First published in Southwinds Magazine in the spring of 1997. Read, print for your friends, share it, but please don't publish it without written permission.

Southwinds Magazine, P.O. Box 1190, St. Petersburg, Florida 33731 (813) 825-0433,
Free at marinas and boating stores through the Southeast, by subscription for $15 a year.

Gene Gruender
Austin.sailor at yahoo.com


The Downs And Ups of Cruising
by Gene Gruender
Copyright 1997



We left Biloxi, Mississippi traveling through the Intracoastal Waterway with another sailboat, Money Vac. We weren't doing exactly the same sort of cruising as Money Vac -we're doing it full time, Randy and Carolyn Adams aboard Money Vac were doing it in little spurts - a couple weeks on the boat, then a few months back home at work. For them, work was back in my home town of Columbia, Missouri, but we've met a number of people from all over doing the same thing.

The week we spent in Biloxi was wonderful, not because of the weather, since it was awful. But the people are the warmest and most outgoing that you'll find anywhere. We would have liked to stay, but we'd never get to the Caribbean this year if we stayed each time we met nice people.

The ICW travel was nearly new to us, we had only traveled that way once before. With flat waters and anchoring at night, we got plenty of rest which was a welcome change. The first day was spent motoring due to no wind. About dark we pulled into a little harbor on Douphin Island, Alabama and anchored for the night. We rafted the boats together, but in the perfect calm and flat waters it seemed a waste of time to reposition the boats so that the masts were far from each other. In a rocking anchorage, they could bash into each other, but not here. The oil field service boats were very careful to slow down while they were still far out and there wasn't a sign of a wake. Old habits stay with you so we still spent a few minutes moving the lines to assure the clearance.

We'd no more than done this and a large 45 footer came blasting in leaving a large wake rocking everything. Our masts would have been battering rams into each other if we had not moved them. And who were these offenders in the marked no-wake zone? None other than the U.S. Coast Guard. They pulled up to the Circle K convenience store that was next to the dock, got their supplies of sodas and cigarettes and make another fast departure. Silly me, I thought they were there to enforce the laws, not give demonstrations of illegal action.

The next day was a trip through some pretty scenery, mostly motoring again, with the night spent in Ingram's Bayou. We'd read about it this place in Claiborne Young's Cruising Guide To The North Gulf Coast and he had highly recommended it. As we sailed in, there was a large sailboat tacking their way out. Zachary kept telling us he'd seen this boat before. There was no way that could have happened. We'd never been in this area before. He got Claiborne's cruising guide and showed us the cover. That very boat was the one pictured on the cover! What are the chances of that? We made our way in and he was right. It was one of the prettiest anchorages we'd seen. It had sailing depth nearly to the bank, trees all around and wildlife everywhere.

We were enjoying the wildlife and quiet until it was broken by a lot of cussing and screaming. I was trying to assemble the inflatable on deck. I finally had enough of it, threw it overboard, and then had to jump in to grab the parts that were sinking. I did eventually get it together, minus a few parts that sank. I still need to learn a little about dinghy assembly.

One more short day of motorsailing put us to Pensacola, where we.d part company with Money Vac. They'd take their time going on to Panama City, we'd head offshore to St. Petersburg.

After a day of sightseeing and a trip to a chandelry in Pensacola to replace our tired VHF radio, we departed the marina. We motored dead to the wind to the Pensacola entrance. We then planned to go back East through a very narrow cut to a place known as Big Lagoon, then anchor for the night. We planned to leave early in the morning for St. Petersburg.

We woke up the next morning to dense fog. The fog finally lifted about 10AM and we were able to make our way back through the land cut to the Pensacola entrance. The forecasts had been for 10 knot winds out of the southwest. This would have been great to sail on the 120 degree heading we needed, however, we found the wind to be out of the southeast. We set a course of about 190 degrees, thinking when the wind veered around, We'd tack and sail right on down to St. Pete.

Now, I envy people who claim to set sail, go on a beam reach for a couple days and arrive all refreshed, but it hasn't happened for me yet. Leaving Texas, you nearly always are hard on the wind, and seldom directly to where you want to go. The wind gods seem to follow me with the same curse where ever I sail. This passage seemed to be no different. We continued to go the wrong way until late at night, then tried the other tack. It wasn't any better, so I fired up the motor. All evening the seas had been fairly calm, not over 3 feet, but it was a very short chop. Motoring straight into it caused the boat to bounce around wildly and would throw spray into the cockpit every few minutes. Zachary got seasick again and Ninja, the cat, was mad again. In addition, we were living in foul weather gear.

