February 21, 2015

Keys To The Highway

"Always do what you are afraid to do."       

 Ralph Waldo Emerson

For quite some time, I've had this notion for a personal study on contrasting cultures…. I have now put the wheels into motion for this idea to come to fruition.

Here's the way it works…. First I spend a day and evening in the nucleus of an upscale, ultra busy, high-paced urban beach society in Miami's South Beach district… 

 While Glory Days is anchored just a mile away on the bay side….

It's a busy place here… The in-your-face sounds of traffic, buses, sirens, and idle tourist chatter behind me conjure up cheetah like chills in my spine … 

…. a cute gal in her 20's squirts by on a red scooter, wiggling through the curly whirly traffic fearlessly … she is somebody's daughter… and they'd be so spooked if they knew what she was doing right now… Angels protect her, evidently.... Go girl go...

A young black man has amazing command of his guitar here at The Catalina… warm jazzy tunes with a remarkable alternate thumping of thumb and forefinger to get a most pleasing bass tone… all to the drone of city sounds spewing out like a fizzy… city buses overpower the quiet, and the wind cries Mary here … 

I take a moment to hope my anchor is not dragging.

Then I find myself sipping red wine at a sidewalk cafe and eating calamari that tastes like exquisitely wonderful deep fried rubber bands… I just sit here writing my life away again… these are indeed the good ole days and I'd be the first to take credit of their gratuitous nature… All is truly well. 

So back to the Contrast…. 

 tomorrow ... I will leave the city, and for the rest of the week, I will make a point to go to the OTHER extreme from this urban energy to that of the isolated, quiet, remote, distant anchorages far from streets, cars, traffic, or people… I tend to enjoy extremes, among other things that I will not divulge.

So far, the weather conditions predicted for tomorrow's sail are near perfect… so lets strap on the harness and go.  

… and here's how it all went down ….(little did I know what was in store…)

Sunday, Feb. 7:

For some reason, I couldn't stay away from Miami….I had to go back one more time for another dose of it's high energy and it's bustling city electricity….  Here's a short video of what it's like entering Miami again, from the south this time… from my anchorage at Coconut Grove… Not real sure why I returned… I guess I just wanted to see it all again one more time… 

here's a short vid clip (may not be viewable on portable devices)

Big cruise ship like this paid me no mind as I trickled by.

For some reason, I chose to tow Dazy on this day instead of hoisting her in her davits like usually do.
Here's another short video clip: (may not be viewable on portable devices)

It turned out to be a rainy night this Sunday evening and it just didn't have the same magic I have witnessed before in the South Beach district…. So I made some final journal entries at a street side cafe on this sunday evening Feb. 7, before returning to my anchorage in front of Bell Island… 

Tomorrow would be a huge day of sailing with 50 miles in my sites… rest my son.
…. for tomorrow is a new day.

On Monday morning, Feb. 8, I pulled up the anchor from Miami and set sail for what would turn out to be a rather harrowing day of sailing with some unexpected twists at the end of the day. Winds were clocked at 20-25 knots all day long.

 This is the view as I entered Biscayne Bay, above.   As soon as I cleared the Rickenbacker causeway bridge I pointed her directly into the wind and raised a reefed main sail and a reefed genoa… Little did I know I would be sailing parallel to this yacht, Conch Flyer, for the next 49 miles.  He was raising his sails at the same time as me and soon we would be in for the sleigh ride of a lifetime, side by side for the whole day. I could never pass him all day long… but he never left me either.

This is corny I know, but for some reason I felt the need to take a photo of my chart plotter as her odometer turned over to 2000 nautical miles in upper right…. Each mile has a special place in my heart… 

For most of the whole day, Conch Flyer had her port rail in the water as seen here… 

You know it's blowing hard and spray is coming on board when Capt. Joe brings out the plastic wind curtains…. these babies are the $5 clamp-on shower curtains I bought at Lowes…. For what they do, they are the best bargain I've found in a long time…. they keep the wind and the salt spray out of your face!

Solo, I  traveled side by side Conch Flyer at a steady 6-7 knots all day long … then I realized that I too was on a similar heel as he… that's when it's time to walk "sideways"

Another single handler was he as we raced alongside each other… it was exhilarating, exasperating, stimulating and culminating into a most memorable feeling.

