Thursday, October 29, 2009

"On The Road Again"

Willie Nelson has always been one of our favorite singers and songwriters. His way of expressing emotions through song seems to convey a perfect emotion for a perfcet setting or period of time. Thusly, when we decided Bella Luna had been sitting still for too long (6 months), we thought of Willie Nelson's song, "On The Road Again"! And like that song says, we.... "just can't wait to get on the road again"!

Ever since returning home, we've been working on Bella Luna's appearance--poor thing, she looked really weary after going 7000 miles in 11 months with only minimal care. All her exterior teakwood has been completely refinished--professionally too, thank goodness! The interior teak paneling and flooring were given fresh coats of polyurethane as well. Two new stern canvases were added, keel work was done to repair a hairline crack, both sets of props were polished and recalibrated, and her hull was touched-up and buffed/polished to a rich blue shine. When we bought the boat in October of 2007, she didn't look nearly as pretty as she does now! And through Louis's many Cabella's credit-card points, we even purchased two new folding Schwinn bicycles--complete with their own pretty black carrying bags! Now that's special!

So this time around we're coming out of Pellitier Creek in Morehead City and heading south--south to Florida and the Keys. We plan on doing the St. John's River in northern Florida before coming home for Christmas. Then after the holidays, we'll return to the boat and head for the Keys--joining other friends there for a couple of months. When we leave Morehead City, we'll be traveling with another couple, Lisa & Jim Favors aboard their boat, "Kismet". Lisa is an expert with blogging and will help me post pictures here this time around---which should be fun for me too! And if all goes well, Bella Luna will not be back for six months this time--returning in April. We'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

My Final Blog--We've Crossed Our Wake!

(We have been home now for eight days. Last Thursday, I was literally in the final stages of writing this last blog when I hit a wrong key and deleted the whole story. Sadly, all attempts at retrieving it failed—even with the expert assistance of our daughter, Geni. So this will be an attempt at recreating that blog before all my memory fails!)

We left Georgetown Saturday morning, in a lot of wind, headed for our final night at anchor with “C-Life” and their family at the Oxbow cut-off just south of Myrtle Beach. Passing through the Waccamaw River on our way up, we saw the most concentration of ospreys on this trip we’d ever seen and heard of two alligator sightings. The Waccamaw River is a coffee-brown, rich-tannin, cypress filled, narrow passageway—very unusual, but very picturesque. We had a wonderful evening rafted together—with Kay & Robert grilling hamburgers and hot dogs and Louis making his ice cream and signature grilled Twinkies—and in fact, Robert said, “If it gets any better than this, please let me know!” Amen, Robert.

So Sunday we pulled into Barefoot Landing at North Myrtle Beach just in time for Louis and me to grab a quick lunch/salad at T-Bones—a must stop for any overnight boaters there. After lunch, we walked around the fun shops and enjoyed a beautiful, warm afternoon. There were two mega-yachts right there at Barefoot Landing with us, one being 110 feet long and its owner was one of the members of the band called “Hootie & the Blowfish”—such a pretty boat too.

On a “drizzly” Monday morning, we said good-by to “C-Life” and headed out solo for the North Myrtle Beach Yacht Club. That would be our home for the next week. I needed to do several loads of wash and we had plans to get together for dinner with our dear friends that evening, Ann & BJ Maynard who live near-by,—which we did do and had another hilarious several hours together “catching back up” with our long time friends. Thanks, you two—we can’t wait for the next time to get together!

Just after lunch Tuesday, Geni and our four grandchildren came to visit us—it being their Spring Break. For the next three days, we had a fast paced, fun-filled time together. We had a room just beside us at the Holiday Inn reserved for them, and the grandchildren took turns sleeping on the boat at night with us—the boys one night, the girls the next. In those days, we went to see the IMAX movie, “Under the Sea” in 3-D, we spent half a day in Ripley’s Aquarium (which is fabulous), we went shopping (how do you like your “Wheelies” Clay?), we saw the endangered blonde and golden tigers, we visited with the Creeches’ grandchildren, we ate Mexican and Mongolian food and lots of pancakes and ice cream, and we went to Calabash with “Nightingale” and “C-Life” one night for seafood (all 15 of us!). However, Geni, Gail and I will not be eating tartar sauce for quite a while—we all got sick from it!

We can’t believe how much our grandchildren have grown since we last saw them at Christmas. HT is now 13, so smart and taller than I am—unbelievable. Clay at 8 is sprouting too—and lost a tooth on board one night, much to our surprise and delight. Katie is 5 ½ and reading on a level far beyond her age (big words too)—she starts kindergarten this summer! And our precious sweet Taylor at 4 tries so valiantly to keep up with the others—and is doing a great job at that—she came home covered with “boat bites” on both shins! We so enjoyed having them on the boat with us, cramped as we were though with all our stuff.

Friday, Geni had planned all along to go back to Oxford with her boys for soccer games on Saturday. Catherine, who had planned on coming to Myrtle Beach on Thursday afternoon, would be staying with us for the next few days with her girls. Good planning for all. But during the time Geni was with us, Catherine and Travis got a “full price” offer on their just listed house in Cary. The problem arose when the contract stipulated they move out by May 22nd—and thinking the market would be slow, they hadn’t even begun looking for another house! They had no house to move into—yipes! So, with us trying to help out with the situation, we changed our plans and kept Katie and Taylor to give Catherine & Travis a few precious days alone to go house hunting. Having already done fun things with all the grandchildren, we decided to head back to Morehead City—forgoing our plans to drag our feet in returning home and skipping a few days in Wrightsville Beach with friends. (We’ll definitely catch up with those fun people later on this summer!) Catherine could meet us Sunday afternoon at our marina and take the girls back to Cary. Everyone was happy with that plan—most of all, us!

So Friday noon, we said good-by to Geni and the boys and Myrtle Beach, got refunds from the Holiday Inn and the marina, threw off our lines, and headed the 30 miles or so up to Southport—to spend the night with Kay & Robert, now Gold Loopers—congratulations are in order! We had an easy trip—the winds seem to slow down a bit, and the girls enjoyed being on the boat—especially since they were getting a “long boat ride” and their cousins weren’t! Taylor took a long nap in my lap up on the flybridge and Katie surprised us when she didn’t—boat rides have always put our children to sleep!

On arriving into Southport, just like we’ve done so many times, we pulled into a slip right beside “C-Life”. But this time was very bittersweet—Kay and Robert have finished the Loop and we won’t be together daily like we’ve been for months now. We are so close to home now also and finishing our loop as well—everything feels sadly different. But we were all so happy to see one another again—had it only been three days since we had been together—seemed longer! Our girls quickly got off the boat and had a great time running barefoot in the Creeches’ front yard and playing with all of “Miss Kay’s” wonderful yard toys and her sandbox. It was such a pretty afternoon—we got to visit again with Debbie and Buddy Barnes (hurry up and buy a boat!) and we were treated to pizzas by the Creech family—Katie and Taylor eating almost a whole one themselves! After the girls took baths in Miss Kay’s tub, we all walked back down to our boats and quickly fell into bed. Kay and Robert haven’t moved from their boat back into their house yet—wanting to extend the experience as long as possible—understandably so. We thank Kay & Robert and Sharon & John for their continued hospitality—next time we’re together, it’ll be up our way!

Before we left Myrtle Beach, Geni had taken me to the Dollar Tree and I had loaded up on craft supplies for Katie and Taylor to keep them busy during our three days of cruising. Knowing full well that spotting the occasional ospreys and dolphins would not keep their attention for long, I was determined that they not do anything “electronic” while on the flybridge and being underway. With our flybridge looking like a schoolhouse art room, we all were happy at the amount of time the girls took using their creativity and imagination. Consequently, the girls never got bored and we now have several “pretty pictures” as lasting mementos of our final two days on the Loop.

So we left Southport (and our now life-long friends) Saturday morning and headed for Topsail Island—a long day’s travel through several bridges which needed openings—to Beach House Marina. We got there with ease and pulled into a nice slip—Katie quickly reading the sign for the near-by Dairy Queen. For the next hour all we heard from the girls was, “When are we going to Dairy Queen?”! After a disappointing seafood dinner at a near-by recommended restaurant, we walked over to the DQ for a promised dessert—color both girls and Louis happy! Again, bedtime was easy and early.

Sunday, April 19th, was to be our last day on the Loop—if everything went as planned. We had an easy time getting away that morning from Surf City on Topsail Island and the girls were happy doing their crafts—by now all well worn and used. We came through Swansboro feeling so comfortable in our familiar surroundings—we felt we could almost close our eyes and make it back safely the rest of the way to the Coral Bay Marina. And as fate would have it and as we crossed under the Cape Carteret Bridge, (we later learned) we had a witness to our coming home that day. Liz and Bob Stagg were at that moment coming over the bridge in their car and saw us as we were coming under them—they honked and waved at us, but not looking for them, we didn’t hear or see them at all. As unexplained and wonderful things have happened to us all along the way, that was a very befitting and special thing to happen to us on our last day—the Staggs were the first Looper couple we ever met and they have been such an inspiration for us all along our journey. We’re so honored to call them special friends but we never seem to have enough time together because there’s always so much to talk about!

We traveled another few miles up the so familiar waterway and just before we were to make our port turn off the ICW and head into our marina, we stopped the boat and Louis put up our gold Looper flag (thinking of you, Margie & Larry) signaling that we had finished the Loop. And at 1:56 pm the afternoon of April 19th, 2009, we crossed our wake—our journey now complete. Realizing that we had told our family and friends we were coming in the following Saturday and thus thinking that only Catherine would be waiting for us at the dock, we rounded the corner and were treated a wonderful surprise at our slip. Lo and behold, joining Catherine, were Kay & Robert & Debbie—shouting and jumping up and down with excitement and waving a yellow poster, with champagne and “gold medals” in hand & honking a very loud air-horn over and over! Precious things, they had driven up from Southport to properly welcome us home—Looper style! Louis and I couldn’t believe they were in Morehead City, but knowing them as we do now, of course they would have wanted to have been there when we crossed our wake. We had a marvelous time on the dock clinking glasses and toasting each other—all of us saying several times, “Wow—what a ride!” (We insisted that they all three stay with us overnight at the house, but they declined and drove back home.) Both Louis and I felt it was a perfect ending, albeit early, to our year-long journey.

