Archive for March, 2011

Guest blog: Sailing the Florida wilderness

Friday, March 25th, 2011

Ida Little and Michael Walsh, co-authors of “Beachcruising and Coastal Camping,” sailed with me for a few days in February. Ida graciously submitted the following essay and photos about the trip.

I remember lying on the cabin sole of our little canoe cruiser listening to the ‘gators growl. It was spring and love was in the air. This spring Michael and I were aboard Thorfinn, re-living the wild life of Florida Bay.  After taking a swim off Cape Sable, there were mutterings to us about crocs in the water.

Michael Walsh and Thor Emory

Michael and Thor swapping tall tales below.

One of the reasons Michael and I were so eager to join Thor on his recon of the south Florida waters was the chance to get up close with wildlife and far away from signs of civilization. Warnings of gators, snakes, panthers were the enticements for us to come cruising.

We set out from Marathon, the four of us, Thor, Austin, Michael and myself. Michael and I had previously met Thor at his shop in Maine, and again at the Newport Boat Show. Austin Matheson, Thor’s good buddy, we met the night before we set sail. By the following night a stranger would have thought we’d all been buddies going ‘way back. Finding two people who laugh about wearing a sponge for a hat is like finding a boat that can sail the shallows and also be a home. Pretty special.

What I hadn’t expected was for the Thorfinn to be so fast. Michael and I are used to sailing shoal draft boats that are challenged to break the 4 knot barrier. With Thorfinn, we were cranking along at 6 knots in a gentle wind, which we thought was fast, but then Thor hoisted the mizzen staysail and we stepped up to 8, 9, 10 knots as the breeze freshened. I looked at Michael, laughing about fastening our seat belts. I’m not in a hurry. But arriving at a nice anchorage or destination sooner rather than later got to be pretty addictive. I may be ruined now for any boat without Presto’s speed.

Michael Walsh, Thor Emory aboard Thorfinn

Thor and Michael running the mangrove gauntlet.

At Cape Sable we anchored the stern to the beach with the bow faced out, and stepped ashore. Thor’s friends from Outward Bound happened to be camping on the beach so our evening turned to camaraderie with like minded souls. The Bounder boats served as models for the Presto 30, seaworthy, easy to handle, fast, commodious. But I was glad to be on Thorfinn with a snug cabin and an even snugger V Berth. Thor and Austin let me and Michael have the Honeymoon Berth, being a couple; one of the blessings of marriage.

That night I lay awake listening to the lap lap lap of wavelets against the shore, the barred owls asking Who Cooks for You??? and sneaky crocodiles knocking against the hull waiting for the first swimmer of the morning.

The winds blew our way from Cape Sable all the way to Ft Myers. Our own personal energy source for sailing into the Little Shark River, through Oyster Bay, back out another winding river, and northward once again through the Ten Thousand Islands. We knew it was special, being out there with cypress, mangrove, wading birds, osprey, eagles and kingfishers, without another boat in sight for miles (the overpopulated coast northward would drive the appreciation home). For the present, we played our way through a sanctuary all our own, and anchored at night beside an uninhabited island.

I reckon Michael and I could have stayed for a long long time in among these islands. Indian Cay and Panther Cay were only two of the keys we walked and explored for hours, and they were both worthy of poking around for days. In a few hours we found spines of some unidentified sea creature, heard the crackle of a wild creature in the bush (raccoon? panther?), ran our hands over the bones of old trees, whitened into beach sculptures by time and the elements. I watched an ant clean itself from a small water drop clinging to a leaf. Where else do we take time to really see?

Thor Emory at the rudder

Our fearless captain shoots us across the shoals

And I guess that goes for the Seafood Festival show at Everglades City. I did stop to watch the Shark Ride and admire the newest in tattoos, listen to some country music, and watch the fishing boats slide back into the harbor.

But my heart is in the wilds, and next morning we left all the trappings of town behind in less than an hour and anchored that night just off the beach at Panther Key. With a breeze keeping the bugs at bay, we made dinner, drank wine, watched the sun go down and swapped stories. Almost forty years ago we wrecked our boat Sheldrake in the Bahamas, sat ashore on the beach that night wondering how we could cruise beautiful wild places without fear of shipwreck and without anchoring so far away from shore.

With Thorfinn Expeditions, we’re continuing to live the life we dreamed of then. Better yet, we get to be with Thor, who is fun, willing to veer off at (almost) every whim, at play while seriously at the helm and watching the weather and our course and the wildlife. Besides everything else, we felt safe as well as entertained. I’d sail anywhere with Thor.

The Miami International Boat Show

Friday, March 4th, 2011
Thorfinn at the Miami International Boat Show

Docked at the boat show

Going from the Keys to Miami is a real contrast. The slow pace of the Keys is replaced with the hustle and bustle of a big urban environment. Miami is a great area to sail out of. Biscayne Bay offers super sailing and the weather cannot be beat- 80 degrees, sunny, and good breeze. Not bad by northern winter standards.

