The Booze Cruise Turned Survival At Sea.

“Waiting is not a waste of time. The patient man succeeds.”

-An ancient Inuit saying

Wednesday May 29th.

The boat is finally ready to sail and we decide to move her to the anchorage near Key West, north of Fleming Island, about two hours of sailing from where we are in Stock Island. It is getting late, the sun is almost ready to dip in the ocean, and this means we will either have to wait for tomorrow or navigate at night. We have no charts, we have no sailing experience, and we have a problem with the starboard engine, it won’t start. We decide to get going anyway. We have been waiting way too long.

The crew members are: our family of four plus Tony and Tyler who are coming to help with the sailing and guide us. We have no experience except the one month sailing school in Saint Petersburg, where we learned the basics of sailing on 18 feet keel boats.



Tony has been crewing and working on boats for some time, but he is also pretty new to the sailing world. He is currently working on his Cape Dory 28 on the hard at Robby’s Boatyard getting her ready for the sea.



Tyler has a lot more time spent on boats. He is the one who knows what he is doing. He has two boats anchored at the same place where we are heading.

Sailing into the sunset

Sailing into the sunset

As we get out in the channel we hoist the mainsail for a first time. We are finally sailing! We have captured just a bit of the wind, a tiny air stream, which is filling the sail and is making the boat move swiftly in the direction we want.

Hoisting the main

Hoisting the main

I once saw a baby struggling with a toy, trying to fit the right shapes in the correct holes. I remember the triumph in his eyes when after much effort he finally succeeded. He laughed and he screamed with excitement jumping in his place, and he was thus proud with himself as if he had performed some sort of a miracle.

First time sailing on your own boat feels the same way.

Ivo at the helm

Ivo at the helm

It gets dark. We are sailing with a speed of six knots. At some point we have to jibe. Jibing is much more radical than tacking and as the boom swings from one side to the other, the stopper for one of the lines breaks and the same traveler that Richard just saved a few hours ago breaks loose and flies off the track! We hear bearings rolling down the deck and into the sea. But the traveler is attached to the lines and so it doesn’t fall in the ocean. It hangs in the air swinging around. Tyler and Tony rush to attach the loose mainsail which is flapping in the wind with much noise. They succeed to secure it in place and the traveler is saved again.

During these 10-15 minutes of panic, nobody pays attention where the boat is going. At some point we see boats anchored where there shouldn’t be boats anchored. Or maybe we are not where we think we are? In the dark, we are navigating by looking at the channel’s green and red lights and the lights on shore. Without a GPS and charts, the only electronic device we are monitoring is the dept sounder. And the numbers it shows us begin to get smaller and smaller so fast, we have no time to think and react. Twenty feet, eighteen feet, fifteen, twelve, ten, eight, six, five, four, alarm!, alarm! , three feet!, two feet!

We run aground. The boat gently stops, there is no crushing sounds.

Remember that excited baby with the toy? He just pooped himself.

The shore is far away, there is just water around us. We are stuck in a sandbank. Great. First time sailing and this is what happens.

There are some weird metal structures sticking out of the water. One is pretty close to the boat. In the dark it looks white.

We take the mainsail down and we try to start the port engine and go in reverse in order to unstuck the boat. But it doesn’t start. Both engines are dead.

With the dinghy Ivo takes the spare anchor away from the boat, in deeper waters. The anchor line is not very long. Tyler says it would be much better if we had a longer line.

The plan is to deploy the anchor and pull ourselves away from the shallow waters by pulling on the anchor line. We work like crazy, pulling at the rope, and it is a heavy job. Tony does an incredible job pulling. I’m sure he won’t feel his arms tomorrow. I just hope no one gets hurt.

We get unstuck but the wind picks up and pushes the boat towards the metal structure. It is now just a few feet away. If we hit it we will damage the boat for sure. At least the port engine starts and we now have a hard time pulling the anchor up by hand. We finally succeed and we start motoring away from these forsaken shallow waters full of strange metal structures. We motor back to the place where we got lost and sometime after midnight we finally get to the anchorage in Key West.

As we go to sleep for a first time anchored out at sea I reflect back at what has just happened. On the positive side of it, I think that we have acquired a valuable experience; we have learned what to do in a situation like that without any damage on the boat. We have also learned that charts are important, engines are important, and most of all: patience. We should have waited and sailed in daylight.

Lesson learned.

Categories: About Us, adventure, cruising, disaster, family, Florida, Key West, Our Journey, places | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Red Tide Disaster

After the second day, things insidiously start to change at the beach.

          10:00 a.m. –  the water appears unfamiliar; lost its transparency.

          11:12 a.m. –  a man sitting on a bench behind us coughs discretely. No one pays attention.

          12:30 p.m. – we eat flounder sandwiches I made with the leftover flounder from last evening.

          1:34 p.m. –  we haven’t caught a single flounder.

          2:00 p.m. – a small dead fish appears on the beach. Everyone likes it. We use it as bait.

          2:17 p.m. – a young couple is walking aimlessly along the shore. Both coughing.

