Monday, April 29, 2013

My Most Favorite


After work on Thursday, we're packing up and driving down to The Keys. I'll spend Friday afternoon in the conference call doldrums. Once work is complete, I will be free to work on Ms. Marisol and prepare for the weekend.

There will be a wedding to attend, paired with social obligations. There will be dancing and drinking and laughing.

More, nay, most importantly there will be sailing. I will get to fill the sails and spend some quality time on the water. And I will get to introduce two of my loves to each other.

Ms. Marisol this is Alligator Lighthouse

I've spent countless hours exploring the reef around Alligator Lighthouse. It's been my favorite destination in the world since childhood. We jump from the dock into clouds of millions of tiny fish and bubbles. I've heard some people have even gone past previously padlocked doors, climbed up ancient rusty old stairs, and breathed in salty panoramic views of Florida Bay and the Atlantic Ocean from the top of the light. The reef below a vivid clear green and white, snorkelers bob with the seas. If you're with law enforcement, the previous statement should not be considered a firsthand account of such an illegal activity.

I've sailed through unknown waters to get Ms. Marisol home to MM74 in the Keys. Now I get to enjoy home waters and some of my favorite things in a new way. Sailing.

Sunset at Alligator Reef - Photo by Tonya Wollard (c)

Monday, April 22, 2013

You Stay Bit

I've been home for about a week since the big cruise to Islamorada. In seven nights, I've had 5 dreams about sailing Miss Marisol. One night, I woke up and raised my hand to the ceiling to steady myself because I thought I was aboard. I nearly put my hand into the ceiling fan. I groggily stared at my daughters night light, trying to make sense of the view. What was it, and why was it on my boat?

Back to reality
Warning: Boring Tech Stuff Ahead

I discovered the joy of an automatic pilot system on our recent cruise. I have an old AutoHelm ST4000. Well, that's what the label says. I've been searching old manuals and believe it's actually an ST3000.

A motor drives a belt which is attached to the steering wheel on one side and an electronic compass on the other. The belt is held on to the motor with a plastic cap. Still with me? OK, so the cap cracked in half and fell off during our cruise.

My brother figured out how to reattach the cap with glue. This fix didn't last long. Next we glued them together AND wrapped it together with electrical and duct tapes. Success! Our system stayed together for the remainder of our trip.

Now I'm pouring over old files online looking for parts numbers and hoping to replace the cap. I've had a taste of AutoHelm, and there's no going back. If you can help me identify the part and acquire one, I would be greatful.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Exciting Conclusion of Port Charlotte to Islamorada (part 2)

The days blur together. At 11:00 p.m. Saturday night we were making great time. The navigation software (Navionics) had an ETA in Islamorada by 9:34 a.m. Sunday. During my turn on watch, I allowed the autohelm to run the boat and took an incredible shower on deck under a billion stars using our solar shower (a black bag which gets hot equipped with a spout). We had left the sky-glow of Marco Island behind while Miami's glow was on the horizon. At midnight, I gave my brother Brandon the watch and hit the bunk for some much needed rest.
12:45 a.m. My brother alerts me to new wind, he wants to raise the mainsail. I'm disoriented and it takes me a moment to grasp his request. I inspect the wind direction/speed and sails. He's right, we could add another 2 kts. if we raised the mainsail. But once again our halyards (lines which raise/lower sails) are caught on built in ladder steps on the mast. I'm too tired to figure it out. I go back to bed feeling happy with our current speed.

2:00 a.m. I'm on watch. Over the next hour I dodge several miles worth of crab trap buoy's. These little floating balls may seem insignificant to the non-boater. If struck, they can get wrapped around the propeller and drive shaft and cause a lot of damage. I'm on edge.

3:00 a.m. Wind speed is increasing and shifting. Dead ahead. I shift our course slightly and try sailing as close to the wind as possible. The wind seems to be coming from everywhere. Our progress is rapidly slowing. I spend the next hour dodging buoy's and write a love letter to my wife. The contents are none of your business. All you need to know is that I love her dearly. I check the weather. VHF says 5 kts. from the South. WRONG again.

I remember being excited that 5:00 a.m. was soon. Because 5 is a morning time, and morning means daylight. I'm so very tired of spotlights and crab buoys.

Sunrise finds us 2 miles west of Cape Sable, the southern most point of the US mainland. No cell reception or response to radio checks. My poor old yanmar diesel is pushing us slowly, but we are noticing oil in the exhaust. I'm seriously starting to worry about overworking the motor. We are beginning to feel trapped. Brandon is getting agitated and impatient.

Burning too much diesel fuel, we turn off the motor and raise the main sail on a course SSW. We spend two hours tacking downwind and back. We only make about 1.5 miles progress up the channel. 

