Saturday, February 27, 2010

Back in Islamorada

We left Marathon at first light yesterday in order to get to an Islamorada marina before another front arrives with high winds. This is starting to get old! But my mother in Delaware and our son Dave, in Philly, are also saying that about the unusual round of snowstorms they've seen this year. Global weirding!

My first activity on shore was to give myself a haircut. Seriously, I was that desperate. The only other woman in the ladies shower room had a skeptical look on her face as I started chopping an inch off the sides and top. I handed Pete the scissors when I got back to the boat and asked him to trim the back. He kindly obliged, after saying "You have a mullet; all business up front; all party out back." Then we went out to dinner, since I now looked more groomed!

We rented a car and drove down to Duck Key and up to Key Largo today, looking at the waters we had sailed through and the bridges we had sailed under from a different perspective. Kinda strange.

Winds were perfect for the many kiteboarders out for a thrill. Enjoyed lunch at Green Turtle Inn, some shopping for Brody's upcoming first birthday, and dinner at Marker 88.

Another beautiful sunset last night from Founder's Park's Plantation Yacht Harbor:

Islamorada Sunsets

Hello, Towboat U.S.

'Tis better to drop anchor than to drag anchor

There's always the first time for everything, including dragging anchor. It finally happened to us a few nights ago (after 11 years of sailing on 33' plus sailboats) during another mega-wind night at Boot Key Harbor in Marathon. MicMac had always stayed put at anchor with lots of chain out. But this anchorage was so blasted crowded that Captain Pete had to pull in some anchor rode to avoid swinginging into nearby boats. That left us susceptible to the howling 30 knots plus winds that arrived with another cold front.

At 10 p.m. (at the end of a Marathon marathon Scrabble game), we started to heel over even more than in the gusts. OOPS. As we scrambled up the steps to the cockpit, we saw mangroves VERY close. We had drifted about 100 yards, all the way to the shallow edge of the anchorage and were aground at low tide, broadside to the wind, and held there by continuing gusts. We knew we were in for another night of trying to sleep at a very uncomfortable angle. "Not much we can do until morning," said a calm captain. First mate was less calm and wanted to call Towboat U.S. immediately.

In the dark, we could see another boat that was hard aground. But that's hardly reassuring. The morning photo shows how our jib is parallel to the other grounded boat's mast. Parallel lines are only cool in math class, not in an anchorage. Note too the other boat headed correctly into the wind.

Hauling us off the bottom at high tide was an easy task for the towboat another 14 hours later, in spite of the 25 knot winds still blowing. The add-on of $125 per year for towing insurance paid for itself again. Towing services are NOT cheap, but at no cost if you're covered. Kinda like AAA towing. Our engine konked out years ago in the middle of the Chesapeake and we had to be hauled back to the York River.

Embarassment aside, no real harm done. We also learned to check our boat's position frequently during a storm in spite of who is winning at Scrabble; to never anchor out in a crowded anchorage where you can easily converse with nearby boats, and to swallow our pride when MicMac under tow is the local entertainment.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Stingy thingys

“All creatures great and small . . . the Lord God made them all.”

Now I hesitate to second-guess Our Creator, but what was He (She?) thinking when the concept of sharks, no-see-ums, and jellyfish popped into His (Her?) mind?

James Herritot’s book (and subsequent TV series) focused on great and small creatures, and Samuel Coleridge also used this phrase In The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Neither must have tried to enjoy a sunset near mangroves keys on a quiet night, or enjoyed snorkeling.

We and another young couple, who had never snorkeled before, took off on a chartered motor catamaran one day in Key West to Looe Key for a fine day of snorkeling. It was one of the few warm days (in the 70s) that we’ve had, but windier than we’d prefer. We planned to wear our shorty wetsuits, and top them with the diveboat’s heavier ones for extra warmth. The water temp was only 72 degrees. Yellow vests are required for visibility.

I incorrectly assumed that a “Key” was above water level. Not so. It can also refer to a reef. When 15 knot winds blow water over your snorkel air intake tube (as happened to me as I was back-tracking from the docile nurse sharks basking on the bottom 20’ below), that is NOT the relaxing snorkeling experience I enjoy.

As I sputtered and coughed, Pete advised me to put my tube back in my mouth and try to relax. That’s when the 6’ hammerhead (photo by Google) swam by beneath us. Relax? Ya gotta be kidding. I promptly sputtered and kicked my way back to the boat. Lunch was a good choice then. Even the boat crew and captain said they had never seen a hammerhead shark in the wild before. Perhaps that was just good marketing, but there was little snorkeling after that. A few juvenile Man o’ War tentacles found the arms of the young couple too. Vinegar to the rescue!

We witnessed a plethora (I’ve overused “googads”) of Portuguese man o’ wars floating ominously on the turquoise waters of Hawk Channel as we motor-sailed from Key West to Marathon yesterday. They supposedly have no means of transportation and depend on the wind to carry them (it seems to prime swimming spots and beaches!). I’ve seen them on Hilton Head and Ocean City beaches, but never in the thousands like this. The adult ones were almost fluorescent as their oval-shaped bodies float above the surface. The little dudes (I don’t think they have dudettes) are small whitish blobs with shorter tentacles, but they are in even larger supply than the older ones.

Shortly after we anchored back in Boot Key Harbor, a lovely sunset arrived, and so did the no-see-ums (real name Ceratopogonidae, also called biting midge or punky) that apparently have extremely sharp biting apparati. No-see-ums wake up when the sun goes down and are most active at dawn and dusk. Citronella candles kinda work, and they're cetainly better than spraying yourself with DEET. That would require a shower before sleeping. Thank you, Lord God, for creating man and woman, who then created screens to deter most of them, and duct tape for blotting up those who got into our cabin earlier.

As you can see, in my Boot Key Harbor photo, the anchorage is a VERY crowded one, but gorgeous at sunset.

More Key West activities

Lest you think that all we did in Key West was wine and dine, or margarita and dine, we walked many miles, especailly around the Truman Annex. It's a pretty condo neighborhood that used to be Navy housing during the '40s and '50s. Truman's "White House" is here too.

One day, after a morning of laundry, we set off for Fort Zachary Taylor, its nearby beach and Coast Guard ships, and its outdoor art sculpture. But hunger ruled and we took a lunch detour to Blue Heaven, a stereotypical mostly outdoors Key West restaurant with chickens and roosters strutting by.

MY bum knee was not happy after we walked a few extra miles after getting completely different directions to the sculpture “garden” from three different locals. Then the "sculptures" were less than impressive to our artistically discerning eyes, except for one made by school kids out of plastic bags. So we had to stop at Sloppy Joe’s for a medicinal margarita on the way back to dinner onboard MicMac.

On our final Key West evening, we enjoyed our own mini-pubcrawl, beginning with a look at some of the "entertainers" on Mallory Square and a beautiful sunset and vino (an hour after 24 hours of rain). The huge cruise ships on the nearby docks have to leave at 4:30 p.m. so they don't block the sunset.

We then returned to Kelly’s for vino and lots of conversation with fellow and once-were sailors, and finally a return to the Schooner Wharf Bar where I learned another useful phrase for being over-served. One of the band members was “spurring his sleech” after a few satisfied customers tipped him with shots. Schooner Wharf rules!