Saturday, January 31, 2009

Picture Perfect Trip; Almost

Boot Key, Florida
24 41.73 N 081 07.21 W

Well, it really did blow up to 35 knots last night. We had a very fast ride. One could say thrilling. I'll even confess to a degree of anxiety at times.

Just before sunset, a second front (warm front?) passed. One could see a sharp line pass over with absolutely cloudy weather in front of the line and absolutely clear sky behind it. The clear sky made for exceptionally beautiful star gazing last night. It also caused the low temperatures. I know Libby suffers in the cold so I tried to take the brunt, 4 hours watch for me versus 2 for her. Still, even I was cold despite the multiple layers.

I was right about the waves. They never did get big. Never more than 2-3 feet. Despite that, for the very first time on Tarwathie. I got pooped. A rogue wave suddenly broke over the stern and dumped a load of cold water down the back of my neck. After that, my clothes were wet and I was even colder.

At least the winds stayed moderate, nothing more than 20 knots. That is until my turn to take a nap. Then they picked up to 30 or more. Tarwathie was really flying. The highest sustained speed we saw was 9.5 knots, but the GPS recorded an instantaneous peak speed of 13.02 knots. She was also becoming increasingly hard to steer, despite the fact that we were flying the foresail only. I reefed the foresail 50% and steering became much easier. Speed decreased to 7 knots.

We depended on our GPS chart plotter to navigate among the numerous shoals along Moser Channel. If we had only paper charts, we would not have been able to do that in the dark. Despite the GPS help, our depth sounder alarm went off a dozen or so times, showing depths as low as 6 feet. That make our blood pressure rise a bit.

An hour after dawn we crossed under the 7 mile bridge and turned for the final 2 miles in to Boot Key Harbor. We made 122 miles in 22 hours. That's a very fast passage for a 32 foot boat.

Once inside the harbor entrance, only 0.5 miles from our goal, the real trouble happened. What trouble? I'll write about that tomorrow. Right now, we're anchored off the island; outside the harbor.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Too Much, Too Little, Pineapple Pineapple

At Sea
25 53.12 N 81 52.94 W

We were prepared to depart for Marathon this morning. According to the forecast, a cold front should pass mid morning and after that two days of north winds. Perfect.

Before leaving I listened to the local NOAA weather report. It said a low of 41F(5C), winds 20-25 tonight with gusts of 35. Wait! 35 is gale force. That sounds like too much. How about if we wait till tomorrow? The winds tomorrow would be 10-15 turning to southerly by Sunday. Wait. That is too little wind and we might not get there before the winds turned around.

As I wrestled with those questions the reality hit me. Pineapple pineapple. We have had too good a year. It has been almost two years since we sailed in really bad weather. We have become spoiled and soft; looking for perfect conditions rather than acceptable conditions. It's time that we challenged ourselves a bit. 25-35 knots is right in the groove for a W32. We can use hand and feet warmers if necessary to get through the cold night. Damn the weather report, full speed ahead.

Now, 10 hour later we're well on our way. The wind is dead behind us. We're doing 6 knots with the foresail only. Everything is fine.

I thought that we might put in to The Little Shark River about midnight to grab a partial night's sleep. However, a check of the tides shows that midnight is the lowest low tide right there. At low tide Tarwathie almost scrapes along the bottom of the river entrance. Running aground offshore at midnight in a near gale would be a bit too much adventure, so I abandoned that idea.

We should arrive in Marathon mid morning tomorrow. The only worry is the shallow parts of Florida Bay. We have to sail long stretches where the bay is only 8 feet deep. If the waves get too big we could touch bottom. I don't think that's likely. The waves are really small now, and they won't have time to get big in the next 12 hours.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Spectacle Seen, Another Not Seen

Fort Meyers Beach

Yesterday, as we sailed down the river, we saw something we thought was a bait ball. A bait ball is a densely packed school of small fish. They are hunted by predators and sometimes driven up to the surface. In that case, the sea birds get involved as they too start eating the fish. What we actually saw was an area of agitated water and a flock of over excited sea gulls attacking the water.

When we got close we saw that this wasn't a bait ball. The fish were large. Very large. 60-100 cm long fish. The gulls were excited by of course they couldn't pick up any fish that large.

We scrambled to get out a fishing pole and a lure. We figured that no matter how unlucky we are as fishermen, we could hardly miss catching on of those fish if we threw a hook in to the middle of that ball. We were too slow. Before we had the pole out on deck, the ball dispersed and disappeared. Too bad for us.

Last week, our plan was to continue north from Fort Meyers Beach to visit Caya Costa, Punta Gorda, and Tampa Bay. We discarded that plan in favor of the trip up the Caloosahatchee River. Today, I bought a newspaper and learned that if we had gone to Tampa that we would have been right in the middle of Super Bowl Hysteria next Sunday. OMG, that would have been terrible from our point of view. We like to avoid crowds. We never go to the big boat shows. A Super Bowl brings the biggest crowd
of all. In this case, there will be a big spectacle that we will not see, and we're glad.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Down the River. What About The Book?

Fort Meyers Beach, FL
26 27.29 N 081 56.57 W

We're heading south, down the Coolahatchee River once again. We had a great time up here and we're both very glad that we took this side trip.

Actually, it was hard to leave LaBelle. The longer we stayed there, the more I warmed to the place. On Tuesday morning I was just getting warmed up on excuses for staying another day or two when Libby said, "Nah. Let's go." I think we really have mostly nomadic blood in our veins by now. No matter how nice the place, we get the itch to move on after two or three days. Only Vero Beach and Marathon seem to have magnets strong enough to make us content to stay. I'll search through our blog archives for confirmation, but I believe that we have averaged 100 to 125 locations visited every year since we started.

