Friday, December 26, 2008

Vero Beach to Marathon - Could this be Margaritaville???

There were 4 guys standing at the bar who were well into a couple of jugs of draft beer. They were engaged in a very animated conversation about the day of fishing they had just returned from. There were loud descriptions about the number of tuna that had surrounded their boat out on the reef, but for some reason refused to take the live baits that were offered. They stopped their rising crescendo of colorful expletives just long enough to greet a large man, wearing a sleeveless t-shirt and covered in tattoos, who had walked in carrying a small terrier like a baby in his arms. The terrier was appropriately dressed for the season in a Santa suit complete with fur trim and a tasseled hat. Accompanying Mr. Tattoo was his woman friend who was carrying a drink that she brought in with her from outside and smoking a cigarette.

On the stage a solo singer piano player with a pony tail was belting out a country rendition of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer as a man in a full Jack Sparrow pirate outfit, complete with tri-cornered hat, 2 stepped with his Pirate Jenny girlfriend. I’m pretty sure he was also wearing eye liner, but maybe it was the lighting, or maybe he just had very striking features? A couple of clean cut prep school types wearing designer board shorts and flip flops and sporting Oakley sunglasses on top of their heads were huddled together completely oblivious to their surroundings.

Pat and I had just returned from a day trip by car to Miami to pick up some solar panels and we were sitting in the aptly named Dockside bar on Tuesday evening waiting for our food to arrive. Both of us were pretty tired because we had arrived in Marathon late on Sunday evening after a 5 day nearly non-stop journey from Melbourne and then almost immediately turned around and driven back to Miami. Perhaps it was fatigue, and perhaps it was the tortoise shell cat sitting on the bar but there was something decidedly surreal about our surroundings. Could this be the fabled Margaritaville?

As his friends fussed over the dog in the Santa suit, one of the fishermen made eye contact, and he walked/staggered over to introduce himself as Tony. He shook our hand warmly and welcomed us to Marathon. He was just passing through, but he had already been there for 6 months, and he had no specific plans for leaving. It seems that he had left behind a stressful life in Chicago and was on his way to Panama aboard his 50 foot catamaran. As he started to describe his journey, our server arrived with our meals, and he politely excused himself and invited us to visit him aboard his boat when we got settled. His beer hazed speech and the Ralph Lauren shirt stained with fish guts were a stark contrast to the elegant way in which he excused himself from disturbing our meal, leaving us wondering just what he did before he became a sailor on a 50 foot cat in the Keys.

Perhaps Tony’s story is an anomaly, but judging by the number of graying pony tails sported by both men and women who are as old or older than Pat and me, I have to believe that the Keys is one of those places that can draw you in and lull you into a satisfied stupor. Perhaps it is the retirement community for aging hippies or perhaps it is the true fountain of youth, but there is something about the air in these parts that just seems to re-adjust one’s notions about time.

The pace of Marathon is a welcome change and a relief from the pace of the past week. Last week, when Pat and I left the anchorage in Vero Beach we knew we were in for a week of dawn to dusk traveling if we were to make the Keys in time for Christmas. As we were caught up in the moment, once again I neglected my rule about being in a specific place on a specific date. Now when you are underway and operating under a self imposed deadline there are two things that a sailor does not want to hear. The first thing is a very loud bang coming from the engine and nether regions of the boat, and the second is the total silence that ensues.

We were approaching St. Lucie Inlet following a channel no more than 150 feet wide that was surrounded by very shallow water. According to the charts the area we were in was very prone to shoaling due to the currents from the inlet and the main channel depths were well below the ICW controlling depth of 12 feet. Furthermore the water outside of the dredged channel was left to go native and was reported to be less than 5 feet deep. Understanding that we were in precarious waters I paid extra close attention to the channel by carefully back sighting each mark to ensure that I was not drifting out of safe water. Suddenly there was a loud bang and a shudder from below and then total silence.

I was like a deer in the headlights because the information from my instruments could not explain what had just happened. The chart plotter showed we were in the middle of the channel, the depth sounder showed close to 10 feet of water, and the speed log showed we were still moving forward at a decent clip. Pat nailed the problem right away when she yelled over that we had hit something floating in the water and that our prop was fouled. As I cursed all crab fishermen, I managed to restart the engine, but as soon as I put it into gear, it would stall so I shifted the focus of my cursing to the company that manufactured my prop line cutters. I managed, after several attempts of putting the engine into forward and reverse, to create a substantial cloud of debris that looked like a mix of tree branches and bits of canvas. The engine would run while in gear, but the vibrations that ran through the hull felt as if the engine was going to come out of its mounts.

