Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Activities on Key West

We posted about our dolphin adventure and of course our crazy night out but we haven't mentioned the many other activities that have been keeping us so busy in Key West. I wish now that I had been better about blogging as we go...we did so much. Below is a brief description of some of the fun stuff. Pictures from these adventures are sprinkled in the pic of the day album.

We managed to...

* go on an eco-tour kayaking trip soon after we arrived with Blue Ocean Kayaking. We were able to see some very fine critters including crabs that walk in the trees like spiders, a conch, upsidedown jelly fish, starfish and of course the sea cucumber.

* ride around the island on our bikes. The island is only about 2x4 miles around so we spent one afternoon exploring on the bikes and rode around Key West and Stock Island. While on the south side of the island we were watching over the ledge into the water and saw our first shark on our trip - a 2.5 foot nurse shark, and a pretty boxfish (we think it was a spotted trunkfish).

* spend an afternoon with Brad & Deb from the Tiger's Eye visiting the Key West Tropical Forrest and Botanical Gardens.

* visit the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory and Nancee's Secret Garden. The butterfly garden was absolutely incredible. I felt like I had just stepped into a deleted scene from Willy Wonka. We managed to get a few nice pictures too. Nancee's garden is a local woman's attempt to conserve local plants and also rescue several parrots and other large birds.

* visited the Mel Fisher Museum (he found the shipwreck, the Atocha, worth about $400 million in treasure!)

* go fishing with Richard aboard Eagle VI. We didn't catch any fish and Martin got seasick but we had fun :)

* take the Trails and Tales Walking Tour of oldtown. Our guide, Tim, is a local who has lived here for many, many years and talked to us about some of the well known local tales.

* visit the Hemingway House with the all the polydactyl cats and watch the sun set from Mallory Square.

* visit the Florida Keys Eco Discover Center and watched a lovely movie about the underwater life on the reefs in the keys.

In addition, food was a central part of our visit. We ate at several great restaurants, snacked on Key Lime Pie, home made fudge and key lime ice cream. We spent several afternoons just walking around town, people watching.

There are a couple of things that we did not get too that if we return, we definitely will do. One is the Conch Train Tour (we didn't get to it Sean!) and the other is the Ghost Tour. I could also go for paragliding and a trip out to the Dry Tortugas... I've really enjoyed our stay in Key West and I'm a little sad to leave. Mostly sad to leave Richard ("Moose") and Kathy. Richard has been a lovely friend and we hope to meet up with him in May in the Bahamas. But it's time to move on and more adventures await!

Key West Night Life - Oh My

Well my post yesterday proved prophetic. Martin and I went out with Richard and his girlfriend Kathy and had quite the wild, very "Key West-like" evening yesterday. We took a ferry boat over to Sunset Island for dinner at Latitudes Beach Cafe. We timed it so that we saw the sun setting as we ferried over, it was gorgeous. We had a great dinner and found ourselves back on Key West by 8:30, what to do?

With the slightest prodding by Richard we began to stroll Duval Street and upon discussion, found that neither Kathy nor I had ever been to a strip club. How could that possibly be, you ask? I guess I've led a sheltered life... So off we went to Teasers. Wow. There were 2 poles, a woman dancing at each. One pole was the "topless" pole, then they moved the next song to the "nudie" pole. We of course were seated at the nudie pole. A stack of singles appeared from somewhere, I think Richard had something to do with that. I was very impressed with the pole dancing abilities of one woman and attempted to tip her (dollar in the garter) only to learn that as a thank you, you get your face, eh hem, "chest hugged". I left the tipping to Richard after that, after all, I'm a bit shy. Martin sat, wide-eyed and largely immobile. I think he was internally at odds with his British, reserved side.

From there, we couldn't just go home so we were off to The Bull, a bar down the road with live music and a dance floor. The upstairs was clothing optional but we'd seen enough for the night and stuck to the downstairs. We danced away and suddenly it was 11:00 the men were turning into pumpkins so Kathy and I agreed to call it a night and we headed home.

Richard is by far the youngest 73 year old man I have ever met and has more enthusiasm, charm and zest for life than I could ever hope to have :)

Travel Plans

Today is our last day in Key West.  Tomorrow we leave nice and early to start a long weekend of travelling.

