Thursday, December 19, 2013

Making Ourselves At Home

  If you own a boat, and you are not busy, you are not taking care of it. I don't mean you have to be doing something every minute of every day, but finding at least something to do for a couple of hours a day should be easy to do.

  The picture above is one of our gray water sump box, and installing the deck plate on the cover of it was one of my little projects I did lately to make life easier on the boat. Even though doing boat chores is necessary, I'm always looking for ways to make the chores easier.
  The gray water sump collects the water on our boat from three sinks, two showers, and the condensate lines from the two air conditioning units, and then when the float switch detects enough water in the box, the pump kicks on and pumps the gray water overboard. This eliminates extra through hull fittings on the side of the boat.
  The sump box needs to be cleaned out regularly, because the liquid soap we all use goes down the drain as suds, but eventually turns into little hard bars of soap, clogging up the pump, or making the float switch not operate properly.
  Since we have owned Swing Set, I've replaced the original switch with one that is free floating, (the original switch was one of those that operate inside of a little blue box, and the box always gets gummed up with soap residue and the switch won't float.) I've replaced the pump because the original just quit, and I've replaced the Plexiglas cover with a Lexan cover. The Plexiglas cover cracked because Plexiglas is more pliable than glass, but not as forgiving as Lexan. I also replaced the cover gasket, and exchanged the 12 nuts on the cover screws with wing nuts, making it easier to remove them to service and clean the box.
  But I was in the engine room of a 52 foot Sea Ray recently and noticed that the sump box on that boat had a screw in deck plate on the housing cover, and I liked that idea, so when we were in West Marine last time, I saw this see through deck plate and decided to install it in our sump box cover.
  Last week I removed the cover, held the float switch up to pump out as much water as I could, then used our wet vac to suck out the rest of the water and all the hardened soap scum from around the switch and the pump. Then I scribed a circle around the deck plate after placing it where I wanted the hole to be, used my jig saw to cut the hole, then drilled the holes for the screws to mount the deck plate. Once I put a bead of silicone around the hole and inserted the screws, I installed the cover screws and wing nuts and my job was done.
  The deck plate unscrews from the frame and has an o-ring to keep odors in. (The sump box stinks.) Next time (usually every six months) I have to clean out the sump box, it'll be an easier job.

  If you've been reading this blog, you do know that it's not all work for us. Neal and Cindy had some friends down visiting from Tennessee and we all met at Dante's one Saturday afternoon.
   Holly is relaxing under her own shade umbrella, just like the one we bought in George Town last summer when we were in the Exumas. One of the locals we have been seeing at Dante's on a regular basis gave this umbrella to Holly as a gift when he noticed that we were having some difficulty keeping her in the shade during our visits.
  We've been riding the 4.5 miles to Dante's on our bicycle on the weekends to enjoy the pool there. It's a pretty flat ride, but when the wind is blowing in from the East like it has been, the ride back to Stock Island at the end of a long afternoon at the pool is taxing, to say the least.

  Speaking of the bike, here's our final generation of our mounting system. The brackets are nearly invisible. I used the rods from two Magma Grill bow rail mounting units. We can turn the bike upright, hook the front wheel onto one rod, and then swing the back end of the bike up and place the frame of the bike right onto the other rod, which is positioned at the top of the "triangle" formed by the frame, shown just up and behind the crank in the photo. An Ancra tie down strap will be used when we are in transit, and pieces of cut "pool noodles" keep the bicycle frame from getting scratched on the flybridge rail.
  Last Sunday the wind had died down and we took the dinghy on an exploration trip of the bay side of the keys. The waters just north of the lower keys is full of mangroves and little islands, just waiting to be explored in a little boat. You have to use a little boat because most of the water is too shallow for anything but a small boat. We were looking for a beach just off the tip of Snipe Point, about 14 miles to our northeast.
  I was using my iPhone to navigate and we found Snipe Point with no trouble. We were at a rising tide, and the beach was under water, but as we approached the point, we saw what appeared to be some dinghies floating in the trees along the shore. When we got closer we got a whiff of a terrible stench, and then we realized that we weren't looking at dinghies, but instead were seeing the carcasses of three or more small whales, rotting away.
  We found out later that it was against some law or another that the carcasses couldn't be removed, and had to just sit there and rot. We won't be making any more trips to Snipe Point anytime soon.
  We took a circuitous route back to Stock Island, only getting lost once, maybe twice, but eventually finding the A1A bridge we had to go under to get back to our side of Stock Island.

  Like many parts of the Florida Keys, anywhere you have a free anchorage, you usually have derelict vessels. The eastern side of Stock Island is no exception. I took about a dozen photos of some of the worst looking vessels we saw in a "managed anchorage", and there were dozens more that I could have taken photos of. In my opinion, these people are just bums that just happen to have a "home" that floats. It is not an unfair assumption that most of the vessels in areas like this have no means of propulsion. How would our highways and roads look like if car owners could just abandon their vehicles wherever they happen to break down? This topic deserves more coverage than I'm willing to devote to here.

  Last Tuesday we finally got our new generator installed! Here is Mark de Jong, owner of Marine Diesel of the Florida Keys, directing the fork truck operator over at Oceanside Marina as he gently slips or long awaited new Westerbeke generator into our engine room without a hitch.
  The generator has been delivered for a while now, but since we had to wait for the wind to die down, last Tuesday was the first day that wasn't a weekend, that we could take Swing Set over to Oceanside, and it was still a little blustery out.
  Mark agreed to let me install the control panel in our salon, run the wire harness for the generator, mount the coolant overflow bottle, and install a new anti-syphon valve, saving us quite a bit of labor costs, so we aren't planning on hooking up the new generator until after Christmas. But that's OK, it is a small worry off our shoulders just getting the new Westerbeke sitting where it belongs, since we had paid for it weeks and weeks ago.
  Stock Island Marina Village continues to fill up. Last night a boat just like Swing Set came in and the owner came over to see our boat. His boat is two years newer and he and his wife just got it. They sold their home in Georgia and are going to make Stock Island Marina Village their new home. We have plans to get better acquainted soon over some cold, frosty beverages, and discuss some of the improvements we have made to Swing Set that George and Donna may want to make to their 1998 model.

  As boats come in, and reservations for slips mount up, I knew our chances to change slips were diminishing, so for a variety of reasons, we moved Swing Set to a new slip two days ago. Our cockpit faces the east now, instead of the west, and the hotter afternoon sun isn't beating into the cockpit at the time of day when we have usually had our fill of sun, so that alone makes the move a good one. We also are now in a dock sitting right between the laundry and the showers, but between the two we have a view of the ocean from our flybridge. Our bicycle is also in a bike rack just at the top of the dock ramp. I think we're going to like this slip better.
  Stock Island Marina Village is having a holiday party this Sunday and all the boaters are invited, food and beverages are free. How could we miss that?
  We may also have some friends visiting over Christmas. They are on a cruise and when their ship returns to Miami, they just might drive down and spend a day or two with us and we'll be happy to see them. (Don, Kris, and their daughter Katie visited us in Marathon last Spring.)
  In early January, Rosie's two cousins and their husband and wife will be staying at one of the "boatels" here at the marina for a week and we can't wait to see them. Rosie's cousin Rose Ann and her husband Denny have been close friends of both of ours for a long time.
  If you are so inclined for Holiday Greetings, or Merry Christmas, here it is coming at you from both of us, the closest thing to a Christmas card that we'll be sending out.
  We can't believe we are nearly at the end of our first full calendar year of living on the boat. Hope we have many more.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

An Eventful Week

  Swing Set is just about in the center of this picture. The marina is slowly filling up, a big rush will take place just after the holidays, so we're happy so far with our choice of slips. We are on the end so we don't get much foot traffic, and the end "T" is extra wide so there is a lot of room between our boat and the boat on the outside of the "T". Eventually we'll have a boat right next to us as these are double wide slips, but we could get lucky and have a skinny boat in there.
  The new laundry is just off of our dock, and there is a huge bathroom on the end of the laundry building that has a shower big enough for a party. We can only dream.
  Our new bike is locked to a bike rack not too far away, (We can see it from the boat) and we have a nice cover for it. We had to buy a motorcycle cover to find one to fit, and it took an extra large cover to do it, but it fits just fine. We should be able to keep our bike looking nice.

