Monthly Archives: January 2015

Hells Angels of Marathon

Marathon FL
Posted by Bill

We had a visit from our good friends Jim and Jackie today. They have a boat in our home marina on Catawba Island in Lake Erie, and we have become good friends with them over the years. They also have a house on Big Pine Key which is the next major key west of Marathon. They stopped by to say hello and work out a schedule for when we could come and stay with them for a few days. It was really great to see them! We are planning to go to their place next Tuesday for a couple of days and are looking forward to it.

One of the advantages of staying in one place for more than a few days, is getting to know your neighbors better. The Harbour Cay Club is a real social group and we have made many new friends already. We really like the people here. 2 couples in particular have invited us to tag along on several occasions, and we have really had a lot of fun with them. Today we put together a happy hour trip to Keys Fisheries. The bartender at another bar told us this was the best happy hour deal around. They have a seafood market, a restaurant, and a tiki bar on the second floor overlooking Florida Bay. To top it off…stone crab claws for a $2.50 during happy hour. Let me tell you, that is a deal!

We told lots of people about it, including the 2 couples I mentioned above, and they were the only takers. We decided to ride our bikes. Now, most cruisers that have their own bikes have what we call “clown bikes”. They fold up and have little wheels, take up little space on board (for a bike), and are very functional. We pulled our gang together and set out to terrorize Marathon, kind of like Hells Angels on clown bikes.
Marathon Gang 1

It was a good happy hour, and we had a lot of fun. We really like these guys and have had a great time every time we get together. Pictured below left to right: Me and Tricia, Marjorie and Jeff on Far Niente, Cat and Bob on Sea Lyon
Marathon Gang 2
Oh…and the stone crab claws were outstanding!

Recon mission

Marathon FL
Posted by Bill

Even after only 2 days, we are settling in to Harbour Cay Club, and it feels pretty good. Here are some pics of the grounds:
Looking North from the docks.
A view of the Tiki Hut from our boat. This is where everyone meets with drinks for sundown.
Another view north.
Looking east from the docks.
Looking back at the docks. Clubhouse on the right.
Firepit and salt water lagoon.

Today, after some boat maintenance, we went on a recon mission (a.k.a. pub crawl) to find the best happy hour. We also checked out the food menus of the places we came across. Here is where we stopped:
Burdines, on the entrance to Boot Key Harbor.
Looking back into Boot Key Harbor. This is the main anchorage and mooring field on Marathon.
7 Mile Grill.
Lazy Days…the best happy hour of today.
Views from Lazy Days.
A pelican trying to down his fish.
Tricia with her pirate friends.
Some roosters we saw on the road to Lazy Days.

And finally, today’s sunset:

Acts of kindness

Marathon FL
Posted by Bill

I have talked several times in previous posts about how amazing the cruising community is, and I continue to be amazed. People that you have just met for the first time perform acts of kindness that are usually only experienced with your best friends. Some of the things we have experienced directly:

– The dock master at Joyner Marina offering his personal truck if we need to go get anything.
– A lady we met at a bar in Myrtle Beach offering a ride back to our marina (she wasn’t even a cruiser).
– An employee of Port Royal Landing Marina offering a ride into Beaufort after she got off work.
– Scott and Lynn on Shine, overhearing us on the Vero Beach bus as we talked about needing cruising guides for the Bahamas. When we got back to the boat, they came over and introduced themselves in their dinghy and gave us a cruising guide to the Abacos.
– Forrest and Susan on Rejoice, shortly after we shook hands for the first time, gave us the lat/lon of their home in New England and told us we could tie up at their place if we were ever in the area.
– Shortly after we met, Tim and Deb on Kintala gave us 2 water jugs they no longer needed.
– The day of our arrival in Marathon, Bob and Cat on Sea Lyon came over to the boat and gave us the keys to their car for the day. They overheard us asking where the liquor store was and didn’t want us to have to cart liquor and groceries on foot.

These are just the highlights, and just the ones from people we had just met. There are countless others by our friends and family that we certainly appreciate. I point these acts of kindness out because it illustrates the “small town” closeness of the cruising community. Everyone is looking out for everyone else, and it seems like anyone will drop what they are doing to lend a hand, answer a question, or come to the aid of someone in trouble. I think about how great it would be, if people and mankind in general, would strive to adopt the same spirit of kindness and consideration. I can tell you that the cruising community has restored my faith in mankind.