Speaking of blog archives. Libby and I worked to many weeks turning blog archives into a format suitable for publishing a book. It was a lot more work than I expected. The trouble is that it appears that the past 4 years blogs would make the book 1200 pages long! That's far too big. Almost all cruising books published nowadays have 200 pages or less. Even Jamea A. Michener, I suspect, must of had trouble convincing his publishers to print 1200 page books. In this economy, everyone is cutting back including the publish-on-demand companies.

Another dilemma is what to do with the pictures. Books with lots of color pictures are very expensive to print. We found while editing that many past blog articles would have to be substantially re-written or eliminated if the pictures were not present. Ditto for the other approach of publishing a section of 5-6 pages of B&W pictures in the center of the book. That too would require major re-writes and elimination of articles.

That leaves us with a bit of a dilemma. We're not sure what to do next.

  1. We could choose only the most choice posts, editing in down to the-best-of type of book. The trouble with that is the audience. I visualize my book audience as people who would love to cruise. They can live the cruising life vicariously via our posts. Changing it to the-best-of removes all those mundane and ordinary days, and one looses (I think) the sense of living it vicariously.

  2. We could try to publish it in 2, 3 or 4 volumes. But if each volume costs $15-$30 retail, then it gets too expensive. We would also have to follow up with a new volume every year.

  3. We could self publish it 1200 pages long; pay for it ourselves, and restrict distribution to close family and friends to whom we want to give gifts. I guess that the copies might cost more than $100 each. The trouble with that idea is most of those people have been reading our blog all along. They already read it; they don't need any book.

For the time being, we're stymied by this dilemma. We would welcome suggestions.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Medical Sticker Shock

LaBelle, FL

A prerequisite to living the cruising life is that you are healthy. Libby and I are both healthy. We have no health insurance. We aren't eligible for Medicare or Medicaid. We can't afford private insurance. Even if we could afford it, it would provide little value because we travel all the time. Most policies bind you to a primary health care provider in your home state, and provide only limited benefits while traveling.

Still, we don't do bad. I guess that we spent only $500/year on health services over the past 4 years. That is, before today.

I need to replace the sunglasses I lost when I got dunked. Jennifer found a really neat web page to buy glasses at low prices. Zenni Optical will sell me a pair of glasses for less than $100 that would cost more than $500 at Lens Crafters.

The only hang up was that I need my prescription for the web page. I called Lens Crafters. They refused to give me the info because my last eye exam was more than 12 months ago. No problem I thought; I'll just use Google to find an optician in LaBelle.

I did that, found Dr. Parrish's Family Eye Care nearby, and made an appointment. Guess what? The eye exam fee was $192! OMG! WTF!
I never paid more than $50 before for an eye exam at Lens Crafters or at Wal Mart.

Perhaps it is because of the monopoly power that the only optician around holds over a small community. Perhaps is is medical inflation -- 400% in 18 months. But, I suspect that the real problem is other people's health insurance. The federal government and the major insurance providers use their power to say, "We only pay 30 cents on a dollar of your bill." The doctor compensates by hiking his fee 350%. Everybody wins except the tiny minority of uninsured cash customers like me.

It is yet another case where government socialism directly harms me. If we had never started with Medicare, Medicaid or employer-provided health care (beyond major medical), then doctors and drug companies would have to charge affordable prices or lose customers. Introducing a third party payer removes negative feedback needed to hold down the price.

In any case, I have a severe case of medical sticker shock. Thanks for allowing me to vent my anger.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


LaBelle, FL

Have a look at my pictures of LaBelle. Here are some interesting things about the photos.
  • It is "old Florida" but somewhat spoiled by the intrusion of national chain stores and restaurants.

  • At the laundromat, Libby found that all the customer except her were migrant field workers. She doesn't speak Spanish and felt uncomfortable.

  • You can recieve final judgment at the First Baptist Church, but reservations are required. However, if you do have a reservation it is done in only 59 minutes, or 59 ministers; it isn't clear which. (See the picture)

  • Car and truck traffic here is heavy. To be fair though, there are not many bridges over the river, so traffic from miles around is funneled here.

  • Huge trucks full of oranges pass by here. One every 5 minutes.

  • School buses (see the picture) transport the field workers. They have drinking water barrels on the back and bulletin boards with legal notices to employees on the sides. Sounds like the buses are a focal point of community for those workers.

  • The abandoned boat is juicy local gossip. Note in the picture that the boat has two masts and that the front one is angled back at a strange angle. It seems that the owner of this boat decided to come through the draw bridge one night when the operator was not there to open it. He plowed through under full power until the mast bent enough to get him under. Then the owner left the boat here, disappeared, and hasn't been seen since.

Up A Lazy River

LaBelle, Florida

Our friend Andre was right. The trip up the Caloosahatchee River is wonderful and relaxing.

Instead of our normal travel mode -- anchor up at dawn and sail till sunset -- we were able to be lazy because we only had 15 miles to travel. We slept late, drank extra cups of coffee and listened to Car Talk on the radio before leaving. Then we motored up the river at half throttle since there was no hurry.

The day couldn't have been nicer. It warmed up to about 72 (20C). The sky was blue, no clouds. We watched the river banks move slowly by. At times we had lemon groves on our left and tobacco fields on the right. At least they looked like the tobacco fields in Connecticut, covered with muslin cloth to protect the crop from the sun and to hold in moisture. After 4 hours of that, we arrived in LaBelle.

