Sunday, January 19, 2014

Finally, A Winter Report From Marathon!

It's been at least two weeks since we returned from our annual holiday visit up north. We had a great time with our two daughters and their families. We also visited with Sandra's sister and brother. We got more than our fill of cold weather, getting a snow storm and temps down to -8 degrees.

Since returning I've kept busy with minor boat projects (there's always something to fix or replace, it seems) while Sandra has begun helping others with basket making and is also doing some oil painting – some really nice work. We've gotten back in a pretty active way to Tai Chi classes both here and up in Key Largo.

The family got together to give me a Christmas present of a sailing kit for our dinghy. I've had great fun becoming more familiar once again with sailing small boats. It is really quite different from the big boat experience. I must be much more in tune with minor changes in wind strength and constantly make adjustments to the sail. Although easily affected by wind changes, it is still quite stable.

Maddie has enjoyed her time here as well She has gone for walks in the park and bike rides with us around town. But her greatest joy seems to come from her visits to the marina. She is such a social animal. She just lives to meet people. And she recognizes people she knows as they approach...even in their dinghy!

Speaking of enjoying the company of people, we have also benefited being here to get together with our “winter” friends again. Having come down here for several years, we have made lots of friends among the boating community as well as those who live here all year. We meet for lunch once a week with a few of them. The men go one way, and the women go another.

The weather has been a bit cool, so haven't done much swimming yet. We look forward to a moderation in the weather soon, so we can also feel motivated to get out of the harbor for a bit of sailing in the Keys.

One important change for us has been going through the process of becoming Florida residents. When people move out of a house or apartment in one state and into one in another, the process is rather straight forward. However when you live on a boat and have no particular street address to call home, the whole process becomes more challenging. Fortunately, our mail service in Green Cove Springs is tuned in to this problem, since many boaters face it at some point. They offer information on their website to aid cruisers like us to negotiate the tangled web. At this point we are officially Florida residents with voter cards and a properly registered boat. We have also acquired new drivers licenses and auto insurance and changed our health insurance. We have yet to register the car and our dinghy, but we hope to have those last items behind us before long. On the plus side, we now have only one official address instead of three. (I say official, since we use our Marathon City Marina address when ordering things or hearing from friends and family.)

This long process has served as a reminder to us that our lifestyle is outside the norm, since, like so many processes we've observed over time, this one is not set up for cruisers (nomads) like us and the many others we've met who have adopted this unusual way of living.

One of Sandra's latest creations
Carpe Diem
Captain Bob

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Last stretch to Marathon

Leaving Miami behind
The last days of our travel down to Marathon went as smoothly as we could have wished for. The days were pleasantly warm with enough breeze to help the boat move along and keep bugs away at night. Once we departed the lights and sounds of the city of Miami Beach, we traveled a path we'd not tried before. Instead of heading out past Key Biscayne to the ocean and Hawk Channel, we sailed down Biscayne Bay and into Card Sound. It was good sailing with no real problems going through two shallow banks on the way. We anchored for the night by Pumpkin Key, a small island at the north end of Key Largo. What a change from Miami. No lights; no noise – just a quiet, peaceful anchorage. While it is difficult to say exactly why, it did feel like the Keys. A mix of mangroves and palm trees along the shoreline probably helped provide the sense of the place.

If we had lots of time to kill and felt adventurous, we might have continued down this path on the west side of the Keys all the way to Marathon. The route on the “Bay side” includes a few areas that are charted shallower than our boat's draft, but the tides have been running higher than normal, so we might have been successful using that route. However, the challenges we had faced further north with shallow water made us less anxious to tempt our fate. If we couldn't make the entire route through the shallows, we'd have to retrace our route back to this point and head out to Hawk Channel. We decided to try it another year...maybe. On this day we'd be first passing through Angelfish Creek to get out to Hawk Channel. The chart tells us that this too is shallow for us, but all the reports indicated that we could make it with no problems as long as we did so at high tide. We went through near that point in the tide and made it through without difficulty. It is a passage that we might use again to avoid rough ocean weather. (The route from here south is more protected by the reef than the Channel is between here and Miami.)

