Exploration

Check out the subcategories under the  “Exploration” menu for details on some of the adventures ECHOES has taken us on.

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After Irma

Friends, pirates and ladies of ill repute,

We greet you from Marco Island, Florida where we keep Echoes slipped.  We are here for a few weeks to work on rapidly reproducing projects and to get her ready to go to the Bahamas in January.  We are happy to report that she weathered Irma very well and suffered only minor damages.  She had a small bit of dock rash from when she slid up the dock after the anti surge had bottomed her out.  We have some canvas cover damage and a bit of water damage due to leaky ports which are now being replaced.  We were thrilled to have these tiny problems.  Our hearts go out the many people in Florida who were not as lucky.

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a boat in our marina

It is disconcerting to see the damage on the island.  There is debris up and down the streets of Marco, almost every roof has some damage.  One in ten of the condos directly next to our dock is boarded up.  Irma blew through their porch doors, out their front doors and blew all their personal possessions right out the door.  There are over 400 boats sunk on Marco Island.  But it could have been much worse and we were pleased to see Marco in as good of condition as it is in.  My parent’s condo faired extremely well.  We are grateful for our outcome of Irma.

Our (ha!) projects:

We added a fuel air separator (which we put in for Jay) to keep fuel from spitting out the fuel vent.  We are replacing all six ports (windows), are having a swim ladder rebuilt, have changed the impeller, both fuel filters, replaced some cabin lights, secured a loose day head stool,  cleaned a vast amount of mold, polished chrome, registered both boats, procured and then made dinghy modifications, developed and modified a dinghy tie down system, ordered new hatch covers, mattress and are adding fresh water tank level monitors.  The research done by professor El Capitano is as time consuming, if not more, than the installations.  We are recognized at both local hardware stores to the point where a few call me the wine lady because I claimed I would bring in a lawn chair and a glass wine next time as it takes the captain so longggggzzz.

John has been up the mast 3 times.  He will be up many more.   Our eldest son teaches rock climbing at college.  He helped John purchase gear and then taught us in our backyard how to climb a tree/mast.

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Up the mast, John has worked on the radar.  Do I dare say fixed?  Do you remember that it works well until needed, like in the fog or on a night passage?  Alas, I must have faith.  He fixed the radar.

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He is working on the deck light and the anchor light at the top of the mast.  He may need to pull and rewire both lights.  Working on top of a mast is most complicated and challenging.  For instance, you don’t have two hands to work with or a semi incompetent assistant to lend a hand or fetch you the improper tool, although you do have a tethered tool bag you can lower and retrieve.  You can only go up in optimal weather and it takes herculean strength to get there.

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On this particular day he was up the mast for about an hour.  He had two very different visitors.

This is our neighbor Hank the Crank.

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Hank is a Snowy Egret who works hard to protect his territory which includes our boat.  He squawks at you when you come by and chases many a bird away.  Hank can live up to 17 years and his species is known to cross breed with other heron species.  Maybe this is why he doesn’t chase Irene the Green Heron away.

We have purchased a new, used, ugly dinghy.  It will be sad to see Sea Alice go.  Wait, no it won’t.  We are prostituting him on Craigs List for cheap.   After much research by the captain, he decided on a plastic polymer, hard bodied dinghy.  Hopefully, swamp ass will be a thing of the past.  After our first trial run there are many modifications being made.  For instance, if one is alone in the dinghy the ass end sinks quite close to the water line and the bow rides high in the air.  PVC tiller extensions and homemade gear shift extenders are being designed and implemented so one can operate it from the center seat.  But what to name him/her?  John likes engineering humor so he likes Poly Mer, or Poly.  He also suggested Money – because it is so NOT and is another Pink Floyd song reference like Echoes.   Further, he suggested Chum Bucket, which I quite like.  I suggested Woody (quite the opposite of Sea Alice) but got only a frown.   Others suggested Wet Spot and Gosling (Ryan would never need Cialis.)  So as we bid you farewell we would love to ask your input, suggestions or votes on a new dinghy name.  Add a comment below!

