Voyage Into the Crystal River Abyss

What comes to mind when I say “Crystal River?” Sounds like a nice place, yes? Sounds like clear waters to me. I imagined sunshine, blue skies, the sound of birds. I was going to see manatees as I kayaked around the area. I was so looking forward to Crystal River. I’ve decided, however, that it might be bewitched.

We knew we’d have a long day the day we headed out to Crystal River. We knew as we headed into the inlet to the marina that it could be quite shallow. Rick had done all the calculations and was sure we’d be able to get in. And we did. (Bet you were expecting something else altogether. Go ahead. You can admit it. You had no faith in us.)

We did get in fine, but we had to go very slowly because it was so shallow. Speed up and the back end drops a little, leaving the possibility of the props touching bottom. We hit the inlet at about 5:00 and estimated it would take about an hour further. The sun was setting and as I have reiterated more than once, we don’t operate in the dark. We had until 6:15 or so before the sun would be down and a little while longer before we’d really hit black.

I checked the map. Our marina was the farthest in from the mouth of the inlet. The buoy lines kept us in a narrow channel and the local boats were zipping around us. We passed several marinas, but none were deep enough for our boat. I felt obligated to remind Rick that the sun was dropping (because he couldn’t possibly know, himself).  In fact, I felt it my duty to do so about every ten minutes. God, he’s a patient man. We were following another boat, but they were quite a bit ahead of us and with the twisting and turning of the waterway, we had no visual most of the time.

It took us until about 6:30 before we saw the marina. We had been assigned a specific slip, but couldn’t read any slip numbers. Our friends stopped at the fuel dock to investigate while we hung back. Finally, they waved us to a pier and grabbed our lines as we slipped in. We grabbed their lines as they moved around the corner from us. They explained our designated slip was just wide enough for us, but there was a piling towards the front of the slip that was angled enough to make it impossible for us to fully enter it. We were on a pier again. There was no one in the office this late, so we parked and figured we talk to them in the morning.

Rick and I went about setting up the boat. Rick retied the lines (as he always does). We hooked up the water line but found we couldn’t use the electric; it wasn’t the right amperage. We decided to use the generator for that night and then see what the office said. I was not pleased about paying for a slip and then having to use the generator.

The next day we learned our designated slip was the only spot available for the electric hook-up we needed. We would stay on the pier. In the meantime, we walked to West Marine to see about an pigtail, but none were in stock. We settled for an adapter that would allow us to plug an extension cord into the available electric socket. We plugged it into a power strip for the fridge, coffeemaker and phone cords. That night, we pulled out our camping lantern, but the batteries were dead. We had no other batteries. We had no candles. We used flashlights and the few lights on the 12-volt system that always work regardless of electricity availability. We went to bed early. The next day we were driving to Orlando for a trip to Universal Studios and once back, we would be leaving. So, it wasn’t quite as bad as it could have been. Or so I thought. Bwa-ha-ha-ha!

Upon our return, the waves were at 4-6 feet offshore, which was more than we wanted to battle. So, we stayed another day. Then, the bottom dropped out. The wind switched to the Northeast and pushed the water out of the basin. We were literally sitting on the bottom in mud. The keel kept our props safe and being tied to the dock kept us upright in just a few feet of water. But here’s the thing. To run the generator AND TO FLUSH THE TOILET, we needed to draw water in. So, no more generator and no toilet flushing until the tide came up. Unfortunately, we realized this the hard way by flushing the toilet and having mud fill the toilet bowl. Sigh. Talking with people from Crystal River, we learned this periodically happened, but that this was the worst they’d ever seen. Lucky us. When the tide did come up, it wasn’t enough to safely navigate out. For six days, we waited for the wind to shift. Six days of waking up and having to walk to the communal bathroom, or wait until the tide rose to “go.” (As an aside, I don’t understand why so many of my posts revolve around bathrooms.)

We did order an adapter that allowed us to plug in and have some power (30 amps instead of 100 amps), giving us the ability to cook, watch TV, and take hot showers. We just couldn’t do everything at once. It took planning. If I wanted to shower at night, I needed to turn on the water heater. To do that, I needed to be done with the oven and wait about a half hour. Argh! It was a pain. Still, we got into a routine.