From Key West we're heading up Hawks Channel to Hawk's Cay marina at Duck Key, a distance of around 50 miles.  Hawks Channel is a stretch of shallower water that runs south of and parallel to the keys.  On the other side of Hawks Channel to the keys (the south side) there's a reef.  While not usually above sea level, the reef creates a band of very shallow water that shelters Hawks Channel from the worst of the Atlantic swells.  The weather is not ideal tomorrow, being a little windier than we'd prefer, but it's coming from the almost ideal direction - ENE - to allow the reef to provide good shelter.  Duck Key is just east of Marathon and a good place to break our journey.

Our destination for the weekend is Biscayne Bay.  We'll continue up Hawk's Channel past Key Largo and then cut through Angelfish Creek into the bay.  Once in the Bay we'll head up to Elliott Key and find a nice anchorage.  The wind drops significantly Friday and Saturday and should provide ideal conditions for a weekend on the hook.  Biscayne Bay is a huge National Park and is supposed to be glorious.  I'll break out the dingy and we'll go explore.  There's a ton of mooring balls around the bay over reefs and wrecks.  With low winds and high temps (high 70s), we may even go snorkeling or even try the snuba gear.

Sunday we leave Biscayne Bay and head to Ft Lauderdale.  We were planning on stopping in Miami, but there's a regatta on this week and no space.  So straight up to Ft Lauderdale it is.  Ft Lauderdale is the pleasure boating capital of the States, so we're going to take a week to stock up spare parts and books.  Tigers Eye is moored there, so we may even meet up with Bradley and Debra again.  Another good reason for hitting Ft Lauderdale earlier is Spring Break.  While the idea of "Girls gone Wild" all around sounds like fun, I'm sure it'll be very noisy!  So we'll leave Ft Lauderdale, head back down the ICW to Miami.  In Miami we'll stay at the Miami Beach Marina, just a few blocks from Ocean Drive and right next to Government Cut.  There we'll wait for a good weather window before jumping across the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Key West

We've been here over two weeks - it's time to write about Key West! We've been having a great time. Key West has a feel to it that I can't really compare to anywhere I've been before. It's laid back yet energetic and there is a diversity to the scene that I really appreciate. Here's a sample walk down the street in Key West:

You're walking down a street packed with people in shorts, tie-dye, bikinis and grins. A rooster crows. It's sunny and warmish. The street is lined with beach wear/tee shirt shops, bars, restaurants and art galleries. You wait at a stop light for 3 electric carts, 4 scooters, a car and a dozen bicycles fly by. A cat is sunning itself on a bench. It's loud. A train/trolly rolls down the road packed with tourists. The outdoor bars are filled with people drinking, young and old, and each bar has live music performing all day. Outdoor restaurants are full and playing music too. A 40ish year old woman stumbles down the street with her husband, both holding cups of beer (it's legal here) and big smiles. A pirate walks down the sidewalk greeting people. Another rooster crows. A man on a scooter cruises past smoking a cigarette. A woman on a bike rides by talking on her cell phone. Motorcycles and scooters abound, and not a helmet is to be seen (that's legal too). Two men walk by holding hands. You pass an enormous banyan tree. A cruise ship horn blows. A very loud parrot squawks from somewhere on high. You pass an old Victorian house filled with fat-footed cats. A man plays a flute on the corner, his dog, dressed in tie-dye and sun glasses, lounges next to him and howls to the music. The cigar vendor is doing a smashing business on the corner. And the taxis are pink.

The island themes seem to include smiling, drinking, good humored debauchery, tales of piracy and sunken treasured found, drinking, and Jimmy Buffet. And drinking.

I feel a bit badly that Martin and I haven't indulged in the "true" Key West experience. We haven't gone to a bar at all, let alone during the daytime. And neither of us has gotten drunk, though Martin has come close with his new found favorite cocktail - the Pain In The Ass (I bite my tongue because that one is simply too easy). We have 2 days left...we're off to drink ;)

Friday, February 20, 2009

The only constant is change

Our plans included.  Our grand plan for this trip was to head over to the Bahamas, down through the islands to the Turks and Caicos.  Then, when the timing was right, jump down to the Dominican Republic, skip over to Puerto Rico and then hop to the US Virgin Islands.  Once we got to the VIs, we could hopscotch all over the Caribbean as each island isn't more than a few hours from the next.

We've been sharing our plans with the various cruisers we've met.  When we shared our thoughts with the captains around us here at Key West, we've been cautioned that it might be too much to handle.  There are some long passages over open sea that can get pretty rough before reaching Puerto Rico.  As we head down the Bahamas we'll continue to solicit advice.  Maybe we'll discover it's not so bad, or maybe we'll find a captain who's done the trip many times and will accompany us.  Or maybe we'll turn around and head north.

