Thursday, January 31, 2013

We Cruise To Boca Grande

  The trip to the Bahamas is back on the front burner. The more I talk to people who have actually been there recently, the more comfortable I feel about going. We still have the logistical issues to consider, involving Holly's rabies shots and paperwork, but we'll deal with those issues as they arise and take it from there.
  I ordered two cruising guides from Amazon; Dozier's Waterway Guide to the Bahamas, along with Steve Dodge's Guide to Abaco. We used the Dozier's Guide for our trip down the West coast of Florida and we are using it here in the Keys currently. (We joined Amazon Prime to take advantage of free two day shipping, and free book and movie rentals.)
  But you don't need a cruising guide when you are tied to the dock. The winds have been blowing in excess of 20 miles per hour for several days. We have been wanting to go out, not only for a cruise, but to try our hands at lobstering again. We have been on the hook in much higher winds, but being on the hook in the wind is not the issue. For one thing, snorkeling or diving in the wind doesn't work well. The bottom gets stirred up and the water is "murky". Murky here means that the water is still a beautiful blue, but you can't see through it. The other thing is the problem with parking in a crowded harbor when the wind is high. We went through that a couple of weeks ago and I don't want a re-enactment.

  Here's a picture of A&B Marina from another angle. This is a view from the Conch Republic Bar and Restaurant. While we are here, we may as well do Happy Hour.
  As usual, we met some nice people at the bar. First was a guy from South Africa that had a home here and in the Abacos, so we were able to get some good information about our upcoming visit from him. Then he was joined by a friend that owned and operated one of the tour boats. His boat was a modest looking catamaran that took people out for kayaking and snorkeling. He boasted an income of $7000 per day with his vessel. I wonder if the figure would be as high if he knew I worked for the IRS.
  One of the captains for the tour boat operator came up and we were introduced to him. He was informed that we were the ones who had the Sea Ray with the wind generators on top. Before he says, "Pleased to meet you", he says, "Those things are noisy are will break".
  This is not a good way to start a conversation with me.
  As I have mentioned before, everything on a boat is broken, you just don't know it yet. I don't get credit for the quote; I just picked it up somewhere. So I mention this fact to him, and added that we were all going to die eventually, but there was no significance in pointing such things out when at first meeting new folks.
  I don't know what the bug was that was up his butt, but I was able to work it loose and he turned out to be an OK guy. The tour boat owner invited us to come by and he had lots of half price drink tickets that he would give us. He turned out to be a nicer guy.
  I look at the weather forecast on several websites every morning and yesterday I found that we were to have a blustery morning but it would give way to a calm afternoon. Our plan to take a cruise away from the dock was on! By 9 o'clock we were untethered from the dock and were headed out. Once we got past the reefs on the Northwest Channel and headed East to Lobsterland, and into the wind, spray from the waves began reaching us up on the flybridge. I also noticed that the water was too stirred up for efficient snorkeling, so we turned around 180 degrees and headed West.
  We had talked to a fella at the dock just that morning about an anchorage at Boca Grande, one of the keys just West of Key West. You thought Key West was the last key in the chain, didn't you? I had read about the two anchorages at Boca Grande when we went to the Dry Tortugas, but didn't feel a need to stop there. As we were on a day trip, this seemed like a perfect place to find calm water and maybe look for some lobsters.

  What you see here is the western side of Boca Grande, looking from the North. There is a marked channel on the north side of the island that appears on the map to be surrounded by flat land, but is in fact only surrounded by very shallow water, so the idyllic tropical setting in calm water was not to be found on this day.
  The wind seemed to pick up and we bobbed around like a cork while we had lunch and began to regret our trip out. But only for a while. As we sunned ourselves in the cockpit and the day wore on, the wind began to die down and in the little protection that Boca Grande afforded us, we wound up having a pleasant day.
  By four o'clock it was time to head in. I didn't want to go back the long way we had come, so the alternative was to take the southern route which would put us at beam seas the whole way. This turned out to be our undoing.
  I'm not sure how big the waves were once we got out into the channel, but when they are hitting you broadside, even the littlest wave is magnified. I put Swing Set on plane thinking to smooth out the ride and all we did was get tossed around that much more violently. Swing Set is not a big boat. Normally we would have stayed put, or taken a more protected route, but for the cost of the slip we were in, we weren't going to stay out on the hook. We bit the bullet and to make it end sooner, I kept the boat at 25 miles per hour and concentrated on dodging crab pot markers. Millions of them. How is it that someone can put out so many hazards to navigation with impunity? That fishing lobby must be a huge one.
  We got back to the harbor without too much falling off of the boat. Rosie reported a smell in the salon, but I attributed it to the sump drain box getting stirred up and the smell coming up from the drains. Once we stopped and opened the windows, the problem disappeared.
  We were able to back Swing Set easily into her current home slick as a whistle. The owner of a large yacht just behind us came out and handled our lines at the stern. Up to now I had only witnessed him reading books, as he has a full time captain/mate that does everything on his boat. I was surprised to get the help, but extremely grateful. Maybe we are making friends.
  We spent the rest of the daylight rinsing copious amounts of salt off of Swing Set before settling in for a delicious dinner on board the boat. Our activities made for an early night, but early nights always seem to be the order of the day lately.
  Today we have a couple of missions: The first is to go to Blue Heaven for breakfast. It is sure to be the only heaven I am likely to see. Then we'll run by Fausto's Market. "Run" means walking several blocks, but it's the only exercise we get. When we get back to the boat, Rosie is going to defrost our freezer since our stores are getting a bit low. We'll fill the freezer back up when we get to Marathon and Publix. If we have any gas left, we'll give the boat a proper bath with Zip Wax. (It really does leave a good shine.) All this mention of work is making me tired. Maybe I should have kept my job.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Another Unexpected Visit

  One thing about being in such an attractive town is that people want to come visit, not only to see us, hopefully, but to have a mini-vacation. At times, a "vacation from a vacation".

