Here Be Dragons

Travelogue - March 15, 2008

At the end of our the last travelogue we had just busted out of the Estero Bay mooring field at Ft. Myers Beach and were bearing south toward the Gulf of Mexico. Yippee! Open spaces awaited us. Who knows what we may find out in the wide blue wonder?!

Factory Bay

Gulf beach condos We cruised southward, parallel to and about four miles off shore. We saw the march of high rise condominiums that mark Ft. Myers Beach, and a break of several miles of natural shoreline which was Lovers Key State Park. Then more condos and more condos, and guess what? Yes, more condos. The building heights stepped down near the tasteful and pricy town of Naples, gave way to a natural shoreline that was Keewaydin Island, then soared upward again at Marco Island.

We returned to inland waters at Capri Pass, which flows into the Gulf from the canals and marinas of Marco Island. Again we were in heavy traffic, and everybody slowed down to honor the "manatee" zone.

We idled in to Factory Bay and went directly to the Marco Island Marina. The folks there were friendly, and we topped off our diesel fuel tanks and had a final holding tank pumpout. Then we returned to the Bay to anchor. There were a couple other sailboats there, including this red one, below.

Factory Bay, Marco Island There are other possible anchorages in the immediate vicinity. However, last year the city had - in defiance of State law - tasked its law enforcement with citing anchored boaters. I suspect that fearful Marco Island residents don't distinguish between cruising tourists such as our humble selves, and soon-to-be abandoned boats as we've seen elsewhere. One can understand the problem. A test case is currently wending its way through appeals, so on this day we took the safest route by staying in the recognized anchoring site.

Once all the Marco Island-ites were safely home from their day trips and tucked in for the night it was quiet and smooth in the Bay. We had not stopped at Factory Bay before, so we are glad to know that it's a satisfactory place.

Little Marco River to the Gulf

The next morning we continued south. If one were to head back to the Gulf the way we came - out Capri Pass - one then has to go way out around to clear the Cape Romano Shoals. Or throw caution to the winds and wend through the shoals. Because we are not as brave as some - Don and Pam of Gallivant for example - we cut the corner by staying inside.

Tripod Key We retraced our track from last year and navigated the Big Marco River. There is one rather sketchy patch where the sharp turn after the Marco Bridge is tight and it's shallow on the sides and a narrow pass in between and a full mile between nav aids - but we had done it before and we did it again. And after that we were home free.

It's a lovely river, meandering and slow and wide and peaceful. There was very little traffic other than the rare fisherman.

The River brought us to the quaint town of Goodland at the northern edge of the Ten Thousand Islands. We have fond memories of a safe anchorage there and we waved at Tripod Key, above, as we passed. Then we headed out Coon Key Pass, so by mid-morning we were safely south of the Shoals and again in the open Gulf.

The remainder of that day we trundled south parallel to the Ten Thousand Islands. We saw all undisturbed mangrove shoreline along the way. We passed Turtle Key, White Horse Key, Hot Key, Panther Key, and very many unnamed keys and pristine mangrove islands. The chart shows channel after channel after channel of intriguing side visits. Some day, we'll return in a shallow draft boat and explore, you betcha.

Russell Pass Anchorage

Russell Pass anchorage Several hours of scenic cruising later, we turned inland at Indian Key Pass. We've been here before: this is the mouth of the Barron River, which leads to the town of Everglades City. And what a great place that is! But instead of continuing an hour or so upriver to town, we took a northward side branch that lead us to Russell Pass and a reputed safe anchorage there.

At Russell Pass It's another beautiful place! The Pass is safe, wide and deep, and quiet and calm after the wind and waves in the Gulf. There was one sailboat anchored when we arrived so we continued upriver to leave him his peace. We set our anchor in 10' of water and spent the afternoon on the bow in silent amazement at our good fortune, left. When the no-see-ums emerged we settled inside for the evening.

