Thursday, March 27, 2014

Perks of Marathon

Not only were we racing weather to arrive here in Marathon… we were also trying to get here in time to attend our first Cruiser Seminars.  We had heard about two presentations offered by the Marathon Boat Yard Marine Center from the Book Key Harbor Cruisers Facebook page.  If you have plans to be in the area, take a look at the page for information about what’s going on.  

Bob presenting Diesel Engine Maintenance 101
Now I would imagine that anyone who has made it this far in Cruising, might already know a thing or two about the first subject… Maintaining Your Diesel Engine.  But for myself, that has always been Bruce’s domain and anything I can learn about it would be welcome.  Plus, if Bruce picked up a tidbit or two, it wouldn’t be time wasted… and it was FREE! And there were donuts!  

Blogger reunion!  McKissick Journey and Lahowind
We arrived early, and it was a good thing too.  Lots of people began filling the chairs and lining the walls.  There were mostly men, but several women as well.  The talk began with some announcements from Sherry, including a little about the company.  Of course this is a business, and they couldn’t do things like this for the community without making a living first, but I was most impressed by the fact that this facility is one of only a few boatyards designated as a Clean Marine Retailer and Boat Yard by the Department of Environmental Protection.  I think that, and the fact that they do so much for the community is a good reason for buying here.

I will admit that I wasn’t expecting much from the presentation in the way of entertainment.  I could not have been more wrong.  I won’t boor you with the geeky things I learned about maintaining engines, except for saying that I can keep an eye on Bruce now to make sure he’s keeping us lined out… But I will tell you that our presenter, Bob, deserves to have a stand-up comedy spot of his own... he might even be able to quit his day job!  He kept things lively with anecdotes, well timed funnies and the greatest facial expressions.  There was a lot of laughter, which I think, opens the mind for learning in such an enjoyable way!  I think Bob even told us a few trade secrets that could create more do-it-yourselfers and maybe even reduce the number of calls the Boat Yard gets.  Way to go Bob!

Joe demonstrates fiberglass repair... a bullet hole!
The next day we had (more donuts) a slightly different venue.  We grabbed our donuts and headed out to the yard where chairs were set up beneath one of the huge paint tents.  A mixed crowd took seats around a table set up with a myriad of products used in the repair of fiberglass.  Today’s talk would be just that… Fiberglass Repair 101.  Our presenter, Joe got right down to business after Sherry’s introductions.  

Before we left home to Cruise, we had a long list of projects to do.  One of the projects that never got done, was to repair several cracked spots and a few chunks in the gelcoat that mar Dos Libras’ fine body.  They were pre-existing when we bought her so don’t go pointing those fingers at ME!  Fixing them had seemed so important when we first got the boat, but after a while, with all the other more pressing jobs… this somehow fell to the bottom of the heap.  Maybe we’ll be re-energized into getting on it after today!

Joe had obviously done quite a lot of prep to give this talk.  It was compared to one of those TV cooking shows where they have the food in several stages of prep already done so that they could move from one stage to the next…  Well Joe had several pieces of fiberglass that represented a boat in need of repair… from a bullet hole!  He made it all seem so easy as he walked us through the various stages, working quickly and efficiently… He is obviously an artist and I am SURE it would not go so well for us… But, he gave us hope, and the names of his favorite products for use in many different scenarios.  

Armed with this information hastily jotted down, we may have a chance in doing some of our repairs ourselves…  And if it goes badly, we sure know who to call for a professional job.  I would imagine Marathon Boat Yard has plenty of work with major jobs without our piddly little projects.  

To wrap it all up, we got a lot of valuable tips and maybe learned some tricks.  We met some people and made some new friends.  And we eased, no… jumped with both feet into the Cruiser community here in Boot Key Harbor as we hit the ground running.  We plan to take advantage of any and all of the Perks of being in the one place I know of that is so rich in the sharing of Cruiser knowledge…. Marathon, Fl. and Boot Key Harbor.  Thanks Marathon Boat Yard and Marine Services for your community support!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Things I Do For Pie

Each morning, we have the same discussion.  What are we going to do today?  Each of us throws something out there and then we decide which things we will do.  It’s a good process.  It works for us.  

