Sunday, April 29, 2012

Good News Bad News - Back in the USA

Nearly 5,000 nautical miles under our hull!!

Granddaughter Makenna welcoming Grandpa Andy back
I find myself dealing with an unexpected mixed bag of emotions.  I’m delighted to be back home in the USA and able to reconnect more often with friends and family.  However, a part of my soul is sadden to have left the chain of lovely, enchanting islands. I now clearly understand why some boaters arrive in the Caribbean and never leave!   A piece of our hearts will remain there forever.  We cherish our memories of those wonderful islands and the even more delightful and friendly individuals we met in the islands and along the way.  It is actually bittersweet to be back.
We made it back before Baby #3 was born!!
Makenna & Picket on Finally Fun

Courtesy Flags from the various countries we visited that we flew on Finally Fun
Andy and I have been reminiscing about our trip and talking about things we’ll need to do as we settle back into the USA after 14 months away.

 Practice driving our car before heading out into traffic.   Both the car and the boat have a wheel, BUT.....

Andy driving with wheel on the right
Remember that in the USA, we’ll need to drive on the RIGHT....and not on the LEFT as we had to do the few times we did rent a car.
Remember to look carefully before stepping out to cross a street.  We’ve been looking mostly in the OPPOSITE direction as drivers are on the left for much of where we've been, even in the US Virgin Islands.  The thought of Splat Like a Bug on a Windshield has haunted me the entire time in the islands and now that thought will continue until we adapt totally and consistently.

This guy is quite the talker!
Decipher all the changes relating to How to Communicate.  We need cell phones, with new phone numbers, new carriers and new contracts.   How does all that overlap into computer wifi time?   Ugh, how to get started and figure it all out with all the new technology and new toys seems overwhelming.  Guess I’ll ask the grandkids...they ‘get’ it.

Our satellite TV faded out once we got out of range at Long Island in the Bahamas a year ago.   We’ve continue to be able to pick up satellite radio and news, so it is not like we’ve been living in a cave... Do we even want TV back with its mindless stream of reality shows, daytime soaps and the like?  

Carnival- Better live than on any TV!
Ugggg, Style Matters in the USA.  I’ve been digging in the back of our closets to find more than the T-shirts and shorts we’ve been living in for the past 14 months.   Now, we’ve got to also remember to change those t-shirts and shorts more often....boaters get away with the tattered, stained look more often than not.
We've gotten hair cuts since arriving in the USA

Sharon's idea of Dress Shoes
Learn to wear SHOES much more often.   Dressing for dinner aboard another boat means taking a shower and putting on clean clothes.   Shoes are not necessary.   There is no need for them just to hop into our dingy, traverse a short distance to the other boat where we always have to promptly take our shoes OFF to enter the new boat.  (Non-boaters -- the flooring on most boats is soft teak.  Shoes scuff and scratch, even if ‘boat shoes’.)   If I do wear shoes just for ‘show’, I often forget I had them on, necessitating a return trip the next day to retrieve them!!    

Selling fruits & vegs boat to boat
Get ready for the physical effect of overstimulation of sights, smells and choices.  Grocery shopping in the USA has already proven to be overwhelming - huge stores, shelves ladened with goods, fresh meats and fresh milk.  Prices are more reasonable than what we’ve paid over the past 14 months.   A few islands, especially the large French islands do have large stores with many goods, but many many of the products are from the USA or other countries and are, therefore, imported goods which translates into Expensive.   

Prepare for disappointment when standing in the same fancy USA grocery store aisles.  I will so miss the island markets teeming with locals selling fresh fruits and produce picked off their land that morning.  No Picked Green Many Months Too Early stuff there!  
I already miss the fresh papaya (Paw Paw it’s called down island); mangos of every variety large and small; limes and tiny Key Limes; bananas, especially the Fig Banana, a tiny one a little larger than a fat man’s thumb, that tastes like a blend of banana and lime; pineapples that are so very sweet and            passion fruit. 

No need for 'Organic' is naturally so
I’ll have to watch my language in the grocery stores.....Cilantro was known as “Shadow Benny”, basil looks and tastes different in the islands, green beans are more than two feet long and on and on it goes.  No American will be able to 'translate' for me!

