Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Day Of Firsts

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL
34 42.54 N 081 05.58 W

Saturday, we rode the bus 35 miles up to the nautical flea market on Islamorada. The flea market was very busy and attended by a huge crowd, but we didn't find any items we were shopping for.

Around noon, we went out to the highway to wait for the bus to return to Marathon. There were 15-20 others waiting with us. When the bus came everybody boarded. When our turn came the driver refused. "The bus is full," he said, "and standing passangers are not allowed." "When is the next bus?" was our first thought. "Three hours," was the answer.

Well, that really set us aback. It was hot in the blazing sun. It was dusty in the parking lot where we waited. I worried about the next bus being full too, and the one after that and the one after that. I fantasized about sleeping overnight by the side of the road. My reaction was irrational -- no doubt spurred by the feelings of two very self-sufficient people being abruptly placed in the position of unwanted dependence.

We went to a nearby stand and bought a cool drink to calm down. Then the solution came to me; hitchhike! For Libby that was a lifetime's first. She had never hitchiked anywhere in any circumstance. For me, it was natural. In high school, I rode the school bus the first day, dind't like it and hitchiked the rest of my school career; even through college.

Did it work? Yes it did. After about 5 minutes, a man leaving the drink stand offered to give us a ride. The man's name was Lenny. We explsined to Lenny why we were in this predicament. He wasn't going as far as Marathon, but he proposed a good solution. Lenny took us to the Hapton Inn, about 10 miles down the road. He said, "The bus stop is across the road from the Inn. You can wait in the air conditioned lobby and enjoy a free coffee." We did exactly that and it was fine -- much better than waiting on the road.

When the time came, we went out to the road. There was an attractive young woman who was also waiting for the bus. She was dressed up like she was out for an evening on the town. We chatted with her as we waited. Just as the bus came and was stopping 25 feet away, the young woman abruptly went stiff and fell to the ground.

Libby tried to catch her and eased her fall. I was shocked and stunned and frozen actionless. The woman was in a full grand mal seizure. Her back and neck were arched and rigid. Her eyes rolled back in her head so that the pupils disappeared. Drool and a bit of blood ran from her open mouth. I have never before witnessed such a seizure, but Libby has. She used to care for developmentally disabled adults and she has seen many seizures.  Libby monitored her breathing, something which I didn't think to do.

People came pouring off the bus to help. The bus driver called 911. Really though, there was not much we could do to help. In about 4 minutes, the woman's eyes reappeared and she started regaining consciousness. Naturally, she was disoriented and scared by all the strange people surrounding her. About the time that we got her back on her feet, the ambulance appeared -- total response time about 5 minutes. We turned her over to the ambulance attendants. Then Libby grabbed the bus driver by the collar. She looked him in the eye and said, "Don't let that bus go anywhere without us. We need to go to Marathon." -- end of story.

Perhaps the most interesting long term implication of these stories is our emotional dependence on self-sufficiency. Just prior to deciding to cruise in 2004, I had read the Pardey's famous book The Self Sufficient Sailor. Clearly that appeals to us. Clearly, I've infected Libby with my own values. Also clear in retrospect was our horror at the predicament of that poor woman who went from being confidently self-sufficient, to publicly and humiliatingly dependent on others in a fraction of a second.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Never Blog Your Brags

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL
34 42.54 N 081 05.58 W

A week or two ago I bragged on my blog about how clever I had become in managing my batteries. I ran the generator in the morning instead of the afternoon. I also installed a double-pole-double-throw toggle switch for the solar panel. The switch made it easy to bypass the charge controller whenever I needed to equalize the battery.

Equalization means bringing the battery voltage to 15 volts or more for an hour. Well, on Wedneday I outsmarted myself. I turned the switch to equalize, and then I forgot about it and went ashore for the whole day. When I got back, I could see immediately that something was wrong with the batteries. WHen drawing 4 amperes for the refrigerator, the voltage sank to 11.3 volts.

Investigation confirmed it. I had one dead cell. My theory is that the battery overcharged all day long, and cracked one of the lead plates.

It was an expensive mistake. I bought a replacement battery this morniung for $125. I ignored the standard advice of keeping all batteries the same age. The second battery is only a year old. I didn't replace it.

By the way, marine batteries, if warranted at all, are warranted for 12 months only.

Of course, there is no conclusive proof that the battery failure was my fault, but I'm pretty sure. What would you guess.

p.s. Busy times here. I started a painting project Thursday, but I won't have time to resume it until Sunday. Today 1200-1500 was the SSCA luncheon, 1600-1700 was our Spanish for Cruisers lesson, tomorrow 0800-1100 we'll be at the nautical flea market on Islamorada, 1300-1500 at a flare disposal/flare demonstration at the Coast Guard Station, and 1500-1700 at the pig races. Whew.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Tourist's Dream, Conservationist's Nightmare

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL
34 42.54 N 081 05.58 W

The other day I rowed into the marina to get some fresh water.  When I got there, I could see that it was busy.   As you see in the picture, there was a manatee there sipping at the fresh water.

Somebody (all present denied it was them) left the valve on the water hose partially open, it fed in to a pipe and the fresh water dripped out.  The manatee loved that, and he (she?) was happily lapping up the drops.   A young girl was scratching the manatee's nose.

