In Ft Pierce FL: End of leg three and a rough one at that. It’s Thursday morning and I am tied up at a dock in Harbor Town Marina.   Bob and John left yesterday and here I am, all alone, for a few days prior to my return flight on Saturday.  I decided to spend a few days here getting the lay of the land and making some minor repairs to Pandora after the long run.

forwardly I am happy to say that prior to leaving, Bob and John did a great job of getting Pandora cleaned up after the mess she had gotten herself into after a few days at sea.  It was absolutely amazing how salty everything down below became in just a few days out.  However, she’s pretty much cleaned up now and ready for our return in January.

Here’s a shot of John and Bob, both who have much more offshore experience than I do.   This shot was taken the first day out before it got really interesting. Yesterday morning we entered the Ft Pierce inlet and were headed down to Nettles Island Marina, where I had made a reservation to keep Pandora until mid January when Brenda and I will head down to Miami and onto the Bahamas.

As I turned south to follow the ICW down to Nettles Island, I took a look at the height board on the bridge piling that was just ahead of us and was surprised to see that the maximum clearance was not the standard 65′ tall that is set for ICW bridges at high tide, but only 63′.  Oops, I can’t make it under the bridge at that height.   My mast is 63′ plus the gear that is on top of the mast, such as wind instruments and cell antenna.  That makes my vertical clearance more like 64 1/2′ or so, just short of the minimum ICW 65′ clearance that is standard on the ICW. Pandora was designed with a rig that is just short enough to fit under these bridges as long as the water levels are “normal”.

The strong north and east winds that helped us down the coast had also piled up water in the inlets and has caused what is normally a very small tide of less than two feet to be a somewhat above normal.  In any event, I wasn’t going to get a 64 1/2′ rig under a bridge that was showing 63′ clearance.  And the marina that I was supposed to go to wasn’t likely to want to pay to fix the gear on the top of my mast.  Anyway, I called the nice guy at Nettles Island and explained the situation to him and he understood.  However, he did call back to say that I should call someone local from Tow Boat US, who knows about the bridge clearances in the area and talk to him about that.  The Tow Boat guy’s feeling was that I could get under at low tide as the bridges are built with just a bit more clearance than the boards show.  Hmm…

Could be an expensive fix and one that I am not ready to risk.  In any event, nix the Nettles Island deal.  I guess it’s time to spend a bit more and find somewhere else to go while I figure out what to do next.

Enter Harbor Town Marina, right off of the ICW and within a very short distance of the inlet.  That’s where I am now and it’s really very nice and there’s even a pool and a great waterfront restaurant.   And, the showers and laundry are terrific. Actually, while it’s a bit more expensive than Nettles, I am inclined to just leave Pandora here and tough it up on a little more expense in exchange for a simpler option than moving Pandora again today and risking the mast gear.

I also have some repairs that need attention and I’d like to focus on them while I am here instead of spending time moving Pandora again.  For now, I had enough “moving Pandora” for a while.  Time to stay tied up for a while.

Speaking of repairs, when we were in the heavy stuff the other night I damaged my boom vang, a bracket under the boom that keeps it from riding up when the winds are too high.  It probably broke in one of those violent jibes I spoke of.  The cable that is inside of the boom snapped, at least, that’s what I think happened.  I called a rigger and hope to see him today so he can take a look at things, including the back stay that was causing trouble.   Boy, am I ever glad that I put that temporary fix in place.  I have to wonder if the rig would have gone over with the winds we experienced on the run down here.  That’s a scary thought.  Alas, the “repair” worked just fine.

I’d also like to arrange to have my Espar diesel heater repaired so I need to contact the dealer in West Palm Beach, right near the airport where I will fly out on Saturday.   However, I doubt that we will need it in Florida as it’s plenty warm here now.

Well, enough about what’s next.  Perhaps a bit more about the run down from Beaufort NC.  First, the run was a total of about 542 nautical miles and it took us three days and three hours, an average of about 7.2 knots.  That could have been higher except that we slowed down quite a bit for about 12 hours.   It was just so rough  and we needed to have a period of relative calm to rest and didn’t want to push the boat that hard.   This is also the longest run that I have made without having to us the engine due to not enough wind, although I ran the engine a few hours a day in neutral to keep the batteries charged.  The solar, as large as they are, just aren’t enough this time of year, with the short days, to keep things charged up.  Besides, with the boat running 24 hours a day, the autopilot used a lot of power.