There are several free places to stay here. We tied up Mediterranean style at the city dock. It was the first time we did Mediterranean style in Tarwathie. That means dropping an anchor 100 feet out in to the river and then moving in bow first or stern first. We had to do it bow first because of the self steering gear we have in the stern, yet we don't have a stern anchor to make it easy. We managed anyhow. I remembered the routine from sailing experiences in Sweden. The Swedes always use Mediterranean style to get ashore. Therefore, they don't need dinghies.

I'll write more tomorrow about the Old Florida town of LaBelle and I'll post some pictures.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Caloosahatchee River

Alva, FL
26 43.40 N 081 41.46 W

Andre was right. This is a beautiful area. As we motored up the river today, civilization gradually became less intense, and the nature more intense. It is also very secure and safe since we're on a river. I could easily understand that one could easily set anchor here and find that the weeks and months just slip past unnoticed.

We also did a gradual strip as the morning advanced. When we left the mooring, the temperature was 39F (4C). We wore long underwear, sweaters, jackets, gloves and wool hats. By noon it was 70F(21C) and we were wearing shorts and t-shirts.

We are also in fresh water. An added benefit of that is that after a couple of days, the creatures that grow and cling to Tarwathie's bottom will die and start falling off; in other words, we get a free bottom cleaning.

We're spending tonight at the Franklin Lock/Campground/Marina. It's a real bargain, only $12 for a night at a slip with electricity, water, laundry and showers. An added attraction is that it is also an RV camp ground. I just talked with a nice RV couple from Wisconsin. They have a powerful telescope and tripod for bird watching. With that I could see great birds and even fish below the surface from a long distance. That is a nice toy that could never be used on the deck of a boat.

By tomorrow we should be far from civilization. Our goal is to visit the ranching town of LaBelle, only 15 miles away. The weather should be about the same as today's. It should make for a lazy day.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


Fort Meyers Beach

When we left Marathon, we were warned that we would freeze up here. Well -- they were right. It is only 33 degrees F (0.5C) right now at 0700. Brrrrrr. Back in the days when we lived in New York or Vermont or Sweden, 33 degrees felt balmy. It doesn't feel like that now; not out here on the water.

I'm up early to start the cabin heater. We have a propane heater that works well but it sucks down the fuel very fast. We use it only to warm up the cabin in the morning -- like right now. It's my job to get out of the warm bed and get it started. I'll confess though -- before getting up I was fantasizing about plural marriage. If we had two more partners in the bed with us, we could put the other two on the outside while Libby and I cuddled warmly on the inside.

We have been enjoying ourselves here. We watched the impressive inauguration ceremonies with Norman and Martha. Yesterday we played Balderdash with our cruising friend Andre (on Aruba II) and his girlfriend Joan.

Andre suggested that we take a side trip up the Caloosahatchee River toward Lake Okeechoobee. He said we could see a lot of old Florida -- exactly the kind of community that we liked so much in Everglades City. We're going to take up his suggestion. We have always enjoyed exporation by river. We leave tomorrow morning early. The weather forecast says that the low temperature tonight should be 51F (10F) -- something we can stand.

By the way, we also invited Dave from SV Destiny to play Balderdash with us. At the last minute, he had to cancel. It seems that Dave managed to spill an entire gallon of used engine oil inside his boat! Oh no. That would certainly have been a bloggable event if Dave had a blog.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Laid In

Fort Meyers Beach
26 07.60 N 081 48.31 W

We've been very busy here at Fort Meyers Beach. Yesterday we met our friends Norman and Martha and had a very nice day. Today we're going to their place to watch the inauguration on TV. This seems like a must see TV event.

The weather also took a turn for the worse. Last night at 0230, a powerful cold front passed through. Behind the front are powerful north winds, and the north winds are bringing cold air. Tonight's low is supposed to be 39 and tomorrow's low 35. It may actually go below freezing. That's not the kind of sailing weather we have become accustomed to. Our blood had thinned as much as native Floridian's by now. We'll stay here until Thursday or Friday before leaving.

We went out on a day sail yesterday morning. We got extra entertainment from an idiot with a fast boat. Two guys in one of those cigarette boats (you know the very long very low very fast motorboats) were hard up on a shoal. As we went past, the Sea Tow boat showed up to help tow him free. But he was so far in to the interior of the shoal and it was so shallow there, that the tow boat couldn't get anywhere near him. They must have hit that shoal going 60 knots. No sympathy from us.

p.s. I'll share this photos that my friend Jerry sent. Libby loved them.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Everglades CIty

Fort Meyers Beach

Here's a few pictures from Everglades City and the Rod & Gun Club (RGC)

The RGC gas pump (9 cents per gal, 4 cents tax)
Best building in town - the town hall
The river I fell in to
The patio where we had lunch
Interior RGC
The Unibomber makes his way back to Tarwathie
Clothes and folding money dry in the sun
By sunset, all was forgotten

Inaugural Train

At Sea
26 10.33 N 081 51.56 W

Never before have I had so many comments and emails about a blog post as I got about the story of me getting dunked. I agree; stories like that are fun for everyone.

It is definitely a stretch to say that we are on the Inaugural Train, but we are on the way to Fort Meyers to watch the Inauguration with our friends Norman and Martha from Albany. It will be first for Libby and I. We've never seen Obama speak before. Everyone says he's a great orator, so this will be our first chance to see that for ourselves.

We holed up for three days at Marco Island because of weather. It was just too cold and the wind was too strong and from the wrong direction for us to head out. Temperatures before dawn were down to 39 F (4C) making it hard for us to even get out of our warm bed. Today's weather is much better. It is warmer and the wind shifted 45 degrees to the east. Our passage to Fort Meyers Beach should take only 6-7 hours instead of 15-18 hours.

