Category Archives: What?

Anything related to gear or boat items.

Give Me A Home Where The Customs Apps ROAM

In the past, returning to the United States meant we’d have to pay a visit to our friendly neighborhood Customs and Border Protection office to clear back into the country. It was never a convenient thing to do, because we’d usually be at the Navy marina in Boca Chica or at Boot Key Harbor up in Marathon and have to rent or borrow a car to go to the CBP office in Key West. I’d started the process once to enroll in the Small Vessel Reporting System or SVRS, which could have theoretically let us clear in with a phone call, but I never got around to finishing. I guess having to make an annual trek to Customs upon our return to the US wasn’t enough of a hardship to push me to finish submitting the paperwork and scheduling the in-person interviews necessary to enroll in SVRS. Well as it turns out, that will no longer be necessary. While we were off enjoying ourselves in the Bahamas this past Spring, CBP apparently rolled out their new Reporting Offsite Arrival – Mobile, or ROAM, app.

Our friends Mike and Jen on S/V Sanitas first told us about it, and then Deb and TJ on S/V Kintala filled in the details for us. While sitting on a mooring in Boot Key Harbor one morning, I downloaded the CBP ROAM app from the Google Play Store and installed it on my Samsung tablet. After entering our personal details, it prompted me to use the app’s camera feature to snap pictures of both our passports and upload them. Next I entered our vessel details. I’m pretty sure the personal and vessel info is a one-time entry, as it appears to save the information to your ROAM account. Finally, I answered a few quick questions about our recent travel and where we were returning from and clicked submit. A moment later, the app requested permission to open a video chat. A smiling Customs agent then appeared on my screen, confirmed that I was Robert, and then asked me to show him Rhonda. I pointed the tablet at her, she smiled and waved, the Customs agent thanked us, and we were done. A moment later it notified me that we were cleared back into the US.

From start to finish, it took about a half hour to get everything set up. I thought I’d hit a speed bump when I learned I needed to purchase an annual Customs border crossing decal for our boat, because I had to input the decal number as part of our vessel information. But the ROAM app launched me out to the appropriate website so that I could order the decal, and then let me use the order confirmation number to complete the vessel info.

My intention when I downloaded the app was to just set it up and explore it a bit. I wasn’t expecting to suddenly be video chatting with a CBP agent. I didn’t even have a shirt on! Apparently using ROAM, you can clear into the country in your pajamas or underwear if you wish to.

The app does say that this is a limited release and not currently available for use at all ports of entry. It’s apparently in an advanced Beta stage, with CBP planning to eventually roll it out for use nation wide. For now though, it supports Customs clearance through all Florida ports of entry, so it’s now the primary means to clear in if you’re returning from the Bahamas or points south via Florida.

One thing I’ve learned is that sometimes procrastination does pay. ROAM replaces the SVRS, which means if I had bothered to jump through those hoops, it would have just been time wasted.

A Matter of Survival

We’d never seen anything like it. We were comfortably motor sailing north along the Florida coast toward Clearwater Harbor in gentle swells and a light breeze when the wind began to strengthen. We’d been eyeing some approaching black clouds to our west for the past several hours, but the weather app on our phones predicted they would dissipate before reaching us. But when the wind starting gusting to 20 knots, I thought it would be prudent to roll up the sail.

Barely 10 minutes later, the wind starting gusting into the 30’s and the seas began to build. We held our course a while longer, but we were sideways to the gale. As the waves built past six feet, they started rolling the boat severely. We couldn’t continue taking them on our beam or we’d risk being rolled over.

“Turn her into the wind and hold her there!” I shouted to Rhonda at the helm. I had my hands full trying to rescue Eaglet, our dinghy, which we had been towing behind us. Gusts flirting with 40 knots had flipped it upside down, and it was plowing underwater like a giant sea anchor, dragging our speed down below 2 knots. I struggled to get it turned upright again, but the wind was just too much. The best I could do was pull Eaglet’s nose tight against our stern to reduce the immense drag.

It’s just a squall, it will be over in 10 or 15 minutes, we thought. But it didn’t relent. The seas built past 10 feet, and the wind held steady at 35 knots, gusting higher. For almost an hour Rhonda wrestled the helm to keep the boat pointed into the weather, while I fought to maintain my grip on our dinghy’s tow bridle.  We were burying our bow into the huge waves and then rocketing upward at nearly 45 degrees before slamming down and plowing into the next approaching roller. The sea began disassembling our dinghy, sucking out the inflatable floor, which was now dragging behind. My hands started to cramp from clutching the bridle.

