Crystal River to Tarpon Springs

cedarkey-crystalriver-8 This was our view in every direction on our way to Tarpon Springs. It looked fake, like a painting. Shallow the entire way, we were at the edge of our seats hoping no large rocks were planted in our path.

cedarkey-crystalriver-9 Katie at the tiller. Check out that awesome broom handle tiller extension. Thanks Felix.

cedarkey-crystalriver-10 A borderline non-existent wind pushed us along for a little bit. The sail ended up just blocking our visibility while we looked out for crab traps.

cedarkey-crystalriver-11 No more wind.

Crystal River to Tarpon Springs was the last trip we had to take in unprotected waters before re-entering the intra-coastal. We left on a rainy morning knowing there were chances of thunderstorms the entire day. Katie was ready to tough it out, and a with a little convincing she got me in my rain gear. With many miles to cover that day, we left at sun up. Unfortunately this also meant leaving at low tide. Exiting the Crystal River channel, we scraped the bottom endless times and somehow avoided putting a hole in our house.

About 12 miles off shore we finally had enough depth for a straight shot to Tarpon. Completely surrounded by black clouds, it looked like rain would pour at any moment. Somehow the seas were dead calm, glassy, with only 9 feet of water beneath us the entire way. Freaky. Ten hours of “calm before the storm” without ever being hit by one. Almost. It was absolutely beautiful out there, and stayed that way until our final 8 mile stretch. The wind picked up, quicker than either of us had ever experienced. We motor-sailed with the head sail cruising just over 7 knots. With the wind behind us, Louise was hauling. The wind was so strong that we experienced 5 minutes of hell just trying to roll up our genoa.. Just about horizontal, rail in the water, items down below being thrown from all corners. For just a moment, everything turned to slow-motion. Me, trying to avoid a mine field of crap traps, Katie using all her strength to roll up the head sail, holding on for dear life as the wind whipped us uncontrollably in circles. Of course we figured it out, because if we didn’t I wouldn’t be around to write about it. I openly admit both of us need some work when it comes to high seas and high wind sailing. But man… that motor-boatin thing, we got it down.

Thankfully we found an anchorage safely protected from high winds that evening, and made it there just after dark. It’s not fun anchoring in the dark and I do not recommended trying it. Sometimes you can’t make it before the sun goes down and YA JUST HAVE TO FIGURE IT OUT.  It was my fault having to anchor in the dark, because I was the one dragging my feet that morning. Either way, I am thankful we crossed over to Tarpon that day, for the following day called for excessively high winds . No thanks. Would have been like our last hour, but for 50 miles instead of 8.

cedarkey-crystalriver-12Our buddies. Bird and Reggie. They have truly overcome their differences… Reggie is warming up to Bird, and I think he secretly loves her.

cedarkey-crystalriver-13 So this is what the bachelorette pad is looking like these days. Filling up with a lot of non-sense. It’s busy, cluttered, of course still hairy and wet. Very appealing.

cedarkey-crystalriver-14 We often find ourselves losing sanity nearing the end of a 12 hour day. So we sing Disney songs. This piece of wood is actually a make-shift door we made to keep Bird out of the V-berth. When we left Michigan, we neglected to bring the real door that came with the boat because we thought it would just get in the way. Big mistake, Bird figured out how to get through any kind of barrier, even this one.

cedarkey-crystalriver-15 Bird thinks she is a model. Hah.

cedarkey-crystalriver-16

Manatees and freeze plugs?

Waking up to cat piss is not the most pleasant way to begin your day. For some reason I cannot discover, Bird STILL mistakes our bed for the little girls room. This is not cool, and if you have any suggestions please throw them out there. This incident has occurred several times on our trip, and when it does, it seems to foreshadow a bad day altogether.

