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Around the Harbor

Travelogue - April 8, 2011
"A real friend is someone who takes a winter vacation on a sun-drenched beach and does not send a card."
--Farmer's Almanac

Tuesday, March 8: We arrived in Boot Key Harbor at Marathon in the early afternoon. Rick swung up to our mooring and screeched to a halt (nautically speaking) with Sea Gator's bow poised precisely over the mooring ball. I snagged the pennant, lifted it to the chock and zipped a line through the thimble, then whipped the bitter end around a cleat. Jumped to my feet and raised both arms over my head like a champion calf roper. Yee haw!

Sometimes, everything goes just right.

In the Swing, Around and About the Harbor

Immediately I emailed Vesta and Dale: "We can see your house from our flybridge!" And indeed we could, so I was very fortunate to be able to spend quality time with Vesta: On that very next Thursday afternoon Rick dinghied me to their dock, and Vesta and Sharon and I made the 50 mile drive to Key West for an interesting evening of study and good conversation, followed by a reasonably health dinner.

Lucy, Ellen, Roy On our first Friday in the harbor, Rick and I dinghied over to Dockside Sombrero Marina to visit Ellen and Roy (and Lucy) aboard M/V Our Turn, left. Ellen and Roy had visited us in Wyoming this past summer, and it was fun to tour their fine boat and spend an evening on their sundeck. They set off for Miami the next Monday - Safe cruising!

The livin' is easy here, and Rick has accomplished a lot of work despite me dragging him around the island. His clients are happy, and so is Sea Gator. One morning soon after we arrived he replaced the fuel lift pump on the main engine - no small task - and was relieved that his efforts stopped an oil leak that had been plaguing him for quite some time. It was a good omen.

I rejoined a women's discussion group which meets three times a week to discuss common problems and common solutions. In past years the meeting was held at the upper end of Vaca Key near the bridge. I was relieved that they've moved and their new location is a mere half-mile from the dinghy dock!

Ironically, I'm still committed to the long bike ride: Zumba is held in a yoga studio which is not only at the end of Vaca Key very near the old meeting room, but beyond - up and over and past the bridge - so a long bike ride is in order several times a week. It's worth it, as the class is great fun thanks to our instructor, Rosa "I-will-sweat-you" Shoaff. Many of the other women in class were welcoming and fun to be around. It was going to be a good month for all of us, we could tell...


Thursday, March 10: Rick suggested I not delay laundry duty as it might rain in the afternoon, and we all know there's nothing like trying to bring clean dry laundry home in a wet grimy dinghy in the pouring rain. Right? So I loaded our "warsh" into Bump Head and headed for shore. When I arrived I found that I was only fourth in line (not bad at all) so I settled in for the day.

Hiding in the laundry room The squall line hit the Keys near 11:00 a.m., a couple of hours earlier than predicted. Almost instantly the rain was pelting down in sheets. Protected in the concrete bunker that is the laundry room I - and the dozen folks who dashed in for shelter, right - could only peek outside and hope our dinghies were still present. The wind increased in intensity and soon the rain was sheeting sideways, and as people blew past they grabbed the doorframe to pull themselves inside.

Someone slammed the back door shut against the whirling wind but every now and then frantic knocking could be heard as a drenched soul sought shelter. Each time the door was opened huge clouds of old dryer lint lifted off the rafters, swooped through the air like a flock of sooty grey birds and settled on the floor, our heads and our clean laundry.

Meanwhile, aboard Sea Gator, Rick closed all the hatches and windows, then circled around shuffling buckets and towels and mopping up water that was driven through the seals. An enormous crack of thunder split through the din directly overhead. Goldie tucked herself into her travel hutch.

Rick turned the radio on and listened to VHF 68. Wind speed was reported at 49.9 knots (57 mph - "a whole gale" according to the Beaufort Wind Scale); a boat's anchor dragged and nearby boats went on the alert. Whitecaps formed, then their tips blew off in the spray. Rick reported that when the wind came directly on her bow Sea Gator vibrated, just as she had done during a similar gale last spring (travelogue Calms and Storms). He didn't have time to ponder the aerodynamics that caused the effect.

