Sunday, July 19, 2009

Grand Cayman to Florida

Sailing with Dummies (California to Texas Florida, Day 39)

Friday, July 17, 2009

by Mike

We made it! They opened the 17th Street bridge for us at 12:00 noon. We parked at the marina shortly after.

Fishing Report:

Another barracuda.

Grand Cayman to Florida

Sailing with Dummies (California to Texas Florida, Day 38)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

by Mike

Today we planned eight, or maybe nine dives, all wreck dives except for the first one. We entered the waters west of the Florida Keys before sunup and anchored at our first dive spot around 6:30. We slept until 8:00, waiting for good light for diving.

Our first dive was at 50-65 feet in a flat area a east of the Dry Tortugas. The bottom was full of coral and full of fish. There weren’t any coral structures, just a lot of coral growing in the sand.

Preparing for our second we drove around the spot on the map that had the wreck symbol until we saw a structure on out fish finder. Then we anchored and headed downward. There was a very strong current so we pulled ourselves forward to the anchor chain on a rope and then headed to the bottom holding on to the chain. The current was weaker at the bottom (75 feet) but still required constant hard swimming to keep from losing ground. The wreck was a small boat. There were two large (400 pounds?) groupers hanging around the wreck.

For our third dive we repeated the anchoring process. The current was not quite as strong, but still moving fast enough that we held onto the anchor chain for the descent. At 30 feet we passed a thermal cline into cold water. The visibility went to less than 10 feet at that point. We went to the bottom (70 feet) and swam looking for a wreck for 20 minute and gave up.

Our next wreck spot was in 65 feet of water. We never saw a structure on the fish finder, but we did see some nice structures and what appeared to be a steep wall on the way there so we anchored and dived there. This was a nice place with a good, but small, wall. The upper part was 25-35 feet and the lower part went down to 60 feet. Slight current and good visibility made this dive very enjoyable.

Our next wreck spot was in 16 feet of water. The water was so murky we skipped it. And we looked for two more in that same area and skipped both of them, due to no structure and murky water. We decided to head south, away from the Florida Bay and toward the Gulf of Mexico, hoping to have better visibility.

For our fifth dive we found some structures at 65 feet on the fish finder next to a wreck spot on the map. The current was manageable. The water was warm and clear until we hit 30 feet. Then it turned cold and visibility reduced to about 15 feet. We both swam around at 50+ feet for more than 30 minutes looking for anything. Neither of us saw anything except sand and a few jellyfish at the surface. Very barren.

We found some very well-defined structures on the fish finder for our sixth dive. In the water we found no wreck. However, we found some wonderful coral structures teeming with fish. Probably the biggest concentration of fish I have ever seen. Thousands of them, and dozens of different kinds. We spent about an hour at 30-45 feet enjoying the dive.

It was 7:30 when we finished our sixth dive and we were tired. Six dives and five tanks of air each. We relaxed and headed for Fort Lauderdale.

Fine Dining:

I’ve found that diving creates a lot of hunger. After the first dive was French toast – lots of it – and fried eggs, too. The second dive was capped by a banana covered with peanut butter.  And we finished off a bag of chips ahoy, too (it was already open, so we didnt eat the entire thing, just most of it). After the third dive Bob made tuna sandwiches. We had a fairly long break after the fourth dive. That allowed time for crackers and cheese, an apple, and cereal. And I made a batch of chocolate chip cookies, since we ran out of chips ahoy.

Then an odd thing happened. Nothing was eaten between dives five and six. I guess the stomach can only hold so much.

Grand Cayman to Florida

Sailing with Dummies (California to Texas Florida, Day 37)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

by Mike

Staying 12 miles away from Cuban soil, we started rounding the western tip of Cuba early this morning. We should enter the waters near Florida in the morning.

Fishing Report:

The Gulf Stream produced! Bob caught a barracuda. I caught some seaweed.

Fine Dining:

Cooked more fish. Mackerel. Still good!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Grand Cayman to Florida

Sailing with Dummies (California to Texas Florida, Day 36)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

by Mike

Some rain showers early this morning cooled things off. I actually put a towel over my legs to keep warm while I was reading.

