All posts by Captainbob36

I have been living aboard Carpe Diem with my wife Sandra since 1998. We began cruising more seriously in 2007. Our travels have taken us from the coast of Maine to The Bahamas and Bermuda. We now spend our winter months in the Keys based in Marathon. During the warmer months, we either leave the boat in Florida or travel up the coast, sometimes to Virginia and other times to Maine.

First Leg Gets Us to Vero Beach

We have officially begun our travels now. Aside from a bumpy first day on Hawk Channel and a little shower a few days later, the trip has gone well. We followed a route familiar to us, spending that first night at Rodriguez Key. We turned into Angel Fish Creek the next day to enjoy a nice sail up Biscayne Bay to Miami and anchored near South Beach, a place we’ve often used.

Sailing up Biscayne Bay toward Miami

Getting ashore in our dinghy at South Beach is no longer easy. Most of the places previously used by us and other boaters are no longer available. We tied our dinghy to a dock by the police station which has a 30-minute limit. We managed in that short time to give Maddie a walk, and Sandra was able to get to Publix to pick up a few items as well.

As on past trips, the change of scenery is dramatic as we approached Miami from the keys. Upon leaving South Beach we continued up the protective ICW the next day to another favored anchorage in Sunrise Bay in Fort Lauderdale. The views of Fort Lauderdale from the water are dramatically different from those of land travel. Waterways have lots of traffic from small fishing vessels to 200 foot yachts to water taxis and fuel boats. The shoreline offers a mix of twenty to thirty story condos to multimillion-dollar homes and marinas securing boats, most of which are 50 to 200 feet long. We also passed a few parks and outdoor restaurants right along the Waterway.

Typical sight in Ft. Lauderdale

As we continued north to the Palm Beach area, the homes along the Waterway were larger and had more land around them. I couldn’t help but wonder about the growing disparity between average people and the very wealthy. We passed by literally hundreds of houses that were in the multimillion-dollar range.

These were typical, not the most austentacious

The most modest accommodations were condos that were likely pricey for us ordinary folk. Driving down here one doesn’t see this, much of it being within gated communities so out of sight to average people. But on the water, it’s in your face for nearly 100 miles. Enough of that. For all I know, they look out at us on the water and wish they could do what we do.

After sailing through this interesting stretch while we also dealt with nearly 30 bridges, most having a specific opening schedule that we had to meet, we ended the day near the Lake Worth inlet (Palm Beach) and Peanut Island. Since our next day of travel would be short and only included six bridge openings, we decided to dinghy to Peanut Island (It’s now a city park.) and walk around the perimeter to see how it held up after Irma. This is quite a nice spot with a path around it, several sandy beaches, a campground, and an artificial reef for snorkeling. Some readers may remember our earlier visit here a couple of years ago when we ended up snorkeling with a pair of manatees.

Artificial reef on Peanut Island. Notice the inlet from the ocean in the background.

After this pleasant time ashore, we were back on our northern travels. Still on the ICW, we passed by more exotic homes. We enjoyed a quiet evening in one of our favourite anchorages in Hobe Sound which, as usual, we had pretty much all to ourselves. The next day was another beauty with some wind to help us along all the way to Vero Beach. Upon arrival we were surprised to find that the moorings were full. We’d be required to raft up with another boat. A few moorings even had three boats attached. We like being by ourselves as much as possible, which is one reason moorings have appeal. But it turned out OK. We rafted with a pleasant Canadian couple who would be leaving their boat in a couple of days and not returning for a month. So for the better part of our stay we’d be alone on the mooring.

Having spent time here on several occasions in the past, we know our way around Vero. Since we had brought our car here earlier, we also had the ability to get around easily. We took care of provisioning, we got to the movies and took Maddie to her favourite beach for an evening run.

One of Maddie’s favorite places
Pelicans diving for supper
Following this rainbow to its end would land us in the Bahamas.

As with a number of other stops along the coast, Vero offers opportunities to see wildlife that call the coastal area home. On this particular occasion, the dolphins were in evidence on a daily basis among the moored boats. On a couple of days, two or three would spend a good part of the day in one area. As we’d dinghy by, one or two would come a bit closer, apparently checking us out. Perhaps our electric dinghy motor made an unusual noise that had to be investigated.

