'Til the butter melts

Pursuing the cruising dream in 32' of sailing ketch


Road Trip!

We’ve spent a good bit of time with our friends and fellow Mainer’s Dick and Moira this week. They left Rockland Maine aboard their 36’ boat Equinox the same time we did, back in August, and while their trip down the coast included a couple different stops (and a trip back to Maine for the snowy holidays – what were they thinking!?), we’ve ended up together again for a week or so, and it’s been delightful! 
But while we’re here for an extended stay – using Marathon as a “home base” to explore the rest of the Keys – they’re here only long enough to fix a leak in their dinghy and stage for their next adventure. They’re going to Cuba!
Maybe we’ll talk more about that later. They’ve jumped through hoops and made standby plans for their standby plans and it’s going to be a grand trip, no doubt. But this entry is about a road trip we took with them, just yesterday.
You see, there’s a great bus service here in the keys, and for $4 each way (and only $1 for seniors – as Dick was quick to point out!) we can ride from Marathon to Key west. They pick up just outside the City Marina entrance, and make stops all along the overseas highway (US Route 1) between here and Key West, and several places within Key West itself. It’s a great deal. And if you happen to have a beer with your dinner, you don’t have to worry about it, because the bus driver hasn’t. Instant designated driver.
So yesterday we left Marathon on the 1:27pm southbound, and at three we stepped off in Key West – and had instant culture shock. 

 Holy Duval Street, Batman! 
When you live on a boat, you get used to limited elbow room and lots of quiet time and a generally mellow vibe. It kind of grows on you.

But that’s not Duval street, nor most of Key West, actually. Well, the limited elbow room part is familiar, but instead of a boat with only 130 square feet of space and two people, it’s an island with 206 million square feet and God knows how many people but it looks like they’re all packed into one street (called Duval St.). 

 Breathe in when your neighbor breathes out and get your elbow out of my eye…. It’s busy.

But it was fun. Music (some good, some horrid) is everywhere, restaurants and tourist traps and clothing shops galore, street musicians and magicians, and LOTS of local color. Reminded me of nowhere so much as Provincetown, Massachusetts, actually. REALLY colorful, we’re talking. 
LOTS of restaurants, of course, but being island inspired, everything is heavy on the meat, and we’re avoiding meat…. So yeah, we broke that fast with a stuffed plantain tapas plate, stuffed with beans and rice and a bit of pork. It was mostly plantains and veggies, but that little bit of meat tasted pretty good. I guess a couple ounces of pork won’t poison me for life…

Sunset followed like night after day, and it was pretty cool, watching the sun go down over the Gulf again – it reminds me that we need to get out sailing again, and soon. 

There’s a park on the Western tip of Key West called Mallory Park, and the tourists gather there every evening to watch the sunset and the carnival of musicians and acrobats and hucksters, and then the local sail boats start parading by the piers, back and forth and back and forth…  If you were a teen in the ’50’s (or saw the movie “American Graffiti”), you know what I’m talking about.

And did I mention that Key West has character? Banyan trees and raging bulls and the cutest tourists you’ll find anywhere!

There’s nothing like watching the sunset from your own boat, over a horizon unbroken by any sign of humans as far as you can see. Maybe we’ll take Sionna out there, join the parade.

And maybe we’ll just keep going west for a day or two, looking for that unbroken horizon.


We Got a Mooring!

Sionna has her own mooring in Boot Key Harbor!  

We got the phone call at 9:30 Tuesday morning, so instead of showers and a lazy breakfast, we spent an hour and a half pulling up our two anchors…

Not paint, or plaster, but muck!

…cleaning off the incredible fine, sticky muck they call “mud” down here, and moving our floating home a half-mile farther into the harbor to capture mooring number D11.  Pulling the anchors took most of that time – those hooks did NOT want to let go of Terra Firma after settling in for four weeks and three storms!

Ya’ll stop by if you’re in the neighborhood, ya hear?


Visits with friends

Cruising is a social activity.  

Or at least, it CAN be a social activity, if you’re a social kind of person.  Nicki very much is, but I’m kind of a social introvert.

Ok, to be honest, I’m an introvert that tries really hard to be social and outgoing.  Sometimes I succeed.

But I have to admit tha even I – who actively looks for places to hide in a crowd (usually the kitchen, where I can help!) – appreciates the chance to catch up with good friends, wherever they find us.

And so we were tickled pink when Dick & Moira of Equinox – our Rockland Harbor mooring neighbors, good friends and cruising mentors arrived in Boot Key Harbor this week!  We hadn’t seen them since Hampton, VA, way back in October, though they left Rockland the same time we did and took basically the same route. That’s the way it is, cruising.  You’ll see the same boat several times for a while, then suddenly you won’t see them for weeks, or years, and then one day you pull into an anchorage and realize it’s full of people you know!  Very cool. 

And even cooler is that in this case, Dick & Moira hadn’t been to Marathon in MANY years, and we’d been here a couple weeks and had basically figured out where things are and how to get there.  It gave us a chance to mentor our mentors a little bit, and give back just a bit of the love and experience they’ve shared with us over the last few years, getting us ready to untie the dock lines. 

