Livin’ Large on the 52

After our shall we say, adventurous, first night on the Bay, we decided to spend Friday in Deltaville, VA to let the winds die down before we headed offshore.  We were all a little edgy and needed some downtime to recover from the night before. And to triple check the weather to make sure we were staying clear of any more of that crap. Just getting into the marina in Deltaville was an adventure, with a narrow corkscrew channel that had us just a few feet away from a sandbar on one side and the beach on the other. Not a big deal for a little fishing boat to navigate, but a giant catamaran that’s 52′ long and nearly 30′ wide? Adventurous. We all held our breath and silently hoped we wouldn’t run aground. We spent the day de-icing the boat and managed to find a pizza shop in town that was actually open. Winning.

The forecast was looking good, so we headed out early the next morning. We all were thankful that the weather had improved and we settled into our roles aboard with ease. Chris navigated, Mischelle painted, I read, and Matt…. Well, unfortunately Matt wasn’t feeling too well. Must have been the extreme change in temps coming from FL to MD. Or the Deltaville pizza.

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We stayed within 2 miles of the shoreline so we could get cell service to stream the Ravens playoff game on Chris’s phone. I’ll be honest, it was pretty cool hanging back, eating spaghetti and watching the game all while sailing a boat out in the Atlantic. Too bad they lost in the final seconds of the game. This trip is definitely providing us with some pretty cool moments so far. In fact, we even have a theme song for the trip: ‘I’m on a Boat’  by Lonely Island. Give it a Google on YouTube. It’s pretty fitting.

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The reason for all of the tape and table coverings is to protect the boat. God forbid that a $1.4M yacht get dinged up by the lowly delivery crew.  However, we did tear up the microwave making bacon bowls one morning.  Probably the best As Seen on TV product ever.  Because, let’s be honest here,  EVERYTHING’S better in a bacon bowl. I think Chris is their unofficial spokesperson, seeing that he had at least four of them. Don’t worry, after a little Windex and some light scrubbing, the microwave is good as new again. It’ll be our little secret.

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Sunday was a beautiful day on the water, and the temps finally started to warm up as we headed south for Charleston where we would spend Monday night.

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Coming into Charleston was pretty neat because the whole city was enclosed in a big thick blanket of fog. I guess this is pretty typical for Charleston in the wintertime. It was a little unnerving not being able to see more than a quarter mile in front of you… Thank God for AIS and radar.

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First thing on the “to-do” list after we docked and refueled was to dry out the bilges so the damn alarm would stop going off every time the slightest splash of water would hit the sensor. It seemed like that thing was going off every 10 minutes the night before, and it was getting really annoying, really quickly. Bilge = Blue Job = Boys.

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Another Blue Job? Adjusting the rigging for the mainsail. He looks pretty comfy up there, no?

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In Charleston, we met up with Jack and Tyler, who are with Annapolis Yacht Sales as well, and happened to be en route delivering a boat from Annapolis to FL too. It was a mini AYS rendezvous!  I must admit, our ride is much nicer than theirs. Maybe I’m partial because ours is a catamaran. A magnificent 52′ catamaran that’s well stocked with delicious food and a fun crew. Sorry, guys. You’re missing out.

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We headed out early this morning for another two days offshore, with Jack and Tyler following us down the coast. The fog is still pretty thick, but we’re hoping to get at least another nice day on the water before we land in Ft. Lauderdale on Thursday.  This trip has been so much fun, I almost hate to see it end. It’s been great for us to not only connect with some good friends that we’ve really been missing, but also to get us excited for the next leg of our journey – Bahamas, baby! However, I’m thinking it may be a bit hard going back to our boat after livin’ large on a boat this grand for the past week. I could totally get used to this!

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And the art that Mischelle was working on earlier in the week? She used the picture of Chris adjusting the rigging as inspiration for her latest watercolor.  Wow.  I swear, she has more talent in her little finger than the rest of us combined.