One's first reaction to such a scene is "how charming."   On second thought, one realizes that this is a wild animal and that its survival could be harmed by familiarity with humans, or dependence on human sources of fresh water.   Doing what those people did is illegal and morally wrong. 

Overall, this harbor is doing well.   In addition to small fish and birds, we have dolphins, manatees, pelicans, crocodiles, iguanas and a moray eel.  On very still mornings, if I have the porthole open, I can hear mourning doves.   Doves are definitely not marine birds.  They remind us that we're still close to the mainland.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Day of Sorrow

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL
34 42.54 N 081 05.58 W

Very sad news on the radio this morning.

First, Scott Adam, Jean Adam, Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle were killed by Somali pirates today. They were fellow cruisers and commodores of the SSCA organization that we belong to. We didn't know any of them personally. Nevertheless, our hearts go out to these intrepid people and to their families.

Second was the news of earthquake devastation in Christchurch, NZ. Our dear friend Mary Ann is from Christchurch. We called her this morning. So far, none of her friends or relatives are known to be among the injured or dead. Thank goodness for that. Again, our hearts go out to those who are suffering today.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Beauty and Drama

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL
34 42.54 N 081 05.58 W

I created a slide show of Libby's pine needle baskets.  She's getting better and more artistic at it day by day.  I'll try to get better at photographing them.  I just added a permanent link to a slide show of Libby's baskets on the sidebar to the right.  Have a look.

Also, a few minutes ago a read a NY TImes story about a helicopter rescue on Storm King Mountain overlooking the Hudson.  I'm stunned by the story which far exceeds fiction.  Read it here, you'll be stunned too.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Night Passages

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL
34 42.54 N 081 05.58 W

Many long time sailors have never sailed at night. Too bad for them. It has a special magic.

First, of course, we think of blue water sailing. Those night watches at sea can be especially beautiful. What can be beautiful about the sea when you can't see? (no pun intended) First of all, you can see much more than you think. Moonlight, and even starlight makes in your night adapted eyes provides lots of light. Even when overcast, a lot of moonlight comes through the clouds. When we lack all of those lights, there is the phosphorescence of our wake. That is caused by bacteria that live in sea water. It's spooky and beautiful.

What does happen at night is that the colors disappear. All you see is many shades of blue and black. That's one of the reasons why navigation lights are red, green, and black, never blue.

Libby feels most confident in night watches because lights make ships and other vessels easier to spot at night than they are in daylight. The colors of the lights we see also provide guidance on which way the vessel is going.

If you're not out at sea though and you're sailing at night then you better know where you're going.

Last summer, Libby and I had a truly lovely evening out on Lake Champlain following a Mozart Concert that we listened to at anchor. The sky was clear, the winds were warm and gentle. We had to navigate past several shoals and islands. However, those waters were so familiar to us that we had no navigation anxiety at all. We could even recognize the tourist boats out for dinner cruisers.  It was just beautiful and peaceful.

Thirty years ago I sailed from Stockholm to Västerås with my friend Sten-Örjan. The route was very hazardous. The course threaded and twisted around hundreds of islands.  Submerged rocks were all around close to the channel boundaries. It was the age before GPS. However, the navigational aids were so numerous and so expert, that we could navigate precisely by sight.  I felt very safe.

At one point, the sky and the lake were illuminated bright as day in brilliant green.  It was caused by a large meteor passing overhead. I never looked up to see the meteor -- my gaze was fixed on the luminous green landscape and water as my brain tried to comprehend what was happening.

That same night, we made only one mistake, but it was a nearly fatal on. Under sail, we approached a point where the channel took a 90 degree turn to the right. As we came to the corner, a fast moving ship suddenly appeared coming the other way. I was on the helm. Sten-Örjan was captain, up in the bow. I turned to port, toward deep water on the left side of the channel (the outside of the turn) for a starboard-to-starboard passage. Sten-Örjan yelled, "No no. Go the other way." I obeyed instantly, reversing the turn to starboard. The ship responded with 5 blasts of his horn (the danger signal). It was pinching the corner.  The ship forced us out of the marked channel into hard rock shoal areas.  As it passed, the ship turned on its search light to see if it ran us over. Obviously we weren't run over because I'm here to tell about it, but the ship's light blinded us thus making things worse.  Again luck was with us, we cut the corner blindly, but we never struck the rocks. Whew.  (I guess that qualifies as being between a rock and a hard place:)

Burlington, Vermont. Boston, Mass. Manhattan, New York City. Atlantic City, New Jersey. Charleston, South Carolina. Miami, and Miami Beach. Florida. These are some of the cities that are especially pretty when seen from the water at night. Charleston has a large modern suspension bridge that we can see from 30 miles out, when the rest of the city is invisible.   We like to anchor near Key Biscayne in Florida and gaze upon the magical nighttime skyline of Miami.   Miami Beach is best seen from the ocean side.  If you watch CSI Miami on TV, you'll see beautiful helicopter shots of Miami Beach at night -- they are no exaggeration.