  Neal and Monica hail from our old home town and were visiting a friend in Cape Coral when they jumped on the Key West Express and endured the three plus hour boat ride to come and see us for a quick five hour visit. Their daughter was here over New Years and we didn't get to see her, but Andi and her boyfriend bought Neal and Monica their Express tickets at a discount, so they decided to make the trip.
  The boat is huge. Equipped with four Detroit Diesels that propel it to 40 miles per hour from Ft. Meyers. Neal and Monica stepped aboard Swing Set shortly after docking here in Key West Bight. We popped some icy cold Bud Lights, caught up on some news from "home", and set out on our walking tour. Monica had a list of souvenirs that she had to get for friends back home, so we visited many of the places that we hadn't yet been to in Key West.
  Five hours doesn't last long when you're having fun, and it was soon five o'clock and time for them to get boarded on the Express for their trip back to Cape Coral. We packed them a care package of some Bud Lights on ice in a plastic bag. Rosie couldn't bear the good-byes, I held up rather well, knowing that Neal and Monica are frequent travelers and that we'd see them again, much sooner than we may see other good friends. The beers were most likely gone before the boat cast off at 6 P.M.
  After we left them for our walk back to A-B Marina we made a couple of stops. Our last stop was at the White Tarpon where we had a light dinner of shrimp and a shared Reuben sandwich. "We'll have fries with the sandwich", I told the bartender.
  "Only comes with chips", was his reply. The shrimp were tasty, but the sandwich came and I thought we were being served toast, the thing was so thin. On the side was the smallest bag of potato chips that Lay's produces, I'm certain. The only upside was that the beers were $2.50, but we won't go back, and I suggest you don't either. I like this power of the pen.
  We are loosely planning for our travels to the Bahamas. That means I've started discussing the trip with others here on the dock, and doing some networking on the America's Great Loopers Cruising Association discussion forum. We've applied for our Border and Customs decal to place on the boat for our entry back into the United States. Re-entering the U.S. after traveling abroad is the most important issue. More important than leaving in the first place, I think.
  Our application for Holly's entry permit into The Bahamas may or may not be making its slow way through the offices of the Bahamas Agricultural Department. We've got the wheels in motion for Holly's trip to a veterinarian in Marathon, and her subsequent certificate of health, which according to Bahamian Immigration policy, must be presented within 48 hours of receiving it. This may prove to be a major snag because weather could delay a crossing. Bribes in the Bahamas can eliminate snags, or so we hope. We may need to have the veterinarian office get creative in their paperwork, namely omitting her date of examination so we can enter a date that works for us. Where there is a will, there is a way.
  We also need to decide on a port of entry. Ask five people where the best port of entry is in the Bahamas and you will get five answers. Bimini is closest, or Gun Cay, but checking in at West End on Grand Bahama Island will put us in the Abacos, which look attractive due to the many islands and anchorages that line the northern part of that island chain.
  We've ordered two guide books from Amazon and we'll (me) start studying them. But guidebooks are not as good as a resource as simply talking to others who have been there.
We've been there too, but not by boat.
  Our first time was for our honeymoon, which was in the preceding century. We went to Grand Bahama Island, and to a resort in West End. We wanted to leave before we even spent one night there. First, we envisioned a nice room with an ocean view. Why be on a tropical island without an ocean view? Our porter lead us to our room and the further we got away from the beach, I knew our room was going to be nested way back among the mangroves and trees, and it was. It gets better. We enter the room and resting comfortably on the two sagging twin beds were two very large Bahamian men happily watching a basketball game on the small color T.V. They barely acknowledged our existence and I told the porter to take us back to the front desk, we weren't going to be staying in this room.
  Back to the front desk we went. I explained to Rosie on the way that the two saggy twin beds were bad enough, but the help was comfortable enough to use the rooms for their own personal crash pads and recreation, and the room was also way back in what we would now call "Kidnap City".
  We were assigned another room, which I was assured was one with an "ocean view". I guess if you opened the drapes of a side window in the bathroom and craned your neck some, we could barely see a sliver of ocean from our room. I was already exasperated, but figured it could be worse. At least there wasn't a party going on in the room when we arrived. Well, it got worse.
  At the crack of dawn, a small bulldozer started up, right outside our window. Workers began digging up a sewer line. I went out and asked them how long the job was going to last. "A couple of days" was the answer. Right. Nothing only lasts a couple of days in the Bahamas unless it's the time to get your order in a restaurant.
  So, they don't work long hours in the Bahamas, right? By four o'clock we'd have peace and quiet for the night, and if we leave the room early each morning, we could avoid the noise. Yes, but you can't avoid the smell from an open sewer all night long. I was ready to leave.
  We met three guys with a private plane that was heading back to Ft. Lauderdale and they offered to fly us back to the U.S. with them. As much as I was wanting to get out of the Bahamas, the looks they were giving Rosie gave me some reservation, and the looks they were giving me were more unsettling. The looks said, "This guy can be taken by the two of us who aren't flying the plane, and he is small enough to fit out of the cabin door without too much difficulty, for a long drop down to somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean." I don't like those type of looks.
  We wound up staying put, and we met another couple having a similar bad experience, and we joined together and made the most of things. The saying, "Misery loves company" was very appropriate of our situation.
  Years later we visited Paradise Island a few times. I have a cousin who once was married to a pit boss at what has become the Atlantis Hotel. We stayed on the Island and visited my cousin and her husband during a few of the days of our stay. That's when I learned how to lobster fish. They had a small boat and it was great fun. The beach on Paradise Island was full of pretty girls from the cruise ships and we had our first experience with a topless beach. This too was great fun.
  Nassau, however, was dangerous then, and is even more so now. If we go to Nassau, we don't plan on anchoring out anywhere near there, or leaving the boat unless we are at a secure marina. I really don't see us visiting Freeport or Nassau. If we want danger walking around a city, we could go back to St. Louis.
  Last week I used the Hookamax and checked our boat bottom for barnacles. What I found was some very small ones, easily scraped off with my plastic putty knife. I was probably only under the boat for a few minutes. Before I got under the boat I place my diver flag topside, turned the keys off, and posted Rosie as a lookout. A few days earlier, a diver was working under a boat when the captain started the boat and put it in gear, running over the diver. She is in critical condition and still may not live. This is a horrible accident and can easily be avoided. My safety training at the beer factory has perhaps made me overly cautious, but most accidents can be avoided by adhering to some simple procedures. Little slip ups can have devastating results. I may take chances, but for the most part, they are calculated risks, and we employ safe procedures when they are warranted.
  With that in mind, we continue to plan for our diversion over to the Bahamas. Our adventure won't be complete unless we go there, as much as we are spoiled by our visit here in Key West and consider living here full time. But if things don't go as planned, we won't push it. We can always go next year if we think we are too rushed to go this spring.
  In addition to planning for the Bahamas, we are also planning a route back to Marathon that will include some secluded anchorages along the northern side of the lower keys. We want to spend some time in Big Pine Key and get to know the area. It may turn out to be our next "favorite spot".

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Holed Up In Key West

  The end of last week was a whirlwind of activity. We spent Friday with Doug and Jeanne Harmon, first meeting early to go to El Siboney's Cuban Restaurant where we had one of the best meals here in Key West. Very reasonable prices and very good food. It's off the beaten path and worth the hunt to find it. Get the skirt steak.
  On Saturday, Doug and Leslie Woods called. They were in town for a couple of days with friends Joe and Christy Grygiel, all of them from back in Missouri and members of the Duck Club Yacht Club on the Mississippi River where we used to be members. The four of them met at the boat and even though the sky was a little overcast, the wind was very light, so we offered to take them out for a cruise. They came prepared.

