Monday, March 30, 2009

Hanging in the Keys

By Monday morning, March 23rd, the wind had clocked around to the east and, as a result, we lost most of our wind protection. As I mentioned previously, the islands we were anchored between run east and west so the wind was now funneling between the islands. We weren't sure how rough Biscayne Bay was going to be, but it was time to move on. We pulled anchor and left Miami Beach about 10:45 a.m. The first three hours were the worst, going south with a strong east wind, but it got better when we turned and started heading west. Forty miles and five hours later we were anchored in Barnes Sound near Steamboat Creek. The wind finally calmed down and we had a nice quiet evening at anchor.

A couple of views of downtown Miami as we were leaving. We're not in Springfield anymore!

Tuesday morning brought a little early rain and the wind was back. We left our anchorage about 10:00 a.m. and travelled the remaining 27 miles to Jack & Susan's house in Islamorada. Just before we got to their house, we stopped in at Plantation Key Yacht Harbor to top off with fuel (143 gal @ $2.35/gal).

Arriving in the Keys. The bridge ahead of us is Highway which connects the mainland to the Keys.

Susan was waiting on the dock to catch a line and we were tied up by 3:00 p.m. Jack came home from the boat yard in Key Largo a few hours later and Alina, a neighborhood friend, dropped by with some homemade salsa. That evening Susan fixed soft shell tacos for dinner and we spent the next several hours talking about the Exumas, where we met Jack & Susan last year.

"Life's2Short" tied up to the Connelly's "marina." Thank you SO much for your hospitality!

We moved "Life's2Short" to a dock across the canal from Jack & Susan's on Wednesday morning and then Todd and Jack left to run a few errands. Susan suggested we go to Loralei's for lunch where we had great mahi-mahi sandwiches overlooking the bay, and Susan and I each had a very tasty rum runner. That afternoon Todd rode with Jack to the boat yard to put "Freyja" back in the water. Jack had just finished painting the hull and they were planning to bring "Freyja" home Thursday morning.

A few shots at Loralei's after an excellent lunch!

Words can't explain this...a floating Cadillac used as a barhopping boat-limo!

Wednesday evening we went to happy hour at Zane Grey's on the second floor of the World Wide Sportsman, the Keys saltwater version of Bass Pro Shop. We were joined by Alina and husband Don and another neighbor, Co. It was a pleasantly calm evening overlooking the bay and the view from the balcony was beautiful, even though we left before the sun reached the horizon.

We all left for the boat yard at 8:30 Thursday morning to bring "Freyja" home. Since Todd had never sailed before, he accompanied Jack & Susan on the trip home and I brought the car back. Even though the ocean was pretty rough, Todd said "Freyja" handled it well and that he really enjoyed the quiet peacefulness of sailing. Something else he can check off his bucket list.

Popeye the sailor man, what a great day!

"Freyja" and crew safely back home.

Thursday afternoon we all went out to a low tide sand bar on the ocean side in Jack & Susan's skiff so Dakota, their black lab, could run and play. After we wore Dakota down, we came back to the boat, cleaned up and put some lasagna together for dinner. We then took the skiff out again about 7:00 p.m. to watch sunset while the lasagna was cooking. Another of Todd's bucket list items is to see the green flash, which apparently is a fairly common occurrence in the Keys, but it didn't happen that evening.

An afternoon in the Keys, what a life!

A small Portuguese Man-O-War that washed up on the beach at the sandbar. We saw quite a few of these while we were sailing earlier that day.

Sunset with Jack & Susan and Dakota.

Todd and Jack ran more errands early Friday afternoon while I dealt with our mail and messed around in the kitchen. Susan was tied up most of the day with various appointments and didn't get home until late afternoon. We all went out in the skiff for sunset Friday evening but it was too cloudy and we weren't able to see anything so we headed back to the boat for a quiet evening aboard "Life's2Short."

We borrowed Susan's car on Saturday and drove to Marathon to visit Bob & Stephanie aboard "September Song." I had been carrying a large bag of frozen gumbo, given to us by our good friend Fred at the Demopolis Yacht Basin earlier this year, specifically to share with Bob & Stephanie since they were so impressed by it when we had it with them at Blackbeard Island last fall. Anyway, I needed to free up the freezer space to stock for the Exumas so we decided to deliver the gumbo to them.

