Category Archives: Where?

Places we’ve been, are presently at, or wish to go to.

Amps In The Bank, Water In The Tank, And Spending A Day In Nassau

After four long days, the winds have finally stopped howling, and Rhonda and I are getting ready to make our next move. It’s about time, as 96 hours of listening to the rigging hum and feeling the boat rock and rub against the pilings was just about all we could stand. It’s a little over 30 miles from Palm Cay Marina to Allen’s Cay at the northern end of the Exuma island chain. Our plan is to settle our tab and throw off the lines in the morning and skirt Yellow Bank as we head southeast. The charts say the Bank is 12 feet deep with numerous coral heads that reach to within 3 to 4 feet of the surface (our keel is 5 feet deep). It requires visual piloting, which means we have to make sure the sun is high and the sky is clear so that we can read the water and dodge the keel munching stacks of coral. We’re thinking we’ll probably take the scenic route, skirting the edge of the bank rather than cutting straight across. It will add a few miles to our sail, but it should be quite a bit easier on our nerves.

To prepare, we spent the day giving Eagle Too a much needed bath. I also ran the water maker to fill the tank, and turned on the battery charger to top off our house bank with plenty of fresh electrons. With everything full, we’re basically ready to go.

So I mentioned in my previous post that Palm Cay Marina has a little car available for running errands. Your use is limited to two hours, and since it takes 20-25 minutes to get into Nassau and the same to get back, you have to plan your trip to make the most of the just-slightly-over-an-hour that’s left to do whatever it is that you need to do. On our grocery/pharmacy/liquor store runs, we literally plot our movements in advance and head into town with lists in hand to make the most of every minute. But the other day we had an idea. We wanted to spend an afternoon just sightseeing. More than you could fit into a two hour window. But we didn’t want to have to rent a car. So when we found out that Bob and Wendy on S/V Journey also wanted to play tourist for a while, a plan was hatched. We signed up to take the car from 11AM – 1PM, and they took the 1 – 3 PM. And like that, we had a ride for half a day!

We headed for The Queen’s Staircase, which was hand-carved by slaves from a hill of solid limestone in the 18th Century.

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We hiked up to Fort Fincastle, with its commanding view of the cruise ships in the harbor.

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We wandered through the grounds of the government buildings.

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And stumbled upon a rum distillery.

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We explored the former gracious manor home Graycliff, now operated as an exclusive hotel. We were in awe of their lobby “tree” made entirely of wine bottles!

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Graycliff has its own cigar factory, which I had to see (and sample the wares).

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We took in the general sights around town.

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And then stopped by the Rum Cake Factory, where they sell absolutely amazing cakes for only $5 each. They were better than Tortola Rum Cakes for a third the price.

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A quick stop to pick up some “takeaway” street food to bring back to the boat for dinner later.

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And then our time ran out and we had to return to the marina. But we packed a lot of the sights, sounds and feel of all that is Nassau in four short hours!

Waiting Out Weather

We originally planned to stay here at Palm Cay Marina for three or four days in order to make a grocery run and catch up on our laundry. But then we looked at the weather. The forecast called for wind. Lots and lots of wind. Gale force wind. The kind of wind that makes sitting at anchor damned unpleasant.  So we decided that we’d much rather wait it out here in this snug little harbor tied firmly to a pier. And like that, our three to four day visit is now entering its second week. And there are at least two, possibly three more days of this wind yet to come.

While we may be sailors, we’re the leisurely cruising sort. There’s nothing about heading out under a gale warning that we find appealing. Since I often tell people that we have no place in particular to be and all the time in the world to get there, we feel no urgency to get moving until the conditions are right. Besides, this is a pretty nice place. There’s a bar, a restaurant, a beach and a pool. The washers work in the laundry room. They even have a little Toyota that you can check out for two hours at a time to run errands. We’ve used the time to do some shopping and a little sightseeing, and we’re taking advantage of the pretty decent marina internet to catch up on our banking and start our taxes and do some software updates on all our various devices. We’ve even been able to catch up on a few of the TV shows we’ve missed since leaving Florida by streaming episodes (which is not as easy as it sounds, but I’ll have more on that another day).

