Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year

It has been a couple of windy days waiting here for the cold front to pass but it looks like Wednesday is going to be the day.  We met some nice people  (Laura and Jason from Blue Blaze) who are going then too so we'll just tag along.
Yesterday we met up with them and went to the King Mango Strut parade in Coconut Grove, and then on to happy hour on their boat.  It was a soggy ride back to our boat because of the wind and waves.  It was also a bouncy night's sleep on Blue Moose.
By this morning the weather hadn't changed much so we waited...and waited.  I called the fuel dock to make sure they were open tomorrow because we needed to top up before we leave and of course they weren't.  We could either take the dinghy in and do it 2 jerry cans at a time or take the boat in.  Five trips in the dinghy wasn't an option so we untied and took the Moose over.  It was a race between us and a big fishing boat to see who would get into the dock first and thankfully we won.  Docking in 19 knots is not a lot of fun and we would rather do it when their isn't someone else to park beside.  We are now back on our ball safe and sound.
Being New Year's Eve everything including the marina is closing early.  We raced in and I got them to let me into the showers just as they were locking the doors.
Who designs these bathrooms anyway?  A 5 x 3 cubicle with one hook to hang your stuff.  The spray from the shower gets your towel and clothes and flip flops wet.  Yes, I know I could have left my backpack outside the stall but I wasn't going to leave my wallet and IPad out in the open.
Brian's back from Fresh Market (we paid $6 for 3 apples yesterday!) so we will head back to the boat, have dinner on the boat then watch the fireworks.
Sorry, no pictures, I only brought the IPad.
Happy New Year everyone!

Friday, December 28, 2012

If you had to pay someone

by Brian
If you had to pay someone for everything you needed to do on a boat you would go broke.  I’m not saying that things break all the time, they don’t.  However when you look at all the things needed to keep a boat in safe good running condition it is staggering what you will need to know or pay some one who does know. 
First we wanted solar power.  Not a big deal right?  To install two panels some wire and a controller.  Wrong!   First you need to find someone who has done this and learn from them. This part was easy as I have Gary Bratton fellow boater and solar savvy.  You then look on the web for solar because it seems no one has a store you can just walk into.  Then you will need to drive half way across Florida to pick up your equipment from the supplier.  Then you will spend many days looking at how other people have installed theirs.  In some cases you will see ways not to install.  The next thing is to go to a salvage yard for boats, in our case Don’s Salvage in Clearwater Florida.  The reason is you can find your stainless framework,  although used it will polish up like new.  I spent around $250.00 instead of $800.00 or so buying new at West Marine.  012
The biggest issue with solar is it has changed so much so fast in such a short time.  We chose newer type high voltage panels over the regular 12 volts as well as a new style controller that regulates the power to the batteries.  Better regulated voltage means more power to the batteries.  So far the average cost for someone to come out to the boat is around $80.00 to $100.00 per hour.  Now I am slower and new to this but these guys don’t rush.  As it was I put around five days or a 40 hour work week in this project and the results are amazing.  We installed two panels of 230 watts and have seen almost 20 amps of electric power on a perfect day.  It is a lot like having a free plug on the wall to plug into.  Sun Electronics in Miami was the place for us.  Great service and free advice.
While there I looked at a wind turbine for around $750.00 not including mounting.  Again back to Don’s salvage for some more pipe and bolts etc. All told solar panels around 40 hours and 20 hours for the wind turbine  at a cost of solar $1400.00 and the wind turbine $1100.00. 002Sounds good so far right?  I had an estimate of a full week to install with two men. A full week is a 40 hour week times two men is = 80 hours x $90.00 per hour. WOW!  $9000.00 Ya right  I think We did a good job.

Cricket’s adventure on shore

Today was Cricket’s adventure to shore.  She needs a healthy pet check before they will let her into the Bahamas even though she will never leave the boat.
The day started with fairly calm seas so it looked like it was going to be a good day.  No need to traumatize her unless we had to.  After breakfast I put her harness on and dug out her carrier.  This is when she started to get a little suspicious.