Festival crowd The barrage lasted long enough for me to dry and fold all our laundry and tuck it in its bags (and tuck those bags in big plastic garbage bags that I have learned to carry with me, I wasn't born yesterday) away from the lint and the rain.

When things quieted I went outside and bailed (and bailed and bailed and bailed) Bump Head. Bless him, his outboard started up immediately and I motored home as quickly as I could in the chop. I was glad to arrive at home and see that all of us were soaked but safe.

Seafood (and Music) Fest

Neither rain nor gale shall interfere with a planned party in the Keys. Sure enough, the 35th Annual Marathon Seafood Festival would proceed as scheduled.

Dancing After Zumba on Saturday (Rick toured Key Colony Beach while I was in class) we biked back down-island to the Seafood Festival for lunch and an afternoon of good music.

The Park was packed, above right - last year they'd sold 27,000 tickets! Rick and I shared a fine lunch of fish and coleslaw. At a prominent location among the vendors' tents we found Karen's son selling his Buck Naked's Seafood Rubs and Rick restocked our pantry supply; and I bought a new sunhat on the theory that you can never have too many sunhats (although I admit that now I have enough).

We enjoyed watching people's dancing styles evolve as the sun beat down and the day wore on and the beers found their mark. This guy shook it til it wouldn't shake no more. Dude!


Monday, March 14: We were well recovered from the storm by the next week. On Monday morning promptly at 9:30, Rick started Bump Head for me and as I waved goodbye I accidentally hooked his expensive glasses and flung them off his head and into the Bay.

The glasses sank out of sight. Down, down, down...

We tried to grab them with the net but they were gone, gone, gone...

Barnacle Bill "Barnacle Bill" said he'd come over with his dive gear around noon and see what he could do, but he warned Rick that the odds were incredibly high against his ever finding the glasses:

"The visibility isn't good here," he cautioned. "It's 12' deep, it's silty, there's current..." Also, a boat is constantly moving in place, swinging on her mooring. So "right here" is a moving target. The glasses were a needle in a haystack.

When I finally slunk back home after my meeting and as long a delay as I could manufacture in good conscience, Bill was still hard at it. Rick and I discussed where we thought the glasses had gone down and I felt Sea Gator's swim platform had been facing slightly to the east of where Bill was diving. So he moved over and - it's a miracle! He surfaced holding the glasses triumphantly over his head!!

YAY, Bill! I danced a victory jig on the deck - an impromptu Zumba-esque Riverdance travesty - singing Bill's praises: "Bill's the Man! Ai-yi-yi!"

Bill was as proud as we were relieved. Here he is recovering on his boat, above right. "I'm an old man, that was a lot of work for me," he declared. Rick was happy to pay him whatever he asked, which would in no case be more than an eye exam + new frames + progressive lenses + sunglasses would cost. Whew!!


While Bill and Rick and I were rejoicing at Sea Gator's stern, our neighbor on Celise/Spirit - an enormous 45' long x 24' wide catamaran - came to his bow (bows) and asked what we were about, below right.

Cort aboard Celise/Spirit I told him the story and he immediately hit upon the most important aspect of the triumph, which is that now I was redeemed and needn't move off the boat in disgrace.

This was an insightful man, indeed. We waved him over and he hopped in his dinghy for the ten-second ride.

Aboard our boat he became Cort, a fine fellow whose wife has flyfished in a remote wilderness near our town, imagine that. Cort's immediate concern was about the previous week's gale (he and Carolyn had been ashore at the time). Rick described the day: among other things he had seen Celise/Spirit's hatches open but, he apologized, he couldn't do anything about it. Cort brushed off their boat's soaked interior as inconsequential in light of the real problem: lightening had struck the boat and fried all her electronics.