On the other side of the coin. Sailing at night when navigation is a problem can be extremely stressful. As a matter of policy, we almost never travel at night on the ICW. It is poorly lit and not designed for night passages. An exception to that came last spring. We were in Daytona Beach heading north. There was severe shoaling reported near Matanzas Inlet. Therefore, I figured we had to pass the inlet at high tide. There was no safe anchorage closer than Daytona, so our only choice was to depart at 0400 in the morning. For almost three hours then, Libby and I threaded our way in the dark through the 100 foot wide dredged channels, using our chart plotter for electronic navigation and our hand-held-search-light for visual navigation. Of course there are lights everywhere you look but they all belong to land-based objects, not navigation aids. We were nervous wrecks by the time the sun came up. Don't ever do that if you can avoid it.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Watch Out

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL
34 42.54 N 081 05.58 W

My son David didn't like my post about the ice cream trucks.   David was about 12 years old when we  left Sweden.  His perspective is different than mine.  He said, "I loved those ice cream trucks in Sweden. I still remember the jingle. It was kind of a Swedish pop goes the weasel. And the kids on Björkö deserve ice cream like the rest of us."  Now I'm vulnerable.  If David makes that jingle his ring tone on his phone, he will have discovered yet another way to drive his old man crazy. :)

We have a new permanent presence in Marathon.  See above.    Attention cruisers: if you come to Marathon and if you donate $10 to the Cancer Society, you too can post your road sign.  Space and time are limited.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Damn Ice Cream Truck

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL
34 42.54 N 081 05.58 W

Picture this scene.   It was around October 15, 1987.   I was sailing on Lake Mälaren in Sweden with my friend Sten-Örjan.  It was a very still morning.   There was almost no wind.  We were ghosting in the sailboat at a speed of 1 knot or less.   There was dense fog.

We navigated by sight and sound. You see, we were near Björkö, the famous island that housed an ancient viking settlement. The shore was about 50 meters away, and we could see the yellow leaves of birch trees in the fall, and the myriad colors of the reeds that Swedes call vass. Swedes are very fond of their vass. I agree, their colors in the fall are subtle and beautiful. Sound also carries especially well in still air and fog. We could plainly hear the cows mooing from miles around. In my mind I could almost hear the sounds of the cows chewing their cud. Sten-Örjan was at the helm while I stood in the bow, just drinking in the peace and the beauty.

Suddenly, the peace of the scene was rudely broken by the very loud, very jangling, jingle of an ice cream trucks. Yes, in Sweden they have ice cream trucks just like here in the USA. The Swedish ones all seem to play the same tune, so that they are instantly recognizable. Their music is set loud enough to be heard inside houses with all the doors and windows shut and over the TV playing. Ugh! I was outraged and angry at that ice cream truck for ruining my moment. Ever since that day, I've held a grudge against ice cream trucks. I hate them.

Swedish Ice Cream Truck

Here in Marathon, there is an ice cream truck that seems to come every day. I still hate the sound. This particular truck seems to want to push the boundaries of offensiveness even more. It continues long after dark in the night. That sounds dangerous. The last thing we need is children running into the streets in the dark. Nevertheless, that's what he does. He even comes into the City Marina Parking lot playing that music. He even does it when our local group, The Barnacles, are providing free live music down by the water. The truck's music is very much louder than the band's music. Arg!!!

Florida Ice Cream Truck

Can we make an exception to the law to allow justifiable violence directed at ice cream trucks?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Dueling Tips

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL
34 42.54 N 081 05.58 W

p.s. Someone spotted a salt water crocodile here in Boot Key Harbor.  Just a little one though.  However, Jenny said, "Yeah, but it's mama is probably near by."

Reader Mike sent the following note. 

Hey Dick, 

Thanks for some great posts. The info on the icw IS GREAT! You should publish a guide. I was thinking about a post you made with mention of some kind of expensive tape stuff for small hole patching. Here's mine..bicycle innertube...yup cheap..very available and i have used it many many times to patch a leak in all kinds of situations. 

Simply carry an old tube in the tool box along with hose clamps and zip ties. The tube can be eaisly cut  to different widths and lengths. The tube makes a great water tight seal on most types of plumbing or fuel lines. Secure with a hose clamp,zip tie,or even twist on some wire. Cheap,quick, and easy. The best part is, it lasts a long long time, until you get a chance to replace the damaged hose. So  there ya go..yet another usefull tip to add to you collection.

Thanks MIke.  I hadn't heard that tip.  Makes sense.  I'll add an old inner tube to my parts bin.   However, I checked again about that expensive tape I mentioned.  It is called rescue tape.   It is very expensive ($12 per square foot), but it does a lot of things that an inner tube can't do.  Below is some manufacturer's claims that I copied from their web site.                                    

Rescue Tape . . 

