This is an account of our first retirement trip, and our first entire winter spent in Florida:

Saturday, November 7, 2009

30 more working day get-ups...


We're vigorously preparing to slip into retirement mode. The truck and Tiger Moth are ready, we're making arrangements with friends and neighbours, preparing the house for our absence, creating checklists for packing, and dealing with a long process of retirement pension, insurance and banking paperwork.
And we're feeling good about our choice. We worried that we'd regret our decision to retire; but now we have positive momentum, and lots of great ideas about how we'll spend our time.

The first leg of our journey will be a drive to Florida, to meet up with the West Coast Trailer Sailing Squadron and join them for a "10,000 Islands Cruise", leaving from Port of the Islands marina on Panther Key, just north of the Everglades. We might launch from Fort Myers, and visit Sanibel and Captiva islands on the way down. Later in January we'll be gunk-holing around in the Florida Keys with a smaller detachment of the fleet, all the way down to Key West - a.k.a. the Conch Republic, having its 28th anniversary this April, and the headquarters of Jimmy Buffet's Parrot Heads - and including a trip over to the Dry Tortugas National Park. (edit: That was the plan, but we didn't make it to the Dry Tortugas on this trip. We went back up to the west coast of Florida instead, as you'll discover if you read that far.)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

On the road

We crossed the border yesterday morning, after a late start on Monday. An interesting experience: we got x-rayed at the border. At first they asked if we had any people or drugs inside the boat, but I guess that was a rhetorical question because they apparently didn't actually believe me when I said no. Then they sent us to the tractor trailer lanes, put us in a huge barn, asked Deborah and I to stand in a small (hopefully lead-lined!) room and ran a huge vertical bar back and forth beside the truck and boat to view what was inside. Then they gave us a bored and disappointed wave from inside their little room on the opposite side, and we were on our way.
Trailering the boat was fine. The double-axle trailer tracked well, the trailer brakes worked with the new electronic brake controller in the truck, and the truck is running perfectly.
We overnighted at the Day's Inn in London, Kentucky, which is half the price of comparable motels on the Canadian side. We paid $94 at the Comfort Inn at Chatham, even with a CAA membership; and only $54 CAD here, after exchange. We have a king size bed with a firm mattress, indoor pool, breakfast, high speed wireless internet - everything we need to be comfortable. We have a book of coupons for motels all down the I-75, and this appears to be about mid-range in price. And speaking of price, gas is about 2/3rds the cost as soon as you cross the border. So our retirement dollars are going to stretch further than I thought, and I'm almost blasé about the cost of towing a heavy boat with a big truck.
I brought my multimedia computer from home so I have all my favourite software, bookmarks, can watch tv anywhere with my uhf antenna, and can use wireless anywhere included in the price of the room or campground or marina, etc. And in many places you can just drive up outside a motel in the middle of the day and use their unsecured wireless connections for a fast email check, Skype call, or travel advisory. Gas stations like Pilot, which also serve truckers, have $2/hour high speed wireless - pay at the gas counter, and talk or surf for an hour if you like.
I have 120 volt outlets in my hybrid truck, so I can run the multimedia computer right in the cab, with a flat screen, and wireless keyboard and mouse, although we usually just use the laptop. It's older, less powerful, therefore slower, and has shorter battery life now, but it's a bit more convenient in tight quarters, and we can also carry it easily into a Starbucks coffeeshop or any location like that which has wireless for customers.
We upgraded from free Skype to three months computer-to-phone for $3 a month - unlimited long distance calling anywhere in North America from our laptop, which Deborah is using as a telephone and internet browser as well as a connection for all her bills and banking. She calls her mother's telephone, then her father's, then a bank or utility office to straighten out an invoice...I mention all these details because I find them a bit incredible. We are on a road trip and yet we're thoroughly connected to the world we left behind, at little or no expense.
The weather here is "no coat"; I even went to breakfast in short sleeves. Tomorrow I think I'll be dragging the shorts out of my suitcase. The skies are clear, the roads are dry, and it looks like the first snow might hit here on Sunday, when we'll be long gone.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Georgia on my mind...

