Shark River Chapter 3

The Shark River is a midway stop between Marco Island and our first access to the Keys at Marathon on Boot Key.  It is another long day to Boot Key, forty plus miles, (could be eight hours or more of sailing) so we decided to spend a second night on the Shark River anchorage and explore the Everglades during the day. We put together a picnic and fishing gear and were ready to set off for a day of gunkholing.  Just to prove we picked the right name, Sea Alice wouldn’t start.  John pulled and pulled until his blisters had blisters.  He blew on the spark plug.  He changed the spark plug.  He wiped the diaphragm thing.  He shook the gas tank.  He ended up taking apart Sea Alice’s engine and putting it back together for most of the day.  I hung out with a new friend of mine, Monster.  He was the biggest dragonfly I’ve ever seen.  I bet he was six or seven inches.  I have seventy three pictures of him.  Here are a couple.

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Dragonflies eat other flying insects.  They love mosquitoes.   This island has mosquitoes of the likes I have never seen before.  This is coming from a Minnesota girl.  The Minnesota state bird is a mosquito.  When we anchored inside the river last May we watched a neighboring man on a sailboat doing the oddest thing.  We called over to him.  What are you doing!?  He yelled back, I’m taping up my boat!!  Sure enough, he had blue painter’s tape and was taping all of his ports (windows), lazarets, anything with a crack.  His wife (No, he wasn’t taping her) was inside the boat taping all she could on the opposite side.  He scrambled around and then muttered blasphemies while ducking inside.  Then, the brown cloud of mosquito hell came.  Within seconds my arms looked like Chewbacca’s.  I did not sleep one minute that entire night.  They were biting my scalp through my hair under my sheets.  I itch and tense just telling you about it.  No wonder Monster was so huge.  I love Monster with all of my heart.

Dragonflies are eaten by birds, frogs, big spiders and fish.  What kind of spider could eat Monster?  I hope I never meet him.

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After hours of foreplay, coaxing, sweet talking and being sworn at, wallah, Sea Alice revved his engine again.

 

A gunkholing we will go.  Mangroves are curious freaks of nature.  They survive in salt water and produce fresh water resources for birds, manatees and a host of creatures.  They are barriers between the sea and land.  They create their own islands by dropping leaves which get stuck in their roots and produce their own soil and nutrients to sustain themselves.  Many fish, birds, mammals and even the land depends on this barrier ecosystem.  Being in the Shark River reminded us of exploring the Boundary Waters in Minnesota and Canada.   It is a vast and wondrous wilderness.

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John and I had originally planned to do many miles of exploring but did not want to count on Sea Alice’s stamina.  We did have oars, a VHF radio, water, tools, sunscreen, bug spray, a tablet with navigation, beer and a change of underwear with us.   However, there really wasn’t anyone to radio for help and rowing miles in a river, or worse, in the gulf is a daunting and possibly futile task.  Currents and winds can make a short paddle seem like an Olympic event but they were favorably on our side so we crossed our fingers.  Someone in our party suggested we turn around.  Someone wanted to check navigation to see if we were close to a loop that would circle us back a new but longer way and might be a great “experience.”  Someone put senior senor Sea Alice in idle to fire up the tablet.  Sea Alice balked, sputtered and died.  We were at least three miles from our boat.

John’s blistered blisters were bleeding.  I informed him he was going to have to start sharing his high blood pressure meds with me. He pulled at, screwed and played with inner workings but nothing would make Sea Alice turn over.  I’ve never seen an man’s forearms sweat before.  We paddled to a mangrove to tie off and let both John and Sea Alice rest.

We floated, contemplated two stroke engine design for the umpteenth time and ate our salami (again) sandwiches.  And then we had a visitor.

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Agatha Dolphin was a curious sort.  She was fishing in the shallows around us and was most interested in what type of gray bottomed creature we could possibly be.  She would come by us and leave and return again.

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After her third or fourth swim by us she got up the nerve to swim right up to us.  I got the chills when we met eye to eye.  I think she was saying HI!  HI!  HI!  and smiling just like I was.