But still, our marina fee of $80 a day really starts to add up after a while. It’s putting quite a dent in our cruising budget. So hopefully in the next few days this wind will blow itself out and we’ll be on our way. From here, we’re jumping over to the Exumas to start working our way south towards George Town.

But for now, let’s take advantage of the fast WiFi to catch up on pictures!

We’ll start with this taste of what it’s like to wake up after a night spent anchored in the middle of the Great Bahamas Banks. No land in sight, but only 18 feet deep!

On the second day of our trip from Bimini to Nassau, we tucked into what we thought was a nice little anchorage between Chub Cay and DIamond Cay. Chub Cay has been a major mecca for sport fishermen that want to hunt for the big ones in the deep waters of the Tongue of the Ocean. Unfortunately for them, it was clobbered by hurricane Matthew last year, and is only now starting to get back on its feet. And the nice little anchorage turned out to be a mirage. When I dove on the anchor to check its set, I learned that the nice big patch of white sand that we’d settled over was actually a flat table of white limestone, and the anchor was just sitting on top of it. Fortunately, extremely light winds were forecast overnight, so we just put out a hundred feet of chain and called it a night. Besides, there was an unlocked WiFi network available that let us check weather and update Facebook.

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The next morning we rose with the sun and pointed Eagle Too towards Nassau. The day started dead calm.

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We tried to motor-sail, but there just wasn’t any wind to be had and we eventually gave up. When it did finally start to blow, it was dead on the nose, and since we needed to be at Palm Cay Marina before they closed the gate in the evening, we continued motoring. Rhonda put out a couple of fishing lines, but only managed to add to her collection of seaweed.

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By mid-afternoon, we passed Atlantis on Paradise Island, which anyone who’s been to Nassau will recognize.

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Dodging the cruise ship and mega-yacht traffic, we hooked around the eastern end of New Providence Island to reach Palm Cay Marina, our destination, where we quickly settled in and made ourselves at home.

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Among cruisers, Nassau is considered a bit of an armpit. The main harbor is crowded and dirty, and crime is rampant. Even marinas with security have had problems with thieves approaching at night from the water on paddle boards to burglarize yachts. Palm Cay Marina is several miles from Nassau, and has security both from the land side, and from the water as well. To enter from land, you have to get past this guy.

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And believe it or not, they pull up a chain barrier to lock the waterway into the marina at dusk.

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It’s a shame it has to be this way, but it is what it is, and as the Capitol of the Bahamas, Nassau is the best place to run parts, obtain stores, fill prescriptions, or send and receive any type of mail. So we picked a place where the security is tight enough that many people don’t even lock their boats. And did I mention the free loaner car?

OK, it’s not really much of a car. And the steering wheel is in the wrong place. But the streets get a bit narrow and they drive on the wrong side of the road here, so it works. With Rhonda helping remind me to keep left (especially at traffic circles), we made it into town and back without incident. My biggest problem was my tendency to turn on the windshield wipers whenever I wanted to signal a turn, because the control stalks were reversed on the steering column.

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If you’re weeks out from seeing a major grocery store, we discovered you’ll find everything you need at Solomons. And the prices weren’t even that bad. Some things were a bit higher than we expected, but the meat and vegetable prices really weren’t much more than we were used to paying at home. And the selection was terrific. And we could even buy beer by the case! In Bimini, we had to purchase by the can or bottle, as the stores didn’t want to give a case price, but rather protect their margins by charging by the can.

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So if ever there’s a reason to deal with all that is Nassau, the opportunity to re-provision at a well stocked grocery store is right up there.

Our groceries stacked on the pier waiting to be brought on board.

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In our next post, we’ll go a little bit rogue in order to use the loaner car, which is really for running short errands, to do some sightseeing.

 

Moving On

Rhonda and I have thoroughly enjoyed our month here at Harborage Marina in St. Petersburg, and we’ll probably soon have another post or two that talks about some of the things we’ve seen or done while here, but it’s time to move on. The engine checks are complete, the bikes are lashed down on-deck, the speed sensor is re-installed, and Eagle Too is ready to get underway. We postponed our departure by a day to allow an intense storm front to blow through, but tomorrow morning and the next few days are supposed to be beautiful, so after a quick breakfast we’ll be bringing in the lines and pointing the bow south. Next stop—Sarasota, where we’ll take a mooring for a few days. I hope that this time we’ll be able to linger long enough to visit the Ringling Museum!

