Sunday, January 25, 2015

splash? SPLASH!

We are docked at the St. Petersburg Municipal Marina in St. Petersburg, Florida (map).  We've been here for a little over a week now, and we've really enjoyed being right downtown in the thick of things.  St. Pete is a vibrant town, and we'll be back this way someday to spend a little more time.

We arrived here a little after noon last Thursday, after a very brief stay of just a half hour on a mooring ball, our first ever, at the north basin just a short way from here.  We had called the marina after we landed in Tampa Bay last Wednesday, but as luck would have it, Blossom got the last slip, owing to a blues festival in town last weekend.  We asked to be put on a wait list and reserved a ball instead.

No sooner had we picked up the ball, got secured, and shut everything down, than the marina called to say they had a cancellation and could put us in a slip.  We thought about staying put, but with a cold front moving in and a decent weekly rate, we decided to move over to a slip with power, on the same dock as Blossom.  We're both in the more permanent section of the marina, as the transient docks were full up due to the aforementioned festival.  Ironically, we are docked right next to the second boat we ever looked at, a Selene 43 now called Off the Grid but then known as Live Wire II.  They wanted too much money at the time.

Vector behind Off the Grid. We ended up with a larger, more comfortable, newer, and more capable boat for less.

We spent our first night in Tampa Bay anchored just southwest of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, in the lee of the south causeway (map).  It would have been easy enough, mid-day Tuesday, to just continue here, but after a long overnight passage from the Dry Tortugas, neither crew felt up to navigating into a harbor and docking, particularly considering we made landfall in fairly high winds.

The causeway provided good protection and we had a pleasant night there, although we could hear the bridge traffic.  We left with the flood in the morning to have a fair tide all the way here.  The Sunshine Skyway Bridge, by the way, is famous for having been knocked into the water by a wayward ship; when they built the replacement, they surrounded the central portion, near the ship channel, with large fenders to prevent this sort of thing from ever happening again.  We passed well south of the fenders, as we had no need of the central span's height.

With a full week booked at the dock here, we had our mail forwarded and also ordered quite a few items to be delivered by Amazon Prime to complete a number of projects that have languished.  I also ordered a replacement for the GPS that failed on our way out of Key West, a critical system that I wanted to repair before we left the dock.  Not eligible for prime, so I spent extra to have it overnighted from GPS City.

Even though we've been here longer than a week now, we've barely scratched the surface of the downtown dining and entertainment options even within walking distance.  We've also reconnected with several friends who are also staying in the area.  Lastly, I was able to get a much-overdue dental appointment for an exam and cleaning.

This last item, which happened on Thursday, the very last day of our week-long reservation, necessitated a return visit Friday morning for some drilling and filling.  Since I needed the scooter to get to their office, about 20 miles away in Clearwater, we extended our dock stay by a couple of days, to today.  The route to Clearwater goes through our old stomping grounds of Pinellas Park, where I was sad (but not surprised) to learn the Elks Lodge where we used to park Odyssey when in the Tampa Bay area has closed.

As long as we had the scooter down, we got all our provisioning done for the next couple of weeks, and I also stopped by a tax collector to get the new Florida plates for the scooters (the office in Key West had run out of motorcycle plates).  I also made a stop at Radio Shack and West Marine for parts for the GPS install.

The big excitement around here, though, happened Tuesday.  For anyone who does not follow my Twitter or Facebook feeds, where this has already been posted, the cat and I both ended up swimming in the marina first thing in the morning.

Ever since George passed away, Angel has been asking each morning to be let outside.  I open the door, and she patrols the deck for a few minutes, making two or three laps and then asking to come back in.  If it's nice out, she'll sometimes lie in the sun on the aft deck for a while first.  Up till now, she has never left the boat.

Over the previous couple of days I  had caught her on the dock just outside the boarding gate a couple of times -- the tide here is such that the dock is an easy step for her at low tide, rather than a leap. On this morning I would guess she made it perhaps as far as the end of the finger pier.  That might have been the end of it, if not for a passing dog that had some words for her.  Even though the dog was leashed, Angel got spooked and probably took off down the main dock.

There's really no way to be sure what happened next, but our guess is that in her panic she tried to jump onto another boat and missed.  I heard her crying and popped outside.  At first I thought she was just on deck someplace in some kind of distress, but then I realized she was not on the boat.  As I walked down the dock calling for her, she answered each call with a cry that could only be interpreted as "Help!"

The piling to which Angel was clinging.  Hard to see the oysters in this photo.  We have no idea how far she swam to reach it.

Thinking she was on another boat, I passed her a couple of times before realizing she was in the water between two boats, clinging to an oyster-encrusted piling.  There was no way to reach her from the dock or even the boats, so I ran back to Vector to get the pole-mounted fishing net that we keep explicitly as a cat-rescue device.  I also knocked on the hull to alert Louise that I needed help.