I've said it before, but Biscayne Bay is a most wonderful area to sail… a sailors paradise with great wind and protected from the wrath of the open Atlantic… for more info: Biscayne Bay National Park

It's a long skinny bay about 40 miles long and as much as 10 miles wide at places…. the winds on this day were directly out of the West and were far more than the 15 knots predicted….I clocked winds in excess of 25 knots as we sped through heeled over the whole day long… 

I regretted not making sandwiches in advance… once underway, there's no time for that…. it would be a day of peanuts, raisins and bananas swished down with a jug of water … maybe a side skank of cheese if I'm lucky.

As we sailed the 28 miles for the full length of Biscayne Bay, I found myself suddenly tied to the helm.  Sure, I have auto pilot, but with winds of 20-25 knots its just not the same and you can't leave the helm for more than a few minutes to dash below for an apple or a quick look at the paper chart… See video inserted here (may not be viewable on portable devices)

Once you pass Islandia here, you've pretty much cleared Biscayne Bay… a tight starboard turn to the west just means more wind on the nose on this day … 

It was here I had to crank the engine at just to clear the channel markers and remain in the narrow channel…

OK, here's a full story of what went down today ...

There are no photos of what happened next because I was too consumed with dealing with the urgency at hand to stop and take photos… here goes...  

As I continued to sail side by side with Conch Flyer for the next 2-3 hours, we approached Key Largo… It was getting late, and the goal of finding a suitable anchorage was top priority for me.  

I passed through Barnes Sound and then across Blackwater Sound before I chose a place to anchor called Tarpon Basin.  The guidebook had warned of the poor holding in this bay due to the heavy grassy growth on the bottom… and they were not lying.

Since the choices were limited at this point, I crept into the basin all the time with with 25 knot winds still pounding on my nose…

There must've been a dozen or so boats anchored here and so I was feeling hopeful my anchor would catch with the rest of the lot.  I slowly motored her to the far lee side of the basin and dropped her anchor down and said a little prayer for a connection…. then I shifted slowly in reverse like I always do to "set" the anchor…. 

drats…. she would not grab… I continued to throttle her in reverse for a quarter mile with no luck… 

Plan B… try again… no luck again…. Plan C, try the CQR anchor instead of the bruce anchor… again no luck… the anchors just would not grab… tried once again with no luck… 

i was already tired from the all day 50 mile pounding out of the west, but I tried twice more to set the anchor... then thrice more with a danforth anchor… 3 different anchor types with no luck… drifting….wondering…. getting a bit flustered.

By now it was pitch black and I was a little worried why none of my anchors would grab… would I have to stay awake all night long and linger here?  Should I connect all 3 anchors to the same line and hope for the best? … I must admit I was getting rattled….. and worried… and so exhausted by now… there was a moment of real despair…but I never lost hope

Because suddenly, as cruiser fate would have it, this fine gentlemen, Tim somebody, and his wife Dorothy, suddenly appeared on my port beam in their dinghy….. they knew I was in a perilous situation and they were here to help.  

God bless Tim, for he arrived with a HUGE "plow anchor" to loan me so I could get Glory Days settled in for the night.  He offered to lend me his spare anchor and even jumped aboard to help me set it…. 

In the dark of this cold windy night in February, we motored to the far end of the bay to set the anchor he was lending me… we were just about to drop anchor...

but NO…. something else went wrong… we soon noticed that his dingy had become separated from Glory Days and was floating aimlessly somewhere in the dark!

Priorities were immediately reversed and we soon spotted the light that he thankfully left in the ON position of his dinghy …. I motored into the darkness on a hope and a prayer, and we soon snagged his dinghy and tied it most securely to the starboard cleat on Glory Days… saved…. another deep breath… 

now back to the order of getting myself anchored...

Suddenly, with one drop of the new anchor, it grabbed the ocean floor and Glory Day's came to a glorious halt in Tarpon Basin… It was 9 pm or thereabouts… dark as smut.

I don't know if I've ever been so tired, so hungry, and so grateful for the efforts of a total stranger as I was that evening when the anchor finally set…. another deep breath and a prayer of thanks… too tired to cook a good meal….zzzzzzzzz pls.

