Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cape Coral to Fantasy Fest, It's Hot Hot Hot - the weather that is

I was on my hands and knees struggling with an air conditioning strainer that was completely plugged with barnacles. Of course it was one of the hottest days of the summer and despite wearing only a bathing suit, I was absolutely drenched with sweat. The daily high was forecast to be in the mid 90’s all week so not getting the A/C back in working order was not even remotely an option. Ironically, before we left Toronto, I had looked longingly at the premium space occupied by our 18,000 BTU compressor and almost decided to pitch the thing overboard in order to gain valuable storage space. In the end I’m not sure if it was laziness or prescience that made me put the wrenches and wire cutters down, because on the West Coast of Florida in the summer, a non air conditioned boat would become a totally uninhabitable oven.

We were tied to an end dock in the Cape Coral Yacht Basin, which is where Pat and I headed after our return from China to await the delivery of our friend’s Connie and Richard’s new boat. They had contacted us while we were in China to ask if we would help them bring their new baby from the dealer in Palmetto over to her temporary home in Fort Lauderdale for outfitting. Of course we were honoured to be asked so we jumped at the chance to take a squeeky new IP 485 out for a 400 mile cruise around the tip of Florida. As luck would have it however, the boat was not quite ready, so instead of hanging around Cape Coral for a week or two, we ended up there for almost a month.

When one is living on a boat, home is where the keel is so it really shouldn’t matter too much where the keel is lying. Well a very substantial challenge to this theory would be offered up by anybody who is stuck in Cape Coral during the dog days of summer. I am fond of calling the place the suburb without a city, because it is an amorphous blob of housing, without a real center. Since the mortgage meltdown the community, which during the boom years was the fastest growing city in the USA, has become a ghost town of bank owned homes and shuttered store fronts. On our 2 mile walk to the nearest supermarket, it was not uncommon to make the entire return trip without passing another person on the street.

In some ways the quiet streets and lack of people reminded us of our days in Mississauga, when during the dead of winter, the cold and snow often kept people indoors except for brief forays out to accomplish necessary tasks like go to work or to buy food. The big difference down here however is the fact that when the weather becomes more comfortable, there won’t be people coming out because many of the residents have left the area permanently. Fortunately we have good friends Bob and Mary Ann here, who checked in on us regularly to see if we hadn’t died of boredom, and their visits helped Pat and I maintain our sanity. Needless to say we couldn’t wait to get away from Cape Coral.

When “Sea Salt”, Connie and Richard’s IP 485 was finally ready to go, Pat and I were chomping at the bit to get going. We would have been ready to deliver an Optimist across Lake Ontario at this point, so it was decidedly luxurious to be given towels and our own queen sized berth in a private cabin with en-suite head and shower. The trip around the coast was uneventful apart from a few thunderstorms that generated waves large enough to put 6 inches of water in the cockpit before the scuppers drained it away. I discovered however that I’m still not over the sea sickness that comes with sailing after dark, so once I went below after my stint at the helm, the nausea took over. I’m determined however to beat this thing so I won’t have to live in the cockpit when we decide to take longer passages.

It’s funny how time flies once you start to get busy. We arrived in Marathon on October 1 by way of a visit to Naples FL, and a night hanging on our hook, 3 miles offshore from the Everglades. In Naples I had a chance to reconnect with my friend Vince S, who I had worked with during the high tech part of my career. It was great to catch up with Vince, eat in a restaurant that used table cloths and play tourist by visiting the local zoo. Most importantly we were underway again on our own boat and moving towards cooler weather and cleaner water.

Threepenny Opera desperately needed a new coat of bottom paint because the Micron CSC paint that we put on in Port Credit had been completely over powered by the nutrient rich 90 degree water of South Florida and the Bahamas. When we finally hauled the boat, it seemed that around the waterline the barnacles had set down roots. Even sanding with 80 grit discs did not remove all of the little spots of natural adhesive that barnacles use to hold themselves to the hull. If one could figure out a way to bottle the barnacle spit, they might find themselves onto a new IP 485! Thank goodness for the assistance of friends Mary and Wilger because without them Pat and I would have spent at least an extra day in the boat yard sweating under the now cooler 85 degree sun.