Then the toilets stopped flushing properly even at high tide. Was the mud clogging it up? Nope. One of the house batteries was almost dead. Rick charged it, but it lost that charge overnight. We weren’t sure if it was the battery or the on-board charger reading it wrong. After much deliberation, we decided we needed to suck it up and buy a new battery. West Marine didn’t stock it. The marina parts store didn’t stock it. Rick found one at Napa Auto Parts.

Friends offered to help remove the old one. This was no easy task. The battery weighed, I’m guessing, about 100 pounds. It was under the floors in the engine room. To gain access, Rick crawled to it and dragged it to the open hatch. He took one side, Joe took the other, and they hoisted it onto a step and then to the floor of the main salon onto a furniture pad. They dragged the pad/battery across the floor to the stair that lead to the aft deck. Again, each took a side and they hoisted it up each step and onto a furniture pad on the aft deck. They dragged it to the door and hoisted it off the boat. When you need low tide it’s not there, so the drop from the deck to the pier gave them pause. Eventually, it was off the boat and on a borrowed dolly. Only a few injuries; Rick cut himself and Joe pulled something in his leg.

It was off to Napa, followed by the reverse to place the new one. I did not witness this, as I went to the laundromat where I was treated to the sights of a barefoot man hauling six jumbo garbage bags of clothes through the place. When I returned, we had a new battery in place and all was right in toilet land (except, of course, for the unresolved low tide issue).

Shortly after that, the communal bathroom ran out of TP. And some jackass missed the toilet bowl. And our refrigerator went out. Dead.  At first, I was a little giddy. I get a new refrigerator! I HATED the old one. It was some off brand. It was tiny. And white. We measured our space. I just had to find one that fit into the space. Sigh. Irritatingly difficult. It would still be an “apartment” size, but I could get a black or stainless one. I found a Fridgidare (name brand—score!). Home Depot’s website said it was in stock (double score!). We hitched a ride with our friends.

Here’s the thing: Home Depot LIES on their website. They didn’t have that refrigerator. They didn’t have ANY refrigerator that fit our space. (This happened once before when I tried to buy a convection oven that was on sale. It may have been on sale, but it wasn’t in stock.). They couldn’t get it in time for us.

We knew in two days we’d have the winds we needed to get out of the hellishness that Crystal River had turned into for us. We weren’t waiting for a delivery on a refrigerator. We’d have one delivered when we got to Ft. Myers. Our friends came to the rescue once again, loaning us several heavy-duty coolers for storage.

We had been checking weather, wind, and tides for days and saw our opportunity open for Wednesday. Tuesday night we double-checked and were disturbed to note the possibility of fog (now that the wind was gone). But we couldn’t leave until nine or so anyway, because it would be normal low tide until then making the channel inaccessible to us. We went to bed, hoping for the best.

Wednesday morning was bright and windless. We were sucking mud, but were hoping to leave on time. We finally left at 10:20, which meant we’d make Shell Island (a very shallow area) in time for high tide and our destination before sunset. Perfect. Things were looking up.


4 thoughts on “Voyage Into the Crystal River Abyss”

  1. Hi Rick and Linda:
    We had such a fun evening with you last week – the restaurant was great, the boat was amazing and the two of you – fabulous!! We just loved hearing about your travels and can’t wait to join you for a couple of pirate adventures. We will continue to live vicariously through your blog – I am so jealous and can’t wait to have that “loving retirement look” too.
    Hope to see you soon,
    Brian, Michele and David
    David is available this summer if you need a deck hand – he can sleep on the poop deck!

    1. It was great to see you too! I’m not sure about “living vicariously” through my blog–have you read any of the posts yet? It’s been exciting but not necessarily in the good way. Ha! Ha! Let us know when you’re coming back to Ft. Myers and we’ll make up a bed. We’ll let you know about David’s help. The summer plans are to be more north away from hurricanes, but everything seems to take longer than we expect. 😉 What types of things is he willing to do? You know, he could also just come to hang out (although it might be a bit boring).

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