This is Tim the following morning retrieving the anchor that he loaned me… what a guy, what a guy… thankfully the winds had settled down a bit and I was able to sail on…. so long Tim.
Somehow during the whole calamity, I had failed to turn off the GPS tracker (above) …hence this photo shows the repeated attempts I made to set my anchor before being "rescued" by Tim and Dorothy…. time and time again I tried but she refused to grab hold… 
(I think I need to revise my anchor inventory)
The following morning I slept in.  But after my coffee I was ready to travel again.  So I said goodbye to Tim and Dorothy aboard Valinor above and shoved off into the lore of the Florida Keys.

With of all the fear and uncertainly of last night now diminished, I cut loose, raised full sails, and resumed sailing for a lovely day entering the Keys… 
and here they are.

It just kept getting better and I knew I was in store for many miles of interest and intrigue ahead.  Here's a short video of that:

Upon entering the real Keys now, I feel I have a earned the right to fly my Conch Republic flag.  I've owned since my days of sailing Lake Lanier, but now it can rightly fly.  

Here's a thumbnail history of the origin of the Conch Republic:

On April 23, 1982, the United States Border Patrol established a miitary-style roadblock on US 1 at Florida City.  The Border Patrol then stopped all all northbound highway traffic at a place motorist know as The Last Chance Saloon and searched for illegal aliens and drugs.  The ensuing well publicized huge traffic jam - traffic stretched back for 19 miles - supposedly stymied the Key's tourism industry which came to a standstill.

 This spurred a moment in which the local citizens of the Keys (called "Conchs") elected to secede from the upper 48 states. 

With tongue in cheek, but with a serious gleam in their eyes they selected a flag, designated their boundaries and became the "Conch Republic."  They proclaimed their independence, declared war on the United States and then immediately surrendered, applying for foreign aid. 

The roadblock was discontinued after several days, and the economy was saved.  Today, the tradition of the Conch Republic revolution continues with a yearly celebration in April and appointment of various Conch Ambassadors.  To many Key West locals, both natives and transplants alike, the event symbolizes both the intense individualism of the island's people and keen sense of humor they enjoy. (Cite Doziers Waterway Guide for this tidbit of information)

suddenly the color of the water came more alive...
and the sunsets gleamed with confidence...

… and a pelican greets me at dawn.
(sunRISE at the Cheeca pier)
I soon made my way a little further south to a little place called Coral Bay Marina located on Upper Matacumbe Key, Islamorada, Fla.

  It's not a fancy marina, but I liked it instantly because it has that "old florida" feel…. friendly neighbors, a shade tree over the community picnic table and safe harbor for a full week…a bit rustic in amenities but authentic.

... for a full week, I would now enjoy all the luxuries of unlimited water, a fully charged battery bank, safe harbor, hot showers, neighbors, and an extensive slough of shops, restaurants, cafes, bait shops, and live musics at my front door… After 40 days of anchoring in various places, settling in for a week seemed like a great idea… indeed.

Old friends Julia and David were vacationing in Key West and dropped by for coffee one morning on their way home.

Next door, Lorilei's offers great seafood, outdoor tables only, and live music daily.

and she rests…. until the next windy brawl…..

...now this is my kind of Ace hardware

This Sheepshead volunteered for dinner… and was deeelicious.

Sunning, fishing, and just being in the moment …
 Mangrove Mikes has the best breakfast on the island… and lunch ain't bad either…

Gateway canal to the bay...
If you leave your boat unattended, you WILL be shat upon.

but you can always ride your bike down to the front side of the island and sit in the free chairs to view the Atlantic...

 Prayer of Father 
by Mychal Judge, 1st casualty of 9/11.

Lord take me where you want me to go.

Let me meet who you want me to meet.

And keep me out of your way.

February 13, 2015

South Florida Charm

"Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing 

as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.

