Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Dinghy Bottoms Need Love Too

Mouth of Sister Creek
When we arrived here in Marathon, Florida and started talking to other Cruisers and Liveaboards around the marina, a recurring theme began to emerge.  When people learned that we plan on staying for a month, they all said that we needed to keep an eye on our boat bottom.  They said that the waters here in Boot Key Harbor provide perfect conditions for prolific growth of barnacles and such, and that if we didn’t keep up with it, we might find our prop and bottom covered with growth in an amazingly short time.  Oh, and don’t forget the dinghy…

Boot Key to Dinghy Bottom Beach
We had new bottom paint on our hull back in February and were skeptical about growth being a problem there.  That is, until I began to notice some barnacles appearing a couple of days ago at our waterline.  Bruce started trying to get “bottom cleaning” on the to-do list, but it keeps being punted to the bottom… We get conflicting reports as to whether or not it is safe to go into the water here with all of these boats dumping their grey water.   He did take a cloth to the undersides of the dinghy pontoons…

Closer view of Dinghy Bottom Beach
Today, we had some time to get the dinghy bottom knocked off the list.  We heard from a local that the best place to do this is a small trashy beach up Sister Creek, almost to Sombrero Beach, but on the other side.  I had noticed the spot on one of our beach trips so we headed that way with a bag full of scrapers and sponges.

I remembered seeing all the trash!
We found the spot easily, although it was full of seaweed, it was still the only open spot along the way, so we headed there and beached the dinghy in the foot deep mass of seaweed and floating garbage.  There was a fine sheen of scum as well just to make the smelly glop all the more appealing…  

Each step I sank to mid shin...
I was glad I had worn water shoes instead of the flip flops and sandals I’ve been living in for weeks… I fought down the images in my mind of what might be lurking beneath the water’s surface as I waded through the thick odoriferous flotsam to the shore.  

While Bruce removed the outboard and pulled the dinghy close enough to flip, I began to take all of the gear we keep aboard off and pile it on top of a board we found.  

A little game of hid-n-seek going on...
Once I had the dink cleared out, he pulled it further ashore on a bed of seaweed where we would flip it over and see what was in store for us…  Meanwhile, I was exploring our surroundings, fearful of finding a snake, but instead, found this cute little hermit crab trying to hide from me…

A little help here!!!
Bruce was not amused by my distraction… must focus.  Oh, help flip the dink, right… I found a large block of wood that had floated up and used it to prop up one side of the dinghy to provide some stability and also to keep it out of the mire…  

And Bruce had wiped the pontoons clean a couple of days ago!
We flipped the dinghy and surveyed the situation.  ICK!  There was a glistening lumpy carpet growing on our bottom about a quarter of an inch thick or more…  

Things were crawling everywhere!
Looking closely, I found little creatures scurrying away… but there was no place for them to go, so they hunkered down waiting for what was next.  

You know this is a race right?
Bruce and I each took a side and started scraping away the thick gunk.  It was creepy and disgusting and smucky!  Yes, SMUCKY!  We worked on our respective sides for over an hour, glad that the sun wasn’t too hot as we toiled away.  

We scraped the goop off in sheets!
I began to wonder how many of the sailing women we know back home would do this… How many cruising women we’ve met along the way would do this?  I’m not sure… but although I wasn’t LIKING doing this… it STILL beats working!  Yes, I would rather be standing in stinky muck (hiding all manner or unfathomable evil) with my muscles screaming from repetitive scraping of fearsome sea creatures (probably carrying ebola virus or something)… than sitting at my old desk job in the AC…  Something must be WRONG with me!

But, as we worked together, we began to see the instantaneous fruits of our labor as the bottom went from “before” to “after”, right before our eyes.  The satisfaction of a job complete was our reward for this day’s toil…  At some point, we pronounced it “finished”.  We heaved the dinghy back over onto it’s now clean bottom and found to my horror… that many of the creatures we had scraped off the bottom, were now crawling on the pontoon that had been in the water!  EEEK!  I grabbed the hard hat we had found on the shore and used it as a bucket to wash them all away, carefully avoiding walking in the pile of bottom-scum we left at the transom...

