Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Marathon Dinghy Trip

Days on cruise:  291

Much of today was spent on cleaning and maintenance, but by mid-afternoon we were itching to get off the boat and go exploring, so we dropped the dinghy and took off. See our route in blue below, 8 miles round trip.

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The first part of the journey took us through densely populated Boot Key Harbor where marinas, restaurants, bars and boat yards fill the water and shoreline.


The City of Marathon operates a Mooring Field with 226 mooring balls available. We stayed on one of these mooring balls for a week in February 2012, and wound our way through in the dinghy today. It was mostly full, mostly with sailboats.

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After cruising the Harbor shoreline, we headed toward the Caribbean  side of the Keys through the mangroves and larger private homes. It was quiet and pretty, and we stumbled on a good fishing location. Sadly, our camera battery died shortly after we began our explorations, so that’s it for photos.

Marathon Update

Days on cruise:  291

See the bright blue dot toward the lower right corner for our current location at Pancho’s Fuel Dock. Tonight will be our last night here, then we move one facility to the west, to Marathon Marina.

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This morning we unloaded the bicycles and headed east to Sombrero Beach. A good-sized city park, we’d like to return when we have more time for a picnic lunch and possible swimming. The water felt warmer than we expected.


However we also saw our first Portuguese Man-of-War and would not have been certain what it was if not for confirmation from other beachcombers. It looks more like a pale plastic balloon than anything living. This one is about 6 inches long.


Soon after, we spotted another larger one floating on the surface about 20 feet offshore, and dozens of much smaller ones (babies?) on the beach at the edge of the surf.


We didn’t know anything about these . . .  creatures. Now we do, and the more we know, the more interesting they seem. Click on the photo below to enlarge and make it readable.

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We also found a number of other “things” on the beach that we haven’t been able to identify. Applause and recognition goes to the first person who can identify for us the thing below. It’s not a shell as it’s soft enough to bend slightly, and it’s translucent.


Sombrero Beach is surrounded by mangroves, like much of the area in and near Marathon. Last night shortly before sunset we had a few No-See-Ums bother us.


Overall, we expected to have much greater problems with bugs (flies, mosquitoes, No-See-Ums, spiders and more) on the Loop than we in fact had. We dealt with all of those at times, but infrequently except for spiders.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Marathon, Florida Keys

Days on cruise:  289

Distance traveled: 50.0 miles

Travel time: 5 hours, 4 minutes

Total trip odometer:  6,028 statute miles

Today’s journey marked a milestone in several ways: we passed the 6,000-mile mark (our last thousand-mile mark), and after today, we’ll travel no new territory, as we took a “shake-down cruise” from Fort Pierce, FL to Marathon, FL last February 2012 just before we officially left to begin our Loop. So the remaining stretch from here to Fort Pierce is territory we covered exactly a year ago, already familiar.

This morning at Key West it was hot and humid, and the forecast called for a mild morning with winds building slightly in the afternoon. Traveling north of the Keys in the Florida Bay would have been more protected from the southerly winds, but also entails 18 more miles, so at the last minute we decided to take Hawks Channel on the south, or Caribbean side of the Keys instead. It saved us 18 miles, almost 2 hours, but put us in less protected water.

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It wasn’t a bad trip, but not particularly fun either. There were 2 –4 foot swells with 1-2 foot chop on top, and the wind was coming out of the south-southeast, so we wallowed the entire way. That’s not scary, but it’s not comfortable either, and makes it hard to move around the boat without falling. We were very careful.


Today’s route provided the highest density of crab pots we’ve ever traveled. We ended up hand steering around the crab pots quite a bit because the auto-pilot isn’t as quick to change headings as we are when steering by hand.


After 4 1/2  hours we came in sight of the 7-mile bridge connecting Marathon with the further west islands, and then Marathon itself.


We have a reservation at Marathon Marina starting this Thursday, but weren’t able to get a reservation there earlier than that, so for the next 3 nights we’re at Pancho’s Fuel Dock. The folks here are friendly, and the fixed wall we’re tied to is good. There isn’t much else in the way of amenities, but after Key West’s high marina prices $3.50/foot/night, or more than $200/night for our boat), we’re happy to be paying Marathon’s more reasonable prices. Mooring balls are available here in Boot Key Harbor, but it’s so hot and muggy we want to be able to run the air conditioning without having to run the generator all the time, opted for the marina with shore power.


