Monday, February 2, 2015

Pam and Darin's visit

We got onto a mooring ball after four days of anchoring, just as my niece, Pam and her husband Darin came to stay with us for a week.  We were excited to share our cruising lifestyle with them and show them our boat.  We wanted to cruise to Key West for a couple of days, but it was race week and no slips available in town.  On what we thought was going to be a pretty calm day, we set out for Sombrero Reef Lighthouse, just a couple miles off shore to see if we could do some snorkeling.  But oh, the waves were nasty and we had failed to batten down properly.  Stuff was flying and we were pitching from side to side, so Captain Steve decided to call it quits before we got there.  The route back into the harbor was calmer, so Pam and Darin rode on the bow.

On the way back to our ball, we passed by the wreckage of the old Faro Blanco Ocean Marina.  Hurricane Wilma took it, and its partner marina on the Gulf side.  The Gulf side has been reclaimed by Hyatt, complete with a new resort, but this one is crying out for someone to rehab it, along with about 50 deserted slips.  
We went to great Happy Hour at Keys Steak and Lobster where all hors d'oeuvres are $5.  They are all great.  Here's the tuna tataki, as close as I come to sushi.  But Pam and Darin liked the sushi. 
Steve and I were talking to a couple next to us at the bar and she asked, "doesn't it get lonely living on a boat?" ... so I had to say: "see all these people to my right, we are with all of them, so no, it doesn't".

Pam and Darin had a rental car for a week, so they went to Key West (we did not).  We all took a drive to Bahia Honda State Park, where there is the best beach in the keys.  Visitors can walk up the old Flagler bridge and take in the view.  A section of the old bridge was removed here to allow boats to enter the Park Harbor.  The current Highway 1 bridge and Florida Bay to the right and the Atlantic to the left.  

From the bridge a great view of the bay side of the Park. 
On their last night we dined aboard.  Pam and Darin were easy to please, and really, very good to have aboard.  

After they left, it was our turn to entertain Brent and Susan and Em and Bev, so Steve made lasagna.  Since we are cruising full time now, we've stocked our galley with equipment and supplies from home that we hadn't brought in previous trips.  Somehow, we've managed to store it all.  Brent and Susan brought Chianti, but oops, no corkscrew here.  Steve had opened a bottle for Pam and Darin using a screw ... screw it in with screwdriver and pull the screw and cork out with a vise grip ... such a clever guy.  

Great food and excellent company.  Bev and Em graciously brought over a couple of folding chairs and we were able to sit 6 for hand and foot, our favorite card game with our favorite card players.  
Our days start with coffee and Cruisers Net on the VHF radio at 9 am.  Tuesdays and Fridays, I go to free yoga in the park and Steve usually goes for a bike ride.  Sunday mornings are breakfast at the American Legion, great food, great price.  Last Saturday we took the Keys bus line down to Big Pine Key for their long running Flea Market.  We ladies had a good time trying on and buying some new clothes and we enjoyed the Fish Fry and ice cream. Big Pine has some cool "free range" roosters and chickens right on the main drag. 

The City Marina, which normally closes their pavillion at 5 pm, stayed open for the Super Bowl.  Great game and a good pot luck, as always.  

We left during the third quarter and found we could stream the game on the computer.  There is no antenna TV in the Keys (why is that?) ... so we've increased our AT&T MiFi to 30 gigabytes/month and are streaming a few TV shows.  
 We are adapting well to being full time cruisers and to life on the ball.  The solar panels are rockin' the watts.  We go most days without turning on the generator.  I'm doing the dishes by heating water on the propane stove, make coffee with the Melitta "pour over" system, and we can use the toaster and short microwave times with the inverter.  Its wonderful to return from an outing and not immediately have to turn on the gen to charge the batteries. The pump out boat comes once a week to empty the holding tank and you don't even have to be aboard for it.  
Our next visitor, BFF Sue, comes tomorrow and we are very excited to have her back aboard.  

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Picture success !!

Thanks to Darin and Pam's techie skills, we discovered why the pictures weren't uploading.  We learned that Blogspot users now have to use Chrome to blog if they want to upload pictures.  It appears to be a conspiracy by Google to get us all to switch over to Chrome as our browser, rather than Internet Explorer. Good news is ... problem solved.  So rather than rewrite the previous blog, just gonna post pics and captions here.  This is a floating bait shop on the Caloosahatchee River just outside Fort Meyers.

