit got all the sand from Picnic washed out of it, so I guess there was some good to it. I shook out the reef and started a stern chase after the other three boats. There are three bridges but only one tall enough for a sailboat (Bridge A). Again Dave gets credit for local knowledge because my Clairborne Young had it as a Bascule Bridge. The bridge turned out to be humongous. We motorsailed under the bridge in traffic that was steadily increasing. PB's were zooming by us too regularly for me to like it. As we cleared the bridge I saw Stin, who had left first, near Point Ybel, the southernmost end of Sanibel Island. His radio worked so we talked to him for a while as we steadily converged.

Paul was up in front with Dave, but they blended into the beachfront. Paul was kind enough to give me line of sight bearings from him so I figured out which channel to take in to the pass. Again too many power boats, but we motored in despite their wakes. We tied up at the City Docks, Stin got yelled at for trying to take his dog ashore to urinate, and we found out there was no overnighting allowed. I got the phone number for the Matanzas Inn (they control the anchorage) from my GPS and used Dave's phone to call and confirm there was room for us. There was but since we were little boats we had to use anchor balls above number 55 which put us about a mile from the dinghy docks a the hotel. The wind picked up again, and yes it was on our nose, which made for some fun getting out of the slip at the City Dock. We helped everyone off the dock and followed along. By the time we got to the bridge, again a tall one, the wind had lessened enough to not be a problem. Everyone got a ball, we launched our Dinghy while Dave did the same, Dave picked the others up, and we took off for the Dinghy Docks. The WM Mini Dinghy was a tight fit for us since we had our shower stuff with us as well as inflatable life jackets, the electric motor, and battery onboard. I figure our 350 pound weight limit was exceeded by at least 100 pounds. We made slow but steady progress but fell quickly behind Dave's dinghy. Becky was growing concerned because we were going progressively slower as we neared the bridge and our turn into the dinghy dock at Matanzas Inn. We were bucking a pretty good current but still making limited headway. When we turned abeam of the current we were able to make the last 100 yards to the dinghy dock where Stin was waiting to help us debark. We checked in at the hotel, got the key to the shower, cleaned up in record time, and met the rest of the group for the walk to the Whale's Tail or something like that for a pretty good, albeit pricey, meal. The fish tacos were not of the quality of Roberto's #6 in San Diego, but they were good and the beer was cold. We returned decidedly happier to the dinghy, launched, and started motoring back. We got back into the channel, where the current had switched on us, and got progressively slower as the battery drained from the strain. I had failed to recharge it figuring that the little lights were an accurate portrayal of the state of charge, I was wrong. Just as I was figuring we would have to start paddling Dave came charging around the end of the docks and Teresa took this picture &endash; not much wake, eh. We gratefully threw him a line and got a tow back to Saint Somewhere. We had decided at dinner to sail outside up to Redfish Pass the next morning and get a slip at Tween Waters. Stin was a little reticent about spending that kind of money on a room by himself, so we volunteered to let him use our dinghy the next day. We sat around and read until 9 or so and slept infinitely better than the night before. SS definitely likes swinging better than bottoming out.