This was no squall. We didn’t know what it was. There was no lightning or thunder, and hardly any rain. Just an angry black sky and gale force winds that just went relentlessly on and on. For an hour our course had taken us directly offshore, out into the Gulf. That’s exactly where I didn’t want us to be heading. We had to turn the boat and make a run for it. Rhonda didn’t think she could do it. I couldn’t let go of the dinghy. And the wind and waves just kept coming.

We finally managed to get another line connected to Eaglet, which I was able to lead to one of our deck winches. This let us winch the flipped dinghy tightly against our stern, and freed me to take the wheel. With a hope and a prayer, I spun Eagle Too around and starting running downwind. We’d traveled far enough offshore that our course to Clearwater Harbor now put the wind and seas on our port quarter instead of directly on the beam. The rudder fought me with every passing wave, but the pounding stopped and I could hold the course, although the boat rolled deeply with each swell.

It took another hour to make the entrance channel, the winds and seas persisting. As we approached the coast, the shoaling water caused the swells to lift the boat and throw it surging forward. I struggled to maintain control to avoid the channel markers. But finally, after two hours, the wind began to relent. Thirty-five knots became 30, and then finally dropped back into the mid-20’s. We cleared the channel, passed under the bridges, and made the turn into Clearwater Harbor Marina, arriving safely at the dock. But Rhonda was shaking like a leaf, and our two hour survival struggle left us feeling like we’d been to war.  Post Traumatic Storm Disorder set in, leaving us physically and emotionally drained.

Early that morning, it had seemed like a sensible plan. We had about 36 miles to cover, from Sarasota Bay to the Clearwater Municipal Marina, where we wanted to stage for our crossing of the northeastern Gulf to Apalachicola. The weather report called for winds of less than five knots and one foot seas. Rather than have to deal with a half dozen draw bridges in the ICW, it looked so much quicker to just head out the mouth of Tampa Bay and run north along the coast to Clearwater. We’d had several days of afternoon and evening squalls, but they passed in 15 minutes. I felt pretty sure we’d be safely docked before any weather built up, but if we were to encounter a squall, I thought we’d be better able to handle them offshore where we’d have room to maneuver, than within the narrow confines of the ICW. Nothing is more frustrating than having to mill around in circles for a half hour waiting for the next scheduled bridge opening while watching a squall approach.

But we hadn’t counted on encountering whatever in the hell it was that was waiting for us out there. Something that would turn a calm day and flat seas into two solid hours of gale force winds and huge breaking waves. Something that felt like we were tangled up in the heart of a tropical storm. Something that delivered the worst day we’ve ever experienced on the water, by far.

In retrospect, I guess we’d have been better off in the ICW. We’d have probably been blown out of the channel and driven aground. But it’s all mud and soft sand in this part of Florida, and that’s why we pay for SeaTow coverage, afterall.

But in the final analysis, nothing broke (we were able to put Eaglet back together), nobody got hurt (other than shaken nerves and a blow to our confidence), and we do have a good story to tell.

No pictures though. Unfortunately, we were just a little too busy to stop and take storm selfies. I’d say maybe next time, but we’re both sincerely hoping we’ll never see anything like that ever again. Ever.

Full Contact Racing

Twenty-eight sailboats came to the starting line. They formed up abreast of one another, dropped their sails, set their anchors, and waited for the starting gun.

Everything was quiet for a moment, the crews tensely waiting at their stations. Then the loud report of the gun kicked everyone into action. The anchor men started furiously hauling in the rodes, pulling the boats across the starting line while the line handlers begin hauling up the sails.

The helmsmen tried to lay in a course that would avoid the jam of other boats twisting to find the wind while giving them each an advantage off the line. Everyone was shouting orders, warnings, insults. It was pure pandemonium!

This was our second year attending the National Family Island Regatta. If you haven’t been following us for long, please go back and read this post from last year’s Regatta to better understand what an awesome event it is:

The Family Island Regatta: The Reason We’re Here in Georgetown

This year, though, the races were taken to an entirely new level. Gusty, variable winds challenged the crews to maintain control of their vessels. Some would set a reef in their mainsail, others wouldn’t, and it was anyone’s guess which decision the fickle winds would favor. The boats seemed to stay bunched tighter together, resulting in high drama while rounding the marks. And to top it off, we decided this year to anchor Eagle Too in Kidde Cove, closer to the race course. At times, wind shifts actually put us inside the course, with race boats coming down both our port and starboard sides. How close were we to the action? This close!