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La Dolce Vita

A friend back home in Pensacola who follows our blog recently texted. He said Rhonda and I are living La Dolce Vita, or The Sweet Life. Now I can’t say that a cruising life is the never-ending vacation that some people might imagine, but I have to admit it can often be quite sweet. For example, when we passed through St. Petersburg, Florida back in April on our way to Cuba, we couldn’t linger long. But we knew we’d love to come back again someday. Well, it’s someday, and now that we’re here again, the fact that we live the cruising life means we can stay as long as we’d like. Really get to know the town. Here’s just a taste.

We arrived two days before Christmas, and enjoyed biking around, taking in the holiday decorations.

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There’s a Publix supermarket just a five minute bike ride north of us, and we take great advantage. Departure planning and preparations took up so much of our December that we forgot to plan holiday meals, and found ourselves on Christmas Eve with nothing good in the larder for Christmas dinner. But a quick stop at Publix, where we found the perfect boat-friendly rib roast (i.e. on the smallish side to fit our oven), and we were all set for a truly terrific meal.

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Love those LED candles, by the way. They add just the perfect touch of atmosphere, without setting off our smoke detectors!

As we pointed out last April in our post St. Petersburg And A Very Good Day, this is a terrific town to explore by bicycle. And one of the things we’ve noticed as we’ve cycled up and down the streets and avenues is that a good nickname for the town would be “City Of A Hundred Fountains.” They really like fountains here. Big fountains,

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Small fountains,

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even fountains in restaurants.

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I could probably do a lengthy post on just the fountains of St. Pete. Maybe I will someday. 🙂

When we arrived in town, we took a chance on a marina we’d never been to before when it turned out that there was no room at the inn (the municipal marina). The Harborage Marina at Bayboro is located less than a mile south of downtown, immediately adjacent to the University of South Florida St Petersburg campus.

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We initially had our doubts, because we really enjoyed the municipal marina’s location right in the middle of downtown. But Harborage does have some advantages. The biggest is the floating docks, which are actually hard to find in these parts. We’re less than five minutes from the heart of town by bike, and it’s a pleasant ride, past the USFSP campus and several small parks (which this town has in abundance).

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While researching the marina on Active Captain, we saw mention of a nice restaurant at the nearby Albert Whitted airport. Since it was so close, we thought we’d give it a try.

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They have a $6 gourmet cheeseburger special every Wednesday, and so far we’ve been there two Wednesdays in a row. It’s fun to have a tasty and inexpensive dinner while watching the planes and helicopters arrive and depart.

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Exploring the local dining options is one of our favorite activities, and we love how many bars and restaurants here are set up for al fresco dining. Eating outside in January (and being comfortable doing it!) just never gets old. We watched the Seahawks play at The Avenue.

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And we try to catch the happy hour at 400 Beach as often as we can, as they have half price draught beer and house wines from 3 to 6 PM.

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It’s hard to beat $3 for a cold pint while people watching and taking in the street scene. Plus it’s right across from the north yacht basin, so there are boats. Boats make everything better. 🙂

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Even though it’s in the heart of downtown, when you sit down in the courtyard at Red Mesa Cantina for dinner, you feel like you’re someplace truly distant and exotic. The surrounding wall of bamboo completely shuts out the city. And there’s a fountain.

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We even found a family run Cuban cafe just down the street from the Post Office. It’s fun to talk to people who run a Cuban restaurant about our experiences in Cuba.

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Eventually, perhaps in a couple more weeks, we’ll continue our journey south. But for now, we’re content to linger. Afterall, we’re in a place where the birds you see in trees and on power lines are likely to be parrots,

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and you can eat outside almost everyday.

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A Good Day For A Pot Of Spaghetti

After an overnight passage from Pensacola, Eagle Too is securely tied to the sidewall at Port St Joe Marina in St Joseph Bay.