Since being home, many people have asked us basically the same two questions: “What was your favorite place?” and “Would you do the trip again?” One we can answer, one we can’t. After nearly a year of traveling almost 7,000 miles; going through 163 locks; making our way through eighteen (!) states and two provinces of Canada; crossing the Georgian Bay, the North Channel, the Great Lakes, the Gulf of Mexico and the Everglades; spending five weeks in the Florida Keys—we couldn’t possibly say which place was our favorite, they were all so unique and different. Every day and every region was wonderful and special—we saw spectacular things few of our family and long-time friends will, sadly, never see. We were “wowed” almost daily—I tried to document most of them here. And in answer to would we do the trip again—“you bet” we say, “in a heartbeat!” And we’re not selling our charts or the boat anytime soon either.

So, what have we learned on our journey?
*First, we learned things about both Louis and me that we thought, after 40 years of marriage this year (!), were impossible not to know—we both admit a year is a long time to constantly be together 24/7 in a small, confined space. I remember someone we met at our first rendezvous in Charleston telling me that, and I didn’t believe her then—but she was right.
*Second, we learned not to load our boat down with excess “stuff’ ever again! We wound up using the second stateroom as an attic/pantry—limiting our enjoyment of having an extra room for guests and cluttering up our boat—shamefully so. We had almost 175 pounds of charts, maps, guidebooks, etc. that we did need with us on a daily basis, but we had way too much excess of clothes and canned goods, a few tools and linens. We found out we really did have easy weekly access to shopping (love Wal-Mart!) and we found out we could do very well with limited amounts of clothing—like everyone else, we would wear it, wash it, put it in the “clean” pile, and put it right back on! It was embarrassing when it took three long, back-breaking days to unload “Bella Luna” with things some of which we hadn’t even touched in a year!
*Third, we learned that it was all the many people who “made” our trip—not the places we went to, as we had thought would. We met so many kind and generous people all along the way both on land and on the water whom we’ll never forget—beautiful faces all along our amazing journey. And we’ve met a whole “boatload” of wonderful Loopers whom we now call “family”—special friends we’ll have for a lifetime. They have helped us, guided & led us, laughed and cried with us, and enriched our lives in too many ways to list here now or ever. We treasure those faces and friendships immensely and can not imagine our trip without any of them.
*Fourth and lastly, we learned how lucky we were to ever be able to take this trip. Even more so now, we realize how fleeting the years are and by “slowing down”, as we tried to do daily, how quickly time is still passing us by. We both knew we had maybe ten “good” years left to be able to physically do this particular and sometimes exhausting trip. When planning this over a year ago, we were both lucky enough to have good health; we both had good energy and lots of enthusiasm; we both wanted an extended adventure; and both of us had the time and good fortune to afford a long journey of this type. We were not afraid of the unknown or our inability, we were excited! Our children and grandchildren were at “good places” in their lives—we were too. We were lucky and blessed; we knew it and were so thankful for it all. If we were ever going to do the Loop, we needed to do the trip before any of the above changed. So, taking advantage of it all, off we went saying, “We have no schedule and we’re sticking to it!” We were very lucky indeed.

In closing, I’ve been thinking for a year now “in blogs”. When we’d see or experience something worthy of remembering, I was constantly figuring out how to word it for a lasting memory here. Writing these blogs was very time consuming, yet all the feedback (even from people we’d never met!) made it worthwhile—I was surprised by those who read it, and crushed by those who I thought surely would, and who didn’t. But along our route I found a long, brown sign which I bought (while Louis was off with the guys!) and Kay & I proudly placed it in the salon of “Bella Luna”. It simply says what we believe our fantastic journey was all about from beginning to end—and one I thought befitting to “wrap up” this last blog. So in a fond farewell and summary of all we have been witness to and accomplished in this marvelous, exciting, and rewarding year, I end and complete my journal with:

“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but rather by the moments that take our breaths away.”

Sunday, April 12, 2009

South Carolina--Almost Home!

(This is a long one, folks, sorry!)
It was so hard to believe that while we were in Savannah, Georgia the land just across our narrow river was South Carolina! So it wasn’t far that we had to travel Saturday morning to cross the “state line” into South Carolina—in fact, it was only just minutes. But in those last few minutes of being in Georgia, we saw a truly spectacular sight—two bald eagles sitting on top of the same pole side-by-side—we’ve never seen that before on this entire trip, so it was very special. We also saw another owl sitting on a dead low-lying tree out in broad daylight—I must read up on owls when I get home—I always thought they were nocturnal birds.

So on our way up the ICW to Beaufort on that pretty day, we passed Windmill Harbor Marina in Hilton Head and talked about raising our gold Looper flag because that’s where we bought our boat. But on “thinking it through”, we realized we hadn’t actually started our Loop from there, nor had our boat been renamed or provisioned for the Loop at that point. We had just bought a beautiful and rare boat there in the fall of 2007 and we were still hoping to be taking the trip the following spring—which we were lucky enough to actually do. So our battered and dirty white Looper flag still flies proudly on our bow waiting for our port turn off the ICW into Pelletier Creek, when the poor piece of fabric will finally come down.

We got to Beaufort, SC, early enough in the afternoon for me to get 3 loads of laundry done in the nice municipal marina’s facilities there. We’re still with “C-Life” and “Nightingale” and all of us walked up the street just from the marina after cocktails on the boat that evening for a delicious dinner of fancy pizzas—we love pizza and these were different shaped and delicious! Sunday mid-day, Gail, Kay and I took off to explore some of the cute shops and galleries along the two-block section of waterfront downtown Beaufort. We got back to our boats just before a huge rain storm hit us—and it continued throughout the night blowing and rocking our boats—thankfully we were tied up to floating docks!

Monday morning, just at “first light” and very early for all of us, we left Beaufort headed for Charleston—the wind was expected to really kick up and we wanted to get into our next marina before late afternoon. By the time we got into the harbor of Charleston and rounding the Battery, the wind was howling and the waves crossing the bay were at least 5 feet—not a pleasant boat ride, but we were headed in the right direction and had the waves behind us! After getting all three boats safely secured to floating docks, we had a big pot of homemade vegetable soup for dinner that had been simmering all day on “Nightingale”—the weather had turned really cold and the soup was just perfect for us all—delicious too. Thanks Gail! Tuesday morning we had an early lunch at a nearby deli and took the totally packed, 345-person ferry out to the island of Fort Sumter for a very cold and windy (we were freezing!) tour of that famous place. Fort Sumter was where the first shot of the Civil War was fired. The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering through the famous and very crowded straw market in downtown Charleston—which had all the curtains pulled down because of the wind and cold—a sadly different sight from the last time we were there. Tuesday night we went to Hank’s for dinner—another delicious and trendy spot.

Wednesday, my dear cousin, Carol Shropshire, drove the two hours to and fro from Columbia to Charleston to visit with us for the afternoon. We were so excited she was coming and bringing her son, Colin, too!! We had a wonderful four hours together—having lunch at a fabulous French bistro, “Rue De Jean”—just off King Street; spending time with Colin and his precious girlfriend of 3 years, Virginia; and helping Colin out in a most embarrassing dilemma he had gotten himself into—his car getting towed during lunch! Life is interesting and continually full of surprises, isn’t it Carol?! I’m looking forward to spending more time with my precious cousin later on this summer—one short afternoon together just wasn’t enough by any means.

Wednesday night for dinner (on Colin’s excellent recommendation) Kay & Robert, Gail & Gene, and Louis & I walked up to Jestine’s Kitchen. Seeing the line of hungry patrons wrapped around the street told us all we needed to know—this place was going to be another delicious “local” spot. And delicious it was—southern cooking at its best. We all chose something different as our meats and our choices of vegetables were varied too—I had chicken livers, collard greens, and okra gumbo—wow!! Definitely worth another visit when we’re in Charleston!

It was still so windy on Thursday morning when we left Charleston. We left on slack tide, hoping the wind would calm down during the ebb, but were disappointed when it hadn’t. We’ve had fierce winds for almost three weeks now—and it makes our dockings difficult too. We were headed for Georgetown that morning—Louis and I think we’ve been there before, but neither of us can remember when—CRS disease strikes again! Along the way we saw two alligators—always thrilling and scary too. One of them was especially large—yikes! We also spotted several eagles and many ospreys—with six pairs of eyes constantly on the lookout for wildlife, it’s hard to miss anything along our route!

As we passed McClellanville, both Louis and I held our breaths—that’s where we spent three unscheduled, nasty and rainy days in the fall of 2007 tied up to a shrimp dock when we were bringing the boat back and we lost the port engine. Thankful that we had made it past that small fishing village, shortly thereafter we pulled into Boat Shed Marina in Georgetown and were glad we got alongside our floating docks before the really bad winds blew in. Is it ever going to stop blowing?! I’ve thought numerous times about Liz & Bob and their battered and torn Looper flag—poor things, they had bad winds most of their entire trip!

After cocktails and a surprise “birthday party” for me on “C-Life” (thanks Gail and Kay!), we headed down the street several blocks to River Road Restaurant for dinner. To our delight, we ran into Lyn and Scott Edwards from Durham there at the restaurant—what a treat to see them! We had a delicious dinner and walked back to our boats under another full “bella luna”—a beautiful night—I’ve lost track of the number of beautiful full moons we’ve seen on this trip!
Friday morning we woke up finding Kay and Robert’s middle son, John, and his wife, Sharon, and their 3 children, Kylie, AJ, and Ivey, who had come in late the night before. Most of them will be making the final leg of this trip with the Creeches—it’s great fun having children along! We’ll have Geni and our four grandchildren coming in this Tuesday while we’re in Myrtle So Friday night, Louis and I were “alone” for the evening—a rarity for us. Kay and Robert had the whole gang onboard and Gail & Gene had left earlier that morning bound early for Myrtle Beach—they’re shuffling their car along for a while and it is still in Brunswick, GA. We decided to take Carol’s recommendation for Georgetown and go uptown to The Rice Paddy for dinner.

Many people ask us about the Loop, “What’s your favorite city?” or “What’s your favorite restaurant?” We have so many favorites on both questions that it’s really hard to name a particular one for either. But in my estimation, The Rice Paddy in Georgetown definitely ranks in the upper three—and it’s surely the best restaurant I’ve been to since coming back to the boat after Christmas. We didn’t have reservations and were lucky to get in on a Friday night (what did we know?!). With Natasha as our waitress, we were treated to the best low country food to date—all prepared and served to perfection—I was in Heaven it was so delicious. The best shad row I've ever tasted. We can’t wait to get back to that marvelous place.

