Thursday, March 26, 2009

Farewell to Marathon

Wow - we have been here six weeks! Not bad for planning to be here only a week. I guess that speaks very highly of our experience here. This experience is that special blend of the beautiful environment, the comfortable harbour facilities and the relationships created and built upon. The picture above shows Tiffany Rose at her home mooring. We climbed a tower in the local park to get this picture. Christopher has really enjoyed the settled time here and people have been very welcoming to him. He got to join another Gym class with the local home schoolers again this week and had a great time. See the clip below of his part in a relay.
Having the family visits really was a great way to top it all off. And today we had another short extended family visit. My brother-in-law Mike's sister Jan and her husband John were down camping in the Keys and we were able to get together for a short visit. John is quite a sailor himself so it was fun to have them over and see the spectacle of 300 boats in Boot Key harbor. The rest of the day we spent getting ready for our planned departure in the morning. From here we'll take our time heading back towards Biscayne Bay and then we will see what we want to do from there. We'll miss it here. It's been a blast!
Hey Patti - I am getting better at blowing the conch at sunset. Here's the farewell to Marathon blow taht Christopher captured.
Not sure when we will get our next internet connection.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Key West, a midday sail and....a 'robust wind surge'???? March 20 and 21

Friday arrived and we actually did as we planned to do.......go to Key West! Following the planned schedule of events is important to Christopher and the constant "change of plans" refrain of the last couple of days had not been popular with him so today was our day for things to go smoothly. We had a moment of doubt when we drove by another sign announcing a bridge closure but we all agreed that the date we read was for April and continued on. With the same streets to cruise for Christopher he once again got the chance to hang out in the pool with mom after a fabulously stuffing meal. Meanwhile the others all went to see the sights of the main drag. We all met up again and went for a waterside drink as the sun was setting to the delight of the crowd at Mallory Square.
The last day of the visit had weather that was predicted to be changeable with a robust wind surge later in the day. The wind was brisk but not crazy yet so we went for a real sail out on the ocean. This was our first chance to do this with Steve and Syl and so it was time for each of them to take the helm. With the boat in capable hands I got to be on the lookout for turtles and other things. Steve's helming was smooth sailing, and so was Syl's - sort of. Syl's first tack was a bit slow and we kinda got a bit stuck head to wind, but came out of it quickly. So the next tack was more aggressive and into a significant gust. This caused our most exciting heeling of the day as people and things slid from one side of the boat to the other with short gasps of excitement I think. Christopher thought it was great and laughed about it for the rest of the trip. I'd say their first ocean sail was a wonderful success!
Back in the harbor for the last evening we got to sing happy Birthday to Syl and Shirley (for next month) with candles in Key Lime pie. More food, more drinks and some reflection on the week and then it was time to hit the bunks for a raucus windy night. At 4:30 we were up and loading the dinghy for the windy, bumpy ride to shore and the trip home for the new sea faring adventurers.
Thanks for a fabulous visit Steve and Syl! We miss you already.
Carolyn, you're next...

Change of plans! Bridge is closed! Toilet broke! Waterspout sighted! March 18 and 19

The first days went as planned and everything cooperated. And then…it all changed! First we hopped into the car to zoom down to Key West. Part way along we realized the 7 Mile bridge was closing at 8pm for the night. Screeeech! Head on back! Don’t want to be stranded out there. All the food and drink are back on the boat! As always though, this presented the opportunity to spend the afternoon dinghying over to the beach to swim and bask in the sun. Well most of us rode the dinghy. Shirley volunteered to paddle the kayak the whole way and did so in record time. The water was warmer than it has been all season so jumping in and splashing around was great fun. We found out how our different body types float in salt water, but I won’t elaborate on those details.

