Date: 14 Feb 97 15:08:58 EST
From: Gene Gruender <104675.2134@CompuServe.COM>
Subject: St. Pete

We left Pensacola on a Sunday afternoon. We'd spent the night at a marina in Pensacola at a cost of $40, a big dent in a cruiser's budget, so we wanted to be away the next night. There is an anchorage just inside the opening to Pensacola called Big Lagoon. It is just through a very narrow cut in the Intracoastal Waterway, one we'd come through the day before in daylight. It looked nasty and difficult, so we wanted to get through it in daylight.

Our main VHF radio had bit the dust, though, and by the time we made it to West marine for a new one it was 4 PM. This caused a late start. The wind was also, once again, right from where we wanted to go. Again, we ended up motoring. And, against our wishes, we hit the cut after dark.

At this place there are 3 channels coming together. The Intracoastal waterway comes out of the cut with unlit markers. Theirs are green on the Gulf side, red on the land side. The ship channel has the mostly lit, red on the right on the returning side. Then there is another smaller channel. As we approached this mess, we'd look at the chart, trying to sort it all out. That left us blinded by the light, then we'd try to identify the buoys we found on the chart. Just outside of the channels it would be only a foot or two deep, not nearly enough for my 4 1/2 foot draft. As we tried to get into it, I first mistook a green Intracoastal marker (should be on starboard) for a ship channel green (should be on port) and we founds ourselves getting into about 5 feet of water. We made a quick 180 and tried to figure out again what was what. I was about to try to find a place to anchor there, when we realized what the problem was and saw a long line of red markers gong all the way through. We lines up, me on the starboard side with a light, Nellie on the port side with a light, and Zach looking for lighted markers down the way. After a white knuckle passage through that place, we turned to port out into the bay and dropped the anchor in about 18 feet of very clear water.

I've read all the ads about anchors, how the CQRs are supposed to set so well, and then reset if you swing. I keep dropping my new 60 pounder and dragging it all over the place. I haven't had it set the first try yet, and this time was another like that. It took several times to get it to hold. When I did, I banged it in reverse a couple times to really drive it in.

In the morning we found ourselves surrounded in fog. It was predicted, so we just planned to wait it out. About 10 am, it started to clear and we hoisted the anchor. Well, we cranked in as much chain as we could until it was pointing straight down and pulling the front of the boat down. I'd driven it in so hard, it was not coming out! We let the wave action pull on it for a time and it finally came free. When we got it up, it had about 50 lb. of gray clay on top of it. It took a few minutes to get it all off, but I'll guarantee it wasn't going to drag.

We motored back out the narrow channel, a much easier task in the daylight, an turned out to the Gulf. Before we had cleared the barrier islands, we had all the sails up. The motor went off and we headed - Southwest! Damn weather is never what they predict. Southwest wind would push us straight to St. Petersburg, but the wind was coming straight from St. Pete. At least the seas were nearly calm. We sailed on a course of about 200 degrees for most of the day. The weather service kept talking about it changing to Southwest (at least they figured out that it wasn't Southeast like they predicted!) but it just wasn't happening.

When we left the ship channel at Pensacola, the GPS said it was 283 miles to St. Pete. By 9 that night, we'd made about 3 miles towards out goal. I started the motor and headed straight to St. Pete. By this time, the wind was about 8 to 10 knots and had started building a short chop of about 2 to 3 feet. Not rough, but driving straight into it, it just jerked the boat all around. I was going from side to side, up and down and rocking. Below it was some pretty erratic action. Before long, I could see poor Zachary puking his toenails up again. Nellie was begging me to slow down and make the ride nicer. The best I could do was raise the main and fall off a little. This took off the rocking from side to side and made for a more comfortable ride.

About midnight, Nellie took over. We were still motorsailing, the wind was still wrong, and it was still a little uncomfortable. I finally got to sleep to be awakened by strange noises coming from the motor. I came out of the bunk in a flash, yanked off the steps that cover the motor just in time to see a great big burst of sparks! It seemed to be in the area of the alternator, so I shut off the key, cutting power to the alternator. The noise had stopped, the sparks had stopped, so I figured I'd found the fault. I went back to bed, thinking I could wait until morning to fix whatever it was. After laying there a few minutes, it was bothering me. The key was off which meant all the alarms were also off. No oil pressure alarm, no overheating alarm. That wouldn't do. I got back up and removed the belts from the big alternator, unplugged the regulator, turned the key back on and went back to bed.

The next morning I got up to find wed gone east nearly to the Florida coast, but had made almost no progress towards our goal. We tacked west. Still not heading where we wanted, but we wouldn't hit land and we wouldn't go through the missile test area shown on the charts.