It will be several more weeks before Pat and I return to our normal colour, but every time I look at Threepenny Opera, I know that all of our efforts were worth it. She has held up extremely well over the past year, and when we had a surveyor came aboard, the only deficiency requiring immediate correction was the lack of a written waste management plan. Once we get around to writing down and signing a policy specifying who has to take out the garbage, we will be in total compliance, not bad for a 10 year old boat that has seen a few miles under her keel.

We spent the past weekend in Key West for the beginning of Fantasy Fest 2009 and next weekend we will be in Fort Lauderdale for the boat show. The weather is getting cooler, and the hatches are starting to catch some decent breeze. The harbour in Marathon is starting to see the first arrivals in this season’s new crop of cruisers, and we can still get $1 tacos and $.25 wings at the local hang outs. All in all life is pretty good.

Have a great week. I know I will


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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

What did you do this summer?? - We followed our roots!

It was a cold morning in February of 2009, when Air Canada informed me that I would be demoted from their top tier of frequent flyers at the end of the month. In many respects it was a relief that I no longer kept a bag packed, and I was now eating more meals at home than in hotels and restaurants. My finger nails were intact, and the obsessive checking of my Blackberry had finally stopped. Seriously the phantom vibrations of imaginary messages haunted me for months after I stopped working. All good things aside however, the note from Air Canada put me into a sudden panic.

One of the hidden benefits of my work was that I accumulated huge amounts of frequent flyer miles. There were enough miles for Pat to meet me in exotic locales for the weekend and my kids always flew to and from school on dear old dad’s Aeroplan account. Now that I was getting kicked out of the frequent flyer club, the miles I still had in my account were about to become seriously devalued because non top tier Aeroplan customers have to compete for the very few reward seats, or be willing to pay 2-3 times the published number of miles to secure a seat closer to their liking. As a top tier flyer for a few more days, I could claim virtually any empty seat on an Air Canada flight so I became obsessed with the idea of spending as many miles as possible before the end of the month.

China seemed to be a logical place to go. It was far enough away to soak up a good chunk of miles, and I had a brother living in Shanghai so I had a place to land. When I considered that Pat had never been to China, despite having traveled extensively, the decision was clinched. And so as a result of a marketing e-mail from Air Canada extolling the virtues of becoming one of their second tier frequent flyers, a plan was hatched to spend the summer traveling throughout China. I would have a chance to show Pat a little of my heritage by visiting my father’s village, and the two of us would get to explore the wilds of Tibet. As an added bonus, I also decided do bring my mom along with us to act as a tour guide in the villages.

The pictures speak for themselves so I won’t waste many words describing the trip. Our itinerary was Florida to Toronto and then onwards to Shanghai. We spent a week in Shanghai resting up and playing tourist, and then we headed for Beijing, Tibet and Xian before returning to Shanghai. We stayed in Shanghai long enough to rest up from Tibet, do our laundry, complete some last minute shopping and then we headed south for Guangzhou and Kaiping. The final part of the trip was a weekend in Hong Kong, where we had a chance to play tourist for a few more days before our nearly non stop run back to Florida. I’m not sure what is more tiring, a 200 mile sail crossing of the Gulf of Maine in October, or 14 hour first class flight over the North Pole followed by another 3 hours in a commuter jet?

Anyway we are home after being out of the country for 6 weeks. We covered over 20,000 miles, using planes, trains and automobiles. We went from sea level to over 15,000 feet, and we visited places where the flies moved out because of the dirt, and we stayed in 6 star hotels. Since our return we have been holed up in Cape Coral Florida catching our breath and visiting with our friends Bob and Mary Ann whom we met in the Bahamas. They have been our saviors! Next week we will be off to help friends Richard and Connie, whom we met while going down the St. Lawrence River, deliver their Island Packet 485 home to Fort Lauderdale from the dealer in Palmetto. Pat and I are really looking forward to the trip. I just hope I don’t get boat envy and blow the RRSP for 4 or 5 more feet!!

