Thanksgiving Outing (November 2003)
This was our first overnight outing since our Memorial Day trip a year and a half ago.

Monday, November 24, 2003: Hasty Repairs

Theresa and I decided sometime around Halloween to take the boat out for the weekend after Thanksgiving if we didn't have any other plans, but I needed to get some things fixed. In particular, the skylights were leaking badly again, so I decided to pop them out and reseat them.

It's a long way from our new home to the boat -- nearly an hour and a half by car. I thought that I was going to be over in St. Pete on Monday anyway for volleyball, so I planned to go to the boat first and start on the skylights. As it turned out, volleyball was suspended for Thanksgiving, but I drove out to work on the boat anyway.

I stopped by West Marine on the way and was fortunate to speak with one of the employees who had actually repaired skylights on Beneteaus before. He told me specifically what to buy (BoatLife caulk) and how to do the job. I had to stop by a regular hardware store to get some of the stuff, though -- silver window glazing, a small can of silver exterior paint, and denatured alcohol.

By the time I got to the boat, it was already 3:00 in the afternoon, and the sky was turning overcast. I cut away the caulk around the port skylight and tried to pop the skylight out, but it was still held on tightly, and I was afraid that I'd lose it over the side if I applied too much pressure from the interior. Besides, I was worried about the weather, so I decided to leave the window in place and just replace the caulk with a fresh bead.

Unfortunately, I neglected (in my haste) to mask off the edges of the fiberglass and the skylight before applying the new caulk, so the resulting bead was a bit sloppy. About the time I finished it, the sky started spitting a bit of rain on deck, so I was obliged to clean up and go below. Fortunately, BoatLife caulk can actually be applied underwater, and water simply causes it to cure faster.

Once below, I discovered that water had found its way into the light in the master bath, and that mold had grown all over the inside of the fixture. I took it apart and cleaned it up, only to discover that one of its electrical connections was corroded so it wouldn't come on dependably. I left it to dry out, then spent about an hour cleaning the interior before driving back home.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003: More Hasty Repairs

I returned to the boat on Wednesday after stopping by Home Depot (for some electrical connectors) and the grocery store (for distilled water). I cut the caulk away from the starboard skylight, then masked it off and applied a fresh bead of BoatLife caulk. I was much more pleased with the results, so I cut out the caulk on the port skylight, masked it off, and recaulked it too.

Confident that the skylight problem was finally fixed, I went below to fix the light in the master head. I crimped on new connectors, then put it all back together. Fixed! Then I opened up the battery compartments and topped off the water in the cells (all 32 of them). Finally, I went back up top and filled the freshwater tanks. As usual, this resulted in some degree of overflow that I then had to clean up. We should be ready to go!

Friday, November 28, 2003: Our Thanksgiving Trip in a Nutshell

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale,
A tale of a fateful trip
That started from this tropic port,
Aboard this tiny ship.

The mate was a mighty sailin' gal,
The skipper brave and sure,
Two passengers set sail that day
For a three eve-ning tour.
A three eve-ning tour.

The weather started getting rough,
The tiny ship was tossed.
If not for the courage of the fearless crew,
The vessel would be lost.
The vessel would be lost.

The ship made port at the shore of this
Uncharted desert isle,
But the winds held strong throughout the night
And life aboard grew vile.
Life aboard grew vile.

The next day early the crew set out
To find a way back home,
But tides denied the northern route
And the west was thick with foam.
The west was thick with foam.

So by dusk they limped right back,
And there the ship is trapped.
The wind and waves grow stronger still,
And crew morale is sapped.
Crew morale is sapped.

Friday, November 28, 2003: Introduction

They say that hindsight is 20-20. While this is true, the axiom is typically used to mean, "We should have known better," and this isn't necessarily the case. Theresa and I had been planning a Thanksgiving outing on our boat for over a month, and I had done a great deal of work to get our boat ready for the trip. Moreover, the weekend was shaping up to be gorgeous, with clear skies, cool temperatures, good winds, and favorable tides. All the stars seemed to be aligning to make this a great trip.

