Port of Islands marina has its good and bad points (which I'll
happily list and share with anyone who is interested), and we've been
pleased to hole up here during the cold snap, enjoying the electrical
plug-in for our heater and the $5 buffet breakfast. The dinner menu is
half the price of the Rod and Gun Club, and the food is a tad better,
especially washed down with an excellent Cab-Merlot at $3.75 for a
decent sized glass. It might be a place to return to when the weather
is warmer, and we can enjoy staying out on the 10,000 Islands for
several overnights in a row, sailing and gunk-holing.
It's been eleven days since my last blog post, so this will be a
"Marathon" blog, but that's a play on the name of our current location:
Marathon Key, right in the middle of the curve of Keys that stretches
down to the southernmost point of the U.S., Key West.
We got the boat out at Port of Islands Marina at a pretty low "high"
tide, and practised "the bump" to get it to sit forward on the trailer,
with the bow nudged into the rubber V. The "bump" consists of driving
forward - not too fast - and then slamming on the brakes so that the
boat jerks forward on the keel plate of the trailer. Not pretty, but it
Along the Tamiami Highway we clocked a bird every ten feet. There were
every kind of heron, ibis, anhinga, hawk and all the other birds that
you can find in Florida. The Everglades is home to them all.
We put the boat in at Sunshine Key resort on Ohio Key, beside Bahia
Honda state park. We tried to camp in the park, but there were no
online reservations available and we got turned away when we showed up
at the gate even though they have to hold a certain number of spots -
by law - for people who do; oddly, the attendant looked at our boat and
said nothing about the fact that there was a wonderful ramp and marina
for us to launch and tie up. We discovered that two days later. We
anchored out for a couple of nights, camping for free on the water, and
then tied up to the wall inside the harbour, "camping at the marina",
as they called it, for the same price as tents have to pay for their
sites. RV's and trailers are more expensive. This is an option that we
need to investigate at many state parks - there's virtually always
overnight docking at the marinas, and if not, you can launch there for
a small fee, usually $10, and anchor out nearby. (In fact, at Sunshine
Key resort, they raised their rates from $65 to $97 per night on Jan
1st, but the marina cost per foot was half of that, for us.)
The four boats from POI met up at Bahia Honda, where we put the mast up
on the water (while tied to the dock, mind you) for the first time. We
sailed down to Big Pine Key. Unfortunately, the de facto leader of the
group chose to go down the "ocean" (Atlantic) side in east and
southeast winds, rather than the "gulf" side, and we had high waves
that made at least one person on each boat seasick. By the time we
reached Newfound Harbour we were quite certain that we had no intention
of following the leader all the way down to Key West. I would have
chosen to sail in the lee of the islands, but sailboats can only switch
from one side to another under the bridges of the Overseas Highway at
certain points, very far apart, because of our masts, and perhaps
that's why the leader stayed his course in rough following seas.
Two boats continued westward (and eventually made it to Key West) while
we and one other boat remained behind in safe harbour. Safe, but very
shallow for a long way out...and very muddy, but the anchor wouldn't
hold. We had to deploy double anchors, and sleep fitfully through a
windy night wondering if they were holding. In the morning, seeing no
easy way to access the land without a dinghy, we opted to make a run
back to Bahia Honda in "small craft advisory" weather. We sailed out
well enough, but had to turn directly into the wind (or lose time
tacking out further in dangerous conditions, which I was not prepared
to do) and tried to drop sails until we could point again after the
next channel marker, which keeps boats away from the shallow shelf
stretching out from the shore. We were bouncing so hard that the jib
halyard snagged on a little flag halyard block on the backstay, and the
mainstay slug stopper fell down the mast and all the slugs popped out,
so we could do nothing but motor all the way. It was bouncing too hard
to get up on deck to do anything about the sails, at that point.
I kept the motor running a little less than flat out, quartering the
waves and trying to slide easily over them without having enough speed
to bang the hull down on the other side of each one. It was slow but
steady progress for about two hours through that section. My technique
worked, mostly...sometimes the waves came from more than one direction
on the edge of the shoals, or I got distracted for a split second. I
saw one ten foot wave start to break just above the boat behind
Deborah, who was huddled on the opposite side of the cockpit with her
hood up trying to shield herself from bow spray. I uttered a silent
expletive. We slid up to the crest of the wave, and from Deborah, who
hates roller coasters, I heard my same expletive echoed out loud. She
always says that roller coasters will "break her teeth" because they
make her grit them so hard. This must have seemed like riding a roller
coaster backward all the way back to our little harbour.
two nights at Bahia Honda with one relaxing day in between, the weather
was much better, and we sailed up to Marathon in beautiful sunshine.
The wind dropped to the level labelled "boring" on the Beaufort Scale
for one part of the passage, but most of the time it was "Deborah Wind"
- which kept us moving at a sedate three to four knots, pointing almost
at our extreme limit to keep our bow aimed precisely at the waypoint
we'd entered into our GPS for the mouth of Boot Key Harbour.