After a quiet night we woke to a leisurely breakfast and then launched Bump Head. We left Sea Gator napping, above, while we headed off to explore. We motored downstream to the mouth of the river and turned toward the north-side beach of Indian Key.

As we approached, a dinghy departed a nearby sailboat and made its way to the island's attached sand spit, so we continued on a bit further. There was room for everyone. The island was a fun place, seemingly unvisited by humans - except for the footprints of boaters who had visited before us. We could pretend we were marooned on a desert island! It didn't have any bamboo so we couldn't fashion any cars or radios a'la Gilligan's Island, but it was fun.

A Dragon on Indian Key

We strolled the island's sandy beach, and soon the other boaters caught up with us. "Maryanne?" I called. "Gilligan?" Ha ha.

Jade and Kat No, it was Kat, and her husband Pat of the sailboat Jade, and the sailboat's namesake - an iguana named Jade. It was immediately apparent that Jade is adept at breaking the ice among new acquaintances.

Rick and Pat discussed the upcoming Sarasota mooring field, and the delicacy of navigating among the dense array of crab pots in Florida Bay: one can either cruise just inside the Everglades Park boundary where depths are shallow, or cruise in the charted channel and among the crab pot floats which carpet the area.

One must dodge the crab pot floats (the floats are painted styrofoam balls roped to the traps) to avoid getting the line tangled around one's prop - at which occurrence your journey comes to a halt and the float line is also destroyed, the trap disturbed or lost, which can't make the crabbers happy either.

Pat is lobbying the powers that be to create a navigable crab pot-free zone within the designated cruising channel - essentially extending the existing trap-free boundary just enough to allow safe passage. Pat's campaign makes a lot of sense.

Jade Meanwhile Kat and I discussed the habits and mental health of boat pets. If you want to know more about Goldie's delicate sensibilities, just ask me.

If you want to learn more about the Green Iguana (Iguana iguana) you will enjoy the highly readable and informative Research on Green Iguana by J.A. Rivas.

You won't be able to stop yourself reading Mr. Rivas' follow-up treatise A Non-flushing Stomach Wash Technique for Large Lizards because there is no such thing as too much knowledge.

I stroked Jade's head and flanks. His spikes are firm but not sharp. His pebbley hide is thick and loose, resembling in every way (except contents) a heavy, densely-beaded antique purse.

Eventually we five went our separate ways, all happy to have met nice folks.

Should We Stay or Should We Go?

Back at Sea Gator we checked the weather yet again. From Russell Pass we require two good days to make it around the tip of the Florida Everglades to the Keys and thus back into cell phone range.

Just a thought: Sea Gator cruises happily between six and seven miles per hour. That's roughly double a person's walking speed. Which means that I can WALK from Russell Pass to Islamorada in less than four days. Except for all the water. And the crocodiles. Anyway...

The forecast looks pretty good for a two-day passage plus a spare for emergencies. Even though it's the middle of a work-week, we figured we'd better git while the gittin' was good.

Blue Water Cruise, Waves and Radars

We got. Bright and early Tuesday morning we weighed anchor and headed out the Pass.

Bow wave There was Jade, underway ahead of us. We "hello"ed on the radio, and for the entire six-hour cruise we were within sight of each other. Rick and I hadn't planned it that way - honestly, we weren't stalking them - but when the waves kicked up and Sea Gator reared and bucked, I found it reassuring to have a friendly sailboat in sight.

Fortunately, the waves came from the south as predicted so Sea Gator took them on her bow. It was much less uncomfortable than a beam sea! Salt spray doused the windows and decks, and sometimes came frothing over the rail. Sea Gator bucked up and down the waves, at times hitting the bottom of a trough with a bump.

As usual, Sea Gator and Rick and Goldie all handled it much better than I did. When Rick starts yelling "YEEhaw!" I start thinking about getting out and walking. It's only four days...

The photo illustrates a quieter moment, lest I get salt spray on the camera.

