Friday, January 31, 2014

Pucker Factor...Times 4 - January 28 -31, 2014

The batteries were charged by 11:30 this morning and we took off knowing the day had finally arrived to cross back into the Florida Bay and get out of the Atlantic Ocean.  The anchorage last night was just outside the Channel # 5 Bridge at Long Key so we were crossing under it within a very short time.  Now to find the ICW.  Carter has complained many times that our Lowrance chart plotter is sadly lacking.  Thank goodness we have Google earth GPS on our smart phones to back us up when it comes to navigation.  Nothing like high resolution satellite imagery to help you find your way. We have really begun to rely on it and it has totally saved our butts on many occasions.

Pucker Factor #1 - Tuesday, January 28th

Once we came under the bridge we spied some markers across the bay locating the entrance to a channel or cut if you will, through a mangrove island and since there was no indication on chart plotter where the ICW was and this was the only markers we could find, we naturally assumed it must be the ICW.  We both honestly thought it was.  When we got to the entrance and saw a sign saying " Caution, narrow channel, we didn't think much of it, supposing it was just a little narrower than normal.

It looked ok from the beginning so we proceeded.  Once we turn the first corner the channel suddenly slimmed down to about 15' wide.  The Arc is 13.5' across leaving no way to turn around so we just had to hope that we didn't meet anyone coming our way.  About a 1/4 mile in we did meet up with a small fishing boat and thankfully the channel widened up just enough for us to pass at that point but we were both brushing the mangroves on each side as we passed.

Then around the next turn the mangrove treetops started closing in on us!  What's that crashing noise? We had lowered the panels and we knew the mast was clearing but we forgot about the VHF antenna! Up to the sundeck I scurry just in time to lower the rod in the nick of time as we came up on major branch. Finally, the channel ends and we are back into the bay.  Shew!

Pucker Factor #2 - Wednesday & Thursday, January 29 & 30

We anchored later that day at 5:00 at Islamorada and began dinner preparations which is when we discovered that we were slap out of water.  The well was dry.  Ok, we have enough bottled water to get us through tonight but we were going to have to find water first thing in the morning.  Normally, we fill up our water tanks at the same time we empty the holding tank but that last pump out was such a disaster, we didn't even want to ask about getting water.  That was a mistake but it seemed like the right thing to do at the time.

Carter got up early the next day and got on the phone to the only marina listed in our guidebook in this area.  No, they have no facilities to accommodate tying up our boat and they don't dispense water to boaters anyway but gave us another phone number of another place to try.  Thanks.  Carter calls this number which turns out to be the Lor-e-lei Yacht Club.  He got the bar so the lady transferred him to a gentleman named "Bugsy", and Carter begins to inquire about filling our water tanks.  Bugsy stops Carter and asks, "Are you the solar boat out in the anchorage?"  Our mouths dropped...yes. How in the Hell did he know that! I guess he just knew everyone in the anchorage and we were the only new boat but it was still kind of weird.

Bugsy was great.  He said he'd move some boats around and make a space big enough to accommodate us and said "come on in". What a relief because believe me, everything stops when you run out of water.
Thanks so much to the Lor-e-lei Yacht Club for coming to our rescue.  It was lunch time so we stayed long enough to enjoy a delicious lunch at the restaurant. Check out the local taxi,  Nautilimo?

Pucker #3

We departed Islamorada right after lunch and after being "on the road" for just a little bit, I turned around and noticed a boat high tailing it over to us and then hanging back just a little.  Looking through the binoculars I realized it was the FWC!  Oh Great!  What could this be about?  Even when you're not doing anything wrong, it's still a bit disconcerting when you get pulled over. He came up beside us and began asking questions about the solar boat.  Ok..... He was just another curious boater with a badge.

We dropped anchor that evening in Cowpens Anchorage just off the shore of Plantation.  It rained the next day so we ended staying an extra day but that didn't bother Carter.  He had spotted several lobsters on the bottom of the clear blue water on the way in and he was super excited to get him some bugs!  He went diving that evening and again the next day catching a total of 5 lobsters!

Pucker Factor #4 - Friday, January 31

We weighed anchor on Friday and set out with Tavernier Harbor as our destination which is only about 5 miles away from Key Largo.  After studying the charts and comparing them with our upcoming planned activities, Carter decided that we would take a slight detour back into the Atlantic in order to get us closer to John Pennekamp State Park.  Getting back into the Atlantic required us to cross under the Tavernier Creek Bridge which has a 15' clearance which is the lowest bridge we have ever been under. Carter got out a tape measure to double check our mast height, yep still just under 14'.  Woo hoo, a whole 1' to spare.