While we haven't given up completely on our Caribbean dream, we're preparing to.  Should we decide discretion is the better part of valor, we'll head back to the eastern seaboard and head north.  Steph's mom is in Myrtle Beach, so we could go there and visit a while.  We'll see.

The new spectator sport

Keeping a lookout

What's going on over there?

Stephanie has already commented on my favorite spot on the boat.  On the L-shaped seat next to the helm seat.  It's comfortable, I have a small table to hold my cup of tea and, due to its height,  I have great visibility in all directions.  This is a good thing because, I have come to realize, I'm nosey.  I'm the neighbour with the twitching net curtains, clocking everyone in or out.  I'm the one the police will question while investigating the unfortunate incident two doors down.  Bradley, captain of the Tigers Eye - our neighbour here in Key West - commented how he always saw me sat up there whenever he walked by.  As soon as I mentioned what a good perch it makes for watching he jumped up for a sample.  He agreed.  A most excellent crows nest.

While watching the comings and goings on the dock is entertaining, as is answering questions of the looky-loos that wander all marinas, the most fun is watching boats enter and leave their slips.  If you think watching your neighbour's 17 year old kid parallel park for the first time is entertainment, you're going to love watching someone dock their yacht.  Backing a boat into a slip is not dissimilar to reversing into a parking slot in a parking garage.  Only a lot harder.  Size is one aspect, of course.  Your typical boat is 40 - 50' long and 15' wide.  The slot it goes into is probably less than 18' wide - the one we're in at Key West only gives 1' of clearance on each side.  There's likely not much space in front of the slip either.  The fairway in front of my slip here is 50' wide.  As if the tight quarters aren't tough enough, moving around a marina - nautically speaking "close quarter maneuvering" - is hard.  Boats don't have brakes and water is only slightly more effective as a braking force than a sheet of ice.  They also can be moved by wind and current.  Oh yes, and let's not forget that anything you hit is frightfully expensive.

As soon as I hear boat engines - or even better a bow thruster (it has a much higher pitched whine and is used intermittently, so is easy to recognize) - I'm up like a gopher out of his hole.  It's not like I want to see someone get bent out of shape, though the theatre is much better when it happens.  As interesting is watching different captains solve the problem of putting the peg in the hole.  Watching a yacht dock smoothly is an education and you learn to recognize an old salt pretty quickly.  A guy opposite us takes his 50' sport fisher out three or more times a week.  He's so smooth and confident it's amazing.  Contrast that to the sail boat that came in and left earlier this week.  We all thought they'd bounce off every other boat in the harbour before leaving.  As it turned out, they only hit one.  Not mine, thankfully! ;-)

Knowing everyone is watching makes coming and going extra stressful. It's getting easier and the addition of my joystick makes control so much easier.  I'm also learning to slow down, take notice of the effect of winds and currents and plan out my moves before taking action.

Today there are high winds - 20 knots from the north - and no coming or going.  Tomorrow they die down a little and its a Saturday.  I'm sure they'll be plenty to see :-)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Neighborhood

This is the first time we've been in a "real" active marina with lots of other people living aboard - I love it! Some people are here for weeks or even months but many come for a few days and then head off. Our starboard neighbor, Richard, is here for 2 months. He's an avid fisherman and has been boating in the area for years. We've had a nice time hanging out and going to dinner together. He's been boating in southern FL and the Bahamas for years (fishing) and has been really helpful to us in planning the next leg of the trip. He took us out deep sea fishing today - a first time for both Martin and me. Unfortunately the seas were rolly and we didn't take our seasick pills. Mart ended up chumming a bit for fish *ick* poor guy. So we came back in and will remember the meds next time out fishing!! But I must say - I had a good time - with Mart out of commission and Richard handling the lines, I got to drive a 45 foot powerboat. Oh yeah...