The load of pictures in this posting is substantial. My advice is to take your time and not look at all of them in one sitting, or you might be a little overwhelmed. I apologize in advance if the albums look a little bit like a family outing, but in many respects that’s what this trip turned out to be. If you have any questions please ask.

Enjoy the pictures and have a great week!

I know I will!


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Double click on the picture for the captions, run the slideshow to view the pics full screen. if you do not see any pictures below, make sure you have Adobe flash player installed. To install flash copy this link into your browser http://www.adobe.com/products/flashplayer/

Double click on the pictures below to view the pics full frame.

Toronto to Shanghai

Shanghai Shopping and Cruising


Solar Eclipse to Tibet

Xi'an - Land of the Terracotta Warriors and more

Guangzhou to Kaiping - Roots

Hong Kong - Home Stretch

Friday, June 12, 2009

South of the Whale - Good Friends and Fresh Fish!

The singing of the drag on my fish killer rod an reel was pure music to our ears. The combination of an ocean rated reel, a 12 in lure with massive four razor sharp hooks on it and 100 lb test made it no contest for whatever took a hit. We weren’t sure what was on the end of the line, but Pat and I had whatever it was, filleted and grilled before we even saw our catch. We developed a real appreciation for fresh fish during our crossing from Florida when I nicked my first Tuna, so naturally when the opportunity presented itself we went looking for more.

The Sea of Abaco is divided into two portions, with Whale Cay acting as the dividing line. The Whale as it is known locally is a source of wonder awe and fear for boaters in these parts because it forces any boat drawing more than 3 feet ot head out into the open Atlantic in order to transit from the Northern Half of the Sea of Abaco to the South. For this reason many boaters, even the locals tend to stay in their half of the “Sea” and not cross into the other side of town.

Because of the separation, the two halves are similar in geography but very different in character. When we left Green Turtle Cay, we crossed the Whale and wondered what the fuss was all about? Apparently during the winter months, NE winds can whip the shallows along the ocean side of the reefs into a boiling surf known as a rage. While I have seen some pretty impressive photos of rages, this time of year the only activity is caused by left over surge from storms at sea. The 4- 5 foot swells with the occasional 6 footer was no worse than the passage out of the bay of Quinte back home on a typical day.

Most of the development in the Abaco is concentrated in the Southern part. Marsh Harbour is the largest size town in the Abacos, and it provides cruisers with a convenient place to reprovision before heading back out. The town itself is rather non-descript, but it is large enough to support a well stocked supermarket and a hardware store that would rival any in the Florida Keys. The myth that the Bahamas are undeveloped and scarcity is common has its orgins in days gone by, but is no longer the caset.

It’s true that some items such as ice cream and beef are more expensive, (try $12 for a quart of ice cream) but not prohibitively so as they are also plentiful and seem to be consumed in large quantities by the locals. There are pleasant surprises like fresh snow peas at lower prices than in Florida. For anybody coming over here, it is always prudent to stock up, but the provisioning should not be viewed as a mission to Mars! The only thing I would suggest stocking up on in larger than normal quantities is Beer.

Boating supplies are readily available and for those who need parts shipped in, the Bahamian Govt. has reversed a ruling requiring duty to be charged on all boat parts. As of June 1, vessels traveling under a Bahamian cruising permit can have power train and safety items shipped in duty free, providing the shipper indicates the cruising permit number on the manifest. Of course as luck with have it, Threepenny Opera required a set of windlass parts and we received them two days before the new rulings came into play. When we tried to “negotiate” a rebate, the very pleasant Bahamian customs officer smiled and said, you win some you lose some. Thanks!

As one moves away from the center of the universe in Marsh Harbour, the level of development starts to decrease but it is very obvious that the wilderness of old is gone forever. The cruising sites have developed to suit the market which at this time of year is largely bare boat charters from the Moorings/Sunsail base out of Marsh Harbour. For a boater that comes down for a week, the anchorages are nicely spaced so that one can stay up late, sleep in, and still make it to a new destination for some water based activities, before heading ashore for the sundowner. On the subject of the sundowner, beware of the concoctions known as the Frozen Nipper or the Frozen Grabbers served from their respective establishments on Guana Cay. One of these drinks will leave you numb and two can bring on incipient Amnesia….now what was I talking about???

