The Un-B.E.E.R. Cruise - 2008
by Ed Combs
Because of gas prices exacerbated by the fact we had done the eastern BEER route 3 times before we decided to host an alternative cruise that most of us could get to with less than a tank of gas, roundtrip. We were rained out in April at Cayou Costa so decided to try something similar again but planned on sailing in the Gulf a lot.
Launched Friday at Eldred's Marina in Placida, FL about 10:30, the marina was crowded because there was a gigantic tarpon tournament going on, but we didn't know that and ignorance is bliss, especially after 4 or 5 beers. We sailed 7+ miles up the ICW to Stump's Pass to rendezvous with Ron, Bill, and Paul on the beach just inside the pass. Planned to go over to the Tiki Bar around 3 but missed the weather shift and ended up fleeing to an anchorage for a nonweather event. The storm parted and went by on both sides of us with just a few stray drops of rain. We anchored up in a nice little line with an island in between us and the channel to Stump's Pass. I crawled under the bridge deck to hook up our new Eveready Deep Cycle Marine Battery and found out that the PO had cut all the frigging wires! Nothing was hooked up except the cable that plugs into the motor for its alternator. Everything had their leads cut 3 inches off the receptacles. I modified a 12v outlet so I could hook up one of our fans for the night and went to bed wondering why someone would do that. Our location made for a quiet night except we were aground for an hour or two at low tide.
Woke up on Saturday, sailed off the hook to the little beach we were on in Stump's Pass, cooked breakfast on the beach, and hooked up with Ron and Paul for a sail down south in the Gulf of Mexico. It is about 20 miles total and with the wind from the east on our beam it was a great sail. The waves were gently rolling swells about 2 feet deep. Once we got our sails set and adjusted course to get the swells just off the port bow we rode like a champ. We didn't know where Bill was, I figured he was sleeping in, but knew he would be along directly. We had gone a couple of miles or so south in the Gulf before hearing Bill calling for us with word that he had bought everyone ice out of the kindness of his heart. We all turned around to meet Bill and "The Iceman" delivered a bag to each of us. We continued down the coast with the boys pulling away from Blue Bayou, slowly. We talked to Ron later and found out that sitting on the bow slows you down. We took turns sitting up on the bow figuring we would go faster that way. I don't mind being last when everyone else has a Sea Pearl. We were also a good 400 pounds heavier than the other boats with the two of us aboard, tons of provisions, what I thought was too much beer, and our sailing positions working against us. We heard from Rick and Dave (Mac 26S Mental Floss and Mac 26X Hot Tub) near Gasparilla Pass and coordinated a rendezvous at Pelican Bay. We sailed into Boca Grande Pass about 30 minutes behind everyone else and right into a Tarpon Tournament. We had to fire up the iron genny to get through the line of drifting/powering fishing idiots strung across the pass bobbing in the 2 to 3 foot seas. Powerboat types tend to look at you with mouths agape as they block your tack, since most seem to be completely clueless about rules of the road and vessels under sail. We made it through the confused seas/boaters and sailed happily onto the beach on Punta Blanca Island. It was hot, so we quickly joined everyone in the water. Rick and Linda followed by Dave and Teresa arrived an hour or so later. Becky was restowing the boat when she discovered our 2 gallon water tank ( it is no longer allowed in the boat ) had fallen over and spilled out completely. I figured we were fine with 8 bottles of Zhills water and a 5 days cooler full of icewater. Teresa was nice enough to give us a gallon of good water so we could use it for coffee. I never realized how nasty cooler water tastes until Sunday afternoon. It is rank! Anyway, back to Saturday. We swam, admired each other's boats, and snacked until a couple of guys arrived. (Pat and Charlie Ball- Ed.) I have to do something about drinking and not remembering names, I think I'll quit trying to remember names. Brothers I think, in their homebuilt Bufflehead sailing canoe. Ron and Becky took off for a ride while the rest of us guarded the beach. After they got back I took Rick and Dave out for a ride on Blue Bayou. Dave steered while Rick and I drank. The winds were light but we had a good sail. About an hour before dark we motored over to a swinging anchorage for the night. Becky stayed awake and got to watch the fireworks show put on by the Tarpon Tournament while I slept the sleep of the innocent drunkard. We had a great long sail in the Gulf, plenty of food and beverages, and hung out with our friends on the beach.
