Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Crewmember down

We are anchored in a familiar and comfortable spot, on Maule Lake, about halfway to Miami (map). I wrote extensively about this hidden gem anchorage the last time we stayed here, so I won't repeat myself. A couple of the places in the nearby Intracoastal Mall have changed hands, but otherwise it is as we remembered it.

We've been here since Thursday evening, even though I had hoped to be south of Miami by now, and therein lies a tale. We're one crewmember short, with Second Mate and Chief of Security Angel in the hospital, where she has been since Saturday. When we dropped her off, we feared she was at the end, but yesterday's report from the vet has given us some hope, and we are awaiting this morning's call.

Angel in her "most interesting cat in the world" pose, in better times.

She's 17, the last pet standing of the three stalwarts that departed San Jose with us 14 years ago. She's been showing her age, reluctant to go up and down the stairs and a little unsteady on her pins. And lately, she's been eating a little less and showing less interest in the pureed pumpkin we put out for her each morning to help her digestion (hey, she's in her 80s in people years).

We had a lot of drama on the boat Thursday. We weighed anchor around 8:15 to retrace our steps back to Dania Beach, and cleared past the series of three drawbridges. We had just cleared the Dania Beach Boulevard Bridge and were not yet at the cutoff canal when the yard called to say we should come right in to the lift slip; we were in the slings and out of the water by 9:30.

Paul the surveyor was already at the yard waiting for us, and so as soon as we could get a ladder alongside, there were a gaggle of us back aboard, including both of us, Paul, and three yard guys who came to replace the valve. We pointed out the cat to each who came aboard, and, honestly, she seemed to be fine and her usual self at the time, keeping mostly out of everyone's way.

I immediately became too busy to notice what she was doing after that. I divided my time between trailing the surveyor and answering his questions, and keeping an eye on the crusty old yard guy who was honchoing the valve replacement. As it stood, I barely caught him before he would have used the wrong bedding compound to install the valve, a non-removable type prohibited by the manufacturer. "Why would you ever need to remove this?" Hmm, well, let's see -- maybe because it broke JUST LIKE THE ONE YOU JUST TOOK OUT. Also, his decades of experience make him more qualified than the engineers at the manufacturer. SMH.

Failed seacock, disassembled for analysis. Piece at lower left broke off the piece just above it. No obvious reason noted.

The valve replacement was done in less than an hour, and the yard needed us out so we booted the surveyor off the boat, splashed, and drove around the corner to a dock at the community center (map), where he met us to finish the survey. After we tied up I remember paying a bit more attention to Angel, making sure she did not go out on deck during the remainder of the survey. Again we noticed nothing unusual.

The surveyor finished by lunch time, and we had our lunch there at the dock before shoving off. I am very happy to report that we had an excellent survey, with no major items noted and a valuation set considerably higher than what it's been since the day we purchased the boat, reflective of the enormous amount of work we've done to upgrade it. After a quick bite I spent a half hour in the bilge reconnecting the plumbing, and we were back under way before 1pm.

I had figured to end up right back at the Hollywood Lakes on Thursday, but with such an early start, and wanting to feel like we were finally making more progress south, we opted to come here instead, just another five miles (and three drawbridges) along the ICW. We figured to spend maybe two nights, taking Friday to relax, before joining the fray hunting for anchorage in Miami the week before the big boat show.

Sunset reflected off Sunny Isles Beach skyscrapers, from our anchorage in Maule Lake.

I don't really remember whether Angel was showing any signs of stress that afternoon. I went about my business, which included drilling a three inch hole in the floor of the guest stateroom right above the new valve, so we can get an arm in there to exercise it regularly. Previously, a ton of quilting stuff had to come out so we could move the mattress, and then I needed to don work clothes to enter the graphite-dust-covered bilge just to reach the valve handle.

Somewhere during the afternoon we noticed that she had become a little lethargic, and that she had not really been eating or drinking. We were pretty beat from a full day of work on the heels of a couple of stressful days, so notwithstanding our proximity to a number of good restaurants here, we opted to just grill a steak aboard that evening. And that's when we really noticed she was in trouble. We often offer her a single nibble of fat or meat when we have it, and she refused to even touch it, which is very out of character for her.

Thursday night she began a rapid decline. Having been through it before, we recognized it as the sign of renal failure. Angel has but one good kidney, and she's been through a renal crisis in the past. It seemed to us like her system had finally had enough after 17 good years. We tried to keep her comfortable all night and do whatever we could to get fluids into her, which is not much without IV bags and sets. And we ruminated about what we were willing to do beyond end-of-life palliative care.

