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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Key West at Last...

Well after sailing on through the Key West Channel and later dropping an anchor off of Fleming Key, I got my boat squared away and even more importantly, I got myself squared away as well.

All in all my seven hour sail did take a lot out of me but it nevertheless couldn't have been any less eventful. In fact the only eventful thing to happen while under sail was when but a single dolphin showed up and swam across my bow a couple of times before veering off.

My sail was so uneventful that it wasn't until after I had sailed on past Stock Island that I finally saw another sailboat out on the open water. It's sails were predictably down and it appeared to be motoring on out to Sand Key, a delightful snorkeling destination some five miles off of Key West as far as I can remember.

For all I know, a bar-stool sailor must have undoubtedly been at the helm of that boat as it motored on off in the distance. And it wouldn't have surprised me in the least if its captain had been endlessly carrying on with his bullsh*t tales of Cuba either.

In any event, I was certainly pleased to have completed my sail into Key West and of having anchored without incident. For some reason that channel seemed all too busy from how I remembered it to be back in '88 and '89.

Numerous tour boats could now be seen zipping by in the channel while blaring regaae and party music.

In one instance I happened to climb out from inside the cabin upon hearing someone blowing into a horn of some sort and making a loud shrill sound as a large sailing catamaran cruised on by.

And upon closer inspection I determined that the high-pitched sound wasn't a distress signal of any sort. It was simply two completely nude guys up on deck an adjacent boat, gyrating to the catamaran's blaring party music while calling out to the female revelers... Upon which one the revelers could then be heard calling back out to the guys, "Is that all you got"?

And it should go without saying that I quickly ducked back down inside the cabin after thinking to myself, "This ain't got a damned thing to do with me".

I'd at least like to think that those two guys were calling out to the female revelers aboard that party boat... but this is Key West and I guess that one shouldn't be making such assumptions.

Oh gawd... welcome to Key West.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Yes, I have an International Chess Rating for What It's Worth...

Not that anybody gives a rat's ass, but I do happen to hold an international chess rating... and there was indeed a time when I actively participated in a number of national chess tournaments throughout the country.

It was an activity that brought a good measure of joy into my life whether I was successful at the chess board or not. I suppose that when I think about it, I simply miss the competition, the camaraderie with fellow competitors, and of getting away for a few days.

Common perceptions of living aboard a boat seem all wrong to me. For obvious reasons one is compelled to fore go participating in activities that one previously enjoyed engaging in. The romanticism of living aboard is sure to soon wear off leaving one with a sense of isolation and confinement.

Owning and living aboard a boat can feel as if one were hiking about town with a Danforth anchor stuffed inside a backpack. There's just no getting away from the boat.

And be wary of anyone attempting to convince you otherwise... especially if they might perhaps want to sell you their boat at an inflated price.

Be especially wary of the bar-stool sailor claiming to be "living the dream" for the truth of the matter is that the dude is flat-out broke, full of sh*t, and stuck aboard a boat that he overpaid for.

In hindsight I'm thinking that I should have strapped on a backpack and participated in the various annual international chess tournaments held throughout Eastern Europe. If nothing else, it would have been a new life experience.

Oh well, perhaps in another lifetime all of which has me thinking of the lyrics to a song, "Don't Go Chasing Waterfalls, Stick to the Rivers and the Lakes that you're use to".

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Sailing Off To Key West in Earnest...

Well I don't know about the next guy, but I for one can sense day-break as she approaches and sensing daybreak on the morning of my scheduled departure on out of Bahia Honda and on down to Key West was no exception.

And I'll be the first to admit that I was soooo tempted to just roll on over and sleep another hour or two but subconsciously kept thinking of the long day of sailing ahead of me and knew that the sooner I got underway, then the better.

So after setting a pot of water to boiling for my coffee, I purposely began stowing away any loose stuff about in the cabin. You know... stuff.... as in stuff like books, shoes, dishware and what-not... the kind of stuff that is be sure to fall off onto the cabin floor if not properly stowed. Stuff that is only too certain to then start banging up against everything else and making a lot of racket as the boat gets underway.