While on this jaunt we learned, by sharing information via VHF with Jade, that our visibility to radar is not good. I could "see" Jade when she wasn't blocked by waves, but she couldn't see us very well. So that will be one of our tasks in Key West before we undertake another night crossing: research and obtain some radar-reflecting device. Foil party hats on Bump Head? Pie tins and beer cans aloft? Maybe a layer or two less salt and grime? We will make it a point to find out.

Little Shark River Anchorage

Little Shark River At about 2:00 we pulled in to the sheltered waters of the Little Shark River. Whew! Here in the very midst of the Everglades is a deep river running out to the sea, and it is about the only sheltered anchorage between Indian Key Pass and the Florida Keys. Similar to Russell Pass it is wide and deep and meandering, lined with undisturbed native vegetation.

We continued a mile upriver before setting our anchor, in order to leave swing room and privacy for Jade - and the other six boats who later tucked in here for the night.

This river continues well beyond our anchorage, to join other waterways and rivers and creeks and channels. It connects to portions of the Everglade's inland "Wilderness Waterway". That's a charted route that wends its back-country way from Everglades City to Flamingo: two days roundtrip via motor, seven days each way via canoe. How cool is that! It is on our life list for the day when we are not tied to email and cell phones.

Morning on the Little Shark Rick needed a nap so we didn't brave the mosquitoes and sinister no-see-ums to go "gunkholing". We spent just enough time battening down the hatches to fully stock the interior of the boat with voracious insects and, with every creature making itself at home, we settled in.

It was quiet and safe there in the river - a real contrast to the wind and waves outside.

We rested, read, and hoped for rain to swash us down. Poor salt-encrused Sea Gator glittered like a huge cake ornament.

A Park Service boat zipped past soon after we arrived. Other than that official patrol boat which waved but didn't stop, and one fast fishing boat with its driver's gaping butt-crack a shiny white beacon to every mosquito not otherwise engaged on our boat, it was absolutely serene.

Crab Pots and Shallows in Florida Bay

We had a calm night at anchor. Apparently the selfless (that is, beltless) fisherman had lured away the fastest mosquitoes so we spent the evening in relative peace. Our thanks go out to him and to the no-see-um nets I made for our helm door and aft hatch.

Sail boat in the Gulf But - too much of a good thing - by midnight it was hot and stuffy in this protected anchorage. We were glad when it was time to get up and moving. In anticipation of a long day we weighed anchor at 7:30 am. That's not Katherine Hepburn aboard the African Queen, above. That's Pat, dressed for protection from bugs and stowing the anchor rode.

Jade and four other sailboats were already underway - we spotted their sails off in the distance as we exited the river.

It was a very calm day in the eastern reaches of the Gulf. We chugged along with no problems at all. White sails came and went in the distance. This lone sailor, right, was apparently going to tack all the way to Key West.

We rounded Cape Sable just as flocks upon flocks of low-flying cormorants zoomed by in V-formation close above the water, westbound. We figured they had lifted off from their roosts around the landlocked Lake Ingraham and were on their way... somewhere... for the day:

Cormorant Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) can be told by their very blackness, especially the adults which are black beneath as well as above. Flocks of Cormorants usually fly in line or wedge formation very much like Geese. A large dark bird perched in a upright position on some rock or buoy over the water can hardly be anything else. They often strike a 'spread-eagle' pose. Swimming they lie low like Loons, but with necks more erect and snakelike, and bills pointed upward at an angle...

Those were cormorants, all right, swooping past with military precision. One flock disintegrated to veer over and around our bow, then quickly reformed without a backward glance. Later we would see lone individuals, floating and bobbing on the waves, ducking beneath to fish for snacks. These are fascinating birds, you can learn more from Audubon.

We swung around the Cape and headed east-southeast, skirting the shallow Florida Bay. The Bay encompasses an enormous swath of shallow water, all protected as part of the Everglades National Park.

