Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Visit from Thaddeus, and a Big Decision Made

Some good things and some bad things...

We had a blast with Thaddeus this week.  He's hilarious and tells the cheesiest jokes (they can't all be winners, but some of them are pretty damn funny).  The weather didn't cooperate enough for us to go diving, until yesterday.  Unfortunately, his trip was cut short due to a death in the family.  So with the prettiest weather we've had in a while, we drove him up to Miami to fly to Birmingham for the funeral.  And when we dropped him at the airport, he left his phone in the car.  We didn't notice this until it was too late.  So with some scrambling to find addresses and multiple phone calls with his sister, we managed to get the thing shipped back to Chattanooga.  So a note: if you need to call Thaddeus for anything, you can't until Thursday.  (You didn't really want to listen to those cheeseball jokes anyway, did you?  Oh, you did.  Sorry.)

So, what's been going on?

Thursday morning, Dad and I played softball.  Poor Thad, he came all this way to watch a bunch of old guys (and me) play softball.  And there was almost a fight at the end of the game.  Some people take softball too seriously.  I thought people grew up eventually, but apparently that's not true for everyone.  Thursday was also wing night at the Hurricane.  We tackled 50 wings and a giant pile of curly fries.  Yum. :)

Friday, Trevor and I ran around dinghy shopping and finding scuba tank accessories (I bought a tank for $40, but I needed an o-ring kit and a dust cap).  We had lunch at the Hurricane (it's becoming my favorite place).  I had Thai Chicken Stir Fry (super yummy, but a little too much heat for a cupcake like me), and Trevor had ribs.  When we came back, we picked Thaddeus up and went for a dinghy ride through the mangroves and a little on the Atlantic side.  Pretty sweet.
We were making plans to go snorkeling (if not diving) on Saturday when Thaddeus got the call about his grandfather.  So then we went into overdrive figuring out how to get him home as soon and as affordably as possible.  He worked with Delta to fly out of Miami, and we made reservations for a rental car to drive him there.
Saturday morning, we got up earlier than usual (don't worry, no before-sunrise craziness).  Trevor rode a bike to the Marathon airport to get the car.  Then we all loaded up and headed to Miami.  Did I mention it was a beautiful day?  Seriously, it was perfect for going out diving.  Rotten luck.  But I think Thaddeus managed to take some of the nice weather with him; it's in the 60s in Birmingham for a few days.

It was super fun having Thad with us.  We even made up a new dance (the double-anchor; it's about to be huge) that only makes sense to us.  We hate that his trip ended the way it did.

Now we're back to our routine, such as it is.  Dad and I are playing softball in an hour.  I managed to get my new phone working (I dropped the old one in the harbor).  And now we're making plans for the Bahamas.

That's right.  The Bahamas.  Trevor and I have decided to give it a go.  This is a once in a lifetime opportunity we have before us, and we'll probably regret it if we don't at least try to get there.  So we'll be getting the boat ready and talking to everyone we can to get advice and knowledge.  Seems like half the harbor is planning to go over at some point.  So we're hoping to get in with a group that's done it before, and hopefully travels as slowly as we do.  We also have hope that my old friends Linda and Phil Waste might head over with us, as they're heading down here pretty soon.  How exciting!  But don't worry; we're not leaving soon.  The plan right now is to head down in March.  The weather will be improving (winter northers will be easing off as the weather warms up).  That also gives us lots of time to prep the boat (and ourselves).  And we'll be able to get back to the States in time for Trevor's cousin's wedding.  Lots of good things.

So now you're up to date.  I remembered to bring my camera, so I'll leave you with a couple of sunset pictures.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Eating Our Way Around Marathon

It's been a week and a half since the last blog.  And not much has happened.  I kinda like it that way.