A dozen boats tried to round the mark where there was only room for half that many. Boats were colliding, crew members were yelling, pushing other boats and in some cases jumping or falling from one boat to another.

Then boats began to sink. Whether from collisions or wind gusts, boats were tipped on their sides, emptying their crews into the harbor and disappearing underway, leaving only their masts visible. Then unbelievably, other boats actually started running over the sunken vessels with their crews treading water. It was literally a waterborne train wreck. Damn it was fun to watch!

A cruiser chasing the boats in his dinghy gave color commentary on VHF channel 72. Blow by blow, turn by turn, he excitedly called out collisions and sinkings and strategic moves like a professional horse track announcer. His excitement was infectious. Full contact demolition sailboat racing. If ESPN would broadcast this, I think the ratings would be phenomenal!

Twenty-eight boats came to the starting line. By the end of the race, four were sitting on the bottom of the harbor, and six more had been towed off the course, unable to complete the race. But no one was hurt, so in the end, it was just an exciting place to be.

We enjoyed some of the finest sailboat racing you can imagine. From little Class E dinghies with a crew of one or two:

to the stars of the show, the big Class A sloops, with their crews of 14 or more:

it was four full days of fast action and high drama on Elizabeth Harbor. If you love sailing and you haven’t attended a National Family Island Regatta, you really should put it on your short list of things to do someday! We’re so glad we had this opportunity to experience it again.

We have some videos to post, but it will have to wait for a time when we have a better internet connection. For now, here’s just a sampling of the hundreds of pictures we took.

Galley Notes—Provisioning Tips

When it looked like our cruising season had been ended by my  recent injury, we began eating into our store of onboard provisions. But now that it looks like we’ll soon be on our way again, we’ve started restocking the pantry. Here are some provisioning tips we’ve learned for you current or soon-to-be cruisers out there.

First, before we leave the states we stock up on some essentials. We like to have plenty of shelf stable UHT milk (no refrigeration required until opened) onboard to make our morning lattes. While we’ve never had a problem finding bacon or some sort of breakfast sausage wherever we’ve traveled, we have had a hard time finding things like Spam and corned beef hash. Spam and hash can be scarce in the Bahamas, and when you do find them, they can run six to seven dollars a can, compared to about two bucks here at Publix.

Refrigerator space is some of the most valuable space on a boat, so in addition to buying UHT milk, another way we’ve found to stretch the limits of our cold storage space is to stock up on canned butter. We usually get a confused look from people when we mention it, and you probably won’t find it on the shelf at your local grocery store, but it’s easy to locate online. This is really high quality creamery butter from New Zealand that tastes wonderful. Each can holds the equivalent of three sticks of butter, and can be stored in the pantry with the other canned goods. As we open each one, Rhonda transfers the contents to a small plastic storage container to keep in the refrigerator.

We’ve never had a problem finding flour and oatmeal wherever we’ve traveled, but all the flour or cereal products we’ve purchased in Mexico (even at major stores like WalMart and Sam’s Club) or in small groceries in the Bahamas have come with unwelcome guests in the form of weevils. It’s common in stores down in the islands to have to look for flour in the freezer, as it’s the easiest way to protect from infestation. A traditional cruiser’s way of dealing with this is to add a liberal amount of bay leaves to the containers used to store pasta, cereals and grains. Apparently there’s something about them that weevils just can’t stand. So we keep an ample supply onboard. It’s much cheaper to purchase bay leaves in bulk than to buy spice-sized bottles, and this gives us enough to let us throw a liberal amount in each container used for cereals or grains. Plus we have plenty onboard for soups or stews!

Believe it or not, mac & cheese is a major staple in the Bahamas. They serve it as a side for everything, along with a dish called peas & rice. Dicing a can of Spam into mac & cheese is an easy to make one-pot meal when underway that we’ve found is one of the few things that goes down easily and stays down when it’s rolly enough to start making us feel a little green around the gills. So when we saw this while doing some online provisioning, we decided to give it a try.

It’s apparently a whole pound of what’s in that packet of golden goodness that’s included in every box of Kraft mac & cheese. We always have plenty of pasta onboard, and usually have butter and UHT milk, so with this, we’ll no longer have to hunt for boxes of Kraft while we’re down in the islands. We’ll let you know how it turns out. Plus we’re all set if we decide to whip up some beer & cheese soup someday!

