Sunday, March 27, 2016

Marathon to Palm Beach Gardens

We have covered a lot of ground water in the last few days. We left Marathon early on Friday the 25th, the first good weather (non-windy) day of the week. We backtracked a few miles to go under the Seven-Mile bridge and travel up the Gulf side of the islands.

Dolphins provided entertainment for a little while.

We stopped at Elliott Key after 95 miles and 11 hours and anchored for the night. It was a terrific anchorage, and we stayed about a mile offshore to avoid most of the mosquitos and no-seeums.

Sunrise, Elliott Key

Saturday the 26th was a shorter day for us- only 40 miles, 5 hours. We blew right past Miami, admiring the view of the city's skyline from the water. We have been to Miami several times, so didn't feel a need to stop here.

We stopped for the night at Loggerhead Marina in Hollywood. It wasn't easy- the first slip they sent us to was roped off. Hmmm. The next slip we tried was at the far end of a very narrow faraway- too narrow to maneuver, so we nixed that idea, and asked to tie up at the T-dock, which we did. A dock hand finally appeared to help tie us up. By this time we were tired, hot, and grouchy, so we walked to the pool (the 1/4 mile walk was more like 1 mile each way, but we needed the exercise.) The pool was beautiful and refreshing, and restored our good humor.

And we needed plenty of good humor today, Easter Sunday. Last year we attended a sunrise Easter service on the beach in Fort Pierce. Today we listened to our hometown church's worship service via the Internet. Not quite the same, but better than nothing.  Before the sun was up we were passing by Cruise Ship Wonderland, aka Fort Lauderdale. We saw 6 or 7 cruise ships docked there, and dodged a large container ship.

Notice the TV/movie screen on top of this ship

Mark had a wonderful plan for today, the day of endless bridges famous in this part of the Sunshine State, and it worked beautifully! We untied at 0620- an hour before sunrise. We had plenty of light provided by the moon and the unending parade of high rise buildings lining the waterway. We had to pass under 21 bridges in 64 miles. Back home, there are no bridges across the Mississippi between Dubuque and Prairie du Chien- a distance of about 60 miles. So you can see why 21 bridges in 64 miles seems excessive to me. 12 of those bridges were no problem- they ranged in height from 22 to 65 feet above the water. Mara Beel is 21 feet tall, so if a bridge is lower than that, it has to open for us. Most of these bridges don't open whenever a boat needs them to do so- they are on schedules, usually open every 30 minutes. So, 9 bridges were too low for us. I am so tired of doing math problems in my head! It is necessary to determine how far it is to the next low bridge, when it will next open, and what speed we need to travel to make the opening. I don't even like math when I am not sweaty and tired, and I do know there is a calculator on my phone. Even so.

We caught a huge break on the final low bridge- it had to open 20 minutes early to allow a work tow and barge to pass through, so we were allowed to go through as well. Yay! We were getting close to our marina, so Mark called them on his cell phone several times for instructions- no answer. He called them on our VHF radio- no answer. Finally a boater in that marina told us that the staff had left at noon. It was 2:45, and they had told us they would be around until 4:45. I quickly searched for nearby marinas (there are lots, but they often are filled up) and found one only 5 miles further on. So we pulled into Loggerhead at Palm Beach Gardens, happy to be finished with bridges.

After cleaning up, we walked a mile or so each way to Thirsty Turtle for dinner. Shrimp and scallops. 
Mark is such a sweetheart- he volunteered to do the laundry while I worked on this blog- what a guy!! Happy Easter!

Thursday, March 24, 2016


We had lunch with friends from Muscatine at Lazy Days!
Delma, Diana and Becky

Mark, Bob and Jimmy

Quiet sunset on Boot Key Harbor

Then there was the MTOA potluck at Sombrero Resort. 

Pam and Art from "Tinacious."

We are fueled up (via tank truck), pumped out, provisioned, and ready to head north. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Boca Chica to Marathon

It was only 5 hours, but it felt like a "marathon." We left Boca Chica Sunday morning after a lot of weather study by Mark and John, in conditions we felt were "doable".  We vacillated back and forth on whether we should head out or not. (Did I mention that John left us here to drive home? Smart guy!) It was doable, but there's a world of difference between doable and enjoyable! The waves were 2-3 feet- that may not sound like much, but depending on where the waves hit the boat, 2-3 feet can be plenty uncomfortable. We pitched and rolled the entire trip. We have a Coleman cooler in the fly bridge tied from one of its handles to the table pedestal to keep it secure. The motion of the boat was enough to break off the handle in short order. Yikes!

