Traveling the Keys

The weather seems to dictate all of our travel these days. While in Miami the weather forecast changed on a daily basis.

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We’re always watching the weather – especially this time of year.

The day we left the weather forecast had changed again but looked good, so we headed out into what turned out to be a quick rain shower, but then it settle down and was a good day sailing down through Biscayne Bay into Card Sound. Our destination on this first day was Pumpkin Key, a small island at the north end of Key Largo and right near a channel that allows us to cut through the Island chain to get out into Hawk Channel, more ocean like sailing than in Biscayne Bay and also a more direct route to Marathon.

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Our first sunrise in the Keys. It doesn’t get better than this!

We had a very settled but warm night at Pumpkin Key and then headed out the next morning through Angelfish Creek which is the name of the cut into Hawk Channel. We traveled down Hawk Channel under nearly ideal conditions for short day to Tavernier Key at the southern end of Key Largo. This was our first stop at this anchorage, and it turned out to be a reasonable one with good protection and a very calm evening. That night while we were tying up our dinghy to the back of the boat, we both notice that the dinghy painter, that is the rope that connects the dinghy to the boat when we’re pulling it, was really frayed badly and looking like it needed to be changed sooner rather than later. However no thought was given to it the next morning as we headed out from Tavernier Key with plans to travel down to Marathon. After we had sailed several miles south of Tavernier Key, we got a phone call from the Coast Guard. Turns out that somebody had picked up a yellow dingy that matched our description and it had our registration numbers on it. I assured the Coast Guard caller that our dinghy was securely attached to the back of our boat, and so she asked me to get the registration numbers off the dinghy. I excused myself from the phone and went to the back of the boat to check the registration numbers on the dinghy. At that point I realized there was no dinghy there, and our dinghy was the one that somebody had found. So we turned around and headed back toward where the dinghy had been located. It turned out that a dive boat captain found it and ended up tying it to a mooring ball at a dive site we had passed about a half an hour previous. We were very fortunate that this happened. Otherwise we might not have ever gotten our dinghy back.

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          The dinghy we almost lost

The retreival was a 2 hour ordeal.  We couldn’t tie up to the mooring ball because it was pretty shallow right there. So we had to drop the anchor and put one of our kayaks overboard so I could paddle to the dinghy, attach the two together and then come back to the boat. Then reattach everything and head south once again.

By this time we were emotionally, if not physically, spent so we decided to make it a shorter day of travel turn north through Channel 5 and take advantage of an anchorage we’d used before, dropping the hook for the night. The next morning we began again by going back out through Channel 5, back into Hawk Channel and down to Marathon.

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      Our first rainbow after arriving

So we have arrived.  No more long traveling for a bit. Within a few days we will be renting a car and driving up to Vero Beach to pick up our car and return with it. Beyond that we’ll be getting ourselves organized here for the winter and begin to tackle some boat projects. There are always boat projects to tackle. More on that in upcoming blog posts. Until then…
Carpe Diem.

Captain Bob

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Traveling down the Gold Coast

Our first day plan was to watch the weather and travel only as far as we could before the storms materialized. We were surprised to avoid any bad weather and made it to Hobe Sound. This stretch of the ICW is quiet, and we began to see large estates along the shore on the ocean side. This scene of multimillion dollar homes would continue with minor variation all the way past Miami

During our second day of travel, we had to pass eight bridges which must open for us, due to our 50 foot mast. Most bridges have a regular schedule for opening, and it’s up to us to get to each at the correct time. Generally they open every half hour. On this day the distance between bridges made it possible for us to reach each bridge in good time. Only in one instance did we have to slow to await the next opening, losing most of the half hour in the process.

Our plan was to anchor for the night by the West Palm Beach City docks. That would allow us to row over to the docks to get ashore. Unfortunately, other boaters had the same idea, so there was no room for us.  We were forced to travel a bit further to another anchorage with no shore access.

The next morning we pulled up the anchor and headed south for Ft. Lauderdale. We intended to anchor in Lake Sylvia in Fort Lauderdale. Lake Sylvia isn’t really a lake it’s merely a small body of water connected by canals and surrounded by expensive homes. It does provide a good anchorage for cruisers heading north or south. Unfortunately however we didn’t get very far. Shortly after leaving our Anchorage we smelled burning rubber and, upon checking, found that the alternator belt was smoking. We had issues with the alternator before and decided this time that it was perhaps best to replace the alternator with another I had on board. This spare was the one that actually came with the new engine three years ago. I chose to have that as a spare and use the more powerful one for cruising.

After an extended period in a hot engine compartment, I got the new unit working properly. But enough of the day was behind us now that we knew we would never make Lake Sylvia in daylight. So we decided to wait till the morning and try again.