But sometimes, I don’t show all of my cards on the table…

We decided to take the dinghy and explore the area after the morning Net (our first) and a quick trash run.  Bruce worked on tidying the deck while I produced our first decent breakfast in days…  We usually eat breakfast bars and pop tarts when we’re traveling…  Today, it’s Chilequillas with Bacon!  

When it was time to go, Bruce told me that the winds had really come up and offered me an out.  I looked at him blankly and pretended that I didn’t have any idea why he would think we shouldn’t go because of a little wind…  He was mystified.  Had I let on that my ultimate plan was to head to Burdines for their Fried Key Lime Pie… he would have understood.  But I kept him in the dark.  

Looking back at the mooring field from Sister Creek
So, we loaded into the dinghy and dropped off the trash ashore.  Then I pointed him over to the entrance markers to Sister Creek.  I am on a mission to scope out cool places to take our Daughter and her Husband when they visit us soon… Sombrero Beach is just at the end of the creek.  

We cut across the waves, not getting too wet.  We entered the protected creek and I laughed out loud as we turned all Jungle Explorer, motoring along the mangrove lined waterway… until we reached the next REALLY nice neighborhood.  

I've got a beach in my back yard...
It would be so cool to live here.  These people really DO have “A Beach In My Back Yard”.  

Open water just ahead...
We turned back with a quick glimpse of the beach because the winds blowing off the open water were much stronger.  We’ll come back on a more calm wind day.  It was at this moment that I chose to reveal my real motivation for getting out.  

I want to go to Burdines and have Fried Key Lime Pie for lunch!  A-HA!  Now he gets it!  

It was wetter than it looked!
Bruce looks at me like I’m crazy as we reach the main channel and turn directly upwind towards Burdines.  Every third wave douses us with salt water and I just laughed like a crazy woman.  Bruce hunkered down mumbling something like “I can’t beLIEVE we’re doing this…”.  This brought on more maniacal laughter from me as I took another wave that found skin… The clothes were soaked through.  

We docked the dink and found a seat on the calm side of the restaurant.  I was just soaking it all in.  The waitress was fine with our scraggly look.  I’m sure they get all kinds in here…  

The smell of burgers caused me to waiver in my plan to eat pie for lunch.  We ordered an Italian Burger to split… and then the pie.  

Even the view was good!
The burger was good, but the PIE… It was divine.  I didn’t know you could DO this to pie…  If they had this in Texas… we wouldn’t have had to LEAVE!  We enjoyed our new favorite food, and the view of the mooring field from the top deck of the famous Burdines.  Just knocking those bucket list items off one by one…  

Check another one off the Bucket List
When we started home in the dinghy, the winds had increased… Bruce just shook his head saying “I can’t believe you would do this… for PIE."

Monday, March 24, 2014

Two Years To Cruiser Mecca

Definition:  Mecca in English has come to be used to refer to any place that draws large numbers of people…  

Seven Mile Bridge
Today was a true landmark day for us.  As we dropped sails and motored towards the Seven Mile Bridge, our minds were full of all of the things that brought us to this moment.  How many people really thought we would make it?  In the beginning, I’m not really sure WE thought we would make it.  So many years of planning and saving and studying the lifestyle… and here we are, coasting over these green seagrass beds in clear water and balmy breezes, with Marathon, the Cruiser's Mecca drawing us in.  

Sunrise on the Little Shark River
We awoke this morning, having slept better than we anticipated given the fact that we were anchored in a river with strong tidal currents.  Sometime in the night, we checked our position and found that we had reversed on our anchor but it still held.  All is well.  I jumped out of bed before dawn expecting to sit in the cockpit and enjoy the sunrise, only a little cranky at Bruce for trying to hurry me.  But it wasn’t Bruce that hurried me… it was the attack of the No-See-Ums!  

One of the good things about living on a sailboat is that you can just pull up the anchor and skeedaddle!  And so we did!  We left the beautiful and serene (looking) Little Shark River in the sparkling first moments of a rising sun and plunged ourselves into the following seas of the final stretch that led us to the Keys.  

