Friday, February 20, 2015

From Paradise to a Completely Different Place..

Paradise in Cabbage Key

.....except, hmmmm, I thought hell was hot.

And believe me, it's anything but hot here in sunny Florida; it's bitter cold.

Earlier this week I composed a light hearted post about our interesting experience in Cabbage Key where we enjoyed a Hamburger in Paradise. And then something bad happened. My post disappeared. Just like that.

Well, crap!

I can't bring myself to try and duplicate it so I'll just summarize it here:

We anchored outside Cabbage Key the night before we entered the marina.

You can't get into Cabbage Key Marina as a transient, sooner than 3PM in order for them to accommodate the ferry and lunchtime dinghy traffic. Once you get there, you'll learn you can't fill your water tanks (they rely on a small water tower), there is no garbage disposal, the shower facilities require a $10.00 key fee (I opted to shower on the boat), and dogs are not permitted, although Wilbur got a huge reprieve when the ladies in the gift shop informed us he could let off some steam as long as he was leashed. We never let Wilbur off his leash anyway so that wasn't a problem. They have one washer and dryer so I was able to get a load of laundry done.

And for dinner we finally taped a dollar bill with our boat's name on the wall and ate that damn cheeseburger in paradise.

It was a fun time but if I were to do it again I'd just dinghy in for lunch and save the whole overnight dockage fee. Don't get me wrong, we had a wonderful time there and I'm glad Wilbur got to have his rollies, but the fees just didn't justify the means.

Hans places our Knotty Cat dollar bill on the wall.

We left the marina, spent a night at JN Ding Darling Refuge anchorage and then ended up in Fort Myers Mooring Field for this year's version of the Polar Vortex.

We approached the mooring field with some trepidation (no pendants! can't read the numbers! rude staff! Active Captain reviewers exclaimed), but luckily we picked up our mooring lickety split. And that was pretty much the best thing that happened to us for the next three days. BTW, we approach from the stern where Hans can see the ball and after hooking it I run a line through it (the other end is already cleated to the bow) and then run like hell for the front before my arms get yanked from their sockets. This was one of the longest pendants (or pennant whichever term you prefer) I've ever seen, something like 10 feet. We secured another line to it and now the ball was centered in front of the boat.

The mooring ball.


After getting the dinghy in the water we took Wilbur and all of our garbage ashore. Of course Wilbur stomped all over the garbage bags with his big pitty feet and then nearly fell in the water at the dock. We had a nice dinner at Bonita Bill's where we heard people talking about how it was gonna blow like hell the next day.

I was sound asleep when a huge bang woke me up. Bang! I heard it again and it was right near my head. I woke Hans up and he told me it was the waves slapping the boat. Umm, I don't think so, and then Bang! There it went again. Hans got up, I got up, and Wilbur got up which is very unusual because the little man prefers to stay in bed until noon. We all poured out into the cockpit and while Wilbur and I shivered in the freezing wind and rain, Hans went up front where he found that our mooring ball was deep underneath the Knotty Cat and pounding the hull near our berth.

The wind and current were having a huge fight and neither was willing to give up and soon the mooring ball was stretched way out in front of us so we went back to bed. Bang! Bang! It was back again and I was sure it was going to end up in bed with us. The lines on the cleats were groaning in agony, and then we heard an odd squeaking noise. The ball was now wedged under the boat. We both went up to the bow this time and we couldn't budge the lines as the ball had no intention of leaving its new home. I refused to go back to bed since the amplified noise of the groans and squeaks were scaring me to death so I stayed in the salon. Wilbur abandoned me and joined Hans down below.

We were due for a mobile pump out in the morning so we thought we'd ask the dock master if he could see where the ball was actually wedged. It was possible that it had passed under our center pod and if so that would be a huge problem. But it was too windy for a pump out so we were on our own. By leaning way out over the stern Hans was able to see that the ball was stuck up front between the starboard hull and the center pod, so we finally fired up the engines and reversed off it. Just like that the ball popped out. The wind took over and the ball was way in front of us and try as we might we couldn't pull it in so we could tie it off closer to the boat. We finally gave up on that project and went back down below. It was afternoon by now and I was tired and grumpy.