Cricket's first dinghy ride
We loaded her into the dinghy and put a towel over the top.  I’m not sure if this was so she couldn’t see what was going on, or to muffle the howls coming from inside.  She really didn’t cry for long.  For anyone that knows her she has two voices.  Very LOUD and stealth.  This is what we refer to as her quiet voice. 

waiting for the taxi
While waiting for the taxi she just sat and looked around.  The same for the taxi ride.  We weren’t sure if pets were allowed inside the taxi but it didn’t matter because she was in super stealth mode.  She was very good at this before when we used to sneak her into hotel rooms.

Once at the vet clinic the waiting room was full.  A golden retriever, a lab, 2 Chihuahuas, a Shit Zhu, a poodle and 3 other cats. The girl with the Chihuahuas runs a rescue for them.  She has 18 right now as well as cats.  Some are blind, some are missing limbs  and some are just unwanted.  She does all this with no assistance.  The clinic helps her out with vet services.  Gisela trains the dogs in both English and Spanish in case she is able to adopt them out.

Gisela and her rescue dogs

The checkup went well.  Cricket wasn’t happy, especially about the thermometer thing.  Well, who would?  I had brought her last records, but had forgotten the previous one with her rabies shot so she had to have another.  Exam, shot and papers, $65.00.  We thought that was pretty good.  This was Coconut Grove Animal Clinic.  Very busy, but efficient and friendly.
It was a nice day so we walked back with Cricket’s carrier swinging between the two of us.
Tomorrow we are sharing happy hour with a couple we just met who are heading to the Bahamas too.  Hopefully our depart date will be Tuesday or Wednesday.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Dinner Key (catching up)

I was thinking that since we are so close to Miami the wifi would not be an issue.  That isn’t the case so I’ll play catch up now.

051We left Key Largo on December 23rd early to catch the high tide. It was a pretty uneventful trip with a few really shallow spots until we got past Key Largo.  We actually managed to get our jib out for a few hours and were making really good time at over 6 knots.
Gilbert's.  This is where we had planned
to stay during the cold front


We reached Dinner Key Marina and I’d like to say that we just casually grabbed a mooring ball.  It wasn’t quite that easy this time.  We were told we could take any ball number 91 and up and the higher the number, the farther out they are.  I guess these balls don’t get a lot of use because the eyes that you thread your lines through were totally crusted with barnacles.  We don’t as a rule keep a hammer on deck and it took a bit of digging to find one.  Gloves also are a really good idea because the barnacles will just shred anything they touch.

the big boats in the marina
The marina here has over 500 slips and lots of mooring balls.  The ball is $22 a night and a slip is $2.80 per foot per night.  I think we’ll stick with a ball.  There are showers and laundry and a shuttle service to take you into shore.  We did take advantage of it yesterday but there are signs everywhere warning you that if they have a breakdown, or the wind gets over 15 knots, it’s up to you to find a way back to your boat.  I’m not sure what you would do in this case.  Maybe hang out at the dinghy dock and beg for a ride.
Miami at night
On Christmas Eve we biked to the grocery store to replenish what we had used up so far.  You know what a grocery store is like on Christmas Eve!  Crazy!  The one thing I was particularly looking for was pizza crust mix.  It would be really great if Pappa John’s delivered to the boat, but they don’t.  We think my pizza is just as good.  Top it with whatever is on hand, some sauce, some cheese and whatever is in the fridge…Voila!  We had pastrami, colby, onions and tomatoes the other night.  Apparently this is a very spanish speaking Publix store because it took me a while to find someone who spoke english to ask for what I wanted.  Miami is not as bike friendly as Marathon.  Sometimes there are sidewalks, mostly there aren’t.  We often found ourselves four wheeling over grass and gravel.
The wifi does not reach out as far as the boat so we took the IPad up to the office so Brian could Skype his sister and brother in law Kim & Bill.  The signal was good as long as he propped the Ipad up against the office window.