But even as I completed my work on the boat in that last week before Thanksgiving, I was suffering from a great deal of anxiety about the upcoming "vacation". Despite all my efforts, and despite the rather simple plan for our outing, I felt unprepared. I figured this was just because we hadn't taken the boat out all summer, and our outings have almost always revealed something new that's broken.

On the evening before our departure, Theresa and I shared our mutual feelings of anxiety about the upcoming trip, and Theresa suggested that we just forget about the whole thing. She argued that the whole point was to enjoy some down time, and that this didn't seem to be doing the trick for either of us. I argued that this was a golden opportunity, and that we should take advantage of it; otherwise, why own the boat? (Perhaps a rather astute perspective, really, but not as I meant it at the time.) We both agreed that we didn't want to go.

Friday, November 28, 2003: The Journey South

We waffled and wavered back and forth right up until Friday morning, when we finally decided to bite the bullet and go. We were already running a little behind schedule, but we got our stuff together, drove out to the boat, stowed our equipment, and left the dock. We made it out through our channel without any trouble, and Theresa said, "Now, aren't you happy we came?" Indeed, it was a beautiful day, and we were safely on our way, but I was still deeply anxious. I said, "I'll be happy when we're safely anchored in the Manatee."

Then the first thing broke. Our VHF has a removable handset that plugs in at the helm, but when Theresa plugged it in, the display went all funky. I gave Theresa the helm and tried to fix it, but one of the pins was bent, and I couldn't get the plug to line up correctly. So I went below and called the bridge tender from there to request an opening. I also brought up the portable handheld VHF, but we soon discovered that its battery was nearly dead.

In any case, we made it through the bridge OK, and we started out through the John's Pass channel. The wind was blowing 20 knots out of the southwest, and there were substantial swells breaking against the shoals at the north edge of the channel. Theresa took one look at this and said, "Maybe we should go back." After all the indecision leading up to our departure, this seemed downright fickle. So I said, "We're committed now."

We made it out the channel without incident, but as we turned southward toward the Egmont Channel, we discovered that our course lay so close to the wind that we couldn't actually sail. We were obliged to motor-sail upwind, and the swells were large enough (3 feet) that I found it helpful to sail a little below our course in order to cut cleanly through the waves without pounding.

This worked fine, but as we neared the Egmont Channel, large black clouds started forming to the west (off our starboard beam), and news came over the VHF that a waterspout had been spotted in the Pass-a-Grille Channel itself, which was back off to port. For a while, I held out hope that the storm would blow past us and come ashore to the north, but it soon became apparent that we weren't going to dodge it. I decided to tack over to port and head out into the Gulf to ensure that we didn't run aground on the shoals along the edge of the Egmont Channel. We put on our foul-weather gear.

No sooner had we got underway on this tack then the storm hit us. The wind had been strong all day, but this squall was ferocious. The wind shifted 90 degrees to the north within seconds, rising to 30 knots with gusts up to 35 knots. That first puff snapped the boom over to the port side and almost laid us on our ear. The wind was loud as a banshee, and as the rain started, it was like someone dropped a curtain across the world. Two other sailboats were nearby -- one on our course just a half-mile below us, but both were quickly lost in the grey mist. Waves were breaking over the bow, and the rain and salt spray came driving through the cockpit with such force that it stung my eyes and made it hard even to keep them open.

Theresa was a bit freaked out, but all-in-all, I really wasn't worried about the storm, per se. We were out in deep water, heading on a beat upwind toward even deeper water in the open Gulf. We were far enough upwind of the Egmont shoals to be safe from them, so it was just a matter of patience and some degree of concentration to keep the boat from capsizing. The problem, really, was time. By sailing for deeper water, we were putting ourselves off course, and with our late start, we really didn't have the extra time before dusk.

Eventually, we saw clear skies off the bow, and the rain finally abated. The wind was still blowing almost 30 knots, though, and the seas were building, so we had to maneuver carefully to get turned around without damaging the rig. (That is to say, we tacked all the way around 270 degrees rather than jibing.) By the time we got on course heading in through the Egmont shipping channel, it was already after 4:30pm. Sunset was expected at 5:30pm, with lingering twilight under clear conditions until 6:30pm, but it was obvious that we weren't going to get much twilight with all the stormy skies. Moreover, I was feeling pretty seasick.

