Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Key West

We sailed down to Key West on 12/17 and planned to spend about two weeks.  Our friend, Steve, had been in Key West since the beginning of November and had everything dialed in for us.  We just showed up and a mooring was arranged (Thank You, Dennis), the local spots were dialed in, and Steve let us use his truck for errands.  We definitely had an advantage with his help.

Key West is a great place to be entertained - there are bars, shops, and restaurants to suit just about anyone's likes.  And the "people watching" in Mallory Square as well as Duval Street can be thoroughly entertaining, but as a transient cruiser, with a dog, the logistics of getting to the dock and walking around town proved to be a little difficult.  It seemed everything got a little bit wetter, a little bit dirtier and a little bit saltier.  Things that were working on the boat in Marathon decided to stop working in Key West...bilges, anchor lights, etc...To fix those things meant another wet dinghy ride to a dirty dock and usually took a few hours before you even made it back to the boat, let alone begin the repairs.  Nonetheless - we loved it!!  We had a great time and every morning the sunrises and sunsets were some of the most beautiful we have ever seen - and we are suckers for sunshine.

Our holidays were full of good tidings and Christmas Day involved relaxing at Schooner's Wharf Bar listening to Michael McLeod.  Verne arrived on 12/27.  We picked him up at the dock in our dinghy and as we were pulling out of the harbor for the 2+ mile ride back to the boat, Verne said "Hmm, it looks like a squall might be coming."  By time the words had finished coming out of his mouth, we were hit by WALLS of water.  There was 2 inches of water in the dinghy and every single thing was soaked - Kala (who was so sweet sitting still and quiet as she was soaked to the bone), the groceries, Verne's luggage, all of our clothes were wringing.  When we got on the boat we pulled up the radar and found there was, in fact, a tornado warning in Key West and water spouts had been spotted in Boca Chica, but it was passing quickly.  By 1 a.m. all was quiet on Fleming Key.

The next day, Gunnar and Amanda joined us on Stella Blue and we all prepared to say goodbye to Key West and start heading north again, waiting for our weather window to cross to the Bahamas.

Cruising by the cruise ships as we turn in front of Mallory Square
The Porch - our favorite people watching spot

New Orleans style via Key West

Stella Blue Crew

Chartered schooner at sunset.  People paid to see what we saw from our mooring every night.

Capt Tony's - the original Sloppy Joe's (oldest bar in KW)

More Capt Tony's...

Kala loving the beach and the clear water!

Sun blazing sunset (Stella Blue on left)

Key West Bight City Marina - this is the dinghy dock when it wasn't crowded

Baxter installing the new anchor light on the very top of the mast
Working on the bilge

Christmas Breakfast

Christmas Lunch

The aftermath of the "Verne" storm - one boat sank, two others ran aground

Goodbye Key West 


We really enjoyed Marathon.  We initially were going to stay two nights but tacked on one more just because we weren't ready to leave quite yet.  It is obvious how cruisers can stay for an entire season in one spot.  The convenience of the stores within walking distance, the inexpensive mooring and the prime jump off point to the Bahamas make it one of our favorites.  Since the weather was still from the north by the 4th day and we had friends in Key West, we decided to put off the Bahamas a little while longer and keep heading down the lower keys to the southernmost point of the U.S.  

Grouper sandwiches every day.  Add the home cut fries - that's why I'm smiling.

Dinghy ride through Sister Creek to Sombrero Beach.

Does life get better?
Dinghy dock at Boot Key Harbor City Marina - so well organized.

Mooring field in BKH.  Some cruisers get their spot and call this home for a season.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Rodriguez to Marathon

When we check weather forecasts, we don’t just look at today or tomorrow – we check for 4-5 days out because wherever we go, we will have to anchor which means we need good conditions or good protection from bad conditions.  When we checked the weather for moving south, it was ugly – for at least 7 days (as far as the forecast projected) so we thought we better move now or stay in Biscayne Bay for a long time.  We charted a course to Rodriguez Key and then Marathon Key, knowing that in two days the weather will hit and it would be nice to be on a mooring in Marathon instead of at anchor somewhere else. 

As we sailed south, we turned off the engines to a great beam/broad reach and sailed all the way to Rodriguez Key – weather cooperating just beautifully. Rodriguez Key came into view and we were excited that it was a deserted island and only two boats anchored in its lee – which is where we were headed.  If you have never been somewhere, you never really know how things will be.  You can look at a chart and you can talk to people, but its just not the same as having been there.  So we put the dinghy in the water, strapped on the outboard, hoping to explore and at the worst to find somebody’s dock to bandit and take Kala to shore.  Alas, we got within  ½ mile of shore and there was only 1 foot of water around the entire area – no way we would make it, even in the dinghy.  We went back to the boat with a confused and frustrated dog – poor thing.  We convinced her it was okay to go potty on deck and she understood and complied.  Now we definitely weren’t staying here more than one night. 