Dad and I played softball Sunday the 16th.  Not the best idea.  I pulled a groin muscle, and Dad hurt things (wrist, knee, and leg, I think).  With our better halves out of town, we were quite a pitiful pair.  So the grand idea of spending 3 days a week playing softball went out the window.  In spite of our injuries, we did manage to get out of the boats enough to check out some of the restaurants we'd been meaning to try.  (The grocery store was way too far to walk, so eating out was the only solution.  That's what we told ourselves anyway.)  And boy, are there some great restaurants around here!  And reasonably priced (we don't do expensive restaurants).  We went to 25-cent wing night at the Hurricane, had burgers at the ChikiTiki (dinghied down to that one), and got pizza (before bingo) at Upper Crust.  We were doing this for Mom and Trevor, of course.  We wanted to check out places so they wouldn't be disappointed in any dinners (or lunches).  Lunch is definitely the time to eat out.  Several places have $5 lunch specials (I do love a $5 lunch special).  I love that stuff!

Oh, and the Gallians (Andrew and Mary-Stuart) came to visit us.  They took us out to an amazing little restaurant called the Butterfly Cafe.  Excellent food.  Fancy stuff.  We were stuffed when we left!  And delicious sangria! 

I also managed to get some work done on the boat while Trevor was away.  I scraped the ugly caulk off most of the windows on the starboard side and resealed them with clear silicone.  It looks so much better!  And keeps water out better, too!  I also put the hatch over the v-berth back together.  It was toppled upon earlier in the trip and suffered a pretty nasty break.  And it's not a part that can just be replaced; the boat is over 30 years old.  So it was fix it or get a whole new hatch (this involves cutting out the cabin top and all kinds of awful work we don't want to do).  Well, I took the 5-minute quick-cure epoxy and gooed that thing until it had no choice but to hold!  It's been through some mighty winds, and it's still holding up, so I have hope.  I managed to reattach a couple of wires that had come loose in the engine compartment (don't know what they were).  Fixing the wires didn't seem to accomplish much, but I'm sure they needed to be fixed anyway.  I also attacked the ceiling with vinegar and vanquished some black stuff (mildew, maybe, and years' worth of grimy fingerprints that had accumulated on the nonskid [side note: why is there nonskid on the cabin ceiling?  We'll never walk there. I hope.]).  Yikes, punctuation overload right there.

Lots of work, lots of play, and lots of eating.  We were ready for our sweeties to come home.  Trevor came back yesterday, and brought Thaddeus with him!  Yay!  So great to see both of them!  We've been having fun (hard to not have fun when the cheesy-joke-making Thaddeus is around).  Enjoyed Taco Night at the Hurricane (dollar tacos and $3.50 margaritas) last night.  Wow, great margaritas!  And I know margaritas.  Today we had lunch at the Stuffed Pig.  Meh.  That was the most disappointing meal we've had the entire time we've been here.  Food was mediocre, and the service matched.  Oh well, I guess they can't all be winners.

Oh yeah, and Saturday was the Health Fair.  I think I'll live a few more years.  Blood pressure, weight, etc. are fine.  My eyesight is about what I expected (no glaucoma, either!).  And the dermatologist doesn't think I have skin cancer.  Good news all around!  Then we ate at Keys Fisheries!  This is a very no-frills establishment.  But it's always busy, so it's gotta be good (great online reviews, too).  And the food was quite good.  I would definitely eat there again (lots of menu choices, so we'll have to go back).

A storm moved through last night.  Thaddeus must have brought the bad weather with him.  This was the first heavy rain we've had in a while.  So it put my newly-sealed windows to the test (win!).  The dinghy had ankle-deep water in it this morning, but Trevor took care of it (he's so good like that).  We took Thaddeus to Daffy Doug's.  We'll be going to the grocery store in a little bit to get dinner for tonight (fajitas!).

Life goes on in the Keys.  The wind blows (all the freakin' time).  We're hoping the weather clears up enough for us to go scuba diving at some point this week.  That's all the update I have today.  Lots of babble for nothing very exciting (except it's very windy here, did I mention that?).  One of these days I'll get my camera out and take pictures.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Yes, Relaxation Has Commenced

Our first week here in Marathon was spent rushing around (including walking miles and miles up and down US 1), trying to complete projects and make life easier on ourselves.  The past week has been considerably easier, for the most part.  We still had projects to tackle, small ones Trevor came up with.  He can't live an idle lifestyle; he has to stay busy or he gets antsy.  Like how some sharks have to keep swimming their entire lives in order to keep water flowing over their gills, or they drown (fun science fact thrown in there, yeah!).  So we sanded and painted polyurethane on the outside teak.  Now our grab rails and door frame look so pretty! Like we're real boaters or something.  Maybe when I get my camera out again, I'll post pictures.  Sorry about the lack of pictures lately, by the way.  I've gotten really lazy about photo-taking.  Ho-hum, just another gorgeous sunset.  We're spoiled by the daily sunset in paradise; they're all beautiful, and we're getting used to it.

