Sunday, May 26, 2013

Key West Kayak Adventure

The following is an account of my June 2010 trip to Sugar Loaf Key in the Florida keys.

Day 1
I had to drive my son Max and his crew (Joe) to Cedar Key.  Max sailed from Destin last September, made it to Key West, moored for a while in Tampa and Cedar Key, and is just now on the final leg to bring the boat home. Max is on the right. [2013 update: Max has since sold the boat, served as part of a 3 man crew on a voyage from the Caribbean to New Zealand, and is going to school in Perth Australia].
We stopped for supplies at Walmart on the way to Cedar Key. Joe found a 20 in the parking lot. Not a bad way to start. Here they are showing it off.

After dropping off Max and Joe, I drove to within 5 hours of Key West and am crashing for the night at a Sleep Inn in Fort Pierce.

Day 2
Arrived at Sugarloaf at close to noon.
Here's the boat and trailer in front of Mark and Michelle's house. Very comfortable accommodations.
After meeting with Robbie at the marina I stopped in for lunch at the Tiki hut across the street. Had a chili dog, and while it was delicious, I felt worst for it.
The Tiki bar owner had a water pen for rehabilitation dolphins, but said he had not got around to making it escape proof. I jokingly suggested to use an electric fence as a barrier.  My attempt at humor was not appreciated. Turns out he was rather attached to two consecutive dolphins, both named Sugar, that were intended to be rehabilitated in the pen. Could be a while before the next chili dog.
Finished the evening cooking for myself. While out shopping for groceries, I found this character in the parking lot. Free range chickens are not allowed back home. I do not know why.

Day 3
Launched at the marina across the street in the morning. Good launching conditions. Only $3 for a kayak launch. Safe place to leave the car and trailer.

Headed west through Mangrove lined Perky Creek (spoiler alert: Mangroves line every creek in the keys).

Saw some Nurse Sharks upon exiting the creek.

The wind got up to a solid 20 mph by noon.  It was just too much to speed along under sail without knowing my odds of running aground; which I did while exploring the north side of Sugarloaf sound.  Lots of rocks and shallow. Spent much of the day parked on the lee side of Dreguez Key.

Day 4
Today I made it across Turkey Basin to the end of the back country at Barracuda Keys. I managed to miss all of the rock hazards and nosed up from deep water onto the sandy beachhead Barracuda Keys, and by sand I mean finely ground sea shells.

I might have seen 4 boaters from across Turkey Basin during the 5 hour trip, and absolutely no wave runners. [I later found out that personnel watercraft are prohibited in the Great White Heron Refuge, among other places. Quoting a news article: "Personal watercraft are not allowed in any backcountry waters in the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge, which is just north of Key West and extends from west of the Bay Keys to beyond Bahia Honda Key, Coast Guard Lt. Anna Dixon said. The Key West National Wildlife Refuge, which surrounds waters west of Key West from the Eastern Dry Rocks to the Marquesas Keys, also is off-limits."]

This island looked like a great place to hang a hammock. It is on the way to Barracuda off the eastern shore of Snipe Key and served as a good landmark. Stay east of it to dodge the coral rock in shallow water.

It helped to know the passages that connect basin to basin. Perky Creek connects Sugarloaf to Turkey basin and the Narrows (inner, middle and outer) get you from Turkey to Waltz Key Basin. I went through the Inner Narrows for a quick peak of Waltz Key Basin... and while the clogs may not be a fashion statement, I kept them on most of the time so I could jump in the water if ran aground. Flip flops are not recommended.
Day 5
Today I took Upper Sugarloaf Sound to Tarpon Creek and out to Lois Key.

These are the remains of a wooden bridge that was once highway 1, the only road into Key West.

Exiting Tarpon Creek. Imagine this scene without the channel markers and try to guess where the opening to the creek is. All Mangroves look alike.

Pointing towards Lois Key on the horizon. This key was once used to raise Rhesus monkeys but was abandoned due to the damage that the monkeys did to the mangroves.

The fast ride back. In the first segment of the video look beyond the bridge and notice the bend in the creek. The current and wind were at my back moving very fast. If I did not make the turn I would have bend pinned against the mangroves. At this point in the video I quickly put away the camera, furled the sail, and peddled while turning hard left. The Adventure Island takes a while to turn because the wide stance of the amas ("outriggers") make it slow to pivot. I barely made it. Would have been a mess. Had I not furled (rolled up) the sail first, I am sure the wind would have pushed me into the branches.

Day 6
Day six was a land day. My mission was to retrace the steps of my son Max during his recent voyage. Max spent about 3 months in Key West, among other places, living aboard a $2,400 boat he sailed down from the Florida panhandle. While my trip is simply a vacation, Max's was a life changing experience (although he may not agree with me yet).