In Fort Meyers Beach, and here in Marathon, we are on a mooring ball.  Picking up the ball can be a challenge ... Susan shows her technique while Cheryl looks on.
I've likely posted this pic before, but this is the Fort Meyers Beach pirate boat ... for the tourists.
Trico Shrimp Company nestled among the shrimp boat fleet.  Excellent gulf shrimp.
And here is the shrimp fleet.  
The homes on the Naples waterways are spectacular.  Note the "boat garage" on the right side of the first one.

 In Everglades City, this is the interior of the Rod and Gun Club.
 This is the exterior.  They don't open until 11:30, but the porch was open, so we took our own morning coffee up and enjoyed it on the porch.
This is the museum, where we learned how Everglades City was developed as a planned community to house the workers who built the Tamiami Highway, a massive undertaking that connected Tampa and Miami built in the early 1900's.  

 We are having a great time with Pam and Darin and they are enjoying the cruisers lifestyle.

Monday, January 19, 2015

report from Marathon

Hello, dear blog readers,
We have made it to Boot Key Harbor in Marathon, FL, in the "middle keys".  I am unable to upload my photos from Fort Meyers to here into the blog at this time.  Not sure what to do next, so I am going to write a brief narrative, just to get something down, and hope we can resolve the issue soon. 

From Fort Meyers, we went to Fort Meyers Beach and scored a mooring ball.  We had a mini Minnesota reunion at Bonita Bills, meeting up with Kay and Bob, neighbor Paul, and Dean and Missy.  Bought 5 pounds of shrimp at $14/pound at Trico Seafood, nestled among the shrimping fleet. 

Next stop was the Naples City Dock, where we had not stopped before, a lovely and very upscale city, we wandered about, went to a great Farmers Market and had some good pizza.  From there we tried to take the old Naples-Marco ICW back channel, but after running around twice, decided there was just too much shoaling, the tide was too low, so we came out and went to Marco Island on the outside.  Calm seas, it was a good cruise, but we still prefer the ICW routes to the open water, just more to look at.  At Marco Island, we anchored in a small back bay, where there was a dinghy dock at the Winn Dixie (nice!) ...

We were traveling with Once Upon a Time, their guests had left at Naples, and by this time we were all sick with a wicked "cold" or "flu" or whatever.  But travel we must, so on we went to Everglades City.  This little community is less than an hour from Naples, but when you go there by boat, it feels like you are in the middle of nowhere.  We wanted to visit the Rod and Gun Club, a historic inn on the water, so we spent the night at their dock.  Overpriced, the shower had no light, no TP, no paper towels.  In the early morning the fishing boats went out with no regard for their wakes, bouncing us off the pilings.  But we saw the Club and toured the museum. 

From there, boats traveling to the Keys almost all stop at the Little Shark River, one of our favorites, in the middle of the Everglades, very remote.  The next day, we crossed Florida Bay and came into Marathon.  There was a waiting list of 20 to get on a mooring ball, so we are anchored adjacent to the mooring field and are now #11 on the list.  We've been out a bit with Susan and Brent, but we are all still recovering our health.  Today our niece, Pam and her husband Darin are arriving to stay with us for a week.  It's been cloudy, but today the blue skies returned.  As always, stay well.

Monday, January 5, 2015

to Fort Myers

The social life at Fort Pierce continued.  We had dinner on our boat with Jim and Gloria, who we spent time with last winter in the Bahamas, and Susan and Brent. 
We went caroling one evening on the docks, I lip sinc'd and played my toy tambourine from the Dollar Tree and Steve opted out altogether, but it was fun.  We had a quiet Christmas Eve with Susan and Brent and their visiting friends, Bob and Lynette.  Susan and I organized a pot luck Christmas Brunch, which was delicious and well attended by about 35.
Our plans were to leave on 12/28, but when Steve went to fire up our engine, we got nothing.  A bad starter was the diagnosis.  He pulled the 60 pound beast out and began researching replacement/rebuilding options. 

I just set the beer bottle next to it to illustrate how big it is, but must admit, after wrestling that thing out of the engine room, Steve did drink the well deserved beer.  After having no luck finding one at the typical places, he brought it up to Tim at Florida Marine Diesel about 2 blocks from the marina.  It's the kinda place that looks like a complete mess with piles of stuff every where, but when you go in and ask "do you have one of these thingamajigs", Tim walks over to the thingamajig pile and pulls out exactly the right one.  So he got us one, added the new starter to the old nose piece on ours and Steve put it in.  We were just three days behind our friends and booked across the Okechobee waterway to Fort Myers (150+miles and 5 locks) in three days.
We giggle about the way the lock chambers are filled  and emptied.  No fancy pumps here, the lock master just opens the door a foot or so in the direction they want the water to flow and lets it rip. Here it is raising us up. 