A visit to the Bahamas is not complete without spending some time snorkeling or diving on the multitudes of reefs. We were extremely fortunate on this trip to befriend Bob and MaryAnn from the sail boat Queen Angel. They are both fish people and are as comfortable in the water as out. Bob is a natural diver and he can hold his breath for an incredibly long period of time. He scared the heck out of me, because I was spotting him from the dinghy as he hunted a reef off of Lynard Cay, and disappeared for what seemed to be several minutes. I had visions of him bonking his head on a rock and laying unconscious underwater. I was about to muster enough nerve to go in after him, when he triumphantly surfaced with a very strange shovel nosed crustacean on the end of his Hawaiian spear. Dinner that night was freshly grilled shovel nosed crustacean. We hesitate to call it a lobster, because those crustaceans are not in season at the moment.

Time has passed incredibly quickly and our time in the Abacos is almost up. Despite a little grousing about the number of boats around and the level of development, the anchorages are still pretty nice and the gentle rocking on the hook with a cool evening breeze is still spectacular. As is often the case when we are getting ready to leave a place we like, the weather is improving and we have forgotten the two weeks of incessant rain. As we turned around and headed north from Little Harbour, we decided it was a great opportunity to score some fresh fish, so we headed outside of the reef and try our hand again at fishing. Certainly there were tons of fish in the marine parks so how difficult can it be to hook something in the open ocean?? It took most of the day to get a hit, but what a hit it was.

Pat and I worked like a well oiled machine and while I reeled, she brought the boat into a gentle turn to make it easier to bring the fish in. When I got the beast alongside, Pat fired a stream of cheap vodka into his gills and he was still alive, but at least he stopped trying to tail walk away from the boat. The fight took about 20 minutes, and within 30 minutes a 38” Cero Mackerel was posing of pictures, just before being filleted. We were to meet up with our friends Bob and MaryAnn who had elected to stay on the inside for the trip back north, so finally we were able to make a contribution for dinner.

Today we head north of the Whale. We expect to be back into Florida within the next 4-5 days and we will head up towards Punta Gorda to tie up the boat while we get ready for our trip to China. Who said retirement was slow and boring?? Stay tuned. Although we are back in travel mode, we still expect to see some interesting sites between here and the West Coast of Florida so we try and post again before we head for Toronto and the Orient.

Have a great week. I know I will.
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Friday, May 22, 2009

Marathon - The Abacos. A whole year of cruising experience in one week.

We are on the hook at the entrance to New Plymouth Harbour on the south end of Green Turtle Cay – (pronounced Key) I think I just saw a large rounded ferry boat go by loaded with pairs of animals and being steered by a white haired bearded old guy carring a shepherds crook …. Just kidding, it wasn’t Noah but given the intensity of the rain in these parts, it’s no wonder that the residents of Green Turtle Cay here in the Abacos gather rainwater in cisterns beside or under their homes as their drinking water supply. In the past 12 hours we have received almost 4 inches of rain. Oh well, the locals love the rain, because up until this week, the area has been very dry and the cisterns were running empty, forcing the residents to line up at the marinas with jerry cans to lug R/O water at $.30 per gallon.

To get into the spirit of the locals I had rigged up a funnel over the fill spout of one of our water tanks to supplement the output of our trusty water maker. When I got up this morning, the funnel had fallen over so all of the precious rainwater that could have been filling our tanks was sluicing down the deck instead of being directed into the tank as intended. Now it’s only about 3 feet from the cockpit to my starboard deck fill, and it was already pouring buckets, so I figured that I could go out there, make a quick adjustment and be back below deck in a flash. It seems that flashing was the order of the morning because just as I crawled out from under the side panel of the enclosure, a dinghy with two very wet but wide eyed tourists from a nearby charter boat came barreling out of the rain. I not sure who was more shocked, me who hadn’t expected any intelligent life form to be out in a torrential rain, or the two fools in the dinghy being mooned by a gangly chinaman.