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Like seven of our previous eight overnight passages, it was not a fun trip. Even though we picked a window that promised warmer temperatures, it was still bone chillingly cold out in the Gulf, which only confirms our decision to go when the air temperature was supposed to be in the 70’s rather than the 50’s. Add five to six foot seas and winds from every possible direction, and it added up to a pretty miserable night.

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But as is always the case, once we arrived, that all fell away, and we are now just savoring the moment. It was an odd arrival, because up until the minute we pulled into the marina, we were in cold fog and cold temperatures, with moisture dripping from us and everything onboard.

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But as we cleared the final marker and made the turn into the marina, the fog vanished, the sun appeared, the temperature climbed into the upper 70’s, and people met us on the dock wearing shorts and T shirts. I’m sure we made an odd sight in our wet foul weather gear, hats and gloves. We quickly shucked our wrappings and hung everything in the cockpit to dry. And I just had to laugh when I got power hooked up and turned on the heat, only to have it start running in air conditioning mode. Twenty-four hours of shivering, waiting to get heat back onboard, and when we finally had power again, it was warm enough to trip the air conditioning on!

We’ve been to Port St Joe before, but it’s been a few years, so we decided to take a walk around to see what’s changed. Not much, apparently. The town in many ways reminds me of the mythical Bedford Falls in the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life,” with its single street business district composed of storefronts from the 1940’s and 50’s. It seems like the type of place where life peaks in high school, with its social drama and school events and Friday night lights and Prom queen. Then you graduate, and life becomes about hoping to land a job in the meat department of the Piggly Wiggly or wait tables at Castaways, or if you’re really ambitious, open your own insurance business, repeat daily for the next 50 years.  Is the town really like that? I can’t say. It just feels that way to me. A nice place to visit for a few days, but I couldn’t imagine living here. There’s just too much adventure in our souls.

The cold front that chased us as we left Pensacola has now caught up with us, and it is about 50 degrees outside, with a chill north wind blowing. It’s a good night for warm comfort food, so we’ve spent all afternoon cooking up a big pot of sauce for a nice spaghetti dinner. Some red wine and a pile of fresh garlic bread also, naturally. Meanwhile, our Storm app tells us it’s 80 degrees in Clearwater, FL, a mere overnight Gulf crossing away. So our plans are to move to Apalachicola in the morning, and take advantage of a predicted good weather window on Wednesday and Thursday to jump over to central Florida. It should be about a 30 hour crossing. With luck, our plan to be in St. Petersburg by Christmas should play out perfectly.

It was hard to say goodbye this time, probably harder than when we originally headed out last April. But I have to admit, after five months of being tied to the dock, it feels really good to be moving again, out in the big blue, with exciting destinations and adventure ahead!

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Two Weeks A Castaway

“Houses are but badly built boats so firmly aground that you cannot think of moving them. They are definitely inferior things, belonging to the vegetable, not the animal world, rooted and stationary.” — Arthur Ransome

For fifteen days, Rhonda and I did what has become for us a most unusual thing—we slept in a bed firmly planted on terra firma. Eagle Too was on the hard at Pensacola Shipyard, and while we were told that we could remain aboard if we wished, there was something quite unsettling about the prospect of dwelling in a vessel propped up by metal stands rather than gently supported by mother ocean. Prior to now, we could count on one hand the number of nights we’d slept ashore in the last two years. But when Rhonda’s sister suggested we stay at her house while we hauled our boat, we jumped at the offer. So for two weeks plus a day, we slept each night in an enormous, totally immobile bed. It neither rocked nor pitched, and absent were the quiet hum of the refrigeration system, the whoosh of ventilation, the creaking and squeaking of lines and fenders, and the sigh of wind in the rigging. It was totally dark, still and quiet.

We didn’t get a single decent night’s sleep. 🙂

Why? Maybe it was the subtle tension of the ongoing refit gnawing at our minds, or the discomfort of strange surroundings. But my theory is that after two years afloat, Rhonda and I have become sea dwellers, used to the sounds, smells and feel of a boat in its natural element. No matter how much our conscious minds told us otherwise, unconsciously it was just too unusual to try and sleep without the constant stream of subtle physical and audible cues that say “sleep well, everything is right, you and the boat are safe.”

