A Travellerspoint blog

March 2010

Marathon, 2010

We had been calling the city marina in Marathon, FL, every few days to see if there were any places for another boat, ours! After about 16 days in Key West, about 9 more than the visit required, slots opened up so we bolted on Tuesday and headed east, making the trip in one day with daylight to spare.

The first night here we had a miracle, something that had never happened in my month in 2009: a hot shower. The new bath house had opened and they must have more hot water capacity than the three old showers had because last year if the water was within 15 degrees of 98.6 it was a very good shower. They also have a new, second dinghy dock and a new laundry room. Pretty upscale compared to last year, but still a bargain for a secure mooring.

Even with the crowd of boats having thinned out, there are still lots of boats here. I had forgotten how close together the mooring balls are. It's rather like being in a city tenement ... when you see another boat through a porthole, without any spatial perspective, it seems that there will have to be a collision; there never is but it's still always a surprise.

We recognized some of the same boats from last year in the same locations. Judging by the number of cars in the parking lot there must be a lot of folks who "live" here full time on their boats. Most of the people we've met have been very nice and pleasant. Some of the full timers seem to take a very proprietary sense of ownership about the marina, i.e. it's theirs. These defenders of the faith are always ready to point out an interloper's infractions and failings, real or perceived, with all the sensitivities of the average Torquemada but without the good manners and breeding. Hopefully we will not be here too long.

All sailboats are beautiful, some are just more beautiful than others. All have the look, all have the line where form and function combine to capture the wind and to master the water. I cannot say the same for this boat. It is truly ugly; if it had a mother, its mother would think it's ugly. On the other hand, it's probably a wonderful boat, designed from the inside out. http://greatharbourtrawlers.com/gh37.html

One of the many things I thought never to see on a sailboat, let alone a dinghy, is this: a wheel chair. There is a story behind this, a 10 year old boy with a very rare degenerative disease. It must take an unusual amount of courage to undertake such a journey. But what a triumph .... living the life you choose to live instead of the one conventional wisdom dictates. Carol actually met the boy while all were at the grocery store and talked with him for a while. http://www.migo.ca/spip.php?article42

Of course, today, March 25th, was special: Carol's birthday. As her mother related the story, and she should know, after all, Carol was born on March 25th, 1946 which means that Carol is now 64. Carol was a birthday princess with her little birthday princess tiara and her special gift T-shirt, purchased for 1/2 price at the local Salvation Army Store. We celebrated with Jay and Sue going out to a newish restaurant on the water, a very nice evening.

Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I'm sixty-four.
The Beatles


Now that Spring is here, we're hoping for a weather window of some kind before too very long. We've checked and there are some possible "buddy boats" with whom we might sail. Regardless, we're going to the Bahamas and getting the stamp on our brand new passports. The next blog entry, whenever it comes, will be from The Bahamas.

Posted by sailziveli 17:30 Comments (1)

Key West Farrago

Anyone, and everyone, who has ever owned a boat more complicated than a canoe or a rowboat has learned a certain, ineluctable truth: that boats are needful things which is why from the first days that men went down to the sea to sail on them, boats have always been referred to as SHE, never it, never him. With a single mistress to serve, the boat, sailors traditionally have considered that any other women were bad luck on boats, except naked women (they were sailors, after all). A naked woman was said to calm the seas, which is why many old ships have a naked woman carved into the bow sprit. All that being said, I have not yet figured out how to convince a 63-year old woman, a skin cancer survivor at that, to dance naked on the bow of our boat to calm the stormy seas. But I am persistent and Carol is way gullible; pictures to follow, maybe.