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She was the highlight of the day.   Thank you, Agatha.  But we were still worrisome.  So bleak that nary a beer was cracked.  But, we thought, maybe Agatha was a good omen.  So John pulled his six hundred and seventy one thousandth time, seventy two, seventy three…eight eight, eighty nine and then, money.  Old Sea Alice woke up.  We did not mess around.  We talked dirty to him the whole way back to the boat.  He would start to sputter and we would think up new encouragement for him.  We should call you ten stroke, you are so manly!

Happy Swampy Selfie!

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And it is not a worthy post without a cool bird pic.  These are cormorants.  John asked when we saw them, Don’t you have a cormorant about this?

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I promise.  There is no chapter 4.  On to Boot Key.

Shark River, Chapter 2

With new found respect we waited out a second day of small craft advisory tied snugly to our dock.  We decided to head out the following day with strong winds predicted but not the nail biters.  Once again, we waved farewell at my folks who waved back a little tentatively.  All was well but we were cautious knowing the trek out to sea around the shoals can change one from smug to schmuck very quickly.  The winds again were almost straight on which makes for difficult sailing.  We sailed a while and then motored as we had a very long day ahead of us. DSCN2001

The seas became choppy so it made for a somewhat uncomfortable and slow passage.  It was about thirteen hours at sea so the next day my pony keg abs and neck that holds up my big brain bobble head were stiff from the buck boarding.  I tried to capture the rise and fall of the boat in picture.  When you drop down from a wave the boat crashes into the water and sprays up and occasionally at you.

I will not complain any more about the day because the sun was out and we were in control of our vessel and ourselves.  What do you do for thirteen hours at sea?  I watch for birds and sea creatures.  Dolphins never fail to set my heart fluttering.  Sometimes they will come up directly to the boat and ride the wake.  Wonderfully, on rare occasions, crab pots turn into sea turtles.  Their heads look very similar.  There are five different sea turtle species in these waters.  Sea turtles are shy and dive deep once they spot you so they are hard to differentiate or capture on camera.  I saw one whose head was the size of a basketball.   Leatherbacks can weigh up to 2000 pounds and get to 6.5′ in length.  Basketball head was a huge turtle and a huge thrill.  I named him Shaq.  I also watch the patterns in the water and I play I spy with the clouds.  I even made up stories about the cloud shapes in the vast amusement park of my mind.  John studied manuals and fixed things.

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The sun set as we were still making way.

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We arrived at the Shark River in the middle of the Everglades.  It is beautiful in the daytime and there is not sign of human life for many miles.  We got to our anchorage in the dark.  Boats do not have headlights.  You rely on your navigation equipment, dumb luck and a spot light we turn on sporadically to check for things we can see above the water that would make a dent.  Anchoring blind set off my need wine now warning light.  It was another notch in Captain John’s “experience” cap and we were successful.  We celebrated with rib eyes and Syrah for a late night dinner.

How about a cloud story?

Swordfish cloud was a bully.  He flew around poking and stabbing at the other clouds with his sword.  Santa Clause cloud said, Swordy, knock it off or there will be no bright, shiny scales for you next Christmas.  But Swordy didn’t listen and continued to poke.  Santa Clause told Swordy firmly, You know that your sword is to be used only in defense or to stab prey.  This is your last warning.  Stop stabbing other clouds.  But Swordy did not listen and poked at poor poodle cloud.  Just as Santa Clause cloud began to fade away, Swordy’s sword started to break apart and fade as well.  Santy Clause!  Santy Clause!  I promise I’ll stop! yelled Swordy.  But it was too late.  Santa was off policing other bully clouds elsewhere.  Now Swordy was just fish cloud.  He cried wispy tears.

 

 

(This is not actually a picture of Swordy but is of his less attractive cousin Gordy.)

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Shark River, Chapter One

You may have picked up that John likes to go looking for adventure and that I am a gullible and foolish woman.  We knew there was a small craft advisory (winds of 22-33 knots, or 25-38 mph) on the day we left for the 61 mile sail to the Shark River.  But one of us thought, advisory schmisory, and if we can’t learn to sail in the big winds sixty miles from your parent’s condo then when would we prefer to learn, in the pirated seas off of Africa?  You want to embrace the experience so you know what to do when the big stuff comes!   Also, small crafts are considered anything to sixty feet and we have forty two so it hardly even counts.  They’re just warning the little fishing boats.  Our boat is made for this!