Right Place, Right Time—Our First Grand Prix!

Sometimes things just happen in a way that ends up putting you in the right place at the right time. If I hadn’t shattered my kneecap a few months ago, Rhonda and I would have long since headed to Cuba and the Bahamas. But since our stay here in St Petersburg had been extended for my recovery and recuperation, we’ve ended up experiencing some pretty interesting things. One we’ll probably always remember is this weekend’s St Petersburg Grand Prix. We’ve watched for a month now as they turned two miles of downtown streets into a Formula One race track. This past weekend, it was showtime.

If you’ve been with us long enough to have read our post “Yes I Am (Or Theoretically Could Be) a Pirate,” then you know we’re not above looking for an angle to exploit when trying to save a few dollars while taking in new experiences. In this case, we wanted to check out the race, but the tickets seemed pretty steep at $75 each. But we’ve been here long enough now to get pretty familiar with the layout of the town, and it only took us a short while to find a spot that hadn’t been adequately fenced, and from where we could see some of the action at the best possible price—free!

It’s been quite the scene here in the marina as our dock filled up with the expensive yachts of racing team owners, helicopters buzzed overhead, and the air was filled with the sound of thousands of angry hornets generated by Indy race cars roaring around the course at speeds up to 175 mph.

This shows where we were in relation to the action.

And here’s a cool little video we grabbed from the televised coverage that gives you an idea of the size of the marina (largest on the west coast of Florida) its proximity to downtown and the municipal airport, which is where the grandstands were set up for the race.

It’s now the day after and the show is over, so we took a walk on the empty track that just yesterday was buzzing with action.

We found what are called tire marbles everywhere, and picked up a few as souvenirs. They’re formed from the rubber that peels off the race car tires as they zoom along the course. I wondered why the cars were constantly in the pits getting tires changed, but now I understand. The rubber they use has the consistency of chewing gum!

While I don’t think it’s something we’d plan to try and attend again, getting to experience the St Pete Grand Prix was definitely one of the highlights of our stay here.

Broken Parts and Dead Celebrities

As you may know, there’s an old superstition that says that celebrity deaths always come in threes. For example, did you know that Ed McMahon and Farrah Fawcett both died in the same week as Michael Jackson? Spooky, eh? It’s a common enough occurrence that whenever we hear of the death of someone famous, we wonder who the next two will be.

Apparently, this evil juju has now extended its influence to include the pieces and parts that make up a sailboat. Maybe this sinister cosmic force was just looking for something new to dabble in. Who knows.  But I’ve written before about how when you’re developing your cruising budget, you should plan on annually spending 10% of your boat’s purchase price on maintenance and repairs. As things would have it, this month was looking like a pretty good one for us. Probably due to the fact that we’re really just sitting in the marina while I recover from knee surgery and thus not using the boat much, I thought we were actually going to get away with no broken things needing expensive parts to fix, which definitely helps the financial bottom line. Not that we haven’t been paying to fix things lately. It’s just been money spent on doctors and physical therapy to fix my broken kneecap, rather than parts of the boat.

But then Rhonda noticed some water in the bilge. Not too much, just a few pints, but since we keep a dry bilge, any water down there means something is wrong. It’s the biggest reason why we encourage people to try and create a dry bilge. Not only does it help with odor control and keep the humidity down, it also gives you a clear warning when something starts to leak.

The good news was that the water was fresh, which meant a plumbing or rainwater leak. Finding saltwater in the bilge means your boat is slowly sinking, and the bilge pump is the only thing keeping you afloat.

I suspected I knew the source, and pulling the settee apart so that I could access the freshwater system revealed a leaking freshwater pump gasket. I jumped on the Defender site to order a replacement. While I was at it I also ordered an inline shutoff valve from Plumbingsupply.com that I’ve been wanting to install upstream of the pump so that I can easily isolate our water tank if I want to do some maintenance on the freshwater system.

New isolation valve on the left, and quick disconnects installed in pump wiring to make a future replacement easier.

Next, it’s that time of month when I like to run our outboard motor and generator to make sure the gas in the carburetors doesn’t go stale. It’s a precautionary routine maintenance task that we try to regularly do to ensure they’ll both easily start when we need them. But apparently we were now caught up in the rule of threes, because when I inserted the motor safety key in the stop switch so I could start the outboard, the red kill button fell off in my hand. It’s really not supposed to do that. While you can disconnect the switch and still start the outboard, it’s a bit hard to shut the motor off without this little piece of safety equipment. So I was off to Boats.net to order a replacement. I’m just glad this happened here at a dock in St Pete during a routine check, rather than somewhere down in the islands.