Every person with a boat should make the pilgrimage to the Bahamas at least once in their life time. It is sort of a final exam and senior grad trip for developing all of the pilotage skills one needs to be truly comfortable on the water. In the past week, Pat and I have experienced some of the most incredible natural beauty on the planet, and we are just getting started.

What has become obvious to us is that there are many self appointed experts about sailing these waters, but in reality there are very few who have spent enough time here to provide more than just an opinion. As a devotee to the Ports Guide to Lake Ontario, I had expected other guide books to at least be equally precise if not as eloquent and entertaining as the “Ports Book” We have several Bahamas cruising guides on board and while they are in general agreement about issues like avoiding hurricanes and not running aground, none provide more than a potentially dangerous illusion of precision on how to successfully cruise the Bahamas. I guess it is sort of like raising kids, there are lots of books, even more free advice, but only you and your significant other can pick a path that works.

Navigation in the Bahamas is by sight. Your eyes are the only things that can really keep you out of trouble, or get you out of trouble if you stray into tricky waters. It takes a leap of faith to trust your instincts but after a few hours of picking through shallow water the difference between sand, grass and rock becomes pretty easy to discern. It took me a little longer to tell how deep the water is, but if in doubt I head for the softest option available! Please take that with a huge grain of salt, but it has worked for me. I have only been aground a couple of times so far, and I don’t think anything is broken!

If one develops the confidence to read the waters, the reward is something that many people will only ever fantasize about. There is something completely satisfying about picking your way through a rocky shoal and finding a secluded, protected lagoon of 100 foot horizontal visibility water, surrounded by miles of white untouched sand. Such was the scene that greeted Pat and me as we dropped the hook on Sandy Cay which is located in the middle of an area known as Double Breasted Cays in the Northern extremes of the Abacos. The guide books describe the anchorage almost as a footnote but perhaps their authors are trying to keep the best for themselves.

Our feat of the week was doing the anchor dance in +25 knot winds with a broken windlass. We had arrived at Green Turtle Cay during a pretty decent squall, so by the time we had negotiated the very narrow and shallow channel to get into the harbour, we were pretty anxious to get to hook down and take a warming shower. As it happened there was no room at the inn, because lots of other people apparently had heard the same weather forecast and had filled every open spot.

We tried valiantly to find a place where we could both set the anchor and also have enough scope to handle the even worse weather that was to come. I drove through two of the sets and Pat drove to 2 further attempts….The driver had the easiest job, because squinting and steering was much less difficult than sitting on the foredeck hauling up our 55lb Rocna and 40-60 feet of chain by hand. I wouldn’t describe hauling anchor by hand, in very tight quarters, while being lashed by high winds and rain as fun, but it is certainly unforgettable.

By the fourth attempt we had had enough so instead of expending what was left of our energy to try a fifth time, we headed back out into the open water outside of the harbour. Since we really couldn’t see where we were going, we headed for a space that didn’t have any boats in it and threw the hook in with 120 feet of rode out. It must have worked because we’ve been here for 3 days now and we’ve not moved in the constant stream of 30-40 knot squalls. Hopefully the skin will grow back on my knuckles before too long!

The operative word to truly enjoy the Bahamas is patience. I would hate to be the guy that spends thousands of hard earned $$ to come down for a week of bare boating, only to find that the weather isn’t good, or that a chosen anchorage turns out to be too crowded because every other bare boater read the same book. Doing things in a hurry, or expecting to do things in a hurry will only lead to misery down here, so we are learning to turn down the volume from even the relaxed pace of the Keys. Right now I am trying to eke out a WiFi signal so I can post this installment of the blog, but it seems, at best, to be like trying to milk a bull. You get all the right noises but when the moment of truth comes, you aren’t getting what you thought you would get. I could get in the dinghy and go into town for a free hook-up but that would mean more physical exertion than I really want to make….Well maybe if I can time it with Happy Hour over at Pineapples beach bar?? My multi-tasking habits die hard!