On the plus side, we were hauling along under both power and sail at 8 knots, so I figured there was still a chance that we could make port with a bit of twilight left. The swells were still building, so returning back north through John's Pass would have been somewhat foolhardy. The Egmont shipping channel, by contrast, is plenty deep, and I figured the waters would be more protected once we made it into Tampa Bay.

Everything pretty-much worked out as I envisioned it, except that we had only 15 minutes of twilight before everything went black. We were still two miles from the Manatee River sea-buoy when darkness fell in its entirety. Theresa and I had been up the Manatee River several times before, so I was reasonably confident that we could do it in the dark, as long as we took it slow. Moreover, we had experimented before with GPS/ chartplotter navigation in otherwise blind areas, so I knew this was at least practical, if not ideal. I went below and adjusted the chartplotter to show our location in the channel, then took the helm and asked Theresa to give me directions. I won't go into details, but this soon became the classic case of the blind leading the blind. We were obliged to switch positions, after which we managed to make our way slowly up the river to the anchorage.

The wind was still blowing 25 knots out of the west / northwest, so it was difficult to find a well-protected spot. Based on the forecast predicting winds from the north, I picked a spot as snug against the north shore of the river as possible, between two other sailboats. We eased into position with our bow into the wind and I went forward to drop the anchor. Theresa put the engine in idle, and we let the wind blow us back to dig the anchor in. (There are two schools of thought on proper anchoring technique, BTW. One says that you should back down on the anchor to set it, while the other says that you should let the natural motion of the boat set the anchor for you. So far, I've always had good luck with the latter approach.)

Somewhat relieved to be at rest finally, Theresa and I waited in the cockpit for about 15 minutes to ensure that we weren't dragging, then we shut the engine off and went below to survey the wreckage. My newly-sealed skylights were apparently no match for the waves that had broken over the deck in the storm, and there was water all over the salon cushions. We were obliged to take several of them off to dry. That's really disappointing. The skylights seem to be leaking worse now than ever before!

We ate some dinner and showered, but we were both pretty freaked out by the day's ordeal, and occasional swells from the west were still finding their way all the way up the river to our anchorage, so we were getting rolled around unpleasantly. Moreover, the wind was still howling along at 25 knots, causing the boat to fight back and forth at the anchor. From time to time, the motion of the boat would cause the anchor rhode to snap suddenly from one side of the roller to the other, and the resulting bang was more than a little unsettling. We continued watching the chartplotter and the neighboring boats to ensure that we weren't dragging, but I eventually became convinced that we really weren't going anywhere.

The cold front was finally settling in, so we went to bed and tried to sleep. It was difficult, though, with all the noise and with the swells, and we both got up several times to check our position, adjust lines, etc. Sometime after midnight, the winds finally shifted to the north, and soon after the swells subsided. The wind was still howling, but at least we were lying more calmly at anchor. We finally fell asleep.

Saturday, November 29, 2003: Our Attempted Return

By the next morning, we were ready to go home. We woke up around 8:00am, and the wind was still howling along at 20+ knots! Low tide was predicted at 11:00am, and we noticed that our spot was already getting a bit shallow. We decided to get underway post-haste, so I pulled up the anchor and we set out downriver.

As we cleared the shoals at the mouth of the Manatee River, it became obvious that conditions were no better than they had been the night before, except for the significant benefit of daylight. We decided to head north, across the Bay to the Skyway Bridge, in an attempt to take the channel there north to Tierra Verde. There, we would have several options for anchorages, slips, a possible route north via the ICW, or a shorter run north in the open Gulf to John's Pass.