And then the discharge connection on the air conditioning pump got broken, meaning no more A/C or heat until we installed a replacement. So back to Defender I went to place another order.

So in less than 48 hours, we went from thinking we’d have a surplus in the monthly maintenance budget line to suffering three equipment failures requiring over $500 in parts. This naturally puts us right on target to maintain that 10% annual repair expenditure, but at least the law of threes is appeased, and order and balance has apparently been restored to the cosmos.

Our Latest Articles!

Rhonda and I were pleasantly surprised to open our February issue of Southwinds magazine and see that I had not one, but two articles published in the issue! With some of the bumps we’ve encountered along our cruising road this past month, this put a smile on our faces, and will even add some dollars to the cruising fund.

“A Cellular Plan for Cruisers,” our explanation of why and how we chose Google Fi as our cellular carrier for cruising, appears on page 48 of the February 2018 issue.

And “What’s In A Name,” a humorous look at picking a good name for a cruising boat, is on page 70.

If you’re interested, check your local marina or favorite marine store for a copy, or you can read them online at the Southwinds Magazine site:

Read the Current Issue of SOUTHWINDS Magazine

And don’t forget, if you enjoy the articles and would like to sample more of my writing, my science thriller Lunar Dance is still available on Amazon in hardcover, paperback and Kindle versions! 🙂 Check the page margins for a link.

The Road to Recovery

I’d never ridden in an ambulance before. I guess that’s a pretty good thing. But now here I was, strapped to a gurney, taking that dreaded ride. I can’t say I recommend it. The vehicle swayed and bounced, and if I hadn’t been belted down I probably would have ended up on the floor. Plus the service left a lot to be desired. I asked if I could have a little water. The EMT replied, “We don’t have any water, or peanuts either.”

“Really?” I said, with a “So that’s how it’s going to be” tone.

“Sorry, but we get asked that a lot. We don’t have any water.” At least she was smiling, so I think it was intended to be a lighthearted moment.

And a little while later, there I was in the ER treatment room, Rhonda by my side, as the doctor looked at my X-rays.

“You’re going to need surgery,” he said.

“It’s not just dislocated?” I asked with resignation.

“Lateral fracture of the patella,” he explained, showing me in the X-ray image where what should have been one bone was now two distinct pieces. “By the way, that was pretty badass, pushing your kneecap back into place,” he added. He said he’d worked with hockey teams quite a bit, had seen similar injuries, but couldn’t recall a time where the patient was able to relocate the broken bone himself. “Kudos,” he added.

The hospital arranged a consult with an orthopedic surgeon for the next day, but since my condition wasn’t severe enough to admit me, they gave me a leg brace, a pair of crutches, and a prescription for pain meds, and showed me the door. Unfortunately, in my current condition, there was no way I would be able to climb back onboard Eagle Too. We had to book a hotel room for the duration.

The next day, at the surgeon’s office, the doctor explained that the lower third of my kneecap was mush and unsalvageable, but the top two thirds looked pretty good. In my current state, my patellar tendon, which is what moves the lower leg, wasn’t connected to anything, which explained why I had no ability to lift or straighten it. But he felt pretty confident he’d be able to reattach the tendon to what remained of my kneecap, restoring normal leg function. A few weeks of recovery and a few months of physical therapy and I should be, if not quite as good as new, at least able to return to my normal range of activities. He scheduled the surgery for the next day.

We’d never used Uber before. It actually works really well. Until now Rhonda had been able to borrow a car from some friends in the marina (thanks Mike and Jen!) to transport me around. But they had plans today, so we took an Uber to the surgery center. I can see why the service has become so popular. Once you set the app up on your phone and enter your payment method, then you just type in where you need to go, and in minutes a car pulls up to take you there. No cash is required, as the payment is handled by the app. I guess if there’s one small bright spot in all this, it’s that we’ve learned a new way to get around.

The surgery went well. The doctor said I could walk on the leg while I was recovering, and that he’d see me in 12 days to take off the leg brace and unwrap everything. If it all looked good, I could then start physical therapy.

We stayed in a hotel for five nights, but I wanted to get back onboard Eagle Too as soon as possible. Not only is she our home, but the hotel bill was eating us alive. With Rhonda’s help and the assistance of friends in the marina I finally stepped back onboard five days after the accident.

