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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Retrieving my car...

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It's but 5:45 pm and the Key West Express is already pulling away from the docks. Scheduled departure time was to have been six pm. Lucky for me that I didn't order that last beer at the Half Shell Raw Bar... otherwise I would have been spilling that beer all over myself as I watched that vessel sail on past without me.

I'm quite impressed with the motor vessel. The interior kind of reminds me of a hotel casino but without the game tables and slot machines. It has two separate fully stocked bars with flat screen TVs showing various college football games. The bar stools are all occupied and there appears to be a football watching party going on.

Elsewhere onboard that boat is stadium seating for watching movies on a big screen. I elect to climb up to the open top deck for a panoramic view of Key West and the surrounding landmarks. I pause a moment to gaze out at Mallory Square as we sail on past and remember the various occasions when my ex-wife and I would join the tourist to watch the sunset.

Once out into the open waters that motor vessel seems to ignite the afterburners and the catamaran seems to be skimming across the water at 70 knots. Without wanting to bother with a google search, I gotta believe that there are two twin aircraft jet turbine engines propelling that boat... one in each pontoon.

I watch for the distant channel markers and navigation aids and find myself regretting not bringing my handheld GPS unit along with me for the ride.

Off on the horizon I see a sailboat heading east towards Key West. It has its mainsail down but is sailing with its jib fully extended. I then fondly remember Mike onboard Magic Carpet from long ago sailing in the same manner and commenting on the radio, "no strain, no pain" and then chuckling about it.

Before long we fly on past the sailboat and I'm feeling a bit miffed that there are but just a few whitecaps to be seen out on the water unlike when I had been sailing down from Marco Island just the other day... never mind whether or not they had studied the weather reports prior to their departure from wherever that might have been.

I kind of feel like a little kid constantly wandering throughout the boat. The air-conditioning down inside the cabins is set right above freezing temperatures and I can't get comfortable. I'm somewhat hungry yet I don't want to shell out ten bucks for a hotdog or microwaved pizza. It's now dark outside and what seem to be hurricane force winds up topsides have me wanting to seek some shelter.

I finally settle in down below inside the cabin and sprawl out on a seat cushion using one of my carry-ons as a make-shift pillow. The novelty of the boat has worn off and I'm now wishing that we'd finally just get there.

After close to a four hour sail, we finally disembark. The sail on up to Fort Myers Beach has taken longer than I thought it might but I'm glad to finally be hailing a cab at that late hour for the drive on up to the City Yacht Basin in Fort Myers to retrieve my car.

I've got some fond memories of the Fort Myers City Yacht Basin and of their professional staff and after unlocking and starting up my car, I linger awhile and stop off at the restroom facilities to relieve my bladder.

Afterwards, I look across the docks and note that Captain Jacobo along with his saggy skin and all still has his boat tied up in the same slip as a month ago. His cabin lights are on and he is in all likelihood smoking another cigarette.

I elect not to stop by lest he ask me to drive him to the liquor store at that late hour and because I had tired of him carrying on about his "sweetie-pie" and how he knew everything about sailing and whatnot.

I'm hungry and tired and am soon en route to Marco Island once again only this time in a car. A friend I had previously met while on Marco has graciously accepted my request to stay at her house over the weekend.

It has been an exhausting yet memorable day.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Reminiscing about days gone past...

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Think of the Florida Keys as but a long string of beads on a thread. It is one little key after another all connected by short bridges along Highway 1 and the best way to locate a business establishment is by referring to the MM... as in mile marker.

The Marathon City Marina is located on mile marker 49 or thereabouts and it can be somewhat of a hike to get to around anywhere if one is walking. SOooo... I'm suddenly missing my fully depreciated yet still functional 1999 Chevrolet Lumina... 232,000 plus miles and still putting out.

I have yet to fully embrace the cruising lifestyle and don't care about hiking about everywhere and wish I had my car to get around in. I'm just gonna have to reclaim my beat up car sooner rather than later.

I find myself seated at a table in the lounge area of the marina diligently studying a map of the Keys, courtesy of the Chamber of Commerce, as well studying the Key West Transit bus schedule and Key West Express motor vessel schedule. I'm wanting to head on up to Fort Myers in the morning to retrieve my car.

The next morning I hike on over to a nearby bus stop and sure enough a Key West Transit bus rumbles to a stop at it's scheduled time and I climb aboard. The bus fee is but three dollars and will take you all the way to Key West in an hour or so depending on traffic. Three bucks for a fifty mile bus trip throughout the Keys is a pretty good deal if you ask me.

It is a beautiful sunny morning and I am mesmerized by the open blue waters on either side of the Keys. We soon drive over the Seven Mile Bridge which S/V Blondie-Dog had been ignominiously towed under just days before on a windy, grey, crappy, wet day... a not so proud moment that I'm certainly not going to be sharing with anybody.