And with a large mug of coffee already brewed, I quietly raised the main, pulled up the anchor, let the jib out and just like that I was under sail and heading on out through the cut out section of what had once been part of the Flaggler Railroad Bridge.

I did briefly give some thought to hooking up the gas can to the outboard motor mounted on the transom as a safety precaution but quickly blew that off... as in I'm sailing on out of here the same way I sailed in... with no motor. Besides, both the wind and the swift channel current were both in my favor so there wasn't anything to really worry about.

And just like that Blondie was swiftly yet silently sailing on out of Bahia Honda. I doubt whether any of those campers at that State Park ever even knew when I had set sail that morning.

For all I know those campers were most likely nursing a hangover because after all there simply ain't much to do when camping other than shoot the breeze with fellow campers while drinking copious amounts of alcoholic beverages.

And if you don't believe me, just ask that German tourist that I previously mentioned in a prior blog entry... you know the one... the one with the big gut spilling on out over the top of his Speedos.

Well I do happen to half-ass things on occasion as my lady-friend up on Marco Island can attest to, and making sure that my handheld GPS had fresh batteries in it was one such task that I didn't quite get around to doing.

Perhaps I kinda-shoulda have changed the batteries in my handheld GPS before setting sail but I simply couldn't be bothered for whatever reason. Besides, it wasn't like I'd be out of sight of the Keys at any time. I'd simply set a course of 270 degrees and that would be that.

In any event, I do happen to have a pair of binoculars on board my boat that can be used for spotting distant radio towers and channel markers... and whether or not I mostly happen to use my binoculars for checking out all the hot babes frolicking about on other peoples boats is spurious speculation as far as I am concerned.

Well sailing is sailing and sail is what Blondie-Dog did indeed do a lot of. Winds couldn't have been any more perfect and Blondie was soon zipping by Big Pine Key, Sugarland Key, Saddlebunch Keys, Boca Chica Key, Stock Island and finally Key West.

It had indeed taken me some seven hours to sail into the Key West Harbor Channel and another hour or so to tack my way on up to Fleming Key before dropping an anchor. I'd sailed the whole day without motoring and I certainly wasn't going to bother hooking up the outboard motor after sailing all day.

I was admittedly quite exhausted by the time I finally settled in down below after anchoring. My face felt all fried-up from the reflexion of the sunlight upon the deck. It took a good while to finally cool off. One thing for certain was that I had no inclination of wanting to venture ashore that evening. I was simply too tired.

That seven hour sail from Bahia Honda was exhausting and I was certainly glad that I hadn't attempted to sail all the way from Marathon in one day. Ten hours of single-handling a sailboat on a hot sunny day would have simply been a little too much for any one person.

Bahia Honda, Florida Keys

Piddling about Bahia Honda Before Setting Sail for Key West in the Morning...

My evening at the Bahia Honda State Park concluded with me gingerly walking about barefoot for reasons previously explained and with me taking in the sights. That quaint little Park was a delight as far as parks go and even had me somehow wishing that I'd had someone along to share in the experience.

The Park is somewhat renowned as a safe haven for butterflies of all things and I can assure you that there were quite a few butterflies fluttering about. Also scattered about that park were a number of placards all with a brief historical narrative of the place. I took my time reading these for lack of anything else to do at that moment but was nevertheless pleased that I had for some odd reason.

So after later snapping a few pictures with my cell phone camera, I headed on back to my dinghy and rowed on back to my boat. And with the sun just starting to set, I saw little reason not to pull out my conch shell from down below, climb back up on deck and then blow the hell out of it.

...especially since I hadn't blown that thing in a while and because I'm on a boat and that's what's expected of boaters and because I didn't have anything better to do at that particular moment.

So yeah man.. that was me blowing the hell out out of my conch shell for three long, loud blasts which undoubtedly could be heard all the way down to the Saddlebunch Keys and on up to Key Largo.

I'm sure that I put on quite a show for all those German tourists settling in for the evening out in the Park camp grounds. I'm also pretty sure that I gave them something to talk about with their friends and family once they get on back home.