We also drove north to the Kennedy Space Center for a day. What a great place to visit! We saw several rockets on display and got to walk around the shuttle Atlantis. There were two IMAX movies that were both great as well as deep space shots from the Hubble telescope. One the real highlights was learning about the plans for a manned Martian trip, and we got to see the spacecraft they’d be using. For anyone who can get there, this would be something not to miss.

The Orion Space vehicle will carry up to seven to Mars.

Sandra gets up close to Atlantis.

So our boat is now loaded with food,water, and fuel. We’ve taken our car down to West Palm Beach to my sister’s where it will stay till our return in the fall. We are ready to continue our journey north a bit further. We’ve checked the tides, the weather and the charts. Tomorrow looks good. We are ready.

Captain Bob

Carpe Diem

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Another Winter (Summer) in Marathon

Another season has flown by. It seems that we arrived such a short time ago, but we’ve done so much in that time. In spite of the issues related to Hurricane Irma, the season has been normal in most respects. We were once again on our favorite mooring ball for great sunset views.

Sandra joined me this year as a volunteer at Dolphin Research Center. She especially liked feeding and caring for the parrots in addition to spending time with the dolphins. In fact we both got to swim with them on one occasion.

Sandra getting ride
Sandra’s favorite

We also continued our involvement with Tai Chi, continuing to improve a bit each year. We regularly heard from others that they watch our movements to be sure that they do it properly.

Sandra continues to introduce others the the art of weaving pine needle baskets. And through this, we’ve gotten to know several really nice winter and year-round residents.

Part of my time has been focused on keeping the boat systems functioning. Prior to getting here, I finally bit the bullet and bought two additional solar panels of the new light and semi flexible variety. They were easy to install, and we’ve spent the entire season without having to once run the engine to charge batteries. Between the solar panels and the wind generator, we also have sufficient charging capacity to keep the electric dinghy motor fully charged.

Our current charging setup

As a new project, I’ve begun to work with bonsais. I’ve bought four bonsais and also bought an outdoor plant to create yet another. It’s a bougainvillea, so it should produce some nice blossoms if I am successful.

A bonsai and one that will become one

One big difference in this year was our Christmas. Instead of traveling north to be with family, they all came south. Sam, Jeremy and the boys came as did Jenn with her friend Kevin, and of course her dog Kaya. We had great weather for the entire visit.

Sam, Jeremy and the boys swam with tropical fish.
A Christmas scene?

Sam’s mother-in-law Veronica and her husband Mark also came for a visit for the first time. Although we’ve gotten together many times, this was the first without children or grandchildren.

Our last visitor for the season will be Jenn for her second time. She’ll be arriving in a couple of days.

Because we have decided to sail to Maine again this summer, we’ve decided to leave Marathon in early April. We’ll stop for a bit in Vero Beach when Sandra’s sister will come for a visit to include Kennedy Space Center. Then we’ll continue north slowly to allow time to visit friends and family along the way. Any readers of this blog who would like to see us (or Maddie) feel free to contact us via email.

We expect to arrive in VA by late May and continue our northern travels in early June, arriving in Maine by the beginning of July.

I apologize to those who would have preferred a few updates during the winter, but I plan to do a better job while we travel.

So till the next blog entry,

Captain Bob

Carpe Diem

First Views of Marathon post Irma

Upon returning to Vero Beach from Brazil, we immediately began to keep track of how things were progressing in Hurricane ravaged Marathon. After a week or two of waiting and preparing, we determined that it was safe to head down. Mooring balls were available, although the divers hadn’t completed their checks. It seems that the route traveling down to Marathon was in reasonably good condition and the ocean weather looked pretty benign, so we might be able to avoid the bridge traffic going through South Florida.

The trip down went extremely well. We missed Fort Lauderdale and Miami by going out in the ocean and continued down through Hawk Channel arriving in Marathon 5 days after departure rather than the normal 6 or 7. Even Hawk Channel and the channel coming into Boot Key Harbor seemed pretty clear with no evidence of sunken boats or floating refrigerators etc. We got on to a mooring close to where we wanted to be and then went in to register and check out a little of the harbor. We saw a number of boats still  lying up on shore or in the mangroves waiting to be hauled out. On our first full day in the harbor we joined an afternoon clean-up crew working along the shoreline and we’re amazed at the number of trash bags and other miscellaneous items tied up in the mangroves. 