From here the remainder of the travel was really nice with lots of sun and, again, just enough breeze to help us along and keep us cool. We spent a night at Rodriguez Key and then on to Boot Key Harbor, our winter home.
Sunrise in Boot Key Harbor

This is the earliest we've arrived in Boot Key Harbor, so we were surprised to find the mooring field more full than it had appeared upon arrival in past years. There is still room for many more boats, just not as many more as we would have expected. Our favorite mooring was available to us again this year, so life is good.

Upon arrival, we were welcomed by friends we'd gained in previous years here, making it all the more like a homecoming. As of this point, we've been to Tai Chi already, stopped by the library for movies and made our first run (or rather walk) to the grocery store. As some may be aware, the reason for getting movies at
One of the regular customers at the Keys Fishery
the library is that there is no TV reception this far from the cities. We get our news from our phones and our entertainment from the library's movie collection and from Red Box. As is one of our traditions here, we head out to the Keys Fishery for our first meal, although we didn't get a lobster reuben this year.

Once we get the boat arranged for our current setting, I'll begin the work on boat projects. It seems that whenever we travel, something on the boat needs attention. I have enough work to keep me busy for some time...on a part-time basis, of course.

While we enjoyed the brief visit to the cities of West Palm Beach and Miami Beach, we prefer the small town atmosphere we find here in Marathon where passing dinghies offer a wave of greeting and there are lots of other friendly greetings once ashore.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

South from Vero (Velcro) Beach, Finally

A good deal of time has passed since I last made an entry into this blog. During much of the time we were not on the boat, but were visiting family up north. We had great visits friends, with my sisters, Sandra's sisters and our daughters and their families including our three grandsons. One of Sandra's sisters made the trip south to spend nearly a week with us on the boat in Vero Beach...great visit.
Saying "Good-by" to Vero as the sun rises

After we returned from all our visiting, we decided that once we got into October, we'd begin thinking about heading back south to Marathon. After a couple of attempts which got delayed due to weather and other issues, we finally made the move this past Monday. Given our lengthy period without traveling by boat, our first day was less than perfect, due to human error. Nothing serious, and we always try to learn from our mistakes. We had hoped to spend the night in a quiet anchorage off the ICW at a state park. The anchorage is misnamed Peck Lake. It's really not a lake – just a wide spot in the waterway. But it was closed to us due to a dredging operation. We found another good spot a bit further south and enjoyed a pleasant evening.

The next day we kept moving south, this time to Lake Worth – another area misnamed. It's a wide swath of salty to brackish water between the barrier island and the mainland. We anchored by the West Palm Beach city docks that made it possible for us to go ashore and walk a bit in downtown WPB. Across “Lake Worth” is Palm Beach, home of many of the rich and famous. Of course this group is hardly limited to Palm Beach. From Vero Beach south we've seen ample evidence of wealth equal to or exceeding that of Palm Beach. And as I've mentioned in earlier blog entries, this evidence of conspicuous consumption extends all the way to Maimi and beyond.

The day we traveled south from WPB to Ft. Lauderdale could be described as a day of bridge openings.
A bascule bridge in the open position
We face bridges regularly on the ICW which are lift bridges called bascule bridges. (The two segments which form the bridge over the channel lift in the middle providing a space for our mast to get through without issue.) In fact we must call and request bridge openings 36 times between Vero Beach and Miami. Several additional fixed bridges span the ICW in this stretch, but they are high enough for us to slide under without issue. Needless to say, this slows our travel down a bit, especially since many of these bridges open on a schedule. If we arrive at another time, we must wait till the scheduled opening time.