Change of plans! Next day we planned to head off to anchor out at Bahia Honda. The weather was iffy but seemed OK enough. Just as our final preparations were happening Shirley calls from down below. “There seems to be a problem captain. The head (boat language for toilet) is broken!” Five people on the boat and no potty doesn’t make for a good holiday. Another opportunity! This time to learn more intimately the workings of the plumbing system on Tiffany Rose. Steve left his bow fluff postion and jumped in with both arms and we set to fix it right. After a trip to the hardware store and a $0.25 part and some vasoline we had it running smoothly again. Ahhh! Meanwhile, in order to avoid too many feet potentially sloshing around in foul slosh, Christopher took Shirley and Syl to shore to tour the local hot spots, all diligently photographed by our official photographer.
Change of plans! With the head fixed we still had time to head out and decided to hit the reef once more. The weather was a bit threatening but nothing bad going on. Just as we arrived to the reef a voice came over the radio announcing a waterspout south of Marathon. “Hey, that’s where we are!” Shirley and I scanned the waters and sure enough, to the east of us there it was. A tornado over water reaching from the clouds to the water and creating local chaos. Yikes! We don’t have experience in sailing in water spouts in the ocean so 180 degree turn was made, the bow fluff returned to the cockpit and Tiffany Rose’s engine scurried us back to the harbour.

They're here! Steve and Syl's visit begins! March 16 and 17

They’re here! Unlike Patti’s arrival at midnight, Steve and Syl arrived mid afternoon on a pretty nice day. First order of business after the dinghy ride to shore was to kick back on the boat and relax, eat and drink, and then eat and drink again at supper. Kind of a regular day in the Keys! They fit into this culture quite impressively. Our first real adventure the next day was to release the mooring ball and head out to the coral reef at Sombrero Key. Since our guests had recently completed their SCUBA courses and had a fabulous underwater experience with the family down in Australia we were eager to explore this great reef with them. The winds and sun looked like a good one for this and we weren’t dissappointed. As we were arriving we could tell the conditions were good because almost all the moorings were taken. At first plunge everyone was amazed at the number and variety of fish. Snappers, damsels, rays, parrots, and plenty of barracuddas. One of them looked at Shirley in the wrong way and she swam an impressively strong speed back to the boat. Christopher had some great views with his mask on and then we popped into the dinghy with the glassbottom bucket for more relaxed viewing. This gave him a chance to get a fuller view of what his books show so well. The water was still rolly and some stomachs were getting a bit turned over a bit. As the wind died down the surface became very calm and it was spectacular to see so clearly below right from the boat. We could see all the fish as if we were looking into a giant (very giant) aquarium! On the way back Steve and Syl resumed their positions relaxing at the bow of boat – this relaxed mode is affectionately known as “Bow fluff”. Of course we returned to more food and beverages to watch another Keys sunset and to blow the conch shell.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Trains, Guitars, Space shuttle and cleaning our bottom

One big advantage to cruising in the Florida Keys is the way we can still access other things. Here we are hanging out in these funky islands and at the same time planning a great surprise for Christopher - a big train event in Miami called A Day Out With Thomas. The tickets were bought, the car was rented and off we went down highway 1 to the big city. We have been to similar events at home in the summer and this day felt even more summery than those did. There was lots to do but mostly it was watching the trains come and go and travel down the tracks that Christopher loves. A feast of train action it was.

Other items occupying us lately have us thinking about an imminent departure from Boot Key harbor. Because we have been here over a month there is a definite layer of growth happening on the bottom of the boat. A fine marine biology study indeed. So yesterday with wetsuit and snorkel on and Christopher and Shirley supporting with a scrub brush from the dinghy, I dove under the boat to start scraping this stuff off. I was surprised at the cloud of life that would drift past my mask with each scrape. We also took Sea Jay 2, our dinghy, over to the beach and flipped it over to clean its bottom. We all feel way better now. We highly recommend cleaning your dinghies guys!

