Friday, February 25, 2011

Dinghy and the Dry Tortugas!

It's been over two weeks since the last blog.  And this time I actually have a few things to report (besides the food we've eaten).

First, we have a dinghy now!  We bought a 10-year-old hypalon inflatable from a guy in a canal.  Got a pretty good deal, and it's in good shape for being that old (hypalon is magic stuff, way better than PVC).  Of course, what good is a dinghy without a motor?  Especially an inflatable (they don't row very well, being all fluffy and stuff).  So we managed to find a 5-year-old Mercury outboard for a good price, too.  So now we have a complete dinghy.  Trevor is on his way right now to get it registered.  Then it will be officially ours.  Don't we look excited?  We're like teenagers with a first car.  We don't have to call the parents to come pick us up anymore.  Totally sweet!

Besides the dinghy, it's been mostly softball, sunsets, and good food.  But I told you I wouldn't bore you with food this time.

Tuesday, we took the bus down to Key West.  We signed up for the Local Boaters Option with US Customs.  What is this, you ask?  Well, we register with Customs and Border Patrol with boat information and our personal information.  When we come back to the US from the Bahamas, we call an 800 number to clear customs.  This saves us from having to go in to the office in person.  Well, it decreases our chances of having to go in face-to-face.  But it saves the customs guys a lot of time and paperwork, and it saves us time, marina fees, and taxi fares.  Win-win all around!  We ended up getting to the Key West airport 2 hours earlier than our appointment, but the customs guys were super nice and had us registered in 10 minutes.  They even kicked out a drunk captain while we were there.  (Trying to clear customs while intoxicated?  Pretty stupid, man, show some respect.)

After our fun at the airport, we took a bus to downtown Key West.  Trevor got to see the glory that is Duvall Street.  I'm sure he was impressed.  Did I mention Tuesday was 86 degrees and windless?  It was hot!  We found an amazing hammock store, and had to try out a few of their awesome hammocks.
Look how relaxed Trevor is.

This is the hammock I want.  One day, when we have a house and money...

After we wandered around for a bit, we were both quite ready for something cool and tasty.  So we went to the Grand, where our friend Anika works.  Now, I haven't told you about Anika.  She's the Bryce Jemison of Key West.  (Bryce was our hero in Crystal River, if you recall.)  She's amazingly nice and super helpful.  On our first trip to Key West last month, she took us on a small walking tour around downtown.  This time, she let me and Trevor sleep at her place for the night, after letting us hang around with her and her softball buddies.  We got to see how real athletes play softball.  Boy, it's way different from playing with the old guys up here in Marathon!  People run fast.  It's a little intimidating.  But her friends were really nice to us, and we had a good time.

Wednesday morning, we dragged ourselves out of bed by 6:30 and took a cab down to the waterfront.  We had a date with the Dry Tortugas!  When we first left on this trip, this was one of our key destinations.  After reading up on it, we decided it was a little scary to take the boat there.  Weather comes up unpredictably, and there's just nowhere to go.  It's only slightly sheltered there at Fort Jefferson, so if the weather does come up, you're in for a bumpy ride.  Did I mention it's 70 miles out there from Key West?  Our boat is pretty slow, so it would take us quite a while to get there. The Marquesas are a small place to stop, but they're also not very sheltered.  So if you get to the Dry Tortugas, and the weather turns sour, you're stuck out there.  Weather windows are key, just like going to the Bahamas.  But the weather defies forecasting and can change in a matter of hours.  So we didn't want to go our there on our boat.

There are only 3 ways to get out there: private boat, sea plane, or fast cat.  So we took the fast cat!  And it was awesome!  Instead of 14 hours to get out there, it took 2 and a half.  Breakfast and lunch were provided, as was snorkel gear.  When we got there, we did a quick tour of the fort.  I was willing to skip it in favor of snorkeling, but Trevor talked me into taking a look.  I'm so glad he did!  The fort was awesome!  Here's some history, if you're into that kind of stuff.  And pictures!  Lots of them!
View from the boat as we were coming in.
Entering the fort.  (And being photobombed from above.)

Inside the fort

Grounds inside the fort

Pretty cool, huh?

Trevor in the fort

Going upstairs

There's a moat!

Looking out the window.  How gorgeous is that water?

View from above.

That's me, conquering the fort.  (or something)

Both of us, conquering the fort!  That's why we're so happy.

Dad and Mom, looking like explorers (Dad is the pack mule).

Mom and Dad, overlooking the water.

Canon!  Who doesn't like a huge canon?

The Magees

Boats anchored outside Fort Jefferson

Trevor in front of the lighthouse.