We battled our way upwind against the swells for a couple of hours, eventually reaching the mouth of the channel. Another large sailboat came out of the channel just as we were nearing it, and he tried to tell us something in hand signs: hand held up with some indeterminate number of fingers; two hands braced together to form a triangle; arms horizontal one over the other, pressing toward each other. We couldn't make any sense of it, so Theresa went below to hail the boat on our VHF, but he didn't answer. We speculated that he was trying to warn us about the shallow water at the mouth of the channel, but we didn't know what advice he was giving, exactly. (Hindsight, of course, is 20-20.)

We headed on past the first mark of the channel, looking ahead at the nice, flat water, protected from the north wind and swells by the Skyway Bridge causeway. It looked SO inviting! Before we even reached the second set of marks, though, we ran hard aground, with the depth meter reading 3.5 feet! I backed us off, turned around, and headed back out some. Then I came back in and tried again. Bang! We ran aground again. Again I turned us around, and again I tried from a different angle. Bang! We ran aground a third time. With that, we admitted defeat and headed back out to discuss our options. (Fortunately, the bottom there is sandy mud, so the groundings didn't seem to damage the boat any.)

It was now almost exactly low tide, so I suggested that we just wait around for a few hours and try again. We were in a comparatively well-protected spot, but we ran the risk that we would ultimately be unable to get in, and then we'd have to figure out what to do -- yet again in failing light. Theresa suggested that we just return to the Manatee River and get a slip at the Twin Dolphin Marina. I was reluctant to do this because it would oblige us to move the boat again sometime in the upcoming week, and we didn't know if we'd have any better opportunity, really. So I suggested that we just bite the bullet, go out the main shipping channel, and fight the swells north to John's Pass. I argued that despite the hardship, it was at least a known quantity. Theresa agreed, so we sailed off back southwest to the channel.

This plan seemed to be working just fine until we got out past Egmont Key and the protection of the St. Petersburg mainland. Then we caught the full force of the swells blowing in across the Gulf from the north. The wind was still blowing 20-25 knots, and these swells were FAR bigger than any of the forecasts had mentioned, ranging from 6 to 7 feet in height. Serendipity is a big boat, but we were getting bounced around like a cork. I started feeling seasick again, and my courage failed me. I told Theresa that I was having second thoughts, and she readily agreed that we should turn around. So spun the boat around and headed back in -- a rerun of the previous evening, except with more light. And diminishing fuel.

Theresa called ahead for a slip, and by 1:00 in the afternoon, we were again working our way up the Manatee River, past the anchorage we had abandoned just that morning. (It seemed like SUCH a long time ago!) We powered on upriver to the bridge, and Theresa called the marina on the VHF for explicit directions in. No problems. We pulled up to the fuel dock smoothly, but I forgot that my stern lines were still hanging on a piling in our regular slip, so the current would have spun us around if it weren't for the helpful dockhand. We filled the diesel tank (at 1119 engine hours).

After we fueled up, he pointed out our assigned slip, and we tied on the proper docklines and fenders to approach it. I turned the boat around in their basin, then pulled around the corner to the slip and turned in. We were halfway into the slip when we once again ran aground! RIGHT IN THE STINKIN' SLIP! I told everybody that we were aground, but the dockhands continued trying to guide the boat in until I left the helm and sat down on the cabin roof to tell them again that we were hard aground. The dockhand couldn't believe it. There were, after all, other large sailboats farther in, but I guess they had shallower keels, or they were sitting the mud. He called the marina office on his VHF, and the lady there said, "Oh, there's some shoaling at that slip." Great. Thanks for the heads-up. We asked about other slips, but there was only one, and it was quite nearby. The only other alternative was the end of the dock.

We decided to try the other slip, so I put the boat into reverse and backed out, but then Bang! I ran aground again, sideways to the slip. Then the wind and current caught the boat and started pushing it sideways toward the other boats! Theresa rushed to fend off, and the dockhands boarded the neighboring boat to help out as well. I worked the boat back and forth in an effort to free her, but our lifelines kept getting tangled in the other boat's bowroller. Finally, the other dockhand managed to push our bow far enough out for me to drive us free. Somehow (thanks to the efforts of Theresa and the dockhand aboard the other boat), we managed to avoid damaging either vessel.