The winds were already in the 10 knot range out of the WNW and the seas were probably about 2 ft. off our Starboard quarter. It wasn’t uncomfortable to us by any means, but the rolling  motion had us scrambling to get the main up to try and steady the boat a bit.  Between 8 am and 10:30 am, we raised the main, unfurled the jib, furled the jib, unfurled the jib, furled the jib, dropped the main, unfurled the jib and raised the main.  The winds were THAT light and variable.  Bruce was getting a workout!  Finally we settled in with winds from the East, but light enough that we kept the motor on to keep our speed to 5 knots or more.  We can get to Marathon before dark on that.  No need to waste fuel unnecessarily. 

Jetsam:  Are We There Yet?
The clouds and sun duked it out all day.  We got glimpses of the brilliant green waters when the sun peeked through, but it was almost a hazy cloudy day as we sailed towards the thin line where cloud meets water.  We could not relax our vigil for even a moment, as the crab traps kept coming and coming.  The coastal waters here are littered with little floating balls attached to ropes, which lead down to the bottom where the crab trap is.  Running over the top of one of these could cause bad things to happen if the rope should become wrapped around our prop shaft… So, we dodge and weave around to avoid them All. Day. Long.  I sure hope you crab-lovers appreciate how many traps it takes to bring you this delicacy…

Land HO!
We sailed out of sight of land and just enjoyed the beauty of the day.  Suddenly, towards mid afternoon, we spotted LAND-HO!  It was our first glimpse of the Keys.  I was unprepared for the profound feeling of joy that infused my body with the dawning realization...  On this day two years ago, March 24th, 2012… I boarded a plane that dragged me away from our new boat and back home to work, while Bruce stayed on board in Newport, RI. to prepare her for her journey home.  I had arrived in Newport on March 17th, to take my first look at what was to be our home.  As dirty as she was, it was love at first sight.  And it was the TRUE beginning of the downhill slope in our struggle to break free and become Cruisers.  

Sailing over clear and blue green waters

Fear of heights kicking' in!
Two years to the day brought us from taking possession of our boat, to sailing into Cruiser Mecca.  We are within days of our Six-Month-Cruiserversary and we’re here!  Bruce walked back from the foredeck and said “Tammy you need to come out and look at this water.  You can see the bottom, it’s like the BVI’s.”  I took a quick look and freaked out!  NO!  This is not normal.  The ground starts at the water's surface!  We’re too HIGH!  My tiny little fear of heights reared its ugly head as I felt as if the bottom had dropped out from under us.  How weird is THAT???  I couldn’t look!  Guess I’ll have to get over that soon…

Hastily folding the davits so we could squeeze in...
We had no idea if there would be a mooring ball for us.  Bad weather was bearing down with high winds and rain expected within the next two days.  We really wanted to be on a ball.  Our 45’ length is a problem.  With the davits on back we’re closer to 50 ft. LOA (length over all) and this put us over the limit for the majority of balls in Boot Key Mooring field, they only have a handful for longer boats.  We would need to fold the davits or anchor and wait for a bigger mooring.  Guess we’re folding the davits.  That little solar panel mounting project we had planned to do… will have to wait!

Dos Libras recognizes this place
So, happily, with goosebumps, we proceeded past the famous Burdines, and the old bascule bridge, and our eyes opened wider in wonderment at the sight of so many boats.  

So many boats with people on board just like us.  People who had walked away from their former lives and went looking for… whatever it is that we’re looking for.  Since leaving Texas, we have encountered only a handful of Cruisers.  We were happy that very soon, we would be soaking up first-hand knowledge and talking story with people who understand.  

Home for a month!
The silly grin never left my face as we effortlessly picked up mooring ball #S4 and then hurriedly lowered the dinghy off the foredeck and into the water so that we could speed over to the office and check in before they closed for the day.  We made it with 30 minutes to spare and while Bruce was presenting his papers and filling out forms… 

Marathon City Marina

I was approached by a woman and her husband.  She says to me “ Oh YOU’RE Dos Libras!  We heard you checking in on the VHF and I’ve been following your blog for a long time... Bill and Rene.”  I knew it could happen some day, and today was that day!  As our conversation went on, it struck me that she knew all about us, as she nodded when I spoke.  It’s like being instant Cruising Cousins or something.  Like we’ve known one another forever, but only just met.  Except that WE now have to catch up!  It was the strangest sensation, but a really good one.  We made plans to get together soon and pick their brains about the Bahamas.  

