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 CafĂ© 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