Fishing Boat in Florida Bay On this route last year we encountered the ill-fated Vulture Trawler. This year, no such bizarre encounters. We saw only a few fishing boats - like this solitary fellow, right, who was about as far from land as he could get, and a few crabbers and sailboats.

The water became bluer and clearer as we went. Just as last year, it was alarming to encounter clear water at the same time that depth soundings indicated that water was becoming more shallow. It's one thing to know you're in only six feet of water; it's quite another to actually see the bottom skimming past just beneath your keel.

Rick did a fine job dodging crab pots. Again, where depths permitted we stayed inside the Everglades boundary, and he worked hard to avoid the floats when we slipped outside where necessary. Rick commented that as things stand with the pots there is no way to motor a night passage of these charted channels - we hope Jade's Pat is successful in his campaign.

Sunrise in the Keys We were tired, and happy to reached the Keys' Inside ICW route. By 2:30 we were safely tied to a mooring ball provided by Lignumvitae State Park. We fended off stowaway no-see-ums as best we could while catching up on two days of phone calls and emails.

Then we settled in for a quiet evening with uninterrupted views far to the northwest across Florida Bay as the sun set over peaceful waters.

We didn't take any photos from inside because the windows were so crusted with salt, but Rick sallied forth to take a photo of the sunrise over Lignumvitae Key.

The next morning, Thursday, dawned calm and clear, but the wind was forecast to kick up by early afternoon. We cast off at 7:30 am.

Snake Creek Pass

It was calm on the "inside". We rejoined the ICW and motored northeast for over an hour. From here on out it would be new territory for us.

Cocnrete house As we learned last year, there are a limited number of opportunities for cruising-sized boats to cross from the "inside" (that is, the ICW a.k.a. Florida Bay side, northwest of the chain of the Keys) to the "outside" (Atlantic Ocean on the southeast) and its reliably deep Hawk Channel. Few passes exist which have deep enough soundings AND bridges either high beneath or opening through the ubiquitous Highway 1.

We cruised in the protection of the islands' lee on the ICW side until we came to the Snake Creek Bridge Pass. The Pass itself bisects Plantation Key and there is a large Coast Guard station near the bridge, and a most unfortunate but probably hurricane-proof Jetson's house nearby, above.

Snake Creek bridge channel We timed our arrival for slack tide and we had no problems crossing beneath the 27' span.

Navigating was just a bit tricky - first, you pass beneath the span nearest the control house, not straight ahead. Then, the channel requires some 90-degree turns back and forth all in a wide open space, left and right through the channel markers which you see on the other side of the bridge - just like dodging arbitrarily orange cones in the high school parking lot back in drivers ed but with harsher penalties. Rick did just fine.

Thus we came out into the Hawk Channel, where big boats go really fast. From there it was a straight shot east-northeast in somewhat rougher seas to reach the islands around Key Largo. We turned in toward land and followed another VERY pretty but twisty and turny channel to reach our 2008 NORTHERN GOAL (drumroll please): John Pennekamp State Park! But first we had to get there...

Berthing Sea Gator

We wound our way between mangrove islands to the southeastern edge of Largo Sound, and the Park marina. Dockmaster Scott pointed us to a large slip around the other side of a long pier.

Sea Gator moored I say "around" and I mean that. Contending with wind and current, Rick backed Sea Gator around several boats and then between two tied boats - one a large trawler and one a commercial dive boat.

Scott caught and secured our stern lines to distant pilings. Then we had to secure the bow with no piers, just two sets of three 12x12 concrete dolphins cabled together, some without caps - and topping out at about 8' higher than, and about 4' away from, Sea Gator's bow. Rick had to motor the bow from side to side so I could throw bowline loops over, and I had a tough time of it even using the boathook.

Above, you see the final results. This is a great Park and we hope everyone gets a chance to visit. But come by land (the Park is at Mile Marker 102.5). Or in a boat no larger than 12' x 20' so you can use the small docks. Or be prepared with a long boathook and HUGE bowline loops for bow and stern before you come in.

