Our mission -- Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enter .. OOPS, sorry, I got carried away. Let me start again.

Our mission -- Warm Waters and Great Weather: The final frontier. These are the voyages of the Motor Vessel Traveling Soul. Its five-year mission: to explore strange warm waters, to seek out new forms of recreation and new civilizations, to boldly go where no Brown, Applegate or Higgins has gone before.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Ft. Pierce (12 Dec - 16 Dec)

While the boat was being worked on, Ann and I went to Fort Pierce, Florida – about an hour north of West Palm Beach – to visit with her friend Bill Arbaugh. Bill has two cars and two condos, so he graciously let us use one of his condos and one of his cars. Okay, the car may have left a little bit to be desired (sometimes the car locks and won’t let you out), but beggars can’t be choosers. He also took us to see Fort Pierce and its environs. The first day Bill took us to a nice little restaurant for lunch, where Ann and I both ordered lobster rolls. They were okay. But, as it turns out, Bill’s girlfriend Claudette (who is from Maine – see where this is going?) just happens to know of a small sandwich shop where they make the best lobster rolls south of the Mason-Dixon Line. It was in Vero Beach, just off the boardwalk (there is a long story there, but I am not going to go into it). The lobster rolls were delicious. They were made of lobster claws, a little butter and a roll. MMMM MMMM Good!

Bill and Claudette took us all around. We went to a kayak store (Bill is an ardent kayaker), the Fort Pierce Inlet (it can sure look vicious in high winds and choppy seas), West Marine (our new favorite store), not a biker bar, but a biker street, and several other places. Bill’s condo is just across from the ICW so one of these days we will take our boat down the waterway and pull our dinghy onto his lawn.  

Ann with Manatee in Ft. Pierce
One other thing happened in Fort Pierce. Ann and I went to one of Bill’s favorite local haunts – a diner. And what did we see on the menu? No, not lobster rolls. Need a hint?? Remember, this is Florida. Yes! We had gator for the first time. Ann wasn’t a real fan, but I thought it was pretty good. I am not going to say that it tasted like chicken … I am not going to say that it tasted like chicken … I am not going to say … okay, but it did. Actually, it was a little tougher than chicken, but it was really good!

Gator Mmm Mmm Good!

Repairs (9 Dec – 9 Jan)

Those of you who have read other blogs about cruising (I am not sure why you do that, all you need to know is here!), know that some authors sped a great deal of time writing about the repairs they do. You know, the tied the engine together with chewing gum and bailing wire until they could get a proper whoopiefratzer which they subsequently applied in a brilliant manner.  They do that for two reasons. First, of course, they like fixing things, the feeling you get when you properly repair something and, of course, they like writing about fixing things. I wish I were one of those people. But there is a second reason they write about repairs. As anyone who has ever owned a boat knows, boating is to a large extent about maintenance, maintenance management and fixing things that are broken.

Now I wish I were one of those guys who could fix anything; sadly, I am not. I can usually fix things that require one step, but when a second or third step is required, well, I am going to have to find someone who can help.

One of the purposes of a shakedown cruise is to identify things that need to be fixed and things that need to be improved. We identified a bunch. Some are obvious (e.g. radios and windlass), some are self-explanatory and some aren’t that hard to figure out. Anyway, I fixed what I could and we left the rest for Rick, our yacht broker/maintenance manager/chief repair person. Rick does the same thing I do – he fixes what he can and subcontracts the rest (the difference, of course, is that he can fix a lot more than I can).

He stayed and worked on the boat when we went to Fort Pierce. As you can see from the list below, he got quite a bit done while the boat was being bottom painted. He just started working on the undefeated and untied windlass, so the outcome of that particular competition is still in doubt.
·         1st Priority:
Bottom Paint                                                                     Completed
Replace (not repair) Windlass                                     Started
Replace Depth sounder                                                        Completed
Replace Radios                                                                  Radios ordered
New anchor                                                                       Ordered
Inspect and repair propeller as needed                 Completed

·         Second Priority:
Install new Microwave                                                  Completed
Clean the Carpet                                                              Completed
Replace Kitchen Faucet                                                 Completed
Fix Middle windshield wiper                                       Completed
Repair steering                                                                 Identified

·         Third priority
Repair Autopilot                                                               Completed ?
Fix switch on Glendening Synchronizer                  Completed
Have two Traveling Soul Signs painted                    Working
Modify outlets on inverter                                         
Repair Aft Head Lectra-San                                          Tried

The one thing that came as something of a surprise was the need to fix the propellers. You will recall that we ran into something on the first day of the cruise. We weren’t sure what it was or what, if any, damage we did to the props. Over time, the vibration we had initially felt kind of went away and we had almost convinced ourselves that we hadn’t damaged the props after all. Well, when we pulled the boat out of the water for bottom painting, we discovered that we had damaged three of four fins.
See the bent fin? There were three of these
The same prop after being conditioned and shined :-)

Fort Lauderdale to Lake Park Harbor (8 Dec – 9 Dec)

Our shakedown cruise was due to end at Lake Park Harbor, a town just outside West Palm Beach. When we reached Lauderdale, we realized we were only about 50 miles away from our destination. Now, we knew if we went inside, it would probably take us 8-10 hours—because of all the “Idle Speed Zones,” and the bridges. If we went outside, we figured it would take us about 5 hours or so – so we decided to go outside again.

On the way out of the inlet, we met a HUGE freighter headed towards the commercial docks. You should have been with us. There we were, moving along fat, dumb and happy – slowly, to be sure – but not expecting to see anything untoward. When we turned the last corner before the inlet, we saw it. It was huge. It was still a half-mile or so away, even so, it was really big. Since I didn’t exactly know which way it was going, I slowed to a crawl. It looked like he was turning directly away from us (which was good), but, just to be sure, I decided to do a lazy 360 degree, with both eyes on the ship to make sure we knew where he was going.