We made good time from Grand Cayman overnight but a head current started increasing this morning, reaching more than two knots in the afternoon. It feels better to be going 8.5 knots than 6.5 knots.

The cruise ship business seems to be in good order. In addition to the numerous cargo ships we have passed, or been passed by, we have seen several cruise ships.

Fishing Report:

Fishing conditions south of Cuba are sad. No fish today. After we round the tip of Cuba tonight we’ll enter the Gulf Stream. That should change our luck!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Grand Cayman to Florida

Sailing with Dummies (California to Texas Florida, Day 35)

Monday, July 13, 2009

by Mike

I took Elizabeth and Fullerton to the airport at 6:00 this morning. Back to civilization for them and now I’m stuck with Bob. It sure was nice having them along for as long as they could stand us.

After that we got fuel, picked up laundry, turned in the rental car, and checked out with customs. We also removed 59’ 9” of broken stainless steel hanging from the mast and lashed it to the side of the boat. It was good to get it out of the way. We would drop it in deep water later.

We unhooked and drove about 30 minutes to the northwest corner of the island and hooked up to a mooring ball there for a parting dive. We were looking for a wall to dive, hopefully with a light current. The depth at the mooring ball was 50 feet. The depth when the boat strung out behind the mooring ball was 79 feet. That was encouraging.

We both planned to follow the mooring ball to the bottom. However, once we got below the surface it was so clear and the current was light so we just went straight down. The coral formations were spectacular.

Swimming along at 60 feet we could go over straight drop offs of coral, and swim straight down the face of coral, surrounded by fish. It reminded me of the IMAX videos of airplanes flying over the cliffs in the Grand Canyon. There was coral as far down as we could see.

There was a natural temptation to go over the cliff edges and swim down to see what’s there. Problem is, the wall goes down … and down … and down. Within a hundred yards the depth is 700 feet, and just past there it is a few thousand feet.

I spent about 20 minutes between 60 and 95 feet and then spent the rest of the dive at 50 feet or less. There was plenty to see everywhere. When I got low air I spent a long time on the mooring rope at 15 feet, safety-stopping just in case. Bob did the same.

After the dive we took off for the west tip of Cuba. We dropped the front stay in 702 feet of water.

Our tour of the gulf coast of Texas will have to wait. We have decided to take the Minnow to Florida. We think some of the needed repairs will be easier to do there, so our next destination is Fort Lauderdale. We want to get the front stay fixed. And there’s the air conditioner issue.

Oh, and for all of you who are enjoying telling us that it is 102 in Oklahoma, a few questions:

(1)     How many of you were in 102 degrees when you sent the emails or text messages telling us it was 102?

(2)     What was the temperature in your office when you typed your message?

(3)     How many minutes have you spent in 102 degrees this summer?

Okay, I feel better … but it’s still hot warm here!

Grand Cayman

Sailing with Dummies (California to Texas, Day 34)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

by Mike

When we got to Grand Cayman they assigned us a mooring ball where we were to tie up the boat. That was easy for us. It was also nice because it parked the Minnow right around some coral. There were dive boat mooring balls all around us. That meant we could scuba dive right off the back of the boat without moving.

Elizabeth and I got underwater about 9:15. Conditions couldn’t have been better. Visibility was great, the current was so small it was hard to detect, and huge numbers and varieties of fish were everywhere. Most of our dive we were 15-25 feet underwater. Our dive lasted more than two hours, and we still had air left. Bob and Fullerton enjoyed the diving, too. Fullerton even let go of the rope!

After lunch (mackerel again!) we went again. We explored slightly different areas and saw even more fish. There were lots of valleys and crannies in the coral where we could swim and look up at the fish on the bottom of the coral formations. For easy diving with lots of things to see, it couldn’t have been better.

After diving we drove around the island. Four years ago the place was a mess from hurricane damage. Now it’s rebuilt and looks in better shape than it was before.