It's really social on the dock even though our little area is pretty empty. (We're in the 40-50 foot boat section - there are areas for the under 40 and then over 50 from what I can tell.) It's easy to socialize because you kind of live outside. The weather has been in the 70s during the day for the past week or so, so we spend most of our time in the helm/back area. As people walk by, doing their thing, you end up chatting. Martin has a semi-permanent perch in the helm area where he can watch the goings on - comings and goings of the marina. I never knew he was so nosey :)

There is also a nice sense of community because whether trawler, power or sailboats, you are all living aboard and traveling. There is a nice give and take that occurs and it was great to learn we had lots to offer too. Even though we are really new to boating, Martin is an engineer and knows the boat and her systems better than most. So we learn about marinas, anchorages, how and where to go in FL and the Bahamas from others and Martin has been able to help people fix water pumps, locate vacuum pumps, figure out radar/gps issues, etc.

I'm also amazed at the all pets living on boats! A trawler moved in next to us with a lovely calico cat, Lily, who hangs out and patrols the boat in the evening (she doesn't jump off - amazing). Another neighbor has 3 golden retrievers living aboard. A sailboat down the way has 2 golden retrievers. I've also seen daschunds, terriers and a corgy all living aboard. As much as I miss my "kids" I'm glad I didn't try to take them on the trip. From what I understand a lot of cats do get sea sick and at their age (11/12 yrs) I think it would have been brutal on them. (And besides, it sounds like they love Ghislaine and have a very happy routine at home without us!) Oh, and I can't forget the local wildlife - several 3-7 foot tarpin live in the water under the docks. And we had a tiny visitor on our water hose the other day - a Seahorse! It floated by on a stick, swam over to our water line and then swam off under the dock. I hope the tarpin didn't notice him (maybe he's too small to tempt them).

We're way behind and have lots to write - a cold front is coming in this weekend so we'll catch up while we cuddle up in the boat!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Life on the Hook

On the Hook, Little Shark River

For the first time since I took possession of Lucky almost four years ago, we spent more than a lunchtime at anchor.  Being "on the hook" is living life off the grid.  No power, no water, no nothing.  The closest comparison I can come up with is "dry camping" in an RV.  How is that different that living in a marina?  Steph's done a great job of highlighting some of the environmental differences - eating breakfast alongside a pod of dolphins fishing for theirs is just too cool for words - but the systems involved need watching closely.

Yes, this is going to be another post full of technical details.

Still reading?  Thank you, all three of you.

Once we're there and the anchor seems to be set (a subject worthy of a blog all of its own), I only worry about three things:  water; power; holding tank.

Water usage is a pretty constant thing.  We don't wash the boat down from the internal tanks, so usage is around 30 gallons a day.  That doesn't sound like much until you realise that we only hold 120 gallons - barely 4 days worth - and our water maker makes water at 15 gallons an hour (give or take).  So we could make water once every four days, taking 6 - 8 hours.  Running the water maker means running the generator (it draws 25 amps) which means staying aboard.  So far we've made water once, filling the tanks in 3 hours while at Little Shark River.  We also cooked and ran the AC at the same time, getting maximum use out of the generator while minimizing its use.  It's not the quietest in the world, but sitting in its sound shield inside the engine room it's a lot quieter than the little Hondas sat on the swim platform that a lot of the sailboats seem to run.  So I'm a lot less worried about noise pollution running it.  I'll still try to avoid running it during the "quiet times" - sunset to a few hours after dawn.

Most power for Lucky comes from the five house batteries.  These get charged by external power, the generator or 2 150 amp alternators, one on each engine.  Each engine has another alternator which charge the engine batteries.  When we arrive at an anchorage, the batteries are fully charged from the passage.  Monitoring at Little Shark showed that they lasted a full day before starting to run down and a three hour charge from the generator was enough to top them off.  Nicely coinciding with water maker usage for the same period.

The generator uses less than 1 gallon an hour when loaded, so fuel isn't going to be a problem.

The holding tank fills up quicker when anchored as we don't have access to marina facilities.  Even so, it'll be a week before it needs emptying.  If push comes to shove, we can leave the anchorage, head off shore (3 miles in the US), empty and then return.

So Lucky does really well at anchor.  The new anchor sets easily and holds well, even in a reversing current.  With the tender we're not limited to staying on Lucky.  I think we're going to be set for the Bahamas.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Dolphin Watching

On Thursday we took an afternoon trip with Wild Dolphin Adventures and headed out with Captain John on the Coral Reefer to look for dolphins. We went with two very nice German tourists and had a fantastic afternoon!

