Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Key West

Cruisers become experts at multi-modal transportation. During our working years as transportation professionals, that term usually referred to a person who “drove their car to a park-and-ride lot, rode the bus or train to a downtown area, then walked to their office building”, thereby using multiple modes of transportation to get from home to work. For a boat cruiser, such a trip only rarely involves a car.  Our trips now often begin with a ride in our dinghy from “Next To Me” to shore, then we go somewhere by bicycle or on foot. At times over the next year we will rent a car, take a train, or use a “courtesy car” offered by a marina. But we won’t have our own car for the entire 10 months or so it will take us to complete the Loop.


Yesterday we took the dinghy to shore, walked to a bus-stop 1/4 mile away, then took a 2-hour bus ride from Marathon to Key West.  We’ve been to Key West previously with all of our now-grown children at one time or another, and found it still to be an extremely beautiful and very touristy spot.



We started with lunch at “Garbo’s Grill”, which Travel Advisor listed as the top-ranked restaurant in Key West, an outdoor street vendor not unlike some we’ve seen in Mexico during previous winters. Heidi Garbo and her husband served up THE best jerk chicken quesadillas and mahi-mahi fish burrito we think we’ve ever had. The place was jam-packed, so the wait was pretty long, but it was worth it.


Besides walking Duvall Street and surrounding areas to ogle the beautiful Keys architecture, trees and lush yards, and the zillions of roosters roaming freely everywhere, we also toured Hemingway’s home and President Truman’s Little White House.



Hemingway lived in this home with his second wife for almost 10 years, beginning in 1931. There are still dozens of cats roaming the grounds, descendants of those there during his years. They each have six toes.  Many of his furniture and personal touches still abound, and it was interesting to see what life was like in those days, as repairs have been made, but no remodeling.


The Harry S. Truman Little White House was the winter White House for President Truman, much in the same manner as Camp David is used these days.  The house was originally built in 1890 as the first officer's quarters on the submarine base naval station.


Thomas Edison resided in the house while donating his service to the war effort. He perfected 41 weapons during his six month stay. None of the signage said what these weapons were.


We finished off our Key West day with margaritas and crab cakes at the Sunset Pier Bar, just off Mallory Square, then took our long bus ride back to Marathon.  Let’s just say that some folks on the bus had obviously spent more of their time at the bar than being tourists, and we were glad when they got off well before us. Riding the bus can be interesting.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Maybe There Aren't Any Other Kind

Yesterday’s post was titled: A Mellow Day in Marathon. After today, we’re wondering if there are any other kind.


We set off in the morning for a bike ride. We headed west from the marina to ride the “Old 7 Bridge” out to Pigeon Key, a round trip of 10 miles, all of which was FLAT, our kind of bike riding.


The Old 7 Bridge is the original railroad bridge built to connect the Keys to the mainland in the early part of the 20th century, and is so-named because it was 7 miles long. There were great hopes that Key West would become a major trans-shipment point for the Caribbean and South America.  Alas, it did not come to pass, but one wonders if anyone would have ever made the investment in infrastructure without the original grand dream.


The railroad bridge was first converted into a two-lane highway bridge and is now largely abandoned; the eastern most two miles is open as a pedestrian/bicycle bridge out to Pigeon Key. There is a small museum documenting the original railroad bridge construction and a marine science program for school children on the Key.


On the way back we stopped at Porky’s, a bit of a tradition in our family, for pulled pork sandwiches and lemonade. The whole family has been here at least once, Bob and Ryan on their Florida college tour fourteen years ago.


Porky’s has live entertainment every night. Its’ most famous entertainer is Rocketman who plays the guitar and a mix of Jimmy Buffet and other island music, and of course his signature song: Rocket Man.


The waitress says he only plays on Saturday nights now, “when he shows up”.  Too bad we didn’t know that, or we’d have come last night.


We ended the day by going to the 3rd Annual Sunset Celebration, a largely informal gathering of Loopers. There were over 120 in attendance and we enjoyed talking to folks who share our interest in our currant adventure. It was an interesting challenge to figure out how to arrive at a party a mile away, by bicycle, bringing our own beverage and an appetizer to share! Still lots to learn about life as cruisers.

