Friday, January 22, 2010

2nd Year: Charleston to Key West

Ashley Marina in Charleston, SC
 Tied to a Dock during the Holiday Season

We did get to the bottom of the FL and the SC boat taxation issues and are totally bummed.  Ah, FL will tax us the difference between the 5% sales tax we paid to MD when we purchased our boat and the 6% rate in FL if we stay more than 90 days.  That is a significant amount of cash - and money flushed as we gain nothing from the State of FL for all that money.  So, we've trashed all our plans  rewriting our itinerary for the winter.  We will stay an addtl 30 days in SC and NOT stay at the Marina in Jacksonville as planned for the month of December.  Loss to FL and the Jax Marina is $1,000 just for the slip alone, plus groceries, fuel, entertainment, beer and wine bills, etc. etc.  SC will gain the revenue.  FL will also lose the additional month we'd planned in the Keys and all that revenue we would have spent...

Funny, we learned we can stay in SC for 180 days with no tax penalty and would you believe SC will tax a boat owner 10.5% of the value of the boat EACH YEAR for each year you are more than 180 days in the state.  A couple of years ago, SC changed their law down to 90 days and suddenly, the marinas in SC were raising cain as they calculated they LOST 85% of their business as boats pulled out and us cruisers heading south or back north did not stay for long.  The State changed it back to 180 days.  Still, a 10.5% penalty on a reasonably new, fair sized trawler could cost one $70,000 + EACH YEAR.  Nuts.  No one can afford that....  Personally, I'm sick of taxation without representation...Every state has their hand out so now I need to figure tax laws and days cruising in a state along with the hours to get to A from B, etc. etc.  One more calculation to include in my planning and scheming.

                                "Land was created to provide a place for boats to visit"

January 2, 2010  Happy New Year & We are OFF to Key West!!
Andy's family:  Twins Adam & Chris, Grandchildren

Finally Fun is casting off this morning, headed to Key West for the winter after spending two months tied to the marina dock in Charleston, SC.  It's been a busy two months, celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas with family and friends.

Grandson Chase

Granddaughter Rylie

Grandson Gage


We've traveled to Jacksonville and Clearwater via auto twice; flown to Oklahoma City over Christmas to visit Andy's three children and three grandchildren; got caught in the biggest snowstorm Oklahoma has ever had and now our itchy 'got to move on' feet are finally gonna get OFF land.

Hal, Sharon, Jill & Andy
Jill & Hal Chase, who had met us in Jacksonville (from their home in St. Pete) settled in for the 6-7 day cruise from Charleston to Jacksonville.  Alas, our thoughts of warm sunshine; evening cookouts on deck and sightseeing in the various ports  of call along the way will be for naught!  Same as last year, we are cruising the ICW from Charleston to Jacksonville in freezing weather – 17 – 24 degrees are to be the norm.  Back again to those fleece pants, wool socks, gloves, wool hats, and other various layers of clothing worn everyday, including even to bed, that were the de rigeur same time last year!!!!  Gotta be a message in here somewhere that will impact our future cruising plans – and I’ll find it!!  Hal won't complain – being from CT, he finds the air refreshing, especially after spending his first summer in St. Pete, FL as a newlywed with Jill.

We pulled out of Charleston in the early morning of with ice on our deck -- much to our surprise as we moved about trying to get out of the slip and underway.  I nearly busted myself up big time as I raced forward to grab a line and OOPS.....slick slick slick deck!

Shattered table on the aft deck of Finally Fun
Our large outdoor glass top table on the aft deck also shattered into a million tiny pieces.  We believe water got on it and the water froze, creating pressure, cracking and shattering it.  I suspect we'll be finding pieces of glass for quite some time!  We have already ordered a new piece of glass and should pick it up in Stuart, FL while we are there for 5 days. 

Just for the record, after hours of investigation, confusion and much discussion with  the head of Florida's taxation department, we resolved the tax issue if one is in the state more than 90 days.  The State won't tax us the difference in taxation rates from what we paid to MD since the boat was not in FL the first six months of ownership.  We will registered the boat in FL when we get there as we would have had to do that anyway if staying more than 90 days and we will not renew our MD we are good to go and stay in the Keys til April as we had originally planned to do.  One issue resolved.

Now, let's see today if the Ray Marine Chart Plotter will work properly.  We had two different repairmen on board while in Charleston trying to fix the thing.  The first guy basically got thrown off by me after he spent several hours digging around and scratching his head.  When he said OUT LOUD to me, after he could not fix anything, "Well, years ago everyone just used paper charts and not all this equipment, so just keep your charts handy for when this fails and you will be okay."