Panama to Grand Cayman

Sailing with Dummies (California to Texas, Day 33)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

by Mike

“… again,” he said. And then Bob went back upstairs. Hmm. It was 1:50am.

I knew there were words preceding that, I just had no idea what they might have been. I sat up and decided to get out of bed and go see what he was talking about. I stretched, yawned, and stumbled upstairs and it began to make sense. “The front stay broke again,” he must have said.

The front stay was loose alright. It was flopping around banging into things. Part of the 60-fot furler was in the water – maybe 20 feet. And it was slowly continuing down. The bowsprit, furling drum, and assorted cables were dragging along in the water.

Our first action was getting the sails down and minimizing the motion of the boat. Then we roped the furler with some rolling hitches and stopped its descent. By then we had a fairly good idea of what happened. The stay (stainless steel guy wire) had broken in two and the furler was sliding off of it. The bottom eight feet of the furler and stay were hooked to the tangle of bowsprit and cables that were dragging in the water.

The biggest challenge was lowering the furler off of the stay and then successfully capturing and controlling the bottom end of a flailing, loose 60-foot stainless steel cable. Hopefully before it beat us or the boat into submission.

We wrapped ropes and halyards around the mast and the upper part of the stay to help minimize the stay’s movement once it was free. Bob lowered the furler into the water and jettisoned it when it was free of the boat. I grabbed the bottom of the stay and managed to get vise-grips on it.

With it temporarily under control (three pairs of vice-grips on it by now) we considered our options. When hanging down at the mast, it was broken off about five feet above the deck. It wasn’t a braided or twisted cable – it turned out to be a solid rod and very slippery. The sea was too rough (and it was too dark) to climb the mast and remove it safely. We needed a way to attach to the bottom of it to control it for about 12 hours.

We ended up drilling a small hole in the stay. With a small bolt in the hole, we tied ropes tightly around it. Then we wrapped the broken stay around the furled solent and tied it off firmly.

From there it was just a matter of getting tangled bowsprit mess out of the water, disassembled, and the cables tied off out of the way.

We arrived in Georgetown, Grand Cayman late in the afternoon. We got checked in with customs and ate supper off the boat at a local spot called Breezes. The island looked deserted. All the shops were closed, and most restaurants were closed … on a Saturday night! There were no cruise boats in town. That would change.

Fishing Report:

Morning twilight was just beginning when we finished our repair work and headed back north toward Grand Cayman. Naturally I put the fishing lines out, as I do every morning. Fullerton asked why we were fishing since we had a freezer full of fish. Elizabeth was properly greedy and said to catch more! Bob and I just understood: when you’re sailing, you’re supposed to fish.

Oh … no luck today.

Panama to Grand Cayman

Sailing with Dummies (California to Texas, Day 32)

Friday, July 10, 2009

by Mike

We sailed along nicely today making good speed, 8-9 knots most of the day, which should allow us to arrive in Grand Cayman sometime tomorrow afternoon.

Fine Dining and Fishing Report:

Succumbing to a desire for eggs, fried, this morning, I started some bacon and just got the eggs into the pan when a fishing pole started making noise. I ran outside and tightened the drag and turned the boat to the right from 50 degrees off the wind to 30 degrees off the wind to slow us down. Reeling in a fish while the boat is moving at nine knots is a lot of work. Even for a small fish.

Then I went back to tend the eggs and bacon, allowing the boat to slow. Back at the fishing pole I noticed that the boat speed was down to eight knots and there was a lot of line out. I turned more into the wind and eventually slowed the boat down to seven knots. That was about as slow as I could get without some sail and rope work, so I started reeling. In between cooking and eating, that is.

About 25 minutes later I had a 51” king mackerel and a full tummy. I tried to weigh it, but it bottomed out our 50-pound scale before I got the tail off the deck. I winched it up on the steps by the tail and started hacking into it. We ended up with several gallons of white-meat steaks.

We had blackened mackerel for lunch. Then, due to popularity of the dish (demands of the female), we had blackened mackerel for supper. 