  Holly got a new haircut on Monday, in between various other chores. Grooming Holly ourselves saves us a lot of money, plus the groomer is just one more place we don't have to travel to. No telling what kind of riff raff Holly may have to associate with at a groomers anyway.
  Late on Monday afternoon we got a message that our friend Marco and his wife Deby, along with their daughter, Danita, were on their way to Key West for a couple of days. It was too late for us to consider going out once they got settled in, so we planned an outing on the boat for the next day.

  The family showed up right on time. It was to be Danita's first boat ride and it was her birthday, one year old. Holly wasn't used to Danita, and Danita hadn't been close to a dog before, so there were protests from each of them, but it worked out for the most part.
  We took a slow ride over to Key West Bight to show Marco and Deby the downtown area from the water. We came back late in the afternoon and then rode over to The Hogfish Grill for a late lunch.
  The next day we loaded up Holly on the bike for a ride downtown to the library. We wanted to get some new movies because it will be a while before the cable T.V. is operating here at Stock Island Marina Village, and going to bed at 8 o'clock is getting ridiculous.
  Holly has a pet carrier that we bought in case we need to fly back to St. Louis, or take a car somewhere, so we put her in it, and strapped it to the bike so the carrier wouldn't go flying out if we crashed. But I made a mistake. I left one of the zippers open on one end of the carrier so Holly could stick her head out and enjoy the ride.
  We were pedaling towards A1A on Cross Street when we came over a little bridge over a canal and I saw a guy on the side of the road next to a bike laying on its side. The guy was struggling to get up, and he was in pursuit of a dog, judging by the fact that he was calling it.
  As we got nearer, and we were going at a fair clip, I could see that he hadn't had an accident, but he had just laid the bike down in order to attach the dog to a leash, so in passing I asked him if he was OK. When he answered that he was, Holly spied the dog and went nuts, barking and trying to get at the dog. In doing so, she squirmed out of the opening on the carrier, and I didn't notice it.
  The following sequence of events happened in just split seconds, but in retrospect, they seem like they were minutes apart.
  I heard what sounded like a block of wood hitting the pavement. Rosie yelled that Holly had fallen out, I saw that Holly had fallen out, and we both heard Holly yelp in the most disturbing manner. It's the sound no pet owner wants to hear, either from their own pet or another's.
  I quickly stopped the bike and Rosie was off in a flash. I turned to see Holly on her feet with a car coming in her direction, but Rosie was waving for the car to stop and it was indeed slowing down, but there was traffic coming from the other direction too.
  I put the bike on the kickstand, not believing now that I took the time to do so, but what I didn't do was panic. Think about it; would an ambulance driver arrive at an accident scene and jump out of the ambulance while it's moving and let it crash into a tree or go off of a cliff? No. The ambulance has to be in one piece in order to get the victim to the hospital.
  Rosie was scaring Holly by yelling her name and telling her to "come here". Holly was shaken up and was dashing around on the street. The cars were stopped, but you never know when someone will get inpatient and try to dodge around the stopped cars.
  One command that Holly understands, and will invariably listen to, is the command to "sit". I stayed as calm as I could, given the circumstances, and told Holly to "sit", so she sat, and I picked her up. Rosie and Holly were both shaking as we searched Holly's body for an injury and we didn't see anything. We then checked her teeth and didn't find any damage to them either. Once we got to a safe spot, we walked her around and decided that Holly survived her fall from the bike without a scratch!
  Whether she likes it or not, Holly's rides in her pet carrier will be done with all of the zippers closed completely. We cannot believe our good fortune that Holly was not injured.

  At mid-week, Rosie and I took the dinghy out to explore some more. In the photo above, we are anchored just off of Boca Chica Key. Some local boaters gather there on the weekends, but even on the weekdays, Jet Ski tours stop there to give the riders a breather, or maybe just to eat up time, as they promise a two hour ride.
  We found a nice quiet spot to anchor in the mangroves just between Stock Island and Boca Chica, and we know there are many more neat places to explore on the "bayside" of both of these keys, and around the keys just to our east, or as most people think, to our north, because A1A is considered to run north to south, but isn't so on our end.
  We've been in contact with our generator guy. The generator is in, but the marina where we need to go to get it installed is full with boats along the sea wall where we have to use a big forklift to install the 400 pound generator. We are in no hurry, but we'd like to get the installation behind us, and get our expenses for the matter put to rest, as we have other work to do on the boat that will affect our budget.
  Meanwhile, we're getting used to our surroundings little by little, organizing our dock space, and waxing, waxing, waxing the boat. The little chores never end.
  One of the chores is grocery shopping, and we made our first trip to the grocery store on the bike. We kept filling up the grocery cart, and I kept saying that we were getting too much stuff, and once we got everything bagged up at the checkout, I knew we were in trouble.
  I stuffed two big bags into the basket over the front tire. (This basket is attached to a better place on the frame, not the handlebars.) We had our one pannier full and Rosie had our knapsack on her back, stuffed to the gills. We for sure had exceeded the total weight limit for our Yuba bike, and I could barely steer it home. Next time we're going to fill our bags while they are in the grocery cart so we know where we stand right off.
  Last Friday night we took the dinghy over to Hogfish for a few beers. We barely putted into the harbor over there and was tying up when some guy comes up to the dinghy and tells me to go a little slower next time coming into the harbor.
  I laughed, because I thought he was kidding, as we were going slow enough to not have a wake. He said there was people sleeping and we were keeping them awake. It was 6:30 in the evening! I finally said, "Are you serious?"
  He said he was, but had a crazed look on his face, so I just said, "OK, thanks pal", and he left.
  I do know this: A lot of the local fishermen around here have an axe to grind with the owners of the new marina where we are docked now, and it doesn't take too much sense to figure out that anyone coming in at night in a dinghy is from the new marina, so I think this fella just wanted to take his displeasure out on us.
  We left like church mice, and we'll be in stealth mode in the future as well, but if he wants to make an issue of our presence some other time, it may get ugly.
  The Hogfish has a reputation as being a bit "shady" and being a "rough and tumble" kind of place. We've been there enough times to realize that it's true, but I have news for them. We're from Fenton, Missouri, and we've been in Joe Clarks on a Friday night. Enough said.
  On Saturday we took the bike downtown to Dante's to use the pool and just hang out. We had a nice afternoon. The place was crowded and the weather was great. We spent four hours there, and were going to stay and watch the SEC football championship game, but there was no way that that was going to happen and I was going to pedal our bike back to Stock Island. We made the sensible decision to leave before the game and got back to the boat before dark.
  Some folks we met last year in the Dry Tortugas had their boat at A & B Marina while we were there for the last two months, and they moved it over to Key West Harbor Club last month. Neal and Cindy called and said they were coming down and wanted to have dinner.
  We met them on Sunday night over at the Key West Harbor Club. It's a very nice place. The rent over there is similar to the rent here, but there is nothing nearby to go to in the dinghy if the weather is bad, or on foot for that matter. We may just be rationalizing, but we think the members may be a bit stuffy for us over there.
  But Neal and Cindy aren't stuffy. We had a little dinner and then joined them on their 58 foot Sea Ray Sedan Bridge for a nightcap. We don't get on many boats of this caliber, and this one is a beauty. At ten o'clock we went back to Swing Set and threw rocks at it.
  On Monday I did some more waxing and we took Holly to the dog park here at the marina. They have two fenced in areas, one for large dogs, and one for small dogs. We're pretty sure which area Holly would pick, but we took her to the small dog area anyway. It was funny seeing her walk in the grass because she doesn't get to go on grass much. We tried to get her to run around, but she mainly wanted to be picked up and held. Our buddy.
  While at Dante's last Saturday, I was talking to a restaurant owner and we were discussing ways to cook on the boat. We both like to prepare our steaks in a cast iron skillet, and he told me about a method he uses to make a demi-glaze sauce for his steaks.

  I grilled our steaks while Rosie baked some potatoes and steamed some corn on the cob. Once the steaks were done, I put them in a glass plate with a lid, and then threw a stick of butter in the skillet. On top of the melting butter I poured some red wine, about a cup, and let it cook down and thicken. Once it got thick enough, and before it could burn, I poured it over the steaks for a mouth watering topping. I've been cooking with beer too long!

