Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Touched By A Dolphin

About 9 miles down the road from where we are at Boot Key Harbor is the Dolphin Research Centre. It seemed like a good thing to do so we rented a car to go check it out. Since November we have been seeing lots of dolphins, sometimes leaping into the air and sometimes riding our waves, so we didn't know what we would think of dolphins in captivity. Many people recommended it though and that convinced us to give it a try. Good thing - it was a fabulous day. They really do a great job there and the staff all seem to be fully engaged and enjoying what they are doing. Of course a good part of the day is the entertainment of them presenting what the dolphins can do, flipping through the air and all that but they also spend a good effort at education on ecological factors for dolphins and other sea life as well as a focus on environmentally friendly practices in general. One of their philosophies is that if you care about something you will strive to protect it. And a day with the dolphins really builds that human-animal connection. A highlight for Christopher was to get up close and personal as part of one of the optional programs. We didn't know how he would react to getting so close but it would be worth the try. So he and Shirley went out on the little dock and waited for the instructions from the trainer for the two different dolphin interactions. The first was the swim pass touch. You lean over the water and the dolphin swims slowly by and you stoke its back. Christopher had a bit of trouble with the balance while leaning over with one hand but he got the hang of it. Success - "Oooooo!" ( I think you can see him saying that in the picture). The next was to shake hands face to face. Again the balance was difficult but he had warmed up to the whole thing and was able to do it properly. "Whoa!" "Cool". It wasn't long ago that he would have balked at getting into the same space as a large creature like a dolphin and here he was shaking hands. You should know as well, that Shirley was very brave too! She likes touching mammal skin. What a day!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Don't know the reason...stayed here all season...

The last few days we have been getting to know the area around here. Our mooring area isn’t the most picturesque but it has character. As the sun sets each evening the view across the harbour is quite a site. Over 200 masts all against a backdrop of the blazing sun accompanied by the sound of number of sailors blowing their conchs, saluting the setting sun. Then when it is dark it looks amazing with all the masts burning anchor lights. It appears as two different star-filled skies, one of anchor lights and one of real stars. Often there are events going on organized by other cruisers. A big pot luck dinner the other night with live music was pretty nice. Right beside the marina is a nice community park and we have spent some time there playing ball and Frisbee. Yesterday we sailed out onto the ocean again and anchored at Bahia Honda Key, just off the beach of the state park. Except for the highway in the background (see picture) it is a beautiful spot. We swam and snorkeled a bit there as well. These state parks are a good deal. When you anchor out and dinghy in there is no charge. Always on the search for free stuff…! We may be here for a little while still. There's something mesmerizing about swaying on a mooring ball...

Monday, February 16, 2009

Sooo coool!

Today we headed out for some ocean exploring. Our destination was Sombrero Key reef, five miles off shore from Marathon. The reef along the outside of the Keys is amazing. It is the second largest reef in the world, next to the great barrier reef. Just as we were leaving the wind started to build so the calm waters we were hoping for were looking a bit choppy. By the time we were a few miles out we were bouncing quite a bit. The great thing about this area is that mooring balls are provided out at the reefs in good diving spots. This prevents people anchoring around the reefs and destroying them by anchoring in the wrong spots. We picked up one of the moorings and looked overboard. We were immediately amazed at the myriad of fish we could see right over the side. Christopher was very excited because we had just started reading a book about coral reefs - and poof - here we are! Next was the really interesting part getting in the water. The trick was trying to do this safely five miles out in the ocean while waves are rolling along, the boat was bouncing up and down and Christopher is basically a non-swimmer. The first moments in the water were followed by gasps and coughing as a wave instantly hit him in the face. After gripping me in a rather aggressive bear hug for a few minutes he settled down and decided to take a look below. That was worth it! Then again and again. I think he likes it! Shirley and I also took turns snorkeling and life guarding. The sights below were the best we've seen. All kinds of different shapes and sizes of fish along with an abundance of coral varieties. The fish seemed to like the boat and many of them clustered around. Looking underneath I noticed a 3 foot barracuda was happily lounging in the shade there. Some friends who were out as well came over and told us of a large turtle they saw. We didn't see it until we were almost done. We caught a couple of good pictures of it this time and believe it is a loggerhead. Cute.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

To the Heart of the Keys

We left Islamorada and went a short distance to a beautiful spot called Lignumvitae Key. The beauty of it was that we were really out there on our own with the island there, the water and the sun. In this area we are also traversing the southern edge of the Everglades National Park. Just water and islands. After a peaceful stay there with some jumping off the boat into the water ( Christopher enjoyed filming the one can opener I did) the weather looked good for heading out to the ocean side again. So on Thursday morning we sailed off into the Hawk Channel on our way to Marathon. The winds were rather light so we were surprised that the water was as wavey as it was. Nothing bad but it made it feel like we were out on the ocean again. The colour of the water was spectacular and with the combination of about 80 degrees and sun from the sky and the water it felt really hot out there. We were also greeted by a few sea turtles and then a shark swam right by the boat. Can't wait to go snorkeling...