We fueled up at American Custom Yacht where diesel was a remarkable $2.71 a gallon, cheaper that it was when we did our Great Loop.  New Years Eve was a quiet night for us at Indiantown Marina.
We love seeing the Cypress trees with Spanish moss drapped over the branches....

... and the occasional air boat. 

The marinas in Fort Myers are all full with the annual Gold Looper Reunion coming up in a couple of weeks.  So we joined Once Upon a Time,


 and new friends, George and Mary, from Green Bay, on Beach Quest

in a great anchorage just across the main channel from downtown.  The Fort Myers Yacht Basin (aka City Marina) has 6 mooring balls in the anchorage and there is room for many more boats to anchor.  We have use of their dinghy dock, just blocks from the vibrant downtown and Publix.  The mooring balls are only good for boats less than 22,000 pounds and even the humble Shingebiss, the smallest boat in our little fleet, is bigger than that.  The solar panels have been very efficient in meeting our electrical needs and it's great to not listen to the generator run first thing in the morning and last thing at night. 
The last few days have been a whirlwind of shopping, social hours, dinners, and dining out.  We had lunch with Tom and Diann, who we looped with, great to see them.  The weather has been stellar with near record highs and it feels great to be out of the marina bobbing on anchor.
Our plans are to head to Fort Myers Beach with Brent and Susan, Once Uupon a Time ... unfortunately, it's their turn to have boat problems and they are awaiting a part to be delivered tomorrow.  If it fixes the problem, we'll be outa here.  Meanwhile, a relaxing day aboard, maybe town later. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Fall in Fort Pierce

Time sure flies by quickly in our world and we've been here at Harbortown Marina for over three months.  One of the first celebrations we had was for Steve's 60th Birthday.  Out at a local fancy restaurant, the Quilted Giraffe, with Hobart and Linda. 

We were grateful to be in air conditioning that night and throughout the first six weeks.  We hope to never be in Florida in September again.  It was sooo hot, we ran our AC 24/7 and even a walk from the parking lot to the boat made one break out in a sweat.  No work outside was possible for us, I dunno how folks live here in the summer, so we worked in our forward guest cabin.  Most of the teak was refinished and Steve painted the walls and ceiling for a new fresh look.  He also did some other minor work like replacing our old aft toilet and both bathroom faucets.  It was during this time frame that it really hit us hard that we are basically restoring a 30 year old boat, one system at a time ....  almost a "project boat" .... but thankfully we get to cruise and enjoy the boat and the lifestyle while we constantly make improvements. 
In mid October the heat started to moderate, so Steve went to work on replacing two of our most damaged salon windows.  As you can see in the picture, the plastic layer in the safety
glass has melted in the corner.  Removing the old windows was brutal, pulling all the glued and screwed trim and eventually cracking the window up pretty good.  Thanks to the lamination, the glass doesn't shatter. 

 We brought our patterns in to a local glass company and had new windows made.  Steve was unable to find trim to match exactly so he had to spend hours perched on the gunnel (no finger dock here), fiberglassing, attaching trim, sanding and painting.  Looks great ... pilot house windows are next on the list, maybe in the spring. 

Susan and Brent, aboard Once Upon a Time, arrived in early November.  Here is their beautiful 42' Jefferson backing into their slip.  We are thrilled that they are on our dock (F dock, the best dock) this year. 

We have really grown to enjoy our time in Fort Pierce.  They have one of the best Farmers Markets we have ever been to.  Susan and Brent are selling her paintings, prints and greeting cards in the art section of the market.  We think she is the best artist ever.

Susan and I love to plan a party, so we had an "organized Pot Luck" for Thanksgiving.  Jeff and Kathy came over from Pensacola Beach and stayed with us.  Of course, we had to show them our favorite Atlantic beach.  Kathy gathered up some sea grass and other pretty finds and she and Susan had a great time decorating the tables. 
Steve cooked a 19 pound turkey in our little propane boat oven, one of three that we needed to for the 35 people that attended and brought traditional Thanksgiving dishes. 
Everything was delicious and as you can see in this picture of Susan, Kathy and me, the weather cooperated for our outdoor meal.  yes, i got a very short hair cut, love it.