Marco is not a place to our liking. It is densely populated by rich people and rather snooty. We needed some groceries so I took the dinghy in to the Marco River Marina. They charged me $5 to land the dinghy; that's OK. Then I asked if we could pay to use the showers and laundry. The man said, "Absolutely Not." I thought he was curt, almost rude. I walked up to the store, noting the Bentley cars in the the parking lot and the yacht sales room with giant power boats on display at the glassed
-in indoor showroom up by the road. Near the Publix grocery store are Gucci and Dior kiosks. Signs of conspicuous consumption were all around; very distasteful to us. No doubt, my bearded, threadbare, salty appearance was equally distasteful to them.

At least we were not harassed by the Marco Police. We anchored in the very spot infamous among cruisers as the place where the police harass cruisers attempting to scare them away. It has been the subject of several court cases that Marco lost. I'm happy to say that we spent 68 hours in that spot and were not harassed by anyone.

p.s. I removed that Blurbbits map in the right sidebar that showed our recent past positions. I had several complaints from readers that it was interfering with their ability to read the blog posts. Readers come first, features second. If you ever have trouble reading the blog, please let me know.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Great Lunch, A Good Dunking

Russell Pass
25 50.36 N 081 26.24 W

Today was our day to visit Everglades City. The visit was the purpose of our stop here. The approach is too shallow for Tarwathie so we took the dinghy. It was a rough ride. The temperature was cold this morning. Libby shivered even though she had long pants, a warm shirt and a windbreaker on. Also, the current was against us. It took 90 minutes to motor 2.5 miles to our destination.

The trip was worth it though. Everglades City is a jewel. It is one of the few remaining places in Florida where you can see the Florida Cracker culture still existing. Sure there are some tourists here, and there are some retirement homes here, but they have not yet overwhelmed the quiet rural Cracker culture. Libby and I loved it. It reminded us of the times in the 1960s when we visited the interior of Florida -- the times before Disney and before the retirement boom.

The high point of our trip was to treat ourselves to an expensive lunch at the Rod and Gun Club (RGC). This RGC was founded in 1864. Since 1922, it has operated as a lodge and a restaurant on the waterfront. The RGC hosted Presidents, Hoover, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Nixon, plus stars Ernest Hemingway, John Wayne, Ava Gardner, Sean Connery and many more. Its architecture and style are recognizable from the 1920s and 30s style. One pictures rivers of bathtub gin during prohibition flowing
to its affluent clientele. I have not heard family stories about it but I have no doubt that the RGC must have been a favorite of my long deceased mother,Helen, and her siblings Grace, John and Fred. It was (still is) exactly the kind of place they would have loved during the time they were in their 20s. Libby and I felt transferred back in time 60 or more years. I half expected to see The Great Gatsby at the next table.

Anyhow, I ordered frogs legs for lunch (never ate frogs legs before). Libby ordered the Everglades Seafood Platter. We were sitting out on the sunny screened porch. The day had warmed up and everything was very pleasant. We noticed that we were nearly the youngest customers in the restaurant.

The only bad thing about Everglades City is that there was no suitable place to leave the dinghy. We tied it up at the RGC. I forgot to bring the dinghy's anchor. There is nearly 6 feet of tide here and the pilings on the RGC wall are covered with razor sharp oyster shells. The anchor is needed to hold the dinghy away from the wall. Instead, I tied us up to an inflatable dinghy who had brought his anchor line. I hoped that he would not leave before we did.

While waiting for our lunch to come, I noticed that the owner of the inflatable dinghy was leaving. I excused myself from the table and went out to re-secure the dinghy some how. When the inflatable did leave, the dinghy drifted directly under a platform three feet above the water. The underside of that platform was also covered with oyster shells, and the tide was rising -- a disastrous place for our dingy to be. I tried to get in to the dinghy from the platform. I meant to push it away.

To make a long story short, I lowered myself not to the center line of the dinghy but rather to one side. It tipped and dumped me right into the river. I came up sputtering. My prescription sunglasses and hat were missing and my cell phone and camera were in my pocket.

I managed to scramble back up into the dinghy, then up to shore. Then I re-tied the dinghy between two piles where it would be safe for an hour or so.

So, what to do next? My food was probably on the table where Libby was waiting, but I was dripping wet. There was only one choice. Still dripping, I just walked back in to the RGC restaurant, head high, and sat down. Nobody seemed to notice that I was all wet, not even Libby, and not the waitress. I just enjoyed my lunch. The frogs legs and the sea food were delicious. We paid and got up to leave. Just then, I noticed that there was a big puddle of water under my seat and a rivulet of water leading from that puddle across the floor. I wonder what the restaurant staff and the other guests thought about that? Hee hee.

The dinghy ride back to Tarwathie was just as slow, but at least by mid afternoon it was warm. It was hard for me to face in to the bright sun with no sunglasses, so I put on my windbreaker and pulled the hood over my head Unibomber style. A day tour boat of tourists passed by. The sun was bright and the day warm. I wonder what they thought about the man in the Unibomber costume?

It made for a really memorable visit. (p.s. my cell phone is really dead now, but my waterproof camera is fine, and Libby's cell phone will work when we get to a signal)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Two Minor Successes

Russell Pass, Everglades

I'm proud to report two minor successes yesterday.

Number one: Since last summer in Rockland, I've been toying with my sextant. I've been trying to learn to take a sighting and to reduce the reading to latitude and longitude. After all, celestial navigation is a must for any serious sailor; especially one who has had direct experience at seeing all our electronics wiped out with a single stroke of lightning.

