Estates, Condos, Boats and Bridges

April 23, 2009

When I woke up Easter Sunday I was resigned to the fact that for the first Easter in my 33 years of marriage, the Easter Bunny would not be able to find me with my chocolate rabbit.  After all, we were not on land for at least a week, and it’s hard to hide something on our boat.  I was incredulous when I looked in the fridge, and front and center was my chocolate rabbit.  The day was bound to be a good one.

At the Fort Pierce anchorage, one boat that had been left with two anchors and extremely long scope drug anchor in 37 knot winds, two boats were banging together, some brave soul ventured over and moved their fenders so they wouldn’t destroy each other, then the wind shifted after he left and they started damaging each other.  One owner showed up and drove off, into an incredible storm.  The coast guard showed up hours later (after dark, and after the boat dragging blocked the channel) and towed the boat away.   It was a rocky night, but our anchor held firm.

We thought the houses on the Okeechobee were huge; in fact we called them mansions.  That being the case, the properties between Fort Pierce and Vero Beach can only be called Estates.  I cannot even begin to describe how huge these places are.  They certainly live in a different world than I do, but we share the same view as we cruise by, and wave.

It is a kind of culture shock coming from the Keys and the Gulf to the East Coast.  There are fishing boats, motor boats, speed boats, trawlers, sailboats, shrimp boats, steel boats and rafts, all competing for the narrow channel called the Inter-Coastal WaterWay.  We made the mistake of travelling on the weekend, and at one intersection where there was a steady north south flow of traffic, we, and several boats in front and behind us had to cross that line of traffic.  It must have looked just like synchronized swimming, and we all made it safely, another good day.  We anchored near Daytona Beach in a very crowded anchorage, and were surprised when an ice-cream boat went by, ringing his bell, just like the trucks of old.

After the incredible properties, there are condos and bridges.  Someone counted the bridges we will go under on the Loop, and they said it is 630.  Most of them must be on the East Coast.  The condos look just like little boxes.  All the same, and go on and on.  I have no idea how someone finds their own door after a few cocktails.

The Manitees are an apparently endangered species that are protected throughout Florida.  Personally, I am unsure why, they look like an overgrown Seal that never moves, just kind of crawls.  But then hey, what do I know, and here they are.

There are still derelict boats everywhere, just left to disappear on their own.  We see at least one a day.  Last night we anchored at Fort Matanzas, it doesn’t hold a candle to Fort Jefferson, but then it was a smaller river to protect.
When we leave Florida this week, we will go outside if the weather holds, and see what the Ocean has in store.

I hope everyone is having a wonderful and exciting spring.
Love to everyone,

Joe & MB Amelia
S/V “Pot ‘O’ Gold”

Of Gators, Fog, Cows, and Canals

April 12, 2009

When we left Fort Myers Beach (that would be our last sight of the Gulf of Mexico), the water temperature would get to 77 degrees during the heat of the day.  The water was still aqua, there was always a gentle cooling breeze.  Our last sunset in the Gulf was absolutely beautiful.

After leaving Fort Myers and heading for the Canals, we were boarded by the US Coast Guard for a safety (and blackwater) inspection.  Absolutely professional, thorough, and friendly (they even posed for a picture after we were cleared).  They wanted to know if there were any weapons aboard (“only my spear gun for shark fishing”, says I, they were unconcerned with that).  They inspected our flares, life jackets, documentation, ID, fire extinguishers, life ring, and of course our holding tank.  They phoned our drivers license numbers in to a central data bank, making sure we weren’t on their ‘list of nasties’, then we got our photo, and they were on their way.

When we first entered the Caloosahatchee River and Canal that would lead us to Lake Okeechobee we noticed the huge homes, dirty water, and narrow channel.  It was only later, when the homes were gone that we started noticing the alligators (sidebar video).

The first night we anchored before the Franklin Lock, yep, taking this route we are not done with locks after all, we will have to go through five more, much to MB’s delight.