At the end of the day however it’s all about the sailing and discovering. Gentle day long beam reaches on emerald green water, mixed in with howling 40 knot squalls, flat seas and ocean swells all lead to a destination that suits the sailor. In the Southern Abacos, you can marina hop, or you can go from one isolated anchorage to another with about the same degree of effort. Whether you are looking for the latest in local rock bands or a deserted island with naked women on the beach…(and no I am not kidding, just check out the pictures), The Bahamas seems to have an abundance of all sorts of experiences to suit every taste.

It’s Better in the Bahamas is only a corny TV tag line until you actually get down here and see it for yourself. Now if it would only stop raining, I would go sailing! Have a great week, I know I will!


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Double click on the picture for the captions, run the slideshow to view the pics full screen. if you do not see any pictures below, make sure you have Adobe flash player installed. To install flash copy this link into your browser http://www.adobe.com/products/flashplayer/

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Growing Roots!!

It was about 12:30AM on Saturday morning and I was sitting at the nav station huddled over my laptop putting the finishing touches on my pictures for the latest installment of the blog. The atmosphere was reminiscent of the all nighters that I did many many moons ago, trying to complete term papers before the already extended deadline was to expire. The circumstances surrounding the all nighters were then, as they are now, just a matter of getting the priorities straight.

Back in the day, there was always something getting in the way of sitting down and completing assignments. Listening to a friend commiserate over opposite sex woes, or gathering at the pub under the guise of a study group or maybe straying into amateur theater, all those activities seemed to be higher on the priority list than sitting down and grinding out 1500 words for Dr. Ross. These days it seems that issues like helping a friend move his boat, or going to a cool tiki bar to hear the latest in music, or serving as the harbour computer geek seems to get in the way of sitting down and telling the folks back home about what I am doing. Instead I am just doing it!

I get asked by some, who haven’t yet embraced the cruising lifestyle, about what I’m going to do when the vacation is over. The first couple of times I was asked, I would mumble some non sequiturs about letting nature run its course. The reality is that cruising is not a vacation, it is a lifestyle choice. And by making the choice we embrace the blessings of new and interesting people. New and interesting places and new and interesting sights to see. We also accept that normal everyday tasks that would take 10 minutes to accomplish in a land life, can take all day in the cruising life.

Laundry for example, often becomes an all day affair. I have to admit that the closest thing I got to doing laundry in my past life was to not miss the hamper with my underwear but these days a team effort is required to get the job done. Food shopping is yet another chore that in the cruising life has actually become a past time. When your family car is a dinghy and a pair of folding bicycles, it is really important to make a list, check it twice and make sure that what you buy us really needed.

The pay off for the seeming inconveniences is that we have had the opportunity to meet, and really get to know people from all over the world. Whether it be the result of a conversation struck up in the laundry line, or a chance meeting waiting for the propane truck to show up, friendships start much more easily than they do in the more guarded land lifestyle.

The past few months have flown by. It seems just yesterday for example that folks for PCYC (Trevor and Eva, Jane and Paul) and my friend Randy from New Brunswick came down for a visit. Yet it has been over a month since the last one went home! By the pictures in this installment of the blog, you will see that there a many more pics of the social side of cruising. From cockpit gatherings to full fledged dinner parties, the ability to create a party never ceases to amaze me. In the Daytimer, Outlook Meeting Maker world I used to live in, it was a major endeavour to get 2 people in a room, never mind 10 or 12. These days a chance meeting or a quick call on the VHF can get crowd gathered in no time at all.

We have not been to as many places as we originally planned, but we are certainly getting to know more about the places we have been. Time is governed by the events as opposed to events being governed by the amount of time available. When I sat down to write this installment of the blog, I was at a but of a loss as to what to say because we haven’t moved off of our mooring ball since Feb 1.As I reviewed the pictures however, I realized just how full the past few months have been. Tomorrow we are off to the Bahamas and the voyaging part of cruising will begin again.

Look for another installment before the next quarter is out. In the meantime enjoy the pictures and have a great week, I know I will.