  Here we are out in Hawk Channel. Joe was compelled to take a dip in the blue waters, but everyone else didn't want to brave the cold once getting back out. We took a ride over to Safe Harbor, near Oceanside Marina where we stayed for New Year's Eve. Rosie and I didn't like the looks of the place and doubt that we would ever stay there. Derelict vessels are depressing to see, in my opinion.

  The overcast sky gave way to the sun for it to set. We motored over to the north side of Wisteria Island and set a hook to watch and were not disappointed. It was dark by the time we got back to A-B Marina and we were able to get Swing Set back in her berth without incident.

  Here's the three guys at A-B Lobster house where Rosie and I were treated with dinner in thanks for taking us all out. Not necessary, but a very welcomed gesture. The dinner was great. You may have seen this shirt on me before.
  There is no end to bars and restaurants in Key West. I think our limit to stay here is dependent on how much we avoid going out to eat and drink. But we press on.

  On Sunday we got a late start, but Rosie and I headed to Dante's to watch playoff NFL football and to also people watch at the pool. The sky was overcast again which put a damper on things poolside, but we had a good time and planned to return on a better weather day.
  After Dante's, Rosie and I walked over to the Bull and Whistle and after we got a beer, were asked to leave because Holly was not allowed in the joint. That was OK by me, because the guy they had providing music had "Mary Had a LIttle Lamb" and "Mickey Mouse" as part of his playlist, but with all the other stuff allowed in this bar, not allowing a dog in there seems ridiculous.
  I finally learned that to get into a bar with a pet, they need to be deemed a "service dog". Holly promptly got a promotion. When we arrived at Caroline's, just down the street, the manager asked if Holly was a service dog. Yep. "I suffer from separation anxiety", I said. Holly got a pass and joined us at the curbside counter.

 Our friends from St. Louis called and joined us at Carolines. Then at Captain Tony's, then at a couple other places, before we deposited Holly back at the boat and we all went to dinner at Alonzo's, just beneath A-B Lobster House and a few steps from the boat. We had a nightcap on the boat and sent our four friends away into the night. They were heading back north in the morning.
  What did I get accomplished in the last few days that was in any way productive? I stitched up some of the bimini top on our boat with my new stitching awl. It does a wonderful job and I only stabbed myself in the finger one time. These hand held stitching awls have been around for years; my dad had one in the basement when I was a kid. I sort of knew what is was for but never saw him use it. He was a needle and thread guy, mostly. I learned how to use mine from U-tube.
  I washed the hull of the boat and boy it needed it. I had to drop the dinghy and work from it because there are no fingers here at this marina. I was told to wait until some of the boats left, and then I could work from the dock, but I was in the mood to get the job done. Never know when the mood would strike again.
  We took a dinghy ride over to Garrison Bight to walk to the NAPA Auto Parts store where I bought some oil filters. We decided that we didn't like the area over there at all, and we will never stay on a mooring ball in Garrison Bight, nor never leave our dinghy at the dinghy dock over there at night. No thanks. If in the future friends come to Key West and we can't get a slip in Key West Bight to meet them, we probably won't get to see them. We have more to learn about the ins and outs of having our own boat here.
  On Monday night we steamed the lobster that Doug Harmon caught. Jeanne's advice to cut along the top of the tail and pull out the meat before steaming was a very good idea, otherwise I think the meat cooked inside the tail would be dense and tough. This way it was light and "fluffy". Made it seem larger too. Steamed for eight minutes and it was superb. We used the convection oven to cook a chuck roast to steak like perfection to serve alongside our one lobster. Some German style potatoes and a salad rounded out a very good dinner. I cannot wait to go lobstering again. We may have to wait a few days as the wind will be up until the weekend.
  Yesterday we spent working through the bureaucracy of getting a customs decal for the boat. It's required for returning to the U.S. when we leave the country. The harder item was applying for a permit to enter the Bahamas with Holly. What a joy it was to call and talk to a government employee at the Bahamas Agricultural Department! It may be better in the Bahamas, but it's not faster, or easier. The woman told me that the turn around time for getting the permit would be "two days". Nothing only takes two days in the Bahamas. We are hoping to have the permit in six weeks if we're lucky. We also need a certificate from our "other" veterinarian in Marathon, as that's where Holly will get her rabies vaccination. They have plenty of experience in issuing those certificates, so we don't anticipate a problem.
  Once I found the permit application online, I filled it out and we headed to the U.S. Post Office to get a money order and to mail it to the Bahamas. We have two rolls of "forever" stamps. They are only "forever" if you aren't mailing overseas, so it's a good thing we didn't drop the application in a mailbox somewhere. It would have been "forever" lost in some corner of the Key West Post Office.

  On our walk to the Post Office we noticed the Tropic Cinema on Eaton Street, so after a quick dinner, we walked back to the 5:45 showing of "Lincoln", a film we wanted to see. It had been over twelve years since we had been to a movie theatre and we really enjoyed it. This little theatre is a non-profit establishment and has three tiny screens. The place is run mainly by volunteers and is as neat and clean as a theatre as you're going to find. Our little screening room was full of patrons and no one talked or made a sound during the show. (Except for normal, movie watching sounds, of course.) Admission probably rates right up there with the chain theaters, but the snack bar prices were very reasonable, and they offered beer and wine too. We'll go back if they are playing another movie we want to see before we leave the area.
  We have had experience with dog owners who refuse to leash their dogs, thinking that they are so well behaved that it isn't necessary. Now, we don't like it that Holly thinks she is ten feet tall and barks viciously at other dogs, but that's just how it is and it's not illegal. When a large German Shepard or Pit Bull takes offense at Holly's vocal ability and starts towards her, I snatch Holly up in my arms for her protection. The owners always say, "Oh, my dog won't bite". I always say, "You never know", to which they look offended. Too bad. One bite and Holly could be history. We always admonish her for barking at people and dogs, but wish others would keep their pets on a leash, well behaved or not. I usually pick her up when I see other pets approaching, as a precaution but I'm not always that fast. Only half fast, at times.
  This morning we went to Pepe's for breakfast. It's the oldest eating establishment in Key West. We had a good meal, visited West Marine for the fourth time, and then walked to Fausto's for some grocery items. It's a blustery, cloudy, windy day here. We won't go out in the boat and it may be a good day to start a new book or start doing some research into our impending travel to the Bahamas.
  This blog is supposed to be about our boating travels and living "on the hook", but being stuck at a dock is part of the deal some times. I guess we'll just have to plod along and make the most of things while we're here.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Lobster In The Freezer

  Steve from Key West Engines had our turbochargers back on the engines at end of day on Tuesday. I asked him if he wanted to take the boat out to see how it ran and he said that we could save about an hour of labor cost if we just went out the next morning ourselves. He was very confident that Swing Set would run like it was supposed to. I liked his confidence.