Yes, there was plenty of wind and, as result, the waves, according to Chris Parker, the weather router, and our observations topped off at about 15′ with some breaking as they rolled by.  Those were the biggest waves I have sailed in with Pandora and the biggest since taking a run from Bermuda on a friends boat years ago.   The biggest issue for us was that the winds topped out, and did so, off and on, for a full day, at about 40kts.  That’s the sort of wind that gets the Weather Channel folks all excited as it’s classified as “GALE”, and I believe it.  It was really windy.

For these conditions we used Pandora’s main only and that sail was reefed down to it’s third reef that is less than 1/4 of it’s full size.  I had not used that reef previously but knew how to set it up.  As I mentioned, we did that in Beaufort in preparation for the run, just in case.  

This is a shot of Pandora with her normal sails in place.  In this example, I wasn’t using the larger head sail, just the much smaller jib.  This was a pretty windy but manageable conditions, say around 20kts of wind, last winter in the Bahamas. This is what her main sail looks like with a third reef in place.  That’s a lot smaller sail although you can’t really get a feel for just how small it is as you can’t see the top of the mast which is a long way from the top of the sail when it’s got it’s third reef tied in.  And, with the strong winds we were experiencing, this felt like plenty of sail and too much wind for my taste.  With just this sail running off the wind and the jib rolled up,  we were still cooking along at up to 9kts.  The fastest that we recorded was 11.6kts for a brief period and we were in the 10kt range many times.  That’s really fast and plenty noisy.  For much of the time, as we were off the wind, which tends to be rolly, we were slewing from side to side something like 45 to 60 degrees.  It was hard to stay upright down below.  And, the noise!  Everything was thumping around down below.  During a particularly rough moment, a spice jar of ground cloves went flying and broke open.  Wet salty clove dust all over the cabin sole.  Not an altogether pleasant smell. 

It was particularly interesting that for much of the trip, especially during the roughest parts, we were in nearly constant company of dolphins.   These creatures really never left us for two days and constantly swam up along side and in front of Pandora, launched themselves out of the water and landed back in the water with a splash.  Their antics reminded me of the old TV show “Flipper”.   It was pretty clear to me that they were having a jolly time of it.   They must be pretty efficient predators as they stay well fed and yet have plenty of time to “play”.   It looked to me like they were having a lot of fun.  There were juveniles as well as adults.

For much of the time just holding on as I moved around the boat and there was plenty to keep me occupied but I did take this video before things got really interesting.  The video doesn’t really give a good feel at all for the size of the waves, and this was before it got really rough.  However, if you look carefully, you can see a few shots of dolphins in the water and one that launches himself briefly out of the water as he raced by.  It was endlessly entertaining.  I used my i-phone as my GoPro video camera wasn’t charged up properly.  Oh well, my son Rob wouldn’t have been so unprepared.All and all, the trip was fun if a bit exhausting.  I have to say that there are times in all of the offshore runs that I have done when I say to myself, “Why are you doing this Bob?  Never again.”  On this trip, that moment was when the autopilot was showing an error message on the controller and I had to slither down into the aft locker on my stomach with a flash light to inspect the unit.  That’s back under the stern and tough to get to under the best of conditions.  As the boat slew around every which way, I found that all was in order, happily. It seems that the problem was that we just had too much sail up for the conditions and the pilot had gone into some sort of overload mode.  Go figure…  After that spelunking moment, I felt a bit ill and had quite a headache.  Unfortunately, it was time for dinner and I had to saute some sausage and potatoes for dinner.   Not good, not good at all.

I managed to get dinner prepared and served but there was no way that I could eat it.  I plopped down for a nap and when I woke up I was in fine form again.  Fortunately, there was some dinner left and I scarfed that down in record time.  As I have often said to the boys, “if it doesn’t taste good, you aren’t hungry enough”.  Ain’t that the truth.   And, greasy spicy food when you are ill… Yuck.

However, in spite of my moments of self doubt, I never felt threatened or in any sort of real danger and when I arrive I do feel a sense of accomplishment.  And, perhaps best of all, I can tell stories about the last three days FOR EVER.  Yes, that’s the best.

Well the day is getting away from me and there’s lots to do.  Besides, I’m hungry and there’s lots of food to eat, or toss, before I head home.

Yes, telling folks about it is great.


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