We saw a sea turtle slide by a foot below the surface. And thousands of
dead fish, slaughtered by the coldest and longest cold snap in 120
years. And we were on the Atlantic side. On the Gulf side the water
dropped from the 70's down to the 50's as the cold wind blows over
water that averages only ten feet in depth. Yesterday we toured the
Turtle Hospital, where they took in more "cold-stunned" turtles in two
days than they normally take in an entire year. That's basically turtle
hypothermia. Their normal heartrate is about 27 beats per minute, but
drops to 8 when they are "cold-stunned", and they can't eat, so they
get weaker, and eventually they can die. The lucky ones beach and are
collected by volunteers and shipped to the hospital, where they are
warmed gradually (like people have to be when hypothermic) to avoid
We learned all about the condition known as "bubble butt", which can
result from impacted bowels when turtles eat plastic refuse and other
stuff that they shouldn't. The gas that can't escape keeps them
floating on the surface, making it impossible for them to dive down to
eat, and subject to injury from the propellors of fast sport fishing
boats. Floating monofilament fishing line, which takes 600 years to
disintegrate, causes other injuries, even flipper amputations.
The dead fish litter the beaches and float on the surface. They are
mostly juveniles, and mostly redfish from the mangroves, but there are
tarpon, bonefish, parrotfish, trunkfish and almost every other species.
Experts speculate that there are dead larger fish that are simply down
at the bottom and haven't started to float to the surface yet.
The birds and other predators who would normally eat this carrion are
simply too stuffed to keep up with the supply of food, and they say Key
Largo is beginning to stink. Volunteers and civic and state employees
are out trying to gather them up. If the turtles eat them the fish
bones will cause further bowel impactions, which is a further cause of
concern for the Hospital staff. They predicted we'd see a lot more
floating turtles in the coming days and weeks.
We passed on the option of a mooring ball (or an anchorage in the
harbour) at the city marina. We need a dinghy and a pump-out head for
that, and we haven't got either. I went to West Marine for a retrofit
(we have the deck fittings for one already, and there obviously was one
on our boat at one time), but the one they have is an inch too tall for
the spot under the V-berth where it would have to sit. So we ended up
taking a slip at Marathon Marina, which - except for continuing lack of
promised wi-fi coverage - is going to be fine for a month, during which
we'll go up and down the Keys by truck, and the only sailing we'll do
will be day-sailing. We have better access to seafood restaurants and
local events, nature centres, etc, this way. And it is only costing us
$13/day for a month of mooring with water, hydro, hot showers, and - if
it ever gets up and running - wi-fi included. We have a dozen friendly
new neighbours who began introducing themselves before we even docked.
So much more to tell about this place - great tropical vegetation,
fauna, temperatures...it's like Ontario in July...
Deborah demonstrates that the Key to Happy Living is to kiss a dolphin
every day, but actually my title is another word play - a Key is an
island, originally should have been spelled "cay", but that's them
Americans for ya...
On Deborah's birthday we spent the morning at the Dolphin Research
Centre. It's where the original Flipper was filmed in the '60's, using
their first dolphin, and some of the episodes of the TV series were
filmed there too. The U.S. Navy used some of their dolphins in their
training programs down in Key West, but one of them kept escaping and
swimming fifty miles back home, so eventually they just let her stay
endless photos of dolphins standing on their heads. They're quick. Just
as they leap out of the water I press the shutter on my camera, but by
the time it responds, they're already headed toward Australia. It's a
game they play: dolphin peek-a-boo...
Then they laugh at you with just their heads sticking out.
Finally I did manage to catch this fellow in mid-flight.
We went to Marathon High School for dinner. Their culinary arts class
made up a great buffet meal of snapper, pork, corn chowder, ice cream
with fifty toppings...lots of good stuff.
Yesterday we went to a nautical flea market on Big Pine Key, where I
picked up the perfect stainless shackle to switch jib sheets from one
clew to another quickly from a guy who salvages wrecked boats. I paid a
few dollars for it; the insurance company paid the rest.
Pine Key is also, along with No Name Key, the home of the tiny Key
deer. They're about three feet tall, not much taller than my truck
tire. They were almost wiped out by traffic. They're pretty calm and
fearless, and when tourists began feeding them from cars because they
were so cute, they learned to wander onto the road without any sense of
vehicle speed or acceleration. Careful management in terms of speed
limits, enforcement of same, and laws against feeding has brought the
population back to over 800, after near-extinction, but still, there
were 119 killed on the highway last year. So far only 3 dead this
year...one a week. Kinda pointless, really...not much meat on 'em...
Today we went to Key West for the day, so I'll post some photos
tomorrow. That'll be my last blog for a while, as we intend to slow
down and start taking it easy. Gonna get a new mainsail boom cover
made, read books, walk on beaches, maybe some daysailing, some
snorkelling at Sombrero Reef if the water is still enough for long
enough to clear for good visibility. They have mooring balls, first
come first serve, so we can just motor out about three miles, tie onto
a ball and get in the water.
Key West, that is. We spent the day there on Mom's birthday. Saw lots
of iconic naughtiness on Duval Street, and climbed the lighthouse for a
view of the entire key. Drank awesome margaritas at Kelly's. Who's up
there in that little window? "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair..."