So what is our life like here in Boot Key Harbor?  Excellent.  We get up in the morning, have coffee and breakfast while we listen to the daily Cruisers Net on the VHF (9am on channel 68).  Sometimes we come to shore for showers and internet, sometimes we relax a little, sometimes we actually do some work.  Like the wood outside.  Or the plumbing.  We thought we were finished working on the plumbing, but our deck fill project didn't work.  Apparently, water can't go uphill without a pump.  So we had to re-run the hose and work some magic, but now it works great! (Tested it this morning, in fact.)  We've been reading (I'm working my way through The Thin Red Line right now, and it's quite good), watching tv on Trevor's computer.  Sometimes we eat out, usually we don't.  Every few days we have to walk the mile up the road to Publix or WinnDixie for groceries (sometimes we only go down to Daffy Doug's Discount Dollar Store for bargain foodstuffs).  We also have to get a new bag of ice every few days (no refrigerator; we only have a cooler for our refrigerated goods).  My blue hair is a conversation-starter, and we've met some really awesome people here.

This last week has been very windy.  The wind calmed Tuesday (and it was hot!).  Dad and I played softball (they play every Tuesday and Thursday morning, and Sunday afternoon) with the old guys.  I was the only girl and the youngest person by far.  It was really fun!  I hadn't played softball since I was 16, and I was really happy I could still hit the ball.  I played too hard, though, and I was so sore the next day (and the day after, and the day after that, and still a little sore today).  The wind picked back up Wednesday, and it got colder.  We had to wear jackets.  I know temperatures in the 60s sound downright tropical to our friends everywhere else, but we're spoiled living down here, and 65-and-breezy almost kept us from going to Key West. 

We did go to Key West on Wednesday, to see Trevor off on his flight back to Chattanooga.  My brother Mike's friend Anika was nice enough to drive us around and show us some of the sights.  It was really awesome to hang out with her, and I'm looking forward to going back down there again.  Key West is pretty neat.  The food is good everywhere, as are the drinks (mojito!).  And there are even cheap clothes to be found.  There are quite a few five-dollar shops, and I stocked up on tank tops.  I'm afraid half my wardrobe will say Key West across the front before we're done here. (I can't resist cheap clothes.)  Trevor's flight ended up being canceled, due to crazy weather here, there, and in between.  But he's trying again tomorrow to head back up to TN. 

Mom's in Miami, visiting family, so Dad and I will be on our own for the week!  I'm sure we'll play lots of softball.  And maybe some tennis (they're starting tennis 3 nights a week here at the park).  The community feel here at Boot Key is really great.  There are activities going on all the time: Meet & Greets, sports, yoga, crafts, music.  With so much to do, it'll be hard to leave.

We're paid up through the beginning of February.  After that, we don't have a plan.  We kinda need to start working on one.  We might go up to Miami.  We might go to the Bahamas.  Heck, we could stay here another month.  Just not sure yet.  And hey, did you hear they're starting to open up Cuba?  Oh boy!  The possibilities are endless (maybe not endless, but there are at least half a dozen options).  We'll keep you posted.

Today the Gallians are coming to visit!  The wind has calmed, and the temps are back in the 70s.  So life is pretty sweet.  If it's calm this week, I have a feeling Dad and I might go snorkeling out at Sombrero Reef.  Yay!  Oh yeah, and there's bingo at the American Legion on Wednesdays.  That is so happening!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Projects Accomplished! Is it time to relax yet?

So the last few days have been crazy busy and productive.