Then there were the crab traps. We cruised 2-3 miles offshore, and those tricky things were sprinkled randomly everywhere. They were difficult to spot in the breaking waves- especially those with white markers. We had several close calls, so it certainly was not a boring ride! Sighting the Seven-Mile Bridge was certainly welcome, and entering Boot Key Harbor had us breathing a huge sigh of relief. I don't have a single photo documenting our wild ride, since taking pictures was out of the question. We were not in any danger, just uncomfortable.

Maybe we are wimps, but we took yesterday off to recover our wits. We took a long walk to Home Depot and otherwise relaxed. Today we will tackle a few things on our list of boat chores. It looks like we will be here a few days waiting for the wind to subside.
Sailboats in Boot Key Harbor

Friday, March 18, 2016

Everything on a boat is broken....

The last 3 days have been interesting here on the Mara Beel. And frustrating. Hopefully things are now resolved. First, there was the issue with our 14 month-old refrigerator. The last few times we anchored overnight we noticed its dedicated battery was not keeping up. The battery slowly lost its oomph and the fridge would not run properly. It works fine when we are connected to shore power. After detailed analysis and testing (and I’m talking hours here), Mark and John concluded that the 11 month-old 4D battery was at fault. They went out and bought 2 smaller, lighter 6 volt batteries – 60 pounds each instead of a single battery weighing over 100 pounds. Same amount of amps, but deep cell batteries. This particular battery is located under the fridge, deep under the galley floor- no easy task to hoist it out of there! They succeeded in removing it, moving it up 4 steps to the deck. Eventually one of the other boaters here helped lower it from the boat into a cart to our rental car to return it to the store.

Problem solved, right? Not so easy. The fridge still wouldn’t run on battery power. More about that later. It was about this time that the microwave began to kill all power to the house side of our electrical system. (Our electrical has 2 parts- 1 30- amp cord runs the house and another runs our 2 heating/cooling systems.) They are usually connected to shore power with a 50-amp splitter. This is a new problem that we’ve not had before. This is really turning into a fun day(s). More hours of discussion, analysis, testing, re-testing, more discussion. More analysis, more testing. One side of the splitter is much hotter than the other. Switching the 30-amp cords does not seem to make a difference. Conclusion: the 50-amp splitter is the problem. Another trip to West Marine to purchase a new splitter. Replacing the end of one of the cords. By now I have lost track of what happened when- it all became a blur. I can’t even begin to describe all that the guys pondered, tried, and re-tried over the course of 3 days.

Still having problems. Connected our power cords to the pedestal on the other side of the dock. Everything worked perfectly. Called the marina office. We were not allowed, understandably, to run our cords across the walkway where they would be a tripping hazard. They concluded they needed to send an electrician to check this out. On a Naval Air Station, a power pedestal in their marina is not a high priority, so were were instructed to move Mara Beel to a different slip on a different dock. We did that speedily, but we were almost uninvited to the St. Paddy’s party on C Dock because we were now residents of A Dock.  That would have been tragic! Anyway, the electrical problem was resolved- the power pedestal on the dock was bad, and we have a new splitter.

Meanwhile, the fridge and its battery were still not friends. Couldn’t find much helpful information anywhere. Mark called another boater who had experienced similar problems. He told us about a 15-amp fuse on top of the unit. To access it, the guys had to remove the molding around the outside of the fridge and pull it out. Another trip to West Marine to buy the fuse. (We had every size but that one on board, of course.) Knock on wood, cross your fingers, it seems to have done the trick. The Norcold and its batteries are best buddies. We probably didn’t need a new battery, but oh well.

Mark and John replace the fuse

John thought he was coming aboard for a week of vacation- we really fooled him!! He has been invaluable in getting these crazy problems solved- thank you, John! It just proves that the old adage is true- everything on a boat is broken- you just don’t know it yet!