After leaving the behemoth behind, we headed, once more, into the Atlantic. Again, it was much more … er… interesting than we had wanted it to be. The seas were 4-6 feet and it was not particularly comfortable. Again, we went out to where the big fishing boats were to see if the seas calmed down and we went in closer to shore where the little fishing boats were. Nothing made much of a difference. Finally we saw the Lake Worth Inlet and knew we had reached our destination. Now all we had to do was find enough money to pay for all the repairs and deferred maintenance that needed to be done.

We had intended to christen and officially rename our boat the first night out -- if you will recall, we were supposed to be anchoring and have a glass of champagne in one hand and some brie in the other. Instead we ended up scrambling for our lives (well, okay, maybe not our lives, but certainly our well-being!) at Cabbage Key. At some point we decided that trhe next logical moment for the re-christening ceremony would be at Lake Park Harbor when we finished the shakedown. So, when we arrived, we got the champagne out of the refrigerator,  took our captain and first mate shirts out of mothballs and asked Rick to take our picture.
Mike and Ann at the Re-naming of Traveling Soul

Key Biscayne to Fort Lauderdale (7 Dec – 8 Dec)

There wasn’t much to do in or around the marina so we left the following morning. We were on our way to Fort Lauderdale and the mainland of North America which we had left several weeks ago. On our way, we passed though parts of Miami (see the picture below) and under nine bridges – four of which were bascule bridges. Bascule bridges along the ICW normally open every half hour, either 15 and 45 minutes after the hour, or on the hour and half-hour. If you get there before it is opening time, you usually have to hold your position and make sure you don’t bump into any other waiting boats, or any other obstructions that might be on the water. It was Ann’s job to navigate us through the bridges. She had to keep track of the name of the bridge (so we could contact the bridge tender and tell him we were waiting), the vertical clearance (so we knew whether we could fit under it without having it raised), when it opened and where the next one was going to be. In addition, there was very little wind, so when the boat wasn’t moving it got pretty hot on the flybridge – and we all know how much Ann likes the heat. Needless to say, Ann began hating those bridges. She really wanted to go outside again.

Before we did, however, Ann made some wise-ass comment about not seeing any Miami Vice boats Hahaha! How funny that is! No Miami Vice boats!! About 30 minutes later, we saw a small boat with a blue siren that had pulled over another small boat. I thought how cute for the Miami Vice people to try and please Ann. Then I swear, both Ann and I heard, “Don’t move or I will be forced to shoot!” Yikes! These guys were serious! As we passed the boats, we saw a police officer with his weapon drawn pointing it at a guy who was sitting down on the police boat with his hands tied behind him. Now, I wanted to get as far away from these guys as I could, but the channel was very narrow. What is the protocol? Do you speed up and try to get away from any potential stray bullets, or do you slow down and stay as far away from the incident as possible. We chose the latter course of action and neither went to jail nor got shot – so that must be the proper action.

Looking towards the sea
Looking towards shore
Eventually we did move off shore for a few hours. The weather wasn’t that bad, though there were some dark clouds off to the east that looked like they were coming for us. It was funny, you could look to one side of the boat and see a torrential downpour that seemed to be slowly coming our way, and to the other side, you could see nice puffy clouds.

We finally got to Lauderdale. There, we saw multimillion dollar yachts parked outside multi-million dollar homes. Now I had seen this on CSI Miami and Miami Vice, but had not seen it up close and personally until now. I know some of you have been thinking that our 52 foot boat is more of a yacht than anything else. You folks need to go to Fort Lauderdale. Our little boat would have been a tender to some of those mega-yachts. That’s okay. We like our boat J

Monday, December 26, 2011

Key Largo to Key Biscayne (6 Dec – 7 Dec)

We stayed at Key Largo for about 4 days, primarily because of the weather forecast. We knew the first few days would be windy and have significant seas, but, initially, it was supposed to calm down on Sunday; then it was supposed to really calm down on Monday; finally, it was supposed really, really calm down on Tuesday. We needed for it to calm down as the marina wasn’t cheap. Although Candy gave us a “retired military discount” (I think she made that up) it was still $2.50 per foot per day. Although conditions weren’t perfect, on Tuesday we decided we had to go.
We had been talking to Candy all week on the best way to get to the Intracoastal. From the charts and our Guidebook we knew there were three places where we might be able to transfer from the outside and the Atlantic Ocean to the inside. All three places looked like they had about 8 feet most of the way through – except for the first and last parts of the journey; those looked like they had about 4 feet at low tide. Since we draw about 4.5 feet we weren’t going to try it during low tide, but thought we should be able to make it during high tide. Candy had extensive experience in the area and had traveled Angelfish Creek in her 7 foot draft sailboat. She told us how to get there and what to expect. Moreover, she was sure we wouldn’t have any problems. So, we left early Tuesday morning and got the Creek about 10:00 AM, just a little after high tide. We slowly edged into what the chart said was the skinny water. If we got stuck, we reasoned, we would not go aground too hard and should be able to put the boat in reverse and let those two 550 HP engines pull us out of trouble.
As it turned out, we didn’t even come close to getting stuck. The water was, at its shallowest, about 7 feet deep. Moreover, there were some big houses on Angelfish Creek with some very big boats. We have found that rich people with big boats don’t like to get stuck either, so they make sure the waters around their dock are very well dredged.  We crossed over into the AICW without a hitch.

