January 30, 2009 – Alafia River

I just finished my last conference call around 4:30 Friday afternoon I have such an itch to get out on the water. The weather forecast for tomorrow is for cold weather – we might make it to 60 degrees. It’s been a long, tough week, with some torrential rains on Thursday and this morning. Just gotta get away.

It’s kinda cool outside now, but not too bad – a fleece jacket, pair of shorts, sandals, and I’m ready. I hitch up the boat in a couple of minutes and head out of the driveway.

After just a few seconds, something doesn’t seem quite right – a tickling in the back of my mind. I pull over and slowly bring my truck & boat to a stop. Wow. I’d forgotten to close the latch on the trailer hitch. That would have been a disaster.

The one glitch of the outing resolved, off I go again.

Since it’s so late and the sun is going to set just after 6PM, I head over to the ramp on the Alafia River, only about 10 miles away.

The place is deserted except for a single trailer – no boat to be seen – and a couple of people fishing the docks.

The wind is brisk, but not too strong, and I easily launch the boat and am on the water.

I swing by some of the sailboats that are always anchored about 100 yards from the boat launch. They’re always there. I’ve never seen one leave, but there are a couple of new ones in the group. Many are in sad shape, and one has managed to break its anchor line and has washed up on the shore by the mangroves.

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As I swing around another of the boats I see that it’s for sale. $2500.

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Perhaps not a bad price, but who knows how long it’s been sitting here unattended. It has a rusty, barnacle-encrusted little outboard on the back. All the rigging would probably have to be replaced. Funny, there’s no phone number or contact info. Perhaps I’m supposed to tape a note with my name & number, asking them to call me.

But I don’t.

I do wonder about the boats though. Most have been there for a long time. One looks about ready to sink, and right beside it is a nice, clean, newer looking boat.

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Are they paying someone to anchor their boats here? Or is this just an extremely rare place left in Florida where one can anchor a boat for free long-term? Is it just a matter of time before someone official decides they should all be moved?

I leave the sailboats, still pondering their fate, and head up river for a slow tour.

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After crossing under the bridge, I follow a route near the shore, looking at some of the boats on the docks. I check my depth finder and see the water is very shallow – too shallow for some of the motor boats on the docks to have made it in. How’d they get there? I move along slowly.

My mind wanders but the irregular sound from my engine brings me quickly back to the moment. I throw the boat into neutral & check the depth finder. Blinking. Less than one foot below the keel. I adjust the jack plate, and tilt the motor so I only need about 6 inches of draft. Fortunately the bottom here is a few inches of silt – no rocks. No damage to the propeller

I turn around & head back towards deeper water. I’ve lowered the engine again, just a bit. I pass yet another crab pot marker and suddenly hear a grinding noise.

Shoot. I stop the motor, raise it up, and hey! there’s a crab pot. Wrapped around my propeller. Jeez – I hope I don’t have to get into the water to get loose. The water’s really cold… about 63 degrees according to my gauges.

Luckily I’m able to untangle the crab pot from the propeller using my push pole. I bump the engine for a moment to turn the prop, and don’t see any damage to any of the blades. Whew. Images of calling BoatUS had been flashing through my mind. That would have been embarrassing. 

I put the engine into very shallow water mode again, and keep it that way until I see 4 feet on the depth finder.

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The sun is starting to set as I make my way back to the dock. What breeze there was has died down, so loading the boat is simple as can be. I park off to the side – just a habit… there’s nobody else around waiting – and hook up the trailer lights and start to put on the hold-down straps.

I look up and see at least 100 blackbirds sitting on a power line far above my head. They look like they’re set for the night. Cool.

I check my lights – but for some reason the running lights on the trailer aren’t coming on. The break lights & turn signals still work, but not the running lights. Crud. I grab some WD-40, spray the connections, but that doesn’t help. Ah well. I’ll just tap my breaks a lot so folks behind be will see the boat & trailer.

Just then, something startles the birds. All of them take flight. I hear plopping noises. Crap! Literally! Luckily none of it lands on me, but the boat takes a couple of direct hits.

The drive back to the house is uneventful. The drivers behind me gave me plenty of room though. No tailgating. I guess my random, frequent tapping on the breaks made them a bit uncertain of my driving skills.

I flush out the motor and put the boat away. Hop on the internet to check the wiring diagram for a 4-pin trailer wiring plug and see that it’s the brown wire that connects to the running lights. But I don’t know if the problem is on the truck side or on the trailer side.

So now I have a little project to do while it’s so cold this weekend. Oh, besides watching the Australian Open finals and the Super Bowl.

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