Finally, friend Jim R sent us a link to a Wikipedia article on the Green Iguana, which he identified as the “weird thing” we saw in the water and documented in yesterday’s post.  The article confirmed that these guys really do swim, AND certain of the dominant males turn orange during mating season. Who knew?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Mellow Day in Marathon

Finally, a day with no travel, no workers on the boat, no projects underway! And we’re in the place everyone here refers to as “Paradise”.  The water is turquoise and clear at shallow depths, palm trees everywhere, dolphins swimming right in the harbor among the boats, and . . . wait, what is that???  How bizarre . . . it looks like a swimming lizard, but surely it can’t be . . . or can it?  Yep, we were in our dinghy departing for a cruise around the harbor and saw something weird-looking near our boat – see below! This guy is about 2 feet long from nose to tip of his tail, with a very weird face and head. We have NO idea what he is! And he swims?P1000182

This morning as we left for our run (Bob) and walk (Cathryn), we took one bicycle from the bow of the boat, loaded it into the dinghy, and took it to shore where we locked it up for the week. We’ll take the second one tomorrow. Later today Bob went back to shore in the dinghy and rode the bike to West Marine a mile away to get a part for the dinghy’s portable fuel tank.



We hate to whine about anything, but Cathryn can’t help  noting that the heat (84 today) and humidity (98%) , in combination, are actually a bit much.  Almost reminiscent of Cambodia last October, so Bob periodically suggests we turn on the generator and air conditioning so she can sit inside the boat’s salon and cool off for a while.  The refrigerator also suffers without the generator being turned on a couple of times each day, so Cathryn doesn’t feel too bad about  sharing in the benefit.

Our afternoon harbor cruise in the dinghy resulted in our finding another 42’ Jefferson just like ours, a sister ship! They were flying a Great Loop burghee too, so tonight we located them on the Great Loop website and called them. We learned they’d left their boat for a day-trip to Key West this morning, but we agreed to get together after the weekend is over.  It seems Loopers are everywhere!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Marathon, Florida Keys

We cruised 40 miles today in order to travel the 30 miles between Matecumbe Bight where we anchored last night to Boot Key Harbor on the southwest end of Marathon Key. We had to go an extra 5 miles west of the entrance to the harbor to get to a point where the bridge  between us and the harbor mouth was high enough to get under it, then double back.


The City of Marathon maintains 256 mooring balls in the  harbor and rents them out for $22 a night or $119 a week.  Seems like a pretty good deal to us. The fee covers moorage, one black water pump out each week, and access to their marina where they have washrooms, laundry, a lounge with Wi-Fi, a revolving library, bicycle parking, garbage and TVs for those who need a fix. They do charge 5 cents a gallon for water.

Our final leg of the cruise was uneventful, though we now understand all the discussion about crab pots in the materials we’ve read on cruising the west coast of Florida. It’s a major maze to thread through crab pots along some portions of the route!


Lousy picture, but can you see all the white dots?  For mile after mile, in the 5-10’ deep water, there are these crab pots that require you to be constantly vigilant so they don’t get caught in your propellers and cause major damage.  It’s REALLY hard when you’re facing directly into the sun!  We managed to only run over one in the last two days, and while we destroyed the buoy, the line did not get caught in our prop. But that’s why we brought one scuba tank and gear, so if we get a crab pot line wrapped around a prop, we can go in the water under the boat to get it untangled. Hope we never have to do that!


Crabbing is a big industry on the west coast of Florida, and in Florida Bay, on the north side of the Keys.  A few years ago the Stone Crabs were on the verge of extinction, so they adopted a new harvesting technique.  They catch the crabs in these traps, then they cut off only one  claw and throw the crab back.  One year later they can catch the same crab and it will have grown back the lost claw, and they then repeat the process. Amazing and weird.


After tying up the boat we wandered across the street and found ourselves a bar where we had a good margarita and some crab dip. Next to the bar they had a fresh seafood store, so we bought a number of items, including crab cakes for dinner.  A nice way to start our week in the Keys. 

Oh by the way, for those of you in the parts of North America where there is that climatic feature called winter, it was 82 degrees here today. Cathryn whined about it, but Bob wouldn’t let her complain in this blog post.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

An Interesting Day

Usually  one or two things stand out each day, and they become the subject of our blog post.  Today we might go a little long because of the diversity of expericnces and images of the day.

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First the basics: we left Key Biscayne at 8:30 and cruised mostly at 8 knots for 9 hours, covering 68 nautical miles, a new record for us in this boat.  We have anchored out again, in Matecumbe Bight. If you double click on the photo above you’ll see the blue dot to the left of Highway 1, which is us.


If you enlarge the photo above of southern Florida and the Keys, you can pretty well figure out our route, passing through a series of Sounds to the north and west of the Keys. 


The morning began with idyllic conditions: warm weather, mild breezes and only a light chop on the water.  There were sailboats, light houses and Miami skyscrapers in the distance.