So now it’s Saturday night and we’re rafted together with “C-Life” in tranquil Oxbow Creek in the coffee-brown and tannin-rich waters of the Waccamaw River—just 35 miles south of Myrtle Beach. We got here about noon and have had a wonderful, lazy afternoon surrounded by ospreys. (We’ve never seen so many ospreys in one stretch of traveling—needless to say, the ospreys are thriving in the Waccamaw River!) Kay and Robert fixed hamburgers and hot dogs, complete with all the fixins’, and Louis made another batch of ice cream with grilled Twinkies, chocolate sauce and cherries—his signature dish on the Loop! Yum. And it’s a bittersweet night for Louis and me as well. We realize this will be the last night of anchoring and being rafted with Kay and Robert—they have been our constant companions and dearest of friends for so many months now—how will we ever be able to leave them? Like Scarlett O’Hara said, “I’ll worry about that tomorrow!”

Tomorrow, Easter Sunday, we’re headed to Barefoot Landing for one night, then moving over to the Myrtle Beach Yacht Club on Monday for a few days with our children—beginning Tuesday. I hope to get this blog posted there tomorrow. We also hope to see Ann & BJ Maynard in Little River for a while before our children get here—and after that, who knows what we’ll be doing, but it will be fun and we’ll be with our precious family. So I’m thinking/knowing this will be my last posting until we leave Myrtle Beach and head for an overnight in Southport and then on up solo to Wrightsville Beach for a couple of days. Draging our feet, we may spend a night or two in Swansboro. Then finally, we’ll let “Bella Luna” take us home. If all goes as planned, we should be leaving North Myrtle Beach sometime around the 20th and be in Morehead City that last weekend in April.

The Old North State, here we come—at last!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Georgia On Our Minds

There’s not that much to see and little tourism along the ICW of Georgia—with exception to the Island Areas of St. Simons, Brunswick, Jekyll, Sea Island, and Savannah. We traveled mainly through beautiful, deserted, brown-turning-green marshes, seeing the occasional small areas of gorgeous coastal homes—I’ve been taking pictures of the really spectacular ones. In addition, there are only five bridges we have to go under throughout the whole state of Georgia—amazing! So Sunday night when we tied up at Kilkenny Marina (up a pretty creek) there was nothing much more there than just that marina and a whole lot of tide—the restaurant which had been closed will reopen April 15th. But we were able to get a handful of live shrimp and try our luck fishing off the side of the boat—Kay catching and releasing the only small catch. Go Kay!

Monday, we passed the pretty lagoon area of “Moon River” just south of Isle of Hope—named from the same song written by Johnny Mercer (a local hero) and musical score added by Henry Mancini—made forever famous by Andy Williams singing at his very best. Gail and Gene, “Nightingale”, had the song on their boat and played it for us as we went by that very place—so special for us all—we won’t forget that day ever! Monday, we had hoped to get reservations at Thunderbolt Marina—Louis hearing (and it was confirmed!) that they gave fresh Krispy Kreme doughnuts to the transient boaters every morning. When we found out they had very limited transient space on that particular day, our plan #2 was easily put into place. We wound up stopping just a few miles short of Thunderbolt at Isle of Hope Marina—a very nice and very accommodating marina—plus they had a courtesy car and a courtesy van (perfect for six people!)—much better for us than complimentary doughnuts for sure! “C-Life” and “Nightingale” and “Bella Luna” all three signed up for the van (which we got for 6 hours!) and took off for West Marine. a liquor store, and a grocery stop. Plus, we wanted to drive the short distance over to Savannah and check out the public dock for available space—hoping to get our three boats there Tuesday by noon. We planned to spend several nights there. After finding an empty dock, we headed back to Isle of Hope for dinner at a wonderful, local, hot-spot—Driftaway Café. ( This restaurant has to be one of my most favorite places on the whole trip—everything was seasoned just right, the portions were perfect, we loved the atmosphere, and the wait staff were all so pleasant. We even called our “Looper Restaurateur”, Phil, and told him he must add this excellent place to his list!

Tuesday morning early, we left Isle of Hope in a swarm of relentless “no-see-ums” and headed to the public docks of Savannah—which do not take reservations—“first come, first served--as the sign said”. As we rounded the curve leading up to that dock there, we saw—to our dismay—a small cruise ship tied up in the very spot we wanted to be! Oh No! Robert tied up his boat in a small space and was quickly met by the Captain of the cruise ship. We soon found out that only twice a year do two cruise ships tie to this dock on the same nights—once in the spring and once in the fall. As luck would have it, we just happened to pick the one two-day period! So, being so good at this now, we settled for plan #2—we found a “marina” (just really a floating dock) only a few hundred yards from where we would eventually be for a few days—once the cruise ships left. But we would all have to pay a hefty price for that one night at $2.50 per foot. Yipes.

So now it’s Thursday, April 02, 2009—we have been in Savannah for two nights and will stay here another two, if we don’t get “run off” on these public docks by city officials. (So far, there have been no other boats wishing to use this dock.) We’re witnessing huge container ships coming right by us almost hourly into this busy port city and the small, green ferry boats taking people back and forth across this busy “highway”—we’re getting rocked by their passing (especially by the tugboat, "Diane"!), but not uncomfortably for any prolonged length of time. There’s a bad storm on top of us now—no one should be moving on the water now or tonight and probably not tomorrow morning as well. But since we’ve been here, we’ve taken a trolley bus tour of the historic district, been shopping in the quaint river front stores, been to several delicious restaurants (eating oysters and shrimp), and yes! Jane, we went to “Wet Willies” on your recommendation. You were right—the margaritas were absolutely delicious and I got a cup for you too—we’ll be back there, for sure, before we leave!

It’s now late Thursday afternoon and it’s raining hard and “we six” are sitting on our boat discussing our itinerary for the next few remaining weeks—I’m multi-tasking –listening to them, adding my two cents every now and then, and trying to finish this blog while our generator is running and I have power to this computer. (However, we have no wireless here at this dockage, so my posting will probably be when we get to Beaufort on Saturday.) We want our last big South Carolina stops to be in Beaufort, Charleston, Georgetown, and Myrtle Beach and we’ll hopefully be anchoring out some in between. Our girls and their children want to join us in Myrtle Beach over Easter week/ their Spring Break—having not seen any of them since Christmas, we can’t wait to see them all again!!

With Thursday being a total “wash” day of heavy rain, we decided to stay over in Savannah through Friday night—Friday was predicted to be beautiful. And beautiful it was, but high winds—good thing too, we had had over 3” of rain the day before and everything needed a good blowing off. We also wanted to experience “Mrs. Wilkes on Jones Street”—a 50 plus year old “boarding house” restaurant still going strong today which serves only weekday lunches from 11 to 2. So Friday morning off we went, expecting to have to wait in line about an hour for a place to sit at one of her only 8 big tables. Smelling the fried chicken wafting out the door every time it opened, we all were getting very hungry as we stood in line with about 100 plus people lining the sidewalk. Sure enough, after about an hour, we were finally “let in” and led to our table which was already filled with about 15 yummy dishes. This was to be a “family style” lunch and we were all ready to dig in!! Passing what-turned-out-to-be 25 dishes of meats, vegetables, salads, breads and desserts (unbelievable!) around the table quickly became work for the people in the middle of the table! But boy, was it ever delicious and worth the wait—we were told on two separate occasions from totally different people that this was absolutely the best restaurant in Savannah—forget the tacky Paula Dean’s—and they were so right. What a feast for the eyes and the tummy—we all left in acute pain—but all of us knowing we would definitely visit this place again!

After that so delicious lunch, we walked, so slowly!, through various gorgeous parks on our way back to the boats and stopped on purpose to see and appreciate the Cathedral of John the Baptist—a truly beautiful and historic Catholic Church which has just undergone a several million dollar renovation—a must see in Savannah, for sure. After a little bit of shopping too, late in the day we were back at “Wet Willies” for more margaritas & the crazy concoctions they serve & then the six of us went up on our flybridge to watch the sunset and the huge container ships passing. This being the first Friday of the month, the Westin Hotel (across the water from us) had fireworks at 9:30, which we all enjoyed tremendously. Saturday morning before we left, we were also able to enjoy just-as-they-were-setting-up the Street Arts Festival, which is held the first Friday “weekend” as well. We’ve had a great four days in Savannah—we’ll be back!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Cumberland Island and St. Simons

We left Palm Coast Monday morning, March 23rd with “C-Life”. We were bound for an anchorage about 30 miles up the coast of Florida just north of St. Augustine called Pine Island. Traveling through marsh lands most of the day, we were almost at our turn-off for the anchorage when we saw a big, mature eagle sitting on the shore eating a freshly caught fish—we haven’t seen any eagles since leaving Marathon—so this one was very special for us all. As we turned into Pine Island, we found several other boats already anchored there—not to worry though, it was a big space surrounded by beautiful, brown marsh—another good pick from our Captains.

After a beautiful sun rising over the marsh, we left our quiet spot Tuesday morning and got back out on the ICW—going through the busy entrance of the St. John’s River with its huge container ships moving in and out of the port of Jacksonville. We decided this trip to forgo going up that river—maybe next time! We were headed for another anchorage behind Cumberland Island—a 17 mile long treasure of an island and a designated National Seashore Park. Just at the tip of Cumberland, we saw five “marsh tackie” ponies grazing on the green salt marsh of the island. These small, wild horses are believed to be descended from the Spanish ones left there over 200 years ago—back then, they were easily transportable in small ships and yet they were strong enough to do heavy work in the fields once they got to land. They reminded me so much of our native Shackelford ponies—I’m excited about seeing them again this summer!

Around 3pm that afternoon, we entered Georgia—only two more states to wind our way through before we reach North Carolina! We found a nice anchorage behind Cumberland Island, rafted again with Kay and Robert, and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon—especially when we saw a nuclear Trident submarine coming into the King’s Bay Submarine Base facility with some of its crew standing outside on the hull! After the sun set, we enjoyed a pretty star-filled dark sky.