Friday she was still up and about and generally being herself, other than a bit weak and still not eating or drinking. But she seemed OK for us to leave the boat, which we needed to do. Thursday afternoon I got word from Lauderdale Propeller that the custom plate for our PropSmith tool had arrived and was available for pickup. Just in time, too, since I'm not sure what we would have done, other than ask them to hold it, had it arrived after we left the US.

New PropSmith plate, right, replaces the one on the left with incorrect threads.

Getting that tool was just going to become more and more difficult the further we got from Fort Lauderdale, and so I booked a cheap rental car for noon on Friday so we could go get it. The car was less than it would cost to ship the tool to another stop, and there is an Enterprise right across the ICW.  We left the tender at the dock at the mall, where they picked us up. They were having a problem that day getting any cars, and so my booking for an econobox landed us a full-size, four-door F150 pickup truck, and they even gave us a quarter tank grace on fuel when I mentioned the fuel mileage difference.

We headed directly to Fort Lauderdale to get the tool. As long as we had the truck, we ran some other errands as well, stopping at West Marine to return the extra parts I did not use for the valve project, the auto parts store for dinghy spark plugs, and Home Depot to return a few items there as well. We also dropped by Progressive to trade the title to the stolen scooter for a check for the balance of the claim.

In the course of the day we learned that semi-local friends and fellow Neoplan bus owners Steve and Harriet had just arrived in town, and we agreed to meet them for an early dinner along with Ken and Pam, their in-laws. They were kind enough to meet us down in Hollywood so we could get back to the cat a bit sooner in the evening. We had a nice dinner at Sal's and it was great catching up with old friends.

We left the rental car at the mall overnight, which is a very busy place on Friday night; every restaurant and lounge is doing a booming business there when the weather is nice, and a good deal of the parking lot is given over to valet use. We parked in an out of the way corner and made our way back to Vector, crashing over the wakes of a dozen luxury yachts on the ICW Friday evening rush hour. "No wake zone" has a different meaning to some of those skippers.

We arrived before 8pm to a very lethargic cat. She'd stopped eating altogether and, worse, was not drinking either. We tried to get some water in her with a syringe, but that's like trying to put out a fire with a soda straw. If we had an IV set and a bag of Ringers we would give her subcutaneous fluids, something we did on a regular basis towards the end of George's life as her kidney disease progressed.

Friday was a rough night. As lethargic as she was, she still managed to make it down the stairs to come up and sleep between us on the bed, which is very unusual behavior for this cat unless it is very cold. It's been in the 80s here. When we awoke Saturday morning we thought we might lose her.

The morning discussion was what you can imagine surrounding the end-of-life issues with an elderly pet. Our chief concerns were her quality of life and unnecessary suffering. As it was becoming clear she was not going to just slip away without a protracted period of discomfort -- she was by this time wandering around the house crying -- we made the decision to take her to the vet.

We still had the car available until 1:30 or so, and I scratched my plans to do some final shopping in the morning and, instead, we stuffed her paperwork in a backpack, assembled the carrier, and took the whole kit and caboodle of us back to the mall in the dinghy. The cat is very blase about the big boat, but she was not happy about the tender ride.

We picked a pet hospital that was fairly close to the lake, where we could get back on the town shuttle later if they needed to keep her for treatment. She complained mightily in the car, which actually gave us a great deal of hope: it seemed like she still had some fight left in her, and perhaps the discomfort was something more acute than end-of-life renal failure.

The hospital in Aventura looked at her and determined, unsurprisingly, that blood tests were required, but then they informed us that they could not keep her overnight for treatment. So we ended up declining the blood work, loading her back in the car, and going north to Hollywood, where the veterinary hospital is 24-hour. They got us right in and ran some blood tests.

She loves bags. Looking at me as if to say "were you planning on going somewhere without me?"

Her numbers were horrible. But between ourselves, the vet in Aventura, and the vet in Hollywood, we determined that it was worthwhile to try IV hydration before making a determination, and they presented us a treatment plan for 3-5 days of hospitalization and fluids. The estimate was well north of what it cost to replace my scooter; there is nothing quite so expensive as a free pet.

After leaving Angel in Hollywood we raced back to Sunny Isles Beach to return the car, which was overdue. The office was swamped, with a lone employee, and she graciously waived the fee for being a half hour late, and also credited us for a Lyft home since they had no one to drive us.

It's been lonely here the last couple of days without her. All we can keep thinking is that we hope she makes it back home. The last two calls from the vet have suggested a great deal of improvement, so perhaps it was something acute. She's been through this once before, when we surmised she got into something toxic outside the bus.

She loves to go out on deck and drink the rainwater that has pooled in various places on deck, and with all the yard work we can't rule out some chemical residue on one of the decks, in spite of vigorous washing. And the vet suggested that something on the x-ray might be a small kidney stone; when George had one of these a decade ago she went completely into crisis.