We noticed a lot of cows on this part of the Canal, and at one point, they stampeded.  Video is on the sidebar.  You can see the white birds fly down and get them started, almost like the birds get their amusement this way.  All the cows stopped and looked at us after we started filming, kind of spooky!

Later, after the homes, cows, horses and orange orchards were left behind, it was the swamps.  We started noticing a log floating across the canal, but it was floating the wrong way, against the current.  After a few we looked closer, and they were alligators.  Not the big ten footers, probably four to five feet long, but they were everywhere.  I’d hate to lose my prop here; there would be no swimming for repairs.

The second day we crossed Lake Okeechobee and then anchored in a canal off the canal.  We watched a gator move closer and closer to our boat out of curiosity I suppose; we were invading his hunting grounds.  I wanted to throw him a piece of meat but decided against it, leave Mother Nature alone.

The fog came in our first morning, but burnt off fairly quickly, after night two we were socked right in.  The air temp is going to around 90 in the heat of the day, mid 60’s at night.  The water temp is considerably cooler at 71 degrees.  I expect we are going to see a lot of fog from here on back to Nova Scotia in the early morning, good thing our radar is working.

We are going to spend Easter Sunday relaxing in Stuart at the mooring field, we arrived on Saturday afternoon, and we then make the turn and head home.  We have now done 122 locks, only one more in the Maritimes unless we take another side trip.

Have a great Easter everyone, we are thinking of you.

Joe & Mary Beth Amelia
S/V “Pot ‘O’ Gold”

On the Road (Blue Highway) Again

April 6, 2009

We left Key West with thoughts of only travelling a half day west, and then anchoring after testing our new auto pilot.  With the wind being what it was, we would have had to motor with the wind on our nose, so we bared off, hoisted the sails, and sailed across Florida Bay to Little Shark River, a long haul for us.  It was a beautiful day, getting hot here now, the wind was wonderful, Otto worked great, but it took us longer than we hoped, and we arrived well after dark.  There were already two boats in the small anchorage, with no room between them, so we inched our way to the side, and touched ground.  It was low low tide when we arrived, and well after dark, so we decided to move early in the morning, when the water will be five feet higher.  All night I was thinking about having to kedge off, and swinging into shallower water when the tide did start coming up, so I didn’t get a comfortable night’s sleep, although I should have.  It was a quiet, peaceful night, and at first light in the morning, we were in 9 feet of water as the tide tables had predicted, and we left easily.

We sailed to Indian Pass, again the Gulf is just like I remember it the first time, coming down, 10 – 15 knot winds from the south, two foot waves, aqua water, and dolphins playing beside the boat.  Even MB was impressed!  We decided to go a few miles past the main anchorage, and picked a spot in West Pass.  We were all alone, not a boat, or a light in sight.  It was incredible!  We haven’t been alone like this since Canada, and it was fabulous.

Our third day was planned to be an easy one, but the heat was rising so fast, that we decided to stay on the water where it would stay a little cooler than onshore, so we went all the way to Fort Myers.  Since we arrived earlier than expected, and we were close to St. Petersburg, we rented a car, and drove to visit Ralph & Peg (MB’s father) for the weekend, and had the special treat that her uncle Lionel was down for a visit.  What a great weekend that was!
We are now back on the boat in Fort Myers, provisioned today, and are ready to leave tomorrow.  It feels good to be underway and moving, and heading oh so closer to home.

Pictures of the skipper trying to focus my spyglass, I can focus it now, but it is hard to find and stay on a subject on the water.  There is a photo of the skipper taking the dingy to shore, sunset on the Gulf while we are still hours from shore,  skipper under full sail, enjoying the sun, and of a replica of a Pirate Ship, called “Pieces of Eight” in Fort Myers Beach.  They head out daily; all dressed as Pirates, shoot off their cannons while re-entering port, and sing and have a lot of fun.

Coming into Fort Myers Beach is a lot like coming into Victoria by the Sea on PEI, there is a sand bar you can almost reach out and touch.  I try to stay away from where “Birds are walking” when I can.