Wednesday morning, Robert and Louis put our dinghies in the water and we went over to the Island to explore. There is not a bridge to Cumberland Island, so everyone visiting must come by boat. We wound up walking a long, lush, quiet, green nature trail through the woods filled with saw palmettos, palms, live oaks and pine trees, grape vines, and lots of moss up in the trees all leading to Dungeness—a massive four-story brick and tabby estate home (think castle!) built by the Carnegies at the turn of the century during the golden era. The Carnegies at one time had over 300 workers on this island, making it a fully self sufficient paradise for their family and friends to enjoy. Ice was even cut from the Hudson River in the winter and shipped by barge here and stored in an ice house on the island! Reportedly, it burned from arson in 1958 as a result of the shooting death of a poacher and the poacher’s family seeking retribution for the fatal shooting—never proven though. The four-floor ruins still stand today as a testament to the period in American history where the Vanderbilts, the Rockefellers, and the Carnegies (among others) were all conspicuously enjoying their amazing wealth—the period before income taxes were levied. With a dozen or so of the wild horses grazing along both sides of the estate in the open fields, and an unobstructed view of acres upon acres of marshland, and even in a state of ruin, we got a quick glimpse into the lives of the fabulously mega rich of yore. Also, there was a very nice display in the visitor’s center showing pictures of what the home once looked like, plus other historical facts about the island and its many nationed inhabitants. Of recent, this is the secluded island which hosted, in the ever-so-tiny First Black American Baptist Church, the wedding and honeymoon of Carolyn Bessette to John F. Kennedy, Jr. I remember quite well the photograph of them leaving the small church—it’s hard to believe, even now, that they were actually able to pull it all off so secretly and away from the harassing press. We tried to get reservations for dinner at Greyfield Inn either night, but they were already full. While we were walking on the trail though, we played with two armadillos—they were not afraid of us at all—how fun!

We pulled up our anchors Thursday morning shortly after seeing another submarine coming out of King’s Bay which was headed out to sea. Surrounded by Coast Guard boats carrying machine guns on their bows and sterns, we stood in awe as having seen yet another sub—all the times Kay and Robert have been through this area, they haven’t ever seen a single one! It took a while to get the anchors up—they were covered in black mud—but we were underway earlier than we had planned. Good call, guys! There’s a bad cold front moving across the country and we want to be in a marina before the high winds get to us. Plus, we have to cross St. Andrew’s Sound—very tricky and sometimes treacherous. But just as we were approaching King’s Bay, a third submarine was quickly making its way through the waterway behind us. A heavily armored Coast Guard boat came up behind us with its blue lights flashing and told us to “move along quickly” past the King’s Bay facility—the submarine was traveling much faster than we were and the Coast Guard didn’t want us anywhere near that sub! In fact, if one of those subs is coming upon you and you can’t get away from it quickly enough, you are required to point the bow of your boat towards shore and maintain that position until the “coast is clear”! That’s three nuclear submarines we’ve seen in two days—a real record for most Loopers, for sure!!

Well, we did get through St. Andrew’s Sound even with me at the wheel! Louis was trying to secure us reservations on his cell phone, so I was driving—the boat bouncing up and down through the white-capped and “squirrely” chop. I can now see why boaters hesitate to cross this body of water—and thankfully we got through it just as the winds really picked up—if we had left an hour later this morning as planned, we would have had an uncomfortable ride. Glad that’s behind us.

We pulled into Golden Isles Marina at St. Simons Island mid-afternoon, and with the storm approaching, I quickly jumped off the boat to do laundry in the nice facility there. Gold Loopers, Lola and Larry from “Lola Marie”, were alongside us on the floating dock and asked if we four would like to join them in going to dinner at “Gnat’s Landing”—we immediately said, “YES”! So off we went in their car over the bridge later that afternoon to that great little restaurant—enjoying fresh seafood and Caesar salads—the place was very popular with the locals.

Friday, we borrowed the courtesy car at the marina and did errands—Louis and Robert trying to chase down a fuse we needed for our boat and Kay and I checking out and enjoying so much the historic Christ Church there on St. Simons. Surrounded by blooming dogwoods, azaleas, camellias and wisteria, this precious white-wood church was truly beautiful and serene—we could have spent hours just wandering through all the history in the adjacent gravesites, but time didn’t allow us that. We could have the car for only 2 hours, but we did manage to get in a fix at Burger King—yum! Later on that afternoon, Mary and Robert Drake, whom we met in Tarpon Springs, came to our boat for another interview. With Mary being the writer and Robert being the photographer, they both contribute articles for “Soundings” magazine and they wanted to do a feature article on us, the Loop, and “Bella Luna”—imagine that (!) and how exciting for Louis and me! With both of them being such experienced boaters (and sailors), we spent several hours chatting about our mutual experiences in and on the water—ours, however, can’t even hold a candle to going around the world like they did! Thanks go out to both of them for taking even more time with us—and in our excitement and by me not thinking, I can’t believe I didn’t take a single picture of them taking our pictures! Sorry, Mary & Robert—can you send us one?! Later on that evening, eight of us wound up eating at the marina’s restaurant (Coastal Kitchen) and sadly, most of us were disappointed—expensive for what we were served.

We’ve had terrible wind now for three days. Saturday, the slow-moving cold front with predicted heavy rain, possible tornados, and winds of 60 mph still hadn’t come through our area but it was forecasted for late in the afternoon—so we decided to stay put another night safely tied to the marina. We borrowed the courtesy car again and went to the grocery and Chick-Filet. It’s a real treat for us all to be able to have lunch away from our boats—so any chance for us, we gladly take it and won’t feel guilty at all! We met another couple (new Loopers) on our dock yesterday from Ohio on an Endeavor, Gail and Gene Knight on “Nightingale”, and asked them to join us for dinner on our boat Saturday night. Kay and Robert came over too and all six of us had a great time—it was one of our latest evenings going to bed to date! The storm with 5 inches of rain finally barreled through all night long—thankfully, we had taken all our flags down and no one encountered any problems on their boats, except that we lost power on the dock early Saturday night and it still wasn’t on when we left Sunday morning. We loved having Melissa as our dock-mistress—she’s definitely one of the best ones we’ve had on our entire strip and she really knows the business. We left on a beautiful (but damp) Sunday morning with “C-Life” and “Nightingale” and were all headed about 50 miles further up Georgia’s coast and up a creek to Kilkenny Marina—in the middle of nowhere too!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Working Our Way Up Florida

It’s hard to believe we left Ft. Pierce a week ago today (Sunday). The week has flown by so quickly, like all the others have, and this has been another great one, with very nice weather—albeit high winds—it’s March, for sure! We’re now on our third day here in a marina at Palm Coast—this area being just about equidistant (30 miles) between Daytona (to the south) and St. Augustine (to the north). I spent a couple of days earlier this week writing the previous blog about Sunday’s fantastic space shuttle launch when we were at Dragon’s Point, and today just realized I hadn’t caught “Bella Luna” up to where we are now. Opps!

So after finally getting to sleep Sunday night, (and I don’t want to miss mentioning Kay’s great day of fishing that very afternoon on the back of her boat—go Kay!), we left Dragon’s Point Monday morning and headed to the neat little town of Cocoa—we would stop just for a couple of hours for lunch. There’s a free city dock there at Cocoa, and “C-Life” wanted us to not miss that particular town. So we tied up to the dock (saw several manatees lazing just several feet from our boat), and walked through the nice park one block to “main street”. We were headed to Travis Hardware Store—an unbelievable two-story, whole-block long, brick institution. We saw things there we’ve never seen anywhere else before—from new wooden wagon wheels to sleds (imagine those here!), to every dimension of pipe, screw, nut, bolt, tool, and anything else you could ever need or want. I can’t imagine what their inventory must amount to—and if they don’t have it in stock, no one else does anywhere else around here for miles and miles! Louis and Robert had a ball and could have stayed there all day—Kay and I were greatly impressed too. But hunger called us all, so we went to the recommended Ryan’s Village Pizza for lunch—having the best pizza and strombolies on our whole trip to date! If we ever make it back this way, this will definitely be a stop for us.

After lunch, we walked back to our boats and headed just a short way up to Canaveral Barge Canal for fuel and an overnight—Harbortown Harbor Marina. We found fuel there for an inclusive $1.75—the lowest fuel “Bella Luna” has ever received—color Louis happy! “Sunshine” and “Blue Max” pulled in just a few minutes ahead of us into the marina—it was good seeing them again.

Tuesday morning, just as we left the marina at Harbortown, we saw our first alligator or croc—we couldn’t tell which—swimming alongside the boat in the canal—thanks, Kay, for spotting it! We got a quick photo of it too—the first one we’ve seen so far on our whole trip! We also passed under the Christa McAufille Memorial Bridge—so named for the woman astronaut who died when the space shuttle Columbia tragically broke apart and all aboard were killed. A somber reminder of just how dangerous space travel really is.

From Canaveral Barge Canal we were headed up by Titusville to an anchorage. On the way, we passed NASA’s huge assembly building where all the rockets and shuttles are stored and eventually “rolled” 3 miles out to the launch pad. Having “the largest doors in the world”, this building was awesome even from our far-away vantage point. A huge American flag painted on the outside of the building—110 feet x 209 feet vertically—was painted on its exterior. As reported in Skipper Bob, it took 6,000 gallons of paint just to paint 1 stripe on this American flag—imagine!! And then just a little later on, we came through another canal and took a hard left and saw behind us the rocket launch pad sitting out on a tip of land where the shuttle took off Sunday night! What fun it was to see firsthand that famous spot where all launches take place—even from 3 (?) miles away—I’ve seen it all before on TV—so recognizable. I took several pictures, but they were from far off and it wasn’t entirely a clear day—I hope they turn out. Next trip, I’m going to have a really good zoom camera!

We were headed Tuesday to an anchorage about 30 miles up the ICW, but fierce winds forced us to go another 20 miles further up to New Smyrna—it would have been miserable on anchor—making a longer day of travel for us than anticipated. We wound up tying late in the afternoon to a city dock marked “No Overnight Docking”—how funny. I have a picture of Robert & Louis tying our boats up right at the sign—but we really did need the comfort and safety of a land tie-up that night regardless of what the sign said! Robert hoped to get a new battery the next morning from the local Napa store—which he did get—and so we hoped his/our excuse would let us stay there overnight without any problems. As it turned out, no one came to chase us away and we stayed comfortable, snug, and secure for the evening. People walking alongside the park and talking with us continue to be so interested in our extended and year-long trip.

The next morning, after the old battery was hauled away and the new one installed, both boats headed off a short distance to downtown Daytona. Along the way, we passed one particular stretch of “fill islands” where we saw our old friends the white pelicans—hello again! These magnificent birds with their huge wing spans (imagine, 8 feet!) have been migrating with us since our days on the Illinois River, yet we haven’t seen them in a while. Along with these white pelicans, we also saw for the first time many beautiful pink spoonbills. Huge birds too and looking so much like flamingos, these birds were fun to see flying and fun to spot sitting in the marsh and up in the low-lying trees—pink is easy to spot. We’re told these birds don’t migrate too much further up the east coast—but they sure were plentiful here.