  This morning I perfected our bike mounting system. I used the Magma Grill mounting rods that we bought last week, after I had covered them with clear hose, and clamped them to the rails on the aft end of our flybridge. You can see the finished product in the picture above.
  The rods from this angle are invisible and as sturdy as can be. The bike slips straight on them and one holds up the front wheel at the rim, and one is placed at the top of the triangle formed by the center post and rear frame, just behind the crank. We think it will work great if we ever travel on our boat again.

  We had lunch today over at the new location of the Shrimp Road Grill. The Grill trailer has been moved over to the Tiki Hut. The hut is huge and there is about eight big picnic tables to eat on, and ceiling fans provide a nice breeze.
  There's going to be a bandstand built and most of the walking areas are paved with multi-colored bricks. Oh, and the food is moderately priced and delicious!
  Rosie is posing next to the Christmas tree under the Tiki Hut. It will be the closest thing to our own Christmas tree that we'll have this year, but as I write this, Rosie is decorating the boat with little Christmas type crap that she has smuggled aboard. This is something she likes to do and I don't discourage her. I may even look around the salon when I get done with this blog and tell her how nice it all looks. Yes, I lie when I have to.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Stock Island Marina Village

  During our last week or so in Key West Bight, at A & B Marina, the change of seasons was evident as the temperatures dropped into the brisk 60's at night, and generally were in the upper 70's during the day. Absolutely horrible.
  We had some wind too. Gusts were in the mid 30 m.p.h. range and not many boats were venturing out. Even the tour boats were staying in port for the most part, but there were a few unscrupulous operators happy to take their customers money and plop them into the ocean for a few minutes for "snorkeling". Load them up with rum and shoot the canon off a few times, and the tourists come back happy.
  Last week we went to the Tropic Cinema to see Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks, a story about the hijacking of the container ship Maersk Alabama off the coast of Somalia. The movie was riveting, and should get Mr. Hanks another Oscar.
  Although we didn't feel threatened at all during our Bahamas trip, I may revise our weapons arsenal and get something with a longer range. But, then again, maybe not. I can just imagine blasting away some poor fisherman approaching the boat to sell us some lobster or something.
  Going to the show is a nice diversion, something we didn't do when we lived in our condo with a nifty home entertainment system. But now that we're more or less settled in one area, we like it, especially when the theater is as nice as The Tropic.
  Thanksgiving Day started out rather blustery as Key West standards go. We began our day with a lumberjack breakfast and were lounging around reading our books when Chris from Eaton Bikes called and said our new Yuba bike was ready to be picked up!

  We walked the bike over to the parking lot of a school near Eaton Bikes to practice riding our bike. Because Rosie basically just perches herself on the seat behind me, I wasn't sure how the bike, or me, was going to handle the weight. I needn't have worried. We both took to the bike like ducks to water, and we cruised by Eaton Bikes where most of the staff was waiting for us to go by on our inauguration ride. I shouted "We're on a NEW bike!", as we rode past. They seemed to get a kick out of that. Probably thinking, "There goes a nut job".
  We gave the bike a good trial, riding to the eastern end of Duval Street where I took the picture of Rosie above, with more clothes on since last December, in Marathon.
  Notice her helmet. We both have them. Yes, I know it looks dorky, but we believe in bicycle and motorcycle safety, always have. We'd rather look dorky than suffer from brain damage from an accident. We're struggling with what we have as it is.
  We got back to the boat and Rosie started cooking our Thanksgiving dinner. Some boat neighbors invited us to a potluck dinner of sorts on the dock, but we had already bought all of our groceries and were looking forward to a nice quiet dinner alone.
  We had a cheap bottle of wine, roasted turkey breast, mashed potatoes, gravy, yams, asparagus, and cranberry sauce. Rosie did another great job of roasting our turkey in the convection oven. It only took 45 minutes to roast, and it tasted delicious! We didn't have desert, and didn't want any. It was an early night for us.
  On the day after Thanksgiving, we loaded up Holly in her new pet carrier and placed her in the huge basket mounted to the frame on the front of our bike and went on a long ride over to Stock Island Marina Village.
  They had us on their schedule as coming in on the middle of the month for some reason, so we're glad we popped in. We also picked a new slip, a bit further back into the harbor by one dock. I wanted  the finger of the dock on our port side as we back in, and I wanted to be on the end slip, but not on the outside, so we picked what turned out to be D20. Look for us.
  By the time we got back to A & B Marina, I only had a severe cramp in my right calf muscle, and my ass felt like someone had been using it for a punching bag. Rosie said she felt fine. Sure, she only has to sit on the back and squawk like a parrot occasionally, I do all the pedaling. It's safer this way, though. Trust me. Rosie has the bridgework to prove it.
  But our ride was a success. Holly rode with her head poked out of the opening in her carrier and she got lots of comments as we made our way down Duval Street. At various stops, we also got inquiries about our bike, as unusual as it looks, and obviously designed for a passenger that is not required to pedal. The women seemed to like this part best. One guy took a picture, just of the Yuba name, so he could order one. I think we're going to like our new bike.

  We had good weather, albeit with a slight breeze, for our four mile cruise over to Stock Island on Sunday. In the picture above, we are entering Safe Harbor.
  The yacht just off our bow is "Platinum", said to be previously owned by Mick Jagger. The yacht has seen better days, but someone is working on her. I think it's now owned by Oprah Winfrey. May as well start that rumor.

  Due to the northerly breeze, we got Swing Set snuggled in with just a bit of difficulty, but with the assistance of  a new dock neighbor, we did so without major incident.
  Swing Set fits just right in her slip. We have enough room behind her to drop the dinghy, hopefully with enough room to squeeze between us and a neighbor when we get one. Otherwise, we'll put the boat in bow first. Using the dinghy is a priority.
  You can see how I've mounted our bike on the aft railing on the flybridge. When we bought the bike, I ordered some aluminum brackets for holding ring buoys on a bow rail, with intentions of holding our aluminum bike, as it weighs less than 40 pounds.
  I don't like how the ring buoy holders work, and I'm already on my third generation of a bike mounting plan. I've ordered two new holders that are used for mounting Magma Grills. They attach easier to the rails and are more solid. The rods are 1/2" stainless steel and are beefier than the aluminum ring buoy holders and won't bend. I'll cover them with vinyl tubing so they won't mar the paint on our bike. I'll post pictures of that setup when I get it done.
  We got settled in and visited the office to check in. There is a sailboat on our dock and the owner has a large Labrador Retriever that was roaming free, and I asked about the policy on leashes at the marina. Might as well get any unpleasantness out of the way with the neighbors right off the bat.
  The policy is that dogs must be on a leash, plus there are two dog parks here for letting pets run, and Monroe County has a leash ordinance. The girl in the office said she would speak to the owner of the dog about keeping it on a leash, but as we passed him on our way back to Swing Set, the opportunity arose to discuss his dog.
  Claude, (pronounced "Clode", like in "rode") is a very nice French Canadian fellow and he totally understood about the leash law. In fact, as far as he was concerned, the law in the total United States says that all pets be on a leash at all times, and he only had his dog "Rosie" (go figure) roaming on the dock because no one else was around. I told him that it did not matter to us as long as Rosie (his Rosie) stayed down by his boat. I just wanted to make sure he knew what the rules were. I also let him know that I knew that people didn't come to Key West to adhere to a bunch of rules, and that we could work it out. We are just concerned that Holly, not being the most social animal, wouldn't be on the receiving end of a dog bite because another dog was running free. Pets not on leashes has been our biggest bugaboo in Key West since we've been here. I've had "discussions" with dog owners two other times. They did not go well.
  Back to the boat, we had a little lunch, and then dropped the dinghy in the water for a dinghy riiiiiiiide!
  We had a slight chop just off the southern side of Boca Chica Key for a five mile ride to Geiger Key. We wanted to visit Geiger Key Marina, a little hole in the wall that is home to a pleasant tiki bar restaurant, fish camp, and RV park.
  We spent a couple hours there, meeting some locals and getting some tips about the veterinarians in the nearby area. It was a very nice experience and we can't wait to go back.
  It was nearly four o'clock when we got back to Swing Set. One of the staff was making rounds on the docks. We met Mike and learned some things about the marina that we weren't aware of, one being that the cable wasn't working yet. That was a bit of a disappointment, but not the end of the world.
  We had a great dinner of leftover Thanksgiving vittles and turned in early with our beloved books, and spent one of the most quiet nights we've had in a while.
  There is a Navy airport nearby and we've heard some loud jets a couple of times, but overall it's quiet here at Stock Island Marina Village. One thing we won't miss here is the loud music played all day long in and around Key West Bight, especially the guy over at Schooner's Wharf. Having some music in the background during the day is not too bad, but this guy over at Schooner's plays every afternoon and he is terrible. Imagine a fella that is still playing music two years after he has been pronounced dead, and you'll have an idea how this guys music sounds.
  I've stalled around long enough. Rosie is out washing the boat, and I have chores to do too.   We're also waiting to hear from Mark at Key West Diesel. Our generator should be coming in today and we'll try to get it installed this week some time. Once that is done, I have to address the issue of our port engine that is still overheating.
  We have time, though. We don't need to get in a hurry because this is a pretty good place to hang our hats for a while.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Dust Settles