Onward to our destination, Rodriguez Key.  Rather than go all the way around the island to approach the anchorage from the the East side, Carter decides to take a short cut around the West side through a shallow section.  Yes, I did say shortcut...again!  And guess what?  We ran aground!  Shock!!!  Turns out it was an ultra low tide, like -1' and we arrived just in time for it.  Since it was  4 pm it wasn't lunch or dinner time so we got the snorkel and masks out and explored the beautiful clear water while we waited for the tide to roll in and clear the way.

It was great! We dropped anchor for about an hour and there was a strong current going in the right direction so once we were floating again Carter ended up guiding the Arc through the shallows and we drifted on through. We are now safe at anchor just a couple miles from John Pennekamp State Park!

Oh is Good!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Anchors and Adventures in Marine Sanitation - Jan 22 - 29th, 2014

Wednesday, January 22nd - 29th

I'm sure that I have mentioned how diligent we must be regarding the placement of our anchor in sandy spots, avoiding sea grass, and then making sure the anchor is holding all night long.  A large portion of the Keys, well actually all of the Keys, are designated as a national marine sanctuary and we have made concerted effort to comply with the rules and regulations concerning our anchor. With the constant tides and strong currents, boaters must be vigilant with anchors and most locals, who are at anchor and not on a mooring ball, use one of two anchoring systems, Bahamas style, 2 anchors set for each direction of the current, or Bermuda style, 3 anchors set in triangle.

When we got to Boot Key, we dropped our anchor near a private mooring ball that we actually later attached to after the lady at Burdines Marina said had been abandoned. When we attempted to raise anchor to go to the nearby marina for a pump out it got fouled in some chains that apparently were configured in a Bermuda rig.  Despite all Carter's efforts, he could not get it free so it was time for a little swim. 

It was at about this time that our new neighbor rowed over to ask Carter for assistance resetting his Bahama rig since his dinghy did not have a motor.  As Carter is always happy for a chance to play in his Whaler, he was happy to assist.  When they completed the neighbors anchor ops, Carter donned his mask and snorkel and retrieved our anchor.  Now we can pump out!

Over the past 3 years since we have been refitting the Archimedes, we have experienced a couple of pretty interesting scenarios concerning the head, from marinas having systems without the umph to pump, to urgent emergency trips to pump out in the torrential rain when the holding tank became unexpectedly full to brim.   But we both say that that today's experience in Boot Key tops them all.

Imagine trying to put 75 gallons of poop soup into a 50 gallon tank with 2 small air vents on the top of the tank.  In our defense, their tank was located out of view behind a small trailer so we didn't know that the marina pump out system was not directly connected to a sewer system like most dockside units are and they never asked how large our holding tank was.  I bet they make that a policy from here on out!!!!  It is also unbelievable that the system didn't have some kind of limit switch to stop the pump when it was about to overflow but it didn't and 3 minutes into the pump out our shit was literally flying 20 feet in the air spewing, from the air vents on the top of the tank. Thankfully it was aimed in a direction other than our boat.

The dock hands got the situation under control quickly, turning off the pump, then getting out the hoses and bleach water to clean things up. It was a miracle nobody called the health department to dispatch a HazMat team.  What a system!    More adventures in marine sanitation! 

Then,  to top off it off,  on our way back to our anchorage, we ran aground.  There was shoal in the middle of the anchorage and we cut it just a little to close trying to avoid an anchored sailboat nearby.   We tried to skegg off but the tide was going out and we were stuck for the night. As we were safely aground and out of the channel, what next?  Yep, we got in the whaler and went out to dinner!  Seems to be a recurring theme for us.  Running aground means it's time to eat.  LOL

We got off the bank the next morning at high tide, no problem and it was our intention to depart Boot Key that day but Mother Nature had different plans for us, bringing in a couple days of rain, strong winds, and 7' seas in Hawk Channel so we laid over a couple more days in Marathon.  Since we have not been able to pick up any local TV stations while down here in the Keys, we were forced to hang out on the boat watching old movies from our CD collection.  I cooked up a big pot of beans and some homemade fudge and we hunkered down until Saturday only getting out to take Radar for his daily shore leave.

Saturday, January 25th

Finally, the weather cooperated and we departed Boot Key heading for Grassy Key as our next anchorage.  Carter has an friend living there that offered us the use of the laundry facilities at his trailer park.  It was getting to a be a serious situation with the laundry by now and I completed 9 loads in 3 washers in record time!  Thanks to Kirk for the ground transportation and use of the laundry facilities!  It was VERY MUCH appreciated.