John Ruskin

Weather is a funny thing.  This woman called wind can be relentless and she can change speed and/or direction multiple times in any day. I am learning that she does not always pay attention to the forecast you thought you could rely on.  Currents too are very unforgiving and the daily temperature just doesn't give a hoot what we prefer.  I always liked the saying, "Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it…. "

You would never know it by looking out over a peaceful Biscayne Bay pictured above that just 24 hours ago this whole area was getting pounded by 35 knot winds from a winter cold front.  Just last night the simple task of getting one's self from the dinghy and into the boat was like a acrobatic act teetering on the boat ladder of a bucking bronco that I affectionately call Glory Days. Do it while carrying two bags of groceries and the feat is magnified even more… sometimes it's just time to collapse on board and give thanks that it went well and no groceries or lives were lost in the process.

There comes a time when using good judgement is not only prudent but could make the difference in a fun trip or a serious fate. Granted, nothing is more invigorating than succeeded in a new risk… and generally, I like the odds, but I always try to consciously play it safe, remain calm, don't overreact, keep a steady watch on the forecast and try to stay prepared for the next unexpected thingamadoodle that comes along…. then and only then, you might come out ok.

My friend, Sherry, recently joined me for an enjoyable stay aboard Glory Days. We kept a busy schedule and were hosted by my favorite frisky couple Craig and Linda who live on the ICW in Fort Lauderdale.  It was a convenient anchorage in Sunrise Lake, an easy dinghy ride to their home from the boat.


I'm gonna work backwards here…. Just two days ago Sherry and I crossed over Biscayne Bay from No Name Harbor, to set anchor here at Dinner Key…. But that was preceded with a week of sailing and exploring some of the local spots in and around Ft. Lauderdale, Miami and the Upper Keys… So working backwards, the next pics below are scenes from our two days anchored at Elliot Key and Adams Key, the first keys in the long string of islands that make up the Florida Keys...

A dinghy ride thru the mangroves is always somewhat mystical…

There was a perfect moon all week…. 
Mr. Moon seems to be imitating the sun here.

Take a papaya and add a little banana, yogurt, and granola and you have my now famous papaya split… breakfast of champions.

Yes, I hate it too when people post food pics… 
but it was too pretty not to.

Angels peeking down...
The Elliot Key Anchorage at the blue dot… There is an inlet between Elliot Key and Sands Key, but not for the faint at heart… currents too strong to tackle, but interesting to view.

For me, fishing is sort of like playing the lottery.  Although I never play the lottery, I do fish frequently. And like the Lottery, the chances are one in a zillion you win the prize…  but if you don't buy a ticket, or you don't 
put your hook in the water, you have absolutely no chance at all…. half the fun is trying… tho I'm ready for my odds to improve in the fishing arena… I thought buying a legitimate license would improve my odds… time will tell.

 Snake demo at the park… easy girl.
This was a lovely anchorage on the lee side of Rubicon Key…. I call it the calm before the storm.
I led a yoga class for one on this pier…. I could've sat here all day…just staring out.

The previous day's anchorage was a tight little harbor on Key Biscayne called No Name harbor… It's part of Bill Baggs State park… it's a lovely setting with lots of other cruisers anchored here… it's a popular jump off point for departing to the Bahamas

Protection on all four sides at this No Name Harbor anchorage makes it a popular spot ...

The trek across Biscayne Bay from No Name Harbor was a mere 5 mile jaunt, but it turned out to be a real heck of a sleigh ride as the winds of 20-25 knots blew us here in no time under a main sail that I should have reefed before departing.   Thankfully, I was able to spill the wind by releasing the main sheet out a good bit, with no thought of adding a 2nd sail at all…

It's far easier to remove reefs from a sail while under way than it is to put reefs in a sail while on rough seas and high winds… I should have known better, but in retrospect it turned out fine and it was one jolly of a ride across the bay under one sail and no engine needed.

We were racing along at a good speed of 6.5 knots when we came into the path of a local regatta of small boats all intent on harnessing the most out of this strong northerly. I veered her south a bit and avoid the thick traffic of sailboat racers smelling the finish line as seen below… we crossed just below their finish line… 

Here's some scenes from the regatta we passed.

There are over 200 mooring balls for boaters to rent at Dinner Key. It's a boating mecca situated in the artsy community known as Coconut Grove…. Mooring balls are rented here for $22/day, and all 200 mooring balls were taken…  Glory Days was added to the waiting list for a mooring ball and we were forced to drop anchor on this windy day just outside the mooring field …. 