One other note on the subject: The other thing that is key to the spirit of the cruising community, is self sufficiency. From my experience so far, cruisers strive to be self sufficient and are very respectful of their fellow cruisers. I have not seen anyone reach out for help out of laziness or to take advantage of someone, and I haven’t run across anyone with a feeling of entitlement. Perhaps this is why it doesn’t work as well for the general population, as I have seen far too many examples to the contrary in society.

Chillin’ in the Keys

Marathon FL, Harbour Cay Club
Position: 24 42.631N, 81 06.590W
Posted by Bill

Yesterday, we picked our anchoring spot based on the forecasted wind direction. It was supposed to blow around 15 knots out of the NW until 10 PM and then around 20 knots out of the N until 10 AM. We picked a spot in the lee of Rodgriguez Key in preparation for the N winds. In reality, it blew out of the W between 15 and 22 knots until 3 AM and then shifted to the N blowing up to 26 knots. It was really uncomfortable until the wind shifted to the N and our anchoring strategy paid off. So goes the forecast.

We were up at 5:30 and got underway before 7, and had 23 to 28 knot winds and 3-5 foot waves on our starboard quarter (right rear for you landlubbers). Our SOG (speed over ground for you landlubbers) was between 7.3 and 8.1 knots…a fantastic sail.
Sea state during passage.

This lasted until we got to the ocean side of Marathon and then the winds dropped to 15-20 knots. We sailed through Moser Channel and under the 7 Mile Bridge, back into the ICW in Florida Bay and over to the marina.
Houses on the shore of Boot Key, Marathon.
Approaching the 7 Mile Bridge
Approaching the marina.

When we got to the marina the members worked together to lead us in. Our slip is at the end of two parallel piers with space between them only 3 boat widths wide. There were boats on both sides, so only room for one boat to fit in between them. Our friends on Island Spirit warned us in advance about this, but I was still really skeptical that we could pull in, make a hard left turn, and turn our boat around to face out. As we got to the turning point, everyone grabbed a line or some part of the boat and got us turned around without any major incident. This is what it looks like:

We made great time getting there and had time to tour the facility, which is really nice. We met at least 10 other couples, and attended a happy hour at the Tiki Hut. We will be here through the month of February.

Adios to Dinner Key

Rodriguez Key/Key Largo FL
Position: 25 02.549N, 080 27.142W
Posted by Bill

At 7 AM, we made the break from Dinner Key. The forecast was not optimal, but it was the best we had for who knows how long. It is frustrating. You see a weather window a few days out, so you wait instead of leaving, and in a day the window gets slammed shut. Or, you don’t go because it looks like a bad passage, and the weather turns out to be just fine. So, we decided to go.

We cruised across Biscayne Bay and headed for the Biscayne Channel that leads to the ocean. The waves and wind were noticeable, but not too bad. The channel is just south of Key Biscayne and cuts through an area known as Stiltsville. As early as the 1930’s and for decades leading up to the 60’s, houses were built on stilts on the water in the area south of Key Biscayne. As the story goes, there was much gambling and debauchery, as the owners lived by their own laws. Hurricane Betsy took it’s toll on the area in 1965, and the building laws didn’t allow rebuilding of the houses. There are several still standing that are now part of the Biscayne National Park. Here are some pictures leading up to the channel:
Key Biscayne:
Looking back at the tip of Key Biscayne:

As we exited the channel, we went out into the Atlantic. Here you can see Key Biscayne and Miami in the background:
We also started to encounter 3-4 foot waves and winds to 25 knots:
Fortunately, it was behind us, and we averaged over 7 knots for the entire trip to Key Largo. After we got to Elliott Key, we were in the lee of land again, and the waves subsided to around a foot. There wasn’t much boat traffic, but we did see a couple of big boats like this one:
Around 2:30 in the afternoon, we made it to Key Largo:
And then anchored off Rodriguez Key:
It is still very windy and the boat is rolling through the waves, but it isn’t any worse than what we were having at Dinner Key. Tomorrow we get up early and head to Marathon.

Today’s sunset:

Update on the fish we “caught”

Coconut Grove FL
Posted by Bill

OK…so one of my brothers is part owner of a dive shop in Cincinnati, and he is a certified dive master, and he has been leading people on dive trips all over the Caribbean for years. He tells me the fish that landed in our dinghy is a member of the Needle Fish family. Apparently, they will jump over stuff in the water if it is in their way vs. swimming around it, and it must have mis-calculated the jump over the dink! The latest Ass Captain award goes to the fish!!