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Lagoon 52 delivery

So we’re back in Maryland, sailing someone else’s catamaran down the Bay in below freezing temperatures and gale force winds. I guess we were getting a little too soft in Key West and needed the kind of ass kicking only the Chesapeake in the wintertime can give you.

Wait. What?

Let me rewind to just two short days ago: it was a beautiful sunny afternoon and Matt and I were frolicking down Duval Street, celebrating one of our last days in Key West. We’d been analyzing the weather and decided that the end of the week would be the perfect window for us to leave for the Bahamas. Somewhere between the Whistle Bar and Sloppy Joe’s, he got a call from his old company asking if we would want to help deliver their brand new 52′ Lagoon catamaran from Annapolis to Ft. Lauderdale.  It took us all of 3.2 seconds to agree to do it. Sailing a million dollar yacht with two of our good friends from back home? Sounded like a pretty good time to us!  We managed to book ourselves on the first flight out the next morning and less than 24 hours later, we’re baaaack!!

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Woah. Talk about what a shock to the system it was getting off that plane. I can’t believe how cold it is here. Going from 80 to 8 degrees in a matter of hours, sucks.  We’ve asked each other ‘What the hell are we doing?’ about two dozen times already. The bitter wind hit us and took our breath away and froze our hands so much they burned, and again we thought, ‘Are we crazy?’ The irony that we were back in Annapolis on a boat – a place I swore I’d never be after last winter – was not lost on us.

But what a beauty she is. Even covered in ice and snow.

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Even though we were only home for about 24 hours, it was great to see some familiar faces, especially my family who met us in Annapolis for dinner. But as quickly as we arrived, it was time to leave again. By high noon the following day, Matt, Mischelle, Chris and I were off the dock and headed south down the bay in a luxury sailing yacht that we would be calling home for the next week. Awesome.

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The sunset pretty much summed up the first leg of our trip: serene, peaceful, comforting…one if those ‘this is so awesome right now’ moments.  We never in our wildest dreams thought this is where we’d be earlier in the week, that’s for sure.

Unfortunately, the moment didn’t last.  Over the course of the night the wind picked up to a howling 25-30mph that transformed the Bay into an icy version of Dante’s Inferno. 6′ waves and strong gusts made even this huge 52′ boat feel like a bath toy. We were getting slammed from all over. All.Night.Long.

At one point the MD State Police had a spotlight on our boat from the air because they thought we were a boat they received a distress signal from. It took us nearly 20 minutes of reassuring them that all persons onboard were accounted for and that we were not in distress. They must have thought we were crazy as all hell for being our there (voluntarily) in the first place and wanted to triple check that we’re were all sane.

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It was such a long, crazy, sleepless night, we all huddled in the galley the next morning feeling like a bunch of PTSD survivors. Check out what the boat looked like…

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It took us nearly 20 hours to get to Deltaville, VA which is still about 5 hours north of Norfolk. Were hanging out here thru the night to let the water calm down before we head offshore tomorrow. Here’s hoping the rest of the trip goes a little smoother than our first night!

We’re really missing Key West right now! Ha!

Welcome to Miami

We finally made it to the Miami inlet a little past midnight Monday night, after what was a really nice night trip down the coast.  The moon wasn’t very bright and the city skyscrapers packing the coastline gave a soft orange glow to illuminate our path.  Other then an few unmarked mooring balls we had to dodge, we had a pretty uneventful night.

That is, until we turned into the Port of Miami shipping channel.  That’s when our night got really, really eventful.