Wednesday, we tackled a couple of plumbing projects.  We can now fill our water tank without pulling apart the bed!  And we have a toilet that can be pumped out in accordance with Florida law.  We had some challenges along the way, of course.  A project is never as easy as you think it'll be, and it always takes about 3 times as long as you think.  Especially on a boat.  First, I had to learn yoga to get into some of those tight spaces with a power drill.  And halfway through the day, the battery on my drill went dead.  So we borrowed (I mean, we stole in a truly pirate-tastic swashbuckling show of awesomeness) my dad's drill.  And we ran the battery down on that one, too, before the end.  Also, the bit we bought for cutting holes in the deck was the tiniest bit too small, and the deck fittings wouldn't go through.  But with quite a bit of swearing and grumping and maneuvering, I managed to widen the holes enough for them to go in.  Also, tightening hose clamps when you can't see them is really difficult.  But we managed.  And now our plumbing projects are complete!  Woot!

Thursday, the mechanic came out and replaced the mixing elbow on the engine.  Now it's running great!  It has never idled so low or run so quietly as it does now.  Awesome!  We haven't taken it out for a good test drive yet, because it's been a windy couple of days.  But we're hoping to go out for a three-hour tour one of these days and really see how it's doing.  Yay!  Engine running!

Today, I helped Dad install his pumpout-ready toilet.  I learned he has trouble letting a power tool sit and charge.  We spent half the day letting the drill charge for a little bit, then running it dead.  It never achieved a full charge.  But we did manage to get his toilet installed!  So now we can stay in Boot Key Harbor as long as we want.

And we are now officially here for a month.  We live here!  How cool is that?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Where's the Money Going? Compliance, that's where.

An interesting phenomenon happens when we're in a safe place with readily available internet and more free time than we know what to do with.  I blog.  Twice in two days.  Not the exciting "we almost died (but were totally safe, Trevor's Mom, I promise) and now here we are" antics of my older blogs.  Nope, today I'm going to talk about plumbing.

Yesterday I bemoaned the City Marina making us change our sanitation system.  The people at West Marine (the ultimate store of boating things) were completely unhelpful.  We even asked a boat yard how much it might cost for a new system.  "I'm working on one right now, and it's already up to $3000."  What?  There's no way we, the poor people in the cruising community, can afford that kind of money.  Hell, that's half what the whole boat cost!  So we were frustrated.  We talked to a knowledgeable woman at the marina office about our options.  "Can we anchor out and bring our toilet in to empty a couple of times a week?"  "You can, but you can still get a ticket."  A ticket!  A ticket for improper equipment.  The Florida Keys are a marine sanctuary, and if you're caught with a toilet that can't be pumped out, you can get a whopping ticket.  Blast!  We looked sad and said we just couldn't afford a new toilet and all the fittings (that might fail and dump poop into our boat at any time).  She then proceeded to tell us about a "permanent portable" that West Marine sells.  It's just like what we have, except it has extra fittings so you can run a hose up to a fitting on the deck and get that crap pumped out.  It makes us compliant with the law (not outlaws anymore!) and costs less than $300, fittings and all.  Hey, that sounds more reasonable.

So off we went to West Marine (we were assured they had a couple of the helpful people there that day) to check out the better toilet.  We shopped, we compared, we monopolized the salesman's time, and we got the equipment we needed.  Plus a couple of t-shirts (mine says "Captain", and Trevor's says "First Mate"; we're so cute!) that were on sale.  And we bought hardware for another project.  Do you have any idea how expensive deck fittings are?  Crazy expensive!  Either the pump-out fitting or the water-fill fitting was priced at $45!  Slap the word "marine" on it, and you can triple the price.  We're going to Home Depot for the last of our supplies later today. 

We have projects.  Today is going to be crazy busy.  The mechanic is coming at some point to put the motor back together.  Hopefully, all of our problems with that will be solved.  We've got this toilet project.  Pump-out day is tomorrow, so we're on a bit of a deadline.  And we're plumbing our water tank to the deck for easier filling (currently, we have to move the mattresses, lift a door, and run a water hose through the hatch to fill it).  Busy times!  We won't know what to do with ourselves when we accomplish all this stuff.  Maybe we'll get to that fabled retirement condition where we sit around and read books and play Scrabble.  Oh, I love Scrabble!