With a few minor bumps, each day since has been better than the one before. I’m eight days post-surgery now, and while I still have a cage on my leg and a bandage from my ankle to my thigh, I’m feeling pretty good. I’ve been completely off pain meds for over 36 hours, and I can lift and walk on the leg with little pain. Rhonda has been taking very good care of me, and I’m quite fortunate to have such a capable partner. I can’t imagine what dealing with something like this would be like for a single-hander who doesn’t have someone to prepare meals and dispense meds and take care of all those little boat chores that still need doing like filling the water tank and adjusting the lines. Thank you for being there for me, dear!

So that’s where things stand as of today. I have my follow-up appointment next week, and I’m pretty sure it will go just fine. With Rhonda’s help I was able to get off the boat and take a short walk on the pier yesterday. Today we did it again and I went at least twice as far.  Hopefully before long my range will increase from just a brief stroll on the pier to being able to make it the three or four blocks into town so we can take in a few movies at the AMC or grab lunch someplace. It will probably be a while before I can get on a bike again though.

It’s still too early to tell what comes next for us. We’ll most likely call off the rest of this cruising season and return to Pensacola in a few months so that I can finish rehab at home. With luck, by spring this will all be just an unpleasant memory and we’ll be ready to head south again next fall. There is even a (remote, but not impossible) chance that if my leg heals enough in the next four to six weeks, we might be able to salvage at least a few months of the season, possibly traveling down to the Keys. We’ll see. I’d just need to feel confident in my ability to do things like get in and out of the dinghy, climb the stern boarding ladder or stand on the foredeck and work the anchor windlass without my left knee folding up.

I do know one thing though. If I ever decide to move forward with that cruising guide I’m considering writing, I’ll be able to approach the chapter on “Dealing with Medical Emergencies” from a position of firsthand experience!

In The Blink Of An Eye

Eagle Too tugged at her lines, dancing and swaying at the dock as she was buffeted by strong north winds. Rhonda and I slept fitfully, our rest constantly interrupted by sudden jerks and shudders. In the early AM, we simultaneously awoke, both realizing that the boat didn’t feel right. She had a pronounced list (lean) to port, and the boat wasn’t rolling back to level as she should. Something was wrong. And I had a pretty good idea what it was.

The full moon (the Wolf Moon) had shown brightly and clearly in the sky when we had gone to bed the previous evening. A full moon makes for spring tides (which has nothing to do with the season), with higher highs and lower lows than are typical. The strong north wind that had been blowing since the passage of a recent cold front had pushed an enormous amount of water out of Tampa Bay. Taken together, the result was an extreme minus tide. Poking my head up the companionway, I could see that Eagle Too was sitting almost four feet below the dock.

We’d been here at the St Petersburg Municipal Marina for over six weeks, and we’d “dialed in” our lines and fender board so our boat rose and fell to the tides with no adjustments necessary. But this super-low tide had us hanging from our lines, which had drawn up as tight as guitar strings, causing the boat to roll to port. I had to go ashore and loosen them to relieve the pressure or risk tearing out our deck cleats.

As I stood on deck, the dock was at about the level of my upper stomach. Placing my hands on the dock, I jumped up and got a knee on top of it while doing a pushup, easily scrambling up off the boat. Loosening the lines to take the pressure off our cleats, Eagle Too settled down into the water and rolled back to level. Job accomplished, all I wanted was to return aboard and crawl back into our still warm bed.

Because the lines were now loosened, Eagle Too was not only almost four feet below me, but the north wind had also pushed it about 2 feet away  from the dock. It seemed like the best way to get back aboard was to sit on the edge of the dock with my legs dangling over the side while Rhonda, who was still aboard, pulled the lines to try and pull the boat closer to the dock. She pulled the boat in as close as she was able, and then released the line and moved aside so I could jump back aboard. I swung my legs out in front of me, pushed off the dock with both arms, and launched myself in an arc toward what I thought was going to be a graceful landing onboard.

Maybe it was because the boat started drifting away as soon as Rhonda released the line, or maybe it was because the graceful arcing leap my youthful feeling brain attempted to perform was poorly executed by my not-so-youthful 59 year old body. But rather than both feet landing squarely on the deck as planned, I just barely caught the edge of the boat with the tips of my toes. Down I went, falling along the side of the boat, eventually catching myself with my elbows and preventing a fall into the frigid water.

