Back in the USA! You know you're back in America when you encounter a fifteen foot tall statue of a pigeon with blood dripping from his neck in the streets. Miami, I love your style.
April 6, 2007 - Boot Key Harbor
We've been to Home Depot, K-Mart, Publix, West Marine, and the library so far. Yesterday Laura and I took the dinghy up Sisters Creek to the beach out on the ocean side, and discovered a very nice beach, park, and playground. Today we wanted to visit the Natural History Museum but it's raining and they are probably closed because it's Good Friday. We have most of our chores completed now, so we're just waiting for good weather to jump over to Key West and perhaps the Dry Tortugas.
Photo: Some things, like when Laura loses a baby tooth, get more complicated on a boat. For example, does the tooth fairy have to pay a dinghy dock fee, and if so, is that deducted from the amount left under the pillow?
April 8, 2007 - Newfound Harbor
Last year it seemed that we spent most of our five days in Marathon doing chores or working on the boat. This time we were able to spend a more time exploring. We especially enjoyed the park at Sombrero Beach and the Crane Point Museum and Nature Center. I can see why so many people spend the entire season in Boot Key. There's a good feeling to the place that starts with the friendly bridge tender at the Boot Key Bridge and carries throughout your visit. "Hope to see you again soon," the bridge tender said as we departed. I hope so, too.
Photo: Sombrero Beach is very nice, with an excellent city park and playground. We dinghied there via Sisters Creek, not sure if a sign that read "No boat mooring allowed" on a dock meant that we weren't supposed to leave our dinghy near the beach--but both times we visited we had no problem.
April 9, 2007 - Key West
We dinghied in to the dock at Kraal's Turtle Restaurant ($5.50/day) and walked Duval Street on our way to the post office. It seemed very fitting to be filing IRS form 4868 (application to extend tax deadline) from Key West.
Photo: This picture, for me, nicely sums up Key West: a barefoot, bare chested and apparently patriotic resident rides his Harley down Duval Street with a live bird sitting on his head while all of us tourists pretend we see this kind of thing at home all the time.
April 10, 2007 - Key West
Next we walked to the famous Key West Cemetery. We searched for quite a while, but could not find the headstone for E. Larez, "devoted fan of Julio Ingleses." There are 75,000 people buried there, so perhaps we didn't give it enough time. We still hadn't taken a picture at the "southernmost spot," ridden the Conch Tour Train, or picked up the bar of gold at the Mel Fisher museum, or even attended the daily sunset party at Mallory Square, but the girls were tired so we made an early night of it and headed home. Tomorrow if the weather holds we'll be up early for the 68 mile journey out to the Try Tortugas.
Photos: (1) "I told you I was sick!" We did manage to locate the most visited headstone in Key West...this guy is said to be a hypochondriac who had the last word. (2) Deep into the Catholic part of the cemetery, we came across this grave site flamingo. All of these cemetery icons have meanings, but I can't seem to find what a flamingo would designate--unless it just means you're buried in Key West.
April 12, 2007 - Dry Tortugas
This morning we left the anchorage at 6:00 AM, well before sunup, in hopes of having some time to explore the Dry Tortugas this afternoon. We had a favorable breeze and were making good time until we got just south of the Marquesas. The good news was that we caught a nice mackerel, actually the second one we've caught using the excellent lures that Robert brought us last month. I had to filet the fish quickly, since the bad news was a nasty squall line bearing down on us. With a double-reefed main we plowed into 30 knots of wind and four foot waves for about an hour. Why do the storm winds always come from the wrong direction? Never again, my friend, would the winds on this day blow favorably. The fishing remained exciting, as we hooked two more mackerel (they call this water "mackerel alley") and what looked like a nice tuna, but darn if all three didn't get away from us.
When we finally tooled into the anchorage in front of Fort Jefferson after eleven hours of travel, it was like arriving at the Magic Kingdom. Tens of thousands of sooty terns were swarming all over Bush Key like locusts. A gigantic spotted eagle ray went by below us, and soon four of the biggest grouper I have ever seen--these guys looked like manatees--came over to hang out under the boat and see if we were careless enough to drop any food. We're looking forward to exploring the immense fort tomorrow, and then will probably boogie out of here in the evening, headed for Everglades City.
Photos: (1) This is far inside the fort as we got today, but it's a huge space in there. You could fit two or three regular fortresses inside Fort Jefferson. (2) Amid the decaying walls, can you spot the thing that doesn't quite fit? (3) Several home-made Cuban refugee boats, one of them only a couple of months old, are pulled up on the beach near the fort. The boats, typically powered by an old car engine, generally carry about 10 to 15 people. If they make it to ashore, they can stay.