I can hear it now... "Oh wow... our vacation was a delight... we even saw this guy sail his boat right underneath the old Flaggler Railroad Bridge and later blow a conch shell as the sun was setting... it was a most amazing spectacle"!

Then yet again, we're talking about easily-annoyed German tourists here and for all I know they may have even been contemplating reporting my ass to the Park Rangers for making a little noise. For sure it would have likely been that previously mentioned German tourist... the one with his big gut spilling out on over the top of his Speedos.

Oh gasp! What the heck was I thinking?
Me aboard my AMF 21, wearing Speedos which I have long since censored.
Isla Palominos, Puerto Rico

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Living Aboard and Bored Out of My Mind...

Me thinks that the "Cruising Lifestyle" may perhaps be a tad overrated... Days of doing little more than piddling around the boat will turn into weeks and before you know it weeks of not having done much more than idling about will then turn into months and soon enough you've burned a year doing little more than contemplating an exit strategy off the boat.

Day-Sailing on the other hand is fun! What's not to like about taking the boat out for a day sail while sipping on cold beer and returning to the docks later in the day to tie the boat off, shower down, and head on home for some A/C, cooked food and a few ballgames on the TV.

And it's certainly not unusual for single live-aboard cruisers to start losing their mind after awhile. The mind starts to play tricks on you and you find yourself sticking out your tongue for no apparent reason. I'm hoping that this doesn't ever happen to me.

Me sailing my AMF 21 back in the day... East coast of Puerto Rico.

You Can't Always Get What You Want...

My two hour long nap after anchoring off in Bahia Honda did indeed make things right in my world at that particular moment. That afternoon sun had worn me out and it felt good to plug in my 12-volt fan and cool off down below in the boat's cabin.

Four hours of sailing on a hot afternoon can most certainly wear a sailor out and it was a relief to finally get out from under that bright, oppressive sun.

Investing in a bimini had once been at the top of my priority list upon initially purchasing my boat but somehow that small investment continued to get pushed further and further down my list of things to do until it was no longer even an afterthought.

I'd be sure to regret not having a bimini even more so the next day when sailing some seven hours on down to Key West. For now I'd simply have to make do with my well-worn, broad-brimmed safari hat.

Not long after that nap was I gathering up my toiletries bag and rowing my dinghy ashore to make use of the State Park facilities which were sure to include both his and hers bathrooms and showers.

My row ashore was short and easy and one in which I certainly wasn't going to bother retrieving my two-stroke outboard motor from down below only to then have to mount it onto the dinghy's transom. Especially since I'd only later have to reverse the entire process and stow it away for my sail early the next morning.

It was now past five in the afternoon when I tied off my dinghy to the Park's seawall and went off in search of both the bathroom and shower facilities. Unfortunately, in my haste to go ashore, I forgot to bring along my flip-flops and even more importantly small bills for the vending machines.

Gingerly walking about barefoot in that park was something that I could deal with but not having change for the vending machines was most certainly a misfortune worthy of a "May-Day" distress call.

It was indeed quite disconcerting to see all those ice-cold, 16 ounce plastic bottles of Coke inside those machines all beckoning me to insert but a mere $1.75 into a slot and then make my selection.

But alas it was not to be for lack of me having but another single dollar bill in my wallet.

I did momentarily consider going off in search of a crow-bar to pry open that vending machine and help myself to an ice-cold Coke but I thought better of it.

That would have been the Puertorican thing to do but I haven't resided on that island for some time now and consequently decided that it wouldn't have been a prudent thing to do.

I suppose that I could have sought out a Park visitor and requested change for a five dollar bill but that visitor happened to be a German tourist with a large gut spilling out over the top of his speedos.

And I for sure wasn't going to bother engaging that guy in any sort of conversation no matter what the circumstances might have been. I'd much rather have gone off in search of a crowbar before wanting to chat it up with some German geezer wearing little else but his speedos.

Eventually I did take a leisurely stroll about that delightful State Park but not before taking an outdoor, cold shower at the one and only rinse station.

My one pressing concern while wearing but my boxer-briefs and while discretely attempting to lather on a good amount of soap in all the right places was of the serious shrinkage going on below.