All this was before we even got to the snorkeling!  We went back to the boat and had some lunch.  Then we changed into swimsuits, donned wetsuits, and hit the water with snorkel gear.  The water was cold (either 66 or 69 degrees, depending on whom you asked), so we were very glad to have our wetsuits.  First, we snorkeled along the outside wall of the moat.  Now, this fort has been here about 150 years, so the coral growth was pretty impressive.  It grew on the brick wall and looked really cool.  It was also growing on whatever fell off the wall (big chunks of rock and brick, I suppose).  It was pretty awesome!  Also, we were surrounded by a huge school of some kind of little shiny fish.  Thousands and thousands of them kept us company.  Pretty cool. And I've never seen so many sea urchins in one place.  They're thriving there!  Makes me happy to see (but not step on).

After we snorkeled the wall, we moved over to the coal pilings.  And you know what?  They were awesome, too!  It was like a wreck dive, but with so much more coral growth than I've ever seen on a wreck.  It was neat!  The water was deeper there, too, so there were bigger fish hanging around.  We saw some pretty good-sized jacks.  I even saw a cuttlefish!  It was less than 2 inches long, and yellow, with squiggly tentacles.  It was so cute!  Unfortunately, I was out of film by the time I spotted it.

After we got (relatively) cleaned up and dried off, it was time for the 2 1/2 hour ride back to Key West.  Lots of sleepy faces and sunburns.  When we got back to Key West, we took a cab out to Searstown, which is where we catch the bus back to Marathon.  And home we came, exhausted and broke (did I mention the fast cat is expensive?), but happy.  It was a pretty awesome day.

If I were to do the Dry Tortugas again, I would take the time to camp there a couple of nights.  It's not much more expensive, but you'd get to spend more time there.  We got about 4 hours, which was enough to see pretty much everything, but it would have been nice to have some more time.  Camping there would be amazing!

Once we get the underwater pictures back, I'll post them (assuming any of them come out; underwater pictures are very hit or miss).  Until then, we'll still be getting geared up for the Bahamas.  Just a couple of weeks, and we'll be looking to head out.  Exciting!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Warm weather, BAT sandwiches, and some pictures

So, they're getting tons of snow up in TN.  About 5 inches, according to my aunt (via Dad, of course).  What's it doing down here?  Sunny and 78, with a nice wind blowing to keep it from getting sweltering.  Trevor and I took the boat out for a couple of hours this morning.  We intended to go out past Sombrero Reef to see the blue water, but we didn't even make it to the reef.  There is crud growing on the bottom of our boat from sitting here for a month, and it's slowing us down.  We were also going into the waves, which is always a big slow-down in our boat.  So with both factors working against us, we were lucky to make 4 mph.  I definitely need to get in the water and scrub off that growth.  Maybe some hot day this week when I need a swim.

We had a meeting at 1:00 with a bunch of people planning to head over to the Bahamas.  Some are first-timers like us, some have been doing it for 40 years.  The meeting was a little chaotic, but we still gained some good knowledge.  And we know a few people we need to single out and talk to.  One of them is a softball buddy, and I liked his perspective on the crossing.  Why wear out your crew doing a 36-hour crossing, when you can hop over in 8 hours?  That's what I'm thinking!  We also just ordered charts (The charts, apparently) for the Bahamas.  Expensive, but worth it.  Sink the boat running into rocks, or spend $120 on good charts?  It's an investment.

Yesterday, of course, we played softball.  It was hot.  I think my team lost the game, but I think we were all just happy for it to be over.  Besides the heat, we had to get ready for the SuperBowl!  It's the one football game a year that I watch.  I expected to miss it this year, but the marina came through and let us have a big SuperBowl watching party after they closed.  Awesome!  It was pretty noisy at times (whistling in a concrete room with a high ceiling is a horrible thing to hear), but we made it through with only mild headaches.  We also managed to lose $10 betting, but the money goes to Relay for Life, so there's nothing to complain about there.

What else has happened since Thursday?  I got my hair cut.  Yay!  And I dyed it back to dark blue (it had faded to sky blue and looked pretty sad).  And we had mahi mahi sandwiches for dinner Friday night (with jerk seasoning).  They were delicious!  And then we had BAT sandwiches for dinner Saturday night.  (Bacon, Avocado, and Tomato = crazy delicious!)  Seriously, look how tasty:
BAT sandwich
Not much else exciting around here.  Making new friends all the time.  Making plans for the Bahamas.  Getting really excited about the trip over!

And as I've been promising for weeks, here are some pictures!
It's Trevor!  Look how tan he's getting.

7-Mile Bridge from the Atlantic

Boot Key Harbor sunset. This one was particularly good.

Manatee hanging out under the boat

Manatee (see how big it is!)

Manatee trying to drink our exhaust water. Silly manatee, that's dirty water.

