A Kiwi couple's cruising adventures on America's Great Loop and around the coast of New Zealand

Friday, 21 December 2012

and crab pots

As part of my last post, I was also going to mention crab pots and the part they play in the Great Loop adventure. There are literally thousands of them all along the route and at times encroach into the ICW itself, which I am sure they are not supposed to do. This is another reason continuous vigilance is necessary as they are hard to spot and any lack of attention could have you wrapping one around your propellor in quick time....been there, done that. There was one of our "almost groundings" the other day where we were in a stretch of the waterway between markers and suddenly encountered a field of buoys in only 5ft of water. Although the GPS showed we were in the ICW, I began to worry that it was in error (surely the ICW isn't that shallow and contain crab pots!!??!!) and turned towards a marker on our port side. As we approached what turned out to be a sign telling us we were in a Manatee zone - "no wake speed only" (another thing many local boaters ignore), we were also in 4.5ft of water which was shallowing rapidly. We gently reversed back the way we had come, amongst the crab pots, and continued our journey down the ICW where it soon deepened back to its usual 6-8ft. The moral  that day was "trust your GPS".

 I personally think that there should be an open shooting season on any crab pot found within the limits of the ICW. Perhaps if a few of the errant buoys were blown apart and the lines sunk, the owners would be less likely to put them in places that are a hazard to navigation. Speaking of which and considering the thousands of them out there, I have never actually seen anyone lifting up a crab pot and some of the buoys look like they haven't been out of the water for years. Who do they all belong to?? How often are they checked?? From the price of crab in restaurants and shops and the amount of it available, it would appear that the poor critters are becoming fewer and fewer and with the number of pots out there, this is hardly surprising.

They tell me it gets worse on the other side and the lobster pots up in the Chesapeake will give us nightmares. Sounds like fun.


Thursday, 20 December 2012

Skinny Water

Being from an engineering background, I have a tendency towards caution of things mechanical. In the early days, I spent a lot of time anxiously watching the engine performance gauges to ensure that things were running OK as mechanical failure is one of my pet fears. It was certainly uppermost in my mind when we crossed the Gulf, followed by the fear of hitting something in the dark. The weather was one of my least worrisome aspects of that crossing. After a short time on the river system, I "got over that" and found my major area of concentration to be on the depth gauge.

When I was planning and researching the Great Loop, I spent a lot of time cruising it on Google Earth and visualised a series of natural waterways, charted as "Sounds" interconnected by man-made canals that, together, would make up the Intra Costal Waterway. Indeed, this is the case, but what I didn't appreciate was just how shallow these waterways would be. I visualised the "Sounds" to be like the Marlborough Sounds with steep-to cliffs rising vertically out of deep water. Where you could pull over to a shore and tie to a tree and rest comfortably for the night. The reality is that the ICW is made up of a series of shallow ponds (albeit some big ones) joined together by man-made canals that sometimes are actually dredged from the "sounds" themselves. The charts state that there are minimum water levels of 6ft at low tide, but we have seen that degrade to as little as 5ft and less in some parts of the ICW. It is very eerie being in an enclosed stretch of water where you can hardly see both sides, and being in a 200ft wide channel knowing that to venture a few yard outside the demarcation lines, you will be aground. Despite the fact that the waterway is quite straight in many of these places and you can use auto pilot (George maintains a better course than I ever can), you cannot afford to loose concentration for any time, or you will be on the putty - which makes navigating in this part of the world interesting, but stressful. Here's a pic of the iPad chart of Pine Island Sound that is typical of the ICW

The day before we left Tarpon Springs (you know..the place where Carolyn broke her arm), we got up in the morning to find the boat was not moving. That was because it was sitting on the bottom, in the mud. The trawler next to us had both his chines about 2" out of the water. We were told it was the lowest tide they had seen at the marina and it was 3 hours before anyone could go anywhere. We made sure we left late he next day and got out with plenty of water. BTW "plenty" is now anything that is deep enough for us to not hit the bottom with our props while underway. That night we stayed at an anchorage just north of Boca Ciega Bay next to an American Legion (USA equivalent to an RSA) in plenty of water. There were 2 keelboats anchored there so we felt pretty safe. The next day we departed and travelled about 40 miles to the city of Sarasota. Here we stopped at a mooring field where a multitude of mooring buoys were available on a "first come, first serve?" (served, surely) basis. It turned out however, that the field was under the control on "Marina Jack" who seemed to have a monopoly on where you can put your boat in Sarasota, and we had the option to pay a mere $23 for the privilege of hanging on the buoy to get slopped about by every local loonie that ignored the Colregs, no wake signs and common courtesy or pay $2.65 per ft to go to his marina. Ultimately we opted to do neither and continued another 1.5 miles to an anchorage shown in Skipper Bob's waterway guide. The problem was that the depths had changed at the entrance to this anchorage since the last publication and we were involved in one near grounding and a tense entry into what turned out to be a very peaceful and secure place to stay. The next day we delayed departure until we had a rising tide at 11.30 and managed to get out without seeing less than 6ft of water (WOW).