  Wednesday morning, the 16th of January, was bright and sunny, a perfect day to test drive the boat. The picture above is of Triple Net, the 80 foot Hatteras that I mentioned in the last post.
  We took Swing Set out of the bight and past the cruise ship docks and opened her up. We were up to temperature and I didn't baby her. I hit the throttles and the engines took heed. The turbos kicked in at 1600 R.P.M. and Swing Set jumped on plane and we were quickly running at 2800 R.P.M., the speed at which our Caterpillars are designed to run. We were doing 30 M.P.H. in no time, and I didn't even use the tabs. The fastest I ever got our boat up to was 34 M.P.H., and that was when we test drove it to buy it back in 2004 and there was hardly any weight on the boat.
  We came back in and we filled up the fuel tanks, taking on 124 gallons of diesel, nearly another 1000 pounds. We went back out and she jumped up on plane just as quickly, but the top end was a bit slower, but still turning 2800 R.P.M. Very little smoke was coming from the exhaust, and what was coming out was white.  I was very happy. The boat has never run as good as it is running now. The only thing left is to wait for the bill.
  Our friends Doug and Jeanne Harmon got into the R.V. park at Stock Island on Wednesday afternoon. Doug drove his scooter over and Jeanne brought the Jet Ski. We talked about going lobster fishing on Thursday and what boats to take. Now that Swing Set was healthy, it only made sense to take the "big boat" along with the dinghy and leave the Jet Ski back at the dock.

  The four of us wound up at the Conch Republic Bar and Restaurant, where this photo was taken. Then it was on to Fogarty's, Carolines, Hog's Breath Saloon, and another place I forgot. It goes like that in Key West.
  The next morning, Doug and Jeanne showed up right on time and we piled their gear aboard Swing Set and set a course up the Northwest Channel out past Tank Island. When we got past the reef we headed east toward one of Doug's "secret lobstering holes".

  The secret lobstering hole was even a secret to Doug. He had left his GPS co-ordinates at home and both he and Jeanne had to find the spot by looking off the bow of Swing Set. Each one of them was pointing in different directions at any given time, directing me as to which way I was to head the boat. Jeanne turned out to be the expert.
  We finally dropped the hook and checked out the bottom. There wasn't many "holes", or "ledges" in the vicinity, so we put the dinghy in, leaving Rosie and Holly to guard the boat, and the rest of us went in search of lobsterville.
  About a mile from the boat we found some promising holes. I quickly found two large lobsters hiding under ledges, but couldn't get down properly to get them because my wetsuit was too buoyant. Doug was having no problem and just as quickly bagged a nice bug, caught another, but lost it putting it in his bag. I didn't have a bag, I wasn't that optimistic.
  I tried using my weight belt, only narrowly drowning four or five times, before I ditched the wetsuit. Doug scared up a smallish lobster which I was able to catch. I hadn't caught a lobster since the mid 1980's, and I was happy, but knew that I had to let it go. There were witnesses. As I dumped my bug from the net, I was fully cognizant that I had eaten shrimp much smaller than my precious lobster. Again, there were witnesses.
  We were soon out of gas, physically, and made our way back to the boat. Rosie and Holly happily greeted the three of us and we had a light snack in the cockpit and I examined the big bleeding blisters on both of my second toes. Ouch. Doug had comfy booties for his swim fins. I was using some antique fins that barely fit my feet, let alone with booties or socks on. Amazon, here I come!
  We discussed heading further east, but it was getting late in the day. We decided on taking a slow ride back to port instead. The sun was out and the temperature was sublime. Rosie and Jeanne sunned themselves on the bow and Doug and I just enjoyed the ride and the view.

  By the time we reached the end of the reef and made our turn to head toward Key West in the Northwest Channel, a storm cell popped up to the west. I took this picture and then we kicked Swing Set in the butt and headed for home, chased by several fishing boats with the same idea. We outran this cell, I slowed down to enter Key West harbor, but another cell brought heavy wind and rain.

  I circled around in Key West harbor, dodging sailboats and tour boats, trying to wait out the weather, but we found out that the wind wasn't going to let up until the next afternoon. I finally entered Key West Bight and headed for our slip in 30+ M.P.H. winds. I made one attempt to back into our slip with the wind at our bow, but bailed on the attempt before I ran into something expensive. My aborted attempt put us thick into the Galleon Marina. I saw lots of folks watching as I swung the boat around in a narrow spot to get out. It was an anxious moment but we emerged victorious.
  I hung out a little longer in the turning basin of Key West Bight before calling A-B Marina to see if the slip across from us was still open, giving us a berth to pull into that would allow me to keep the bow into the wind. One of the dockhands met us out on the pier and took our bowlines as I pulled "headfirst" into a narrow slip. We got some extra help from the owner of a large Viking Convertible in the adjacent slip as he handed over a very big round fender to help keep Swing Set where she belonged.
  Bill the dockhand brought over some portable steps and we used them to exit the bow once we got Swing Set tied up, albeit without plugging in power cords. No problem, we had enough wind for the wind generators to do their thing.
  The four of us then walked over to the Raw Bar and had dinner. We were at least happy to be at the dock, but Doug and Jeanne had a windy scooter ride ahead of them. We loaned them some rain gear and they headed back to Stock Island and the motor home, making it safely.
  This morning the wind was still whipping it up at nearly 20 M.P.H. Cliff, another employee here at A-B, climbed aboard Swing Set to help Rosie with the lines and I motored back over to our original slip to try and back in. I may not have been able to make it without Cliff's help, I almost bailed out, but Cliff said I was doing fine, but he emphatically suggested at that point that I "give it some throttle to port". He left out the "you better hurry", but I heard it in his voice. Once I was between the pilings, I used forward on one engine, and reverse on the other, to "twist" Swing Set into place. Then it was just a matter of gently easing her back against the pier where two more helpers were standing by to grab lines. Tips were happily dispensed. Our deductible is much higher than any measly tip I was willing to give out.
  Rosie and I were preparing to give the boat a wash down when a new boat owner to the dock walked by and complimented us on the condition of our boat. He had owned the same model, only three years newer, but sold it to buy his 65 foot Azimut Yacht. He said that our boat was a very good boat, for a "first boat". I told him that Swing Set was our 17th boat, and might very well be our last. A man's got to know his limitations.
  So, yes, we have lobster in the freezer. It's the lobster that Doug caught, Doug cleaned, but the lobster we're gonna eat. Thank you very much Doug and Jeanne! I figure that lobster cost us about 80,000 dollars, not counting the cost of our boat. I promised Doug and Jeanne that I would reciprocate once we return from the Bahamas with our own lobster. That was fine with them, but I don't think they'll be holding their breaths waiting. Mike Nelson I'm not.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Swing Set Gets An Organ Transplant