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The nameless dinghy upside down on our foredeck

The Night Sail Back to Marco

We left The Dry Tortugas unexpectedly to avoid any possibility of heavy weather. Can you imagine blasting through enormous waves in inclement weather non stop for twenty four hours?  No thank you.  One of us wanted to wait until the following day  because it was only 32 miles more than crossing Lake Michigan and the higher the seas the better to learn from.   One of us made a suggestion of where the other one could put his “experience” lecture.  Best to play it safe and cheaper to remain married.

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Had we known we were leaving that day we would have done several things a little differently.  For instance, we would have dialed it in the night before and we wouldn’t have swam and hiked most of the day.  We were tired at the start.  However, adrenaline can be your friend.  The seas were calm and the wind was tame.  It made for slow but peaceful sailing.  When we could only reach three knots we motor sailed.  We watched a beautiful sun set together and then began four hour shifts.

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John did the first shift and I set my alarm for midnight.  The winds picked up around midnight so we set both sails and killed the engine for my shift.  John thoughtfully bought me a placard that identifies what certain lights on boats mean.  For example, a commercial fishing vessel has certain light patterns they put on that are different from a sailboat sailing at night.  This way we all can tell who each other is out there, which way they are heading and who has the right of  way.  Sailboats sailing at night, like us, identify themselves by sailing with their anchor light on.  This gives us the right away to any non emergency craft because a sail boat under sail has less ability to change course.  Too bad our anchor light still didn’t work.  John said not to worry.  Just avoid all boats and problem solved.  I studied my placard and had it by me as it is most important to recognize and avoid commercial fishing vessels.  Grouper fisherman drag a three mile line with hooks and bait set every thirty feet or so.  Shrimp boats’ nets can be two miles long.  We had over a hundred feet under us so we didn’t have to worry about grounding.  There were occasional weather towers out there in the middle of no where, some lit, some not, but all were marked on our charts.  It was these and boats I was watching for.

There is something soul stirring about the sea, the sails, the stars and the solitude.  I felt like my reset button had been hit and I was rebooting.  In this new space I could choose to quiet my normally buzzing brain.  All of the endless chatter, much of which you have been privy to, stopped.  I felt in the company of silent, unseen angels.  So this was peace.  I liked it very much and sailed in its magical and magnificent presence.

And then I saw a weird bright light.  It was among two others I could identify on the charts as weather towers but the third wasn’t on the chart and didn’t match anything on my placard.  It was super bright and I, for the life of me, couldn’t tell if it was twenty yards away or five miles away.  I tried the radar to identify its distance but could not get it to work.  I changed course and it seemed to change with me.  I began to worry that I might run right into it.   John told me not to hesitate to wake him for any reason so I prepared to go below and wake him up.  I set my course between the two fixed lights I knew were towers and away from mystery light.  I put the boat on autopilot, slowed way down and went below to get John.  Boy was I surprised when I returned to the cock pit and all three of the lights were gone.  I had set our point of sail off course to slow us down but we slowed so much that the GPS in the autopilot could not find us and turned off.  I got the boat and sails back under control and on course as John came up.  We debated long and hard on the source of the light.  John messed with the radar and again, like in the fog, it failed us.  Apparently it only works during the day when you don’t need it.  In the end, the boat turned out to be a shrimp boat.  So much for my placard.  You couldn’t see the red, green and white patterns.  It was a football field size glowing bright light traveling willy nilly all over the sea.

It was John’s turn to take over.  He, too, had a soul inspiring experience.   He loved watching the sun set over the ocean and then watching it rise again.

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He had visitors.  There was Dolfonzo the dolphin and his family who would dart through the steaming light reflection in the sea.   There was Felix the fearless flying fish who made an untimely landing.

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John motored most of his shift.  We finally saw land in the early afternoon and the wind picked up.  We set sail again slowing us down but it was a great way to end the trip.

