Thursday, February 20, 2014

Greetings from Marathon.

Reputed (by Marathoners) to have the best sunsets in the country, we are now in the City of Marathon, on Vaca Key. Actually anchored next to the old bascule bridge in Boot Key Harbor (which is formed by Boot Key, Vaca Key and Sombrero Key).

We left Islamorada on Monday for a short ride down Florida Bay to Channel Key, just off of Duck Key. Someone on ActiveCaptain claimed to have caught two "legal" sea trout and several Florida Pompano there (March 2013), so I thought even I could catch something there. As Tess e-mailed to friends on Autumn Borne: Left Duck Key with all the fish still in the water today who were there yesterday. Tony told them he didn't want to eat those cruddy fish anyway and we've raised anchor. Most likely will go in [to Marathon] for pump out and water and wait list, then to harbor for anchorage.


Keysie Easy, pah..leese!


How to sail in skinny water.


Pretty cool, huh?!


Sunset.  Without messy fish on the boat.

We did arrive in Marathon about 1:00 on Tuesday. The City Marina still had Autumn Borne as #6 on the Waiting List. We delayed for lunch aboard and then dinghied in to the office to register. By that time, Autumn Borne had been assigned a mooring and we became #3 on the list. Yippee!  We had found a great open spot to anchor just inside the crowded Designated anchorage (in 6.4 feet, but we are now comfortable in Florida Bay skinny) so no hurry for us.  Walked around a bit on shore then back to the boat for a baked chicken dinner. Though it's been between 75 and 85 everyday, it's blowing 15 plus from the East (now and for the foreseeable future), so though we have a cooling breeze, it's too windy to get the grill out.


Sunset at anchor.

As Tess worked on board on Wednesday morning, I headed to the office to check on our Wait List status.  Moved to the #2 spot!  Then did some exploring by dinghy into the canals of Marathon.

Wednesday turned out to be a big day for us though.  With the bikes ashore, we headed off to find the Harbour Cay Club, home to the godfather of the Island Packet List, Capt. Jim Stengel. We not only met Capt. Jim and paid our respects as faithful IP List denizens, but also staying at Harbour Cay Club was the Emperor of the List himself, Capt. Bruce Gregory. We had a great chat with Bruce and his wife Loretta aboard their boat and now felt we had friends and family in this remote outpost.


A new friend, not on the IP List.

We completed our bike ride to the old Seven Mile Bridge (you saw it in "True Lies" with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis - It's where those big Harrier Jump Jets landed). Then back to the Marina.  We then bypassed Endurance and headed by dinghy right to Lazy Daze for Happy Hour and one of those promised Marathon sunsets.  Though we had been told that tables were reserved for Happy Hour guests, most were taken by diners (i.e., real paying customers) but a group of six RVers from Pensacola ("where the sunsets are even better") invited us to join them.  And we did.  It was a fun Keysie experience.  Best of all, the Happy Hour musician played no Jimmy Buffet (I am not a fan). A great set of CSNY (group and solo hits), Eagles and Buddy Holly.  Great fun!


Lazy Daze Happy Hour and Sunset.

Tonight is 25 cent wing night at Hurricane’s. We will go.  But, let's hope we have the sanity to leave Marathon when the time comes.

Hey,...no snow down here.  Just thought I should mention that.

P.S.  Not only did we get our 25 cent wings tonight, but at 8:59 PM we saw NASA’s launch of a GPS Satellite.  Pretty cool.  Some cruisers are still the geeky engineers they started life as.  And pointed us in the right direction to look.  Thank goodness.


P.P.S.  And we made it to Mooring N7.  Yippeee!

P.P.S.  And apparently, all of Gil's stories about raising monkeys in the Keys were not fabrications!


It's true!  Or, at least its in our Guidebook.





Monday, February 17, 2014

Cruising the Keys.

Two nights in Key Largo allowed us to have a second look at Route 1 and take in the sights.  Some sights!!


Feast of St. Valentine's Day, 
sponsored by The Upper Keys Sons & Daughters of Italy
Local Lodge #2843


Including the Grape Stomping Competition!