          2:22 p.m. – a second dead fish. The kids play with it.

          2:23 p.m. – a third dead fish.

          2:48 p.m. – everyone is coughing.

Soon, we realize that something very peculiar is about to happen and we even suspect, it is already happening! As more and more lifeless fish dreamily swims out of the sea, more and more people start coughing. The beach fills with an endless cough. It feels somehow like a prelude to a symphony.

Rumors of ocean tornadoes and biblical interpretations of apocalyptic events start circulating among coughing vacationers.  Until someone explains with authority the unusual and most inconvenient situation  as a phenomenon called RED TIDE. I know that sometimes the things I am writing about sound fantastical, and often they are, but Red Tide is real, I promise. Here is some scientific facts about it which I found at www.mote.org

A red tide, or harmful algal bloom, is a higher-than-normal concentration of a microscopic alga (plant-like organism). In Florida and the Gulf of Mexico, the species that causes most red tides is Karenia brevis, often abbreviated as K. brevis. To distinguish K. brevis blooms from red tides caused by other species of algae, researchers in Florida call it “Florida red tide.”

Many red tides produce toxic chemicals that can affect both marine organisms and humans. The Florida red tide organism, K. brevis, produces brevetoxins that can affect the central nervous system of fish and other vertebrates, causing these animals to die. Wave action can break open K. brevis cells and release these toxins into the air, leading to respiratory irritation. For people with severe or chronic respiratory conditions, such as emphysema or asthma, red tide can cause serious illness. The red tide toxins can also accumulate in molluscan filter-feeders such as oysters and clams, which can lead to Neurotoxic Shellfish Poisoning in people who consume contaminated shellfish.

Karenia brevis, or Florida red tide, kills fish by producing a potent toxin (called brevetoxin) that affects the central nervous system of the fish. The toxin can also affect birds, mammals and other marine animals.

The next day, the sea is dark, the sky grey and low; there is nothing left of the beach but yesterday memories and dead fish of all kinds lying among pieces of corals and beautiful seashells. No vacationers.

Red Tide Fish Kill

Red Tide Fish Kill

I grab the opportunity to photograph dead fishes of all kinds. It is like snorkeling in the coral reef with colorful fishes swimming about, only we are not underwater, there is no coral reef, and the colorful fishes are rather grayish and miserably inadequate. I also find them beautiful, paranoid, strange, scary, grotesque, sympatiques(fr), curious, morbid, familiar, funny, alien, worried, mysterious, sad. (At the end of this post, you will find my Dead Fish Portraiture Gallery.)

One more day passes by and the fish starts to stink badly. Nobody knows who, when, and how will take care of it.

Ivo tells me: “Let’s clean up the beach ourselves.” And I am all for it. So we volunteer to do it, Ivo and me.

Sharon, the woman who cleans the park, gives us some garbage bags, fourteen I count later, and some latex gloves, and then she leaves. With this scarce equipment, we head to the carnage scene. The smell, should I even mention it? DEAD FISH!

We start filling bags scooping the carcasses by hand, trying to fit as many as possible in the bags, as fourteen bags is not much for the amount of fish we have to collect. Some of them, the sail catfish, have poisonous spikes in the fins, and we have to be careful.

Ivo collecting dead fish

Ivo collecting dead fish

It feels like a fish genocide. Hellish eyes full of terror and sand, teeth crooked, discolored skins, gaping half rotting bodies, sea snakes twisting around gooey scaly corpses, mouths gasping for water. I am not eating sushi any time soon…

This first day we clean a big portion of the beach in front of the park and the campground. And we continue the next day. Ivo does most of the job; when he works nobody can keep up with him, everyone who knows him can confirm this. Finally, the beach is clean, there are more than thirty garbage bags lined up away from the waves waiting to be picked up. Local people and campers passing by all congratulate us and thank us. We feel proud with our work.

We have self-sentenced ourselves to community work usually done by Offender Programs and we feel we have served our time to pay for the overnight stay in the park, sneaking in the campground showers, using the free internet, and some other minor offenses. Our conscious is now cleared. Plus, we are now famous among the locals as “the crazy Canadians who do nasty job for free.” In reality, we do get something out of it. Knowledge and experience. We learn all about the Red Tide phenomenon first hand, and we learn about the local fishes.

All is left now is for the county to send some people here to pick up the bags.

The following day the sherif department calls, and not only they don’t thank us for the initiative and the free work, but they tell Sharon that we didn’t do a proper job, that we filled the bags too much and they are now too heavy to pick up… This brings us down a bit.

Anyway, they send people, collect the bags, and the Red Tide is now history.

New campers arrive in the campground and go to the beach, enjoy the warm weather, the soft sand, the cool waves. But I remember another beach.

No monument here to commemorate the departed. Only black ravens high in the air like demoniacal kites still slowly savour the smell of death.

Only this and nothing more.













Categories: adventure, art and culture, beach, disaster, family, fishing, Florida, motor home, natural phenomenon, Nature, off grid, parks, photography, RV, Sarasota, travel, volunteer, wildlife | 10 Comments

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