When we arrived early Saturday afternoon two other boating couples from a boat named "Gypsies in the Palace" were there and we spent the afternoon in animated conversation about a variety of subjects, not the least of which was the Exumas. Everyone who was there is planning to cross to the Exumas as soon as weather permits, and Bob & Stephanie and the other two couples are just itching to go! They have all been wintering in Marathon essentially since January and are ready for a change of scenery.

Bob & Stephanie on "September Song."

"Gypsies in the Palace," "September Song" & "Life's2Short" talking excitedly about getting underway!

When we returned Susan's car Saturday evening, she sent Todd back to "Life's2Short" with a number of homemade goodies: Co's fresh Tabouli (an Armenian dish), Alina's rum cake and Susan's Jezebel sauce (a secret recipe). What wonderfully generous people!

Sunday was a day of many projects aboard "Life's2Short." The Captain started early cleaning the interior of the sundeck and flybridge vinyl, then he washed the entire boat and dove under the boat to put new zincs on the shafts. While he was busy doing all of that, I managed to get a good portion of the boat's interior cleaned, although there is always more waiting to be done!

Bob & Stephanie decided to move "September Song" to Islamorada on Sunday where Jack & Susan graciously lined up yet another neighbor's dock for them to tie up to. They arrived mid-afternoon and we were all waiting at the dock to catch a line. Apparently the ocean was much rougher than had been forecast so Bob & Stephanie came inside at the Channel 5 bridge in search of calmer water. That evening we all got together for happy hour at Jack & Susan's dock and ordered pizza for dinner.

Happy Hour on "Frejya's" dock.

Today is Monday, March 30th, and Bob & Stephanie just pulled away from the dock, headed for Rodriguez Key. We will also be leaving here within the next few hours to meet up with "September Song" and a couple of other boats that are already anchored there, one being "Gypsies in the Palace." The plan is to leave Rodriguez Key early in the morning to cross the Gulf Stream and get out on the Bahama Bank where we will anchor tomorrow evening.

According to the boats that are already at Rodriguez Key, things are much calmer today than yesterday so hopefully the seas will continue to improve. We will post an update from the Exumas as soon as we are able, but it may be several days before the opportunity presents itself. We are taking a different route this year and I have no idea when we will first have access to the Internet. In the meantime, keep your fingers crossed for calm seas and a safe and pleasant journey for all of us - including Jack & Susan who may be crossing by the end of this week.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Is Florida Really The Sunshine State?

We left Lake Worth Tuesday morning, March 17th, and put in another seemingly long four-hour, twenty-six mile day to get to Delray Beach. Our plan was to anchor in Pelican Harbor, near Tom & Jackie's house, but we weren't able to get the anchor to hold well in the soft mud, and with a strong north wind and rain predicted over the next couple of days, we weren't comfortable anchoring there without a solid hold.

So the Captain made a few calls and we ended up going to the Delray Beach Yacht Club. The rate at the Yacht Club was more than we wanted to pay ($1.80/foot/night), but we figured it was reasonable for the area. However, when we got tied up and the Captain went to the office to pay, we were informed that power would be another $25 per night, which would raise the rate to nearly $2.43/foot/night for our 40-foot boat! As a result, we declined their power and elected to use the generator to accommodate our power needs.

Tom & Jackie picked us up at the marina shortly after 5:00 p.m. and took us to their beautiful home where we had a great evening chatting and catching up as we munched on chilled shrimp and spinach artichoke dip, followed by filet mignon, fresh corn-on-the-cob and salad. Jackie also had fresh strawberries and shortcake for dessert, but we were too full to indulge ourselves further. Thanks, Tom & Jackie, for a marvelous evening. We look forward to seeing you soon in the Exumas!

This picture of Tom & Jackie's beautiful house and boat ("In Your Dreams") was taken from the Intracoastal Waterway.

What a gorgeous home!

Thanks for your hospitality, guys. We really appreciate it!

We took Jackie's car back to the marina that evening as rain settled in over the area. Wednesday morning the Captain used the marina facilities to do a couple of loads of laundry while I defrosted the refrigerator. By Wednesday afternoon we decided the rain wasn't going to stop so we got our shopping lists together and spent the next several hours taking care of business in the steady rain. The rain continued that evening as well and, after being out all afternoon in it, we didn't much feel like going anywhere so we spent a quiet evening on the boat.