On a lighter note, moods changed quickly as our house was smack dab in the middle of a Manatee sanctuary. Crystal River is the only place in the country where you can legally swim with Manatees. So that we did! The good ole 2hp honda outboard was placed on the dinghy, along with goggles, a video camera, Reggie, and most importantly Katie’s cookies. We pretended we were on the Animal Planet and headed up a river to swim with the weirdest looking creatures on earth.  Mammals so large and unattractive, they somehow become cute? The beasts fascinated us for hours. We appreciated this amazing opportunity that was free of charge.

Our next task was to get Louise to her mechanic appointment, but this meant waiting for the tide to rise. The channel to enter Twin Rivers Marina is very shallow, allowing us only to enter at high tide. Ray, our precious mechanic, took 30 minutes out of his day to diagnose our “engine pissing water” situation. Ray removed our starter to discover the leak. Come to find out, there are two freeze plugs located there. One of them with a hole rusted through. Freeze plugs are mounted on the engine block to prevent the block itself from cracking if anything were to freeze. Ray got some good ole J-B weld, and temporarily patched up our rusty hole till we could locate and order the correct freeze plug to install. After all those hours thinking we might need a new engine block! Phew! So happy. The trip goes on.

The staff at Twin Rivers marina is so friendly and accommodating, if you need anything at all they are there to help. Special thanks to Tiffany for telling off a drunk man, kicking him off the property and threatening to call the cops because he wouldn’t leave us alone. I mean seriously dude, you don’t go around excessively touching peoples’ boats and hovering inches from us and our home while we are clearly trying to get things done. Thanks Stacey and Billy, for a dock to tie to, laundry, a place to stay, and that delicious bottle of wine.

Engine pissing water?

The ups and the downs during this journey are endless, I tell ya. I can’t count how many highs and lows we hit in a single day. Katie counts them in cookies. Because there is always a reason to eat cookies. Motoring onto our next destination of Crystal River, we found a pleasant surprise while checking out the engine several miles out of Cedar Key (yes, we should have done so before leaving that day) There seemed to be water spewing out of the engine block somewhere. It was not anything we had seen or dealt with thus far. The starter was blocking the location where the water came from so we could not pin point the leak. After making some phone calls, continuing to Crystal River (rather than returning to Cedar Key) sounded like our only option for a mechanic.

I am not going to lie… being in the Gulf, heading towards black clouds, crashing directly into wind and waves, with an engine heavily pissing water where it should not, a non-functioning engine temp gauge, and dodging crab traps, might have been the most adrenaline my body has experienced since my first solo chopper flight. We spent the next 24 hours with the thought of a possible crack in our engine block. Meaning we would have to pull thousands of dollars out of our you know what. Thousands of dollars that we don’t have, putting this journey on a serious halt. On edge the entire day, hoping not to further damage our engine, dropping anchor at Crystal River was insanely relieving.

“Welcome to the institute of low-key living”

In the world of a traveling live aboard, things don’t always go your way. As soon as you make plans, plan on not meeting them. If you need to be somewhere by a particular date, your date will be stood up. There are certain things that Katie and I choose not to discuss, because god forbid they be spoken aloud. If we are to be at a certain place by a certain time, we quietly hope to make it, but do not speak of it. We don’t ever dare jinx a situation. We live by this. You should as well. If you are a sailor, don’t ever make plans. Period.

We “planned” on spending one day in Cedar Key, to rest after our overnight Gulf excursion. The following day after waking, fog socked us in. Not going anywhere. Foggy, soggy, dreary, bored, dirty, we filled up the dinghy with laundry and activities to do on land for the day. A quaint coffee shop kept us entertained for a number of hours, until restless leg syndrome kicked in. After going on the most A.D.D run I have ever been on in my life, we stumbled upon a motel and tiki bar a mile outside of town. Our attempt at exercise, led us to the most fascinating, creative, one of a kind tiki bar I have ever seen.