 The marina is operating in all ways including laundry, showers, pumpouts, water and dinghy dockage. The outer docks were destroyed, but the floating docks in the canal are now only for dinghies – no large boats in the canal except along the wall.

We stopped in to one of our favourite restaurants and were surprised to see that it appeared to have not been damaged. Then we learned that the palm trees were replaced and all the brick pavers were in the pool, so they too were replaced.

 We drove up to Vero Beach on Sunday to retrieve our car and returned on Monday after spending the night with my sister in West Palm Beach. The drive along the keys was enlightening. There were places where very little trash or debris could be seen, and there were other places where it look like little had been accomplished in the two months since Irma came through. There were piles of debris. There was trash along the roads, trash that included parts of boats refrigerators as well as more of those plastic trash bags. In a couple of places we saw huge piles of organic debris mostly coming off of trees or trees that were cut down because they had tipped over. These piles ranged as high as 30ft and were as long as a hundred yards. 

The trees were damaged, but they are coming back.

Since our return, we’ve been to Sombrero Beach and found it mostly closed. Huge piles of sand are still being moved around. The beach itself seems to be OK, but the grassy parts of the park were inundated with lots of sand.

All of the ground in the photo was grass covered prior to Irma.

The overall status can be described in two ways. For those who were here right after the storm, they find the progress made to be remarkable. So many have pitched in to help. In a way this storm has brought the community together with everyone pitching in to help those  in need. For those just arriving, the damage still visible is astounding. Considering that 150 boats were ripped off moorings as anchored boats and docks were blown through the harbor, it’s remarkable that the number of boats still to be retrieved is down to less than 50, and those are not impeding navigation in the harbor. But even those boats tell a story of people for whom those boats had been home, and are now they are without a place to live – very sad. Some have left while others now live in a motel room. At least one trailer park has been wiped clean. While most stores and restaurants are now open, a number are not planning to open in the foreseeable future.

We traveled down to Bahia Honda State Park now that it was reported to be open once again. Most of the island was off limits, but what we could see told a story of tremendous damage.  There weren’t many buildings there, but a few have disappeared. Much of the island’s foliage was blown away leaving cleared land and a few trees.

This is what the foliage was like by the beaches before the storm
This is after the storm in the same vicinity.
These picnic tables all had roofs prior to Irma. At least this beach is now open for swimming and sunbathing.

We’ve heard that 1300 boats have been retrieved in the Keys, most in the Marathon area. Although we see many large trucks daily taking dibry away, it will take a long time to bring the area back to its pre-storm condition.

All that I’ve shared here should not give one the impression that the Keys aren’t worth visiting. The beauty and wonderful weather are still a treat. Both Sandra and I are volunteering at Dolphin Research Center and enjoying time with the dolphins and birds. 

Blue is one our favourites at DRC.

We look forward to time out in the water and trips to Key West. All of which will be included in subsequent additions to this blog.

Captian Bob

Carpe Diem

Exploring the Rio Negro in the Amazon region of Brazil

We had decided to join our Tai Chi instructor Jeff Pinkus and his wife for this trip to the Amazon six months ago. Since making the decision, we’ve been preparing by reading, getting our visas and convincing ourselves that this was a safe thing to do. We were told that we’d see few if any mosquitoes, we’d be safe swimming in the river with piranha and that we should not worry about all the other strange and exotic wildlife. 

It would be warm. After all, we’d be within three degrees of the equator. But our sleeping accommodation would be air conditioned.  It would be an adventure for us. Of that we had no doubts. In spite of the apprehension, we were excited to make the trip. We’d be living on a boat nearly 100 feet long with 17 other guests. We’d get all our meals prepared on the boat as well. The leader of the trip spoke English, but the rest of the crew spoke Portuguese and could handle only a little English. (Of course their English was better than our Portuguese.) 