I originally had a beat up cheap plastic sextant that I bought on Ebay way back in 2004. I resisted buying the Nautical Almanac. Such almanacs are expensive and they only cover one year. Instead I tried using the examples and mini tables that came with the sextant's user manual. The best I was able to do was to locate myself with an error of 150 miles.

Now I have a new cheap plastic sextant. I also have three books on how to do it and a 2008 Nautial Almanac (which includes a secret tip in the footnotes telling how to use it for 2009). However, I can only practice when out to sea when we have clear sight of the true horizon as well as the celestial bodies. Yesterday, out at sea I was for the first time able to take a sighting and reduce it to a position that was less than 1 mile from where the GPS said we were. Hooray.

What a pain in the next it has been. All three books I have are terribly dense, obtuse, and I think full of bugs. I consider it a bug when a numerical example contains a number with no explanation of where it came from. I consider it a bug when the example says, X came from table Y by looking up factors A and B, but when I look look up (Y,A,B) the answer is not X. More infuriating, each of the three books does it differently. I have mastered a lot of difficult subjects in the past, but this
is one of the hardest. Perhaps I'm getting old.

Number two: salt air is an enemy of all things electrical. The contacts corrode and become non conductive. Boat wiring can be protected by tinning the wire, coating the connection in grease, then encapsulating it with heat-shrinkable tubing. You can't do that with cell phones, radios, computers, hand held GPS' and the like. I have constant connections with the power connection or the battery contacts, only working intermittantly. A year ago, I bought a tube of conductive carbon-impregnated
grease. It was a compromise. The online vendor also had silver impregnated and gold impregnated greases but those were too expensive. When it arrived, I threw the tube into a tool box and forgot about it. Yesterday, when cursing my hand-held GPS' refusal to power up, I remembered the grease. I tried it, and it worked fine. All I have to do is to put a tiny amount of this carbon grease on the end of a Q-Tip, then wipe the contact surfaces. Horray.

Monday, January 12, 2009

More Everglades

Russell Pass, Everglades National Park, FL
25 50.36 N 081 26.24 W

WE HAVE NO CELL PHONE SERVICE HERE. Haven't had any since 1/7 and won't again until 1/16.

With a bit of reluctance, we left Little Shark River. That was a really nice place and we liked being there. We motored another 40 miles northwest to the vicinity of Everglades City.

The water here isn't as nice as it was in the Little Shark. There appears to be an algal bloom in all the Gulf of Mexico waters nearby. The water looks like pea soup. In the Little Shark, the water was stained brown with tannin, rather like the inland waters of North Carolina. Here in Russell Pass, the water is green on the incoming tide and brown on the outgoing tide.

From the sound of the weather reports, we'll be here several days. We would like to look around Everglades City a little bit. We can't take Tarwathie in there; too shallow. We'll have to go by dinghy, 4 miles one way.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Mystery Solved

Little Shark River, Florida Everglades
25 19.75 N 081 07.11 W

Yesterday I wrote about the mysterious creature with the 6 inch mouth that rose above the water. Today, we saw it again, but this time up close. It was a giant sea turtle. That makes for 5 sightings of sea turtles since we've been here. Cool, very cool.

Well, I fished for 3 days, and never got a single nibble. Meanwhile, all around us are boats with fishermen that are catching something. I'll keep trying. The nice thing about fishing is that it's a nice pass time, even if you don't get any bites. Still, it would be nice to figure out why we are the world's unluckiest fishermen. We have the right tackle, and we ask local successful fishermen what they do, and we try to copy them. The difference between us and them though is that they succeed
where we fail.

Tomorrow morning at first light we head further north toward Everglades City.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Everglades Life

Little Shark River, Florida Everglades

Aside from seclusion, the main attraction of the Everglades is the profuse wild life. So what have we seen?

Mangroves, lots of mangroves. Endless mangroves.

Birds: Cranes, Herons, Egrets, Turkey Vultures, Pelicans, numerous others we can't identify. We saw some beautiful birds with the same size and shape and features as a Great Blue Heron, but pure white. When no people are around, the primary source of sound is the angry graaak noise that the Herons make.

Dolphins, lots of dolphins. Fish of unknown type jumping everywhere. There is also some creature that raises its head above water for several seconds, that I can't identify. The last time I saw it, it looked like a 6 inch wide mouth rising out of the water. Surprisingly, there are no clam shells clinging to the mangrove roots, nor any crabs visible on the banks at low tide.

Yesterday, Libby and I paddled a long way up a side creek. The creek was only 8 feet wide. There was no room to row with the oars, only to paddle like in a canoe. It was shady and pleasant and very quiet deep in the mangrove swamp. We got very close to some big white birds before they spooked. We also saw some spectacular orb spider webs that shone in iridescent interference pattern colors when viewed obliquely to the sun. I tried to photo some of those, we'll see if I succeeded in getting a
picture of the colors.

What have we not seen? Our friend June told us to watch for the beautiful white pelicans, and the little sharks jumping for which this river is named, and to watch out for the voracious mosquitoes. Our cruising guide jokingly says to bring a shotgun to fight off the mosquitoes. Sadly, we saw no white pelicans, no little sharks, and happily we saw only a few mosquitoes or other insects. It must be a matter of winter season. We also saw no crocodiles, alligators, or snakes although I'm certain
they are there.