I visited Max during his last stop in Gulfport, just outside of Tampa. I spent the night on the boat and got a feel for the lifestyle of a live-aboard. While that may sound cool, it can mean you are one step above homeless.

Max's boat was moored near Wysteria island on the horizon. Look on Google Earth and you will see a checkerboard of moored boats.

For a live-aboard, the dinghy is the only means of getting to land. Renting dock space long term is unthinkably expensive, if available. The dinghy dock is cheap, but space is limited. This is their designated parking lot.

Most boats in the harbor are a match of taste and wealth. These boats are an expression of character, for better or worst.

This picture was taken while he was in Tampa. Max was 24, had just graduated from college, and was looking for adventure. He left in October 2010 and, as noted on day 1, is just now sailing the final leg home from Cedar Key. He is within 100 miles from home at the time of this writing is ready to begin his new career, whatever that may be. I am very proud of him.

Day 7
Another day of brisk winds.

I explored the mangrove creeks to stay in calmer waters.

This 30 second video pretty well captures what it is like to be in a Mangrove tunnel. It's about 99% Mangrove. I did hear some insects buzzing, but I never got bit. It was well past daybreak with lots of wind overhead. I would have been eaten alive had it been early morning, or sunset, during this time of year.

Tried again to make it to Snipe Point. I got close, but did not hit the mark. GPS said I would be there by noon, but with the howling wind at my back I knew getting back would be rough. The tide had bottomed out and I was finding it difficult to stay clear of the coral rock and shallow areas. Turned around at this coral sand bar and made it back to the dock at 5:30pm.

Day 8
My friend Johnny, who just happened to be down with his family on vacation, invited me to join him and his son and dad to go Tarpon fishing. We anchored within a quarter mile off the tip of Key West. The day before he had caught two in this spot, his wife reeling in a 140 lb'er. We hooked two fish that were most likely Tarpon, but the both got off; but the most exciting moment of the day happened when a 3 foot Barracuda went airborne hitting a smaller fish that we were reeling in followed quickly by a 6 foot shark circling below for leftovers.

Johnny and his son Trae.

Hooked a Tarpon (we're pretty sure). It got away. Had a blast. Very grateful to Johnny for the trip. Went back to Sugarloaf to prepare for a day at Bahia Honda.

Day 9
Today's destination was Bahia Honda State Park.

The kayak launch was like the rest of the park - perfect.

The launch was carpeted leading to a wood ramp, then to a short sandy beach. No rocks. It was easy.

The end of the old bridge provides a vantage point for pictures.

I sailed to the little dot of an island on the horizon.

The water was very clear. I took off one of my tramps for a view.

The current was deceptive. In light winds it was difficult to get to the left bank after going through the gap in the bridge. The flow did not slacken after passing the bridge and moving into the Atlantic. With every tack left I was pushed further offshore. I should have approached close to the bank, going under the bridge instead of through gap, turned hard left, and walked it in when the water was shallow enough.


Side note: My brother highly recommended the Thai Sweet Chili Butter Sauce rice bowl with Grouper at the Square Grouper restaurant on Cudjoe Key. It was delicious. From the looks of this menu, it's all good.

Days 10 and 11
A two day ride home. Stopped in Ocala, then on to home in Shalimar FL. The keys were beautiful and definitely worth the drive, but they also made me appreciate what I have closer to home. Destin Florida's east pass is one of the best places for sailing in the south. White sands, clear water, dolphins, the party-ers on crab island, and desolated beaches just outside the pass. It's nice to be home.

The AI friendly sandy shores of the Destin east pass.

Stop the Handle Water Scoop

My 2011 AI had nice large handles on the side which are know to more experienced AI owners as water scoops. The curvature is perfect for diverting water from the smallest of waves into my lap. Here is a simple fix involving a foam pool needle:
Cut up a small pool needle into this shape

Cram it into the handle well.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Crack Near Set Screw in Drive Spine