On the ICW on the way to Miama
On the Intracoastal, there was only a slight chop. Given the size of our boat (55,000 pounds) we hardly felt it. In the Bay of Biscayne we saw several new (to us) kinds of fish. Ann saw jellyfish that were as big as a dinner plate. I saw a group of about 100-200 jelly fish in an area of about 100 square feet; they were practically lying on top of one another. For the first time in several days we saw frolicking dolphins and, for the first time ever, some flying fish.
Before leaving Key Largo we had tried to make reservations at the Crandon Park Marina. In our Guidebook, it said that Crandon Park was very good. Moreover, Active Captain (an internet site that publishes cruisers’ reviews on marinas) it was run by the City of Key Biscayne, was less expensive than most, and was a very nice marina. As I said the day before we left Largo we had tried to reserve a slip. Management told us that the marina did not take reservations, but it did not look overly crowded for the following day. When we arrived, we called on Channel 16 – as we did with almost every marina – for a slip assignment. They told us that we had to dock the boat at their fuel station, come inside with specific paperwork and only then they would assign us a slip. At first I didn’t believe it; over my boating career I had probably been to a hundred different marinas and I had never been told to dock the boat before being given a slip. Well, we pulled up to the fuel dock and saw that it was made for 30 foot boats – not our 52-footer. Moreover, nobody would have been able to refuel if we would have followed their instructions. Instead, we hung around for a few minutes trying to get the lay of the land and eventually found a dock that seemed almost empty, so we gently pulled the boat up to it. Of course, there was no one available to take our lines. Eventually, Ann saw and drafted a young man who clearly had no idea what he was doing or how to tie up a boat. Nevertheless, with some coaching from the First Mate, he eventually got lines around the pilings – at what turned out to the dingy dock – and Ann headed inside with our paperwork. I should note that this was almost a windless day. If there had been a 15-20 knot northerly breeze blowing us away from the dock we might have had trouble pulling the boat in and the history of our shakedown cruise might have been very different.
Anyway, after at least 20-30 minutes Ann came back with a slip assignment. It looked to be a good slip in the front row. Although they said they normally did not provide a dock hand to assist in docking, Ann insisted they find someone, so they did. I am sure Pablo was a nice kid, but he had no idea about tying up boats. He tried his best and we thanked him profusely, gave him a small tip, then undid all his work so we could re-tie the boat so it would stay in place. I have to tell you that while this is not the only marina that did not provide a dock master or dock hand to assist transients in docking, it was certainly one of the few (I can only think of one other). If I ever get into Active Captain and review this marina, I can tell you my review will not be as favorable as most of the others. The managers of this marina are bureaucrats in the worst sense of that term; they really don’t care how difficult it is to dock a boat in a strange marina, how important a dock hand can be, or anything else. The care only about having the paperwork properly filled out. I, for one, would have much preferred paying a little more and seeing some customer care.

More on Key Largo

When we pulled into Largo – I am certain you’ll notice how we pick up the local lingo; it was no longer “Key Largo” to us, but “Largo” – we met Candy, the dock master.  Candy was probably in her late forties and was very attractive even though she had spent some time – well, okay, maybe a lot of time – in the sun. (Ann thinks she might have been in her early fifties. Now, I know Candy is not going to read this, but my inclination is, and always will be, to under-, rather than over-, estimate a woman’s age. Lord, I hope she wasn’t in her thirties.) The marina was in kind of a “u-shape,” with her office on the opposite side from us, yet she walked the whole marina several times each day. She had bundles of energy and seemed to be everywhere giving people advice and keeping the marina in top shape. As we got to know her over the five days we were there, we found that she had been the dock master for seven years and lived with her husband on a sailboat. She had cruised all the local waters and gave us excellent advice on cutting inside to the AICW (Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway – about which, more later). She also pointed out the local attractions, most of which were in the resort area, told us the best swimming pools to use (we had access to three, one each from the Holiday Inn, the Marriot and Marina del Mar), and let us know about the groceries available at the local Dollar Store and Walgreens. We appreciated all the advice and took advantage of most of it.
This pelican stayed in the same place, watching us dock, throufhout the entire process.

Before we did any of that, though, we had to wash the boat. There was salt everywhere. You would expect it, of course, on the foredeck, the handrails and the windshield. But there was salt on the aft deck, on the flybridge, and under the side deck overhangs. There was salt on the screen of the chart plotter, in the pilothouse and on the dingy. It was everywhere. We also learned that, with significant seas, some of our galley windows leaked, so there was even salt in the galley. We cleaned for about three hours and, I swear, we must have removed at least 100 pounds of salt. I would bet, though, that even after that there was still twenty or thirty pounds of salt left. In fact, for the next several days, we would feel salt all over our hands if we ran them over certain parts of the boat. Rain, rain, we need a good old fashioned gulley washer!

Of course if we would have had a gulley washer, business would have been even worse for the locals. Key Largo, at least the place where we were staying, is very dependent on the tourist trade. It was apparent that we were there during the off-season. There were dive boats, snorkeling adventures and fishing excursions all just waiting for customers, but no one was going out. We were told that the season would start to pick up after Christmas and would hit full stride in February or so, then would continue throughout the summer. In fact, the one Sunday we were there I went to the bar at Coconuts to watch some football. In addition to Kevin, the bartender, only five other folks showed up for any part of the afternoon. Now if you are a sports bar aficionado or a football fan you know how unusual that is. Anyway, since the game wasn’t really that good I turned my attention to my fellow revelers. Probably the most interesting was Tim the Irishman who was there not to watch football – he neither knew nor understood the game – but to drink beer and interact with Americans. He used to go to the Caribbean, but in recent years had started coming to Florida and the Keys. He stayed for a couple of weeks, then headed home. I am guessing he also liked to fish or dive or snorkel because there really wasn’t much else to do and I didn’t see him the rest of the week. Kevin was also interesting. His parents had both been professors at Virginia Commonwealth University – the school from which Lisa graduated. I know his mother taught finance but I never found out what his father taught.

At any rate, you will recall that we went to Key Largo because of the movie of the same name. While we were there, we made another amazing discovery. You remember the movie African Queen? Well, the original boat, African Queen, is on display in Key Largo! Yes, the boat in which Mr. Charlie Allnut (Bogey) and Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn) initially fought one another, then developed a romantic relationship and eventually joined forces to defeat a German warship in deepest, darkest Africa. In fact, while we were there, they announced a program to refurbish the boat. With that in mind, Ann decided that we should help. So, if you remember the very thick rope around the boat – it served as kind of a rub rail – you will know that someone is going to have to take it off so they can put on another one.  I guess Ann decided to help by taking a few strands off the boat so we now have part of African Queen! Shhhh, don’t tell anyone!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Marathon to Key Largo (2 Dec – 5 Dec)