As we approached the inlet, Matt tried to hail the Port of Miami several times to see if there were any outbound freighters that we would need to look for.  Nothing.  Total silence.  We were wondering if our VHF was working, and did a radio check to which someone responded that they heard us loud and clear.  He tried calling on several different channels, but again, no response.  We didn’t see any freighters lined up out in the ocean waiting to come in, so we took that as a sign that things had quieted down for the night and turned in to enter the channel, hugging the far right side to stay out of the way.  Keep in mind, it’s the middle of the night and there were dozens of lights and markers around us that we were trying to pay attention to.  It was pretty nerve wracking.  As we got far enough in to make out what was what, we saw some sort of tug & barge operation that was blocking the entire width of the channel.  Again, we tried to call them on the VHF to ask what they were doing and got nothing, only a loud honk and a spot light pointed on us from one of the barges coming in, which is the universal signal for get the hell out of the way. OK, so they saw us trying to enter, so they knew we were there, why couldn’t they answer the damn VHF to give us some instructions? Matt finally had to hail the Coast Guard and have them give us the phone numbers of the port/harbormaster because even they couldn’t get anyone on the radio.  None of the numbers worked.  By this time it was about 1:00am, and we were doing circles in the Port of Miami shipping channel waiting to hear back from someone as we watched this barge operation cut us off from the one thing we wanted – to drop anchor and crawl up in bed.

Finally, one of the barge operators (the one who gave us the flash and the honk) came on the radio and told us we could probably squeeze thru on the left side of the channel and that all barge operators monitor channel 8 or 13.  OK, this was good!  We snuck up the left side, as advised, and continued on. A little further in, we encountered another set of tugs moving barges across the channel and tried to hail them on the VHF. Again, no response.  Finally, about fifteen minutes of us hovering there waiting on them to cross the channel, one of them answered back and told us to go for it, which we did and were happy to finally put that mess behind us.

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So, we’re finally cruising down the channel towards the city.  It’s about 2:30am at this point, but the city is still glowing and downright beautiful.  We’re both pretty cracked out at this point, but can see the bridge leading into Biscayne Bay just off to the left, which is the only thing between us and our anchorage, and the sleep we were getting so excited about.

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We passed under the bridge and headed over to a spot we picked as our anchorage for the night – a small harbor area with decent depth in the otherwise super shallow bay.  This was the first time we were anchoring at night and I was a little nervous.  We dropped anchor and as Matt backed down on the engines, he was having problems getting us firmly hooked.  He decided he didn’t like this spot and we should try someplace else.  So, we shoved off in search of another spot.

By now it was 4:00am and we are frantically searching the charts for another place to anchor.  We stumble upon a spot in between two channels that was marked as a spot that had good holding, so we decide to give it a try.  At this point, I’m pleading with God/Allah/Buddha to just make this spot work so we could put an end to this horrible, horrible night.  My prayers were answered, and we finally get the anchor set, turned off the engines and collapsed into a deep sleep by 4:30.

The next morning we woke up and realized how exposed we were.  Like, literally anchored out in the middle of the Bay with small fishing boats zooming past us up the channels we anchored between.  It was a little too lively for us, so we decide to head across the bay to No Name Harbor, a small harbor in a national park that was told to us by another cruiser to be one of the best anchorage’s they’ve ever been to.

As we entered the harbor, we saw that was only about the size of a small lake, and it was crowded already.  There must have been a dozen other boats anchored already, pretty much on top of one another too.  We saw an empty spot along the concrete sea wall which didn’t require us to think about anchoring, given we’d only had about four hours sleep the night before. Seemed like a good spot, so we gathered our fenders and lines and made our way over to the wall to tie up.  This is when things went wrong.  The wind was pushing us away from the wall and I couldn’t get our bow line around the cleat on the seawall from the boat.  So, I made the stupid call to jump off the boat (which was still 3-4 feet away) and onto the concrete wall (which was a 3-4 foot drop from the boat) without any shoes on.  I hit the ground hard, rolled forward a bit and ran to tie up the front of the boat which had already scraped the front right peak on the concrete wall, making a nice gash in the gelcoat. In the process of leaping off the boat, I sprained my foot, which is now wrapped up in a bandage, effectively putting me out of the game for a few days.  So stupid.  And you know what?  After all that, we read that we couldn’t stay on the seawall for overnight dockage, so we had to leave and go back to the spot that we had just left that morning!   Ha!