There are but a few passengers onboard, one of which is a grizzled old guy dozing off with his chin whiskers pressed up against his stained T-shirt. I suppose there might have been a time when he too was mesmerized by the open blue waters but had seen enough of it over the years and now simply preferred to sleep on that bus.

The Key West Express motor vessel is scheduled to depart for Fort Myers Beach at six o'clock later that evening. A one way ticket on that massive jet propulsion catamaran will cost eighty-six bucks and will get me to my destination in some three and a half hours or so.

It is about two in the afternoon when the bus pulls up to its final stop. The bus has picked up a full load of passengers along the way down the Keys and we all now spill out of that bus. I've got a few hours to check out the sights and sip on a few cold ones so I head on over to the dockside bars along Garrison Bight where that huge motorized catamaran is tied up.

I'm am somewhat surprised how different everything looks. I was last here for some four or five months way back in 1988 and 1989 when my then wife and I lived onboard a 35ft Morgan sailboat... S/V BratCat.

I stroll along the same pier where our sailing vessel was once tied up. I pause for more than a few moments in front of the slip once occupied by S/V BratCat. Now occupying the slip is a deep sea charter fishing boat and I cringe for a moment at the sight. There isn't a sailboat to be seen along this dock... only commercial fishing boats with their huge twin outboard engines.

I think back to the many times how our cat would ever-so-slowly strut to the bow of the boat and jump off onto the dock at the sight of tourist as they would approach the boat. I can well remember how those tourist would then invariably oooh and aahh at the "nice" kitty and marvel at how loving the cat was.

What they all didn't realize was that the cat was in all likelihood pleading for someone... anyone... to claim him and take him into a regular house and off that boat.

I later enter Turtle Kraals Seafood Bar & Grill. Turtle Kraals was once a quaint tiki- hut, open air styled bar with an adjoining pen containing turtles that were being nursed back to health. Gone is the pen along with the turtles and gone is the quaint tiki hut.

In its place is an enclosed, air-conditioned, full service restaurant with flat screen TVs mounted above the bar area. It is no more welcoming than a cafeteria in a hospital basement. The name is the only recognizable feature of the place so I move on and go elsewhere without entering beyond the front door.

Across the parking lot is the "Half Shell Raw Bar" and I am pleased to see that it still retains its quaintness from years gone past even though the place has been enlarged.

(memo to self: Don't even think for a moment about commenting on the photograph shown above... some things are better left unsaid...)

There is a biker event going on throughout the Keys this weekend... something to do with a poker run whatever that might be. The place is somewhat busy and there are bikers throughout the place all decked out in their biker garb and tattoos. I am unequivocably the only guy or girl for that matter, in there without a tattoo.

I take a seat at the bar and note that I still have a couple of hours before the Express departs for Fort Myers Beach and order myself a cold beverage. As I sip on that cold beer, I think back to the many colorful characters and personalities met way back then.

I think of the friendships made and of the many delightful memories shared with my ex-wife.

I think of the three months or so spent working construction as a general laborer at the Waste Water Treatment Facility, also affectionately referred to as "The Sh*t Plant" by construction personnel.

I think of the hardworking fellas on my labor crew who I later befriended and I later wonder whether I could somehow be granted a special pass to enter onto the Naval base for a tour of the waste water treatment facilities.

I think of Gary and his wild perm hairstyle and of his many "how in the hell did he do that" magic tricks and of his motor vessel, The Magician.

I think of Mike and Margaret Collins aboard S/V Magic Carpet and of the times spent dining together at El Siboney, a delightful Cuban restaurant catering to locals.

I think of TT because I no longer remember her real name... an old lady who served as dockmaster and a stickler for the rules and who was derisively referred to as TT behind her back with TT being short for Torpedo Tits...

Later while at the bar I find myself chatting it up with a biker and hearing him endlessly talk about motorcycles and of going back to school to specialize in bike repair and of him selling a turn of the century shotgun for five grand earlier in the day and of hearing him talk about more motorcycle stuff.

Before long it's time to trek on over to the Key West Express motor vessel for boarding. A beautiful and pristine sea terminal now sits in place where old dilapidated and closed-up dockside warehouses once where. I then purchase my boarding ticket. Check my carry-ons through the Security Checkpoint and board the motor vessel for the trip on up to Fort Myers Beach.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

On a ball... Boot Key Harbor

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I slept quite soundly throughout the night after indulging in a meal of Vigo Seasoned Rice and a tin of Lean Hormel Smoked Ham. It is now eight in the morning or so and the cabin is a complete mess.