In the lighthouse keeper's dwelling, you'll notice that the downspout
from the eaves runs into a short little house with no windows on the
lawn. That's to keep your cistern in...and after all, brethren have
often wished they could keep their sistern in such a little house
outside in the yard...ba-dum-bump. Actually, that's a cistern to catch
fresh rainwater - fresh water being scarce on the Keys.
This tree - and it is all one tree, mind you - grew beside the
lighthouse tower. It has well-known pharmaceutical properties to aid in
foot care...it is, of course, the banyan tree...(wait for it, it'll
come to you...yeah, it's "corny")
Disney Magic cruise ship was in town, that had a lot of people out
gawking at the western edge of town, but most were there to do the
traditional sunset-viewing, with street performers to keep everyone
amused until the final spectacular moments.
So here we are in the marina at Marathon, "the Heart of the Keys", for
three more weeks, paying $13 a day. This is a photo of our friends'
boat in one small section of Boot Key Harbour, swinging on a mooring
ball; we're in a slip at the mouth of the harbour. Enjoying Happy Hour
$3 margaritas, $1.75 for a tasty dark pint of beer, $2 for a basket of
six fat chicken wings. Who says the Keys are expensive...? Except for
one blog to follow about a stowaway from Scarborough, this'll be my
last blog for a while, as we learn to relax and chill out for a few
weeks before heading up to Miami and Fort Lauderdale to meet with Deb's
father. But next, we'll enjoy this weekend's three day "1st Annual
Florida Keys Traditional Music Festival" at the Sombrero Resort, just
across the harbour from here. We might even attend by boat! And on
Sunday afternoon, a $5 all-you-can-eat chili cook-off at another resort
on Big Pine Key. Chili competitors eat for free...we're considering
entering Peter's River Camping Chili - we know that's a winner, because
we already won one cook-off with that a few years ago.
I'm Gnorman. How do you do? Yes, Gnorman with a "G", but of course the
G is silent.
late December. The snow was coming...I couldn't stand the thought of
one more year buried in snow in that frigid planter in my garden in
Scarborough. My boss, Greg Martin, was a kind man, but just didn't seem
to notice how pale I was getting. He'd never miss me...he'd never even
know I was gone - he'd probably think I was just buried in a snow drift
all winter. A kind couple in a passing truck allowed me to climb on
board. Man, they had a lot of luggage! I think there's a kitchen sink
in here somewhere...
the long ride south. I had my first cup of Tim Horton's and my
first good night's sleep in a comfortable bed of my own...except for
the snoring in the other bed.
saw my first palm tree, I knew my dreams were coming true.
I was promoted to the rank of captain...
Cap'n Gnorman, that's me! I quickly learned the local dress. Looks good
on me, right? But I'm still very pale. I'm going to concentrate on
getting some sun.
meantime, I'm ready for some serious fun. Looky here: I was obviously
Born to Fish, even though I've been Forced to Guard a Garden all my
life. I'm going to find a new line of work down south, just you wait
and see! Green card? What's that?
what I was made for! Check out my moves in a hula skirt...the
natives have really taken to me, look at their huge smiles...like
crocodiles...some of them have an odd little glint in their squinty
gator eyeballs...sort of a "hungry for a snack" look...? Maybe I should
find another line of work.
am, dressed for my job search. A new suit of clothes, some colour in my
cheeks...I'm beginning to look a proper salty sea-captain, aren't I?
the job! This is my new boss's funky truck - he rents bicycles, as you
can see. That's me on the roof.
is it! My new job. It suits me perfectly. Obviously I'll have to work
just as hard at this one as I did guarding my garden...and I'm sure
it'll pay just as much...eat your hearts out, you frosty northern
a flock of ibis perched on the wire. They're usually on the ground,
pecking out food. I call them Key West chickens, and you often see them
mixed in with a flock of chickens in someone's back yard. You know why
a flock composed of no other kind of bird but ibis has nothing to be
sorry about? - No egrets....
Deborah has already wondered out loud if we should book another month
here at the marina, or come back next year. It is a laid-back place
with enough to do, friendly neighbours, and shorts'n'shirtsleeve
weather. Our routine tends to be: shower, breakfast on the boat, read,
surf and do email, pick one highlight for the day, and have either
lunch or supper out - trying out every good restaurant at least once,
even if just for their Happy Hour snacks (cheap, tasty protein), and
we've been twice to magnificent culinary spreads put on by the students
at Marathon High School. Then we eat fruit back on the boat for
dessert, and retire early - sometimes after watching a little tv on the
multi-media computer that I have set up inside the boat. We have power,
water and a cable connection right at our slip; morning coffee at the
office, hot showers and clean new laundry machines. Our wi-fi
connection was sketchy at first, but this morning it is performing
brilliantly - I'm on my tower and Deb is using her laptop right now,
from right inside the cabin of our boat.
"Daily highlight" activities have included the traditional music
festival, which was great - finger-pickin' guitar styles from different
regions, cajun fiddle, boogie piano, Texas country harmony singing,
etc. There's Sombrero Beach and Pigeon Key, and this weekend the Pigeon
Key Art Festival, which has grown from humble mangrove roots to become
one of the most significant in the country. We enjoyed a chili cook-off
with the Abate motorcycle club at one of their favourite bars - one
large section of the parking lot is reserved for Harley-Davidsons.