  A week ago yesterday the last of our Key West visiting friends got together at a local Cuban restaurant, El Siboney's, for one last time before they all left. In the photo above, there is Bob, Papa John, Pat, Rosie, Me, Carrie, Dave, Maureen, Darryll, and Joe.
  We're not sure if everyone liked their dining experience, but Rosie and I like El Siboney's. Their prices are reasonable, and the place isn't fancy. It's located off the beaten path on Catherine Street, a few blocks north of Simonton.
  We had another dinner with half of the group on Friday night. (Bob, Carrie, and Dave left to drive back to Missouri on Friday morning.) It was supposed to be a pot luck affair to get rid of leftovers from the refrigerator, but we wound up being treated to fresh strip steaks, baked potatoes, pork and beans, peas, and carrots. The only thing missing was string beans. Thankfully.
  John and Pat drove by A&B Marina on Saturday morning on their way out of town and dropped off a case of Bud Light. As they drove away, Rosie was in tears, and I was itchin' to get the beer on ice.
  It was a whirlwind month and a great time with great people. There's a good chance we'll do it again next year.
  The downside was that Rosie and I ran ourselves down and both got sick. We spent the next few days taking cold medicine and laying low. We hadn't been sick at all since leaving St. Louis 18 months ago, but we also haven't been staying out so late or around so many people. It was bound to catch up with us.
  We had recently gone to the local library and was able to get a membership for only $30. Our official Florida residence is in Clay County, so we couldn't use the Monroe County library for free. We have no problem paying an annual fee to join our local library because they have not only a great selection of books, they also have a pretty good inventory of DVD movies. We spent the next several nights staying in to watch movies and turn in early with our books.
   I finally read "To Have and To Have Not" by Ernest Hemingway and it was fun to recognize some of the places around Key West that Hemingway had written about so long ago. I wouldn't name the story as his best, but it just seems appropriate to read this book while living on a boat here.
  Speaking of the boat, on Monday we took Swing Set out for a cruise. We had very little wind, so we went over to Stock Island to see how things were coming along over there. There was a big sign on the new office announcing that they were open.
  We backed Swing Set into the slip that we picked out to stay in come December 1st, and we were glad we did. I decided that the slip next to it would be better suited for us due to the finger pier being on our port side instead our starboard side. I have better visibility from the helm on the port stern quarter, so having the finger pier on that side will make backing in easier. I always say it's the little things that you need to pay attention to.
  I contacted the harbormaster and requested to be placed in the slip we picked and he said that there shouldn't be a problem with it. As time goes on, I'll probably want to move again for some reason or another. That's the beauty of living on a boat.
  Because we had some calm days, we decided to take the dinghy out for some exploring on Wednesday morning.

  We took the dinghy out of Key West Bight, heading south around the cruise ship docks and Mallory Square, past Fort Zachary State Park to the Southernmost Point. You can see the famous landmark behind Rosie in the photo. Holly seemed very interested in it.
  Then we ran east toward Boca Chica Key, with intentions of running to Geiger Key for lunch at Geiger Key Marina, a place recommended to us by some of our friends who went there twice for lunch.
  I kept going around bends along the coast of Boca Chica, promising to only go around one more, when I told Rosie that I was getting uncomfortable going so far in the dinghy when we could visit Geiger Key once we move to Stock Island in a few days. I sometimes listen to my instincts. I should do it more often.
  We motored back to a gathering spot of sorts for local boaters, just off of Boca Chica, on a shallow spot with nice soft sand, that, at low tide, there is a beach. There wasn't much activity on a Wednesday, but we did talk to some folks on a Jet Ski tour who said that there is usually many more boaters at this spot on the weekends. It's just a little distance from our future location at Stock Island Marina Village, and we intend to make it a hangout. We have heard that clothing may be optional on this beach. We won't let that stop us.
  We had a couple beers and enjoyed the scenery for a bit, and then went into Safe Harbor past the new marina where we'll be staying, and then over to The Hogfish Bar. We wanted to visit The Hogfish with our friends when we took a ride in Swing Set a couple of weeks ago, but they don't have docking for transients, but we can always find a spot to dock the dinghy.
  Holly is welcome at the seating "outside", which really isn't outside because it's under roof. The have these barstools wide enough for three people to sit at, which we like because we can sit Holly between us while we eat. We spent last New Years Eve at The Hogfish and we like the atmosphere. I think we'll be visiting there a lot.
  Just West of Safe Harbor is a channel that takes you over to the bay side of Key West, but along that channel is a canal that, on the charts, looks like it would go over to the bayside too, only to a better spot, which is on the West side of Sigsbee Key, closer to Garrison Bight.

  The canal runs central through the heart of Key West. The airport was on our port side, and some modest homes were on our starboard side. But then we came what looked to be the end of the canal. Mangroves lined each side and their branches covered the 12 foot width. There was a couple of homes along the way, but soon there was nothing but trees and marsh. When we started seeing "campers" (in this case, means "homeless") and the approach of a low water bridge, I knew this canal wasn't going to be a route for us to take to the bay side of Key West.
  The bridge was only 18 inches off the water, much shorter than the air draft on our dinghy, so we turned around. It was an interesting trip, but we won't feel the need to do it again.
  Back out to the marked channel, we took it north under the A1A bridge and out to Florida Bay. We had to go past Sunset Marina and around Sigsbee Key over to the mooring field at Garrison Bight. Then we took the route under the bridge to Fleming Key and back to Key West Harbor and then to our harbor in Key West Bight. At least I knew we had an "inside route" from Stock Island over to Key West Bight if we wanted to visit downtown in the dinghy, avoiding the prevailing easterly winds.
  The Key West Film Festival had taken place over the weekend. Our feeling low prevented us from attending one of the films being shown at The Tropic Cinema, but we did go to The Tropic on Wednesday night for a movie. The Tropic is a real gem. If you're in Key West and want an evening out that doesn't consist of Sloppy Joe's and strip clubs, take in a movie at The Tropic, if for no other reason but the popcorn.
  We did a few chores on the boat on Thursday, but toward late afternoon we took the dinghy back out for a cruise. A friend had mentioned a sternwheeler that had found its way to Key West recently, and we wondered if it was still in the area, so we went over to the City Marina at Garrison Bight to see if the Barbara Ann was still docked there.

  We found the Barbara Ann just where she was docked last January, although with an addition of some new windows and another door or two. She still touts "Port of St. Louis" on her stern, but I would venture to stay she'll never see that part of the country again. Barbara Ann has more steel cables holding her in her slip than the S.S. Admiral.
  The City Marina at Garrison Bight is home to an eclectic mixture of floating homes and houseboats in various stages of repair. While we find it very interesting to look at, we wouldn't want to keep our boat in this marina. I would bet that there isn't a square foot of shiny fiberglass in the whole place, and nearly every "vessel" has a bilge pump going twenty-four seven. The Barbara Ann is not one of those. Yet.
  We exited Garrison Bight and took the long way around back to Key West Harbor along the shoreline of Fleming Key. It was a wet ride as the wind had picked up some, but it was fun.   The dinghy is our favorite way to have fun, and while Swing Set seems more and more like "home", the dinghy is our essential method of transportation, and something we don't think we could do without.
  We meandered our way through Key West Harbor. It too is an eclectic mixture of boats, but only the primary type of vessel is a sailing one. We saw our "Prairie Dog" friends from last December. Their boat was even loaded with more junk than it was back then. They weren't at home, not like we were going to stop for a chat anyway.
  Another fella out on his sailboat, albeit without sails, and a dinghy tied up to the stern that was defying all efforts to sink, was trying to wave us over. It wasn't an "I need assistance" type wave, but an "I see somebody to have a beer with and I have no beer wave", normally one I find hard to resist, but we have found reason to avoid people who live this way on a sailboat, or otherwise on any decrepit vessel, for the same way we avoid socializing with people who live, say, on a park bench. They may be nice folks, but their seeming succession of bad choices that may have wound them up in their predicaments were choices that we also choose not to become part of. While I'm sympathetic, you're not dealing with Mother Theresa here.
  It was getting close to sunset, so we cruised around Tank Island, now called Sunset Key because the owners of the multi-million dollar homes built on it didn't want to be living on such a commonly named place called Tank Island, and we drifted along the western shore of Key West and Mallory Square.