• Is Self-Fusing!
• Incredible 950 PSI Tensile Strength!
• Insulates 8,000 Volts per layer!
• Withstands 500° F Degrees of heat!
• Remains flexible to -85° F! (-60° C)

• Creates a Permanent Air-Tight, Water-Tight Seal in seconds
• Has an unbelievably long shelf life!
• Resists Fuels, Oils, Acids, Solvents, Salt Water, Road Salt, UV Rays
• Use it as an emergency fan belt!
• Make emergency O-Rings
• Wrap hydraulic fittings and other exposed metal connections to help prevent corrosion
• Works even over wet, dirty, or oily surfaces!
• Use it as a tourniquet or emergency wrap over bleeding injuries

It really is pretty remarkable stuff.  I say keep both an inner tube and some rescue tape on board.                                                                     

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Close Call

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL
34 42.54 N 081 05.58 W

Hazards of the cruising life are not limited to those on the water.   The other day, Libby and I were walking down the sidewalk.    As we approached the entrance to Home Depot, a big SUV pulled out and stopped on the sidewalk, blocking us.

US1, the highway through they keys, is a very hazardous road.  It is narrow, has no shoulders in most places, and the traffic is heavy.  It is the one and only through road from the mainland down to Key West.   It is common that vehicles illegally pull right up to the edge of the road and wait for a chance to pull out and turn left or right.  Often, they have to wait a long time.

My safety policy in cases like this is to wait until I catch the eye of the driver before walking in front of or behind the vehicle.  Libby has a different policy, she is always deferential.  She always allows the other guy to go first, and she would always choose to walk behind the car blocking the sidewalk.

So, I stopped dead waving my hand to try to get the driver's attention.  The driver was looking left at oncoming traffic and didn't see me.  Libby started walking behind.   Suddenly, the driver turned her head right and saw me.  She started to back up to get out of the way.  Libby was just then on her starboard quarter in the blind spot and about to step one foot behind the rear bumper.    I screamed "LOOK OUT".  It worked, both the driver and Libby stopped dead. Whew, close call.

I've been  (unsuccessfully) trying for years to teach Libby that being deferential and submissive in traffic is not the safest policy.  Doing what other people expect you to do is safest.

On another occasion, we were again walking down the sidewalk.  A car exiting a parking lot pulled up and blocked our path.  The driver was looking left, talking on a cell phone, and never saw us.  This time, Libby and I were holding hands so we both stopped dead.  Then the driver started to pull out, but not 90 degrees to the traffic; she started turning right before entering the road, heading toward us.  We had to jump backward to avoid having our feet run over.  I slapped the body of the car hard as it passed by -- I hope I scared the heck out of the driver.

I believe my policy is extreme, but safest.  Never cross in front of or in back of a blocking vehicle on foot or on bicycle without first making eye contact with the driver.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Privacy On Board

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL
34 42.54 N 081 05.58 W

Onboard Tarwathie how secure are we from prying eyes and ears? Very secure; at least we think so. It feels like having a home in the country, far from neighbors.

Could someone come onboard unexpected and unwelcome? Sure I guess. Would they? Nah; it would be very unlikely. It never happened to us. In six years of cruising, we've heard of two or three incidents of people being invaded by robbers or pirates, but it's extremely rare.

At anchor, when friends come to say hello on their dinghy, they knock on the hull.   They can't see in the windows, so there's no risk of being surprised.   When we visit, we do the same.  We knock and we avoid being in position to see in the windows or doors.

On the dock at a marina, it's a bit different. People walk by the boat at all times of night and day. In those cases we enhance our privacy by handing shower caps over our round portholes. They make perfect curtains. We also pull in to a slip bow first, so that the companionway door points toward the water, not the dock.

Noise?  We're pretty quiet at night, so we never disturb the neighbors.  What about neighbors who disturb us?  Yes, it has happened a few times, but it is not common.

What about when we have guests on board? Then the meaning of privacy changes profoundly. A boat is a very intimate environment. One can go in the head, and close the door, thus having complete visual privacy. Audible privacy is harder to achieve. Sometimes we have to step up the conversation or turn up the radio, to help provide guests a greater measure of privacy.   For some people, just the prospect of not having complete privacy is acutely stressful.  Intimate environments are tough on them.

We also have doors which allow separation of the v-berth from the main cabin. That allows guests a cramped, but private, space to change clothes.

In the tropics, nudity on board is very common. We haven't done it but we read about it. Nudity does not make you cooler, but it does help prevent soiling all your clothes so quickly. When the next laundry may be far away, that's a serious consideration.

Sometimes, privacy is only illusory, as we learned today in a most amusing fashion. This morning on the VHF cruisers net, someone got on the radio with a complaint. "The people on mooring A5 were having loud sex at 0300 ...", then the net controller got on the radio and said, "I heard that too. I thought she was having her appendix out." Then, our neighbor Sandra and Libby both said "I heard that too." Since we're more than 1/4 mile away from A5, she must have been loud indeed.  What an embarrassment for the A5 lady! I'll bet she'll be quiet as a church mouse next time.  My friend George said that half of the harbor is likely to be hanging around A5 tonight :)  Oh God, too too funny. Do you remember the movie Porky's?

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Blue Plate Special

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL
34 42.54 N 081 05.58 W

When we sit in a harbor for a long time things start growing on the bottom.   In fact, before leaving we'll have to hire a diver to clean the bottom.   In the picture above, you can see some of that stuff on the rudder just under the water line.