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We waved to my folks and tucked in to our dock minutes before a thunder storm.

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What an adventure we have had these last several months.  How grateful we are for the “experience.”  After securing ourselves to our dock I opened a small bottle of sparkling wine to end the adventure like we had begun it.

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I poured a little bubbly into the sea and thanked Neptune, Poseiden and the four wind brothers.

Thank you, oh great gods of sea, for our safe passage and for your generosity.

Chariot of Poseidon | Greco-Roman mosaic | Bardo National Museum, Tunis

And thank you for following along with us.

Until the next adventure….

Candis and John

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The Dry Tortugas, Chapter Three

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There were two things we noticed when we entered the anchorage two days ago.  One, of course, was the massive fort, the other was the crazy amount of birds flying adjacent to the fort on Bird Island.  Twenty thousand Sooty Terns come to this island during the winter, the only place in the U.S., to lay their eggs and raise their young.  Sailors call them “Wide Awakes” because they are very noisy sea birds.  They live their entire lives in the air deep at sea.  They sleep while flying although they do not need deep sleep.

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The sounds and sights of thousands and thousands of Sooty Terns were our constant companion day and night.  They were a ball of energy.  But  birding was the afternoon’s agenda.  In the morning we went snorkeling.  Before we took off with Sea Alice and our snorkel gear we had a visitor at the boat.  This is T.J. the Goliath grouper, also known as a Jew fish.  Goliath groupers can reach over eight feet long and eight hundred pounds.  T.J. was a big boy.

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We listened to our VHF weather report before snorkeling and some weather was coming in a few days so we were going to have to cut our stay shorter than we would have liked.  It was disappointing but not unexpected.

The snorkeling was fun but since we are snobby scuba divers it did not compare to some of our experiences.

Ooo!  Baracuda!

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We returned to Echoes for lunch and to grab my bird books, binoculars and camera.   We took Sea Alice back to the island to walk the perimeter of the fort on the moat and to bird watch.

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There are two hundred and ninety nine kinds of birds on the island.  The vast majority of species are migrants that only stop for a short period of time.  Many of these are sea birds that are rare to see.  It is bird heaven.

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After our perimeter walk and before we did some bird watching we checked the gift shop computer.  The park service is very friendly to boaters and they let us use their computer to look up weather and wind websites that are designed for mariners.  These sites are more detailed and up to date than the VHF weather reports.  We had been checking these websites daily at the gift shop.  We were being especially careful because we planned to sail directly back to Marco, one hundred miles.  This would be our first all night sail.  We checked the weather and all looked well in the Tortugas for the next two days.  We checked the weather on the Marco end and a string of swear words followed.  Very heavy and stormy weather, seas and wind, were predicted for when we were to reach Marco.  Long story short, to miss the Marco weather and to miss the coming Tortuga weather we had to leave immediately.  It was 3:00 pm as we stood mumbling in the gift shop.  By 4:30 we were leaving the anchorage for a twenty four hour sail to Marco.  Bye bye birdies.

 

 

The Dry Tortugas, Chapter Two

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The Dry Tortugas National Park is a one hundred square mile park that is mostly protected sea.  It is rich in marine life, teeming with rare birds and holds a massive fortress,  Fort Jefferson.  We unleashed Sea Alice and took her to the island to explore.

The only way to get to the park is by your own boat, on one of two contracted sea planes or one contracted ferry that comes once a day with about a hundred people.  There are seven campsites on the island, a couple of pit toilets, a National Parks’ office and a small gift store.  The National Park Service has a boat that is often tied up here and the Coast Guard on occasion rafts up to the Park Service boat as this is one of the only deep protected anchorages for many miles.DSC_1739

Anyone is welcome to use the ferry boat’s facilities while it is docked for the five hours a day it is there.  They let us join a guided tour of Fort Jefferson.