Of course, like all mechanical contraptions, these bridges require maintenance from time to time or upgrades. Some even require replacement. On this particular trip we were surprised by the number of bridges being worked on while we passed. In a couple of cases, this work required adjustment to their schedule. For those who might be heading through the area this fall or winter, you might want to note that the Royal Park Bridge and Southern Blvd Bridge, both in Lake Worth, open 15 minutes later than normal. Not far south of these, the Lantana Bridge is undergoing a rebuilding. There is no bridge tender (the person you talk to about opening the bridge). The work crew must manually work the controls to open. They don't seem to have a schedule but will make plans to open it when called upon to do so. In our case, they first reported that they would get it open in an hour which stretched to an additional half hour before we could pass. Then there is the Las Olas Blvd Bridge in Ft. Lauderdale which now opens only once at 15 minutes past the hour instead of the normal every half hour. The remaining bridges opened as scheduled although in one case only one span opened. There was still enough room, but we had to be careful to keep the mast in the middle of the smaller opening.

Then there was a bridge just north of Miami that closed off traffic at the appointed time and then must have been distracted. A few minutes later, he let the traffic pass over the bridge again without ever opening it. He did see the error of his ways thanks to a phone call from the next bridge tender. He then promptly opened the bridge to allow my passage. That next bridge tender then delayed is opening till I got there – very nice of him.

My final message to those who might follow our path this fall relates to a stretch of water just after the Bakers Haulover Inlet. There's been a bit of shoaling there, nothing new I guess. But this year it has gotten worse. I read about others who had run aground there when passing at low tide who also mentioned where the water was particularly skinny. Based on that, I arranged to pass through the area two hours prior to low tide. It wasn't soon enough as it turned out. I still managed to find the bottom. There was a handy tow boat ready to help at a high cost. I chose rather to call TowBoatUS with whom I have insurance to cover such problems. He came quickly, and we were once again on our way. Another sailboat traveling the other direction quickly went aground also. I think he may have paid the price and also got off quickly. In the future, I'll not pass that way unless it's at high tide.

So as this is written, we are enjoying a little quiet time anchored near South Beach in Miami. We've already been ashore to visit a grocery store (several are within easy walking distance). We'll get some fresh water and do a little people watching in an interesting city. We took a couple of photos here. The first is a night scene of Miami. The building most lighted at the time of the photo was using the lights to create a video of a woman dancing. The photo may not show that clearly. The second shows what happens when plans go wrong...or perhaps when planning was not done as thoroughly as needed. This truck, at a boat launch ramp, had a trailer attached, though at the moment still invisible.

Finally, I've included one of Sandra's latest basket creations. She is still busy at this craft and is doing some oil painting. Perhaps I'll include one of her works in a blog at some point.

Carpe Diem

Captain Bob

Monday, September 23, 2013

New Kayaks...again

There are times when we make decisions or take actions that, on the surface, may appear to be a bit odd.
We made one such decision recently, but first a little background. Last fall as we prepared to head south for the winter, we decided not to bring our kayaks along. They take up space on the deck and get in the way of some of our regular activities while traveling – particularly the anchoring process. We weren't sure how much we'd actually used them in the Keys, so we decided to leave them in Gloucester for this trip south.

When we didn't return to Gloucester this past summer, we had to decide what to do with them. In the end we moved them to our daughter Jennifer's home with the plan of putting one on the top of the car for the August trip to Vero and pick up the other on our return south after the Christmas car trip north. Getting a rack became the problem – a bit pricey for most, so we opted for the cheap approach with foam and straps. This worked for a day, before the kayak began to move around on the roof. We ended up deciding it wasn't a safe approach and left the kayak with a friend we visited in North Carolina. We made the decision that we'd done our bit with kayaks and we could live without them. It would continue to be nice not to have to deal with them on deck. We could give one to Jenn's husband (Jenn already has a kayak) and try to sell the other one. So far, so good.

Then we got to Vero Beach and found that another boater here had two inflatable kayaks for sale, both at what would probably be the cost of a car rack for one kayak. When not in use, we could store them on deck in their cases or put them in the V-berth. The more we thought about the idea of inflatables, the more the idea became appealing. We also determined that we could transport them by car either in the back or even on the roof in their cases without a great deal of difficulty. So now we actually own four kayaks. Within a short time, we should get the number back down to two. Our previous experience with inflatables was not too positive, but these appear to work well. Maddie even likes to ride on them and is more content than she was on the hard kayaks in the past.