Todd ran a few more errands Thursday morning and took Jackie's car back to their house. Tom then brought Todd back to the marina and we pulled out just before noon. More than four hours and less than twenty-five miles later we were anchored in Lake Sylvia in the Fort Lauderdale area. It was still cloudy but the rain had finally moved on - for now.

Just in case you can't read it, the sign says: Welcome to Fort Lauderdale, Yachting Capital of the World.

We're not sure what this was, but it appeared to be a house that was being towed north on the Intracoastal!

A pink condo - the Admiral's favorite color - just west of Lake Boca Raton.

The wind was forecast to pick up Friday afternoon, so we left Lake Sylvia by 9:00 a.m. Friday morning and travelled the final twenty-four miles to Miami. With all of the "No Wake" zones and more restricted bridges, it was 1:30 p.m. before we got anchored. I can understand why a lot of boaters avoid the Intracoastal in South Florida and run offshore. Even though we can clear many of the restricted bridges, it is still painfully slow boating!

Beyond this bridge to the east is Port Everglades, our port of entry last year when we returned from the Exumas.

Yachts like this one are a common sight in the Fort Lauderdale area. This one, named "Utopia," is the 59th largest yacht in the world, measuring 235 feet, according to Power & Motoryacht's 100 Largest Yachts in 2008.

A cruise ship docked at Port Everglades.

Scenes along the Intracoastal on the way to Miami. This one is of the Hollywood Boulevard bridge.

Downtown Miami from a distance.

We anchored in the Miami Beach area between Hibiscus and Palm Islands, just north of the Port of Miami where the cruise ships dock. The Captain had been in e-mail contact with a guy named Tommy who is on one of the boater list servs he follows, and Tommy told us we could anchor behind his house on Palm Island. This worked well for us since the wind was supposed to blow out of the north/northeast over the next several days and the islands run east and west, thereby affording a reasonable level of protection.

Views of downtown Miami to the west of our anchorage.

This is a view of Miami Beach to the east of our anchorage.

Tommy invited us to his house for dinner Friday evening where we met his wife, Coral, and friends Jed & Jan who were visiting from the Labelle, FL area where their boat is currently in a boat yard. As forecast, the afternoon had turned breezy but we had a pleasant evening and a nice dinner, and I made plans to have lunch with Coral on Saturday.

The view from Tommy's house. "Life's2Short" is anchored behind Tommy's boats, between the islands.

The rain moved in again overnight on Friday and continued into Saturday morning. Coral and I enjoyed grouper sandwiches at Joe's Stone Crab during a break in the rain and then toured part of the downtown Miami Beach area while the Captain worked on a few projects around the boat. The rain and wind continued off and on all afternoon and evening so we remained hunkered down aboard "Life's2Short" the remainder of the day.

Today is Sunday, March 22nd, and even though the wind doesn't seem to be letting up any, the sun is shining again - for now. The Captain left about 10:00 this morning to go to a marine flea market with Tommy and didn't return until 5:30 p.m. He bought a few "necessary" boat supplies and had a good time touring the many blocks of vendor booths with all manner of boating supplies and equipment.

Here are a couple of shots of the marine flea market.

Another shot of Tommy & Coral's house on Palm Island. If you look closely you will see Tommy & Coral eating dinner on their patio (on the right) with Tommy's boats in the background.

The wind is supposed to continue to blow 20-25 mph for the next several days, so we plan to leave here tomorrow and continue south and west toward Islamorada. At least we will be travelling with the wind for the most part and that should make for a somewhat smoother ride. We hope to arrive at Jack & Susan's sometime Tuesday afternoon and are looking forward to seeing them again. After that we will be Exumas-bound, when the weather permits.