After another day involving one actual and another near grounding on the waterway (long story.....won't go into it now), I decided we would "play it safe" and stay at a marina that night. We chose the Royal Palm Marina at Englewood and turned into the marked channel off the ICW at 4.30pm, just on full tide. Most of the way down the channel to the marina, our depth sounder showed we were in 5.5 ft of water, but went as low as 5.2ft. We draw 4.3 ft, and the tides for that evening were 1.2ft. You do the math!!! To get out the next day meant we had to leave a 7.00am the next morning to have the same depth that we had on the way in, but on a falling tide, or leave in the afternoon. We opted for the afto' and left at 1.30pm seeing depths to 4.5ft on the way out meaning we had 2" of water between our props and the bottom. That night we stayed behind an island in the Pine Island Sound called Useppa island. It had a deep channel around to the back of it and plenty of water to spend a secure night (BTW "deep" was 7-9 ft). The interesting thing was this isolated patch of land in the middle of nowhere was absolutely covered in multi million dollar houses!

The next day, as we plodded our way down the ICW, we heard a call from a boat gone aground on his way in to Royal Palm Marina. This was 10.30 in the morning and on a falling tide. Despite his calling Towboat US (equivalent to AVCG), he was not going to get off there for at least 4 hours.

I watched a program on TV while we were at Tarpon Springs on the local "Florida" channel that explained how all the canals and waterways in Florida came about. Apparently, 100 years ago, most of Florida was swamp (which explains why the capital is in Tallassee in the pan handle - nobody lived much further south) Then the Federal Government decided it was a waste of land, so they commissioned the Army Corps of Engineers to build a bunch of canals to drain the swamps - which later became useful for transport. Then the developers moved in and started selling off the land as "some of the most fertile farmland in the USA". A number of them went to prison for perpetrating that myth upon an unsuspecting population. They also began digging their own canals and laying the spoil alongside as canal-type housing developments. This all fell over when the depression, then WWII came along and the developments sat around for decades unused. Then came the advent of cheap production fibreglass boats which rekindled interest in waterside property and resulted in the proliferation of canal developments with expensive housing with which Florida is riddled today.

Yesterday we left the Gulf ICW and are now on the Okeechobee waterway at Fort Myers. We are stopping here for a week and will drive up to Orlando to spend Christmas day with our good friends Jack and Denise from JADE. We will then depart for our last stretch of Stage 1 to Indiantown where Loopy Kiwi will be hauled out while we return to New Zealand to "settle our affairs" (as it were).
Sorry about the delay in posting, but I have been somewhat preoccupied over the past few weeks. In case I don't get to do another one before Christmas, everybody have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year (I'm sorry - "Happy Holiday" just doesn't do it for me!)

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Fine weather with the occasional tornado

Following on from the last posting, the battery tester turned up and confirmed that both Stan's start batteries were dud, but all the rest were OK. So I moved the 2 start batteries I was using for house to replace them and in turn, replaced those with 2 new deep cycle batteries, which I got from Sam's Club so they are the same as the others in house service.

We decided that continuing on would be too hard with a one armed deckhand, so I booked to stay another week at this marina. As it turned out, their rate for 2 weeks and one month are the same, so we can stay until we are ready to go, or Christmas day (whichever comes first). Carolyn is improving each day, so hopefully we will be in a position to get away when she has been back to the Orthopaedist in Clearwater in a weeks time. We will certainly need to be underway well before Christmas to get to Indiantown in time to lay the boat up prior to heading home on January 3rd.

Speaking of home, we got an email from Pauline today telling us about the tornadoes that hit near where we live. It would appear that the one that did the most damaged passed within about quarter of a mile of our house. Three people have been killed and seven injured...Auckland is not normally known for tornadoes, but this is the second one in about a year that has killed people within a few kilometres of our home. This is a map of Auckland showing where they hit. Our house is about where the marker is on the map.
and a couple of pix I lifted off google. The first looks to be taken from close to where our friends Dennis and Kathy live. Our house would be to the extreme left of the pic.
and this one appears to be taken along Hobsonville Rd, where I frequently walk with Woody
Several friends have checked out our house and it appears there has been no damage.

In the meantime, the weather here is gorgeous. Since we have been here, the temperature has been around 80F (26C) during the day and dropping to around 15 - 17 at night. They haven't had any rain here for 65 days and there is none apparent for the next week or so. I'm getting a lot of biking in since the rental car was returned on Monday, but it is all flat here so it is no real task. All of the major shops are within easy biking distance and we are very close to the commercial docks and fresh seafood supply. Last night, just to see what lived in  the river, I tried my hand at fishing and landed 3 catfish off 4 baits. They are smelly, slimy things that croak like a Gurnard. Even though they come out of seawater, I had no desire to eat them based on previous experience with catfish in restaurants on the river system - so they all got thrown back. However, they also have bony spines on their pectoral and dorsal fins that lock horizontally from their bodies when they are agitated. The last on to be returned slipped out of my hand and landed on my foot, gouging my ankle with his spine. It didn't hurt a lot, but I bled like a stuck pig for about 20 minutes. I checked on the net to see if the spines are poisonous, and apparently some are...but not this one cause I'm still here. Having said that, these 5 vultures were sitting in a tree dead opposite the boat when  I got up this morning....Hmmmmm.....