  We had the engine room hatches open on the salon for Steve, the mechanic from Key West Engines, when he got to the boat on Thursday morning of the 10th of January. He pulled off the turbo chargers, the aftercoolers, and some other bits and pieces, the names of I know not. Even I could see that the turbo chargers were showing signs of wear on the inside. Corrosion on the insides of the housings was evident, and some flaking was obvious. According to Steve, just the condensation on the inside of the housings will cause the corrosion over time. When the turbos don't work at full efficiency, the aftercoolers get gummed up, and problems multiply. The diagnosis was for new turbo charger housings and a solvent bath for the aftercoolers, after which they were to receive a coat of paint. Years of 280 degree temperatures had flaked the paint off of them, hidden by the heat shields. By mid-morning, Swing Set was missing some vital parts and we were to await a call from Celeste at Key West Engines as to a price for the turbo housings.
  We were on Duvall Street on Friday afternoon when Celeste called and had a price for the housings. She couldn't believe the low price she had found on the Internet, and I had done some searching too, and agreed that if the price held up, it would mean some savings for us. I told her to go ahead and order the parts. She said she would, and then would call me when the parts came in so she could schedule the work.

  While our boat was out of commission, we spent some more time exploring Key West. One morning we went to Harpoon Harry's for breakfast. Liked it. We went to the Schooner Wharf for another visit. We arrived less than five minutes before happy hour started, and the waiter failed to give us a heads up. We thought happy hour started at 4P.M., but it started at 5P.M. instead. Beers are about half the price at happy hour. Don't you think a good waiter would have said to wait five minutes? We do. It cost him, tip wise.
  We also took advantage of our location to order a few items from, some things we tried to find locally but couldn't. One item was some suspenders. What? Yes, suspenders, to not only hold up my heavy weight belt when I use the Hookahmax, but also to attach my air hose so it doesn't keep trying to pull out of my mouth. I also ordered a set of stainless steel putty knives to scrape barnacles, two inline air filters for the Hookamax,  a sewing awl, a de-humidifier to set on the counter in the salon, some earplugs to use when swimming, (for us and Holly, they'll fit us all), a SSB radio receiver to get weather reports in the Bahamas, and a big case of potty pads. I ordered some other stuff too, but you don't have to know everything. With no sales tax and free shipping, ordering online is great for travelers like us.
  On Saturday, we were at a local bar and a couple comes in and sets down next to us. They said we looked familiar, and it turned out we had met them years ago in Chicago, and we had many mutual acquaintances. We had planned to meet up with them later that evening, but Rosie started missing Holly, so we went back to the boat and stayed in for the evening. Just as well.
  We've been meeting folks at the dock here at A-B too. One couple in a 50 foot Sea Ray from Chattanooga wound up knowing Kirk and Jeannie, the folks that took care of us when we passed through on Lake Chickamauga, on the Tennesee River. The world getting is smaller all the time. Mike and Angie on the Sea Ray invited us over to their boat to watch the NFL playoffs on Sunday. For the second game, we all went up to the Rumbarrell, just up on Front Street. We had a great time but paid for it on Monday morning.

  Holly joined us while we lounged around on Monday. I eventually did a few minor chores once we started stirring after noon. It's hard to stay inside the boat when the weather is so gorgeous. Lows and highs both in the 70's. Perfect for sleeping and no air conditioning needed.
  We had gotten a message on Facebook that some friends from the river were going to be in town on the coming weekend, and we got a call from Doug and Jeanne Harmon. Doug and Jeanne were on their way down from Tampa in their motor home and said that we'd see them by Wednesday, and to plan on going lobster fishing on Thursday. We can't wait.

  At sunrise this morning I was wondering when we would get a call from Key West Engine. At about 8 o'clock I was looking for my phone when it started ringing. I had left it outside and it took me a minute to find it, and when I answered, Celeste was on the line and wondered if Steve could come and put our engines back together. Great! I pulled up the salon carpet and got the hatches open.
  While I was waiting, one of the crew members on a neighboring boat asked if we had any rice. Triple Net is an 80 foot Hatteras Cockpit Motor Yacht just a few slips down. We had met one of the three crew members onboard during our stay here, and Spanos Harding, one of them, was making a dish for later and ran out of rice. This was a favor we could easily comply with, I only had to ask if he wanted Minute Rice or regular. Triple Net is going to the Bahamas and will be there at the same time as us. Spanos gave us his phone number and told us to call if we needed anything, and he also dispensed some good advice regarding our firearms when we go through Immigration. I had somewhat planned to check in at Gun Cay, and he said that was a good place to check in. They would probably go on to Nassau, but that distance is a bit ambitious for us. We want to ease into the island chain.

  Sailboat races are being held in Key West this weekend and The Galleon is starting to fill up with not only sailboats, but other large yachts. One very large one is anchored out in the harbor. Connie, another boat neighbor, called me out this morning to take a look. I took a picture of it. No, it's not the obvious one, but it's the large one framed by the mast and the forward doohicky on the boat centered in the photo. I am not a sailor.

  The docks seem to stay full here at A-B. The owner never lowers his price in the offseason, preferring to "maintain the quality of the brand of A-B". It runs in opposition of the other marinas here in Key West Bight, but it must work. The marina is spotlessly clean and the employees are "bend over backward" helpful. This place is on our list to spend the summer months, and maybe some fall ones too, if we have any money left after we pay for our engine work and return from our planned trip to the Bahamas. But we never know, the next place we go may be the place we like the best.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A-B Marina In Key West Bight

  In this small harbor there are four marinas to choose from. There is Conch Harbor, Key West City Marina, The Galleon, and A-B Marina. All four are unique in their own way, but all are expensive. The bottom line for us was that A-B gave a discount for an extended stay, plus they don't displace you for another customer coming in later. Once you are in, you're in.

