Date: 24 Feb 97 07:50:18 EST
From: Gene Gruender <104675.2134@CompuServe.COM>
Subject: Rainbow Chaser

We spent two days at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas. The whole place is a national park, including the water for about 5 or 6 miles in all directions. The anchorage had from 20 to 30 boats, some new ones coming in, some leaving. Strangely enough, there were many commercial fishermen anchored there for days. Since they aren't allowed to fish anywhere in the park, it didn't make sense that they were there. We did, however, manage to trade a bottle of cheap wine for a bunch of fish.

We toured the Fort and saw where Dr. Sam Mudd had been imprisoned. (He was the fellow who set John Wilkes Booth's leg after he assassinated Lincoln. He got life and ended up spending 4 years at Ft. Jefferson) We even got to see some women sunning topless on the beach. Things are looking up!

The wind howled the whole time we were there. Most of the time it was 20 knots or more. If you remember, I had a broken jib halyard (that's the line that raises the sail in the front of the boat). I ended up re-splicing a new end on it and climbing the mast to run it back down. With the boat bouncing all around in the windy anchorage, it was not a fun task. Also, I'd mounted the watermaker in the boat many months ago, but never hooked any of it up. I took the second night to hook up all the plumbing and wiring and get it going. I started making water right there at the park. All of a sudden, I felt a little more free.

We left to head for Islamorada, about the second Key down in the Florida Keys. I get my mail through Voyagers Mail Service there, and it seemed like a good opportunity to get the mail, meet the people who'd taken such good care of me for the last 7 or 8 months, and get the last of our supplies. Several people questioned my plan to go in on the back side of the Keys, instead of going around Key West and then dashing through one of the bridges and anchoring behind. I thought it would be shorter, more protected, and more scenic.

Well, it was different. We tried to sail, but, as Doran Cushing pointed out to me a week or so ago, they put that arrow on the top of the mast so you don't get lost. It always points where you're going. They must have made a good one for my boat, cause it's nearly always right. We tacked back and forth for half a day. A little engineering showed we'd take three days to go the hundred miles or so we had left at that rate, so the Yanmar was called into duty once again. At 4 in the morning we got to where I had expected to be at 9 the night before. When we finally got to shallow water, being 20 feet, we anchored. I thought I'd sleep at least 4 or 5 hours, then motor on in. The water was fairly calm, except about once every 3 or 4 minutes, a couple swells would come past us. The boat would rock pretty hard, it would raise up in front, lifting all the anchor chain. Then it would drop, then raise again, snatching up the chain with a loud thud. Over. And over. And over. At 7 AM I'd had enough. Up came the anchor and we started on our last leg.

The charts show about 6 to 8 feet most of the way. My depth gauge would argue with that. I saw 5 to 6 feet. And some very strange maneuvers around some markers. It was not a scenic trip, it was white knuckle navigating all the way. We got more than one strange look from the power boats out fishing in the waters back there. I expect they thought we were fools to be there.

Voyagers mail service has Single Side Band service to keep in touch with their cruising customers. I'd been trying to call them several days with no luck. I suspected I had a corrosion problem where the antenna lead connects with the backstay and planned to clean it next time we were in port. I happened to look up and saw the lead wire not only had some corrosion, it had corroded completely in half at the clamp! I'd been trying to transmit with only a stub of a lead wire. Later, when the water was a little flatter, I got up on the rear pulpit, swinging and swaying and hanging on, trying to repair the lead. I eventually got it back on, went down in the cabin and reached them without a problem. Amazing what a little more antenna will do.

As we got closer to Islamorada, the water quit fluctuating from 6 to 8 feet in depth. It just stayed 5 feet almost everywhere. I draw 4 1/2 feet. I expect I went 15 miles with only 6' of water under the bottom of my keel. But everyone should be proud of me - I didn't run aground once!

As we got near our destination, we saw a catamaran named "Blue Sun", one of those huge ones, like 60 or so feet, with all sorts of high dollar stuff on it. They were on the outside of the markers, though. Now, they draw less water than I do, but it still is shallow. We'd just come through a cut through some shoals, and it is only inches deep out of the channel. I told Nellie, they were either pretty stupid, or they knew the area real well. We watched and they made it through with no problem. We decided they must have known what they were doing after all.

As we were pulling into the anchorage where we are now staying, we heard Blue Sun calling TowBoat US, a boat towing service. They were aground and needed the towing service! But they had more problems than they thought. They'd gotten into a State Park before running aground, and before anyone could help them, they had to wait on a Park Ranger to come inspect the whole deal. They probably would owe a fine for damages. Maybe they weren't so smart after all.

We're now in the "Cowpen Anchorage" at Plantation key, hanging on an anchor. Well, a couple anchors. I put down the 60 lb. CQR and about 75 feet of chain in 5 feet of water. I backed the boat up to set it and drug it about 100 feet. Then I did it again. Now we have 2 anchors, and they seem to be holding, marginally.

We've made our usual rounds of buying everything any boat store has for sale. All the 1/2" halyard line West Marine had. All sorts of little bits and gadgets. I've replaced several broken sail slides, some jib hanks and the repaired halyard with a new one.

We'd planned to leave for the Bahamas tomorrow (Monday). Tonight we started checking out our stuff and found that of 2 GPS's, both had problems. I'll get a new one in the morning and call the manufacturers of both the old ones. We talked to Herb on "Southbound 2" this afternoon. (For those who don't know who he is, he's a guy who, for years, has given weather information to cruisers by single sideband marine radio. His forecasts, which he puts together himself, are usually much more accurate than the entire weather service can do. (He's in Canada on his boat, "Southbound 2".)

Herb told me that we'd have the wind on our nose if we went Monday. Strange, I thought that's the only way it ever blew! Tuesday it should be more from the Southeast. We'll wait until Tuesday to see what that's like!

We've had another setback we didn't anticipate. Our second computer is in the shop. It has an extended warranty. Not a problem? First, we wouldn't be back to the store where we had it turned in at. Through some difficulty, we arranged to have it sent to our mail forwarding service, expecting it to catch up with us. We just learned that if it's sent to the Bahamas, it will cost us hundreds of $ in duties, even though if it had accompanied us it would have cost nothing. Guess we'll have to learn to live without it for some time. The GPS units have the same problem. If I send them in for repairs, how in the world will I ever get them back? Cruising has more complications than you'd expect.

It might be time to try to answer some questions.
Is cruising fun? Sometimes.
Is it work? The hardest I've done, and I've done some hard work in my time.
Is it full time? Day and night.
Is it worth it? The jury is still out on that.

I'll have to say, though, that a lot of the things I end up working on are things that are still getting the boat in shape - that a lot of people would have had done before leaving.. The things that are breaking are getting to be less serious, although the list doesn't seem to be getting any shorter each time I pull into a port.

The payoff should be in the Bahamas. That should tell if it is worth it. Time will tell.

(Once we get to the Bahamas, we may not get to connect to the net often. We'll try to post updates as we can, but they may come in big bursts, with nothing for a time.)

I get a lot of email asking about our past travels. A friend puts most of our letters on his home page, along with some pictures. It's at:

Gene Gruender
aboard Rainbow Chaser