Despite all the frustrations and aggravations of owning a boat there are compensations that can delight the soul even if they don't salvage the purse:
• There are few things as satisfying to Carol and I as sitting in the cockpit on an evening and watching whatever tableau happens to exist there, past the stern. As wind or tide move our boat, as the sun moves from a cool morning light to a warm evening light, the aspect of everything we see is altered, an endless kaleidoscope where everything changes but still remains the same. Last night after supper we watched the other boats moving into the wind in the mooring field, each moving like a flower to face the sun in its passage. Their were several pairs of Navy jets flying in formation, passing very low over the horizon, in a graceful pavane at several hundred MPH. In counterpoint, a bi-plane was also flying overhead pulling a simple text banner heading west into the fading light. The three cruise ships that we saw on Sunday left last night as we watched. We couldn’t see the whole boat but we could see the tops of their superstructures and the smoke stacks as they left the dock at 45-minute intervals, turned in the channel to head south and steamed below the horizon out of our sight. Of course, once again, the sun did set in the west, a light show of eternal fascination.
• The actual act of sailing provides us a deep satisfaction. There is a rhythm to be boat as it responds to wind and wave, regular, repeating until the body begins to respond to it, to internalize it and to move in the same way, finally, accepting the rhythm as its own. Sailing can be very quiet, only a susurrus, a hint of the friction of air flowing across water and cloth, but sometimes not, a steady drone as the wind thrums against the steel rigging as the bow cuts through the water and the hull forces it aside.

This is how Key West looks and why people are drawn here. We have yet to meet anybody who is from here and are unlikely to do so. People just seem to wash up on the shore down here; some stay and put down roots; the others yield to new winds or tides and drift away leaving no footprints in the sand. There isn't much in Key West, the Navy not withstanding, that does not tie somehow, directly or not, to the tourist industry. The island is "built out" so new construction is not important .... nowhere to put another house and tear downs don't seem to be allowed, although houses that fall down do get replaced. Old Town, the tourist area is charming once you get off the couple of main thoroughfares. It's also obscenely expensive: a two bedroom 80-year old clapboard bungalow that may, or may not, survive the next hurricane goes for more than $1.0 million, proving again the difference between price and value.

This floating structure, price unknown, was in the same place as we saw it last year, and has probably been there many years beyond our knowing. We have never seen anyone on the structure. So, we'd appreciate some feedback on its perceived raison d'etre. (a) It is a floating church which ministers to the boats in the mooring field, about 1/4 mile away; (2) it is the winter residence of the principal chief of the Seminole tribe; (3) it is a sugar shack devoted to the consumption of beer other sybaritic delights; (4) it is a cleverly designed Naval sonar station to track foreign submarine activity in Garrison Bight. What's your vote?
Improbably, I thought that this might be a bald eagle's nest. The bird's body is dark with a light colored head. I didn't think that eagles were this far south, but information about the nature preserves here indicates otherwise. The body is small, but it might be a female since "she's" always at the nest. When I finally saw "papa" it was clear that these are osprey's, possibly with young in the nest.
Carol, again, with bougainvillea, always a favorite in the blogosphere.

One of the more dominant trees along the coast of Florida is the Australian Pine, not a pine tree at all but probably from Australia. When we growing up in Florida in the 60's we thought the trees to be wonderful; the "pine needles," actually very small articulated branches, convert light breezes into tree music, somehow capturing or creating a resonance that is in harmony with the lapping of waves against the shore. These two sounds defined "the beach." Now these trees are classified as an invasive species. Sunrise over the Australian Pines.

Eponymous mimosa blooms for the popular drink, but it seems that the Mojito is more prevalent here, or at least for Carol it is.

We were walking though the old part of town and passed the island's cemetery. It had never occurred to us that Key West has the same water table problem as does New Orleans and that the solution would be the same: above ground vaults.

A salty dog at the dinghy dock, name unknown, but will occasionally answer to Fred.

The dinghy which caused so much consternation and has not yet stopped since we are having trouble getting it registered.

Walking by we wondered whether were were watching the pelicans or they were watching us. Maybe, a little of both.

When I was travelling frequently to the Orient one of my favorite stays was in the Shangri-La hotel in Singapore. This hotel had an older section called the Garden Wing, named such because the balcony of every room had a full width planter in which grew bougainvillea in mass profusion. I loved staying in the Garden Wing even though the rooms were not as modern as in the newer parts of the hotel. It was the flowers, after all, and their fragrance that so enchanted me and always drew me back. Coming from Chicago, usually in the winter, it seemed exotic to have the bougainvillea growing against the background of frangi pani trees. So, more bougainvillea, just because they inspire fond memories.