Christmas morning was beautiful here.  The water was flat like a mirror and so quiet. 
this was our view Christmas morning
We made lots of phone calls to wish family and friends a Merry Christmas and mostly our cell phone did not play nicely. It dropped so many calls that I swear once we reach the Bahamas it’s going to be a sacrifice to the sea gods.  (this story to be continued)

Cricket hanging her Christmas decorations
Brian did a little fishing for bait fish, we relaxed on the boat and then we had a delicious dinner of ham, mashed potatoes and fresh green beans.

bait fish 6 at a time

Today first thing I called the closest vet because Cricket needs a healthy pet certificate to enter the Bahamas.  Another $55 and they don’t make appointments.  That’s on the schedule for tomorrow.  I’m not sure she’s going to be impressed with a ride in the dinghy.
Next.  Get the phone fixed and pick up some oil filters.  Back in St. Petersburg we bought an unlocked, used Iphone and I was ready to change our service over to AT&T and get a mobile hotspot.  $85 for the cell service and $125 for the hotspot.  Brian said to just do it!.  Except….because we are Canadian and don’t have a social security number they want a $500 deposit.   I almost agreed (desperate) but you need an address for them to send back the deposit. 
Metro PCS (who we now have our cell service with) was about 4 miles away.  The agent at AT&T told us to hop on the trolley, it’s only 25 cents.  Yay!  No.  the next stop was miles past where we needed to get off.  So we walked.  We’re OK with walking but the route on my phone (battery going dead at this point) sent us through some questionable neighbourhoods.  Metro, when we found them was a combination phone store, notary public and adult education office. The languarge barrier was a bit of a challenge but we ended up with a new, bigger battery and a bigger SD card. So far, so good but no hotspot and still no wifi on the boat.
are we still in the US?

Last night we were treated to some company. CJ (our friend and sailing instructor from 2-1/2 years ago) and his students came into the mooring field for the night.  It was great having someone new to talk to.  We had a couple of beers and they shared their burgers with us.  Nice!

Brian, Sally & CJ
The crew of Gitana

They were off first thing this morning to head back to Fort Lauderdale and write their exams.

OH! While we weren't looking the blog went over 1000 page views!  Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Dinner Key (Miami)

Quick post.  Super quick actually because we have 15 minutes to get the water taxi back to the boat.
We are on a mooring ball in Dinner Key Marina and will be staying for a few days to wait out another cold front.
OK, we'll I can't upload photos from the IPad, grrrrr.  I'll be back tomorrow and update.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Waiting out a cold front

We are anchored in Key Largo waiting for this cold front to pass. We have had big winds and a huge temperature drop but our anchor is holding us very well. There is no wifi here so I'm doing this from my phone. Hopefully will be on our way tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Florida Bay

So after dinner last night Brian and I checked the weather like we always do.  There’s a cold front coming with strong north winds and big waves in the Atlantic.  So the question was to go outside (ocean) and do it in 2 days and hope we would get to Key Biscayne before the weather, or go inside through Florida Bay.  There is only one place to get back inside between here and there and the thought of getting stuck on the outside hiding behind an island for 3 or 4 days didn’t really appeal to us. 
The next option was travel up the coast and come in about 15 miles north at Snake Creek.  Except…..on checking the chart plotter and both of our navigation programs they all show the depth at the mouth of Snake Creek at 3.9 feet.  Our draft is 4ft 11inches when not loaded down.
Option 3 was to go through Florida Bay where the charted depths in many places even in the Intracoastal Waterway channel show 4.9 feet.
Or…stay where we were until the weather cleared.  We went to bed without a plan.
This morning I was up at 5:30. (my brain still tells me I have to get to skating practice or work I think)  First the weather, then the charts, then the internet to do some research on depths in Florida Bay.  A cruising forum we read suggested calling Tow Boat US for some local knowledge, so that’s what we did.  They were really helpful and told us of just one iffy area about 5 miles long.  If we timed it with high tide we should be fine.
On our boat when our depth gauge shows 2.6 feet we are touching bottom.  Well, we were before we loaded up for the Bahamas.  We are carrying beer, diet coke, food, a lot of spare parts and 100 pounds of cat litter.  Is there a limit on how much litter you can import?  Anyway, we figure we’re sitting a couple of inches lower in the water.
High tide was at either 1:30 or 3:30pm (Brian and I disagreed on that one because we checked different tide stations).  So we took our time, had breakfast and cleaned the boat up. 
There were a couple of passes where we could see the shoals right beside us and at one point the depth gauge showed 3.2 feet. (I missed that picture) We think we had about 12 inches below the keel. To think we used to panic when we were in 8 feet.