Friday, July 10, 2009

Panama to Grand Cayman

Sailing with Dummies (California to Texas, Day 31)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

by Mike

Everyone got up feeling good today after a calm night at anchor. We waited until shortly after nine for the customs people to arrive at the boat. This time it didn’t take long. We found out that customs clearing was not required if we were staying less than 24 hours. We weren’t.

So we loaded up the dinghy with some junk and ourselves and headed to shore. We walked, picture took, ate some local cuisine (crab something, it was good!), and shopped the local grocery store. We picked up crackers, cookies, different cookies, and some bread.

We filled our scuba tanks and other misc. things and then headed north a few miles to a reef with good anchorage. The good anchorage part was appealing since the wind was topping 30 knots occasionally.

We parked in less than 25 feet of water in the sand near the reef with 100 feet of anchor chain out. A scope of better than 4-to-1. When we were diving I looked at the anchor and watched as the chain was pulled tight. It raised the chain out of the sand within a few feet of the anchor. It was a good visual reminder that 6-to-1 (some say 8-to-1) is a good scope for a windy anchorage. In this case we had someone on the boat at all times, so it wasn’t as critical.

It was a good place for diving. The strong wind was creating a strong surface current. But just below the surface it was nice. The fish here reminded us somewhat of the fish around the Florida Keys, but I didn’t think they were quite as colorful. We saw a couple of sharks, lots of rays, and large varieties of fish in the coral formations.

The diving was so good we refilled the tanks and Bob, Elizabeth and I went again. The sun was an hour-and-a-half from setting. It was still bright on the boat, but it didn’t light the underwater world as well as it had earlier. That was interesting to me. It was another enjoyable dive. We explored some different coral structures and swam around the same ones as earlier. It’s hard to get tired of that.

After eating and battening down we took off northward into the wind and waves. To Cayman!

Fine Arts

It was quiet on the boat after the last dive. Elizabeth requested some music. Rock and roll. Bob inquired of her graduating year and then played the top songs of 1977 for her pleasure. Many of those songs were painful reminders of what we were forced to listen to back then. Occasionally there was a good one, but seldom. After this agonizing review, I have re-convinced myself that society suffered from disco.

In three hours we endured top hits from 1977 and 1970 and 1971. Elizabeth knew all the words.

Fine Dining:

In an effort to enjoy the calm before the waves, we relaxed after our last dive. Tanks were refilled, cigars were puffed, junk was stowed, everyone showered. I grilled chicken and made some garlic red potatoes to go along with the green beans. We were all clean and pretty, tired and hungry, and it was good.

Fishing Report:

Another day of catch and release. Elizabeth caught a nice 20-inch Spanish mackerel on the way to the dive site. Apparently she reeled too slow. The back half of the fish was shredded with some nasty-looking teeth marks. She was excited and wanted to eat it. The good meat was missing. We told her to catch another one and reel fast!

Panama to Grand Cayman

Sailing with Dummies (California to Texas, Day 30)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

by Mike

We had a rough sea today. Starting with big swells from the west and significant wind waves from the east, creating very confused seas, the wind clocked (or backed?) around in front of us becoming from the west. This created big swells with good-sized wind waves on top of them. When they combined just right, they got as big as 15 feet. Mostly we were in seas of 8-12 feet.

Elizabeth and Fullerton were both stricken by either “jetlag” (as Serge likes to call it) or “sleeping sickness” since they both repeatedly assured us that they were not seasick. Elizabeth logged north of 20 hours of sleep in 24 and Fullerton wasn’t far behind. I’m pretty sure neither of them smiled the entire day either.

The thing that caused them the most grief was the unsteadiness of the boat. It wasn’t rough in the sense of hard banging or jolts. It was an unpredictable motion, which made it a good idea to grab a handhold when walking around.

We got to Providencia, a Columbian Island in the middle of the ocean, and anchored after midnight.

Fishing Report:

Caught one tuna fish, skipjack, which is lousy eating. It was a good day for catch and release.