A new treat this winter is that there is a species of little fish that learned to graze on the garden of things growing on our bottom.   We call them bottom cleaning fish.  They're cute to watch.   Lately another adaptation occurred.  One of the dolphins in the harbor has learned that those little fish make good snacks and that the snack bar is at Tarwathie's bottom.   We should call it the Tarwathie Blue Plate Special.

This morning, Libby was on shore.  I heard a splash close by so I went out to look.  What I saw was that dolphin using his nose on the boat like a dog in another dog's butt.  He (she?) went back and forth, back and forth, port and starboard.   I grabbed my camera and leaned over the stern to watch (see the picture above).  After a while I could see that the little fish was doing his (her?) part to survive.  He used the little cutout hole between the hull and rudder to dodge from one side to the other.  It was like the little Jerry mouse evading the Tom Cat.   It was really fun to watch.  The dolphin switched sides perhaps two dozen times before giving up.

That doesn't mean the dolphin missed its breakfast.  After leaving Tarwathie, he moved to the yacht Holo Kai nearby.  He lifted their dinghy almost out of the water a couple of times, and finally swam away with a fish in his mouth.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Marathon City Marina

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL
34 42.54 N 081 05.58 W

Since we're spending so much time here, I should write something about our host -- The Marathon City Marina.  Another day, I'll write about the Marathon Cruisers Net.

Important stuff up front.  We've stayed in many city marinas from way up in Vermont down to here in Marathon.   Of them all, we think that this marina is the best managed of them all.   I don't know much about city politics, but I'm willing to bet that Richard, the manager, is the reason why.  Richard it tough, dedicated, and very capable.  Notwithstanding that, this is not a fluff piece.  I have some criticisms below.

In a nutshell, the marina provides over 200 moorings here in Boot Key Harbor, plus 10 or so dock spaces.  There is a large, office/mailroom/lounge/TV room, and about 20 toilet/shower rooms.  It has ample facilities for parking cars and bicycles, and dinghies.   Their fees are on the low side.  We pay about $280/month for a mooring; the cheapest of any city marina we know.

Here are a few of the things that they do that impress me so much.

  • City marina pump out boats come every week.  The fee is built in to the mooring fee.  The pump out boat visits all the boats in this harbor, whether docked, moored, anchored, at city or private facilities.  The purpose is not to make money but to keep the harbor clean.  There is even a redundant pump out boat, so that no interruption occurs in case of mechanical breakdown. Marathon is light years ahead of other cities in this regard.
  • City paid divers inspect the tackle on each mooring four times every year.  If the tackle is worn, it is removed from service until repaired.
  • Marina employees are very nice, competent, helpful, and hard working.  Many other city marinas seem to be employed with patronage beneficiaries with bad attitudes.
  • The marina provides a secure facility to dispose of waste oil/fuel/batteries and other toxics.  Most marinas have no such thing.
  • Their lowest rates apply to month-long rentals.  However, if you're waiting for a weather window to leave, you can extend your stay day-by-day at the monthly rate.  Thus there is no financial incentive to compromise safety.
  • They have ways of dealing with derelict and abandoned bicycles and boats, of which there seems to be an endless supply.
  • They don't put up with nonsense.  Rules are clear and enforced.
  • They abstained from filling the entire harbor with moorings.   There remains room for 50-75 boats to sit at anchor.  Without that, there could be safety issues when bad weather approaches and no vacant docks or moorings remain.  It is very wise to leave space to anchor. Anchored boats can pay a fee to use the City Marina facilities, and they can pump out like anyone else.
Now, how about some of the less nice stuff.
  • They used to have only 4 toilet/shower rooms that in the opinion of many cruisers were "disgusting." A couple of years ago, they built new facilities with a new laundry and about 20 toilet/shower rooms.

    Believe it or not, the long awaited new showers are even more disgusting than the old ones.  IMHO the worst thing is that the floors are not sloped properly to allow water to drain.  When you come in one of these rooms after several others have showered, the floors are covered with standing water  If you drop your pants when sitting on the toilet, they fall into the puddle and come up soaked with water.  (I hope to God that it is water and only water!)  Imagine how that is to your image to exit the bathroom with soaking wet pants?

    If you want to shave with an electric razor or use a hair dryer, you must do that while standing barefoot (or wearing water soaked shoes) in a grounded puddle of water.  It seems inevitable that one day someone will be electrocuted.

    Several of our friends refuse to shower at the marina.  They do it on board instead.   Libby refuses to use their toilets,  she goes to the much nicer city-owned facilities in the nearby park instead.
  • The lounge has unbelievably bad acoustics.   As I sit here writing this in the lounge, there is a group next to me trying to listen to a lecture about the Bahamas.  I'm sure that most of them can't hear 50% of what is said.

    We came to the lounge one night for a meet-and-greet pot luck supper.  The background noise was so loud, Libby and I had to converse with a mouth direct to the ear.  I don't think we'll go again.

    If you sit in the TV area, the background noise from the lounge is so loud that the TV sound can't be heard at normal volume.
I have no idea whether these two faults are the fault of the city or the marina.  But hey, nothing is perfect. I can say that they don't sway my overall opinion.  This city marina is still the best.  It has a lot to do with the draw that brings so many cruisers here year after year.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

ICW North To Maine

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL
34 42.54 N 081 05.58 W

This post will be more brief than the previous post. That's because we haven't explored this are nearly as much as the others I wrote about.