A quick blast of pain told me I’d banged my left knee on the toerail of the boat as I slid down the side.  But my first concern was to get myself back onboard. Pushing myself upright and swinging my legs up over the side, I was able to clear the side of the boat, collapse onto the deck, and then crawl into the cockpit. I was relieved that I hadn’t gone swimming, and grateful that I hadn’t hit my jaw or head. We’ve known of others who had killed themselves in similar circumstances by hitting their heads, knocking themselves out and falling into the water and drowning.

With time to now evaluate the situation, I took stock of my condition. My arms and shoulders were a little sore from where I’d fallen onto them, but everything still worked. My biggest problem was that my left leg was really starting to throb, and I couldn’t move it very much. I pulled up the leg of the sweatpants I’d donned to go topside, and the first thing I noticed was that my left kneecap was now on top of my thigh.

“Well that can’t be good,” I thought. “Better put it back where it belongs.” I believed it was most likely dislocated, and pushing it back into place seemed like the right thing to do. So I put my left palm on the lump atop my thigh, placed my right hand over the left, and then gently walked my patella back to the front of my knee. I needed a couple of minutes to catch my breath after that, but then I took my leg in my hands and began slowly flexing the knee to make sure nothing else was broken while Rhonda went below to grab an ice pack.

“OK, this is going to be fine,” I thought. “A few days of ice and compression and I’ll be good as new.” Just then one of the marina dock managers walked by, checking to see how boats were handling the low tide. “How’s it going?” he asked.

“Not so good,” I replied, rubbing my knee with both hands. “I just fell back onboard after adjusting our lines, and I banged my knee up pretty good.”

A look of concern crossed his face. “Do you want me to call someone?” he asked.

I started to say no, that I’d be fine. But I had enough presence of mind to realize that maybe I wasn’t. It probably wouldn’t hurt to get it checked out. So the marina called EMS. While waiting, the adrenaline starting subsiding, which had been hiding the pain. By the time EMS arrived, I realized asking for help had been the right call. The EMS crew agreed, and radioed the Fire Department. It was going to take a whole bunch of people to lift this 200 lb invalid up off the boat, onto a dock, and into a gurney.

The day had started as just one of those days where life had tossed us a little challenge that we often encounter in our Life On The Hook™. But in the blink of an eye, everything had changed, and now I was taking my first ambulance ride.

More to follow…

An Unpleasant Encounter With Nate

It started out as just another week. Monday, October 2nd dawned warm and clear, and the weather news talked primarily about the aftermath of Hurricane Maria and its just concluded rampage across Puerto Rico.

On Tuesday, the National Weather Service noted an area of disturbed weather in the Caribbean off the coast of Panama, and gave it a 40% chance of developing into a tropical system. It seemed too far away to worry very much about. Rhonda spent the day running errands with her sister, while I had a long lunch with my brother followed by beers at Pensacola Bay Brewery. Our canvas contractor was onboard Eagle Too templating our new dodger.

dodger

Wednesday morning, the area of disturbed weather had become tropical depression 16, with the forecast track taking it to the northern Gulf Coast on Sunday. That afternoon, our marina issued the first in a series of emails expressing concern and reminding us of their criteria for determining when to close and evacuate the marina. We really hoped nothing would come of it, as we didn’t want to have to implement our hurricane plan. Boats began to leave, however, because Pensacola Shipyard had implemented its hurricane haulout plan. Our anxiety level started to ratchet up.

Before closing for the day, the marina office informed us that a decision would be made the following morning regarding a mandatory evacuation after the 10AM CDT update from the National Hurricane Center. We started talking through the steps in our plan. We both slept poorly that night.

Thursday, October 5th began as another sunny, humid Florida day. The storm was now Tropical Storm Nate, and was forecast to make landfall to our west as a hurricane in less than 72 hours. I felt it would be too far away to do us much harm. We idly puttered around the boat waiting for word. When midday approached with nothing from the marina, we felt it was safe to go into town and do some shopping. At 1PM, my phone dinged notifying me of an incoming email. The subject was “MANDATORY EVACUATION OF MARINA.” It was a punch to the gut. I still didn’t think the storm would amount to much, but it wasn’t our decision. We had to go. We wrapped up our errands and returned to the boat, spending the remainder of the afternoon collecting the things we knew we’d need to take ashore.