A few lessons learned from the past day:

1. Stop pushing ourselves so hard! This is supposed to be a relaxing vacation!  We have no time limits.  No place we have to be, so why are we constantly treating it like we do. SLOW DOWN, Sansbury’s!

2. Don’t always trust the opinions of other cruisers.  What may be paradise to one may be hell to another.  No Name Harbor was a great example of this.  We’d rather be all alone in the middle of the Bay, exposed to the elements, than to be packed in like sardines into a small anchorage with a dozen other boats.

3. Scout out good anchorage spots beforehand. That way we won’t be wandering around in the middle of the night searching for a spot.

Headed down to Key Largo today.  Hoping it’ll be a nice calm 2-3 days down the keys to let me rest up my foot before we land in Key West.  The weather is warm, the water is turquoise, and we’re back to just livin’ the dream again.

North Palm Beach, FL

This past week has been a blur of nameless anchorages, long narrow canals and more bascule bridges than we can count as we’ve snaked our way down the ICW from St. Augustine to North Palm Beach.

We’ve been averaging 50 miles a day, waking up at dawn, pulling anchor by 7:00am and motor sailing for about ten hours a day, setting anchor by 5:00pm each night, only to wake up and do it all over again the next day.  Finally around Jensen Beach, the weather got warm and has stayed warm.  Today we officially swapped out our coldgear for bathing suits.  It was freaking awesome.

We’ve lucked out with some great anchorages along the ICW.  Calm, quiet, usually with only a few other boats.  And the sunsets have been amazing.  Each night was more beautiful than the previous night.  It’s our new favorite time of the day.

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In Jensen Beach we had a great find – a Publix grocery store that was only a ten minute walk from the water.  We called a local marina right by our anchorage to see if we could come in for fuel and leave our boat tied up for a half an hour while we ran to the store to stock up.  They (semi-rudely) informed us that they were a private marina and we couldn’t use their docks, but we could certainly buy their fuel.  Hmmm.  We anchored, hopped in the dinghy with two empty jerry cans and headed over to see if we could purchase some fuel and slyly ask to leave our dinghy tied up while we ran ashore.  Turns out they only had gasoline (we needed diesel), but they were nice enough to let us tie up as long as we were back by the time they closed within the hour.  This is what provisioning when you’re a cruiser looks like.  Not too sure what the cashier at Publix thought of us as we began cramming our groceries into our backpacks. No more Vienna Sausages for dinner that night!

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We kept heading south, through nameless town after nameless town, seemingly getting stuck at every bridge possible.  Suddenly the landscape changed from secluded marshes to mega mansions.  Looks like we finally reached Palm Beach area!  These houses estates were just ridiculous.  And it seemed that each one was trying to outdo the other either in size our sheer gaudiness.  I guess this is what either Old Money or the Nouveau Riche looks like. And here we thought we were livin’ it large in our 41′ catamaran.  Sheesh.

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Oh, and we saw a pirate ship.  It didn’t look like anyone was actually on it… maybe the crew had a mutiny? Or they were burying their loot on the island behind them?  Or maybe they were all sleeping off their Rum Runners from the night before?  Either way, it was an odd and welcomed sight to see along a stretch of otherwise boring scenery.

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Our engines had a birthday during the trip…. they rolled over to 6,000 hours.  That’s a lot of hours for an engine.  I guess it’s like a car’s odometer rolling over to 200,000 miles.  Of course we had to take a celebratory picture, and coo over how wonderful they are, in hopes that the kind words will keep them going.  We’ve really been pampering them to keep them happy so they’ll at least last us until after our Bahamas trip.  We hear as long as we take care of them, they’ll take care of us.  Sorta like a marriage.