Off we went once again waving to my parents as we rolled past their condo in the first light hour of the morning.  We put up our full sails and very pleasantly reached 7.8 knots.  The boat will go 8 knots according to the manual.  Ha!  Ha!  We are sailors!  Hear us roar!  And we zoomed out past Marco.

Funny thing though, as we started heading out to sea to avoid some nasty shoals the winds grew.  They didn’t blow in the direction that was forecast, but they blew straight at us.  It was a very difficult point of sail.  When there is too much wine (Silly typo!  There is no such thing as too much wine!) err, wind, the sails will control you rather than the other way around.  They can knock you down, or blow you over until they hit the sea and you are no longer vertical.  We brought in the jib a little.  Then the seas got bigger and we were having a hard time staying on course so we reefed in the mainsail.  (Made the big sail smaller.)  But the wind wasn’t done blowing and seas weren’t done growing so we set a second reef and then pulled in the jib altogether.  Yet we still couldn’t keep our course so we thought we’d completely drop the sails, fire up the iron jenny (diesel engine) and power around this 8 miles off shore shoal area, head closer to land and once safely around set sails again.  We dropped the sails and started the engine.

The wind was howling and the seas were tossing us.  We immediately smell something hot and fuel like.  No, it wasn’t John’s breath, but good guess.  John goes below to check it out and finds that the stuffing box (remember the big wrenches?) came apart and there was sea water spewing in the engine compartment.  The bilge alarm was going off similarly to the sirens in my own head.  We cut the engine and I sailed on bare poles and was making three plus knots with absolutely no help other than the wind pushing our boat hull.  Forty five minutes later the stuffing box was sealed tight and the engine was running.  But the princess had enough “experience” for one day and was not ready for another fifty miles of it.  We turned around and headed back to Marco.  Five hours after we left we were tucked back into our slip.  Humph.  Humph.  We are sailors.  Hear us mew like kittens.

 

 

Marco Island

We threw up the sails and had a beautiful broad reach most of the forty two miles to Marco.  Clipping along at seven plus knots in the calm gulf is giggle worthy.  I texted one of our speed loving buddies who has sailed with us often and Jay replied, To quote Sammy Hagar, I can’t drive….5.  Laugh all you want at our slow progress.  You can’t take the wind out my sails.  Sailing in these conditions feels like flying.

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In Marco, at my parents beautiful condominium, I slept like a starfish on a king size bed in an air temperature controlled environment.  Magnificently, I was neither cold nor hot.  I would pad to the loo upon soft carpeting when the nocturnal nature calling fairies awoke me in the night. There I sat upon a large, porcelain throne like the princess that I am.  Most of my expansive derriere fit on it and it was quite comfortable.  I used heaping amounts of soft, cloud like toilet paper on my delicates.   Then, rather than pumping furiously, I lightly pressed down on a silver lever.  Everything went magically away never having to be dealt with again.  I followed this up with letting the water run wastefully until it was a perfect warmth.  I washed my hands which were finally healing from multiple line (rope) burns, a bee sting (apparently they don’t like to be grabbed while napping on a line) a splinter gone bad, and gouges from errant screwdrivers or other odd tools.   Then, I changed the water over to a nice, chilly cold and guzzled as much of it as I could in hopes that the fairies would wake me up again so I could do it all over.  You landlubbers are spoiled.

Unpleasantly, I also drove around in a metal vehicle at alarming speeds of up to sixty miles per hour.  Others were coming from the opposite direction at the same speed very close by.  In Florida, they have rules of navigation that I don’t understand.  Like, they leave their blinkers on continuously and turn them off when they turn.  Driving is frightening.  I don’t know how you brave souls ride in these demons on a daily basis.

On our living room wall in Stillwater hangs a picture my mom painted for us of the view of the seas and mid ship to bow of a sailboat.  We took the picture on our first chartering adventure 15 years ago .  It is my favorite painting.  John asked my mom to paint the view from our Minnesota living room to hang in our boat.  She completed this beauty by the time we returned.  It is perfect!