Rick and Cort debated whether the bolt had hit the sailboat's mast (which seemed most likely) or come up from the water (because the mast lights were among the few components still functioning) - that debate would continue among all boaters in the harbor for the next week, and we still don't know for sure.

Meanwhile, over the next several days we visited aboard Celise/Spirit for happy hour, and Cort dropped by Sea Gator for a breather every time he could catch a moment between sorties ashore for repairmen, equipment, supplies and family members. His visits were a real treat, as Cort proved to be a fearless conversationalist. He loaned us his latest favorite book, Annie Proulx's Bird Cloud: A Memoir and Rick devoured it in a weekend.

More Good News

Pastry chef Nancy The good news, which we didn't even recognize as good until we had heard Cort's bad news: Sea Gator did not suffer any damage from stray bolts despite our immediate proximity to the calamity.

And the engineers at S.A.L.T. (Sea Air Land Technology) saved Celise/Spirit's bacon, repairing and/or replacing electronics aboard as necessary. Celise/Spirit sailed smoothly away the following week with everything functional except the radar, and while we were sorry to see them go we were very glad that everything worked out well with the baffling array of repairs.

Surprise Visit

Friday, March 18: On Friday morning a shout brought us to the stern and there, grinning up at us from their slowly deflating dinghy, were my ex-cousin-in-law Moe and his wife Pat! YAY!

The two had just cruised in on their new catamaran S/V Double Pleasure and moored just a few rows back. Good thing Sea Gator's transom and her bright orange letters are hard to miss!

That day the four of us rendezvoused at The Upper Crust pizzeria with Nancy and George of Jenna Star. We were delighted when George immediately said to Moe "We've met you..." It seems Moe and Pat are acquainted with a lot of the folks who anchor near their Cape Haze home.

Dessert aboard Jenna Star After lunch we all paraded to Banana Bay Marina where Jenna Star is wintering. There Nancy, above right, presented her first attempt to create a Brownie Nut Pillow Cookie - in bar form! Very clever indeed!

Left, see the gang aboard Jenna Star, ready to test-devour the cookie-brownie-bars. Left to right: George, Pat, Moe, Rick, Nancy, Pat.

The unanimous verdict: Nancy's experiment was a success! I gifted her our copy of Julia Child's My Years in France as a token of our appreciation of her culinary efforts.

Warm Weather

It has been warming up nicely. We rode our bikes to Sombrero Beach and had a nice swim, although we were ever on the alert for floating purple balloons: the "sail" of the infamous Portuguese Man-of-War. No, it's not a ship of the line. It's Physalia physalis. From the Florida Park Service handout:

Man-O-War The gas-filled floats reach up to one foot in length and have what appears to be an irregular, inflated sail. From this float hangs an extensive tangle of tentacles used to search the water for prey. These tentacles can reach forty to fifty feet long and are used to capture animals as large as itself...

Beachgoers may come in contact with the Man-of-War's tentacles in the water or even while walking on the beach because dried tentacles retain their stinging potency for a long period of time. Victims experience a burning sensation, or in some cases, cramps, nausea, and breathing difficulties. Recommended first aid consists of removing the tentacles [NOT with one's bare hands] and calling a doctor as soon as possible...

We've learned to carry a small bottle of meat tenderizer in our beachbag, as the tenderizer is supposed to break down the proteins of your average jellyfish toxins.

Man-O-War We have also heard recently that urine will do the same trick. We didn't know that back in 1999 when we were bodysurfing off Texas and a broad sweep of tentacles wrapped around my legs. Instead, we dashed to the grocery store for meat tenderizer, where I hopped from one foot to another in agony while the air conditioning hummed, muzak played soothingly overhead and Rick - ever the conscientious shopper - waited patiently in the "10 Items Or Less" line while the old guy ahead of him counted out exact change for his 25 items.