One more quick story, while sailing from Little Shark River to West Pass, a bird kind of adopted us, and stood on our bow rail, then flew circles around the boat, then landed on deck, then flew around the boat and almost touched us several times.  It hung around for about an hour, then left.  It was really cool.  Hope that means good luck.

While in St. Pete, I went yard sailing with Ralph and Lionel, and bought MB a breadmaker!  I thought it would be great for her to make fresh bread on the boat, no more shopping for buns.  MB says I’m not allowed to go shopping alone anymore.

We hope the snow is leaving your part of the country, and we will see everyone soon.  Have a great spring everyone.

Joe & Mary Beth Amelia
S/V “Pot ‘O’ Gold”

The Far Side of the World

March 19, 2009

Leaving Marathon was a mixed bag, we were again glad to be travelling and on our way with good weather, and sad to be leaving such a nice place with wonderful people. Jim and Sharon Angel aboard “Blue Angel” have been on and off companions for the Loop, and we have stayed in touch. They caught up with us in Marathon, and we had some good times together. Jim was a wealth of knowledge for parts of our trip. Another person I met on the way down in Fort Myers was Harry aboard “Zugvogel”, a 35 foot Morgan sailboat. I called him the “Oldtimer”. Harry is an incredible man, he has a companion with him sometimes, other times he singlehands. I was having a little trouble with my atomic 4 engine and he spotted the problem right away, simply by the sound of the engine.

He walked the deck of my boat and inspected my workmanship (he felt I was a little sloppy in one area, we agreed to disagree on that point), other than that, he was quite pleased with my preparations for what he called “offshore” (Dry Tortugas). He reviewed my course, and added a couple anchorages with excellent directions in and out. Thanks Harry and Jim!

Key West by boat is different than by bus, we decided to go all the way around to a mooring field instead of anchoring so we could get a reasonable pump out, fill with fuel, and see the sights one more time. The instructions to the marina from the mooring field got a little confused, and our dingy got caught in a four knot current (our dingy only travels three), so we had a hard time getting back to the boat, and never did find the marina that day. Another experience.

Whether by chance or design, when we left Key West headed for the Dry Tortugas, our autopilot stopped working. I took it apart carefully, as I have in the past, and instead of finding something I could perhaps fix, I found a small electronic piece detached from the circuit board, and about 10 tiny ball bearings that scattered everywhere. In addition (as if that weren’t enough), there were two more parts that had come off and broken. I declared the autopilot to be toast, and we would have to hand steer in one hour long shifts and be forced to watch everything including dolphins, turtles, birds, sharks and other vessels on this leg, and there will of course be no overnight sojourn. I will order a new one when we get back to the mainland. I wish I had paid more attention when the Oldtimer tried to explain to me how to tie the tiller off manually.

We anchored in the Marquesas Keys for the night, which would be about the closest land (although it is bare, can’t even get the boat in and no one lives here) to Havana, Cuba. Between this anchorage and Dry Tortuga is a huge Blimp very high up, called “Fat Albert”, it is the USA’s eye in the sky, keeping watch for any nasties trying to immigrate. We smiled and waved for the camera.

There will be no photos of the Tortugas, as no photo could depict the accuracy and beauty of the place. Giant Frigatebirds, the only nesting colony in the US, with their huge 8 foot wingspan, weighing about three ounces, they just float above the fort, seemingly night and day. The Sooty Tern, in its mating season now, and there are thousands of them (eighty thousand, I believe they estimate) on a small island named Bush Key, off limits to humans, although we were anchored in front of it for the duration. Night and day, we could hear the birds. These Terns will fly off the coast of Africa when young, and never set down for five years. That’s a long flight!

