Unexpected Pleasures


When Lisa and I decided to cruise along the west coast of Florida we did so because of our personal preference for cruising in more open waters and the availability of pristine anchorages. We also wanted to take our time to see the sights. As we headed south we lingered in some anchorages and on some mooring balls while on our way down to our winter destination of Key West.

After our scheduled “Mom Cruise” (March 15th Log) in the Tarpon Springs area came to a close it was time for Lisa and I to relax and spend time alone with each other. We spent two weeks traveling the 300 miles from St. Petersburg to Key West, this included stops in Longboat Key, Venice, Cayo Costa, Cape Coral, Ft. Myers Beach, Naples, Everglades National Park and Marathon. During this 14-day cruise we averaged only 20 miles per day, so we had a leisurely trip and we were on the hook or a mooring ball each night except the one night we spent at a marina in Cape Coral.

This is our Buegle anchor. The integrated roll bar and attached swivel help it to reset quickly.

Now that I’ve laid out the parameters for this article I’d like to share thoughts on two topics we get asked quite frequently. “What do you do all day?” and “How well do you sleep at night when you’re on the hook?’ and how both questions relate to our Florida west coast cruise.

First of all I want to clarify that Lisa loves to be on our boat as much if not more then me and she can, when anchoring out, survive without much angst the comfortable confines of Kismet. Myself, I can’t sit for very long, I need to keep busy and when we get to our destination I’m ready to strike out. I guess when it is said that opposites attract they (whoever they are) were describing Lisa and I. This is a good thing because Lisa’s ability to be content on the boat helps me slow down so I can smell the roses and my desire to “strike out” helps her expand her horizons. I think it’s a perfect match and one of the best-unexpected surprises of our boating lifestyle.

Our chain bridle is an essential piece of our ground tackle.

We love to anchor out and we’ve learned how to sleep soundly at night without concerns of losing our hold. The reason we love to anchor out has to do with our desire to discover remote locales, ones that promise opportunities for spectacular sunsets, remote natural scenery and the peace and quiet that a calm night on the hook can bestow. We’ve been rewarded with these treasured moments countless times in hundreds of locations but there have been times when the wind, currents and tight quarters have given us some moments of anxiety. Our earlier attempts at anchoring out produced anxious, sleepless nights but we were determined to learn the correct technique.

During our trip south we tested our anchoring skills. Our destination for the day and anchorage for the night was Cayo Costa, an island and a State Park located on Florida’s west coast ICW at the entrance to Charlotte Harbor, off of the Gulf of Mexico. We knew bad weather was coming, lots of wind and rain, so we wanted to get south of the wide open waters of Charlotte Harbor to secure our anchorage in Pelican Bay before the winds and rain set in.

Once inside the bay we tucked Kismet as far up into a cove as we could, I found a spot where I could have over 160 feet of swing room, in any direction. I piloted into the wind and Lisa started to drop our 50 lb Buegle anchor until we had about 20 feet of rode let out. I let the boat drift back a bit and we repeated our first step two more times. At this point I set the anchor by backing down the engine slightly to make sure the anchor was set and there was no chatter in the chain. (Chatter indicates the anchor is skipping along the bottom). Then we let out another 60 feet of chain (eventually we let out about 120 feet of chain into seven feet of water), backed down and hooked up the chain bridle (see photo). The bridle takes the pressure off of the windlass, secures the chain to the boat and helps keep the boat from swaying back and forth. Lastly, I set the anchor alarm to alert us if the boat began to drag beyond the set distance. This is our normal routine with the exception of paying out more or less rode, which all depends on the water depth. When we retire for the night we can rest assured our boat is set tight and therefore we get a great nights sleep.

Here we’re demonstrating how the chain bridle has taken the pressure off the windlass therefore reducing the degree of drag on the anchor.

It all sounds very easy but with 25 mile an hour winds (gusts up to 30) and with changing tide and current it can be a challenge. The important thing to know about anchoring, especially in conditions like we found ourselves in at Cayo Costa, is to have the correct ground tackle and know how to use it properly. In our early anchoring attempts I can recall waking up in the middle of the night after having bumped into another boat because our anchor drug across an anchorage. I also remember the night we came within feet of drifting ashore. These were the days before we had the proper ground tackle and really knew how to deploy it. We survived our near miss experiences and learned from them and as a result now sleep very well while anchoring in all kinds of conditions.