We have also not seen any large animals. In fact, the mangrove roots that form the floor of the swamps make it look impossible to walk across. I'm sure that a man on foot would find it almost impossible to travel more than a mile per day. On the other hand, animals are very adaptable. I suspect that deer, bears and puma find no trouble moving through the mangroves when they have to. I also suspect that the interiors of these islands may have some ground high enough to be free of mangroves,
and those areas would be easier to walk in. At the very least, the mangrove swamps make a formidable barrier for human hunters, so whatever animals live on the interiors have superior protection. In three days, Libby and I have yet to see a single place where we could go ashore and walk.

Today, Saturday, there were a lot more fishermen zipping around in motor boats. That surprises me because the closest places that I can see on the map to launch a boat are 40 miles away from here. I asked one fisherman and he said they traveled 17 miles at sea to get here.

Friday, January 09, 2009


Little Shark River, Everglades
25 20.25 N 081 06.60 W

I'm hooked. Our plan was to leave here tomorrow and continue north to the Ten Thousand Islands area. However, I'm so enchanted with this place that I asked Libby if we could stay here for 2-3 more days. She said, "Sure."

Yesterday, Libby and I set out with the dinghy and the outboard to explore. We found what appears to be an infinite expanse of waterways, and mangrove swamps. (Check out these coordinates on Google Earth or 25.33757 -81.11008) The rivers, creeks and streams divide and branch of in all directions. It is a little twisty maze of passages all alike. Further, the shorelines all look identical -- nothing but Mangroves visible. In fact, it would be easy to get lost here. One takes
so many turns, and everything looks so much alike, that it is easy to imagine getting lost. We didn't take a chance though, we carried our pocket Garmin GPS to find our way back. That allowed us to return by different routes than on the way out.

The extent is not infinite. After 90 minutes we found a small patch of grass. Checking the GPS map, it showed that it was mainland, rather than an island.

This morning I set out to explore once again. This time alone. Libby stayed behind on the boat making bread pudding for our dessert tonight. I decided that since everyplace here looks alike, there was no reason to travel far. I explored a small creek nearby. Then I discovered the real secret to travel in the Everglades. One should use neither outboard motor, nor oars, nor paddles for propulsion. Just sit back and let the current carry you. When I did that, a deeper layer of the environment
was revealed; I could hear the sounds. I could also drift closer to the birds before they flew away.

I drifted like that for about an hour, enchanted by the beauty and peace. Suddenly I was startled by a loud noise. I whipped my head around to see a dolphin broaching only 30 feet away. The noise I heard was of him taking a breath. I continued listening to the dolphin for another 30 minutes. Sometimes I could see him and sometimes not, but I continued to hear his breaths about once every 20 seconds up to 500 meters away.

I tried and tried to photograph the wonderful big birds flying nearby, but I don't think I succeeded. It would take more skill and better equipment than I have.

Then I found a smaller creek, only 10 feet wide. I followed it about 1/4 mile into the mangrove swamp. That was still another charming and totally different environment. I loved it.

We are not totally alone out here. We saw two motorboats with fishermen. Yesterday while exploring we encountered a party of 8 people with 4 canoes. They had paddled about 100 miles from Florida City to get here. Today, I saw a lone kayak in the distance. I think that a canoe trip down here would be a life altering experience. I hope that each of our grandchildren might get to experience something like that. There is an Outward Bound camp up in Everglades City.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

An Error To Regret

Little Shark River, Everglades
25 20.25 N 081 06.59 W

In yesterday's blog, I wrote that Tarwathie's progress was slow because her bottom was foul. Libby insisted that we must have been dragging a lobster pot. We stopped and peered over the side, and fished with a boat hook but we couldn't see anything. I said, "No. It must be fouling."

When I finished posting that blog, I stepped out on deck. Then I saw that we were making only two knots of speed with full throttle and full speed! Impossible. I was forced to admit that we must be dragging a lobster pot. Libby also said that the tiller felt strange. I tried it, and the rudder would hardly move.

My remedy was to stop the boat, and to put it in full reverse. Sure enough, with only 4-5 seconds of reverse, the rudder suddenly freed up. We cautiously put it in forward again, and we moved right away. In fact, we were suddenly doing 5.5 knots. I looked behind us. There wasn't a lobster pot float, there were four of them. I suppose that we dragged a pot, and that pot caught another trap and another and another. Libby looked me right in face, stuck out her tongue and said, "Naaaaah." I
deserved that. Anyhow, it was an error I would come to regret. How? Read on.

We approached the entrance to the Little Shark River close to sunset. I was in a hurry to get in before it got dark. We were late because of the day's delays with charts and with lobster pots. However, a big and very distinct cold front approached us from the Northeast. I can't remember ever seeing such well defined cold front clouds before. We know that as cold fronts pass, to expect a shift in wind direction, and strong winds. Nevertheless, I peered in to the distance and I couldn't see any
evidence of strong winds. I decided it was a weak front. Besides, we were only 1.5 miles from the entrance to the river and 2 miles to a secure anchorage.

The front passed. WHAM. The wind went from zero to 33 knots in an instant. Boy oh boy did I judge that one wrong. Third bad call today. We dropped all sails. I thought we could motor the last 1.5 miles. Nope, that didn't work. We have never been able to hold Tarwathie's bow into the wind with wind speeds as high as 33. She loses steerage speed. That forced me to turn the helm over to Libby while I went forward to set a stay sail. Boy did I get soaked. The wind was blowing spray over the
bow continuously. With the stay sail set, we still had a hard time making that last 1.5 miles. It was nearly direct into the wind. By slewing to windward and leeward, I was barely able to keep up enough speed to steer and to clear the shoals up ahead. It took us 45 minutes to cover that last mile. After rounding the shoal I was able to fall off the wind a bit, and then we were making 6 knots into the river. The only trouble was that now it was so dark that I couldn't see anything except
the top of the tree line. We depended on our GPS chart plotter to navigate to the anchorage.