Monday, March 16, 2009

In Search of a Nighttime Shuttle Launch

After anchoring out overnight just north of the entrance to the Titusville City Marina, we got underway on Wednesday, March 11th, about 9:00 a.m. Our goal was to get fuel, get anchored and prepare for the Discovery shuttle launch that evening. Our route from Titusville took us south on the Intracoastal to the Coco, FL area where we turned east and went through the Port Canaveral Barge Canal. We stopped at Harbortown Marina, located just off the Barge Canal, to take on 225 gallons of fuel, pump out the holding tanks, fill the water tanks, and get some much needed ice for the Admiral. We were pleasantly surprised to find that fuel had dropped in price to $1.84 (including tax) per gallon. It is important to note that this is the cheapest fuel we have purchased since moving aboard "Life's2Short" almost three years ago, yes it's been almost three years!

The dolphins come alongside "L2S" for some "wake-surfing."

Leaving the marina we only had a two-mile jaunt to get to our anchorage and the scene of the BIG event. We had been told by some fellow cruisers that the anchorage on the Banana River, just north of the Barge Canal, was the best area to view the launch. The anchorage is also one mile west of the Port Canaveral cruise ship docks, which happened to be empty when we arrived. For shuttle launches the Coast Guard sets up a ten-mile security barrier and won't allow boats any closer. Our anchorage was right at this ten-mile border.

After getting the hook dropped I got out the binoculars and sure enough there sat Discovery on her launch pad all ready to go...I WAS excited to witness this bit of history! Well, about 4:30 NASA found a fuel leak and scrubbed the launch, as they are prone to do, rescheduling the launch for the next evening. No big deal, we would just sit tight for another day, what was twenty-four more hours to wait to witness history. By 6:00 p.m. NASA found the leak to be worse than they originally thought so they moved the launch date to "Sunday at the earliest." The decision was made that we weren't going to wait around that long, knowing they might even postpone it again. We spent a quiet night on the Banana River under a gorgeous full moon so all was not a bust.

What we think it would have looked like, this shot borrowed from the Internet.

Sunset on the Banana River.

We awoke on Thursday to find three cruise ships had come in to port overnight, no shuttle launch the night before but some big ole ships in the port the next morning! The Captain spent the morning doing some B.M., (that's Boat Maintenance to those of you who were thinking other things!) changing the oil & filters in the gen-set and replacing the zincs in both engines and gen-set.

Sunrise over the cruise ships sitting in Port Canaveral.

We left the Banana River with Discovery still on her launch pad about 11:00 a.m. for points south, our goal being 37 miles to an anchorage called Rock Point, which is located around some "spoils" just off the Intracoastal at mile 925. These spoils, think of small islands, are a by-product of when they dredged the Intracoastal Waterway way back when. With the dredging the Army Corps of Engineers actually made these islands and later planted trees on them. Most spoils are too shallow to anchor near, but Rock Point has seven feet of water around it, which made for a perfect anchorage. The spoils are also wonderful for the many types of birds that use them for nesting, and they are very popular with the locals who enjoy them for beaching & partying.

Shortly after getting anchored we put down the dinghy, filled a cooler, lathered up with sunscreen, grabbed our books and headed to the island to enjoy happy hour...getting back into the swing of things and getting practiced up for the Bahamas! It was a very enjoyable afternoon, one we enjoyed so much we decided to spend another day hanging out at our "spoil" and doing it all over again on Friday. Friday night the Admiral cooked up a heavenly meal of pecan-stuffed honey mustard chicken and fresh steamed broccoli. Needless to say we stuffed ourselves!

Our afternoon company on the spoil.

Ahhhhhh, back on the beach again!

After a breezy evening on the hook we got underway around 9:00 a.m. for a four-hour cruise to Vero Beach, our destination for the day. The Vero Beach City Marina has mooring balls you can pick up for $12.00 per night, the only catch is that you will most likely be rafting to, or getting rafted to by, other boats. But it is a very popular stop along the ICW, and a beautiful area where the marina is located.

Upon arriving we were given our mooring ball assignment and sure enough we were going to raft to another trawler called "Merlion." As long as the wind isn't blowing or the current isn't too strong it's really no big deal rafting, you just put out your fenders and tie to the other boat...kind of like two floating townhouses attached to each other.

We had heard good things about Vero Beach from other cruisers so we were excited to get to shore and explore another new area. We caught the free shuttle bus that takes you to downtown Vero Beach about 2:00 p.m., knowing that this was the last bus for the day and that we would have to hike back to the marina. We were told from different folks that the marina was anywhere from a one- to a two-and-a-half-mile hike back, that was okay as we were looking forward to some "land-time."