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We finally made it to North Palm Beach Friday afternoon and anchored out since our marina reservation wasn’t until the next morning.  The weather had shifted and it was blowing from the N/NW at well over 25mph.  We had to go through THREE bascule bridges in the mile stretch before our anchorage that only opened at specific times, which was horrible.  We would either get there too early or too late for the scheduled opening and would have to sit and wait, fighting wind and current, for up to twenty excruciating minutes before the damn thing would open.  Matt was a champ and rode it out beautifully.  I, on the other hand, was a nervous skitzo, and had to occupy my mind by checking Facebook so I didn’t loose it picturing our boat crashing into the bridge and our 62′ mast being sheared off by a 17′ vertical clearance.  By the time we set anchor,I was feeling very skittish to say the least.  Then we had our first experience setting anchor in 25mph wind.  That was enough to nearly push me over the edge.  Once we were set, I uncorked a bottle of wine to calm my nerves.  It helped.

That night we kept hearing a weird grinding noise that we just couldn’t figure out.  It only happened during a big gust, or when the wind direction shifted.  It sounded like our anchor chain was grinding against the boat, but after checking several times, we knew our anchor was set properly and it wasn’t that. What the hell? After a sleepless night, we checked it out in the morning and think that we had let out too much chain after we attached the bridle, and it had all piled up on itself almost as a second anchor.  As we would swing around with the wind, it was the sound of the chain grinding on itself that was making that horrible noise.  We were only in about seven feet of water, and the sound carried up clear as if it were right on the boat.

We made our way over to our marina and tied up for the day, happy to be out of the wind, and excited to have lunch with an old friend we haven’t seen in years.  It was a great day.  Much needed after the long week along the ICW we had before.  The wind was still blowing pretty good by Saturday afternoon and we knew the ocean would be pretty nasty, so we decided to stay another day at the marina to let the weather settle down and get some boat stuff done.  We had a visitor stop by and stay the night on the piling right next to our boat, probably trying to ride out the weather as well.  We named him Pete.  Pretty fitting for a pelican, we think.

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This morning, we got up bright and early and headed out of the Ft. Pierce inlet to start our offshore trip down the coast to Miami.  The ocean has finally calmed down and it was a beautiful morning.  We fought a three knot current against us just to get out of the inlet and as soon as we were out in the ocean, we felt the effects of the Gulf Stream almost immediately.  We tried to hug the coast as much as possible – we were only about a mile – but the northerly current of about 2.5 knots, combined with wind directly on our nose meant we were motoring along at a cool three knots.  With that speed, it looked like our day trip to Miami would turn into an overnighter.  Great.  Might as well throw out the fishing lines to see if we could liven this long trip up!

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Around 10am, the line hit! Matt jumped up to reel it in and we saw a big old barracuda hooked on the other end.  Unfortunately, these are not edible, so he (she?) went back in.  Bummer.

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A little after lunch, we got another bite, and this time it was a big one!  It was pulling on the line so hard, our heavy duty offshore fishing rod was bent over in a near perfect arc.  Matt grabbed a hold of the rod and slowly started reeling it in, which took him about 15 minutes.  This thing was fighting him the entire way.  Meanwhile, I’m grabbing the vodka to stun it, and the net to scoop it, all while trying to record the first big catch of the trip on the iPhone.  It was chaos.  He finally got it in, and we found that we had a whopper of a fish, which was probably just over three feet long.  It would feed us for days.  We had no clue what it was, so I grabbed our fish book and handed it over for Matt to fumble with as this thing was flopping around on our deck trying its hardest to get back into the water.

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It turned out to be a Crevalle Jack fish.  Also unedible.  Whomp Whomp!  So it too went back into the water, this time with our hook stuck firmly in its mouth.  Hey, at least now we know that Matt’s not a Jonah.  Two fish in a matter of a few hours.  I’ll take it, even if we did have to throw them back.

