Road Trip And A Short Cruise

We're often asked to give presentations to boaters during their organization's meetings and rendezvous. While we lived in Maryland for two years, I had to travel to Florida often to give these presentations, and now that we have moved back to Florida, of course I was asked to be a speaker at the AGLCA Rendezvous in Norfolk, Virginia. Susan and I recently joined the AGLCA (America's Great Loop Cruisers' Association) in preparation for our Great Loop adventure, which by the way will begin in just six or seven short months, if all goes as planned. My presentation for the Rendezvous was to be cruising the Delaware Bay, New Jersey Coast and the Hudson River. Everyone seem enthused and very interested, and we received lots of positive comments afterward.

Our unofficial count of the members was over 100 and most would be making this part of the Great Loop trip for the first time. There were a few that had done the trip in the past, and many had some good questions on issues and navigational information to make the passage safely. Much of the presentation was on the challenges and how to overcome them rather than the Chamber of Commerce version of where to stop and what to do. We left them to research that type of information in their favorite cruising guides. We brought a Power Point presentation showing charts, distances, hazards and channels along the route. Susan prepared most of the charts for the presentation and did an excellent job.

Afterward, the presentation lunch was served and it gave the members time to have a great meal, discuss their plans and ask more questions. The Rendezvous was held at the Sheraton Waterside Hotel in Norfolk, Va. The food was very good and so were the accommodations, if not a bit on the expensive side. We had to pay for parking and internet service separately, something that has always been included at every other hotel in which we have stayed. The location is great and we had a view of the anchorage at Hospital Point in Norfolk from a different perspective.

After the presentation is always a good time to meet members one on one and try to answer any additional questions they might have. This is always my favorite part, especially since we are the newbees in the crowd and many of these folks have been members for many years. It also gives us the chance to meet folks that we will see along the waterways when we begin our own trip. It's also a great feeling when we can come away knowing that we have helped our fellow boaters, even in some small way. It's our pleasure any time we can share our years of experience on the water.

The time flew by and we found ourselves back in South Florida on Beach House and not yet ready to get back to work. Our friends at the marina were planning a trip to Panther Key, one of the many small Keys in the 10,000 Islands area where we currently reside. The trip was planned for the weekend we returned so we made the decision to join them for Saturday and Sunday. We have to leave and come back to the marina at high tide because of several shallow spots in the entrance channel. It worked out well since high tide on Saturday was about Noon and 1 PM on Sunday.

A houseboat, a sailboat and a trawler anchor off a beach... No, this isn't the beginning of a joke, but it was the sight that most boaters saw as they passed by during the weekend. The trip from the marina to Panther Key is a short one, but it winds through and past many beautiful mangrove-lined channels and bays that are all part of the National Wildlife Preserve. We have really enjoyed living in this area and this was our first chance to get out and enjoy the scenery on the boat since we arrived from Fort Myers. Our friends on their houseboat and another acquaintance on their sailboat had come down on Friday and had their anchorage spots picked out. There was still plenty of room for us and the water depths allowed us all to anchor very near the beach.

It was wonderful to get away from the dock and be out on the hook again. We would much prefer to be anchored than tied to a dock anytime. It's difficult to explain the feeling of greater freedom when you are secured by your own anchor with no one sitting on the other side of the finger pier. Given the choice, we would probably almost never put into a slip. But necessity makes it something we have to do for now, and will have to do from time to time while cruising. But when we are cruising, not speeding from one location to another, we usually reserve marina stops for re-provisioning,  laundry, washing the boat and getting out of very bad weather. Even the bad weather is more comfortable for us if we are anchored in a protected location.

One small project we were anxious to try out was the new electric dinghy winch that was installed on the mast. This is a compact but powerful 12-volt winch rated at 2,000 pounds, much more than the 100+ pound dinghy. This is an addition to the small crane we installed to lift the outboard. Because of recurring back problems, we wanted Susan to be able to launch and use the dinghy and outboard without any help from me if necessary. This new addition proved to be the perfect final piece of equipment.

The winch itself is mounted on the back side of the mast just under the boom. It has a handheld control that will reach the lower deck, and a short attachment of line between the dinghy and the winch cable makes this the most logical placement. The proper size wiring had to be run from the winch to the power supply under the flybridge helm station. Since the radar cable was already run to the same area, the winch wiring just followed the radar cable. The winch is through bolted with 3-inch stainless bolts through the mast and the backing mount for the winch.