IMG_3631Once a shack, nothing but a frame, transformed into a piece of art. A single room created by glass bottles, license plates, action figures, signs, shoes, all recycled materials. Sweaty from our “run” Katie and I walked in knowing we left our wallets behind.  Pat (owner of the tiki bar) offered us a round of drinks. One round turned into three, a down day of boredom turned into one of the most memorable nights we have had. Pat and his wife Cindy have owned Low-Key Motel, and Hide-away Tiki Bar for several years. The work they have put into the property shows, and pays off. Pat and Cindy themselves fall into that “top 10 most amazing people you have ever met” category. I know you have one of those too. Together they are professional photographers, travelers, mentors, the kind you will never forget.

IMG_3644The next morning, we attempted to leave Cedar Key for the second time. The fog seemed to lift, and the sun began to shine. But of course, our anchor was stuck. I mean really stuck. Over an hour of back breaking labor (yes i am comparing this to giving birth) trying every trick in the book. Johnny, our friend from “Bout Time” whom we’ve been traveling with, even hopped on Louise and damn near broke his back as well. With all of our combined strengths, we could barely manage to pull up one foot at a time. Sure enough, we pulled up an entire clam trap that was held fast to our anchor. Disgusting! And all the time we are struggling to hoist and then free the anchor form the clam trap, fog rolls back in. I mean thick, nasty fog. Like the kind in horror movies. Yay. Time to drop the anchor again.

IMG_3603I wish I could pass off this anchor/chain/clam trap get-up to you at this very moment, all though it doesn’t look like much, it was unbelievably heavy. IMG_3606Forgot to mention the case of my green hair…Katie and I poached a hotel hot tub on our way back to the boat one evening. I woke up with this color hair. Chlorine green. This has not happened to me since I was a little girl.

Bummed. Annoyed. Green hair. Stuck for another day. Hell, at least we could head back to the tiki bar. Out of nowhere a motorboat cruised up to Louise. Pat and Cindy…. saw the fog roll in that morning and had come to offer us a room for the night at their motel. “Hallelujah” starts playing in the background, rays of sunshine burst through the fog, baby jesus has risen. Hot showers, a bed that’s in the shape of a square, cable, internet, dry and hairless room, spaghetti dinner at 6? We can not thank you enough Pat and Cindy Bonish for taking us in for a night. We spent the day lolly gagging in clean, white robes, and laid around in a huge, white, fluffy bed. Enjoying life’s simple pleasures for the day, those typically taken for granted, we felt like princesses.IMG_3617

If you get the time, check out Pat and Cindy’s blog, http://www.everymilesamemory.com They have traveled the country via RV documenting great stories and taking photographs that put mine to shame. The moral of the story is, although Katie and I were both frustrated because of the weather, the 2 extra days spent in Cedar Key FL, were beyond worth it. Coming across people who go a little bit out of their way to make someone else’s day, is the kind of experience that keeps us going. IMG_3622

giggle dickin in the gulf

IMG_3595Exiting the Intracoastal and crossing the Gulf at Florida’s “Big Bend” was something we have known about, and read about since the day we left Michigan. Never in a million years did we expect to be doing it by ourselves. For those of you who know us, know that our ocean sailing experience is non-existent. When it came to doing this crossing, we had received endless advice from all the fellow loopers. The main words of wisdom being: wait for the right weather (duh); and WATCH OUT for crab traps starting 30 miles off shore (at least 4 people we know picked up a crab trap along the way and had to go swimming to cut a rope off of their propeller). We followed all this good advice and I’m happy to report that we successfully made our first open ocean crossing.

Now, I cannot say it was the most coordinated event, but successful? Yes. With 100 miles to go, we planned for a 20-some hour, overnight crossing if everything went smooth…We left an anchorage just outside of Carrabelle at 1pm on a bright sunny day. We arrived in Cedar Key a whopping 27 hours later, exhausted! The entire trek included a combination of sailing, motoring, and of course wind on the nose, right out of the direction we were going.