Nellie took a watch from Midnight until daylight, letting me sleep. We've found that we both do better if we take 7 or 8 hour watches and can get about a normal nights sleep, rather than the 3 or 4 hour watches many people use. I left her motorsailing into the night, trying to make a little headway . I was asleep in the quarter berth about 4 AM when I woke suddenly upon hearing strange noises from the motor. I jerked the steps out that give access to the motor just in time to see sparks flying! The sparks seemed to be in the area of the large alternator (I have two) so I reached into the cockpit and shut off the ignition switch. That would cut power to the alternator while I woke up and figured out what the heck was going on. There was to be no normal nights sleep again.

Since there didn't seem to be any more fireworks in the engine compartment, I thought maybe I had isolated the problem. Darn, I'd probably have to get that rebuilt in St. Pete. Luckily, the second, smaller alternator could keep us going until we could get it fixed, although it would take much more engine time to keep the batteries charged.

It seemed like it could wait until morning. I hit the sack again. I couldn't sleep, though, for worrying about all of it. If the alternator had a problem, it may be getting chewed up. And I'd left the ignition switch off. That shut off the alarms, like over temperature and low oil pressure. I'd just have to get back up and deal with it. After a few minutes I realized I could take the belts off, then unplug the field wires from the back of the alternator, then turn on the ignition again. This safely let it wait until morning. I could just add it to all the other miserable things to do that were piling up. Cruising was beginning to be a pain.

The next morning we tried sailing again. On into the next day we sailed a little north of east, which would eventually run is smack into Cape San Blas and a missile firing range. Neither appealed to me, so we tacked back and headed a different way we didn't want to go. NOAA weather kept telling us the winds were shifting to the southwest, but we never saw it. All day Tuesday was the same story, we tried both tacks, we tried motorsailing. We could only make progress if we plowed straight into the chop and that was wet and uncomfortable. This was getting to be less fun by the hour. Spray kept us wet and it was uncomfortable below.

At 4 PM the GPS said we were 185 miles from the entrance to St. Petersburg. We tried both tacks, but after sailing at about 4 knots until 8 PM the GPS still said 184 miles. That was getting pretty depressing. I tried steering a compass course of 110 degrees, but the GPS said we were going 60 degrees. The north setting current was overtaking any progress we made. Then at 9PM, the GPS said 185 again. Enough. Sailboat or not, the motor was going to push us tonight.

With only a main up to steady the boat, I started motoring directly to St. Petersburg. We'd get there and it wasn't going to take a week. I was getting pretty tired of this.

Actually, I was getting pretty tired of being wet. I was tired of not enough sleep. I was tired of things being a mess in the cabin. I was tired of the v-berth where I slept being wet from condensation. If I lifted the cushions, there was so much wet it dripped off of everything. I was just tired of the whole deal. Why was I doing this and putting myself through all this? I could be back in Missouri, sitting by a fire, looking out at the snow. I'd be warm and dry if I just paid the utility bill. Maybe that's what I should do. Just take the boat to St. Petersburg, unload and put it up for sale. The NOAA forecast calls for a cold front later tonight, dropping temperatures, and strong North winds. That would blow us all the way to St. Petersburg, but they would probably be so strong and cold, it would be even worse. And it would probably be the one time they were right.

I'll have to talk to Nellie about it, but that can wait until morning. Right now it's time for her to take over and she is getting ready. There's no sense in worrying her about it now. I'll crawl into a wet bunk and try to sleep.

OK, it's morning and I'm awake. And it's not as cold as they said it would be! Actually, it's warmer than last night. And the sun is out, not a cloud in the sky. Hmmm-maybe some hot breakfast would be good, instead of the cold junk we've survived on.

Breakfast wasn't bad, guess I'll see what's up with the alternator. Well, it turns out that the alternator wasn't the problem at all. The bolts holding the raw water pump on had backed out and the raw water pump pulley was hitting the main engine pulley. No wonder there were sparks. Tighten two bolts and it's OK.

Wow, the sun is bright today. And it's getting warmer by the minute. The seas are flat, they're the deepest clear blue I've seen. It's a beautiful day. I think I'll put the mattresses on the deck and dry everything out. Then I'll finish all these pesky projects that have been put off.

Zachary is on the foredeck hollering, "What's that, Zach? A turtle?" Wow, it's a giant sea turtle, the shell must be about 5 or 6 feet long. With his head and tail he must be 8 feet long or more, and there is a sea gull sitting on his back! How cool! Nellie is at the back of the boat sunbathing topless. I'll sure be glad when we get to the Bahamas! The only way this could get better is if we had a little wind and could sail instead of motoring and maybe if a fish hit my line.

What's that noise?? Holy cow, the line is going out like crazy - This is great! I've gotta go!

Copyright 1997
All rights reserved


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