Fort Jefferson has a strategic location situated on the main shipping channel between the Gulf of Mexico, the western Caribbean, and the Atlantic Ocean.  In the mid 1800’s it was built by the U.S. to protect the lucrative channels.  The reefs around it made a “ship trap” and there was one channel entrance that lead to a safe harbor (where we were anchored) for friendly ships.  Fort Jefferson is the largest all masonry fort in the U.S with over sixteen million bricks and eight foot thick brick walls.

Good thing I am so photogenic.

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Fort Jefferson has a mote, is three tiered, six sided, on forty five acres with four hundred and twenty heavy guns and cannons.

If only I had a match.

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Its peak population was about two thousand people.  The fort held prisoners during the Civil War.  The most famous was Dr. Samual Mudd.  He was imprisoned for aiding John Wilkes Booth while Booth was fleeing from soldiers after assassinating Lincoln.  Dr. Mudd treated and saved many soldiers after all of the fort’s nurses and doctors died from yellow fever.  This was his cell.

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We had full reign to explore most of the fort.  There were no guard rails or restrictive rules.  After the ferry left we practically had the fort to ourselves.  I have only skimmed the fort’s fascinating history.  Here are some links if your are interested in learning more:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Jefferson_(Florida)    and   https://www.drytortugas.com/fort-jefferson-history/

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We spent the evening grilling out and celebrating our great fortune of being where we were.  A Bee-on-chee three tiered fishing boat anchored behind us blocking our view of the setting sun.  We took our libations to Echoe’s bow to see if we could catch the sunset from that angle.  I very gracefully slipped and tossed my red wine into the air, all over my face and on the boat.  I want you to know, a lesser woman would have fallen, broken the glass and her arm.

John took to calling me Cinderella again and had many colorful comments about me finding my calling scrubbing decks and other inappropriate suggestions about my bent frame.  He earned himself his second bird of the trip.

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We listened to the upcoming weather on VHF and all was well.  We planned the next day with the birds and the fish.  My kind of day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Dry Tortugas, Chapter One

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We left the Marquesas in the morning in a small craft advisory.  We decided we’d give it a try with the idea we would turn around and anchor back at the Marquesas if it was too rough.  The wind direction was favorable as it was at our backs.   The waves and wind were pushing us from behind rather than us trying to push through them.  We put up our jib, which was plenty of sail, and sailed on a run.  There is a formula the National Weather Service uses to estimate wave height.   Basically, they take the average wave height and also a timed swell count to come up with their predictions.  We were in seven foot seas which loosely means that on average the seas were seven feet tall.   The seas could reach up to twenty one feet on rare occasions and heights in between about a third of the time.  I can’t tell you how high the waves were, but they were the highest I’ve ever sailed in.  I’m sure they can get much bigger.  I hope not to “experience” that.  Sometimes we were at the bottom of the trough and there would be walls of waves about two stories high around us.  However, it was more exciting than terrifying, the whoaaaa kind of exciting, not the weeeee kind.   Echoes handled them well.  So we kept going and sailed the gripping forty five miles to the Dry Tortugas.

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Land ho!  We could see Fort Jefferson and the island where we’d be anchoring.   We knew the anchorage was small and we were worried it might be full because boaters probably did not leave that day because of the weather.  We counted masts as we approached knowing it could hold maybe fifteen boats.  We counted twelve masts that we could see on the back side of the fort.  You can anchor in one other place but it was unprotected and we had enough of spin and spank from the night before.

The anchorage was tight and shallow to say the least.  We wedged ourselves between two boats closer than we would have preferred (and I’m sure than they would have) but there was no avoiding it and our neighbors took it in stride.  I was so relieved to be tied up safely in a calm anchorage at the destination we had been talking about for months.  It had been a challenging previous fifteen hours and it was time for a glass of wine.