Soon we were arriving at The Halifax River Yacht Club in downtown Daytona. Early last summer we joined MTOA and The White Rocks Yacht Club in Rock Hall, Maryland with help from our boating friends, Robbin and Roger Seal—thanks again for a great evening with you! We were therefore able to have reciprocal privileges with other yacht clubs along the way and we really hoped to use this privilege as we traveled. Yet, here were on the last leg home and have just used our membership for the first time—boy was it a good place to begin! We had just tied up our boat there and got a call from Brantley and Brenda—they were on their way to Marathon and were just coming around Daytona. They drove to the marina, we got hugs all around—even from “Rudder”, and they brought us some Wilber’s bar-b-que—how great to have a “taste from home”! Thanks, B & BG—hurry and catch up with us—more good times ahead!!

We wound up staying two nights at the yacht club and all the time there, the members made us feel so welcomed—it was just like being in Morehead. The facilities at HRYC were pristine too—an inviting 88 degree pool, a spotless laundry (did 3 loads!), good cable TV, high speed wireless, a great “swap” library, a really nice shower facility—plus the fabulous restaurant/clubhouse was so delicious and wait staff were so pleasant that we ate 5 meals there! We met Commodore Lyn and his board of directors over drinks one night up in the clubhouse—a really super bunch of dedicated people—we can see why this club is so viable. Also, West Marine & other specialty shops (a chocolate factory, yea!) were so close by too—even the Jackie Robinson Ballpark was right across the street, although Spring Training doesn’t begin for another few weeks yet and we, disappointingly, weren’t able to take advantage of any baseball games. A lot of the HRYC members wound up traveling Friday morning, like us, up to Palm Coast for a rendezvous weekend there—they all wanted us to join them for more fun, food, and fellowship on their docks—making us feel even more welcomed.

So we arrived here in Palm Coast Marina Friday afternoon, coming through some narrow parts of the Florida ICW dotted with dolphins, ospreys, pretty homes and docks—looking more and more like home—we’ve lost our pretty aquamarine water though. But thankfully we arrived just before small-craft-warning winds began to blow— getting into our slip with no problems. Robert and Louis rented a car (actually a pick-up truck, the last they had—Hi, Betsy!) for Saturday and Sunday—we all four needed a major grocery shopping trip. We also planned to drive back down to Daytona Saturday to go (the girls) to the famous weekend flea market there—(hello Barbara!) and the guys to West Marine, Boater’s World, Home Depot, etc—Louis and Robert needed a good McDonalds fix too. Kay and Robert have long-time cruising friends from the Chesapeake staying here at this marina for the winter on their boat, “@ Home”, Cathy and Jim Fisher, whom we will be spending some time with over the weekend—Jim is the Vice-President of MTOA. Sunday, Kay & I will have the car by ourselves & plan to do some “retail therapy”—Bealles is having a huge sale (50% off & then 50% off of that!)—we just can’t pass that up and we’ll take advantage of near-by Target and TJ Maxx too! After three nights here in this nice quiet marina, we’re off to St. Augustine & Jacksonville tomorrow—Monday, March 23rd. The weather has really cooled off as we have traveled up the coast to the top part of Florida—we’ve been in long pants and long sleeve shirts each day—I’m not so sure we’re headed in the right direction! I know it’s spring now and we should be headed home, but is it too late to turn around?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Space Shuttle Launch

My family was fortunate enough in 1958 to be able to build a beach cottage at Atlantic Beach, NC. It was a dream come true for my parents, who had always enjoyed “the beach” so much with their friends. It was right on the ocean and had no air-conditioning—not even window units! The cottage had wood floors, wood walls, and wood ceilings (our father loved heart-of-pine)—and it had old furniture from our recently deceased paternal grand-parents home in Raleigh. All the interior doors in our cottage were louvered to allow the mostly cool summer breezes to flow freely throughout the house—even the closets and bathrooms had louvered doors! When the breeze died, we all were miserably hot—consequently, I spent a lot of time outdoors—even at night. Times were different then. I was 10 years old when we moved into our cottage, my brother (Hi, Jay!) was 6.

Many-a-night with no such breeze, I would go out on our sundeck, lay down on the wooden benches and look up into the sky just trying to get cool—I would be too hot to slip between humidity-laden damp sheets and try to get to sleep—even then as a child! With nothing but hundreds of miles of darkness ahead of me and no town or street lights to get in the way, I would spot the Big Dipper, Little Dipper, Orion’s Belt, The Seven Sisters, and could even pick out the occasional satellite—moving ever so slowly. Sputnik, maybe, I never knew. Little did I realize “way back then” that I would have a life-long affinity for the stars and “outer space”. But every one of those summers I was building on it as a very lucky child. Today, I still marvel nightly at those familiar stars plus enjoy the meteor showers in August and December and Haley’s Comet and Hale-Bopp—when they make their infrequent appearances. And through my enthusiasm (I’d like to think), even Louis early on came to appreciate the heavens—that’s one of the chief reasons we named our boat “Bella Luna”—beautiful moon. We both love star gazing!

I have always envied every one of the astronauts who have been privileged enough to have walked on the moon—I can’t imagine what they must feel these days looking up into the sky, seeing the moon, and telling their children/grandchildren, “I have walked up there!” How lucky those few people are. And in a salute to Jack Nicholson (one of my all time favorite actors ever), I have a “Bucket List” of my own. Among the top twenty on the list is that I have always wanted to be able to see a space shuttle launch or any launch, for that matter. And we realized about 10 days ago we just might be able to make that wish come true—barring any unscheduled delays on NASA’s part, we should be right in the area for launching. I don't know the reason, but we've heard that there will not be many more of these launches (maybe 8?), so if we're going to get to see one, we don't need to put it off much longer! We prayed that there would be no clouds or fog at our opportunistic time either!!

And so off we went this past Sunday morning, leaving Ft. Pierce. We were headed north about 30 miles towards Melbourne to hopefully find a good anchorage with an unobstructed view of the northerly sky—a space shuttle launch was scheduled for 7:43 pm that night. Robert on “C-Life” led us to a great spot sheltered from a hard blowing wind and we anchored—boy, is he a great leader—we were in a fantastic spot! We were ready by 4pm with new batteries in our cameras and videos charging—hoping so much that there wouldn’t be any delays on the launch, as so frequently happens. We had this one opportunity—one night to be in a close area for viewing.

We all were on “C-Life” and we had their TV on—the local stations faithfully cover each launch here as NASA is the largest employer for miles around the Cape Canaveral area. If there were to be a delay, we would immediately hear about it. But luck was with us—no delay. The countdown began—we all held our breaths and waited. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, “Liftoff, we have Liftoff!”, we heard from the TV. We all were hanging outside the sundeck’s curtains looking for the shuttle. Then, in an instant, a huge fireball appeared just over the treetops—and it kept climbing. Eureka—this was it!! “I can’t believe what I’m seeing and we are so close to it”, I kept yelling! Then we saw a smoke trail, the “fireball” got smaller, and with such clarity, we could see the actual shuttle sitting on the rocket boosters rotating. Unbelievable! And then within just a few seconds, the sound hit us (from 25 miles away we estimated) — we felt this wave of immense pressure going right through us. We were seeing it, hearing it, and feeling it—all the time trying to capture it on film and video. We saw the boosters separate and fall back to earth (really the ocean) and then so quickly, Discovery was now in orbit and just a pin-head size bright dot in the sky. The show was over—but boy, was it ever a good show—the best I’ve ever seen. NASA was pleased, the Creeches and Wades were pleased and so “over the moon”, and to say it was a thrilling experience would truly be inadequate.

We’re almost home now—we have about six weeks left of our year long trip taking us over 7000 miles. We have a sign in our boat that reads, “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away”. Sunday night, March 15th, was definitely one of them—WOW. Thank you, NASA. TYJ.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Miami to Ft. Lauderdale to Ft. Pierce

As we passed through Miami, we counted 5 huge cruise ships—all restocking and waiting for new passengers and anticipating other ports of call. We once drove to Miami and took a 7 day cruise with our girls over New Year’s Eve celebrating Louis’s birthday—remember it, Geni & Catherine? Fond memories, for sure! Sadly today though, none of the ships here were taking on passengers—we would have loved to have honked & waved at them—and it was surprising to see them all there on a Monday. As we got closer to Ft. Lauderdale, we saw 3 more beautiful cruise ships tied to the docks—this is definitely the region for cruising!

We entered a narrow part of the ICW coming into Ft. Lauderdale and I’ve never in my whole life seen a more conspicuous, ostentatious, concentrated display of mega wealth. Absolutely unbelievable! We probably passed for a good mile or so, mansion after mansion with huge—and I mean really huge—yachts tied to docks “behind the house”. All well over 100 feet, these yachts were so beautifully pristine from bow to stern—I was blown away by it all—so amazed that I forgot to take even one picture! We’ve been on the water in Palm Beach several times with Brantley before, but we’ve never seen such a display of excess like this anywhere—and I never thought Ft. Lauderdale had so much of that kind of wealth. Others have called that area the "Gold Coast", but we’ve named that stretch in the ICW as “Billionaires Row”. I’m so glad we got to see all that pulchritude (remembering our dear Pete!)—evidently the notorious local bad-boy here, Bernie Madoff, didn't have any of these people as clients!

We arrived at Los Olas Marina in Ft. Lauderdale in time Tuesday to give “Bella Luna” a much-needed good long bath—after a week of neglect (and being without an outside water supply), she was covered in salt. We were tied-up in a slip right near the bulkhead and while washing the boat, we saw three manatees swim alongside our port side—two adults and a baby. We were told they were headed up further north to a power plant seeking warmer waters. With all the boat traffic and narrow channels, I hope they will make it there safely. The main cause of death among manatees is boater interaction and several years ago the state of Florida enacted strict regulations concerning these gentle giants—making manatee safe zones all along this stretch of water. Today, due to such increased awareness and boater co-operation, their population has definitely increased. Yea!

Our friends from Ft. Lauderdale, Cheryl and Harold Lovell on “Victory”, had all six of us over to their wonderful home for a delicious lasagna dinner Tuesday afternoon and evening. We had a great time being with them—talking and reminiscing about our travels together—we traveled most of the Canadian canal system with “Victory” and they finished the Loop right before Christmas. It was also great seeing their precious 16-year-old nephew, Billy, who stopped by to say hello. Billy was ½ of the team (with Bruce, “Phantom…”, being the other half!) that helped change our props in Campbellford and we will always be so grateful for that big, strong, strapping boy who was able to help us out in record time. The Lovell’s home is right-smack-dab on the inlet, so several times that night we saw huge freighters and cruise ships coming and going—so fun to witness! We thank them both for their hospitality.