Anyway. Just last month, while we were cruising the ICW between Ft. Lauderdale and Miami, we observed great quantities of Man-of-Wars in the waterway; they appeared to be so thick in some places that, if their tentacles were indeed up to 50' long, there was NO safe place to fall overboard.

Man-O-War With that possibility in mind we discussed the urine-as-cure rumor, so when Rick went below to pee (he considered it bad form to go over the side while cruising past people's back yards) I told him he should just pee over the side and directly ON the jellyfish - cut out the middle man, as it were. He declined.


As soon as the weather turned, flotillas of boats left the harbor. Moe and Pat set sail for Key West. Many other folks were bound for the Bahamas or the beginning of the long cruise north to their summer cruising grounds.

In yet another too-good-to-be-believed coincidence, one day M/V Suits Us floated in right "next door" to Sea Gator! We were very glad. We had met Gil and Brenda on the dock at Ft. Lauderdale, and we had felt a kinship with them on the spot. Rick was able to keep an eye on Suits Us for them when they went on a road trip for several days, and by the time they returned I was out of commission with a cold... But soon we were all present and healthy and ready to socialize.


Generator Troubles

Wednesday, March 23. That evening Rick moved to fire up the genset as usual. It's supposed to go "click click click click, crank crank, vroo-OOMM!" Instead it went "click click, crank crank crank crank crank..." Rick got a baffled look on his face.

Juan He tried again: "Click. Click. Crank crank crank crank crank...!"

The inhabitants of the engine room are Rick's pampered pets. What could be ailing Mr. Genset?

After a restless night Rick reluctantly canceled his plans to snorkel at Sombrero Reef with George and Nancy. Then he ran through his repertoire of fixes and diagnostics - all to no avail. Finally, he and Gil went to work on Suits Us's genset instead, with which they had more success.

Time for Plan B: We motored down the harbor to Sombrero Dockside Marina and hove into a slip for the duration. Thank goodness, the service manager at Marathon Boat Yard squeezed us in on Friday. Juan came over; his fame as a wizard preceeded him. Here he is, wedged behind the genset but still calm and well-groomed.

As Rick had already performed all of the obvious and not-so-obvious troubleshooting, Juan focused on the remaining possibilities. Whereas Rick had hesitated to rip parts off the genset with violence, the knowledgeable mechanic didn't mind using a lot of muscle - aided by Rick's 18" crescent wrench - to forcibly remove the stubborn fuel shut-off solenoid. Once it was off they tested it and quickly confirmed Rick's diagnosis, that the solenoid had a short and was not engaging.

Juan didn't happen to have a spare solenoid in his truck, but with the help of the boys down at All Keys Diesel Rick had his hands on a shiny new one by Saturday noon. He tested then installed it but still no luck. "Click. Click. Crank crank crank crank crank...!"

A quick review of the engine's schematic and more testing showed Rick that the shorted solenoid had also fried an electrical timing module (or vice versa) - he quickly ordered a new one from All Keys. Rick manually bypassed the module and the genset started. He would continue the manual bypass until he received and installed the replacement module, but we were good to go for now...

Zumba - Party Hearty

Rosa Saturday, March 26: Was I a good helpmate throughout the crisis? Did I stand by my man, praising his skills, admiring his biceps and keeping him company in the oily greasy hot crowded engine room, on his BIRTHDAY no less?


Instead, I merrily skipped away to attend a two-hour Zumba marathon in the park, held to benefit the American Heart Association. It was a great time, and the effort netted $1300 for the cause.

Here we see Rosa, right, demonstrating the steps; for this selection she has donned her belly-dancing belt. Even though I was coming off the cold and its accompanying week of doing nothing aerobic except cough, I was able to stay on my feet and even keep up (mostly) for the full two hours, and I had a wonderful time.

I returned to the marina tired, happy and sweaty.

Rick emerged from the engine room relieved, happy and sweaty.

Once again, all's well that ends well!