Our First Sundown in Boot Key 
We returned to the boat after taking a quick look around.  As we were retying our mooring, a dinghy pulled up alongside… “Hello!  It’s me, Kimberly and Jeremy from Lahowind!”.  OMG!  I’ve been following Kim’s blog since she started and we are fellow WWS’s.  We could have gone on talking forever but those showers were calling our names.  I began to think that this was NOT the best place to be if we intend to get any work done…  it’s PLAYTIME!  

Later in the evening, after we had our showers and the sun went down… the masthead lights of the hundreds of boats around us twinkled on.  Darkness grew and we could hear voices from across the water.  We made our calls to home and settled in with the kitties cruising the deck.  The puzzled looks on their faces are a delight to me.  

This was such a big day for us.  We relive our favorite moments repetitiously like we just can’t get enough of saying it…  We’re HERE!  This was our unspoken goal for so long, and it’s finally here!  It has taken SO much more than the past two years to get here… but two years ago, it became REAL. Go. Cruising. NOW!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

What It's Like To Be Me

Close your eyes and see this.  You sit in the cockpit while sipping your Sundowner-Of-Choice.  The breezes blowing across the boat, ruffling your hair and ending in the soft snap snap of the US Flag flying off the stern.  The water is flat in the Little Shark River.  The current makes odd eddies but you’re anchored off to the North side, expecting the winds to turn light and northerly overnight.  You’re a little bit concerned about the changing tidal current as they don’t have much of that where you come from.

The sounds of civilization are absent.  The wind breathes a sigh, undulating the tops of the 50 ft. high mangroves that line the river.  Some unseen bird makes the occasional jungle call and a fish makes a soft plop as it lands back in the water. The dolphin breathe and dive.  The turtles poking their heads out of the water make no sound… until they get close.  And then it’s a loud Phoo-Haaa-Sooop as they exhale and then take another big breath.  They are huge with heads as big as a man’s fist.  It’s been a long day… time to make dinner. Maybe a shower since you haven’t had one in two days…

Smokehouse Bay, Marco Island
You think about how odd this all is and you laugh.  How incredible is it that you just walked away from your job and got on this boat… and broke free?  Who DOES that???  You think how out-of-your-comfort-zone this all is.  Each morning you get up and have no idea how your day will end.  You can plan and prepare, but it’s all unknown.  You may sleep with million dollar homes lining the shores tonight, and tomorrow night, you find yourself here… in another world.  

Moon over the Gulf of Mexico
You think back over your day and remember the chills that rose on your arms when you heard Coast Guard Key West on your radio.   You say to yourself... “Really!??  This is Bruce and Tammy from Corpus!  On our own boat, with Key West on the radio!”  How did this happen?  You remember laughing out loud for no reason as your boat raced over the incredibly blue-green waters and you know that this is what you came here for.

OK, you can open them.  That is what it’s like to be me right now.  

Jetsam at her post.  Goodbye Ft. Myers Beach
We left Ft. Myers Beach, Fl. and sailed most of the day to an anchorage at Marco Island called Smokehouse Bay.  It was a last minute decision, I hadn’t seen it until a friend suggested it.  

Sailing at last
We braved bright sunlight, soft winds, and favorable currents to arrive there in time for Sundowners.  

Strangely, a large sight seeing boat came in, circled us and left...
We sat in the fishbowl surrounded by those aforementioned homes and congratulated ourselves on another day survived out here.  

Underway early
Early this morning, we motored back out into the Gulf of Mexico for another spin of the wheel.  The winds cooperated and we were able to sail all day, making over 7 knots at times, which would carry us on to the Little Shark River. The morning seas were nearly flat but later built to maybe two feet, nothing uncomfortable.  The cat didn’t even toss her cookies!  