We left Key Largo on Sunday and headed further South into the Middle Keys.  From Tarpon Basin we traversed Grouper Creek into Buttonwood Sound.  Then Baker Cut into the Florida Bay proper and Everglades National Park.  Pretty skinny water with mostly 7’s and 8’s showing for depth.  Once we passed Tavernier and reached Cotton Key Basin though, we didn’t see 8 again until we turned off the ICW and headed to Islamorada.  Mostly in the 6’s for that hour or so.  Like most things, you get used to it.  Almost makes you wonder why we can’t just turn up onto a boat ramp and drive down US Route 1.

We rode bikes from Lorelei’s north to Whale Harbor Bridge, then south to Hooked on Books.  Great views on the Atlantic side.  Dead calm and glassy out to Hawk Channel.  Lots of fish in a little inlet we visited.  Makes me want to ride with a fishing pole.  (Tess has limits!  NO to bikes on Rt 1 with a fishing pole…he can go, I’ll stay aboard and write his obit!)

At Hooked on Books I half expected to see former Florida Republican Governor Crist at his book signing there.  It has been well advertised for the past week in every paper and on every poster we have seen.  A notice on the door said “Rescheduled to March”.  On inquiry, the store’s owner said that Crist wasn’t begging off (he is now running for Governor as a Democrat), the problem was that the weather in New England has affected shipment of his book “The Party’s Over”.  There are no copies in all of Florida.  As a result, until there is a Spring thaw, we all need to just relax in the Florida sun and wait till the folks up North get back to work.  We’ll do our best.


We skipped Happy Hour at Lorelei’s.  It does look like that Keysie crowd that just woke up and realized that it’s Happy Hour again.  We elected sundowners and a grander view from the deck of ENDURANCE.  Much nicer for our chi today, and we started a read aloud (our first on this trip).  We are reading “Naked Came the Manatee”, a novel written (one chapter each) by Carl Hiaasen, Dave Barry, Elmore Leonard and ten more of “Florida’s finest writers”.  It starts with a Saturday night riot in Coconut Grove.  We kind of feel like we’ve seen that.  [Photo insert:  reader’s pick…a gorgeous sunset, golden moonrise later in the evening, a perfect day moving through green water, construction on Route 1, satisfied smiles on Tony & Tess’ mugs…you imagine it, but it was better than that;)]


Islamorada Sunset.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Catching up from Key Largo.

What a difference a day makes!  We awoke on Friday morning in Boca Chita to some very Tired looking coconut and palm trees.  They blew, and blew, and blew for 36 hours straight.  We could hear a pin drop.  The universe was still, finally.  The Catamaran (Dues Paid) headed off to stage for their crossing to the Bahamas at about 8:30.  They hosted two evenings for the 3 boats tied up alongside the dock, giving us some pleasant company and diversion while riding out the storm.  Another pleasant storm diversion was in the form of a 22 foot "yacht" with 4 friends from cradle to their 28 years aboard.    Ready to have fun in a wholesome, 28 year old male sort of way, weather be damned.  Nice kids, good humor!

We left Boca Chita about an hour after the Cat, headed "on the inside" to see the Keys rather than just their outline.  We passed through open sounds, with skinny water off the channel, but no worries.  We meandered through a few mangrove 'cuts' feeling more like the Tunnel of Love than a major waterway.     We passed some "classic" Keysian getaways (Gilbert's Resort!  He may have seen better days in his youth, just saying')  We took a peek at Pumpkin Key (a private island with no dinghy access) and continued on to our target for tonight's anchorage, Tarpon Basin.  We settled in and dropped the bikes to be greeted at the Government Dock (County Complex) by a Keysie liveaboard who provided a wealth of information on what to do, see and get in Key Largo.  Hardware store.  West Marine.  Publix.  K-Mart.  $2.00 ice!!  40 Cent wings and $1.25 beers during Happy Hour at Hobo's (where you can get the same fish sandwich for $4.25 that sells for $15.00 up the street).

Well,… we did the hardware store, Publix, K-mart and Hobo wings and beer.  Sat at the bar at Hobo's with a nice 85 year old couple from Philly (another Keysie experience).  They were eating dinner before their party this evening….gave us lots of happy vibes about sunsets and happy hours….hmmm, the Keys may be all about moving from one Happy Hour to the next.  

So, we are actually in the Keys.  The Upper Keys, but clearly the Keys.  When construction is completed on Route 1 the land area may be a beautiful place.  But I guess you can say that about anywhere on Route 1….  Key Largo (our current land mass) was originally named Rock Harbor until the 1948 Bogart/Bacall movie named "Key Largo" was such a hit.  Again, thank you US Post Office for allowing the name change and the real estate boom!