Wednesday was restock and laundry day. Ellen and Roy from “Our Turn” came by with two (!) cars to take us each in separate ways—the guys one way & the girls the other! The girls, of course, went to Publix and such—the guys to West Marine & Sailor Man. Then both groups met up for a delicious late lunch of sushi, Bennie Hanna, and Chinese. It is one of Ellen’s favorite places to go in the area & all of us could taste & see why! The two cars came back to the boats with everyone so satisfied and stuffed—thanks to them both for spending the day with us!

Yep, it’s Spring Break in Ft. Lauderdale. Late in the afternoon, all of us walked the two blocks up to the beach and it was full of young people—all enjoying themselves in this beautiful weather. We saw just a few people in the water and no one was surfing because there are no waves at all here—but everyone was having a good time none-the-less. Between the skimpy bathing suits and the tattoos on both guys and girls, all “us old people” were shaking our heads! Lord, how times have changed since Louis and I were that age! But after walking up and down the beachfront, we got an outside table “street-side” at Spazio’s and watched for several hours all the passers-by. The huge 2-for1 frozen drinks made it even more enjoyable (love those mudslides!) and we saw so many Rolls, Bentleys, and Jaguars that we finally lost count—definitely the place to see and be seen! We vacated our most-coveted table after a beautiful full bella luna rose, Kay and I really hoping (in our current state of mind!) to get a “Spring Break 2009” tee-shirt—but sadly, none were available in our size—oh to be 18 again!!

Thursday morning, we left Ft. Lauderdale and began our next destination towards Ft. Pierce. Along the way, we went through Palm Beach, feeling comfortable in the waters and reliving some great memories of our trips here with Brantley. It was early, so we didn’t stop for lunch at some of our favorite spots (Waterway Café or The Square Grouper)—but we were finally beginning to feel a little bit closer to home. Going by The Square Grouper at Jupiter Inlet, we hung a hard left and entered beautiful waters again—waters like the Keys—the clearest extended aquamarine waters we've ever seen. When it’s so clear like that, we’re told, the bottom is all sand—the reflections we see are not hampered by coral or grass. Absolutely breathtaking!!

We also saw something we’ve never seen before—right on top of a channel marker in an osprey’s nest were two owls! With their pointed ears sticking up and heads carefully turning watching us pass, what an amazinging sight—and in broad daylight, no less! Sadly, by the time we were on top of the nest, I couldn’t get the camera out quick enough. I can’t remember seeing an owl up that close ever, especially two at the same time, and much less in the daytime. WOW!

We anchored twice with “C-Life” and “Wanderin’ L & M” on our way up to Ft. Pierce. The second night, Kay made a special cake to celebrate Margie’s & Larry’s completing the Loop—and Larry’s 60th birthday. We had a great celebration all afternoon and into the evening—even dancing on our boat to Ronnie Milsap—a first! The Rosses will be staying in Ft. Pierce for a month with their family—we will miss them as we make our way homeward and will think fondly of them as we raise our gold Looper flag.

As we pulled into our slips Friday afternoon, we realized the marina in Ft. Pierce was a really great spot to be with nice laundry facilities and two restaurants on site. Both complete with live music, we had dinner at the more casual one that night—so delicious too—the place was packed. Saturday morning, we took advantage of a wonderful farmer’s market held right at our docks every Saturday October through April—probably the best one we’ve been to on this entire trip! Both Kay and Louis love pork ribs, and each of them got a whole slab (!) to take back to the boats—boy, were they good—cooked just right over charcoal too. But by noon, most of the vendors had sold out their goods and were packing up their gear—city rules state the park must be vacated by 2pm. We also tried to get tickets to see Bill Cosby, who was going to be Saturday night at the near-by Sunrise Theater, but both shows were sold out (within 15 minutes, we were told!)—too bad, that would have been such fun to see him! But I did manage get a super gyro (from the farmer’s market) and some fine Chinese fried rice take-out. Also on Saturday, I got a much-needed haircut and pedicure (my first since then end of December!)—thanks Margie for the reference to the great salon!

We left Ft. Pierce Sunday morning for an anchorage near Melbourne, Florida in order to see the space shuttle launch which was scheduled for Sunday night--March 15th. I'm working on my thoughts about that spectacular night (and my next blog) and will post them hopefully in the next few days.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Marathon to Miami

As we began our journey north from Marathon, all of us were sad. We had experienced the most wonderful time during our five weeks at Sombrero Dockside—especially since we had heard from home of the snowfalls and teen temperatures while we were enjoying the fine weather in the Keys! But off we went and “Bella Luna”, for the first time in a very long time, was headed north—the last leg of her journey home. We had encountered a lot of wind in our time in Marathon so we all were thankful that it was a beautiful calm and sunny day as we were leaving. Many boats left that morning, but “C-Life”, “Wanderin’ L & M”, and “Our Turn” left together.

After taking the inside Bay route for about 30 miles, our first night (Tuesday) was on anchor behind Islamorada—we rafted three boats together—“Our Turn” taking the outside route from Marathon through Hawks Channel having plans for the evening up at Tavernier. (We will meet back up with them in a couple of days.) Traveling the Bay side was so visually beautiful—shallow channels and aquamarine waters which can easily be seen from the numerous bridges that cars cross all along the Keys. But being able to look down and see the bottom just a few feet below the boat and have it be so clear was especially thrilling for me. The water was still very chilly here so I wasn’t tempted in the least to get into it—even when we were rafted together and I could see the bottom!

Wednesday morning after we pulled up our anchors, we traveled another 30 or so miles up to another pretty anchorage behind Key Largo—still traveling with “C-Life” and “Wanderin’ L & M”—and all three of us rafted together mid-afternoon for another beautiful night under the stars. Anchoring with a good sandy bottom is such a pleasure—we’ve had enough of pulling the anchor up in black muddy bottoms! Thursday, (Happy 8th Birthday Clay!) we headed up to what-would-turn-out-to-be a 3 night stay at Boca Chita in the Biscayne National Park. “Our Turn” caught back up with us right after we pulled up our anchors that morning and followed us into Boca Chita.

Boca Chita is at the top of the Keys right across Biscayne Bay from Miami and Key Biscayne—what a sight to look across the Bay and see all those tall buildings. It is a destination that many boaters use on a regular basis—a long circular wall, surrounded by palm trees, with no power or water in a state park setting controlled by Park Rangers and absolutely gorgeous. Extremely popular with the locals, we were fortunate to find four spots together alongside the wall there by mid-day Thursday—we never would have been so lucky if we had arrived much later in the day, much less on Friday! Thursday night was so calm and relaxing with maybe 12 boats in the lagoon—little did we know how it would explode in activity by Friday noon. By 2pm Friday, there were 25 boats—some rafted together—and boatloads of campers were arriving to set up tents and gear—must have been a youth church group. As time went on, more and more boats were trying to find space to tie up to—no such luck! And there’s no telling how many boats late Friday and all day Saturday came into the harbor only to be forced to go back out into the Bay for lack of room—it was packed to the hilt and fun to watch!! We walked on the little beach there, found shells and coconuts (opened and ate them too!) and sponges, had pot luck dinners all three nights, and just enjoyed being with a whole different flavor of people. With Latin music booming from some of the boats, cigars and grills smoking, children running around, and women in skimpy bathing suits, Margie accurately named it Little Havana! Wow—what an experience—color Louis happy! By Saturday night, at last count before we all turned in, there were 43 boats that had squeezed into that little lagoon, some rafting three across—amazing!

Sunday morning we left the wall at Boca Chita and headed across a calm Biscayne Bay to an anchorage behind the tall buildings of Miami in Stadium Channel. With long-ago abandoned bleachers rising up alongside the fairly narrow body of water, this setting was once home to a Cypress Gardens type water skiing show. When the sun went down and the tall buildings of Miami lit up illuminating the sky, boy was it a beautiful sight—not quite as impressive as the skyline of Manhattan, but close. Thanks to Robert for steering us to that destination!

We’ve now been “on anchor” for 6 nights—a first for “Bella Luna” and good for Louis and me to learn how to manage our water supply. We’ve done really well—but it’s now time for us to get to a marina and fill back up our water tank! So we’re headed to Ft. Lauderdale today for a two night stay at a really nice (but expensive) marina—Los Almos—just two blocks from the famous beach with restaurants and shops galore—but we hear it is Spring Break, oh dear!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Keys Disease

The locals have a name for it. What occurs is easily transmittable, not curable, and not even terminal—but is something most everyone catches while they’re in the Florida Keys for any length of time. Louis and I have had a bad case of it too—I don’t know if we’ll ever recover—it’s certainly not something you want to voluntarily get over. Keys Disease is a state of mind. And as I don’t want to forget one moment of our time here, I’m taking this opportunity to put most of it down here—so when we get back home into our daily routines, I can hopefully catch the disease again periodically—I’ll just pretend to be Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, close my eyes and click my ruby red heels together three times.

We arrived here in Marathon exactly 5 weeks ago today—it was Tuesday, January 27th. We came in with “C-Life” and “Wanderin’ L & M” quickly followed a few days later— all three boats have been here together. We had planned to stay a month—the thought of staying in one spot for four weeks was a welcomed change. Not once on this whole trip of ours have we stopped and enjoyed one particular place for four complete weeks! Most everyone on the Loop takes the time during the winter months to either linger and enjoy the Florida Keys for several weeks or make a quick stop somewhere here (like Key West) and then go over to the Bahamas for a few weeks. We had fully intended (when we left Morehead City in May of last year) to go over to the Bahamas and Abacos during this time period joining other Loopers—we had all our documentations accurate and up to date—but after we got back to the boats in late December and were exhausted from Christmas and such, we decided we just needed to stop. And what a better place to do just that than at Dockside Sombrero in Marathon! And stop we did—life slowed way, way down—we got into a lazy routine—and all of us caught Keys Disease.

The days flew by—none of us knew where the time went. Our days were spent in a sort of glorious limbo—we were always outside enjoying the high 70’s temperatures—it never rained during the daytime—how lucky we were! We would begin our mornings with walks—even Louis got into the habit of walking with the guys at 7am! The girls would walk @ 8:30 more briskly and longer—at least 2-4 miles each morning. My thanks go to Ellen on “Our Turn” for “keeping the pace” with and for me. I walked every day but one and will miss terribly that part of my morning as we ride “Bella Luna” home. After our daily walks and breakfasts, the rest of our time here has all melded together in a kind of blissful haze.