We woke up to a beautiful day with winds predicted out of the South at 10 &endash; 15 kts. We waved at Paul as he motored out for his solo return to St James so he could be home for New Years Eve and family commitments. About 8:30 we motored out with Stin following. Dave and Teresa had poked their heads out but had made no sign of getting underway any time soon. Being the slower boats Stin and I took off knowing Dave would catch up with us soon. We cleared the channel and hoisted sail in 5 &endash; 7 kts of wind doing a solid 3+kts. We decided that with 28 miles to go we would invoke the 2kt rule if necessary. Within 10 minutes of setting sail we saw Dave in Hot Tub bring up his sails and join in. About a half an hour later it was obvious the predicted winds were going the wrong way &endash; down. We cranked up the iron genoa, set the throttle to let us do 5kts, and got ready for a long motor. I tried several times to set my autopilot but it kept turning us in a circle whenever I would engage it in auto. I will calibrate it at Lake Harris and see if that fixes it. I even double checked to make sure I had it set for a starboard side mount to be sure, but I ended up with tiller arm. About the time we came even with the Gulf side of Tween Waters the wind picked up, we killed the motor, and started sailing with main only at 5kts for Redfish Pass. Dave called us on Becky's cellphone to remind us that there was a big shoal on the south side of the pass and to get near the marker before turning in. We went north to just short of the green marker 1 at the entrance before cutting in and never saw less than 6 feet on the depth sounder, which means 8 feet of water. The shoal to the south as you get closer in is easy to see - breakers even at high tide. Too many powerboats anchored and fishing, but we sailed through them anyway. We went through just after high tide. The channel goes SE toward Captiva away from Cayo Costa and is pretty well marked. We followed it out to the green 9 marker before turning or we would probably have touched bottom. 1.3 miles at 175 brought us to the channel for Tween Waters. It is very narrow and very shallow on both sides with some current. There are shoals that are high and dry at half tides on both sides of the entrance so we got lined up coming in and kept looking aft to keep lined up so we wouldn't stray outside the channel There are a number of big boats with deep draft that go in and out pretty regularly, but overall they don't throw a lot of wake. Jensen's Marina had a nice, accessible fuel dock and let me jump off and run to the grocery a block away to resupply (beer) since we bought some gas and tipped. You can't get a slip unless you get a room, some type of law. Dave called and let us know that Tween Waters, another half mile down the channel, had no slips so they were going to the anchorage SE of Tween Waters which is parallel to the green marker 21 and south. We had 4 feet of water at low tide at anchor, and we were on the northern edge of the anchorage where it is shallow. Here is a derelict across from Tween Waters that shows how shallow it is just outside the channel near the anchorage.

I wonder if Ted Jean will be reclaiming this boat anytime soon? We anchored, got stowed, and noticed Dave and Teresa getting their dinghy out. Shortly afterwards Dave, Teresa, and Stin joined us in Saint Somewhere cockpit for a planning/cocktail hour.

With the forecast calling for 25kts of wind and rain around noon Stin and I decided to get up and hit it to beat the weather and pull out. Stin's truck and trailer were at Matlacha (pronounced Matt-La-Shay), but since we were going right by there I volunteered to drop him off. We had a pleasant hour before darkness set in. Dave dropped everyone off and then zoomed around with his electric motor (he has a 2.5 gas motor for the dinghy too) to show me how well it would work on my dinghy since my little SBM-18 motor was not cutting it). Who needs lights?

We woke up at 6 on January the 1st of 2010, agreed that I was going to lose 40 pounds this year &endash; I have the same resolution every year &endash; had coffee and oatmeal, yelled at Stin, fired up the motor, pulled the anchor, waved goodbye to Dave and Teresa &endash; who were still sleeping, and motored out with Stin. It was a long, uneventful 2 hour motor to marker 18 in the ICW where we cut in to make the channel for Monroe Canal Marina.

We motored up to the fuel dock and Stin pulled in at Woody's since he was going to leave his boat for a while and they didn't open until 11 or so. We pulled out easily and dropped the mast and stowed for the road. While getting ready I spoke to a guy with a Precision 18 from NJ who had been out for 5 days. He said he did it every year. I invited him to check the WCTSS website and join us in Homestead in December. Another trailer sailor pulled in, a guy from Oklahoma with a Mac 26M. They had a spot at the local KOA and were going to put the boat in the water and pull it to the KOA. His wife wasn't helping him much and they weren't too talkative so we yelled for Stin, loaded up, and hit it. There were storm clouds coming in from the NW but we were safe enough in the truck. Stin missed the turn off for Matlacha, so I pulled over and he jumped out, just as the sky broke and the rain poured. His poor dog was in his boat's cockpit, I hope everything came out alright. I will hopefully get the full story at Lake Harris in a week or so.

Lessons Learned &endash; a jib is really nice to have, I need a bigger motor for the dinghy, the dinghy will have to be uninflated when we want to sail because the only place it will go forces me to take the boom vang off which sucks for sailing, I need to get the tiller pilot working or I will have one arm like Popeye.