We left Rodriguez Key an hour before sunrise knowing forecasted gusts of 30+ knots would arrive in the middle keys by the afternoon.  It was a beautiful day with 10-15 knots but we kept the engine going so we wouldn’t be strapped for time.  It would not be fun trying to triple reef the sails and still have 3 hours left.  We made it to Marathon in 7 hours and as we turned into the bay, the wind registered gusts of 25+.  We were happy to find our mooring and settle in for a couple days.  We had the dinghy ready to go within 10 minutes and Kala was a happy girl on dry land.  After registering at the marina, we walked across the street to Key Fisheries enjoying a nice pale ale and great seafood.  I think we’ll like it here.

Sailing the keys

Blue Skies, winds on the horizon

Boot Key Harbor City Marina mooring field

Belly rubs for a tough doggie.

No Name

Saturday morning we left Lake Sylvia with moderate conditions offshore.  It would only be 26 miles down to Key Biscayne and No Name Harbor anchorage once we got out the Port Everglades inlet.  The conditions going out were a washing machine and things got knocked around the boat and we weren’t sure our stomachs would hold out, but we knew that it would only be 4 or 5 hours and it would be over.  We arrived to calmer conditions in Biscayne Bay and not too many boats anchored out.  No Name Harbor is part of Bill Baggs State Park on Cape Florida.  It was comparable to a civilized Cumberland Island with a lot more people and lots of blaring music and flashy boats.  Since the anchorage was outside the harbor, we didn’t mind too much.  We let Kala run and play and then went back to our peace and quiet on the boat.  That night, the Miami boat parade came along right next to our boat and you could see boats decorated with christmas lights for miles.  It was nice to enjoy the festivities right from the middle of Stella Blue’s cockpit.
SE 17th Street Bridge, Ft Lauderdale, 55 ft draw bridge

Container ship with Miami skyline in the background

No Name Harbor anchorage

Working up the nerve to jump in for the first time this winter

Baxter inside the engine compartment tracing a leak from one of the return valves.

Bill Baggs State Park 

Cape Florida Lighthouse - lastest rebuild 1825

Cape Florida at sunrise as we were leaving (lighthouse peaking through the trees)

Southern Progress

After having almost a week of nonstop high winds in Lake Worth, we finally got a break.  The problem was the seas didn’t lay down as much as we hoped.  Since our window for sailing offshore would not be “open” very long and the waves were still 5-7 ft high, we decided to just suck it up and motor down the ICW just to make southern progress.  We knew we would have lots of draw (bascule) bridges to contend with but that’s not really hard – just annoying (calling the bridge, waiting for them to open, “treading” water until they open, losing time, etc…).  We arrived in Lake Sylvia anchorage in Ft Lauderdale around 3:45 pm after going through 20 bridges within 45 miles!!  It was a long day but we made significant progress on our southern journey.

Lake Sylvia was a bit crowded when we arrived with a mixture of sailboats (one of which happened to be our friends Hutch and Linda on S/V Sandcastle), trawlers and fishing boats but it had fair protection from winds and we didn’t plan to stay a long time.  Thursday morning we went over to Las Olas Marina in the dinghy and took showers, used the wi-fi and did some laundry.  On a whim, we decided to walk to the grand opening of the new West Marine super store that was about 4 miles (each way).  With Kala in tow, we explored most of downtown Ft Lauderdale.  When we arrived, there was a forum with Brad Van Liew that was going to start in 20 min. and we couldn’t believe our timing.  We have followed his races and have so much respect for his skills and adventurous attitude.  It was great to hear his story first hand and understand that he is just a normal, straight forward guy who happens to have sailed solo races around the world three times, and won.

Before leaving Ft. Lauderdale, we also had the great opportunity to see my sister Katy and her husband, Asif again.  We met up at Southport Raw Bar.  Katy and Asif drove, we dinghies.  Baxter and I talked about the new West Marine so much, they needed to have a look for themselves so we all went back together.  I think it might be bad if we lived close to Ft Lauderdale – West Marine makes spending money way too easy.  We really enjoyed the time that we got to talk and laugh with Katy and Asif.  We are so thankful that we have been able to see relatives and friends on this trip, sometimes by pure coincidence, that we haven’t seen in years.

Lake Sylvia Anchorage

Yes, I shared with Baxter.  Giogio's Pizza - downtown Ft Lauderdale.

Brad Van Lieu - 3-Time Velux Ocean Race Winner.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Friends and Family

When we arrived in Lake Worth, we thought maybe our friend Gunnar, who lives in Utah, would be visiting his parents in Palm Beach.  It was an off chance, but we texted him.  Turns out his parents live about a mile from where we were anchored - and he was in town!