Kismet’s ground tackle consists of: 250 feet of galvanized high test chain, a titanium anchor swivel, a 50lb Buegle anchor (see photo), a Lewmar windlass, an anchor bridle and an anchor alarm built into our GPS. The most important piece of equipment of this ground tackle is the anchor, but when not properly deployed or used in tandem with what we have, it could be ineffective.

Lisa’s making sure I’m securing us properly to a mooring ball in Naples.

Our last night at anchor, before arriving in Key West, was outside of Boot Key in Marathon, Florida. Here we were anchored off Hawk Channel with the backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf Stream out in the distance. Without the proper equipment I don’t think I would have slept very well and would have worried about losing our hold, drifting out into the Ocean where the Gulf Stream… well, you get the picture.

Obviously anchoring out is much nicer and a whole lot more enjoyable with calm waters and a beautiful sunset to take in but Mother Nature is not always so accommodating and therefore we need to be prepared for the worst and hope for the best. Lisa and I anchor out 25% of the time while we’re cruising and our current equipment has not failed us and actually helps provide us the security and comfort needed for a good night's sleep.

Gary and Carol, friends from Michigan, being shuttled back to shore after a visit on Kismet.

So what do you do all day? We get asked this question a lot, about our time on the boat, mostly by non-boaters. A typical day would be like the three days we recently spent secured to a mooring ball in Naples Florida. Like living in a house, condo or apartment we have the normal everyday chores of beds, dishes, garbage, showers and laundry and then there’s paying bills, going to the grocery store, post office and more. So what we do to fill our day on the boat is no different than what we do off the boat, it’s how we go about it that makes things interesting.

Whether in Naples, where we are fairly close to town and all its conveniences, or anchored in a remote location like the Everglades, we rely on our dinghy to get us to shore and then our legs to get us to and from our destinations. If in a remote location like the Everglades, for example, we dinghy around the mangroves for activity and to get off the boat. In Naples we had some paperwork that needed to be sent by an overnight carrier, we had to visit the post office, grocery store, a notary and a bank. After locating all these establishments and mapping them out on a Google map I was able to set up my most efficient walking route. No different than if you’re driving by car, it just takes a lot longer by foot and therefore takes up more of your day. We look at it more like a little excursion than a chore.

Yes, that’s our dinghy in the middle with unwanted guests looking to hitch a ride.

Planning is another area that takes up a large chunk of our time. Making plans as to what water route we’ll be taking, where we’ll be anchoring or docking, what there might be of interest to see and most importantly checking to see if the weather conditions are good enough to move to a new location. When planning the route it’s a little more than point and shoot because of channels that need to be negotiated, shoals, sand bars buoys, jetties, manatee zones, etc. It’s easy to get yourself into trouble out on the water, so the more you know about your route the safer the cruise will be. The time spent on establishing the groundwork for our daily accommodations and movement is not a bad thing, its just part of cruising and part of what fills our day.

Weather is a very integral part of cruising and something we take very seriously. Days before and during periods of extended cruising I’ll check various sources for weather. I’m looking at the forecasted winds, waves, rains, thunderstorms and cold fronts, etc. to ascertain the best day and time of day to leave port. I’ll check www.sailflow.com and www.ikitesurf.com for wind direction and speed, www.noaa.com for general weather and waves along with www.passageweather.com. This is obviously something one does not do when they jump in their car to take a 40-mile trip to a neighboring town but something that is imperative for a cruiser’s safety and it also helps to fill our day.

The internet is a great tool for reviewing weather, I spend a lot of time making sure we’re safe.

Unexpected pleasures can mean different things to different people in all sorts of life situations and circumstances. Lisa and I have tried to make our boating life as simple as possible therefore sleeping confidently on the hook and filling our day productively have become two of the unexpected pleasures of our cruising lifestyle.