This evening (Sunday) was fun on two accounts. First we had a great guitar jam session on board Tiffany Rose. Chris and Divya from Maggie M came over and it was our mutual tastes in music that made it a rockin' good time. I hope the neighbouring boats agreed! And while this was going on we got to witness a space shuttle launch from a few hundred miles away. It was impressively bright and the trail was clear as day.
Tomorrow Steve and Syl arrive for a March break week of fun. This may be a bit different than the other cruises they are used to. But our cruise director Christopher will ensure a good time for all! Dinner at the Captain's table tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

What a visit! March 6-11

Since September 15 the 3 of us have been cosily living on Tiffany Rose. We have had others on board to visit, have cocktails and all that but not to stay over. So we were very curious what it would be like to have someone live on board with us. Could we handle it well? Could they? What would they think about the lack of privacy close quarters affords? And how does that toilet thing work anyway?? This week my sister Patti courageously ventured down this way on her own arriving at a hard-to-find-in-the-dark marina at around midnight. It didn't take long at all for her to settle in and before we knew it we were all getting up in the morning for bacon and eggs and to plan the day. Now it feels like we are on holidays too. So with a slathering of sun screen off to the beach we went. The winds of the last few weeks are still here but the sun came out enough to allow us to lounge around doing beach stuff. And then, since Patti had a car it was off to a water side seafood restaurant and a treat for Christopher - mini golf!

Next morning we released the mooring ball and headed out to Bahia Honda Key. With gravol ingested we hoisted the sails and Patti was plunged into her first ocean sail. The wind was at our backs and the waves pushed us along - as well as up and down a lot. By the time we were heading in to the anchorage the wind was really howling and I was getting great views as the helm rode over the large swells. The anchorage was fairly calm and we were able to put the motor on the dinghy and head to shore for some exploring and beaching and snorkeling. Christopher is in charge of all tours and he upheld this duty in fine form all the while taking 300 or so pictures. The weather was very kind to us and after a fun time on the key we headed back to the boat to get the BBQ going and pour a few sundowner drinks. Patti is adapting well to these sea going rituals! The nights this week have been almost as beautiful as the days. The beautiful bright moon has been dancing on the water while the stars display their ancient patterns.

The next day we head back out onto the ocean with the wind on our nose. On our way back we decide to check out the reef a few miles out, mistakenly thinking the seas will have calmed down a bit. After struggling with the mooring ball and having the line wrap around the keel in a threatening way we finally get moored out there. What fun! After taking the mainsail down and losing the stability it provides we are rocking violently from side to side and up and down. One of those sick Wonderland rides designed to release you of your lunch. Patti is surpassing all tests now! She sat there like this was normal for her while I felt like my insides and outsides were not agreeing on how to handle this ride. A plunge into the water for a quick snorkel and a careful re-boarding helped my body get back into kilter. The sail back was Patti's time to take the helm (see video below). And as with everything else she did so flawlessly. Woo-hoo! We got to eat lunch while she held our course!

Back on land for the final day of the keys adventure - off to Key West! This city was very lively with Spring Break party people in various states of dress and drink. A bit of a contrast to the folks off the cruise ships in various states of hair and drink. We had lunch at Dante's which has a great pool for patrons which Christopher and I took advantage of while the lady folk went cruising the town. Christopher loved the security of swimming in a pool for the first time on this trip. We'll have to seek out more of these! The rest of the day was wandering with cameras in hand to see a few requisite attractions and then to end up at Mallory Square for the sunset spectacle. As the sun set I got to try out my new present that Patti picked up in the afternoon - a conch shell to blow to salute the setting sun. The sun hit the horizon and now was my chance, while a 1000 or so people watched from the square. Raised it to my lips, gave a mighty blow and "Pflipfff!" Hmm, more to this than meets the eye. A few heads turned, but likely not in adulation. After a few more tries the trumpeting we were wating for sounded from the conch and all was good again. Christopher, though, was just as impressed with the first ones, at least he smiled a lot.

A drive back to Marathon and a late night dinghy back to Tiffany Rose and Patti's visit was winding up. The 5:30 rise to get to the airport was given more significance as Christopher was not to be satisfied with a kiss goodbye. He briskly popped out of bed and put his life jacket on over his pajamas to assume his customary role as dinghy driver. And he did so in splendid fashion. A fitting send off to end a fabulous visit. Thanks for coming Patti!!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Company's coming! March 5,2009

Company's coming! Tomorrow night Dave's sister Patti arrives for a visit and then during the March Break his brother Steve and wife Syl will arrive. Exciting for us and we hope for them too. Our first overnight guests since the adventure began!