We've made some interior improvments in our salon, new upolstery for our dining settee and a great new teak folding chair for Steve's TV time in the evenings.  His current project, almost done, is installing a 500 watt of solar sytem with the panels on our pilot house roof.  It's been incredibly complicated, tying in all the electrical and battery components.  Here's the panel he made with the regulator, battery charger and other switches that is now installed out of view under the aft cockpit.  There's a remote display in the pilot house that shows how much electricity the panels are making.  They are cranking it out and enough is stored in the new batteries to run the frig, our biggest power hog, through the night.  We will still have to run the generator for hot water and AC if we need it, but this will be quite wonderful for anchoring and mooring ball living.  It will take many years to get our money back compared to buying power or even making it with the generator, but there is a large "nifty factor" to it all. 

Downtown Fort Pierce has a wonderful light display, the colors dance up and down the palm trees in time with the music.

Last Saturday night was the lighted boat parade, every waterfront community in Florida has one.  This one comes right into and past the outside pier of Harbortown Marina, so we get a great view. 
This big cruiser had a "Frozen" theme, great music and dancing lights. 

And here's a great shot of the tug boat that always participates along with a very nicely done smaller boat. 

 Our plans are to leave here shortly after Christmas with Susan and Brent (Once Upon a Time) and Bev and Em (Quimby).  We will cruise across the Okechobee Waterway to the Fort Myers area, then south to the Keys for a month or two.  Have a very Merry Christmas and a great 2015.  We are grateful, blessed and enjoying it all. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

We are back aboard

It was recently pointed out to me by a loyal blog follower that I left a few loose ends out in the blogosphere when we returned from the Bahamas.  Quick update:  our remaining time at Harbortown last spring was filled with welcoming home other sojourners and sharing tales of the high seas at nightly dock parties.  In April and May, the boats go up on the hard and the cruisers return to the north country .... to mow our lawns and weed our gardens and order boat parts for the next season.   At our house, the Mississippi rose to the highest level in 13 years.  Here's just a sample of the massive log jams that floated past, not yet at crest, the water came almost up to the base of the flagpole.

At the Upper St. Anthony Lock, water poured over the falls, and both lock doors were opened to allow as much water as possible through.  It was an impressive sight from the Stone Arch Bridge. 

We had decided over the winter that we wanted to become "full time cruisers".  Not quite ready to sell our house, we found a ready renter in a close friend of the family.  Thus began the long crazy process of liquidating 27 years worth of "stuff" starting with our 15' Boston Whaler.  Steve says this is the only thing he was sad about selling, but we're sure her new owner will take good care of her.
I became a Craig's list expert and we held the requisite garage sale in July for the small stuff.  VVA picked up most of the rest, and we finished with weekly Goodwill trips as we did the final cleansing of each room.  We rented a climate controlled storage locker for a minimum of furniture and memorabilia and offered family what we thought they might want.  What a lot of work !!!  Steve had to store his "complete since Issue 1" collection of Passagemaker magazine, so here I am sorting by year to box them up.   

Steve did some home repairs that were probably a bit overdue.  The flood had destroyed most of the plants in the two perennial gardens on our river bank, leaving bare ground, fertile for weeds.  Not wanting to leave this mess for our renters, I got some estimates on rip rap placement.  When I explained this plan to our new neighbor, he jumped right in and volunteered to use his 12 ton dump trailer and his brothers Kabota tractor and we could DYI it.  "It'll be fun", he exclaimed.  His enthusiasm was hard to resist, so we had to accept his offer.  First of two loads.
Jeromy was an expert with the tractor and we just had to spread out the loads by hand. 
Whole job done in about 4 hours at less than half the cost, even with a gift to the workers.  Such a relief to never have to worrry about flooding or weeds again.  Not as pretty as the flowers, but not too bad looking. 

Right before we left, a couple of cruising boats made the long journey up the Mississippi.  Young America came up last summer and was joined by Carolynn Ann this summer.  The two Great Harbor N37's made an impressive site as they approached our dock. 

Our last week was filled with last minute lunches and dinners and lots of good-byes.  "When are you coming back?" we were asked.  "We don't know, that's the beauty of it", we answered.  With the van packed full and Lucy lounging on top of it all, we were off.  Our first stop was at Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright's Spring Valley Wisconsin home and studio.  The tours are well organized, fun, and informative.  Of course, no pictures are allowed inside, but here's the outside of the building called "Hillside".  The room seen on the left of the photo is the "Assembly Hall", first stop on the tour.