I've got a plastic bag full of dirty dishes that needs to be washed. I had expediently collected the dirty dishes in the bag just to make some surface room in the galley the previous evening.

A plastic spray bottle containing undiluted bleach has tipped over and leaked all over the cabin floor but not before being partially soaked up by a mesh bag containing my dirty laundry. I've now inadvertently got what appear to be a number of unsightly tie-dyed black t-shirts...

A mesh bag full of dirty laundry needs to be taken ashore and laundered but is presently completely soaked with sea-spray and now weighs more than any one of my anchors...

My two gallon plastic shower bag that I had previously filled with water with the intent of setting up on deck in the sun to heat up had slid off the seat cushion in the cabin and spilled all over the cabin floor and into the bilge...

The V-Berth and all the bedding and stuff is completely soaked with sea-spray that had entered through an open porthole while under sail...

My tool bag is soaked from all the sea-spray and all the various screwdrivers and wrenches and whatever are now coated in a film of rust...

The bilge is virtually filled with water and needs to be emptied...

The inflatable dinghy needs to be brought up on deck and inflated... and the list goes on for awhile.

While gazing throughout the cabin and taking a mental inventory of all the things needing to be done, it occurs to me that first things must come first and so I brew a pot of coffee.

There are few things like coffee to get you going in the morning and as the cabin fills with the aroma of fresh brewing coffee, I turn the radio on to hear whats going on here in the Middle Keys.

I come across a radio program with the host chatting it up with local personalities and call-in listeners to discuss charter fishing, the local economy, and what impact the lessening of travel restrictions to Cuba might have on the tourist industry here in Marathon. I find the program entertaining enough and even enjoy the radio commercials for a change.

While sipping on my coffee, I start with the dirty dishes... a mundane task for sure but one that needs to be done. I am at least standing in one place while sipping on my cup of strong aromatic Puertorican coffee.

And so it goes... I take on one task after another and to my pleasant surprise the boat starts to look habitable once again. I even took the time to rinse my tools in fresh water and later wipe off the rust that had accumulated on these and later liberally spray WD-40 all over them and throughout the inside of the tool bag.

I later get a Tupperware dish and scoop out all the water in the bilge and soon enough am drying it out with a dish towel and spraying bleach on the bilge surfaces.

I am reminded of the time when a container of penne pasta had spilled out while under a prior sail and somehow found its way into the bilge and how I couldn't be bothered at the time to clean the bilge and how the pasta later fermented into a gawd awful stench and paste... it was a lesson learned.

The skies seem to want to clear up yet the winds continue to gust out of the east. There is the occasional thunderhead cloud rolling through and dumping more rain though.

I've done all that I could onboard the boat for now and what remains to be done is to inflate the dinghy and row ashore with my dirty laundry and sign in at the Marina offices.

I spread the dinghy out on the foredeck for the purpose of inflating the thing when I discover to my dismay that one of the pontoons has an air leak in it somewhere. I hear a hissing noise and find the puncture hole and it occurs to me that one of the cutlery knives that had fallen over while under sail must have somehow pierced the rubber inflatable.

I'm now wishing that I had purchased a low maintenance kayak instead. Nevertheless I inflate the dinghy as best I can and take my air-pump and mesh-bag of dirty laundry along with me to shore. After checking in, showering and doing two loads of laundry I hike a mile or so down the road to a local marine store for the purpose of purchasing a patch for the inflatable.

I'm shocked at the 67 dollar sticker price for the special patch kit so I purchase some generic all-purpose patch and glue for some six bucks or so and hope for the best. I am later fortunate that the patch does indeed stop the pontoon from leaking air.

Meanwhile the damned wind continues to blow hard out of the east and I later have a difficult time rowing that inflatable back to the boat. I am fortunate that a fellow boater offers me a tow to my boat. What the hell... my boat was just recently towed so why not the inflatable as well.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Day Two...

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It is now the following morning yet it's not quite daybreak. I slept decently enough on the cabin floor throughout the night and now find myself poking my head out of the companionway to take a look around.

Two towers can be seen with their red lights flashing on and off every second or two advising me of shoals. They now appear somewhat closer than when I had seen them the previous evening off in the distance.

My GPS tells me that I have drifted some nine miles overnight closer to shore. Blondie is still somewhat away from the shoaling so I'm not overly concerned. Besides, first things must come first and I crank up the alcohol stove and brew a pot of coffee.

Winds are still howling out of the east and east is the direction that I want to sail to. Marathon is but twenty miles away or so and had the winds cooperated and shifted from out of the west, I would surely be tied up to a mooring in Boot Key Harbor by noon or so.

I have little inclination of raising the mainsail after the physical beating that I took the day before so I don't even try. I do partially unfurl the jib and do my best to tack into the wind. Blondie is making very little headway into the wind if any.