Bang! Bang!

Sonofabitch! It was back.

I raced up front and once again the lines were under the boat. And then we drifted back a bit and the ball was right there beside us on the port side. I asked Hans if we couldn't just grab its line now and tie it off to the cleat.

So he did.

The ball was now bouncing next to us and I just knew it would probably start smacking the hull. "Looks okay to me," Hans said. "Tap,tap,tap," the mooring ball replied. "You bastard!" I yelled. If I could have, I'd've smashed that mooring ball to pieces. I told Hans surely we could work that line over to the center cleat therefore centering it under the bow and rendering it incapable of touching the boat.

So he did.

Let me tell you we had that sucker cinched so tight it could have sang with the Bee Gees.

Down below we went and while the wind roared and the currents ripped we were pretty much at peace.

I was in desperate need of a shower and not knowing how much water we had left (in addition to the fact that it was icy cold) we decided to dinghy into the marina to use their facilities. This time we kept the dog and the garbage far away from each other but the problem this time was the waves. We weren't a foot away from the boat when a wave crashed over the front of the dinghy and my newly washed jeans and I got soaked. It didn't help that our mooring field was the furthest from the office so imagine what we looked like by the time we got there.

Back on the boat we continued our communication with our friends from up north who are flying down to join us today. Trying to plan something like this when you're on the move is not easy. Scheduling flights, weather, and our actual location have made this very interesting. "Bring sweatsuits and warm clothes," is probably not what our guests wanted to hear.

Last night the wind was blowing so hard it actually ripped two out of four of our solar panel connections apart. These connections are (or were) so strong we have a tool to disconnect them when we want to roll them up and put them away. We brought them in for the night and before we left this morning (yes, we actually left!!) I tested one of them and it appears to still work.

These are our solar panel connectors.

So, this morning we got up early, put the dinghy on the deck (impossible to do until today), ditched that damn mooring ball, and headed out into the gulf. Forty degrees is cold to be out here but the sun is shining.

Next stop, Naples.



Sunday, February 15, 2015

Trying to meet up with land based friends while cruising

Interesting bridge opening. A swing bridge.

How odd it feels to know you're a few mere miles from friends because actually hooking up with them becomes quite a logistical feat.

A couple we knew from our marina bought a home shortly before we departed and we promised to look them up as we slowly worked our way south. As we neared the area of their residence we poured over our charts and realized the waterways and the roadways weren't cooperating in a very friendly manner. They lived over 'there' and we were anchored over 'here'. We had dropped the hook in a tiny anchorage in Cape Haze and realized this was as close as we were going to get. However, Skipper Bob's guide mentioned that dinghy dockage was 'difficult' and Active Captain said it didn't exist at all. Cautions such as this make me nervous because I'm married to a man who doesn't understand the concept of 'NO'. To Hans; 'No Trespassing', 'No Admittance', or 'Danger High Voltage!' is an express invite to do just that, and I'm the kind of person who's still afraid someone's going to tell my mother on me. So we loaded a screaming Wilbur into the dinghy and zipped up the canal (our newly repaired motor failed a couple of times but thank God it finally got down to business) and then we passed under a small bridge that was purported to be very close to a Publix. We noted that there was nothing to tie up to but Hans spotted a cement water pipe sticking out of a wall and had an 'Aha' moment.

We then proceeded across the GIWW, passed through a path in the mangroves (believe it or not at one point we managed to run aground in the dinghy) and docked at Don Pedro State Park where Wilbur frantically marked many plants and bushes along the very desolate trail (I wouldn't have been surprised if tumbling tumbleweeds had skittered past us). We finally happened upon the gulf side but of course Wilbur was forbidden entry and so Hans ventured out upon his own in search of the millions of sharks teeth that supposedly wash up on the shore. He didn't find any.

No sharks teeth here.

Wilbur can't believe what he's reading.