Look how ugly-cute they are!

Guy on the dock spraying fresh water for the manatee to drink.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

More Repairs and More Softball (I'm a SuperStar)

Holy smokes, it's hot here!  Jealous?  I thought you might be.  We're sweating like crazy, but we're still glad to be here.  And hot days make the cold showers much easier to take.  (The showers aren't always cold; there's a 50/50 shot at a hot one any given day.)

Played softball Sunday.  I don't really remember much about it.  It was totally overshadowed by Tuesday's game, which was in turn overshadowed by today's game.  Tuesday we managed to talk Trevor into playing.  Did you know he never really played ball?  Well, you couldn't tell it watching him.  He didn't have a power throw (I don't either), but he caught a whole lot of foul balls playing catcher, even got a couple of guys out.  Go Trevor!  We were all pretty impressed.  I played first base.  When I was younger, I always wanted to play first because that's where all the action is.  I didn't realize until I was much older that I always played third because I had a super throw and was one of the few girls who could throw from third to first.  I was awesome when I was a kid.  But I did well at first during warm-ups, so they put me there for the game.  Eh, I did alright.  I think the guys on my team were afraid to throw to me because they kept throwing it in the dirt.  Can I catch a ball in the dirt?  Nope.  I even knocked my knee on the ground trying to get one.  Ugly bruise now.  Dad and Trevor ended up on the team opposite mine.  And they strummed us.  The score was something like 20 to 6.  It was ridiculous.  But we were all in good spirits in spite of it. 
Now today's game.  They're still letting me play by girls' rules (if I hit a grounder in the infield, they can't throw me out at first), but I'm not sure that'll hold on Sunday.  Not to brag, but I was awesome today. Okay, that was totally bragging.  I spectacularly caught a couple of fly balls out in left field.  I even hit the ball well.  The guys backed up to the fence for my last at-bat.  Naturally, I took full advantage of the girl rule and hit a light ground ball in the infield.  It felt really great to play well.  I don't think I'll be able to repeat a performance like that, but it was nice to at least get one game that good.  Go me! 
After the game, went grocery shopping.  We bought way more stuff than we intended to.  But things were on sale!  And we needed to start stocking up for the impending Bahamas trip.  Grocery prices are easily 50% higher over there, so we're hoping to buy as little as we can while we're there.  We had the bikes loaded up! 

But life isn't all softball and grocery shopping (there's also eating out).  Yesterday, we went to look at a dinghy for sale (we need to get our own when we separate from Mom and Dad).  It wasn't what we were looking for, but we'll find one!  After that, we took our boat down to Marathon Diesel Repair to get our alternator replaced.  The old one wasn't charging batteries anymore, and that's a bad thing!  About 11:30, we got the call that they could take us at their dock.  I told him we'd be there in half an hour.  So Trevor untied all the lines (quite a task), and off we headed.  The marina is at the end of a narrow (and crowded) canal.  But I put on my captain hat and expertly piloted the boat to the dock in that tiny maneuvering space.  Seriously, it was awesome.  I was proud of myself.  Then we waited on the guys to get back from lunch.  Did I mention it's hot down here?  And it was less breezy in the canal.  Almost three hours later, our new alternator was installed and working like a dream.  They had to fabricate the mounting bracket and the adjusting arm (the welder was there that day, which is why Luis brought us to the dock for the work).  They did an excellent job, except the welder tried to kill our engine/alternator two times.  Hey, he's a welder, not a mechanic. 
After the work was done and Trevor went up to pay, I started the engine to let it warm up a little bit.  I looked over the side, and do you know what I saw?  A manatee!  A huge one!  I was so excited.  The mechanic walked by about that time, and I pointed it out to him.  He just kinda shrugged it off; I guess they see a lot of them there.  Then he got the water hose out and sprayed the manatee.  What a happy sea cow.  It drank and turned on its back and drank some more.  When he stopped spraying, it came up to our exhaust and started drinking that water.  Silly manatee, that's nasty water!  But it didn't care.  When Trevor came back and we were ready to go, another guy sprayed the hose away from the boat to lure the manatee away.  I didn't want to leave when it was so close to us; it showed quite a few propeller scars already.  Poor thing.  But how exciting!  A manatee!

I forgot to bring my camera, so I might edit this post later and add pictures. 

So that's life here at Boot Key Harbor.  Not too exciting to read about.  But we'll start taking the boat out again one day.  Now that our engine is really fixed (I really really hope this is the last thing), we have the confidence to take it out again.  Tomorrow is looking a little breezy, but Saturday looks promising.  Maybe some snorkeling out on Sombrero Key Reef is in order! 

It's a tough life, but somebody's gotta live it.  And we are living it up.