Set for Life

I told Scott, "If we ever make it in here, we're never leaving!"

Well, eventually we were tied up safe and sound: two bow lines, two stern lines, two spring lines. So now we're here for time and eternity and we can just enjoy the Park. We'll start looking for jobs in a week or so. Ha.

John Pennekamp State Park

The hotter the weather became, the more we looked forward to snorkling at the Park:

The first underwater park in the U.S., John Pennekamp encompasses approximately 70 nautical square miles. While the mangrove swamps and tropical hammocks in the park's upland areas offer visitors a unique experience, it is the coral reefs and their associated marine life that bring most visitors to the park. Most enjoy the view from a glass bottom boat tour, but visitors can get a closer look by scuba diving or snorkeling through the reefs.

Canoeing and kayaking through the park's waters are popular activities; fishing is permitted in designated areas. Visitors can enjoy hiking two short trails, or picnicking and swimming at the beach. The visitor center has a 30,000-gallon saltwater aquarium and theater showing nature videos...

Kayaking in the mangroves Unfortunately, the Park had spent a fortune of the taxpayer's money losing an ADA lawsuit and so the visitor's center is now closed for remodeling. So we missed out on the interpretive displays and the aquarium, sheesh.

Never mind. There was more: cold diet soda at the concessionaire, showers and laundry at the nearby camp ground. What a civilized Park.

There are several swim beaches. One of them, Canon Beach, has mocked up some concrete canons and an anchor and sunk them in the area. We snorkled around and found those along with many fish. It was a bit silty and the water was riled up so visibility wasn't great. But we had a nice time.

On the morning of our last day, we rented a two-person kayak. Very quickly we meandered off the marked and permissible kayak trails and found a lot of enticing little passages through the vegetation. Sometimes we had to lay down in the kayak to slip beneath overhanging branches! That was definitely a highlight.

Biking in Key Largo

It was a fairly simple matter for two people working together to lift our folding bikes onto the dock, so we spent some of the six days of our visit touring Key Largo via two wheels.

Wyland/Harvey Mural There is a designated bike pathway which ran nearly the entire length of the area we covered, and that was a fair amount of terrain. The path was kind of patchy and pot-holey in places, but it was there. And while some drivers parked cars on the path or drifted into the crosswalk, nearly all of those who saw us coming stopped short of the path and waved at us cheerily. Biking in Key Largo was overall a positive experience.

From what we've seen so far of Highway 1 - which links the Keys from Key West at Mile Marker 0 to just north of Key Largo - it appears to consist of strip development its entire length. There seem to be few "towns" with a recognizable center, save for Key West and (we're told by knowledgeable locals) Layton. We are lucky that our first visit was via air straight to Key West, and that now we are visiting all of the Keys from the water where it's always pretty. Nevertheless we were really happy to be able to safely get some exercise, and see various land-based things we would never have stopped to see if there were no dinghy landing opportunities or if we were encased inside a car.

O'Farrill Mural Like this mural (above right) for example. This is a Wyland / Guy Harvey. The building was painted on all four sides. Across the road (left) was an O'Farrill - we had met the lad while he painted a mural in Marathon last year.

We rode first to breakfast, of course, to The Hideout at Scott's recommendation. It is a little hidden place on a backstreet near the Sound, and we enjoyed it so much we went back another day. Another day we rode to The Fish House, also recommended by Scott, and that meal was the event of the winter! That place is very near the Park and we highly recommend it.

We rode as far south as the township of Rock Harbor. We stopped our bikes at the end of the road, where a sea-side restaurant's parking lot ended in a battered seawall. We stood to remark on the incredibly low water here at the edge of the Atlantic and observed with interest a number of sailboats at permanent anchor in the shelter of the adjacent Rodruiguez Key.