Brandon is a power boater. He's convinced we can skirt the shoals along Sandy Key and Oxfoot Bank. We spend another hour working our way towards East Cape and the shoals. The incredible tides aren't cooperating. It seems incoming tide goes to the Gulf of Mexico AND outgoing tide goes to the Gulf of Mexico. Brandon pushes the diesel hard and we burn a lot of fuel. No real progress. We're tired and cranky and need a solution. Brandon really wants to get home or at least make contact with family. He's done with sailing at this point. Our options:
  1. Sail back to Shark River. Anchor and wait for better winds and tide.
  2. Sail 11 hours back to Marco Island.
  3. Sail SW, Many miles off course to Big Pine Key.
We sail on to Big Pine Key and the great unknown. It was a bouncy beam reach cruise. The diesel was finally off and I was sailing at 5.4 kts. At Big Pine Key the wind was still gusting at 20-30 kts, so I took advantage of my unlimited-towing TowBoat US Membership and got an assist up to Marathon and a cute little bayside motel called Kingsail Resort. It was a welcome respite.

The forecast called for more of the same winds, so it's a good thing they are completely inaccurate. My dad joined me for the final leg and we had a very pleasant 4.5-hour cruise to Lower Matecumbe Key. The time of arrival was 3:00 p.m. Monday, if you're keeping track of such things. 

I felt triumphant. I put 250 nautical miles under the keel with some help from my brother and dad. This was the culmination of countless hours of study and ASA sailing school. We overcame some minor adversity and got to know a lot about Miss Marisol. I'm now looking forward to a fun summer exploring the Keys with Miss Marisol.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Port Charlotte to Islamorada - Part 1

Well before dawn, my brother Brandon and I awoke in Port Saint Lucie, FL. We finished loading a rental car and began a 2 hour drive to Port Charlotte. Once in P.C. we made a last minute visit to West Marine and also filled our diesel and ice capacity. Let the grand adventure begin.

Departure: 10:20 a.m.
Winds: 10-15 knots from the SW
Our heading: SW

As we sailed into Charlotte Harbor, I was impressed once again by the vastness. I cannot see the far shores of this river. We spent hours tacking back and forth against the wind and finally turned south onto the Intercoastal Waterway as the sun slipped behind Cayo Costa State Park. Going inside was everything we had hoped. The choppy seas abated, and the wind finally cooperated. Near Captiva Island we hit a new record top speed of 7.1 nautical miles per hour for Miss Marisol. This was on a beam reach plus 1000 rpm's from the diesel.

Corn on the cob and pork chops hit the grill while couscous with okra and corn was prepared in the galley. We capped it all off with a swig of rum from the bottle, in honor of Miss Marisol's previous owner. Norm recently passed away, and his widow Frances gave me his last bottle of Rum. We sailed on into the night with the on our beam, arriving in Fort Myers Beach at 11:30 p.m. We took a mooring ball there (it's like an anchor, only it's permanent. Boats can tie up to them out on the water) and slept about 6 hours. On Day 1, we sailed 62.5 nautical miles.
Day 2 we departed Fort Myers beach with the sunrise. Winds were slight and we motored mostly, towards Naples. We used our AutoHelm (autopilot) for the first time. It's incredible and makes long voyages better. Wind picked up past Naples and we motor sailed on to Marco Island where we topped off our ice, diesel, and water. If I were to name the place, I would have named Marco Island "Baby Dolphin Bay." We saw at least 12 Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins and most were babies. ADORABLE.

From Marco Island, we sailed on into the night with plans of rotating the watch and sleeping in shifts to make Shark River by dawn. Don't miss my next post for the exciting conclusion.

Sunday, April 7, 2013


When I purchased Miss Marisol last month, I decided that keeping a slip in Port Charlotte, FL was not practical. The trip from Orlando by car should take around 3 hours in theory. That theory has yet to be confirmed as accidents on I-4 and brush fires near I-75 have caused hours of delays during commutes to the new boat.

I work in sales and spend a considerable amount of time driving the roads of Florida. Over the years, I've joked with my wife about my driving and compared it to knowing the tides and navigating a tall ship. When I turn north from Miami, I calculate rush hour in Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Melbourne, and Orlando before deciding on the best route.

I'm now an actual Captain. Well, I'm at least a skipper. I'm planning a 160 nautical mile trip from Port Charlotte to Islamorada. Although I've spent a considerable amount of time aboard boats, this is my first voyage as Captain.

Although this trip is intimidating, I feel like I've been preparing for it for a very long time. I've challenged myself this year to step up and make my sailing daydreams a reality. I went to ASA sailing school. I bought the boat. I've spent hours studying. And I downloaded too many navigation apps.

Next Friday, my brother and I will pull away from the dock and begin a 3-4 day journey. This is happening. Finally.

Saturday, April 6, 2013


Ships Log: March 2013

I'm Ryan Wollard, and I love sailing. I'm the product of multiple generations who took to the sea. My family tree includes innovative boat builders, fishing captains, and a rum runner.

Although I was raised power boating, I have always been drawn to sailing. This blog will capture my adventures aboard the new family sailboat, Miss Marisol.

I plan to make videos of the adventures and share them here with a little background information. This is my first video. It was part of the tour which lead to us purchasing Miss Marisol (a Watkins 27 built in 1978 in St. Petersburg, FL)

Come aboard for some adventures on the sea.

Capt. Ryan