Fort Jefferson was never actually finished as a fort, although they did use volunteer army, convicts, and slaves to attempt to build it, they did put some cannon in, and housed a famous criminal, Dr. Samuel Mudd here. The only crime he actually committed was to set the leg of the man who shot the then President Lincoln, that was crime enough to get him imprisoned here, eventually was pardoned. The Dry Tortugas was an important place to do with the Underground Railroad, and the courageous efforts of the seven men who fled from bondage at Fort Jefferson were honored by the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program.

The Park Rangers live in the fort, in quarters that are isolated from the public, and get their fresh water from cisterns below the fort, installed when the fort was built to collect rainwater. They work ten days on, and then have four days off. I see a satellite on the roof, so am guessing they get TV, they have a generator for power, and providing ships get here with fuel. The normal assignment time here is three years.

We fish daily, and have been doing some snorkeling and swimming, although there was a large light grey shark in the water beside our boat last night, his fin out of the water, looking just like jaws. The water is so clear we could see the entire fish, and there was no doubt it was a man-eater. Fishermen caught a shark on the bank the other night, and brought him ashore to take pictures. Watching them take the hook out if its mouth was comical. It must have been an expensive hook.

MB blows the conch nightly at sunset. Some nights another boat will respond and they sound like Bull Moose for about 15 minutes. We sit in the cockpit and watch the sunsets, I have yet to see the green flash, but am still watching and hoping. There are two commercial catamarans that come back and forth daily with tourists, and they overrun the place between 10:00 and 15:00, so that’s a good time to stay on our boat, or dingy over to Loggerhead Key. There are five islands here, we are only allowed on two of them, the rest are for the birds and protected coral. I tried to get a bag of ice from one of the commercial boats, and it is not allowed, and they won’t budge. I guess they could lose their license, and they have a gold mine here as it is, so why chance it? So it is true, we can get nothing here. Stay length depends on the provisions you can carry.

Our last snorkeling adventure used up the last of the film in my underwater camera, and the last two pictures are of a four foot long Barracuda, face to face with me! I turned and beat it back to shore as fast as I could, looking behind me and losing my breath all the way, I, of course, had swum out too far. But I lived, and will have unbelievable photos when I get them developed!

WE SAW THE GREEN FLASH in the Marquesas Keys at the anchorage on our way home. There was only one other boat and us, anchored a fair distance apart; MB was playing her conch as always, when bang! We saw it. I now feel part of the magic.

We are back at City Marina in Key West, getting our autopilot problem fixed, getting rid of bags of garbage, will re-fuel, will re-provision, then travel fairly steadily towards home. How sad and wonderful at the same time. Of course, we still have over 2,000 miles to go, with many more adventures to go. Stay tuned!

We love you all,

Joe and Mary Beth Amelia

S/V “Pot ‘O’ Gold”

Another Month of Cool

February 28, 2009

As I sit here writing this blog entry, I’m thinking we didn’t do much this month and have been lazy.   Then I looked at the pictures, and realized that MB has been running me ragged!  We haven’t stopped, I’ve barely had time to work on the boat, although I did manage to rebuild the fuel pump, rebuild the carburetor, and change the filters, oil, and redbed the transducer for one of the depth sounders.

In addition to that, I caught a meal of fish, Grouper no less (actually, a little blue striped thing, but hey, it’s my “eat what we catch” program, and I also have a license for lobster.  Not lobster like we know it, they have no claws, but they do have tails, so I bought this kit that has a little ‘tickler’.  I am supposed to find a hole while snorkeling, push the ‘tickler’ in, tickle the lobster, and he jumps right into my net.  Right, kind of like the Asian Carp, but I got it anyway, so we’ll see.  Check the picture of MB in the dingy (she’s the one with the life jacket on) in the Atlantic Ocean.

When we took the dingy out, we decided to check and clean the bottom.  There were enough barnacles, and growth under there to start a farm.  It took two and a half hours to clean it.  We will have to do it more often, and clean our big boat.

We decided to go to Key West by bus, and it was so grand there we went back a second time.  Hog’s Breath Saloon (MB was on webcam there), Sloppy Joe’s, Margarittaville, Captain Tony’s, the list goes on.

