Season’s End

More weird weather patterns are predicted through March with lots of strong west and North winds. This is quite odd for this time of year when the Easterly Trade winds usually dominate. So, despite the hot sunny weather we’re enjoying, we watch the weather closely, determined not to miss a good window to start heading North.

Canadian helicopter training

Canadian helicopter training

One day while out exploring in our dinghy, we see a Royal Canadian Airforce helicopter (Chinook CH146) doing their sea rescue exercises. The helicopter hovers over the water about 100 yards from us and stirs up great plumes of mist. Four people in wetsuits, snorkels and life jackets jump from the helicopter and the pilot then slowly flies off in a big arc toward the mainland. Almost immediately, a billowing orange cloud appears where the four people are (we assume they’ve set off an emergency flare). The helicopter angles back and hovers over them at a much higher altitude and a thick cable is slowly lowered to the water surface. The four in the water take turns being raised to the helicopter via the cable and also, later, by a large basket. The exercises went on for a long while and we found them fascinating, especially given our ring-side seats. Later in the month, Blair reads that they’ve dropped their 80-pound inflatable life raft through a Miami rooftop….ooops.

Finally a two-day patch of good sailing weather materializes so we jump on it. The constant high winds from the East has resulted in big swells which begin to decrease by the time we are off the Miami inlet but they’re still causing a pronounced sway to Strathspey’s progress through the seas. The dishes and bottles in our cupboards make a cringe-worthy noise as they slide back and forth as Strathspey rolls up on a swell and slides down the other side. Finally, I go below and stuff some towels in the cupboards which stops the racket.

After two rolly sailing days we arrive at Ft Pierce and dock Strathspey in a slip at Harbortown Marina where we start preparing for our haul out and the work that will be done on Strathspey while we’re back in Ottawa. We need a nice calm day, no wind, to take our two sails down and, unfortunately, the only day that provides the right conditions is sunny and 31 Celsius and REALLY HUMID. We persist and get the sails down but it’s a struggle in the heat to fold the stiff sails so they fit in the sail bags.

The temperatures here in Ft Pierce are on a roller coaster; some days in the high twenties, yet falling to 12 Celsius at night. It’s odd to have the Espar roaring every morning yet be in shorts and T-shirts by noon. While it’s cool, we spend the mornings working on the boat, mothballing the outboard motor, discuss the sail drive work with the mechanic here and other tasks, including defrosting our refrigerator and determining what to leave stored on the boat over the hot summer season. The upholstery/canvas company associated with the marina comes highly recommended so we arrange for someone to come onboard to measure for new cockpit cushions and new foam for our settee cushions down below. We take our nicely folded sails in to a sailmaker to be washed, checked for required repairs and stored.

This boat definitely can't go down the ICW with this deep rudder

This boat definitely can’t go down the ICW with this deep rudder

By the time we have lunch, it’s usually hot and we’re ready to take a break so we drive a short distance over to the ocean and take long walks on the beach where the sand is hard packed at low tide. Our turn-around point on our walks is the northern break wall of the Ft Pierce inlet where, if we’re lucky, we can sometimes watch boats attempt to enter or exit the inlet. It’s especially entertaining these days as the constant Easterly component of the wind causes huge waves to roll in. When the tide is flowing out the height of the waves is deceptive so often we see boats start out the inlet and then about halfway out they change their mind and turn quickly back to the calmer waters. So, no one is moving in or out of Ft Pierce these days unless it is via the ICW. The marina is full and accepting no new boats and it’s like January again – everyone is waiting for a weather window. Except us – we have a haul out booked.

Blair spends a good bit of time with the mechanic here. They run the engine in neutral and they run it in gear. They check the sail drive to see if there is oil leaking between the engine and the sail drive housing. Eventually, they decide on what’s required to get the sail drive back in pristine working order. That will be first on the boat yard’s list once Strathspey is hauled. After that, the boat technician will install a new motor on our swim platform and then Blair will be a happy boy!

We’re tucked into a slip on E-dock here at Harbortown Marina while we prepare for our haul out and we’re in the minority here because most of the boats on our dock are here for the duration; the duration of their lifetime it seems. This marina is one of the nicer marinas that encourages ‘liveaboard’ cruisers. Some of the cruisers are liveaboards for the six month winter season only and some have been here for years. They have a nice little community spirit which runs the gamut of pot luck dinners, interesting speakers booked into their boating lounge and get togethers for cocktail hour most every night. It’s a measure of how full the marina is right now that they have squeezed Strathspey plus four other transient boats onto E-dock. Everyone is quite friendly and helpful to us though and, once Blair has played his bagpipes a few times, he’s high on everyone’s ‘new best friend’ list. In fact, I’ve heard some people inviting friends over to the dock to hear this ‘great bagpiper who now lives on our dock and he plays every night at 4:30 so bring your drinks and appies’. It’s a fine line between being a rare treat and the expectations of being a regular performance which can be a bit stressful trying to fit all our boat tasks in AND be the evening’s entertainment. Rather than becoming a side show, Blair sticks with his own schedule and the end result is that he is top form to play at the wedding of my Grade 3 desk buddy this June.

Hauled out and ready for a hot summer

Hauled out and ready for a hot summer

Finally, all our tasks are done. Strathspey is scrubbed from top to bottom. The marine work yard jobs are all scheduled. We’ve eaten many wonderful meals where fresh fish is the centerpiece. Now it’s time to haul the boat and head home. The haulout goes smoothly, despite my having to back into the lift slip around a huge catamaran with the added complication of a ebb tide that kept trying to push us sideways. It was a fine season with us meeting some pretty interesting people, wonderful food (as always), lovely sunny days, swimming, walking beaches and, most importantly, no snow. We look north now, excited to get back to family and friends in Ottawa and here’s hoping it’s an early spring!