A boaty-looking man was idling nearby while his dog romped. We struck up a conversation ("Hey, howyadoin' there, do you belong to one of those boats?") and thus we met Jim.


Jim had recognized us as fellow boaters from our folding bikes. He told us some of the details of his colorful life. He was a smoke jumper in Alaska, has climbed many western peaks, and has lived on his sailboat for 20 years - for many of the recent years on a permanent homemade mooring right out there in the Atlantic.

Jim Jim's sailboat is fastened to two anchors plus two big diesel engines that he found resting on the bottom. He said he weathered out a hurricane with that setup, staying aboard and always adjusting his lines so the boat was held by at least two points. He said he rowed his dinghy to shore to walk his dog during the hurricane and met a news team who asked him "What do you think of the hurricane?" He answered "Are you kidding me?" and that was his 15 minutes of fame. Poof.

He answered all our questions and them some. We told him our stories about the difficulties of transient boaters (such as ourselves) trying to anchor temporarily in an anchorage that is a minefield of permanent moorings - you don't know how or if other boats will swing with wind and current. He agreed - you don't.

Finally he reassured us that the Monroe County sanitation boat comes to pump the live-aboards' septic holding tanks for $5 per trip, and that the environmental laws for clean water are rigidly enforced. That was good to hear. And we commiserated together about the changes to the Florida waterfront, where condos and high end private marinas are taking over public marinas and slowly eroding the public's access to the water.

After talking with Jim, I feel differently about the live-aboard communities we've seen. I do maintain my stance against abandoned boats and stored boats which take up too much prime anchoring space with no one aboard. But a person like Jim would make a fine neighbor.

I learned one more valuable lesson from talking with Jim. The fellow has done things that many folks only dream, and yet he regrets the one thing he was unable to do. When is one to be satisfied?

So, let us hope for enough clarity and gratitude to know that enough IS enough.

Glad that we had met Jim, we turned our wheels back toward home. And the next day we rode north to the Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park.

Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park

On a Sunday, we rode north to Mile Marker 106 and entered the Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park:

Park road Once slated to become a condominium development, this park contains one of the largest tracts of West Indian tropical hardwood hammock in the United States. The park is home to 84 protected species of plants and animals, including wild cotton, mahogany mistletoe, and the American crocodile.

Exploring the park's trails gives visitors a chance to see some of these rare species of plants and animals. Over six miles of nature trails provide a wealth of opportunities for birdwatchers and photographers. Most of the park's trails are paved and accessible to both bicycles and wheelchairs. Signs along a self-guided nature trail provide information about the park's ecosystem and wildlife...

Picnic fountain We learned later that the proposed environmentally-catastrophic development imploded in a classic south Florida political corruption scandle. And that the hoodlums were outed by none other than famous newspaper bloodhound-turned-mystery author, Carl Hiaasen. I am told that he wrote one of his books about the place, I will try to track it down.

The Park was a very nice bike ride, and many people were out and about strolling and biking the road and paths and walking with families and dogs.

We stopped to read every single botanical marker. And I still don't know for certain even a single Florida hardwood tree. I'm just overwhelmed by the sheer volume of native species. It was pretty cool to be so far out of my botanic comfort zone.

We stopped for lunch at what was obviously at one time the basis for a fancy classic fountain near a crossroad. This large, shallow enclosure had recently been graced with some wood trellises and picnic tables, and the low walls at two ends were cut out to provide access. Some concrete was hastily troweled into the resulting arbitrary slope between inner fountain and encircling road. This leads us to...

A Rant and Some Mixed Metaphors

Whether one found the proposed development a heinous blight on Mother Earth or a cash cow lost to rustlers, one does not hire rabid beavers to perform one's landscape demolition and construction.

At the Botanical State Park the cut ends of the fountain walls were uneven and had bits of steel rebar poking out - I'm serious - and dangling wires that had served the underwater lights.