Above is the view from our sundeck. The blue dot in the photo below shows our current location. If you double click on the photo below you’ll see a purple pin to the left of us. That’s Marathon Marina where we’ll move to Thursday.

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Looper friends Mike and Judy on One September (who we met following our epic squall experience in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of New Jersey – click this LINK if interested in that story) are at Marathon Marina and invited us to join them, along with Deanne and Dick from Sareanna (leaders of our big Gulf Crossing armada) and other non-Looper friends of theirs, for cocktails. It was great to see everyone.



The folks here at Marathon Marina then headed to a community spot at Marathon Marina to watch “Life of Pi” together, but we had a trip back to our boat on bicycles, so didn’t want to stay later. It was already dark. We continue to enjoy this journey immensely and are starting to feel some emotion about the adventure coming to an end soon.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Last Day in Key West

Days on cruise:  288

Today was extremely humid so we did our morning jog at 6:30, but it was still uncomfortable. Oh well, it’s warm and sunny, so no complaints.

We’re in a slip just across from the “Yacht Dock” at our marina, and there are some impressive boats here, including this 1935 Mathis/Trumpy 85-foot wooden beauty.


If you’re interested, she’s for sale!   Click on this LINK to see  the listing.


Our Looper friends Susan and Carolyn on Sojourner have their car here, and they kindly offered to take us grocery shopping. It’s always nice when we can shop with a car so we don’t have to worry about size and weight of our purchases to carry home on a bike or by foot. We stocked up! Afterwards, the four of us went to lunch at “Paseo” (above), a former gas station converted to a restaurant that’s very popular, and now we know why. Great, inexpensive food!

At 5:00 we went to The Gardens Hotel for live music for the evening. They have live performances every Thursday through Sunday evenings, and Sunday is jazz. The setting is around their pool and spectacular gardens in the back. No cover charge, and drinks and appetizers are available for purchase. We were surprised to see 150-200 people in attendance, and were glad we went early so snagged a table. Lots of people had to stand.


We were situated so we could enjoy the people watching too.


The band was three men on trumpet, guitar and drums. They were good!


It was wonderful to listen to live music outside in February, and we enjoyed the night noises of cicadas and frogs on the walk back to the marina, along with the almost full moon.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Dry Tortugas

Days on cruise:  287


Several people recommended we MUST go to the Dry Tortugas, a group of 7 small islands 70 miles west of Key West, and home to Fort Jefferson.


We considered and rejected the idea of going in our own boat, because there are no amenities of any kind: no marinas, mooring balls, fresh water, electricity, food or, most importantly,  any protection from weather at anchor. Sometimes boats go there and get stuck in wild weather for days before it’s calm enough to return. There were 4 sailboats and 1 trawler anchored there today. The trawler left at noon.


At  7:15 a.m. we went to the Key West terminal where the Yankee Freedom II fast catamaran resides and joined 150 other people on this 100+ foot boat (with 40’ beam) for the day trip to the Dry Tortugas.


The Yankee Freedom II was newly commissioned and went into service last September. She’s well laid out, comfortable, with friendly staff, good food (breakfast and lunch) and has folks on board who describe the history of the islands and Fort Jefferson. It’s about 2 1/2 hours each way.


The hexagonal-shaped fort has a moat all around.


Fort Jefferson sits on Garden Key, the largest of the Las Tortugas islands. Construction of the fort began in 1846 to defend the Gulf of Mexico and was stopped in 1889 without completing it. The introduction of rifled cannons which could penetrate the 8-foot-thick walls made it obsolete. The weight of the 16 million bricks used in construction was also causing the edifice to collapse as it sank into the sand.



We took a one-hour guided tour of the fort then wandered on our own afterwards. Snorkeling equipment was on offer from the Yankee Freedom II, but we’ve done so much Caribbean scuba diving over the years, and the water here was chilly (68 degrees), so we passed on snorkeling as wetsuits weren’t available. Folks who snorkeled thought it was terrific, and they saw lots of fish, coral, sea fans, urchins and more.


Today the Fort and 7 islands belong to the National Park Service, and there are facilities on site where Park Service employees live.


We had perfect weather for the journey with temps about 82 and blue skies, bright sunshine and turquoise water. There were 2-4 foot swells in the Gulf, but Cathryn applied a Scopolamine patch before departure so felt fine all day. We highly recommend this trip to anyone in the area as it was a most interesting and enjoyable day.