It looks like a fishing net, but this is our Water Rescue Emergency Cat and Kitten Extraction Device (WRECKED).

It took the two of us, with Louise on a sailboat with the net, and me on the adjacent power boat with a boat pole, to dislodge her from the piling, into the net, and get her on the deck of the sailboat.  And then there she was, cold, wet, and crying on the deck of an unfamiliar boat.  I came around to the sailboat and volunteered to get my clothes wet carrying her back onto the dock and back to Vector.

Getting back onto the dock involved crossing a fairly large gap past fiddly sailboat rigging, and I held Angel tightly to my chest with one arm while I reached for a 4x4 fender post affixed to the dock with my other hand.  We have these same posts on our dock and they are firmly attached.

Mind the gap.  The post with the angled top was loose.

This one was not.  One of the bolts was missing and the other loose, and it was vertical only courtesy of the 20 pounds or so of oysters clinging to the bottom.  As I grabbed it, it began rotating toward the water, and me with it.  I don't know how I did it, but I managed to get the cat onto the dock before I fell, in slow motion, the six or so feet to the water -- it was lower low tide.

Taken at another low tide, you can see the oysters high and dry on the loose fender post.

Louise brought the cat back to Vector while I swam, as best I could, to the swim step of a nearby power boat and extricated myself from the water.  When I went in, my training told me to kick off my shoes, but they were nearly brand new and the only decent pair I own, so I kept them on.  I was glad, at least, that my cell phone was still back aboard Vector.

With my clothes soaked in salt water I ended up stripping  to my skivvies on deck and coming in through the pilothouse door closest to the stairs, so I could head straight down to the shower.  At least the water and air temperatures were both in the 60s -- it might have been much worse.

Wet clothes outside the starboard pilothouse door.

In the meantime, to add insult to injury, the first thing Louise had to do with the cat was to rinse her in fresh water.  She spent the rest of the day grooming, and would have gotten sick if we didn't get the salt off.

One wet cat.  This is after the rinse with warm fresh water -- not a happy camper.

When I fell in I soaked not only my clothes, shoes, belt, and jacket, but also my wallet and its full contents, along with everything else in my pockets.  After a rinse we had cash, cards, and other items spread around the house to dry for hours.  I'm happy to report that other than a couple of paper items in the wallet, everything recovered after a thorough wash, including the shoes, although they are a slight shade darker now.

Installing the new GPS proved nearly as traumatic as the cat rescue, with the boat fighting me at every turn.  It started with a complete re-wire of the NMEA junctions and multiplexers, due to the new GPS running at a higher data rate than the old one.  I tried several different configurations before settling on adding a switch so that the primary and backup GPS units can share a single input port.

As long as I had to run a whole new cable for the new unit, I also opted to mount it to the mast, whereas the old one was mounted to the frame for the flybridge soft top.  It's been a long-term goal to extricate all the permanent wiring that connects the mast to the soft top, preventing us from lowering the mast if needed.  I didn't want to add yet another cable that would have to be relocated later.

The new GPS on the mast spreader, between the GPS antenna for the AIS on the left, and a VHF antenna on the right.

That meant drilling holes for a new mount and the cable into the starboard mast spreader and fishing the cable down the mast.  The design of the mast forced me to disassemble yet more of the soft top to access the underside of the radar to finish fishing the cable.

That turned out to be fortuitous, as I discovered that the radar cable passes through a sharp hole without benefit of chafe protection.  The cable was abraded but not chafed through, and I added some chafe protection before closing it all back up.

Radar cable lacking chafe protection.  My new pull-line is zip-tied to it.

It took a full two and a half days, but the new antenna is installed and working.  We now have much more accurate position fixes and they are updated more rapidly than before.  The new unit, a Garmin, can receive not only the US GPS satellites, but also the Russian GLONASS system.

I also installed a much-needed indicator for the transformer circuit feeding the induction cooktop, and wrapped up assembly of our "hookah" dive compressor system for underwater boat maintenance and shallow-water diving.  We did all the paperwork to renew our boat documentation and insurance, and I ordered the parts to fix the Northstar plotter.

On the more pleasant side of things, we've been enjoying the great dining opportunities downtown, eating out most nights and also a couple of brunches.  We made it to the Saturday Market right across the street from the marina both weekends, and we took the little trolley tour of downtown for 50 cents apiece.  We also walked to the Dali museum with Martin and Steph.

The fancy roof of the Dali museum.  Today's cover photo is our part of the marina looking through some of these windows.

In a few minutes we will shove off from the dock here and head back over to the mooring field.  We're expecting a good deal of wind in the morning, and we'd rather not have to deal with getting off the dock in those conditions.  It's also a good deal less expensive.  The plan is to head down to Sarasota tomorrow via the ICW; we'll have good friends Ben and Karen aboard for the ride, and Blossom will follow us.

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