Before I tell you that the Key Largo of the 1948 movie is nothing like the Key Largo of today, let me talk about the exciting trip we had from Marathon to Key Largo. We made a mistake in deciding to go, we made a mistake in deciding to go on the outside and we made a mistake in not fully preparing for the trip.
The weather forecast was unclear. NOA Weather said that we would face two foot seas initially, deteriorating to 2-4 feet later in the day. Although we considered staying at Marathon for another day, the forecast for later in the week was even worse.  So we decided what the heck, we would go ahead and give it a try. If the seas were too bad, we could always turn around and return.  
When we first got out the weather wasn’t too bad, but as we went on, things got worse. By mid-morning, we both estimated we were seeing 4-6 foot seas. After about 9:30 water was coming over the bow and spraying us in the flybridge (about 20 feet above the water). At that point we decided we would go down below and pilot the boat from the pilothouse. I should note that we never felt we were in any real danger, but the constant spray and the bouncing up and down made things uncomfortable to say the least. I tried to move further out into deeper water, thin king that the period of the waves might be a little longer or that the waves themselves might not be so steep – no luck. I even tried to move in closer to the shore, just in case the waves were less in shallower water – Nope. Eventually, I was able to kind of tack into the waves, taking them at an angle to the bow – and reduced their effect a little.
At about this point I realized that the weather forecast for the “inside” was for “choppy” waters. I also realized that I would have preferred facing some chop than these fairly serious waves. We had clearly made a mistake. We should have been willing to endure a little skinny water to get out of these serious seas.
You will recall that I said we never felt we were in danger. Well, that is almost true. About 10:30 AM or so, I noticed that our anchor was bouncing around a little and it looked like it might come loose. Now, if we had a windlass this wouldn’t have been an issue. But without a windlass, I had just tied the anchor to some of the structure on the deck and assumed that it would hold. One thing we did not need was for the anchor to come loose and grab hold of the bottom. We would not have been able to pull it up until the water calmed down. I really did not have a choice – I was going to have to go forward and lash it down. I went out the first time and tried to tie it with the material I had out there – really dumb. The next time I went out I went with strong rubber tie-downs that would hold it in place.
I turned the wheel over to Ann and moved out onto the foredeck holding onto the handrail as far as I could. When I got close to the anchor and had to let go of the rail, I dropped down to all fours – to get my center of gravity as low as possible – and grabbed hold of the windlass. At one point, I had lowered my center of gravity as low as possible, I was holding onto the windlass, and I was staring straight into water coming right at me. Yes, it was a bit scary. I will never do that again. Anyway, I managed to lash down the anchor and get back to the pilothouse.
Our three lessons from this trip: (1) If the weather looks too bad – don’t go. (2) If you are going to go, check the inside, you might end up with some “chop” rather than nasty seas. (3) Whenever you go, make sure you are fully prepare; in particular, make sure everything on the deck is tied down.
The day before we set off, we had called Key Largo to get a slip reservation. In our Cruising Guide, we noted there were several hotels with marinas – the Holiday Inn, the Marriot and the Marina del Mar. So, we called the Holiday Inn, got hold of Bill and he gave us the information we needed. It was a little expensive, so we called the Marriot. Ooops, we got Bill on the phone again. We must have dialed incorrectly, or Cruising Guide had the wrong number, so we tried the Marina del Mar; we got Bill again. It seems that all three hotels share one marina that has the same dock master, rules and rates! Needless to say, we chose one of those marinas for our stay.
Key Largo has a set of canals that intersect with the main canal at 90 degrees. These canals are pretty narrow – kind of like narrow streets with cars parked parallel along the sides.  So, when a big boat like ours enters, you have to announce “Securite, securite, securite. This is the vessel Traveling Soul, a 52 foot powerboat approaching collision corner.” (Securite is a nautical, radio term that basically means, “Be Careful – I am going to tell you why.)” Yes, you heard it – collision corner. We were not involved in, nor did we see any collisions, but we were very careful nevertheless.

Boca Chica to Marathon (30 Nov – 1 Dec)

After Boca Chica we headed to Marathon Key. We decided to travel “on the outside” of the Keys rather than ducking inside. Although the water on the inside looked to be a little calmer, it also looked very skinny (i.e. shallow) – and having run aground a couple of times already and hit something under the surface (see our adventures on Day 1), I am not interested in skinny water. Since the weather was so perfect, it didn’t make much difference, it was a very easy day. Ann kept her eyes open for lighthouses and dolphins and I was watching out for the ubiquitous crab pots.
We wanted to go to Marathon because it has a vast mooring field. I am guessing that there are over 300 mooring balls. Some are occupied by full time live-aboards, some by relatively long term residents and some by transients (like us) who stay only a few days or a week or two. They also have about 50 balls specifically reserved for boats our size. What was important for us was that we could “pretend” we were anchoring and test all those systems that we would need if we were anchoring. Remember that this was one of the purposes of the shakedown cruise. If we had not broken the windlass, we would have stayed on the hook almost every night. Anyway, we checked out our inverter, our generator, our magma grill and, of course, our dingy. Everything worked surprisingly well. We even found the dingy was easier to take off the boat than we thought it was going to be, but putting it back on the boat was a bear (more on that later). We did discover, however, that we have the wrong dingy.
 For cruisers, the dingy is the equivalent of the family car. It is the vessel you use to do everything from going grocery shopping to picking up friends who come to visit. Now, our dingy is a really cool 11’4” center console Super Sport Boston Whaler with a 30 HP outboard; on the dingy circuit it can be basically described as a classic overpowered sports car. Moreover, like many other things on our boat, cosmetically, it has been very well cared for. It has a well-varnished console and seats, as well as a highly-polished chrome steering wheel. Everywhere we go, people comment on the coolness of our dingy. The problem is that we need an SUV, not a sports car. Our dingy, for example, can only carry three people; our visitors usually come in pairs, making it necessary to make two trips to and from the shore; we can only carry a limited amount of groceries; we can’t use much more than ten of the thirty horsepower.
Marathon is in many respects, a cruiser’s heaven. They have a huge building dedicated to cruisers with a dingy dock, several television rooms, broadband internet access, a book trading library, a workshop, and modern restroom and showers. It also has a “cruiser’s net” on the VHF radio every morning where people discuss the events taking place in the area, ask who needs help that day – help on anything from a ride to West Marine or the grocery store to technical assistance on boat repair and ask and receive answers about the local area.
Now if Marathon had things to do and see, we might still be there. The problem was that you walk about a mile up Hwy 1 you can get to Home Depot. If you walk about a mile the other way, you get to West Marine. In between we didn’t see any particularly interesting restaurants, decent movie theaters, or touristy-things that would make us want to stay more than a couple of days. So, while we really liked the opportunity to go to Home Depot on the first day, and to West Marine on the second day, we were kind of at a loss on the third day. (Actually, we are short changing Marathon. If we would have been willing to get our bikes down and visit some of the other boaters who moored nearby, we would doubtless have enjoyed it more – especially since the cost for the mooring ball was only $22 per day. But we decided to move on.)
The question at this point was where to go. If, however, you are a Bogey fan the an swer to that question is evident. No, we are not planning a side trip to Casablanca, to the Sierra Madre or to Africa. We are planning a trip, of course, to Key Largo, the name of one of Florida’s keys as well as of a classic film noir by John Huston that stars Humphrey Bogart as World War II vet Frank McCloud. (Visiting Key Largo to pay his respects to the family of his late war buddy, McCloud attempts to comfort his comrade's widow, Nora (Lauren Bacall), and father, James Temple (Lionel Barrymore), who operate a hotel. But McCloud realizes that mobsters, led by the infamous Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson), are staying in the hotel. When the criminals take over the establishment, conflict is inevitable.) Anyway, we had to go to Key Largo.