I spoke too soon about having no trouble with the truck. We had a later start this morning, after waiting in order to solve an Enbridge billing issue in Toronto during business hours, and to place some end-of-year orders. I wrote my prior blog entry while waiting for markets to open. We got under way shortly after ten. We saw cheap gas as we crossed the border from Tennessee into Georgia, but missed the off ramp and spent half an hour getting off at the next one and going though backroads to find that gas station again. While doing that I noticed that my engine light had come on.
A good ol' boy filling up beside me at the gas station recommended "Dry Gas" (methyl hydrate?) and octane booster, and sent me to AutoZone where he said they'd reset my codes for me. Tim Friar at AutoZone was very nice but couldn't read my problem with his small scope. He said not to worry about it, but to continue to Florida and then take it to a mechanic with a more high end diagnostics machine. He was sure it was a "knock sensor" which usually detects an octane problem but in this case probably got triggered by vibrations through the frame of the truck from the boat trailer - this had happened to him once before.
I white-knuckled it down the highway, by now in the rain and the dark, with ninety minutes lost in my schedule. My transmission was slipping but I didn't realize at first what was wrong - not used to this truck and not having experienced this before - until I saw a dash message "transmission hot". I pulled over, stopped and restarted, selected my special trailer-towing transmission setting, keeping my speed and my rpm's low. The message didn't come back. The transmission slipping gradually stopped, and suddenly I realized that the engine light had gone off by itself. Now I believe (the third option) that the engine light came on because my transmission was overheating and the fluid was probably frothing. I must have been pushing the truck too hard, expecting too much from it. Sailboats are heavy, with that lead keel, motor, mast, big steel double-axle trailer and all, not to mention the other gear we crammed into the back of the truck for three months away from our house. I'll keep it slow to Fort Myers, and after Christmas when the dealerships are open I'll get the transmission checked out and maybe even install a supplemental transmission cooler.
As we pulled into the Super 8 motel, we saw our first palm tree, which I hadn't seen on previous trips until we reached the Florida border Welcome Centre. It's a bit of an odd place to be for Christmas Eve, but we'll sleep well and tomorrow we'll finally make it to Fort Myers, find the marina and settle in for a few days before the others arrive to begin the cruise. We'll commission the boat and explore the area, which we've been told is nicer than Key West.
Merry Christmas, everyone!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Port of the Islands

Once you've seen your first palm tree, things seem to go better...it was almost like sliding downhill through Georgia into Florida. It took ages to get to our destination, negotiating all the traffic lights on highway 41 down through Fort Myers and Naples on our way to the marina. We arrived in Naples after dark when everything was closed - we slept in the Wal-Mart parking lot on Christmas Day. Now we've been here the better part of a week and everything has worked out very well. Photos will be posted shortly, but we've been busy exploring the area, working on prepping the boat, and just seeing to our own comfort level. Sleeping in a tiny sailboat is challenging, I have to do a special kind of contortionist yoga just to get in and out of my V-berth (Deborah, who claims to be too claustrophobic for the V-berth, gets the main cabin berth), but once there, I'm quite serene until early in the morning when we rise, shower and rush off for our $5 buffet breakfast at the hotel a few steps away from the marina.
We've had two manatees behind our boat, and our own alligator - quite a large one. We have a new inflatable dinghy from West Marine to try out, but we're not too sure that we want to try it in the marina.
There are palm trees of all descriptions, banana trees, and many other tropicals; birds and wildlife are abundant, including panthers. There's a "panther crossing" a few miles down the highway from here. Panther Key is at the mouth of our inlet, and was so named because a couple of early settlers tried to farm goats there, but the panthers made their enterprise a dismal failure. And speaking of which, there's another nearby island called Dismal Key, but the hermit who used to live there said that it was anything but dismal - for him, it was a refuge. In the museum at Everglade City today I read about seven different local hermits who've lived and died in the region over the last hundred years - interesting, colourful characters. There is certainly an endless supply of islands to choose from if one wanted to be a hermit, although you couldn't get away with that today, I'm pretty sure. We're at the edge of the 10,000 Islands Wildlife Refuge and state park, and the rangers would probably flush you out in no time. Mind you, one could be a floating hermit, on a small boat that could move from anchorage to anchorage. The fishing is out of this world - every day I see boats of sport fishermen return with incredible catches. I watched a guy casting off the dock last night who pulled in seven or eight fish in an hour or so. You could live on sashimi and fruit.
Internet access is a bit of a challenge, but we're finding ways to check email, manage bills and banking, and so on. And I'm in shorts, even after 9 at night. It can go down to the mid-forties on a particularly cold night, but it's generally warmer. Tonight it is only in the mid-sixties, and in the daytime it is in the mid-seventies, sometimes touching eighty degrees. It would be too hot to live here in the summer, I'm sure, but right now it seems pretty perfect.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve

There will be an event tonight that hasn't happened in 19 years: a blue moon on New Year's Eve. We have two more boats for our cruise showing up today at the marina, so I'm watching for them. We'll raise our own foresail for a little shakedown cruise. And I'll sit in a deck chair and crack open the book that Dad sent me for Christmas, "Chasing the Mirage" - which is a great name because our Lake Ontario boat is a Mirage. The book is about Islam, though.

Here are a few photos I promised to post. First, where I sit to have coffee and connect to the internet, looking out at my boat slip, and then off to the right down the channel to the Keys. I'll put up a couple of photos of the alligator, too.


































Saturday, January 2, 2010

Winter hits the Everglades

When our friends showed up, we went out to Panther Key right away. There's a pretty beach where people go to pitch their tents and camp out. Lots of younger folk kayak in this area, and many celebrated their New Year there. Yesterday, though, we had to duck into a sheltered anchorage behind Whitehorse Key, and weather out a gale that swept in and lasted for a couple of hours. The marine radio weather channel is forecasting more high winds and cold temperatures for up to five days, so we've returned to the marina to do activities we can drive to, just sleeping aboard at night. The Gulf - actual open-water sailing, therefore - is actually a long way from here, though; it took us two hours just to motor back through Keys, and up the long canal to the marina. You could view the area by satellite photo on google maps: enter Fakahatchee, and you'll see Faka Union Bay, and the long straight canal that runs north right up to the Tamiami trail. That's where the marina is, and you'll see how far out from there, through islands, we have to go to reach the gulf itself.
The Floridians are all wearing down winter coats, and such. We still have ours with us, fortunately; but like most recently arrived Canadians, I'm in a lighter jacket and slacks - covering up in the cool breezes, which have a bit of a sharp edge to them, if not an actual winter bite. But the sunshine is still intense, and the sky is blue and cloudless today.
They keep a nice heated swimming pool in the resort, which I might use later; but it's only Canadians who swim in an outdoor pool in the wintertime in south Florida, don'tcha know...
Or, it's a good sort of day for a trip to Wal-mart and Ace Hardware, maybe a Starbucks coffee, followed by a stroll on the nature trails in the state park, perhaps.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Still in the deep freeze

The trailer sailor fleet went out yesterday and stayed overnight in chilly conditions close to Panther Key, with a nippy northwest wind blowing. One of them is a semi-celebrity: author Stephen Ladd, who wrote Three Years in a Twelve Foot Boat. He and a partner are working out the kinks in their Sea Pearl, getting ready for a crossing to the Bahamas. He showed us his boat and kept a warm fire going for us on the beach.
There are only nine boats on this cruise - a few of the Florida regulars dropped out because of the temperature. This morning the three Ontario wives, including Deborah, mutinied and commandeered their vessels, forcing their skippers to return to the marina for tonight, which is supposed to be the coldest forecast for this particular cold snap. They claimed they hadn't driven a thousand miles south of their toasty hearths just to be frozen at sea. In fact, tonight and tomorrow night the thermometer will dip to 38 degrees around 4 a.m., which is only 3 degrees Celcius. The days are bright and clear, though.
We left Steve Ladd and another sailor, Nick, collecting oysters to supplement their supper meal. Nick is an interesting character. He's a tall bear of a fellow with long white hair and beard. He was a commercial fisherman on the west coast since the age of twelve, on his father's boat, which sank. He was five days in the water on a life raft which flipped in a gale, and then flipped back upright. The Coast Guard rescued him on Christmas Eve. Later he was out on another boat which sank. He claims this means nothing, because he has friends who've survived three sinkings, and he's only suffered two. He was on a tiny little sailboat called Mermaid, an Ensenada 20 made in San Diego. Someone else told me later that they collected so many oysters they had to put some back because they couldn't eat them all.
The manatees in the marina are chuffing and blowing ten feet astern of our boat, and they are probably in some distress as the water temperature drops. They can only stand a narrow range of temperature. I've heard through the grapevine that three manatees succumbed to cold yesterday - or to cold-related situations: they swim up the channels looking for shallow warm water, and when the tide goes out they can get stranded and suffocate, apparently.
Three more photos for you: the first, as you can see, is clear proof that this is where I belong.
The next two are of a pelican friend who dropped by the boat at Hog Key looking for a fishy handout. Since I don't fish, he was out of luck, but he was certainly winsome.
                 