We watched three more boats arrive after us.  There were very slim pickings left to anchor in.  They all had a hard time finding a spot and all changed their minds at least once and pulled anchor to try another spot.  A large motor boat finally anchored right behind us.  John gave play by play commentary as we watched and he did not like the way they set their anchor.  The boat looked like it left the show room floor the day before.  We watched a funny looking aluminum hulled sail boat named High Maintenance struggle to find his spot.  Finally, the ocean floor found one for him as he grounded himself about five boat lengths away from us.  John made note of how far away our motor neighbors had drifted as we watched some other sailors come to High Maintenance’s aid .  The motor boat drifted even further as they obliviously threw back cocktails on the deck.  John got on the VHF and hailed the “motor vessel anchored at Fort Jefferson” and told them they were dragging.  Without a response, they flew into action and reset their anchor.  Meanwhile, other sailors were in their dinghy and had attached High Maintenance’s halyard to them (the line used to raise the sail) and were motoring the dinghy perpendicular and away from the ground boat in hopes to pull it sideways by the mast and set it free.  They worked at it quite a while but High Maintenance wouldn’t budge.  It sat there all night and until high tide around 2:00 pm the next day when the water lifted it enough for him to motor out of harms way and drop anchor.  It was an entertaining evening and we preferred being the spectators this time.

 

The Marqueasas

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The Marquesas are a group of nine uninhabited islands about twenty two miles west of Key West.  They provide some protection for an anchorage to split up the long sail to The Tortugas.  We exited Key West and through all of the marina canals without incident.  (sigh)  The weather forecast was looking favorable for the next four days at least.  We threw up our sails, or rather John man handled them up while I helmed, and we had a friendly wind pushing us a long.  We checked previously with our cell phone provider, T Mobile, at it appeared we would have service all the way to and including The Tortugas.  I let a couple of early morning hours pass before calling and texting to check in with some of our peeps.  And no service.  I had a good friend who’s dear mother was in her last moments, another friend who was quite ill and my family who didn’t know we had left for The Tortugas.  It didn’t sit well with me.

The sail was enjoyable and we could tell we were in the Atlantic without land protection as the seas were big and beautiful.  We saw very few boats other than shrimping boats.  Anchoring at The Marqueasas was a challenge.  It was so shallow that we could not cozy up to the land.  We ventured closer than I liked as my charts read I was in two feet of water although my depth sounder said I had two and a half under me.  We didn’t dare push our luck any further.  We set anchor about a half mile from the Island in the lee.

The Marquesas are known for great fishing and also as the landing place of many Cuban migrants.  You could see their abandoned boats along the shore.  John got his fishing pole out and caught some fun fish but they were not to limit.  He caught several Mutton Snappers and this guy is a Black Grouper.

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We were discouraged by the wind.  We checked the weather ten more times and it was predicted from the North, North East, which was perfect for the anchorage we chose.  The wind was coming from the West.  We could only hope it would change in the night as this left us with no land protection.  We grilled out and went to bed early because the next day was about a forty five mile sail, or nine plus hours.  We set an anchor alarm.  I know, I know, you are asking why we didn’t do that back on Marathon.  Because the alarm unfailingly goes off at least once a night when it mysteriously loses GPS.  But tonight the winds were whipping up and rocking us rather uncomfortably.  Roly Polys would have been most welcome.  Although there isn’t a name for these types of waves that I know of, I will call them Spin me Spank mes.  It was a rough night.  The anchor alarm did go off but not to the surprise of either of us.  We were half awake anyway.  B.P. held like the B. she is.  We got up as planned in the wee hours.  The wind was howling and the weather not favorable so we thought we’d wait it out a couple more hours.

A small craft advisory from Key West to the Tortugas was declared.  Now we had three options.  We could turn around and go back to Key West and hope to get a slip, or anchor in the Spin me Spank mes.  We could stay put in the Marqueasas but definitely reset anchor in better protection and wait it out.  Or we could go for the forty five miles to The Tortugas in a small craft advisory which is what everyone had warned us not to do.  John made his “experience” lecture.  In the end, we mutually agreed to head to the Tortugas.  We could always turn around and come back to the Marqueasas.  We were going to change our anchorage there anyway.  So off we went in the howling wind and high seas.