Twenty different varieties of chili...we stuffed ourselves, and
wondered what sort of road kill might be in each - lots of dead iguanas
around, not to mention the occasional Key deer.
If we come next year, I'm going to bring bicycles, tennis racquets and
a softball glove. The roads are flat and the distances perfect for
cycling, and many people use them, including most of the sailors at
anchor or on mooring balls at Boot Key Harbour. They have a real
community spirit at Boot Key. A partial list of their activities
includes yoga and tai chi every mid-morning, which Deborah has
attended; softball every Tuesday morning, tennis courts in the Marathon
Community Park, a Meet-n-Greet pot luck every Wednesday evening and a
musicians jam on Saturday evening. There's a good library, and free
wi-fi at City Marina, the library, and several restaurants and
businesses around town - when we want to place a phone call on the
road, we just pull into a parking lot beside The Brass Monkey, or
similar places, and use Skype on our laptop.
couple of manatees were here this morning - a neighbour began emptying
yesterday's horrible all-day downpour from his dinghy, and they showed
up looking for fresh water, which they crave. He let his hose run for
them (which is highly illegal, just as feeding them is, because it
encourages them to come up to boats where they often get cut by
spinning propellers), and Deborah took this photo of them competing for
am reading "Honey, Let's Get A Boat" in a deck chair on my deck, at
high tide. Tiger Moth is sporting her new brand new boom cover, behind
me, and you can see the pop-top open above the cabin, and the sunshade
system for the cockpit. There's also a solar shower which we use to
warm water for dish-washing - not that we have many dirty dishes. And
someone else cleans the spacious, tiled marina shower rooms. So, life
on a small boat has some advantages: it rocks you to sleep at night,
and the smaller the boat, the cheaper the cost of marina camping, which
is charged by the foot but includes the same amenities no matter how
large or small your boat. We were the smallest boat in the marina until
a couple of days ago, when "Doc" and his wife, both closing on 80 years
of age by the looks of them, showed up in a little Steiger Craft that
might be a foot shorter than our Tiger Moth.
were in Key West, after days of looking in every jewelry store for
miles, we finally concluded a five year search for just the perfect
pair of earrings for Deborah. We had to buy the perfect sailboat
pendant in one store and its twin in another store, then get the
jeweller to turn them into earrings, and then get another jeweller to
solder them so they wouldn't ever get lost after five years of yearning
of sunsets. She took this one a few steps
from our table at Lazy Days restaurant at our marina, where we had
dinner two nights ago.
course, here's Gnorman enjoying the sunset after a long day of snow
this morning of something rarely seen above water:
manatee lips. A neighbouring boater was cleaning his boat and put down
the hose, which sprayed a stream of water off the deck. This manatee
arrived quickly to take advantage. You'll notice that they have a short
cornered snout rather like a stubby elephant's trunk - maybe like the
annoying little elephant in Rudyard Kipling's story "The Elephant's
Child". Sure enough, the closest relative to the manatee is the
In the upper photo you see the philtrum (space between the nose and the
upper lip), and in this photo the manatee's mouth is open and you can
see the bottom lip and either the top lip or the tongue. Fresh water
pouring from the sky - must be like manna for a manatee.
This place is for the birds. One of the most active industries in
Marathon nowadays, after a history of railroad construction followed by
commercial fishery, is now fishing tourism. We were at Sparky's Landing
the other day when pelicans flying in formation landed and commenced a
conference at the fish cleaning station, and a heron (or a Great
Egret?) as big as Deborah
came in for the leftovers. We saw
another, smaller one waiting on tables at Burdines, a famous local
waterfront boat service joint, bar and eatery. I went back with the
camera and neither of them was around, but this afternoon an obliging
heron settled on the pier just beside my cockpit, so here he is.
was doing in my cockpit was creating rope oarlocks for my
just-purchased origami dinghy. I took it for a test run, then packed it
away until we need it. It'll ride along on the deck just inside the
stanchions and lifelines. As you can see, I need Deborah on the back
seat for a little counter-weight...
it is folded up...see? Origami dinghy.
tell the Key's mentality by the speed limit road sign on the way
into Keys Colony. This is a county road, mind you, not a private
Speaking of birds, these are the ever-popular "bare-footed,
Our dock neighbours are extremely affectionate...and not shy at all...
Another of Deborah's sunsets...
No photos today - just links.
Plans evolve. Our intention to leave Marathon Marina at the end of our
month here is evaporating. We considered some marinas with "transient"
dockage or mooring in Biscayne Bay, which is a good sailing area for
small boats, but with the daytime temperatures only in the mid-sixties
all week and the nightly lows in the low fifties, our resolve is
weakening. The problem boils down to the fact that it is simply too
comfortable here. There's just enough to see and do, an easy drive to
nearby sights and activities in Islamorada, Key Largo, etc - the Theater of the Sea
, snorkelling trips
week-long bicycle and kayak rentals, concerts, musical jams, and lots
more. And although those temperatures don't seem like much to complain
about for Canadians, when you're out on the water in a stiff breeze in
those temperatures, with the windchill and the spray, sailing doesn't
seem as much like a vacation - it's a bit more like an Outward Bound
A dock neighbour, a retired engineer from Indiana who writes articles
for a sailing magazine and sails with the trailer sailors in the North
Channel in the summer, claims that there are five distinct climate
zones between Key West and the northern border of Florida. We're
sitting in the southernmost of the five right now...and beginning to
doubt the wisdom of moving even a hundred miles northward.