We departed our anchorage in Tom's Harbor just north of Grassy Key on Monday morning heading toward the lower exit on the other side of the island.  There were markers showing the way out and we had witnessed lots of other boats going in and out, plus the chart plotter showed 4' of water so we figured No Problem, right?  WRONG!  We ran aground right in the middle of the channel. We were stuck and not going anywhere for a few hours until the tide rolled back in.

Carter got into the whaler and began taking soundings so we would know where the water was when the tide came in which was to be in about 3 hours.  While out taking soundings a local called him over and they had a conversation about the hurricane that came a couple years ago bringing in sand and filling in the channel.  The powers that be decided this was an entrance that could be let go and would not allow the locals to dredge it so it seems the new controlling depth for Duck Key channel is now 2'.  We would be forced to go back out of the harbor the way we came in from the southern entrance.  Having a couple hours to kill, Carter decided to go to the nearest marina and fill up on gas for the whaler.  He returned later with gas!  Yep, once again we sat down to eat lunch while waiting for the tide to come in!  LOL 
The Atlantic was a little bit rougher than we like it but all went well and we dropped anchor that night in Long Key Bight just outside of the Channel 5 Bridge that will take us back into the Florida Bay and to the ditch, (ICW)!
                                                       Sunset at Long Key Bight.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Boot Key, Marathon - January 20, 21

Monday, January 20 -21st

We were excited to arrive in Marathon as we were hoping this to be a very boater friendly location.  Boot Key has a very large boating community and we are in need of getting laundry caught up.

I put out a request for some local knowledge regarding laundry facilities on the Boot Key Facebook page and learned Marathon City Marina is the only location around with facilities.  Ok, we have 5 loads (over two weeks worth) to get cleaned up so off to the marina we went.

We got to the office to find out what the deal was and were informed that to access any of the facilities, laundry, showers, garbage drop, pump out, you had to pay a daily dinghy dock fee of $22.00, then it was going to cost $3.00 per washer load and $3.00 per dryer, for a total of $30.00 for my 5 loads of laundry on top of the dock fee.  Folks, let's do the math ... that's $52.00 to get my laundry done.  We decided to take a pass on that "deal".  We'll wait for the next stop and meanwhile get out the bucket and hand wash a few essential items.  I've already done that once along the way so I guess I can do it again.  And let me just mention, $3.00 per machine is double what we've paid anywhere else along this entire trip.  I guess you have to expect to pay more for things in the Keys but I'm sorry, $22 bucks to land your dinghy is modern day piracy!   It seems it's like that for everything down here and we're already looking forward to getting back to a more normal world. Turns out "Paradise" is an expensive place to hang out in.

7 mile bridge at the western entrance to Boot Key. You can see the old bridge behind the new one.

The Passage to Miami - January 17 - 19

Friday, January 17th

We departed our new found anchorage in Key West pretty early, around 9:45 am.  We needed to get an early start so we could ride the tide out into the Atlantic along the West side of Key West.  We had been waiting out some very windy conditions to subside and as of this morning, we are supposed to have nice weather for at least the next several days.  That should be enough time to get us to Marathon. 

The parade of jet skis passed by us for the last time as we were leaving the anchorage.  Those jet skis never get a break.  I would guess that jet ski rental is good business judging from the fact we saw them several times a day, every day since our arrival.  It was fitting for them to pass as we were leaving.

We saw anywhere from 1 to 3 cruise ships in town on any given day.  The people come in droves by cruise ship, airplane, ferry, bus, personal car, and of course, boats.  It's unbelievable how many tourists come to visit Key West.

The Coast Guard sits right outside the channel just about all the time. Apparently this is some kind of Cuban blockade. If they can catch them in the water, they can send them back but once they set foot on American soil, the government has to grant them asylum. Apparently several people where found clinging to a bridge a few years ago and there was a big debate about weather they had actually landed on American "soil". Apparently they got to stay.

The water still amazes me.  You can see clear to the bottom even in the Atlantic Ocean! The water is a little ripply in the photo but you can still see the sponge about six feet down.

We departed into the Hawk Channel on the Atlantic side of the island this morning as the south side is in the lee of the weather that we have been experiencing the past several days.  The sea was calm but we bucked a 25 mph headwind all day long and it was a little choppy too, causing us to not get as far as planned. We are anchored just off Geiger Key. 