I took a look at the alternator and found that it wasn't the alternator at all, the bolts holding on the raw water pump had worked loose. The pulley on that pump had hit the main crankshaft pulley. All it took was to tighten those bolts and put the belts back on.

We spent most of the day going at anywhere from 180 to 220 degrees under sail power. All the time we expected the wind to change to the southwest, we'd tack to the southeast and sail right into St. Pete. Not that day. Or that night. It just never happened. At 4 PM, we were still 185 miles from St. Pete. At 8:30 we were 184 miles away, although we were much farther southwest. At 9 it was 185 again and I'd had it. The motor came on, we turned to about 130 and headed for St. Pete. I was glad we had 40 gallons of extra diesel on deck, because it seemed like Rainbow Chaser was becoming more of a motor boat than a sailboat.

I stayed at the helm until about midnight. Nellie had slept most of the afternoon and evening, so she was ready for a long night watch. I crashed and slept nearly all night. It was daylight when I woke up.

Wednesday morning was a beautiful morning. There was no wind, there were perfectly flat seas. It had warmed up, the sun was shining, the boat was motionless, except it was going forward. You could have balanced a coin and it would have stayed all morning!

I put out the fishing line and we started tidying up the boat. The mattresses came out to dry out and all the wet towels were hung out to dry on the lifelines.

We had a school of dolphins swim around us for a while. With the water so clear, we could see them under the boat, cutting back and forth, everywhere. There must have been 20 or more. They'd come up to see us, 3 or 4 at a time. It was really something!

Later the fish line took off. We kicked the motor into neutral and after a few minutes we got him in. A stupid Bonito, not any good to eat. Back he went.

I spent the day doing a bunch of projects I hadn't had time to do lately. I got the scuba tank fixed up so it wouldn't get loose any more. Fixed a light and a bunch of other things. A little later we heard a loud noise and Nellie and I both looked towards the motor. I sounded like something had gone wrong again. Suddenly it occurred to both of us that it wasn't the motor, it was the fishing reel screaming again! Another fight, another fish, another Bonito, another one thrown back in.

A little later I saw what looked like a large tire floating in the water. From the size of it, it must have been an earth mover tire. I was wondering how one of those could get out there when it exploded, raised a head and a tail, then dived! It was a giant turtle, the shell maybe 5 feet or longer. Later Zachary spotted another turtle, not quite as big, but it had a seagull sitting on his back. The bird had found a portable island out there.

Nellie put a batch of bread in the bread maker. With the motor running, the batteries wouldn't even know we were doing it. We continued to motor into the evening and night, with the seas still nearly flat. We traded off several times, with me finally taking over as we neared the St. Petersburg/Tampa ship channel.

As we got close to the ship channel, there was one ocean going tug with a large barge heading out. He passed in front of us, but there were two more greens that appeared to be another tug with a barge coming out. They move much faster than I do, so I try to stay completely away from them. We seemed to be getting there before him, though, so we just shot across the channel and hugged the red side (right side). For some reason, though, we didn't seem to be getting any closer to the barge. In addition, when we crossed the channel, the green marker lights didn't change to red like they should have. That didn't make sense. If we were going down the right side and he was coming towards us, we should now be seeing the marker lights on his left side, which would be red. They were green and just as bright. I checked the charts and there were some range lights listed, but they flashed. These definitely didn't flash.

An hour later it became clear that these were indeed the range lights, they just didn't flash like the charts said. They were also the first green range lights I'd seen. Everywhere else they are white.

We'd also been looking at what seemed to be two big round amphitheaters ahead. Boy, St. Pete must be a thriving place to support that! It looked like we'd sail very near to them, too. As we continued to work our way into the bay system, we had to get out of the channel for a very large, very fast ship. It was getting light about the time he passed and after he was around, we looked for the amphitheaters again. They'd disappeared!

I was really puzzled by this one, until I realized that the large suspension bridge ahead, with all the supporting wires and lighting, had looked like two large amphitheaters! It's strange all the tricks your eyes can pull on you.

We continued on in to the Harborage Marina where we tied up and paid for a weeks slip rent. Our friends Lou and Una DeBee met us there, bringing us a car to use for the week, grapefruits, oranges, and offers to do anything we needed for the week we were there. Basically, they were out to just spoil us rotten! We were beginning to see the great hospitality of St. Petersburg.

Gene Gruender
aboard Rainbow Chaser

PS I'm sending this from the fuel dock in St. Pete as we are leaving for the Dry Tortugas.