I had visions of bent prop shafts, fried engines and broken transmissions, so I shut everything down. There was not enough wind to sail and the engine was of no help, so we allowed the boat to drift and as we moved into the shallow water off the channel Pat went forward to set the anchor. A call to Tow Boat US on the VHF and help was on the way. Within 20 minutes we had a Towboat alongside and were on our way to the Marriot Resort at Hutchinson Island where a diver would meet us and check out our problem. It turned out that I had hit a submerged construction tarpaulin like the type that is used to cover the load in a dump truck. It seemed endlessly long as I took the edge from the diver and pulled it from the water.

In the end the engine was fine and we were none the worse for wear. It cost us about 2 hours out of our schedule and $50 to cover the cost of the diver. It could have been much worse, but in retrospect what was impressive to Pat and me was that the experience we had gained over the last few months came into play, and apart from my initial surprise, we handled everything calmly and correctly like we had been doing this all of our lives. Kudos to Tow Boat US for being so responsive and many thanks go out to the staff of the Marriott for providing safe haven for sailors in distress, but in the end it was Pat and me that kept a bad situation from getting much worse.

It was a shame that we had imposed a deadline on our traveling because the next 4 days took us from anchorages in Jupiter Inlet to Fort Lauderdale and to the strangely named but beautiful Long Aresenicker before arriving in Marathon. Each of the stops could have easily been expanded into much, longer stays, but there is always next time.

We have arrived in Marathon, where we were met by Bruce and Esther of Con el Viento fame who produced last years cruising blog. Bruce has appointed himself as the unofficial dockmaster for Canadian boats, and he has gone above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that Pat and I feel comfortable and welcomed. The holidays were welcome quiet time, but a little lonely because the usual hustle and bustle of family dinners were missing this year. Still Pat managed to put together a great Turkey dinner for the two of us

This week will be dedicated to scrubbing several months of grime off of Threepenny Opera and catching up on boat chores that have been neglected for awhile. One of the best chores will be to pack away all of the cold weather clothing that we had been living in up until about three weeks ago. These days dressing up means putting on a shirt with a collar and somewhat cleaner shorts.

Marathon is extremely cruiser friendly and both Pat and I are looking forward to integrating ourselves into the community. We are prepping for the next stage of our travels, but the current plans call for a stay in Marathon until the end of January…. Who knows, maybe we will be like Tony the fisherman and we’ll find ourselves propping up the bar and introducing ourselves to next seasons fresh faced arrivals.

Have a great week. I know we will here in Margaritaville!


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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

St Augustine to Vero Beach via Montreal

I am warm again! After our overnight crossing from Beaufort SC, Pat and I were greeted by glorious sunshine and more importantly the real heat that comes with it. It was such a huge treat to be able to wander around the historic town of St. Augustine in shorts and a t-shirt. In fact it was the first time since we left Canada that Pat and I have been able to do so. I guess Florida is living up to its tag line of being the sunshine state. Many of the locals are still complaining about the cold, but for Pat and me anything above 55 degrees is warm and once we cross the line into the 60’s we are positively into tropical territory.

Maybe it was the heat and maybe it was because we have been town hopping on the boat but St. Augustine was one of those towns that we hated to leave. Our overnight stop turned into two, and then we added a third day just for good measure. The time that we gained by going offshore from Beaufort, was reinvested into a more quality experience in St. Augustine. It is very charming and obviously set up for a booming tourist trade, but unlike other communities that derive a good part of their livelihood from tourists, the town was not the least bit tacky. It may sound a little odd, but we were actually motivated to visit tourist attractions because they were not very touristy. And so it came to pass that we found ourselves in the Alligator Farm, the farmers market and the St. George Street pedestrian mall.

One of the other benefits of warmer weather is that we have been able to stay on the hook for several days at a time. In the real cold weather, the Espar heater draws down the batteries more than my little 80 amp alternator can replenish without running the engine an inordinately long time. When we were preparing Threepenny Opera for our cruise, I made the conscious decision to wait until we got to Florida to install solar panels but in hindsight I should have done it sooner. If I were preparing another boat for this voyage, I would definitely have my solar installed prior to departure because the lack of supplemental charging has forced us to spend more nights in marinas than I had originally planned. The savings that I would have gained by buying my solar in Florida has been more that used up on extra nights in marinas. Again hindsight is proved to be 20/20.