So how have the worked out so far? Well, not bad. We've been out for a couple of rides, and they have helped to remind us why we like kayaking. There are several reasons worth sharing. First, they are quiet. We can hear the osprey screeching as it calls its mate. We can hear the fish jumping in the evening as we paddle along. We find it remarkable how we can be so close to evidence of civilization and yet slide along with the wild things. For birds, we see the osprey, kingfishers, herons, gulls and pelicans. Fish of various sizes jump from the surface. Sometimes we wonder what might be below chasing them. On one of our kayaking trips we were visited by a half dozen dolphins who traveled past, seemingly unphased by our close proximity. As much as we enjoyed the dinghy ride the other night, getting rid of the noise of the outboard brought us that much closer to life around us – really quite special. And to think that so many people live close by in expensive homes and condos, and they never really experience this aspect of life so close by. It reminds us what special opportunities we enjoy as boaters.

I'm confident now that we will continue to enjoy these new purchases in the weeks and months to come.

Captain Bob

Carpe Diem

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Of Docks and Clouds

 Since our return, we've lived at the dock. We didn't sense how different that is from our normal arrangement on anchor or at a mooring until we got out for a dinghy ride one evening. It reminded us of what it's like to be out in a boat away from shore-side security. “This is what we like.” we commented as we putted along – out on our own, unattached to land. We clearly missed this sense of being out on the water while we were in a slip at the dock.

As we live here in south Florida during the summer months, we find that the weather remains rather unsettled and the cloud formations quite interesting if not spectacular at times. We notice this most along the beach and while out in the dinghy away from the shore side trees which partially block our view. Even if the sky is pretty clear at sunrise, the daily heating of land by the sun combined with the moist air by the ocean create numerous showers and thunderstorms in the area before the day is done. Below is a sampling of the often complex cloud patterns we enjoy.

Even in September this is a daily occurrence. We are reminded that the sun rises higher in the sky here in September than what our daughter in NH sees in July. It's still pretty intense. And the daily threat of showers impacts our progress on boat projects. Right now we're attempting to get the teak rails covered, but we can't do it with the sun high nor when it's likely to rain. Since these are both likely to be daily occurrences, our progress is a bit slower than we'd like. However, we find other activities like swimming at the beach or morning and evening beach walks to fill our time. Life is good.

Sandra during an evening beach walk
Captain Bob
Carpe Diem

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Back on the Water

After nearly three months with no blog additions, I'm back at it. We spent the summer away from the boat up north engaged in lots of great adventures with family and friends. These included among a number of others: camping in the White Mountains of NH, camping in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Shenandoah National Park, visiting with children and grandchildren as well as visiting sisters and their families.
Blue Ridge Mountains from Skyline Drive

But now we're back home on Carpe Diem in Vero Beach, Florida (for those who've forgotten where we left the boat). This brings to mind an interesting phenomenon we've experienced as we move about. Most people know that when they are home, they are also in a specific geographic location. Not so with us. Hence we have this problem occasionally. We sleep in our own bed at night, but we wake up in the morning with the familiar surroundings inside the boat, but it takes a minute or two to remember where home is at that moment. Usually we can remind ourselves by knowing what month it is and then determining where we should be during that month. Not so this year. Here it is September, so we should be up in Virginia or even further north. We've never been at home in Florida in September, so we can't even use the date. This helps to keep our life interesting.
The view of the Vero mooring field from our cockpit

All things haven't changed this year, however. Since it's September, we are doing the usual annual cleaning and fix-up chores. These normally include waxing the hull, checking each of the sails for tears or failed seams and taking care of the boats bottom paint. We also have this year, as most years, a variety of fix-it chores to address before we leave Vero. This year, however, we're not repainting. Since many cruisers manage to do this biannually or even less frequently, we're going to give the biannual schedule a try this time around. We will have a diver do a thorough cleaning of the bottom, scraping off the barnacles and algae that have accumulated over the summer.