Miami and Fort Lauderdale are within easy reach by truck if we want the
big city amusements. We went to the science centre, watched a 3D Imax movie about
, and then watched Avatar
on the same screen - five stories high, with 16 channel sound, it was
an awesome 3D experience. And yesterday we were at the largest annual
boat show in the world, in Miami. We sailed for an hour on a Presto 30
- very interesting
boat in many respects, but we were more impressed with the finish and
price of the Seaward 26 and 32
have only fifteen and twenty inches of
draft, respectively - perfect for Florida Keys and Bahamas sailing.
We spent two nights in Fort Lauderdale "couch-surfing", and one further
night in a hotel. Now, "couch-surfing" requires some explanation. Years
ago we joined an organization called Servas which vetted people through
an interview process and then introduced them to each other via mailing
list, with the idea that people around the world could meet and provide
hospitality to each other. In the summer of 1996 we stayed with Servas
hosts in Bulawayo and in Durban, and another host took us on a tour of
a game park in her car.
Now there is a website called CouchSurfing.org
which does the same thing, much more efficiently. We stayed for free in
a 1200 square foot condo apartment a block from Fort Lauderdale beach,
owned by a friendly single guy who wasn't even there for most of the
two days. I'm getting ready to line up another experience, possibly
with a couple who have an apartment in Miami Beach, for this month.
Couch-surfing hosts don't expect you to repay them directly - it's more
of a "pay it forward" system. When we get home to Toronto, we'll
reciprocate with other strangers. The fellow we stayed with in Fort
Lauderdale has had a series of guests from Europe, some of whom he has
picked up at the airport at 5 a.m., who were onward-bound to Haiti to
do volunteer earthquake recovery work.
In the meantime, we're going to enjoy more of what the Keys have to
offer, including the things I mentioned earlier, plus Marathon's annual Pig Races
- I'll try to get photos of that! - and continued tinkering with
improvements to the boat, and more time relaxing in a deck chair with a
good book. There are free "take-one-leave-one" book nooks at almost
every marina and campground. And here's a great link: click on the
video half-way down this page to view some of the things we've seen and
done in Marathon already. There are links to other sections of the
Keys, too - all within an hour's drive in either direction from here.
You'll get a sense of why we're so comfortable here...http://www.fla-keys.com/marathon/
The paradox is this: that in a laid-back small town covering an island
a few miles long with a bridge at each end, with friendly small town
people and distances that are flat and comfortable to ride anywhere on
a bicycle, there is so much going on.
a docks", our dock neighbours for the last two weeks have
been a family of extreme fishermen from New Jersey. They left early
each morning and returned at suppertime with a huge catch to filet and
freeze. On their final day, they stayed out until 4 a.m. the next
morning, and returned with a real trophy fish. The youngest son had
pulled in a 155 lb swordfish (which are usually caught only at night)
measuring 70 inches from his tail to his lower jaw, from a depth of
We've enjoyed a string of parties and concerts, our most recent
favourite being a jazz quartet in Sunset Park, on the beach. This
weekend we'll attend a 7 hour "Gospel Explosion" at the community park
bandshell. Two nights ago we had a one hour lesson in East Coast Swing
dancing, followed by two more hours of dance party. Last night we went
to an all-you-can-eat fish fry at a local RV resort, a benefit to
support Multiple Sclerosis, where the food was delicious and fresh,
with several fish fry recipes and literally 128 square feet of desserts
made by the ladies of the park - four 4x8 tables end-to-end with every
square inch covered, including some tasty Key Lime pies. There were
hors-d'ouvres, and the vegetables were all fresh produce, too. The men,
from every corner of the northern states and with a fair sprinkling of
Canadian residents as well, were watching the Canada U.S. men's Olympic
hockey final on a big screen TV in the corner, and I have to say that
when Canada won, that was pretty delicious, too.
have begun our caretaking duty on Cypraea, a Union 36 made in Taiwan,
rich with teak and mahogany. It gives us a lot more space, a sense of
seclusion and privacy, a place to read and relax, and play my trumpet
out on a mooring with less chance of upsetting a neighbour - at the
marina I always worry about bothering a dock neighbour who doesn't
really like the sound of a trumpet.
This is the salon - very comfortable...
own boat, a fellow trailer-sailor, Gord Lepert, who is here with his
wife Betty in a Catalina 25, nudged me into building a bipod ginpole,
with his help and tools. He's a retired engineer. Gord and Betty enjoy
our North Channel in the summer months.