  We waited on the sunset and watched all the folks lined up along Mallory Square, and along the upper decks of the cruise ship "Majesty of the Seas", a Nassau registered ship that has seen better days. I post this photo for the followers of this blog who would rather see pictures than read my writing.
  Our day was a good one. We found out that our new bike will be arriving from California next week, and that our new generator is also on the way. We have a large deposit placed on the generator and I was beginning to get a little worried about it coming.

  This photo is not of the best sunset we have seen in our travels, it's just one more. But one more sunset hopefully means one more sunrise. String enough of them together and you wind up with a life. If you're lucky, you can eek out a good one.
  We burned our running lights on the dinghy and got back to A&B Marina after dark. The fellas in the beautiful Buddy Davis sportfishing boat near us appeared genuinely concerned that we had been out so late, saying that they were giving us another thirty minutes before calling the Coast Guard. My money says they were more concerned about Rosie than me. What do you think? Always have a pretty woman by your side and money in your pocket, and somebody will usually come looking for you.

Friday, November 15, 2013

We Get Company

  When we first started out on our adventure a year and a half ago, one of our goals was to be here in Key West during Fantasy Fest and the Powerboat races. We spent so much time on the inland rivers last summer, we began to readily see that making Key West in time for these events in 2012 would mean skipping by some really fun spots along Florida's West Coast, so we set our sights on being here this year. We're so happy that we did.
  In the last few weeks there has been over forty people down here visiting for some reason or another. Some of the folks we feel are close friends, and some we had a mild acquaintance with, but we feel like we became closer friends with most of them due to the fun times we had with everyone.

  Now before you start thinking how popular we must be to have all these people travel all the way from Missouri, Illinois, and Kentucky to see us, we can only claim that one couple actually made the trip just to see us, the rest came because of Fantasy Fest, the boat races, and because Key West is a fun place to visit.
  Having all these folks visiting was no ordeal for us because we didn't (and won't) arrange accommodations or transportation. Two sets of friends rented houses here in town for a month, and they had most of the people staying with them off and on. I commend them for the work they did in hosting so many of their friends. We were just able to reap the benefits.
  Since our blog is about boating and living aboard, I won't chronicle our activities here in Key West too much, but for anyone dreaming about casting off and living aboard their boat, I have some insight and want to share it.
  Many months ago I decided to gut our second state room and make an "office" out of it. Anyone who has read our blog from the beginning knows this. (The rest of you, please catch up.) Of course we wanted a nice place to use our desk top computer, and have room to store tools and extra parts, but the other thing was that we didn't want to have guests aboard to stay overnight. The reason is that we like to run a tidy ship. Anyone coming on our boat would have a hard time realizing that we have been living on our boat for so long. As they say, "there is a place for everything, and everything is in its place". This is impossible to do with more than two people living on this boat. OK, two people and a small dog.
  Sure, two people could sleep on the floor in the salon, but we've done that before and our schedule is usually different than that of others, and we don't like to be walking over anyone if they want to "sleep in".
  The other thing is that if we are on the hook, the systems on our boat are taxed as it is with just us, two or more people onboard just adds that more usage to the water, waste, and power systems, plus there never seems to be enough room in our small refrigerator either.
  But sure, we like friends to visit, right? But to have visitors, you have to commit to being in one place for an extended amount of time. Last year we were moving around a lot, and had we adhered to the travel schedule of friends wanting to see us while they were "in the area", we wouldn't have been able to adhere to our loosely knit travel plans, and while we were somewhat flexible in that regard, twice we had to draw the line and commit ourselves to set departure dates.
  The other criteria for having friends and family come to visit is to be in a place where people like to visit. Sounds simple, but after a day or two, your visitors may want to strike out on their own for a few hours, and you'll probably want them to, so you'll want to be in a place where there are things to do for them. We've had friends visit while we were at Kentucky Lake, Marathon, and Key West. No problem there.

  Another consideration about having friends visiting while you are on a boat is having room for them all if there is a large group. We took the photo above when we decided to have a dockside happy hour. Even with our generator out of the boat, at times the swim platform was submerged. With a group this size, going out on the water was out of the question.
  On the subject of running a tidy ship; we know that when guests first come aboard, if they are boaters, and most of these folks in the picture are, they want to remove their shoes, but everyone wants to remove them right inside the transom door, but our cockpit is small enough without everyone having to step over a dozen pair of shoes, so we asked everyone to line them up in the salon under our settee, so their shoes weren't a trip hazard. We also had to insist that everyone use the bathroom at the marina. Our holding tank would have lasted about an hour with this many. When it got dark the men used more convenient methods.
  Again, most, if not all, of our friends are boaters, so no one was severely disappointed that we never left the dock. The weather wasn't co-operating anyway as we had a good deal of wind.
  The week earlier, with another group of friends, we were able to go out on the water. We took eight guests, which made it ten with us. Ten people onboard Swing Set for a cruise is manageable, any more than that and it becomes a chore for Rosie and I. Know how many people you can safely cruise with on your boat, and stick with it. You and the Coast Guard will appreciate it.

  I told about our snorkeling trip with Ryan and Aimee in my last blog, but I didn't have this picture, so I wanted to include it this time. If I was going to have an advertisement for chartering guests on Swing Set, this would be a good picture for it. Rosie and I are always hopeful that when we have guests aboard our boat that they have a good time. People who have a bad boating experience never forget it.

  Holly just had her second birthday! We mark Halloween as Holly's birthday as we don't really know what day she was born, and Holly really doesn't care. We took her to breakfast with us to Pepe's and she was presented with a ceramic bowl filled with ice water for her enjoyment. She didn't get any special treats or birthday cake. We don't want to spoil her.
  We spent many nights out with our friends during that last few weeks, and had many late nights and lots of fun, but in every case, as we walked, or weaved, our way back to the boat, we always looked forward to seeing our pet and Holly never failed to make us feel like we were missed.
  We also look forward to seeing our friends again, whenever that may be. They also made us feel like we are missed, and they all made us feel like they wish they were doing this too.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Calm Before the Storm