The Miami Boat Show was a good experience. We were right in the hub for sailboats at Bayside. The Presto 30 definitely stood out. Most of the other sailboats were big cruising catamarans and monohulls. The amount of space, complexity, and expense of these craft boggle my mind. The Presto 30 is more of a sport/adventure cruiser. It is fun, well-built, and transportable (LOW maintenance too). It appeals to someone who enjoys a simple, intimate experience with the environment and the other people aboard, it is perfectly suited to Florida and the Bahamas and our goal for the show was to expose the public to this new design and find some buyers. On the Thorfinn Expeditions end it was also a good opportunity to talk with folks about our sailing programs.

We met some great people at the show and it was fun to wander docks and tents to look at the boats and the latest gear. One boat I really liked was the Corsair 24, a trailerable trimaran. It would be a blast to sail and there is enough room below for a couple of folks to cruise…very quickly.

Aboard Thorfinn

Some new friends out for a boat demo

The show lasted 5-days. Belle Ryder, the builder, and I spent a lot of time soaking up the sun and discussing the various attributes of Thorfinn. A select group of interested sailors decided to join us for our demo sails that we offered after the show back in Coconut Grove, out of Scotty’s Landing.

We did two days of demo sailing and took out about 20 people. Many were experienced local sailors and it was fun to learn more about the scene on Biscayne Bay. There was a good amount of interest in the Thorfinn Expeditions’ programs and I hope to sail with some of these people again on a multi-day trip or day sail.

After the show, it was time to relax with my family. Sarah, Finn and Carver flew in from Maine and we had five days to explore. A highlight was a sail over to Key Biscayne. We found an isolated beach and pulled Thorfinn ashore. After a month apart, it was fantastic to share a beautiful day swimming, laughing, and sailing.

Next Up

Currently I am back in Maine. There is a lot of snow and the temps tonight are forecasted to be below zero. I have to admit that I miss Florida. In eleven days I am headed back down for a couple of more trips. In early April we are going to load Thorfinn back on the trailer and head out on our North American Tour. We will visit California, The Northwest, and the Great Lakes before returning to Maine in mid-May. It will be an incredible experience full of adventure. Please join us if you can!

Solo trip from Marathon to Miami

Friday, March 4th, 2011

Thor solo sailing Thorfinn - video -

After wrapping up a couple of trips that allowed us to explore the Keys, Florida Bay, the Ten Thousand Islands and Everglades National Park it was time to book it up to Miami for the International Boat Show.

I departed Marathon, in the mid-Keys, on a blustery morning and headed up Hawk Channel. The N-NNE winds were pumping at 20-30 knots for the first few hours. The trip was around 100 nautical miles door to door, and I knew that I was in for an upwind bash.

Sailing singlehanded is a blast. I enjoy the need to be self-reliant and the challenge that comes from having to do everything yourself. When I was 20, I was dismasted 250 miles offshore enroute from North Carolina to the Caribbean. The rigging failure was just bad luck, but the experience increased my respect for the unexpected. Thorfinn is well set up for sailing solo. All the rigging lines are close at hand. The only equipment I am currently missing is a tiller drive autopilot, and when I left Marathon I was unsure how long I could hand steer on the way to Miami. The actual distance I would have to sail was double because it was all to be upwind. I would have to tack back and forth to make ground to windward.

To get ready, I Ioaded a couple of thermoses with coffee, stowed some granola bars along with water and tucked a big container of peanut butter close at hand. When I first hit Hawk Channel and sheeted in close to the wind I felt the full brunt of the wind and seas. I considered turning around and loading the boat on the trailer. I was heeled over to the rail and really bashing into the waves. I began short tacking the shoreline along the Keys and that gave me some respite from the seas and my velocity made good increased.

Eventually conditions moderated. I shook out my reefed (shortened sail) and the waves calmed. By locking the tiller extension into a socket on the cockpit coaming I was able to get the boat to steer itself which was a godsend. I would physically tack the boat and then turn it back over to Thorfinn. I spent the rest of the day and well into the night zigzagging along the Keys. The sunset was gorgeous that night and the moon rose to light my way. The wind tapered off even more around midnight but the timing was good. I closed in on Angel Fish Creek around 2 a.m. and dropped the anchor in a quiet side creek. It felt real good to hit my bunk after 19 hours of sailing.

The next morning I was up early and underway. I crossed into Biscayne Bay and spent the rest of the morning sailing over the shallow sun-lit bay. The skyline of Miami came into view and for the next couple of hours I witnessed the growth of the buildings. Before long was moored off of the Coconut Grove Sailing Club, which has guest moorings for $20 a night and 24-hour launch service. I highly recommend stopping there! All in all it was a great solo sail from Marathon. It was a fun push.