For those of us old enough to remember the 60's, these houseboats in Garrison Bight are reminiscent of Surfside 6, the TV show set in Miami, except that was in black & white and these are in vivid pastel colors.

Sue and Jay came to Key West on Wednesday since we have been unable to get near Marathon ... too many boats. We did the usual at Carol's request .... Cheeseburgers in Paradise ... at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville. Of course, the distaff diners carried the load and had margaritas while Jay and I settled for cold, long neck beers. We later went to the top of La Concha hotel for the breeze and the view, which is the best on the island. There are always a few people on the top but not nearly so many as I would expect given all of the traffic on Duval St. Jay decided that their 50th wedding anniversary will be held there, on the top floor of the hotel, if he can hold that thought for the next 20 years.

While we were heading back to the car we passed a graffiti covered wall and, given my recent blog entries, everyone thought that this picture was important. Personally, I don't get it but it made everyone else laugh.

And then Jay, of course, may have actually discovered the answer to: what's the meaning of life. Now, if he's right, he'll have to let his beard grow and become a hermit on some remote mountain top, not the one in West Virginia. Guru-dom is such a burden.

The oldest bar in Key West is Pepe's, established in 1909; it must be true because the sign on the door says so. Being the suckers for tradition we stop there every year to bend an elbow as have tens of thousands before us. There's not too much to the bar or building which may be why it has survived a century of hurricanes.

The weather has been, relatively, wonderful; nights in the 60's and days in the 70's. We've gone through the progression. When we left it was two blankets, a comforter and long johns in bed. After a few days the long johns went away. In Miami we went to one blanket and the comforter. Our second night in Key West that blanket went away. Now we have hatches open and fans on at night; I keep the comforter on, but the red headed Nordic princess uses only the sheet. It's been so nice that Saturday I actually dove off the boat into the water and did not freeze. It's probably too soon to put all of the winter clothes into storage but the day is quickly approaching.

The water here in the mooring field is quite clear, the best we've seen on the trip. At about 10-ft. you can clearly see the bottom if the wind is not roiling things too much. Today, when I was getting ready to dive into the water, I saw a large fish off the stern. It looked to be about the width of the dinghy, but that's probably the effect of refracted light. It was most probably a barracuda at about 4-ft., large but not unusually so.

Boat casualty update: The anchor chain counter that we installed in Brunswick, with help, has stopped counting and none of the instructions in any of the eight languages in the owners manual offer any insight. On the other hand, the anemometer, which wasn't working when we left has has a Lazarus-like spontaneous resurrection and now tells wind speed fairly accurately. Not a bad trade off.

We have no plan. We're here in Key West and may be for a while. We'd like to get to Boot Key Harbor in Marathon, but they're still full and have a waiting list of boats waiting to get in, now 9 down from 40. We could leave for the Bahamas from here; that would not be a problem. However, my hope was that if we left from Marathon we might be able to travel with another boat or two; there's no way that happens from Key West. We are committed to getting to the Bahamas, even if our time there is short. We've met and talked to many folks that have simply given up on getting there this year. With whatever commitments they may have and the $300 entry fee they've indicated that they're going to have to head north and to write off the 2010 cruising season. There are not many compensations to being old. However, waiting for the weather to cross the Gulf Stream is one of them, so wait we intend to do.

Posted by sailziveli 06:46 Comments (2)

Getting to The Key West

We both grew up in south Florida so things shouldn't surprise us, but there were some lasting impressions.

• We looked at the traffic as we walked and things were different, but it took some thought to figure it out: no pick up trucks but lots of Mercedes and Porches. Not like Spring Creek.