We cleaned ourselves up then motored the short distance back to the mooring field, where we requested and received a different mooring, this one VERY close to the dingy dock. This move would save us an enormous amount of commuter time in the coming weeks.

We celebrated by biking out along the old Seven-Mile Bridge and spotting many wonderful sea creatures including several species of rays. Our favorites were the eagle rays, below right:

Rays The eagle rays are a group of cartilaginous fishes in the family Myliobatidae, consisting mostly of large species living in the open ocean rather than on the sea bottom.

Eagle rays feed on mollusks and crustaceans, crushing their shells with their flattened teeth, while devil and manta rays filter plankton from the water. They are excellent swimmers and are able to breach the water up to several metres above the surface.

Compared with other rays, they have long tails, and well-defined rhomboidal bodies. They are ovoviviparous, giving birth to up to six young at a time. They range from 48 centimetres (19 in) to 9.1 metres (30 ft) in length.

We later learned that, just last year, one of these enormous rays breached the surface just as a boat was speeding by; a woman aboard arrived at the same point in time and space as the airborne ray and the collison killed them both. Such a tragedy. Well, the creatures are beautiful to watch from the safety of the old bridge, 20' or higher above the water.

Rick and Pat Finally, we ended Rick's offical birthday with a casual sunset dinner at Keys Fisheries, memorialized by a goofy but sincere self-portrait, right.

Thanks to Rick's brothers who phoned to give him much-needed birthday grief.

Belated Birthday Outing

Sunday, March 27. Gil and Brenda were dingy-ing over to Dockside intending to check on our progress when they spotted Sea Gator's shiny white stern on her new mooring. YAY! Soon we four were all aboard our bikes and heading up the island to Curry Hammock State Park:

Gil and Brenda The hardwood hammocks found on these tropical islands support one of the largest populations of thatch palms in the United States. Mangrove swamps, seagrass beds and wetlands provide vital habitats for tropical wildlife...

At the Park entrance station we obtained life jackets and paddles, which we carried on our bikes to the beach like a squadron of knights heading for a jousting tournament. We dragged two double kayaks into the water and piled aboard with a minimum of shuffling and dunking.

It was such a beautiful day, any adventure would have been wonderful. But we followed the suggestions of the Park Ranger and explored a sheltered bay anchorage, a winding tunnel of mangrove roots, and an ocean-side sand bar complete with incoming surf (all the way from Portugal, mind you). At the end we were soaked, but happy.

Rick Afterward we enjoyed happy hour beverages and peel-and-eat shrimp and nachos at Sparky's Landing. And all along the way we solved ALL the world's problems and most of our own.

Rick vowed that it was an "outstanding" belated birthday celebration. Our sincere and affectionate thanks to Gil and Brenda, above.

Alas, soon Brenda and Gil had to join the procession of boats leaving the harbor. Rick and I hated to say goodbye to new friends - and we hated to be left behind. It's no fun to be the ones saying "goodbye." But the month was nearing the end and it was getting time for us to leave, too.

More Weather

OK, now it was hot. And humid.

March blooms My sinuses felt soggy, like they do when you've been swimming upside down without doing that revolting a-WHOonking thing you're supposed to do with each nostril.

To move is to drip.

To breath is to drown.

One day we rode bikes with Nancy and George to the north end of the island for lunch, and Rick and I arrived soaked through and looking entirely disreputable. Yet Nancy, sitting in the full blaze of the sun, remained cool and collected; how does she do it?

On that very day, our Wyoming neighbor Patty sent me a photo she took looking out her living room window that morning, right. And Joy reports that our valley remains under "fencepost-top-high snow".

Beach Safety Update

In-depth exhaustive research (five minutes on Google) reveals that, not only is the Portuguese Man-of-War NOT a true jellyfish, but urine is not a proven antidote for any jellyfish stings. And the next most common antidote, vinegar (which does work for treating the stings of true jellyfish), will only make a Man-of-War sting worse.

Now what?