We only had two things that were scheduled each week that we needed to do. First, we looked forward to the farmer’s market bringing the freshest and prettiest fruits and vegetables to the side of the road for us to buy every Saturday morning. Truly, we’ve never had better fruits and such. And second, we welcomed our pump-out time every Friday morning sometime after 10am. Every thing else we did was just a spontaneous decision/choice. We recycled bottles and cans. How wonderful—we had developed full blown Keys Disease. Twice, we had large Looper cocktail parties (40 or more)—thanks go to Barbara on “Gone Cruising” for organizing Dockside’s one. Early on, we had wonderful visits with Lisa and Jim on “Kismet” and Linda and Charlie on “Freedom’s Turn” (they both have gone to the Bahamas). We saw friends from home—Betsy and Curtis (Raleigh) bringing their precious friends, Susan and Bill Carter, for us to finally meet; Eva and Tom Higgins (Chapel Hill) who were spending the month of February in a nearby beautiful Key Colony home; we had an unexpected surprise visit from Liz Stagg early one morning—we thought she was knee deep in snow!; and we had a special two-day visit with Judy and John Woody. We owe them both a special thanks for making the efforts they did to come see us—not once, but twice now! We also spent several days with Alice and Phil Priemer on “Wonderland” up at Boathouse Marina—they were very gracious to keep coming back and forth getting us with their car. We also had a couple of occasions to get back together with gold Loopers, Carol and Lee Kirwan, whom we met last April in Morehead. Having Brenda and Brantley “Reel Estate” for a week or so right in the slip beside us was very special too. We also enjoyed vicariously the Creech’s and Ross’s grandchildren when they came to visit—think stars, fishing, and youthful enthusiasm & laughter!

We took three day trips too—the first to Key West, stopping at No Name Key for a delicious pizza lunch at the hard-to-find No Name Pub—the second was to the Dolphin Research Center (actually we went there twice) and thanks to Buddy Barnes for making that possible both times—and the third day we spent at the once-a-year marine flea market up at Islamorada. All three of those days were a blast! Also, Louis and five other guys one day chartered our old friend’s boat for a successful day of off-shore fishing—we can always count on Capt. Steve Leopold on “Yabadabado” to put us in the fish!

We enjoyed our dinghy rides every other day or so—going at least twice weekly to Burdines for the very best and freshest Rubens, fries, and fried key lime pie (oh yes, so delicious!). One day while in our dinghy, we got to sneak alongside a big fat manatee and watch it drink water dripping from the fish market’s supply of ice. We also went fishing another day in the quiet and secluded mangroves up Sister’s Creek for small snappers where only dinghies and canoes can go, and other times we would just ride around looking at other boats and boaters—people watching at its very best. Having the opportunity to see pelicans and ibis perched on the branches of the low lying limbs and not the least afraid of us was special to witness too—so was the 3 foot long iguana sunning in the tree-top right behind our boat. We also had a resident manatee that would almost daily pass behind our boats and head up the canal hoping to find a water hose—we followed it one day. Thank you again, Deb, for selling us your dinghy!!

We also had time to get some work done on the boat. Bonnie and Bruce from “Phantom of the Aqua” were able to make and put on for us new white sun screens all the way around the windows of our boat—boy, did they ever do a great job! Our interior is now so much cooler—and we love the privacy the screens allow us. Louis was able to get the zincs changed and a slightly bent prop blade fixed. I planted a small herb garden. Louis “up-fitted” the dinghy with a solid floor and a comfortable seat he got from Phil—although I still think it looks like a toilet seat! We probably put around 300 miles on our bikes too—always going somewhere and glad we had them! Publix (grocery store), Winn-Dixie, CVS, Home Depot, West Marine, Boaters World, and K-Mart were all very close and easily accessible by bike. Having spent so much of our trip going to various Wal-Marts around the Loop, we all were disappointed in the K-Mart here only having a fourth of the merchandise we had been used to prior to coming to the Keys—the shelves were sparsely furnished and selections limited. I doubt they’ll be in business much longer here.

We enjoyed nightly music from our own Dockside’s Bar—Joe Mama and Florida Straits being our favorites. We sometimes ate (just five boats down from us) ribs on Thursday nights, Saturday and Wednesday nights were Prime Rib—all cooked on an outdoor grill. There also was a delicious Super Bowl Sunday Chili Cook-off, a pig roast another day—but not as good as Louis’s by a long shot, and all day Mondays and Tuesdays were “happy hour” at Dockside. We quickly got to know the staff there too on a first name basis—Roy, Ron & Tom on the docks—Debbie & Popeye, Stephanie & Janet on the inside taking food and drink orders. “Buddy” the dock cat came to visit us daily on board our boat—even climbing up the steep ladder to the flybridge with us on several occasions! We went to Keys Fisheries several times—having lunches and dinners and buying stone crab claws to take back with us to the boats. We went to Island Grill several times for the best calamari we ever tasted—went once to Hurricanes for their $5 lunch—went to the Stuffed Pig for another delicious meal too. Having a Chinese lunch buffet within walking distance wasn’t bad either! But probably our favorite local spot to go to was Sparky’s for their “happy hour”—25 cent shrimp and wings, beer $1 and you had to go early to get a table because it was always so crowded! What delicious fun.

We have “penciled in” our names for the winter of 2010 for more of the same—middle of January to the middle of March. “God willing and the Creek don’t rise” (Thank you, Phil, for telling me about this 200 year-old prayer!)—hopefully we’ll make it back—I’m certainly going to keep my fingers crossed until then. This has been the most special time for us that I can ever remember—people who know us well know we don’t stay still for any length of time. And when we first heard about Keys Disease, we had no idea what the locals were talking about. “Nonsense”, we both said. But now we know—we know first hand. TYJ

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Marathon, #1

When I signed off on the last blog, I wrote that I wouldn’t publish another one unless something unusual happened to us here in Marathon—thinking a day to day routine would be boring and uneventful. Not so, I’m finding out—and we haven’t even been here a week! So, I’m going to number this as 1, as our first exciting experience—we don’t want to forget last night! Monday, February 2nd.

It started with a Looper party organized over the daily morning radio program broadcasted here in Marathon at 9am on channel 68. “Pot of Gold” had sent out the invitation to all Looper boats in the area (several mornings in a row) to come to their marina’s dock (City Dock) for a 5pm cocktail party—bring an appetizer and your own drinks—a chance for us all to get together, as we are spread out here in Marathon over several marinas and anchorages. What a great idea and what fun—let’s go!

As the afternoon progressed, we all anxiously watched the weather and the accumulating clouds and hoped the forecasted rain would hold off until after the party was over. As it turned out, there were 66 people attending from 34 boats—we had no idea that there were so many of us in the area! A group picture was taken—maybe it will appear in the next AGLCA mailing. The rain did hold off, but thunder and lightning made the party end much sooner than any of us would have wanted. Quickly gathering our coolers and dishes, we all hurried back to our perspective marinas and boats—many had left windows and hatches open.

Thankfully, we got to our boat just as a gentle rain began—so far, no problem. We were invited over to “Kismet” to have a drink (we’re so glad you’re here, Lisa and Jim!) and then walked down the dock (under an umbrella and carrying my shoes) to the restaurant here at Sombrero Dockside—meeting “C-Life” and making a table of six for dinner in Dockside’s outdoor bar. Under cover, still no problem—we’ve dealt with a lot of rain on this trip.

No sooner had we sat down and ordered drinks did the heavy rain begin. The perimeter curtains around the restaurant were lowered and we all felt safe, secure and dry—thunder and lightning were getting closer, but still no problem. Wow—how in an instant things changed. All of a sudden, a burst of wind blew out the seams in the curtains and the rain blew sideways onto us. Everyone got wet—at all the tables—and most people jumped up and headed inside to the bar area. (Not us though, the bar was way-too packed and we would have gotten even more wet just trying to squeeze in!) A weather “cell’ was over us—bringing winds of 60+ mph—just like a hurricane. Tables were soaked and plastic chairs were blowing over and across the floor. It was surreal—and we were standing outside under cover trying to stay dry near the kitchen! And as quickly as it began, it all stopped. Tables were toweled off, chairs were up-righted, new settings were passed around, we dried ourselves off, sat back down again and ordered our dinners—laughing and joking about our ordeal of the past 20 minutes. Kay even suggested we order hurricanes to drink! (That’s Pat O’Brian’s in New Orleans though!)

The band began playing again and our dinners came—we all enjoyed it tremendously. Having finished our meals, we asked for our checks to come from our still wet (and now cold and shivering) waitress, Stephanie. No sooner had she brought our checks back to the table than another “cell” blew through and the whole scenario began again. Truly, having had enough by then and all of us in some state of “wet”, we quickly said, “G’bye & G’night!!!” and dashed back to our boats. It was 9:15 pm. Whew—we’re so very glad we were right here tied to the dock and not on anchor. But what a night—what a memory!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Everglades City and Marathon

We left our serene little spot in Goodland Monday morning once the tide got high enough to travel. It has been very surprising to me that the waters in this region of Florida have been so shallow—we have a draft of four feet under our boat, so we have to make sure the water we traverse through has a depth of at least six feet. Many-a-time in these last few weeks we’ve had just that little “skinny water” too—and we’re well off-shore! But what a beautiful day we had to cross to Everglades City—the water was slick calm, the temperature was perfect, and there were dolphins everywhere following us and showing off. A sign well out in the middle of nowhere said, "Welcome to Everglades National Park". What a hoot to be that far from land and see a sign like that!

Everglades City is the last “get off the boat in civilization” stop before a long days’ crossing to the Florida Keys. We docked at the Rod and Gun Club for our overnight spot—what a grand old place that is! Built as a private hunting and fishing club in 1864, it has withstood many hurricanes and storms and is still so stately and beautiful today. Visited by Ernest Hemingway and John Wayne and many more celebrities, it also has held court to four sitting Presidents! Framed newspaper and magazine articles about the Rod & Gun Club line the entrance to the front desk and all kinds of local taxidermied animals and fish hang on the walls—what a history this place has had! We had a delicious late lunch out on the covered screened porch and a late dinner in the beautifully paneled old cypress wood dining room—what a real treat for all of us twice in one day—we thank you Buddy and Jimmy for your hospitality!