We managed to have some fun in the midst of this craziness. I did the laundry. Wait- that was not exactly fun. We did attend the St. Paddy’s party on “Bravo Zulu”, a gorgeous yacht here. Everyone in this marina is former military, (as is John) so the stories are much different than what we typically hear. In fact, the man that helped move our heavy battery is a retired 3-star general!

St. Patrick's Day party on Bravo Zulu

Today we had a Vessel Safety Check by a Power Squadron member- another retired 3-star general! We passed with flying colors. We then enjoyed lunch with friends in Key West at a great restaurant- Salute! on the beach. Joan hired me as an online instructor way back in 1999, and developed and runs THE best online program for teachers, based at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.

Joan and Becky

Joan and Gerry Vandervelde with us

The beach at Salute

It’s been a hectic few days here. We hope to relax and enjoy the locale tomorrow before heading out on Sunday.

Mangroves at the edge of the marina

Sunset this evening

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

More from Boca Chica

It's not unusual to see jellyfish swimming around our boat.

Masts at day's end

The conch has sounded!

Marco Island to Boca Chica

 What a day! We were up at 0500 and underway by 0610. Of course it was pitch dar, but the bread crumbs on our chart plotter led us back out of the twists and turns we made entering our anchorage yesterday. That and John was stationed on the bow with a powerful light to help pick out the markers.

We re-entered the Gulf and just as the sun began to glow we were encased in thick fog. We definitely appreciate our radar's power to keep us safe even more now. We did encounter a sailboat that apparently did not have radar as it sailed blindly along. We could see it's blip on the radar as it approached so we blew our horn intermittently to warn it. It was just close enough to get our attention, but not a close call.

The fog finally dissipated to reveal calm seas that came even calmer- the water went from 1 footers to flat as the day went on. This is why we decided to make it a very long day and push on to the Keys. It's hard to pass up such beautiful conditions!

Our wake

Cloud formation over the distant land
The auto pilot steered us for the entire 12-hour ride-- so glad we had it repaired in Fort Myers! We took turns taking naps, so there were always at east two of us watching for the ever-present crab traps. I don't think of those as a nuisance any more- I have redefined each one I see as crab cakes, crab rangoon, crab claws, crab fettuccine, crab bisque, etc. Yum!


We spotted a total of 8 sea turtles, but none wanted to smile at my camera.

John and Mark calculated the trip would take 12 hours, and they were exactly right. We went around Key West, passed Stock Island, and pulled in to the Boca Chica Marina at 6:15 pm. We are allowed to dock here because John is a retired Navy Commander- this marina is only for military folks. It is part of the Key West Naval Air Station at Boca Chica. A fringe benefit is the display of fighter jets we get to watch as the pilots fly their training runs. It is loud, but very cool to watch. And since it is hot here, we have our windows closed and our AC running, which muffles the sound. After docking we devoured burgers and fries at Navigators Bar & Grill, and made it to the blowing of the conch shell to mark sunrise on our dock, followed by docktails- until the no-seeums arrived.

What a fantastic day! We plan to spend a few days here before heading up the Keys. We are like Mary Poppins- we have to leave when the wind changes!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Fort Myers to Marco Island

It is great to be cruising after our pleasant 2-month stay in Fort Myers. Today we covered 52 miles in just about 7 hours. The first 10 or so miles were a no-wake zone, so it was slow going. Then we traversed the Miserable Mile (Very narrow and shallow high traffic area), passed under the Sanibel bridge, and entered the Gulf of Mexico. There is no Intercostal Waterway between Fort Myers and the Keys, so we are on the outside. The water color changed from brown to light blue-green at last.


Our good friend John Scott is cruising with us, making this trip even more enjoyable! His knowledge and experience are very welcome, as his his companionship.

We had most 2-foot waves off our forward starboard quarter, giving us a mildly bouncy ride. It wasn't a problem until I came below to make lunch. After staggering around in the galley I definitely had some thoughts of sea sickness. Fortunately I felt fine after returning to the bridge.

We anchored in Smokehouse Bay on Marco Island for the night- a wonderful spot!  We took a dinghy ride to shore and tied up at the Winn-Dixie dinghy dock while we checked out the area and made a few purchases.

Smokehouse Bay
We have a very long day planned for tomorrow to take advantage of the nearly perfect cruising conditions predicted.