Monday, February 15, 2010


Home in Port Charlotte
38* at wake up?

This cold weather is just getting ridiculous. Front after front after front. Yes, I know it could be worse if I was in the mid-Atlantic (where my schedule had me scheduled last week) but my point is I'm NOT in the mid-Atlantic. This is South Florida! My first winter wasn't like this. My second winter only had a couple of weeks of this. Breathe in, breathe out.

I spent all day Saturday doing various boat maintenance jobs, making Messing About ready for her first trip of 2010. I discovered a pretty bad power steering leak in the engine room but noticed it was contained to that area and not leaking into the water. I took a photograph of the part that was leaking and brought it to Gulf Coast Marine, the local Volvo Penta dealer. The source of the leak is not a serviceable part so the entire steering assembly has to be replaced at a cost of $785, not counting labor. B.O.A.T. = break out another thousand. This will have to wait.

I normally buy my boat fuel from service stations on the street, saving big money over the marina stations. This is a practice I began with my Sea Ray in Arizona. I use multiple 5 gallon cans in the back of my truck and then transfer it to the boat on the lift. Last year I stopped using ethanol fuels after a bad experience of water separation. Marine fuel (regular unleaded without the ethanol added) is harder to find on the street but there was one station in Englewood selling it for about thirty cents more than ethanol but about a dollar per gallon cheaper than on the water fuel stations. I arrived at the station in Englewood to see something missing; their gas pumps. I asked inside but no one wanted to talk about it. I asked if they knew another station selling marine grade fuel and the answer was, "marinas."

I called Gulf Coast Marine and found out their price was $3.29 per gallon for 89 octane non-ethanol. $3.09 if you buy 100 gallons or more. I called Fisherman's Village marina in Punta Gorda and found their price to be $3.69 per gallon. I headed back to Gulf Coast Marine and bought 40 gallons.

Sunday morning was supposed to be the best weather window available for boating. I woke up at 4AM to get the boat off the lift before the falling tide got too low. Of course, the tide was much lower than what was predicted. I dropped the boat in the canal but knew we had to hurry because there was only 3' of water in the center of the channel. I need 2.5 feet to float my boat.

I was joined by neighbor Rolando and my first Florida friend, Pete from Buffalo. I met Pete in January, 2008, when I was renting a condo while waiting for Kathy to sell the Phoenix house. Pete and his wife, Bonnie, have been vacationing in Port Charlotte every Jan/Feb for years but skipped 2009 in favor of remodeling their kitchen in Buffalo. Rolando and Pete were on-time and we launched at 5:30 AM in the dark.

Pete held the spotlight for me as I navigated the shallow canal. I'm used to having 4' or more so there wasn't a lot of room for error. Going at such a slow speed(3 knots), with a single outdrive, makes it difficult to steer to begin with. Every movement of the steering system bled the pint of fluid out, drip by drip. I had placed a thick towel beneath the leak to absorb the spill. In 15 minutes, after clearing the short bridge and turning into the deeper Pellam Canal, we reached 4' of depth. We made it out of the canal system at about 6:15 to greet twilight on Charlotte Harbor, followed by a gorgeous red sky sunrise. There's an old saying that goes, "Red sky at morning, sailors take warning. Red sky at night, sailors delight."

We paused briefly to refill the steering reservoir and make ready for our journey off shore. I donned my life vest, as is my practice, and Pete chose to wear Kathy's. When we bought this boat we also bought the low profile, comfy, sailing vests that allow for inflation at the pull of a cord or manual inflation via a straw tube. The comfort of these vests make it easy to do the right thing and wear a vest at all times when aboard.

I had plotted a course to a reef area that was about 25 miles away, but only 3 miles off shore of Cayo Costa Island. As we crossed Charlotte Harbor we knew the wind forecast was under estimated. 20 miles later, we arrived at the Boca Grande Pass and found very, very choppy seas. Visibility was great. We could see a few miles out into the Gulf and what we saw we huge white caps. The 2-3 foot predicted seas had given way to 4-5's. During good weather it's not uncommon to see dozens of boats fishing the pass. On this day mine was the only one in sight. The air temperature was about 50* and the sea temperature was 59*. The wind chill kept it into the 40's and no one was comfortable. Conditions were not right for an off shore trip. The reefs would have to wait for Spring.

The water was very cloudy, full of sand being stirred up by the rough sea. We tried to anchor down in 50' of water but the hook kept dragging. We tried five more times but without success. After drift fishing for a few hours there hadn't been one single bite. Apparently all of the fish stayed home for Valentines Day.

We decided to head back towards Port Charlotte about noon. With the choppy conditions we kept it slow going, making about 6 to 8 knots. I put a trolling lure out 200' behind me and never got a hit. Two hours later we arrived back at the Charlotte Beach complex, where the mainland provided some much needed shelter from the wind. We anchored down in 5' of water and fished the mangroves for a couple of hours with zero luck. For the first time ever, we didn't catch a single fish from these waters.

At 4 PM we cleared the short bridge and arrived home to meet our Valentine wives. Thanks girls, for giving loving us so much to let us go fishing on your special day. Even though we didn't catch anything but cold winds, we got out on the water. For me, it was exactly what I wanted.

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