First, a major disclaimer. The New York East River, Hells Gate, Long Island Sound, Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard, and most of Cape Cod, we have never sailed. Therefore I can't say much about them.

We love Maine. Twice we've sailed there and I'm sure there will be a third and fourth time in coming years. Both times, we began by sailing from Cape May, New Jersey, to Block Island, RI, then up through Buzzards Bay, through the Cape Cod Canal, and then to Massachusetts or Maine.

Block Island has a very nice harbor. After an offshore voyage, when you're looking for a secure place to anchor and catch up on your sleep, it's a great spot. However, the town, the moorings and the marinas were all too expensive and too crowded for our tastes, so we didn't dawdle very long.

We sailed into Narraganset Bay. It is very pretty, and we were very upbeat about exploring it thoroughly. Alas, we found that it is overpopulated. Harbors are too full of moorings to anchor. Moorings are too expensive to rent (we tried once: $45/night!!!). A major exception was Bristol, RI.
We had a great time anchored in Bristol. It's a charming place. The most fun was touring the Herreshoff Museum and watching the Herreshoff one-design boats racing in the evening.

New Bedford also proved to be a very nice stop. We learned that one can anchor behind Popes Island. New Bedford has great culture, great museums, and public transportation.

At the Northeast Corner of Buzzards Bay, we could anchor out close to the entrance to the Cape Cod Canal. We also went to a marina near there to meet friends for a day sail. What a shock! $120/night for a transient slip at that marina. That's almost triple what we're willing to pay.

The Cape Cod Canal is cool, exciting, it can be beautiful, but it also can be scary. The tidal currents in the canal are fierce. Don't even think about traversing the canal against the current. With the current, you'll be doing 9 knots over the ground. Also beware the entrances to the canal if the tidal currents are opposed to a strong wind -- that causes huge standing waves and it's very scary.

Emerging into Cape Cod Bay, we sailed the first trip to Marblehead, Mass, then to Portsmouth, NH. Once again we found those waters much too crowded and much to expensive for us. Maine is much more cruiser friendly, so the second time, we left the canal and then sailed on a rhumb line directly for Penobscot Bay, Maine.

Having said that, one delightful and very friendly stop is Isles of Shoals, NH. You can stop there on the way north, or on the return voyage south, or both.

Once in Maine, we fell in love with the Penobscot Bay region. However, there are 3,300 miles of coast in Maine and we've seen less than 10% of it.

I should say something more about the season. Both times, we arrived in Maine approximately August, 1. We believe that June and July are much more likely to be socked in by the famous pea soup fog (not to mention being cold and rainy.) We heard too many stories from boaters who went to Maine and never saw the coast or the mountains. That's not a hard rule, but a soft one. August is more likely to have less fog.

Then it is time to leave Maine and start migrating south by Labor Day. If you leave 2-3 weeks later than that, you're likely to find that adverse weather and cold chase you all the way to Florida.

So, from our point of view, the season to be in Maine is only 5 weeks long -- extremely short. That puts severe limits on our ambitions to explore more of those 3,300 miles. By the time we had our fill of Rockland, Belfast, Isle La Haut and more, there's little time left to explore other places.

Our next ambition is to do Nova Scotia. If we do, then presumably we'll also stop in Maine, but maybe not. The same 5 week season is likely to apply.

Friday, February 04, 2011

ICW Norfolk To Waterford

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL
34 42.54 N 081 05.58 W

Readers seemed to like the ICW post, so here's an extension.

The ICW mile zero is in Norfolk. North of that, one has the choice of going to see (outside) or staying inside. The inside route takes you up the Chesapeake Bay, across the C&D Canal, and down the Delaware River/Delaware Bay to Cape May, New Jersey, total passage about 300 miles.

Chesapeake Bay is by far the sailing capital of the East Coast measured in popularity of number of boats. Cruisers keep their boats there in marinas. Many of them own retirement homes on the shores complete with private docks. The Bay, its islands and tributaries constitute 6,000 miles of coastline. Boaters can (and do) spend entire lives exploring the Chesapeake.

Libby and I have done all the biggest highlights of the Chesapeake: Tangier Island, and all the major rivers (Elizabeth, James, Yorktown, Rappahonnack, Patomac, Patuxent, Choptank, Severn, and Sassafras.) But having done all that, we decided that we like North Carolina waters (4,000 miles of coast) better than the Chesapeake, so in recent years we favor skipping the Chesapeake/Delaware.

Anyhow, a typical nonstop transit of this route, not counting extended stops, would have overnights at the following approximate locations. Day 1 - Jackson Creek, Deltaville. Day 2 - Back Creek, Solomons. Day 3 - Annapolis or Knapp Narrows. Day 4 - Bohemia or Sassafras. Day 5 - Cape May, New Jersey. Allowing for stops plus adverse weather, figure three weeks. Now you understand, why we prefer a 24 hour outside passage as the alternative, if the Chesapeake is not our destination; 21 days versus 1 day.