The tour we took according to the website .....  is a rich overview of the Taliesin property’s finest architectural jewels, beginning with Hillside’s expansive Assembly Hall, the Fellowship Dining Room, the 5,000 sq. ft. "abstract forest" Drafting Studio, and the delightful Theater, after which you’ll drive across the estate to Taliesin and enjoy Wright’s personal Studio, the Living Room, his Guest Bedroom, the Blue Loggia, Mrs. Wright's recently restored bedroom, as well as Mr. Wright's bedroom.
The drafting studio is especially impressive as there is a graduate level school of architecture present on the grounds.  The students live in this building and work and study in the studio at drafting tables designed by Mr. Wright.  Very competitive program and the students come from all around the world. 
Back on the bus, we admired the incredibly gorgeous views of the property and surrounding hills, and then toured the Wright's private home.  A couple of outside pics of the home.

Taliesin is an American Treasure and I highly recommend a visit.  Our next tour stop was the Cherohala Skyway, a scenic drive through the Smokey Mountains.  Only 37 miles long, with many switchbacks and awesome views, we saw lots of motorcycles and took a little side road to this lovely waterfall.   
Next up, we visited a home that was a bit more ostentatious. 

This is the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC, the largest privately owned home in the USA.  We did a well organized audio tour that gives you a look into the main living and sleeping areas along with the servants rooms and kitchens.  The home has about 40 bedrooms and bathrooms, so you only get a glimpse, but there are more indepth tours also offered.  George Vanderbuilt completed the home in 1895, but died young at 51.  His widow opened the estate to the public during the depression and it is still owned, preserved and managed by his heirs.  Again, no interior photos allowed, so I copied this view of the library from the website.  The art and architecture are phenomenal ...
Chair in front of the fireplace

 ... as are the acres and acres of gardens.  Again, a recommended bucket list experience.

 Our final stop before Florida was at Brunswick Landing Marina where Once Upon a Time is berthed for the summer.  Many insurance companies want their insured boats out of Florida for the hurricane season, and Brunswick, Georgia serves this purpose well for a few of our cruising friends.  Brett and Susan rented a studio for her art where we got to see some of her amazing work. 

We stayed on their boat for 2 nights, Lucy included, and had great meals and lots of laughs.  They drove us out to St. Simon's Island, where we did our usual tourist drill:  climb the lighthouse, eat ice cream and walk on the beach. 
Finally, after a week of car travel, we got to the boat yard.  We had the boat shrink wrapped last spring, so we wouldn't have to worry about leaks with the torrential Florida summer rains.  We have one extremely elusive leak and were afraid others would crop up over the summer. 

It was late in the day, so Steve set up the portable AC (it's still hot summer here) and we got enough of the interior put back together to sleep.  It felt GREAT to be in our own beds, even on the hard, even living with only 15 amps of electric, ie. no refrigerator.  The next day Steve replaced 4 bolts that hold the rudder in place.  When you have a 30 year old boat, you almost have to have a sixth sense about what's gonna wear out next, and he does.  When we were hauled out last year, he decided to check these bolts and it's good he did.  Here's one of the old ones, looking quite corroded. 

The sealant had to sit overnite, so another night on the hard in the yard.  Spent the day unloading the van and organizing inside and the next day Steve tore off the shrink wrap and we launched by noon.  The minute we pulled off the dock, we had a beautiful cooling breeze coming in through the pilot house window and a total feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction.  Our 2.5 day cruise to the marina was mostly uneventful except for getting caught in a bit of a thunderstorm just as we approached the lock coming off Lake Okechobee.  We could see about 5 of these storm cells to our north, and finally one caught up with us. 

 We called the Lock in the middle of it, looking forward to getting into a more sheltered environment, but were informed that they were on a "lightening hold" and wouldn't lock us through until the storm passed.  There was enough lightening around us that we unplugged all our electronics and I called him on the cell phone rather than the marine radio.  He said they didn't want to be liable if we were hit by lightening in the lock ... we thought maybe they might be more liable if they left us sitting out in the middle of the lake, rather than getting us into the more sheltered river ... but I did not make that argument to him.  We waited a half hour, and when he finally opened the lock, they had both doors open and we cruised right through.  A lockmaster further down the waterway told me it's really up to the the lockmasters descretion in these cases.  Interesting .... 
Anyway, we are now safe and sound back in our same slip at Harbortown Marina.  Today, we are doing Absolutely Nothing, except writing this lengthy blog.  We have a rental car for the weekend and will go back to retrieve the van tomorrow.  Then the annual "boat project marathon" begins. 
Thanks for reading if you made it this far, it was a long one.  I promise regular posts, not as frequent as during the Great Loop, but I do enjoy it and appreciate all your support and comments.