Next we detoured past a classic of Americana: Stiltsville. These days there only about a dozen of these structures left in the shallows just a mile or two south of Key Biscayne.  Until a  series of hurricanes wiped them out 10 years ago, there were apparently many more, and there was quite a diverse group of individuals who lived here.  It reminded us a bit of Slab City out in California near the Salton Sea.  Both Stiltsville and Slab City are worth Googling.


An hour later as we cruised down Biscayne Bay we were suddenly passed by a cigarette boat being chased by a helicopter, both going about 70 miles an hour.  Now that was interesting!  Only that was just the start.



Soon literally dozens of them were roaring by. Bob, in usual male fashion, was fascinated by the rumbling cacophony. Cathryn, on the other hand, was just annoyed by their noise and the fact they invariably roared by us so closely we could see their teeth.


A couple hours later we were passing through a narrow cut and who did we encounter?  Yep, the boys (about 80% of the participants were male) who had stopped for lunch and probably refreshments. Interestingly they felt it was reasonable to yell at us to SLOW DOWN. It appears that our wake at 8 knots disturbed them!

So we cruised on, discussing what a weird thing these fast boats are, given that each one must cost several hundred thousand dollars and use unimaginable quantities of fuel. Soon after, as we passed through a narrow channel, guess who showed up?


You guessed it, the boys, yet again!  They roared through this channel at about 50 mph. Since there were wildlife agents everywhere and none seemed to be concerned about it, we assume there are no environmental restrictions on their activities.


Finally at 5:30 we found our way into our anchorage, dodging our way through hundreds of crab pots, and after a simple dinner, watched the sunset.  The sun is now down, the water is absolutely flat and we’re enjoying our evening under the stars on the rear deck.

Tomorrow we go to Marathon where we hope to get a mooring ball in Boot Key Harbor, and then spend a week enjoying some landside activities interspersed with doing nothing on the boat.

Family News


Saturday afternoon we got a text message from our youngest daughter, Adrienne, telling us she was having a great time skiing in Colorado for the first time following ACL reconstruction surgery on her knee last August. Several hours later we got a text message asking if we had time for a Skype call.


We did, and shortly after the conversation began, she flashed her left hand in front of the video camera and we saw an ENGAGEMENT RING! Justin proposed at the top of the ski mountain, and she accepted.  She and Justin met in Paraguay 18 months ago; he was in the Peace Corps; she was doing a microfinance internship there. Since then we met him in Colorado on our way home from Baja, they came to spend a week with us last summer, and again at Christmas. We’re crazy about Justin and think the two of them are very well suited, so we were thrilled with the news!


Their plans to wait until 2013 to get married make things easier for us, though we’d figure out a way to plan a wedding while we’re underway on the Great Loop if we needed to.


Our son Ryan has also been engaged to his long-time girlfriend Jaime, who we’re also wild about, for almost a year. We’re now eager to see which of our kids will get married first, as neither has yet set a date.

(All these  photos where copied from their blogs which are linked to ours, on the left.)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Funny Kind Of Road Trip

OK, we’re kind of new to this cruising business.  We’re far more familiar with RVing or road trips in a car.  The last three days has felt kind of like a road trip: we’re basically getting up in the morning and hitting the road. Only on this trip, it’s the magenta line, a purplish line on our navigational charts and chart plotter marking the center of the Intracoastal Waterway. We’ll be following it for the next couple of months between here and Norfolk, Virginia, over 1,000 miles.


We cross bridges, except rather than going over them, we go under them, and often end up idling around for 1o or more minutes trying to stay in one place while the wind blows us around, waiting for a bridge opening.


Sometimes the bridges have interesting features which remind Bob of  his years managing the design of public infrastructure; countless hours were spent responding to people’s interest in making things “look good”. Worthwhile, but always challenging given the subjective nature of  what looks “good”.


We’re also taking this ICW “freeway” through cities, like Miami, except the cities sure look better from the water than they do from the paved freeways.


Like all road trips, we see examples of people’s egos getting a little out of control.


We have even experienced traffic jams.  Here are 10 boats ahead of us waiting for a 12-foot high bridge opening.  Not only is this the largest number of boats we’ve been behind, they’re also the largest.  The smallest boat was 90’ and the largest 150’. They were returning from the Miami Boat Show and we got caught up in their parade.

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We only covered 30 miles today from Fort Lauderdale to Key Biscayne. We’re anchored out in Hurricane Harbor on the southwest side of Key Biscayne.  From here we have a view of downtown Miami.