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A new record! The temperature game...

It hit 36 degrees early this morning, a new record for Naples. The coldest weather in forty years, I'm told. And that's 32 or below with wind chill - people are scraping frost off their windshields with anything they can find (who's got an ice scraper down here?) Tonight, Saturday night and Sunday night are forecast to be as bad or worse. The high yesterday was only 57, compared to the normal average of 75 for this time of year (it can be over a hundred in the summer).
I think we'll be staying in the marina for tonight at least; maybe go out for two nights, and then back in on Saturday to plug in the electric heater for the weekend.
The manatees keep puffing and blowing behind the boat, not going anywhere. They need a water temperature of around 70 degrees or they can get sick - high sixties at the very least. The water temperature now is only 63, and as the air stays cold, it keeps dropping.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

No mosquitos!

In this cold weather, the mosquitoes have vanished. Good thing, too - you see how big these things grow?



And do you see how Deborah is dressed? We're spending our days ashore, visiting museums, reading, shopping at Wal-mart, tinkering with the boat, and hanging out with the rest of the fleet, all but the hardiest of whom have returned to the marina in a quest for warm sleeping conditions.






We went to the Rookery Bay Reserve Education Centre yesterday. The photo is a little shady, but here's a favourite local sport: alligator-wrastlin'...

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Rod and Gun Club

Our stay at Port of the Islands is drawing to a close, and we hadn't sailed to Everglade City to have dinner at the iconic cypress-panelled Rod and Gun Club, so last night we drove over. It is a grand old building whose guests have included numerous presidents, actors and rock stars over the past 150 years. It was a rest stop for servicemen in a tiny town of 530 inhabitants which was known in the past as a hub for marijuana trafficking. I'm guessing the marijuana would have been grown on some of the 10,000 Islands and then brought up through the shallow channels to port in Everglade City for onward shipping overland. Some of the island inhabitants weren't all that welcoming to visitors.
It was all but deserted when we were there, which could have been due to the temperature - those spacious rooms are chillier inside than out, which is probably true of all the public buildings in this region. We passed the church on the way to the club, and the marquee read, "Church closed on Sunday. Stay warm." Nobody appears to anticipate almost freezing temperatures this far south, and larger buildings have no indoor heating.
Mind you, the absence of clients could also have been due to the quality of the food. It came off a menu designed by a chef and priced by a chef, but it wasn't prepared by a chef. It was cooked by a waitress who was also the cook, busboy and bottle-washer, from what I could tell, and who was, if anything, even saltier than the food itself. The food was rich and greasy to the point of overnight indigestion, and I think the sweet, insipid red house wine came from Wal-Mart. Too bad.
The manatees are better off than I thought, though. I learned from a river surveyor yesterday why they are always only out at the stern of my boat and not at the bow. He told me there was a deep hollow behind my boat, and rather than the couple of manatees I thought were there (sometimes I've seen up to five or six), there are probably about twenty. They can each hold their breath for about twenty minutes, and they are there to take advantage of the warmer ground water coming up from the porous ground. They also drink fresh water coming over the weir above the marina. So the couple of manatees I thought were surfacing every minute or so for air are actually twenty manatees, each surfacing every twenty minutes!
They're hard to tell apart. They're also hard to photograph - by the time I spot one rising, get my camera turned on and wait for the lens to come out, and try to zoom to the photo I want to frame, the big whiskered nostrils have puffed and gone, and the wide barnacle-covered back is already slipping below the surface. I get a wave from a wide flat tail, about three feet across, and that's it. I wait with the camera, which turns itself off automatically, and so I'm never ready for the next opportunity either.
It's a rainy day today, with two more very cold nights forecast to come - the most recent forecast is for 29 degrees on Monday morning, which is a few degrees below freezing. Today we're going to prepare the boat to haul out on Sunday, and we'll spend a couple of days in Fort Myers at Koreshan State Park. On Tuesday when the forecast is for warmer weather, we'll drive over to the Keys and put the boat back in the water at Marathon on a huge field of mooring balls laid out like a giant parking lot. The mooring field is in a long harbour that takes up most of the island of Marathon, hollowing it out and providing sheltered anchorage for some 300 boats at a time, and surrounded by stores, restaurants and amenities you can walk to once you dock your dinghy. But I'm getting ahead of myself...I'll write more about Marathon when I actually get to Marathon.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

final POI thoughts and photos

Well, here's the elusive manatee. I realized that the dock directly opposite ours at the stern appears to be a manatee nursery, with babies surfacing with their mothers every few minutes. I stood there until I got this picture of a mother with her nose out and her barnacle bejewelled back.