  All of the boats are docked stern to, or with the back of the boat adjacent to a pier. There are pilings at the bow with only lines running between the boats to keep them apart. We have all of our fenders out. Not so much to protect our boat, but to protect the boats on either side of us are such that I don't want to have to pay to get them fixed if we bump into them. We are in some nice company. I think we are the only folks here that actually wash and wax their own boat. Most have crews of two or three hands to do the dirty work.
  When we got in, two dockhands helped get us tied up and signed in. They also made sure we had everything we needed and then left us alone. We didn't even wash the salt off of the boat, but got hot showers and then went out to get something to eat, which is not hard to do in Key West. We walked over to the Schooner Wharf Bar because it is pet friendly and we had Holly. We intended to get a couple of beers and appetizers but it didn't work out that way. A couple vacationers walked by and became friends with Holly and then asked if they could join us. We wound up staying waaaay past happy hour.
  On our walk back to the boat, we were approached by our first Key West panhandler. I only gave him the time of day because Holly liked him. It could have been because he reeked of pot, a lot of folks have that odor about them down here. He finally got down to where his routine is to ask us for some money for him to "buy a beer". I just told him that I couldn't do it. I didn't say why, but I let our government do my charity work with our tax money. It's more efficient than a "hit or miss" method on the streets.
  We left our new friend and passed three other folks sitting on a curb. We didn't even get a "hello", just a "hey, sell me a cigarette!"
"I don't smoke." See ya later.

  Our first morning here was the 8th of January, eight months to the day since we left St. Louis. Here are some more of our boat neighbors. Front Street is in the background behind the A-B sign. One thing that brought us to a marina, other than staying "On the hook", is that we needed some engine work done. Swing Set has been gradually more reluctant to run like she should. I suspected the reason was our many months of running a turbo charged engine at trawler speeds. It's not recommended, but running a boat like ours on most of the rivers in this country can get you shot at. I hesitate to mention any mechanical issues about our boat because I don't want any armchair mechanic advice about fixing the boat. I'll pay for that service after consulting people whose judgement about the matter I trust.
  Be that as it may, I asked around the harbor and got a phone number of a certified Caterpillar dealer here in Key West. After taking care of some personal business on the computer, and having a nice chat with my brother on the phone, I finally was able to call Key West Engines. I was told that someone could possibly come around by the end of the week, or maybe the beginning of next week. No problem, I'll wait for a call back.
  After lunch, Rosie and I took Holly for a walk to find a grocery store. We wound up at Faustos on Fleming Street and we stocked up on Bud Light. I wasn't sure we'd make it back to the boat with our four 18 packs intact, due to thirsty locals asking for beer, but it must have still been too early for the real panhandlers to be at work. We did some chores on the boat and talked to some more of our neighbors. We had a nice dinner of leftovers and went to bed early, not even taking advantage of our free WiFi and watching a movie.
  I woke this morning to the crow of a rooster at 7 A.M. and after a quick breakfast, started in on a rust reduction program for Swing Set. Some of our stainless steel is not so stainless. I have discovered that by using a hull cleaner to take off the rust, rinsing it, and then putting on a good wax, we can keep our stainless looking like new. Rosie and I gave things a pretty good effort until lunch time. When we went in I saw we had a phone call from Key West Engines and a mechanic could come at 1:30. Will we be available? You betcha.
  Steve the mechanic showed up right on time. I told him our story and he had some good questions for me. He took his tools below, looked at a few things, and then said he wanted us to take the boat out and run it after he hooked up a variety of gauges. After washing and waxing the boat all morning, we didn't want to take the boat out and get it dirty again, but saying no was not an option.
  Some concrete reasons where found as to why Swing Set is not running right, and Steve assured me that it wasn't anything about how we had been running her, but he did suggest that once we get her fixed that we should run her up to speed more often to blow the cobwebs out. He left his tools in the engine room to come back the next day and "could we have the hatch open over the starboard engine for him?" You betcha.
  So we washed the boat again after he left and then relaxed in the cockpit with an icy cold Bud Light while the sun did it's famous Key West thing. Then we had a good dinner of pork spareribs and sweet corn, along with some left over Spaghettios. Yes, Spahgettios again.
  I tried to set up the Roku player to watch a movie on the marina WiFi but couldn't get a connection, so here I am, posting this blog. Just as well; tomorrow is going to be a big day. Steve the mechanic will be here bright and early and then we are going to take a walk to a nearby Ace Hardware. We intend to ease in to further Key West type activities.

Key West To Dry Tortugas

  Our story picks up again on New Years Day. When we left Key West we had no cell service or Internet once we passed Marquesas Key so I couldn't post anything until now, which is the 9th of January. Yesterday marked 8 months of travel. I have some catching up to do.
  We finished washing Swing Set at the dock at Oceanside Marina on January 1st., filled up our tanks with water and left the harbor to see what the conditions were like in the Hawk Channel. It was bumpy and the prospect of getting salt spray all over the boat just after we washed it was not appealing to us.
  I turned the boat around and made for the Key West Yacht Club, where we wanted to get a pump out, and then look for an anchorage in the area just east of Stock Island. The Key West Yacht Club is very nice, but we didn’t see anything that looked like a pump out station, and I couldn’t get anyone on the phone to ask. After all, it was New Years Day.
  We motored around the Stock Island Harbor and if we thought there was plenty of derelict vessels in the Key West Harbor, this harbor was worse. There were some spaces where we could fit in, but someone had either “saved” them, by installing a mooring ball or some other cheap sort of float, or they were in close enough proximity to obvious liveaboards that we didn’t want to intrude upon. We don’t like getting the “stink eye”.
  Salt spray or not, we left the relative calm of the harbor and headed west, back to Key West, to look for an anchorage to spend the night. First we visited Conch Harbor Marina in Key West Bight and got a pump out and filled our fuel tanks. Then, we went over to the northwest side of nearby Wisteria Island and found a place to set a hook.

  We watched the sunset in relatively calm water and then Rosie made us a scrumptious dinner of roasted chicken, asparagus, and cranberry sauce. By the time we sat down to eat, Swing Set was being buffeted around to a large degree and we thought we had made a big mistake in picking the anchorage. But by midnight, the water calmed down again and it was actually very peaceful. The photo above is at daybreak, just before we set out west for the Marquesas and Dry Tortugas, our route being about 70 miles.

  We had overcast skies the whole way to Marquesas Key, but the seas were tolerable on our southern route. We decided to press on to Fort Jefferson, the route planner telling us we’d be there before 4 P.M. I sat on the bow at one point and some dolphins swam just beneath the bow in the azure blue water. Later on I stopped the boat and took a dip in the 90 foot depth, just to get wet and cool off. Rosie had no desire to dive in. I didn't stray too far from the boat in case she got any "ideas".


  The sun peeked out as we approached Garden Key and Fort Jefferson. We pulled in with three other boats and found room to set a hook without raising the ire of our neighbors. We had a modest dinner of salad and Spaghettios. Yes, Spaghettios. Then it was early to bed. We had minimum protection from some southerly waves, but should get better protection when the wind shifts from the east later in the week. We’re right in front of the ferry dock to the Fort, so we think it’s a good spot.