More on Boca Chica (25 Nov - 30 Nov)

Oh, thank you, thank you. Everyone has been too kind in responding to my earlier bloggy-type writings. Well, everyone except those two people who offered criticism. Imagine that! Would the two of you have criticized Hemingway?? Steinbeck?? King?? So, why you two people had to single ME out for criticism among my peers I just don’t know. Don’t worry Dave, don’t worry Kathy, I am not going to embarrass you by mentioning who you are. Nor am I going to say what criticisms you made. SOMEONE, however, suggested I add dates to the sections as I write them and SOMEONE ELSE actually believes I should develop the characters we run across in our travels a little more fully. The fact that both these points are …well …  maybe not so bad …  is irrelevant. I want to see your criticism of Hemingway (whose house, as you probably know, we saw in Key West).

At any rate, we left you, our loyal and dedicated readers (you too Dave and Kathy) at Boca Chica Naval Air Station Marina. There are three aspects of our time at Boca Chica that are particularly memorable. I have already mentioned the people. In all the marinas we visited during the shakedown, we met two or three folks at each that we will remember. At Boca Chica, there were probably ten. Ron from Last Dance, who took us to meet our repairman at the front gate and to the commissary, Ed and Maryann who invited us over to their boat for some dinner, Chuck who helped us with our radio, Paul who was in the slip next to us, and several others who helped us into our slip.

Our second memory from Boca Chica is Kevin. You will recall that after Fort Myers we were desperate to get our windlass and radio fixed. While at the very expensive Key West marina, we asked for the best repairman they knew and got Kevin’s name. I called the number before we left the marina (have I mentioned that it was very expensive?) and left a message saying that we had heard all sorts of good reports about him and we wanted him to work on our boat. I did not get a reply.  (Imagine that: a guy who doesn’t want to work the Friday after Thanksgiving). When we got to Boca Chica I left another message and told him that we had references for him from both Key West and Boca Chica and we really wanted him to work on our boat. Now that wasn’t exactly a lie as one of the guys who worked at the Key West marina also kept his boat at Boca Chica.

When Kevin called back later that day it was clear that he was flattered that people from both Key West and Boca Chica would recommend him and, for that reason, would deign to work on our boat.  (Kathy – please note this attempt at in-depth character development). Kevin was quite a character! On Saturday, he made his first attempt to take apart our windlass. He got it to the point Dan had, then decided that he, literally, needed a bigger hammer.  The following day he brought one. When he got to the boat, he started pounding – I mean really pounding. I didn’t like the sound and decided that I could better spend my time watching football at the local … er … lounge . Although he later told us that he succeeded in pounding it apart, I have since learned that he was exaggerating a little. In fact, there is no evidence that he got any further than Dan. Score: Windlass 2, Repairmen 0. However, he did tell us – correctly – that we would not be able to fix the windlass and would have to buy a new one. <Deep, wistful sigh>

Kevin also worked on the radio. Chuck, one of our dock mates, had worked on radios during his Air Force career and was now a Ham radio operator. He came over to help. Between Kevin and Chuck I think they checked everything that could be wrong with the radio and came to the conclusion that it had to be the microphones. So we replaced the microphones and it looked like it worked … until we left the marina the following day and could only get static to come out of the speakers. Conclusion? We need new radios. <Another deep wistful sigh>

When Dan worked on our windlass and radios in Fort Myers he was so disappointed that he could not help us with our problems that he charged us only $155 for about ten hours worth of work. Kevin, also worked about 10 hours, accomplished the same (or less) than Dan and charged us $500. So, here are the two lessons I learned: (1) Hire Dan whenever we get a chance and do not hire Kevin again. (2) Figure out when to quit trying to repair a piece of equipment and just buy another one. I spent $655 to fix the radio and windlass and accomplished nothing; the equipment was as bad off after the money was spent than before.