Luckily we found a hardhat "bucket" in the trash pile
We got the critters all washed away, but I has in high gear as I brought things from the shore to the dinghy so that we could get outta here!  I continued to stifle the creepy thoughts in my head as we reloaded and secured the outboard to the transom once again.  I jumped into the dinghy as Bruce shoved us off the floating mass of seaweed on the incoming tide… I kicked my feet in the cleaner water and yanked off the shoes, peering inside to make sure that there were no hitch hikers…  I rinsed the parts of me that had touched the icky water.  Ahh we motored away from there!  Clean bottom!  

I guess we should have taken a look sooner, it wouldn’t have been so bad…  But we still can’t believe the speed at which these critters attached themselves and grew on our dinghy.  It hasn’t been three weeks and the bottom was clean when we arrived here.  So remember… if you ever find yourself in Boot Key Harbor, dinghy bottoms need love too...

Saturday, April 19, 2014

A Day In The Life - Ya Gotta Get OFF The Boat!

Hair Trail - It blew all the way to the stern
Our days are never the same.  We never know what is going to happen when we get up in the morning… We may have SOME idea how it will go… But that’s about it.  And that’s the way we like it.  

A GOOD day goes something like this.  Get up in the morning and get a few necessary chores out of the way.  This morning, we (finally) cut Bruce’s hair.  I’ve put it off because there just isn’t a good place to do it.  Today, with the winds down a bit, I decided that the cockpit was as good a place as any.  

Yes... I'm vacuuming the deck...
After cleaning up THAT mess… I launched into a full scale cockpit cleanup, long overdue.  That took about an hour, but once done, I felt that we had accomplished enough and were now free to PLAY!

We put on our swimsuits beneath our clothes, in hopes that our day would include a swim.  We mounted our bikes and pedaled away towards the Seven Mile Bridge.  Another Cruiser had told me that there was a place called Pigeon Key, where you can learn about how the Seven Mile Bridge was built.  Pigeon Key is a blip on the map, where Henry Flagler set up a compound to house the workers and for use as a command center from which to run the operation.  

Selfie with the old bridge
The project was dubbed “Flagler’s Folly”, but in the end, it was renamed as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”.  Just thinking about the massive project built back in the day when things were more simple, is mind boggling.  It’s no wonder the people thought it would be impossible to accomplish.  

We took the bike path and arrived at the base of the beautiful old bridge thinking how much more character it has than the newer structure.  

Held together by clamps in spots... GULP!
It’s a shame that it deteriorated to the point of replacement, but when we took off across the water, we could see that it was both ragged as well as unrealistically small for use in this day and age.

The day could not have been more gorgeous for our bike ride.  The light winds in our faces promised a faster and easier return ride.  

We paused often along the way to peer over the side, finding scads of rays, several different kinds… and some kind of huge fish schooled in the shadows beneath the bridge.  

Tarpon? hiding in the shade beneath the bridge
I think they’re Tarpon, but Bruce isn’t sure…  They were just hanging there, nose to the current, chillin’ in the shade.

Bruce trying to identify the huge fish

Spotted Ray

Long straight road

We reached the end of the line...

We were excited like Tourists!  It’s fun when you can use that excuse to reveal your inner child!  The Locals just smile and shake their heads indulgently…  And I don’t care.  We finally reached Pigeon Key, sweaty and curious about what would come next.  We took the rickety ramp down to the Key and found a hot, dusty ghost town.  

Nobody around!
The buildings built to house and feed the work crews, were now a sort of museum.  The doors were open, but there was nobody around.  Evidently the Easter Holiday was disrupting the Historical tours normally offered here.  There were very few other people, some who had come over on a ferry boat that runs every so often…

The old Bridge Keeper's house

Hmmm... lots of cracks underneath that bridge...
We walked our bikes towards the pier we had spied on our approach to the Key.  That looked like as good a place as any to explore.  We parked our bikes in the shade beneath the old bridge.  Looking up at the cracked and patched structure… I guess it’s obvious why they shut it down.  I guess we’re lucky at this point that we can still enjoy this portion of it.

We walked out onto the glowing waters by way of the pier.  The end supported a cute little tike hut which served as the ferry boat landing.  

It was deserted.  We stared out at the undulating carpet of blues and greens and I felt suddenly sweaty… and sticky… and the water was calling to me.  I spied a fresh water shower at the other end of the pier and a ladder leading down into the silken waters… and I started stripping off my clothing.  