  After breakfast, Rosie and I set another hook and then I dove down on both of our anchors to make sure they were stuck. We have some shallow water just in front of us and I don’t want us to go aground if the wind shifts while we are here.
While Rosie was mopping the boat down, I took the dinghy over and talked to one of the park rangers about what was required of us to stay here in the harbor. The fee is $5 per person, per week, to stay for a maximum of 14 days. I went back to the boat to get some money and then went back again to the ranger station to pay and sign in. I also started reading all of the rules. There are lots of rules and I don't know how anyone can keep track of all of them. My feeling is that there are too many restrictions and we won’t stay very long. I have a firm belief that I will undoubtedly break a few of the rules, but hopefully we won’t get thrown in irons. One thing I realized though, was if there was no park, or rangers, there at the fort, it would be covered with graffiti in no time.
  I got back to the boat and it was time for lunch. Afterwards, we left Holly on board, as no dogs are allowed inside the fort, and then Rosie and I went to take a tour of the place.
  First we walked around the entire perimeter on the top of the wall that surrounds the moat. Then we went inside.

  The parade grounds in the interior of the fort are in the background in this photo. You can see the powder magazine just behind Rosie. There are a couple of other buildings, but mostly just the foundations are standing. (Or not standing, as it were.)

  This view is from the top of the fort looking east. Swing Set is just about in the center of this picture. You can see two seaplanes and the Tortugas Ferry in the picture along with two other boats anchored near our boat.

  This is a view looking north from the lighthouse. There are probably better pictures on the web somewhere. Hey, I'm not writing a travelogue here.
  There was supposed to be good snorkeling just west of Garden Key, off of Loggerhead Key, but we never made the two mile dinghy ride over there. There isn't much point in snorkeling in windy conditions, and that's exactly what we had. 

  We took Holly over to the fort twice during our stay, for walks around the moat. She wasn't allowed inside the fort, but she could join us if we stayed outside. On her first visit, she laid a deposit right in view of a park ranger. I knew he was watching to see what I would do with "it", but we came prepared; I had a baggie in my pocket and used it. I then walked over and asked the ranger where I could deposit Holly's deposit, and see said I could discretely place it in one of the trash cans on the dock for the ferry to take back to Key West. I said, "You mean winding up and firing it in the can from several feet away like Cal Ripkin wouldn't be a good idea?" Luckily he had a sense of humor.
  One evening a sailboat pulled in late and we recognized it from our stay at Boot Key Harbor in Marathon. The next day Glenn and John brought their dinghy over to have a talk. We wound up talking to, or visiting, everyone who spent time in the harbor. We even traded our one DVD with some folks in a catamaran that had sailed up from Mexico, near Cancun. It was a much nicer experience with neighboring boats in this harbor than we had in Key West. We are also only 98 miles from Havana. I'd really like to go there, but we'll wait until it's legal and we can get insurance  
  Since the water was clear enough to use our water maker, I decided to start it up for the first time to make sure it worked. I couldn't get any suction on the inlet side and discovered a loose fitting around a filter. Once I remedied that issue, the self priming pump started  pulling water from the sea strainer that feeds the generator. It took forever to fill the the large pre-filter supplied with the water maker, but eventually I had supposedly clean water dribbling out of the drain hose. While I let that run, I checked our existing boat water supply with the tester that also came with the unit. Our house water was reading 256 PPM of something, not sure what, I would guess salinity, but the instructions don't say. I filled a cup with the water coming from the water maker's drain and then tested it and got a reading of 150 PPM. It also tasted good, quite good, actually. I then routed the water maker to the tank on the boat. This is something you are not supposed to do, but I don't always follow directions. We keep six gallons of drinking water always on hand, and will test our tank water after making water, and we'll only make water in clear, ocean water. Never harbor water, or silty water of any kind. If our water ever tastes bad, we'll know it. We both have sensitive taste buds in that regard and we'll dump our tank water if we have to. I don't think we'll have to, plus we aren't going to be traveling across oceans for days or weeks at a time.
  There was supposed to be weather reports posted in the ranger station at the dock every day, but the same one remained for the whole five days we were there. I was getting spotty reports from NOAA on our VHF, and a weather window was being reported for 7th. I thought we would wait a day for the seas to calm down before we left, but another front was coming in behind a short calm period, so when we woke up on Monday morning, I told Rosie that it would be a good idea to head back and she agreed.
  Two other sailboats in the harbor with us had the same idea and we all three pulled out of the harbor. Before we left, I fired up the water maker, let it run to drain for a few minutes, then turned the valve to start filling the boat tank while we cruised back to civilization. The pump is in our lazarette and is fairly quiet, especially under way. The first boat had an hour head start, but we caught up with both boats soon enough. They were not under sail as there was light wind coming from the east, the way we were all heading.

  Our plan was to stay at Marquesas Key for a night or two, depending on if we could get a sheltered anchorage. Marquesas is an atoll, but entering the center takes you over some shallow areas and I didn't want to risk going aground twenty miles from any assistance in Key West. I don't want to go aground in front of a Towboat U.S. vessel even.
  Rosie and I considered our options: We has some work to get done on the boat, and we didn't want to come all this way without spending some time in downtown Key West, so we decided to skip Marquesas Key and head to Key West. As soon as we got within cell phone range, Rosie started calling marinas in Key West Bight to see if we could get a slip. The Galleon was our first choice, but a sailboat show was coming in on January 17th and they were booked up then. We wanted to stay longer than that, so we wound up at the A and B Marina right next door to The Galleon. More on that later.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A Perfect New Years Eve, Almost