Saturday and Sunday, January 18th - 19th

We weighed anchor at 11:20 after waiting for the sun to recharge the batteries and headed onward towards Marathon.  We got to Big Pine Key and dropped anchor for the night.  We were excited about attending the 10th Annual Nautical Flea Market in town on Sunday.  Carter is on the lookout for another anchor among a few other items that just might be found at a flea market.   There's always interesting stuff to be seen at flea markets. 

A faded Wicker Harley .  Too cool!

On our way to the 10th annual nautical flea market we stumbled across Big Pine Keys weekly flea market too. There were so many good deals we spent the last of our cash on some $5 tee shirts and a few hardware items. From Big Pine Key we moved on to Bahia Honda Key and dropped anchor just in front of the state park, getting us in position to move on to Marathon early Monday morning.  The morning turned out to be a beautiful day and we took full advantage of it and snorkeled while waiting for the batteries to charge.  It was wonderful!  Carter found a lobster and ate it for breakfast. We weighed anchor about 10:00 and had a great passage the entire way arriving in Boot Key in Marathon before 3:00 pm. This gave us time to cruise the entire Boot Key harbor and check it out before we anchored.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

ReThink Energy Florida

We are pleased to announce that The Ship of Imagination has recently partnered with ReThink Energy Florida to help them expand their organization while they provide some logistical support for the cruise.

We met Kim Ross, President of ReThink Energy Florida, in Tallahassee. After discovering their organization was promoting the same ideas we were, Carter asked if they wanted to get involved in the cruise aid by organizing some events along the way. So now we are flying the ReThinkEnergy Florida banner and Kim is busy planning our next stop. In Key West she put together a press conference at the Conch Republic Restaurant that went very well.

After her first press release we  almost immediately got a call from the local paper. Shortly after that, two Irish men in a green Paddy Wagon showed up at Arc requesting to come aboard to interview us for the only daily newspaper in Key West, The Citizen.  The article ran the next day and a lot of people we met at the press conference said they came after seeing us in the paper. The article was very complimentary of the Archimedes and we really appreciate Tim O'Hara and Rob O'Neal for their kind words about the Arc.

January 14th at the press conference.

Kim Ross:  "In a new effort to expand our organization's mission to engage, educate, and empower citizens to take action and achieve energy independence in a healthier, more sustainable environment, ReThink Energy Florida is joining the solar-powered "Ship of Imagination", the "Archimedes" on its Cruise Aid for a Sustainable Florida, a grassroots effort to raise public awareneness about important energy issues in the Sunshine State."

The article in the Citizen

Here is a link to an article in The Blue Paper.  Carter also spoke on the morning Talk Radio program on WUS,104.1.

It was a good beginning for us and ReThink Energy!

Monday, January 20, 2014

3 Weeks in Key West

We left off last time at our arrival into Key West.

"As I mentioned, the sun was setting and it quickly turned dark.  The entrance channel is narrow and full of twists and turns but we managed to stay in the channel AND maneuver through a crowded mooring field to get to the anchorage.  It was pitch black this night with no moonlight to help guide us and strong tidal cross currents .  Despite an hour or so of nail biting,  I am happy to report that we made it safe and sound."

When I awoke early the next morning I rushed outside to get a photo of the sunrise and here is what I saw ... I know this is a small picture but that little bump in the water to the left hand side ... happens to be a sunken boat!  I hate night opps!  We could have very easily run into something in the dark!  Hopefully there will be no more late night entrances into strange harbors.

We had a great time in Key West.  The first week was spent with family celebrating the New Year holiday week and being tourists.   The weather was fair...not too bad actually.  It was a little chilly out on the water with a lot of wind and chop and a couple of what we call "wet butt" trips back and forth in the dinghy to the boat but that's to be expected when you liveaboard.

We took in as much as much of Key West as we could:  Sunset at Mallory Park was interesting with lots of entertainment and street vendors.

We ate at many great restaurants including Jimmy Buffets Margaritaville where we pigged out on the famous Cheeseburger in Paradise!  Finally, the real deal and it was good.  We toured the Little White House and the Shipwreck Museum just to name a few, and shopped till we dropped. It was a good week and I was sad to see my family head back to their homes.

Fortunately for the family, they left just in time to miss the gale force winds that were predicted the next day.  We made preparations as best we could by tucking ourselves as close as we could to the lee side of the little spoils island we were next to and tying up to trees stability. The ground here is so soft we drag anchor routinely.

The winds came in out of the northwest that night with a vengeance at 35-45 mph.  The Captain was awake most of the night keeping a close eye on things.  We awoke the next morning to find ourselves still safely tucked in behind our little island.  Life is good.

