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Seeing an old friend

Thursday, April 26, 2007
Log: 1828
Clearwater, Florida 

When I last spoke to you, dear reader, George Broughton and I had run into rough seas trying to cross the Gulf from Appalachicola to Clearwater and we had turned back, leaving the boat in Carabelle, Florida and coming home to regroup. The lovely Laura Lee herself volunteered to try the Gulf crossing with me and we came back to Carabelle last Sunday to give it a try.

It looked like the best weather for the crossing was going to be Tuesday, so we developed a plan to “stage” our departure by leaving the marina Monday afternoon and anchoring out near the pass so we could get an early start for a long day Tuesday. All was well until we tried to leave and the engine wouldn’t start. I was convinced that it was not getting fuel so I changed the two fuel filters but still had no luck. On a whim, I pressed and released the “engine stop” button and, bingo, the engine roared to life. The stop button apparently had stuck and not allowed the engine to start.

After finally getting away, our plan was great except that we followed the advice of a marina employee as to where to anchor and ended up in a very exposed and rolly place just as the sun was setting Monday night. As we sat and tried to avoid getting seasick, the lovely Laura Lee tried to adjust the dining table which doesn’t fit its stand and ended up badly pinching her finger. She sat with it on ice the remainder of the evening.

The swell slowly got better and we had a good dinner and turned in for the short night’s rest. I got up at 3:30 a.m. and at 4 a.m. began carefully navigating out of our anchorage in the dark. It was tense going until I began to get first light around 5:45.

Our read on the weather turned out to be perfect and we only dealt with one to two-foot seas all day. The only problem was that Steel Magnolia is incredibly slow. Normally, the speed thing has not been a problem for me. I enjoy cruising and we simply plan to go 50 or 60 nautical miles in seven or eight hours a day and enjoy the ride. But a crossing of about 135 nautical miles makes for a very long day. We averaged about 7.5 knots and took just over 18 hours, arriving at an anchorage outside Tarpon Springs at 10 p.m. Tuesday night. Whew!

We ate a late dinner and went to sleep and got up Wednesday morning and moved about three hours south to Clearwater. As we came around the corner entering Clearwater Municipal Marina, I looked out to my left and saw a very familiar old friend…it was the Fleming 55’ which I owned for seven years from 1993 to 2000. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I first recognized the distinctive lines of a Fleming and then gradually began to notice things that only my boat had…a custom hard top over the bridge, six antennae for the various communications systems on board, etc. etc. I sold the boat in 2000 to an old friend Sam Dixon who enjoyed it for many years. He then sold it to someone who moved it down to Puerto Rico and later back to the Chesapeake Bay. Apparently, it was bought fairly recently by someone who keeps it here in Clearwater. 

So here I sit tonight, looking out the back door at a boat from the past. Laura Lee and I have a lot of great memories on that boat, but I wouldn’t want it back. We could never sleep well with the master bedroom setup it had. The engine room required acrobatics that are impossible at my age now. And my recollection is that she ran at 15 to 16 knots burning 32 gallons per hour. We go much slower now at eight knots, but we only burn five or six gallons per hour. One half the speed and one sixth the fuel. With diesel fuel now running close to $3.00 per gallon compared to 50 cents per gallon back then, I’m happy to putter along on Steel Magnolia.

The lovely Laura Lee headed home today, obviously frustrated at some of the difficulties of a long delivery trip on what is still a “fixer-upper”. But she was a trooper to help out with this difficult part of the trip. I’ll move the boat on alone to Sarasota tomorrow and Saturday, and Early Uncle Randy joins me Sunday in Sarasota to head on down to the Florida keys.

I’ll keep you posted. Stay tuned as Steel Magnolia completes her epic voyage from Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin to Savannah, Georgia. 

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