The next morning we decided to try the water pipe thing at the bridge, sans Wilbur. And it worked. Actually it was pretty easy as the pipe (which I nervously peered into first to make sure no creepy crawlies were lurking within) works as a step and just like that (except for Hans who scraped his legs) we were on land and we tied the dinghy up to a pipe on the bridge. We were both lugging bags of garbage along with a back pack, my tote bag, and our luggage cart (for bringing back cases of beer) and I'm pretty sure we looked like homeless people. There are no sidewalks here but there's an access road behind the Publix which really helps. You can use it to get across the highway and after that you're home free.

Loading up (not getting loaded!) at our little bridge on the canal

Boo-boos, I mean really is there room for another band-aid?

Now that we knew this we got ahold of our friends and arranged to meet them at Lil' Tony's (excellent pizza!) right beside Publix the very next day. Not only did Dave and Lynn meet us, they bought our lunch (again a huge thanks here from us!) and did us a big favor. They let us load their vehicle full of provisions and drove it the whole 3/10 of a mile to our dinghy, which I was very relieved to find was still there.

Now on to our next anchorage at Cabbage Key and more friends to try to connect with. These are northern friends who come to Florida for the winter and this year they are near Fort Myers. We are going to spend the night in Cabbage Key Marina where in addition to getting real laundry done (not just undies in a bucket with a plunger), dumping garbage, getting showers and washing my hair, we hope to have a Cheeseburger in Paradise (Overpriced! Mediocre! warn my friends at Active Captain). This would be a great place to meet we decided and before checking out the logistics we made our plans. Needless to say those plans ended quickly when we found out that the water taxi costs $42.00 per person round trip to reach the island. Even if they're the best cheeseburgers in the world I wouldn't pay $82.00 to sample them. So we called that visit off. In a few days we hope to be at the Fort Myers Mooring Field and we can dinghy ashore and meet them there, although I think it's about an hours drive for them. We'll see.

Last of all, we have northern friends coming to spend a week with us on the Knotty Cat and that has certainly taken some planning. After a lot of back and forth with dates and places etc... I think it's finally been nailed down. We hope to travel with them down the coast from the Marco area and end up in either Marathon or the Keys (both locations will work as they will then rent a car to the airport). The Keys would be nice but as anyone who's sailed knows, it's all about the weather and how cooperative the Knotty Cat cares to be.

A parting shot here. I was on the bow cleaning up our dock lines and when I got back to the stern I saw this. A clever (sneaky) little mister hopped into the dinghy when Hans had his back turned. He knows he's supposed to be wearing his life jacket and right after I took this he hustled his smug butt back on board.

Pweeze to hurry, I has a date with a cheezeburger and it's in a place called Paradise.


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

On the move again

A dreary day in Lemon Bay (you can't see it in this picture but it was raining)

Nothing of great importance happening here these days. Although due to very strong winds we did stay at our anchorage in Lemon Bay for a day longer than planned. We arrived on a very pretty day with no wind. The next day was ugly, overcast, and rainy so we stayed put and since the solar panels and the wind generator were getting a break we sat around and read all day. And then, Wow, during the night the wind kicked in and we woke up to waves slamming against the Knotty Cat, the wind generator shrieking with glee (or perhaps agony), and the solar panels straining at their harnesses (thank God we'd tied them down tightly the night before). Several times during the day we turned on the helm pod to gauge the wind strength and compare it to all the weather apps and forecasts we read each day. We were seeing consistant 20 to 25 knot winds. I'm sure they gusted higher at times because poor Windy would groan and shudder and shut down when she started pumping more than 15 amps into our batteries.

But holy cow, with all the power we were getting from the wind and the sun that day we actually turned on our inverter (something we never do unless we have shore power or are running the generator) and watched TV and made ice at the same time. and the batteries never went below 13. We did try a little experiment and attempted heating water but that was a no go. As the afternoon wore on and the wind showed no inclination of dying down we finally rolled up the solar panels. We were getting hit with a north wind and it was so cold we completely shut the boat up and fought over who got to sit beside Wilbur (our heating blanket) in the salon. Needless to say he slept in between us last night.

But what a difference a day can make. We woke up this morning to virtually no wind and a cloudless sky. After our morning coffee (somewhere in the vicinity of noon) we cranked up the engines and even though I was worried the anchor might be buried, it came up very nicely.

