Spring Sailing (January - April 2002)
We had considered entering an ocean race this year, but we had to settle for some weekend outings instead.

January 2002: The Mexico Race & PHRF Rating

Toward the end of January, I got a notice regarding the a annual Regatta del Sol race in April from Tampa to Mexico. It sounded like a blast, so Theresa and I started thinking about (maybe) doing it. The race required that we have a valid PHRF rating for our boat, so I did some research to find out how our boat might stack up against others. I downloaded the entire West Florida PHRF rating list, then imported it into Excel and sorted it by LOA. (I could share the spreadsheet, if anyone's interested.) As one might expect, the smaller boats had higher PHRF ratings (indicating that they are generally slower), so I broke the list into trenches and compared our boat against others in the 40' to 48' range. As luck would have it, there was another Beneteau Oceanis 440 on the list, and she fell precisely at the median PHRF rating for these larger boats. I can thus conclude that the Oceanis 440 is generally faster than most boats, but only due to her size -- she's of average speed for a larger boat. This isn't really surprising given her shoal draft and in-mast mainsail furling. In any case, I mailed off the PHRF application, and got my rating the next week -- a relatively simple process.

February 2002: Documentation Woes

While I was completing the PHRF application, I discovered (much to my dismay) that our Coast Guard documentation had recently expired! I immediately submitted the proper forms to have the documentation reinstated, but it cost me a fee that would otherwise have been unnecessary. I got my new documentation certificate the following week, but the story didn't end there...

I mentioned the whole scare to the owner of a neighboring boat, and he informed me that in Florida (unlike Virginia) Coast Guard documented vessels must also be registered with the state and display a current state decal. I figured that this would be fairly straightforward to fix, but it rapidly grew into a huge hassle, since only one person at the local DMV had any clue how to properly complete the paperwork for a documented vessel. It took me some meticulous online research, several phone calls, and two trips to the DMV, but I finally got it all straightened out. I even ordered a shiny new hailing port decal for the stern.

February 2002: Ernie's Death

Theresa and I had intended to spend Valentine's Day on the boat together (just the two of us), but our family suffered a tremendous loss in early February when my Uncle Ernie (the same uncle who sparked the whole family's interest in sailing) died of cancer. Theresa and I drove up to Virginia over Valentine's Day weekend to attend Ernie's funeral. Our whole family was devastated by the loss, and we're still reeling from it now, months later. Theresa and I just didn't have the spirit to pursue the Mexico race in the aftermath of Ernie's death, so we scrapped the plans for this year.

March 2002: Minor Spring Maintenance

Given everything that has happened, we've decided to take some time off in early April to vacation aboard the boat while the weather is still pleasant enough to anchor out at night. In early March, I began some of the usual outfitting tasks -- fixing miscellaneous broken parts, filling the water tanks, and trying to figure out how the batteries could be so badly depleted when the Link 2000 monitor only shows a 200 AH deficit from a bank rated to over 1000 AH. I eventually concluded that because the Link only knows about current that passes through it, and because batteries bleed charge over time somewhat spontaneously, the low voltage must be due to charge spontaneously "lost" over the many months since I last had the boat plugged into shore power. It seems that I'll need to get the shore power hooked up after all.

Monday, April 1 & Tuesday, April 2, 2002: First Days of our Easter Outing

Theresa and I loaded the boat up on Monday and headed out for our trip. We motored down the "inside route" along the Skyway Bridge and out into Tampa Bay. The wind was directly out of the south, so we motored on across Tampa Bay and up the Manatee River to the anchorage behind Desoto Point. We dropped anchor in a nice spot and settled in for the night. By morning, the wind had mostly died, and the weather was overcast. We had intended to head on south to Venice, but we decided to remain at anchor for another day and relax a bit. This proved to be the most relaxing portion of our trip.

Wednesday, April 3, 2002: Trip to Venice

The next morning, we hauled anchor and motored out the Southwest Channel, again straight into the wind, and toward a building storm. As we reached the outside mark of the channel and turned south, the storm swept over us. The wind shifted north and climbed rapidly from less than 10 knots to around 25 knots, with gusts over 30 knots. I deployed (yes, deployed) the genoa and about half of the mainsail, wing-and-wing, and ran before the storm and the growing seas. (Ernie would have loved that.) We were soon hurtling along at a whopping 8 1/2 to 9 knots, so I turned the engine off to enjoy the sail. We jibed the genoa over onto a broad reach so I wouldn't have to guard so closely against an accidental jibe. The swells grew to over 4 feet, and we began surfing -- something I've done plenty of times in small centerboard boats, but never in a boat as big as ours. At one point, I caught the wind and a wave just right, and got the boat up to 10 knots under sail alone! It was exhilerating. The boat handled well, and we were out in the open Gulf away from any shoals, so I really had a blast.