When we spotted the first crab traps (60 miles out, smack dab in the middle of the gulf) we shut the engine off and sailed in fear of running one over. Sailing was great, but it forced us off course and much farther south than necessary. We did this until daybreak, wasting hour after hour heading in the wrong direction, just to avoid any possibility of motoring over a crab trap in the dark. Cranking the engine at first light, we adjusted our heading to get back on course. Directly into the wind. Awesome. Maxing out at 3.5 knots, dead into waves as tall as us for the next 6 hours. The animals hated us.

It is fairly common to break up the night with 4 hour shifts. One person gets shut eye, while the other monitors the course, chart plotter, auto pilot etc. Katie and I decided we would try 2 hour shifts, knowing neither of us would get a moment of sleep. This worked for a while, the lack of an auto pilot makes almost everything we do a two-woman job. Kudos to the single -handed who have this all figured out. Every time I had to use the little girls room (which is very often) Katie had to steer, and vice-versa. Sails up, sails down, sails up, sails down. Things constantly changing kept us both wide awake. No sleeping shifts for us.

BUT we made it. We did it. Hell yeah. Without the help of anyone more experienced, just two 23 year old gals. Probably one of the coolest things we’ve ever done. It was a very odd feeling being out there, no land in sight, nothing but water, wind, stars, dolphins, and the moon. How people single-hand across oceans, I have no idea. Huge respect to those who can handle such a thing, I know I couldn’t. After 27 hours we were non-functional zombies. Guess we’ve got some toughening up to do.

Dog Island

Dog Island is a quiet oasis right off the coast of a small town named Carrabelle. This is where the Intracoastal waterway ends and the unprotected waters of the Gulf begin. The last stop before entering the Gulf southeast bound for Cedar Key, FL. A completely secluded island, where we found no foot prints but our own. The one night we spent there, we witnessed the most extrordinary 360 degree sunset ever.IMG_3542Look, the sun is setting.IMG_3558 IMG_3559 An abandoned house, washing away. It had potential, we could stay.IMG_3566 Reggie dog, on Dog IslandIMG_3569 IMG_3571Unfortunately, photos do not do justice to what our eyes actually witnessed. But you get the point. Trust me, it was amazing.

Eastbound for Apalachicola

IMG_3301 Can’t get enough of you MericaIMG_3306 Can’t complain when you get to see this kind of sunset every single night. There is never an option to miss one because we are always outside in the middle of nowhere.IMG_3316The morning after a long night. Can you tell? Top Ramen at 7 am, yes please.

There is something addicting about constantly moving, and ever changing scenery. I imagine the addiction will only get worse through out this trip. Every day we move we see something unknown, something our eyes have never met, something beautiful, or sometimes not so beautiful. Apalachicola, was the first place where we were tempted to just stop. An old fishing town full of antique shops, art galleries, tap rooms, friendly young people, a simple square mile that had our names written all over it. Because it is so far north, winter is Apalachicola’s dead season. Meaning bad place to try and make quick money. We did spend several days there, and were sad to say goodbye.IMG_3480On the move again in Lake Wimico. A small channel along the intra-coastal opens up to this glassy lake. We were the only humans around, nothing in sight but the sky’s reflection.IMG_3485 IMG_3495 IMG_3506 Awesome antique shop called “The Tin Shed” catering to boaters, it housed everything nautical. Believe it or not there has been a Victoria’s Secret bikini shoot in front of this wall of buoys. Which marks it a pretty cool place, right?IMG_3515 Creepy pirate, sailor man with a lazy blue eye (like my cat)) at The Tin Shed, wanted to take him home. Maybe him and Bird would be friends. IMG_3520 Louise tied up to the city dock at Apalachicola where we stayed for a couple nights free of charge. No water, or power or anything, but it was a block from the bar.IMG_3527Okay, we have gone long enough without showers. Desperate times call for desperate needs. Solar shower hose draining right into our living room, followed by a salt water hair wash. Luxurious.