It’s just past 10pm and we’re nearly to Miami.  It’s been a really nice nighttime trip having the skyline of Ft. Lauderdale and the northern Miami suburbs so close.  Hoping to be anchored in Biscayne Bay around midnight so we can catch some sleep and explore some of the reefs tomorrow.  We’ve gone from coldgear to snorkel gear in the span of a week.  I could get used to this.

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St. Augustine, FL

This morning we made it into St. Augustine and searched for a place to anchor. We noticed all of the other boats were on mooring balls and had read that moorings here were in the $20 range, perfect for our cruising budget.  We decided to grab the first one we saw, which looked like 4 times the size of a propane tank floating in the water.  Seriously, the biggest mooring ball we’d ever seen.  Once we were tied up, we called the marina to let them know we were there, and were promptly chastised for not making a reservation.  Then told that we could not stay there on that ball because it was reserved for larger boats and that we needed to move to another ball farther up the river. O-kaaay. We totally forgot that we were part of the great migration South with about a thousand other cruisers as company.  Of course mooring balls and marinas would be scarce in popular stops such as this one.  We’re such rookies.  We moved to our assigned mooring and noticed that we’re right next to a boat from Eastport, MD!  How cool to be this far from home and end up next to a boat hailing from the same small part of the world as we came from.  This is a very small community indeed.

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We tied up, secured the boat, and headed ashore to explore the city. It’s so beautiful here! We visited Fort Matanzas, an old Spanish fort dating back to the mid 1700’s and walked around St. Georges St, a pedestrian street lined with every type of shop and restaurant you could think of. Had we not been on a cruiser’s budget, we could have done some serious damage here. Unfortunately the fort was the only free attraction around. All others, including the famous Fountain of Youth, had hefty admission fees and were crowded with tourists and school trips. So, we stuck with the cheap option and wandered around to explore the city on foot.

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Nestled among the beautiful historic buildings of the Old City, is Flagler College, a liberal arts college in the former Ponce de Leon hotel.  This was probably the most beautiful school we’d ever seen.  It puts our York College of PA to shame for sure.  I googled tuition costs, and it’s a cool $25k a year to attend.  Not crazy Harvard standards, but about 3x more than what we paid per year.  We detoured to explore the campus some more, figuring that since Matt had a backpack on, we might blend in.  Yeah right.  We stood out like chaperones at a school dance.  Guess we’re officially old.

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We wandered back to St. George St. and were lured into an outdoor cafe where a guy was playing an acoustic version of some Buffett song.  Definitely our sort of place.  The bartender immediately recognized Matt’s Chauncey’s t-shirt as being a surf shop in OC, MD and told us he was originally from Severn.  Ha!  We just keep finding these little pieces of Maryland no matter where we go!

We hurried thru lunner, as we were keeping an eye on a severe band of storms approaching from the west.  The FL coast gets hit with showers nearly every afternoon, but this one was a band of red and orange on the radar, and a tornado warning had been issued until early evening.  Time to get back to the boat and batten down the hatches, before the skies opened up and dumped on us.  And dumped they did.  We barely had time to throw an extra set of lines on the mooring when the sheets of rain were upon us.  At one point, you could barely see 50ft on either side of us.  Crazy how quickly these fronts come up.

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The heavy rain was over about an hour later, and we noticed that our boat was facing the exact opposite direction of the other hundred or so boats in the anchorage.  Hmmm… which one is not like all the others?  We think our bridal off the front of the boat was too long so with the wind and currents opposing each other the mooring ball somehow went under our boat more than half way and, ta daa, we face the other way.  I’m sure the people on the boats around us had a good laugh as they looked out their windows and saw our boat facing the complete opposite direction as theirs.  Again, Rookie move.  And here we thought we had this sailing thing down.

Tomorrow we head out and make our way to Lake Worth where we’re stopping to visit a friend.  Hoping to be there by the end of the week.  Until then….