Threepenny Opera is actually a very good cruising boat and we proved it by leaving St. Augustine, and then staying off the grid until we reached Melbourne on our third day out. We had good anchorages in Daytona Beach and another great anchorage at my namesake Addison Point. The beauty of the last anchorage was that we were within 5 miles of the Vehicular Assembly Building, where the space shuttle is prepared for flight. It was also line of sight to the two gargantuan launch pads, so if we can figure out a way to do it, maybe we might come back up this way for the February shuttle launch. I can’t think of anything cooler than to sit on my own deck sipping on a good cabernet and watching history unfold.

It was somewhat ironic that once we reached Melbourne in, we left the boat to fly back to Canada for the annual cookie baking session with the family. While it might sound a little strange to fly several thousand miles to bake cookies nothing could be farther from the truth. One of the things that Pat and I have come to realize is that changing our lifestyle is not the same thing as changing our life. We are merely living it in a different venue and perhaps at a different pace. The importance of getting together and spending quality time together cannot be underestimated when we are out cruising and since we had not seen any family for several months, Pat and I approached the trip home with the same excitement as we did for the 4 day power weekend get aways that we used to take when we were both wage slaves. The good thing about flying home for a family get together while we are out cruising is that we did not have to fly back and go to the office on Monday morning!

As excited as we were about going home for a few days, it was still a huge shock to the system when we walked out of the airport terminal in Montreal into -13 degree temperatures. I was walking around in shorts and sandals only 5 hours earlier and now I found myself being congratulated by the local Hertz representative for being fortunate enough to get the last car that was not too frozen to rent. What the Hertz guy did not tell us was that the deadline for mandatory snow tire installation was the date I was returning the car, and since the car they had for me was to be retired from service on that date, snow tires were not installed. It did not take us long to discover that all season radials do not work very well after a week of snow, freezing rain and more snow. For once I was thankful for heavy Montreal traffic because at least I wasn’t going very fast.

Originally the ginger snap cookies and Swedish Spritz Shortbread were baked by Pat’s mom. She had passed the recipe on to Pat’s sister Ann but during the transition the hand written recipe that Pat’s mom used was torn and a couple of key ingredients were missing. It has taken us several years of reverse engineering and experimentation, plus dozens of bottles of wine and other spirits to try and discover both the missing ingredients and their correct proportions. Over the years we have produced concoctions that could rival titanium for hardness and concrete for density, but this year we finally got it right. If it weren’t for the persistence of Ann and nieces Stephanie and Karine to figure out the right formula, Pat and I would stll be buying our Swedish cookies at Ikea. Maybe it was part of Nanna Oscarson’s master plan to tear the recipe and force us to get together to figure out the mystery. In the end the cold and slippery roads only seemed to make the weekend that much better.

Pat and I are back in Florida, and it feels great. I actually put on a bathing suit for the first time and got down to the business of washing off 5 months of cruising grime from the deck of Threepenny Opera. It was not a pretty sight, and no I am not referring to me in the bathing suit. She has had a first washing to remove the big stuff, so when we get to Marathon, we will be able to get down to the business of making her shine again. Today we are rafted three abreast on a mooring ball in Vero Beach. As luck would have it our ball mates are Ken and Heidi from Rising Tide and Ron and Dawn from Dawn Treader. By this time next week we should be approaching our first stage destination of Marathon Florida. I can hear the Jimmy Buffet tunes already!!

Have a great week, I know we will.


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Thursday, December 04, 2008

Charleston SC to St-Augustine FL. – Overnights…Second Time is the charm!

Traveling the ICW for Pat and me has been a front row seat to help us understand the values that makes the United States what it is today. From the secessionist manifesto of the Rhett family in the late 19th century to the ever present reminder of America’s military might (not a day goes by without seeing the Navy, Air Force, Army or Marine Corp in action); from the tacky kitsch of Myrtle Beach to the refined modern chic of Charleston; and from the crews of the multi-million dollar mega yachts to the humblest of floating homes, we have had the privilege experiencing first hand modern American history by passing up close and personal most of the original colonies.

The ICW is an amazing piece of engineering and a testament to the notion that a good idea will rise above all. To even exist, it has over the years surmounted and continues to surmount the challenges of economics, politics, geography and weather. It is the Highway 66 of the cruising community and the slice of American Civilization that is served up as one travels the system of natural rivers and man made canals, cannot be rivaled. Perhaps preserving it as a national heritage site would be a way to obtain the funding needed to adequately maintain the system?