Fishermen patiently answer my questions
I think we will always remember to smile & greet every store employee, taxi or bus driver, or actually everyone and anyone we encounter.   It’s considered RUDE everywhere in the islands to just walk in and ask for what you want or ask a question or try to pay for something.  EVERY transaction, every encounter in the islands should start with something friendly along the lines of “Hello, How are you?”  And waiting for the answer is important!!!  Then, and only then, should one segue into the transaction. 
Martin teaching us how to prepare conch
I’ll also so miss the friendly banter with locals selling their wares in the markets.  Always answering my questions with smiles and sometimes laughter when I’d ask “What IS this?” or “How do I PREPARE this?” or  “How do we EAT this?”,  the islanders were patient.  I probably made their day and they definitely made mine at every encounter....even when I suspected or KNEW I was overcharged just because I was NOT a local!!
Bus station in Grenada
I hate the thought of having to utilize our car much more often to run errands and to shop.   I’ve loved catching the efficient local island buses for $1 or so as my mode of transportation when the distances were too great for our two feet.  Grocery bags instead of the backpacks will be the norm now, too.   Somehow, I think the islands have it right!   

Thank, Thoreau, for the inspiration...."Go confidently in the direction of your dreams!  Live the life you've imagined.:

And on the very positive side, we’ve accomplished our dream, learned a lot about ourselves and about other countries, strengthened our boating skills and truly learned that the world doesn't have to move at the light speed of the USA.  Bigger is not better.....  

Maybe, just maybe, a tiny bit of that ‘no worry mon - we get it done’ (which translates to Whenever) has rubbed off on me, the Type A....That is the Good News part!
Double rainbows are common in the islands

Thursday, April 26, 2012

On a Mission - through the Keys to St. Petersburg, FL

April 21 to April 26, 2012

See FinallyFun in the middle of these storms & lightening
Gray and overcast
After an uneventful cruise from No Name Harbor south of Miami to Boot Harbor, Marathon, in the Florida Keys, we were forced to sit out another few days of bad weather before being able to cross under the 7 Mile Bridge dividing the North Atlantic

from Florida Bay and the Gulf 
of Mexico and continue on to St. Petersburg.  Too windy and too stormy to get off the boat for two of the three days, we just piddled around.   The high winds finally stopped and with the sun shining, we lowered the dingy so we could stretch our legs on shore and look around.  

Tumble down boat slips in Boot Cay
On Marathon Key
First thing out of Andy’s mouth....”Let’s walk to West Marine”.....the man needed His Fix....I left him salivating in the aisles for a bit of time before finally dragging him out to a hot dog stand for a late lunch.  Ah, a real hot dog with spicy mustard and sauerkraut.  

Onlookers must have thought we were pigs or deprived or depraved....smacking our lips, mustard and juice running down our arms, grinning from ear to ear as we inhaled the first hot dogs we've had in over a year....lordie that was GOOD.  What a welcome back to the USA!!!!

Sunrise out of Boot Cay

The weather cleared a day sooner than predicted, but still marginal.  We left anyway, with Marco Island as our destination, some 80+ miles and approximately 11 hours away.  

Oops, not too long after departure, the port engine continued it’s upward temperature creep.  We’ve been watching this phenomena for a few days and Andy’s troubleshooting has turned up Nothing, Nadda.    The temp doesn’t exceed the ‘normal’ range, but the port engine temp is higher than the starboard engine.  We suspect the heat exchanger is giving us the problem, clogged with perhaps parts of old zincs or the mushy stuff left over from decaying seaweed, etc. 

We had this problem before after spending 4 months in Key West a couple of years ago.   Mushy decayed stuff turned out to be the problem.   We had a metal rod made to ‘bore’ out that yuck one little hole at a time, whixh takes a  LOT of patience and a great deal of time.   Andy is not willing to take any more things apart to get at that exchanger until we are settled in a marina in St. Pete.   We’ll simply keep the RPMS lower and just go big deal.
See Finally Fun headed for Little Shark River
Entrance into Little Shark River - muddy!
Quick calculations confirmed our the slower speeds, we were not going to make Naples before dark.  Love the Just in Time mentality and the Boy Scout/Girl Scout mantra of “Be Prepared”.  

 We reset our course for the Little Shark River, off Ponce de Leon Bay.   Located at the tip of the Florida peninsula, the river is a gateway into the primitive and remote mangrove islands of the Florida Everglades.  I was excited that we were going to be there after all!    
Fish Pot 
Camera doesn't capture the color of Poo Water
Bouncing along for 7 hours, with cold winds keeping us in jackets (this is APRIL 24 in SOUTH FLORIDA......what is this!)  I felt as though I was riding a galloping horse all day.  Up, down, same cadence -- only my butt didn’t end up hurting, thanks to the helm chair vs a saddle.   
There were hundreds of fish pots, in strings of 15-20+ each, forcing us to be more than alert constantly and forcing us to move left or right more often than not.  Unlike the beautiful aqua water we’ve grown so accustom to cruising in, the water here, due to several days of high winds, is a strange shade of yellow brown, reminding me of  new born baby poo.  Disgusting, actually. 
Little Shark River 
Dropping the anchor at the mouth of Little Shark River, we lowered the dingy and took off to explore, being very careful to pay close attention to where we were and how to get back!  One does NOT want to be lost in the Everglades!  