Also, we're thinking about staying here a while.  We might pay for a month when we go up to the office today.  So if you're wanting to come visit us, this may be a good time.  But not Jan 25 throught Feb 1; that's when Thaddeus is coming to visit.  And Trevor will be gone for a week starting next Wednesday.  But roundtrip tickets from Chattanooga to Key West can be as low as $244.  Just something to think about.  :)

Alright, time to get to work.  Retirement is hard work.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Boot Key Harbor

Sunday morning, we woke up and had coffee in a leisurely manner.  (We've earned that leisurely coffee, I say.)  Had to back out of that tricky slip, pas the boat parked behind us.  And I did it masterfully!  The big post we would have hit was just far enough back for us to get moving backward and get water flowing over the tiller for steerage.  And I slipped right past that post and the parked boat.  Whoop!  Then back out to the Atlantic.  It was still quite bumpy out there, but better than the day before.  We had to zigzag down the coast because the waves on our beam rocked us mightily and made me uncomfortable.  (Didn't want to fall out of the seat; that would have been embarrassing!)  As it was, I drove the whole way with my right foot on the seat opposite me to keep me braced.  But it wasn't dangerous, just a bit of a wild ride. 
And you know what we saw?  Well, we passed a little plastic bottle-looking thing floating next to us.  I couldn't figure out what it was.  Some kind of new crab pot ball?  Not very visible.  I forgot about it.  Until we came across another one.  This one was closer, and maybe the water a little less rocky, so I got a better look at it.  It was bluish-clear and full of air.  But then there were dark tentacles hanging down.  It was a Portuguese Man-Of-War!!!  A little one, only about 5 inches across the bell.  But so cool!  I'd never seen one before.  We saw a few more going down the coast.  And a couple of small sea turtles.  I read yesterday that sea turtles feed on them, so that would explain why we saw turtles in their vicinity.  Awesome!
Right, back to the travels.  The waves got smaller as we headed down the coast.  We got into Boot Key Harbor with no incident and tied up to the mooring ball with little incident (old crappy rope and a dropped boat hook).  Signed in at the marina office, where they told us we had only seven days to replace our sanitation system (toilet).  We have a little porta-potty, and they don't allow those here.  Replacing the system will cost  hundreds of dollars.  We're just not ready for that kind of installation undertaking right now.  We don't have the room, the funds, or the patience for it.  So we'll probably be gone in a few days.  And anchored at the end of the bay, most likely.  We'll see.  I don't like the marina forcing us into expensive renovations.  We've been getting along fine with what we've got.  And I'll be really unhappy if they sic the Coast Guard on us (we've heard they've done it before).  *grumpy grumble*
But in other news.  We had a mechanic out to look at the engine yesterday.  Didn't take him long to yank off the mixing elbow (whatever that is) and declare it a mess.  Apparently, it was pretty clogged.  Luckily, Yanmar did have the part (pretty good for a 35-year-old engine), and it should be here tomorrow.  So maybe tomorrow we'll have a fixed engine.  He said they were 98% sure that's the problem.  If that doesn't fix everything, then they'll have to start digging and finding what's going on.  I hope it's just the mixing elbow.  At $100 an hour, troubleshooting will be terribly expensive.
But for now, we're enjoying sunny, warm weather.  Tomorrow will bring something new, hopefully something awesome.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Christmas in the Keys

What a great week!  Half a week, I guess is more accurate.  It was definitely too short a time.

Hanging out with my brothers, their families, and Grandma was awesome!  And the house they rented was pretty great.  We took full advantage of a free washer and dryer and did tons of laundry.  Okay, Trevor did most of the washing, because he's good like that.  Did some work on the boat.  Installed a new compass (thanks, Mom and Dad!).  It's the nicest-looking piece of equipment on the boat, mounted on a nice piece of teak (we look swanky, if you only look at that 8x8' square).  We may have killed our batteries in the process.  The compass lights up when we turn on our nav lights at night.  Well, we turned on the lights to see if we wired it in right.  And then forgot to turn the lights off.  Not sure how long they stayed on, but we're having trouble getting the batteries to hold a charge.  Note to everyone: Never buy batteries at Wal-Mart.  This is our second pair now that have been killed by one run-down.  And there are no Wal-Marts in the Keys, so we can't even exchange them.  We're still trying our best to charge them up, though, so we'll see.
In addition to battery trouble (new problem = extra frustration), we're still not sure what's going on with the engine.  It's probably a pretty big deal, though.  Mike thinks it might be on its way out.  But we might be able to have it rebuilt instead of buying a new one (a new engine would be more money than the whole boat is worth).  We're going to try to get a mechanic working on it Monday.  Then we'll know more. 