By the way, The Delaware River and Delaware Bay are not nice places to sail. There's little or no sheltered anchorages and little or no places to stop and explore, lots of commercial ship and barge traffic, shoals to watch out for, and frequent bad weather. If you carefully time your departure to catch the tides, you can make it all the way from the Chesapeake to Cape May as a day sail.

The anchorage in Cape May stinks. It is small, there's a lot of traffic, and no nearby place to land a dinghy. We've never been there in bad weather but we here it's a terrible place to be. The town of Cape May, is a mecca for Jersey tourists -- it doesn't appeal to us. I advise not leaving the Chesapeake unless it looks like you can get all the way to New York without adverse weather. If there is zero wind, motor the whole way.

Cape May to New York City: There is a New Jersey stretch of the ICW, but it's far too shallow for most sailboats. Indeed, every time we sail past the Jersey Coast on the outside, around the time of low tide we hear numerous calls for Tow Boat US and Sea Tow. The calls are from power boaters who need less than 2 feet who have run aground anyhow. An outside passage is the only choice for us.

We hear that it is possible to put in for the night at Atlantic City and also at Barnegat Bay for overnight stays. We've never tried them. Thus, you can do it as three day sails, or as a single 24 hour passage.

Usually, the Jersey Coast weather is mild and the seas are gentle, making for an easy passage. Watch out for storms; even far out at sea. We sat out the remnants of Hurricane Wilma behind Liberty Island listening to reports of 30 foot seas off the Jersey coast.

At the north end of this passage, you can anchor at Sandy Hook New Jersey, or behind Liberty Island (The Statue of Liberty). To get into the harbor and Liberty Island, you must get past the Verazano Narrows. Now is, the time for exact planning with regard to tidal currents. If the tide is against you, anchor at Sandy Hook and wait; better still time your arrival for flood tide. Our first trip north, we tried to pass Ellis Island against maximum current, and we could make 0.3 knots over the ground.

The ship and ferry traffic in New York Harbor can be overwhelming and frightening. Be advised though, the traffic is very much lighter after midnight and on weekends and holidays. Sailing past Manhattan after midnight is really spectacular.

Let's assume you are continuing 150 miles up the Hudson River. (Next post I'll talk about getting to Maine)

By all means, spend a day or two in New York. You can get a water taxi at the Liberty National Golf Course Clubhouse which is only 100 yards away from the anchorage (neat huh?) You can also rent a mooring at the 79th street Boat Basin -- WARNING most of the time, the currents and weather at 79 th street are severe enough to discourage us. Liberty Island is a better choice.

Going up river, it's critical to catch the flood tide. If you do it exactly right, you can ride with the tide up to 10 hours, making fast progress.

Beauty: After the center-of-the-universe buzz of NYC, the beauty of nature starts at the north end of Manhattan Island immediately after the George Washington bridge. What a remarkable and abrupt change, from the world's best know metropolis to unspoiled and splendid nature in only 100 feet!

From there up to Newburgh, NY (about 50 miles) is the most beautiful part of the Hudson. We believe it to be the most spectacular scenery visible from water on the entire East Coast. Painters and authors have been enchanted by the Hudson for centuries. It's splendor is visible only by boat. Pray that it's not a foggy day when you go by. You'll love the Ramapo Mountains and West Point. Beware: There are only 4 anchorages in this stretch, so plan carefully.

From Newburgh up to Catskill, NY, (another 50 miles) it is also beautiful, especially on a clear day when you can see the Catskill and Berkshire Mountains in the distance. Anchorages are even more scarce, I can only think of three. We highly recommend stops in Kingston, and Saugerties, both are very fun and very charming. You'll also transit from salt water to fresh water in this region.

Catskill, is the place where most boats lower/raise their masts, Riverside Marina and Hop-O-Nose Marina are the two outfits who do it for you. A place called Middle Ground, just North of Catskill is a very secure and especially charming and beautiful place in June. Here the terrain and foliage change from Hudson Valley to Mohawk Vally character. Since Libby and I lived in the Mohawk Valley for 40+ years, we feel at home once reaching Middle Ground.

The final 50 miles from Catskill, through downtown Albany and Troy, up to Waterford, NY is mostly urban/industrial. However, Albany looks great from the water. There are only two anchorages in this stretch.

North of Troy you come to the Troy Federal Lock. Past that lock there are no more tides. South of that lock there are still 4.5 feet of tide even 150 miles up the River; most people find that hard to believe.

Waterford is the place where The Erie Canal and The Champlain Canal meet the river. To go beyond, you must choose whether to go North or West and you must have your mast down. Fortunately, Waterford is a very cruiser friendly place with free docks, water and power, and nearby stores, restaurants, and a charming little village. In season, it's nearly as nice as Marathon. Alas, the season there is all too short.

By the way, Skipper Bob's book, Anchorages on the ICW, will take you all the way from Key West, through the Chesapeake, and up to Waterford, NY. Small wonder that this thin little book is the bible of East Coast Cruisers. I'll wager that 99% of the boats have a copy on board.

p.s. In the previous post I said that dolphins are more plentiful in Florida. On second thought, that's not true about dolphins. Indeed, the biggest dolphin pod we ever saw with 300-400 dolphins was at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay. However, the northern dolphins are smaller and less familiar than Florida's bottle nose variety.

p.p.s. Yesterday, a reader praised me for brevity in my descriptions. Guess I blew that today.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011


Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL
34 42.54 N 081 05.58 W

Naturally enough, the ICW gets a lot of mention in this blog.  However a west coast reader Diane asks, "I'm not familiar with the ICW. Where it officially begins, ends, passes thru, how much open ocean there is between, etc., could you give more details on it? Wider in some areas, swampy, flowing currents, alligators, snakes?"  That's a great topic; the kind I can my teeth into.