There is a local pod of bottle-nosed dolphins that live in the shallows on the north, sheltered, side of the island. There is an area where they normally hang out, play, sleep, etc - it's been dubbed "the dolphin playground". We had a great day for the trip - warm and low winds. The water visibility wasn't great because of the previous windy days but it was still beautiful emerald water. The tour we chose is one that will let you get in the water and interact with the dolphins if they are in the mood. They are very respectful of the dolphins - no chasing, harassing, etc. Almost immediately after getting there we spotted several dolphins and we cruised nearby and sat, mesmerized by them for hours. I never knew that they played in a group - 3 - 6 together, rolling around on each other in a "dolphin ball" (see pic above). Several other boats came by to look as well. Once the other boats had left we were allowed to get in the water. Only George (one of the German tourists) and I were interested. The water was 69 degrees and it was cooold! We slid in and waited but unfortunately, the dolphins were done playing and not in the mood. They swam by us uninterested so we got back in the boat. Within a few minutes it appeared that they were sleeping so we went off and toured the shallow channel that runs through the area and saw a Portuguese Man o'War (so glad we were out of the water at that point!) and a few sting rays hanging out in the sea grass.

The captain was an incredible wealth of information about dolphins, the waters off Key West and the marine life there. I learned so much. So far, I've been really happy with the tours we done and I think that looking for operations that market themselves as "eco-tours" is definitely the way to go. Not only do I not worry as much about doing something that might be harmful to the wildlife and land, but the respect and knowledge of the guides is wonderful. I think these tours are also smaller and less crowded so you have a more "real" experience rather than the "cattle car" tour.

It was an awesome afternoon! Martin took some excellent photos. I had a really hard time choosing so I posted several on the pic-of-the-day album.

There's much more to write about our time in Key West - we're having a Great time - and we'll be posting more soon! In the meantime, email Martin to bug him, I'm having a hard time getting him back into the blogging mood :)

Monday, February 9, 2009

Passage #2 to Key West

I use the word "passage" a bit tongue-in-cheek since it's usually used in sailors terms, I think, like making a passage from the Caribbean to Europe, or LA to Hawaii - a week or more on the high seas. For me, making a passage means leaving where I am at to go elsewhere, even if it's a 3-4 drive :) Today we got up at 6 and were ready to head out at 7:15. The winds were expected to be about 15 mph and seas at 2-4 feet but the wind was ENE so it should be fine though there was a small craft warning out for the keys. From watching the past few weeks we've learned that the wind has been starting around 8, picking up at about 10 and full blown about 1ish. So we figured we would leave at first light (can't leave earlier because of crab pots) and try to get in before the winds started in force. As Hal told us in Naples, always follow the lead of the sailboats - they know what they are doing. We ended up leaving Little Shark River right in line with the 2 cats and trawler (the sailboats had to wait as low tide was at 8am).

We had a good trip to Key West though by 10:30 the wind was really blowing and we had the 2-4 foot seas. I was just starting to get twitchy when we turned left into the channel. The travel takes a lot out of me and Martin, probably more than it should because we're so new to it. It's a bit like running across a mine field of crab pots. As the seas pick up, it's very hard to see the pots. I take the "10-12" position and Martin watches "Noon to 2". Between the two of us we managed to see almost all of them calling out "pot at 11 oclock, pot at 10:00, POT STRAIGHT ON - GO RIGHT". I have a pic on the pic of the day. The danger of the pots is that they are held down by a line and if you hit them, the line could get tangled in the props and well, that would be very bad.

We arrived at Key West about 11:00am. We're staying at the Galleon Marina. It's huge! As guests we get the amenities of the resort, the laundry room, showers, gym and pool (and wifi!) - cool. They even have a "poop boat" - they come empty your tank for you ;) It's a little bit of an adjustment to leave the quiet mangroves, dolphins and pelicans for the hustle bustle and noise of a busy marina. I love both - I could easily see going back and forth between the two for the next year! We checked in and went straight to lunch. We both downed a cocktail to calm our nerves and now we're "napping". We'll report on Key West in the days to come!

Little Shark River

We had a wonderful Sunday. We spent the day enjoying being "on the hook'. I started the day by finding out that my Jillian workout DVD is perfect for the small area on the boat, it was no problem! Then, as I had hoped, the dolphins came by to join us as we sipped tea/coffee and the pelicans nose-dived into the water. A good breakfast was had by all. We took the tender down and left Lucky alone (though there were 3 fisherman in the area so we felt okay about it.) We drove up river about a mile or so and then around the mangrove forests. We saw several pelicans, ibis' and egrets. We even spotted a dolphin about a mile up river. It's quiet and peaceful, except for the wind which really kicked up around noon.