They say that good things come in bunches in the reverse is also true. So it seems with us. When we tried to leave the next morning, the anchor windlass would not work. That means I had to pull up the chain and anchor by hand. This is not impossible – just a lot of hard work. After several attempts at resolving the problem that I think must be connected with the alternator exchange, I have given up and plan to reconnect with the issue when I get to Marathon. In the meantime I will just be pulling up the anchor by hand as I’ve done in times past.

But we did get moving and headed south to Fort Lauderdale. This stretch of ICW is in some ways the most challenging but also in other ways the most interesting stretch. The challenge relates to the 18 bridges we must get to open so we can pass. Most are on a schedule that we can meet only if the tidal current provides us with a boost. Otherwise we go a bit slower to kill time waiting for the next scheduled opening.

A stretch of 35 miles of this route has been named The Canyon. This is because the ICW is narrow here, and the shorelines on both sides are concrete walls. So boat wakes bounce back and forth long after the boat has passed It makes for a rocky ride. The interesting aspect of this stretch comes from passing close by so many multi million dollar homes with stretches of high rise condos in between. There are so many people packed into the stretch and so much conspicuous wealth. We can only try to imagine what it would be like to live in such a setting. One of the reasons these homes are so expensive is because they are on the waterfront. Of course the reason for this setting being valuable is because they can sit on their porches and dream about traveling by boat as they watch us and others pass regularly. So perhaps we are the lucky ones living that dream.

As we entered Fort Lauderdale a large sign on the Waterway announced that Fort Lauderdale is the yachting capital of the world. After boating through a few times I would hardly argue with that statement. There are so many marinas packed in with so many large yachts. Many of the homes have boats parked in front as well. Also Fort Lauderdale is a city of canals. When we think of such places most would probably bring up Venice Italy with 30 miles of canals, or Amsterdam with its 50 miles. But Fort Lauderdale has 165 miles. And they are all full of boats.

We arrived at Lake Sylvia and were happy to see few boats at anchor. There was plenty of room for us.

After checking the weather, we decided to strike out the next morning for South Beach, Miami. This day would include a shorter trip and only eight bridges. We began by crossing the inlet at Ft. Lauderdale and then sailing up past the port. We got a treat there since a freighter was just leaving.

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All went well as we traveled down to the Port of Miami and our South Beach anchorage. As a bonus, we found that the last bridge that we needed open was permanently open. It seemed that they were rebuilding one section, so no auto traffic could cross anyway. (That’s the Venetian Causeway West bridge, for those might be traveling this way soon.) It was lucky for us that we were not delayed, since a thunderstorm was bearing down on us, and we barely had time t o get the anchor down.

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Our anchorage by the condos in South Beach without the thunderstorm

We like to stop at South Beach for several reasons. The city lights at night are always great to see – briefly at least. Walking down towards the beach provides us with the chance to experience a bit of what a foreign city might be like. Clearly it appears, on the street and in shops, that Spanish is the native language, but they speak good English as well. One evening during this stop we were treated to some fireworks as well.
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From our anchorage we also get a great view of the cruise ships coming and going daily. We enjoy this setting for a day or so before deciding that it’s time to move on.

More to come…
Carpe Diem
Captain Bob

We Think it’s Time to Head South

We’ve spent nearly a month at the Vero Beach City Marina Docks, (We needed the access to AC power for air conditioning.)  and so now we feel ready to head out. We’ve not been traveling by boat for five months. We’re anxious to begin traveling once again. September in south Florida can be pretty hot and humid. In fact, this is the rainiest month down here. Then, of course, September is the peak of hurricane season also. In spite of all that, we’re ready to move.

We’ve provisioned as much as we need for a relatively short trip (about 225 miles at 7 mph). We’ve also completed a few boat repairs including bimini repair, VHF radio rewiring, and moving the fluxgate compass to a better position so our auto pilot might function better.  Sandra has made a few pillows and added other touches to the interior.  Of course she also has been busy making baskets as well as knitting an afghan for one the grandchildren. Meanwhile I’ve added spare parts we may need along the way.

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            Sandra’s latest creation

Because we find that so many of the aspects of travel by boat are easily forgotten after several months, we decided to run the boat down to Ft. Pierce and back. We could check on many of the systems while also reminding ourselves of a few of the aspects important to safe travel.

We learned the value of such an effort the hard way a couple of years ago. Let me begin with a bit background info for those reading this who are not boaters. The Coast Guard puts out navigational aids to define the boundaries of channels. They are red or green. If you are coming in from the ocean, the reds will be on the right and the greens on the left. The markers defining the channel coming in to this Marina follow that arrangement. However, the markers on the ICW do not follow the same system. When heading south, the reds are on the right and the greens are on the left. So when one leaves the marina and turns onto the ICW, the markers switch sides. 

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These are examples of the navigational markers.

Now to my story. Two years ago I left the marina, having been off the boat for months, and didn’t give thought to this change. At the first red marker on the ICW, I kept it on my left as I had in the marina channel and steered out of the channel and went hard aground.