• I must have seen a couple of hundred dogs being walked and it's clear that folks down here have no concept of a proper dog. I saw, by exact count, five in total: two labs, one boxer and two all-American mutts. For the rest, if you were to take them by tens, they still would not weigh 50-lbs, merely bite sized canine canapes and doggy hors d'oeuvres. There seems to be some sort of genetic imperative that the smaller the dog the more noise it must make and these all met that criterion. I've been missing our dog, Wile E. He is, in fact, a proper dog, on the outside at least; he's a weenie on the inside even though he looks like a fierce creature.

• I had forgotten what it's like to be around fashionistas; south Florida is a very fashion forward place, where many people seem to place great importance on how they look and what they wear. In South Beach we finally stumbled on a fashion shoot, its original raison d'etre . Despite my background, it seemed really silly and altogether unnatural to see a lady posing before the camera. With our clothing oddments from Goodwill and Walmart, we were very out of place and could not have cared less.

We saw this on the morning we left Sunset Lake. We had seen maybe two shells on the way south, both one person and both being used by men, probably for exercise. An women's eight person shell seems like there needs to be an organizing competitive body, maybe the University of Miami.

After a couple of weeks in south Florida, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami Beach, it was time to head out. We left Sunset Lake and were going to anchor near Key Biscayne for and early departure through the Biscayne Channel. Carol had a different plan that involved gallons of water, not available on our boat, so she could wash her hair. So we ended up staying a night at Dinner Key Marina, very near Coral Gables, where she grew up, and next to the Coconut Grove Sailing Club, where once she sailed. This was the last night in a marina for a long while so we celebrated with a Poppa John's Pizza. Way Good!

So, Friday morning we got underway, not knowing at the time that the trip would ask and answer two questions: (1) Should we be allowed on a boat? (2) Do we really want to be on a boat?

Since we were going into a marina with limited room to maneuver, we had lashed the new dinghy onto the back of the boat rather than towing it; a good thing to have done. So Friday morning after we had cleared the Biscayne Channel into the open water, I decided that it was time to drop the dinghy into the water and to tow it. It didn't seem like we were going very fast, so I didn't slow down .... big mistake, and once again, predictably, chaos ensued. The dinghy hit the water, flipped upside down and separated the towing painter. Somehow the emergency painter that we always attach when towing the dinghy also lost purchase, I don't know how, Murphy's Law or some such thing. So, we're going south headed to the Keys and the brand new dinghy is in our wake headed north to Newfoundland in the Gulf Stream. So, around comes the boat to recover the dinghy and the foresail ties itself into a ball like a wet sheet from the washer and the two jib-sheets do their best imitation of 50-ft. long amarous snakes trying to mate. That was a problem for later. Recovering the dinghy was easy .... getting it right side up was not. I was on the swim platform directing Carol in using the boat hook to help flip it right side up. One mis-step and I was in the water with the dinghy. Fortunately, Carol had insisted that I put on one of our life vests with a built-in safety harness that I had secured to the boat with a safety tether. So, no big deal. Eventually we got the thing turned over and jerry rigged a new painter. Then onto the sails which probably took another quarter hour to get unfouled.

This was probably the 2d dumbest thing that we've done on the boat; Carol owns the record for numero uno and I hope never to top that. So, should we allowed on a boat? Maybe not; we may be a danger to the sailing gene pool, dumbing it down.

The trip included:

• The dinghy, of course;

• After taking off the safety tether the snap shackle, which connected me to the boat fell into pieces in the cockpit, imagine that. I repaired it and it's now very secure, but it gives one pause.

• A very hard bottom in one anchorage, which made it very difficult to set the anchor and made us worry that hard to set would mean easy to pull loose;

• That anchorage was totally exposed to the 15~25 knot winds, a very rough night;

• Because of the bottom and the wind, I stood an anchor watch, checking every hour to see if the anchor was still set and not dragging; it was set and didn't drag;

• At O'dark thirty on the anchor watch while I was fiddling around with the chart plotter to check our position, I brought up a menu that had several mentions of being in a restricted area, specifically a PSSA, a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area. Folks in the Keys are adamant about protecting sundry sea grasses, an important part of the food chain. I had visions of the Eco-Police shooting me, throwing Carol in jail and burning the boat or, even worse, making us move in the dark.