Finally, I got the bicycle off the back deck and rode all over the base. I know you don’t think that’s particularly exciting, but you have to remember that full time cruisers don’t have access to a car. So, unless they are willing to take taxis, lucky enough to find public transportation or can find a rental car company, they do not travel more than walking distance from the marina. And while marinas are fun and interesting, if you see nothing but marinas, it can get a little old.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Key West to Boca Chica NAS (25 Nov - 30 Nov)

The next day we headed east from Key West to the marina at Boca Chica Naval Air Station. Getting here we experienced the worst seas we have so far. I would say they were about 4 feet most of the way.  Although we slowed down from our normal 9-10 MPH, we still ran at about 8 MPH for most of the trip. The boat handled well and we never felt uncomfortable. Ok, maybe a little uncomfortable, but we were never concerned for our safety or for the boat’s. Upon arriving at Boca Chica, we were assigned an interior slip on B Dock. That is significant for two reasons. First, you will recall I have pointed out how well I have moved into and out of slips all during our trip. Well, the interior slip at Boca Chica (don’t you just love to say that name?) spoiled my perfect record. It was very windy and every time I tried to back in, there was a gust of wind that took hold of our substantial rear end and began moving it dangerously close to a boat in the next slip over. I would then power out of the attempt and try again. By the third or fourth attempt, the dock master had assembled a platoon of volunteers to hold the boat close to the finger pier and walk us in while the wind tried to blow us away. You will note that I said a platoon of volunteers. In this case, the term “platoon” is entirely appropriate. This Navy-run marina caters exclusively to DoD-related personnel. By far the largest group of marina-dwellers is retired military – with the Army well represented.

This marina is very unusual. As I said, most of the residents are retired military, many of whom live here at least part time. Because the costs are so reasonable – you might would say even cheap – some people pay slip fees all year long, take their boats north during the summer to putz around and get away from the Florida heat., then return to their slips during the winter. Others live here all year long on their boats. Still others keep their boat in its slip all year long, but travel north to their land-based lives during the summer and return to live on their boats during the winter. The most important aspect of this marina, however, is how friendly everyone is. The first day we were here, I had to ask Ann to get out a paper and pen to keep track of all the people who came up to us and introduced themselves. I would try to reproduce it here, but I am afraid we would forget someone. The second day we were invited to two parties, one starting at 5 and one at 7. Ann thought they were related to one another, but not so. Anyway, we made the 1700 party and showed up for a little while at the 1900 party, but we weren’t there for too long.

Today is our second full day at Boca Chica. We had a repairman over who was sure he could help us with our windlass problem – but, like Dan from Fort Myer, he has so far been unable to take the thing apart. He is coming back tomorrow and bringing, literally, a bigger hammer. I will write more as Kevin tries to fix the windlass.

Fort Myer to Marco Island and Key West (22-24 Nov)

Anyway, the next stop was Marco Island. I am sure that Marco is a wonderful place to visit and that the marina where we stayed was very good. However, we stopped at Marco for two and only two reasons. First, we wanted to get a little “outside” experience before undertaking the long trip to Key West. By “outside,” we mean in the real Gulf of Mexico, not in one of the bays or sounds that serve as a barrier between the Gulf and the mainland. Second, we wanted to shorten the trip to Key West by a few miles. In that sense, our trip to Marco Island was very successful.

Today we arrived at Key West!! We had intended to leave the marina in Marco Island by 0615, when it would have been (barely) light enough to navigate out of the marina and back to the Gulf. We woke up at 0’dark thirty, got everything ready then had to wait for the windows to become un-steamed. We tried everything to see out of them. We wiped them with a squeegee several times and even used the windshield wipers (actually, we used two of the windshield wipers; when they replaced the middle wiper, they did not get it quite right so it hits the side of the window and damages the butyl around the window). Anyway, by about 0630 it looked like we would be able to depart in a few minutes. So, we started the engines, let them warm up then, we were off.  I must admit that it was one of my better backing jobs and marina departures. Then it was around the telephone pole – actually a huge structure that carried some kind of cable structure, but it looked like a mammoth telephone pole  – and out to sea.

The departure went well and by about 1100 we were out of sight of land. We had chosen our weather window well; the water was very smooth. Actually I would guess that the seas were between one and two feet, but the period (spacing between the waves) was such that we hardly felt any effect at all on the flybridge of Traveling Soul.  So, since we weren’t being thrown from one side of the bridge to the other, the trip was long and … well … boring. It was punctuated by sightings of sea creatures that we hadn’t seen very often. There were, of course, pods of wild, frolicking dolphins (it looked to me like they were looking for something to eat, but Ann said they were frolicking—so they were frolicking damnit!) We also saw some kind of small fish the seemed to skip across the water for 100 meters or so. No, I am not kidding; they were really skipping. I know, I know, you think I’m wacky – fish can’t skip. Well, they were either skipping across the waves or they were walking on water. I’ll leave it to you to decide. (In so doing you might also want to consult your local priest or minister who might have something to say about who walks on water and who doesn’t.)  We also saw a couple of bait balls (masses of small fish jumping into the air wishing the water column were just a little higher so they could escape the rapacious big fish coming after them), weird looking birds and thousands upon thousands of very tiny markers for crab pots.  

Anyway, as I was saying, we finally arrived at Key West. It took us a while to find our very expensive marina. When we did, though, we successfully pulled in and secured the boat.  So, what do you do in the late afternoon the day before Thanksgiving while in Key West?? You party!! Although both of us were a little tired from the trip, we decided to go find Duval Street and see what all the hubbub was about. Okay, okay, it was my idea. Being the cheapskate I am, I figured that if we were only going to be able to stay in this very expensive marina (have I mentioned the price of the marina before) for a couple of days, we should take advantage of every minute we were there.

We walked around for about a half hour, then settled on a restaurant/bar named Fogarty’s primarily because it seemed a little less raucous than most of the other places and we were more starved for food than for entertainment. Ann and I shared appetizers. She had shrimp quesadilla and I had, well of course I had to have conch fritters. After eating several of them I remembered why I normally did not seek out conch fritter restaurants – I don’t care for them very much. Still, when in Rome … and when in the Conch Republic … .

The next day, Thanksgiving, we went downtown early and bought tickets on the Old Town Trolley. It gives you a tour of Old Town Key West and allows you to get off and on the trolley as many times as you want. Ann and I got off at Hemingway’s House (which was also the site of the Key West Lighthouse), at the southernmost point in the US, which also has the southernmost Hotel, the southernmost house, the southernmost trinket shop – I think you get the idea. We then went to Sloppy Joe’s, supposedly Hemingway’s favorite bar, and had beer and pizza as a pre-Thanksgiving lunch. We then went back to the boat, relaxed a little and got a little homesick for an old fashioned Thanksgiving. It was then time for fried chicken and mashed potatoes which was our Thanksgiving meal! MMM MMM good!