I don't mean to over-dramatize our adventure. We weren't in danger, and we had other options. We could have tacked and headed toward Key West and deeper water. We could have hove to. We could have dropped the hook and sat at anchor; the water was only 8.5 deep where we were. As it turned out, the strong winds only lasted for a bit more than an hour. After that it settled right down.

This morning we moved several more miles deeper in to Little Shark River. After lunch we'll take the dinghy and explore the Everglades better. The nature is wonderful here, and so far we have seen no sign of other people or other boats. We have the whole paradise to ourselves.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Libby Saves The Day

At Sea
25 06.22 N 081 11.53 W

We got up at 0600 this morning to depart. I opened the package we got recently. It was supposed to hold a Richardsons Chartbook Tampa to Key West. As it turned out, it had Richardsons Chartbook Lake Michigan. Lake Michigan! What the heck?

I immediately got depressed. We couldn't go without charts. The GPS chart plotter is not enough. There was no time to go to West Marine to buy new charts; that would delay us to 11:00 or noon; too late to get to Little Shark. Tomorrow and the next two days, the wind would turn against us. We were thoroughly screwed. I mentally gave up on the idea of leaving and began investigating the foul up. Libby wasn't so easily discouraged. She kept thinking of ways to save the day.

Fortunately, Libby was thinking clearer than I. She said, "Can't we print charts from the computer?" Wow. I had forgotten about that. Nearly four years ago we acquired charts on DVD. Theoretically they allowed us to print out the parts we needed, although we never really did that. Libby was right in theory.

I started up the computer. Darn, the Maptech charts were not installed. I logged in to the Internet and tried to install them from DVD. The Maptech webside said, "No. We won't allow you to do that. You already installed it on a different computer." How irritating. I got out the backup computer. I haven't used it for much for more than two years. However, the backup computer did allow me to install the region 8 charts. I did that, and I printed out a packet of pages that covered us from
the Seven Mile Bridge to Little Shark river. Perfect, the trip was back on. Thank you Libby for saving the day. We departed the mooring only one hour later than our plan.

So what happened with the Lake Michigan mix up? I think I figured it out. It is's fault. Last month I searched for "Richardsons Chartbook Tampa to Key West." It showed me the listing, and a link said, "4 new and used available." I clicked on that, and the 4 choices were shown, I selected one and bought it. Today, while investigating the mix up I see that the seller's listings have been truncated to "Richardsons Chartbook", the part of the title that said "Tampa to Key
West" or "Lake Michigan" was chopped off. I blame for that. When they say "4 new or used" it should mean 4 exact matches on the title, not partial matches.

Anyhow, we're making slow progress, and we'll arrive at Little Shark about 90 minutes after sunset. We were supposed to have 15-20 knots of wind, but it is actually only 5. Also, Tarwathie's bottom is foul and needs cleaning. She travels almost two knots slower than normal when under power. I'll have to do some diving to clean it. Should I do that in the Everglades amongst the crocodiles and alligators? I think not.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Farewell Therese

Marathon, FL

Day after day I write in this blog about how wonderful life is for we cruisers. It is easy to forget that our friends and family are meanwhile living ordinary lives with all the ups and downs.

Yesterday I received a sad call from Walt. Walt is a very long time and very dear friend. Walt's wife Therese has been battling cancer for the past two months. Walt called to tell me that Therese passed away last Saturday. Walt, you have our deepest sympathies.

Libby and I met Therese only once. That was a day when Walt and Therese met us in Southport, NC. The four of us went for a day sail out the Cape Fear Inlet. Even in that one short day, Therese made a powerful and lasting impression. She'll be much missed.
Marathon, FL

Tomorrow, we leave Marathon for the Everglades and a side trip to the Gulf Coast of Florida. Before leaving, I wanted to finish a project we have been working on. That is, to repair damage to our starboard rub rail.

The first step was to glue cracked and crushed sections of the teak. Also to fill in a gap where a piece of wood was missing. I filled the gap with Plastic Wood.

Doing projects dangling over the water while standing in a rocking dinghy is tricky business. See below a picture of the project in progress. I didn't do too badly. I only dropped one screwdriver overboard, it is the one you see in the picture.

To glue the cracks, I filled in the space with wood glue, then clamped the two halves together while the glue dried. I keep two C clamps on board. As I screwed down on one of them, something strange happened. It screwed more and more without ever gettting tight. Examination shows that the clamp itself broke. See the picture.

A clamp like that should last a lifetime. Come to think of it, this particular clamp came from Libby's Father's tool box. It lasted two lifetimes, his and most of mine. It is a reminder that "lasts a life time" does not mean forever.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Marathon, FL

Here's another Picasa photo album. A tour of Boot Key Harbor.

High points too wordy for captions:
  • The bridge: Almost one year ago, the city condemned the boot key draw bridge. No vehicle or foot traffic is allowed over the bridge. However, it is still manned 12 hours per day and it opens and closes for boats. Go figure. Rumor has it that the city would like to sell the draw bridge on Ebay. Interested? You could be the only one in your neighborhood with a full size draw bridge over your driveway.

  • Wrong side of the tracks. The harbor is quite peaceful, quiet and secure most of the time. However, there is a low rent district and rumor has it that gunfights have broken out between adjacent boats anchored in that area.

  • Juicy local gossip. One of the boaters was overheard by a federal agent threatening to kill Barack Obama and George Bush. Guess what? He's in jail now.