That’s a pretty cool feeling, 2000 miles from home.

And next?  Well, Equinox is off to Cuba next week.  Yes, Cuba!  How cool is that?  They’ve already done a couple Atlantic crossings, the North Atlantic circle (clockwise from Bermuda, the Azores, England, Spain, the Canaries, the Caribbean islands and home), as well as a good portion of the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea, but back then you couldn’t legally stop in Cuba.  Now you can, so they’re off!

Bon Voyage, Equinox!  We’ll miss you!


Staying put? Or stuck?

Sionna has arrived. Apparently.

After 2200 miles of moving, we’ve now been anchored in Boot Key Harbor, Marathon FL for over a week, with no particular plans to leave.  That’s a new thing for us.

Always before it’s been a given that we had somewhere else to be, somewhere farther south and warmer, but having arrived in the Florida Keys, we seem to have suddenly grown roots.

And it’s true that Boot Key Harbor is a cruisers Mecca, combining all the facilities that cruisers need, a very pleasant town to wander, and even a cruiser community that provides – among other things – yoga classes, botche ball, a softball league, volunteer opportunities and advice on everything from maintaining your boat to raising your children. It’s a busy place.


But it’s also expensive.  Everything in the Keys – including fresh water – has to come from the mainland, so prices on all goods are 25%-50% higher than we’re used to.  When you’re a couple of semi-retired people with outstanding medical issues trying to see the Universe on less than 30 Altairien dollars a day, that’s a problem.  Living on the boat was cheaper than living ashore through a Maine winter right up until we got here.

One of two dinghy dock areas.

But it gets worse.  We CAN’T LEAVE.  We’d lose our spot.

Moorings in the harbor cost the same as anchoring, and the moorings are generally closer to everything significant than the anchorage.  Since we figured to be here for a bit, we put our names on the waiting list for a mooring – and that wait is 2-3 weeks right now.  But the catch is we have to be HERE – in the harbor – to stay on the list.  If we go off exploring for a couple days, we risk missing a mooring and getting bumped back to the bottom of the list.

And then there’s the anchorage. We found a good spot to anchor when we first arrived, but those spots are now scarce as hen’s teeth.  If we pull up our anchors (we have two down to keep us from bumping the closer boats – it’s that crowded) to go for a sail, we won’t have a spot when we get back.  That’s another reason to want a mooring. Once we have it rented, we can leave it and come back with no risk of loosing our spot.

So we’re kinda trapped, a bird in a gilded cage.  Yes, we’re safe and have all we need – including way too many opportunities to spend what money we have left. But we can’t use our boat for what it’s intended (sailing), and we’re not able to explore the rest of the Key’s unless we want to loose our foothold in Boot Key.  It’s a quandary.

Do I sound like I’m whining?  I don’t mean to.  But I guess it never occurred to me we might get stuck in the quicksand of Velcro Harbor.

At least it’s warm!


Of Lug-rigs and Men

“What kind of sail is that?”

I’ve heard that several times now.  Must be because I’m from New England or something.

When we left Maine –  2100 miles and five months ago – we had a couple sticks of wood and a large piece of brown cloth strapped to the life-line stanchions on the starboard side.  This was the sailing rig we found last summer, and which I’d begun to modify to fit our dinghy.

Begun, meaning that I’d planed the base of the mast down to fit the mast partners (the mount) in the bow of the dinghy, but had put the project aside as one of those things I’d do “along the way”, because of course I’d have plenty of time as we worked our way south, right? Riiight…

So there it sat, on the rail, collecting dirt and fading in the sun, and for almost 2000 miles we worked around it and towed the dinghy and it kinda faded into the scene, so that we hardly remembered it was there, right in plain sight. 

But finally we had some time, back in January, and nobody around to watch if it didn’t work, because we were anchored near Panther Key in the Everglades for my birthday and there was NOBODY there but us and the no-see-ums.

So finally “Chuckles” the dinghy has a new power source, and I have something to sail while Sionna is mired and immovable in Boot Key Harbor.  It’s so crowded here that if you pull up your anchors and go for a sail you instantly loose your spot, and may not be able to find another one.  So nobody moves. Ever. 

Unless it’s to a mooring (for which there is a 3-week waiting list) or to head to the Bahamas (which isn’t on our to-do list this winter).

But it sure is nice to have it doing something besides taking up space.  

And for the record, this particular sail style is referred to as a “Lug” rig, and consists of the mast, the sail (shaped as a trapezium), a Boom (along the bottom) and a Yard, along the top. I first heard about it in a story/song by that master of nautical story-telling, Gordon Bok.  Wonderful rig. Wonderful story! (Here’s the link: Peter Kagan and the wind )


January – The Month in Numbers

It’s that time once more!  