I really didn't want to run wiring all the way to the main electrical panel because of the logistics and the need for such large wires to avoid major voltage drops. The flybridge has pretty heavy power cables run to provide power to the bridge so all that was needed was a circuit breaker. The winch now has its own independent circuit breaker mounted in a plastic electrical box with a cover plate, cut to fit the breaker and a breaker face plate. The buss bar was installed to attach the winch wiring, but also to clean up the wiring under the flybridge helm station. It always amazes me what previous owners have done to boats.

The switch is mounted just inside the door under the flybridge helm station where it's easy to get to, but not in the way. When we are using the winch, we just reach in and turn it on, and when we are finished, we just reach in and turn it off. The breaker is always off when we aren't using the winch. This solved the problem of a long wiring run, but it still gives the circuit protection. The breaker is sized for the winch. This was actually probably the easiest wiring job I have done so far on the boat. I love it when a plan comes together.

It was time for the first test and the verdict is in. Susan has declared it a total success. As I stood by and watched, she dropped the dinghy in the water from the davits on the swim platform with almost no effort at all. I think her response was, "Way cool." She next raised the outboard off the stern bracket and lowered it onto the dinghy transom. I did help with this and positioned it on the transom of the dinghy as it was being lowered, but the entire process was effortless and either one of us could handle it alone if needed. And that was the plan.

So off we went to hit the beach and do some socializing. Our friends had a day on us and had already found a substantial amount of dead wood for a bonfire on Saturday night. We had a great afternoon catching up and grilled dinner on the foredeck of our friend's houseboat. This is no small houseboat and measures over 70 feet. They bring it down to Panther Key often and put the bow up on the beach. One anchor on the beach and the other astern keeps it sitting almost beached. There was some roll in the anchorage with the afternoon seabreeze blowing off the Gulf of Mexico and the tide and current flowing out. We also had a sudden rainstorm while we were enjoying dinner and everyone had to scramble back to their boats to close all of the hatches and ports. Things didn't get too wet. That night there was a major bonfire and dancing on the beach.

Sunday morning broke beautiful and sunny. The remnants on the beach showed little of the night before. One of the attractions of this Key is the great white sandy beach that stretches along the west side. There is good shelling, and with Gulf water temperatures in the 80s, some good swimming. All of us used the warm water and protected location to do some bottom cleaning on the boats. Our friend John came by with his dive gear and kindly went under the boat and cleaned our prop and rudder. We knew from the vibration and performance of the boat coming down the waterway that it must have been pretty fouled. What a difference it made on the trip back. We don't get in the water at the marina to clean the bottom because there are alligators lurking nearby.

Everyone spent the day Sunday enjoying the weather and hanging out. Our acquaintances on the sailboat were leaving the marina and heading for the Florida Keys. They planned to spend some time in the Dry Tortugas before heading up the U.S. east coast to Maine. We shared some information on the Dry Tortugas since they had never been there before and we had made a couple of trips when we were based out of the Keys. Their puppy thoroughly enjoyed the beach as much as we did. It was a super day, but the tide was near high and that meant it was time to head back to the marina.

There are a few places where the channel depths are only about 3 feet at low tide. Even with our 4-foot draft, we would be running aground at low tide. There are only a couple of spots, but it only takes one to ruin your day. A casual trip back takes us a little over an hour. It helps to have the current running with us and it can reach over 2 knots when running at max ebb or flood. There is also a lot of wildlife to keep us entertained on the ride home and provide good photo ops. A great end to a restful, relaxing weekend. 


  1. Great winch idea my dinghy as well.. I had been pondering this for quite some time. I love stealing your great ideas! Thanks again,
    1978 34' CHB

    1. Erik, Glad to be of service. That's what the posts are for. Hope it works out. Chuck

  2. Chuck, I got the winch, switch and I too have power fairly close. Because my winch has a max amp rating of 90. I am wondering what size of wires I need to go from my switch to the winch. What size did you use? The length of the run will be about 15'

    1. Erik, I think that the max rating would be under max load and I doubt your winch will ever see that. The wire size will depend on the wire size of your attachment point in the bridge. In our case, the wire to the bridge is #4, I used #6 from the winch to the circuit breaker and #6 between the circuit breaker and the power source. It has been no problem so far and since we turn the breaker on and off like a switch to operate the winch, This is sufficient for our operation and the load the dinghy puts on the winch. Chuck


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