Theresa was SOO done. She said with a certain air of finality, "We're putting her on the end of the dock," and I wasn't about to argue. Seemed the whole marina was silted in anyway. A nice couple on one of the other boats came over to help us dock and tie up. Finally, I turned the engine off and sat down on the cabin roof. We made some introductions, but Theresa and I were still operating in something of a daze -- probably a combination of fatigue and shell-shock. The weather seemed strangely at odds, since it was sunny and pleasant out, with a nice breeze. It was really quite pleasant in the safety of the marina.

Theresa asked the dockhand about taxi services, and Sandy from the other boat offered to drive us home instead. We explained that it was probably a half hour each way, but they reiterated that it really wasn't going to be a problem, so we gratefully accepted. We battened everything down, hooked up the power, packed up our gear, locked the boat, and carted everything out to the car. We had a nice conversation with the other couple on the way home, swapping yarns in the time-honored tradition. It was SO good to be home!

First Week of December, 2003: Waiting for Weather

Unfortunately, the adventure was far from over. We had paid for a week at the Twin Dolphin Marina, but we couldn't leave our boat there indefinitely. Moreover, the weather wasn't cooperating. The cold front had turned out to be far stronger than the forecasters had originally anticipated, and the winds weren't letting up.

The winds moderated a bit on Sunday (dropping to 15-20 knots), but the swells were still bad, and we were in no way prepared to head back out then anyway. Monday would have provided a decent opportunity (with winds at 15 knots), but (again) we didn't feel up to it, and the marina was pumping out the aft holding tank for free that day, so I didn't want to get in the way of that. Besides, Theresa needed to catch up on some work, and I had volleyball that night.

Unfortunately, the weather for the rest of the week was decidedly worse:

BONITA BEACH SUWANNEE RIVER OUT TO 60 NM...INCLUDING TAMPA BAY- 1030 AM EST TUE DEC 2 2003

...SMALL CRAFT ADVISORY... .THIS AFTERNOON...NORTHEAST WINDS 20 KNOTS AND GUSTY. SEAS 4 TO 5 FEET. BAY AND INLAND WATERS CHOPPY. .TONIGHT...EAST WINDS AROUND 20 KNOTS. SEAS BUILDING TO 5 TO 7 FEET. BAY AND INLAND WATERS CHOPPY. .WEDNESDAY AND WEDNESDAY NIGHT...EAST WINDS AROUND 20 KNOTS. SEAS 5 TO 7 FEET. BAY AND INLAND WATERS CHOPPY. .THURSDAY...EAST WINDS AROUND 20 KNOTS...BECOMING SOUTHEAST IN THE AFTERNOON. SEAS SUBSIDING TO 3 TO 5 FEET. BAY AND INLAND WATERS CHOPPY. CHANCE OF SHOWERS. .FRIDAY... SOUTH WINDS AROUND 20 KNOTS BECOMING NORTHWEST IN THE EVENING. SEAS 3 TO 5 FEET... BUILDING TO 4 TO 6 FEET IN THE EVENING. BAY AND INLAND WATERS CHOPPY. SCATTERED SHOWERS. .SATURDAY...NORTH WINDS AROUND 20 KNOTS. SEAS BUILDING TO 5 TO 7 FEET. BAY AND INLAND WATERS CHOPPY. ISOLATED SHOWERS MAINLY SOUTH OF VENICE.

For those of you who don't read nautical weather forecasts, this is really not the kind of thing you want to see, with winds in excess of 20 knots, "inland waters choppy", and projections of sea heights in excess of seven feet! NONE of these days looked good, but we needed to choose one, I had a bad feeling about the upcoming weekend, so I figured Thursday afternoon looked the most promising. At least the wind would be BEHIND us on the trip back north!