So now we both review as much as possible before heading out to help us avoid issues early in our travel.

The run down to Ft. Pierce and back provided us with the chance to get our heads back into proper thinking for boat travel. We didn’t run aground or do anything else as foolish. The boat’s systems worked well.

As I write this we are heading out. This will be a short day due to the possible daily thunderstorms and weekend traffic on the ICW. (It’s really a bit crazy on the water in south Florida on the weekends.). So my next entry should be a progress report of our travel.  Until then…

Captain Bob
Carpe Diem

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Prepare: Is it Coming?

As I promised in the last entry, I’m using this entry to share our experiences as we prepared for the possible tropical storm/hurricane that recently developed in the Atlantic.  The early forecasts suggested that Danny would not ever materialized beyond tropical storm and would probably not bother Vero Beach. We found there was a Tai Chi event going on in Marathon, so we decided to go down there on Friday night and participate on Saturday. Jeff and Beth Pinkus offered for us to stay at their place and all looked good.  We’d be returning to Vero on Saturday evening, which would give us time to prepare for whatever came our way probably on Monday. We planned to put the boat on a mooring in case anything came our way. The docks here are not floating, so preparing at the slip was difficult with the concern of the potential for several feet of storm surge.  Given the forecast several days ahead of the storm, it appeared that the storm, if it came, would be just off shore to the east, bringing winds to us out of the north, so we’d take mooring ball at that end of the mooring field to ensure that other boats wouldn’t blow into us if they came loose.

Then the forecast began to change. The forecasters reminded all that the storm was a difficult one to predict. By Thursday, we decided that the drive to Marathon was was no longer advisable. It appeared that Danny still might become a hurricane, but it would likely travel directly toward us. This meant winds out of the southeast and a different mooring choice. Still, there were a number of moorings available, so this was not a problem. I took down the jib and added more dock lines just in case it appeared that we might be able stay at the dock after all. Then we waited for the next update from the hurricane center. They were coming at three hour intervals, and each one offered a slightly different scenerio.

All the talk on local TV and radio was about the coming storm. The grocery stores were busy with people stocking up. One probably would be hard pressed to find a portable generator anywhere in south Florida. And of course talk at the marina was all about who’s plan for securing the boat was best.

By Saturday evening, it became clear that there would be no hurricane. We would receive only rain. We stayed at the dock safely with no wind and only a little rain.  Hurricanes are still a bit of a mystery even for the forecasters.

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These are called spaghetti models representing the results of different computer models. Even as late as Saturday morning, the models offered a variety of outcomes.

But of course we are now only reaching the peak of the hurricane season. September is a busy month in the Atlantic, we’ll have keep an eye on the weather apps for a few more weeks.  We already have two additional storms that surfaced after Danny.

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Fred appears not be a threat, but Grace has potential.

Of course we deal with the daily threat of thunderstorms here in south Florida as well. While they pose a threat no where near as dangerous as hurricanes, we must pay attention.

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Until the next update…
Carpe Diem
Captain Bob

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Travel continued in the mountains away from the flatlands

After spending a bit of time in the mountains of North Carolina and western Virginia, we moved up to New England to spend a weekend with our grandchildren and family in the mountains of New Hampshire. We had a great time with one and all camping in Franconia and hiking in Franconia Notch along the Cascade trail near the Basin.
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The view looking down the Cascade trail

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Looking up through the Notch

After visiting Sam and family for another two weeks in New Hampshire, we left for the coast of Maine and spent a week camping at Acadia National Park. This gave us the opportunity for reminders of why we love the coast of Maine so much. Jennifer joined us for the last 3 days of our visit there and did some preparation for her next long trail run. We hiked around the rocks, enjoyed lobster and generally took in the sights at Acadia, the rather mountainous island along the coast of Maine.
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Why cruisers both love and fear the Maine coast

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View of Bar Harbor and the Porcupine Islands from the top of Cadillac Mtn.
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Our view as we enjoyed our first lobsters of the trip

We stopped by to visit Sam and family once again briefly before heading south to Virginia. On the trip, we managed a stop at one of the many wineries in Virginia – always worth the stop.

Following a few days more visiting with Jenn, we traveled up to the Shenandoah National Park for a couple of days camping in one of our favorite spots. We then drove up to North Central Pennsylvania to meet Jenn as she competed in her next long trail run, this one a full 28 miles on very, very rugged, hilly terrain.
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At our campsite in the Shenandoahs, deer were frequent visitors.

