Tuesday, March 24, 2015

That's Life

  While everyone this winter has been digging out, we've been just diggin' it. We spent some time on Sombrero Beach recently, and once the winds had calmed down, we gave the dinghy a workout.
  Not everything is idyllic at Sombrero Beach, however. On our last time there, we had another run in with a woman who insists on letting her large Labra-Doodle (Labrador Retriever/Standard Poodle mix) run loose on the beach. When Holly sees any dog running around on the beach, she creates a fuss, apparently wanting to jump out of the dinghy and join in on the fun, but even though she doesn't jump out, the other dog may run over and see what's going on. That's when the trouble starts.
  Several times, the other dog will try to jump in the dinghy to get at Holly, last year on Boca Chica, one tried to bite. That ain't gonna happen.
  I reminded the woman that her dog was supposed to be on a leash, and she preceded to tell me that her dog was on "an invisible leash". I wanted to tell her to get into her invisible spaceship and go somewhere else, but instead I told her to just keep her dog away from our dog. I used a word that starts with an "F", and it wasn't "friendly".
  The woman called me a "cranky old man". She may be delusional in one respect, but I must say she's right on the money in others. I'm cranky as hell when it comes to the well being of our pet.

   Why can't Holly just stare silently at the other critters on the beach like I do?
So avoiding the beach for a few weekends gave us an opportunity to go explore in the dinghy. Last week we took the dinghy to Hawk's Cay Resort, about twenty miles northeast of Marathon on Duck Key. For the record, I pronounce Cay and Key the same, kee. Look it up.
  We have friends that pop in there every time they leave Key West, it seems, and it's easy to see why. It's very fancy and ritzy, but I wouldn't want to take our "big boat" there. The marina is too far away from the social areas to suit me, and there is a mighty tidal current that whips through the marina basin.
  On a previous trip, we saw a place near Vaca Cut called the Island Fish Company, so on this day we stopped in on the way home as we had crossed over to the bay side. Happy Hour started at 3 P.M., and wouldn't you know it, we walked in at 2:55! Our brand was $1.25 per bottle, so we had a couple of those along with some shrimp cocktail and a Dolphin wrap. The food was good, and the service was better. We'll go back.
  Speaking of Bud Light...I was, wasn't I? A couple of weeks ago some blog readers popped into the marina here bearing gifts in the form of a six pack of my favorite beverage, and if you think it was a half dozen bottles of YooHoo, you haven't been paying attention.
  But life is not all fun and games. We've had some boat maintenance issues too. One thing was that our shaft seal on the starboard side had been leaking more that normal for a while now, and I finally got up the nerve to address it. We have the Sure Seal System installed on both shafts, and a spare seal is installed on both shafts in case we need them, but I decided to try to fix my minor leak without using a new seal, while the boat is in the water.
  I got a tip from a mobile boat mechanic we had become friendly with while we were in Key West last year, and he said I should try to clean up the shaft with some emery paper first, so I loosened up the collar on the seal, loosened up the clamps on the flexible hose, and pushed the collar back toward the hose to reveal the surface that the seal rides on. A little water was leaking in, but nothing the bilge pump couldn't handle, and I found the surface to be a bit rough. But most of that may have been salt residue. At any rate, I used some wet/dry 220 grit paper to clean up the shaft surface, then I re-tightened everything back, but only moved the collar forward a fraction of an inch so that the seal will ride in a new spot.
  Water pressure running from a hose supplied on the raw water system for each engine keeps the seals pressurized and keeps the ocean water out. There is a cross-over hose from one system to the other in case you get some blockage from one of the engine hoses.
  Initially, the leak dribbled to nothing, and over the weekend we gave the boat a workout out at sea, and the subsequent check found our seals not leaking a drop, which is how they are supposed to work, as opposed to a packing nut system.
  On our last dinghy run I found out that our fuel primer pump on the Mercury had sprung a leak. It's not the big bulb you might find on a fuel line running from the external gas tank, but a small button type pump on the front of the engine that can be pressed a couple of times to prime the carburetor. Any rubber takes a beating in this environment, so I wasn't very surprised at having to replace the $23 part, but I had to order it from the local Mercury dealer.
It only took a week to get and I popped it in this morning in about five minutes. I coated the rubber with some Yamalube sealant so we should be good for a few years.

