The Great Keys Adventure
The idea of trailing my boat to the Keys is not new to me, having adding this to my “bucket list about ten years ago. Unfortunately, as with so many things, there was always something that got in the way of planning such a trip: work, baseball, family, household maintenance, MONEY! But there comes a time when one just has to decide what’s important and, well, what’s not. Making this trip while I was still able to endure the 1400 mile drive to my starting point in Key Largo and being healthy enough to enjoy the rigors of a week or more on the water in a small 19’ sailboat became overriding considerations and, with very little discouragement from family and friends, I decided that this was the year.
March 6 is my planned departure date and I expect that I will arrive at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park sometime on the morning of 3/8. As I started to flesh out my plans, I realized that I left several important items of maintenance and upgrade on my beautiful Christina T undone at the end of the last sailing season. These needed to be addressed before such a long haul. So, what follows chronicles my process for getting ready for my adventure.
My first thoughts were centered on what needed to be done to make sure the boat and trailer were up to the trip. I replaced the hubs on the trailer last Fall so I knew I was in good shape in that regard, but the tiedowns that I’ve been using for the last several years would need to be replaced. I’m a big one for checklists to avoid overlooking both major and minor details so that was my next step. Imagine driving all the way to Florida and then remembering your tiller is still in the garage back home! “Lucy! That would set my tith on edge!” It wouldn’t be the first time I left home for a sailing trip only to have to turn around to retrieve the sailbag I left in the Rec Room.. Not this time, though. There just ain’t no coming back from FL!
I needed to make sure that the truck, trailer and boat were ready, so I’ll need a checklist cover all the maintenance items as well as the equipment list. I would also be spending some time creating my ships logs to show not only what work I had accomplished on the boat, but also what gear is installed or kept on board so I have a good record, with pictures, in case of a loss or, God forbid, a sinking. It seemed as though a new item needed to be added to one of these lists every time I looked at it.
I need to replace my halyards because, after 41 years, they’ve earned the right to be a bit worn. They are also too short for running the halyards back to the cockpit, something that I should have done years ago for safety reasons. I need to clean the electrical contacts for the masthead lights. Anchoring at night with no proper light is both stupid and illegal! Sailing gear that needs to be aboard include my inflatable vest with a safety line and working strobe and inflator. Sailing gloves, hats, extra anchor and line, spot light and electronics all need to be assemble and properly stowed. My motor needs to be retrieved from storage and started and the fuel lines and tanks must be checked and treated before being stowed below deck. The cockpit sleeping system I installed needs to have the sharp edges smoothed down and some decent cockpit cushions must be made and installed. See what I mean about the task list?
On top of all this, I need to check my GPS, VHF, Chart Plotter for battery charge and charging cables, input waypoints, update charts. My inverter needs to be tested for proper output and my personal hotspot needs to be checked for available data. The Keys, hopefully, will have better cell phone reception than the Chesapeake does and, I’m hoping, will have a bit great access to WiFi. Thenneed to make sure my necessary web sites for NTMs, etc. are properly stored in my devices. Oh, I make this sound like it’s sooooo difficult and time consuming, but, when you’ve made as many of these trips, albeit not so far away, much of it becomes automatic.. But the checklist still has to be followed, because it’s the automatic stuff that most often is overlooked.
So off we go to start the process of heading south for the winter. Ah, the way it sounds as it rolls off my tongue! I am planning to me another sailor, Matt, from the Mariner Class Association in the Keys. He’s driving from Texas and picking a friend of his from PA at the airport in Tampa on his way to the Keys. He’s been planning his trip for several months and cautioned that I might be pushing it a bit to try to get ready in just one month. He might be right, but then I don’t do things any other way. Once an idea gets into my head and is deemed practical, there’s no stopping me. Yeah, this time I will have a bit more difficulty in provisioning due to food storage issues, but that’s a story for the next installment. For now, it’s time to get started on making sure the truck, trailer and boat are ready for the water when I get there. Anything else I can make up as I go along!
Winch Bracket Mast Raising System
The one thing needed to be ready for the trip is my mast raising system since I am no longer really comfortable in stepping my mast alone. I purchased a two way winch that needs to mounted on ther mast to serve as a lifting device along with some sort of gin pole. The winch needs to be attached to a bracket that will fit over the mast.
The bracket I just had made out of aluminum has a base equal in size to the base of the winch and the two will be married using three countersunk stainless bolts and nuts. The bracket then needs to have two holes drilled through each side, front and back, to allow for tightening it to the raising position on the mast. The bracket measures 2 ¾” W x 5 1/2” L x 5” D inside, which should allow the bracket to fit snuggly over the mast using a rubber gasket for scratch protection.