A troop of duck hunters has decended on the resort. They are large, loud, opinionated gentlemen who wear camouflage clothing like they were on a military assault mission, in contrast to our hunters up north who wear bright orange vests so that their fellow hunters won't shoot them by mistake. And they hold a brazen shotgun "show and shine" right in the driveway in front of the lobby, which the Canadian sailors find a bit disconcerting, our long gun habits - and laws - being considerably more discreet.
We decided not to go to Koreshan after all. After tonight's expected new record-breaking overnight low temperature, we'll haul the boat and drive it to the Keys. We got a bit nervous about that plan today when we realized that high tide, when we'd have to haul out to keep our trailer wheels from slipping off the back end of the ramp, was anything but...apparently the cold north wind, which we've enjoyed for days, blows the water back out southward and high tide will come up two to three feet short in such conditions.

Here's a photo that a fellow sailor took of our boat heading out to Panther Key last week:

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.











Thursday, January 21, 2010

Marathon Blogging

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 worked.

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.



After 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 injury.


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...

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Key to Happy Living


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 there.

I have 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.

Big 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.









Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Go West, Young Man


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")
The 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.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Have You Met Gnorman?

I'm Gnorman. How do you do? Yes, Gnorman with a "G", but of course the G is silent.

It was 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...

I enjoyed 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.


When I saw my first palm tree, I knew my dreams were coming true.













Finally we launched the boat. 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.




In the 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?







This is 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.


Here I 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?


















I got the job! This is my new boss's funky truck - he rents bicycles, as you can see. That's me on the roof.



This 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 gnomes!




Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Life in Marathon on a small boat

This is 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.

A 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 the hose.






Here I 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.

While we 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 for them.











Deborah has begun collecting photos 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.









And of course, here's Gnorman enjoying the sunset after a long day of snow shovelling...














Friday, February 5, 2010

Manna for Manatees

Deborah caught a photo 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 elephant.





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.



Tuesday, February 9, 2010

for the birds...


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.






What I 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...



Here it is folded up...see? Origami dinghy.

You can 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 driveway.















Speaking of birds, these are the ever-popular "bare-footed, bare-breasted boobies"









Our dock neighbours are extremely affectionate...and not shy at all...











Another of Deborah's sunsets...

Sunday, February 14, 2010

camping at the marina

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 endurance course.
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 Arabia, 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, which are both trailerable and 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/

Monday, March 1, 2010

Marathon Paradox

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.

Speaking of a "pair 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 1600 feet.

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.

We 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...
















On our 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 account:


Stuffed Pig Restaurant's National Pig Races featuring Rosaire's Royal Pig
s

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!

The next heat featured the 6 month-old experienced runners. Again my pig came in last!









The 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.




So, 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 Anonymous.

"Oink, oink" until next time...

Monday, March 8, 2010

Doing good works...one purchase at a 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 pretty generously.

Yesterday we had a 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.


Alligators are becoming quite a 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.

Spring has 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.



Those 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 fence.













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.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Preparing to say good-bye to Marathon


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 Grill now.












On Saturday 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.

Soon we'll 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 Key and the watercolours exhibition, as well.

Here's 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 feet":

Cayo Costa

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.We anchored on both sides of the beautiful spit of sand which forms Pelican Bay. The squadron has published a page of photos. Deb and I, and Tiger 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. There 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.
Extreme De-rigging: 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 residents are.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Homosassy...where Deb gets to kiss Bubbles, the manatee

We 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 in Florida. This 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 northeast Florida.






Sunday, March 28, 2010

Farewell to Florida...the road home

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 sunshiny ways.
Cruising home, we passed by the Kentucky Horse Farm, 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 Station in Cincinnati, 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, don't 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).

That's the end of our Florida winter trip diary, 2010...back to the home page