Key West Is Also About Excess

Not everyone comes to Key West for the food, historic houses, sunsets and touring Ft. Jefferson.  Duval St., the major commercial street, has lots of t-shirt shops, hookah shops, galleries, boutiques and trinkets. It also has over 60 bars including the ability to buy drinks and beer to go. It’s common for folks to walk down the street with a drink in hand, even in the late morning.


Some people end their day early as a result, seen above.


Some continue into the night, as above at Coyote Ugly where they encourage women customers to dance on the bar. Overall it seems the town works hard to live up to its reputation for partying. Based on what we’ve heard from the bands in the bars as we walk down the streets, alcohol seems to contribute significantly to the appreciation of the music.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Still at Key West

Days on cruise:  286

The cold days of the Florida panhandle in January and the west coast of Florida in February are behind us! Here in Key West, it’s topped 80 degrees every day, and even night-time temps don’t go below 70. Our first manatee sighting this year occurred right in the marina near our boat.


We went for a jog this morning and were reminded that heat and humidity are not good companions while jogging. Even though we left the boat at 7am, it was WAY too hot and humid, especially for Cathryn who doesn’t tolerate heat well.


Carolyn and Susan on Sojourner had Looper friends from “Shirley Ruth” , a 42’ Grand Banks , arrive for the day  and invited us to join them. We haven’t met the crew of Shirley Ruth before, but they’re David, who is doing the Loop mostly with his friend Howard, and Shirley (couple on the left above), who still works and travels in international consulting out of New Jersey so is not on the Loop. David and Shirley arrived along with Shirley’s sister and another friend. So the eight of us walked the streets of Key West, mostly Duval Street, people watching and window shopping and occasionally buying something. It was lively and busy and fun.


At 5:30 we got a table at Sunset Pier near Mallory Square to watch the sunset. (Note to Merwin: you’ll be happy to know we finally ordered a Rum Runner: delicious drink!) The sunset was very different from two days ago, except still no Green Flash. But the moon is nearing full, and that was pretty too.


Life in Key West is exhilarating!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

First Full Day: Key West

Days on cruise:  285

On our way to breakfast this morning Carolyn and Susan took us by the Marilyn Monroe statue. Chicago had a gigantic one of these, as did Sarasota (remember Bob peering up her dress in a photo two weeks ago?), but this is the first life-size one we’ve seen. Her legs are a little longer than Cathryn’s.


Breakfast was at a beautiful and popular spot, Blue Heaven, selected by Carolyn and Susan, but also recommended by friend and blog follower Merwin from Nashville.


Bob and Cathryn had lobster omelet, which was, as you’d expect if you like shellfish, to-die-for good! Carolyn and Susan have been here long enough to find all the good places.


This afternoon we went for a long walk all over town. There are so many boats anchored out nearby that the dinghy dock is over-flowing, and owners pay $6.00/day or $80/month for use of the dinghy dock.


We wandered into the Turtle Museum where Cathryn picked up a tiny piece, a blown sea glass shell, and the guy on duty picked up his guitar and started singing a made-up-on-the-spot song to her about living on a boat. (LINK to one of his songs that he sang to another woman. We think he likes to hit on women?)


There are zillions of ENORMOUS boats here that make Next To Me look like a yacht’s tender.


Boats are coming in and out of the harbor all the time.


Flowers are in bloom everywhere. Bougainvillea of course, but lots of other more exotic looking varieties too.


Note the top of a cruise ship peeking above the tower in Mallory Square.


The thing we love about Key West besides the winter weather is that it’s relaxed and comfortable, while also eccentric and stylish, in a manner like no other city. It’s an original.


There are so many gorgeous homes with stunning gardens that it’s hard to know when to stop taking photos.


But there’s no grass. Which makes a lot of sense in a place where the yards are small and water is not plentiful. But where do all the dogs do their business?

Late in the afternoon we had a knock on the hull, and there stood Dave and Sue from Georgian Bay in Canada, along with John and Pat. We hadn’t seen them in 8 months and didn’t know they were here, so were pleasantly surprised! John and Pat own a winter home near Tampa, and Dave and Sue are here to visit. They came on board for an hour’s visit, and it was great to see them again (sadly, none of the photos turned out well – bad afternoon light on the sundeck).

The day ended with a delicious dinner with Carolyn and Susan at Solo where we had wine and appetizers for dinner at Happy Hour prices. We’re enjoying the city and catching up with Sojourner’s crew.