I informed him that we had paid mega bucks for this piece of lousy equipment and as long as Ray Marine would give us every penny back for both units, I'd be happy to go back to only paper charts.  In the interim, I expected to get what we paid for and that was equipment that would WORK.

He left and never sent a bill - which I would never have paid anyway.  The second guy, much smarter, found a broken plug in the cable and fixed that.  Simple repair and makes me wonder why in the world after all the guys investigating and shipping the equipment back twice over the past year and a half, that no one saw that.  We shall see while underway if this is the final FIX.....

January 8, 2010

Nope, the Ray Marine Chart Plotter continues to fail, creating tense moments coming down the ICW with it's shallow waters and NO depth sounder working much of the time.  I hate everything to do with this equipment and often with this boat.  Port engine also quit first day out of Charleston but Andy was able to switch out a relay and it is working...I do wish we'd bought a zillion year old boat instead of this new one as I would expect repairs on the old boat and perhaps not get so angry that this NEW boat is full of problems that we keep spending time and money on.  

This entire week is still one of bitter cold as we cruise south to Jacksonville, FL.  Jill and Hal, cruising with us all week,  have been troopers, staying up top with us while underway.  We should have a contest to see who has on the most clothing.....I generally have on two pairs of wool socks; two pairs of gloves; 2 layers of shirts under my fleece jacket and been wearing the same pair of fleece pants all week.  The pants can walk and stand on their own by now, I'm certain!

I dream of my flip flops....perhaps now Andy will agree to go to the British Virgin Islands for a couple of years...they DO NOT get this cold weather!  

Our first night out of Charleston was spent in Beaufort, SC, a charming little town.  With the bitter cold, however, we managed to walk only a couple of blocks peeking into store windows before heading back to the warmth of the boat.

Jack & Barbara
We celebrated on board the upcoming marriage on the 3rd of an old friend of mine, Jack Hopke and his bride, Barbara, who had traveled with their families from New Orleans to Beaufort to be married in one of the charming old inns.  Small world to be in the same little town at the same time and fun to catch up with each other and to be able to offer up a toast in celebration of the marriage.

Pirate House is haunted.  See any wispy things in the photo?
Our second  and third nights were spent in Savannah at the city marina, a highlight for Jill and Hal.  We managed to do some sightseeing, take a city tour  and walk about in spite of the bitter cold.    Dinner at The Pirate House brought back many a memory for me as I’d eaten many a meal there as a kid.  The city of Savannah was the closest beach to Ft. Stewart, GA, where my Dad was stationed when I was about 6 or 7 years old.  This time I was too big/old to rummage in the Treasure Chest for a treat – even though I had cleaned my plate! 

Jill checking out a room of the Pirate House

These barges came right into downtown Savannah!

 Sleeping aboard was a different matter, however, as the barges and tugs move up and down the river at all hours of the day and night.  We rocked and rolled a lot and bounded out of bed more than once, convinced a barge was coming down on us....noisy place!!

Night #4 found us at anchor.  The bitter cold did mean clear skies and bright stars, but it was so cold only a peek outside for a quick look would real star gazing in this weather!  The next morning we decided to just speed up, cruising southbound for hopefully warmer weather.  Due to the 20 degree temperature, we blew off plans to stop at Cumberland Island and hike about and also blew off tentative plans to stop to visit friends on Sapelo Island....way too cold for any of that.

We made it to Fernandina Beach for the night which is a quaint town to visit and one we all enjoyed walking about in.  

We arrived in Jacksonville on the afternoon of the 7th, where we will stay til Sunday, January 10, visiting my sister and Mom.  Jill & Hal headed for home and promised to come aboard again - probably in Key West.  Sleet, ice and maybe snow are being muttered around here for today, the 8th!  I'm afraid to attempt to wash the salt off the boat as I think the water will freeze solidly and may never melt!!  Bah.  I'm still hopeful that this second year of cold will make it easier to convince Andy that cruising to the British Virgin Islands is not such a bad idea after all!!!
Sunday, January 10, 2010

Breaking thru ice on the ICW in Jacksonville
Pulled out of Beach Marina, Jacksonville Beach about 7:45 AM in bitter cold, but heading SOUTH and hopefully for warmer weather!  OH MY GOD, less than one hour underway, suddenly, a weird scary sound -- loud, crunchy like someone was peeling the hull off the boat!

Big chunks off the aft

Both Andy & I were shouting to each other --- "What THE ??  What is THAT? "  We scrambled to look over the side to see what was happening.  To our utter amazement, Finally Fun had turned into an ICE BREAKER boat!  There in the Intercoastal Waterway, near Palm Coast, barely south of Jacksonville, the ICW was frozen over!!!
Remember, we are in FLORIDA!!