We packed carefully and headed for Miami airport after leaving our dog Maddie with my sister in West Palm Beach. We hadn’t been flying for a few years, so all the technology was a surprise. We got through without incident.  The flight left at 5:30PM and got us to Manaus, Brazil by 11PM. The contrast between the two airports was dramatic. In spite of a population of nearly 2 million, the airport was nearly empty. All went well until we got to customs, and we learned that our visas were” inactive”. After a delay of several minutes, they finally decided we could be allowed into the country, since they determined that the issue was a glitch at their end. 

We then loaded into a small bus and were driven to the boat. All went well there, and we quickly got settled in our room. Soon we gathered for introductions of the crew and our fellow passengers and were offered what was described as the national drink. Don’t remember the name, but it included a whole, crushed lime, some rum, sugar and ice – well received by most all of the weiry travelers.

The boat we traveled on for ten days

By the time we got to bed, it was 2AM, so they let us sleep in to about 6AM before our first canoe trip. Most every morning after that we were aroused earlier with the singing of Pavarotti over the loudspeaker. A canoe trip generally happened before breakfast to avoid the midday heat when possible. Because we did most of the traveling at night, we explored a new area each morning. Occasionally there would be an additional daytime trip and on other occasions we’d go out after dark to see our nocturnal neighbors.

Our mode of travel during daily exploration

The trip changed our view of the Amazon. Movies and National Geographic films gave a single impression, but for us, every day was different. We were on the Rio Negro, one of the major rivers that makes up the Amazon. As the name implies, the water is dark and not muddy. In one area the water was more acidic than vinegar and looked red. We saw steep embankments and broad, sandy flats. The shoreline was at times thick with growth while at other times showing little undergrowth. Some trees were not more than 30 feet tall while others nearby rose up more than 100 feet with most branches forming a ball at the top.

Some trees are partially under water even during low water.

 

Some areas near shore remain underwater much of the year, hence no undergrowth.
While other areas appear as classic jungle scene.
The lighter colored bark is termite tunneling. They were in evidence everywhere. But they didn’t harm the tree. They fed on the dead wood nearby.

Another new perspective related to the animal life in the Amazon. Again movies gave us the impression that it was alive with animal noises, and animals and insects would be nearly ever present.  What we found was that, like animals in more northern areas, they hide well and live in specific niches. Our guides knew where to take us, so we saw a wide variety in our ten days on the river. 

Pirahna have small but sharp teeth.

A baby caimen. Black Caimen can grow to 18 feet.

A Tree Boa about 4 feet long

Many birds did not hide well, so we saw nearly 100 different species including hawks, parrots, kingfishers, herons and songbirds. The pink river dolphins didn’t hide much, but they spent so little time getting each breath, that we got no photos. We also saw caimen (alligator family), giant otters, monkeys, electric eels, pirahna and lots of other fish, some of which we ate, bats that were described as the smallest mammal at a mere 3 grams, snakes (no anacondas), a sloth, and surprisingly few insects during the day. (plenty attracted to the light at night). We also saw some spiders and undertook an after dark hunt for tirantulas.

One of the dancers with a necklace of caimen teeth

We visited a few small villages, a town of about 10K residents, and also spent part of a day in Manaus. We found the people in each setting to be friendly even though we couldn’t speak the language. At one stop a group from a tribe way up the river demonstrated examples of their dances. They also offered snacks. I tried the popcorn termites – not bad.

Note that the homes along the river are on stilts even though they are well above the current river level.
Two great rivers, the Rio Negro (black water) and the Solimoes ( white water) meet near Manaus to form the Amazon. The two flow side by side for miles before mingling.

Throughout the trip the boat crew was terrific – helpful, friendly and always seem to know what was needed. Junior, their leader, displayed his sincere love for his homeland.

In ten days we saw a great deal of a very small portion of the Amazon. Although we traveled nearly 300 miles, by looking at a map of the Amazon, we realize that we only touched the smallest portion of this emence treasure. This recounting includes a glimpse of what we were able to see. We returned tired but also having gained a new appreciation for this part of the world. 

Our summer as dirt dwellers

Following our adventure out to the Dry Tortugas, we sailed up to Vero Beach and left Carpe Diem on a mooring, so we could travel north by car to visit family and friends and to do a bit of camping. Before leaving Carpe Diem, we prepared her for a possible storm since this would be hurricane season in Florida. Given last year’s experience with Matthew, we couldn’t be too careful. 