see how shallow it is
we were actually moving, the speed shows on our
chartplotter and the depth here

this is the view on our Garmin Bluechart app for IPad
with Active Captain you can read reviews on marinas, anchorages,
restaurants, stores, hazards, local knowledge etc (really helpful)
the arrow I added using the Skitch app (I just found that one and it's free)

So, because we were moving fairly slowly we only made it to Plantation Key today.  We are about a quarter mile off shore and we are the only boat here.

I have a Cricket story to share.  We adopted her from a pet store 12 years ago.  I’m not sure if it has anything to do with it, that she had to fight for food there, but she’s always hungry.  She hasn’t missed many meals.  It’s a nightly ritual when she’s looking for a bedtime snack we ask her what she wants.  “Cricket, do you want an onion?”  “Do you want a pickle?” “How about a tomato?”  She always responds to the tomato.
Tonight while we were making a pizza a piece of tomato landed in her dish.  I didn’t notice until  I put her cat food in and put it on the floor.  When I picked up the bowl later to wash it the tomato was gone.  Who knew Crickets like tomatoes. 
and another beautiful sunset

Clown bikes

by Brian

the bright green helps with being noticed
Today I get to write about something that makes me laugh.  The cruiser clown bike. Some say compact, I say small.  Way too small.  While riding to the store to get daily items like lots of beer and cat food and very heavy cat litter (note:  adopt your cat out before you sail unless you love it like we do)    
our great full sized bikes (Sally doesn't get a milk crate)
standard issue cruiser compact folding bike with
milk crate
I find myself pushing the recommended weight limits every trip and all the time never worried about the tires bursting.  However we have full size mountain bikes that fold up and fit into a bag that you can throw over one shoulder and place in the dinghy with very little trouble.  So why do people pick the smallest bikes they can find?  On many occasions we have them coming at us on the sidewalks. Most cruisers are older people and one can only believe they all spent time with Barnum and Bailey or Ringling brothers. They have skills I tell you.  Dogs in a front basket, beer in the back and in a lot of cases full size older men sitting on a seat that has been stretched two to three feet above the ten inch tire.  A backpack with thirty pounds of milk, pork chops and a bag of Werthers candies.  Some use milk crates as saddle bags others use cat litter pails.  Some even have trailers. One thing is for sure cruisers will haul!  Go to any dock at 7:15 am and watch the set up.  It reminds me of ants or bees.  The other thing that stands out is the amount of cruisers that have dogs.  So as a closing thought place yourself on a jacked up child sized bike that is over loaded and is being controlled by a dog.  One other thing, people here still drive and text and talk on phones while driving cars. It’s a wonder the ants all make it back in one piece. My rant for the day.  Brian 
notice the tire is smaller than the milk crate

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

On our way

We were off the mooring ball before 8 this morning and on our way to the fuel dock.  We topped up on diesel for the Moose, gas for the outboard and ice for the freezer.  We were very surprised how little diesel we have actually burned.  We filled up in Fort Myers, then to Marco Island, then our long night on the gulf.  That was about 135 nautical miles. Then there was 3 weeks of using the generator.  Only 15 gallons to fill. 
As well as filling up the tanks, we made a huge donation of blood to the local no-see-ums.  With not even a slight breeze they smelled fresh meat coming into the dock and attacked.  I think I would take mosquitos over no-see-ums any day.  I think we’ll be itchy for a few days.