But other than the usual engine trouble and the new battery trouble, we've had an amazing few days!  We played tons of Wii Bowling.  When we come back to the real world and have a living room and a tv, I'm definitely getting a Wii.  So much fun!  And a workout.  I bowled pretty hard, so I had Wii-shoulder.  There was also a fair amount of Uno, Rummy (Ethan taught me to play), and Jenga (hard to play with 5-to-7-year olds).  The last two days, the pool was even warm enough to swim (so nice!). 

At one point, I was volunteered to go diving for lobster.  Dave agreed to go with me, so we loaded up in Dad's dinghy and went out.  We stopped at a shop to get a dive flag (gotta be legal), which we lashed to a fishing pole (totally worked).  We rode over to the Gulf side and tied up to a mangrove tree in a foot of water.  We donned our wetsuits and snorkel gear and took off.  Yow, that water was cold!  So cold we could do nothing but giggle over the absurdity for a few minutes.  We toughed it our for about half an hour, then decided maybe the Atlantic side might be warmer (or maybe at least a little clearer).  No luck.  It was just as cold.  We didn't get more than waist-deep over there.  With the wetsuits, our bodies were warm enough (barely), but our faces were so cold they hurt.  So we gave up and went back to the house.  We stepped into the swimming pool to see if it had warmed up yet, and it felt amazing!  Also a great place to wash wetsuits and snorkel gear.  But it wasn't long before we realized the water wasn't actually very warm, just felt that way compared to the 60-something degree water we'd been swimming in.  So no lobster tails for dinner that day.

Yesterday, Mike took me, Ethan, and Sean fishing at the 7-Mile bridge.  The pesky fish there just kept stealing our bait.  Sneaky little devils.  Eventually we figured out the right hook size to catch them.  Check out my whopper!
And my fish was the biggest.

My brothers were determined to eat as much seafood as possible while they were here, so we ate really well.  Our first night, Crystal made Manhattan clam chowder.  Amazing!  The next night we had pizza (to appease the Dad); it was probably the best Pizza Hut pizza I've ever had.  Thursday, Dave did a shrimp boil (shrimp, potatoes, onions, broccoli, corn on the cob).  So good!  And Mike grilled mahi mahi (yum!).  And last night we had stone crab claws.  Lots of work, but oh so good.

This morning, we all said goodbye and left the house.  We planned to head down to Boot Key Harbor to get a mooring ball until we could find a mechanic for our boat and a boatyard to haul out Mom and Dad's boat for some bottom work.  We headed out the way we came in, the water getting rougher every minute.  We estimate they were probably 4-foot waves.  They rocked us all around.  Trevor and I were splashed pretty good a couple of times.  It was not comfortable, and was heading toward unsafe.  So we called it off and headed back to shore.  We tried to find a place to anchor, but the bottom was hard coral rock.  No luck there.  We finally headed around the point and back inland a little (ah, the calmness in protected waters).  Mom and Dad found a marina and parked.  The slip I was supposed to take had another boat tied up in it.  They expected me to maneuver around it and get in.  I could have done it under normal conditions, but we had a wicked cross-wind.  Finally, they moved the boat, and we parked the boat.  So happy to be secure and off the water!  When we went to the office to register and pay, the lady told us the restaurant had a happy hour with 25-cent shrimp and wings from 4-6.  Oh yeah!  We were there by 4:10, hungry and ready.  The four of us ate 48 shrimp and 30 wings.  It was delicious!  And filling.  We're still not hungry.

Tomorrow we try again for Boot Key Harbor and the awesomeness of mooring balls.  It's a great community there, so we're hoping other boaters can point us in the direction of a good diesel mechanic.

Happy New Year, everybody!