The ginpole should give us a more stable way to raise and lower our
mast, not only on the trailer but even on the water, to go under low
bridges; the spare mainsheet pulley system I have on it will allow
Deborah stand on the deck to raise or lower the 120 lb mast with only
40 lbs of effort at its heaviest point, with me under the mast in the
cockpit guiding it into a mast crutch on the stern (and controlling a
second safety line run from the forestay back to a cockpit winch). You
have to be able to go under the Overseas Highway to get to the lee of
the weather here in the Keys, and there are lots of other coastal
sailing areas where mast-lowering capability in the absence of a mast
crane is a great advantage.
I promised to tell you about the Marathon National Pig Races, but as it
turns out, Deborah wanted to tell you about that, so here is her
Stuffed Pig Restaurant's National Pig Races featuring Rosaire's Royal
Well...shut my mouth and kick me in the pants! This is the most
exciting event I have been to in a long time! Maybe it is because
Marathon is a cross between a bustling metropolis and a laid-back
country village. Maybe it is because we have been here for nigh onto
three fortnights, and frequently hunkered down trying to keep warm,
avoiding rain or howling winds. However, yesterday's forecast was for
"abundant sunshine"* and about half the town showed up at about 5 p.m.
to check out the action at the Stuffed Pig Eatery. Now, what you must
know is that the Stuffed Pig normally serves only breakfasts and
lunches, and they are a top-notch establishment - if Fodor's had a
homecooking department, they would rate 5 stars*****. It was their idea
to invite Rosaire's Royal Racers this weekend for a "Marathon"
fundraising event to benefit Grace Jones Day Care. We learned that 5
years ago, Hurricane Wilma went through Marathon and destroyed much
property, including the daycare. According to the information told to
us at the opening event, they rebuilt, and now will be able to access
more funds from the government ($100,000) if they can raise $300,000.
Apparently they are about $40,000 away from that and so this event may
help them to get closer to achieving that goal.
A very professional-looking race track had been set up at the side of
the restaurant's property, complete with flags, starting gates, fencing
and a wood chip racing surface. There was also a podium and sound
system where the owner, Wayne Rosaire did the colour commentary. There
were 3 heats, five pigs in each. Bets were made. The races began with
the novice piggies - mixed breed pigs (Berkshire and Hampshire?) - 8
weeks old. Their colouring was half blue and half pink, and they are
known in the business as "blue butts". Like all young things, they were
adorable. They made an appearance in the holding dock - all snuffling
around for the goodies buried in the wood chips. Then they were loaded
into the starting gates and racing silks with numbers were attached.
The signal to start the race was given and they were off. They all made
a swift run, but my pig came in last!
next heat featured the 6 month-old experienced runners. Again my pig
came in last!
final heat was the best! It was billed as the "Orient Express"
, and it featured
Asian Pot-Bellied Pigs - fully, and I mean FULLY grown - you can
clearly see what a great sense of purpose and direction these "swine speedsters"
had! They were
"tearing up the track!" - literally rooting for the grass hidden
beneath the wood chips that covered the racing surface. The colour
commentary for this was so funny, I nearly split a gut laughing. He
built them up to be incredible speedsters, and then they came out,
and...walked - in every direction but down the track.
are we having too much fun? Our new neighbour Kevin is a fellow we've
befriended for the past few weeks, who has just moved his catamaran to
the slip beside us. He wants us to crew with him a bit - his wife is
recovering from an accident and surgery to her leg. So we'll be
cruising out to Sombrero Light to do some snorkelling on the reef, and
Deborah will get a taste of sailing on a "flat" boat. She's trying to
think of new names for our Mirage. One of her names is "Tip-Sea", which
is a clue as to how much she enjoys monohull sailboats that heel in the
wind; the downside to that name, of course, is that it might invite
boarding by marine police, or being invited to join Alcoholics
"Oink, oink" until next time...
Charlie Brown has $100,000 in medical bills for head trauma from a
motorcycle accident; Stu Philcox needs to be brought home from
somewhere; then there's Multiple Sclerosis, and high school athletics,
and homeless furry felines, the list goes on and on - and just when I
begin to feel overwhelmed at the number of "fundraisers" going on all
around us, it hits me: this is their social safety net. It gets around
having to raise taxes, to which the populace would not take kindly. It
makes me a little queasy to think that getting help could depend so
much on public sentiment and a local community consensus of who is
considered "worthy", not to mention donor fatigue. But we've done the
"fish fry", and had a great dinner of stone crab claws - a famous local
item of cuisine - had the truck washed, eaten pork and rice, and church
dinners, entered numerous draws (and won a dinner gift certificate),
bought Boy Scout coupon cards, and on, and on. Local businesses are
under constant social pressure to display their civic responsibility by
providing discounts and prizes for fundraisers, and they cough up
tour of five exceptional homes courtesy of the Marathon Garden
Club. We paid a stiff entry fee - the event was a fundraiser for the
club, which does a lot of local beautification, including such things
as the signs on the town borders. Municipal tax dollars apparently
don't cover such niceties.
Here's a resident of one garden who is a southern counterpart to
Gnorman. Not nearly as nattily dressed, though...island garb, I
suppose...but obviously better fed.
nuisance in the Keys...sometimes they apparently
"go Postal", and run off with mailboxes.