The Captains decided at dinner that early Tuesday morning we would leave and cross to Marathon—it would be a long day on the water for the two boats—but we could make it before dark. (We could break this crossing up into two parts with an anchorage tonight—but there’s a cold front coming through sometime Thursday and it is best we go the whole way before the winds really pick up.) So, at first light (ugh!) we’re headed to The Keys—our home base for the next five weeks!

It was a long day, not as pretty as the day before for sure, but we got here safely @ 5:30 pm and were welcomed by the crews of “Reel Estate” and “Sunshine” with drinks in their hands. We tied up in Sombrero Dockside Marina—a really good and convenient spot to rest for a month. We have a popular bar and very casual outdoor restaurant just at the end of our dock—Publix, Winn-Dixie, CVS and K-Mart are just a short walk away. There’s a walking loop that follows the golf course just behind our boats and I plan to make good use of that, hopefully daily! (We think this is a really good spot to be in considering other marinas that are available here—thanks Brantley for making it all happen!)

So now it’s early Sunday morning, February 1st, five days later, as I am writing this. Since we’ve been here (and with Buddy Barnes renting a van—thanks Buddy!) we’ve spent one day going to The Dolphin Research Center and then another going to Key West—love those Cuban mojiotos! (Seeing 9 of us packed into the van was hysterical!) “Wanderin’ L & M” made it here safely Thursday afternoon—boy is it good they’ve finally caught up with us too. We’ve been to some great restaurants and are enjoying the fresh seafood. In between spare times, the guys have been doing projects on their boats—Louis concentrating mainly on getting our dinghy’s outboard motor fixed. The girls have been doing laundry and grocery shopping—plus I’ve walked the loop every morning (we estimate it’s just shy of 2 miles--you're my inspiration, Bean!).

We’re getting into a nice routine now—something we’ve not had the luxury of before on this trip because we’ve always had to keep moving. “C-Life” has their company gone and the rest of our boats are back to being the normal crews. And the Florida Keys is where everyone on the Loop just slows down their pace and comes to a stop. Being this far south, we want it to be warmer than it is—but it’s not. We’ve had a couple of warms days—shorts and sandals—but mostly it’s been cool—far too cool to go swimming—but so nice. And we’ll take it gratefully too—it’s far nicer weather here than what’s at home. (Geni said they’re expecting ice Tuesday night!)

And we are going to try and just stop, rest & relax and enjoy our time here to the fullest—so I won’t be blogging as much—there just won’t be as many different days to document and I need to catch up on some reading! We both got Florida fishing licenses and hope to do some fishing. And we’ve heard from friends from home who will be coming through the area in February—several couples who plan to be in and around Marathon—we’re looking forward to being with them when they get here. By then, we’ll have culled the very best spots to take them to—what fun yet again!

We’re going to a Super Bowl Chili Cook-off Party this afternoon here at our marina—that ought to be interesting—I like the Budweiser commercials the best. After that, we have no plans—and we’re sticking to it! If anything different happens (which I doubt it will) then I’ll do a new posting, but otherwise, love to all and Happy Valentines Day!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sarasota and Naples

We left St. Pete on Sunday, January 18th headed to Sarasota. The day before, Louis had lowered our mast so we could take the inside route—going through small towns and under bridges so that we wouldn’t have to wait for them to open for us. We were traveling with “C-Life” and “Reel Estate” and it was a beautiful and calm day, but still very chilly. We enjoyed seeing numerous ospreys nesting on the channel markers—they’re not afraid of getting too close to humans—like eagles are. This must be the nesting season too—every nest we’ve passed has been occupied! There are a lot of ospreys in this area.

We arrived in Sarasota a little after lunch, pulled into the very pretty Marina Jacks and called Tracy Guess—Travis’s father, who lives in Sarasota. Tracy wound up coming to our boat late afternoon and going out to dinner with us and the gang (8 of us total)—we went up the street just two blocks to a great Mexican restaurant, Dos Senoritas—everyone had delicious dinners—cheap too! But it was a mighty cold walk back to the boats—are we really in south Florida? Certainly doesn't feel like it!

Monday, we left the marina and headed to an anchorage—Cape Haze—recommended by Peggy and Guy. We rafted the three boats together in a quiet little cove—surrounded by beautiful homes—feeling safe and secure for the night. (Another cold front was to come in during the night—bringing high winds.) Louis got our dinghy down for Brantley to use with his dog, Rudder, and off the two men went with the dog—seeking a nice grassy spot. Boy, do we both still miss our Buddy! I fixed a big pot of homemade vegetable/beef soup and since there were 7 of us, we ate our supper on “C-Life”. Thanks Kay & Robert!

The cold front did indeed come through during the night waking everyone up but me—how I slept through those two hours I’ll never know! But our anchors held, so everything turned out as hoped. TYJ. We pulled up our anchors the next morning and were in for an ugly surprise—the muddiest, blackest, bottom we’ve ever seen! We spent quite a long time in the howling wind getting all that muck off our anchors—very thankful for our washdown hose on the bow.

Tuesday, Inauguration Day for our new President, we headed to Cabbage Key for the much heralded cheeseburgers they serve. Accessible only by water, this famous place is also known for the thousands of initialed dollar bills hanging from the ceiling and posts. The staff there claims to have over 50,000 bills hanging at all times and so the saying goes, once the bills fall to the floor they’re given to charity. This place is an institution around these parts—and I’m glad we didn’t miss it—even if Louis and I did have a really hard time getting “Bella Luna” secured to the dock in the high winds. By the way, the cheeseburgers were great too! It’s still cold here—but our children back home have snow on the ground today—so we really shouldn’t complain.

After lunch we left for Ft. Meyers—getting in there just at sunset. We were greeted at the dock by Bonnie and Bruce Dailey—residents of Ft. Meyers—and friends on “Phantom of the Aqua” who have just completed the Loop—congrats to them both!! Our boats had lots of salt spray on them—a good bath is in order for them tomorrow!

Wednesday, I watched the morning repeats of the Inauguration in between running back and forth to the dock’s laundry. Once that was accomplished, I started making the breads from the “starter” Peggy had given us—an Amish recipe that you divide and then bake every 10 days. Kay made a chocolate recipe and I made the traditional one—both delicious! Louis and Robert were working on our dinghy’s outboard most of the day—it’s still not working correctly—but I have faith that it will be fixed soon! The guys also rented two cars for us to use the next couple of days. We wound up going nearby to a casual restaurant for dinner—Brantley and Brenda going to the airport during that time to pick up Deb Van Nordwik, who will be traveling with them for a couple of weeks. Also, Margie and Larry, from “Wanderin’ L & M”, joined us for dinner —we’ve missed them during the weeks apart for Christmas. They are in a near-by marina having their boat repaired and will join us as soon as they can—hopefully before we cross to Marathon—where we’ll all be together for a month.

Thursday morning, Brantley, Brenda, Deb, Louis and I took off in our rental car for Sanibel and Captiva. Both small islands, they are known for their beautiful beaches, lush landscapes and superb shelling. Walking the pretty beach, we found lots of beautiful shells (small conchs), 9-fingered starfish, and other sea-life that had been washed ashore in the past two days’ high winds. We also went to lunch at one of Sanibel’s most popular spots (and one of Louis’s top 5!), “Cheeseburger-Cheeseburger”. With over 20 different toppings to choose from, plus five kinds of cheese, and all cooked to perfection, need I say more?! We’ll be back, for sure! That evening, we were still stuffed from lunch—but not wanting to miss a thing, we joined the group and went for sushi and Chinese at the Dailey’s favorite near-by spot.

Friday, “Reel Estate” took off for Marathon early. Poor Brantley, he had gone slowly long enough and was ready to “let the big dogs run”. It was a beautiful day and calm water and he was in Marathon by mid-afternoon—in comparison, it will take us 5 good days to get there—but we’re still enjoying the journey, slowly. No sooner had they left than Louis’s cell phone rang and it was Alice and Phil (of “Wonderland”) and Jackie and Lyn ( of “Carolina Captains”) both Loopers and both in Ft. Meyers for the day—by car. Both couples came to our boat and we all got in a nice visit before going to Joe’s Crab Shack for lunch. It was really great seeing both couples—it had been April ‘08 when we saw them last. “Wonderland” will be in Marathon when we get there—yea!

Saturday (yesterday), we fueled early and were underway by 8:30am headed for the Naples City Dock Marina. We arrived around 3pm, got situated in a great spot and called Judy and John Woody—who were coming for their annual winter solstice not too far from us. After getting their RV set up in its’ own special pretty place, they drove down to the marina and met us and the crew of “C-Life”. It was “Saturday Night” and we all had a blast—Judy and John fitting in perfectly with us crazy Loopers. Eleven of us went to the end of the dock to a very popular and crowded restaurant and continued on with “you-know-what”. It was such a special and fun evening and even more so by having the Woodys with us—we really do miss our friends from home! (John, you’re slipping!—you need to practice back-to-back evenings—we know you can do it!)

So now it’s late Sunday afternoon (Jan. 25th) as I am writing this. We left Naples this morning once the tide got high enough and have come down a calm ocean (outside) to Goodland, just below Marco Island. This is the weekend that the tiny village of Goodland celebrates the “Mullet Festival”. The crew of “C-Life” and us walked into town to see just what was going on and found a crowded area of about a square block filled with several thousand orderly people enjoying a live band, lots of motorcycles & old cars & beer drinkers, jewelry & trinkets & fresh vegetable stands, and mullet cooked about any way you can imagine. None of us stayed long—but it was all worth seeing, if nothing else but the clothes (or lack thereof) that some of the people were wearing. What a hoot—any reason for a party!

We’re in the Calusa Island Marina now—in a very quiet and secluded spot among thousands of mangrove bushes. There’s a long wooden dock that weaves around these low, lush mangroves that takes us back to the office, which is hidden from view and quite a long walk away too. We hear none of the noise from street traffic or near-by bars and don’t smell any food cooking in restaurants—it’s really quite refreshing and unlike anything we’ve experienced so far. Needless to say, we don’t have cable TV or Wireless—but that too is befitting this special spot (I hope to use Louis’s phone card to publish this in a while). This is as close to being “au natural” as you can get without being on anchor. The sun will be setting soon—it has finally warmed up—and we really feel blessed to be in Florida now. The windows on the boat are open and Louis has been taking a nap—just right—only the ospreys are making any noise. And with the sun to my back, this is the perfect place to sit and type and gather my thoughts—I love it! We’re having dinner on “C-Life” tonight with Kay’s & Robert’s guests, who have been with them for several days now. What a grand week we’ve all had!