Once back at the boat we were surprised to see 3 other boats had come in to anchor. By the end of the afternoon there were 9 of us anchored out, 2 catamarans, 5 sailboats, a trawler and a large motorboat. The sailboats are so beautiful, see the pic of the day to see the lovely picturesque sunset they offered us! One of the sailboats was worried about the water depth, and with reason. We watched a sailboat ground itself in mud that morning out in the bay. With the full moon, the tide was very, very low and the bay was only about 5 feet deep. (We draw about 3.5 feet but most sailboats, if I'm correct, draw more like 5 -6 feet). We were so shocked to wake up and see that a good portion of the north part of the anchorage was exposed mud. Martin did a great job of picking an anchorage site for us - we were just far enough away that we were fine.

We watched a truly spectacular sunset while eating outside and drinking Mart's favorite, a little Asti, to celebrate the beauty, (sorry Greg!) and then watched the moon rise. It was a full moon and the water eventually sat like glass. It was beyond gorgeous.

Anchored Away

We left Naples! It was a bit of tough decision to leave today. The winds are forecast to be pretty strong all weekend, but they're coming from the east, which is good, so we decided to go for it. I wasn't the happiest camper when we were about an hour out. I don't have a lot of experience and I was scared when the winds kicked up and the boat would rock side to side even while going 25 mph on plane. Sailboats keel, power boats aren't supposed to! I'm not used to being "afraid" (I'm more the anxiety type) and didn't enjoy it very much. Yeah, all this for freakin' 15 mph winds and 3 foot seas. I'm just hiking up that learning curve...

We made it to Little Shark River around 11:30am. It's a very pretty, sheltered area - where the the river empties out. There was no one here so we looked around and tried to figure out where the best place to anchor would be. We still had the engines on and were almost done anchoring when the dolphins came! Okay, it was midday and they were feeding but I'd rather the more romantic take that they were welcoming us to the anchorage :) This must be the home to a pod of dolphins, they are everywhere, including one tiny baby. There are also a ton of pelicans and obviously plenty of fish because birds and dolphin were snacking all afternoon.

A few fishing boats passed by and 2 stopped in the bay to fish in the afternoon so it wasn't as isolated as we first thought. By dusk, we had 3 neighbors - 2 sail boats and a small trawler/lobster boat that anchored out as well. It's really beautiful. I doubt the pics will capture it as it is. It's so quiet and calm and bright - it's almost a full moon tonight. It's very protected (3/4 surrounded by trees) and the wind mellowed out around 6ish and now, it's 9pm, and very calm. We felt some rocking and looked and we have turned 180 on the anchor with the incoming tide.

So how did we spend the day... In good British fashion, after making sure we were securely anchored we had tea, and lunch. Martin took the tender down and went for a ride to make sure the engine was still working, and it is (he was having a time of it when we first got it). Then we sat back and watched the pelicans dive and listened to the "p-phew" of the dolphins breathing as they popped up around the bay. We made a stir fry on the barbeque and ate outside while the sun set. It's a bit warmer today, we were able to sit outside in sweaters. Martin says that this is what he has had in mind when he thought about the trip. It's pretty damn nice, I have to say.

It's a different way of being on the boat too. In the marina, it's just like living in a small apartment in/near town. You have all your normal activities on hand, whether it's visiting, going out for a bike ride or to dinner. "On the hook" it's different, more like cabin camping in a remote place. We don't want to use a lot of electricity in the evening because we don't want to run the generator and make noise when it's so peaceful and quite (we can do that tomorrow afternoon). We haven't figured out yet just how much we can use on the batteries so for today, it means we aren't using the heat at night, nor a ton of lights, and we opted for gas cooking. We did, however, keep the hot water heater on tonight because it's cool and a hot shower in the morning is a nice luxury!

We plan on staying here until Monday morning when we'll head to Key West. Our plan for tomorrow is to wake up and hopefully watch the dolphins over morning coffee/tea, and then take the tender up river to explore the everglades.

Friday, February 6, 2009

(Thursday) Getting Ready to Move On

We have a new departure date (tentatively) set for this Saturday. We're hoping to head down to the Little Shark River and anchor out for 2 days/nights and then head to Key West. I think we'll be out of touch for those 2 days. As it is, we've lost our on-boat internet here in Naples (the connection was too poor to justify paying for) and we are back to using our Starbucks account. We won't have the Starbucks option in the Everglades, and I doubt we'll have cell phone reception either. Of course, we'll post asap when we arrive in Key West so you all know that we are okay and didn't fall victims to any large Everglade gators ;-) I'm really excited and really nervous to make our first "passage"!