Our destination was Boot Key harbor in Marathon. We arrived to the sight of about 300 boats in the harbour, most moored neatly in rows on mooring balls. A lot different than the spot we just left! You can see some of the boats in the picture of Shirley in the kayak. This is the destination of choice for many cruisers who head south. It is quite a place, in a very sheltered harbour. Many of the boats have been here since December and won't leave until March. Every morning there is a "cruisers net" on the VHF radio with info on what is happening in the harbour. Last night we joined a musical jam session at the Tiki hut on shore. For Valentines supper we went out to the Dockside Bar and Grill. It was a great atmosphere and a terrific live singer/guitar player. Never had a shrimp and sourkraut sandwich before but it was delicious - so was the Key Lime pie that Christopher loved as well. We plan to hang out here a bit and see what it is all about.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Poss Abilities in Australia!

No Grandma - we aren't sailing to Australia. But it is interesting that the Down Syndrome Association in New South Wales heard about our trip and included us in their blog. This was back in January but I forgot to include it then because we had poor internet service much of January. It is fun and inspiring to get connected around the world like that. As a result we have had a number of comments and emails from some great people who have started to follow us as a result. We also need to appologize that we can't always respond because of our lack of connectivity and often just because of time. Here is a link to the blog.

http://keepingupwithds.blogspot.com/ Because it was back in January it is pretty far down the list. If you type poss in the search box at the top left of their page it should come up. Thanks to Jill O'Connor of the NSW Down Syndrome Association for pursuing this connection!

Island Hopping Time Feb 7-9

The last few days we have gotten more into the Keys. Christopher likes the idea of going to another Key. Like with many other things he can then check it off his mental list and get on to the next thing. His latest activity has been to learn to drive the dinghy. The last little while we have had good open areas to practice although it only took a few tries before he got the hang of it - push away to go left, pull towards to go right - and twist the throttle. It has made many of our excursions a little more relaxing for Shirley and me and a bit more exciting for Christopher. On Sunday we were anchored off of Key Largo and wanted to go to John Pennekamp park. It was a very long dinghy ride from our boat to the Key, then through a canal that cut through the Key to Largo Sound and then along Largo Sound to the park marina. Lots of driving opportunity there but also lots of opportunity to get soaked. The wind has been howling for what seems like weeks now and it kicks up even the smaller bodies of water. For our little inflatable dinghy with a 6hp engine it means we get splashed alot, like alot! Our regular "Sunday Drive" attire is full rain suits. Fashionable but not pretentious. The park was a fun place to visit, nestled in a beautiful mangrove shoreline. We hope to get out to the reefs on ocean side to snorkel when the wind dies down. Our next stop was Islamorada. We found a nice anchorage close to a dinghy docking spot (tying up to the mangroves) with access to most amenities. With laundry having been ignored for the last long while it was time to seek out a laundromat. When we found it it was a hefty walk, which was not encouraging. On a whim we walked into the resort across the road and asked if we could use their dock for this vital chore. The lady there was wonderful and let us pull right in! What joy we get from the simple things and the kindness of strangers!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Little Boca Chita Feb 5-7

The winds have been blowing hard from the north for a while now, and many boats have been waiting for the seemingly elusive opportunity to cross the Gulf Stream in safe conditions, but it has been over two weeks since the last favourable winds. So it is time to move on. We headed out to the neatest little island called Boca Chita Key, part of the Biscayne national park. It is a beautiful spot that was partially developed back in the 20s by Mark Honeywell (of thermostat fame). Now it is just a nice place to tie up a boat - especially on week days. Weekends the loud music on big boats arrive beating out the tunes of their cultural heritage. A very different flavour but still fun. If you look at the pictures you can see Tiffany Rose tied up and in the background only a few steps away is the ocean. A Ranger came along and gave a talk on the different ecosystems. More boating schooling on-the-fly! Christopher was interested in the different corals she brought along to show us, like the fan coral he's holding in the picture. We spent some good time exploring the island and going out at night to see if we could see the large land crabs that have been digging huge burrows all over the place. But they didn't show themselves to us.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Close Encounters - February 4,2009

For the past few days we have been scooting around Biscayne Bay, having some great sails and stocking up on groceries and supplies – seems like we are always out hunting and gathering to provide for the family. At the moment we are back at the Crandon Park marina, this time at a slip because it is a low cost and good location and a strong arctic front is coming in. Walking around the docks here we can see the bottom in the fairly clear water. Lots of fish swimming around down there to see. And then last evening Christopher and I were out checking them out and then there it was - SHARK! (oops I forgot to precede this with “Grandma, please skip this section to the next paragraph…”) It was very cool and swam by us for two passings. It was about a five foot nurse shark, which is not a person-eating variety (if you are reading this Grandma!). There is also a resident barracuda we have seen a number of times. Then this morning while I was chatting with some other folks here Christopher was observing in the same area and as we joined up he said “I saw a ray.” Cool again! “Show me” I said and when we got back to the spot there was a ray swimming around. Now if that wasn’t cool enough, while we were sailing on the Bay we saw a sea turtle. With the water so clear in that area it was easy to see all its markings and then it dove down and we sailed on. Our latest thing is to start fishing here. Today was our first day and we caught 3 off the back of the boat. They were small ones (Lane Snappers we think) but it was still exciting!
Being in this area has also meant meeting up with other interesting humans. We have met some other boats who we have come to know from other parts of our journey – Chocobo, Icongnita and Abraxas. And then there is Kevon and Debbie who live on their boat at the marina and drove us to the city to shop and then came over in the evening to swap sailing stories. Having had our share of mishaps as new sailors on this journey it is comforting to hear about those of well seasoned sailors!