Numerous sources recommend observing the victim for signs of an allergic reaction, in which case get medical care immediately. Meanwhile, if you're sure it was a Man-of-War, remove the stingers and do not apply fresh water (which tends to make the affected area worse) or any chemicals; instead apply salt water to the affected area and follow up with the application of heat (hot salt water if you've got it; otherwise any warmed object) to the affected area, which eases the pain of a sting by denaturing the toxins.

I stand corrected. You'd best do your own research prior to swimming with the jellyfishies.

Kindred Spirits and Ships That Pass In the Night

Of the former: Tuesday, April 5, Dale drove us all to Judy and Henry's place at Key Colony Beach. There we enjoyed a lovely evening of excellent food and wide-ranging conversation.

Dinner Party Here we are, dazed by a wonderful meal of tender roast beef and vegetables perfectly al dente and decadent chocolate-ganache cake: Rick, Pat, Dale, Vesta, Judy, Suzanne and Henry.

The next day after Zumba, I biked back to their place for lunch, and then a long and uplifting conversation with Judy in the shade of a gazebo overlooking the Atlantic, below left.

Thank you, Judy!

And then yet another heart-felt goodbye, and "I love you"s, and a lump in the throat. Until next year...

Of the latter: On Thursday morning we heard a man howling "Ouch! Ouch!! Oh God, owww!"

Judy Pat Rick ran outside and called across to the man in the cockpit of a nearby sailboat, "Are you all right?" The man yelled back, "NO!" Rick jumped in Bump Head and raced over. He learned that our neighbor had wrecked on his bike the night before; the hospital had released him and by morning his hip and leg were so sore he couldn't walk.

Rick and another man lowered the victim into his dinghy and Rick towed him in. There, with more help, they levered the man ashore and walked him into a shower. He said he just wanted to drink beer and have a long hot shower.

When the man was safely tucked in, Rick walked to the nearby "Tree of Knowledge" and told the story to the usual group of men and gossips gathered around in the shade. After much kibitzing and theorizing and grousing they agreed to check on the fellow if he screamed or cried out for help or didn't re-appear in an hour.

Later that day, the man's dinghy was home, and another neighbor drifted at his stern offering to bring him food. It sounds like many of his neighbors are on the case and so we hope he'll be OK. Because the next day it would be our turn to leave.


Rick and I have enjoyed our best time here to date, meeting old friends and new. Unfortunately, I didn't always have my camera with me. So I wasn't able to memorialize the moment in pictures, the afternoon we came out of the showers and ran into Karen and Bart from Key Largo/Wisconsin/Colorado (travelogue Here Be Dragons) on the dinghy dock; they told us of their desperate run for shelter off Cape Sable ahead of the recent 50-knot squall, and the four of us stood around solving the world's problems until it was dark and we'd all been drained by no-see-ums...

Justin Pat Sharon Vesta Fortunately, Vesta brought her camera on our last trip to Key West. Here we are with Justin. Thanks to these folks for so generously including me in their quests, and to Vesta for driving clear to Key West and back every Thursday evening...

But I don't have a photo of Nautilus's Al and Rosie, our old acquaintances from LaBelle (Beaches to Barns) who sponsored our honorary membership in Charlotte Harbour Boat Storage's weekly lunch crowd...

Or of the gentlemen playing guitar and singing under the tiki hut who invited us to sing along...

Or of Ronnie, whom I met on the dock on our last day while Rick was on the phone with his sister; she and I had an excellent heart-to-heart and in ten perfect minutes I wished I had met her sooner...

Or of John and Lynn of S/V Babe who made my laundry days so enjoyable, and who radio'd to give us a send-off as we were leaving the harbor...

C'est la vie.


Friday, April 8: We cast off our mooring at 8:00 a.m., bound across Florida Bay and a leisurely trip through the wilderness of the Everglades and the Ten Thousand Islands.

Take care, everybody! Stay warm...

Pat, Rick and Goldie

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