After arriving in downtown we looked around and quickly determined that this was not our type of area, way too ritzy for us unemployed boat people. The streets were lined with high-end boutiques, salons, jewelry stores and expensive gift shops. We did walk up to the boardwalk, though, and enjoyed the view of a pretty, if somewhat narrow, stretch of beach while having a beverage at a local restaurant called Mulligan's.

Vero Beach waterfront shots.

An hour later we were back on "L2S" and wondering what to do next. (By the way, we figured it was about a one-mile walk back to the marina from downtown.) Our rafting neighbors suggested we dinghy over to the nearby Riverside Cafe and then go to the 58th Annual Fine Arts & Crafts Show in Riverside Park, just a short walk from the cafe. So, off we went. It was a pretty large art show, we figured there were at least 150 vendors showcasing their beautiful wares. We kicked around for an hour enjoying kettle korn and deep-fried artichoke hearts and the many booths set up for display. We then returned to the Riverside Cafe for a few beers before heading back over to "L2S" for a quiet evening aboard enjoying the Admiral's homemade ham & pineapple pizza...yummy!

Art in the park...

Looking north from Riverside Cafe at "L2S" on her mooring ball.

Sunday we untied from "Merlion" shortly after 9:00 a.m. and headed over to the fuel dock to pump out again (the pump-out machine at Harbortown apparently didn't work because we were full), top off the water, get more ice and empty trash. Getting underway around 10:00 a.m., we knew we were going to have another 37-mile day.  Little did we know it was going to be such a trying day at the helm! This part of the Intracoastal is wide (up to two miles) and long (about 80 miles) and we were expecting headwinds of 20 to 25 miles per hour, which made for a bumpy ride. On top of that it was Sunday and it seemed everybody was out & about in their boats. Needless to say it was rough, both from the wind and the constant line of boats passing us and coming at us.

We finally pulled in to Port St. Lucie and our anchorage at Manatee Pocket around 3:00 p.m., tired & stressed out from all the rockin' & rollin'. Fortunately our anchorage was in a no-wake zone and pretty protected from the wind, so after a hard five hours it was nice to be in flat water again! What's that I hear, the Discovery is still on target to launch tonight? Could it be true? Will NASA scrub it again? Will I still be able to see it a 100 miles away? Launch time is set for 7:45 p.m. and YES it's going to happen!

We were watching the countdown on the computer and hurried out to the bow just in time to see Discovery headed skyward, and oh what a sight it was. Fantastic & beautiful all at the same time, what a thrill to see...even from 100 miles you have no problem witnessing it. The neighbors in the anchorage and folks on shore were cheering the launch, it was awesome! I can only imagine what it would have been like to see it from ten miles out, I bet you could have felt the heat. It was amazing watching the exhaust vapor trail just hang in the air. You could see the sun slowly darken the trail, leaving only one small area still lit up 30 min after the launch...did I say awesome?

Up, up and away!

This little "cloud" of exhaust was lit up for quite a while. It also looks like I need to clean my camera lens.

Today is Monday, March 16th, and the Captain was up early writing this blog installment. We left Manatee Pocket around 11:00 a.m. and spent the next four hours making our way to Lake Worth in the Palm Beach Gardens area. There were several "no wake" zones and the current was against us most of the time, so it was a long 26-mile trip.

A quaint little place on the ICW.

What the heck do they do with these during a hurricane?

Tomorrow we will travel the remaining 26 miles to anchor in Pelican Harbor and spend a couple of days with Tom & Jackie who live nearby in Delray Beach, FL. We met Tom & Jackie aboard "In Your Dreams" in the Exumas last year and hope to spend more time with them in the islands in the coming months. They just returned from a ski trip to Colorado where Jackie, unfortunately, broke her arm so their trip may be delayed by a few weeks.

We will dinghy to their home for dinner tomorrow evening and are looking forward to renewing our friendship. After we leave Tom & Jackie, we will continue south to Miami and the Keys where we plan to spend some time with Jack & Susan in Islamorada, also Exuma friends from last year, before looking for that all-important weather window to cross over to the Exumas sometime after the first of April. Say a prayer to Mother Nature for us!