  • The Tree of Wisdom: Near the marina is a nice shade tree with a table and chairs under it. It seems to be occupied 24x7 by men and women pontificating. They include locals, vagabonds, and cruisers. The only thing they seem to have in common is (a) they drink beer 24 hours per day and (b) they have lots of wisdom they like to share with everybody around.

  • In one of the pictures, I came across typical in-harbor transportation. The picture shows a woman, a christmas tree, and two dogs in a kayak.

  • Every year some boats are abandoned. After hurricanes dozens of boats are abandoned in the harbor. After posting notice on the boat for several months, the city siezes it. Siezed boats are tied up in a final resting area. When enough are gathered, they are trucked to the dump where a crusher turns them into powder. Sensible but sad.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Pumped On Pump Bread

Marathon, FL

I'm sure you have had the experience something that has been right under your nose for your entire life but somehow you never noticed it until now. Well, that happened to me with pumpernickel bread. I'm sure that I must have eaten it before but now I'm really wild about it. I LOVE PUMPERNICKEL. It makes sandwiches taste absolutely delicious.

My epiphany came a year ago. Libby and I were in Cocoa, Florida. We tied up to the public wall and walked up to the village in search of a place to buy milk and bread. The area is filled with restaurants and tourist shops, but we couldn't find a store for us. We stopped in a deli to ask where to go. The lady there said that there was no place within walking distance, but that she would sell us a loaf of the deli's pumpernickel bread. That did it. It was sooooooooo good.

By the way, the computer screen at the supermarket checkout counter calls it Pump Bread. I think that's cute.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Political Drama

Marathon, FL

Like many others, I love watching political drama. The appointment of Roland Burris to fill Barack Obama's seat by Governor Rod Blagojevich is political drama of the highest order.

Last week, I heard an Illinois lawyer on NPR say that the Senate had no legal authority to block Burris. Despite that, the media stories on the subject just continue to report that the Senate plans on blocking Burris, without digging in to the substance of the legal question. Tsk tsk, shame on them. I had to do my own research.

The reports say that Democratic senators plan to block seating Burris based on their powers under Article 1, Section 5 of the Constitution. The relevant sentence says, "Each House shall be the judge of the elections, returns and
qualifications of its own members...

However, the Supreme Court decided POWELL v. McCORMACK, 395 U.S. 486 (1969). In the majority opinion of that case, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote, "Further, analysis of the "textual commitment" under Art. I, 5 (see Part VI, B (1)), has demonstrated that in judging the qualifications of its members Congress is limited to the standing qualifications prescribed in the Constitution." The same decision also knocked down a half dozen additional arguments and legal theories raised by the opponents of Adam Clayton Powell Junior. It was a thorough analysis.

The standing qualifications are, "No person shall be a Senator who shall not have attained to the age of thirty years, and been nine years a citizen of the United States and who shall not, when elected, be an inhabitant of that state for which he shall be chosen.".

There is not even anything in the Constitution that I can find that says Senators must take an oath of office. It may be custom, but it is not required. Ditto with the concept of "being seated." There is nothing in The Constitution and nothing in the Powell decision that requires that a Senator be seated by the Senate.

As far as I can see, Burris need only show up in Washington, and start voting on the Senate floor. There is absolutely nothing constitutional that other Senators can do about it. Nevertheless, they are all lawyers, and all clever so I'm sure that they'll try to find a way.

Like I said, this is political drama of the highest order.

p.s. One day after I posted this blog, the Wall Street Journal published an article making the same points I did. See Harry Reid v. the Constitution

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Double Score

Marathon, FL
24 41.17 N 081 27.11 W

Boot Key Harbor here in Marathon is normally not a good place for star gazing. There are far too many lights around. Nevertheless, the night of December 30, we scored twice. With naked eyes, we spotted both Mercury and The Hubble Space Telescope for the first time.

I've tried many times before to spot Mercury and maybe I have seen it, but I couldn't be absolutely sure. The trouble is that Mercury is very faint and it is close to the sun. That means it can be spotted only in the narrow window of time after the sun sets and before Pluto sets. Last night, after sunset, I was staring at the beautiful sky. I saw Venus and the new crescent Moon right next to each other. Farther down near the horizon I could see Jupiter. I was sure because Jupiter and Venus have been tracking each other for the past 6 months. Next to Jupiter was another planet; wow! It had to be a planet because (a) the sky was still too bright to see any stars and (b) it was in the plane of the ecliptic as marked so clearly by Venus, Moon, and Jupiter.

I called Libby up on deck to see the sight while I dashed below to fire up my PC. I ran the Stellarium program (An outstandingly good program that you can download for free. Or just Google for Stellarium.) . I set my position in Stellarium to Havana, Cuba (the closest I could get on their map). Sure enough, it showed Mercury up there right next to Jupiter. The picture shows you what I saw on my screen.

This morning I set my alarm to wake me at 0530. I had a mission. A favorite web site,, told me in advance that the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) would pass directly overhead at 0545. It would be very bright because the HST would be in sunlight whereas I was still in the dark before dawn. I waited and watched in the indicated direction. There is was; big, bright and spectacular! It appeared almost as bright as Venus. I looked at it with the binoculars but that didn't reveal any more detail.

I have yet to succeed in spotting the International Space Station (ISS). I use to track it. It should be even more spectacular than the HST.

Once, many years ago, I stepped out of my hotel at JFK airport in New York before dawn. I glanced up and I saw a stunning sight. The Space Shuttle was making its final orbit before landing. Therefore it was descending and firing retro rockets. It passed over my head just before dawn, thus illuminating its white tiles in brilliant sunshine while I was still in the dark. I swear that I could make out the triangular shape and the rocket plume with my naked eye. It was an awesome sight.