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The original plan was to relax in Marco, maybe even lay down on a beach for the first time, or drink a foo foo drink with an umbrella in it by a pool.  But there were projects to do.  When you do one project it reproduces like a rabbit and turns into nine more.  John was in his glory.  I stomped my feet like a petulant toddler mumbling about pina coladas and naps as I retrieved tools and lubricants.  On the bright side, our refrigerator has been redesigned, a screw has been removed from duck  valve inside a pump motor and our stuffing box has been restuffed.  No, not that one.  The one in the teeny tiny space in the engine compartment under the companionway stairs.  I believe this project was completed just so John could buy these enormous wrenches that weigh a ton.  He has a bruise on his elbow about eight inches in diameter from this project.

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Most importantly our anchor light has not been working this whole trip.  This is not safe and does not help one’s (my) night’s sleep.  We hired Ocean Su to climb our mast of 58 feet and try a new bulb in hopes that would fix it.  Ocean Su is a character of monumental proportions.  We met the one hundred pounds soaking wet gal at 8:00 am and told her at 2:00 pm that we needed to get back to our projects.  She charged us for an hour of her time in cash and a beer.  She is an avid sailor with a captain’s licence, sailing teaching credentials, a rigger, a varnisher, a sailing racer and a talker.  We enjoyed her company very much and she taught us things about our boat that were mind boggling which added thirty six more projects to our list.  However, a master electrician she was not.  Unfortunately, she broke the non removable light bulb in the anchor light fixture at the top of the mast that we don’t have a replacement for and we still don’t know if that is even the problem.  But, bless her heart, she showed us how to climb the mast ourselves in case we ever needed to in the future.  This excited John to hyperbolic proportions.  So after she left he decided that I would hoist him up with two halyard lines, a winch and a twenty year old Bosun’s chair to the first spreader (approximately twenty feet) so he could check out another broken light.  Same old story; he was excited and I was sick to my stomach.  The wind was blowing and the neighbor was gawking and, I shit you not, told us how he fell trying to attempt the same thing and did we want any help.  No,no.  We’ve got this, John says.  I grumble and John asks if I would rather learn to do this now or when there is a problem at sea, at night and in the rain?  Up he went.  The neighbor asked, again, I shit you not, if he had life insurance.  John said, No, I canceled it recently.  And that is a good thing because Candis would probably cut the line right now if I had not.  Down he came without cutting the line and rather smoothly I might add.  All was well after a glass of wine.  I was too busy freaking out to take a picture of John up there.

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After the fairies woke me up last night I lay in bed thinking about leaving soon on our next adventure to the Keys and Dry Tortuga’s .  I decided it felt very much like giving birth.  The first time you think, I’ve got this.  Look how many before me have reproduced successfully and I am not a complete idiot.  But then a freight train rips through your body and you can’t sit down or sleep for eighteen plus years.  How you made the choice with your nativity the first time is understandable.  What is inconceivable is that you willingly have a second child knowing full well what is likely to come.  It turns out I really am a complete idiot.  But both the adventures of the heart and of the sails are worth every challenge, misstep and frustration.  In fact, nothing brings me greater joy than my two boys and sailing is not far behind.

Tomorrow we hope to leave for a sixty three mile sail to the Shark River in the Everglades.  We were there when we moved the boat from Miami and we did indeed see a shark lurking around.  It is said that they greet the cruisers in hopes a small tasty dog will fall overboard.  We also encountered mosquitoes in biblical proportions.  We plan to move on from there to some natural anchorages off of the keys.  I have plenty of sausage provisioned.  We will be without cell and internet for at least a couple of days.  I wonder what stories I will have to tell when we can catch up with you again.

St James City

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St James City was refreshing.   John summed it up well when he said, This is where NASCAR fans come when they retire.  We went gunkholing in this city of canals and loved all of the small, older homes.  There were nicely kept trailer homes with faded lawn ornaments of frogs fishing off their docks.  The homes had a certain sense of humor with Its Five O’clock Somewhere signs and bright colors.  Waterfront is expensive and we have seen plenty of McMansions along the way so it was good to be with real people.  It felt like the Florida of twenty years ago.