I’m happy to say that we’re now back where we belong, floating peacefully pierside. The shipyard grime has been washed away, and we’ve brought our cruising gear back onboard. A few more tasks to accomplish, and then we’ll be ready for a fair wind to start us once again on our journey in search of perpetual summer.

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The Long Trip Home

After twelve days of pressing hard, we finally sailed into Pensacola Bay and tied up to the transient pier at Pensacola Naval Air Station. With the exception of a day that we spent in Bradenton waiting for a mechanic to evaluate our ailing transmission, it has been a week and a half of rising before dawn and getting underway early to make the most progress before getting shut down by afternoon thunderstorms.

They say God never gives you more than you can handle. Since the day we received the call telling us we were urgently needed back in Pensacola, it seems that we’ve been constantly tested. Not only have we had the challenges of extremely unpleasant weather, but it also felt like Eagle Too literally started falling apart on us once we pointed the bow north. It’s almost as if she was telling us that she didn’t like this new plan, didn’t like it one little bit.

First, the pressure switch on our potable water pump failed. That meant that while we had plenty of drinking water in our tank, we basically had no way to access it. Fortunately, this was just the sort of failure that we knew could be extremely inconvenient, so we had a spare pump onboard, and it was a pretty easy fix to swap out the pumps.

Next, about two days into the trip, I noticed a new sound coming from the engine. When you have a diesel sitting in the middle of your living room, you get pretty used to its presence and moods—its sounds, smells, the way it feels as it operates. One morning after getting underway, I thought I detected a subtle growl emerging from the steady thrumming pulse of the running engine. The next day, i was pretty sure there was definitely something there. One day later, there wasn’t any doubt. Something was definitely different. And my long history with marine machinery tells me that a new sound that gets worse over time probably isn’t a good thing, and it’s most likely not going to get better on its own.

At that time we were approaching Bradenton and Snead Island Boatworks, where our friends Deb and TJ on S/V Kintala are spending the summer earning money to restock their cruising kitty. A quick call revealed that the slip next to them was empty, and the next day we slid alongside them and stepped ashore for the first time in five days. The following day being Monday, TJ confirmed that their best engine guy should be able to come give our diesel a quick listen in the early AM, and if he felt the noise was not a harbinger of imminent failure, we could be on our way by mid-morning.

Since leaving Marathon, we’d spent most of our time motoring, running the engine at about 3000 rpm for eight to ten hours at a stretch. I felt it was time to do a thorough engine inspection. One of the things I took a peek at was our transmission fluid. Now our transmission doesn’t have a dipstick. It’s basically a sealed unit. You have to use a crescent wrench to remove a bolt to check the fluid level. I’d just changed the fluid (it uses automatic transmission fluid) about 60 engine hours previously, so I wasn’t expecting to find anything out of the ordinary. So it was quite a gut-check when I pulled the plug and saw that the fluid was dark brown and watery rather than bright pink, and smelled absolutely terrible. It looked like our clutches were burning up.

When the mechanic showed up the next day, he confirmed the diagnosis. After examining the fluid and listening to the strange sound I detected, his prognosis was that we could probably press on for Pensacola, but he advised not running the engine above 1800 rpm. That meant that rather than clipping along at about 7.5 knots and knocking out 60 or 70 miles a day, we were only going to be able to manage a little over 5 knots, while worrying about if or when the transmission would eat itself and expire. Just a touch more anxiety to add spice to the trip.

So we pressed on, more slowly. While crossing the Gulf, the fan belt frayed apart. I try to check on the engine every few hours while underway, and had already seen the telltale signs of a belt on its last legs, so when the loud slapping noise suddenly started, I was pretty sure what had happened. We keep spares onboard, so we only had to drift for about 25 minutes while I replaced the belt. Why were we drifting, rather than sailing? Because there was absolutely no wind. None. The Gulf was like glass. Which wasn’t a bad thing, because it made for a very smooth crossing, at least until the belt disintegrated. And yes, I did check the belt before heading out to cross the Gulf. It looked fine.