Two matronly looking European park visitors had just showed up for their turn at the rinse station just as I was beginning to soap up. That public display of shrinkage was almost as bad as having to fore-go my ice-cold 16-ounce bottle of Coke before heading back to my boat empty handed.

And I was reminded of the song, "You Can't Always Get What You Want", a great rock classic from the Seventies.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Setting Sail and Later Anchoring in Bahia Honda...

Well all good things must eventually come to end and so it was with my five days of loitering at my lady-friends, "Hurricane Irene Refuge" on Marco Island. I tried convincing her that there were even more intense storms brewing out in the Atlantic and heading on down to the Keys but she wasn't buying any of it.

So that was that as she politely reminded me of "Booty-Call Protocol, Tenant #2"... "Live Close By but Visit Often" and with that I was back on the road once again and driving across the Tamiami Trail and on to Homestead and later on down the Keys.

Blondie-Dog was right as I had left her, sitting quietly at anchor in what now seemed to be an almost vacant anchorage... a far cry from just months earlier when that anchorage seemed as if it were bursting at the seams with many boats strewn about.

That almost vacant anchorage held no warm fuzzies for me this time around and all I could think about was of wanting to get underway to Key West as soon as possible weather permitting.

And the last thing that I wanted to see happen was to somehow inadvertently get tangled up in someone else's petty squabbles. So the sooner I was out of there, the better.

Departure day was rather uneventful. I went ashore one last time to use the Marina facilities only to then head right on back to my boat and pull up anchors. I got a rather late morning start but that was okay since I'd only be sailing as far as Bahia Honda which was but some fifteen miles down the Keys.

Marathon sits on Mile Marker 50 with Key West at Mile Marker 0 and please know that the difference between sailing 35 miles as apart from 50 miles in one day can feel significant if one is single handling while manning the tiller the entire way.

That hot sun can feel brutal after a while with or without a boater-hat and the reflexion of the sun upon the deck can indeed fry up one's face and have one looking like an aborigine by the end of the day.

So yeah, I'd much rather sail seven hours as apart from ten hours in one stretch. It's a no-brainer. Hence my decision to sail that first day to Bahia Honda and only then sail on to Key West in earnest the following morning at daybreak.

Winds were rather light upon motoring out of the channel from Boot Key Harbor but I nevertheless did raise the sails and shut that outboard motor off at the first opportunity.

It felt good to be underway once again and away from the confining feel of Boot Key Harbor. Winds did pick up a bit once Blondie put a little distance between herself and Boot Key's shoreline.

Soon thereafter Blondie-Dog was swiftly sailing out past Moser Channel, Pigeon Key and the Seven Mile Bridge. Before long I was lining up Bahia Honda Channel and turning in.

I'd soon be sailing straight out under the old Flaggler Railroad Bridge that had once seen better days but had long ago been put out of service. In no time I was furling the jib, bringing the main down and setting an anchor.

My subsequent sponge bath and afternoon nap was a nice respite after that three or so hour long sail.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Willie Jack... My New and Improved Boater Identity...

It occurs to me that I've been aboard my boat for over a year now and may perhaps be overdue for a new identity... so I've giving up the clean-shaven look in favor of that of your typical, old, disgruntled, mad-at-the-world, live-aboard look.

You know the kind... they all happen to sport an unkempt, grey scraggly beard and stroll about the marinas with a perpetual scowl on their face all the while griping about one thing or another and endlessly watching FOX Fabrication News Network.

In fact I may even start referring to myself as Willie-Jack, the unenviable and unsavory character in the novel, "Where The Heart Is" by Billie Letts... a lovable and amusing story of a young pregnant girl coping with a set of difficult circumstances while living and hiding out in a Walmart Store.

Yep... from here on out my name is Willie-Jack.

Hurricane Refugee Status Does Have its Benefits...

While I'd like to sit here and blog away that I heroically endured Hurricane Irene's fury as she inflicted much havoc while sweeping on through the Florida Keys... I can't because it simply didn't happen.

Not that I would have known any different since after setting out all my anchors and securing my boat, I dinghied ashore, loaded up my fully-depreciated car and drove across the state to flee the oncoming unpleasant weather.