We had dinner at Waterfront restaurant on a picnic table next to an older couple from North Carolina.  He used to own an ASA sailing school and had done plenty of cruising.  He told us, First, you sail.  When you get too old for that you get a troller (a live aboard boat with no sails.)  When you get too old for that you get an RV.  They were at the RV stage.  His wife had the funniest croaking voice.  Now, I’m not one to talk.  John and I were in Leadville, Colorado on a motorcycle trip and were talking to a German man touring the states on a motorcycle.  I said something to him and he stopped, cocked his head to one side and said in a sing songy, nasal, awful voice, Nee nee nee nee nee nee nee.  He imitated my vocal tonality quite well.  John busted a gut he laughed so hard.   Ever since, when I nag John he nee nee nees me.  This woman has me beat.  She spoke as if she was bearing down with all of her might at the same time as talking.  And she whined…I don’t know why they have to bread everything.  Indeed, they did.  I got crab cakes, sweet potato fries and corn on the cob.  All were coated in a heavy breading and deep fried to a cardboard finish.  Not a culinary moment.  Now John and I imitate her voice whenever we complain about anything.

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We listened to some blues at the Ragged Ass Saloon where the bartendresse, Nancy, keeps a bat with her name on it hanging on the wall.  When anyone pushes her buttons she just points to it.

Next, we head to Marco to tuck in and repair things.

Broken Islands

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After stocking up in Venice we headed deeper into the Pine Islands for a more natural setting.  We anchored about  two or three miles off of the intracoastal in between mangrove islands all by ourselves. We were soon greeted by a manatee.  It was the first one we’ve seen out side of a marina.  Sorry, but he didn’t hang around to pose for a picture. However, I have 125 previous manatee nostril pictures if you’re interested.  We very quickly noticed we were anchored by another bird island.

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We spent three nights and two days mostly watching the birds and sky as it rained and rained and rained.  What do you do on a forty two foot boat in three days of cold rain?  Well, I write rambling blog posts and take pictures.  John fishes and fixes things.  He also likes to walk around with WD40, or dieletric and waterproof grease and squirt stuff.  I actually just went to find his favorite greasy stuff to see what it is called but he is currently using it. That man just loves to lubricate things.  I am also reading him a book, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.  Some of it takes place in southern Florida.  I am a pretty good reader and can muster up some drama when the occasion calls for it; and sometimes when it doesn’t.

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Along came a cormorant parade.  Hundreds of these birds paddled from another mangrove to bird island.  They would change direction as the wind would shift always keeping their beaks to wind.  You would see a side profile and then they would change direction and you’d see their orange beaks facing you.

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They all took shelter at the end of the mangrove.

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A storm came and passed.

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The sun set.

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We were having a libation in the cockpit when over a thousand cormorants flew by us.  They flew low to the water and were heading to another bird island for the night.  They split the boat and flew around us.  All you could hear was the shshushshsh of their wings.  It was spectacular.  I Wish I got a picture.  Here is a lone cormorant.

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The next day we went exploring the mangroves in our dinghy, gunkholing, and did some fishless fishing during a rain break.  We worked on leaky ports (windows), read and watched the rain and sky.

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I didn’t know George Washington smoked.

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Long Boat Key back to Venice

 

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These pictures were taken early in the morning, which means that John took them.  The fog had settled in for a long morning’s nap.  We waited for the sun to chase her away so we could head out into the gulf for a long sail to Venice.  Weather and wind looked good.  It was to be partly cloudy.  The bridge operator warned us that there was fog in the gulf as we passed under.  Copy.  Roger that.  Echoes out.  We figured it was part of what we had just waited out and that it was about to burn off.  We very quickly passed through a curtain of white.  We entered into a world I have never seen before.  It was a quiet, gray world where you could only see maybe forty feet in front of you.  We were on a navigation route of about a mile out into the deep gulf.  A big fishing boat slowly emerged out of the mist right by us going the other way.  It was creepy.   I was standing at the bow to watch for navigation markers and boats and shout back their whereabouts to John.  Our navigation equipment is excellent.  It shows by GPS where you are, the route and the markers which have numbers so you can double check along the way.  We also have radar that displays with a shadowy blotch if anything solid is in front of you and if it is moving.  Later, John will hang a foil like disk on our halyard to make us even more visible on radar for other boats to see us.  So we are creeping along our way.  John is like an excited twelve year old that he gets to use his radar and play with his toys.  I am just nervous.