Up into the Little Shark River
This River is full of channels off the main channel and channels off the little channels.  We only took left turns in the dingy, so we could have some sense of how to get back!!
Mangroves galore!

I was disappointed to see virtually no wildlife after two 

hours in the dingy cruising up 
and down and around in the scenic twisting and turning River.   I was so hoping to spot an alligator, which having lived in Florida for many years, I’m pretty good at spotting and co-existing with.  Crocs live here too, a bit of trivia I'd not known 

until reading the Guidebooks a couple of years ago.  No matter, I wouldn't be able to tell the difference between a gator and a croc  and have no desire to get close enough to even try!  Our Grand Total:  1 Pelican; 2 Herons; 1 Hawk with Fish in Mouth; One boat with 2 Fishermen. 

 At least we didn’t get eaten alive with mosquitoes and big black flies.  The cold front and high winds are keeping those critters away!! 

Note bent metal rod holding anchor roller
Now what!??  Pulling the anchor at first light in Shark River, the anchor suddenly did not seem to be coming up correctly at the last 35 feet, squealing and moving up too slowly.   How in the world the large steel pin holding the anchor roller bent, coming apart out of the housing is beyond us.  We always use a bridle and have not experienced any hard pounding, etc. that would put additional strain on the parts.   Heart in my mouth, I finally got the anchor all the way up, tying it up with line to the railing in an attempt to keep some of the weight off the housing.  
Note the hole where the rod holding the anchor rollers should be and is not!
With an inability now to anchor, we decided to pull another all nighter and just keep going until we reached the marina in St. Pete.  The bouncing horsey ride continued until about noon before the wave action settled down into a pretty calm, gentle up down.     This Gulf Coast, however, has more pots than does the Chesapeake Bay.  It is also very shallow, with numerous shoals extending nearly ten miles out (Romano Shoals for instance).  When we finally reached water 50 feet deep beneath our keel, we stopped seeing the pots - 15 miles offshore.  No matter, we did not want to cruise in the black of night, hooking pots all along the way!
Another uneventful night passage, seeing nothing but the occasional shooting star and hearing virtually nothing on theVHF all night long.  

Wrapped in a blanket, wearing fleece shoes and a fleece jacket, nodding off was not a problem.  I stayed too busy trying to keep warm.  These long night passages might be the only time Andy’s thrilled I’m the night owl.....he gets to sleep more than I do.  We are both quite content with the arrangement.
No Green Flash with this sunset in the Gulf of Mexico
Going, Going, Gone is the sun & our light
In the channel, off Egmont Key

Cruising into Egmont Channel, after a few circles, waiting for first light so visibility would be better, I truly felt as though we’d really arrived HOME.  

Sharing Egmont Channel with the big boys
Coming up to and under the huge Skyway Bridge brought back memories of cruising these waters 35+ years ago when I lived here before.  

Huge Skyway Bridge btween St. Pete & Sarasota  
A troubling memory from the late 70‘s that still makes me shudder, came alive in my 

head as I watched cars and trucks traverse the bridge above us. 

I lived not far from this Bridge, in Pinellas Point, and remember vividly an early morning squall that darkened the sky and pelted our house with high winds & rain.  

That squall pushed a barge off its course, into a bridge piling, knocking the bridge down in seconds.   Many died that morning, falling a long way into the water, still strapped in their cars.   A Greyhound bus filled with people also went over and down.   

The rocks are also around the pilings nearest to the Channel
Traversing under the new bridge, I noticed a large number of impressive reinforcements around the pilings the entire length of the bridge.  In the 70’s, the pilings simply had little wooden fenders around match for a heavy barge.
We pulled into Harborage Marina at Bayboro, in South St. Pete, past a US Coast Guard station and past University of South Florida buildings and boats.  Tossing our lines to Bart Franey, who was standing on the dock to welcome us in, we settled into our slip next to his DeFever 49 - Dewlap.  Frank said, "I know you!  I've been following your blog and your travels!"   Wow.

                          Ah, it’s good to be home!