And then we found ourselves anchored in St. Joseph Bay, with just one overnight passage between us and home. A thunderstorm was bearing down on us, and we were swinging much too close to shore for comfort. Time to raise the anchor and move a bit farther away from the beach. But when I stood on the “up” switch to begin the process, nothing happened. Not a click, not a whir, nothing. The windlass had departed the premises. And so I was left strong-backing 175 feet of chain and a 55 lb anchor up onto the bow while the winds built over 20 knots.  Yes, it was turning out to be another fun day on the water.

But we’re here. We made it. And we consider ourselves extremely fortunate. We spent 12 days traveling through the wrong area at the wrong time of year, but the worst of the weather always seemed to be a day ahead or a day behind us. As close as some of the storms came, we never actually received more that a few sprinkles while underway (although it did pour buckets several times once we were anchored or tied up), and none of the mechanical problems kept us from pressing on.

Now we’re just going to rest for a few days before diving into the issue that brought us back to Pensacola at this most inconvenient and unintended time.BackHome

You Don’t Need To Be Crazy, But It Helps

July is no time to cruise the southwest coast of Florida. You’d have to be a little crazy (or have a really serious motivation, like, say, a significant family health issue that just can’t wait…) to cause you to sail these waters at this time of year. Why? Thunderstorms. Massive, angry thunderstorms that blow up from nowhere and make traveling on the water extremely treacherous. Since leaving Marathon in the Florida Keys a week ago, we’ve had to deal with these rapidly moving monsters every single day.Storms1 Storms2 Storms3If we get underway a little after sunrise, we can usually make five or six hours of progress before things start falling apart. Sometimes the day starts with a little tease that seems to say, “Today will be a better day.”

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Sometimes we can find a hole to thread through between a pair of storms.Storms4

We constantly watch our radar, monitoring the rain clouds as they form around us, watching their strength and direction.

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It has been a very stressful week. We’re pushing ourselves and Eagle Too extremely hard, and we’re all starting to feel the strain. But we’ve made good progress. We concluded our journey northward up this storm harassed coast today, pulling into a slip at Clearwater Beach Marina less than an hour before the skies opened up. Tomorrow, we strike out across the Gulf, with Apalachicola as our destination. It’s a passage of about 150 miles more or less. We’re planning to head out Clearwater pass as the sun rises, and we should be arriving at Government Cut off Apalachicola by mid-afternoon on the following day. Wish us luck!

Chilling In Marathon

Ah, the life of a cruiser. If you count our time in the Dry Tortugas, we’ve been in the Florida Keys for three weeks now. When are we leaving? We don’t know. We haven’t yet decided. And that’s just fine with us, since there is no place else that we absolutely need to be right now. We live on perpetual vacation, after all!

For most of the last two weeks, we’ve been hanging out in Marathon, which is just about right in the middle of the Keys, halfway between Key West and Miami. Marathon’s Boot Key Harbor offers what is probably the best protected location in the Keys, and contains over 200 mooring balls for visiting boats. Marathon and the Boot Key Harbor mooring field are on the short list of things all cruisers should partake of at least once. It’s one of the common cultural experiences that defines our cruising tribe and unites us through bonds of community. It’s a boating Mecca that offers everything a sailor (or even that lesser order of mariner, a power-boater) requires to sustain themselves and maintain their vessels.Marathon7 Marathon6 Marathon5 Marathon4

Instead of picking up a mooring, of which there are currently plenty available (it’s the off-season—in winter there’s a waiting list), we decided to go to a marina instead. Why? Because it’s currently hot. Very hot. Damn hot. I’m not talking about the kind of hot that you can deal with by pouring water over your head to cool off. I’m talking the kind of hot that leaves you feeling lightheaded and dizzy after merely taking the trash ashore. The type of hot where people on moorings wait for midnight to come so that temperatures will moderate enough to allow for comfortable sleep. No, we knew we wanted to run the air conditioner. And that meant access to shore power, which meant we needed to be in a marina. So we’re tied up to a seawall at Sombrero Resort and Marina, where we have power, water, and even cable TV for a pretty reasonable weekly rate (by Florida Keys standards, anyway).Marathon2 Marathon3 Marathon1

There’s a swimming pool with a Tiki bar for our use, a pretty decent laundry room, and an address where we can receive mail and packages.Marathon12

So as you can imagine, it’s been a bit difficult to muster the determination to leave and head north. I mean, we’re in the Keys, after all, a place that many consider paradise and spend a great deal of money to visit.