  During another restless night on the hook just west of Fleming Key, Rosie and I slept in the salon, I on the couch and Rosie on the dinette. Holly bunked with Rosie, but during the night, she snuck away and climbed up with me. I was oblivious to her climbing up with me on the couch, so any "anchor watch" I was engaged in was of no value.
  It didn't matter, our auxiliary anchor, (which is a Danforth) kept us in place, mainly because the wind blew at a constant rate from the north and east. The fact that I dove down on the anchor and shoved it in past the grass and into the sand was the only reason that this anchor held. Yes, James, these anchors do have their use, as long as your boat doesn't change direction over them.
  On New Years Eve morning I called The Galleon and was told initially that they didn't have anything in the way of a slip. I had decided to surprise Rosie and get us a slip, I was prepared to spend a couple hundred dollars if I had to; we came a long way not to. I plied my case with a very nice girl on the phone, and when she learned that we only wanted the slip for one night, she found out that a boat was leaving at 11 A.M., and the slip was in fact available for one night, as it was reserved again starting New Years Day. We were in! Rosie was overjoyed, she cried again, for happiness this time, hugging and kissing me too. I did a good thing.
  At 10 A.M., as the wind just started to let up, I donned my wetsuit and fins and mask, and swam out to pull up the stern Danforth, hoping that when I got it up, the boat would drift back over our bow anchor, and it would hold us until we could get it up too, and then we could get out of Dodge. The Danforth was only in a few feet of water, but still too deep to stand on the bottom and pull it up. I had taken a fender out with me in order to float the anchor back to the boat, but I couldn't hold onto it and dive down to the anchor at the same time. It was a bad idea in the first place. I swam the fender back to the boat and went back out to the anchor, but to no avail. I had to take another tactic to get the anchor up. Remember what happened to our other anchor back in Coffeyville? I didn't want to lose another anchor or break anything on the boat.
  The Danforth was tied at a forward cleat. I had enough line to bring some back to a stern cleat, something I will do from now on, leave enough line to reach the opposite end of the boat, no matter what. I made the other end fast to the stern cleat and took the line off the forward cleat. As the boat spun around, I took up the slack of the forward anchor, but not too much. Once we got set again on the Danforth, now from the stern, Rosie pulled extra line in on the stern anchor as I backed down on it with the engines running, letting out bow anchor line as we went. When we got directly over the stern anchor, Rosie made fast the line and I went down to pull up the anchor. I expected a lot of resistance, but the Danforth easily pulled straight up. I placed it on the swim platform to deal with it after we swung back around and came to rest again on our bow anchor.
  This process was tricky due to the close proximity we were to our neighbors, the prairie dogs. Only when we were safely far enough away, did Rosie reveal to me that the male prairie dog was beside himself when he saw me swimming out to the Danforth anchor with the fender. "He's putting another buoy out!" Is what Rosie could hear him exclaim to the female prairie dog. When Rosie told me this, I wanted to turn around and give him a piece of my mind, but I thought better of it. Why let these people ruin our day?
  It got ruined on its own.
  We had told the dockmaster at the Galleon that we would arrive by 11 A.M. At 10:45 we were hailed on the VHF radio from the nice girl at the Galleon. At first I thought she was calling to make sure we were still coming. Not so fast Keemosabee. "I have bad news, Captain", is what the dockmaster said. I knew then that we weren't getting our slip after all.
"We can't find the captain of the boat that is in the slip we were going to give you. But we did call around and found you another slip in the area." Maybe our day was saved after all!
"We found a slip at Oceanside Marina". My heart sank. Anyone with a brain would deduce that "Oceanside Marina" would be, well, on the oceanside. My local geography knowledge told me that this marina would be on Stock Island and I was right. We didn't want to go back to our anchorage. We knew we could take a cab back downtown to celebrate New Years Eve, so we told her that we would take the slip, albeit very reluctantly.
  We rounded the horn of Key West on the southern side and the waves fed by a very strong easterly wind played havoc with us. Spray was blowing over the bimini and it was rough going. About half way to the day beacon where we were to turn into the channel north to the harbor, Holly was looking pretty peevish, if a dog can look peevish. As soon as I remarked on it, Holly barfed all over Rosie. We apparently have a crew member that is seasick prone. As Rosie cleaned up the mess the best she could while we were bounced around by the waves, I made the turn into the channel into Oceanside. Going got better and as we entered smoother water, two dock attendants were standing by waiting for us.
  The folks at Oceanside Marina were very nice to us. They only had one space left, adjacent to the fuel dock. The price was $110 for the night, but they were going to be closed on New Years Day, so we didn't have to leave until later in the day. Yes, a cab could be gotten to downtown Key West, but the woman said getting one back when we wanted to may prove to be difficult. We found that out. I asked about restaurants in the area and was told about "Hogfish", a bar/restaurant a short cab ride away, or a shorter dinghy ride right around the point to our west. Rosie and I had some decisions to make. Go downtown, or stay in the area?
  The dinghy ride over to Hogfish would be easier, but we would need to go out, way out, around some shallow water, into the rough Hawk Channel somewhat to get over to the harbor where Hogfish Saloon was located. Rosie didn't want to get wet coming or going, and going in the dinghy and staying past dark was not too appealing either.
  As we were rinsing the salt off of the boat, a fella next to us told us that they liked Hogfish when they went over there, and a cab ride would be about $25 each way to downtown, and he agreed that  getting a ride back may not be possible, Stock Island was too far for cab drivers to want to go. We decided to get a cab ride over to Hogfish and worry later about the ride back.

  Here we are at Hogfish, just after we got there. I have the Budweiser that I wanted to have after we arrived in Key West, but we were officially at Stock Island. Just a formality. We moved over to a "bench seat" at a nearby counter, lined with other folks, all locals, and we had a very good time. Some locals took us under their wing and included us in their fun, even placing some party beads around our necks and buying us some beers. We had some good appetizers and really enjoyed ourselves, but since we got there early, we were ready to leave about eight o'clock. We said good bye and called the cab company. We had already been warned by at least three people not to walk back to Oceanside Marina, as it wouldn't be safe. For us, or them? I wondered.
  We waited a very long time for a cab. When one pulled up from the company we called, a group said it was their cab and piled in before us. I could tell that the driver knew them and was a friend, and we weren't getting a ride. Period.
  It got later and I began to ask strangers for a ride back to Oceanside. I hate to ask anybody for anything, so this was a big deal for me to resort to this. We were contemplating walking anyway when another cab from the company we called pulled up. No, it wasn't our cab, the driver said, he was headed downtown, the opposite direction we were going. "We're getting in anyway", I said, and opened the sliding door to jump in. Another couple was sitting in the cab already! Rosie pushed past me and climbed in the back. She was getting a ride come hell or high water. The couple in the cab told the driver to take us to Oceanside first, they were in no hurry. I think they just wanted to hear what was going to come out of Rosie's mouth next. We got to Oceanside safely, without being evicted, and paid $10 for a $6 fare. Good enough, I thought, in light of the long wait.
  This morning we washed the boat, a thorough job. I checked the weather and there is a window for us to travel to the Marquessas and then on to the Dry Tortugas, but it may be later today or in the morning before we leave. If the seas settle down this afternoon, we can get to the Marquessas, 21 miles away, by this afternoon, and then go the last 50 miles in the morning to the Dry Tortugas. We're waiting now to see what the winds will do this afternoon. We don't want to intentionally get salt spray all over the boat again, or have Holly barf all over Rosie either, so we want calmer seas before we go.
  There will be no communication with us until we get back from this trip. The rangers at Fort Jefferson issue weather reports every morning, and those reports will dictate as to when we can get another window to return, so it's hard to say when that will be. I hope it's worth the trip. Everyone who goes says it is. Happy New Year everyone!