And then it was another brief visit with Jenn at her place before we headed back to Vero Beach and the boat. We are now preparing for the possible arrival of Tropical Storm Ericka. My next blog entry will include a report on how that went. Until then…

Carpe Diem
Captain Bob

From Flatlands to the Mountains

As we traveled north from Vero Beach, we remained near the coast and therefore in the eastern flatlands up to North Carolina where we stopped to visit Priscilla Temple and her husband Jerry. Our stop was brief, but we enjoyed the visit, and Priscilla had a big bag of longleaf pine needles for Sandra’s basket making. From there we headed west toward the hills and mountains of North Carolina.

After a brief stop to visit with Sandra’s sister Kim, we continued on to the Hickory area where we stopped for a visit with my sister Kathy and her family. They took us up to Grandfather Mountain for a day trip. What great views we enjoyed from this mountain that is one of the tallest mountains in the East. We even crossed a walking Bridge at exactly 1 mile high.

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The swinging Bridge on Grandfather Mountain

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Looking out at the Blue Ridge Mountains

After that enjoyable visit, we headed back east to the flatlands and Newport News, Virginia where our daughter Jennifer lives. After only a brief stop here, we went back west into the mountains again to support Jenn in her newest interest – trail running. For those unfamiliar, I should tell you that this trail running is really a race over mountain trails. This one was a 25k race. Since these courses are over rough trails, often requiring one to scramble over boulders, it takes significantly longer to complete the run as compared to road race of the same distance.

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A short bit of the race was on a road.

This race had a small group of runners – about 36 – and she was pleased to finish in the middle of the pack. She was surprised, however, to learn that she was the second finishing woman and therefore received recognition for that accomplishment.

The race was held in a state park in the southwestern corner of Virginia described as the Grand Canyon of the South. Apparently this Gorge, at a depth of 1000 feet, is the deepest Gorge east of the Mississippi.  The race, called the Rhododendron Run, was timed at peak season for this beautiful flower to be blossoming.

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More beautiful vistas.

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Lots of Blossoms in the woods

This Park was, however, not easy to reach. The roads in the whole area of the state are steep and windy with lots of switchbacks – not great for those who might get car sick easily.

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We found kudzu vines crawling everywhere in this part of the state. We understand that in the south kudzu now covers more than 7 million acres.

Since we have traveled nearly 1000 miles north of sunny, warm Florida one would think the temperatures would be cooler. Not so. Other than our time in the mountains, since arriving in North Carolina and Virginia, we have seen temperatures regularly getting into the ninety’s – occasionally up around 100 –  and it’s still only June. I guess we’ll have to continue travelling all the way to New England to get to some cool weather.  We’ll be doing just that in a couple of weeks.

Till the next installment, carpe diem

Captain Bob

Our Stay at Vero Comes to an End

We are in our last week for this current visit to Vero Beach. As I think about our stay, that which we especially like about this place and activities we continue to enjoy, I can’t help but think about the plants we see that are so different from all that we grew up with in NE. A walk around the neighborhood is all it takes. Live oaks (pictured in the last post) dominate the scenery followed closely by a wide variety of palms.
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Sandra loves hibiscuses and buys them whenever they become available. But here they grow as large bushes or even as small trees.
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Add to this the variety of other flowering bushes and trees and you get some idea of our appreciation of the beauty of this area of the country.

What dominates the wild side along the shore is a variety of mangroves. They can be seen everywhere there is quiet salty or brackish water. They don’t need dry ground, so the tides bother them not at all. Creating a complex system of prop roots, they extend into the water and protect the shoreline from the ravages of storms.
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Their importance to the coastline is recognized. Thus they are protected in many areas. Down in Florida Bay by the Keys, they even grow were there is no dry land. Thus over time they create islands. The Bay and the Everglades have now thousands of such islands.
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We get our best views of the mangroves from the water – here by kayak.

Aside from enjoying the beach with surf and warm water, we also benefit from Vero’s proximity to West Palm Beach where my sister Mary Jo and her husband Scott, along with their son Toby, live, and another son Peter and a daughter Jill live with their respective families. We spent part of the last weekend down there visiting them all – great fun.

A nearby attraction we also recently visited was the Navy SEAL Museum. we had heard good things about it and were not disappointed with our visit. We got to learn about the history of the Seals and how they were established by President Kennedy in 1962. We saw examples of their equipment and weapons. Exhibits also included the 911 aftermath, the rescue of Captain Phillips made famous by the recent movie and the successful attack on bin Laden’s compound. This museum in Fort Pierce, Florida is worth a stop.
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Later this week we will move the boat to a mooring from its present slip in preparation for hurricane season. That means taking the gear off the deck including bimini. We will also empty the fridge, close through hulls and secure the dinghy on deck. We have arranged with a local boater to watch the boat during our 2 months absence, and he’ll probably move it to a more protected spot among the mangroves if a hurricane actually threatens during our time up north.

While my upcoming blog posts will not focus on life aboard Carpe Diem, they will continue to share reflections of a liveaboard sailor even while away from the boat.

Until the next post…
Carpe Diem
Captain Bob