One of the reasons we’ve returned to Pensacola the last two hurricane seasons is because we have options here in the event of a storm. The marina at the nearby Naval Air Station is tucked in the arm of a well protected bayou, and we have family here with whom we can seek shelter rather than have to try and find transportation and a hotel room. We hoped we’d never need to invoke our plan, but it was good to have one regardless. Some of our marina neighbors were at a loss as to what to do.

The evacuation order gave us until noon on Saturday to leave, but we knew that conditions would begin deteriorating Friday afternoon. So after another restless, anxious night, we were up early Friday to prepare to get underway.

nate1

An hour later, we were safely tied to the Transient Dock at the Bayou Grande Marina at NAS Pensacola. They put us on the inside, which is where we wanted to be. Less chance of being hit by another boat there in the event one broke loose, plus the strong southeasterly winds would be pushing us off the dock rather than hard against it.

nate2

We worked the rest of the afternoon and into the evening preparing Eagle Too for the coming storm. My first concern was to break down our solar panels and bimini. If you’ve read our More Power Scotty! series, then you know we designed our bimini mounted flexible panels to be firmly attached, yet easily removable in the event of a hurricane. In two years, this was the first time we’d had to test that process. Fortunately, it only took a little over an hour to remove the panels and wiring, unzip the canvas, and fold up and secure the frame. Everything stored compactly below.

removingpanels1 removingpanels2 panels

All loose gear was brought below, and we tripled up our lines, running additional “just in case” spring lines to take over if a primary line chaffed through and failed. I still didn’t think we’d see winds over 60 mph, which we’ve experienced in the past in thunderstorms, so instead of taking down the jib, I tightly wrapped it multiple times with our spinnaker halyard to keep it from unfurling accidentally. The marina confirmed that they would leave the power on, so we decided not to empty our refrigerator and freezer. With our solar panels offline, I knew our refrigeration would only be able to run for about 48 hours in the event of a loss of shore power before our batteries were dead, so I secured our power cord with bungee cords and duct tape to prevent it from shaking loose and unplugging itself.

Exhausted from stress and storm preparations, we headed to Rhonda’s sister’s house for the evening. We had another restless night.

Saturday morning saw us back at the boat to finalize our preparations. FInally, we stood back, looked everything over, and declared Eagle Too ready for a Cat 1 hurricane. We gave her a pat, wished her luck, and headed inland.

secure secure2

First though, we stopped back by Palafox Pier to see how the evacuation had gone. It looked eerie seeing all the empty slips.

slip

Although the storm was still 12 hours away, the surge was already starting. It was still hours away from high tide, but our floating dock was already higher than we had ever seen it. Normally the walkway around our marina is at about my head level.

surge

It was a long evening, as we sat at Rhonda’s sister’s house glued to the Weather Channel. For reasons I’ve never understood, hurricanes seem to prefer to come ashore in the dead of night, and Nate was no exception. Landfall occurred as a strong Cat 1 storm just after midnight.

weatherchannel

One thing in our favor was the fact that Nate obviously had someplace it needed to be. While a typical hurricane might rumble along at 8 or 10 miles an hour, Nate flew by at over 20. In just a few hours, the worst was over.

Sunday morning, I received a text from another boater who had ridden out the storm on his Lagoon catamaran across the dock from Eagle Too, informing us that she looked just fine. Whew! What a relief it was to receive that news. We’d left our wind instrument on when we departed, and found out when we returned that the wind had peaked at 44 knots, or about 50 mph, which really wasn’t that bad, merely tropical storm range.

And by Monday, it was all over and it was just another week. The weather was partly cloudy with a gentle south wind, and Palafox Pier emailed to notify us that they were open for business again. We took Eagle Too out of bondage and headed back downtown, having a pleasant sail for most of the trip.

returning returning2

By lunchtime, Eagle Too was securely back in her slip, and we watched as other boats began finding their way home.

slip2 slip3

We have a bit of work ahead of us, restoring everything back to its proper place onboard. As it happens, we were already planning to remove our solar panels and bimini so that our canvas contractor could attach a zipper to tie it to our new dodger, as well as fix a few areas that have gotten worn during our travels. Removing all our shades and covers also revealed that we have a bit of deep cleaning to do, which is something we’d want to attend to anyway before heading out next month. So I guess in hindsight, there was some benefit that came from it all.

But we hadn’t been back in our slip more than a few hours when Rhonda looked up from her phone and said, “So did you see that there’s a new Tropical Storm in the Atlantic?”

Her name is Ophelia. I hope she stays far away from us. It’s someone else’s turn now.