For the first time since leaving St. Petersburg, we’ve been able to take our bikes ashore. We’ve found that everything we need, from West Marine and a Yanmar parts dealer (repair parts for the boat) to grocery stores and numerous bars and restaurants (therapy for the soul) are all within a 15 minute ride. I will say that our Back Bay folding bicycles did not benefit from the long period of dormancy. Remaining on deck, zipped in their storage bags while we experienced Cuba and Mexico, the steel parts of our bikes did what you’d expect them do in the presence of salt water and tropical heat—they started rusting. The worst was the chain on Rhonda’s bike, which had frozen into a solid clump of oxide. Fortunately nothing was past the point of no return, and a few hours of cleaning, polishing, oiling and flexing returned everything to working condition.

It’s a mile and a half from where our boat is tied up to Sombrero Beach, which is considered one of the best beaches in the Keys. It’s an easy 15 minute ride on a nice bike path, so we naturally rode over to take in the July 4th festivities.Marathon8 Marathon9 Marathon10 Marathon11

So where to next? Well, we’re still waiting for a new float switch for our shower sump that we’ve ordered from  West Marine. Once it arrives, we’ll probably start looking northward. We believe we can be in Biscayne Bay in two or three days, where we’ll spend a night or two at anchor enjoying a view of the Miami skyline. From there, we think we’ll push farther north, maybe as far as Jacksonville. We have a few months of hurricane season to wait out before we’ll feel safe jumping over to the Bahamas, and we’ve been wanting to see more of Florida’s east coast.

Or maybe we’ll just hang around here for a while longer… 🙂

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Hidalgo Nights

Rhonda and I are still too new at this cruising lifestyle to be able to articulate exactly what we’re hoping to get out of it. We started with no particular destination in mind, just vague notions of an endless vacation in exotic locations with nice beaches, warm tropical breezes, and comfortable, affordable tiki bars. But we’ve come far enough in our travels to start forming opinions about places we enjoy. I guess it’s a case of “hard to define, but we’ll know it when we see it.” And we definitely felt very comfortable on the island of Isla Mujeres. It seemed to offer a near perfect mix of the exotic, the interesting, and the affordable that made it a great place to linger for a month.

One of our favorite places on the island was Hidalgo Street. Closed to traffic, the street is an eight to ten block long promenade lined with shops, bars and restaurants.  It would take weeks to work through all the possible drinking and dining opportunities on this one street.Hidalgo1 Hidalgo2 Hidalgo3 Hidalgo4

I’d originally wanted to take the boat down to Cozumel for a few days. It’s a place we’re very familiar with, as we’ve visited it numerous times on Carnival cruises. I thought it would be fun to spend a bit more time there than a cruise allows. But after experiencing Isla Mujeres and the street life that is Hidalgo, I lost interest. This was so much better. The prices were lower, the atmosphere was less hectic, and we didn’t have to share the streets with thousands of cruise ship passengers. There wasn’t a Diamonds International, Del Sol or shop hawking Tanzanite to be seen. No Carlos and Charlies or Senõr Frogs full of crazy drunks. Just blocks and blocks of authentic Mexican island life.

Saturday, June 11th was Rhonda’s birthday, and she was craving Pescado Frito, or Mexican fried fish. After considering many of the options, we eventually found ourselves at Don Chepos on Hidalgo Street.

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After a bowl of sopa de lima (which we’ve really grown to love), a great meal of fresh fish, and some four dollar (75 peso) margaritas, we then started ambling back towards our marina. But we hadn’t made it very far when the beautiful sounds of jazz guitar drew us into Sardinian Smile. Here’s a taste of evenings on Hidalgo Street.

And to put a perfect finish on the evening, while we sat sipping our Jim Beam con hielos, the guitarist starting playing this. Those who know us well understand this song’s significance for us.

As often happened during our time on Isla Mujeres, we set out with no specific plans, and the island delighted us with an enjoyable and truly memorable evening. We look forward to the time when we can return once again to this Caribbean jewel.