I drilled all of the holes and made the attachments as described, fed the winch strap onto the winch. Getting this done turned out to be easier than I thought it would be. Now I have a proven system for single handedly stepping my mast with risk of falling or dropping the mast.
Now, the only thing left on this task is to configure some form of gin pole to change the geometry of the pulling force on the mast at its lowest point. I’m thinking that the easiest way to do this is to mount a roller fitting on the end of an 8’ length of 2 x 4 that wood wedge into the base of the mast step and secured to the mast at a constant angle throughout the lift or drop. This isn’t totally necessary, but I did notice a lot of strain on my front trailer mast support when I tried using this system in the past. I don’t like to see steel bend under stress so I just want to relieve some of the lifting pressure.
Rear Tail Safety Light Mounted High On The Boat Stern
The tail lights on my trailer are mounted low and under the stern of the boat. The vehicle behind me can easily see those lights but the second vehicle wouldn’t be able to see them.. This is the principle behind cars having a rear brake light mounted high on the rear of the vehicle. My plan is to take an old tail light from my trailer and mount it on my rear mast support. If I wire it into the trailer break wire using a waterproof two wire connecter, this light should go on whenever I hit the breaks.
The first thing I need to do is make a small attachment to the mast support to keep it from turning in the gudgeons. This I can accomplish by simply making a cross piece attached perpendicular to the mast support and positioned so it prevents the support from rotating.
Mounting the taillight is no big deal. I replace the 1” screws in the light with 1 ¾ “ bolts that would reach through the u-bracket of my rea mast support. Since the mast support itself is not grounded, I will run a three wire lead from my left tail light to the light on the support, connecting via a waterproof connecter. I should then have both a high tail light and brake light, however, I think the light will also blink when I turn on the left turn signal.. That’s really no big deal since it will only serve to draw more attention to the trailer.
New Seat Cushions and bulkhead rest
The one thing I always regarded as a short coming for my Christina T was a modicum of comfort in the cockpit. Whenever I am sailing, I am usually sitting on a flotation cushion which I would switch from side to side as I tacked. These things are comfortable for a little while, but soon start to feel like I’m sitting on a lumpy rock. When I would spend six hours sailing, there no wonder why I develop a severe case of sailor’s butt. And when the sailing is done, I never had a nice place to relax short of lying down on the seat.
I went to my favorite boat cover guy, Sabatini Coachworks in Nazareth, and asked him to make some cushions that would remedy these issues. He made me a 4’ cushion for each seat that would snap into place at my usual helm station on each side. These are nothing spectacular like so many other Mariners have, but it will solve my comfort issue while underway.
The after sailing issue I dealt with by having a 14” square bulkhead cushion made for my starboard bulkhead which will give me a nice firm, but comfortable, backrest upon which I will be able to rest while drinking copious amounts of rum-laced tea. Now I won’t have to bring my oversized folding chairs that never seemed to fit into any appropriate place for R & R. This saves me stowage space and aggravation!
Jumping ahead a little over a week and progress is being made each day. It’s now February 25th, nine days away from departure and I’m pretty close to having the boat and trailer all set to go. I made up my checklists and refrigerated stores. Steve pointed me toward Hormel entrees that do not need refrigeration! There are entrees for breakfast and dinner and, having tried some out already, they will meet my needs. I found the serving size to be a bit small, but I can get used to that. I always figured I bring too much food along on mytrips, anyway. But these entrees will allow me to carry all two weeks of breakfasts and dinners without using any cooler space. This is a hugh benefit, not because the cooler takes up room, but the cooler needs ice and ice only last about three days under the best of circumstances. Hopefully, all I will need the cooler for will be to keep some drinks and condiments cool as well as, my requisite hoagies that serve me well for lunch. So my Sunday night activity will be to plan out two weeks of entrees and other items needed for my epicurean delights. I’ve already packed three different types of rum! Captain Morgan 100, Admiral Nelson’s Coconut Rum and, of course, Rum Chata. It’s amazing the number of food items to which some kind of rum can be added! A little Rum Chata mixed in with scrambled eggs gets the day started off right, as does a small dose of 100 in my tea!
I anticipate that, by lunch time on Monday, the boat and trailer will be in final traveling configuration and I can turn my undivided attention to shopping, packing, organizing and communicating with Matt about last minute details for meeting up.
Picking up where I left off, I'll just say that the boat, trailer, truck and I made our way through the prep process and are ready to leave on Monday, March 6th.With checklists checked and rechecked, I can't imagine there can be anything I've forgotten. So now it just remains to get it all done. The day to day activities will be published on FaceBook as well as on the blog page of my site. IO hope you can follow me through this adventure!