  We gave Swing Set a work out by taking it over to Newfound Harbor last weekend, anchoring just off of Picnic Island, which is pictured above. We got there Thursday night and didn't return to Marathon until Monday morning. We co-mingled with some locals, met some folks we'd like to see some other time, and also met some folks we never want to see again. I'm good for about a 20/80 for/against ratio.

  By Sunday our beer supply was running low, but what we had left was icy cold in our Engel cooler. These coolers, like a Yehti cooler, are supposed to keep drinks cold for days at a time. This is in theory. An outfit like Consumer Reports will do a test on coolers, filling them with ice, and then tell you how many days the ice will last. This type of test is useless. Give me a test more based on reality, like how long will the ice last when you are opening the lid every ten minutes getting a beer out. We were on the hook for four days and used four bags of ice. Do the math.

  We had some fantastic sunsets while on the hook, like the one above, but really no better than the ones we get here at the dock.
  We took a two hour slow cruise back to the marina yesterday and stopped into the fuel dock to fill up the boat for the first time in months. I hope the six dollar a gallon fuel gets along OK with the $3.50 a gallon fuel. I only need a 20/80 ratio with diesel.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Some Overdue Time On the Hook

  With no visitors scheduled to arrive, and some decent weather forecasted, we began to consider taking Swing Set out to stay on the hook for a few days. Some boat neighbors had been talking about the Content Keys on the Gulf Side for a few weeks now, so when they told us a few boats were planning to go there last weekend, we decided to go there too.
  We got wind of the trip last Wednesday, which was planned for the following day, so we made a trip to the grocery store, mainly to get beer, cranked the dinghy up and strapped it in, and pretty much decided we were ready to go the next morning. We like to keep the boat ready to go at any given time, and that includes storing away anything left out on counters, etc.
  I'm not much for traveling in groups, so I confirmed just where "everyone" was planning on anchoring, and by mid-morning last Thursday, we saw some movement on a couple of neighboring boats who were planning on going, so we began to untie the boat. It was my plan to let the others get ahead and then tag along well behind, but when two of the vessels steered toward the fuel dock, we decided to just go ahead and start.
  Out of seven boats that had planned on making the trip, when it was all said and done, four actually got on their way, and we were ahead of everyone but didn't know it.
  We steered toward the southern end of Big Spanish Channel, and by time we got to the northwestern end of it, we learned by listening to the VHF that there were three boats behind us. I told them I'd pick a spot and we made our way west to Content Key and easily set a hook just off the shore on the northern side as no protected anchorages are around Content Key unless you have the draft of a pool float.
  The others seemed to be OK with my choice to anchor and soon we had three dinghies out exploring around the back side of Content Key.
  By sunset we were all on one boat having sunset cocktails but we soon retired to Swing Set for dinner and a crummy movie.

  We were up before daybreak on Friday morning having spent a very peaceful night with very little wind. We had a nice breakfast and once everyone reconnoitered by mid-morning we found out that the folks we knew best were heading back. The two boats in the picture above weren't sure what they wanted to do, but we said we were heading west toward Tarpon Belly Key, to an anchorage we had stayed in two years ago.

  They took a shot of Swing Set as we headed out.
  About five miles down the coast is the Cudjoe Channel, and just a couple of miles southward along that channel is Tarpon Belly Key. We picked the same spot we were in two years ago and promptly got a solid hook just offshore.
  A few local boaters frequent Tarpon Belly Key and we spent a pleasant afternoon laying around on Swing Set, enjoying some music and privacy, until we again had a nice dinner and a crummy movie. We didn't get a good nights sleep though.
  The wind had clocked around and came in from the north. We bounced around all night and woke up to cloudy skies.