While peddling out of Cinco Bayou early Saturday morning I noticed the tell tale clicking of an un-tuned drive. Usually this is the result of improperly tightened cables. After hitting the beach in the east pass of Destin, an inspection of the drive revealed the poorly tensioned cables, but I also noticed the set screw was backed out - not sure if there was a correlation between these two findings as I check my cables regularly. I have had two instances where this screw backed out and the shaft for the fins shifted to a point where the drive would not pull out of the well. When this happens, the only recourse while seaborne is to dive under the boat and pound the shaft to the center position to allow the drive to be removed from the well. The shaft must now be re-centered and the set screw tightened. There is a flat on the shaft for the set screw that you have to line up blind. You will find this to be a challenge. I put an alignment mark on the end of the shaft, so, while on the beach in Destin I simple realigned the mark and turned the set screw to my previously established reference of 3 female threads showing. It seemed a little easier to turn than normal so I went to 5 threads showing. Turned out, the spine, just below the set screw, was cracked.
The dealer said that this was not an uncommon problem, but the good news was he had another spine in stock and it would only cost me 20 bucks - much less than I thought it would be. However; the two previous experiences with the screw backing out and the probability of recurrence got me thinking.
In the photo above I have pounded out the shaft and placed it next to the drive. In the center of the picture, just below the large hole in the spine for the shaft, you can see the crack. What's new here are the thru holes I drilled in the spine and the shaft. You can probably guess what's next...
This is what it looks like with the shaft reinserted and a 4-40 UNC stainless steel screw installed. The shaft was surprisingly easy to drill through. I used a 7/64 bit, some oil, and a home edition drill - no drill press required. It only took a few minutes.
The other side looked like this. I shaved off 5 or six threads of the hole in the spine to make it more streamline and attached a stainless steel self locking nut.
I think the thru bolt may be a more robust solution than the factory provided set screw. I had applied thread locker to the set screw, but it still failed, and any attempt at tightening will stress the area. I suspect this issue will get to be very common as drives age.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Kayak Mode

Winters are for storing enthusiasm for summer. Under sail can be a wet and cold ride, particularly by Florida standards, so a reasonable plan is to pack the boat away and wish for warmer weather. This year, my patience ran thin. I decided to go kayak mode – no ama, no sail - for an easy launch, and to reduce the chance of getting wet.  At 16 feet long, and relatively narrow, the AI peddles nicely.

With the fifth revision of the AI seat (number four was PVC) and a 3 inch thick standard boat cushion (stolen advice from my friend, Mark) I stayed dry by keeping mostly to the protected bayous, avoiding cold rough waters. This seat was made from two chopped up lawn chairs.

Dead calm water allowed venturing out of the bayou and into Choctawhatchee Bay. It was like gliding into a painting. 

Pastel sunrise as the fog rolls in. Sunsets are cheap. Sleep late as you want and make it to the shore at your leisure. Sunrises take more effort.

Ripples in the fog.

Water remained glassy well into the morning. I covered an easy 6.2 miles and returned to the dock by 10 am. What a great way to start the weekend!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Islands in the Sound

It's getting late in the year and I have yet to camp once. Down to my last couple weekends before the water turned from bath to unpleasant, I set out on a clear October day with a 20 to 25 mph north wind for a broad reach both ways down the east west Santa Rosa Sound. I went west from Shalimar to Navarre averaging 6 mph, hitting over 9 on occasion, got there by lunch, and headed back east.

The northern coastline of the sound between Fort Walton Beach and Pensacola is largely either Air Force property or part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. All sand is as white as the Gulf beaches. I made a mental note about the spot ( 30° 24.341'N  86° 39.801'W) in the picture above - those trees are perfectly spaced for my Hennessy Hammock. I much prefer the Hennessy over a tent, but seldom get to use it because trees like this pair are hard to find in the sound.

The most prominent feature of this run, by far, is the chain of small islands in the region between Hurlburt AFB and Liza Jackson Park. Spectre Isalnd is the furthest west of the chain, but as far as i know the others are unnamed. I struck camp on an island in the Sound on this sandy point ( 30° 24.289'N  86° 39.733'W). I was up early and heading home by dawn.

Monday, September 5, 2011

All This in That Bag

I have one of those stiff plastic sailing bags.  The seal is very reliable, but the form makes it difficult to get in and out of the hatch. I prefer an army surplus waterproof clothes bag.  It is neoprene coated (the black in the second picture) on the interior of a light polyester canvas exterior (green). You can get one at your local army/navy surplus store for $5. Just put the bag in the port first, then fill it up. The seal on the top is not great, but when it's just placed in the hatch like a grocery bag, it really does not matter; actually, I prefer it because I can select the article I need without pulling out the whole  bag.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Night Sailing

On the hottest summer day relief is only hours away, so I called my friend Mark, who also owns an AI, and we headed out intentionally late for Destin (barely visible in the background). 

By the time we arrived, Crab Island was shutting down.

However, after sailing under the Destin bridge and into the harbor we found that the party was just getting started. There’s Mark in line with the big boats. This picture was taken at the narrow entrance off Noriega Point. 

I parked near the docks and watched the return of the party boats.

It was a windy and fast run through the night back to Shalimar on a broad reach - difficult to capture on video with the low light. Once I reached protect waters, I took this picture while holding the camera as still as I could, but nevertheless, picture does not do it justice. You will have to experience that for yourself.