We’re looking at the lights of downtown after dark right now, but the boat is swinging in the wind too much to get a photo.

Tomorrow we head into the Keys; two days to Marathon! It will be good to move on. While we’ve enjoyed seeing the wealth of urban Florida for the last three days, it’s time to “get out of town”.

Pie and John Botts

Bob’s sister Lynn lives near us back home, and Lynn’s oldest daughter Laura, known as “Pie” to family members (surely there’s a story there, but if we’ve heard it we don’t recall)  lives here in Fort Lauderdale. We alerted Pie to our plan to come to Fort Lauderdale on our way to the Keys, and late this afternoon she arrived on our boat for a visit.  Shortly after, her boyfriend John Botts arrived.  No, not John, but John Botts. Again, there’s probably a story as to why he’s known as John Botts, right?


We had a lovely 3-hour visit with them on the boat, catching up on the latest with all family members, some political discussion (fortunately we all share political persuasions, so that was easy), work for them, and travels for us. They are lively and sweet to each other, so it made for a pleasant evening. Since we expect to miss family connections a lot this year, it was nice to have a family get-together, if only for one evening.

Tedious Bridges

A few days ago we had a phone conversation with the guy who sold us our boat and mentioned we were headed to the Florida Keys. He told us he though the trip down there was frustrating and slow because of the many bridges, and he urged us to go “outside”, meaning in the Atlantic Ocean instead of on the Intracoastal Waterway. We scoffed.


Now we understand. After our uneventful and very pleasant night anchored at Lantana last night, we pulled up the anchor and headed south at 8:30 a.m. today.  We had only 37 miles to go to get to Fort Lauderdale, so traveling at 8 knots we should be there in about 4 hours, right? Wrong! How about 6 1/2 hours??? We encountered thirteen bridges that were too low for us to get under with our 20-foot air clearance, so had to wait for scheduled openings. Most open every 30 minutes, a few every 20 minutes.


Many are only a mile apart, so as soon as you clear one, you have to “hold” while you wait for the next. Most bridge tenders are polite, cheerful and helpful.  One was downright surly and mean. We often waited in lines of 3-5 boats for openings, sometimes for as long as 40 minutes.  It was tedious and made us think we’ll consider the ocean route going northbound after the Keys, IF we get lucky enough to have a calm, windless day.


On the other hand, the landscape was pretty interesting, mostly for its’ endless opulence. At least 25 miles of the territory we covered was one mansion after another, with one enormous multi-million dollar boat after another parked in front of the mansion.  There is a LOT of money here in Florida!   (We picked this house to include because we thought Ryan would like it.)

So we’re happy to have this day behind us, and there are only two bridges tomorrow that will require opening for us. So . . .  on to the Keys!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Real Cruising, Finally

Today was Day 1 of our Florida Keys shakedown cruise, so here are our stats:

Statute Miles Traveled:  59.6

Time Underway: 8 hours 5 minutes

Average Speed:  7.9 knots (about 8 1/2 miles per hour)


Last night Dave Arnold came by to give us our bill for all his work during the last 5 weeks.  Boy, were we surprised:  It was about half as much as Bob expected!  Now when is the last time that happened?  We think Dave did great work for us, and his price was more than fair.


So, at 8:01 this morning we slipped our lines, left Harbour Isle Marina in Fort Pierce and headed south.  The first 20 miles re-traced our steps from our first trip with Captain Chris, bringing the boat up to Ft Pierce from Stuart the day we closed on the boat purchase. That seems like ages ago.


The next 4o miles was all new territory, and quite different from the parts of the Intracoastal we’ve seen previously.  The waterway was much narrower, and in many stretches not much more then twice as wide as the dredged channel.



We thought that we’d seen fancy homes earlier on our trial runs, but we passed some REAL mansions today.  These were fairly typical, but not even close to the biggest or fanciest.


We began to experience one of the signature characteristics of the ICW today as well.  We passed under about 15 bridges, many of which were low enough that they had to be opened to let us pass with our 20’ air draft.  We understand that tomorrow on our 35 mile trip to Ft Lauderdale we will pass under many more.IMG_2815

We’re anchored out for the night just south of the Lantana Bridge in Lantana, Florida, about 10 miles south of West Palm Beach. The dot in the cove southwest of the bridge in the photo below is us.



The restaurant just north of where we’re anchored is served by a party barge from somewhere (see lime green in the photo above).  The write ups about this anchorage say we’ll have music most of the evening!?

A successful first day! (p.s. and it was Bob who drafted this post and wrote all those exclamation points.  CR)