It wasn't like my boat was outta-sight and outta-mind though. I did what any sensible and responsible boat owner would do. I'd periodically go online to the City Marina's website and view the anchorage via web-cam while sipping on a cold beverage.

And since I didn't see any boats mangled up in the mangroves, I reasonably concluded that my boat was just fine and right where I had left it which indeed was the case upon my return.

So after suspending any immediate plans to sail on to Key West, I simply loitered for days on end at my lady-friend's "Hurricane Irene Refuge".

Yeah man... I aint's no dummy... after growing up in Puerto Rico, I know first hand the inconveniences that a hurricane can bring on. Besides that I'll be the first to remind one and all that I'm but a day-sailor at heart and not a cruiser.

Hanging Out at the Keys Drinkeries Tiki Hut in Marathon...

The bartender at the Keys Drinkeries Tiki Hut of all people was indeed correct when he commented that the anchorage across the way was "iffy"... In fact that anchorage was decidedly lousy.

I just happened to be fortunate that winds that evening were rather mild. Otherwise I might have spent a sleepless night up on deck worrying about Blondie dragging her anchor.

The holding at that anchorage seemed to resemble a hard cement sidewalk with but a thin layer of sand above it. Blondie's anchor never did quite seem to grab hold.

I would have set out another anchor that evening but I simply couldn't be bothered. Especially since I then might have had two anchors skipping on that underwater pavement only to later become intertwined like two strands of spaghetti.

So whether I was right or wrong, I wasn't too worried about Blondie's anchor dragging since she was only gently being pushed further away from shore and out into deeper water. Besides that I'd be pulling up anchor first thing in the morning and setting sail for the secure anchorage in Boot Key Harbor later that day.

Well it wasn't till around nine or so the following morning that I finally pulled up the anchor and raised the sails. There was but a very gentle breeze blowing and I had tired of waiting for stronger winds to push Blondie on towards the Seven Mile Bridge.

But what the heck... two knots is two knots... besides that I had nothing better to do other than sip on my large mug of coffee while sailing in those light winds. I suppose that I could have cranked up the outboard motor and got on with it but I'm on a sailboat and that is that.

Besides, the noise alone would have ruined the moment and soon rattled my nerves. But don't get me wrong... I am not a purist by any means and there are indeed certain moments when it is imperative to throttle up to safely negotiate a narrow channel or even a tight anchorage.

And it goes without saying that cranking up the motor is almost imperative if one should have the misfortune of inadvertently running aground... a lesson I can personally attest to after setting sail early one morning out of Sunset Cove in Key Largo.

No sooner had I pulled up anchor when Blondie found herself aground just south of channel marker 53 to the entrance of Grouper Creek. This was after I had incautiously failed to line up the red and green channel markers marking the entrance to that creek.

I eventually did manage to coerce Blondie back into the channel after some thirty minutes or so but this was only after a bit of effort. With the aid of gusting winds and a partially unfurled jib along with the outboard motor's wide open throttle, I rocked that boat from side to side while pivoting the outboard and turning the tiller hard over time and time again.

So yeah, all those zig-zag marks on that shallow bottom near channel marker 53 were courtesy of Blondie's keel.

Fortunately for me, Blondie had run aground on a soft bottom so the only damage done was to my seamanship-pride. That little event was enough commotion for one day and so within an hour I was safely back at anchor in Sunset Cove and resigned to set sail another day.

Incidentally there are two types of sailors... those who actually sail and those who claim to know how while dissuading any and all conversation about seamanship. This last kind would prefer that you think of them as accomplished sailors while all they've ever done is endlessly bob at anchor. Avoid these kind... they're full of crap.

Well Blondie did eventually sail out from under the Seven Mile Bridge and on out through Moser Channel. Winds did indeed later pick up and after two swift tacks I was dropping the sails outside the channel to Boot Key Harbor and motoring my way on in to the anchorage.

Before long Blondie-Dog was safely at anchor while I dinghied ashore to get an update on Tropical Storm Irene and whether or not she was indeed headed towards South Florida.