Batteries, batteries, batteries…and a fabulous sunset

Coconut Grove FL
Posted by Bill

We spent most of the day yesterday researching batteries, where to get batteries, following up with Walmart about the bad batteries, and researching a place to rent a car. In my research, and contrary to what my Battery Minder Smart Charger said, it looked like we might be best to try and equalize the batteries. Wet cell batteries build up a coating on the plates over a period of time that rob the battery of efficiency. This is called sulfating. Equalizing is a process of applying a high voltage charge over a long period of time, usually 4 to 8 hours, that causes the battery solution to bubble and break up the coating on the plates. In our boat you can only do this connected to shore power. We have our Honda generator, which is sufficient to provide shore power, so I topped the batteries off and filled up the generator. I hit the buttons on the Link 2000 panel (which controls the charger) to engage the equalization process, and nothing…it still stays in float charge mode. After 4 additional attempts, and a waiting period of about 30 minutes each time to see if the voltage starts to move up, I gave up. I researched why this could be failing and it points to the cable that goes between the Link and the charger. I have a spare! It is in the inventory list! Too bad the storage location is not filled out. So begins the mad search through all of the storage lockers on the boat. Hours later, we have still not located the spare cable, but…the batteries have been charging all most all afternoon, which may be helpful.

Finally we decided to go ashore and get a shower and something to eat, but after a shower we decided to stay on the boat for the sunset. Good move…we had the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen.

The batteries held up better last night, so we are going to keep up our charging routine and push to Marathon so we can use shore power to do some more testing before we buy something else. The weather looks pretty good for a run to Marathon Tuesday and Wednesday, just a little windy to start the trip out, but out of the northwest which is great. We are planning to leave just before dawn tomorrow. Marathon is a 2 day trip. The first stop is a small key off of Key Largo called Rodriguez Key. We’ll try to anchor south of it (see the blue arrow in the map below), and should have great protection from the north-northwest wind.
Key Largo Map
The next day we go to Marathon and will be at a private marina called Harbour Cay Club (see the arrow in the map below).
Marathon Map
I know…I know, the arrows look like a 1 year old drew them, but the wind is blowing 25-30 knots right now and the boat is being thrown about like crazy. Good thing we delayed our trip south for a couple of days!

Weather window slammed shut

Coconut Grove FL
Posted by Bill

Well, we had hoped to be in the Atlantic Ocean by this time and headed to Key Largo, but the weather for Monday has worsened. Looks like winds over 25 knots most of the day and over 30 knot gusts. Passage rain check please! The latter part of the week looks really good, so we will sit out a few more days here in Dinner Key mooring field.

Yesterday was really windy, winds over 20 knots and out of the south, which made a nice washing machine type of sea state. After a few hours it shifted to the southwest and then west, which was much better. We went ashore and went to the farmers market in Coconut Grove. There was a ton of good looking produce, most grown locally; but they never mark prices on them, which annoys us…lol. We didn’t buy anything, but then went to one of our favorite places to eat, Flannigans. They have the best ribs, which we got again, and split. They also have a 2 for 1 happy hour on everything behind the bar, and on weekends it goes from 11 AM to 8 PM. The staff is friendly and smiling, the food is fantastic, and they play great classic rock music. Other restaurant owners/managers take note…this is a recipe for a successful restaurant, and the places is always busy. Yesterday at 3 PM there was a wait for a table and it was that way the whole time we were there.

This morning it is a little chilly…54, but it will be in the low 70s later. The sun is shining and the wind is laying down. We’ll probably put a plan together to replace the batteries tomorrow, which will entail renting a car and dealing with Walmart, and then we’ll make a run to Costco. I do miss Costco!

The damn batteries have consumed my time the last 5 days and I am looking forward to having to work on something else that breaks…lol!

I caught a fish last night while I was sleeping, oh, and Walmart sucks

Coconut Grove, Dinner Key FL
Posted by Bill

Last night I went to bed and I caught a fish while I was sleeping!
I got up today and looked out at the dinghy which was tied to the back of the boat, and there was this fish sitting right in the middle on it’s belly…lol! I have no idea why it decided to jump in here and have no idea what kind of fish it is. Pretty funny!