Since we were paying for this very expensive slip in downtown Key West, we decided that we had to go downtown one more time. So, after dinner and after relaxing, ewe went to a place called the Whistle and Bull. Although neither Ann nor I are real hard rock fans, there was a woman who was a great entertainer. Yes, she sang Janis Joplin tunes – remarkably well, I might add – but she also dressed a young man from the audience in very skimpy women’s clothing and paraded him around the bar while he danced and received tips (dollar bills in his clothing) from the women. That and a couple of similar stunts made the evening very fun. Okay, I guess you had to be there.

Cabbage Key to Fort Myer (19 - 21 Nov)

We headed out early the next morning to Fort Myer. We left before Jeff got there even though it was still a little breezy. As a result, we lost a line that got caught between the electric box and the piling, but we got out of the slip and back on the intracoastal. In the Cruising Guide Book that we were using, it said that Marinatown Yacht Harbor had some good repair facilities, so we called and they told us they had room for us. It was a little out of our way, but we really wanted the radio and the windlass fixed.

The approach to Marinatown was nerve-wracking. We were coming off the Caloosahatchee River (Quick, say that one three time fast. Actually, say it one time and you deserve a prize!) , which is a very wide river, something like the Potomac. Actually, if you follow the waterway it leads to the famous and feared Lake Okeechobee and is a shortcut to the east coast of Florida. Anyway, there were private aids to navigation taking us out of the main channel and off to the side of the river. That, in itself was nerve-wracking. However, this particular set of red and green markers took us to the side of the river. I looked around and didn’t see any damn marina, just shoreline. Ann was very cool about it and said, “I think the marina is over there behind that piece of land.” So, here I am in a 52 foot boat, not more than 10 meters from land on my port side, turning to the right. We followed the channel markers and saw that we needed to make another 90 degree turn to right. By this time I had reconciled myself to the fact we would go aground, so I was moving very slowly. As I looked back and saw that we could no longer in sight of anyone on the main channel of the river, I wondered that when (not if) we went aground, how in the name of Heaven Towboat US (the savior of many a boater – the folks who will come give you a tow to become unstuck), would ever find us. Then, suddenly in the distance we could see the piers and pilings of a marina – but there weren’t any boats tied up. As we went a little further I saw a billboard saying that the marina was owned by the bank and was for sale. Great, don’t tell me that our marina had just gone belly-up. Just a little further, however, and we saw some pretty good-sized boats. It turned out that Marinatown was well hidden, but it was, in fact, a working marina. Again, a great backing job by yours truly and a great tying up job by Ann and we were in, safe and secure.

The first thing we did was to get in touch with Dan, the maintenance person.  He seemed very competent and was convinced that he could help us with our problems. However, work as he might – and he worked a lot and very hard – he was unable to beat the windlass. At some points it seemed as if Dan had taken it on as a personal crusade; he was determined to take that windlass apart or he was going to die trying. Eventually, however, he determined that he needed  a special tool. When we told him after two days that we were heading out the following day, he admitted defeat. Although he charged us a little for his time – remember he worked over the weekend and missed Sunday football—it wasn’t nearly the amount of time he had spent on our projects. Moreover, he had helped us with a little inverter issue that had come up while he was here, and was able to tell us definitely that the microphones were not the root of our radio problem (I had assumed they were).

There was some good news though.  First, within about a 100 yard stretch of waterfront, Marinatown had three restaurants. What makes that significant is that they were all VERY competitive. They were all very much like the bar/restaurants you find on the Chesapeake waterfront, though these places are probably a little more bar than restaurant.  One day after a walking trip to Walgreens and Office Depot, we stopped at one (Big Al’s I think) and had two beers each and some onion rings. The total cost was $13.48. Try finding a deal like that in DC! Another time we went to lunch at one of the restaurants/bars that advertised mussels (and you know how Ann likes mussels). We had two pounds of mussels with three drinks – and they were surprisingly very good! The total was less than $20.

Our final adventure in Fort Myer was our first refueling. Just before pulling into the fuel dock I thought I heard something not-quite-right with the port engine. Oh no, not again! But after filling up (about 142 gallons), for the big trip “outside” I started the engines, putted around the harbor a little – and heard nothing amiss. So I attributed the problem to an overactive imagination. I hope, I hope I hope.

Longboat Key to Cabbage Key (17-18 Nov)

Though this was the first day of our journey, I think both Ann and I hope it gets better from here. About two hours into our first cruise aboard Traveling Soul, we noticed a couple of trawlers and trawler-like vessels following us. Since we are new to this kind of boating, you guess we would have preferred following them, however since the weather was nice and we were all going about the same speed we led the pack. But, when the channel opened a little, the boat just behind us turned a little to port and turned on the juice. The problem is that he created a wake that the boat we were on may have never seen before. A large piece of coral that has been on our boat for years that was located on the entertainment center crashed to the floor, scarring the wood on its way down.  In the flybridge, we were thrown around as the boat lurched violently in both directions. Pixie Dust. That was the name of the ass that waked us. Ann thinks it was inadvertent. Maybe. If so, that makes him an ignorant ass. Personally, I think it was deliberate and that makes him a mean ass. In either event, he is an ass and I look forward to seeing him sometime in the future. GRRRRR. (Thanks for letting me vent.)

Anyway, after the waking everything was going just fine – until we hit something under the water. We were well within the channel – between the red and green markers – and WHAM. The port engine shut off and the engine alarm started buzzing at me. I restarted it and heard this horrible screeching sound. It turned off again. I still heard the buzzing and screeching. When I stopped panicking and took a deep breath, I realized that our starboard engine was still working like a champ. At that point I turned the wheel hard to starboard and put my one good engine in reverse. We slowly moved off of whatever-it-was. I re-started the port engine and we were again on our merry way. (I have no idea what we hit and really don’t care. What I am worried about is the screeching noise. It wasn’t the engine. I am hoping it was stuff on the aft deck sliding around as I later heard the same kind of sound when we accidently rubbed the bicycle wheels against the deck. Lord I hope it wasn’t the propellers.)