Unbelievably NICE!
Bruce looked at me with surprise, then followed me as I descended the metal ladder.  I’ll tell on him now, he had to strip naked and put his swimsuit on, and as he was pulling up his suit, a couple started down the pier in our direction… These close calls are becoming a THING with Bruce!  

We FINALLY get to swim!
We reveled in the silken feel of the water.  It was a PERFECT temperature and contrary to the sign warning of strong currents and dangerous sea creatures (??? dangerous sea creatures???) there was no current at all…  Only the gentle swells lifting us and then lowering us softly as the water caressed our tired and hot bodies, feeling so much better than any Spa ever has… 

The couple arrived at the tiki and I heard the woman say how much she wished she had brought a swimsuit.  I called up to them that I promise not to take pictures and post them on the internet if they wanted to strip down and come in… the water’s fine!  They mumbled a little bit to one another and the man said “Are you serious?”.  I said come on in!

I promised them I wouldn't post their picture...
So You get... Bruce and the looooong bridge!
And they stripped to their underwear and joined us in the delicious water.  We chatted and from their foreign accents, I assumed that they weren’t from around here.  It turned out that they live in Florida now, but are from somewhere cold like Norway or something… BRRR.  I offered to take some pics for them and promised again not to post them and they quickly accepted.  She wanted to send them to her cold relatives to rub it in!  I can’t say I blame her at all!

Bruce got out of the water to dry off and my toes were beginning to prune up when I realized that it would be nice of us to leave first so that the other couple could have some privacy in getting out of the water and back into their clothes.  I got out of the water reluctantly and we donned our clothes.  We said goodbye and I got an email to send the pics, and we reclaimed our bikes.  

Ferry Arrived just after we left
By the time we had backtracked to the bridge, we could see that the Ferry Boat had arrived at the tiki.  We laughed as we expressed our hope that the couple had their clothes back on before the small crowd of visitors arrived!  

We were right in our hopes that the return bike ride would be with the wind, and therefore a much easier ride.  It was almost effortless as we passed a few other hikers and bikers and made many stops along the way to see the rays and fish below.  

More Tarpon?
It seemed like a much shorter ride back.  We stopped to drop a few dollars into the donation bucket towards repair of the deteriorating bridge… We met some fellow Cruisers and chatted for a bit.  

Then we retraced our path along the road where we found Iguana Central.  They were out in droves, sunning themselves on the rocks, on the path and in the grass alongside the bike path.  I snapped as many pics as I could and even with the elusive creatures darting into the bushes, I was able to get a few.  I just love them!  And it’s probably a good thing that they run like hares, because if they didn’t I would be scared of them!

Me & Cap'n Jack.  
Upon arrival back at the marina, we had one more chore to attend to before we headed home for sundowners.  We had to fill our water jugs at the marina fill station.  While there, we were greeted by Captain Jack.  This man is a Marathon Institution.  He has been picking flowers from the bushes around the marina and walking around in search of a Lady to which to present his lovelies.

 I have been the recipient of not only a flower, but also, even more special… a hand painted shell depicting a beach and palm tree.  Today I got yet another flower from this kindly old gent…  I just had to get a picture with him and I wondered what kind of young man he must have been…. 

There he goes... to find another woman and brighten her day!
What a nice thing to do, walking around brightening the days of the Ladies here in the marina.  

And so we retired, me with my beautiful flower and both of us full of memories of breathtaking beauty, a little bit of naughtiness, and a whole day full of surprises.  It occurred to me… you don’t need a plan and you never know what fun you’ll have if you just get off the boat! 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Repairs In Paradise

Morning in Boot Key
We’ve had so many repairs since leaving home, it makes my head spin just thinking about it.  For some reason, I had an unreasonable fear that if we waited until we got down to the Keys, everything would be more expensive…  While that isn’t entirely untrue… Services here in Marathon seem to be not only priced reasonably, but the available workmen here are accessible and reasonably priced.  And, more importantly, when they’re done, the thing is FIXED!

Pumping out the pond
During the installation of our solar panels, we discovered that we had an unwanted saltwater pond beneath our bed.  We sucked out the water and noted that our rudder post was leaking.  It wasn’t dire, so we put it on the back burner that until the solar is finished…

Now that the solar panels are happily charging away, we had run out of excuses to ignore the leaking rudder post and so, once again, we tore our bedroom apart and found that our pond had returned.  We sucked out the water and investigated further as to WHY there was a pond… Even with the post leaking, we should have a drain hole that allows the water to make its way to the bilge…  Yep, the drain hole was plugged up with gunk.  Bruce freed that up, then we turned our attention back to the rudder post.