As an added bonus, Pat and I were invited to join several other crews from the cruising community to celebrate the American Thanksgiving holiday. While we all agreed that going out for dinner was not exactly the same, the logistics of large crowds on small boats dictated that some concessions needed to be made. We are truly thankful that we have made the acquaintance of Chris and Divya from s/v Maggie M, Ron and Dawn from s/v Dawn Treader, Jim and Ann from s/v Ubiquitous, and especially to Mike and Georgie from s/v Alcyone, who made the effort to seek us out to extend the invitation.

Pat and I enjoyed the experience so much that we had an impromptu repeat of the experience aboard Threepenny Opera the following night with Bob and Debbie from the s/v Valissa with whom we had crossed the Gulf of Maine over the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend in October. If it were not for the confidence we gained from following their lead, Pat and I may not have ventured out onto the Bay of Fundy alone, and we would still be much further to the North and much colder as a result.

We had not seen Bob and Debbie since the crossing but we have often wondered where they were; so it was through pure serendipity that Debbie heard me speaking to another boat and realized we were nearby. I was equally surprised and delighted to be hailed by the long lost Valissa, but that is the way things work on the ICW. It took a stretch run in approaching darkness and rain to make the anchorage, but Pat managed to get the hook down at dusk, and cook a turkey with the trimmings by 6:30. She is a miracle worker on a boat.

Despite the richness of the cultural experience however, the ICW has a tedious side that is found in the numerous uncharted shoals, the bridges that force one to adapt to their rhythm and the tidal currents and flows that can make planning a relatively simple trip into a complex stochastic modeling exercise. Pat and I entered the ICW early in November and after almost 4 weeks of relatively short day hops we were ready to get on with the business of going south. Perhaps we were motivated by the uncharacteristically cold temperatures, or perhaps it was due to the confidence that one builds from spending the last 4 months on our boat, Pat and I decided to leave the ICW in Beaufort SC and head out into the open Atlantic for an overnight passage to Jacksonville FL.

The decision to go “offshore” was accompanied by some trepidation of course, but in discussions with other more experienced sailors the feelings are normal and very common. While only a fool will do anything unsafe, anybody, no matter how experienced who voyages away from the protection of safe harbours, can only do so with the permission of Mother Nature. We have been sent to the principal’s office more than once for not heeding her lessons, so naturally we were a little apprehensive that this time we had learned our lessons well.

No doubt there will be more advanced lessons, but for newbie cruisers like Pat and me the 135nm mile passage from Beaufort SC to the mouth of the St. Johns River, which leads to Jacksonville FL, is a great mid-term test of skills. If one passes, then longer and more complex passages are within reach, but if one needs remedial tutoring, there are many less challenging day sails on the open Atlantic that one can make to gain additional experience. Unlike our first blue water night passage, this time Pat and I were traveling solo. We were in communication while enroute with other boats via VHF and SSB but the trip planning and execution were based solely on our efforts so it was comforting to know that others were also out there with us, even though they were unseen.

In the end we went to the Palm Cove Marina in Jacksonville Beach FL because the Jacksonville Marina was under repairs. The total distance was ~140 Nm and we covered the distance in just under 23 hours. For the first 15 hours of the voyage we enjoyed perfect beam reach sailing on relatively flat seas. Our biggest challenge was to slow Threepenny Opera down so that we would not arrive before sunrise. For the last 8 hours of the trip the wind died so our challenge was to try and speed Threeepenny Opera up so that we would arrive before sunset. We finally gave up at 4:30AM and fired up the iron sails to motor the last 30 odd miles. Most importantly I managed to keep my dinner down, so I am hoping that I have started a trend for future night passages….mommy I’m a big boy now!

Today we are in St. Augustine after a very short 28 SM hop from our marina last night. We are looking forward to visiting the city, but even more importantly we are looking forward to going to Montreal in a week’s time for the annual cooking baking party that Pat’s family puts on. In the meantime we will enjoy a little more of the Florida ICW which looks a little different than the parts of the ICW further north. I think we have earned our intermediate cruising badges because Pat is busy with the charts and guides planning an overnight passage so we can get as far south as possible before we take our break.

Have a great week. I know we will!


P.S. Let us know you are out there by subscribing to the blog. Click on the “follow this blog” link, just below our profile photo.
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