We make it past our last marker and enter the deep gulf.  I’m still at the bow.  John makes the turn, starts to find his way to our heading and the navigation equipment and radar shut down.  This is the point where you would hear two very different stories if you asked either one of us to tell it.  Let me say that 29 times out of 30 John and I do extremely well under pressure and sorting things out together.  This was a 30.  In all fairness to him, I have to admit I was working off of two accumulative nights of very little sleep due to insomnia.  I wasn’t hitting on all eight.  In fact, I barely reach a seven on my best days.  I normally operate around a five and this was a two to three day.  For instance, the bridge operator hailed me over VHF when we were on our way out to tell me I had missed a marker and was heading to foul ground.  Derp!  Lucky!  And Hurrah for bridge operators!  I blew him kisses as we went through the bridge opening.

We are slowly spinning in circles.  I go back to where John can hear me, because apparently he cannot hear my shouted inquiries, and ask, Gee captain, what are you doing?  I find out that we have no navigation.  I attempt to launch a back up navigational program from his tablet and bugger it up.  It is suggested I return to the bow.  Five minutes later I spy the last navigation beacon from the channel and, my story goes like this….I walk back to the cockpit and say, Hey handsome, why don’t we just circle that there beacon until we get it all sorted out.  John’s version goes like this…..I come running into the cockpit waving my arms and flopping like a fish out of water screaming, WE ARE GOING TO DIE!  HELP!  HELP!  WE ARE GOING TO DIE!  It is suggested that I go back to the bow.  So at the bow I sit for another forty five minutes.  At one point I heard a boat nearby and yelled back at John informing him.  He took it in stride.  I imagined drunk teenagers on a cigarette boat plowing through the fog and splitting our boat in two.  I was scared.   At another point, John gives the air horn three long blasts and I shoot up four feet in the air and almost off the boat frantically looking for what he saw that I missed.  After he hits the horn he yells, I am just doing that for safety.  After?!

I am a person of strong faith.  I am verbose with my creator.  Shocking, I know.  Right about this time I imagine him saying, My Myself!  For Myself’s sake!   Michael, Gabrielle, Frank, Bernadine, anyone!  Go send that woman a sign.  I need some peace!  I am sitting at the bow with my nerves, eyes and ears pealed.  I notice something in the water, small, nonthreatening.  It is still a thick fog.  The seas are glassy smooth; the wake is calmly rocking the boat.  The light is diffused and the air and water are a soft, gray green.   We are moving very slowly.  As the object comes into view out of the mist I cannot believe my eyes.   It is a perfect, large, bright magenta flower petal from some tropical flower.   We are over a mile out on the gulf!  And then, another one, and another.  One passes on our starboard and twenty feet later another passes on our port.  They are floating on the water, curled up at their edges.  They are not damaged and they are not waterlogged.   They look almost velvety.  About a dozen of them floated past and we drove right through them.  When you mark your destination on the GPS navigation screen it creates a line that you follow.  That line is bright pink and it is called the Magenta Line.  I could breathe again.

Shortly after, John comes up mid ship to take a winky tinky.  When you do not have working navigational equipment you do not leave the helm without asking someone to take watch.  So I said something like, Gee honey bunches of love, are you using your bodily resources to tests the depths of the ocean since the depth sounder doesn’t work?  Or, it might have come out more like, What the hell are you doing?  John said, Oh, no problem.  I got the equipment back up and running over a half an hour ago.  I said, And you neglected to tell me?  He shrugged and said he thought I knew.  That boat before?  He knew by radar it wasn’t going to hit us.  I was afraid to open my mouth in case a string of cuss words flew out with such force that they would have stuck to him and he’d have a nick name forever more like our anchor.  So I communicated the best way I could think of at the moment and flipped him the bird.  I am not proud of that.

After three hours of fog, it lifted.  Anger cooled to ash and blew away with the breeze.  The equipment malfunction was partly fussy equipment, partly still unresolved and partly operator error and a learning curve.  We put up our sails and sailed the rest of the way to Venice.

In Venice we did our usual marina necessaries, laundry, grocery, cleaning.  We also met up with my aunt and uncle again for a great evening.

 

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