The water’s  soft emerald green is my new favorite color..  It almost glowed, as if lit up internally as we rounded the Cape Romano Shoals.  We sailed out of the sight of land and never saw more depth than 25 ft.  We saw dolphin and turtles and birds.  We were sailing!  If we had to come up with a complaint, it would be the crab pots.  Just when you think “it’s been a while since I saw any, maybe they’re done.”, here they go again.  We dodged them most of the day.  It had me wondering what would happen if we just ran over them, but don’t even go there…

Approach to Little Shark River
Just after 4:30, we dropped the sails and motored towards the channel marker signifying the entrance to Little Shark River.  We had seen the huge trees lining the shore from six miles out.  We didn’t expect trees.  We entered the river rolling with the following sea until well inside.  There were two sailboats and a trawler already anchored.  The trawler had the first anchorage, the two sailboats had the second.  We tried anchoring between them but weren’t satisfied with our position.  We asked ourselves if we would be irritated if someone came in and anchored on top of us… and the answer was, we moved. 

The Perfect Spot
Our next choice turned out to be such a better spot.  We found a wide cove on the North side of the River where the current was not as strong.  Plus, we wouldn’t swing towards shore if the predicted North winds materialized.  We set the hook and relaxed to talk about our day and to appreciate the fact that we are here.  Go. Cruising. NOW!!!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Ft. Myers Beach

Our sail to Ft. Myers Beach on the Gulf of Mexico was just gorgeous.  We could only have asked for a bit more steady breeze, in the right direction, but we did get to sail for the first portion of the passage.  After that, it was just wall-to-wall pretty water and white sand beaches.  

We made it through the shoals at the entrance to the Ft. Myers Beach mooring field, where I swear, every motor boater in town was trying to pass simultaneously.  After passing beneath the 65 ft. bridge, it is advised that you turn to Port and follow the marked channel to enter the mooring field.  It looks like you should go to the right and there will be many boats using this route, but evidently it is shallow and only folks with local knowledge should use this route.  

Matanzas Inn snuggled beneath the bridge
We followed the channel around and started looking for our assigned ball in the East Mooring Field.  Our 45 ft. length was limiting in that the currents in this waterway often oppose the winds, causing the boats to swing in different directions.  We would need all the swinging room we could get.  It was really an eye-opener for us seeing how swiftly the current could move.  We circled our mooring ball many many times during our stay.  Using a bridle might have been a problem as we saw some boats with theirs twisted around.  Using the pennant only as advised by management was the thing to do.

We spent nearly two weeks in Ft. Myers Beach.  The price was so reasonable that we decided to take care of some business which extended our planned one week stay.  The ladies who manage the mooring field at the Matanzas Inn were so sweet and accommodating, we felt very much at home and at ease here.  In fact, we almost felt like “Locals” as we eyed the obvious vacationers here during Spring Break.

Yes, we were here during Spring Break.  And yes, the traffic was backed up almost the length of Estero Blvd. the main drag here on the island.  Our main mode of transportation being of the “Public” variety had us sitting on the bus for long periods of time whenever we needed to go to the Publix or the West Marine.

So… What does one do for two weeks in Ft. Myers Beach?

Somehow we always seem to have two big bags...
Household Upkeep:  The laundry machines here, though on the pricey side at $1.75 wash, $1.75 dry, at least WORKED!  And there was wi-fi in the laundry room.  Another big plus!  We had wifi on the boat but it was not reliable enough to count on as far back in the mooring field as we were.  Perhaps it was better closer in. 

Bus Stop Entertainment.

Shopping:  We took advantage of the public transportation here and found some things at the West Marine that we needed… and we bought a new carpet for the saloon at Home Depot.

As we sat on the bus with our huge roll of carpet… I thought to myself…  If you had told me that THIS is what I would be doing someday… I would have said NEVER!  But here I am.  Just me and my carpet… riding the bus… 

Cutting it freehand...
Carpet Installation:  The carpet got just a little bit dunked in the saltwater on the dinghy ride home… but it as rinsed and none the worse for wear.  I had to trim it some to get it to fit where we wanted it.  This was another fun project that turned out better than expected.