• The first night, as were shutting down for the night, the port side came awash with light when the nearest light should have been in Cuba, 90 miles to the south. I went topside and some guy asked if I was looking for him. I allowed that I was not, in fact, looking for him. There were a few minutes of conversation on the other boat and then it left. No big deal but it brought to mind all the tales of drug runners and pirates.

• The shower wouldn't work which entailed taking apart the head to find and undo two kinks in the hose;

• The anchor was fouled with trash on the bottom;

• When Carol had the anchor almost stored, it got sideways in the bow roller and jammed hard and we don't have a crow bar.

• While sailing we noticed a new, deep and disturbing low frequency vibration on the boat for the short time that we were sailing close to the wind, at one point actually seeing the mast and spreaders vibrating. When we anchored I checked things and found that the starboard backstay was much looser that the port side one. Rigging tension adjustments are way beyond my pay grade. But, it seemed like the penalty for doing nothing was probably greater than acting and getting it wrong. Since I have the highest pay grade on the boat, out came the tool box. We tightened it a lot and need to do a little more. There is no locking device on the turnbuckles so we don't know is whether we addressed a problem or a symptom.

• The navigational nightmare of entering Newfound Harbor. You don't so much pilot the boat as play a video game, finding a depth of water number you like, say a 7, and when you reach that spot on the chart plotter looking for another good number, a 9, without an intervening 3, and moving the boat cursor there. It took over an hour to go less than 2 miles.

• While going forward to untangle a jib sheet, I tried to use my face to make a dent in the mast. The mast is in tact; my face however, looks like I went about 10 rounds with Mike Tyson .... a massive shiner, a big mouse and a large cut under my left eye. Another case of elder self-abuse.

So, do we want the hassle of being on a boat? You betcha'! After we cleared the terrible anchorage we had one of the best days sailing, ever, probably making 45~50 miles under sail. The new sails must help, maybe the improved boat trim too, because we were faster, a lot faster, than in the past. The new autopilot is great making the sailing truly enjoyable. Sit back, relax, mess with the sail trim every once in a while, and enjoy the ride. I think that for boaters in general, but sailboaters in particular, that a boat is meaning to Robert Frost's line: "I took the one less traveled by."

We made it safely to Key West. Carol piloted the boat through the harbor, around Fleming Key and to the mooring field .... a first for her. There were three cruise ships in port which means a lot of people in town the next few days.

North of town we saw the sailboat Legacy in about the same place it was last year when we left. This boat's story is a cautionary one for all sailors. http://www.sptimes.com/2007/10/06/State/Deep_pockets_and_his_.shtml

We're looking forward to seeing Jay and Sue who keep the RV near Marathon on Ohio Key; Les and Jean may come down and we'll have a cousin's reunion which would be nice. We've ordered some more stuff for the boat for which we will wait until it arrives; Carol has had our mail forwarded from Green Cove Springs. The mooring is secure, but not very sheltered, so no concerns with anchors dragging. There are stores, like Home Depot, lots of restaurants and, seemingly, an endless supply of beer to go with the quotidian sunsets. The weather is comparatively warmer, but still cool by local standards. Still days in the 70's and nights in the low 60's seems like a really good deal.

Posted by sailziveli 07:08 Comments (1)

Miami Beach

If We're so far South, How Come It's Still Cold?

We had planned to stay in Ft. Lauderdale another day, moving to another location to be ready to leave very early Saturday morning, with no bascule bridges to be raised. But, things went so well leaving that we decided to head straight to Miami, which we did. It was amazing! That which seemed to take five hours on Sunday with all the stress and all of the traffic today seemed to take five minutes with no problems and no traffic. Of course, the fact that it was 44 degrees early Friday morning may have affected most folks outlook about being on the water.

The stay in Ft. Lauderdale was three and a half days of R&R, not rest and recreation … repairing and replacing. The major repair target was the toilet which seemed to be working less well than before. This was the proverbial dirty job. There was calcium buildup on the hoses and the joker valve was pretty well shot, no joking matter. We have extras on the boat so, now, the toilet works very differently and, maybe, the way the way it was always supposed to do.