Of course we're not in a hurry to leave the protection of this marina, since we're still in active hurricane season. With Sandra's sister Paula coming for a visit in early October, we'll stay a bit beyond her visit before heading out.

In the meantime, we aren't spending all our time working on the boat. We're also enjoying our current “home” location. The beach is a mile away and the ocean water temperature is really nice and warm. We've been swimming several times and plan to continue enjoying that option as well as evening walks on the beach which is never crowded.
The views of water and clouds are spectacular on our beach walks.

My sister Mary Jo is in West Palm Beach, so we've already been down to visit her and her family.
The rocket that carried the shuttle
Additionally, we drove up to Cape Kennedy Space Center for a tour. We hadn't been there since our girls we quite young, so we could remember little of that visit and knew that much more would be displayed now perhaps 35 years later. We were correct on that assumption. What a spectacular visit. We heard lots of what has been happening here over the past decades and learned that NASA is beginning to reorganize the station for the next phase – that of moving from serving as a launch pad only for NASA scientific explorations to that of providing similar services for commercial and private entities. Already SpaceX has launched a vehicle from here to bring supplies to the International Space Station. No people on board yet, but that is bound to happen as well. Boeing also has facilities at the Kennedy Space Center. It sounds as though other corporations as well will be getting actively involved in space travel.
Taken by the Hubble telescope - Orion will never seem quite the same.

We learned lots about the space station and the Hubble telescope and saw photos of the far corners of our known universe, thanks to Hubble – really spectacular!

I know that we're not getting along with Russia these days as much as we'd like on many fronts. However, when it comes to space, we seem to be working pretty well together. The space station residents have been getting shuttled up and back by the Russians, since our shuttle operation is on hold, waiting for the new vehicle that I believe Lockheed Martin is building. The crews have been a mixture of US, Russian, Japanese and European astronauts with perhaps representatives from other places as well. It's great that we can work together on such projects. Too bad we can't extend that cooperation to all aspects of our life here on this small planet.  

Monday, June 17, 2013

Fast Travel North

Another two weeks or so have passed since the last entry to this blog. During that time we managed to remain fairly active and got a bit of work done on the boat as well.

I'll begin with the boat issues. Boat work included getting the engine's fresh water pump replaced as was noted earlier. This was accomplished without any issues. The water pump for our use with the fresh water system on the boat seemed to have an air leak. Such a leak could come from so many places; I struggled to find the solution. I ended up talking to clerk at West Marine who suggested where the leak might originate. Upon checking, I found he was correct – fixed.

I knew the dinghy bottom needed its periodic cleaning after dealing with this task a few times during each winter in Marathon. I was surprised to find that in just three short weeks, barnacles covered the bottom – a very different situation from that in Marathon where I'd see few barnacles but lots of soft growth. After seeing the situation with the dinghy, I dove under the boat to check the prop. It too had lots of barnacles.  Barnacles on the prop can rob it of much of its power, so it's important to keep the blades clean.  Then it was on to the teak toe rails and grab rails. Since we've stopped varnishing them, the cleaning process goes quickly – about a day's work to get all of it looking good again.

I'd been having problems with my anchor windlass as noted in an earlier addition. It has been repaired, but I still find the chain getting jammed on occasion. I determined that the rust on the chain was the culprit, so I pulled it all out – all 200 feet of it – to find that some of it was really looking pretty bad. I determined that the first 100 feet was salvageable and cut the remainder off. I then bathed the better half in a solution of muriatic acid and water. Wow! What a great job in just a matter of 15 minutes. It doesn't look like new, but does look so much better, and most all of the rust is gone. I didn't like loosing the 2nd 100 feet, but I came to the conclusion that I rarely use more than 100 feet when traveling the ICW or in the Keys. I still have 200 feet of nylon anchor line attached to the chain, so I'll be safe on the rare occasions when more anchor rode than 100 feet is needed.