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Double click on the picture for the captions, run the slideshow to view the pics full screen. if you do not see any pictures below, make sure you have Adobe flash player installed. To install flash copy this link into your browser http://www.adobe.com/products/flashplayer/

Friday, February 20, 2009

Marathon East to Marathon West

Greetings to all from Marathon! I have to apologize to our followers for not updating the blog for such a long period of time, but in our defense we have only just realized that we have been here for 2 months. We thank all who wrote, and for the stream of concerned e-mails wondering if we were still on the surface. Rest assured we are still here, and are living in a world where the saying “My how time flies when you are having fun!” is a mantra for life.

Once a cruiser reaches a particular destination, there is a tendency to stay put for a while. Everybody begins with the intention of cleaning up the boat, re-provisioning and setting off again, but there is something hypnotic about Marathon that causes people to stay much longer. It is perhaps one of the paradoxes of cruising that I have heard repeated over and over from many hardcore long term cruisers, a group in which Pat and I are still novices. So despite the fact that cruisers are adherents of a nomadic lifestyle, there is a tendency to plant roots very quickly. Certainly that was the case for Pat and me, because after arriving in Marathon Harbor on December 21 we have moved maybe a total of 12 miles. And most of those 10 miles were used to exit the harbor and take care of little household chores like flushing the holding tanks 3 miles off shore!

The mark of how long a boat has been here is by looking at the amount of sea scum that has built up on the water line of a moored or anchored boat. The fresh arrivals show up with waxed hulls, clean dinghies and clear boot stripes. The long term residents however keep their dinghies looking appropriately scruffy, so they are less theft prone and their water lines resemble a reef. Most make an effort to keep their vessels looking tidy, but there are always a few that are like the suburban neighbor who never mows his lawn, and let their vessels decay to a floating Dog Patch. The intermediate residents like Pat and me only have a thin layer of slime on the water line and the slightest hint of barnacles at the edge of the bottom paint. The bottom of our unprotected dinghy however is an entirely different story, and will require a trip to the beach with paint scrapers to get clean again.

In some respects our cruising life really only began on Feb 1 of this year. On that date, we moved onto a mooring ball in the Marathon mooring field from our fully serviced slip located behind a million dollar home on the very toni Sombrero Boulevard. We have now been on the ball for nearly 3 weeks, and during that time, we have been making our own water and electricity on our own self contained off grid island. Since our plans are to go farther a field, getting some practice in how to balance the systems to make the best use of our resources is very helpful. Between our solar panels, and a small gas generator, we are able to make water, have hot showers, watch TV, surf the internet, toast bread etc. in other words all the comforts of home provided we don’t overdo it.

The mooring field here is one of the largest in the US and holds hundreds of boats. In addition to the “official” moorings, there is also space for those who prefer to sit on their own ground tackle for free. Speaking of free, it is entirely possible to live down here for next to nothing. While every cruiser has their own sense of what “next to nothing” really means, I am convinced that there are people in the harbor who survive on only a few hundred dollars per month. For $140 per month, one can anchor in the harbor, have a place to dock their dinghy, a place to park your bicycle, free showers, and a weekly pump out of the holding tank. Food in the Keys tends to be a little pricier than it is elsewhere, Pat paid $1.20 for a single potato the other day, but with some judicious shopping a couple of hundred dollars spent on basics, supplemented by a few hours a week with a fishing rod can provide a pretty decent diet.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are many million dollar homes, with million dollar boats parked in front of them. For the uber rich crowd, Marathon offers amenities like a private 103 member golf course, an airport with plenty of parking space for your Gulfstream or Challenger, and perhaps most importantly for some, the ability to disappear into the crowd, like the Chinese emperor who dressed as a peasant to get closer to his subjects. Unless you are extremely observant it is not possible to tell the princes and paupers apart. Last night for example, a former member of the Clinton cabinet, was plucking his banjo as back-up to one of the local bar singers.

At the end of this month, we will leave Marathon for either the Everglades or we will continue down the Keys towards Key West. We are fortunate enough to have the choice and the time in which to exercise it. Several of our friends have contacted us to let us know they are heading this way, so we are looking forward to meeting as many of them as possible. I can’t promise that I will post every week like we did coming down here, but I will make an effort to be a little more diligent in providing news and pics than I have in the last month…or is it two???

Have a great week, and stay warm!


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