They hand them off to hapless manatees, who just stand around looking
confused, not sure what to do with them; or to dolphins, who are a
little more astute.
Stone crab claws are interesting, as well as tasty: someone (me)
invariably asks, "but what happens to the rest of the crab?" Turns out,
crabs tend to lose their claws on a regular basis, in fights with other
crabs. Crab fisherman simply take the biggest claw (subject to
regulation sizing) and toss the rest of the crab back in the water,
where it feeds itself with the smaller claw, which quickly becomes the
larger one, while the one that it lost regenerates. It's an entirely
renewable food source.
come to Marathon, and the plants are blossoming, including many
varieties of cactus, like this one just up the lane. Did you know that
you can click on any photo in the blog and see a larger version? I'm
embarrassed to say I didn't either, for several weeks.
blossoms are pretty, but you can't pick 'em; that rule is "prickly"
enforced, just as trespassing is enforced in this sign on a nearby
Finally, there may be some who suspect that I've grown my beard mostly
to annoy my mother; but here's a bit of blatant discrimination on the
front door of the Hurricane Grill, a favourite lunch spot, that might
encourage me to get a haircut and shave.
Hippy no longer...a sure sign that summer has arrived...my mother will
be pleased, and I'm welcome to enter by the front door at the Hurricane
we each put in five hours of volunteer labour at - you guessed
it - another fundraiser, this time by the Chamber of Commerce and the
Organized Fishermen of Florida, with the Wounded Warriors and others
being the beneficiaries. We served seafood: lobster, mahi-mahi, and
clams. I made change, and Deborah passed the plates. The line got
longer, and longer...stretched right across the playing field by the
time I left my post, four hours after we'd opened the till. I took in
about a hundred dollars a minute for that whole time, and we were only
one of a dozen or more booths. Five hours was more than we'd signed up
for, and we were tired, but we got free entry to the festival and a
fish dinner for lunch out of it.
no longer wake to this lovely view from the "porch" (cockpit) of
our "floating cottage". With the help of a fellow trailer-sailor quite
experienced at the task, I've spent two miserable days inspecting the
wheel bearings on the trailer, repacking all of them and replacing two
sets - hammering out the races that showed fretting, dremmeling off
some galding on the seats below the races, hammering new races back in,
sanding and cleaning brake shoes and drums, etc. And we had a wiring
problem on the trailer - no right turn signal - which we spent ages
tracing only to discover that it was a fuse in the truck specifically
for the right turn signal circuit for a trailer wiring harness. I felt
dumb, but none of my dock neighbour-advisors had predicted that,
either. Now we have to spend the afternoon sorting out the load on the
truck, dropping the mast, and preparing to haul out the boat tomorrow
morning. We might stay an extra night, sleeping on Cypraea while Tiger
Moth sits on the trailer, ready for an early morning start on Thursday;
I'm hoping to squeeze in a tour of Pigeon
and the watercolours exhibition, as well.
a mystery photo for you. I love it - looks like modern art brush
strokes. I might make a canvas out of it some day. The first blog
reader who guesses what it is wins a prize...
New friends come and go on the water. They're the kindest, most jovial
and open set of people, and you'll know them for a few days...then it
is like "ships passing in the night". A cruising newfie couple had us
in their cockpit, trying to help me with a wi-fi range extender
antenna, when the husband let out a guffaw and called to his wife,
"Would ya look at these dirty feet, my dear!" He was looking at the tan
pattern on Deborah's bare feet. This the cause of Deborah's "dirty
Back to the west side of Florida, we joined the WCTSS (trailer sailors)
once more for a cruise out to the island of Cayo Costa, a State Park
that only boaters can reach. See all the masts? Each belongs to a boat
that was part of our weekend fleet.
anchored on both sides of the beautiful spit of sand which forms
Pelican Bay. The squadron has published a page of photos
Moth, are in a few of them. We hiked six miles to
the other side of the island and back, to the beach on the Gulf. You
can see how few people have to share the beach. Most of these people
came over on a ferry, however.
Dolphins fed beside us right at the beach.
were osprey, black snakes, armadillos...and a fisherman in a small boat
caught himself a bull shark after a four mile struggle. He let it go in
our bay shortly after making it grin for the camera; parents watched
their children very carefully for the next hour or so. It was a lovely
weekend and we enjoyed kibbitzing with the trailer sailors, and sharing
a campfire on the beach for two nights.
A small craft warning got
us away early on Sunday, back to the marina where we'd launched. I
didn't get the boat as high up on the trailer as I should have, and it
was overbalanced at the back. It was a busy ramp, so I thought I'd just
do the "bump", as described in an earlier post. The boat wasn't having
any of that, it wouldn't budge an inch, so I decided the only choice
left was to circle back on the one-way driveway to the ramp, and back
the boat and trailer into the water again. I drove away
determinedly...and suddenly there was a tremendous bang and a flash of
light, rather like a clap of thunder and lightning, behind me; then a
crashing sound, and in the rear view mirror I saw my previously
vertical mast suddenly horizontal, balancing precariously on the stern
pulpit. My $400 mast-top navigation light was smashed into dozens of
pieces of glass, metal and plastic all over the pavement. My stainless
steel forestay cable had been neatly severed by a high voltage cable,
bringing the mast down in an awful hurry. We were very lucky that we
didn't damage any marina or county property, or cause any more damage
to the sailboat.