Keys 2012 008
Cormorants standing by to give directions
Keys 2012 006
tidying lines
Keys 2012 009
Channel Five
It was a pretty uneventful trip.  The wind (or lack of it) was in the totally different direction than what was predicted so we motored the whole way dodging the kazillion crab pots.  Brian fished and had a few good hits but only came up with one little snake fish.  Did I mention it was hot?  So stinky hot we had to hose down on deck a couple of times.

So where are we now?  Well, we didn’t go too far today.  About 27 nautical miles.  We are anchored in Lower Matecumbe Bight.  We got here early, so Brian took advantage of the shallow water and donned his mask and fins and cleaned our rudder and prop.  It was getting a little furry from sitting in Boot Key Harbor.  I did a quick dunk off the back of the boat too, but I’m always a little worried about the unseen “things” that are watching me.

Keys 2012 012
sea monster?
There are 3 other boats anchored here in the bay.  Big, expensive power boats with lots of lights on.  Not a sailboat in sight though.  I wonder if that’s a sign that it’s a bit shallow for our 5 foot draft.  I guess we’ll find out because low tide is in 20 minutes.

and another spectacular sunset

Off to Key Largo tomorrow.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Marooned in Marathon

If there was a good day to leave for the Bahamas it would have been today. We watched as four boats pulled out first thing this morning. Unfortunately we still have one unfinished project and it's a kind of a big deal. Since we got here Brian has fixed the steering problem and replaced the wet elbow on the generator amongst many other things. At the same time we took our single sideband radio into a shop to see if it could be salvaged. We need this radio to get our daily weather updates as well as for communication. So, back everything up to last Wednesday. The radio shop called and said our radio was not worth investing any more time and money in. So first thing Thursday we were off to the shop to pick it up. The owner suggested we try an old used radio and if it worked he would only charge us a couple of hundred dollars. Good deal? For sure since a new one is about $2500. Back to the boat we went and Brian wired it up. Nothing. Friday morning we were off the boat by 8:15 and at the shop before 9 to return the used radio. I stayed outside with the bikes (so we didn't have to lock them) while Brian was inside. He came back in few minutes and told me the owner had offered him an almost new Icom radio for $1500. What did we want to do? $1500 right now was not in the budget, however we believe in safety first. We read the brochure while sitting on the steps of the shop. While sitting there, the owner's wife came out to shoo us away because she thought we were panhandlers. WHAT? We were clean, a little sweaty maybe but Brian had just been in the store 10 minutes before. We agreed to buy the radio. The owner unpacked it all on a table to explain how to hook it up. The first problem was there was no manual. The solution, download it.  All 70 pages. The second problem was that while printing the manual the electrical circuit to the printer started to overheat. This is in a marine electronics store remember. This happened four times during the printing, so it took nearly two hours. By the time we left the store it was well after noon. The owner put the boxes in his truck and we met him back at the marina. Back to the boat to drop off the radio because we had other errands planned for the day. Back to the marina and off on the bikes. To K-Mart to exchange one of our cheapo solar lights which worked for less than a day.  I guess that’s all you can expect for $3.  We returned a movie to Redbox, stopped at the grocery store for sweet and sour sauce and then to the post office where I sat on the sidewalk and wrote our Christmas cards. Back to the boat. Rip the bed apart and Brian rewired the new radio.  By this time the sun is going down and we’re out of light.  To be continued tomorrow.  Friday morning we are up before 6 and Brian is back at the radio so we can listen to the 7am weather.  Or not.  A couple from a neighbouring boat offered to come and help.  It looked like we were missing a connector.  Off to West Marine, then back to the boat, hook it up and………nothing! In between all this several other things broke.  It’s really hard to believe because I’m pretty sure Brian has either fixed or replaced everything on the boat, but while hoisting our Canadian flag, the flag halyard broke.  Enough already!  I’m going to take a shower.  I just, got my hair wet and the water stopped.  I guess that’s better than after you get the shampoo on your head.  The water pump had quit.  Once Brian had it switched out with our spare pump he took apart the old one to see if it could be rebuilt.  The culprit was a rubber band all chewed up in the impeller.  I have no idea where it came from.  I almost forgot the leak in a connection under the kitchen sink that had to be repaired. By this time I was about ready for a hotel room, hot shower, king sized bed, big screen TV and a take out pizza.  We had a drink, ravioli and salad and played cribbage instead.  This brings us to today.  It’s Sunday.  The radio shop is closed so we can’t go there and that is why we can’t leave for the Bahamas today……Sigh.   010
Now the fun part.  I took on two new jobs today.  Brian needed a haircut.  While in St. Petersburg we bought a set of clippers at Walmart to be used when out of the country.  I know, you can find a barber anywhere but after all he does colour my hair for me.  So, I cut his hair!  I think he was pretty nervous about it because he had a hand mirror angled on his head the whole time I was cutting.  By the way, never say oops when you’re cutting someone’s hair.  Ha!
    Second job, the flag halyard that broke.  It was fairly calm in the harbour this morning so I was ready to go up the mast.  Well, I was until I was seated in the bosun’s chair and saw that all the residents of the boats around us were watching, hoping for some entertainment on a quiet Sunday morning.  I do not like heights at the best of times and I really don’t like an audience.  Brian cranked me up with the winch until I reached the spreaders.  I warned him to stay in the centre of the boat and not make it rock, but everything was fine.  I actually enjoyed it and the view was amazing!  I must admit I was hugging the mast pretty tightly because I was covered in oxidized paint when I got back down.