He and I took a look at it.  He tried explaining to me how it works, which I kind of get…  But all I could see in my mind’s eye was us messing something up and water gushing into the boat at an alarming rate.  I just don’t want to be “that boat”.  You know… the one that sunk on mooring ball S4.  So, I bailed on him and asked that he call a friend, a male friend for some assistance.  I know… cowardly of me…  But with the luck we’ve had in DIY repairs…  No way I’m touching this one!

Rainbow is a good omen
The next morning, a friend came over with a big wrench.  He and Bruce took a stab at it and found that the nuts were not budging.  There was no longer a pond by the way…  So the leak wasn’t so bad that we would have noticed if it hadn’t been for the plugged drain hole…  But, we need to get this fixed before crossing any Gulf Streams and such…  Bruce and Rodney quickly decided that we would be better off having a professional take this on, so we made an appointment with Marathon Boat Yard and Marine Services.  

You might recall from an earlier post, this is the boatyard that did the free seminars our first couple of days here.  We had heard good things about their work since then from other Cruisers and they could get us in the next day.  

Jezabelle up early
We got up early to prepare for the journey of less than a mile, but we wanted them to have all day to do the job… just in case…  We left the dinghy on our mooring ball and headed over to the boatyard mid morning.  

Narrow channel entrance
The approach was easy, head for the old bridge and turn to starboard.  The channel leading to the boatyard was plenty deep, although we did see some depths in the 9 ft. range… 

It was still disconcerting having the steep rocky shore close enough to flip a coin.  

We got a line ashore to help the stern come around
The true fun began when we got to the boatyard.  There was a long dock where we had planned to tie up, but several unexpected boats had arrived late in the day yesterday and they were lining the dock and even rafted two deep.  The other side of the basin was also lined with boats.  We slowly made our approach wondering where we would fit and saw the boatyard men waving us over to raft up to another boat on our Port side.

The instructed me to bring the nose in and let the wind blow the stern around so that we could just head right out when we were done.  

Rafted up
So, in the small space, we did a little pirouette and slid into our waiting spot “Captain Ron” style while I anxiously kept watch on our newly installed solar panels and their close proximity to the fishing boat now behind us…

It looks bigger than it seemed when I was driving that big boat around...
Whew!  Glad THAT’s over!  The guys tied us off and disappeared, leaving only Joe, who would be our hero today.  You might remember Joe from an earlier post as well.  He was the Fiberglass Repair Seminar presenter who had impressed us so much.  I was glad to see that he would be our guy today.

He boarded and took a look at our situation, then he went right to work.  I waited in the cockpit listening to the loud banging coming from down below.  Joe had to give it a pretty substantial hit to get the nuts to give it up… something I would never have felt comfortable doing… He exposed the packing material and found that we use 3/8 in. packing instead of the more common 1/4 inch material… figures…  They didn’t have it in stock but he was able to get it from another local business pretty quickly.  

Our Joe at work
After a short disappearance, Joe returned with the proper packing in hand and had it installed within minutes.  He was very patient and showed Bruce just what to look for and what to do should we need to repeat this job in the future.  He left the excess packing material with us as well.  

I waited in the cockpit while Bruce went in to settle the bill…  I had a number in my head as to what I figured this job would probably cost us and wasn’t surprised when Bruce came back and told me the total was indeed, what I had anticipated.  Imagine my pleasant surprise when he also began to read off the list of other goodies he had bought that were INCLUDED in that total bill!  Bruce had gone on a little shopping spree for spares when I wasn’t looking!  And it was all within the cost of what I had figured on paying for the rudder post repair alone!  Hooray!  Finally something that DIDN’T cost us more than my first born child...

So now, we’re all fixed up, our rudder won’t drop out of the boat, we won’t take on water and join the Sea Monsters at in the Tongue Of The Ocean… At least not for THIS problem!  And I can’t say enough about the professionalism of the folks at Marathon Boat Yard and Marine Services.  I only wish that we had saved some of our other repairs until we arrived here… it might have lessened our frustrations and saved us a few bucks...