Nine miles later we came upon our next anchorage and just like that we were set once again. Those two hours were just enough for our engines to heat our water and we both got the first showers we've had since Sunday (maybe TMI but this is life on a boat). This is a tiny little spot and it's surrounded by homes not dissimilar to the anchorage we tried to enjoy in Miami 4 years ago. Active Captain has given it rave reviews and so far no police or angry citizens have approached. We have no desire to overstay our welcome and hope to dinghy to a state park for poor neglected Wilbur and also dinghy up a channel that's rumored to be within walking distance of a Publix.

A pretty, new anchorage

The only other boat anchored here.

It promises to be an interesting day or two.

Tonight's sunset

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Continuing South in the GIWW

A view of the gulf from the park on Venice Inlet

When we left Sarasota we decided to head back on out into the gulf where it looked like we might have a nice sail to the Venice Inlet. But first we had to leave through the New Pass Inlet to get there. We did this back in May and remembered it was a bit of a challenge. The inlet markers aren't on the charts because they're moved frequenly due to shoaling, but if we did it once we could do it again. That being said, we will never, ever use this inlet again. We passed under the bridge and were happy to see so the channel was very well marked with a lot of green cans and red nuns. Peachy! We weren't surprised to find shallow depths and four feet under us was okay. Finally the last red and green were behind us, we turned toward the gulf and immediately saw the depths drop to three feet, two and a half feet... Crap! We draw two and a half! Hans cut back on the engines and we drifted about in panicky fear and didn't know what to do. He continued to steer toward the gulf and we finally saw three feet, then four feet. What a relief. Later, Hans looked New Pass up on Active Captain (the newest guru site of the sailing community) and it basically said this inlet should not be attempted. There was not one favorable comment. Live and learn I guess.

Wilbur tries to hold Hans captive after we return to the boat. He doesn't like to be left alone.

It was a beautiful day so we put up the main and unfurled the jib, and then the wind died. So back to using the engines. Our original plan was to enter Venice and check out the anchorage there and if we didn't like the looks of it (another pan from Active Captain) we'd move on a few miles to another anchorage. But with the loss of time due to poor winds we knew we'd be pushing it to get to that other anchorage before dark and anyway there were several draw bridges involved. I ended up calling the Crow's Nest Marina right inside the Venice inlet and made a reservation (Very Pricey! Horribly Expensive! cautioned Active Captain). But since we've turned into spend-thrifts here on the Knotty Cat, what the hell, why not.

First of all, Venice Inlet has to be one of the easiest channels in the world to traverse. On one side is a beach and on the other is a park, and they were both packed with people. We tied up easily to our dock and for the first time in a week connected to shore power. We really do want to anchor as much as possible but if we had to get stuck at a marina we could do far worse than The Crow's Nest. We loved it.

Wilbur was happy to display his handsome pittiness for all to enjoy as we walked him in the park. It wasn't until this morning on our second walk that a lady told us dogs weren't allowed and we'd get a hefty fine if caught. We never saw a sign and I was surprised because I'd seen a couple of other dogs there, but I dragged him out of there anyway. No problem, we walked him in the other direction and at the marina office he met Pete-E who had no desire to be his friend.

Pete-E. He said hello to me. He hissed at Wilbur

"Please to be my friend", Wilbur begs

Another potenial friendship doesn't happen

The dreaded sign. No wonder we didn't see it, it was in the parking lot and we didn't arrive via car. Oh, the land of the free.

We were both massively starved and I could have easily made something for dinner but we decided to treat ourselves to the Crow's Nest Restaurant. I mean, really, why should the Knotty Cat and all her systems get all the attention? But when Hans called to make reservations the whole Active Captain 'Horribly Expensive!' warning became a bit more clear. They were booked solid until 9 PM and were we interested in the upstairs dining or the downstairs? Ouch! That usually means pricey for sure so we didn't make reservations and decided to check and see if they had a bar. Luckily, we are downstairs kind of people and were happy to find the prices there very reasonable. It was only 4:30 so we were able to snag a table by the bar. By the time we were finished there was a huge line waiting outside. Our bill, which also included four draft beers, came to the same amount we spent at lunch last week.

The view of the channel from our dock.