Fabulous place, we also stopped at Schooner’s Wharf Bar and Grill, Michael McLeod has been singing and performing there for years, a real live Jimmy wannabe, although he’s different than Jimmy, you have to really listen to his music to appreciate it, as opposed to Jimmy’s music, that is just fun, even if you don’t listen.  You can see the dogs at Schooners Wharf line up for food just like the waitress’s.  They have a ‘running with the dogs’ in Key West, as opposed to ‘running with the bulls’.  A VERY cool place.

At Key West, the land doesn’t go any further west.  While standing on the wharf, there is nothing behind us but turquoise water.  We made it.  Need proof?  Ok, there’s the pic of MB at the end of US 1, there’s a picture of us together at the end of the wharf, there’s a busker playing bagpipes, the sign says “Southernmost Bagpipe Player in USA”.

I have to speak a little on Key West; there are chickens in the streets, for real.  There are folks in the streets trying to make a buck, notice the guy playing the flute, with a dog in ‘T’ shirt and sunglasses, whenever he plays the flute, the dog howls, all for a dollar.

We visited the Aquarium, with sharks, stingrays, Iguana’s and a wonderful tour.  I enjoy these tours, you learn so much in a short period of time.  Much better than trying to figure everything out yourself.  We learned about sharks there, in fact I even handled one.  Not slimy at all, kind of rough, like a snake.  We also learned about Sea Turtles, and ‘bubble butt’.   These hundreds of year old turtles get hit by a prop, and when they heal, it leaves a pocket of air at the stern of their shell, and they float ‘butt’ up.  They will die at that point, the one we saw, “Rocky” was taken into the aquarium and kept.  It was sad.

They produce nothing on Key West, other than relaxation, so in the old days, they made money by watching ships get wrecked on the rocks, and salvaging all the goods.  Of course, they saved lives too, but once the vessel was scuttled, goods were there for the taking.  And take they did, stories abound with the wrecks.  There were towers, with bells, and when a ship went on the reef, someone rung the bell, and the wreckers would get ready to go collect their ‘booty’.

Ernest Hemingway lived here for a few years, we toured his house, one of the significant features was his six toed cat.  There are 44 descendants of this cat living on the estate today.   Lots of interesting features about the house, his life, and the property.

We had a surprise visit from Richard and Susan Schermerhorn and Ralph and Karen Thompson from Summerside, PEI, so we went to (where else?) Dockside bar and grill, and had an outdoor visit with drinks and food at the local Tiki Bar (check out the entertainer and his guitar).

Thanks for the visit, it was fun!!  They went from here to Key West, so their fun is only beginning.

I needed to do some work up the mast (first time ever for me), so I called in lots of help.  Colin and Pat from ‘Lady Margaret’ has befriended us, and we do stuff together (trips to Key West, they know their way around, Quilt shows for MB, navigation tips) they are incredible folks, and I will remember them always.  They helped go up the mast, Pat took pictures, Colin tailed one of the lines (MB was supposed to be tailing the safety line; instead she was waving at the camera!!).  Everything worked out; I lived, and will need to go up again before we leave.  The return trip up the mast was far easier the second time, I even had a chance to wave for the photo.

Things were going so well with our preparations to leave that we had time to sit out in the cockpit and learn to blow a conch shell.  Be sure to check out the video on the sidebar of Mary Beth, it sounds great.

We have now provisioned for our trip to the Dry Tortugas, and expect to be heading out in a couple days.  We will be out of communication with everyone, with the exception of the ghosts of old Pirates past, and of course the Park Rangers after we arrive.  The next blog entry will be after that trip, an unknown period of time.  Whenever we run out of water and supplies, I suppose.  No chance we’ll run out of food, with my new fishing rod and lobster catching kit.

I hope everyone had a grand winter; spring is on its way.  Love to all.

Joe & Mary Beth Amelia aboard S/V “Pot ‘O’ Gold”