  Sunday was the last day of Fantasy Fest and things are back to normal here in Key West, if there is such a thing.
  While this blog is intended to be mostly about living aboard our boat, I'm going to give myself a little more latitude in my subject matter if for no other reason than attempting to maintain some interest in the blog. Heartland Boating may decide to remove us as a featured blog, but I can't write a blog about setting at the dock everyday. "Today we were at the dock. The boat is still floating." Yawn.
  I guess our everyday experiences while dockside can inspire folks who are contemplating this lifestyle by knowing that leaving family and friends back home will not mean an end to social activities. Quite the opposite will occur if you let it.
  Not only is our social circle beginning to include other boaters who we keep bumping into along the way, our connections with friends old and new through this blog and Facebook have allowed us to feel as though we never left our home port of St. Louis.
  Now, becoming "regulars" in and around Key West, we feel like we belong in a certain respect, at least at the marine supply stores and the bars.
  I titled this blog as the calm before the storm because we were to have a two days breather before another contingent of St. Louis area visitors is due to arrive on Halloween, this Thursday, and we need to rest up.
  There is still five of our friends here for the month, and we spent Monday evening with them at one of their rental houses, for a barbecue and some World Series watching, before declaring a moratorium on any social activity for Tuesday, as we wanted to realign our equilibrium. But it was not to be.
  Yesterday morning, Rosie washed the boat and I began waxing some parts of it that was in the shade, and I also waxed the bottom of the dinghy since it's hanging over the dock and I can reach the bottom of it by laying on my back on the dock. My real focus is the bow, and the bow of Swing Set is not in the shade until five o'clock, when the large yacht next to us blocks the late afternoon sun. We learned from some local experts here on the dock on how to more effectively care for the finish on our boat, and the lessons are paying off.
  We had a sirloin roast slow cooking in the crock pot, and were waiting in the cockpit for the "waxing hour" when we got a rare phone call. Some folks we had met along the way were in town until Thursday and they wanted to get together for happy hour.
  Normally I won't let a last minute invitation keep me from any boat maintenance mission, or any other mission, but these people went out of their way to contact us, so we didn't want to disappoint them. Not only that, but waxing overhead on the dinghy had gotten to my arms and they were sore. (I haven't held my arms that long over my head since our last gig at the Ice Capades.)
  Now, let me back up a little to last January: We were here in Key West looking for a slip for New Year's Eve and were at our wit's end. We knew that Fast Eddie from Fast Eddie's Bonaire in Alton, Illinois was in town as he had a condo in Key West. We called him and asked if he had any friends in the area with a dock slip we could use, but he didn't. We promised to look him up once we got situated, but once we finally got a slip at A & B last January, Eddie had gone back to St. Louis for a family emergency and we left town with not ever seeing him. Until yesterday.
  Now we have been here at A & B Marina for a month, and we walk past the Conch Republic Restaurant and Bar nearly everyday. We knew that "The Conch" was a favorite watering hole for Eddie, so we looked in to see him at what we had learned was his usual perch almost every time we had passed, but never saw him.
  So after I had put away my boat waxing equipment and we took showers and put on some nice duds, Rosie and I walked over to the Conch and got two seats at the bar right at happy hour. I looked down the bar and sure enough, there was Eddie, nursing a cold one. Not wanting to give up our premium seats, especially with two more folks due to show up, I saved our seats and Rosie walked over to see Ed.
  Coincidences are a phenomenon that I truly believe in, and we had one in meeting Eddie at the bar yesterday, because he had just left the local title office, having closed on the sale of his last condo here in Key West and was headed back to St. Louis in the morning. Had we not altered our plans, or had we chose another bar to meet up with our friends, we would have missed Eddie altogether, and probably would have spent half the spring still looking in to see him at The Conch every time we would pass.
  Rosie brought Eddie back over to where we were sitting and we spent the next ninety minutes talking about his bar (Eddie Junior is now owner) and some other things we have in common, and then Eddie revealed something to us that we weren't aware of.
  Some of you might not know about Fast Eddie's Bonaire in the Alton area, but I know that most of my blog readers do know about it, and they know how many customers Fast Eddies  has served over the years, and it would be fair to say that the number is in the millions. Keeping that in mind, Eddie went on to describe meeting us, or seeing us for the first time, and he described it to a "T", so I knew he remembered it well. That day was over twenty years ago, so we must have made quite an impression.
  Rosie and I were with some good friends, one of which had just taken his new Sea Ray up to the Alton Pool on the Mississippi and we had been up there for a day of boating. On the return trip, our friend Don suggested that we take the Illinois route, so as we were all piled into his van anyway, we had no objection.
  On that day, Eddie was tending bar and we all took seats front and center, and none of us were even vaguely familiar with Eddie at all, but like I said, he remembered us. Let's just say that we were all having a good time, and we gave new meaning to a new bar shot we had just heard of, called a "Buttery Nipple". I also claim to be the inventor of the "belly button shot", now know world wide. Prove I ain't.
  Over the years, we finally met Eddie, and we only frequented the Bonaire once or twice a year, but every time we were in there and saw him, he made it a point to buy us a beer or two. We eventually met his son when he started working there and kept up the practice. We didn't know until yesterday that we had made such an impression. It's good to be known for something.
  Today I have every intention on following up on my plan to wax the bow of our boat, and I'll still have to wait until five o'clock to do it, but afterwards, we'll be watching the sixth game of the World Series at The Lazy Gecko on Duvall Street. The Lazy Gecko is Boston Red Sox territory and we're both going to wear St. Louis Cardinal attire and enter the lion's den.
  Maybe I better not get my arms too tired waxing the boat, but even though we will "go in peace", I might need my limited arm strength for slugging Red Sox fans.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Fantasy Land

  I may have to change the name on this blog to swingsetatthedock. We're spending most of our days right here at A&B Marina and we're getting spoiled.
  In the picture above is our new Duck Club burgee brought down by some St. Louis friends, arriving with several others for the Fantasy Fest activities here in Key West this week. We aren't Duck Club members anymore, but we like to fly a reminder of how enjoyable river life has been for us. Always a River Rat.
  Right now there is over a dozen folks down from the St. Louis area, and nearly as many that we know from the Tampa area visiting too. We can't say that they're here just to see us, but it's certainly an added bonus for us to see them. There are others coming for Jimmy Buffet Days in a few days, and then a whole slew of folks will be here for the offshore boat races in November. It's nice to see folks we've known for a while.
  Since we haven't been out much, I haven't posted much, because this blog is supposed to be about the boat and traveling with it, along with the trials and tribulations of living aboard. One of the regular blog readers suggested that I just post pictures of Rosie every week and that would be enough. That's on my other blog if you can find it. That is a joke Dad.
  We sent in our deposit for a new generator and we should have it installed by mid November. Good thing we're at a dock and plugged in, it is extremely hot and humid.
  Our water heater has been nice to have and we're getting used to having hot water showers. The mechanic (electrician) had taken a water line apart when he installed the water heater and last night the line came off of the pressure tank, causing us to lose our water. Luckily we had turned off our water pumps when we left the boat last night because the level in the tank was low and we had planned on filling up our water tank this morning.
  I didn't want to crawl down in the engine room first thing this morning to repair some plumbing, but there was no other way around it. A person has to be at least a little handy to solve issues just like this one, otherwise you're too dependent on others.
  One thing we don't do is hook up to the dockside water directly into our plumbing system. If a line breaks in the boat you could theoretically sink the vessel, although I think our several bilge pumps would keep up. I don't want to test it. We just fill up our water tank every few days with a hose.
  One of the couples down from St. Louis are really interested in following our footsteps and making the plunge into living on their boat. The one question they had was how to go about finding out if they'll like it. My answer is always the same: Take a few two week long extended trips anywhere and see how you feel about it. For them I suggested traveling up the Mississippi, requiring lots of lock and dam experience. You can find out a whole lot about each other while locking through a dam on a boat. I'm surprised Rosie is still with me.

  Rosie had dropped Holly's collar off the back of the boat in The Exumas. We lost her rabies tag too, but what was more distressing to Rosie (and maybe Holly too) was that one of Holly's neat little neckerchiefs went down with the collar.
  We had planned on getting some replacements at the dive shop here in Key West where we had seen them last January, but they don't sell them anymore.
  Rosie sent an email to Larry and Linda from Cape Coral, some nice folks we met while anchored in Bimini Basin when we were there last October, and asked if we could buy a couple more neckerchiefs for Holly. Linda had made the two she had and presented us with them before we left.
  Linda refused to take our money, but in a few days a package came with five new neckerchiefs in it for Holly! She is sporting one of my favorites in the photo above.
  Now she has one for each day of the week except for Sunday when she goes naked. Going out in public naked is a good character builder and very humbling in most cases. (This may or may not be a joke.)
  Because we are backed up to the floating dock, Mediterranean Style, and our dinghy is hanging over the dock, we haven't been taking it out, and that's one reason I have so little to write about, but when we get to Stock Island in December, we'll be situated in a slip differently and we plan on making full use of our dinghy again.
  But yesterday we wanted to take out the boat because the wind is due to pick up considerably for a week or so and we won't be able to get out. (It's not really about the getting out so much as it is about getting back into a narrow slip in the wind.) Anyhow, we took some friends along from up north and tried some snorkeling.
  Outside of the bight, the waves were kicking up and the visibility wasn't very good. We really didn't have enough time to get to a better snorkeling spot and I began to feel like our little outing was a bust. I climbed back in the boat and left Ryan and Aimee swimming close to the boat as I had asked them to do, when two dolphin came up so close to them that they could almost touch them.
  Soon after, another one joined the first two and all three of the dolphins stuck around for nearly 45 minutes. Ryan was able to get some video of them too. The whole experience made our day. Ryan and Aimee were happy Rosie and I were happy for them.
  We made our way back to the marina and in the short time we were gone, the marina had nearly filled up. As I was making our way past several big yachts, Rosie was on the foredeck and said something to me that I couldn't hear. I asked her what she had said, and when she repeated it, the comment turned out to be nothing important, so I told her to limit her verbal communications to me to only very important matters while I was engaged in slipping Swing Set into our skinny slip.
  I was backing into our slip and was doing an excellent job, thank you very much, and had the boat just about snuggled in when Rosie said something else. I wasn't so cross about this last comment, as I was so proud of myself for the great docking job, so I asked her again what she had said.
  "You're in the wrong slip", was her smug reply.
  Aimee says, "I guess that was important enough to mention."
  Sometimes I get what I deserve, but I doubt if I'll learn anything from it.
  The title of this post is Fantasy Land, not only because of the hedonistic activities going on in Key West currently, but because living here is one big fantasy for us too. The rent is high here at A & B, so staying here indefinitely would be a fantasy, and having so many bars and restaurants at our fingertips and affording them on a long term basis is another one.
  The greatest thing about our lifestyle is that if we tire of our location or the weather, we can always head out. It's the sense of freedom we have, even if we stay in one place for months at a time.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Rainy Days Have Come