And while we're on the topic, we saw the framing for an upcoming sidewalk pour in John Pennekamp and it was a recipe for grading problems. I know that several weeks in the future, some unfortunate minimum wage-earning rabid beaver will be handed a rusty bent trowel and a bucket of leftover crusty cement and will be asked - in the heat and glare and with no Snickers bar to maintain his blood sugar and brain chemistry - to slop in some fill to bridge the discrepancies. Seething with bitterness, sweat stinging his eyes, he will grudgingly comply. We'll check out his work next time we visit the Park.

Onward, Cyclists

Anyway, we had a nice lunch. And while we were there being inspired we sketched out some ideas for our own shade structure which we hope to build in Wyoming this summer.

Then we heeded our inner voices telling us NOT to ride any further north on the bike-path-free section of roadway which led us to the Botanical Park. Instead, we headed back south keeping to the grass verge and then we turned down the first residential street we came upon. The rest of that day was spent touring the backroads of Key Largo, and we began to like the town.

Frank's sailing kayak Not many people were out and about, but there were quite a number of doggies barking in yards and quite a lot of motorcycles parked here and there. We commented on houses that we liked, and Rick called my attention to a really fine house with a beautiful specimen tree in front. I doubled back for a look, and while I was there I exchanged waves with a neighbor carrying a blue boat fender.

Rick and I found several places where we could see into Largo Sound - the enclosed lagoon which shelters John Pennekamp Park at its southeastern end. We wove back and forth and could not retrace our steps if we had to, but we had a great time. It was a beautiful day.

Back on Highway 1 I fell for this lure like a true sucker (fish): The sign said, "CARRIBEAN CLUB - WHERE THE FAMOUS MOVIE KEY LARGO WAS FILMED!"

Rick sat outside at a picnic table overlooking the Bay while I went in to get us a soda and to experience the scene of the movie. Disappointingly, the fabulous movie set was just a bar, and a rather dingy one at that. There was indeed a fireplace at one end but it was pasted over with Budweiser ads. There were no stairs. There was a life-sized fiberglass statue of Bogey near the back door, but it too was surrounded by beer ads. There was an active crowd gathered inside at 1:30 of a beautiful day and those folks were serious about their alcohol.

I bought a diet Coke and went outside to join Rick, who said "I told you so."

Wild parrots While we were sipping our soda and admiring the Bay a fellow zipped by on a strange contraption. It turned out to be a kayak with outriggers and a sail! How cool! He gracefully sailed ashore near us so I went to visit. "Whatcha got there, Mister?" I asked.

I learned that Frank (photo, above right) is a former Los Angeles attorney turned sailboat captain. He and his wife, a former pharmiceutical rep, are captain and chef respectively aboard a client's mega-yacht. Frank reported with a huge smile that his Hobie kayak is great fun - he keeps it aboard the yacht and uses it for his own amusement on days just like this one. He and his wife folded it and loaded it on the roof of their Jeep in a matter of minutes.

Then we saw these amazing parrots, left, just hanging around a bird feeder like a flock of sparrows. They were beautiful as you can see.

We didn't want the day to end, so we headed for The Upper Crust pizzeria. Rick had had his eye on that establishment from the first day we rode past. It is only a few blocks south of the Park entrance. And indeed, the pizza was excellent.

We were just getting ready to leave when a man and woman entered the pizzeria. I said to Rick, "Hey there's that guy we waved at today with the blue fender." He asked how I knew, and I wasn't sure because the man didn't bring his fender with him into the restaurant; he had put it down somewhere in the meantime. So while Rick was paying for pizza I went over to say hello: "Excuse me for staring, but I think we saw you today while we were riding our bikes in the neighborhood. How ya doin'?".

And that's how we met Karen and Bart of Key Largo and Wisconsin and the sailboat Vie de Paix. As it turned out, they were doing fine.