One of many bridges that opened for us.
One way people get around in Ft. Lauderdale.
Maddie was ready for travel!

The next two months went pretty much as planned. We visited with cruising friends in Daytona, family members and other friends in North Carolina and both daughters – Jenn in VA and Samantha, Jeremy and our grandsons in New Hampshire.  Plans only got a bit unraveled when hurricane Irma decided to attack the Keys and the rest of Florida. But I’ll get to that in a bit.

After a short visit with Jenn, we collected our camping gear and headed into North Carolina to visit my sister Kathy and family and Sandra’s sister Kim and her family. We then continued on to Asheville and the Blue Ridge Parkway for a week of camping. 

This portion of the Eastern mountains is really quite spectacular. The parkway travels a series of ridges nearly as high as 6000 ft above sea level, but to do so required the construction of a series of tunnels, making for some interesting driving.


Mountain Laurel was in bloom in many areas at higher elevations

View from Mt. Mitchell

We stayed  first at a state park by a pond, then up on the ridge and finally near the top of Mt Mitchell (the highest peak east of the Mississippi). All went well except for the one night on Mt. Mitchell ( it was supposed to be two). In spite of the heat at lower elevations, we had comfortable temps for sleeping at altitude during our camping.

As I mentioned earlier, we spent one night on Mt. Mitchell instead of the two we had planned. The ranger stopped by during the evening and told us the prospect of bad weather seemed to have diminished, so we should have a good night. (We were out of cell range, so we didn’t have another weather source. The evening was really nice. However it began to rain and blow around midnight. We were at about 6400 feet on the tallest mountain around so little protection from the weather. The rain came in torrents and the wind must have gusted around 40 or better. It was strong enough to blow the rain under our tent fly and into the tent. We gave up and headed for the car at about 5 AM. The rain soon let up some, so we packed up our drenched camping gear and head down the mountain by 7AM.

We returned to Jenn’s a day early and dried all our gear and then headed further north to Sam’s in New Hampshire. We planned to stay for most of August. We also visited Sandra’s sister Paula and brother Scott in MA as well as spending time in the mountains of NH camping. We had a great visit which also included a weekend camping in Maine with Sam and family.

A day at Lake Winnipesaukee with our grandsons

We enjoyed a number of waterfalls in NH.

This spectacular scene of the Presidential Range was shot on the grounds of the Mt. Washington Hotel
After Labor Day, we began our traveling back to Florida. Our first stop was at Jenn’s in VA. This lasted longer than expected since we decided not travel to Florida with Hurricane Irma approaching. We were concerned about our boat as well as our ultimate destination of Marathon in the Keys.
As it turned out the boat was fine, but Marathon not so good.  We waited a few days to be sure that Vero Beach City Marina had power and water. In spite of our expectation that the highway would be crowded with Floridians returning home, the traffic wasn’t bad. The motel we spent a night at in GA, was mostly full of people from Florida waiting for the best time to return. We saw quite a few power trucks and other trucks heading south to refill grocery stores. But otherwise the travel was uneventful.

Once back in Vero, we moved the boat to a slip so we could get AC and have an easier time getting it cleaned up (read mold) and restocked.  We did see evidence of storm damage, mostly in piles of tree branches and a few blow downs. 


Most of that effort is now behind us and we are preparing for our next adventure: a ten day trip on the Amazon River in mid October.  More on that in another blog following our return. We are keeping a close watch on the progress in Marathon via friends who are there as well as through social media. We feel so bad for them but are beginning to be a little more encouraged by how much help is there for their recovery. We still hope to get there this winter, but won’t know for sure for some time.

Carpe Diem

Captain Bob

Off to the Dry Tortugas

For the past several years the Dry Tortugas has been on our to-do list but never accomplished. Jenn was interested in joining us for a trip to the Dry Tortugas but couldn’t come until June. We thought that might work out well, since there tends to be less wind in the Keys during the summer months than during the winter months. Leading up to Jenn’s arrival we had a couple weeks of hot steamy weather with wind and thunderstorms on a daily basis. We were  concerned that the trip might not happen again  this year. But it turned out that Mother Nature was on our side, thus this story of our trip to the Dry Tortugas.