The view of the Miami skyline from this site was awesome, but my attention was more focused on making sure we were tight on the hook, and making sure chafe guards were in place for the anchor line… It's gonna be like riding a hobby horse tonight I feel.

It turned out to be an uncomfortable anchorage due to the intense northerlies…. hang on and wait it out.  

The next day we did manage to dinghy into town to explore the area and have a nice dinner… Interesting little community here…. Returning to the anchorage in the heavy wind that night proved to be one of those times you won't forget for a while …  the idea of getting swamped by a wave in the dinghy is never a good thought … So we sucked it up, braved the wind,  spit the salt spray back to Neptune, secured our life jackets, and whispered prayers before leaving the dinghy dock… and what do you know? We made it. 

This is the marina at Dinner Key at Coconut Grove, which is still part of Miami.  

This is a 48' aluminum sloop owned by a French man I met named Michel.  He and his nephew has just completed a successful 4 day passage from Guatemala to Key West… He was a gentle soul, full of knowledge, and our paths crossed again as you will see below...

Unfortunately the next two nights in Dinner Key would not be good nights for sleeping, this one.   You take the good with the bad sometimes.  But the important thing is we were dry and safe and continued to grin giddily about it all. All night long the boat bobbed like a cork in a toilet and sleep came in short cycles at best.  I made sure to set the anchor drag alarm for 50' in case we started to drag, or lord forbid,  became detached from the anchor

Our peaceful stay at Elliott Key and Adams Key the two nights previous turned out to be the calm before the storm and a distant memory as we dealt with the foul weather.  

As a mariner, you do your best to read the weather and you must be willing to delay your plans in order to depart in more favorable conditions, especially high wind… No matter how much you study and prepare, eventually you get caught in a bit of weather snafu and you just have to learn to deal with it. Sometimes I make the right decisions, sometimes I don't.

Prior to this stop in Coconut Grove, we had spent one night anchored right in the heart of downtown Miami just for kicks… a night walk into the South Beach district is always fun and eye opening to a south Georgia boy like me.

Sun sets behind skyscrapers on this calm night in Miami, Feb. 2, 2015
Some cruisers I meet seem to poo poo the thought of staying in Miami… but personally I enjoyed the urban anchorage… I think of it as a contrast in cultures having come from such a remote anchorage at Adams Key to a truly urban sprawl like Miami… each have their own beauty.

…. even in the daytime...
… or nighttime...

Today's blog post titled "South Florida Charm" began in Fort Lauderdale as I alluded to at the beginning… so in the spirit of working backwards, we now find ourselves back to the beginning, in Fort Lauderdale...Below are some photos from our 3 days in Fort Lauderdale hanging with our friends there…
On the first Sunday of each month, you can attend the free jazz/blues fest on the waterfront in downtown Lauderdale… the music was great and the folks were living it up on a sunny Sunday in February 

Lucy here says It's always a good idea to keep the stanchions polished and free of rust.  I agree.

My friends Craig and Linda have a nice condo on the Intracoastal Waterway.  Here is a view of their canal that I entered with my dinghy each day to visit them… Craig and I picked up where we left off last tear with our music jamming…

Well folks, that brings us right back to where we started at the cusp of another little adventure wrapped in kindness, love hope, and service.

After 10 days Sherry flew back to Atlanta, and I spent another day at Dinner Key where I attended the Sunday afternoon cruisers pot luck as seen below… Yummy food and the camaraderie of meeting a new group of strangers all bound by a common thread… or many common threads for that matter.

And alas, by towing his dinghy back, I was able to return the favor to the Frenchman, Michel, who gave Sherry a ride to the airport… It all seems to work out perfectly in the world of cruising… just when you need a friend, they appear.  And just when you have something to offer, the need arises for another… it all balances out so perfectly… 

You will hear more about this unique phenomenon in the next post where I encountered my first true "drama" along the way… stay tuned! (Obviously, I lived to tell about it… coming up!)

Onward to the Keys now!

I would eat this… why wont the fish?  Soon I will find that weak link in the fish chain and I will reel him in…. I'll even let him go !