We've been here in Maule Lake now for five nights, and we'll be here at least one and maybe two more. Things were incredibly busy and stressful up until we returned from dropping the car off, and in the last two days of "down" time, I've been catching up on another project that must be complete before we head offshore, switching my Google Voice number away from Sprint and moving my cell service to T-Mobile.

T-Mobile works much better than Sprint internationally, with service in many countries including the Bahamas and much of the Caribbean included in the plan. It also works better domestically, and now that I qualify for the 55-and-over unlimited plan it's also a better deal than my grandfathered unlimited Sprint plan.

My Google Voice and Sprint phone numbers are one and the same. When we last went to the Bahamas, even though Sprint does not work there, I missed no calls or text messages because I got them through Google Voice. I can't do the same trick with my T-Mobile number so instead I am "porting" my number, which Sprint actually owns, to Google Voice, and my calls will be forwarded to T-Mobile.

Of course, you can't just move a phone between carriers, either, and so while in Fort Lauderdale I bought a spiffy new pre-owned T-Mobile phone and signed it up for service at a T-Mobile office. I've spent the past couple of days rooting it, loading apps, configuring them, and transferring data. A tedious process to be sure. It's all ready to go and last night I divorced Google Voice from Sprint and fired off an order to port the number. That should happen sometime in the next day or two. If you have my number, nothing should change, I'll just be making and receiving all my calls and texts through Google Voice.

Update: Angel is back home!

I was still typing here this morning when we made the decision to head ashore, even before the vet called, to get a bagel and be ready to pick up the rental car I had booked for this morning in a fit of optimism. We enjoyed our bagels and did some shopping while we waited for the vet to call. Our 10am car reservation came and went.

Finally around 11:30 we heard the good news that Angel was eating and drinking on her own and that it was our option to pick her up today or have them hold her one more night. We chose the former, and called a Lyft over to Enterprise where the same clerk was again alone, swamped, and without a driver for pickups. She took the Lyft fee off our rental price.

It was something of a slog back up to Hollywood. After dropping her off there, we had seriously considered moving the boat back up to the Hollywood Lakes anchorage, but it turns out that getting ashore and renting a car there is not really any easier, and we'd make a ten-mile round trip in the boat, a three-hour process, to save ourselves twenty minutes in a rental car.

We had a long wait at the vet's, but eventually we got Angel out of her personal hell. We left the office with a box full of supplies, including five liters of lactated Ringers, injectable anti-nausea meds with a dozen hypodermics, and appetite stimulants to be administered orally. She looked a bit shaky, still, but much better than when we dropped her off.

On the way home we stopped at Walmart, the stop I had to forego with the last rental car, to pick up some needed items including a pair of mask-and-snorkel sets to replace the ancient ones that are disintegrating, and some additional items for the scooter to replace the ones that were stolen. We arrived back at the tender at an extremely low tide, and it was quite the challenge loading everything for the ride home.

Angel spent the first half hour sniffing everything in the saloon to make sure she was really home, then spent an hour or so next to Louise absorbing love through osmosis (she has never been a lap cat) before finally retiring to her "cube" where she is currently cashed out. It's exhausting being in the hospital.

Tonight we have to give her her first bolus of sub-cu fluids, and we're hoping that in a week or so she will be back to drinking well on her own. She is by no means out of the woods yet, and recovery is not a slam-dunk, but we are hopeful and holding positive thoughts.

Tomorrow we will return the car we had to rent for today's excursion, then deck the tender and head back out of the lake for Miami. I'm hoping to catch the "tech day" at the Miami Boat Show on Thursday, if we can get anywhere near the place, to talk to PC chartplotting software vendors. Our current system simply can not get good charts for most of the Caribbean or even, really, the Bahamas, and it's time to switch to something with more chart options.

Our final sunset over Maule Lake, from the aft deck.

Reluctant to leave her alone for a while, tonight we're eating aboard. We had a nice sunset on the aft deck, accompanied by the clamor of a drum fish. The drum fish have been serenading us off and on since we arrived, and it took us a few minutes to rule out something mechanical going haywire on the boat when we first started hearing it. We've heard them before, but it's been a while, and everything making noise underwater gets amplified on a steel boat.

With any luck we'll be in Miami or Miami Beach when next you hear from me.


  1. Oh goodness... you guys have had more than your fare share of challenges these past several weeks. So glad to hear dear Angel is back home with her hooomans. Kiki is sending lots of kitty love your way.

  2. Sorry to hear Angel was having issues. We understand how painful it is to watch a 4 legged family member when they are ill. Glad she is doing better!!


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