We’re tucked (tightly!) into the anchorage in Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Florida now. The weather here in the Keys is sublime; upper 60’s at night, upper 70’s to low 80’s in the day and horrifyingly sunny, with more boats and cool folks than you can wrap your head around. With that in mind, we’re staying put for a few weeks, it looks like. We may even get a mooring in another week or so – there’s a waiting list 41 boats long!  
Now that January is behind us, we take a peek at the events (and expenses) that kept the crew and the boat happy during our month’s travels.

Here, presented in no particular order, are some numbers that I found interesting from the month of January, 2017 or – where so noted – since we left Rockland In August. Enjoy!
1 – Number of refrigeration system “failures” – corrected by a good cleaning of the condenser coil!

*5 – New species of wildlife we’ve seen this month

4 – the number of locks Sionna rode (14’ up, 13.5’ down) while crossing the Okeechobee Waterway from Stuart to Fort Myers Florida.

2 – sets of cheap new snorkel gear purchased. We’re in the Keys, Mon!

8- Nights in port in January

23 – Nights at anchor (free!) in January

166 – Days since leaving Rockland

89- Days underway since leaving Rockland

10- Days underway in January

24 nm (nautical miles) (27.6 statute) – Average miles covered per day underway
1303 nm (1498 sm) – Miles from Rockland in a straight line.

156 nm (179 sm)- Miles covered in a straight line in January

2134 nm (2454 sm) Miles actually sailed/motored from Rockland

**184nm (211 sm) – Miles actually sailed in January
13.5 gal. – Diesel fuel purchased in January

141 gal – Diesel fuel purchased since leaving Rockland

***13.6 nmpg (15.6 smpg) – Sionna’s average fuel consumption in January

15.1 nmpg (17.4 smpg) – Sionna’s average fuel consumption since leaving Rockland

****$578.70 – Provisions purchased (Now includes booze, as separating that out was embarrassing. The Keys are EXPENSIVE!)

$19.12 – Coffee/pastries purchased (which comes with Wifi!)

$225.29 – Dining out. Sometimes… you need to.

$15.91 – Propane for cooking since leaving Rockland

$0.00 – charcoal for heating the cabin (It’s been warm!!)

$91.77 – Boat parts purchased in January

$16.01 – boat maintenance supplies

$153.38 – Mooring/slip/dinghy dockage fees for January

$325.77 – Diesel purchased since leaving Rockland

282 amp/hours – amount of solar electricity produced in January

*Tarpon, Rosette Spoonbill, Sea Turtle, Frigate Bird, White Ibis, Catfish(caught & released!)

** This is about ½ the mileage we clocked in December. We’ve arrived!

*** Down slightly – less help from the wind.

**** Includes food, toiletries, paper products, booze, etc. 
Want to know what it would cost YOU to live this glamourous lifestyle?  

The answer is – “It depends”!


In a Keys state of mind

As we’ve slowly made your way south this last five months, the most common question we’ve heard has been “Where are you headed?”

Mostly we answer that one – slightly tongue-in-cheek – with “South!”  Which is basically true, but not awfully helpful.

What we’ve discovered is that many people (non-cruisers)  feel that our not having a defined itinerary and stated destination is profoundly disturbing.  Probably illegal. Certainly immoral. It might even be fattening for all I know.

It’s a land-based thing, I guess, this needing to know where you’ll be every moment of every day. 

But having a plan and sticking to it is the antithesis of the cruising mindset, and in fact the saying amongst cruisers is “The most dangerous thing you can have on a boat is a schedule”.  Schedules cause stress. Schedules make you to push the weather. Schedules tell you to keep moving when you really ought to stop. 

Schedules suck the fun out of life.

This concept of “no schedule” did not come easily to me.  Time after time I’d catch myself feeling tired and grumpy and no fun to be around, and would realize I’d created a schedule in my mind again, and was trying to push us into meeting it. 

Dumb, dumb, dumb. And no fun.

But now? Well, I’m in a Keys state of mind.  We’re in the Florida Keys, anchored near Marathon in a place called Boot Key Harbor. There are 300 other boats here, most of them cruisers, and they’re all here because it’s warm and protected, you can buy fuel and provisions and have mail and parts shipped in, you can have repairs made, etc. It’s a cruiser’s Mecca, the cross-roads to Mexico, Panama, Cuba, the Bahamas, the Caribbean and more. 

And we’re here for a bit.  Maybe a week, maybe a little longer, depending on the weather.  From Marathon we’ll move west, check out a few of the islands and towns farther out the Keys, and just generally experience the islands. 

Don’t know where. Don’t know when. Don’t care.

There’s a cultural concept – particularly in the Bahamas, Caribbean and South Pacific – known as “Island time”. Ask a native when the music starts at a bar and you’ll hear “Jus now”.  And “Jus now”, translated into American type-A, means “Sometime later than now and before the end of time.”

Wait for it.  

I’m learning, and I have my moments.  Nicki and I went to a great little bar last night called Keys Fisheries. GOOD local live music, cheap happy-hour pricing, awesome Stone crab claws and a bunch of other cruisers grovin’ to the tunes…  For a little while I completely forgot to be elsewhere.  I was jus there, jus now, and damn happy about it.

I highly recommend it.