The anchorage here in Tarpon Basin is gorgeous, though.  And the moon rise, and the sunset.  And, the happy hour at Hobo's was quite nice, too!




Four boys from the Berkshires
enjoying an overnight at Boca Chita on "The Yat".


A traveling companion we met up with heading South in Biscayne Bay.


Gil Slater's famous pancakes available here.


Could have cut this guy's tow line with our mast;
 luckily the driver had the presence of mind to turn out of the way.


Tarpon Basin: as pretty as Maine, with 71 degree water, no chop, no snow…no lobster thermidor either, but who's complaining?

Boca Chita Pictures



Mark Honeywell's Lighthouse.


Our first underwater excursion.


Plenty of Reef Fish!


View to the Ragged Keys.


Miami in the middle.  Coconut Grove to the left.  Key Biscayne to the Right.


Installing that zinc.


Let's hope it stays on this time.



Support for Plan Pinardville.


View from our home.


Another sunset.


Off to Key Largo.




Coconut Grove Pictures


View from the deck at Coconut Grove Sailing Club.
Melges Racing this week!


Dinner Key - Home of Pan Am's Flying Boats.


Coconut Grove Bike Tour.


Peacocks on Residential Streets.


Flying Peacock.


Home of William Jennings Bryant.


Important coral formation.  
Why?  Not really sure.  But interesting, nevertheless.


Italian Butcher's Tree.


Endurance with Downtown Miami in the background.  
From Dinner Key Mooring Facility Mooring #125.


CGSC Dinghy Racing right into the Channel.


Rainbows...


…and Sunsets.


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Who said, it couldn’t be done?!

Despite the claims of many naysayers (about half of the cruisers consulted), as well as NOAA’s outdated 1988 datum, it can be done.  And, quite easily – well mostly.

What, you ask?  Well, get a cruising sailboat with a five foot draft into Boca Chita Harbor.  It’s a small place with an outside anchorage (exposed from all sides – Biscayne Bay to the South, West and North; the Atlantic Ocean to the East), showing 7 and 8 feet of depth on the chart.  There is also a narrow looking channel that NOAA shows as 5.9 feet at mean low water.  The channel though stops at land and the harbor itself is not even seen on the chart.  But it’s there.  About an acre and a half of calm water surrounded all around with a wooden and concrete bulkhead and plenty of cleats to tie the boat.

We came in on Tuesday about an hour before low tide (in New England, moving at low tide lets you see where the rocks are).  The channel was mostly 7 feet, sometimes just over six.  The last turn though showed 5.6 but once into the harbor it was 8 to 10 feet throughout.  We tied up on the East side in front of the trawler “Liberty” just in from the West Coast of Florida (but originating out of Quebec).  The Ocean Reef Yacht Club (la-di-da) was having a picnic at the pavilion on the West side of the harbor with about 10 or 12 small boats in attendance (no doubt tenders to some monster motor yachts of the rich and famous).

A pretty little place.  The entire Key is only 32 acres.  Once owned by Mark Honeywell of Honeywell fame, he built a sixty foot lighthouse (which the Coast Guard never let him light – damn the permitting process).  Honeywell built an estate here, dug the harbor to park his 110 foot motor launch and entertained the Committee of 100 (I think they were the precursors to the Tri-Lateral Commission – definitely, the 1930s version of the Military Industrial Complex).  Unfortunately, Mrs. Honeywell was fatally injured on the property and the Honeywells never came back.  Most everything is gone now, except the refurbished, still unlit, lighthouse, thanks to Hurricane Andrew.

The reef on the Atlantic side is full of fish and the tiny key to the North (part of the Ragged Keys) is a Bird Sanctuary.  It’s all part of Biscayne National Park.  No electricity.  No water.  No services.  But, for a $20 per night docking fee, we also get a “campsite”, with grill and picnic table.  A great day spot for a family reunion or other festivities.

Though we only planned an overnight or two, a big Cold Front came through on Wednesday night as predicted.  That morning we moved the boat from the East bulkhead to the West bulkhead since we expected the storm to be its heaviest out of the Southwest.  By moving to the other side we were more likely to be pushed off the dock by the wind, rather than into it.  Good thinking!  Good move.