the view from my perch
looking out over the mooring field
the mast is 58 ft high
I did it!
the view of the harbour

So it’s nearly 4, the flag is flying, the laundry’s done and the blog is updated.  I’m sure the Bahamas will wait for us.  Life is good.

Friday, December 14, 2012


You could spend forever people watching here.  They zip back and forth to the marina like so many bees to the hive.  We all wave to each other as we pass and sometimes we stop and talk.

The first one that caught my attention was Thor.  I don’t know his real name but as you can see in the pictures the name fits.  He has a viking ship tied to his sailboat complete with a serpent on the front.  Long blonde hair and beard, never wearing a shirt or shoes but always leather arm bands.


Thor's boat

all this and a dog too
The boats here in the harbour are also pretty interesting.  I wonder if some of them have grown to the bottom.  They have collections of all kinds of stuff covering their decks.  I guess when you don’t have a garage to store it that’s where it ends up.

does this look a little unstable?

I've always admired tugboats and I really like this one

Our old neighbours Donnie and Sande said to look for Captain Jack while we were here.  Brian and I wondered if there could be just one Captain Jack seeing as there are so many boats here.  We found him and paid him a visit today.
Captain Jack is 92 and still lives on his sailboat here in the marina.  He can’t see well enough to paint anymore but he showed us some pictures of his work.  He painted on sea beans, sand dollars and ivory.

this is the sea bean he keeps in his pocket
from his album
art on a sand dollar
Captain Jack checking out my pedicure. Today I had a sunset and palm trees.

About Us

Brian, Sally and Cricket the cat sailing on our 41 foot Morgan Classic sailboat. In October 2011 we sold our house, quit our jobs and set out for Florida in search of a sailboat. We found her in Madeira Beach Florida. A 1987 41 foot Morgan Classic. Our plan is to sail for a couple of years. First to the Bahamas, after that...who knows.