We are still in Marathon as we await their arrival. We talk to some boaters here who say they arrived three years ago and planned to stay for a week and they are still here. Why? As I mentioned before, it is the most sheltered harbour around so it attracts a lot of boaters. With that comes a sort of community. It kind of feels like summer camp to us, with the long term residents being the camp counsellors and us new arrivals being the wide eyed campers. There is something for everybody. Dave goes to a guitar jam evening, I found a yoga class and Christopher does Phys. Ed with the local home schoolers.

Although the Keys are not known for their beaches there is a nice beach at a community park that we dinghy to some days. When the wind stops howling we take Tiffany Rose out to the reef to snorkel and when we can't go we explore closer to shore from Sea Jay 2 (our dinghy). We have a glass bottom bucket and we've seen some interesting things through it, like the sea star in the picture.
The wind has been howling this week and there are a lot of boats waiting for that elusive window to cross to the Bahamas. The windows have been few and far between this winter. We hear that the Gulf Stream crossing is often more gentle in the spring, so we will consider the trip again in late March before we head north.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

February 24- Pilgrimage to Margaritaville

When we first left on this trip, I pictured that in going to the Keys, by sailboat, that the ultimate destination was Key West. But the further south we'd go, other boaters would talk about this place called Marathon. I didn't get it. Why not Key West? The guide book says although the marinas are out of range of most budgets, there are mooring balls there, or you could anchor. And who has heard of Marathon anyway?

Well......we've been in Marathon now for about two weeks. The thing about these Keys is, they are these small little bits of land, on one side you've got the Atlantic Ocean which can get pretty raucous when the wind is just so, and on the other side you've got Florida Bay or the Gulf of Mexico which can get pretty raucous when the wind is just so the other way. Marathon? Well it has this harbour that pretty much offers protection from all sides. And most of what you need to get by is within walking distance. Sometimes a long walking distance mind you, by available nonetheless.

"Take the bus, rent a car, but leave your boat in Marathon" the advice was, when we'd ask experienced boaters about Key West. We still weren't convinced. But we'd booked a car for the day we went to the Dolphin Research Center, and the price was right so we kept it for two days. "Lets go see Key West now, so that when we go there to anchor we'll be familiar with it." .....and off we went.

On the way we stopped at "the only miniature golf in the Keys" on Ramrod Key because it had been far too long since Christopher, our mini golf pro, had been on the links. A fun course, complete with a tunnel cave, waterfalls and ponds that capture the ball. Then on to Jimmy Buffett's promised land.

We drove to the "southernmost point in the continental U.S." spot then had to be quite creative in finding a parking space. And then we walked and walked and walked everywhere. It was definitely Key West and although we turned down the opportunity to patronize the clothing optional bar we got the flavour of a fun loving town. We enjoyed a relaxed supper at an outdoor cafe and then headed to Mallory Square for the sunset celebration. Quite a sight to behold, crowds of people at the western tip of the Key watching and applauding the sun set, and magicians, human statues, all sorts of entertainment going on.

We of course tried to glimpse the mooring and anchoring area and enroute to do that, stopped to talk with a woman selling the ferry trip to the Dry Tortugas. Christopher mentioned Tiffany Rose and when she realized that we were 'cruisers', she said, " Oh, I'm so envious, I lived on my sailboat for two years and just sold it." So of course we started asking her all sorts of questions about places to go, and she was very helpful and positive. When I asked her about anchoring or mooring there she said it was the worst anchorage she'd ever been in. Basically it boils down to not being a very protected spot, with a very long and rough dinghy ride to shore, so unless you've got a nice stretch of calm weather, it doesn't rank high in the 'comfortable places to be" list.

We left thinking that one day was not enough time there. Whether by boat in a calm stretch, or with Dave's sister by car when she comes for a visit soon we hope to get back there again.