By Wednesday morning, the forecast for Thursday was looking a bit more promising, and the weekend was looking decidedly worse:

BONITA BEACH TO SUWANNEE RIVER OUT TO 60 NM INCLUDING TAMPA BAY- 1030 AM EST WED DEC 3 2003

...SMALL CRAFT EXERCISE CAUTION... .THIS AFTERNOON...EAST WINDS 15 TO 20 KNOTS. SEAS 3 TO 5 FEET. BAY AND INLAND WATERS CHOPPY. .TONIGHT...EAST WINDS 10 TO 15 KNOTS. SEAS 2 TO 4 FEET. BAY AND INLAND WATERS A MODERATE CHOP. .THURSDAY...SOUTHEAST WINDS 10 TO 15 KNOTS. SEAS 2 TO 4 FEET. BAY AND INLAND WATERS A MODERATE CHOP. ISOLATED SHOWERS IN THE AFTERNOON. .THURSDAY NIGHT...SOUTHWEST WINDS 10 TO 15 KNOTS. SEAS 2 TO 4 FEET. BAY AND INLAND WATERS A MODERATE CHOP. ISOLATED SHOWERS. .FRIDAY...NORTHWEST WINDS INCREASING TO 20 KNOTS. SEAS 3 TO 5 FEET... BUILDING TO 4 TO 6 FEET IN THE EVENING. BAY AND INLAND WATERS CHOPPY. ISOLATED SHOWERS. .SATURDAY... NORTHWEST WINDS INCREASING TO 20 TO 25 KNOTS. SEAS BUILDING TO 6 TO 8 FEET. BAY AND INLAND WATERS ROUGH. .SUNDAY...NORTH WINDS AROUND 20 KNOTS. SEAS 5 TO 7 FEET SUBSIDING TO 3 TO 5 FEET IN THE AFTERNOON AND EVENING. BAY AND INLAND WATERS CHOPPY.

Clearly, we needed to make the trip Thursday before the weather turned sour again.

First Week of December, 2003: Slip-Hunting

Meanwhile, I did quite a bit of research to find a slip closer to home. Marinas tend to be grouped together whereever there's a decent channel, so here they are by location, working south:

Alafia River:

It would, of course, be awesome to have the boat just down the street. There IS a marina on the Alafia River (Interbay Moorings), but unfortunately it's on the east (inland) side of the Hwy 41 bridge, so it's inaccessible to all but the smallest sailboats.

Apollo Beach:

Apart from the Big Bend shipping docks, the next stop south is Apollo Beach. There are two potential marinas there:

Apollo Beach Marina: The dockmaster never called me back.
Lands End Marina: Slips available at $9/foot. That's $396 + tax.

The best deal, of course, would be to get a slip at the Tampa Sailing Squadron (aka Apollo Beach Yacht Club), but we'd have to join. Slips there are cheap, though they lack power, and there's a long waiting list.

Bahia Beach / Little Manatee River:

The next stop south is Bahia Beach, which lies right at the mouth of the Little Manatee River. We've actually never been up there, but there are FOUR major marinas there:

Shell Point Marina: $7.00/foot. Nothing available now, but I'm on the waiting list.
Bahia Beach Marina: Flat-rate $278/month ($6.30/foot). Nothing available now, but I'm on the waiting list.
Bahia Beach Island Resort & Marina: $9.00/foot. Under renovations. No slips available.
Bahia del Sol Marina (Mariner's Club): Going up to $9.00/foot in the next few months.

The Bahia Beach Marina looks like a really good possibility. The receptionist was friendly, and she said that they have almost 200 40' slips, so these come free often. Moreover, $278/month is a pretty good rate.

Manatee River:

Apart from the Port Manatee shipping docks and the fairly inaccessible Terra Ceia Bay, the next major inlet south is the Manatee River, with which we're already intimately familiar. There are two major marinas on opposite sides of the river:

Twin Dolphin Marina: $12/foot for annual slips, $17/foot for monthly.
Regatta Pointe Marina: $12.50/foot (as of last year).

Clearly, these are some of the most expensive marinas in the area. Farther downriver (next to Snead Island Boatworks) is the Bradenton Yacht Club, but you have to be a member to get a slip there. There's also a deep-water marina there, but it's on the wrong side of the Snead Island Bridge.