The actual extent and history of  the ICW is subject to definition.  Some define it as the stretch between Brownsville, Texas to Portland, Maine.   Some peg the origin in 1919, others say it was mostly a WWII effort to provide a route for shipping war materials that was immune to attack by German submarines.   In this post, I'll limit myself to the best known part, the so-called AICW from so-called mile 0 in Norfolk, Virginia to mile 1243 in Key West.  (Boot Key is at mile 1195).

First and foremost, the AICW is mostly natural.   For some mysterious reason, the coasts here are separated from the sea by a nearly continuous series of barrier islands.  The gaps between the islands form the inlets.  I say mysterious because I can't find the scientific explanation why they are lasting.   I would think that either the islands would erode away and disappear, or that the sheltered waters inside the barrier would silt in and become fast land.  I've been asking about the explanation but I haven't yet heard a satisfactory answer.  It's truly remarkable, and as far as I know, unique on this planet (If there are others, I'd love to hear about them.)

Inside the barriers, is a series of rivers, bays, sounds, and salt marshes.   The width of the barrier varies from 3-4 miles to as little as 100 yards.  The width of the wetlands behind the barrier varies from about 0.5 - to 50 miles.    Of the 1243 AICW miles, I estimate that 65% is naturally navigable, 25% is navigable with the help of dredging by the Corps of Engineers, and 10% is man-made canals.

For cruisers, the appeal of the AICW is threefold.

  1. It provides shelter from the sea.  It is possible to travel the entire 1243 miles without ever being exposed to unimpeded ocean swells.   If your migratory voyage is months in duration, then it necessarily includes periods of bad weather.   The ICW provides you with an all weather safe environment.  There are hundreds of all weather anchorages and thousands of fair weather anchorages.
  2. It makes it possible to travel long distances while getting a chance to sleep every night.   We met people who made it all the way from Cincinnati, Ohio to The Bahamas, who have never sailed in the dark.  That's not our goal on Tarwathie, but it is essential to many cruisers.  In any case, it is amazing that it's possible at all.
  3. It provides a tour of small town Americana, comparable to the famous old route 66 in the American west.    There are countless interesting places to stop and explore.  The AICW directly intersects only three big cities -- Norfolk, Charleston, and Lauderdale/Miami.

Miles 8-200 of the ICW are in fresh or brackish water, mostly North Carolina.  This water has so much tannin that it is stained brown.  There are no noticeable tides.  All the rest is salt water and tidal.  The tides vary greatly.  In Georgia, they can be more than 8 feet.  On the Indian River in Florida, they are one foot or less.   Tidal currents, more than the tidal levels are important. I've written much about those currents; they are a major consideration for ICW cruisers.  People like ourselves, with decades of inland sailing experiences, are surprised, caught off guard, and amazed at tidal currents.   We had to retrain ourselves, and to avoid disaster while we were learning.

The nature and wildlife on the AICW is wonderful.    Manatees and dolphins are native along the entire extent, although most plentiful in Florida.   We've seen alligators as far north as Myrtle Beach, SC.  Wonderful birds are everywhere.   Our favorites are the white pelicans and (you may be surprised) the turkey vultures.   Fishing is good everywhere, but having so many states with so many fishing license laws is an impediment for cruisers.

The foliage also varies greatly, adding excitement to the passage south.  Miles 0-400 are dominated by cypress swamps.  Miles 400-775 are the salt marsh area.   I have difficulty describing the beauty of salt marshes -- you have to see it yourself.  Miles 775-950 are a sub-tropical transition region with several very beautiful sections.  From 950-south mangroves are the dominant foliage visible from the water. Mangroves have their own beauty (mostly close up) but they are very monotonous.

Mile 1018 to 1089 is densely populated.  I would call it urban.  It has few anchorages, and copious draw bridges reluctant to open.  We've never traveled that whole stretch, electing to go on the outside instead.  Our first year, we did travel on the inside from Lauderdale to Miami; we swore we'd never do it again.  However, you can come back in at Government Cut, and anchor behind Miami Beach; that's a fun experience.

Mile 1089 is Government Cut in Miami and also the entrance to Biscayne Bay.  The Bay is beautiful, and makes for outstanding day sailing.  However, at that point you must make a choice.  If you draw more than 4.5 feet, you must go on the Ocean Side to the Hawk Channel to sail on to the keys.  If you have a shallow draft, you can use the inside route on the Florida Bay side.

The fun we've been having on the East Coast and Bahamas, of which the AICW is a major part, have robbed us of the ambition to sail to distant and exotic places.  It is so nice here, and there are so many places we still haven't explored.   It has to be one of the best cruising areas in the world.

Thanks for the inspiration Diane.