Though Wednesday was a quite pleasant and calm day (nicely cool due to developing clouds – replaced a missing shaft zinc when the sun broke through – and Tess spent the entire day scraping varnish off the toe rail), the rain started slowly about 4:00 PM as we headed over to the sailing catamaran “Dues Paid” for sundowners.  At about 10:00 that night, the front arrived.  Blasting at a consistent 42 to 43 knots, we saw gusts up to 52.5!  After about 45 minutes the wind abated into the high 30s and it kept up all night.  Not only were we pushed off the dock, but we were heeled about 20 degrees during the worst of it. 

The sun is up this morning and it is pleasantly warm, but it’s still blowing 20 to 25 and gusting to 30 plus.  It’s a giant step from the boat onto the land.  Big, big chop and whitecaps in Biscayne Bay.  And we are thus very glad to have tucked into this great, well protected harbor.  Friends at No Name Harbor in Key Biscayne were up all night fending off swinging and dragging boats at anchor.  Maybe we are learning the best spots in the Florida Keys, after all (though technically, we are still in Biscayne Bay and not yet in the Upper Keys).  Well, maybe on Friday.


At least its not snowing here….

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Living in Coconut Grove.

We arrived at Dinner Key in Coconut Grove (the southernmost part of Miami) on Friday.  We took a mooring in the City’s mooring field among some 200 plus other boats.  Pretty well fully booked with so many boats here for the entire season and others either waiting to cross to the Bahamas or waiting for the Miami Boat Show next weekend. 

We hoped to be gone by Sunday morning, but as Tess says: We had planned on going to Boca Chita tomorrow, but had so much fun today we decided to leave the bikes ashore and spend another night. Can't say I like the roll here, but the bike tour this morning gave such a nice sense of place.

Saturday’s bike tour sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce was great.  Around 30 riders from as far away as Boca Raton.  We had the “north” Coconut Grove tour by Frank Schena, owner of Royal Palm Tours of Miami (www.royalpalmtoursofmiami.com).   It was great.  First, to ride around town without having to worry about where we were, where we were going and how we would get back (it would be nice if we could do that while sailing).  Secondly, Frank (who is originally from Haverhill, Massachusetts) is in love with this place and enthusiastic about everything he knows and can share.  From the City’s history, to its geography, flora and fauna.   The US has something like 694 species of trees – Miami and tropical Florida is home to over a third of these.  Seattle has a mere 47 or so!  Peacocks roam wild in some neighborhoods (and can really startle bikers!); the Post Office is the reason this area is named Coconut Grove; the highest elevation is 21 feet and hence is considered the high land!  The guy never paused to breathe for 3 hours careening from the history of the native population to the colors of the limestone!

Included in his overview was William Jennings Bryant home on Bricknell Ave.  A beautiful estate on the National Register, nestled among Millionaire’s Row, Frank added an abbreviated history of the Scopes Monkey Trial, reminding us that Bryant actually won the case to prohibit the teaching of evolution…and that decision was subsequently overturned.  Bryant did not live to see the appeal, he died while in transit home to Coconut Grove at the close of the trial.  MORE interesting though, William Jennings Bryant is reputed to have been the inspiration for Bert Lahr’s portrayal of the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz as the most famous bag of wind of his time!

We met Sonia Quintero from Colombia on a self-made bamboo bike.  Sorry, no picture. (she was beautiful in personality and appearance!) She rode a prototype bike for a youth industry project in Colombia.  Check it out at http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/bambooco-bikes-by-colombian-youth .  Neat stuff.

After such a pleasant “day off”, we expected to devote 2 hours to boat chores and try to do South Coconut Grove on our own.  The road to exhaustion is paved with 2 hour expectations.  Finding a leaking water hose clamp turned “bleaching our lines” into bail, assess, dry, de-mildew, do lines (BLEACH them), check all other water connections, replace filters, jerry-jug more water (because we think it’s fun), get dinghy fuel, retrieve unused bikes from shore and gulp Advil.  All in a mooring field that’s a half mile from shore and rolls like a Salisbury Park amusement ride.

Thank goodness Monday was a work day!  Office time, laundry, groceries, all well delegated and completed, topped off with sundowners with new cruising friends Dean and Susan from Autumn Borne (aka “Buffalo”).

Tomorrow,…Boca Chita.  Perhaps.

[NOTE:  In Boca Chita with poor cell reception. can talk, but can't upload pictures.  We will be out of here on Friday after Thursday's cold front moves through.  lots of pictures then.  Stay tuned.]