This morning after a nice marina shower (they have soft water!!! A huge bonus and my hair was very happy!), we shoved off and motored a whole 14 miles, got smoothly through four drawbridges and by 2 PM we were anchored in Lemon Bay (not one bad word about it in Active Captain except for the guy who said he bumped bottom both arriving and leaving but someone's gotta be a pill).

As for navigating I'm still using my 2010 Skipper Bob Guide with Active Captain as a back up. I know people love Active Captain but Hans and I both get a forum vibe from it. Tons of duplicate comments and completely opposing opinions, but there is definitely entertainment value in some of the reviews. One woman wrote a scathing essay about her Crow's Nest Restaurant experience; her reservation called for a window table and she didn't get it (gasp!), a birthday candle was forgotten (the agony!), her waitress was awful (didn't you just see that one coming?), all this after having driven 12 HOURS to eat there. I have a feeling no restaurant within 12 hours of her will take a reservation from her, hence the long drive.

Our first goal is to reach Cayo Costa and it's not far away at all. We are loving this no schedule thing right now and may just stay put tomorrow. Wilbur needs his peeps to stay put for a change.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Saving money while at sea...

... and yet one more colossal myth of the life of a liveaboard has been debunked.

But it seemed like such a logical idea. No rent, cable TV, utilities, car insurance., Just us, the dog, the boat, a few provisioning runs, and some diesel. Dear God, the savings were going to abound!

Actually, the savings were going to abound if we could get the hell off the dock and therefore keep me out of the stores. Because you see, when you realize you're really going to cast off those lines for good and head out into the wild blue yonder, you really get the urge to shop. At least I did, and normally I detest shopping. But each and every day that brought us closer to launch I'd run (literally as we no longer had a vehicle) to the Dollar Tree (poor Hans was initially puzzled as to why I felt the need to buy 10 solar lights and a child's sand bucket. BTW, he's now been brought into the light), the Winn-Dixie, CVS, or Wal-Mart. It's like you think you'll never see another store again.

My Dollar Tree solar lights at work on our stern

So, with our boat packed to the brim with provisions we finally left our marina and motored a whole half hour to Boca Ciega Bay where we spent the night at anchor. Mostly, we wanted to make sure our new propellors and raw water cooling pumps were in working order before we made the big break. The next day we headed on out into the gulf and enjoyed a beautiful sail and came into the Longboat Key inlet (supposedly tricky but it was well marked). After the bridge opening we carefully (and yes, this part is a bit tricky, just follow your chart and motor along parallel to the bridge) found our way into the achorage at Moore's Crab Shack and dropped the hook.

At anchor in Longboat Key

We were so close to the docks that a dinghy ride certainly seemed to be the order of the day. At least that's what an anxious Wilbur told us, so off we went. Until our dinghy motor died, and died, and died. It never did come back to life and we ended up rowing. Not such a big deal and after a minor skirmish with some mangroves and trying to keep Wilbur from jumping out, we finally unloaded at a dock and had lunch where Wilbur enjoyed some fish paste (mine) and salty sticks (Hans' french fries). Once we were back on the boat we knew there was no way we'd be rowing on back in for the Superbowl (at night with the wind and the tide) and we were able to get our digital TV antenna working right about half time, not that it really mattered.

The trouble maker being towed behind us

We stayed for one more day (crappy weather) and then continued our way south. Before leaving we made arrangements for the Dinghy Motor Doctor to meet us in Sarasota and three hours later we pulled into Marina Jack's where he took her (note, anything that causes trouble on the boat is automatically labeled 'she') off our hands. Marina Jack's has a huge mooring field (we've stayed there twice) but we ended up in the tiny anchorage just north of the marina. Wow! We were saving about thirty dollars a day and boy were we excited. Of course this doesn't count the money we spent on diesel, ice, fuel additives, lunch out, and a trip to Publix (a nice one mile walk).