  It's been two weeks back in Key West and we've gotten re-acquainted. We've visited some of our favorite haunts from when we were here last January and we've discovered some new ones.
  A week ago we took Swing Set out for a Sunday cruise over to a marina we've been wanting to check out, Sunset Marina. Sunset is on the "back side" of Key West, and it's a long boat ride to get out to the ocean through some skinny water.
  The marina is typical of what you find in the Keys, full of questionable looking vessels in various states of repair, or disrepair, however you want to look at it.
  Although the condos adjacent to the marina look fairly nice, the opposite view is of the prison, or "correctional facility". The landfill we had been recently reminded about is within view too, but it doesn't appear to be operational anymore. There is grass now growing on the huge mound of dirt. I don't know where the trash from Key West is going now, but it's not going there.
  Sunset Marina also doesn't allow "liveaboards", at least officially, so all things considered, it's now off of our list of potential marinas where we might spend some extended time.

  The dinghy dock in Key West Bight is a busy place. Unfortunately, it's busy with dinghies owned by the folks anchored out in Key West Harbor and some of them haven't been used in a while, taking up space for those who actually need a place to land their dinghy if they are coming in to Key West Bight for the day, or the evening.
  Even in Marathon, have we seen such a sorry bunch of watercraft in one spot.

  Swing Set is sitting not quite alone at A&B Marina, but slips are filling up fast. By this time next week, every slip will be full. We'll still be here because the Dock Master informed us last Thursday of a recent cancellation, allowing us to stay here and not move over to The Galleon for five days, saving us some dough.
  We have, however found out about other boat owners who were given slips long after we were on "the list" but these were boat owners who have stayed at A&B more times than us and are higher on the pecking order. If we behave ourselves, maybe we can get priority next time too.

  We haven't let grass grow under our feet, even if that was possible. This was our sunrise last Thursday when we had arranged for "Mark", of Mark's Diesel of Key West, to come and inspect our generator because it wasn't starting.

  Let me just get to the point: Here's Mark, (in the bilges) with his helper "Bubba", pulling out our old generator because it was pronounced near to death.
  Had I not been dutifully changing our engine oil every 100 hours, the generator may not have lasted as long as it did, because sea water was getting into the crankcase.
  But adversely, had I been hiring someone else to change the engine oil, they would have probably noticed something amiss with the oil, or noticed salt residue on the backside of the engine.
  Doing my own work is not always about saving money, it's about being independent, but this time I paid for it. Doesn't mean I'm going to change my ways entirely. I wouldn't have been able to find anyone to do regular maintenance in The Bahamas anyway.
  We had picked up our new water heater at West Marine shortly after we got here in Key West, and our first day here I attempted to take out the old one but didn't get very far. Two exhaust lines stood in the way of extracting the old water heater, as well as installing the new one, so I hired an electrician referred to me by Mark the generator guy and he came this morning.
  I watched him work, and actually was able to help him out some. "Kevin" got our new water heater installed without incident in four hours and he had a hard time of it. I'd still be down in the engine room.
  I'd been waiting for an estimate to rebuild our generator, wanting some hard numbers to compare before deciding to rebuild or install new. I had gotten some good advice from our friend John, years ago the owner of Meramec Marina, and we were both waiting to see what a rebuild would consist of, and at what cost.
  Just as Kevin was finishing up with the water heater, I got a call from Mark of Mark's Diesel, and got a rebuild estimate. Without getting into specifics, I had just about decided on what to do, but ran things by John and sent him the estimate via email.
  For not much more money than a costly rebuild, we can get a brand new Westerbeke generator with a two year warranty. So that's what we're going to do, especially when the rebuild didn't include some key things that our friend John felt were necessary.

  Even before we got the estimate on the generator, I went out and bought a sheet of Starboard and made a bigger base for whatever generator we were going to put back in. The base is extended toward the bow by four inches. This would allow us to install the generator a bit further away from the back to allow better access to the water pump, but after watching Kevin wrestle with our water heater in the close quarters, I've decided to install the new generator in the same spot as the old one, but the bigger shelf will allow us to remove the mounting bolts and slide the generator forward when we have to access anything on the back side of it. The four hundred pound generator will slide easily on the slick Starboard. At least we'll be accomplishing something to make service easier in the future.
  There is one good thing though. One year ago at this time we were just getting out of debt from some service we had gotten done in St. Louis before we left. Our condo was still for sale and we hadn't built up any reserves.
  But now, we've been saving for this rainy day, and we'll be able to pay for a new generator and the installation of it without going into debt. Anytime you can solve a problem with a checkbook, you really don't have a problem.
  We have another change in our lives coming soon. No, nobody is pregnant, but we bought a new bicycle!
  I had been contemplating getting a bicycle for some time now, especially after seeing all the cyclists here in Key West, plus our move to Stock Island in December is going to require some type of transportation.
  Last week we walked over to Eaton Bikes on Saturday just to look around. We met Chris, a member of the staff over there, and he was very helpful.
  I asked about bikes that would haul two people, and he showed us a brochure of a Yuba Cargo bike, the Boda Boda model. The Boda Boda is all aluminum, and is about a foot longer than a regular bike. It has an integrated rack on the back big enough for an adult to comfortably sit on, and has cool running boards for the rider to rest their six inch high heels on, if that rider happens to be Rosie.
  When Chris mentioned the price, I balked, and we then asked about some of the refurbished tandem bikes that they were selling because Eaton is overturning their rental fleet. For $300 bucks we could get a tandem bike, and I figured for that price, we'd just leave it here in Key West when we left in the Spring if we couldn't sell it. (There's no way a tandem will fit onboard the boat.)
  Time for a test ride. It was the shortest test ride they had ever seen. I was on the front. Rosie mounted the rear seat. I pointed the bike toward the street and no sooner did I get my second foot on the pedal, Rosie started squawking. "Stop! Stop! No, No! This is NOT working!"
  Apparently Rosie didn't grasp the co-ordination involved with having to pedal when I did. We went a total of four feet.
  I told her to suck it up and don't be a baby and give it another try. (I learned my encouragement techniques at home.) We wound up riding a few blocks, but the result was the same; Rosie did not like the tandem bike.
  We consulted with Chris a bit more, and he herded us out the door with our fists full of big brochures. Before we had even gotten back to the boat I was considering each of us having our own bikes, but our history with Rosie riding her own bike has not been pleasant. I didn't want to be riding my bike and hers too, plus storing two bikes on the boat is not something we ever wanted to do. We won't even get into the subject of riding two bikes back from a pub late at night from downtown Key West to Stock Island.
  Back at our computer, we looked into the Yuba Boda Boda bike and liked what we saw online. The price Chris had quoted for it, even though it is half what I paid for my first brand new truck, was lower than some prices quoted online.
  Now this was before we found out our generator was toast, but I told Rosie that if we were going to get a bike, we were going to get a neat one, and the Boda Boda was what I wanted.
  "Let's go back and order this bike", I said, and we gathered up Holly and back to Eaton Bikes we went. I told Chris that I was an impulse buyer, and he said he liked impulse buyers.
  Here's the other thing: The Yuba comes in a "step over" model, and a "step through" model. The step over model would be considered the "boys bike". We wanted a white bike and it only comes in the "girls" version.
  Hey, we're in Key West and we see some crazy stuff, so who cares what model of bike we're gonna have? But I can't help but think of the movie "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World", when Jonathan Winters trades his broken down truck or something to Phil Silvers for a bike and finds out "This is a girl's bike!" You had to see it.
  New generator coming, new water heater installed, and a new bicycle coming! You'd think we were Rockerfellers. But no, we've just been saving for a rainy day.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Key West Again