Jenn drove down and met us at Vero Beach. We decided to drive our car to the Vero Beach Marina and leave it there so that we wouldn’t have to make the trip and then rent a car to get back   to the boat after she left, since we’d heading north then ourselves. It worked out well. Since she was going right by Vero Beach on our way south, she could pick us up and save us that extra trip. It also gave her a chance to have a little company for the last several hours of her trip to the Keys. 

After a day of adjusting to our setting Jenn joined us for a dinner at our Tai Chi instructor’s home, Jeff and  Beth Pinkus. Jeff is a great chef and seemed to enjoy the challenge of putting together a vegan dinner on Jenn’s behalf.

The weather forecast suggested that we leave for the Dry Tortugas the next day. Although there were predicted thunderstorms and rain showers everyday, there was not a lot of wind in the predictions, so we decided to take advantage. Our travel plan required that we anchor where the dogs get ashore each day, since Jenn’s dog Kaya would not do her business on the boat. The first day was a short day – 12 miles out to Bahia Honda State Park. 

Anchored by the bridge at Bahia Honda

The sun rising over the Bahia Honda campground as we left.

The next day we traveled the full day out past Key West to a small key called Boca Grande. We didn’t get dumped on by any thunderstorms but did slowdown a bit to avoid one that went by. 

To be avoided

We also slowed down again because our prop picked up a bunch of old line that may have been used for a crab pot. This required stopping the boat and me diving in to cut the line off the prop. It was easily accomplished, and then we were back traveling again. We had another full day the next day going out to the Dry Tortugas.

We were definitely sailing in blue water!

 Once again the weather cooperated. We had 2 foot waves with a light Breeze helping to push us along. We began to see more signs of life along the way. These included three sea turtles, one of which was a large leather back – rare species that we had never seen before. We also had dolphins stop by the boat on a number of occasions to check out our bow wave.

We had officially arrived.

Arriving at our anchorage by the fort at the Dry Tortugas by mid-afternoon, we were able to go ashore, register and then do some snorkeling around the fort. While the water wasn’t as clear as advertised, it was pretty clear, and we saw lots of small fish around the pilings of the docks. Our only hesitation about snorkeling near the fort was because of the many stories about the 10 foot crocodile that lived there. It turns out we needn’t have worried, since they had decided the risks were great enough to force the park rangers to capture the crocodile and move him to a safer location outside the park. 

Former home of the crocodile

One group of residents we found there we had heard nothing about before our arrival. On the island next to the fort we found the nesting site for approximately 40 to 50 thousand sooty terns. In addition there were several thousand brown noddies nesting. The noddies were a particularly interesting member of the local community. They seemed to have no fear of us and a great interest in landing on boats. 

A few of our uninvited guests

Our dogs managed to keep them off our boat most of the time and seemed to have fun barking and chasing up and down deck of the boat to keep them off. At times they hovered over our dinghy as we traveled back and forth to shore and seemed close enough that we thought we could reach up and touch them. The sooty turns were not quite as friendly but managed to fly around the boat constantly. As you can imagine, the noise was constant day and night – birds squawking and flying about. It seemed they never slept during the night even. That is not to say that the birds were annoying. They were actually quite interesting to watch and we were glad to have been there during their nesting season. 

A few thousand of our neighbours.

The second day we waited until we could see that the mooring on Loggerhead Key was available and then motored over. We picked up the mooring and then went ashore and snorkeled on the west side of the key. This was an area where the reef was right at shore, and we were able to swim within 100 feet of shore and see lots of coral and a variety of interesting small fish. Upon returning to the boat we found the mooring line had somehow wrapped around our rudder post, so once again I was back in the water to get things corrected.

The lighthouse on Loggerhead Key

Upon returning to our Anchorage by the fort, we determined that it was late enough in the day with these heat dissipating that and we decided to take advantage of that to do a little of our own touring. I should also mention that the large ferry had left for the day and the other visitors who came by sea plane had also left. (Anchoring in this harbor had its unique feature since seaplanes came in two or three times a day right through the harbor up to the beach so the visitors could get off and tour the island.) 