Gunnar and Amanda joined us on the boat and invited us to watch the Palm Beach Boat Parade at his parents house the next day.  Some other friends from Utah happened to be flying in for Gunnar's party and it would be a great chance to catch up.

The next day, my oldest sister Katy, my brother-in-law Asif, and my niece Sara came out to the boat too. It was fantastic to see them (it had been about a year and a half since we'd seen them last).  They came aboard Stella Blue for a tour and then they went above and beyond and took us to run tedious errands.  We made all the usual cruiser stops at West Marine and Costco, and even a quick Walmart drive-by.  It's amazing how fast you can get from place to place when you have a car - an appreciation you acquire when walking becomes the primary means of transportation.

The next day we obtained Kala's health certificate which is required for her to be admitted into the Bahamas.  They had to get a weight for her so this is always an intriguing moment for me.  When we got her last year and she was six months old, the vet estimated she would probably gain about another 15 lbs, topping out at 50 lbs.  That was a good size.  When she stepped on the scale in West Palm - I couldn't believe she is now 66 whopping pounds of nothing but love.  Needless to say - there are many walks and swims planned in her future.  

The winds which had been horrible for the previous four days (gusting to over 30+ knots throughout the day) were forecasted to diminish so we made plans to leave Lake Worth and head down to the Keys.  

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Lake Worth

Our most recent passage was about 44 hours offshore from St. Augustine to Lake Worth, FL.  Aside from the 35+ knot gusts when we left the inlet (weather reports said it would only be 20) to the cargo ships who repeatedly tried to run us over (thank you AIS receiver for keeping us safe) - it was lots o'fun!  Not a lot of pictures since there was so much going on with the boat.

Sunrise before entering the inlet - notice the wake from the 6 ft following seas

North Palm Beach about 6 miles away

Anchored in Lake Worth

Monday, December 5, 2011

Thanksgiving Go Round

While we have been sailing south - our truck has stayed at the marina in North Carolina.  We also had a storage unit in New Bern with miscellaneous "things".  So we used the Thanksgiving holiday to close up all loose ends.  This was a bit logistically complicated, especially since we were on a mooring in St. Augustine and would be gone for 4 days - but we made it work.  Here's essentially how it went.

On Tuesday morning, Baxter took me to shore, the Hertz office picked me up at the marina and took me to get the rental car.  I drove back and picked up Kala.  Baxter went back to the boat.  He picked up the 10 a.m. marina tender and met me on the dock.  We drove nine hours to New Bern and picked up our truck.  Then we drove to the airport and dropped the rental car off.  We drove back to the marina and spent the night in the truck (hottest night in November).  The next day (Wednesday) we cleaned out the storage unit during a massive thunderstorm where we figured out the staysail boom was almost as long as the truck - again, we made it work.  We bandited a couple of dumpsters in the area and continued on the eight hour drive to Atlanta.  We arrived in Atlanta at Baxter's parents house and had enough time for a provisioning trip to Costco.

On Thursday morning, we drove out to the property in Madison and Kala was able to run around the farm.  She wore herself out having fun!  We left our truck in Madison for safe storage.  Then, since it was Thanksgiving after all, and we have millions of blessings to be thankful for, we headed over to Burge Plantation and had one of the best lunches ever!  I think it was the most food I have ever consumed in one sitting.  There is a new appreciation for salad after living on a boat.

Friday morning, Baxter went to the Atlanta airport and rented another car.  He picked up Kala and I and we headed out for the six hour drive to St Augustine.  Unfortunately, the car was due back in Jacksonville - not St. Augustine.  So Kala and I dropped Baxter and our provisions off at the dock and drove to Jax.  We then took a shuttle back to St. Augustine (about an hour) and met up with Baxter around 9 p.m.  Oh yeah, I did manage to find a Camping World in the mean time to refill one of our propane tanks.  (Some cruisers refill at St Augustine Gas but their hours were prohibitive for us on this trip).

After about 28 hours of total driving in less than four days, we managed to reprovision, refill our propane tanks, and enjoy a wonderful holiday with family and friends.  An added bonus was playtime for Kala.  We were all safe and sound back aboard Stella Blue with provisions stored by 10 p.m. as if we had never left.

The truck fully loaded.
Making the staysail boom fit in the truck.
Kala thinks all doggies travel like this.
Welcome to Atlanta.
On our way back to the boat.
One cart of provisions - there were actually 3 full loads.  I have no idea how we stored all this.
In the shuttle van from Jacksonville to St. Augustine.
Christmas in full swing in St. Augustine.

Farm Dog

Thanksgiving with family!