Since we'd be leaving the boat for at least two months, we had to clean out most of the food. Those of you who know Sandra know that she always carries enough on board for emergencies … and perhaps a bit more. But with real effort, she has managed to use up most of what was stored away.

We also decided the safest solution for the boat while we were gone was to put it back on a mooring. Leaving it in a slip was not as desirable. If a hurricane came through, we'd have to have it moved to a mooring or I'd have to fly down to do the moving. Having it on a mooring already just means one less concern.  Mac and Pat Rice (who live in Vero Beach now) offered to watch it for us. That is a big help, since we know that they will recognize a problem with the boat if it arises.

Leaving the boat in south Florida for the summer means lots of moisture and likelihood of mold. Therefore we purchased packages crystals that are supposed to reduce the moisture build up. We know we'll have to deal with mold upon our return, but we're hoping this addition will reduce the extent of the problem. Time will tell. We also had to take down the bimini and secure the sails and anything left on deck for possible strong winds as well. Then, of course, we had to be prepared for a hurricane in another way. We had to be sure to take with us any important papers and insurance info in the event that a big hurricane came and sank the boat. We aren't expecting that outcome, but we still must prepare for it. If we're in NE when it comes, we won't be able to zip down to grab such items.

Finally, we had to deal with the fact that we'd be away from most of our stuff for the two plus months. During that time we'd be doing some camping, and we'd be spending time in Virginia and New England where the weather may vary a good deal. So clothes and camping equipment and anything else we think we might need that was on board had to be packed to take with us. Since we live in a small space, one might think that we shouldn't have much to deal with. Those who think that would probably be amazed by the quantity of personal belongings we have stored aboard.  Sandra worked through  that and got a lengthy list of items we had to bring with us as we went north by car.

So we addressed all these issues with time to continue enjoying our stay in Vero Beach. As we neared our departure date, Sandra celebrated a birthday, so I had a few plans to make her day a special one. However, our daughter Jennifer had a bigger surprise. She drove our car down to Vero and arrived on her mother's birthday! We were both surprised and pleased. We quickly changed our plans to stay a couple more days and share the local highlights with our daughter and her dog, Kaya. We went to the movies as I had already planned and went to one of the nicer restaurants along the beach for a special birthday dinner. We went swimming a few times and even took the dogs to a beach where they could play a bit. During one of those beach trips, we saw manatees swimming just out beyond the surf – a first for us.
Jenn with Kaya and Maddie in the surf

On Thursday of this week we finally did move the boat out to the mooring and began our drive north to Virginia. Since we had to move the boat and do the last minute securing that morning and then had to make a stop in St. Augustine to pick up mail that we were supposed to gather as we sailed up earlier in the month, we decided not to push the travel but take two days to complete the drive. We stopped the first night just outside of Savannah, and then finished the trek on Friday. It was a bit strange to note the signs along the highway for places we'd visited during our travels up and down the ICW. Of course, we'd travel in an hour what would normally take us a full day to do by boat. This “fast” travel made for a very different experience.
Savannah riverfront - and interesting place

Our evening stop in the Savannah area was memorable for a couple of reasons. The only other time we'd been there was in February. It was cool then with few tourists. This time it was not cool and there were lots of tourists. In fact the temperature hit 100 that afternoon. We did our tour of the river front and enjoyed a meal in the evening with the temp cooling down to 95. Even the pool at the motel was less than refreshing, but we enjoyed our time there in spite of the temperature. We would like to return for another visit – perhaps during the fall or spring if we travel that far north again by boat. (You see, given our experiences over the past few years, we are reluctant to be sure of any plans. Now that we've left the boat in Florida once, we might do it more often. We will address those future travel concerns when we are closer to a decision time.)

So now we are at Jennifer and Greg's home where we will remain for a couple of weeks before pushing further north to New England with our other daughter Samantha,our other son in law and 3 grandchildren in NH. Blog additions will be missing or infrequent till we are headed back to the boat late in the summer. So until that next addition, best wishes to one and all for a wonderful summer.

Carpe Diem

Captain Bob