  Our loosely knit plan to head south to Newfound Harbor was quickly complicated by not only the cloudy skies, this sight of a beached runabout was giving me pause, considering our 16 mile route to Newfound Harbor was one which carried with it a depth of 3.9 feet at low tide. We need 3.5 just to float our boat.
  We had taken this route before, but at high tide, but it was early morning and high tide would be for hours. Nervous about the visibility in a cloudy sky, we decided to just head back the way we came. We wish we hadn't.
  As we neared the northern end of Cudjoe Channel, I saw what I thought was a bunch of boats along the shallows but it turned out to be breakers crashing from the two to four foot waves coming in from the north.
  We had about nine miles to travel before we could head into Big Spanish Channel, and a following sea, so I decided to attempt it.
  The waves were on our bow and when one came over the deck and "rang our bell", I knew we were in for a rough ride.
  Battling rough seas is one thing, but dodging crab and lobster pot markers while doing so is unnerving, to say the least, and nine miles in rough water turns into a larger number. Both hands were on the wheel for about ninety minutes, and Rosie had a grip on her seat and Holly. Not in that particular order.
  For the last few miles heading into Big Spanish Channel, I spooled Swing Set up to a cruising speed of about 25 m.p.h. to cut down on our time spent in quarter beam seas. The boat bust through the waves with no issues, and with some relief we made our turn and got those waves behind us.
  Once we got into the channel and the waves diminished to where I could take a hand off the wheel, and Rosie could relax a bit, she asked me if I wanted a water.
  "A water? Hell, you better bring me a beer after that!", I said.
  The rest of the trip home was uneventful and soon we were back in our slip at Marathon Marina. We put a few hours on the boat with no mishaps and nothing broke. It was a good feeling to be back in port with a solid boat under us, looking forward to a good nights sleep.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Time Flies...

  I may have taken my longest hiatus yet between blog posts, and I apologize. I know we've been busy, but I'm not sure with what, but one thing for certain is that the sunsets never cease to captivate us every evening.
  The sun is taking its seasonal trek across the sky and has been setting more and more to the "right" or north, from its position shown on the photo above. As the days progress, the sunset will be behind the trees on Knights Key, which is the first key as you come north from the Seven Mile bridge. I wonder if our rent goes down when the sunsets are not as spectacular? As it is, we pay a 5% surcharge for our slip on the western docks. Believe me, it's worth it.

  So what do we do all day? The photo above will give you an indication. If we can roust Holly up from a good nights sleep, she usually assumes her second favorite spot on the boat (my lap) while we are having our breakfast and morning coffee.
  During this time we watch the view from the salon as the fishing and pleasure boats are heading out for the day. We watch the morning news since we have T.V. now, and I catch up on activity on Facebook and check our emails. We limit ourselves to two big cups of coffee, but this ritual can last up to two hours. Time well spent.
  Next is time spent on the boat in the form of mopping down the morning dew, or continuing our ongoing chore of waxing. Always waxing. Swing Set is looking good, and some of our boat neighbors have enlisted in the waxing brigade since they've seen what can be done with a nineteen year old boat. It's nice to have a positive influence on other boat owners, on occasion.

  The boat isn't our only possession that requires maintenance. We've begun to use our Yuba bicycle for weekly, or bi-weekly grocery shopping trips. One morning I noticed that the front tire or wheel seemed to be out of round. I searched for a bike repair shop near us and found the Overseas Outfitters Sport and Bicycle Store just down the street and made plans to take our Boda Boda bike in for a "tune up".
  We haven't had the bike but for about a year, and last summer we hardly rode it at all once we bought our Zuma scooter, but wheels need to be trued up, and gears need to be adjusted, and more importantly, I wanted to establish a working relationship with a local bike shop in case we really needed some other service work done on our bike.
  We dropped the bike off in the morning and picked it up a few short hours later. The wheels had been trued and spokes were tightened, but I noticed that the front wheel was still out of round, or at least it looked like the wheel was out of round, but it was shown to us that the front tire had a bulge in it. We decided to just keep an eye on it.
  A few days later we went to Publix on the bike and broke a spoke on the way home. We popped into the bike shop and they replaced a spoke while we waited. Sometimes once you start fiddlin' with something that ain't know the rest.
  Again a few days later we started out on the bike and I found that the bulge in the front tire had turned into a tread failure. A big flap of tread was hanging off and tire cord was showing.
Up to the bike shop we went.
  The bike came with white rubber tires that soon turned yellow in the Florida sun, so we went with the whitewall tires you see in the picture above. Spiffy, but I had expressed some concern over the tread thickness of these tires but bought them anyway. We then took the bike straight home, not a quarter of a mile away.
  Just a couple of days later we uncovered the Yuba and the back tire was flat. Yep. Up to the bike shop we went. Again.
  A small "wire" was found inside the tire and it had punctured the new tube. "Musta picked it up on yer way home last time", I was told. How can I argue with that?
  I renewed my concern over the tread thickness and asked them if they sold tire liners, a rubber insert that goes between the tire and the tube. "Sure we have those, would you like to have a pair installed?", I was asked.
  A good time to suggest installing those tire liners would have been when we bought the new tires and tubes, but better late than never they say, so we had the liners installed.
  I haven't been giving you a running count of the charges up to now, but they weren't low, in spite of some small charges that were not applied "Since you were just here", but they were not inconsequential I can tell you.
  But here's the thing...when we load up the Yuba for a grocery run, I am certain that we are exceeding the weight limits of the bike. You put me, Rosie, three cases of Budlight, and a weeks worth on groceries on the aluminum framed Boda Boda, it's like trying to steer a motorcycle with rubber handlebars.
  So I'll take some blame for equipment failure. On our radar screen for the Boda Boda is new wheels with thicker spokes. The cost of this bike is approaching that of my first new car.