I later start up the outboard motor for the purpose of doing some motor sailing. I feel a small pang of guilt as I start up the motor for something other than getting in and out of a marina and feel as if I've betrayed Blondie because Blondie is a sailboat and not a motorboat. Marathon isn't all that far away and I just want to be there.

There are lobster pots scattered all throughout these shallow waters and I find myself continuously attempting to dodge the lines that attach the pots to a float. The floats all have distinctive colors and are numbered so that fishermen can readily identify and account for them from a distance.

It's hard enough sailing to windward let alone worrying about snagging a lobster pot on the skeg of the boat. It's like attempting to sail while dragging an anchor. It's just not going to happen. Like the song says... "There ain't no sex in the champagne room", and it's just not gonna happen...

I do nevertheless snag a line and come to a complete halt. Fortunately the line releases itself from the skeg without me having to don my mask and fins to dislodge the line from a safe distance with my boat book. I sure as hell don't want some random ocean swell catching the hull of the boat and having it smack me upside the head while underwater.

I'm on a slow northeasterly course while checking my current position on the GPS and preoccupied with avoiding lobster pot lines. No sooner did I come to the realization that Blondie is fast approaching a shoal when the boat suddenly comes to an abrupt and complete stop.

Ooopps... I've run aground of all things. Blondie heels over in the sand while I attempt to backtrack and get her off. There is no panic, no frustration and certainly not any cursing to be heard. It's just me with my thoughts churning to decide what must be done to get off the sandbar.

I let the jib completely out and it rapidly fills with air but Blondie only lurches a bit forward... and in the wrong direction. Ooops... wrong decision.

Off in the distance can be seen quite a few fishing boats laying out their lobster pots. I turn on my cell phone and fortunately I'm close enough to a tower to pick up phone service. I call TowBoat US to inform them of my location and request that they pull me off. What the heck... I paid for the towing insurance and whether I like it or not I'm going to need some help getting off this shoal.

A call is placed to a local towboat in nearby Big Pine Key to contact me. In the interim a passing fishing boat notices my predicament and swings in close by with an offer to pull me off the shoal which I gratefully accept.

I then fasten a line to a stern cleat on Blondie and heave the rest of the line in their direction upon which they tie it off and rev up their engines and Blondie is soon enough in deeper waters.

I retrieve the line and call out to the fishing boat to thank them for their assistance. All four fisherman onboard that boat acknowledge my wave with a wave of their own and they are soon on their way to lay out more pots.

The crew onboard "Shining Star" don't quite know it yet, but they've got a case of beer heading out their way once I can locate which marina the boat is routinely docked at. A case of cold beer is the least that I can do for those guys.

I in turn set a northerly course to get the hell away from the shoals and call TowBoat US to cancel my request for assistance.

There is no let up in the gusting easterly winds while I attempt to tack. I've burned half a can of fuel with little progress to show for it. It's now two in the afternoon or so when it occurs to me to call TowBoat US for a weather update. Surely they could perhaps let me know when the easterly winds could be expected to shift.

I call and proceed to explain that everything is okay, and that my vessel is not disabled in anyway and that I am calling for a weather update and calling to see if they could perhaps suggest an anchorage that might offer a bit of protection from the gusting easterly winds.

After a brief question and answer session, I'm offered to be towed to Marathon after informing them that I indeed have unlimited towing insurance. Well it certainly didn't take much arm twisting to accept their offer and an hour later Blondie is tied off to a tow boat and heading off to Marathon.

I wish that I could tell you that my seamanship skills were simply amazing and that the voyage from Marco Island to Marathon was a piece of cake and that the incessant easterly winds were but a minor inconvenience.

But the simple truth of the matter is that those "outer band winds" that kicked up from hurricane whatever, kicked my ass almost the entire way down.

I'd like to tell you that I was completely fearless and that I took the time to climb the mast at one point and do a few chin ups up on one of the spreaders while under sail... but no... it simply didn't happen that way and it's one thing to embellish a few details while describing the ordeal in a bar to make for a better story yet quite another to put it in writing and later read it and know that things happened otherwise.

It goes without saying that I was quite relieved to be tied off to a mooring ball in Boot Key Harbor for the night. I took a few minutes to get all the gear squared away and later bathe before preparing a meal on the alcohol stove.

Not that anyone really cares but dinner that evening was a most satisfying dish of "Vigo Saffron Yellow Rice" along with a tin of "Lean Hormel Smoked Ham" all washed down with a huge mug of powdered milk.

The label on the package describes the product as "Authentic Spanish Rice", "Easy to Prepare", and "Completely Seasoned". It was damned good and I certainly couldn't have prepared it any better.