As some of you probably know there are a number of bridges on the ICW as you head south from Longboat Key. For many of them you have to hail the bridge tender on your VHF radio and ask that the bridge be opened. The first bridge tender we came across let us know in no uncertain terms that there was a horrible buzzing noise that came across the radio whenever we transmitted. I jiggled the cords and even went to the other radio on board. (We have two big radios.) No improvement.  Pretty soon the bridge tenders all along the waterway would contact us as we approached and told us when the next opening would be. I think the tender network spread the word about us – and no one wanted to hear this horrible buzzing from our radios. It sounded like the soundtrack from the Fly must have sounded!

One more almost-grounding (due to operator headspace and timing that I refuse to discuss in any detail), but the day wasn’t over – far from it. Originally, we had thought we would go as far south as Venice – about 20 or 30 miles as I recall – and anchor for the night. When we got to Venice, however, we thought it was kind of early to stop, plus the anchorage did not have any boats our size and we were concerned that the water might be a little shallow. No worries, we decided, we would travel just a little further. In fact, there was an anchorage listed by Useppa Island, which was right on our way that looked enticing. We got to the anchorage a bit later than we had planned, about 5:00. I lined up the boat and told Ann that she had control of the anchor – as per our SOP. She pressed the button. The first 15 seconds went fairly well as the anchor and chain fed as it is supposed to. The next 15 seconds was an unmitigated disaster. The anchor chain started zipping out of the boat like Lucifer himself was throwing it out. Somehow Ann managed to stop the free falling anchor by stepping on the up-anchor button. We took a deep breath and decided to try one more time. Somehow we got the anchor into the boat and tried again. The results were the same – a zipping anchor. We managed to get the anchor back onboard again and realized (yes, I would like my sign please) that we had a malfunctioning windlass.

Okay, for those of you who are a little behind, here is the situation in which we found ourselves – primarily because we just tried to do too much that first day. First, it was getting dark, and boating at night is not for the faint hearted; we were in unfamiliar country and kind of in the middle of back country Florida; our windlass  didn’t work, the wind was starting to howl and, of course, our radio was on the fritz. Nothing to worry about here!!!!

All was not lost. Between our Garmin chartplotter and Ann’s cell phone we got the number of a couple of marinas that might be nearby. By now, though, it was after 5:30 in the back country of Florida on a Thursday evening.  How many marinas do you really think are going to be open? And how many are going to be able to take a 52 foot boat? While Ann was calling and getting no response, I was wondering what it would be like to spend the night going around in a circle until we could see the channel markers again in the morning. The situation was not looking good. Then, lo and behold a near-miracle occurred.

Ann’s second call was to Cabbage Key Resort and Marina. Somebody answered. Could this be possible? Ann explained our general situation and asked if they had a slip for the night. Did they really say “yes”? I was sure that when she told them we were a 52 foot boat with a 4’6” draft that they would have to change their minds. After all, this was a kind of backwoods Florida marina, right? “Of course,” they said. They also said that Jeff, the dock master, would be on the dock waiting for us. This was almost too good to be true.  Not only did we have a marina with a slip for the night, but we actually had someone who was going to be on the dock helping us! All we had to do now was find the marina. While Ann was trying to copy down some rather confusing directions, I went to my trusty Garmin chartplotter, which knew exactly where the approach to the Cabbage Key Marina was.

After smoothly rounding a red channel marker and expertly finding the middle of a very narrow channel (Shhh, Ann! I am the one telling this story!) we slid into their slip for 52’ vessels (actually, they had one for 60-footers, but it was empty at the time; actually, all the other slips were empty). Ann and Jeff tied us to the dock and someone told me I could finally turn off the diesels. We had made it!!! We were alive! We had beaten the Klingons … oops, sorry, I am getting carried away again. We thanked the dock master, then walked about 100 yards to the bar and had a nice stiff drink.

Although we had never heard of the Cabbage Key Resort and Marina, it turns out that if you are from southwest Florida, or if you are a Parrothead (that is what Jimmy Buffet fans call themselves), then you may already know about the island. Parrotheads believe that either (1) Jimmy Buffet wrote a song here, (2) he wrote and recorded it there, or (3) he has a recording studio on Cabbage Key. Personally, I kind of doubt numbers 2 and 3, though I suppose it is possible that he penned one there. But whether or not you believe (or care) about Jimmy Buffet’s writing and recording habits, you would certainly find it one of the kitchiest places around.

 When we entered the bar, we saw, first, that dollar bills covered the walls. We also noticed that there were three or four gentlemen bellied up to the bar, all of whom appeared to be regulars. As our eyes adjusted we could see into the dining room, which was pretty good sized– maybe 2500 square feet – though there appeared to be only four or five people eating there.  Then we saw the walls of the dining room. They, too were covered with dollar bills. There must have been tens of thousands of them (later we learned that there were 70,000 of them – actually 70,001 as we added one while we were there).

 Anyway we explained our equipment problems to the locals at the bar and they all suggested that we go to Fort Myer, because that is where we would get the best repairs done. Since it was blowing so hard, and because Jeff the dock master said it was supposed to blow even worse tomorrow – AND because we thought we owed it to the residents of CABBAGE Key for taking us in –  we decided to stay another day, add a few dollars to the coffers of the establishment and then head to Ft. Myers the day after tomorrow. Are we having fun yet??

As it turns out, we thoroughly enjoyed our time at Cabbage Key. Throughout the following day there were boats coming up to the dock where Jeff would help them tie-up. In addition to a bunch of smaller, fishing-type boats, there were several 40+ footers that came in. It turns out that Cabbage Key is a hopping little place. They have a neat little nature walk you can take where plaques explain various plants and how they got to southwest Florida and all sorts of interesting little botanical facts. It was kind of fun! As we walked around the island, we also got to see a few of the full time residents’ houses. Like the rest of the island, the houses were, simultaneously cool, weird, fun, practical and interesting. At the end of the day we also had dinner in what turned out to be a very full, surprisingly good restaurant. It was fun to just relax for the day.