Wednesday, December 3, 2003: Scouting Bahia Beach

I drove out to Bahia Beach on Wednesday, only to discover that the Mariner's Club has bought up two of the above-mentioned Bahia Beach marinas, and has a contract on the largest (The Bahia Beach Marina). The Mariner's Club is building condos all around the marinas, and they're fixing up the docks, so there's speculation that ALL of the slips will soon be $9.00/foot. In truth, it seems odd to me that the place isn't already more built-up. Bahia Beach has three fine marinas and lots of waterways, but almost NO housing. It's like Tierra Verde with no condos or houses! Very odd. I can only speculate that the original builders went bankrupt, and the land has been tied up in court.

Thursday, December 4, 2003: Return to John's Pass

In truth, the return north on Thursday was completely anti-climactic. Theresa went to business meeting on Thursday morning, then we drove down to the Twin Dolphin Marina, got the boat ready (I even fixed the VHF handset), and requested help from the marina hand to cast off. The southwest wind was blowing lots of water up into the Bay, and the tides were high anyway, so we had no problems with depth. The only real problem was that the winds were more westerly than southerly, so we were once again obliged to motor upwind to get out of the river. We made good time, though, with the current behind us, driving downriver at about 8 knots.

Once free of the river, we put up the sails and headed out the main shipping channel. The winds were still strong (15 knots), but since they had been out of the south during the evening, the waters were fairly flat. We caught a slight swell (maybe 1-2 feet) once we were out in the Gulf, but that was nothing unpleasant. We were able to motor-sail close-hauled all the way out into the Gulf, at which point we fell of the wind and motor-sailed due north. (The sailor in me regretted having the motor running in such fine conditions, but we weren't about to risk navigating another channel in the dark!)

We passed under the John's Pass Bridge without even slowing down, and arrived in our slip by 5:00pm. (We only had a foot of water under the keel in the shallow spot near our slip, BTW.) I hosed all the salt and grime off of the deck, while Theresa cleaned up the interior. We got everything battened down, then we set off to fetch Theresa's car.

It was kind of surreal to drive back south past all the places we'd done battle over the week. It really IS a completely different world.

Fallout

This trip may have been the proverbial straw for us. We enjoy taking Serendipity out for day-trips, but the overnight trips are invariably an ordeal. We can't help but think that we'd rather spend our vacation time and money on something more enjoyable. Moreover, I'm clearly losing ground on the boat maintenance.

So... once again, we're thinking about selling Serendipity. This time, though, we're a little more prepared for the emotional trauma of it. I love our boat -- she's the dream boat that I always wanted -- but I/we just don't enjoy spending extended time on her, and the stress of ownership is driving me nuts.

As much as I hate to say it, big-boat ownership really just doesn't seem to be my thing. Theresa and I don't want to live on the boat (nor do we have the time to now), and we don't enjoy taking her out for long trips. What we really need is a comfortable daysailer/racer instead. So it's probably time to trade down...

Alternatives

The Beneteau 331 is 3/4 the size of Serendipity, but has a similar look and feel. Most importantly, you can get a 331 with a LIFT KEEL, which is kind of like a centerboard. With the keel up, the 331 draws only 2'11"! Price for a 2002 model: around $90,000.

The Beneteau 361 has a head with a separate shower, but it has a fairly deep fixed keel. Price for a 2000 model: around $130,000. That got me to wondering: Is there a boat around 35' that combines the best of both worlds, with a 4' draft and a separate shower?

The C&C 110 (a 36' boat) almost fits the bill, but its draft is 4'10" even with the (lower-performance) shoal keel. C&C yachts are known as good racers, though, so maybe this boat would perform well anyway. Price for a 1999 model: around $130,000.

The Sabre 362 offers a centerboard draft of only 4'2" with the board up, and it also has a separate shower. (The Sabre 362 also has a lower PHRF rating than the Oceanis 440, meaning that it's faster.) Price for a 1995 model: around $180,000.

The Tartan 3700 is one of the newer, higher-end options. With the centerboard configuration, it draws only 4', and yet it also has a separate shower. Price for a 2001 model: around $230,000.

Any of these smaller boats would probably meet our needs better than Serendipity. *Sigh*


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