Bart Karen and Bart told us about the wonders of the house across the street from theirs and its fabulous workmanship; I said we lived in a town with fancy houses, too. When we told them "Jackson Wyoming" Bart started laughing. Come to find out he had ski bummed in the neighboring town of Kelly in the 70s on a hiatus from skiing in Crested Butte, Colorado. We found we all had a lot more in common, but their pizza arrived. So we determined to meet again.

By then it was late and Rick and I rode our bikes home in the dark. Thank goodness for the safety of the path! The pot holes and root humps were a challenge, but there were street lights and headlights to provide some assistance. When we entered the Park, though, just one windy turn off the highway and it was pitch dark. The black asphalt melted into the black undergrowth; the undergrowth became an impenetrable mass of tall black trees on either side. We literally couldn't see a hand in front of our face; I nearly ran into a sign.

We stuttered along trying to feel the edge of the road with our wheels, until we realized that we could look UP. High above, the black canopies of the trees did not quite meet over the road. The ceiling was broken down the middle where the faintest starlight could be discerned.

We slowly peddled the rest of the way like that: our heads tilted back, staring straight up with wide eyes at the magical sky.

Riding the Milky Way home.

A Night on the Town

Karen and Bart arrived at Sea Gator the next afternoon and we gave them the three-minute tour. Bart crawled into the engine room (above right) and yelled, "Wow!" Every now and then he'd holler, "Oh wow!" and "Look at all this space! Karen you should see this..."

Karen did not jump into the engine room, but she squeezed Goldie's cheeks and rubbed her ears with an expert's hand.

Rick, Bart, Karen We piled in their island car (it's just like a "valley car") and Bart drove us to Snooke's, a locals hangout, for soda and beer and conversation and rock-n-roll. Then we went to a quieter bar (which I'm guessing has a very different ambiance on the weekend), The Paradise, where the guys drinking at the bar offered to change all television channels for us except for the big-screen where pro wrestling would rule, and the waitress had many tattoos one of which was a beautifully detailed dragonfly on her wrist (again - here be dragons!) and she was very good at her job. Rick and I shared a delicious cheeseburger.

Karen had brought along their "Cruising Guide to the Keys" and we talked about some anchoring options. I had thought there were few, but with their locals' knowledge they knew of a lot more. They had also been to the Bahamas so we got to hear about that. And it was fun to reminisce about the Old West with Bart - he's been to a lot of the same places I have, 'way back when.

We enjoyed the evening immensely. And Rick and I topped it off with another magical walk down the darkened Park road, holding hands in the dimmest sliver of moonlight.

On the Road Again

We spent the next day working and fixing and gathering provisions.

At first daylight on Wednesday we cast off. It was ridiculously simple, compared to our arrival. There was no wind or current, the water was still as glass. We looped a temporary stern line and bow line, then removed all the heavy bowline loops. When Rick gave the sign I slipped us free of the pilings and he motored us out. Slick as an eel.

We headed south. Again.

But that's another travelogue.

In Conclusion

This week's linguistic challenge: Translate Vie de Paix and use it in a sentence.

Goldie When we are gallivanting around so much I miss Goldie's good company. This evening I was hoping for a nice comforting round of "Sweet Kitty Purr Fest". But she wanted to play "Run Around Run Around" and "Bite the Hand That Feeds Me." And Goldie always gets her way.

Here she is resting before a bout with her new toy: paper. She discovered it when I wrapped her in the tissue paper from a gift bestowed by Mickey. Goldie spent hours battering that tissue paper. So now crackle-y paper is made ever available. She thinks it's just the cat's pajamas. Ha!

My neck is getting better now, thank you for asking. It's amazing what happens when I actually follow suggestions... In this case, perform the exercises prescribed by Brian "Pain-Is-A-Great-Motivater" VanHatten of Skye Physical Therapy. Every few years I'm forced to remember, so thanks Brian.

We hope you all are keeping warm and dry, and keeping all four tires/ four paws/ two feet securely on the road. Thanks for listening.

Pat, Rick and Goldie

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Ship's Manifest