  Holly gets maintained too. Here she is sporting a new haircut that I gave her. I shaved off her "mustache" because her eyes water and the long hair on her face gets "crusty" even with daily face washings. Her face is too tiny to safely cut between her eyes and where the long hair on her nose would start, so I just cut it all off. I think she likes it, and she got a compliment on her haircut from the vet on her annual wellness visit the other day. Yes, wellness visit.

  I know I've mentioned the four foot long dockbox that we have on the flybridge of Swing Set, but here's another picture of it. The box sits right abaft of our flybridge lounger, with our motorcycle ramps hanging on brackets between the box and the seat.
  I'd rather the ramps fit inside the box, but not only are they too long by about two inches, the box is loaded with cleaning and waxing supplies, buckets, towels, my orbital polisher, and various solvents. I have two smaller plastic tubs sitting above one large plastic tub so that I can more easily get to the stuff in the bottom tub by lifting out the two small ones.
  Recently I replaced the two standard steel gas struts with stainless steel ones from Taylor. The standard steel struts just fall apart with rust in this salt environment. I also replaced the ones on our flybridge hatch and the small trunk hatch on our stern. They look great and they'll last.

  But it's not all work, oh no. In the photo we are in the dinghy heading home from Sombrero Beach where we go several times per week. We had some visiting friends with us who took this photo, but we're starting to meet some other cruisers in the area who also frequent the beach. It's a good place to meet folks.
  Speaking of visitors, we've had quite a few in the last several weeks. In no particular order, we've met a friend who keeps his RV at Stock Island and who drove up to Marathon to meet us at happy hour. Some other friends were passing through on their way to Key West and met us for lunch, and then again for breakfast as they passed through on their way back up to Miami.
  We are getting blog readers popping by to say hello when they are in the area, too. One night as we were watching the waning moments of a sunset, I had just pulled some steaks off the grill and a blog reader showed up at the boat just to say "Hi". I hated rushing him off, but no amount of propriety is going to come between me and a freshly cooked steak.
  Another evening a guy showed up to also say hello, again with no notice. We had a little more time, but he had a whole tribe of family out waiting in his car and he just wanted to let us know he's been following the blog "since day one", and he just wanted to voice his appreciation. I apologized for not having posted anything in a while and he asked me to write something, anything, even if I had to make it up. I said, "How do you know I don't do that already?"
  We were coming out of Lazy Days, the restaurant here, one early evening and were met by six folks in the parking lot who had been to the boat and were looking for us. One of the fellas had also been following the blog from the beginning too. In fact, he was the one who bought our old Achilles dinghy. Luckily he was still happy with the dinghy.
  We met some nice folks from England on the beach about a week ago and we took them out for a boat ride on Swing Set. As we were cruising through Two Sisters Creek we were hailed on the VHF radio. I switched to another channel and was met by yet another blog reader who noticed us passing by and just wanted to say hello. I think our new friends were impressed.

  Some friends were passing through last Sunday on their way "back north" and wanted to meet for lunch, so we suggested Sunset Grille. We arrived by dinghy and got a good seat. The place is hoppin' every Sunday for "Sunday Funday", so not knowing when exactly they were going to arrive, we wanted a venue that we liked.
  We were well into our first bucket of Budlights when a young man walked up and asked if we were Mike and Rosie. He didn't look like he wanted to punch me in the nose, so I said that we were. He told us that his parents read our blog, and that he had also begun to read it, hoping to do what we were doing some day. I said, "Oh, you want to be hiding out from the cops too?"
  No, not really. But we get that most of our blog readers are folks who want to someday live on a boat somewhere, and they wonder how it works on a day to day basis.