We got a chance to explore the fort when we were nearly the only ones there. We learned much about this unusual fort that was never really completed for its original purpose of protecting Naval vessels that would protect the the important shipping channels. My first question once in the fort was why build it in the middle of the ocean far from any land. Other forts we had visited all protected some population center like St. Augustine, Charleston, Norfolk, or even Key West. There is a large harbor here which could provide weather protection for the Naval vessels. Major shipping routes pass nearby: ships sailing from the East coast to Cuba, Central America, New Orleans, etc. So we learned something new.

The travel back was reported to be the more challenging aspect of the trip. Since the winds generally blow out of the east, we would be heading into the wind the whole trip back. If the wind is strong and the waves are large, it becomes an interesting adventure. Many people end up stuck at the Dry Tortugas for days waiting for the winds to die down enough to travel. We were far enough from Key West that we were out of phone and radio contact. Our only source of weather information was posted once a day by the park rangers. 

Not exactly rough travel weather!

For us, once again Mother Nature was very helpful. There were some swells coming out of the southeast on the ocean, but if we traveled a more northerly route north of some shallows we could avoid those swells. The winds were expected to be light and the predicted storms never got close. The weather was very sunny. We traveled in northern route and at times noted that the water was like glass. There was no wind – only a puff now and then and any stormy weather was well off in the distance.

We had never anchored in Key West but had heard lots of stories about how unpleasant it was there. We were concerned that coming in late in the day we might have trouble finding a place to anchor. However we needn’t have worried​. We had picked out or most likely spot on our chart and found that it was open to us. We also noted that a couple on a trimaran that had been near us in Boot Key Harbor were anchored right next to us.

Lots of people want to see the sunset from Key West, but few get this view.

Getting ashore by Dinghy was not particularly Pleasant trip. There is no limit to speed for any boats in the harbor, so it was a bit lumpy, and we were careful to be seen by passing large boats. Downtown Key West held no surprises. There were lots of people, lots of drinking, and lots of tourist traps. Having been to Key West many times before, it was as expected.

The next morning we headed out for our last day of travel on this trip. The weather prediction, aside from the normal prediction of showers and thunderstorms, seemed to be fine. Out in Hawk Channel we found the waves not too bad and the wind pretty light, so we considered the possibility of stopping at Sombrero Key for one last snorkel before heading into Boot Key Harbor. 

Sombrero Key Light

When we got there in mid-afternoon, we found all the moorings taken since the weather was so nice. We idled along for 10 or 15 minutes until mooring opened up, and we were able to tie up. The snorkeling here was great; the water was pretty clear and there were lots of fish – probably more fish than we saw at the Dry Tortugas. In fact there were enough fish that Jenn decided to put together a list of all the different varieties we saw. Once we finished our snorkeling, we headed back into Boot Key Harbor another hour’s travel. We stopped and got some fuel, water and ice and ended up back on our mooring – a great trip ended.

Captain Bob

Carpe Diem

Adventure Update

Well in spite of my intentions to report on our adventures in a more timely way this past winter, it is already late May, and I’m only now getting around to updating everyone. I could use the excuse that we did little of interest during the past four months, but that wouldn’t be a true statement. So this blog update should be just that – an update of what we’ve been up to.

Rather than merely provide a chronological report, I’ll attempt to organize this into categories. I’ll begin by reporting on our stay at a dock at the marina we reported on in the last update. We stayed for three months and found lots to be said for the convenience of dock life. Water was easy as pulling a hose to fill our tank. We could step off and walk to our car or to the shower or laundry. No dinghy rides were necessary. However, we missed being somewhat alone on a mooring without thinking about who might be walking by the boat. We thought kayaking here might be a nice change, but found it to offer less interesting spots to visit and we had to be careful to stay out of the way of small fishing boats and jet skis. We were open to more wave action at times which required us to purchase a couple of really large fenders, and even then we had to remain alert on windy, bouncy nights.

In mid March we hauled the boat to renew the bottom paint and decided that was a good time to return to a mooring in Boot Key Harbor. The spot we’d had for the previous four winters was not available, but we did manage to get one very close by with similar views. We’ve enjoyed some great kayaking and I’ve also enjoyed a bit of dinghy sailing in the Harbor. Having spent the last two+ months on this mooring, we can still say that we made a good decision.

Our typical peaceful evening view.