Ft. Lauderdale was nice, but a little disappointing. The river walk was scenic but there was a paucity of activity, only two restaurants and not much else. A lot of places seemed to have gone under during these hard times. Carol liked the area for walking, there were some stores in the area but I’m not sure that it rates a return engagement.

Not to harp on the big boats on the small New River, but this boat actually has a helicopter on deck.

So here we are again in Sunset Lake (N25 48.155, W080 08.455), a place that we much enjoyed last year. It’s crowded this year: 9 boats. From last year we knew that the Fortress anchor offered the best holding; so, on the way here we changed from the Manson to the Fortress. The easiest anchoring ever; it set immediately and stayed set.

Last year in Sunset Lake we learned that our electrical system wasn’t up to our cruising needs, and made changes in Marathon. At Cooley’s Landing in Ft. Lauderdale, we met a Canadian couple that had just returned from Sunset Lake and had discovered the same thing about their electrical system. Their answer was to head north, gradually, and to put the boat up for the season while they have repairs made. It was nice this year. Minutes after the anchor set, I turned on the wind generator and we had supplemental power.

Food is something that we haven’t discussed. Carol is, of course, the chief cook and mess officer. She does pretty well with limited resources. The refrigerator is small, maybe 4-cu. ft. or so; the freezer is about 2-cu. ft. with much of that space taken by 10-lb. bags of ice. The range had two gas burners; no oven but a microwave under the stove that Carol could use with the power inverter but has chosen not to do so. We actually have a fair amount of storage in the forward cabin which has become a pantry/closet/dumping ground.

The food is pretty good, but better at nourishing the body than nourishing the epicurean soul …. lots of rice and pasta, both of which store well dry and cook with salt water, a very available resource. In Ft. Lauderdale Carol came across some heirloom tomatoes, which she combined with goat cheese; salads were great for several days. She also found a bakery with really great bread. Small things make a big difference on the boat, at least at dinner time.

On the way south this trip, I finally located the Fountainebleau hotel on Miami Beach. It’s quite distinctive and I cannot believe that I missed it last year. It’s been there a lot of years, including when Carol and I dated on Miami Beach. It’s most famous moment, in my opinion, came in 1964 when James Bond kibitzed Auric Goldfinger's Gin game with a little help, of course, leading to the gold coated death of Jill Masterson.

All the time that we have been in Miami Beach these two banners, along with a couple of others have been flying overhead, north to south and then back again, for hours every day. It's interesting that the banners are about 5 times as long as the planes towing them. It seems an ironic anachronism that a marginal advertising medium, probably perfected before WWII, still has a place in the age of Twitter, iPhones and Facebook.

This has been a strange visit, not at all like last year's time here. We didn't work on the boat, per se, but there were other tasks, shopping and the IRS that seemed to absorb a lot of time. Carol got our taxes done here; we have no deductions so it seemed to take an inordinate amount of time even though Carol had most of the required paper work. We never even made it to the beach although we did score a great brunch on Sunday morning on the Lincoln Road mall. Carol also got, delayed Christmas present, a cheesecake from Epicure's which, being Carol, she shared with me. One full day, Tuesday, we spent on the boat waiting for a front to pass. There were gale warnings and winds of 25~40 knots, although at this mooring I doubt that they got much above 30 knots. Even so, all the boats, including us, were watching their anchors in case they lost purchase and dragged. The space is such that there is no margin for error in any direction .... into a sea wall east or west, or another boat north or south. All ended well although we did choose to re-anchor in the teeth of the storm.

We're leaving Sunset Lake tomorrow, Thursday 03/04, for Key West. We haven't worked out all of the trip details yet. We had wanted to stop in Marathon, FL, in Boot Key Harbor; the weather has been so bad for cruisers wanting to cross to the Bahamas that there is "no room at the inn" anywhere. So we'll probably bypass it and head straight to Key West.

Posted by sailziveli 16:24 Comments (2)

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