April 14, 2007 - Everglades City
We were pleasantly surprised by the snorkeling at the old coal piers, where we truthfully saw the most fish we have ever seen in one place. They were all the same fish (two inch fry of some sort) but we estimated there were 10-12 million of them in that one acre area. They were so thick in places that you could barely see the bottom.
Photos: (1) Just a portion of the huge parade grounds inside the walls. The arched structure at right was the main powder magazine. (2) Between every one of these arches was to be a cannon, and this is just a small section of the bottom of three tiers. (3) Most of the second tier openings were never completed due to concerns over the fort sinking. You can see the moat wall out in front of the fort.
After a last-minute bulb change for the bow lights, we pulled anchor and motored away from Fort Jefferson around 7:30 PM. It was a long bash to windward, but 18 hours later we arrived in Everglades City and tied up to the dock at City Seafood just behind Living Well. Steve and Gloria treated us to a delicious dinner at the Cafe upstairs, and we enjoyed spending the evening with Peter, Monika, and Glaudia (if I'm spelling that right) of Taua, a wonderful 40 foot steel boat out of Brazil that Peter has turned into a true cruising machine. Taua draws 3 1/2 feet with the hydraulic centerboard up and can be beached. Being around this friendly and engaging family really makes you feel like a dumb American. I can only speak one language, can't make a paper airplane that flies as good as Glaudia's, and couldn't mold a part out of epoxy for a winch from scratch like Peter did to save my life.
Photos: (1) Laura and Glaudia had a fabulous time together. Here we are walking through the metropolis of Everglades City to the playground. (2) Among other things, Glaudia knows a lot about fishing! Here she and Laura fish (both successfully, I should add) in front of City Seafood. (3) Glaudia's parents Peter and Monika (Taua) with their friend Jean (Doxie) enjoy their meal at the City Seafood Cafe. Steve and Gloria from Living Well are the chef and hostess for this fine establishment.
April 17, 2007 - Marco Island
Last year the State of Florida prohibited local governments from regulating the anchoring of "non-live-aboard" vessels except in mooring fields (most cruisers are not "live-aboards" in the sense of this law). The Marco Island law seems in direct conflict with the state law as well as federal rules about navigable waters. Word is that the city based their law on a similar one in Clearwater which had been upheld earlier by the Florida courts. They probably don't want to talk about the fact that Clearwater has now dropped their ordinance in order to comply with the state law. All of this makes for an interesting place to visit, although I would have to be hard-pressed to spend a dollar in this town due to their anti-cruiser regulations.
It's always difficult for me to leave a friendly port. It was especially difficult to leave Everglades City this morning. Old friends and new were on the dock to see us off, perhaps for the last time, and I felt like a fool for leaving this wonderful place. Still, we knew were nearing the midpoint of a falling tide so there was no time to delay. Alas, we had not realized that the tide in Everglades City is almost three hours behind the tide at Indian Key. We hit bottom twice in the middle of the channel at the west end of Chokoloskee Bay, but plowed through and thought we had it made...until we reached marker 18. We tried three times to get past the rising bottom, escaping the final attempt only with several minutes of wiggling the boat back and forth in the mud. Fortunately, there was a spot just east of the marker where we could get out of the channel and wait for more favorable conditions. For our 5 1/2 foot draft, you really do want mid-tide or better for this channel!
By Noon we were on the move again, motoring out in the Gulf. The forecast wasn't good, but the reality was worse. By the time had gone ten miles out to get around Cape Romano shoal, the wind was a solid 15-18 knots almost on the nose with four foot seas. I radioed Towboat U.S. for local information and was advised not to attempt the inland waterway north of Marco at low tide, so we headed for Factory Bay. Just to make things more interesting, Capri Pass gave us just six feet of water (that's six inches under the keel) in a couple of spots, with all those swells breaking around us. I had no idea this pass was so shallow, which turned out to be a good thing. Otherwise, we might still be out there bouncing around.
Interesting statistics on our cruise so far: in 581 days we have anchored 173 times, taken 21 moorings, gone into a marina or free dock 46 times, and made 16 overnight passages, the longest of them a two-night journey of around 240 miles. Based on the hours recorded by the autopilot (which has done 99.9% of the steering and now seems to have problems in the fluxgate compass), we have spent around 1360 hours underway.
April 18, 2007 - Cayo Costa Island, Charlotte Harbor