 Chips and chunks of ice were being broken up by our boat and would go skidding off to the left or right of the boat, just like hockey pucks in a big game. 

Behind the boat, in our wake, ice would break into large sheets and float off to the left or right in the wake, sliding across the remaining, intact ice!!!

It sounded like our hull was being peeled off!

ICW frozen all the way across it!

 The ice lasted about a mile, clearly in an area that didn't have much current, nor much in the way of sunlight!  Check out our amazing photos!  I TOLD YOU IT WAS COLD!!!

The day continued cold and colder and the Ray Marine Chart Plotter continues its off/on and OFF when we need it the most.  If someone finds us sunk somewhere, it means the Chart Plotter failed at the worst possible time, as usual.  They are promising yet another repairman when we arrive in Stuart, FL.  Should have heaved the thing into the ice this morning.........

Most of the birds are hunkered down in trees - guess the water is too cold for their little feet too.  AND a first for us this afternoon, cruising toward Daytona Beach.  A Mommy Dolphin came to play in our wake, bringing her TINY baby dolphin with her, apparently teaching baby how to have fun in the water!  We've never seen one so very small!  Daddy Dolphin hung back about 10 feet behind the two of them, never jumping or playing, just watching, watching, watching, following them.  Such protective parents!  It was heart warming to see the little family and to watch the little one do some baby leaps out of the water -- not too high, but little leaps the same!  Reminds me of Baby's First Steps with parents hovering by!

Speaking of family, IT IS a GIRL BABY due May 24, making Grandbaby #4 for me and Lindsay's second child.  We are excited!  AND Daughter, Stacey, eloped, marrying a great guy, Nate!  So our family continues to expand! 
We are thrilled with it all!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Pulled anchor just off the ICW in Daytona Beach, headed for Cocoa Village Marina for the next two days, where I am hosting a Girl Friend Slumber Party.  Several of my very best girl friends from high school (Judy, Jill, Jean) are meeting Finally Fun at the marina for a day and evening of talk, talk, talk  THIS slumber party, unlike the others from many years past, will have wine, rum from the Bahamas, and whatever else we want.  Andy is retreating OFF the boat to stay at Jill's condo with her husband, Bob.....too many women, too much gossip and possibly too much wine....grin

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

We spent two nights at Cocoa Village, wandering about.  This is a darling quaint area and when I was here in high school, certainly not charming by any means.  Lots of great restaurants and shops to explore and that we did, always walking on the sunny side of the street.  Weather is improving, but still a bit too cool for me.  Every day is supposed to be a better day as we move further south.  

My Girl Friend Slumber Party was wonderful - how great to catch up with friends from more than 40 years ago and every MORE delightful to find that 40 years made no difference.  Our dynamics were the same, the memories hilarious, the gossip revealing (REALLY!!  I NEVER knew THAT!!) as we flipped through the decades old yearbooks looking at classmates and the hysterical stories of our lives over the past 40 years made for a great evening.  We did notice a couple of differences, however, between THEN and NOW.  This time, no one snuck cigarettes, we had wine we could legally drink and on the down side was the fact that we 4 women went to bed about 11:30 PM, unlike during our high school slumber parties, when there certainly was NO slumber til about 4:00 am.  Guess some things DO change!

It was a wonderful day and evening of friendship and renewal! We have vowed to find time for more of this -- a girl trip is in works and is so good for the soul!  This cruising life style is wonderful – we see friends all the time while traveling to wonderful cities and towns!!  Actually, we spend more time with friends and family that we were able to do while working!

January 13 &14, 2010
We are on a mission to arrive in Stuart, FL in time for the DeFever Rendezvous and the Stuart Boat Show, something we had been looking forward to for some time.  The Rendezvous is a unique opportunity to meet up with other DeFever owners, share war stories, gain information and how to and what NOT to do specific to our DeFever brand of boats and, of course, to go aboard their various boats for show and tell.  This Rendezvous has also given us an opportunity to catch up with boating friends we met along our cruise to Canada last summer.  We had dinner with Ted & Stella of Path Finder - a very nice treat for us all.

Then, after five days of this and we’re OFF again --- continuing southbound for warm warm weather….we hope. 

The dolphin must be enjoying the warmer weather too, as this is the first time so many have followed us for so very long!  We watch them from afar spot our boat and watch them make a bee line for us!

Back in the aft wake they play, this time for over an hour!  There were at least 12 and they moved from side to side, with one in particular making like a airplane rolling over and over and over under the water.  I never ever tire of watching the dolphin and this morning was extra special as the dolphin on the starboard side, leaping high out of the water, would catch the sunlight and a rainbow would appear over each!  WOW. 