Sunday morning we sailed off the hook to the beach to cook breakfast and find out what everyone else was going to do. Got the bow anchor out and got bit a few thousand times, so we sailed back off the beach and anchored 100 feet off the island in a bug-free zone. Paul sailed over to check on what we were considering and decided he was going home. Bill and Ron sailed by and said their goodbyes as they headed back to Placida to pull out. I called Rick and Dave and found out they were going to pull out too, but at Bokeelia. We finished our breakfast of egg/boca sausage sandwiches with French press coffee (a great improvement over our old percolator), hoisted sail and started a slow sail to the south to Fosters Bay. We talked to the Macs on the radio as we opened up distance and we could hear Ron and Bill as well until they were about 5 miles away. We sailed outside the ICW in the shallows all the way down so we would miss playing chicken with the myriad of powerboats. We averaged 3.5 to 4kts in fairly light winds, maybe 7 or 8 kts, but we were working against the current so I was happy. I got set up in my cruising position, slouched against the seat back and my WM blue foldy-chair with the tiller on my cheek, as I looked through the forward cabin to see what was ahead. We kicked up to five a couple of times but ghosted most of the rest of the time. I started playing with leeboard position and decided that all the way up was quieter and since I couldn't tell if we were slipping to the side, it made for an even quieter sail. It took just over 3 hours to get to Fosters Bay. We returned in 90 minutes on Monday with stronger winds and the current helping us. But I couldn't see the "S" path to enter the anchorage that Paul had showed us before, so we pulled everything up and sailed in, dodging a few logs sticking out as well as two oyster bars. We barely rubbed the main hull once and we were near low tide. We anchored and swung around about 30 feet off the beach in 2 feet of water as we surveyed the deserted cove. It looked like no one had been there since we had 3 years before. We got our beach stuff together and waded ashore. The nude beach signs were gone and the sand looked untouched. We walked the 50 yards across the island to the Gulf where we could just see a couple of boats anchored off the shore a half mile away. We had our own private beach with warm, light blue water rolling in. We swam, snacked, napped. Becky didn't bring our beach umbrella so we spent a lot more time in the water than usual, until we retired to the shade of a tree in relatively bug free comfort around 2:30. The cooler water was getting nastier by the minute, but we needed to stay hydrated so we took turns complaining about it. We could see the thunderstorms starting to build but there was no imminent danger for us so we lazed around and read until 4:30 or so. We waded out to the boat and started hearing about tornado warnings in our area so I set our second Bruce, both big honking anchors, about 5 degrees off our first and 10 feet further out with slack in the line. I figured if we started drifting or dragging the second anchor would kick in while it allowed us to keep into the wind. I figured I would rather stay anchored and have to unwrap the anchors in the morning than any other alternative. I wrapped the mizzen up on the mast since the cabin seemed to be providing enough windage for us to stay pointed into the wind pretty well, made sure everything was strapped down on deck , the 5 day cooler and equally large camp box. I could see storm clouds nearly all the way around us and they were rotating in a counterclockwise direction. It looked ominous as all get out. Rain was falling from 80% of the clouds and lightening was moving from the NE to the NW in that line of the storms but we had only had a couple of sprinkles. We snuggled in the cabin with our heads against the forward edge of the cockpit and watched the weather do its thing out the aft end of the cabin. The wind had been out of the NW at about 8 but started picking up and wavering around causing us to start to hunt on the anchors. At one time the wind picked up to probably 20 and spun us 270 degrees. A little scary and watching the trees on the shoreline rushing by didn't do Becky's upcoming slumber much good. We read and worried until 8pm or so when the NWS finally stopped adding/extending the severe weather warnings for our area. Both of us popped up pretty regularly during the night to make sure we weren't dragging into the trees, but other than some slow, repetitive wind shifts NE to E to SE we had a good night.
Monday morning started out terribly. Our 20+ year old Coleman two burner stove bit the dust. We had just gotten the teapot water warming up when it crapped out. The second burner from the inlet had broken off on Saturday, but the main burner just quit spitting out propane. I fooled with it for nearly 10 minutes and quit before I polluted the environment with the stove out of frustration. We quickly rigged for sea and sailed out of Foster's Bay without incident. We peeked out the pass at Captiva but decided, since we were scooting along at 5.2 kts to stay in the ICW. We had a nice run back with very little other traffic on the water, averaging near 5 kts, since it was both early and a Monday. We stalled for a while near Punta Blanca with the million dollar houses blocking the wind but picked back up once into Charlotte Harbor for some spirited sailing the rest of the way back, hitting 5.5 kts a number of times. We got to the swinging bridge at Boca Grande Causeway around 11:30 after sailing 22 miles or so. We left Foster's Bay around 7:15 which looks like a moving average of 5kts or so, which you can't sneeze at even overpacked like we were and without caffeine! I called the bridge tender, found out they would open in 8 minutes, dropped the anchor, waited until the horn blew, and motored through. We pulled the boat out, sweated our butts off while rigging for the road, and pulled into the Fisheries parking lot at 12:30 to find out they were closed on Mondays. We zoomed back out and headed for home. Because the trailer has 12 inch tires rated for 1150 pounds each, we only do 60mph instead of the 70+ we used to do with Minnow and her 14 inch tires. We got 14.2 mpg for the roundtrip. Not too bad for a Quad Cab Dodge Ram 1500 with a Hemi and 20" wheels towing a 1500 pound boat, 300 pound trailer, and another 200 pounds of crap.
Lessons learned: Get a real water tank so I never have to drink cooler water again! Take enough beer next time or drink less! Buy a Magma Grill from WM while they are on sale for Father's Day. I have already done this one! Wire the boat so we have power everywhere we need it. I'm working on this one. Some Dumbutt outbid me on a 3 breaker panel with an outlet and battery monitor, but I'll get the next one. Get a set of ama supports for the trailer so I can quit being paranoid every time I pull somewhere; picking those up on Thursday. This Sea Pearl Tri thing is getting better as we work out the kinks of a new/used boat!