As I had mentioned in the last update, we returned to Tai Chi class after returning in December. Sandra was approached by another student to teach her and a couple of friends how to design and create pine needle baskets.  In time others wanted to join as well. This resulted in several passionate followers who will pick this up again when all return in the fall.

One of her most recent projects

We enjoyed a couple of family visits so far this year. My sister Mary Jo and her family came down for a brief visit, so there son Toby could spend time in the water with dolphins where I volunteer – Dolphin Research Center. He had a great experience.

Toby “shaking hands” with a dolphin

Soon afterwards our daughter Samantha and family came down for a week. Although they have come nearly every winter we’ve been here, each time is special in a new way. This is in part because our three grandsons are a bit older with each visit. This one might be called the snorkeling visit. All three boys really enjoyed snorkeling in Key West and Bahia Honda. Additionally, Chris went into a pool to feed lots of tropical fish as well as a shark at a new facility in Marathon.

Chris in the pool where he got to feed a shark

Sam and our three grandsons feeding parrot fish

Our other daughter Jenn and her dog will be joining us early next month as we hope to sail to the Dry Tortuga’s, an island group about 70 miles west of Key West. Included is an old fort, lots of good snorkeling we hear in clear water. It’s run by the National Park Service.

Our Tai Chi instructor and his wife, now good friends of ours, are planning a trip to the Amazon next fall. They’ve done this before several times and described the area as one of the most beautiful in the world. They suggested that we consider joining them and, after some careful consideration, we decided to do so. By October, we will be in our fiftieth year of marriage, so this is how we’ve decided to celebrate! We’ll spend ten days on a 100 foot boat cruising the Rio Negro out of Manaus, Brazil. We are really quite excited.

After returning to the mooring, we were back to using the dinghy for daily transportation. Sandra doesn’t wish to deal with the outboard, having troubles starting it and dealing with the choke as well as its temperamental nature. After some exploring, we bought an electric motor and sold the gas outboard. This unit, a German model, is much lighter, starts with a push of a button, and allows us to get gasoline off the boat. She finds it easy to operate as do I. We are happy with the change. Of course this addition does put more pressure on our limited charging capacity which was already strained. Bottom line, we’ll be adding solar panels in the fall.

Speaking of adding or making changes, our main ripped, and sail makers told us that it had outlived it’s useful life. We figured that we’d have to buy a new one. Most of our traveling at that point in our trip south would have to be with the engine. We had decided to hold off till after the new year, but hadn’t gotten around to it by the time we arrived at the mooring field. The day after we arrived another Beneteau just like ours arrived next to us. We got together and learned that they had the original main in storage, since they had a new one made soon afterward buying the boat. They happily sold it to us really cheap. A great benefit to us who had recently had the Bimini replaced and bought the outboard soon after.

As I mentioned earlier, my nephew Toby went to the Dolphin Research Center to spend time with the dolphins. Of course, I spend time there every week. This year I got certified to assist with giving them water. It turns out that dolphins in the wild get all their water from the fish they eat by breaking down the fat. But just like with humans, dolphins maintain better health with extra water. So most of the adult dolphins get from 2 to 6 liters of extra water each day. Generally I now assist with this process for at least one and as many as ten dolphins each day that I volunteered. Next fall upon my return, I hope to become a docent. This will have me walking around and talking to visitors about what goes on there. I’ll have to do some studying to become more knowledgeable, but I look forward to that.

Now having volunteered once each week for three seasons, I qualified for a chance to meet with a dolphin and get a tow around the lagoon. Since I had already done much of what was included in this encounter, I gave it to Sandra. She thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It may have been the final incentive to convince her to volunteer next season as well.

Sandra got a ride around the lagoon thanks to Louie, a dolphin saved from the aftermath of the BP oil spill and now doing very well.

Now that it’s almost June, we’re beginning to get more summer like weather. That means more heat and humidity than we are used to during the season you probably call winter. Our fans are spinning most of the time and we get into the water multiple times each day. But the water temp is already into the mid 80s, it’s help is limited. After Jenn’s visit and our trip to the Dry Tortugas, we’ll begin our northern trek – mostly by car, since we plan to leave the boat in Vero Beach again. But more on all that in another blog post.

Carpe Diem

Captain Bob