The weather is sure to turn around soon since I broke down today and biked to the mall to buy pants and more socks. It was 32 degrees last night with a repeat tonight... They say it's turning around Saturday but at this point I'm ready to gear up for cooler temps in the hopes that I won't need the clothes. I'm also feeling very self-sufficient - my bike chain fell off a few miles from home and I was able to fix it - it may seem like a little thing, but it made me feel good!

For the past few months I've been asking Martin to find a way to go offline with our email the way you can with Outlook. (Poor Mart, I'm pretty ignorant how these things work and just assume he can do anything "techy" right away. I get really frustrated when I say "please, make it so" and he can't do it right away :) So Google just rolled out a beta version for this and we have it on our computers. If you don't know what I'm talking about, it's to be able to download email when we have a connection, go home and read/respond to emails offline and then be able to send them once we're connected again. I think that will be really helpful when we have more sporadic internet access.

The sun is setting and we are expecting Sue and Armando to arrive soon. Martin is cooking something in the slow cooker that smells very good and we have a lovely bottle of chianti classico reserva waiting. Life is very, very good!

(Wednesday) Biking through the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park

We really wanted to get out and explore a bit more around Naples so I contacted Naples Bicycle Tours. Marcie and Gary came to get us in the morning and take us to "the Fak". Their business is top notch, they provided transportation, comfy bikes and even binoculars. They both have lived here for years and I was so impressed with their knowledge of, and respect for, the local history, land, flora and fauna. Oh, and eyesight! They could pick out an alligator head peaking out of the swamp as we cycled by... I don't think I would have seen anything, and certainly not known what I was seeing, had we not been with them. We had such a great time!

A bit about the park - the Fakahatchee Park is a forested swamp. It's home to more native orchids species than any other place on the continent, as well as panthers and of course, alligators... I haven't read the book, but I understand that The Orchid Thief is based on this park. Apparently, people still come to the park to steal the plants, and as a result of the theft, and previous over-harvesting, many of the orchids and ferns in the park are now endangered. We saw many orchids, though none in bloom (bummer!) including a rare variegated bromeliad and a leaf-less orchid (you just see the roots, making it a difficult plant to find when it's not in bloom...) There are cypress and indigenous Royal palms. We saw a gorgeous hawk (in the swamp), several alligators, a turtle, many zebra butterfly and funky wood storks. My beloved cormorants from back home have cousins here and there are also Anhingas which look similar to cormorants and do the pterodactyl wing drying posing. Apparently the Anhingas have pointy beaks and they spear their fish and then flip them up in the air and swallow them head first, too cool. I hope I get to see that soon!

It turned out to be a good day for the tour even though it was really windy because we were sheltered under the canopy. It was great to get out, exercise, learn about the local area and see some of the natural beauty here. I've posted pics of the park in the pic of the day album. The pictures are nice but they can't capture just how beautiful it was there, especially in the swamp. There's almost too much to look at!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

It's All About the Wind

I thought I would check in and post that all is well and windy in Naples. We haven't been up to too much. It's been windy and rainy and that doesn't leave a lot of room for goofing around or even running errands, really. I have to say that I'm learning to greatly respect the wind. "17 mph with gusts up to 25 mph" now means much more than it did a month ago. I can't even imagine hurricane season!

Today is a little bit better, the sun is out, so we set out to the grocery store and did some provisioning. Sue and I are going to hang out this afternoon and sew and I'll get my "cat fix" with Tru and Blu. Life is good. We scheduled a bike eco-tour for tomorrow in the Everglades. It's through a local operation that will even pick us up from the boat. Without a car, our options are pretty limited so I was thrilled to find them. I'm hoping we'll be able to go as scheduled - we have another super windy day forecast for tomorrow.

Every time we're in "public" we hear people talking about the weather. "It's the coldest winter in years and years. I've never seen a winter in Florida like this. This weather is so unusual." Well, we too will be very happy when it warms up and the winds take a hike!

In the meantime, we're learning that we can do really well confined to the boat! With hobbies, the internet, books on tape, cooking, 30 Rock and Heros DVDs...there's never a dull moment :)