  On our last day in Boot Key Harbor, last Sunday, we took the dinghy over to Sombrero Beach to try out our beach umbrella set up with the rod holder I installed near the bow of our Mercury dinghy, on the bulkhead of the anchor holder.
  Rosie and Holly sat in the shade while I completed the overdue job of cleaning the dinghy with the Formula 88 Degreaser that we bought at Home Depot. Outside of some subtle mold spots on the dinghy, it looks close to new.
  With my work completed, we took a slow cruise over to Sunset Grille for a late lunch. Even though it's the slow season, the pool was full of kids and adults, and we stayed for most of the afternoon, getting back to Swing Set before sunset.
  We left Boot Key Harbor at the break of dawn on Monday morning and had an uneventful cruise to Stock Island Marina Village.
  As we entered Safe Harbor, we were reminded of how industrial the area is. The Key West water treatment plant is on the starboard side as you enter the harbor, and a boat yard with the rusting hulks of vessels in various state of repair, or disrepair, is on the port side.
  But then we came up on Stock Island Marina Village and the view changed. New buildings and docks have been built, and the place was teeming with workers. I called the office on our radio and was directed to a dock right in front of their marina office.
  Rob Cate, the Dock Master, and Eric (I think I got that right) came out to assist us in tying up Swing Set. As soon as we plugged in to shore power, and changed out of our swim wear, we met Rob in the marina office and then he took us in his golf cart on an extended VIP tour of the facility.
  Folks, this place is going to be very nice. Everything is being done first rate. A new marina office with ship's store is out on the main peninsula, which has a cruiser's lounge on the second floor which will have a bar area and a lounge with big screen T.V., accessible by key card by boat owners at all hours.
  A new laundry facility is next door, and also has shower facilities for cruisers too.
  The floating docks are well built with concrete walks and composite edging, and they look beautiful too. (I'll post pictures when we come back in December.) We actually got our pick of where we want to keep Swing Set when we come back. We were able to choose a 50 foot slip as we are right on the cusp of a 40 foot slip because we are 41.5 feet overall. We have a hard time choosing when we have the run of the place, but we hope we chose right. We picked a slip on the end of a finger, reducing the amount of foot traffic passing our boat, plus reducing the drive coming in from the harbor entrance. I had one reservation about airborne debris from a neighboring boat yard, but Rob assured us that it wouldn't be an issue. If it is, we'll move I guess.
  We also got to see one of their floating condos. They have two, and another is on the way. These cozy little "houseboats" are very clean inside, and come with a kayak and have inviting decks attached too. We have family members visiting in January and they are staying in the "Red Grouper". We sent them an email telling them that they're going to love their accommodations.
  We saw the new dog park on the premises, a tiki hut for entertainment events, the community garden, the new pump house and generator facility, and the site for the soon to be built hotel, restaurant, and pool. We're very excited to be getting in on the ground floor of this marina.
  As I've said, Stock Island is quite a bit different from the downtown Key West experience. We took a walk later in the afternoon to check out the neighborhood, so to speak.
  A convenience market is not too far away, and the Rusty Anchor, a seafood restaurant, is very close. West Marine and a handful of other restaurants are within walking distance too.
  The Hogfish restaurant and bar are within walking distance too, but we'll most likely be taking the dinghy to that establishment when we go. There is also a "beach" gathering spot of sorts just a short distance away on Boca Chita Key, where we'll be able to take Swing Set, or the dinghy, over to socialize with other boaters.
  We decided to have dinner in the Rusty Anchor. It just happened to be happy hour. Go figure. Bud Lights were cheap, and appetizers were half price, but we also ordered sandwiches too. The owner came over to bust our table when we finished, and asked us how we liked everything. We told him we'd be back. I bet he's very happy about the new marina being built.
  The wind picked up during the night, and we got bumped around at the dock a bit, but it sure was nice having our air conditioning on. We slept later than we have in months!
  We took our time having coffee and breakfast in the morning, and then visited the marina office one more time to say goodbye and thank-you, promising to visit occasionally while we're in Key West Bight, to check on the progress at Stock Island Marina Village.
  They hope to be operational by the time Fantasy Fest rolls around, and by the looks of things, they will be. We asked to be invited back to their Grand Opening and Rob said we would. Can't wait.
  We cruised over to familiar Key West Bight and called Mark, the Dock Master at A&B Marina for our slip assignment. He asked if we needed help and was going to send someone to help us tie up, but I told him we'd call if we needed any.
  Generally, we like to tie up ourselves so we can take our time and not be rushed. Also, I like to secure our boat the way I want to do it, and if the person helping us is doing it differently, then I have to give orders. I don't like giving orders. (Rosie may not agree with this last statement, but, at the core, it's true.)
  We got into our slip just fine, plugged into shore power again, and then went to see Mark at the marina office. There were several packages waiting for us, and more on the way. We took them back to the boat, and then trekked over to The Galleon to confirm our slip for later in the month when we'll have to vacate our spot at A&B for five days, due to reservation conflicts at A&B.
  Suzy at The Galleon confirmed our slip reservation and we told her we'd see her in a few weeks, if not sooner. We returned to Swing Set and began to organize the items we had brought aboard earlier.
  On Wednesday morning we walked over to West Marine and picked up our new water heater. We also visited Key West Marine where I picked up two gallons of Barnacle Buster. I'm going to CIP our heat exchangers again because I don't think I did it long enough last time. We were still running a little hot coming down from Marathon.

  On Wednesday evening, after a light dinner, we went to The Tropic Cinema on Eaton Street to see a movie. We didn't like the movie, but we like going to The Tropic. It's mostly run by volunteers, and it's about the cleanest, neatest, theater we've ever been in. The popcorn is the best!

  On Wednesday night we got a hellacious storm, and in the morning, Front Street was flooded all the way to Duvall Street. This is a common occurrence in Key West, especially when it occurs like it did this time, at high tide. Everyone takes it in stride, and the water recedes after a few hours.

  Thursday was haircut day for Holly, and she got the shortest cut yet. She didn't behave as well for her haircut as she has done in the past, and we think it's because she hasn't had a cut in a while. I'm going to have to trim her more often so she is used to it. You don't think it's because she is just getting more spoiled as each day passes, do you?
  Some bad news: I checked the engine room when we went to leave Stock Island Marina Village and found a bit of oil debris in the bilge, obviously from the generator.
  To verify the oil source, I wanted to start the generator (after checking the oil level) and it wouldn't start. I saved further investigation until this morning, but in the meantime, had contacted a local Westerbeke mechanic, referred to me by Key West Engines, the folks who installed our turbo chargers last January.
  I replaced the Racor fuel filter, plus the primary fuel filter on the generator and tried to start it, and it wouldn't. I bled the fuel line several times with no better results, so I called the Westerbeke mechanic to get us on his schedule. If the generator won't start, we can't diagnose the oil leak, so first things first. I was hoping for a simple fix, of course, but we'll just have to see.
  We went to the Dog Island Bar yesterday afternoon to watch the Cardinals in their first game of the NLDS. A place called Dog Island and Holly was not allowed in! We checked a few other nearby places, but wound up taking Holly back to the boat and returned to Dog Island before first pitch. We didn't really want to go back to Dog Island, but other bars we checked on had golf on their T.V.'s. Golf?
  One place had NO customers, had golf on T.V., and we asked if he'd put it on. He took just a little too much time to formulate an answer, so I said "Never mind", and walked right out the door. He must have learned his business acumen in The Bahamas.
   We enjoyed the game, especially the outcome, but vowed to find a place where Holly was welcome for the second game this afternoon.
  It looks like Dante's will be the place. We like Dante's anyway, for the pool firstly, plus they have at least three outside bars. Holly has been there with us before, so we don't expect to be thrown out, at least on Holly's account. Maybe mine.
  In between all this fun to be had in Key West, we have a generator to get fixed, a water heater to install, heat exchangers to clean again and taken apart after cleaning to check for blockage. I'm going to be busy, but we want to have our boat running and working smoothly for when our friends start showing up here in a couple of weeks. Then we can play all we want.