The last couple of days we have been exploring Coconut Grove and dealing with our boat batteries. I was able to isolate each battery one at a time and use the smart charger powered by our Honda generator, so we didn’t have to dock in the land of $3-7 per foot per night. I thought for sure the smart charger would find a culprit, but noooo, everything checked out. After talking to the electrician who installed our new inverter in South Carolina, the only thing it could be was the batteries. I got them at Walmart thinking that it would be easy to find a way to replace them if I ever needed to and where ever I needed to. So, I made a call to 6 different Walmarts in the Miami area. The people on the phone could barely speak english and did not understand what I was asking about. I called the Walmart in Ohio who understood me, and I understood them, and asked them how the warranty process worked, and it works like this: Bring the batteries in to Walmart, we will load test them, and if bad we will replace them. Ok…we live on a boat, with no car, the closest Walmart is 30 minutes away, and if we remove the batteries from the boat our refrigerator and freezer will not work and rot all of our food. How do we deal with that?! After much angst and research, we decided to push on to Marathon FL in the Keys, take a dock and have some local people there help us deal with the batteries. I also called Walmart customer support (central number) and they are trying to find a way for us to get a refund (just like Obamacare was going to reduce everyone’s medical expenses and you could keep your own DR). We’ll see. In the mean time, we are charging the batteries 2-3 times a day and praying they will support the electronics that run the boat as we move on to Marathon. The plan is to leave Sunday and arrive Monday, weather dependent.

Coconut Grove is a pretty good place to hang out. Most of the streets look pretty much like this:
Grove 3
Grove 2
There are some reasonable places to eat that we really liked, including this dive bar, Barracudas:
Grove 1
The mooring field is very uncomfortable in a wind with southerly components, but otherwise a good alternative and affordable. We had 15-17 knot winds last night and this morning, out of the southeast, and we were damn near seasick from the chop. Winds are supposed to move to the southwest tomorrow, which should help. Then, on to Marathon. The first night is a stop off Key Largo at Rodriguez Key, and then on to Harbour Cay Club where our dock is.

New/old friends and the battery saga

Dinner Key/Coconut Grove FL
Posted by Bill

Did some exploring today around Coconut Grove, mostly scoping out grocery stores, Home Depot, and Liquor Stores. It is only a 20-30 minute walk to really good options for all of those, and there is a Fresh Market only 2 blocks away. The marina here is huge, 582 slips and 225 mooring buoys, and it is pretty much full. The mooring field is exposed to the wind and waves except to the west, so it gets really bumpy in here and dinghy rides can be pretty wet. It is really bumpy when boats come in and out of the channel next to the mooring field, throwing a wake. The facilities are dated and in need of a refresh, but they are working on new ones, so that should be remedied. We’ll try to get some pictures in the next couple of days.

In preparation for our cruise, I did EXTENSIVE research about what it would be like, where we should go, and how to prepare. A big part of that research was searching and reading blogs of other cruisers, and one of the blogs that was most helpful was from a boat named Kintala. The owners, Tim and Deb, lived in the mid-west and bought a boat to retire on, moved it to the east coast and started the cruising thing. They went down the ICW and over to the Bahamas and back. They wrote about the whole process from start to finish, and in a way that really helped us understand what we were getting into. In addition, both are very good writers and do an excellent job of capturing the emotions, both good and bad, and tell it like it is. Over the last year I have reached out to them via email and phone, and they have been very helpful. There are only a couple of other blogs that we had interactions with like this, and when you read their stories you really feel like you know them…kinda like you know your friends. Knowing they were in Dinner Key, I made contact and told them we were coming and would like to meet them in person. As fate would have it, the mooring that we were assigned was right beside them! They invited us for sundowners yesterday and we had a great time talking to them and getting to know them in person. Looking forward to more of that.

Now to the battery saga. As you may recall from previous posts, we are not getting the full amp hours out of our batteries. There are 3 “house” batteries rated at 105 amp hours for a total of 315, and after 60 amp hours of use, the resting voltage of the batteries is 11.5 volts. We charge them back to trickle charge rates twice a day which takes about 2.5 hours in the morning and again in the evening. After much reading and testing, I think we have some bad batteries. We replaced them in October of last year so that we wouldn’t have to be dealing with these kinds of things…hah! I need shore power to hook up my smart charger to each individually and see if it can fix them. If not…we’ll probably have to rent a car and return them to the nearest Walmart. We had this same brand of battery for 4 years prior and never had a problem. So now we have to figure out where the best place to pay for a slip is, here in the land of $3-7 per foot per night…ugh!