That night we stayed on a site at a nearby RV resort. The skies opened
up and we were ankle deep in water. Deborah remembered that we'd packed
rubber boots, so we used those. Our neighbours reminded her why she has
often repeated that she wants to be "trailer trash" in her retirement -
they were friendly to the point of being overwhelming. It felt like we
were in a remote outpost where new people are a rarity. The fellow
across the way invited us for drinks and supper: green beans, shrimp
and scallops, and pineapple upside-down cake. His friends kept dropping
by to greet him and meet us, and one couple caught us making our way to
the washroom with our toothbrushes and dragged us into their trailer
for a drink and a visit. The following morning a fellow who'd lost out
on a chance to monopolize our presence the evening before came by on
his bike and insisted that we visit his RV for a chat and to look at
his photo albums. Then he went to breakfast with us. We were three or
four hours late getting away that morning. We began to feel as if we
were being slowly eaten, bit by piece, by the emotionally-starved,
lonely walking undead. But that sounds ungrateful, and truth to tell,
we were astounded - yet again - at how open-armed trailer park
spent three nights at Homosassa Springs upon the invitation of Janet
and Doug Bagshaw, fellow members at Highland Yacht Club. We had an RV
site right behind theirs. They took us to great food spots with such
dubious names as "The Shed" (great catfish!) and "The Freezer" (great
shrimp!). It really was a restaurant inside a commercial freezer. We
visited Dave and Kay Huntley in Crystal River, also HYC members. I
played road golf down the streets of the RV park with Doug and his
friends, drank Janet's delicious coffee for three mornings straight,
and Doug serenaded us one morning with his guitar. We enjoyed our
visit. We didn't snorkel with manatees this time, but we'd done that
once on a previous visit - this is where that's done, and there's a
nice wildlife park, worth visiting, next to the Turtle Creek RV Resort.
At the end of a drive through miles of flat saltmarsh down to Ozello
Island we saw an example of how nature mocks man's construction efforts
house sports an ironic sign claiming to be an example of quality
construction, "Where Craftsmanship is not a lost art".
The ferocity of storms and storm surges in Florida is the reason why
most homes in this region and many others are now built on stilts with
nothing on the ground floor but the car you'll use to evacuate, and the
boat you might have to use to get to the grocery store if you choose to
stay behind. Even new trailers and mobile homes have to be mounted
three feet above the ground.
Way down upon the Suwanee River
As we left Homosassa this morning Doug suggested that we should check
the pressure in our trailer tires. He was right, they were
underinflated. While I was adding air at the first gas station we
stopped at, Deborah spotted a nail sticking out between the tread
ridges. We turned around and headed back to the tire garage in
Homosassa. Luckily the nail was short, and hadn't gone through. All we
lost was an hour of time. Finally underway by 11 a.m., we drove for a
half-day and then decided to visit a place we'd always promised we'd
stop at on previous trips: the Stephen
Foster Folk Culture Center State Park
. We saw some of the best
dioramas - animated, too! - either of us has ever seen, and listened to
the world's largest carillon (tubular bells) playing a medley of
Stephen Foster songs. Now we're holed up in a motel with wi-fi (hence
the blog updates) while it rains pretty hard outside. I'll finish this
blog with a few random photos of interesting plants you'd find in
Our Florida winter is over. We might do it again, but because it was
the coolest winter they'd had in thirty years or more, we didn't do as
much sailing as we expected, and although we took our snorkeling gear
and wet suits, we didn't get them wet even once. On the positive side,
as we frequently reminded ourselves, we didn't move a single
shovel-full of snow, all winter...we had fun of one sort or another
every single day, and we loved the people and their laid-back, smiling
Cruising home, we passed by the Kentucky
, saving that for another trip - it looks pretty
interesting, but a bit expensive, and it looked like it would take a
big bite out of our travelling day. It was mid-morning when we passed
through Lexington, and I was reluctant to stop when we'd only been
under way for an hour. We also saved the Lost Sea
(a huge underground
lake) for another visit. We did stop to gawk at the Union
, however. The link takes you to a google
image page of this incredible example of art deco construction.
So that's it. Now we negotiate the border and customs declarations for
things we picked up along the way over the past three months, and then
settle in at the house and the yacht club for three months. We have
summer trips planned and decisions to make about which boat(s) to keep,
what to do with our house, where - and how - to travel next winter, and
so on - who knew that retirement would require so many complex
decisions and changes?
Our phone is reconnected - give us a call. Come by for a BBQ and sail...
P.S. for those returning to Canada via Detroit's Ambassador Bridge
waste time looking for gas to fill your tank or cheap booze anywhere
else than right at the border. There's a large,
beautiful duty-free store
just before you enter the bridge lane
that has the cheapest gas within a fifty mile radius and the best
prices on spirits that I've seen anywhere south of the border (and it
goes without saying, north of the border).