The next day we were visited by the Florida Wildlife Commission who informed us we were breaking the law by tying up to the island and by the way, it's illegal to run aground in the Keys too, subject to a $100/foot of sea bed disturbed. So we were forced to leave the protected waters near our little spoils island head to a place called Wisteria Island, one of the very few places they have designated for anchoring. It was terrible with little to no cover, boats packed into it like sardines, and not very good holding.  So the next day the Captain set out in the Whaler to find a better spot and later that day we moved to another anchorage near Flemming Key. This was an excellent spot with good shelter and calm water but the bottom was very soft and dragging anchor was a problem here as well. But it was calm that night so all was well for a while.

Looking around us at Wisteria this was one of our neighbors in the anchorage.  My first thought was "Geez, this family has it set up right!"  Here's a floating dock with a picnic table complete with umbrella, a slide, and a couple of large rafts.  Very cool I thought to myself.

The next morning as I went topside to enjoy my coffee, I was greeted by the huge catamaran loaded with tourists enjoying all of these water toys including jet skies that they brought with them!  Oh yeah ... Yet another good reason to find a better anchorage.

Carter and Radar returning from shore leave.  Normally Radar stands right on the tip, top of the bow of the whaler but this trip was especially rough and he was a little more weary.   Carter had a great time riding the waves...and giving the whaler everything it had, even catching a little air. Radar, not so much!  LOL He was glad to get back to the Arc.

Except for the soft bottom, the spot we found at Fleming Key was great and is where we met Jeff. Jeff took pity on our plight and directed us to a hidden mooring he knew to be vacant. Carter was able to fish the 5/8" chain off the bottom that was attached to a 2 ton block of concrete construction debri someone had floated out there. Once attached to this we were anchored solid so no more sleepless nights. Thanks Jeff!

Jeff was also graciously invited us to dinner that night on his Island Packet 38 with a few other liveaboards in the anchorage.  It was a very enjoyable evening with good food, and interesting conversation about living the livaboard life in Key West.

Saying goodbye to Jeff, Gracie and Bill as we were departing Key West!

Good Folks and we hope our paths will cross again someday!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Key West - Dec 26th - New Year 2014!

Thursday, December 26th

This is our last post for 2013 and document the final leg of our travels down the West Coast of Florida.  At the end of my last post we were making the passage across Florida Bay with Key West in our sites.  Forging through 2-4' seas with following winds, we arrived at the keys just as the sun was setting and dropped anchor behind Little Spanish Key.  It was a good passage and here I had my first glimpse of the clear, blue, and beautiful waters of the Keys.

Sea grass under 5' of water.  Looks like you could just step right out onto it like your lawn at home!

Friday, December 27th

We set out the next day with the intention of following the Back Country route down to Key West as described in our "2006" waterway guide. Seems that maintenance of the channel was abandoned in the last few years. At some point the Coast Guard actually pulled up all the day markers because we had a chart full of symbols but they simply weren't there anymore.  Realizing that we were going to have to go back into the Florida Bay and considering the weather, we spent the day chasing down some additional fuel for Big Ben.   After going as far as we could get in the Arc, Carter set out in the whaler to find some civilization. After returning just before dark we anchored behind another mangrove island.

Saturday, December 28th

We got an early start heading back into Florida Bay and had another good day in the gulf with following seas and winds arriving at Key West just as the sun was beginning to set.  We are finding it true, more and more often, that the chart plotter and GPS do not accurately jive with the reality of the water in many areas. Today we  ran aground in 23' water!  As this occurred right at sunset with a high ebbing tide, it was a full court press to get off the ground before we were stuck for the night right on the Gulf side of the barrier island.  Luckily we were able to quickly get ourselves back on track and begin our entry to Fleming Island at Key West.

As I mentioned, the sun was setting and it quickly turned dark.  The entrance channel is narrow and full of twists and turns but we managed to stay in the channel AND maneuver through the mooring field to get to the anchorage.  It was pitch black this night with no moonlight to help guide us and strong tidal cross currents .  Despite an hour or so of nail biting,  I am happy to report that we made it safe and sound.

It's now time for our long awaited week of R&R with family for New Years holiday!  With everyone arriving tomorrow, we JUST BARELY made it in time...but we did!

We would like to say "Happy New Year" to all!  We appreciate every one of you that take time to follow us along our journey.  PLEASE, leave a comment or just a Hello any time! We like to keep up with old friends and would like to make new ones.

Captain Carter, Diane and Radar