At anchor beside Marina Jack's in Sarasota

Wilbur has been doing his best to adapt to our new lifestyle. He's been really good about getting his 'business' done on the potty patch regardless of the generator being right in his face. But he does burn a lot of nervous energy during the day and when we're on the move he will not go down below and instead, shivers and pants in the cockpit. Once we drop the anchor he'll gobble down his dinner and pass out in our bunk. It's very strange and almost lonely to spend the evening without a dog snoring in the salon. Our last day in Sarasota was extremely stressful for Wilbur when we left him alone (unforgivable sin in his pitty book) while we walked to Publix and then to add insult to injury we locked him down below when the Dinghy Motor Doctor showed up with our outboard. You see, a dinghy, to Wilbur, is just like a car to other dogs and if he thinks for one second we might try to go for a ride without him he goes nuts. Needless to say we didn't want him screaming like a tasmanian devil at the good doctor.

A nervous and cold pitty

With the motor and its rebuilt carburetor and new fuel line now returned I went down below to check on the little man only to find him puking on the floor of our berth. I totally felt his pain and would have gladly puked with him as we had just received the doctor's final bill.

To the tune of $551.00.

So at the end of the day, we've been gone one week, we've spent over $700.00, and we've moved a whopping twenty miles.

At this pace our retirement funds will be gone by the time we get to the Bahamas.

Let the savings begin!

A warm and happy pitty


Monday, February 2, 2015

Cutting the Dock Lines...

... or the apron strings, or whatever tether may be holding you back.

For me it's not that easy. I like a predictable life, I always have. I'm not adventurous in the least and if this were the olden days and we were on a wagon train I'm pretty sure I'd've been traded off to the Indians in a heart beat (like we didn't do enough nasty things to them to begin with). And the older I get, the more settled I like things to be. And let me tell you Wilbur is the same; he likes to sleep in until noon every day and then take his time about eating breakfast (preferably topped with the Whippee Creamies as he calls it), and at our marina he knew exactly when the sun would be in his favorite spot for his early afternoon sunbath. Right around three o'clock he'd start pestering and grunting because he knew doggy park time was near, and he was seldom disappointed.

Everything is better with whipped cream

After three and a half years of marina life, those lazy days are over and we are now officially cruisers once again.

What I discovered is, if you think you should 'go', you need give yourself a goose and start talking about it to everyone willing to listen, and setting a time limit or it may never happen. Put up or shut up.

We started talking about leaving last summer. Hans quit his job and we began the task of updating some of the Knotty Cat's systems. And even though these plans were in place and we talked about it all the time, I don't think I really thought it would happen. People kept asking me if I was excited... and actually my feelings were mixed. While I certainly do remember the unbelievable crystal clear waters of the Bahamas, I also remember the gut wrenching fear of being caught in the middle of lightning storms, spying a water spout (equivalent of a tornado) and hoping to outrun it, wondering if our anchor would hold in the night with gusting winds, and most of all only having hot water thanks to shore power or running our engines (we now have a Honda 2000 which is great but not always appreciated in tight anchorages), thus not showering every day.

We said good bye to our dog park friends (very good friends!) and Hans was really touched during our last week at the marina over the outpouring of good wishes we received. But, I have to admit, the day we left, one particular lady was nothing less than rude to us. When we first met Morgan she was a bit aloof and for some reason I felt the need to ingratiate myself with her (do we ever get over high school?). Eventually, she thawed out and every now and then spent some time in our cockpit with us. She was not a huge Wilbur fan but she put up with him and that pleased me.

But all of a sudden D-Day was upon us. Our engines were fired up and we were waving our last good-byes when our starboard side neighbor called out to me and motioned toward a figure standing on the finger pier with her back to us. It was Morgan. I called out to her and she completely ignored me. I yelled louder and told her I'd miss her. She stalked away and stood in the parking lot, still with her back to me.

I looked at neighbor and he just shrugged. Morgan ventured onto the finger pier one more time and even Wilbur was wiggling with excitement. As the last line was tossed aboard and we were sliding out of the slip, Morgan without ever looking at us, leapt gracefully up onto neighbor's boat and disappeared inside.


Morgan, in friendlier times.

Wilbur, taking unfair advantage.

Pure (C)attitude!

Since I know she's really going to miss us , not to mention losing her own girls night out apartment (she thinks we don't know about all the times she spent the night on our boat when we were gone), I'll forgive her.