Ah, the Ray Marine Chart Plotter saga continues with its disastrous off/on, never fully working, leaving us guessing and gasping as to where we are and what depth we might be at.  Ray Marine sent yet another repair person (remember, we had TWO repair people while in Charleston, replacing cables, etc. to NO avail).  Again, here in Stuart, after much poking around, the guy upgraded the software and made sure all was operating – which it was and always does until we get underway.   A day underway will tell!

January 18, 2010

We left the Harborage Yacht Club & Marina in Stuart in high hopes that maybe, finally, this never to work  equipment would be fixed.    Guess again, same story as always…one day underway out of Stuart and it begins its same off/on,  beeping til I still want to throw a shoe through the damn thing.  Given that my lifestyle is flip flops, that would obviously be an exercise in futility…I would FEEL better, but no damage would be done….guess you can’t break what is already broken…

More calls to Ray Marine and to their credit, they made arrangements to have a technician meet us at a restaurant dock in Ft. Lauderdale  on January 19 while we would be having lunch there and also to pick up Becky and Galen McCrum, who’d just flown in from Atlanta for a week aboard on the way to Key West.
Expensive piece of CRAP

This time, a year and a half of NEVER working properly and too many repair calls to count, Ray Marine replaced our E120 Chart Plotter.  Guess what, you got it….this NEW one quit working about one day down the ICW – typically story for us and one that I am so OVER.  Many phone calls to the tech and lots of diagnosis and repair work while underway…to no avail as usual.   We have no choice but to continue to Key West, carefully plotting and charting our course as the Florida waters are shallow, with numerous reefs everywhere.

January 19, 20 & 21, 2010
Leaving Miami in our wake
Miami's ICW among the rich & richer
With Becky and Galen settling into this cruising lifestyle, we made our way from Ft. Lauderdale past many many 'millionaire's row' of homes - each larger and more beautiful than the next.  The boats tied up along side the homes were also of the multi-million dollar variety....Phew - a lot of wealth along here and it does make for interesting sightseeing.  We dropped our hook the first night out surrounded by money and enjoyed looking at the same stars out as the rich and famous do...

Traveling via Hawk Channel, between the reefs and the east coast of Florida, we ventured into John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park on Key Largo.  Pennekamp is a legend area among the scuba divers, containing 178 square nautical miles of coral reef, sea grass beds and mangrove swamps.  Tropical fish abound among the wrecked ships down below and it is colorful and beautiful to dive or snorkel here.

Wildlife everywhere
Despite the written warnings that boats drawing more than 4 feet draft can't come in, we spoke with the marina and they said 'come on in - on rising high tide'.  Phew, the channel is very narrow and depth drops to one foot or so immediately out of the channel....NO room for error here.  Galen & I stayed on the bow, motioning Andy which way to go in the twists and turns of the canal among all the mangrove trees.   A beautiful way in in spite of the tension.

The marina isn't much to speak of, but we enjoyed the hiking about among the mangrove trees and along the beaches and in general watching the wildlife all around in this remote state park.  We took a glass bottom boat ride out to the reef and that was a real highlight for Becky and Galen, who haven't seen much or any of this type floral and fauna.  We even managed to hitch a ride in the back of a pick up truck to get to US 1, the only road and found a great seafood restaurant.  All in all, a relaxing couple of days basically 'in the woods'.
Sharon & Becky on the glass bottomed boat

Alas, however, on the way OUT, heading to Marathon for the night, we bumped, the port engine burped and quit and suddenly CRUNCH, we were out of the channel and the prop hit rock.  Bah, another prop repair is in store for us.

A curious factoid:  I never knew Florida had crocodiles!  Alligators glore, yes, but crocks???  Reading my guidebooks and reviewing charts, I noticed a paragraph warning boaters to NOT swim in the brackish and salt waters of the upper Keys due to the sheer numbers of these critters.  Seems the crocs are protected, but humans are not!  Looking closely at my charts, I then also noticed the "Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge",  home to North America's largest concentration of these creatures!

Love the houses in Biscayne Bay all on stilts
January 22, 2010

Beautiful run from Pennecamp to Marathon - about 6 hours underway in Hawk Channel with minimal rocking and rolling in the Atlantic.  No mooring balls were available due to the popularity of this town among the cruisers but we were able to get space at the City Marina, hopping off long enough to meet our friends John & Ellie aboard Adios moored in the mooring field, for dinner.  A great time and great meal was had by all as we exchanged stories.  Becky & Galen are amazed at the sailing resume of John & Ellie, who have sailed all over the world before going to the Dark Side to move aboard their trawler.