By afternoon, the wind had died completely, so we turned the engine back on and motored on down to Venice. The Venice Inlet is quite small, but deep and well-protected on both sides by stone jetties. Inside, the canal is well-marked, but quite small. We passed the Crow's Nest (Venice's premier marina), and went on around the corner to the anchorage noted in my guide book. Scott, one of our neighbors, had warned me that this anchorage was very tight, and that only a couple of boats could fit in there. Much to our disappointment, we found that this was indeed the case, and that five boats were already anchored there in close proximity! We actually found a little spot on the end and set our anchor, but another storm was starting to brew as dusk came on, and we began to reconsider our position. If the wind had shifted to the west, we would have been driven onto a sandbar. We called the Crow's Nest and reserved a spot at their dock, then hauled the anchor and motored back over there for the night. (This was my SECOND time that day hauling the anchor, so I was feeling the strain in my hands and shoulders. What's worse, the anchor came up with a bucket's-worth of thick, heavy mud on it, such that I had to use a boathook to scrape the mud off before I could pull the anchor aboard. Apparently, we were well-anchored indeed! I guess I should learn to use the electric windlass...)

We met another couple (Richard and Lynn) at the Crow's Nest with a brand new Jeaneau 46 that was very similar to our boat (though notably shinier). We had some drinks with them at the bar that night, but they left before us the following morning, so we didn't get to know them very well. The Crow's Nest Marina was quite nice though -- clearly the best place to stay in Venice. Moreover, we got to plug into the shore power for the night, so I was finally able to top off our batteries.

Thursday, April 4, 2002: Return Home

The following morning we headed back north, on a long, straight course to my crossover point on the Egmont Channel (Green #11). I was a bit bemused to notice that from Venice Inlet, the Sarasota sea buoy, the Passage Key sea buoy, the Southwest Channel sea buoy, and Egmont Channel Green #11 are in an almost perfect line nearly 40 nautical miles long. This makes for easy navigation, but it's a right boring trip in a sailboat when there's no wind.

After we rounded G11 and headed for the Pass-a-Grille Channel (with the sail up for a change), a little bird (a finch?) suddenly flew in from the Gulf and landed on a line on our stern. He looked completely exhausted -- he just sat there, clinging to the line, hardly even moving, with his little wings drooping. Poor guy. Theresa and I moved a bit forward to avoid scaring him, but he seemed unperturbed by us. Eventually, I suggested to Theresa that he might like some water, so she drew a dish for him and I set it on the stern, but the little bird wouldn't budge from his position to get it. We were making good time toward the shore, though, covering several nautical miles over the following half hour, and the little bird eventually started to perk up a bit, looking around as if getting his bearings. As we neared the Pass-a-Grille sea buoy, I doused the sails, causing quite a bit of activity in the cockpit. The bird gave a little chirp, as if to say "Thanks", and took off toward the shore. I soon lost sight of him, but I think (and hope) that we were close enough for him to make it safely to shore.

Theresa and I hugged the south side of the channel this time through, as recommended by one of our neighbors. Sure enough, the water was considerably deeper on the south side, and we encountered no problems at all. Apparently, the trick to the Pass-A-Grille Channel is "hug the reds". Once inside, we motored down to our old marina to take on some fuel, but once we were all tied up at the dock, we discovered that their fuel dock closes at 4:30! I tried to convince them to cut us a break (given that I was a marina patron for over a year), but to no avail. Last time I stop there. We left that dock and motored back up the channel to another fuel dock (open till 6:00), where we took on $22.77 worth of fuel (engine hours 1089). After waiting for the bridge, we returned to our slip, making a perfect docking. We hauled all of our junk off the boat, and I ferried it all up to the parking lot while Theresa fetched the car. We unloaded the stuff at home, showered, and collapsed. Whoever claims that boating is "relaxing" must have a professional crew.


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