Perfect fit!
I was able to cut the carpet to custom fit our saloon and it looks great.  Ahhh that new carpet smell.  The best part is that it was only $20 so when it gets dirty, we’ll ditch it and buy another new one!

Outboard Repair:  We had our outboard for the dinghy worked on before we left home, and it has never run right.  So, with the increasing distances and dependence upon the dink as our transportation… we bit the bullet and took it in to Salty Sam’s.

Our fears that this would follow the other repairman experiences we’ve had along the way, were not warranted.  They motor works nicely now, which takes some of the bite out of the big repair bill.  This place is the most expensive per hour rate on any Coast we’ve visited, including the Upper East Coast, AND they wanted $5 for 10 gallons of water.  (needless to say we didn't get any there)  But we’re focusing on the fact that it WORKS now!

Getting them to the boat took us half a day!
Shopping Online:  Since we are starting to reach some of the more remote cruising areas, we wanted to finalize our solar energy choices and get the components ordered before leaving Ft. Myers Beach.  The high wind and lack of outboard motor for the day, provided us with the excuse to stay aboard and scour the internet for information.  We consulted Cruiser friends and ultimately made our decision.  

Ahhh... a thing of beauty!
We ordered a set of solar panel mounts for our panels from Kato Marine to go on top of our Kato Dinghy Davits.  Bruce had pretty much made this decision long ago, but we wanted to get our panel choices made so that we could make sure they were compatible.  In the end, we chose two 140 Watt Kyocera Panels and a Blue Sky Controller.  We ordered those and all of the installation paraphernalia from  We had several great conversations with Cory there and he really helped us to commit.  Customer service goes a long way towards making it easier to let go of those boat bucks…  I would highly recommend Cory and eMarine in Ft. Lauderdale.

Beaching the kayak at the Topps market
Provisioning:  Getting groceries without the normal mode of transportation is always an adventure.

They say that when cruising, you shouldn't try to do more than one thing in a day... and going to the grocery store is that one thing.  We made several trips to the local Topps and one to the Publix a little further away.  Topps is close enough to take the dinghy or the kayak.  Yes, we transported groceries by kayak...

65 lbs.  How long will it last?
The big trip to Publix was for cat litter.  It would be tragic to run out and we were getting low...  We lugged three big boxes on the bus with lots of stares and questions... How many cats do you HAVE?!!! The things we do for our little darlings.

But it wasn't all work and no play.  We had dinner with friends... Ate a huge platter of nachos at LaOla.  Very good food and drinks.

Times Square was lovely all lit up in the evening.  We strolled along for some top notch people watching.  The Spring Break crowds were really not too bad.

We visited the local beach just past Times Square, where we were treated to ice-cream from a local vendor.  They don't have that at home!

Lots of color on the beaches here.  

We took a ride on the Trolley to the next Key over and visited the Lover's Key State Park.  That was an adventure!

This beach was a lot less crowded
After the trolley ride, we still had to walk quite a bit to reach the main park area.  From there, we took a tram to the beach, but we could have walked...

Sun is going down on our visit to Lover's Key
We got here very late in the day so we didn't stay long.  We were once again appreciative of how nice it must be to raise a family in Florida.  They have so many wonderful State Park choices... and all within driving distance.

We had our own pirate ship right next to the dinghy dock...

And for a while, she was pushed aside to make room for the Lynx.  We saw the Lynx preparing to take a day sail as we schlepped our laundry to the machines...  What a beautiful ship!

luscious and colorful goodies at the Farmer's Market
Our final hours here waiting for that last delivery were spent visiting with friends from home, Mark and Julie (S/V Second Star) are doing a sailboat delivery and arrived here on the mooring ball directly behind us.

Us with Julie, Mark and Ziggy
We had them over for dinner and we all visited the Farmer's Market on the morning we left.  It was so nice getting to talk to people from home and catch up on all the local news.

We truly enjoyed our stay here in Ft. Myers Beach.  It was a friendly place with lots going on and lots to do.  Before leaving, we stopped to top off our fuel at Diversified Yacht Services.  THEY were nice enough to give us water for FREE with the diesel, so stop by on your way in or out.  They're right before the bridge coming in.

Now... on to the KEYS!